The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2) - Mary E. Pearson Page 0,1
soon one of them would be wearing Walther’s baldrick and carrying his sword.
My fingers curled into my palm, but I didn’t even have so much as a nail left to stab my own skin. All of them were torn to the quick. I rubbed my raw fingertips, and a fierce ache shook my chest. It caught me by surprise, this small loss of my nails compared to the enormity of everything else. It was almost a mocking whisper that I had nothing, not even a fingernail, to defend myself. All I had was a secret name that seemed as useless to me right now as the title I was born with. Make it true, Lia, I told myself. But even as I said the words in my head, I felt my confidence ebbing. I had far more at stake now than I’d had just a few hours ago. Now my actions could hurt Rafe too.
Orders were given to unload the ill-gotten treasure and carry it inside, and boys younger than Eben scurried over with small two-wheeled carts to the sides of the wagon and helped the guards fill them. The chievdar and his personal guard dismounted and walked up steps that led to a long corridor. The boys followed behind, pushing the overflowing carts up a nearby ramp, their thin arms straining under the weight. Some of the booty in their loads was still stained with blood.
“That way to Sanctum Hall,” Kaden said, pointing after the boys. Yes, nervous. I could hear it in his tone. If even he was afraid of the Komizar, what chance did I have?
I stopped and turned, trying to spot Rafe somewhere back in the line of soldiers still coming through the gate, but all I could see was Malich leading his horse, following close behind us. He grinned, his face still bearing the slash marks from my attack. “Welcome to Venda, Princess,” he jeered. “I promise you, things will be very different now.”
Kaden pulled me around, keeping me close to his side. “Stay near,” he whispered. “For your own good.”
Malich laughed, reveling in his threat, but for once, I knew what he said was true. Everything was different now. More than Malich could even guess.
Sanctum Hall was little more than a dismal tavern, albeit a cavernous one. Four of Berdi’s taverns could have fit within its walls. It smelled of spilled ale, damp straw, and overindulgence. Columns lined the four sides, and it was lit with torches and lanterns. The high ceiling was covered in soot, and an enormous rough wooden table sat heavy and abused in the center. Pewter tankards rested on the table or swung from meaty fists.
Kaden and I hung back in the shadowed walkway behind the columns, but the leaders greeted the chievdar and his personal guard with boisterous shouts and slapping of backs. Tankards were offered and raised to the returning soldiers with calls to bring more ale. I saw Eben, shorter than some of the serving boys, lifting a pewter cup to his lips, a returning soldier the same as the rest. Kaden pushed me slightly behind him in a protective manner, but I still scanned the room, trying to spot the Komizar, trying to be ready, prepared for what was to come. Several of the men were huge, like Griz—some even bigger—and I wondered what kind of creatures, both human and beast, this strange land produced. I kept my eyes on one of them. He snarled every word, and the scurrying boys ran a respectful wide distance around him. I thought that he had to be the Komizar, but I saw Kaden’s eyes scouring the room too, and they passed over the burly brute.
“These are the Legion of Governors,” he said, as if he had read my mind. “They rule the provinces.”
Venda had provinces? And a hierarchy too, beyond assassins, marauders, and an iron-fisted Komizar? The governors were distinguished from the servants and soldiers by black fur epaulets on their shoulders. The fur was crowned with a bronze clasp shaped like the bared teeth of an animal. It made their physiques appear twice as wide and formidable.
The ruckus rose to a deafening roar, echoing off the stone walls and bare floors. There was only a pile of straw in one corner of the room to absorb any noise. The boys parked the carts of booty along one row of pillars, and the governors perused the haul, lifting swords, testing weights, and rubbing forearms on leather