“And if you don’t marry him?” I prod, bringing her back.
It’s the easy, obvious thing to ask, but she blanches, perplexed by the suggestion. Her eyes widen, her mouth dropping open in shock. “Impossible,” she scoffs. “There’s no way around it. Short of running away to Tiraxes or Ciron or whatever backwater my father can’t invade,” she adds, laughing darkly at the idea. “Even that won’t work. He’ll find me wherever I go, drag me back, and use me as I was intended to be used. The only course I see, the only option I have, is very simple.”
Of course it is, Evangeline.
Our objectives are the same, though our motivations differ. I let her talk, spooling out exactly what I want to hear. Things will be easier if she thinks this is all her own idea.
“There will be no marriage if Cal fails.” Evangeline stares through me. She forces the words. They’re a betrayal, of her house, of her colors, of her father, of her blood. It cuts her bone-deep. “If he isn’t king of Norta, my father won’t waste me on him. And if he loses his war for the crown, if we lose, Father will be too distracted keeping his own throne to sell me off to someone else. Or at least sell me somewhere far away.”
From Elane. Her meaning is clear.
“So you want me to stop Cal from winning back his kingdom?”
She sneers, taking a step back. “You’ve learned many things in Silver courts, Mare Barrow. You’re smarter than you seem. I won’t underestimate you ever again, and you better not underestimate me.” As she speaks, her armor skitters, re-forming and twisting along her limbs. The scales shrink and crawl. Like the bugs of her mother’s control, each one a gleaming dot of black and silver. She re-forms her clothing into something more substantial, less grand. Real armor, meant for battle and nothing else. “When I say I want you to stop Cal, I mean your little circle. Although I don’t know how ‘little’ both Montfort and the Scarlet Guard can be considered. After all, they can’t really mean to prop up another Silver kingdom. Not without some serious strings attached.”
“Ah.” My heart drops a little. There’s a card shown, one I would have liked to keep hidden.
“Yes, well. It doesn’t take a political genius to know that a Red and Silver coalition will be fraught with betrayal. I’m certain all the leaders know not to trust one another.” Her eyes flash as she turns, meaning to leave me behind. “Except for maybe one aspiring king,” she adds over her shoulder.
A fact I know too well. Tiberias is as trusting as a new puppy, easily led by the people he loves. Me, his grandmother, and most of all his dead father. He pursues the crown for that man, to serve some bond that hasn’t broken. While his confidence, his courage, and his dogged focus make him strong, they also make him blind everywhere but the battlefield. He can predict surging armies, but not scheming people. He won’t see or can’t see the machinations around him. He didn’t before, and he won’t again.
“He’s certainly not Maven,” I mutter, if only to myself.
I hear an echo from Evangeline all the same, bouncing off the stone walls of Corvium.
“He’s certainly not,” she replies.
In her voice, I hear the same things I feel.