The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles #3) - Mary E. Pearson Page 0,1
time. Rafe pinned down my arms, and someone else pressed down on my legs. The knife cut into my thigh. My chest shuddered. Moans escaped through my clenched teeth. My body recoiled against my will, and Rafe pressed harder. “Look at me, Lia. Keep your eyes on me. It’ll be over soon.”
I locked onto his eyes, the blue blazing. His gaze held me like fire. Sweat dripped down his brow. The knife probed, and I lost focus. Gurgled noises jumped from my throat.
Look at me, Lia.
“Got it!” Tavish finally shouted.
My breath came in gulps. Jeb wiped my face with a cool cloth.
Good job, Princess, from whom I didn’t know.
The stitching was easy compared to the cutting and probing. I counted each time the needle went in. Fourteen times.
“Now for the back,” Tavish said. “That one will be a little harder.”
* * *
I woke to Rafe sleeping beside me. His arm rested heavily across my stomach. I couldn’t remember much about Tavish working on my back except him telling me the arrow was embedded in my rib and that probably saved my life. I had felt the cut, the probe, and then pain so bright I couldn’t see anymore. Finally, as if from a hundred miles away, Rafe had whispered in my ear, It’s out.
A small fire burned in a ring of rocks not far from me. It illuminated one nearby wall, but the rest of our shelter remained in shadows. It was a large cave of some sort. I heard the whicker of horses. They were in here with us. On the other side of the fire ring I saw Jeb, Tavish, and Orrin asleep on their bedrolls, and just to my left, sitting back against the cave wall, Governor Obraun—Sven.
It hit me fully for the first time. These were Rafe’s four men, the four I’d had no confidence in—governor, guard, patty clapper, and raft builder. I didn’t know where we were, but against all odds they had somehow gotten us across the river. All of us alive. Except for—
My head ached, trying to sort it all out. Our freedom came at a high cost to others. Who had died and who had survived the bloodbath?
I tried to ease Rafe’s arm from my stomach so I could sit up, but even that small movement sent blinding jolts through my back. Sven sat upright, alerted by my movement and whispered, “Don’t try to get up, Your Highness. It’s too soon.”
I nodded, measuring my breaths until the pain receded.
“Your rib is most likely cracked by the impact of the arrow. You may have cracked more bones in the river. Rest.”
“Where are we?” I asked.
“A little hideaway I tucked into many years ago. I was thankful I could still find it.”
“How long have I been out?”
“Two days. It’s a miracle you’re alive.”
I remembered sinking in the river. Thrashing, then being spit up, a quick gust of air filling my lungs and then being pulled under again. And again. My hands clutched at boulders, logs, everything slipping from my grasp, and then there was the fuzzy recollection of Rafe leaning over me. I turned my head toward Sven. “Rafe found me on the bank.”
“He carried you for twelve miles before we found him. This is the first sleep he’s had.”
I looked at Rafe, his face gaunt and bruised. He had a gash over his left brow. The river had taken its toll on him too. Sven explained how he, Jeb, Orrin, and Tavish had maneuvered the raft to the planned destination. They’d left their own horses and a half dozen Vendan ones they had taken in battle in a makeshift paddock, but many had escaped. They rounded up what they could, gathered the supplies and saddles they had stashed in nearby ruins, and began backtracking, searching the banks and forest for us. They finally spotted some tracks and followed them. Once they found us, they rode through the night to this shelter.
“If you were able to find our tracks, then—”
“Not to worry, Your Highness. Listen.” He cocked his head to the side.
A heavy whine vibrated through the cavern.
“A blizzard,” he said. “There will be no tracks to follow.”
Whether the storm was a blessing or hindrance, I wasn’t sure—it would prevent us from traveling too. I remembered my aunt Bernette telling me and my brothers about the great white storms of her homeland that blocked out sky and earth and left snow piled so high that she and her sisters could venture outside only