“Survive in his shadow, you mean,” I snap, unable to help myself.
Anabel blinks at me, her face pulled in rare confusion. Then she smiles and dips her head. “Queens cast shadows too.”
Her demeanor changes in an instant. “Ah, Premier.” She turns to my left, toward the man standing behind me.
I do the same, watching as Davidson steps forward. He nods at both of us, though he never breaks his gaze. His angled eyes, oddly gold, dart from Anabel to me. They are the only part of him that seems alive. The rest, from his empty, bland expressions to his still fingers, seems schooled by restraint.
“Your Majesty, Your Highness,” Davidson says, bobbing his head again. Over his shoulder, I glance at his Montfort guards in green, as well as his officers and soldiers with their insignia. There are dozens of them. Some accompanied him from Piedmont, but most were already here waiting for his arrival.
Did he always have so many guards at his back? So many guns? I feel the bullets in their chambers. I count them off, a force of habit, and thicken the pools of iron in my dress, covering my most sensitive organs.
The premier gestures with one hand, sweeping his arm. “I hoped to escort you both into our capital, and be the first to bid you welcome to the Free Republic of Montfort.” Though he still does his best to remain emotionless, I sense a pride in him. Pride in his home, his country. I understand that, at least.
Anabel surveys him with a look that would level noble Silvers, men and women of terrible power and even worse arrogance. The premier doesn’t even flinch. “This,” she sniffs, eyeing the naked cliffs on either side of us, “is your Republic?”
“This,” Davidson replies, “is a private runway.”
I spin a ring on my finger, distracting myself with the braid of jewels to keep from laughing.
Buttons gleam at the edge of my awareness. Heavy iron, well formed, forged into the likeness of flame. They approach, fastened to my betrothed’s clothing. He stops at my side, radiating a low but constant heat.
Cal says nothing to me, and I’m glad for it. We haven’t truly spoken in months. Not since he escaped death in the Bowl of Bones. Before, when he was my betrothed for the first time, our conversations were few and dull. Cal has a mind for battle and Mare Barrow. Neither interests me much.
I sneak a look at him and can tell his grandmother has seen to his appearance well. Gone is the rough-cut hair and the uneven stubble across his jaw. His cheeks are smooth, his black hair neat and glossy, brushed back from his forehead. Cal looks like he just stepped out of Whitefire, ready for his own coronation, instead of a six-hour flight on a jet carrier with a siege behind him. But his eyes are dull, hard bronze, and he doesn’t wear a crown. Either Anabel could not procure one for him, or he refused to put it on. I assume the latter.
“A private runway?” Cal asks, looking down at Davidson.
The premier doesn’t seem bothered by the height discrepancy. Maybe he is without the infinitely male preoccupation with size.
“Yes,” Davidson says. “This airfield is at higher altitude, and has easier access to the city of Ascendant than the fields on the plains or the valleys deeper in the mountains. I thought it best to take us here, although the eastern ascent up the Hawkway is considered a splendid sight.”
“When the war is over, I’d like to see it,” Cal replies, trying to be polite. It does little to hide his naked disinterest.
Davidson doesn’t seem to mind. “When the war is over,” he echoes, his eyes glittering.
“Well, we wouldn’t want to make you late for your address to your government.” Anabel puts her arm through Cal’s, ever the doting grandmother. She leans on him more than she needs to. A fitting and calculated picture.
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Davidson says with one of his easy, languid smiles. “I’m scheduled to speak before the Montfort assembly in the morning. I’ll make our case then.”