When we got back to where our horses were tethered, there was a commotion. Bahr had mounted his horse before his hands were chained or the horse’s lead was tied to another. While some soldiers had their arrows drawn and were ordering him off his horse, Synové screamed above them. “Stand down! I have this! I said, stand down!”
Griz motioned to the soldiers, and they lowered their weapons. He knew Synové’s archery skills, that she could easily take Bahr down on her own. But she didn’t. She was doing the opposite. Taunting him to run like she had before. His eyes were crazed and his lips twisted. Maybe Synové’s stories were finally getting the best of him. “Don’t worry,” she told him. “You have my word I won’t put an arrow through your skull. But you’re a coward, Bahr. A sniveling, weak coward who hides behind a sword. I bet you wouldn’t make it a day out there alone. You’ll save us the waste of a good rope if you run. Here! I’ll even help you out.” She tossed him her water skin, and he slung it over his shoulder. “Go,” she ordered. “Go!”
He stared at her, uncertain what to do, freedom at his fingertips. His knuckles were white, gripping the reins.
“I won’t kill you,” Synové said softly. “I promise.”
Griz’s eyes were tight beads. He looked at Synové like she had lost her mind.
The whole camp was quiet, waiting, every breath held.
And then Bahr ran. He turned his horse and lit out as if demons chased behind him.
Griz glared at Synové. “Do something, or I will!”
Synové smiled. She walked over to her quiver of arrows and pulled out a blunt. Her movements were slow, smooth, calculated. Her chin lifted, her head turning, assessing the light wind.
Bahr was getting farther and farther away. A blunt would not stop him. She studied the horizon, waiting, adjusting the pristine glove the queen had given her, then she nocked the arrow. She lifted her bow and slowly pulled back, poised and calm as if she had choreographed every breath and breeze. Seconds passed and she finally let the arrow fly.
What was she doing?
It would not kill him. At this distance it likely wouldn’t even stun him. He was at least two hundred yards away now.
I lost sight of the arrow in the bright sky, but then suddenly the water skin on Bahr’s back exploded with a dark liquid.
“What the devil is that?” Griz yelled.
A chill ran down my back as Synové grinned. I knew.
“Blood,” she answered. “Rich, ripe antelope blood.”
It was only seconds before a dark cloud swooped across the horizon. It skimmed the parched valley floor like a winged rider heading toward us—toward Bahr, who still raced ahead. It happened fast. He was snatched up in its claws, and in seconds it was flying over us, Bahr writhing in its grip, screaming, and then, just as fast, they were both gone, the whoosh of the racaa’s wings drowning out the last of his screams.
Synové’s eyes narrowed, a grin still on her lips. “I guess I was wrong. He’s not alone out there after all.”
I couldn’t say I wasn’t glad to see Bahr depart, but afterward it made me think that if the queen had half the creative fury of Synové, I was in big trouble. But the queen was supposedly bedridden, so there was at least that. I had to look for whatever bright spots I could.
I wondered why she was confined to her bed. Had she been injured in the Great War? Rumor was that she was strong and had managed to bring down the twelve-foot, half-god Komizar. Maybe, like her brother, she had an injury she had never recovered from.
Griz had strong words with Synové after Bahr’s departure, and she took them stoically. Apparently she had broken some rule of theirs, or maybe Griz just didn’t want to arrive at the queen’s doorstep empty-handed with every prisoner snatched from his grip. Two were already dead. I noted the other prisoners had gone silent, maybe trying to avoid drawing Synové’s attention. Last night at dinner, the only sound I heard out of them was a burp. In some ways, I was sorry that Griz had reprimanded her. I wouldn’t have minded if she pulled that stunt at least one more time—on Beaufort.
Last night when we set camp, I had watched Kazi studying Synové, and I had wondered what she was thinking. Was she wishing she could see Zane suffer the way Bahr had? But that chance was gone. For eleven years, she had looked for him, and I had kept him out of her grasp. The right moment to tell her had never come.
Kazi told me this morning we weren’t going to Venda, but to a place called Marabella. We’d be there today. I thought I’d have more time. I was caught off guard, and maybe that was the point—to keep the prisoners in the dark. I was sure the others still didn’t know. She said Marabella was a former Dalbretch outpost that had been converted and expanded to serve as a place of mutual rule for two kingdoms. When the Dalbretch king and the Vendan queen married, they divided their time between the two kingdoms and also the outpost halfway between them.
Kazi was riding up ahead with Wren, Synové, Eben, and Natiya, surrounding the other prisoners. They guarded them like they were gold. I had seen the strain in her face this morning when she saddled Mije, as if she might lose them in these last hours. Ruins had become more plentiful as we traveled, and maybe that’s what contributed to the tension—there were more places for bandits to hide. I was left to ride at the end of our caravan with Griz on one side of me and a Morrighese soldier on the other. If I were picked off by bandits, I supposed it wouldn’t matter as much.
As we rode over a rise in the landscape someone called, “There it is!” It was still a long way off, but I caught my first glimpse of Marabella. Its high, white walls gleamed in the distance, and a city sprawled around it. Natiya had told me it was the first site designated as a settlement. I guessed there was less than an hour before we reached it.
“I need to speak to Kazi,” I said.
Griz snorted, disinterested in my requests. “Nah.”