“Is this the point where I’m supposed to plead for my life?”
While Eben and Natiya loaded the other prisoners into a wagon, Wren and Synové led me into the forest, then tied me to a tree.
“Could be,” Wren said. “Just be quiet and listen.” Listen to what?
They turned and left, and I wondered if the plan was to leave me here to rot—or be eaten by a Candok. Minutes later, I heard rustling behind me. Human footsteps. Not Candok. I wasn’t sure it worried me any less.
Kazi came into view. She stood in front of me and told me she wanted me to listen and not say a single word. There were things I needed to hear. She’d gag me if she had to.
“You can spare me another lecture on being a thief—” “I said not a word.”
I fumed. Strained against the rope that held me. “You have a true captive audience.”
I didn’t say another word. She paced in front of me as she spoke, trying to convince me I had been played by Beaufort. Her voice held no emotion, and her eyes were just as detached.
“Let me give you the particulars of his crimes.” She told me Beaufort had been a trusted member of the Morrighese cabinet—a man of wealth and position, but he wanted more, and conspired with the Komizar to get it. She went into great detail, his crimes ranging from infiltrating the Morrighese
citadelle with enemy soldiers, to poisoning the king, to planning an attack that killed the crown prince.
My mind ticked over the details she threw at me, taking in her version and Beaufort’s, two scenarios, two possible lies, two possible truths. She continued to pace, her demeanor void of emotion—except for her hands tapping a tense dance against her thighs.
“Did I mention the thirty-two young soldiers who also died in the massacre he orchestrated? He was only warming up at that point. His crimes go on from there. You’ll see soon enough.
“I realize you didn’t know about the other men,” she continued. “Torback and Phineas are Morrighese scholars who are able to decipher the secrets of the Ancients and bring them to life again. They’re traitors too. They made vows to serve the gods, but instead they serve themselves.”
She told me that Sarva, Kardos, and Bahr were Vendan. “Everyone thought they died on the battlefield. There were so many charred bodies it was hard to tell, but some of their personal effects were found. They obviously staged their deaths before they ran.” She said Kardos was a general in the Komizar’s army who used children as young as Lydia and Nash on his front lines. It was his method of unnerving enemy soldiers before he moved his cavalry forward.
“Sarva was the governor of a Vendan province, and Bahr a Sanctum guard.” She said they led an attack against unarmed citizens, butchering them on the streets. Whole families died. Children, parents, grandparents. One of those families was Wren’s. She held her father as he died in her arms. “And Synové watched Bahr behead both of her parents. She had no choice but to run, because he came after her too. She was ten years old.”
She turned to face me. “These are the men you gave sanctuary to, the ones who promised to make you weapons. What did you want them for, Jase? To protect Hell’s Mouth? The arena? I can assure you, they had much bigger plans. You’ll see just how big later today. I heard them reveling in the fact that they would have the kingdoms under their thumbs soon. That the Great Battle would look like a spring picnic. The captain’s plans were for domination. The Ballengers were a lucky stepping stone for them, their means to an end.
“They laughed about it. They mocked you. I’m guessing they planned to kill your whole family once you gave them everything they needed—which
apparently was supplies for weapons. Who better to acquire the raw materials than a wealthy family who has access to everything through the arena? I heard them laugh about the arsenal that they’d soon have. Them, not you. It wouldn’t be the first time Captain Illarion has done something like this—but you knew when you hid a fugitive in order to get what you wanted that you were taking a risk.”
She stopped pacing and stared at me as if she was waiting for something. “Well?”
“Oh? I have permission to speak now?” She nodded.
My gaze locked onto hers and I spoke slowly, so each word had time to sink in. “Let me see if I have this straight. What you’re telling me is they infiltrated Tor’s Watch under false pretenses. They violated my family’s trust. They put them at risk. Ate our food. Slept in our beds. They used us. They made promises they had no intention of keeping. They betrayed us.”
She swallowed, my point made.
“So tell me, how are they different from you?”
She looked at me like I had slapped her face. “I wouldn’t have killed you, Jase. I wouldn’t have butchered your family. Can you say the same for them?”
“You intended to poison my family! You thought you were putting birchwings in our food!”
“It’s not a poison and you know it! It’s only a sedative.” “Nash and Lydia are children! I don’t care what it is!” “We didn’t put it in their food!”
“And yet, Beaufort and his men never even did that much to us.” “Yet.”
“We’re an independent realm, the first country, and you violated our sovereignty. Who am I supposed to believe? A Rahtan soldier who dishonored my family’s trust? Who mocked me? Or the word of a queen I’ve never met who seized land that was ours?”
“You have no borders, Jase. The land was in the Cam Lanteux. She chose it based on what the king told her. How was she to know?”
“So that excuse works for her, but not for me? I didn’t know what Beaufort’s crimes were beyond a tattered bill that he refuted.”
“All you had to do was ask.”
“We did! My father asked the king’s magistrate, who said he had no information about him.”
“Then you should have asked the queen!”
“The queen who doesn’t answer our letters? The queen who doesn’t even know we exist?”
“You hid him, Jase. That says everything.” She paused, her eyes drilling into mine. “You hid a lot of things.”
“Which crime am I really here for, Kazi? Hiding Beaufort, or hiding Zane?”
Her lip quivered. She turned and walked away, saying over her shoulder, “Wren and Synové will come back to get you.” I strained against the ropes, crazy thoughts running through my head, thoughts that made no sense.
“Kazi, wait!” I called.
She stopped and for long seconds looked down at the ground. “I was going to tell you about Zane,” I said. “I swear I was.”
She spun to face me. “When, Jase? When I took your ring, I gave it back to you when it mattered. When it helped you save everything you cared about. You had the chance to tell me about Zane—when it mattered to me. But you didn’t.”
She left, and I wished there had been anger in her voice or misery in her eyes or something. Instead, there was nothing, vast empty plains of nothing, and it hit me harder than if she had struck me in the jaw again.
The wind, time, They circle, repeat,
Teaching us to be ever watchful, For freedoms are never won, Once and for all,
But must be won over and over again.
—Song of Jezelia