Carrying the King's Pride

By: Jennifer Hayward

A complete sense of unreality enveloped him. His fingers gripped the glass tighter. “What is his condition?”

“He is in surgery now. We’ll know more in a few hours.”

He lifted the tumbler to his lips with a jerky movement and downed another long swallow. The fire the potent liquor lit in his insides wasn’t enough to make the reality of losing both his father and his brother in one day in any way conceivable. His father was too strong, too vigorous to let such a thing fell him. It could not happen. Not when their estrangement ate at his insides like a slow-moving disease.

He flicked a look at his aide. “The jet is ready?”

Abram nodded. “Carlos is waiting downstairs to drive you to the airfield. I thought you might want to gather some things. I will stay behind and take care of the outstanding details, cancel your commitments, then join you in Akathinia.”

Nik nodded. Abram melted into the shadows.

Alone at the window, Nik looked out at Manhattan sprawled in front of him, his brother’s voice, crystal clear on the phone the night before, filling his head. Athamos had sounded vital, belligerent. Alive. Despite the different philosophical viewpoints he and his brother had held, despite the wedges that had been driven between them in the past few years as Athamos had prepared to take over from his father as king, they had loved each other deeply.

It was inconceivable he was dead.

The sense of unreality blanketing him thickened into a dark fog with only one thought breaking through. He was now heir to the throne. He would be king.

It was a role he had never expected to have, never wanted. He had been happy to allow Athamos to take the spotlight while he did his part in New York to make Akathinia the thriving, successful nation that it was. Happy to keep his distance from the wounds of the past.

But fate had other plans for him and his brother...

Sorrow and rage gripped his heart, engulfing him like the inescapable gale force winds of the meltemia that ravaged the Akathinian shores without warning or mercy. His hand tightened around the glass as the storm swept over him, immersing him in its turbulent fury until all he could see was red.

Abram’s horrified gasp split the air. He followed his aide’s gaze down to his bleeding hand, the shattered remains of the glass strewn across the carpet. The dark splatter that seeped into the plush cream carpet seemed like the stain on his heart that would never be removed.

* * *

Nik reached his father’s bedside at noon the following day. Exhausted from an overnight trip during which he hadn’t slept, worry for his father consuming him, he pulled a chair up to the king’s bedside in the sterilized white hospital room and closed the fingers of his unbandaged hand around his father’s gnarled, wrinkled one.

The king’s shock of white hair contrasted vividly with his olive skin, but his complexion was far too pale for Nik’s liking.


Light blue eyes, identical to his own, opened to focus on him.


He squeezed his father’s hand as the king opened his mouth and then closed it. A tear escaped his father’s eyes and slid down his weathered cheek. The weight of a thousand disagreements, a thousand regrets crowded Nik’s heart.

He bent and pressed his lips to his father’s leathery cheek. “I know.”

King Gregorios shut his eyes. When he opened them again, a fierce determination burned in their depths. “Idas will never get what he wants.”

An answering fury stirred to life inside of him. “He will never take Akathinia. But if he is behind Athamos’s death, he will pay for it.”

“It was no accident,” his father bit out. “Idas and his son want to provoke us into a conflict so they can use it as an excuse to swallow us up to cover their own inadequacies.”

He was well aware of the reason Carnelia wanted Akathinia back in the fold, but he sought to keep a rational head. “The grudge between Athamos and Kostas has been going on for years. We need the facts.”

The king’s mouth curled. “Kostas is his father’s errand boy.”

Nik raked a hand through his hair. “The Carnelian military is twice the size of ours. Akathinia is prospering, but we cannot match what they have built up, even to defend ourselves.”

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