“They’re offering the other courts a similar bargain, and when they accept it, they will also rise in power. You’re the last remaining heir to the Court of Shadows, and my heir to the Night Court, Lilith. You will do this!”

“Marry him off to one of the others who will bow at his feet and worship him, not me. They murdered my mother! You cannot ask me to do this!”

“You will do this because I am the king and your father. You will do this, or you will be removed to allow the heir brands to pass to my next child. I cannot allow what happened before to happen again.”

“The only way to do that is to kill me,” she chuckled and then paused as she took in the warriors who waited for her next move, hands ready on their weapons as they watched her. “Which you’d do because power means everything to you, doesn’t it?”

“I will not cower before the other courts, Lilith. I have not been kind to them, as I have held both titles until a time you came to power, and still, I held your title so that you could hide away to mourn a mother you never knew. The Horde took from everyone, everyone! They took my mate, the love of my life from this very room, and slaughtered her before my eyes. I have known pain at their hands, and yet even I can forgive. The new king’s rule is blessed by the Goddess herself. You carry the blood of Artemis in your veins, and the blood of the darkest courts. You will do this for this court, and after you’ve secured a child, you can decide your own fate, daughter. Life is made by those who know when to bow, and when to strike. Now is the time to bow. The lands are dying and we with them. They wage war against those who trespass against this world, and I gave my word that I would do what was needed to help them. You don’t have to like this, but you will do this or else so help me, girl. After a time, you will be free to leave him and the child. If you choose to retire to your mother’s ruined castle, I will honor your wishes.”

“And who am I to marry?” she growled.

“Whoever the Horde King sends to take your hand. You will be a good wife to him, one year and one day; that is how long you will endure his touch!”

“You cannot mean it, not after everything they have done to us!”

“You have to pick your battles, daughter. This isn’t one I care to wage and neither can you. It’s not about what we have already lost which cannot be changed, it’s about surviving. With the Horde tied to our line, no other caste would dare trespass against us. I’m tired of fighting with you, with the others who seek to take what our family has created here. For once in your life, do as I have asked of you. Once you have secured a child, you can do whatever you desire. They have given me their word on it.”

“Why would they do this now when the war is at their front gates?” she asked, her heart pounding so hard against her chest that it ached. The thunderous beat of it deafened his words as she swallowed the bile that threatened to escape through her lips.

“Because the tithe is due and we cannot pay it. This was their offer; your hand and all debt this court and your mother’s owe, are erased.” His words echoed in her ears, the reminder of the last tithe stung, piercing her chest as she watched him age before her eyes.

“My mother’s entire court was wiped out by them, or did you forget to remind them of that small detail?”

“Not all of them, daughter,” he informed gently as he pushed his blue-white hair away from his bronzed flesh. “You have the bloodline of both of our courts, and the combined heir markings upon your flesh. You are the Queen of the Shadows and the Princess of the Night Court. As the Shadow Court was cleansed, you were protected by the Elite Guards, even if you didn’t know it. The new king was younger then, and he spared you what his father intended. You would have been added to his harem, used to secure his hold on this court as he had done to the others. This tithe is different, the world is different, Lilith. Don’t fight me on this one, I beg of you.”

“It isn’t that easy with them,” she muttered as her palms sweat and her stomach churned. She was Lilith, born of two royal courts and heir to two thrones. She didn’t want to bow willingly to any Horde heathen as long as air filled her lungs.