The premier’s palace is vast, but the layout is simple enough, and it takes little time for me to descend to the ground floor, where the public rooms are. Eventually I can just follow the smell of food, letting it lead me through room after room of grand salons and galleries. I pass a dining area the size of a ballroom, dominated by a table big enough for forty, as well as a massive stone fireplace. But the table is bare and no flame crackles in the grate.
“Miss Barrow, isn’t it?”
I turn to the kindly voice, finding an even kinder face. A man beckons from one of the many arched doorways leading out onto another terrace. He is perfectly bald, with midnight skin, almost purple in hue, and his smile flashes like a white crescent above an even whiter silk suit.
“Yes,” I reply evenly.
He grins wider. “Very good. We’ll be eating out here, under the stars. I thought it best to do so, on your first visit.”
The man gestures and I follow, crossing the grand dining room to meet him. With smooth motions, he takes my arm, locking his elbow with mine as he leads me out into the cool night air. The smell of food intensifies, making my mouth water.
“So tense,” he chuckles, moving his arm a little to contrast my own tight muscles. His air is easy, so much so that I want to mistrust him. “I’m Carmadon, and I cooked the dinner. So if you have any complaints, keep them to yourself.”
I bite my lip, trying to hide a smirk. “I’ll do my best.”
He only taps his nose in reply.
The spider veins in his eyes are gray, branching across white. His blood is silver. I swallow around a sudden lump in my throat.
“May I ask what ability you possess, Carmadon?”
His response is a thin smile. “Is it not obvious?” He gestures to the many plants and flowers, both on the terrace and dangling from the many balconies and windows. “I am but a humble greenwarden, Miss Barrow.”
For the sake of appearance, I force a smile of my own. Humble. I’ve seen corpses with roots curling from their eyes and mouths. There is no such thing as a humble Silver, or a harmless one. They all have the ability to kill. But then, I suppose, so do we. So does every human on earth.
We walk across the terrace, toward the smell and soft lights and the low murmur of stilted conversation. This part of the palace juts out over the ridge, allowing an unobstructed view over the pines, the valley, and the snowy peaks in the distance. They seem to glow under the light of a rising moon.
I try not to look eager or interested or even angry. Nothing to hint at my emotions. Still, I feel my heart jump, adrenaline pumping, at the sight of Tiberias’s familiar silhouette. Again he stares out at the landscape, unable to face anyone else around him. I feel my lip curl in distaste. Since when are you a coward, Tiberias Calore?
Farley paces back and forth some yards away, still wearing her Command uniform. Her hair has been freshly washed, and it gleams beneath the lamps strung over the terrace table. She gives me a nod before moving to sit.
Evangeline and Anabel are already in their chairs, on either side of one end of the table. They must intend to flank Cal and trumpet their importance at his right and left. While Anabel seems comfortable in her gown from earlier, the heavy red and orange silk, Evangeline nuzzles into a collar of smooth black fox fur. She watches me as I approach the table, eyes glittering like two devious stars. When I sit, taking my place diagonal from her, as far as possible from the exiled prince, her lips twist into what could be a smile.
Carmadon doesn’t seem to notice or care that his dinner guests are hell-bent on hating one another. He sits gracefully in the chair across from mine, at the right hand of where I assume Davidson will be. A servant springs from the shadows to fill his intricately etched wineglass.
I watch with narrowed eyes. The servant has red blood, judging by the flush in her cheeks. She is neither old nor young, but she smiles as she works. I’ve never seen a Red servant smile like that, unless commanded.