I rise to my feet when he lets me.
The chain jerks me up, pulling on the thorned collar at my throat. Its points dig in, not enough to draw blood—not yet. But I’m already bleeding from the wrists. Slow wounds, worn from days of unconscious captivity in rough, ripping manacles. The color stains my white sleeves dark crimson and bright scarlet, fading from old blood to new in a testament to my ordeal. To show Maven’s court how much I’ve suffered already.
He stands over me, his expression unreadable. The tips of his father’s crown make him seem taller, as if the iron is growing out of his skull. It gleams, each point a curling flame of black metal shot with bronze and silver. I focus on the bitterly familiar thing so I don’t have to look into Maven’s eyes. He draws me in anyway, tugging on another chain I can’t see. Only feel.
One white hand circles my wounded wrist, somehow gentle. In spite of myself, my eyes snap to his face, unable to stay away. His smile is anything but kind. Slim and sharp as a razor, biting at me with every tooth. And his eyes are worst of all. Her eyes, Elara’s eyes. Once I thought them cold, made of living ice. Now I know better. The hottest fires burn blue, and his eyes are no exception.
The shadow of the flame. He is certainly ablaze, but darkness eats at his edges. Bruise-like splotches of black and blue surround eyes bloodshot with silver veins. He has not slept. He’s thinner than I remember, leaner, crueler. His hair, black as a void, has reached his ears, curling at the ends, and his cheeks are still smooth. Sometimes I forget how young he is. How young we both are. Beneath my shift dress, the M brand on my collarbone stings.
Maven turns quickly, my chain tight in his fist, forcing me to move with him. A moon circling a planet.
“Bear witness to this prisoner, this victory,” he says, squaring his shoulders to the vast audience before us. Three hundred Silvers at least, nobles and civilians, guards and officers. I’m painfully aware of the Sentinels on the edge of my vision, their fiery robes a constant reminder of my quickly shrinking cage. My Arven guards are never out of sight either, their white uniforms blinding, their silencing ability suffocating. I might choke on the pressure of their presence.
The king’s voice echoes across the opulent stretches of Caesar’s Square, reverberating through a crowd that responds in kind. There must be microphones and speakers somewhere, to carry the king’s bitter words throughout the city, and no doubt the rest of the kingdom.
“Here is the leader of the Scarlet Guard, Mare Barrow.” In spite of my predicament, I almost snort. Leader. His mother’s death has not stemmed his lies. “A murderer, a terrorist, a great enemy to our kingdom. And now she kneels before us, bare to her blood.”