Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(6)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(6)
Victoria Aveyard

“Payment is expected in full, to the equivalent of one thousand crowns,” Farley continues.

That almost knocks the air from my lungs. Even Will looks surprised, his fluffy white eyebrows disappearing into his hairline. “A thousand?” I manage to choke out. No one deals in that amount of money, not in the Stilts. That could feed my family for a year. Many years.

But Farley isn’t finished. I get the sense that she enjoys this. “This can be paid in paper notes, tetrarch coins, or the bartering equivalent. Per item, of course.”

Two thousand crowns. A fortune. Our freedom is worth a fortune.

“Your cargo will be moved the day after tomorrow. You must pay then.”

I can barely breathe. Less than two days to accumulate more money than I have stolen in my entire life. There is no way.

She doesn’t even give me time to protest.

“Do you accept the terms?”

“I need more time.”

She shakes her head and leans forward. I smell gunpowder on her. “Do you accept the terms?”

It is impossible. It is foolish. It is our best chance.

“I accept the terms.”

The next moments pass in a blur as I trudge home through the muddy shadows. My mind is on fire, trying to figure out a way to get my hands on anything worth even close to Farley’s price. There’s nothing in the Stilts, that’s for sure.

Kilorn is still waiting in the darkness, looking like a little lost boy. I suppose he is.

“Bad news?” he says, trying to keep his voice even, but it trembles anyway.

“The underground can get us out of here.” For his sake, I keep myself calm as I explain. Two thousand crowns might as well be the king’s throne, but I make it seem like nothing. “If anyone can do it, we can. We can.”

“Mare.” His voice is cold, colder than winter, but the hollow look in his eyes is worse. “It’s over. We lost.”

“But if we just—”

He grabs my shoulders, holding me at an arm’s length in his firm grip. It doesn’t hurt but it shocks me all the same. “Don’t do this to me, Mare. Don’t make believe there’s a way out of this. Don’t give me hope.”

He’s right. It’s cruel to give hope where none should be. It only turns into disappointment, resentment, rage; all the things that make this life more difficult than it already is.

“Just let me accept it. Maybe—maybe then I can actually get my head in order, get myself trained properly, give myself a fighting chance out there.”

My hands find his wrists and I hold on tight. “You talk like you’re already dead.”

“Maybe I am.”

“My brothers—”

“Your father made sure they knew what they were doing long before they went away. And it helps that they’re all the size of a house.” He forces a smirk, trying to get me to laugh. It doesn’t work. “I’m a good swimmer and sailor. They’ll need me on the lakes.”

It’s only when he wraps his arms around me, hugging me, that I realize I’m shaking. “Kilorn—” I mumble into his chest. But the next words won’t come. It should be me. But my time is fast approaching. I can only hope Kilorn survives long enough for me to see him again, in the barracks or in a trench. Maybe then I’ll find the right words to say. Maybe then I’ll understand how I feel.

“Thank you, Mare. For everything.” He pulls back, letting go of me far too quickly. “If you save up, you’ll have enough by the time the legion comes for you.”

For him, I nod. But I have no plans of letting him fight and die alone.

By the time I settle down into my cot, I know I will not sleep tonight. There must be something I can do, and even if it takes all night, I’m going to figure it out.

Gisa coughs in her sleep and it’s a courteous, tiny sound. Even unconscious, she manages to be ladylike. No wonder she fits in so well with the Silvers. She’s everything they like in a Red: quiet, content, and unassuming. It’s a good thing she’s the one who has to deal with them, helping the superhuman fools pick out silk and fine fabrics for clothes they’ll wear just once. She says you get used to it, to the amount of money they spend on such trivial things. And at Grand Garden, the marketplace in Summerton, the money increases tenfold. Together with her mistress, Gisa sews lace, silk, fur, even gemstones to create wearable art for the Silver elite who seem to follow the royals everywhere. The parade, she calls them, an endless march of preening peacocks, each one more proud and ridiculous than the next. All Silver, all silly and all status-obsessed.

I hate them even more than usual tonight. The stockings they lose would probably be enough to save me, Kilorn, and half the Stilts from conscription.

For the second time tonight, lightning strikes.

“Gisa. Wake up.” I do not whisper. The girl sleeps like the dead. “Gisa.”

She shifts and groans into her pillow. “Sometimes I want to kill you,” she grumbles.

“How sweet. Now wake up!”

Her eyes are still closed when I pounce, landing on her like a giant cat. Before she can start yelling and whining and get my mother involved, I clamp a hand on her mouth. “Just listen to me, that’s all. Don’t talk, just listen.”

She huffs against my hand, but nods all the same.

“Kilorn—”

Her skin flushes bright red at the mention of him. She even giggles, something she never does. But I don’t have time for her schoolgirl crush, not now.

“Stop that, Gisa.” I take a shaky breath. “Kilorn is going to be conscripted.”

And then her laughter is gone. Conscription isn’t a joke, not to us.

“I’ve found a way to get him out of here, to save him from the war, but I need your help to do it.” It hurts to say it, but somehow the words pass my lips. “I need you, Gisa. Will you help me?”

She doesn’t hesitate to answer and I feel a great swell of love for my sister.

“Yes.”

It’s a good thing I’m short, or else Gisa’s extra uniform would never fit. It’s thick and dark, not at all suited to the summer sun, with buttons and zippers that seem to cook in the heat. The pack on my back shifts, almost taking me over with the weight of cloth and sewing instruments. Gisa has her own pack and constricting uniform, but they don’t seem to bother her at all. She’s used to hard work and a hard life.

We sail most of the distance upriver, squashed between bushels of wheat on the barge of a benevolent farmer Gisa befriended years ago. People trust her around here, like they can never trust me. The farmer lets us off with a mile still to go, near the winding trail of merchants heading for Summerton. Now we shuffle with them, toward what Gisa calls the Garden Door, though there are no gardens to be seen. It’s actually a gate made of sparkling glass that blinds us before we even get a chance to step inside. The rest of the wall looks to be made of the same thing, but I can’t believe the Silver king would be stupid enough to hide behind glass walls.

“It isn’t glass,” Gisa tells me. “Or at least, not entirely. The Silvers discovered a way to heat diamond and mix it with other materials. It’s totally impregnable. Not even a bomb could get through that.”

Diamond walls.

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