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

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

Kaden pulled me around, keeping me close to his side. “Stay near,” he whispered. “For your own good.”

Malich laughed, reveling in his threat, but for once, I knew what he said was true. Everything was different now. More than Malich could even guess.


Sanctum Hall was little more than a dismal tavern, albeit a cavernous one. Four of Berdi’s taverns could have fit within its walls. It smelled of spilled ale, damp straw, and overindulgence. Columns lined the four sides, and it was lit with torches and lanterns. The high ceiling was covered in soot, and an enormous rough wooden table sat heavy and abused in the center. Pewter tankards rested on the table or swung from meaty fists.

The leaders.

Kaden and I hung back in the shadowed walkway behind the columns, but the leaders greeted the chievdar and his personal guard with boisterous shouts and slapping of backs. Tankards were offered and raised to the returning soldiers with calls to bring more ale. I saw Eben, shorter than some of the serving boys, lifting a pewter cup to his lips, a returning soldier the same as the rest. Kaden pushed me slightly behind him in a protective manner, but I still scanned the room, trying to spot the Komizar, trying to be ready, prepared for what was to come. Several of the men were huge, like Griz—some even bigger—and I wondered what kind of creatures, both human and beast, this strange land produced. I kept my eyes on one of them. He snarled every word, and the scurrying boys ran a respectful wide distance around him. I thought that he had to be the Komizar, but I saw Kaden’s eyes scouring the room too, and they passed over the burly brute.

“These are the Legion of Governors,” he said, as if he had read my mind. “They rule the provinces.”

Venda had provinces? And a hierarchy too, beyond assassins, marauders, and an iron-fisted Komizar? The governors were distinguished from the servants and soldiers by black fur epaulets on their shoulders. The fur was crowned with a bronze clasp shaped like the bared teeth of an animal. It made their physiques appear twice as wide and formidable.

The ruckus rose to a deafening roar, echoing off the stone walls and bare floors. There was only a pile of straw in one corner of the room to absorb any noise. The boys parked the carts of booty along one row of pillars, and the governors perused the haul, lifting swords, testing weights, and rubbing forearms on leather breastplates to polish away dried blood. They examined the goods as if they were at a marketplace. I saw one of them pick up a sword inlaid with red jasper on the hilt. Walther’s sword. My foot automatically moved forward, but I caught myself and forced it back into place. Not yet.

“Wait here,” Kaden whispered and stepped out of the shadows. I inched closer to a pillar, trying to get my bearings. I saw three dark hallways that led into Sanctum Hall in addition to the one we had entered through. Where did they go, and were they guarded like the one behind me? And most important, did any of them lead to Rafe?

“Where’s the Komizar?” Kaden asked in Vendan, speaking to no one in particular, his voice barely cutting through the din.

One governor turned, and then another. The room grew suddenly quiet. “The Assassin is here,” said an anonymous voice somewhere at the other end.

There was an uncomfortable pause and then one of the shorter governors, a stout man with multiple red braids that fell past his shoulders, barreled forward and threw his arms around Kaden, welcoming him home. The noise resumed but at a noticeably lower level, and I wondered at the effect an Assassin’s presence had on them. It reminded me of Malich and how he had reacted to Kaden on the long trek across the Cam Lanteux. He’d had blood in his eye and was equally matched, but he’d still backed down when Kaden stood his ground.

“The Komizar’s been called,” the governor told Kaden. “That is, if he comes. He’s occupied with—”

“A visitor,” Kaden finished.

The governor laughed. “That she is. The kind of visitor I’d like to have.”

More governors walked over, and one with a long crooked nose shoved a tankard in Kaden’s hand. He welcomed him home and berated him for being gone for so long on holiday. Another governor chided him, saying he was away from Venda more than he was here.

“I go where the Komizar sends me,” Kaden answered.

One of the other governors, as big as a bull and with a chest just as wide, lifted his drink in a toast. “As do we all,” he replied and threw back his head, taking a long careless swig. Ale sloshed out the sides of his mug and dripped down his beard to the floor. Even this taurine giant hopped when the Komizar snapped his fingers, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it.

Though they spoke only in Vendan, I was able to understand nearly everything they said. I knew far more than just the choice words of Venda. Weeks of immersion in their language across the Cam Lanteux had cured my ignorance.

As Kaden answered their questions about his journey, my gaze became fixed on another governor pulling a finely tooled baldrick from the cart and trying to force it around his generous gut. I felt dizzy, sick, and then rage bubbled up through my veins. I closed my eyes. Not yet. Don’t get yourself killed in the first ten minutes. That can come later.

I took a deep breath, and when I opened my eyes again, I spotted a face in the shadows. Someone on the other side of the hall was watching me. I couldn’t look away. Only a slash of light illuminated his face. His dark eyes were expressionless, but at the same time compelling, fixed like a wolf stalking prey, in no hurry to spring, confident. He casually leaned against a pillar, a younger man than the governors, smooth-faced except for a precise line of beard at his chin and a thin, carefully clipped mustache. His dark hair was unkempt, locks curling just above his shoulders. He didn’t wear the furred epaulets of a governor on his shoulders, nor the leather vestments of a soldier, only simple tan trousers and a loose white shirt, and he was certainly in no hurry to attend to anyone, so he wasn’t a servant either. His eyes moved past me as if bored, and he took in the rest of the scene, governors pawing through carts and swilling ale. And then Kaden. I saw him watching Kaden.

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