Home > The Rose Society (The Young Elites #2)(8)

The Rose Society (The Young Elites #2)(8)
Marie Lu

The mother looked at her beautiful boy, admired his eyes, and ran a hand through his black hair. Her fingers played with his few strands of brilliant sapphire. She pulled him close to her and cried. She hung on to him for a long time. He hugged her back, proud of himself for helping his mother, not knowing what it meant.

“Twelve talents,” she told the man.

“Eight,” he countered.

“Ten. I’ll not give up my son for less than that.”

The man was silent for a while. “Ten,” he agreed.

The mother exchanged a few quiet words with the man, and then released her son’s hand.

“What is your name, little boy?” the man asked as he helped him into his rickety wagon.

“Raffaele Laurent Bessette.” The child’s voice was solemn, his eyes still fixed on his home. Already he was starting to feel afraid. Could his mother ever visit him? Did this mean he would never see his family again?

“Well, Raffaele,” the man replied, tapping his mare’s hindquarters with his whip. He distracted the boy by giving him a hunk of bread and cheese. “Have you ever been to the capital of Kenettra?”

Two weeks later, the man sold the child to the Fortunata Court of Estenzia for three thousand gold talents.

Raffaele’s eyes flutter, then open to the faint light of dawn streaming in through the window. A flurry of snow is falling outside.

He stirs. Even the flickering fireplace and the furs piled high on his bed are not enough to keep away the bite of icy air. Raffaele’s skin prickles from the chill. He pulls up the furs to his chin again and tries to fall back asleep. But two weeks on a ship sailing through stormy waters from Kenettra north to Beldain have taken their toll, and Raffaele’s body aches from exhaustion. The Beldish queen’s summer castle is a cold and dank place, unlike Estenzia’s glittering marble halls and warm, sun-drenched gardens. He cannot get used to such a chilly summer. The other Daggers must be having trouble resting too.

After a while, he sighs, pushes away the furs, and rises from bed. The light outlines his taut stomach, lean muscles, and slender neck. He walks on silent feet to where his robe is draped over the foot of the bed. He’d worn this robe before, as it had been a present from a Kenettran noblewoman, the Duchess of Campagnia, several years ago. She’d become so infatuated with Raffaele, in fact, that she threw much of her fortune behind supporting the Daggers. The more powerful his clients, the more they tried to buy his love.

He wonders whether the duchess is well. After the Daggers fled Kenettra, they sent doves out to contact their patrons. The duchess was one of the patrons who had never responded.

Raffaele slides on the long robe, covering his body from head to toe. The fabric is heavy and luxurious, pooling at his feet, and shimmers in the light. He runs his fingers through the weight of his long black hair, then pulls it up into an elegant knot on the top of his head. In the cold morning sun, tiny traces of sapphire glimmer in his hair. His hands trace the cool surface of his sleeves.

He thinks back to the night when Enzo visited his chambers, when he had first warned the prince about Adelina. His fingers pause for a moment, suspended in grief.

No use dwelling on the past. Raffaele casts a glance back at the fireplace, then exits the chamber on silent feet. His robes pull behind him in a sheet of heavy velvet.

The corridors smell stale—centuries of old, damp stone and the ash of ancient torches. Gradually, they lighten until they open up to the summer castle’s gardens. The flowers are dusted with a thin layer of snow that would melt by the time afternoon came. From here, Raffaele can see the castle’s lower grounds and, beyond that, the rocky shores of Beldain. A cool gust numbs his cheeks and whips strands of hair across his face.

His gaze shifts to the main courtyard within the castle’s front gates.

Normally, the space would be quiet at this hour. But today, malfettos fleeing Estenzia litter the grounds, huddled around small fires and under old blankets. Another shipload of malfettos must have just arrived in the night. Raffaele watches the clusters of people move and shift, then turns back inside the castle to head down.

Several malfettos recognize Raffaele as he makes his way out into the main courtyard. Their faces light up. “It’s the Daggers’ leader!” one exclaims.

Other malfettos rush forward, all eager to touch Raffaele’s hands and arms, hoping for a moment of his ability to soothe. It is a daily ritual. Raffaele stands still in the midst of them. So many people, begging for comfort.

His eyes settle on a bald boy quite a bit taller than himself, his hair taken long ago by the fever. Raffaele had seen him waiting yesterday too. He gestures at the boy to step forward. His eyes widen in surprise, and then he rushes to Raffaele’s side.

“Good morning,” he says.

Raffaele looks at him carefully. “Good morning,” he replies.

The boy lowers his voice. He seems nervous now that he has managed to get Raffaele’s attention before anyone else. “Can you come see my sister?” he asks.

“Yes,” Raffaele replies without hesitation.

The bald boy brightens at his answer. Like everyone else, he seems unable to tear his eyes away from Raffaele’s face. He touches the young consort’s arm. “This way,” he says.

Raffaele follows him through the groups of malfettos. A rough, dark mark sprawled all across a forearm. A scarred ear and dark hair peppered with silver. Mismatched eye colors. Raffaele silently memorizes the markings he sees. Whispers erupt wherever he glides past.

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