Next to me, Kilorn puffs out a low scoff. I’m more obvious, rolling my eyes at Julian. When I shift, so does the collar of my shirt, sending a steady drip of rainwater down my spine. I clench my fists to keep from flinching.
“Are you saying your nephew is cursed to his crown?” I sneer.
Julian hardens, and I feel a tinge of regret for being so callous. He shakes his head at me, like I’m a child to be scolded. “Forced to choose between the woman he loves and what he thinks is right? What he thinks he must do, because of everything he’s been taught to be? What else would you call that?”
“I call it an easy decision,” Kilorn growls.
I bite down hard on the inside of my cheek, trying to gnaw back a dozen rude responses. “Did you really come here to defend what he did? Because I’m certainly not in the mood for it.”
“No, of course not, Mare,” Julian replies. “But to explain, if I can.”
My stomach churns at the thought of Julian of all people explaining his nephew’s heart to me. With his dissections and ruminations. Will he boil it down to simple science? An equation to show that the crown and I are not equal in the prince’s eyes? I simply can’t stand it.
“Save your breath, Julian,” I spit. “Go back to your king. Stand at his side.” I look him dead in the eye. So he knows I’m not lying. “And keep him safe.”
He sees the offer for what it is. The only thing I can do.
Julian Jacos bows low. He sweeps out his soaking robes in an attempt at courtly manner. For a second, we could be back in Summerton, just him and me in a classroom piled with books. Back then, I lived in terror, forced to masquerade as someone else. Julian was one of my only refuges in that place. Alongside Cal and Maven. My only sanctuaries. The Calore brothers are gone. I think Julian might be too.
“I will, Mare,” he tells me. “With my life, if I must.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“So do I.”
Our words are warnings to each other. And his voice sounds like a good-bye.
I think Bree keeps his eyes closed for the entire flight. Not to sleep. He just really despises flying, so much so he can hardly look at his own feet, let alone peek out the window. He doesn’t even respond to Tramy’s and Gisa’s gentle teasing. They sit on either side of him, content to poke and prod. Gisa stage-whispers to Tramy, leaning across Bree to say something about jet crashes or engine malfunctions. I don’t join in. I know what a jet crash feels like, or at least close to it. But I won’t spoil their fun either. We get so little of it these days. Bree keeps still in his seat, arms tightly crossed, his lids glued shut. Eventually his head lolls forward, chin resting on his chest, and he sleeps the rest of the way.
It’s no small accomplishment on his part, considering the route from the Piedmont base to the Free Republic of Montfort is one of the longest flights I’ve ever taken. Six hours of flying at least. Too long a journey for a dropjet, so we’re on a larger carrier, a transport more like the Blackrun. But this isn’t the same craft, thankfully. The Blackrun was torn apart last year, by a contingent of Samos warriors and Maven’s own fury.