Home > The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(8)

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)(8)
Mary E. Pearson

CHAPTER FIVE

“Down you go, girl.”

I was dunked into a tub of ice-cold water, my head held below the surface as forceful hands scrubbed my scalp. I came up sputtering for a breath, choking on soapy water. Apparently the Komizar had found my appearance disgusting and especially offensive to his delicate nose, and ordered a quick cleanup. I was hauled out of the tub and ordered to dry myself with a piece of cloth no bigger than a handkerchief. A young woman whom the others called Calantha supervised my humiliating bath. She threw something at me. “Put this on.”

I looked at the heap of cloth at my feet. It was a rough, shapeless sack that appeared more suited to stuffing with straw than a body. “I will not.”

“You will if you want to live.”

There was no hint of anger in her tone. Only fact. Her gaze was unnerving. She wore a patch over one eye. The black ribbon holding it in place contrasted with her strange, colorless dead white hair. The patch itself was startling, almost impossible to look away from. It was sewn with tiny polished beads to give the appearance of a bright blue eye staring straight ahead. Decorative tattooed lines swirled out from beneath the patch, making one side of her face a piece of artwork. I wondered why she drew attention to what others might see as a weakness.

“Now,” she said.

I tore my gaze from her unsettling stare and snatched the rough cloth from the floor, holding it up for a better view. “He wants me to wear this?”

“This isn’t Morrighan.”

“Nor am I a sack of potatoes.”

Her single eye narrowed, and she laughed. “You’d be far more valuable if you were.”

If the Komizar thought this would demean me, he was wrong. I was well beyond nursing any kind of pride now. I threw the cloth over my head. It was loose and difficult to keep on my shoulders, and I had to hold up the excess length to keep from tripping. The coarse fabric scratched my skin. Calantha threw a length of rope at me. “This might help keep things in place.”

“Lovely,” I said, returning her smirk, and proceeded to tuck and fold the loose fabric as best I could, then secure it with the rope around my waist.

My bare feet were freezing on the stone floor, but my boots had been taken away, and I didn’t expect to see them again. I tried to suppress a shiver and nodded to indicate I was ready.

“Be grateful, Princess,” she said, eerily tracing a finger over her sightless jeweled eye. “I’ve seen him do far worse to those who defy him.”

CHAPTER SIX

PAULINE

The last leg of the trip to Civica had been grueling. A driving rain had overtaken us near Derryvale, and we were forced to take shelter in an abandoned barn for three days, sharing our quarters with an owl and a feral cat. Between the two of them, there were at least no rodents. Every day that passed idle made my anxiety grow. Lia was surely in Venda by now if that was where Kaden was taking her. I tried not to dwell on the other possibility—that she was already dead.

It had all happened so quickly, I hadn’t quite grasped it at the time. Kaden took her. Kaden was one of them. Kaden, whom I had favored over Rafe. I’d actually made the mistake of nudging her in his direction. I had liked his calm demeanor. I had told her his eyes were kind. Everything about him had seemed kind. How could I have been so wrong? It shook me somewhere deep. I had always thought myself a good judge of character, but Kaden was the opposite of kind. He was an assassin. That’s what Gwyneth claimed. How she would know, I wasn’t certain, but Gwyneth had many talents, and pulling illicit information from tavern customers was surely among them.

We had decided it was safer to stay at an inn in one of the several hamlets just outside the city walls. While no one would know Gwyneth, they’d know me, and I needed to keep my presence hidden until I had at least arranged a meeting with the Lord Viceregent. I was a very visible figure of the queen’s court, and probably facing treason charges myself for helping Lia run away. Of all the cabinet, the Viceregent had always been the kindest to Lia, solicitous, even. He seemed to understand her difficult place in court. If I explained her plight, surely he could break the news to the king in the most advantageous way. What father wouldn’t at least try to save his daughter, no matter how she had defied him?

I hung back in the shadows with my hood drawn over my head while Gwyneth secured a room for us. I watched her conversing with the innkeeper, though I couldn’t hear what was said. It seemed to take far longer than necessary. I felt a rolling quiver in my belly. It was a constant reminder of how much things had changed, how much time had passed, a reminder of Lia’s promise, we’ll get through this together. A reminder that time was running out. I kissed my fingers and lifted them to the gods. Please bring her back.

Some paper was passed between Gwyneth and the innkeeper. He eyed me briefly, perhaps wondering why the hood of my cloak was still drawn inside the inn, but he said nothing and finally shoved a key across the counter to Gwyneth.

The room was at the end of the hall, small, but with far greater comforts than the barn. Nove and Dieci were in the stable and seemed to appreciate having their own quarters and fresh barley to eat too. Money wasn’t a problem. I had traded the jewels Lia gave me for coin in Luiseveque. Even Gwyneth was impressed at how easily I dealt with shady merchants in back rooms, but I had learned it all from Lia.

When I had shut the door behind us, I asked Gwyneth what had taken so long. Securing a room at Berdi’s was a matter of agreeing on a price and pointing the guest to the room.

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