Home > The Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen #1)(12)

The Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen #1)(12)
Author: Emily R. King

Deven is silent so long that I expect him to argue. Then he bows and whispers, “Yes, Viraji.”

“Food!” Natesa hurries over. “Clean clothes!” I wait for her to complain about the coarse cotton garments, but she admires them.

“The shepherd and his wife gave us permission to stay as long as we need,” says Deven. “We will take turns bathing in the pool and sleep here tonight.”

Natesa snatches up the bar of soap. “I’m first.”

I do not bother arguing. The promise of cleanliness and rest is enough.

We dine near a campfire, our clean faces reflecting the shining light. Our meal of bread and honey is cold, simple fare, but no one complains. Yatin returns to camp, and I pass him his portions. Deven sent him away on an assignment earlier. Neither said where he was going, but I assume that it involved the bhutas.

Manas broods, tearing out grass and tossing the soft blades into the fire. “We should have stayed and faced our attackers.”

“We were outnumbered,” Yatin replies.

“We should have tried. One of them was a Galer.”

“What’s a Galer?” Natesa asks.

“A bhuta who conjures ill winds,” Manas says. Pain burns deep in his eyes. “A Galer killed my family. I returned home from fishing, and our entire village was gone, smashed to the ground by a wind tunnel.”

Out of respect for those who perished, I wait a beat in silence and then ask, “What else can bhutas—”

“Not tonight.” Deven gazes into the orange heart of the fire. “We can discuss our enemies tomorrow. Tonight is for those we mourn.” He is the first to speak of his lost men, though we have all been thinking of them.

Sheep bleat peacefully in the darkened greenery. Under the eye of the moon, Yatin tells a story in honor of those we lost. The story is “Enki’s Path,” the water-goddess’s tale of adventure, and one that I know well. Enki strives to walk a straight and narrow path of obedience to her parents, a quest that leads her through mountains infested with crafty demons and serpentine dragons.

Yatin reaches the part where Enki tricks a dragon into his own demise, and I drift off. When I awake, the fire has burned low in the night and our camp is silent. Deven’s jacket hangs over me, still stained with blood.

I sit up and see him at the perimeter of camp. He has taken off his tunic, revealing a slash across his shoulder. In one hand, he holds the flask of apong, and in the other, a threaded needle. I creep to his side and grimace at the deep cut. “You should have told me you were injured.”

“You know now.”

My nose scrunches at his spicy breath. “You’ve been drinking.”

“Only a little. The apong makes the pain bearable.”

I inspect his jagged gash more closely and cluck my tongue. “It’s infected.”

“I was cleaning it.” He motions at a dirty cloth beside him.

“Not with that you aren’t. Stay here.” He begins to rise with me, and I scowl. “Stay or I will shout and wake the flock.”

He chuckles under his breath. “Spoken like a true rani.”

Deven’s handsomeness shines when he smiles, but I do not appreciate his joviality. He could fall ill from an infection. I wet my new veil with clean water from a cask and return to him.

“You’ve ruined your gift,” he says.

“Better the veil than your arm.” I clean his wound and then splash apong on it.

Deven growls between gritted teeth. “Must you?”

“The spirits will purify it.”

I rethread the needle with clean thread. I have watched Healer Baka sew stitches, but I have never done so myself. I doubt that Deven would let me near him if he knew this, so I dig the needle through his torn skin with a staid expression. He flinches but does not gripe.

Silence lengthens between us. We are close, our faces nearly touching.

His quiet voice reaches out to me. “Thank you. You have many talents, Viraji. They will serve you well in the palace. The rajah’s wives are a cunning, vicious lot, but you will claim your place among them.”

I cannot think about the rajah’s wives. The way Deven describes them, they must be like Natesa. I look up at him. “Do you have wives waiting for you at home?”

Firelight enhances the severe angle of his jaw and the smoothness of his lips, lifting in a wry smile. “I have no wives, and when I marry, I will have only one. From what I’ve seen, one woman ordering me about will be plenty.”

My face warms. “Not all women have my temper, Captain.”

“Not all women wear it as well as you do, Kalinda.”

My heart stammers, and I am suddenly aware of his elbow brushing mine. “Do not say anything you will regret.”

His head lolls back. “I already have.”

“Then why speak?” I ask, annoyed with his wavering.

Deven leans forward and rests his forehead against mine. “Because you’re beautiful.”

“You’re drunk,” I scoff.

“Kalinda,” he says softly, “I would not be so foolish as to be drunk while on night watch. I assure you I am here. All of me is with you.”

His serious gaze holds me near him. Our expelled breaths intertwine, his flowing into me like an intoxicating current. I want to touch the stubble on his jaw to ease my curiosity about whether it is scratchy or soft. I want . . . things I should not want.

Leaning away, I finish sewing his shoulder closed. His gaze strokes up and down my face. We are so close that he must be able to hear my crashing heartbeat. I tie off the thread and sit back. “Your arm should heal properly now.” I rise to rinse out the bloody veil in the pond, and he reaches for me.

“Stay in the firelight, where I can see you. The bhutas are following us.”

My senses jump. “Why? What do they want?”

“From us? Revenge. But I am told it all started with a book.”

I kneel beside him. “What book?”

Deven grips the hilt of his sword and surveys the shadowed hillside. “It is called the Zhaleh, a record of the bhuta people, tracing back to when they originally received their powers. Seventeen years ago, the bhutas accused Rajah Tarek of stealing the Zhaleh, and they retaliated by attacking a village in the west borderlands. No one was prepared for their powers. The villagers could not stand against them, and the bhutas . . . they showed no mercy.” He mashes his lips into a line. “The Zhaleh was not there, so they went to the next village, and the next. They destroyed everything in their path until Rajah Tarek sent soldiers to drive them out. Our army outnumbered them, but the bhutas killed thousands. After a year of bloodshed, we finally overcame them. The bhutas who survived fled to the sultanate of Janardan or went into hiding.”

My jaw drops. I have never heard of this war, or of the Zhaleh. “If the bhutas think the rajah has their book, why did they attack us?”

Deven’s gaze tenses. “The bhuta warlord must have heard that the rajah claimed his final viraji, and saw an opportunity for retaliation.”

I see my own confusion in his questioning eyes. So then why did the bhuta let me go? Why did he not kidnap me and use me for ransom? Or kill me as revenge?

Shadows conceal half of Deven’s face. “Yatin found them. They are camped nearby, but they have not made preparations to attack. Do you know why?”

“Should I?” I will not mention that the bhuta said that we would meet again—or that I owe him for sparing my life.

“Few people face off with a bhuta and live. Why did the Burner let you go, Kalinda? What did he say to you?”

The honey-eyed man was a Burner. A bhuta who burns people and things, like I did to the carriage floor . . .

My heart bangs against my breastbone. “He said nothing. I don’t know why he let me go or why he’s following me.”

“Following us. Unless you have reason to believe he’s only after you.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say.” I shove the thread and needle into the basket, busying myself so that I do not have to look at him. “This isn’t my war. I want the mountains and the temple. I want peace.”

Deven lays his hand over mine. “I wanted peace too, but I didn’t find it in the Brotherhood. I found it in the army. Sometimes the only solution that produces peace is war.”

I pull away. “I have never heard anything more absurd. If everyone lived according to the five godly virtues, there would be no war.”

“This isn’t paradise, Kalinda. War is real, and peace comes at a cost.”

“Then why don’t I have peace? I have paid more than my share.”

His gaze softens, but I do not want his pity. “Good night, Captain.”

I cross back to my spot by the campfire and settle down. Deven’s words about the Burner bury daggers of doubt in my mind, and an image of the scorch marks on the carriage floor blisters my memories. I banish the chilling picture and shuffle closer to the fire.

10

I steal a private moment away from camp at dawn, under the guise of using the latrine. Away from onlookers, I take my tonic dosage. Only two and a half vials remain. Overall, less than a moon’s supply. My reserve is lower than I would like, but I can concoct more with the formula Healer Baka gave me once we reach Vanhi.

We are not far from the palace now. Deven’s and my time alone last night was a mistake. I need the favor of the gods while I participate in the tournament proceedings. I do not wish to evoke their wrath or the rajah’s by disobeying my impending marriage ties. I will not see Deven punished because he has gotten too close to me.

Deven’s gaze locks on me when I return to camp. I pretend not to see him waiting beside his horse, and I walk up to Manas and say, “I would like to ride with you today.”

Manas glances at Deven. “But the captain—”

“Will not mind.”

“Yes, Viraji.”

Manas mounts his horse. I pull myself up with the stirrup and slide in front of him. His leaner body fits more easily with me in the saddle than Deven’s. Manas’s arms come around me and take up the reins. I lean back against him and wait for my heart to strike a rebellious beat of attraction, but Manas is not built as finely as Deven. None of the men are.

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» The Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen #1
» Surprise Delivery
» The Hating Game
» The Raven Four (The Raven Four #1)
» Connections in Death (In Death #48)
» Leverage in Death (In Death #47)
» Dark in Death (In Death #46)
» Silent Night
» Next Year in Havana
» The Magnolia Inn
» Downfall
» Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)