Home > The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(3)

The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(3)
Author: Jeffe Kennedy

The Last Resort lifted, shifted, then shot off the coral reef. A wave curled over us, dousing the spontaneous cheers as we hit a trough. I had the sea catch us, encircling the yacht in a pool of calmer water. Con laughed, a belly-deep howl of relief and delight.

“We’re on the wrong side of the reef still!” Kara shouted over the wind as he clutched the rail on our left.

“Shut up. She knows what She’s doing,” Sondra, on our right, yelled back.

I wouldn’t put it that strongly, but I did have a plan. During my abduction and imprisonment, I’d spent so much time and effort trying to reconnect to my lost Calanthe that She roared into me now, as if in trying to reach Her again, I’d given up all reservation to Her will. The orchid ring fluttered on my wrist as the dreamthink flowed like blood, infusing my lungs like air, and the coral reef spoke to me. Millions of small voices created a symphony of information, singing of their place, the movement of the water around them. I let them inform the waves, who then took us around and between the crevices.

Calanthe wanted me home as much as I wanted to be there, hurrying us along. With the sea carrying us into the harbor, I diverted my attention to the storm, inviting it to turn its savagery on the open water, away from land.

The fury of it lessened. Not abating entirely, but the rain no longer slanted sideways, and the wind no longer howled. The Last Resort glided into the harbor without sails, more or less upright, though with a definite list to one side.

“We’re still taking on water,” Kara reported, “but we should make it before she sinks.”

Percy would never forgive me if I sank his boat, so I encouraged the sea to flow back out again. Slowly, the yacht righted. Kara glanced my way but said nothing.

The harbor sat quiet in the drumming rain, the docked ships tossing in their berths, lights on in only a few houses that wended their way in spirals up the hill. No one waited to greet us. Not surprising, I supposed, as the hour was late and everyone would be hunkered down to wait out the storm. Still, returning from the dead seemed like it should be an occasion for a bit of celebration.

“Your Highness.” Lady Ibolya stepped into the place Sondra vacated, curtsying deeply. “I brought a cloak for You, in case You wanted to return without fanfare.” The cloak had a deep cowl and long sleeves with draping cuffs that would cover my hands—and lack thereof. My nobles and courtiers often wore that sort of thing to secret assignations, and I’d worn this one before to sneak out and visit Con in the map tower, back in my previous life.

“They don’t know, do they?” I asked Ibolya, then tipped my chin up to Con. “What did you tell everyone?”

“We kept the news as quiet as we could,” he told me gravely, a hint of doubt in his face. “I know how hard you’ve worked to keep your—our—people from panicking. Not many know you disappeared from the Battle at Cradysica.”

“What do they think happened to Me?”

“That you were injured and needed time to recover,” Con replied.

“Your other ladies went to the temple, Your Highness,” Ibolya added. “They’ve gone into seclusion, and we let everyone believe You went with them. To heal.”

The way she added that last, so tenderly and hopefully, sorely tested my precarious poise. To heal. It sounded as far beyond me as the sky.

“Lia.” Con at last let go of the rail and gazed down at me very seriously as he ran a gentle hand over my bald scalp. “You should know—Tertulyn is with them.”

I nearly staggered. Would have, if Con hadn’t been supporting me still. “I didn’t see her,” I managed to say, “at Yekpehr. I looked for her in Anure’s court, but she was here all along.”

Con nodded, then shook his head. “It’s a long story, and you’re weaving on your feet. Let’s get you inside and take this slowly.”

I looked past him to the horizon I couldn’t see, the night and storm obscuring it all. But I felt the gazes of those wizards streaming through the distance, the hot glare of their obsession following me. I’d vanquished their wave, but they’d be back with more and better.

“Taking things slowly isn’t an option,” I observed. Ambrose stepped into my line of sight and inclined his head in apparent agreement. “Unfortunately,” I added with a nod to Kara, “time is what we don’t have.”

 

 

2


Lia at last agreed to let me carry her into the palace, conceding only because no one was awake to witness her weakness. Not that she had much of a choice about it. The woman might possess the courage and will—and the obstinate pride—of a person ten times her size, but her ordeal had weakened her to the point that she couldn’t stand without me holding her up. I hadn’t gone twenty steps carrying her before she’d slipped back into sleep. Or unconsciousness. A fine line there, but the flesh only responds to will so far as physical laws of the universe allow.

Though if anyone could bend those laws, Lia could.

Ibolya, wearing a cloak like Lia’s that hid all vestiges of the woman beneath, led us up to the palace via a path that was little more than a deer trail through the woods. The storm had escalated again. Lightning snaked through the sky, rattling us with sudden, intense cracks of nearby strikes, thunder shaking my bones. At least the canopy of broad, tropical leaves blocked most of the rain and tearing wind. Orchids danced in the waving limbs, trailing lush and luminous in the shadows. Vesno, at first delighted to be freed from the small cabin we’d stuck him in to keep the wolfhound from being swept overboard by the storm, whined at every boom and huddled so close to my leg I kept nearly tripping on him.

Runoff streamed down the trail from above, making the sometimes steep path treacherously slick. Rain lashed in a downpour through breaks in the canopy, startlingly chill. Still, I’d tromped through worse, with heavier loads. Lia weighed basically nothing—something I tried not to worry about.

I had zero experience with the dead coming back to life. I had no idea how to cope with this fresh terror that she might die all over again. Could I survive Lia’s death twice? I doubted it.

And then Rhéiane … I’d thought my long-lost sister dead, too. I’d lived all these years with that grief, had hardened myself to that reality along with everything else that lay in dust at the bottom of my burnt-coal heart. If Agatha’s “Lady Rhéiane” at Yekpehr was truly my sister, she’d have been Anure’s prisoner and probably his plaything all these years. If she was really alive, that meant what she’d endured … I shook that thought away.

I hope she’s dead, because the alternative doesn’t bear contemplating, Sondra had said. I didn’t know what I wanted, but “hope” didn’t enter into it.

When I’d thought Lia dead, yeah, there had been a restfulness to that loss of all hope. I shifted her in my arms so I could better see her face, so pale, luminous as her orchids in the thrashing trees. Her petal-thin skin had sunk over the hollows of her fragile skull, and shadows pooled there, giving her the uncanny aspect of a skull. She lay so still, lax and limp as death. Was she even breathing? I lowered my head to check, wary lest she bite me again.

Relieved to feel her breath, I studied her parted lips. Had she truly been drinking my blood? The intensity of her animal reaction had taken me by surprise. It had been like wrestling a spitting cat, all claws and fury. Those teeth she hid behind close-lipped smiles—they were sharp as any predator’s. A force of nature, Ambrose had once called her.

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