Home > The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(4)

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(4)
Mary E. Pearson

Well? Massacring a whole company of young men?

He tossed the curved blade back into the cart and moved on to the next one. “And what’s this?” He reached in and pulled out a long strap of leather. Walther’s baldrick.

Not him. Anyone but him. I felt my knees weaken, and a small noise escaped my throat. He turned in my direction, holding it up. “The tooling is exceptional, don’t you think? Look at these vines.” He slowly slid the strap through his fingers. “And the leather, so buttery. Something fit for a crown prince, no?” He lifted it over his head and adjusted it across his chest as he walked back to me, stopping an arm’s length away. “What do you think, Princess?”

Tears sprang to my eyes. I, too, had foolishly played my hand. I was still too raw with Walther’s loss to think. I looked away, but he grabbed my jaw, his fingers gouging into my skin. He forced me to look back at him.

“You see, Princess, this is my kingdom, not yours, and I have ways of making you speak that you cannot even begin to fathom. You will sing like a clipped canary if I command it.”

“Komizar.” Kaden’s voice was low and earnest.

He released me and smiled, gently caressing my cheek. “I think the princess is tired from her long journey. Ulrix, take the princess to the holding room so she can rest for a moment and Kaden and I can talk. We have a lot to discuss.” He glanced at Kaden, the first sign of anger flashing through his eyes.

Kaden looked at me, hesitating, but there was nothing he could do. “Go,” he said. “It’ll be all right.”

*   *   *

Once we were out of Kaden’s sight, the guards all but dragged me down the hallway, their wrist cuffs stabbing into my arms. I still felt the pressure of the Komizar’s fingers against my face. My jaw throbbed where his fingers had dug in. In just a few brief minutes, he had perceived something I cared about deeply and used it to hurt me and, ultimately, weaken me. I had braced myself to be beaten or whipped, but not for that. The vision still burned my eyes, my brother’s baldrick proudly splayed across the enemy’s chest in the cruelest taunt, waiting for me to crumble. And I had.

Round one to the Komizar. He had overtaken me, not with quick condemnation or brute force, but with stealth and careful observation. I would have to learn to do the same.

My indignation mounted as the guards jostled me roughly through the dark hall, seeming to relish having a royal at their mercy. By the time they stopped at a door, my arms were numb under their grip. They unlocked it and threw me into a black room. I fell, the rough stone floor cutting into my knees. I stayed there, stunned and hunched on the ground, breathing in the musty, foul air. Only three thin shafts of light filtered through vents in the upper wall opposite me. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw a straw-filled mat, the stuffing spilling out onto the floor, a short milking stool, and a bucket. Their holding room had all the comforts of a barbaric cell. I squinted, trying to see more in the dim light, but then I heard a noise. A shuffle in the corner. I wasn’t alone.

Someone or something else was in the room with me.

Let the stories be heard,

So all generations will know,

The stars bow at the gods’ whisper,

They fall at their bidding,

And only the chosen Remnant,

Found grace in their sight.

—Morrighan Book of Holy Text, Vol. V

CHAPTER THREE

KADEN

“So, you thought she’d be useful.”

He knew the true reason. He knew I disdained the gift as much as he did, but his contempt for the gift sprang from lack of belief. I had more compelling reasons.

We sat alone in his private meeting chamber. He leaned back in his chair, his tented hands tapping his lips. His black eyes rested on me like cool, polished onyx, betraying no emotion. They rarely did, but if not anger, I knew at least curiosity lurked behind them. I looked away, gazing instead at the lush fringed carpet beneath us. A new addition.

“A goodwill gift from the Premier of Reux Lau,” he explained.

“Goodwill? It looks expensive. Since when do the Reux Lau bring us gifts?” I asked.

“You thought. Let’s get back to that. Is she that good in—”

“No,” I said, standing up. I walked to the window. Wind hissed through the gaps. “It’s not like that.”

He laughed. “Then tell me how it is.”

I looked back at his table, overflowing with maps, charts, books, and notes. I was the one who had taught him how to read Morrighese, which most of these documents were. Tell me how it is. I wasn’t sure myself. I returned to my chair across from him and explained Lia’s effect on Vendans as hardened as Griz and Finch. “You know how the clans are, and there are plenty of hillfolk who still believe. You can’t walk through the jehendra without seeing a dozen stalls selling talismans. Every other servant here in the Sanctum wears one or another tucked beneath their shirt and probably half the soldiers too. If they think the Vendans have somehow been blessed with one of the gifts of old, one of royal blood even, you might—”

He leaned forward, sweeping papers and maps to the floor with a broad angry stroke of his arm. “Do you take me for a fool? You betrayed an order because the backward few of Venda might take her to be a sign? Have you now appointed yourself Komizar to do what you think to be the wiser move?”

“I just thought—” I closed my eyes briefly. I had already disobeyed his order, and now I was making excuses, just as the Morrighese did. “I hesitated when I went to kill her. I—”

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