Home > The Rose Society (The Young Elites #2)(7)

The Rose Society (The Young Elites #2)(7)
Marie Lu

When I squint at him in the darkness, I notice that he has stopped smiling. He turns his full stare on me.

“You’re Adelina Amouteru,” he murmurs to himself, his gaze wandering across my face with renewed interest. “Yes, of course, of course you are. I should have sensed it.”

I nod. For a moment, I wonder if perhaps I’ve told him too much. Does he know that the Inquisition wants us? What if he decides to turn us in to the Merroutas soldiers?

He considers me for what seems like hours. “You saved my life that day,” he adds.

I frown in confusion. “How?”

He smiles again, but it’s different from the sweet grin he gave Violetta. No, I’ve never seen a smile quite like this—cat-like, one that slants the corners of his eyes and gives him, for a moment, a fierce and savage look. The tips of his canines gleam. His expression has transformed his entire face, turning him into someone both intimidating and charismatic, and every thread of his attention is now trained on me, as if nothing else in the world existed. He seems to have forgotten about Violetta entirely. I don’t know what to make of this, but I can feel my cheeks starting to flush.

He stares at me without blinking, humming with the music as he plays. Then he looks away and speaks again. “If you are searching for Magiano, you will have better luck finding him in the abandoned bath halls of southern Merroutas, a building once called the Little Baths of Bethesda. Go there tomorrow morning at first light. I’ve heard he prefers negotiating in private places.” He holds a finger up. “But be warned—he doesn’t take orders from anyone. If you want to talk to him, you’ll have to give him a good reason.”

And before Violetta or I can say anything in return, he pushes away from the balcony, turns his back, and disappears inside the building.

Raffaele Laurent Bessette

Fog. Early morning.

A memory of a young boy crouching barefoot outside the door of his family’s squalid home, playing with sticks in the mud. He looked up to see an old man making his way along the village’s dirt path, his bony nag pulling a wagon behind her. The child stopped playing. He shouted for his mother, then stood up as the wagon came closer.

The man stopped before him. They stared at each other. There was something about the child’s eyes set in his thin face—one as warm as honey, the other as bright green as an emerald. But there was something more than that—as the man continued to stare, he must have wondered how someone so young could wear such a wise expression.

He went inside the little home to speak to the mother. It took some convincing—she did not want to let him in until he said that he had an opportunity for her to make some money.

“You won’t find many customers in this region to buy trinkets and potions,” his mother said to the man, wringing her hands in the tiny, dark room that she shared with her six children. He sat down in the chair she offered him. Her eyes darted constantly from thing to thing, never quite able to settle. “The blood fever has ravaged us. It took my husband and my eldest son last year. It marked two of my other children, as you can see.” She gestured at the young boy, who looked on quietly with his jewel-toned eyes, and to his brother. “This has always been a poor village, sir, but now it is on the verge of collapse.”

The child noticed the man’s eyes darting to him again and again. “And how are you faring, without your husband?” the man asked.

The mother shook her head. “I struggle working in our fields. I have sold some of our possessions. Our bread flour will last another few weeks, but it is full of worms.”

The man listened without a word. He showed no interest in the boy’s marked brother. When the mother finished, he sat back and nodded. “I make deliveries between the port cities of Estenzia and Campagnia. I want to ask about your littlest boy, the one with the two-toned eyes.”

“What do you want to know?”

“I will pay you five gold talents for him. He is a comely boy—he will fetch a high price in a large port city.”

At the mother’s stunned silence, the man continued, “There are courts in Estenzia that have more jewels and riches than you’ve ever dreamed possible. They are worlds of glitter and pleasure, and they are constantly in need of new blood.” At that, he nodded at the child.

“You mean you’ll take him to a brothel.”

The man looked down at the child again. “No. He is too fine featured for a brothel.” He leaned closer to the woman and lowered his voice. “Your marked children will have a hard time here. I have heard stories about other villages that have cast their little ones out into the forests, in fear that they will bring sickness and misfortune to all. I have seen them burn children, infants, alive in the streets. It will happen here too.”

“It will not,” the woman replied fiercely. “Our neighbors are poor, but they are good people.”

“Desperation brings out the darkness in everyone,” the man said with a shrug.

The two argued until evening fell. The mother continued to refuse.

The child listened in silence, thinking.

When night finally came, he rose and quietly took his mother’s hand. He told her that he would go with the man. The mother slapped him, told him he would do no such thing, but he did not budge.

“Everyone will starve,” he said softly.

“You are too young to understand what you’re sacrificing,” his mother scolded.

He glanced at his other siblings. “It will be all right, Mama.”

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