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Home > Queen of Fire (Raven's Shadow #3)(11)

Queen of Fire (Raven's Shadow #3)(11)
Author: Anthony Ryan

“They killed my grandparents, didn’t they?” Reva asked. “They killed them and they stole me.”

He nodded. “They waited until you had been put to bed. The old couple were killed, the girl stolen from her bed, the farmhouse burned.”

“And then many happy years in a barn,” Reva muttered as Marken fumbled for the right words to say.

“Any names?” Vaelin asked the Gifted.

“A few, my lord. The priest would write them down to memorise. He would burn the paper but the memories remain.”

“Make a list and give it to Lady Reva.”

She moved back to the priest’s corpse, feeling a great temptation to smash her boot into his contented face, spoil his slumber forever. “Reva,” Alornis said, tugging at her sleeve. “There’s nothing more to learn here.”

“I . . .” Marken stammered. “I do have his name, my lady. The Reader wrote it down when he gave it to him.”

“No,” she said, turning to walk to the tent flap. “Burn it if you’re done,” she told Vaelin. “No words are to be spoken for him.”

“My lord,” Marken continued as they made to the leave. “If I may. About Brother Caenis . . .”

“I’m aware of the matter, Master Marken,” Vaelin told him.

“We didn’t follow you here to become servants of the Faith . . .”

“We’ll discuss it tonight,” Vaelin told him in a level voice. “With Lord Nortah. Your concerns are fully noted.”

They walked in silence back to the causeway, Reva preoccupied with the Gifted’s tale, Vaelin no doubt pondering Brother Caenis’s revelation to the queen. Alornis followed at a discreet distance, eyes scanning the city walls and her ever-present leather-bound bundle of sketches clutched to her chest, already filling up with renderings of the destruction behind the walls. She had cried the day she found Reva standing amidst the corpse-littered streets. Upon seeing her, Alornis had thrown her arms around Reva, convulsing with relief, provoking an old ache that Reva found didn’t pain her in quite the same way.

“The Seventh Order,” she said to Vaelin as they halted before the causeway. “Not a legend after all. But, I suppose you’ve known that a while.”

“Yes.” His face was sombre, not quite so fatigued as it had been recently, but still he seemed to have aged much in a few days. “Though there was something I should have known, but didn’t.”

“Brother Caenis?”

He nodded and changed the subject. “What will you do with the names Marken gives you?”

“Hunt them down and subject them to trial. If they are proved to be Sons, I’ll hang them.”

“My Lady Governess favours harsh justice.”

“They plotted the death of my uncle, with the full contrivance of the church that has compelled the people of this fief to servile respect for centuries. They conspired with foul creatures of the Dark to subject me to a lifetime of abuse before sending me after you in the hope I would die. And let’s not forget their attempt to kill our queen. Must I go on?”

He studied her face for a moment and she felt the harshness of her expression soften under the scrutiny. “I’m sorry for everything that happened to you here, Reva. If I had had any inkling . . .”

“I know.” She forced a smile. “Join us tonight. Veliss found a new cook, though we can offer only two courses, and no wine.”

“I can’t. There is much to do.” He glanced back at the camp where soldiers were busy packing gear and supplies in preparation for tomorrow’s march and the commencement of what was fast becoming known as the Queen’s Crusade.

“She wanted me to ask,” he said, turning back, “how many men you will send with us.”

“I’ll not be sending any. I’ll be leading them, the full House Guard plus five hundred archers.”

“Reva, you have done enough . . .”

Arken’s slack, lifeless face, the sword in his back . . . The archers flailing in the river as the arrows lashed down . . . Uncle Sentes dying on the cathedral steps . . . “No,” she said. “No I haven’t.”

• • •

Veliss came to her somewhere past midnight. They had reverted to keeping separate rooms in the aftermath of the siege, more at the Lady Counsellor’s insistence than hers. Their numerous indiscretions might have been overlooked in the storm of daily battle, but the city had begun to resume a strange normality now the corpses and the worst of the rubble had been cleared away, and the cathedral reopened.

“Are you sure you want to meet them alone?” Veliss asked. They lay side by side, covered in a faint sheen of sweat, Reva enjoying the feel of the Lady Counsellor’s unbound hair clinging to her skin.

“They need to know I speak with my own mind,” she replied. “Given what I have to tell them.”

“They won’t like it . . .”

“I should hope so.” She pulled Veliss closer, pressing a kiss to her lips to forestall further discussion.

“Lady Alornis,” Veliss said, a while later. “You care for her.”

“She is a friend to me, like her brother.”

“No more than that?”

“Jealous, Honoured Counsellor?”

“Trust me, you don’t want to see me jealous.” She raised herself up, hugging her knees. “I was always going to leave, you know. When the war was done, if your uncle had lived. Take the gold he offered and go. Never cared about all the names they called me, or the Reader’s sneering condescension. But I was getting tired of it all, the lies and the intrigue. Even for a former spy, it can grow wearisome.”

Reva reached out to stroke her naked back. “And now?”

“Now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.” Reva felt her tense in anticipation of her next words. “The Queen’s Crusade . . .”

“Is my crusade. And not a topic for discussion.”

“Do you think she would be so welcoming if she knew your true nature? If she knew about us?”

“Unless it proved an impediment to liberating this Realm, I doubt she would care one whit.” She recalled her first meeting with the queen, the fierce intelligence shining through the seared mask of her face, and the implacable determination, the singularity of purpose Reva recognised from infrequent youthful glances at her own reflection. But I was sent in search of a myth, she thought. Her quarry is all too real, and I doubt she’ll be satisfied with however many we find at Varinshold. “In truth,” she confessed to Veliss, “that woman scares me more than the Volarians ever did.”

“Then why follow her?”

“Because he does. He tells me this is necessary. I once failed to heed his words, I’ll not make the same mistake again.”

“He’s just a man,” Veliss murmured, although Reva could hear the uncertainty in her voice. The tale was on every set of lips, Cumbraelins as enraptured by it as all the others, flying far and wide with every telling. One man, cutting his way through an army to save a city, and living to tell the tale.

Living? Reva remembered how his features had sagged that day, her tears and the pounding rain washing the blood away as she screamed at him to stay with her. But he hadn’t, she had seen it plainly. For those few seconds, he had not been in his body.

“I’ll need you to take care of things while I’m gone,” she said. “Rebuild as best you can. I’ll leave Lord Arentes here as surety of my word, though no doubt he’ll hate me for it. How about a new title? Vice-Governess, maybe? I’m sure you can come up with something better.”

Veliss hugged her legs tighter. “I don’t want titles, I just want you.”

• • •

Lords Arentes and Antesh preceded her into the cathedral, striding through the cavernous interior towards the Reader’s chambers as she followed with twenty of the House Guard at her back. The two priests standing guard at the chamber door were subdued without particular difficulty, Lord Arentes thrusting the doors open and standing aside to allow her entry. Reva paused at the sight of the priest held to the wall by Lord Antesh, a sallow-faced man with a heavily bandaged hand and misshapen nose.

“I never learned your name,” she said.

The priest scowled and said nothing until Antesh gave him a none-too-gentle shake. “My name is for the Father alone.”

“And I believe he wants you to share it.” She beckoned two guards forward. “Take this one to Lady Veliss. Tell her I think he would benefit from some herbal medicine.”

She turned back to the open door as they hustled the priest away, entering at a sedate pace and offering a brisk greeting to the seven old men she found seated at a circular table. “Good bishops!” There were supposed to be ten but three had perished in the siege, not, she suspected, by virtue of any courageous act.

One of the bishops struggled to his feet as she walked to the only empty chair at the table, a wizened and bird-like man she recalled had objected when she gave the cathedral over to the care of the wounded. “This is the holy conclave of the ten bishops,” he sputtered. “You are not permitted . . .”

He fell silent as Lord Arentes brought a gauntleted fist down hard on the table. “The correct form of address for the Lady Governess,” he told the quailing cleric, “is ‘my lady.’ And no door in this city is barred to her.”

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