I couldn’t say I wasn’t glad to see Bahr depart, but afterward it made me think that if the queen had half the creative fury of Synové, I was in big trouble. But the queen was supposedly bedridden, so there was at least that. I had to look for whatever bright spots I could.
I wondered why she was confined to her bed. Had she been injured in the Great War? Rumor was that she was strong and had managed to bring down the twelve-foot, half-god Komizar. Maybe, like her brother, she had an injury she had never recovered from.
Griz had strong words with Synové after Bahr’s departure, and she took them stoically. Apparently she had broken some rule of theirs, or maybe Griz just didn’t want to arrive at the queen’s doorstep empty-handed with every prisoner snatched from his grip. Two were already dead. I noted the other prisoners had gone silent, maybe trying to avoid drawing Synové’s attention. Last night at dinner, the only sound I heard out of them was a burp. In some ways, I was sorry that Griz had reprimanded her. I wouldn’t have minded if she pulled that stunt at least one more time—on Beaufort.
Last night when we set camp, I had watched Kazi studying Synové, and I had wondered what she was thinking. Was she wishing she could see Zane suffer the way Bahr had? But that chance was gone. For eleven years, she had looked for him, and I had kept him out of her grasp. The right moment to tell her had never come.
Kazi told me this morning we weren’t going to Venda, but to a place called Marabella. We’d be there today. I thought I’d have more time. I was caught off guard, and maybe that was the point—to keep the prisoners in the dark. I was sure the others still didn’t know. She said Marabella was a former Dalbretch outpost that had been converted and expanded to serve as a place of mutual rule for two kingdoms. When the Dalbretch king and the Vendan queen married, they divided their time between the two kingdoms and also the outpost halfway between them.
Kazi was riding up ahead with Wren, Synové, Eben, and Natiya, surrounding the other prisoners. They guarded them like they were gold. I had seen the strain in her face this morning when she saddled Mije, as if she might lose them in these last hours. Ruins had become more plentiful as we traveled, and maybe that’s what contributed to the tension—there were more places for bandits to hide. I was left to ride at the end of our caravan with Griz on one side of me and a Morrighese soldier on the other. If I were picked off by bandits, I supposed it wouldn’t matter as much.
As we rode over a rise in the landscape someone called, “There it is!” It was still a long way off, but I caught my first glimpse of Marabella. Its high, white walls gleamed in the distance, and a city sprawled around it. Natiya had told me it was the first site designated as a settlement. I guessed there was less than an hour before we reached it.
“I need to speak to Kazi,” I said.
Griz snorted, disinterested in my requests. “Nah.” “It’s important.”
He squinted an eye. “About what?”
“It’s between me and her, you bastard; go get her.” His eyes sparked and his fingers twitched and I knew I was about to get a mouthful of knuckles from a man three times my size and I added, “Please.”
* * *
Kazi rode back, her face shining with sweat, a tense crease between her brows. “What is it?” she asked. “I need to stay with the other prisoners. They’re jumpy.”
So was she. She looked at me, waiting, impatient, and I realized what I had to say didn’t really matter anymore.
“Jase,” she said, trying to hurry me along.
I blurted something else out instead. “Will I get a chance to speak?” “Yes,” she answered. “When you stand before the queen to answer to the
charges. She’ll hear you out.”
“At her bedside? Is she dying?” “What?”
“You said she was unable to travel and was confined to her bed. I thought that maybe—”
“No. It’s nothing like that. Her physician ordered no travel. She miscarried her first child, and now she’s expecting again.”