Home > The Rogue Queen (The Hundredth Queen #3)(14)

The Rogue Queen (The Hundredth Queen #3)(14)
Author: Emily R. King

I scoop up my bag. “I must go.”

“Kindred, I pray you’ll reconsider. The damage the Voider’s powers are wreaking—”

“Is less than what he plans to do the world.” I pause at the door. “Thank you. I trust you’ll keep this between us.” I wait for the healer to grasp my expectation and then go.

Ashwin rushes down the corridor, dressed in his travel clothes. “There you are. We’re ready to depart.” He slows to a halt, his eyes growing. “What are you wearing?”

“Trousers. Mathura said they flatter me.”

His color reddens. “I—she—” He fumbles for words that do not come.

Healer Mego exits my chamber and leaves in the opposite direction.

“Who’s that?” Ashwin asks.

“A healer Indah sent to see me. Should we go?”

“Wait.” Ashwin holds me in place. “What did he say?”

I am dying, not dead. Right now the difference, thank Anu, is tremendous. I muster a wobbly half smile. “I’ll be fine.”

“Thank the skies.” Ashwin’s arms come around me. “You’re my strength, Kalinda. I cannot do this without you.” I should move away, but his nearness drizzles over me like warmed honey.

Healer Mego must be incorrect. Ashwin’s touch serves as an antidote to the Voider’s poison. Embracing his nearness for the good of my health cannot be harmful or I would feel something besides this blissful absence of cold.

He releases me, and the hoarfrost inside me shakes loose again. My body’s reaction makes up my mind. I cannot do this without him either. Ashwin will be my protection against the Voider’s poison in the days to come.

Outside the main palace entrance, a wing flyer fills the crushed shell courtyard. Ashwin and I join Pons and Indah, who secure our packs to the passenger platform with rope. Datu Bulan speaks to a palace guard off to the side. In the distance, the last navy vessel disappears through the breaker passageway, out to sea.

“I didn’t know the datu kept wing flyers,” I say.

“He traded the Paljorians for them a few years back,” Pons replies.

“Prince Ashwin,” asks Bulan, striding over, “have you seen my daughter? Gemi was supposed to meet us here.”

“She’s gone with Admiral Rimba,” I answer. “Gemi volunteered to enlist, and I accepted.”

The datu’s mouth drops open, and his color rises.

Ashwin mutters a curse and scrubs at his forehead. “Kalinda, you didn’t.”

“Gemi said the admiral wouldn’t allow her to go without our authorization.” I lob my gaze back and forth between them, uncertain why they are angry. “I saw no sense in turning down a capable Trembler.”

Datu Bulan blusters out a string of indecipherable syllables and then shouts at his guard. “Signal the bridge! Tell them to bring back my daughter!”

“They’re gone, sir,” replies the guard. “The navy has passed through the breaker.”

“Then send a boat after her!”

“Princess Gemi said she wanted to go,” I explain, trying to pacify him.

The datu marches up to me, his white robes stark against ruddy cheeks. “The admiral was under orders to leave my daughter here. Prince Ashwin and I determined Gemi wouldn’t go to the war front. The prince suggested we exclude her, a bhuta ruler. All command was to fall to her should you fail. Now the demon rajah could wipe out my people’s future!”

“My apologies,” Ashwin says. “The kindred was unaware of our agreement.”

“Gemi didn’t tell me either,” I add. “I’m sorry.”

Bulan jabs his finger at my nose. “If anything happens to her, I will find you.” He swings around in a cloud of white and trudges off.

Indah calls out from the wing flyer, “Gemi will be fine. Bulan still thinks of her as his little girl, but I wouldn’t engage her in battle.”

Ashwin speaks under his breath. “That may be so, Kalinda, but you should have discussed this with me first. We should make these decisions together.”

“You didn’t tell me to leave Gemi behind,” I whisper in return.

“I suggested she stay to appease Bulan. Did you not wonder why he sent Indah to Iresh to participate in the trial tournament instead of Gemi? He values his daughter above all else. Ensuring her protection was my best leverage. Even with that, our trade agreement was too generous.” Ashwin is irritated with me, but also with himself for negotiating poorly.

“Excluding Gemi from battle wasn’t our choice to make,” I say.

Ashwin rubs at his headache. “In this case, it was.”

I cut off my next retort. Naturally, the datu wants to shelter his daughter, but had Gemi been a man, I have no doubt she would have been sent off to war. Had Gemi been a man, who would Ashwin have suggested we leave behind? Another woman? Would he have excluded me from battle?

“What’s done is done,” he says. “From now on, we consult each other about everything.”

“Fine.” I revolve away and hastily tie my hair back for the flight.

He climbs onto the wing flyer with Indah and Pons. I ride beside Ashwin, careful not to touch him or his healing warmth. After all I have done to secure and retain my throne, I deserve his trust to make decisions by myself.

Pons’s winds elevate us. Indah releases a squeal of distress, her grip a stranglehold on the navigation bar. She’s afraid of flying? Come to think of it, I have never ridden on a wing flyer with her.

A hearty gust propels us over the palatial city. Indah buries her face against Pons’s back, hiding from the lofty view. I drink in the sight of the turquoise cove and ivory beaches. Lestari truly is a haven. I wish I had relaxed and enjoyed our reprieve in paradise. Our stay was too short and fraught with strife, but Princess Gemi’s willingness to dive into battle boosts my confidence that we—the Southern Isles, Tarachand Empire, and rebels—can unite to defeat the foe that threatens us.

8

DEVEN

The ripe scent of drying manure wafts from the field. Beneath my boots, the grass is trampled with wagon and horse tracks. After nearly two days of flying, stopping intermittently along the way, I am thankful my feet are on the ground.

I crouch and finger the grass; it is still damp from the rainstorm that passed through this afternoon. Although the traces left by the demon rajah’s slow-moving army are three days old, the troops’ absence does not put me at ease.

Yatin and Natesa search for signs of Brac and Opal nearer to the tree line. Dense foliage dissuades wanderers from venturing into the Morass. The jungle dominates Janardan’s territory between the sea and the empire. Brac and Opal would not duck into that tangle of trees unless they wished never to come out.

Rohan scours the grasslands behind me, sending whistling gusts through low bushes to expose any place our siblings could have hidden. Where in the gods’ names did they go? Brac left no discernible footprints or scorched vegetation to hint at his direction.

The army’s tracks tell another story. Indents in the drying mud came from heavy artillery, catapults that fire heavy bolts and large rocks. Other wagons were weighted down with rams and siege ramps to scale or pound through thick, high brick walls. All of this I can discern. These defenses are standard among the imperial army. But still no sign of Brac.

“Rohan, where did you last see them?” I ask, my attention split between him and the jungle to the east. The Morass forced even the demon rajah to go around it.

He strolls to a knoll. “They crashed here. We couldn’t circle back because the archers started shooting.” His voice cracks, as is common for boys his age, and he clears his croaky throat. “Opal was lying right here, last I saw her.”

Arrows stick out of the ground. I inspect the flattened grass and find splinters of the wreckage. The troops must have disassembled the wing flyer and hauled the parts along as firewood. At least we know Opal and Brac did not fly away from here.

“What’s nearby?” I ask Yatin, the experienced navigator in our group.

He studies the position of the sun. “The closest village is due south, a day or so on foot.”

The army is trekking northwest into Tarachand. The border is not too far ahead. South would be Brac and Opal’s wisest direction. Yatin and I would select that route, but we searched the end of the clearing and found no tracks heading to the village. Any other tracks they left were beaten into obscurity by the hundreds of men who came through.

“There’s another possibility,” Yatin says lowly.

Rohan kicks at the end of an arrow protruding from the ground. Neither of us wants to consider that our siblings were taken. I would like to think Brac would not have been captured without setting this field alight to stand as a memorial to his indignation, but circumstances could have stopped him.

“It’s likely they’ve been captured.” I put off the prospect that anything worse has happened. We will explore one possibility at a time. “The rest of you stay here and guard the wing flyer. I should return the day after tomorrow, in time for us to fly to the meeting point.”

“I’m going with you.” Rohan holds his thin body tense, anticipating my refusal, but I respect his grit. “You’ll need me to listen for my sister.”

“We should all stay together,” Natesa says, pinning me with a fierce stare to wither me into compliance. She forgets I grew up in the palace surrounded by sister warriors. They could sober a drunkard with a single glare.

Yatin stays locked in worry. He is a friend to Brac and me, but he came along only after Natesa committed to the task. I should not have agreed to let them join us.

“We cannot take the wing flyer or they’ll see us,” I explain to dissuade her. “My guess is the main body of troops are a day, maybe a day and a half, away. We’ll have to run through the night to catch up to them.”

Natesa stretches her arms over her head. “I won’t let you slow me down.”

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