The Painted Crown (Unbreakable Soldiers Book 2)

By: Megan Derr

Book 2 of Unbreakable Soldiers



Istari sat in the hanging garden, bored to the point of madness. It was a beautiful, breath-stopping garden, something worthy of the Temple of the Sisters back home. The kind of garden he would pay a fortune to be permitted to use for his wedding. Flora would adore it. He'd probably never be able to drag her away from it. Just thinking about Flora standing there dressed in wedding finery, flushed with happiness and looking at him with that gleam in her eyes… It was almost enough to banish the cloud of gloom that had hung over him since his arrival in Tallideth. The flowers hung down in waterfalls of vibrant petals in a spectrum of pink, red, and yellow, mingling with the dark and bright verdancy of the leaves and vines. Sweet, fruity scents filled the air, and insects added a low, pleasant hum to the muted rush of the river. If he could capture the garden in ink and paint, he would do so in a moment. Instead, he could only sit and mope.

You will be treated as a guest. Istari had stupidly believed King Perdith and Regent Vellem meant those words, given how much they'd softened toward the end of his initial meeting with them. How considerate Koit had been when he'd informed Istari he was to be a hostage for six years. But Istari had learned the hard way that 'guest' really meant 'ghost'. Or perhaps 'vermin'. Neither sensation was unfamiliar to him, but he had stupidly thought he'd left them behind in Belemere. He wasn't saying he deserved to be treated like a friend or even peer, but he didn't think he merited scum of the Depths either.

The first time Their Majesties had invited him to dinner, he'd expected awkwardness, even hostility. They'd been less harsh after hearing his explanations about his father's despicable behavior and how he'd kept what he was doing from even his own sons, but that hadn't meant Their Majesties liked Istari any better. That was certainly fair enough, and he was accustomed to negotiating difficult waters. Nothing was more strenuous or fraught with peril than dining with his father, who hated Istari with every thread of his soul.

So he dreaded dinner, but doing nothing would only accomplish the same. By the sixth attempt, however, he had conceded defeat. Nobody wanted him at dinner. Vellem, whom Istari knew through the Belemere army, acted as though they'd never sat around a campfire sharing contraband brandy and mourning fallen comrades. Even Koit had treated him coolly, though he'd been one of the few back home to treat Istari with respect rather than avoid him out of fear. They did not want him in the palace, even if they were the ones who had chained him there. If they were to ever contrive a way to dump his body in the river without drawing suspicion, he had every faith they would.

By Antora, he was tired of being thrown to the Depths and left to rot, especially for things that were not his twice-cursed fault.

Would it make any difference if he told them he'd been the one to put a bullet in Olev? Istari was not proud he'd killed his brother, but Olev had always been far too much like their father, and to learn he'd been party to the whole mess, had known the tragedy that would befall…

Well, if Morrin could depose their father and sentence him to fate worse than death, Istari could sneak away to kill Olev. He wasn't proud of it; he wasn't proud of any of his kills, no matter how justified he was told they were, but it had needed to be done if peace was going to be achieved, and so he'd done it.

He would have taken care of Tarkin as well, but a cannon ball had gotten him first. Not a fate Istari would wish on anyone, but he wasn't sorry Tarkin was dead either.

Once, he might have confided his deed to Vellem, but now he wondered if it just wouldn't make the situation worse. And he had no desire to spill his sordid personal history to people who would, like almost everyone else, just hold it against him—or worse, use it against him.

He pushed back the sleeves on his right arm, brushed his fingers over the tattoo there: a delicate crescent moon in dark blue ink representing Antora, the Compassionate Moon. It was nestled amongst the green and light blue thistles of Trua, Goddess of Art. His patron gods, though technically Losara was patron of the royal family. Istari had never resonated with the Sun God. Antora and Trua called to him far more.

His left forearm had a tattoo as well: three black arrows arranged diagonally in a row with the points out and down, and the red sword of Jakkos, God of War, running down the middle of them, the hilt even with the bottom arrow. It was the symbol of Kathos, son of Jakkos. Kathos was the God of Marksmen, patron god of sharpshooters.

Istari pulled his sleeves back down and sighed, staring glumly at the beautiful flowers that surrounded him, willing them to provide him with something. Anything.

He did not begrudge the people of Tallideth their hostility. He was grateful he was not locked in chains in a dank cell somewhere. But he did not want to spend the next six years of his life idle and alone, either.

Five years, nine months, three days, to be precise. He was supposed to be getting married in a few months, finally resigning his commission and trading his military uniform for court finery. He should be focusing on Belemere politics and anticipating his first child. Finally live a life that did not entail endless slaughter and death breathing heavily on the back of his neck.