Authors: Marie Lu
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult
“What help do you need?” Raffaele says after a moment.
“I hear that Master Teren Santoro was behind the king’s death,” Maeve replies. “Is this true?”
“Why did he want the king dead?”
“Because he is in love with Queen Giulietta. She keeps Teren at her side precisely for his help, among other reasons.”
“Ah. A lover,” Maeve says. At that, Lucent’s eyes flick briefly to the queen, then dart away again. “She’s young, new, and vulnerable. I need the Inquisition and her army weakened. What can you do to help me in this?”
Raffaele’s expression is one of concentration. “Giulietta
is powerful with Teren at her side,” he says. He exchanges looks with each of his Daggers as he goes on. “But Teren answers to something even more powerful than his queen—his belief that he has been ordained by the gods to destroy
. If we can break their trust and separate them, then this invasion will have a better chance at success. And in order to break their trust, we’ll have to make Teren disobey his queen.”
“He’ll never do such a thing,” Lucent chimes in. “Have you seen Teren around Giulietta? Have you heard him talk about her?”
“Yes,” Michel agrees. “Teren obeys the queen like a dog. He’d sooner die than insult her.”
Even Gemma, who has been quiet until now, speaks up. “If you want to turn them against each other, we’ll have to get into the city,” she says. “Right now, it’s nearly impossible to enter Estenzia. All
have been forced outside the city walls. The Inquisition guards every street. We can’t get over the walls or through the gates, even with Lucent’s powers. There are too many soldiers.”
Maeve’s furs brush against her cheeks. “Kenettra has a new ruler,” she says. “According to tradition, I must sail for Estenzia and see her in person, offer her gifts and a welcome. A promise of goodwill.” At that, she raises an eyebrow and smiles. Behind her, Augustine laughs a little. Her eyes turn back to Raffaele. “I will get you into the city, my Messenger, if you can place a wedge between the queen and her Inquisitor.”
“I am a consort,” Raffaele replies. “I’ll find a way.”
Maeve stares in silence for a moment at her preparing fleet. “There is something else,” she says, without looking at him.
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“Tell me, Raffaele,” she goes on, turning her head slightly in his direction, “that you can sense my power.” She says it loudly enough for the other Daggers to hear. Michel, the closest, stiffens at her words. Gemma inhales sharply. But Raffaele notices Lucent’s reaction the most—the sudden, sickly paleness of her face, the surprise in her eyes. She glances at Raffaele.
“Her power?” she asks, forgetting for the first time to refer to Maeve by her title.
Raffaele hesitates, then bows his head to the young queen. “I do,” he replies. “I’d thought it rude to ask until you decided to share it.”
Maeve smiles a little. “Then it will be no surprise to you when I tell you that I, too, am an Elite.” She doesn’t seem to react to Lucent’s shock—although her eyes do dart briefly to her.
Raffaele shakes his head. “Not a surprise to me, Your Majesty. You may have had a different effect on my Daggers, though.”
“And can you guess what I do?”
Raffaele reaches out once again to study the energy that surrounds her. It is a familiar feeling, one that leaves him with a chill. Something about her aligns with darkness,
with the angels of Fear and Fury, the goddess of Death. The same alignments he felt in Adelina. The mere memory of her makes Raffaele clench his horse’s reins. “I cannot guess, Your Majesty,” he replies.
Maeve looks over her shoulder at the youngest prince, with his dueling mask still on, and nods. “Tristan,” she says. “Let us see your face.”
Her other brothers grow quiet at her command. Raffaele senses Lucent’s heart lurch forward, and when he glances at her, he notices that her eyes have turned wide. The youngest prince nods, reaches up, and pulls the mask off his face.
He resembles Maeve, as well as his brothers. But while the others seem natural and whole, this prince is not—the eerie energy about him remains, haunting Raffaele.
“My youngest brother, Prince Tristan,” Maeve says.
It is Lucent who finally breaks the silence. “You said in your letters that he had managed to pull through,” she chokes out. “You told me he never died.”
“He did.” Maeve’s expression turns harder. “But I brought him back.”
Lucent goes pale. “That’s impossible. You said—he almost drowned—and your mother—the Queen Mother—banished me for the near death of her son. This is
. You—” She turns to Maeve. “You never told me. I heard nothing about this in your letters.”
“I couldn’t tell you,” Maeve answers sharply. Then she continues, in a quieter voice, “My mother screened every
letter that left the palace, particularly those I meant for you. I could not risk her finding out about my power. She, like you, like
, assumed that Tristan never died, because I brought him back on the same night she banished you.”
Raffaele only stares, hardly able to believe what he is witnessing. Threads of energy that do not belong in the land of the living. He understands it now, the unsettling, unnatural bond. He also understands immediately why Maeve is telling them this.
“Enzo,” he whispers. “You want—”
“I want to bring back your prince,” Maeve finishes for him. “Tristan, as you can see, is able to enjoy life again. Even more than that, though, he has brought some part of the Underworld with him. He has gained the strength of a dozen men.”
The thought of Enzo alive again leaves Raffaele short of breath. The world spins for a moment.
There is something else about Prince Tristan that the queen isn’t telling him. “And what of Elites who are revived?” he asks.
Maeve smiles again. “Bringing an Elite back from the dead must amplify his powers too. And someone as powerful as Enzo was may prove nearly invincible once revived. I want his power at our side when we attack Kenettra. It will be a test, my creation of an
.” She leans toward Raffaele. “Think of the possibilities—of the other deceased Elites I could revive, of the unbridled power on our side.”
Raffaele shakes his head. He should be overjoyed at the thought of seeing the prince again. But he senses the stain of the Underworld hovering over Tristan’s energy.
“You doubt that it works,” Maeve says after a moment. “Those I bring back must always be tied to someone from the living world. They need living threads to hold them away from the Underworld’s constant pull. Tristan is tied to me, giving me a certain level of control—protection—over him. Enzo will need to be tethered to someone too.”
Tethered to me.
Raffaele’s eyes narrow as he looks at her.
That is what she means to do.
“I cannot be a part of this,” he finally says. His voice is firm, even in its hoarseness. “This violates the order of the gods.”
Maeve’s voice hardens now. “I am a
of the gods,” she snaps. “I was gifted with this power. The gods bless it—it violates no order.”
Raffaele bows his head. His hands are shaking. “I
agree to this, Your Majesty,” he says again. “Enzo’s soul has gone to rest in the Underworld. Pulling him back, away from the side of Holy Moritas, and into the real world again … he does not belong here anymore. Let him rest.”
“I am not asking your permission, consort,” Maeve replies firmly. When Raffaele looks up at her again, she lifts her chin. “Remember, Raffaele, that Enzo was the Crown Prince of Kenettra. A
, an Elite, your former leader. He did not deserve to die. He deserves to
, to see his country’s
safe. I will rule Kenettra, but I will reinstate him in
my absence.” Her eyes are hard as stone. “Is this not what you and your Daggers have long fought for?”
Raffaele is silent. He is seventeen again, standing before a sea of nobility at the Fortunata Court, sensing Enzo’s energy in the crowd for the first time. He is in the underground training cavern of the Daggers’ former home, watching the prince duel with others. Raffaele looks at Michel, then Gemma, then Lucent. They look back, grave and silent. This should be what they all want.
But Enzo died. They grieved, and made their peace with it. And now …
bring him back,” Maeve continues, “and I
tether him to anyone I please.” Then, her voice turns gentler. “But I’d rather tie him to those who care the most for him. The bond with the living is strongest that way.”
Still, Raffaele doesn’t reply. He closes his eyes, willing himself to silence his mind. To force away the churning sensation of wrongness in this idea. Finally, he opens his eyes and meets the queen’s gaze. “Will he be the same?”
“We won’t know,” Maeve says slowly, “until I try.”
Exeunt all but Boy.
BOY. Are you an ogre?
OGRE. Are you a knight?
BOY. I am not a knight! Nor am I a king, scout, or priest.
Therefore, you can be sure I am not here to steal the jewel.
Original translation of
The Temptation of the Jewel
, by Tristan Chirsley
The Little Baths of Bethesda turn out to be a set of ruins at the edge of Merroutas.
Early the next morning, as the sun crests the horizon and fishing boats set out into the bay, Violetta and I make our way down the dirt path leading out of the city-state’s main gates and to a smaller cluster of abandoned domed houses, all situated beneath the stone arches of a former aqueduct.
It looks like a place that once bustled with activity. But the bathhouse itself—or what’s left of it—was built on soft ground, which must have sealed its fate. As people abandoned the bathhouse, so must they have abandoned the small settlement of homes around it. Or perhaps the aqueduct delivering its water crumbled first. The once-glorious
pillars at its entrance have now collapsed, and the stone foundation has sunk into the marshy soil. Vines crawl up the stone, their flowers vibrant green and yellow. I feel a strong attraction to this place’s ruined beauty.
“He’s here,” Violetta whispers beside me, her brow furrowed in concentration.
“Good.” I adjust my mask across my own ruined face and approach the entrance.
The bathhouse is cool and dark inside, its arched stone ceiling covered with mosses and ivy. Narrow shafts of light cut through the ceiling’s openings, illuminating the pools of water below. We step carefully through the halls of ancient marble colonnades. The air smells wet and musky, the scent of something green and alive. The sound of dripping water echoes all around us.
Finally I stop where the bath pool begins. “Where is he?” I whisper.
Violetta lifts her eyes to the ceiling. She spins in a half circle, then focuses on a dark corner. “There.”
I strain to see into the shadows. “Magiano,” I call out. My voice startles me—it bounces off the walls, over and over, until it finally fades away. I clear my throat, a little embarrassed, and continue in a quieter tone. “We were told we could find you here.”
There is a long silence, so long that I start to wonder whether Violetta might be mistaken.
Then, someone laughs. As the sound echoes from surface to surface, a flurry of leaves rain down from the bathhouse’s
mossy banisters. A trail of dark braids flashes in and out of the light. I instinctively extend one of my arms in front of Violetta, as if that might protect her.
“Adelina,” a voice calls playfully. “How nice to see you.”
I try to pinpoint where the voice comes from.
“Are you Magiano, then?” I reply. “Or are you just taunting us?”
“Do you remember a comedy called
The Temptation of the Jewel
?” he continues after a pause. “The play opened in Kenettra a couple of years ago, to great fanfare, right before the Inquisition banned it.”
I do remember it.
The Temptation of the Jewel
was about a dull, arrogant knight who continually bragged that he could steal a jewel from an ogre’s lair—only to be bested by a cheeky young boy, who snatched the prize first. It was penned by Tristan Chirsley, the same famous scribe who’d written the
Stories of the Star Thief
collection, and its final performance had happened in Dalia, in a theater overflowing with people.
The Star Thief.
I shake my head, trying not to think of Gemma and the others. “Yes, of course I do,” I respond. “How is this relevant? Are you a Chirsley admirer?”
Another laugh sounds through the vast space. Another shuffle of feet and flurry of leaves high above us. This time, we look up and see a dark silhouette crouched on a rotting wooden beam right over our heads. I step aside to look more properly at him. In the shadows, all I can make out are a pair of bright gold eyes, fixed curiously on me.
“It’s relevant,” he replies, “because I was the inspiration for it.”
A laugh escapes my mouth before I can stop it. “You inspired Chirsley’s play?”
He dangles his feet over the beam. I notice that he’s not wearing shoes today. “The Inquisition banned the play because it was about the theft of the queen’s crown jewels.”
I catch Violetta’s skeptical glance. The rumors we’d heard along the way, about how Magiano had stolen Queen Giulietta’s crown, come back to me now. “Did you inspire the clever boy, then, or the arrogant knight?” I tease.
Now I can see his bright white teeth in the darkness. That carefree smile. “You wound me, my love,” he says. He reaches for something in his pockets and tosses it at us. The object falls in a clean line, gleaming as it goes. It splashes into the shallowest part of the pool.