Authors: Marie Lu
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult
“Master Santoro.” Giulietta’s voice is not loud, but Raffaele hears the sharp warning in her tone.
She doesn’t want to shout it, because she doesn’t want to look like she has no control over her Inquisition.
Teren ignores her. “In Kenettra,” Teren continues loudly, “a
, gift or otherwise, is not to set foot inside Estenzia.”
Raffaele thinks. They had chosen to gift Raffaele precisely to anger Teren.
Is he angry that he didn’t capture me first, or that his queen is looking at me instead of him?
“In Kenettra,” Teren says, “a
who has committed treason against the crown must be executed. My Inquisition is grateful to Your Majesty for bringing this criminal back to us, so that we can carry out the appropriate punishment.”
” This time Giulietta’s voice is a furious whip. Teren finally turns to face her, and she narrows her eyes at him. Her mouth is set in a firm line. “Cease.”
As the crowd stirs restlessly, she holds her hands up for silence. “We have enough bloodshed in our past,” she says. “Let there be none today.”
Teren opens his mouth, then quickly closes it. He bows his
head to Giulietta, shoots Raffaele one last withering glare, and stalks back to Giulietta’s tent. Giulietta doesn’t look at him. While Inquisitors grab each of Raffaele’s arms, Giulietta approaches.
“Do you always let your Lead Inquisitor speak for you, Queen of Kenettra?” Maeve asks in a low voice.
“Would you have stepped in to save your gift, Queen of Beldain?” Giulietta replies, a small smile playing at the edges of her lips. There is a coldness in her voice, a challenge, and suddenly, it seems the polite words exchanged only moments ago will be for nothing.
Then, Giulietta shakes her head. “Forgive my Lead Inquisitor’s actions,” she finally says in a loud, clear voice. “He defends his country fiercely, that is all.”
Raffaele looks on as Maeve rises, bows a farewell to Giulietta, and takes the reins of her new horse. She leads the stallion down the path, toward the Estenzian palace, as the crowd watches her go.
Giulietta studies Raffaele awhile longer. Beside her, Teren notices the way she admires Raffaele’s features. He scowls.
Raffaele’s thoughts spin. Never has he heard of such conflict between the queen and Teren. More so, Giulietta’s attitude toward
seems to have shifted since the time when she wanted Enzo dead. Now that she has her throne, has she given up on her supposed war against
? Had it all been part of her plan to both secure Teren’s support and get rid of her brother? Raffaele studies her energy, wondering.
Will Giulietta punish Teren for defying her?
Finally, Giulietta stands up. Her Inquisition gathers to escort her. She walks down the steps, stops before Raffaele, and walks once around him. She kneels down to his eye level. “Rise, consort,” she murmurs, lifting his chin. Her touch is firm, even harsh. Raffaele trembles and does as she says.
“Come,” she commands. Then she turns away, toward the palace.
Uncle Whitham, quickly out of bed!
Uncle Whitham, he’s come for your head.
Hide under the stairs, hide anywhere,
Uncle Whitham, he wants you dead.
—“Uncle Whitham and the Ghost of Darby,” children’s rhyme
The next morning, I wake up in the Little Baths feeling strange.
I lie very still for a moment. It’s not
, exactly. Instead, there is a faint pressure in the air all around me, making everything blurry. I close my eye and wait. Maybe I’m just dizzy. I slept poorly, haunted by nightmares of bleeding kings, and now I’m exhausted. Or maybe it’s the moisture in the air—when I glance up at the holes in the ceiling, the sky looks overcast, the clouds a dark gray. The whispers in my head are stirring again, active as usual after a night of vivid dreams. I try to understand what they’re saying, but today they are incomprehensible.
When I open my eye again, the feeling has faded. The whispers quiet down, and I pull myself up to sit. Beside me,
Violetta is still asleep, her chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. Magiano is nowhere to be seen.
I sit for a while, savoring the silence and the cool recesses of the bathhouse ruins.
Moments later, the leaves high above us rustle, and a figure appears through the holes in the ceiling, blocking out some of the light.
“We need to get you out of Merroutas,” Magiano calls as he hops down. Violetta stirs at his voice. She pushes herself onto her elbows. I watch him, admiring how nimbly he skips from beam to beam until he finally lands on the marble floor in a plume of dust. His hair and face are obscured behind cloth, wet with rain. “Do you know what a mess you’ve made of this city?”
He doesn’t sound very upset about it. “What’s happening?” I ask.
He just grins and shakes water out of his hair. “A
mess, that’s what,” he says. “The White Wolf’s name is on everyone’s lips, and rumors of what happened at the Night King’s court have spread like fire. Everyone wants to know who managed to kill him.” Magiano hesitates here, for the slightest instant. “Not a bad start, my love, although considering that you’re now the most hunted person on this island, you might want to escape. Your stunts have forced the city to seal its port. As you can see, we may have some trouble getting out of here.”
Violetta gives me a look, and I return it without reacting.
“Have you heard anything from the Night King’s former mercenaries?”
Magiano undoes the cloth shrouding his face. “I’m sure you’ve earned yourself some enemies after last night. But you’ve also attracted admirers. Look.” He tosses something at me.
It’s a small scroll. “Where did you get this?”
“You don’t think I have connections in this city?” Magiano gives me an indignant scowl, but when I keep waiting, he rolls his eyes. “A friend of mine works down at the ports. He passed it along to me this morning.” He waves impatiently at me to open the message.
I untie the scroll’s string, and the paper unfurls.
My heart races. I turn the paper this way and that, while Violetta looks at Magiano. “But this is useless,” she says. “What ship? Where, when?”
Magiano takes the message from me and rubs the paper between his fingers. “Not useless,” he corrects her. “Hold the paper up to the light.”
Violetta does, moving the paper until it’s directly under a sunbeam. I scoot closer for a better look. It takes me a moment to see what Magiano is talking about—under the light, the paper has a faint watermark on it. It resembles the Night King’s mark, except that the blade cutting through the crescent moon is wide, with a deep blood channel down its center.
,” Magiano says. “That’s the name of the ship. It’s a narrow devil of a caravel—it actually
like a sword, if you squint at it properly. A part of the Night King’s private fleet.”
A part of the Night King’s private fleet.
That means that whoever runs that ship must have decided to turn his back on the Night King the instant he heard of his death. Or …
“It could be a trap,” Violetta chimes in, finishing my thought. “How do we know they don’t plan on getting Adelina aboard, only to kill her or drag her before the Night King’s loyal men?”
“We don’t,” Magiano replies. He tosses both of us a bundle of clothes. “But we don’t really have a choice. You both must realize that his loyal mercenaries and soldiers are combing the city right now. Merroutas is a small island. They
find you, if you don’t flee.”
It is only a matter of time before soldiers come searching ruins like these. I rise to my feet, take the message from Violetta, and tuck it inside my head wrap. “If we leave now, how will interested mercenaries find us? How will I round up my men?”
“You’ll figure something out. Send a dove by sea,” Magiano says, crossing his arms. “Now get ready. Think and move at the same time, my loves. I didn’t choose to come along just to get captured. Can you at least cover us in invisibility while we head to the docks?”
“No,” I reply. I’m so tired this morning. Invisibility,
already difficult, is the hardest to do in chaotic crowds. There is too much to imitate, and with that image constantly shifting, we would look like moving ripples. We would also bump into others, which would just startle and draw attention. Even with Magiano’s help, we’re better off saving our strength for when we might need it most.
“Fine. Whatever you can do. Even a song and dance would be better than nothing.” Magiano pauses to grin at me. “And I’ve seen you dance, my love.”
I blush and look away. It was the first time I’d ever danced for someone other than Raffaele. “Subtle disguises,” I suggest, pushing his comment out of my mind. “I’ll weave different features across our faces.” He laughs at the color in my cheeks, but seems to decide against teasing me further and instead just motions for us to hurry.
By the time we’re ready and heading into the city, the sun has burned away the gray drizzle and the sky blazes blue.
I ride with Violetta on the same horse. She has pressed herself tightly against me, and her warm, delicate body is trembling slightly. Her attention darts from the busy streets to the buildings and roofs, where soldiers are lined up with swords drawn. The Night King’s blue-and-silver banners still hang from the balconies, but the streets are crowded with confused people and clusters of
. It’s a sight I’m familiar with—people who revere the power of the Young Elites, clashing with those who are calling out about how dangerous they are.
, hiding in the corners.
I look back at Magiano. He rides with his head held high,
his eyes constantly scanning the throngs. His lute sits in his lap, like he might decide to play it. He nods up at the Night King’s banners on the balconies, then leans toward me from his saddle. “I don’t know about those colors,” he murmurs. “Don’t you agree?”
“What do you mean?” I murmur back.
“Make your mark, Adelina,” he urges quietly.
It takes me a moment to understand him. I look back at the banners. The Night King’s blood still lines the inside of my nails in tiny flakes. In my mind, I see those same banners draped across the walls of his estate. If the Night King’s mercenaries have any doubts about who killed their leader, let me reinforce my presence to the entire city. I gather my energy and start to weave.
People in the crowd startle. Their faces turn up to the balconies, and they lift their hands in the air to point. Above them, the tops of the blue-and-silver banners start to turn white, as if new flags were unfurling over them. The illusion tumbles down over each flag, one after the other, until it stretches all the way down the street, covering the Night King’s emblems of the moon and crown, replacing them with solid white banners. I let the illusion of the fabric shimmer in the light, so that as the banners ripple in the wind, they change color from white to silver and back. The energy within me pulses, and the whispers in my mind coo with glee.
“Oh, Adelina,” Violetta says behind me. Even she sounds awed by the sight. “They’re beautiful.” And I smile to myself, wondering whether she remembers when we
used to attend festivities as children, and how we’d admire the king’s banners on the buildings. They are my banners now.
Magiano doesn’t say anything. A small grin plays at the corners of his mouth. He watches the reaction of the crowd—the startled murmurs, the whisper of a name across their lips.
The White Wolf. It’s the White Wolf.
Finally, we are forced to a halt. Before us, there is a blockade of soldiers barring the width of the street, forcing people to turn around and take a new route. One of them sees me and nods apologetically. “I’m sorry, mistress,” he says, making a circular motion with one hand. “You’ll have to go back. You can’t pass through here.”
“What’s going on?” Magiano calls out to him, gesturing at the white banners.
The soldier shakes his head. “I’m afraid that’s all I can say,” he replies. “Please turn around.” He raises his voice to the rest of the crowd. “Turn around!”
Magiano makes a show of grumbling under his breath, but he puts a hand on Violetta’s shoulder and steers us around. “There is always another door,” he says, quoting
The Thief Who Stole the Stars
with a smile.
We make our way down the street until we reach a tiny, winding canal. Here, Magiano hands several coins to a boatman, and we hurry quietly on board his cargo boat. We float down the canal, listening to the bustle above, shrouded in shadows.
The strange feeling from earlier in the morning returns.
I frown, shaking my head. The world shifts, and the whispers in my mind leap forward, sensing a sudden chance at freedom.
Violetta turns to me. “Are you all right?” she whispers.
“I’m fine,” I reply.