Home > The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(11)

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(11)
Mary E. Pearson

“That’s all,” the Komizar answered.

Griz glanced briefly at me once more before he turned and left.

I tried to let the trapped air in my chest out in an even steady breath. Had Griz just lied for me? Or did he lie for Rafe? There are spies everywhere, Lia. One palm crosses another in return for watchful eyes. But not Griz. That was impossible. He was so utterly Vendan. Still, I remembered that he had hidden his fluency in Morrighese from the others.

“So, frilly emissary boy,” the Komizar said, “what’s this important message from your prince?”

“As I said before, this is for your ears only.”

The Komizar’s eyes turned to fire. “Don’t insult my brethren.” The governors grumbled threats.

Rafe conceded. “The King of Dalbreck is dying. It’s a matter of weeks, if not days. Until then, the prince’s hands are tied. He can do nothing, but soon the hand of power will pass to him. When it does, things will be different. He wants to be ready. The prince and his father have very different ideas about alliances and power.”

“What kind of ideas?”

“He’s looking to the future. He thinks marriage alliances are primitive and sees an alliance with Venda to be far more beneficial to Dalbreck than one with Morrighan.”

“And the benefit to Venda?”

“There’s a port we want in Morrighan and a few miles of hills. The rest is yours.”

“The prince has grand dreams.”

“Is it worth it to have any other kind?”

“And how would we know this isn’t another of Dalbreck’s tricks?”

“Once his father is dead, the prince himself is coming to negotiate with you as a sign of good faith—but of course, by then he would be king.”

“Here?” Kaden interjected. His tone was brittle with skepticism.

Rafe looked at him, keeping his expression even, but in the tick of a second, I saw the strain in his face. If his hands had been unshackled, I’m not sure he could have held himself back. How had I ever imagined that they were friends? “In a neutral area in the Cam Lanteux to be determined,” Rafe answered, and looked back at the Komizar. “He’ll send a messenger with details. But he wants you to be ready. The alliance will have to be quickly struck before Morrighan gets whiff of it.”

The Komizar studied Rafe, drawing out the silence. He finally shook his head. “I’ve no reason to trust you or believe that the prince is any different from his treacherous father, or any of their plotting fathers before them. All of Dalbreck is enemy swine.” He stood and walked around the room, his head bent in thought. “Still … it’s an interesting game your prince plays—or that you play.” He looked into the faces of the governors, Kaden, and others present as though opinions were being gathered, but no words were exchanged, only a few subtle nods. He turned and faced Rafe again. “A few weeks are little enough to play his game. It might even be amusing. If the prince’s father isn’t dead and a messenger doesn’t arrive within a month, then his supremely foolish emissary will be sent back to the prince—a finger and foot at a time. In the meantime, I’ll send my own riders to Dalbreck to confirm the king’s poor health.”

“I’d expect no less,” Rafe answered.

The Komizar stepped closer, almost chest to chest with Rafe, with his hand resting on the hilt of Walther’s sword. “What’s your stake in this, Emissary Boy?”

“What else?” Rafe answered. “Power. The prince has made promises to me as well.”

The Komizar smiled, and I saw a glint of admiration in his eyes.

I had listened to Rafe spill out lie after lie with such grace and ease I almost believed him myself, and I marveled at how easily he conjured them, but then I remembered how smoothly he had lied to me back in Terravin. This was not a new endeavor for him.

The Komizar told everyone our business there was finished and they should return to Sanctum Hall. He would follow shortly. A few more words were exchanged with this governor or that guard, without aid of a cabinet Timekeeper flashing his timepiece, and all done with a casual air at striking odds with the previous conversation. Rafe would be sent back a piece at a time. The guards led Rafe out, and the governors filed out behind him. Kaden reached to take hold of my arm.

The Komizar put his hand out. “I’ll escort the princess,” he said, stopping him. “We’ll be along soon. I need a few minutes with her. To talk.”

“I can wait,” Kaden said.

“Alone.” A dismissal, firm and final.

My blood ran cold. Alone with the Komizar.

Kaden glanced from him to me and then back again, still not moving, but I knew he’d be leaving, one way or another. It would be better if it was on my timing. My terms. Now. My stomach knotted in fear. Now.

“It’s all right, Kaden,” I said, forcing my words out clearly and firmly, ignoring the Komizar as if he weren’t there. “You can go along.”

A wedge perfectly aimed.

If Kaden left now, it would be on my orders, not on the Komizar’s. The silence bore down, heavy and unexpected. Kaden looked at me, knowing what I had done. The boundary of loyalty had been pushed. He shook his head and left, the damage done, the heavy door rattling in his wake. It was a short-lived victory. Now I was alone in the room with the Komizar.

“So … you have a tongue after all.”

I kept my eyes fixed on the door. “For those who deserve my words.”

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