I tugged on the reins. “Whoa!”
Kazi sat up straight. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Telling them to go home.”
Wren, Synové, Eben, and Natiya circled, defending the wagon as Mason, Gunner, and the others rode closer.
“Go home, Gunner!” I called. “Take everyone with you. Watch over the town until I return.”
Mason rode his horse close to Synové’s, trying to intimidate her, his eyes dark and angry. “We’re not leaving without you,” he called back.
“Yes, you are.” I told them that somewhere ahead there would be troops waiting, and I couldn’t afford for all of them to be taken into custody too. We were leaving the arena and everything else at risk. Mother, Nash, and Lydia couldn’t manage it alone. The rest of them needed to be there to keep things going and safe until I got back.
My assertion that I’d be back rested in their eyes like a question.
Gunner grimaced but finally nodded. He knew I was right. “We’ll keep it going.” He signaled the rest to follow him as he turned back in the direction of home.
Priya rode up boldly to the wagon. Wren moved to block her path, but Priya still made eye contact with Kazi. “I warned you that I’d make you regret it if you hurt my brother. You will. This will never be forgotten. Ever. You’ll pay for this.”
Kazi didn’t respond. She just met Priya’s icy glare with a steady gaze. Priya looked at me, her expression filled with worry. “Be safe, brother.”
“I will,” I answered, and she turned and rode off.
When they were far enough away, Kazi lowered her knife and got down from the wagon. I followed and let myself collapse on the ground, my back pressing against the uneven earth, my muscles twitching.
Kazi and her crew took care of the horses and their captives in the back of the wagon, then took turns standing watch and sleeping themselves. Everyon
e was exhausted—except for maybe Beaufort and the rest, who I had heard snoring during the night. I dozed and slept in fits, and I wondered what hell I was in that for the second time since my father died I was a prisoner being hauled somewhere against my will.
We were given rations of water and dried beef, and when Bahr was unchained so he could go relieve himself, Synové taunted him, saying he should make a run for it while he could. I think he considered it for a moment, but he had no weapon and there was nowhere to run. The terrain was mostly flat now, with only a few distant groves to offer anywhere to hide.
I leaned up against the wagon wheel, chewing on my dry slice of beef, staring at Kazi, wondering what was going on in her head. She saw me watching her and looked away. I remembered what the seer had told me: Guard your heart, Patrei. I see a knife hovering, ready to cut it out.
I realized now it wasn’t the raiders she had meant. She was warning me about Kazi.
She suddenly whipped around, her eyes blazing. “Stop it!” she ordered. “Stop looking at me!”
“Or what?” I answered. “What are you going to do, Kazi? What’s left that you could possibly do to me?”
* * *
Since there was no room in the back of the wagon for me, I continued to drive it, but Kazi now rode alongside on Mije, apparently too repulsed to even sit on the wagon seat beside me. With my family and their threat gone, she could sufficiently guard me from a distance. Even that didn’t last long. She traded positions with Wren and fell back with Eben and Natiya, our so-called cooks turned captors.
I shook my head, thinking about Darkcottage and its history, and the murderous lover who was brought into the fortress in the middle of the night by a Ballenger himself. When did you become so stupid, Jalaine? My own angry words flew back in my face like a well-aimed fist.
I gave you a chance. I gave you every chance.
She did. Why didn’t I step aside? Why didn’t I just let her go?
It wasn’t only because I wanted to keep our investment safe. Tension was high, tempers higher, all of it about to spin out of control. I had been afraid. I was afraid she’d be killed.
When did you become so stupid, Jase?
She invaded my family, my home.
With every mile we traveled, my anger grew, not just at Kazi and her crew but also at the queen herself, for ordering soldiers into my realm, on my land, behind my walls. It was an invasion into my territory. If I had done the same, it would be considered an act of war, and I would be facing a noose.
“You were pretty slow-footed back there, weren’t you Patrei?”