Home > The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(4)

The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(4)
Author: Jeffe Kennedy

No, surely that attack had been a fluke. Wounded soldiers woke like that sometimes—like part of their brain thought they should still be fighting whatever took them down. It had to be that. Better to settle on that explanation than suffer this grinding worry that Lia had lost too much of herself. That she’d come back as something other than who she’d been.

Because if she had … what then?

“It’s not easy to know what to wish for,” Ambrose commented, walking beside me with apparent ease despite the rough going and his withered leg, seeming not to notice the raging storm. He used his tall staff as an aid, digging it into the mud and rocks, but also moving without any visible limp. I’d pretty much given up on wondering about it. “Thus the traditional caution,” he added cheerfully.

“What’s that?” I asked, though I was too wrung out to care. When Ambrose wanted to tell you something, he couldn’t be shaken from it.

“Be careful what you wish for,” he said, as if every schoolchild knew that one.

I pondered that for as long as my exhausted brain and battered heart would allow—which was about five steps—then shook my head. “Seems to me it’s better not to wish for anything at all.”

“A reasonable conclusion on the face of it, but a false correlation when you examine it more deeply. Not to mention cowardly.”

“Conrí is no coward,” Sondra called from behind us.

Ambrose glanced back at her and winced as if in pain. “Lady Sondra—I must caution you about using your new acquisition as a walking stick in that manner. The results could be most unpleasant.”

“You use yours like this,” she replied stubbornly.

“Yes, but I understand that mine is more than a simple staff and I know how to use it. Whatever you do, just don’t drop it.”

“Huh.” From her tone—and knowing Sondra—that information had only whetted her interest in the knobbed cane she’d grabbed as a makeshift weapon from the wizards’ horrific dungeon where we’d found Lia’s corpse. “Anyway, I must caution you about calling Conrí a coward when he risked his life infiltrating Yekpehr to rescue us. While you were noticeably absent, I might add.”

Ibolya halted abruptly enough that I nearly ran into her. Tipping her cowl back, she gave us all a strained smile. “Conrí, my lords and ladies, I must ask for silence if we wish to enter the palace unremarked.”

“No one can fail to observe Conrí,” Sondra pointed out. “One look and they’ll know who he is, and from there it won’t be hard to figure out who he’s carrying, even if they believed Her Highness was sequestered in some temple.”

“I can get us in unobserved,” Ibolya explained patiently, “but only if you’re silent. At least quieter than the storm.”

“You all heard her,” I told them. “Everyone be quiet, even the wizard.” Especially the wizard, I thought wryly to myself.

Ambrose made a soft snorting sound but subsided. Ibolya and Agatha led us out of the woods and into a maze of night-blooming flowers thrashing in the tumultuous wind like the raging sea behind us. Beside me, Ambrose bent his head to the onslaught of wind and rain, Sondra bringing up the rear. Kara had stayed with the Last Resort, hoping to shore up the damage enough to keep the yacht from sinking where it sat. That wasn’t all for Percy’s sensibilities, either. After the devastating Battle at Cradysica, we had pitifully few seaworthy vessels left on all of Calanthe. If the Last Resort could be saved, then that was a priority.

I’d also ordered Kara to close the harbors as soon as the sun rose and people were available to do it. We didn’t need anyone chasing us to Calanthe. Though if Lia had been right about the wizards sending that wave … One crisis at a time, I told myself grimly.

We ducked out of the punishing weather and into a courtyard I realized led into the kitchens. Calanthe had no slave gates, as Yekpehr did, but I couldn’t escape the unsettling parallel of entering Lia’s palace as we’d snuck into Anure’s: in disguise and through the doorways used by those who served. This time, however, I carried Lia’s body in rather than stealing her away.

Not her body. Lia is alive. Get that through your thick head.

Those short, horrifying hours of carrying Lia’s leaf-dry corpse through the halls of Yekpehr had left their mark on me. I jumped at every scrape of boot against stone, every click of doors as Ibolya opened and closed them. Even the click of Vesno’s claws on marble had me flinching.

With a quiet wave, Agatha went off in another direction, disappearing into the shadows. The rest of us followed Ibolya up some winding stairs, emerging into a side hallway that led to Lia’s rooms, the double doors closed and locked but unguarded. Ibolya produced a key to unlock the doors and stepped aside for us to enter. The lamps and candles leapt with flame, filling the rooms with golden light, and Ibolya hastily closed and locked the doors again. The windows usually open to Calanthe’s gentle weather were now tightly boarded against the storm, giving the normally airy rooms a claustrophobic staleness.

Ibolya assessed the unconscious Lia in my arms. “Should I summon Healer Jeaneth?” We both looked at Ambrose.

“What? Oh.” He frowned. “No. There’s not much of human healing to be done here, if you understand me.”

Of course, we didn’t understand, but Ibolya nodded anyway. “Perhaps some food and water for Her Highness, then? Though I hate to wake Her.”

“Her body can’t assimilate much yet,” Ambrose said, and fished something out of the pocket of his robe. He held up a glass vial of shimmering green liquid, then handed it to Ibolya. “Let Her Highness sleep until She wakes on Her own, then have Her drink this.”

“What is it?” I demanded.

“Stardust and moonbeams,” Ambrose answered, rolling his eyes. “She’s alive again, isn’t She? Trust me on this one.”

“Conrí.” Ibolya gestured for me to precede her. “If you would lay Her Highness on Her bed, I can help Her from there.”

I nodded to Vesno, obediently sitting at my heel. “Let’s go, boy.”

Released, the wolfhound sprang into enthusiastic action, proceeding to sniff every possible surface en route. I carried Lia into her—our—bedchamber. I hadn’t slept in the bed when I returned from Cradysica without her, and though it hadn’t been all that long, the room had a musty, unused quality. Possibly because the grand circle of windows overlooking the sea had also been boarded up. Ibolya, wrinkling her nose at the stale damp, muttered unhappily.

“At least the bed is dry,” I told her as I eased Lia onto it. I couldn’t get past the notion that she might break if I jostled her too roughly.

“Thank you, Conrí.” Ibolya began unfastening the ties of Lia’s cloak while I stood back awkwardly. The darker cloth parted over her thin shift—and the many stains on it showed clearly in the light. Blood, dirt, and other substances I couldn’t bear to think about.

“I can help with this,” Sondra said, shouldering past me. “Maybe you should step out, Conrí. Keep Ambrose company,” she added, giving me a jaundiced look. “You’re no lady’s maid.”

“Since when are you one?” I retorted, venting some of the frustration that had no other target.

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