Flax 30, 1358
I look hesitantly toward the coach that Azure is inside, but when the door of the royal carriage opens, my gaze flickers toward it.
The girl who steps out is very young - maybe seventeen or eighteen. She has a face that seems to be carved out of marble and hair the color of a flame, and she’s wearing a dark red traveling cloak. I wonder who she is. One of the King’s Roth, probably.
Her voice drags me from my thoughts as she looks at me, her gaze cold and speculative. “This is the boy?”
Dominique nods firmly.
The girl frowns. “Come closer, boy.”
My feet stay firmly planted in the dirt. Dominique smirks and conjures a flurry of ice, shooting it toward Azure’s coach before I can draw breath to protest. My eyes widen in alarm. I throw my hands up in a gesture of surrender.
Dominique forces the ice to pause, and the crystals glint gray in the morning light, each flake gleaming with a strangely dull sheen. He waves a hand and the ice dissipates into the air, that uneasy look darting over his face once more.
I take a few steps forward, my fists clenched at my sides. She puts two fingers under my chin, and I reluctantly let her tilt my head up. I’m close enough that I can see the color of the girl’s eyes - a strange, unreal coppery brown. There’s something familiar about her face that I can’t place. She tilts her head, almost like a curious bird - but there seems to be a very un-birdlike menacing in her eyes, like the look of a wolf about to pounce on its prey. I can already tell that this woman is… dangerous.
Her eyes narrow, and finally she steps back. “I can see your resemblance to your mother.”
My heart seems to stop beating. The world seems to hover, frozen and waiting. I clear my throat in an attempt to speak. Nothing comes out.
Dominique raises a brow at me. I realize that they expect me to respond. “My mother?” I manage to choke out.
She smiles a small, eerie smile that almost looks like a threat.
“You knew her?” I continue. The words sound like a statement rather than a question.
Dominique smirks. Grehg and Wieltign snicker, as if they know something that I don’t. The red-haired girl turns away slowly. She seems to be contemplating the fact that she now has leverage over me. Finally, she turns around once more, lifeless humor dancing in her eyes. “I knew her.”
I swallow, weighing my options. She wants me to ask, I’m sure of it. She wants me to acknowledge that she holds power over me. I hate knowing that she, along with so many others, can control me so easily, but it is the truth. If I don’t ask her what she knows, I might never find out. I have to try, however futile the effort may be.
“Who was she?” I finally ask. “What was her name?”
The girl smiles a cruel, dead smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. She opens her mouth as if to answer, but Rolind interrupts her.
“He has endured enough cruelty, Railiss,” Rolind says, his expression vacant. “Let him learn this some time else.”
I turn on him, anger raging inside of me. Before I can speak, Dominique says, “Let us get on with this, Railiss. I have tired of waiting.”
Railiss rolls her eyes. “As you wish. How many will be portaling to the Palace?”
“Nine,” Dominique says. “Unless you have not yet collected the other girl.”
The other girl. Curiosity blossoms at the back of my mind. Could he be talking about Mable? “Of course I collected her, idiot,” says Railiss. “Miss Fismanal is safely tucked away in my carriage.”
I am still close enough to the trees to hear a sound like a sharp intake of breath, though I am the only one who seems to hear it. That confirms my suspicions. I send out a silent plea for Kai to stay hidden in the woods.
With a light sigh, Railiss moves toward the center of the road, removing a small glass bottle from a pocket in her cloak. In the bottle is a very small amount of pale liquid, so translucent that it could be water if not for the syrupy consistency.
Uncorking the vial, she tips it over into her left hand, then rubs the liquid into her hand as if it were fancy skin cream.
Wieltign explains, “It’s called catazak. A potion that allows the Roth to use transportation magic.”
Of course, I think, realizing belatedly. Railiss is Roth. Mable has some bad history with the Roth. But what?
In the corner of my eye, I notice Dominique nod once to Rolind, who then moves toward Azure’s carriage.
I turn so that I can watch him. He opens the carriage door and ducks inside. A moment later, he emerges, followed by Azure.