Earlier, any of the Icere they'd come upon had been reserved, but as word got around that Danii was personable, more approached her.
A female even asked her to bless her baby girl. Danii swallowed nervously as she gathered the babe in her arms. She'd never in her life held one.
The mother said, "Welcome home, Queen Daniela."
As Danii traced the backs of her fingers over the baby's soft cheek, tears welled.
This is where I belong. Where she'd always belonged.
I am home.
The cell door slammed behind Murdoch, Nikolai, and Sebastian.
"We're screwed," Sebastian muttered.
Murdoch did not disagree.
When the three had shown up at Mount Oblak ready to go to war, the king's guards had instead forced them into a barred suite.
These chambers were used for political prisoners. Here were facilities, a shower. Yet no one could trace inside or out, and the walls and door were mystically reinforced.
Luckily, the three brothers hadn't been taken to the dungeons below, filled with Ivo's old torture devices. But then, Kristoff had made it clear he had no intention of torturing them.
Or freeing them - until they gave up Conrad. Which they would never do.
How long would the king keep them here? Weeks? Or more? At the thought of a protracted imprisonment, Murdoch swore under his breath. Though he had decided not to go after Daniela, his resolve hadn't lasted long. No matter what, he was deeply ashamed of hurting her, and wouldn't rest until he'd apologized to her.
Now he paced, barely listening to his brothers.
"We knew this might happen," Nikolai said. "A one-in-a-thousand chance."
"How did Kristoff find out?" Sebastian snapped.
"He has ways."
"Ways? As in Lukyan or some other Russian," Sebastian said. "When I find out who informed on us - "
"You'll do what?" Nikolai demanded. "We're the ones at fault here. We broke the law."
"But how can Kristoff expect us to give up our own brother?" Sebastian shook his head. "Conrad would be powerless against his men, unable to defend himself, unable to escape."
"We might as well swing the swords ourselves," Nikolai agreed. "But if we think Myst and Kaderin are going to just sit around and accept our capture, we're deluded."
"Kristoff must know they'll wage an attack," Sebastian said. "As soon as they find out what happened, they'll likely plot to take this castle and execute him."
When a chill night breeze sieved through the barred window, Murdoch crossed to it. He sucked in air, feeling hot, claustrophobic.
"Murdoch?" Nikolai said. "Are you even listening to us...?"
How could I have bitten Daniela? When he loved her. And what was fifty years? He could wait an eternity. But he couldn't get to her to tell her this. Frustration strangled him like a noose.
In Murdoch's absence, would Lord Jadian continue kissing her? His fists clenched. Kissing my Daniela. When he punched the wall, he broke every bone in his hand, the protected stone mocking even his immortal strength.
Murdoch turned in time to see Nikolai and Sebastian share a glance. They had to know that he'd been blooded - even Conrad had heard Murdoch's heart beating - but they'd said nothing over the last several months. Probably because of all the secrets they'd been keeping, as well.
"What the hell is going on with you?" Sebastian said.
Murdoch knew he must be shocking them. For so long he'd been carefree. "Don't want to be here," he muttered. The need to talk to his brothers pressed on him, but he volunteered nothing, keeping at least one vow to Daniela.
Only now did he understand why she'd been so secretive about them. I wouldn't have bet on a future with me either. Definitely wouldn't have advertised it.
When dawn came, his brothers slept, but Murdoch dreaded dreaming about her, stealing more of her memories. Hour after hour, he paced, feeling a madness creeping over him. The bars were keeping him from her. Silently, he strained against them. Want to be with her. He couldn't budge them.
Eventually, exhaustion ruled and he passed out, unwillingly slipping into dreams. This time, he saw the reflection of a young girl - he knew it was Daniela - gazing back at him from a mirror. A striking woman with the same unusual coloring as Daniela was behind her, fitting a crown atop her head. Her mother? They spoke to each other in a language that sounded similar to Icelandic, but he understood it...
"You already know the way," the mother said. "You just haven't remembered it yet."
Then came a more recent memory: Daniela staring at her ice carvings, wondering, Are these clues how to get to Icergard...?
Murdoch woke in a rush, shooting up from his cot in the middle of the day. "It's so bloody hot in here!" He yanked off his jacket in irritation.
When Nikolai rose to stoke the fire, Murdoch grated, "No, no fire! Put it out." He imagined frost. Blood served cold. For once, he craved being back amid the ice at the lodge.
Sebastian was awake as well and frowned at him. "It's actually cool."
"How can you say that?" he snapped, unable to contain his aggravation. Then he stilled. Were his breaths... smoking? He traced to the suite's bathroom, gazing in the mirror. His breaths didn't fog the glass. As Daniela's didn't. Blue tinged his lips and under his eyes.
My God. The reason he'd felt so hot - her blood was running through his veins.
Nikolai had told him that Myst's blood made him even stronger. Sebastian had said the same about drinking Kaderin's.
Why couldn't Daniela's make Murdoch more like her? He gave a shout of laughter. I've found a way to touch her!
Then his heart sank. Just when I've lost her. He was trapped by his own king, by his loyalty to his brother...
Another day dragged by, then two. As their imprisonment wore on, Murdoch began returning to his normal temperature, which maddened him even more. He couldn't lose this coldness - otherwise he'd have to hurt her again.
If he was ever freed from this bloody cell. And if she'd ever let him drink her.
"Nikolai! Where are you?"
Murdoch shot awake, his gaze darting. He could have sworn he'd heard Conrad - in Oblak - yelling for Nikolai. But all was quiet, his brothers still sleeping. He must've dreamed it. Strange, he usually dreamed of nothing but Daniela.
With a weary exhalation, he rose. More than two weeks gone. The brothers and their king were locked in a stalemate. Would they stay here indefinitely?
As he did every night, Murdoch tried and failed to drink enough to sustain his weight. Then he prowled from one wall to the next, deciphering more scenes from Daniela's life that he'd witnessed in sleep.