I looked at Wren. She eyed me with that lethal stare of hers. “Go torment someone else.”
Surprisingly she did. She rode ahead with Synové. No doubt it was she who’d be keeping a close eye on me next. It wasn’t as if I could go anywhere. My team of horses could never outrun them, and if I tried my back would be a sure target for one of Synové’s arrows.
“We can take them,” Beaufort said when he realized no one was there to hear.
I looked back at him over my shoulder. “No,” I answered. “They’re armed and they’re Rahtan.”
Sarva’s lip lifted in a snarl. “But they still have soft skulls like anyone else.”
Bahr lifted his shackled wrists. “Next time they unchain us to leak our lizards, we grab a rock and bash in their heads—”
“We’re not bashing in heads,” I said.
“Easy for you to say,” Kardos jeered. “You don’t know their queen. She’ll have all our heads on pikes before we can say hello—including yours.”
“He’s right,” Beaufort said. “She has a vicious streak, and a vendetta against anyone who defied her.”
“You all fought against her?”
“Except for the scholars,” Sarva answered. As usual, the scholars remained silent. They both seemed terrified.
“The rest of us fought with the Komizar,” Bahr said. “Now, that man was a real leader.”
The man who chopped off children’s fingers?
I had heard rumors about him. That he was twelve feet tall. That his sword was made from the teeth of dragons. That he was an Ancient who had survived the centuries. That he wasn’t really slain because it was impossible to slay a man who was part god. The stories surrounding him were as embellished as the ones that explained the stars in the sky. By the time information reached Hell’s Mouth, it was hard to tell fact from myth. Even Bahr’s firsthand account seemed more myth than truth. No one disobeyed his commands. He could silence the devil with a whisper.
His cruel punishment of children was the only story that didn’t feel like myth. I remembered Kazi’s eyes when she flung her fingers up in front of me. Look at my fingers, Jase! Take a good long look. In that moment, her eyes told me everything. I saw the desperate life she’d been forced to live.
* * *
Synové had caught some game—a small antelope—and its split carcass sizzled over a spit. We were camped in a copse of spirit trees that sprouted up among ruins. Trees walked up circular staircases and perched in windows like thin ghosts. Bahr didn’t seem so brave about bashing in heads now. His head turned at every rustle, and I doubted he’d want to step alone into the dark to leak anything now.
I was chained to a tree. We all were. I had a shackle around my ankle once again.
Kazi was off tending Mije. She managed to avoid me all day, which took some effort since we were headed in the same direction.
Natiya reached over the fire and split the ribs of the antelope to help it cook faster.
“Hungry?” I asked. “Are you still eating for two? Or maybe it’s eight by now? Your lies seem to multiply like maggots.”
“Watch your mouth, Patrei,” Eben warned, brandishing his knife. At least that much of what Natiya had said was true, he was good with a knife.
“Just eating for myself,” she answered, cheerfully patting her flat stomach.
“Your queen never intended to come, did she? She’s not just an invader but a liar too.”
“I said, watch your mouth!” Eben snapped.
“Her letter was a farce,” I snarled.
“My letter to her was a farce,” Kazi answered. All our heads turned. She stepped out of the shadows into the light of the fire. “And the queen knew it. I gave her ample clues—ones you and your brothers didn’t see. Golden thannis? It’s poison. I asked her to bring you a gift of poison.” Her tone was thick with sarcasm. “I would never have asked her to come to Tor’s Watch.”
She said it with scorn, like my home was beneath the queen. I stared at her. From the very beginning, everything was a lie. “Was there ever anything truthful about you?”
She met my gaze. “You will not lecture me about truth. Ever.”
“I was under no obligation to tell you about family business.”