Home > The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(10)

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(10)
Mary E. Pearson

And then I saw Rafe. His back was to me, and his hands were shackled behind him with a guard close at his side. I looked away quickly and settled my gaze on the Komizar instead.

“Perfect timing, Princess,” he said. “Your farmhand just arrived too.” He waved me forward until I was standing near Rafe.

The Komizar still wore the baldrick, and now Walther’s sword dangled from it too. He grinned as I took it in. I molded my gaze to steel. From this moment forward, I would make my brother’s pillaged goods my strength rather than my weakness.

He stepped to the center of the room and threw his hands out to his sides. “It’s a historic day in Venda, my brethren. Not one, but two prisoners.” He still spoke in Morrighese, I assumed for our benefit. I didn’t know if Rafe understood Vendan or not. I cursed myself for not asking when we were in the holding room together. Details like this could matter later on. The Komizar turned his attention to me and Rafe. “I hope you both appreciate your good fortune to even be prisoners. It’s a rare privilege—though it may be fleeting.” His voice was playful, his expression almost cheerful. He walked closer to me, lifted a strand of damp hair from my shoulder, then dropped it with distaste. “I already know why you’re here. A royal with a supposed gift that my Assassin believes will be useful to Venda.” He shrugged. “Time will tell.”

He turned to Rafe. “But, you … tell me why I shouldn’t slice you from gizzard to gut right now and punish the soldiers who didn’t kill you on sight.”

“Because I have news for you that will benefit Venda.” Rafe’s answer was quick and confident.

The Komizar laughed in a way that made the room grow darker. “So I’ve heard.” He walked over to the table in the center of the room and hoisted himself up on it, sitting on its edge with his legs dangling. He looked more like a swaggering ruffian sitting in a pub than a ruler. “Chievdar Stavik told me of your claim,” he said. “But the soldiers tell me otherwise. A smitten farmhand, they call you, and the princess seemed to think you showed up just for her. I understand there was an entertaining embrace.”

“I was a familiar face in a foreign land,” Rafe answered. “I can’t help that the girl latched on to me. But I’m not a fool when it comes to women. Pleasure is one thing; business is another. I wouldn’t show up on a hostile doorstep over a mere summer distraction.”

The Komizar’s eyes flickered to me. I glared at Rafe.

“A distraction,” the Komizar repeated, nodding. “So being a farmhand was only a ruse?”

“The prince sent me to find out if the girl really fled the wedding or if it was a planned retaliation all along, for past grievances. In case you aren’t aware, Dalbreck’s had a long, rocky relationship with our nearest neighbors. Shall I recite the entire history of petty actions perpetrated by Morrighan? However, the king’s offer of marriage was a genuine effort to bury past grievances.”

“And to create an alliance.”

“Yes.”

“To wield more power over us.”

“Isn’t that what every political move is about? Power and getting more of it?” Rafe’s tone was cold, commanding, and unapologetic.

It seemed to give the Komizar pause. His eyes narrowed, and then one corner of his mouth lifted in an amused grin. “You look far more like a farmhand to me than the grand emissary of a prince.” He turned around, scanning the room. “Griz!” he yelled. “Where is he?”

One of the governors informed him that Griz was still in Sanctum Hall, and a guard was sent to retrieve him. The Komizar explained that Griz had seen the prince and his court when he was in Dalbreck at a public ceremony last year. He’d be able to identify Rafe as genuine or fake.

“Do you wish to change your story now? The truth would mean I could get to my evening meal sooner, and I’d be willing to make your death quick and relatively pain-free.”

“My story stands,” Rafe answered without hesitation.

Breathe, Lia. Breathe. I looked at Kaden and tried not to betray my panic, hoping for help. He owed me this. He returned my gaze, his head barely moving, no. I forgot. Venda always comes first. The fear rose in my chest, and I looked at the weapons belted at so many sides, the governors, the guards, the unidentified brethren of Venda. More than a dozen of them filled the room. Even if I were able to disarm one of them and kill another, what chance did Rafe and I have against all of them? Especially with Rafe’s hands chained behind his back. I inched forward and then I saw Rafe flex one hand, a quiet signal. I stopped. The room remained silent, the seconds ticking by torturously, the Komizar seeming to enjoy every one. Then we heard the footsteps, the heavy tromp of a giant coming down the hall.

The door opened, and Griz entered.

“Bedage akki,” the Komizar called and slung his arm around Griz’s shoulders. He walked him over to stand in front of Rafe, speaking in Vendan as he explained Rafe’s claim. “You were at the ceremony and saw the prince and his personal court. Do you recognize this man?”

Griz squinted, studying Rafe. He shifted his footing, looking askance and appearing uncomfortable with all eyes on him. “Hard to tell. It was a large crowd in the square. I was a long way back, but—” He scratched his head, taking a closer look. I saw the recognition in his eyes, and my stomach jumped to my throat.

“Well?” the Komizar asked.

Griz shot me a sideways glance. I stared at him, not breathing, frozen. He looked back at Rafe again, nodding in thought. “Yeah, I remember this one. He was standing right next to the prince, all fussed up in one of them frilly coats. Chummy they were. He and the prince laughed a few times.” He nodded as if satisfied with his recollection and then his scarred brow twisted in a scowl. “Anything else?”

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