The Rose & the Dagger (The Wrath and the Dawn #2)- Renee Ahdieh
THE GIRL WAS ELEVEN AND THREE-QUARTERS.
Three very important quarters.
They’d been of consequence when her father had left her in charge this morning, with an important task to accomplish. So, with a world-weary sigh, she pushed up her tattered sleeves and heaved rubble into the nearby wheelbarrow.
“It’s so heavy,” her eight-year-old brother complained, as he struggled to move a piece of debris from their home. He coughed when a cloud of soot rose from the charred remains.
“Let me help.” The girl dropped her shovel with a clang.
“I didn’t say I needed help!”
“We should work together, or we won’t finish cleaning everything before Baba returns home.” She braced her fists on her hips while glaring down at him.
“Look around you!” He threw his hands in the air. “We’ll never finish cleaning everything.”
Her eyes followed his hands.
The clay walls of their home were ripped apart. Broken. Blackened. Their roof opened up to the heavens. To a dull and forlorn sky.
To what once had been a glorious city.
A midday sun lay hidden behind the shattered rooftops of Rey. It cut shadows of light and dark across angry stone and scorched marble. Here and there, smoldering piles of rubble served as a harsh reminder of what had taken place only a few short days ago.
The young girl hardened her gaze and stepped closer to her brother.
“If you don’t want to work, then wait outside. But I’m going to keep working. Someone has to.” Again, she reached for her shovel.
The boy kicked at a nearby stone. It skittered across the packed earth before crashing to a halt at the foot of a hooded stranger standing by the remains of their door.
Tensing her grip on the shovel, the girl eased her brother behind her.
“May I help you . . . ?” She paused. The stranger’s black rida’ was embroidered in silver and gold thread. The scabbard of his sword was finely etched and delicately bejeweled, and his sandals were cut from the highest-quality calfskin.
He was no mere brigand.
The girl stood taller. “May I help you, sahib?”
When he did not answer right away, the girl raised the shovel higher, her brow taut and her heart hammering in her chest.
The stranger stepped from beneath the sagging doorjamb. He threw back his hood and raised both palms in supplication. Each of his gestures was careful, and he moved with a liquid kind of grace.
As he strode into a weak slice of light, the girl saw his face for the first time.
He was younger than she expected. No more than twenty.
His face approached beautiful. But its angles were too harsh, his expression too severe. The sunlight on his hands revealed something at odds with the rest of his finery; the skin of his palms was red and cracked and peeling—evidence of hard labor.
His tired eyes were a tawny-gold color. She’d seen eyes like that once. In a painting of a lion.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the stranger said softly. His eyes shifted around the ruin of their one-room abode. “May I speak to your father?”
The girl’s suspicion gripped her once more. “He’s—not here. He went to stand in line for building supplies.”
The stranger nodded. “And your mother?”
“She’s dead,” her brother said, stirring from behind her. “The roof fell on her during the storm. She died the next morning.”
There was an unassuming quality to his words that the girl did not feel. Because to her brother, the words were not yet real. For after they’d lost nearly everything in last year’s drought, the storm had taken its final toll on their family.
And her brother had yet to grasp this most recent loss.
The stranger’s severity deepened for an instant. He looked away, and his hands fell to his sides. After a beat, he looked back at them, his eyes unwavering, despite his white-knuckled fists. “Do you have another shovel?”
“Why do you need a shovel, rich man?” Her little brother marched up to the stranger, accusation in each of his barefooted steps.
“Kamyar!” His sister gasped as she reached for the back of his ragged qamis.
The stranger blinked down at her brother before crouching on the packed-earth floor. “Kamyar, was it?” he asked, a trace of a smile adorning his lips.
Her brother said nothing, though he was barely able to meet the tall stranger’s eyes.
“I—I apologize, sahib,” the girl stammered. “He’s a bit insolent.”
“Please don’t apologize. I rather appreciate insolence, when it’s dispensed by the right person.” This time, the stranger did smile, and his features softened.
“Yes,” her brother interrupted. “My name is Kamyar. What