Ruin and Rising (The Grisha 3) - Page 21

“There’s a problem with Genya,” he said. “And the King.”



I SHOT TO MY FEET. “What happened?”

“Sergei let her real name slip. He seems to be taking to heights about as well as he took to caves.”

I released a growl of frustration. Genya had played a key role in the Darkling’s plot to depose the King. I’d tried to be patient with Sergei, but now he’d put her in danger and jeopardized our position with Nikolai.

Baghra reached out and snagged the fabric of my trousers, gesturing to Mal. “Who is that?”

“The captain of my guard.”


I frowned. “No, otkazat’sya.”

“He sounds—”

“Alina,” Mal said. “They’re coming to take her right now.”

I pried Baghra’s fingers away. “I have to go. I’ll send Misha back to you.”

I hurried from the room, closing the door behind me, and Mal and I raced for the stairs, taking them two at a time.

The sun had long since set, and the lanterns of the Spinning Wheel had been lit. Outside, I glimpsed stars emerging above the cloud bank. A group of soldiers with blue armbands had gathered by the training area and looked about two seconds from drawing their guns on Tolya and Tamar. I felt a surge of pride to see my Etherealki arrayed behind the twins, shielding Genya and David. Sergei was nowhere to be found. Probably a good thing, since I didn’t have time to give him the pummeling he deserved.

“She’s here!” called Nadia when she caught sight of us. I went straight to Genya.

“The King is waiting,” said one of the guards. I was surprised to hear Zoya snap back, “Let him wait.”

I put my arm around Genya’s shoulders, leading her a little way off. She was shaking.

“Listen to me,” I said, smoothing her hair back. “No one will hurt you. Do you understand?”

“He’s the King, Alina.” I heard the terror in her voice.

“He’s not the king of anything anymore,” I reminded her. I spoke with a confidence I didn’t feel. This could get very bad, very fast, but there was no way around it. “You must face him.”

“For him to see me … brought low like this—”

I made her meet my gaze. “You are not low. You defied the Darkling to give me freedom. I won’t let yours be taken.”

Mal approached us. “The guards are getting antsy.”

“I can’t do this,” said Genya.

“You can.”

Gently, Mal laid a hand on her shoulder. “We’ve got you.”

A tear rolled down her cheek. “Why? Back at the Little Palace, I reported on Alina. I burned her letters to you. I let her believe—”

“You stood between us and the Darkling on Sturmhond’s ship,” Mal said in that same steady voice I recognized from the cave-in. “I don’t reserve my friendship for perfect people. And, thank the Saints, neither does Alina.”

“Can you trust us?” I asked.

Genya swallowed, then took a breath, mustering the poise that had once come so easily to her. She pulled up her shawl. “All right,” she said.

We returned to the group. David looked questioningly at her, and she reached out to take his hand.

“We’re ready,” I said to the soldiers.

Mal and the twins fell into step beside us, but I held up a warning hand to the other Grisha. “Stay here,” I said, then added quietly, “and keep alert.” On the Darkling’s orders, Genya had come close to committing regicide, and Nikolai knew it. If it came to a fight, I had no idea how we would get off this mountaintop.

We followed the guards across the observatory and through a corridor that led down a short set of stairs. As we rounded a bend, I heard the King’s voice. I couldn’t make out everything he was saying, but I didn’t miss the word treason.

We paused in a doorway formed by the spear arms of two bronze statues—Alyosha and Arkady, the Horsemen of Ivets, their armor studded with iron stars. Whatever the chamber had once been, it was now Nikolai’s war room. The walls were covered in maps and blueprints, and a huge drafting table was littered with clutter. Nikolai leaned against his desk, arms and ankles crossed, his expression troubled.

I almost didn’t recognize the King and Queen of Ravka. The last time I’d seen the Queen, she’d been swathed in rose silk and dripping with diamonds. Now she wore a wool sarafan over a simple peasant blouse. Her blond hair, dull and strawlike without the polish of Genya’s skill, had been twisted into a messy bun. The King was apparently still partial to military attire. The gold braid and satin sash of his dress uniform were gone, replaced by First Army drab that seemed incongruous with his weak build and graying mustache. He looked frail leaning on his wife’s chair, the damning evidence of whatever Genya had done to him clear in his stooped shoulders and loose skin.

As I entered, the King’s eyes bugged out almost comically. “I didn’t ask to see this witch.”

I forced myself to bow, hoping some of the diplomacy I’d learned from Nikolai might serve me. “Moi tsar.”

“Where is the traitor?” he bayed, spittle flying from his lower lip.

So much for diplomacy.

Genya took a small step forward. Her hands shook as she lowered her shawl. The King gasped. The Queen covered her mouth.

The silence in the room was the quiet after a cannon blast. I saw realization strike Nikolai. He glanced at me, his jaw set. I hadn’t exactly lied to him, but I might as well have.

“What is this?” muttered the King.

“This is the price she paid for saving me,” I said, “for defying the Darkling.”

The King scowled. “She is a traitor to the crown. I want her head.”

To my surprise, Genya said to Nikolai, “I will take my punishment if he takes his.”

The King’s face flushed purple. Maybe he’d have a heart attack and save us all a lot of bother. “You will stay silent among your betters!”

Genya lifted her chin. “I have no betters here.” She wasn’t making this any easier, but I still wanted to cheer.

The Queen sputtered. “If you think that—”

Genya was trembling, but her voice stayed strong as she said, “If he cannot be tried for his failures as a king, let him be tried for his failures as a man.”

“You ungrateful whore,” sneered the King.

“That’s enough,” Nikolai said. “Both of you.”

“I am Ravka’s King. I will not—”

“You are a King without a throne,” said Nikolai quietly. “And I respectfully ask that you hold your tongue.”

The King shut his mouth, a vein pulsing at his temple.

Nikolai tucked his hands behind his back. “Genya Safin, you are accused of treason and attempted murder.”

“If I’d wanted him dead, he’d be dead.”

Nikolai gave her a warning look.

“I didn’t try to kill him,” she said.

“But you did something to the King, something from which the court doctors said he’d never recover. What was it?”


“Surely it could have been traced.”

“Not this. I designed it myself. If given in small enough doses over a long enough time, the symptoms are mild.”

“A vegetable alkaloid?” asked David.

She nodded. “Once it builds up in the victim’s system, a threshold is reached, the organs begin to fail, and the degeneration is irreversible. It’s not a killer. It’s a thief. It steals years. And he will never get them back.”

I felt a little chill at the satisfaction in her voice. What she described was no mundane poison, but the craft of a girl somewhere between Corporalnik and Fabrikator. A girl who had spent plenty of time in the Materialki workshops.

The Queen was shaking her head. “Small amounts over time? She didn’t have that kind of access to our meals—”

“I poisoned my skin,” Genya said harshly, “my lips. So that every time he touched me—” She shuddered slightly and glanced at David. “Every time he kissed me, he took sickness into his body.” She clenched her fists. “He brought this on himself.”

“But the poison would have affected you too,” Nikolai said.

“I had to purge it from my skin, then heal the burns the lye would leave. Every single time.” Her fists clenched. “It was well worth it.”

Nikolai rubbed a hand over his mouth. “Did he force you?”

Genya nodded once. A muscle in Nikolai’s jaw ticked.

“Father?” he asked. “Did you?”

“She is a servant, Nikolai. I didn’t have to force her.”

After a long moment, Nikolai said, “Genya Safin, when this war is over, you will stand trial for high treason against this kingdom and for colluding with the Darkling against the crown.”

The King broke into a smug grin. But Nikolai wasn’t done.

“Father, you are ill. You have served the crown and the people of Ravka, and now it is time for you to take the rest you deserve. Tonight, you will write out a letter of abdication.”

The King blinked in confusion, eyelids stuttering as if he couldn’t quite comprehend what he was hearing. “I will do no such—”

“You will write the letter, and tomorrow you will leave on the Kingfisher. It will take you to Os Kervo, where you’ll be seen safely aboard the Volkvolny and across the True Sea. You can go someplace warm, maybe the Southern Colonies.”

Tags: Leigh Bardugo The Grisha Fantasy
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