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The Inadequate Heir (The Bridge Kingdom #3)
Author:Danielle L. Jensen

The Inadequate Heir (The Bridge Kingdom #3)

Danielle L. Jensen




For the bookworms with big dreams





1





KERIS





Keris Veliant, latest heir to the throne of Maridrina, followed his father down the gangplank and onto the pier of Southwatch Island. They hadn’t spoken a word to each other during the short crossing, his father remaining on deck while Keris closeted himself in the captain’s quarters. Though in truth, even if they’d stood side by side the entire voyage, the result would’ve been the same: the taciturn silence of two men well aware that each wished the other dead.

A masked Ithicanian, his shoulders stooped with age, approached, bowing low. “Welcome back to Southwatch, Your Majesty.” Then he inclined his head toward Keris. “Welcome, Your Highness. I understand this is to be your first venture through our bridge?”

Keris opened his mouth to answer, but his father interrupted, “Are they here?”

“His Grace sends his regrets, I’m afraid. His presence was required elsewhere.”

A flicker of disappointment passed through Keris at the Ithicanian king’s absence. Aren Kertell was a man much discussed, though the rumors surrounding him were at odds with his recent actions. Actions that had the Maridrinian people singing his name in the streets, claiming him a king that all rulers should aspire to emulate.

And Keris’s father hated him for it.

Yet King Silas Veliant showed none of that ire, his tone steady as he asked, “What of my daughter?”

Lara. She was Keris’s younger sister—his only full-blooded sibling in the sea of half sisters and brothers produced by his father’s harem. He hadn’t spoken to her in over sixteen years—not since she’d been taken away to be raised in secret. Keris had believed her dead until the day she’d passed through Vencia on her way to be married to the King of Ithicana as part of the Fifteen Year Treaty. A bride of peace, they’d said.

Keris didn’t believe that for a heartbeat.

The Ithicanian said, “It is the Queen’s preference to remain at His Majesty’s side, though she sends her regards.”

“I’m sure.”

On the surface, his father’s voice was cool, but for the sake of his own self-preservation, Keris had long ago made a practice of reading the tiny tics and tells that gave away his father’s true sentiments. As such, he heard the hint of amusement in the king’s voice, the tone causing Keris’s skin to prickle. What amused his father tended to elicit a rather different reaction from everyone else.

The Ithicanian’s eyes narrowed slightly, and wary of anything that might jeopardize his escape to Harendell, Keris said, “I’m sorry to have missed my sister, but pleased to hear of her loyalty to your king. Give them both my best wishes.”

His father huffed out a soft chuckle, giving Keris a condescending pat on the cheek. “My son is sentimental. Gets it from his mother.”

That would be the mother you murdered, you cold-blooded reptile? Keris wanted to say, but today was not the day to test his father’s patience. Not when he was so close to finally escaping him. “We all have our faults, Your Grace.”

His father’s azure eyes, which were twin to Keris’s own, regarded him, unblinking. “Some more than others.” Then he clapped his hands sharply. “I came only to see your sister and her husband. Given they are absent, I don’t care to belabor my presence. Let’s get this over with.”

Sentiment was not one of King Silas Veliant’s faults.

The pier turned into a flurry of activity, two dozen young Maridrinian men in tight coats made with vibrant fabrics disembarking, the stiff breeze tugging at their slicked-back hair, much to their obvious consternation. The smell of wine came with them, which accounted for their overloud voices as they shouted at the sailors to take care with their belongings or suffer the lash. Between his teeth, Keris asked, “Who are they?”

His father crossed his arms, a slight smile growing on his face. “Your entourage.”

“I’m going to university, not to court, Your Grace. This is an unnecessary expense.”

“You are heir to the throne of Maridrina,” his father answered, “which means you must arrive in Harendell with a suitable entourage.” Under his breath, he added, “You’re embarrassment enough—no need to add to the shame.”

Don’t argue. Keep your damned mouth shut, Keris silently ordered himself. But the temper he usually kept in check was rising. “This will cost a fortune. Better for us to go by ship. It’s the calm season—there’s no reason not to.” On a ship, it wouldn’t matter if these men behaved like idiots, whereas the Ithicanians had rules of conduct in their bridge and no patience for those who broke them, which these buffoons would inevitably do within the day.

Perhaps that was what his father was counting on.

“Don’t be a fool, Keris. The seas are swarming with Valcottan vessels, and the last thing I need is for my heir to be killed.”

“Given my eight predecessors are in their graves, I’d think you’d be used to that by now.”

The words sneaked out, and Keris immediately braced for the blow, long used to his tongue earning him beatings. Yet instead, his father gripped him by the shoulders, pulling him close so that his mouth was inches from Keris’s ear. To anyone looking on, it would appear nothing more than an intimate exchange between father and son, but Keris’s arms were already numb with pain from where his father’s thumbs pressed against nerves.

“Your older brother was twice the man you are,” his father hissed. “I’d exchange your life for Rask’s in a heartbeat, if such a thing were possible.”

And not just Rask. Despite Keris having brothers who were arguably worth less than the detritus of humanity, his father held every one of them in greater esteem. It was only Keris that he hated, only Keris whom he mocked without mercy.

“I wish Rask were still alive as much as you do.” Not because he’d liked his brother, but because with Rask performing all the duties the heir was supposed to do—soldiering, politicizing, and warmongering—Keris had been able to avoid them. But Rask had gotten himself killed in a skirmish with the Valcottans, and Keris’s greatest fear since his brother’s death was that he’d be able to avoid soldiering, politicizing, and warmongering no longer. Which was why his father not backtracking out of his agreement to allow him to go to Harendell had seemed like nothing short of an act of God.

Which, given he was a disbeliever of the first order, made Keris extremely suspicious.

“You are pathetic and weak, and your tongue is not worthy of speaking your brother’s name.” His father’s grip tightened. “But you are still my son. Which means I must find ways to capitalize upon your attributes, limited though they may be.”

And there was the catch.