Home > Endure (Defy #3)

Endure (Defy #3)
Sara B. Larson

Damian

My father taught me that the only way to ensure your subjects’ loyalty is to make them fear you. He used cruelty and terror as tools to ensure his power. My mother, on the other hand, taught my brother and me something entirely different: A king — a good king — must be who his people need him to be.

I live by her words.

For the grieving woman, I am compassionate, I am kind. To the generals who lead my armies, I am firm and absolute. To the daughters of the royal court, I am courteous but, of necessity, aloof.

I’ve spent a lifetime practicing, becoming who I must be to survive. Hiding in plain sight, always acting, always playing a part. There are times when I fear that I’ll lose me, my true self, in the haze of the facade. But that fear doesn’t matter to anyone besides myself. It doesn’t build homes for the orphans and women left broken by my father’s reign of terror. It doesn’t put Antion back together, or stop us from getting dragged into another unwanted war. The only thing that counts is that I carry on and do what I must.

So that is what I do.

Until night falls and I lie in my bed, with the weight of a kingdom bearing down on me, trying to breathe under the pressure of all that I hope to do, all that I want to accomplish — all that I fear. And that is when the smell of gardenia mixed with the coppery tang of blood comes to haunt me.

The memory of my mother is both happiness and terror intertwining into a tangle of comfort and horror. I try to erase the bad with the good. Her arm draped around my shoulder at night, a comfortable weight. The remnants of her gardenia perfume in my nose, with Victor on her other side. Her voice flowing over us along with the blanket of darkness as night fell. She started all of her stories with “Once, a long time ago …” Her Blevonese accent made her words different, almost magical. She painted pictures for me and Victor, holding us in the protective wings of her arms, curled up together on her massive bed. Her stories always ended well, sending us off into dreams, warm in the comfort of happily ever after. But her gentle life ended in a tapestry of blood, at the hands of my father. Nightmares drenched in dark, dripping crimson have been my constant companion ever since.

My story, if someone were to tell it, would begin with her voice.

Once, a prince was born. He was a second son, who worshipped his older brother as all younger sons do — even if it was in secret most of the time. His mother adored both of her children. She told them stories; she showed them sorcery. She was magic, to this young prince. And when he found that he, too, could do strange and wonderful things, she taught him to hide his secret from everyone — even his brother. The same brother who teased him mercilessly, but was the first to stand up to anyone else who dared look sideways at the young prince. She taught him that magic was a death sentence in the world his father had created. It became a marvelous game to him — one that he was determined to win, even if he wasn’t quite sure what the prize was. She promised that when he got older, she would tell him all the secrets of her people and the magic they both wielded.

When they were together, they were happy.

And then his father, the king, took her away. One moment his mother was looking at him, all her secret pleadings and advice swimming in the tears that glistened in her eyes, and the next she was gone. Murdered. No one could stand up to the king, not even his own sons. The older brother held the young prince in his arms that night. In the dark silence where once had been their mother’s voice and touch, they sobbed as though they were still children, even though they were halfway grown into men.

War started. The prince’s life was never the same.

And then his brother was taken from him, too.

One by one, the prince lost every person he had ever loved, until he was completely alone, save for a healer who hid deep in the palace with his half brother — to bring him the bloodroot that suppressed his abilities, concealing his secret to save his life.

The prince had no choice except to change. He buried who he truly was and pretended to be someone else. He grew; he became an adult. He continued to pretend, but inside he dreamed — and he plotted.

Until the day a young woman joined his personal guard — a girl pretending to be a boy. He knew her secret, as all sorcerers had the ability to sense a person’s true identity — male, female, sorcerer or not. He feared for her, thinking that Iker, the black sorcerer working for the king, would know and punish her. But nothing happened — at least at first. She proved her ability time and again, and the black sorcerer left her alone. For months and months, the prince watched her and found himself dreaming of things that could never be. She had suffered; she had endured loss; she wore sadness like a second skin. But she still had her brother — her twin, Marcel.

For the first time in years, the prince yearned to be his true self instead of the persona he’d been forced to adopt to protect himself from his father’s machinations. He fought the urge to let his defenses down with her. He didn’t dare. Too much rested on his shoulders.

And then her brother died and Iker made his move, choosing her to guard his door day and night. The prince realized his father suspected him — and Iker was using the girl as a way to manipulate and threaten him.

Unbeknownst to anyone except a very select few, the prince had put a plan into action — a dangerous plan to try and overthrow his father and stop the atrocities against the people of Antion and the war that never should have started. And that prince … he decided to risk everything when he came out in the dead of night to speak with his guard. When slowly, carefully, he let her see him for who he truly was.

And together, they remade the world into something brighter. Together, they brought back hope to the people of Antion. Together, they gave his kingdom freedom.

That is how my mother would have told my story. I wonder if she knows the ending — if she still watches me. If she’s proud of the man I’ve tried to become, or the king I am.

We succeeded, Alexa and I. Despite my fear, I let myself love her. And together we beat Iker and my father. The young prince who never should have inherited the throne was suddenly the king of Antion.

But once again threats amass all around us, attempting to tear us apart — to rip my kingdom to pieces. I refuse to let them succeed. I will raise Antion from the depths of depravation my father drove us into. And I will not lose her, no matter the cost.

I am Damian, the king of Antion, and no one will ever take someone I love from me again and live.

Alexa

Damian paced in front of the large window overlooking the courtyard, his crown nestled in his dark hair, the afternoon sunshine gilding everything in the library. General Tinso’s missive lay open on the desk, his threat of war hanging in the air, heavy and unfathomable. The same foreboding I’d felt before, that much more was happening around us than we realized, pressed down on me, along with the guilt of what I still had to tell him.

“I can’t let you go after him,” Damian said at last, his voice tight with frustration. “I know you’re his best chance, but I need you, too. Especially if I can’t stop another war from beginning.”

“I know.” I stood by his desk, watching him, trying to decide when — and how — to tell him. I had to go after Rylan. Not just to save my friend, but also to find some way to kill Rafe and free myself from his control.

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