There is no such display of sorrow on General Farley. Still, I can see the agony rolling off her like a tide. Her face goes blank, empty without the usual stony expression and obligatory disgust she tosses at Silvers, especially me.
I know she has a daughter, an infant, stowed away somewhere.
Not here. Not on this craft.
Barrow follows the Red woman, taking the seat beside her, and I snarl to myself. We traveled here with two jets, enough to keep the Reds and Silvers apart, as well as carry the bounty of Corvium. I find myself wishing that were still the case, and we weren’t all crammed together for the journey to the Rift.
“There are approximately sixty other seats on this plane,” I mutter.
Mare cuts her own glare at me, torn between anger and heartache. “You’re welcome to move if you want,” she replies. “But I doubt you have somewhere better to sit.” She gestures with her chin, indicating the rest of the plane as it fills with various representatives of those loyal to Cal and the Scarlet Guard.
I sink back into the plush seat, almost huffing. She isn’t wrong. I hardly want to spend the hours donning a court mask, wielding a smile like a shield to trade information and veiled threats with the other Silvers. Nor do I have any desire to shut my eyes among Reds who would rather slit my throat. No, strangely, Mare Barrow is my safest haven here. Our bargain protects us both.
Mare shifts her attention, moving so her body is squared to the general. They don’t speak, and Diana Farley doesn’t look at Barrow. Her focus on the window is perfect, enough to shatter the glass. She doesn’t seem to notice when Mare takes her hand.
As the jet purrs to life, its engines humming to a roar, she doesn’t move. Her teeth clench, the muscles in her jaw jumping as she grinds them together.
Only when we take off, climbing into the clouds, leaving the mountains behind, does she shut her eyes.
I think I hear her whisper good-bye.
I’m the first down the steps of the jet, gulping the fresh scent of the Rift in summer. I smell dirt and river and leaves and damp heat, undercut with the distant hint of iron beneath the hills. The sun is strong, bright in a hazy, humid sky. It makes everything gleam in odd contrast. The ridges march off into the distance, lush and green against the flat, hot black of the paved runway. If I were to lay a palm to the ground, it would burn my skin. Waves of heat distortion rise from the pavement, wobbling the world around me. Or that could just be me, trembling with want. I try not to run. Try to hold on to some sense of propriety.
My relationship with Elane Haven is an open secret now, and a small one in comparison to the myriad of alliances and betrayals that seem to tangle our lives in so many webs.
A small secret, but a shameful one. An obstacle. A difficulty.
In Norta. In the Rift, a voice says in my head. Not so elsewhere.
She won’t be waiting out here for all to see. It’s not her way. Still, my heartbeat hammers, pounding at my pulse points.
Ptolemus is not so restricted. He stands on the runway, sweating stubbornly in a summer uniform of gray linen and reserved regalia. The only metal on him winks at his wrists. Thick-braided iron rope, more weapon than jewelry. A caution, especially alongside the dozen or so guards in Samos colors. A few are cousins, marked by their silver hair and black eyes. The rest are pledged to our house, to my father’s crown, in the same way Maven’s guards were. I don’t bother noting their colors. They don’t matter.
“Eve,” he says, opening his arms to me. I return the gesture, holding him around the middle, letting all the muscles in my body release for one long moment of relief. Ptolemus is safe and whole beneath my fingertips. Solid. Real. Alive.
Now, more than ever, I won’t take that for granted.
“Tolly,” I breathe in reply, pulling back to look up at him. The same relief I feel flashes in his stormy eyes. We despise being parted. It’s like separating a sword from a shield. “I’m sorry I left.”
No, you didn’t leave him. That denotes choice. You had no choice in this. My fingers tighten on my brother’s upper arm. Father sent me to Montfort. To send a message. Not just to our coalition, but to me. He is my king and lord of my house. It is my duty to obey him. To go where he wishes, do as he says, and marry who he commands. Live as he wills.