Home > A Heart So Fierce and Broken

A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Author: Brigid Kemmerer



I miss knowing exactly what time it is.

It’s one of the few things I regret leaving behind in Washington, DC, but when darkness has fallen, dinner feels like a distant memory, and Rhen has still not returned to his chambers, I want to know what time it is. I’m no stranger to waiting in the darkness, but when I was on the streets I had my brother’s cell phone, and I’d count every minute.

Now I’m Princess Harper of Disi, and Emberfall hasn’t advanced to the point of having electricity.

Rhen and I have separate chambers, befitting the crown prince and the lady he’s to ally his kingdom with, but he always visits before retiring to his own room.

He’s never been this late. Or—I don’t think he has.

The heat of the day has bled off, leaving cool air to stream through my open windows, and my fire has fallen to glowing embers. Outside, torches flicker on the guard posts that surround Ironrose, evenly spaced flares of light that keep the grounds from ever going truly dark. Such a difference from when Ironrose was cursed, when the guard posts stood cold and dark and empty, when the only people to inhabit the castle were Rhen, Grey, and me.

Now the castle is crowded with nobles and servants and guards, and we are never truly alone.

And Grey is gone. He’s been gone for months.

I take the candle from my bedside, lighting it from the glowing embers on the hearth. It’s a movement I make without thought anymore, the way I would have flipped a light switch back home. Zo, my personal guard and closest friend here, isn’t on duty tonight, and she deserves time to sleep. Same with Freya, my lady-in-waiting. The lights in her room went dark hours ago, and I selfishly wish they hadn’t. I could use a friend.

A soft knock raps at my door, and I hurry across the floor to open it.

It’s not Rhen, though I wouldn’t have expected him to knock. It’s Jake.

When I was young, Jake was gentle and kind, the perfect older brother. Then we hit our teens, and while our mother was on her deathbed, our father drove our lives into the gutter. Jake is built like a linebacker, and to help make ends meet, he took jobs from the loan sharks who haunted our doorstep. To those outside our family, Jake quickly grew from someone lovable into someone to fear.

Being trapped in Emberfall, a country as beautiful as it is wild and dangerous, hasn’t changed my brother’s temperament. The day we arrived, he was out of place and unsure of himself, but he’s grown into his fictional role as Prince Jacob of Disi. His dark hair has grown out a bit, and he wears a sword on his hip as if he were born carrying it. No one messed with him in DC, and few people mess with him here either.

Tonight his expression is somber.

“Hey,” I say softly. “Come in.”

He does, and I ease the door closed behind him.

“I’m surprised you’re still up,” he says.

“I’m waiting for Rhen.” I pause. “I’m surprised you’re still up.”

He hesitates. “Noah and I are packing.”

Noah is his boyfriend, formerly a medical resident in a busy DC emergency room, and now the castle “healer.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Packing?”

My brother’s expression doesn’t change. “We’re leaving in the morning.”

This is so unexpected that I stumble back a step.

Jake’s lip quirks up. “Not forever, Harp. It’s not that bad.”

“But—what do you mean, you’re leaving?”

He shrugs and fidgets and moves to the window. “We’ve been here for months now. I know you like playing the courtly princess, but I feel like I’m living in a cage.” He pauses and glances back at me. “It’s only for a few weeks. A month, tops.”

I blow out a breath. “A month.”

A lot can happen in a month. I know that better than anyone.

“I’d have no way to check on you,” I say. “What if something happens? It takes days—weeks—to send word sometimes. We still don’t know what’s happening with Syhl Shallow or Rhen’s coronation or—”

He gives me a look. “You don’t need to check on me, Harper.”

“I can still worry about you.” We were once separated after Grey snatched me off the streets of DC, and it was horrible not knowing what might have become of Jake. I don’t want to feel that way again. “Have you asked Rhen? He might not think it’s a good idea.”

Jake’s eyes turn flinty. “He’s not my warden.”

“I know, but—”

“He knows anyway. I already talked to him.”

That draws me up short.

“I asked him not to say anything to you,” Jake adds. “I wanted to tell you myself.”

My mouth forms a line. “I guess you’ve arranged everything, then.”

“No, Harp. I haven’t.” He pauses. “I want you to come with us.”

“Jake. I can’t. You know I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. You can get out of here just like I can.” He leaves the window to stop in front of me, and when he speaks, his voice grows quiet. “He’s not your warden either. You don’t have to spend your nights waiting up for him.”

“He’s running a country,” I say. “He’s not out drinking with the guys.”

“He’s eighteen years old, and so are you.” Jake pauses. “Do you want to marry him?”

The question catches my breath.

My brother is studying me. “Harp—you know that’s at the end of this path if you stay here. He’s set up this whole alliance with a fake country that’s dependent on your marriage.”

I know that. Of course I know that.

I’m quiet too long. Jake moves past me to the fireplace. “You didn’t answer my question.”

Marriage. “I don’t—I don’t know.”

He throws a log onto the hearth and jabs at it with the poker. “You shouldn’t have to know. That’s my point.” The log begins to catch, and Jake looks at me over his shoulder. “You shouldn’t be in a position where your boyfriend has to marry you to hold his country together.”

I move to the couch and ease onto the cushion. “Gee, Jake, I’m so glad you came in.”

He looks back at the fire, which is flickering in earnest now, making his brown hair glow with highlights of gold and red. “I know things weren’t good in DC, but I don’t feel like they’re better here.”

“We left Washington facing down a man with a gun,” I say.

“I know, I know.” He falls quiet, though, so I know this is not an acquiescence.

I don’t know what to say to him. “I can’t leave, Jake.”

“You love him.”


He sighs, then moves to sit beside me on the couch. I lean my head against his shoulder, and we stare at the fire together.

“The rumors are getting out of control,” he finally says. “That he’s not the rightful heir. That Karis Luran will attack again.”

“Those rumors have been flying for months.”

“People are beginning to talk about how forces from Disi have never arrived. That your alliance is a sham.” Jake pauses, and now his eyes are sharp. “I’m not just leaving to get away from here. I want to find out what’s really going on outside this castle.”

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