Dragonbane(Dark Hunter,book 24)(68) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
As soon as they had the doors open and had started to leave, the guards moved to stop them.
“We have to talk to the king, first. No one can leave here.”
To his complete shock, Eumon stepped forward. “Let them pass.”
Reluctantly, the guard stepped aside and ordered his men to stand down.
Grateful to the prince who was allowing them to leave without war and bloodshed, Max inclined his head to him. “Can you show us the way out?”
The prince narrowed an evil glare at him. “I knew you could speak! I need you to show that to my father.”
“And we need a guide before your father learns of this and kills us… Please. My brother and I have always been overtaken whenever we’ve tried to escape. I know there’s a way to the forest, but we haven’t been able to locate it.”
Without hesitation, he nodded. “Follow me.”
“Eumon!” his wife breathed. “You can’t do this. If the gods have spoken —”
“They’re sentient, Helena. Look at them.” He gestured at Max and Illarion. “Half of them are Apollite. I can’t condemn them to die and especially not by execution in a cage after everything else we’ve done. It would be wrong. I’m their prince. It’s my place to protect them.”
“And what of your son I carry? Who will protect him when the gods kill you for this hubris?”
He kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Relax, precious wife. No one’s going to kill me.” Pulling away, he led Illarion and the others through the dark cavern. “Follow me and I’ll see you to your freedom.”
She glared at Max as they started filing out of the dungeon. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Max ignored her and the indigestion he thought was a bad feeling, too, as he sought to get the others out as quickly as possible. He didn’t trust the guards not to attack them, in spite of what the prince had ordered.
As the last Apollite animal filed past them, he began to breathe a little easier. They were almost out of here.
True to his word, Eumon helped them relocate to a small campground in the forest, where Max and Illarion made sure everyone had a place to sleep and something to eat.
“Thank you,” Max said to the prince before he went to tend his brother.
Eumon stopped him. “All these weeks and you’ve said nothing. You’ve pretended to be mute. Why?”
“There was nothing to say. Your uncle ripped us from our homes and lives for you. Both Apollite and animal. No regard for what we thought or wanted. And then we were turned into this?” He gestured angrily at his human body. “You may have desired the dragon in you, Highness, but I promise neither Illarion nor I wanted this. Nor did any of the others. Now that you have some of my brother’s genetics in your heart, you should know exactly how we think.”
“You have a fierce code of honor and kinship. That’s where this comes from?”
Max inclined his head. “And now you tell me that your gods have decreed our death for your deeds. How do you think that makes me feel?”
“I will talk to my father. He’s a reasonable man.”
Max arched a brow at his lie.
“He loves us.”
Which was true, but… “That makes him highly unreasonable.”
The prince nodded. “If you and your brother come with me… Let my father see that you’re capable of rational thought and speech. It will change everything. I promise. Come and help me to set this right.”
Still, Max was skeptical. It wasn’t as easy as the prince made it sound. He knew that. Yet as he looked among the desolate, fear-filled faces, he knew he had to try.
Illarion wended his way through the others to approach Max. Surely you don’t believe his lies.
“We have to try.”
Shaking his head, Illarion didn’t want to participate, but he loved his brother too much to let him go about his stupidity alone.
So together, they headed back toward the palace, with Eumon in the lead.
For the first time, they emerged out of the dungeon and into the palace grounds that led to where the royal family lived.
They had just reached the gardens when a man who appeared eerily similar to Vane approached them.
“What is this?”
“We’re going to see Father.”
The newcomer scowled with fierce disapproval. “What have you done?”
The prince let out a tired sigh. “Linus, please. I have to speak to him and I don’t have time.”
“You heard what the priest told Father. We’ve angered the gods. If you don’t return them for execution right now, they’ll demand our heads, too! Do you want to die?”
“And what’s to stop them from doing that anyway after the others are gone? The gods are capricious. You know that. I don’t trust them.”
Linus gestured at Max and then Illarion. “But you would trust an animal?”
“They’re not just animals. They can speak.”
Linus scoffed. “Now you’re being ridiculous. Did you perchance eat a bad lotus batch?”
“He’s not wrong.”
Linus’s gaze had widened at the sound of Max’s voice. “You can think and talk?”
His eyes darkened dangerously as he moved to confront Max. “Are you the reason Dagon did this to me?”
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