Home > The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(7)

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(7)
Mary E. Pearson

The bitterness rolled up in my throat again. There were things I never thought would happen, much less have to witness. Watching my brother be slaughtered right before my eyes was the worst of them. I drew my hand away, wiping it on my tattered skirt. It felt wrong to have the warmth of Rafe’s hands on my fingertips when I spoke of Walther, who lay cold in the ground. “You mean they laughed about my brother. I listened to them on the road for five days, gloating over how easily they fell.”

“They said you buried them. All of them.”

I stared at the weak beams of light filtering through the slits, trying to see anything but Walther’s sightless eyes staring into the sky and my fingers closing them for the last time. “I wish you could have known him,” I said. “My brother was going to be a great king one day. He was kind and patient in all ways, and he believed in me the way no one else did. He—” I turned to face Rafe. “He rode with a company of thirty-two—the strongest, bravest soldiers of Morrighan. I watched every one of them die. They were outnumbered five to one. It was a massacre.”

The protective curtain I had drawn around myself was torn away, and sickening heat crawled over my skin. I smelled the sweat of their bodies. Pieces of bodies. I had gathered them all so nothing was left for the animals, then dropped to my knees thirty-three times to pray. My words spilled loose, bleeding from somewhere inside, thirty-three cries for mercy, thirty-three good-byes. And then the earth, soaked with their blood, swallowed them up, practiced, and they were gone. This was not the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

“Lia?”

I looked at Rafe. Tall and strong like my brother. Confident like my brother. He had only four coming. How much more could I face losing?

“Yes,” I answered. “I buried them all.”

He reached out and pulled me to his side. I sat on the straw next to him. “We can do this,” he said. “We just have to buy time until my men get here.”

“How long before your soldiers come?” I asked.

“A few days. Maybe more. It depends how far south they have to ride in order to cross the river. But I know they’ll be here as soon as they can. They’re the best, Lia. The best of Dalbreck soldiers. Two of them speak the language fluently. They’ll find their way in.”

I wanted to say that getting in wasn’t the problem. We had found our way in. The problem was getting out again. But I held my tongue and nodded, trying to appear encouraged. If his plan didn’t work, mine would. I had killed a horse this morning. Maybe by tonight I would kill another beast.

“There might be another way,” I said. “They have weapons in the Sanctum. They’d never miss one. I might be able to slip a knife beneath my skirt.”

“No,” he said firmly. “It’s too dangerous. If they—”

“Rafe, their leader is responsible for killing my brother, his wife, and a whole company of men. It’s only a matter of time before he goes back for more. He has to be—”

“His soldiers killed them, Lia. What good would killing one man do? You can’t take on a whole army with a single knife, especially in our positions. Right now our only goal is to get out of here alive.”

We were at odds. In my head, I knew he was right, but a deeper, darker part of me still hungered for more than escape.

He grabbed my arm, demanding an answer. “Do you hear me? You can’t do anyone any good if you’re dead. Be patient. My soldiers will come and then we’ll get out of this together.”

Me, patient, four soldiers. The words together were lunacy. But I conceded, because even without the four, Rafe and I needed each other, and that was what mattered right now. We sat on the mattress of straw and made our plans, what we would tell them, what we wouldn’t, and the deceptions we would have to construct until help arrived. An alliance at last—the one our fathers had tried to procure all along. I told him everything I already knew of the Komizar, the Sanctum, and the halls they had dragged me through. Every detail could be important.

“Be careful. Watch your words,” I said. “Even your movements. He misses nothing. He’s sharp-eyed even when he appears otherwise.”

There were some things I held back. Rafe’s plans were metal and flesh, floor and fist, all things solid. Mine were things unseen, fever and chill, blood and justice, the things that crouched low in my gut.

In the middle of whispering our plans, he paused suddenly and reached out, his thumb gently tracing a line across the crest of my cheek. “I was afraid—” He swallowed and looked down, clearing his throat. His jaw twitched, and I thought I would break watching him. When he looked back at me, his eyes crackled with anger. “I know what burns in you, Lia. They’ll pay for this. All of it. I promise. One day they’ll pay.”

But I knew what he meant. That Kaden would pay.

We heard footsteps approaching and quickly moved apart. He looked at me, the deep blue ice of his eyes cutting through the shadows. “Lia, I know your feelings about me may have changed. I deceived you. I’m not the farmer I claimed to be, but I hope I can make you fall in love with me again, this time as a prince, one day at a time. We’ve had a terrible start—it doesn’t mean we can’t have a better ending.”

I stared at him, his gaze swallowing me whole, and I opened my mouth to speak, but every word still swam in my head. Fall in love with me again … this time as a prince.

The door banged open, and two guards came in. “You,” they said, pointing to me, and I barely had time to get to my feet before they dragged me away.

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