“The Colonies?” the Queen gasped.
“You will have every luxury. You will be far from the fighting and the reach of the Darkling. You will be safe.”
“I am the King of Ravka! This … this traitor, this—”
“If you remain, I will see you tried for rape.”
The Queen clutched a hand to her heart. “Nikolai, you cannot mean to do this.”
“She was under your protection, Mother.”
“She is a servant!”
“And you are a queen. Your subjects are your children. All of them.”
The King advanced on Nikolai. “You would send me from my own country on so slight a charge—”
At this Tamar broke her silence. “Slight? Would it be slight if she had been born noble?”
Mal crossed his arms. “If she’d been born noble, he never would have dared.”
“This is the best solution,” said Nikolai.
“It is not a solution at all!” barked the King. “It is cowardice!”
“I cannot put this crime aside.”
“You have no right, no authority. Who are you to sit in judgment on your King?”
Nikolai stood up straighter. “These are Ravka’s laws, not mine. They should not bow to rank or status.” He tempered his tone. “You know this is for the best. Your health is failing. You need rest, and you’re too weak to lead our forces against the Darkling.”
“Watch me!” the King roared.
“Father,” Nikolai said gently, “the men will not follow you.”
The King’s eyes narrowed. “Vasily was twice the man you are. You are a weakling and a fool, full of common sentiment and common blood.”
Nikolai flinched. “Maybe so,” he said. “But you will write that letter, and you will board the Kingfisher without protest. You will leave this place, or you will face trial, and if you are found guilty, then I will see you hang.”
The Queen let out a small sob.
“It is my word against hers,” the King said, waving his finger at Genya. “I am a King—”
I stepped between them. “And I am a Saint. Shall we see whose word carries more weight?”
“You shut your mouth, you grotesque little witch. I should have had you killed when I had the chance.”
“That is enough,” Nikolai snapped, his patience fraying. He gestured to the guards at the door. “Escort my father and mother to their rooms. Keep them under watch and ensure that they speak to no one. I will have your abdication by morning, Father, or I will have you in irons.”
The King looked from Nikolai to the guards who now flanked him. The Queen clutched at his arm, her blue eyes panicked.
“You are no Lantsov,” snarled the King.
Nikolai merely bowed. “I find I can live with that fact.”
He signaled the guards. They took hold of the King, but he pulled free of their grip. He walked to the door, bristling with rage, trying to summon the scraps of his dignity.
He paused before Genya, his eyes roving over her face. “At least now you look like what you truly are,” he said. “Ruined.”
I could see the word hit her like a slap. Razrusha’ya. The Ruined. The name the pilgrims had whispered when she’d first come among them. Mal moved forward. Tamar’s hands went to her axes, and I heard Tolya growl. But Genya halted them with a hand. Her spine stiffened, and her remaining eye blazed with conviction.
“Remember me when you board that ship, moi tsar. Remember me when you take your last look at Ravka as it slips beneath the horizon.” She leaned in and whispered something to him. The King paled, and I saw real fear in his eyes. Genya drew back and said, “I hope the taste of me was worth it.”
The King and Queen were hustled from the room by the guards. Genya held her chin high until they were gone. Then her shoulders sagged.
David put his arm around her, but she shook him off. “Don’t,” she snarled, brushing away the tears that threatened.
Tamar started forward at the same moment that I said, “Genya—”
She held up her hands, warding us off. “I don’t want your pity,” she said ferociously. Her voice was raw, wild. We stood there helplessly. “You don’t understand.” She covered her face with her hands. “None of you do.”
“Genya—” David tried.
“Don’t you dare,” she said roughly, tears welling up again. “You never looked at me twice before I was like this, before I was broken. Now I’m just something for you to fix.”
I was desperate for words to soothe her, but before I could find any, David bunched up his shoulders and said, “I know metal.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Genya cried.
David furrowed his brow. “I … I don’t understand half of what goes on around me. I don’t get jokes or sunsets or poetry, but I know metal.” His fingers flexed unconsciously as if he were physically grasping for words. “Beauty was your armor. Fragile stuff, all show. But what’s inside you? That’s steel. It’s brave and unbreakable. And it doesn’t need fixing.” He drew in a deep breath then awkwardly stepped forward. He took her face in his hands and kissed her.
Genya went rigid. I thought she’d push him away. But then she threw her arms around him and kissed him back. Emphatically.
Mal cleared his throat, and Tamar gave a low whistle. I had to bite my lip to stifle a nervous laugh.
They broke apart. David was blushing furiously. Genya’s grin was so dazzling it made my heart twist in my chest. “We should get you out of the workshop more often,” she said.
This time I did laugh. I stopped short when Nikolai said, “Do not think to rest easy, Genya Safin.” His voice was cold and deeply weary. “When this war is over, you will face charges, and I will decide whether or not you are to be pardoned.”
Genya bowed gracefully. “I don’t fear your justice, moi tsar.”
“I’m not the King yet.”
“Moi tsarevich,” she amended.
“Go,” he said, waving us away. When I hesitated, he simply said, “All of you.”
As the doors closed, I saw him slump at his drafting table, his head in his hands.
I trailed the others back down the hall. David was murmuring to Genya about the properties of vegetable alkaloids and beryllium dust. I wasn’t sure how wise it was for them to be colluding over poisons, but I supposed this was their version of a romantic moment.
My feet dragged at the prospect of returning to the Spinning Wheel. It had been one of the longest days of my life, and though I’d held exhaustion at bay, now it settled over my shoulders like a sodden coat. I decided that Genya or Tamar could update the rest of the Grisha on what had happened, and I would deal with Sergei tomorrow. But before I could find my bed and sink into it, there was something I needed to know.
At the stairs, I grabbed Genya’s hand. “What did you whisper?” I asked quietly. “To the King.”
She watched the others move up the steps, then said, “Na razrusha’ya. E’ya razrushost.” I am not ruined. I am ruination.
My brows rose. “Remind me to stay on your good side.”
“Darling,” she said, turning one scarred cheek to me, then the other, “I don’t have a good side anymore.” Her tone was merry, but I heard sadness there too. She winked at me with her remaining eye and disappeared up the stairs.
* * *
MAL HAD WORKED with Nevsky to see to our sleeping arrangements, so he was left to show me to my quarters, a set of rooms on the eastern side of the mountain. The door frame was formed by the clasped hands of two bronze maidens I thought might be meant to embody the Morning and Evening Stars. Inside, the far wall was entirely taken up by a round window, ringed in riveted brass like a sidescuttle on a ship. The lanterns were lit, and though the view would most likely be spectacular in the daytime, right now, there was nothing to see but darkness and my own tired face looking back at me.
“The twins and I will be right next door,” Mal said. “And one of us will be posted while you sleep.”
A pitcher of hot water was waiting for me by the basin, and I rinsed my face as Mal reported on the accommodations he’d secured for the rest of the Grisha, how long it would take to outfit our expedition into the Sikurzoi, and how he wanted to divide the group. I tried to listen, but at some point, my mind shut down.
I sat on the stone bench of the window seat. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I just can’t.”
He stood there, and I could almost see him wrestling with whether or not to sit down beside me. In the end, he stayed where he was.
“You saved my life today,” he said.
I shrugged. “And you saved mine. It’s kind of what we do.”
“I know it isn’t easy, making your first kill.”
“I’ve been responsible for a lot of deaths. This shouldn’t be any different.”
“But it is.”
“He was a soldier like us. He probably has a family somewhere, a girl he loves, maybe even a child. He was there and then he was just … gone.” I knew I should leave it at that, but I needed to let the words out. “And you know the really scary part? It was easy.”
Mal was quiet for a long moment. Then he said, “I’m not sure who my first kill was. We were hunting the stag when we ran into a Fjerdan patrol on the northern border. I don’t think the fight lasted more than a few minutes, but I killed three men. They were doing a job, same as I was, trying to get through one day to the next, then they were bleeding in the snow. No way to tell who was the first to fall, and I’m not sure it matters. You keep them at a distance. The faces start to blur.”