Home > The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(9)

The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(9)
Author: Jeffe Kennedy

“You don’t want to,” he said, not exactly a question.

“I don’t know what I want right now. I can’t think.” I really couldn’t. I pressed fingers to my temple, willing the dizziness away.

He relaxed, smiling ruefully. “Sorry—stupid of me to push. We’ll talk about that when you’re stronger.”

“Do you really think I will get stronger?” I asked hesitantly. It seemed impossible right then.

“You? Absolutely.”

“I don’t feel like it, Con. I’m not the same as I was before.”

“You are queen of Calanthe and more powerful than anyone I’ve ever met.”

“Con.” I hesitated to give voice to this, too. “Calanthe is crumbling, out of control.”

“I know. It’s a bad storm, but you’re back now and everything will be fine.”

I was shaking my head as he spoke. “No. You can’t understand. All that blood at Cradysica, and Me ripped from Her. And those wizards—I can feel their magic tearing at Her, making it worse. It will not be fine.”

“Then we’ll fix it. Ambrose and Merle will help you. And the orchid. It’s a powerful magical thing, right? That’s why the wizards wanted it. But they don’t have it. You do.”

“Con, you just don’t—”

“Isn’t this what you were born to do?” He interrupted, gripping my shoulders and staring me down. “How many times have you told me that protecting Calanthe and your people is your sacred duty and you’d die before you failed in that?”

“I did die,” I pointed out, a bit taken aback by his ferocity—and that he was exactly right.

His mouth cocked up on one side in a half grin. “Yeah, but you’re not dead anymore, so that’s no excuse.”

“I’m not making excuses! I’m explaining that I face impossible odds.”

“Hey.” Con curled his fingers under my chin, lifting it. “We’ll figure it out. Step by step, all right?”

I managed a nod, mostly to make him happy.

“How about we start with food?” he suggested.

“I need to bathe and dress.” Get out of this bed and find out what was going on, try to do something.

He cocked his head dubiously. “I was thinking you eat and go back to sleep.”

“How can I sleep when Calanthe might dissolve beneath us? I have to try, Con.”

With a sigh of resignation, he threw off the covers and strode naked to the stand where he’d left his robe. “I’ll get Ibolya.”

Gathering up his bagiroca and rock hammer, but with no place to put them, he stood awkwardly a moment, holding them and gazing at me. “You’ll be all right for a bit if I go?”

“Conrí.” I managed a hint of an imperious tone. “I’ve been alone all My life. Yes, I can manage for a few moments.”

He smiled wryly, a shadow behind it. “Yeah.”

The door clicked closed, and I sank back into the pillows, closing my eyes a moment, the fatigue dragging at me. I forced my eyelids up so I wouldn’t fall asleep again and unwrapped the light bandage around my left hand, making myself look at it. The pale skin of my forearm below the wilted orchid ended in furious reds and purples at my wrist. The skin there furled in ridged waves of angry flesh. Five twiggy fingers emerged from it, like saplings sprung from bloody soil. Wispy green tendrils connected them below the first joint, but otherwise each was a long extension broken into four segments. I wiggled them and they flexed with spidery grace, clicking softly.

Curious, unsettled, I touched the tip of one with the index finger of my other hand. No sensation in the twig finger. I tried plucking at the sheet with the twig fingers, and though they obeyed my intent, closing on the silk as they should, they lacked grip and the cloth slid away again. Lifting the hand to my cheek, I stroked my skin with the pointed end of one twig finger. It felt like exactly that: plant not human.

Deciding not to wrap my monstrous hand again, I lay there for a long time, staring unseeing at the shadowed ceiling, listening to the sounds of anguished life dying all over Calanthe. Feeling my own body die around me.

 

 

4


“How is She?” Sondra shot at me, leaping at me from the dim shadows of a sofa in the darkened outer chamber. With my bagiroca in one hand and rock hammer in the other, I nearly brained her. I still might.

“Why aren’t you asleep?” I asked, setting my weapons down. With all the frustration I’d concealed from Lia, I yanked the bell string that would summon Ibolya. Spying the silver coffeepot some thoughtful soul—probably also Ibolya—had left for us, I headed straight for it. Calanthe’s coffee couldn’t be beat, and I mixed a large mug with healthy portions of fresh cream and sweet honey.

“One thing about genteel imprisonment, there wasn’t much to do but eat and sleep,” Sondra said wryly. “I’m better off than most of you. The question is, why aren’t you still asleep?” By the light of the lanterns she’d begun lighting, I saw someone had indeed trimmed her hair, removing the awkward tufts and sculpting it to one length, but so short that it mostly stood on end. I supposed we couldn’t regret any of the choices that had gotten us safely out of Yekpehr, but the sight of Sondra with shorn hair reminded me of being back at Vurgmun, and—particularly after that gut-wrenching conversation with Lia—I couldn’t quite look at her. I took a bracing gulp of coffee, willing myself to wake up.

“I’m awake because Lia is. She wants to get up, but I’m hoping if we get some food into her, she’ll sleep some more.”

Sondra nodded but didn’t move. “But how is She?”

I added more honey, then more coffee. Clearly I needed more kick. “She’s weak and you know how she hates that. And she’s…” Depressed. In despair. “Sad.”

“No surprise there. You can’t expect a person to just bounce back from a trauma like that.”

“I didn’t say I thought she should.”

“You didn’t not say it—and you can be a prick that way, Conrí. You kind of do expect everyone to just soldier on, to get back up and fight even harder.”

I set my teeth. “Did you want something,” I asked as mildly as I could, which wasn’t very, “or were you just in the mood to kick me around?”

She grinned, briefly and toothily. “I’m always in the mood to kick your ass, Conrí, but no—I told Ibolya I’d keep an ear out for Her Highness in case She needed anything.”

“I was with Lia,” I replied, unreasonably irritated, “so there was no need to hover.”

Sondra eyed me. “Like I said, you’re not the most sensitive guy, Conrí.”

“I can be sensitive,” I snapped.

Sondra huffed out a sigh. “Don’t look like a kicked puppy. Sawehl knows you’re in bad shape yourself. Ibolya said you’ve barely slept since Cradysica. We were worried about you both, all right?”

“I’m fine. You’re the one who was imprisoned at Yekpehr. You can pretend it was genteel, but I know that had to have been hard on you.”

“I’m fine,” she retorted, mimicking me. “Let’s not compete for who’s more fucked up. Besides, I—” She broke off as the outer doors opened, admitting Ibolya, two servants with platters of food, and an excited Vesno.

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