War Storm

War Storm

Page 43

She grins at me, showing gapped teeth. “You’ve been a thorn in his side, Mare Barrow. And a boon to him as well. We’ve seen videos from your capture. Your words swayed people to him too.”

The heat I feel next isn’t from Tiberias, but from my own embarrassment. It claws over my face, warming my cheeks. “Yes. And I am ashamed of it,” I tell her bluntly.

On my left, Farley clenches a fist on the seat of her chair. She leans forward. “You can’t blame her for things said to the business end of a gun.”

The Red woman tightens. “I do not, of course. But your face and your voice have been used so many times, Miss Barrow. You will be little use in trying to sway your own people back in Norta. And, I apologize, but it makes it difficult to trust what you say now, and who you speak for.”

“Then speak to me,” Farley snaps, her voice echoing throughout the Gallery. My flush recedes, chased away by cool relief. I glance sidelong, more grateful for Farley than ever before. She keeps her temper in check, using it as fuel. “I am a general of the Scarlet Guard, a high officer of Command. My organization has been working in the shadows for years, from the frozen shores of the Hud to the Piedmont lowlands, and everywhere in between. We’ve done very much with very little. Imagine what we can do with more.”

On the opposite side of the chamber, another one of the Montfort representatives puts up a hand winking with golden rings. He’s Red, his smile sharp and slick. “Much, you say? Forgive me, General. But before you began working with us, your Scarlet Guard was little more than a network of allied criminals. Smugglers. Thieves. Murderers, even.”

Farley just sniffs. “We did what we had to. The premier speaks of working through cracks—we made them. And we transported thousands out of danger. Reds who needed our help. Newbloods too. Your own premier is Nortan-born, isn’t he?” She points her chin at Davidson, who holds her gaze. “Nearly executed for the crime of what he was born as. We saved people like him every day.”

The sly man shrugs his shoulders. “Our point is that you cannot do this alone, General,” he says. “And while your cause is just, accordances must be made. You are a group with no nation, no citizens to answer to. Your methods are beyond the usual bounds of war. We have our own to think of.”

“We answer to everyone, sir,” Farley replies coolly. She turns her head just so, letting the scarred side of her mouth catch the light from the dome overhead. “Especially those who think no one is listening. We are listening, and we are doing, and we will keep fighting. To the last rattle of our last breath, the Scarlet Guard will do what it can to fix what is broken. With or without your aid.”

Still pacing, Davidson passes by her. He shoots her a glance I cannot decipher, lips pressed into a neutral line, eyes locked on her face. I can’t tell if he’s pleased or infuriated.

The Silver representative named Radis stands again. He doesn’t look a day over thirty-five, and he’s old enough to remember what this country was before Montfort. He eyes us all. “So you propose we support another Silver monarch and help him to a throne.”

On my right, Evangeline grins, and I can see she capped her eyeteeth with pointed silver. Gruesome, I think to myself. And a message like the rest of her image. She will bite out the heart of anyone in her way. Including all of us.

“Two, actually,” she says, projecting her voice across the amphitheater. “My father, the king of the Rift, must also be recognized as a legitimate ruler.”

A corner of Tiberias’s mouth twitches, and Anabel purses her lips. As before in Corvium, Evangeline does her best to sidetrack any progress her betrothed might make.

Radis sneers back at her, gray eyes flashing. “But as you told us, Premier,” he says, “the Free Republic was built from such kingdoms. We know what they are, what they become.” His gaze ticks from Evangeline to Tiberias. “No matter how noble, how true, how honorable the king or queen.”

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