“… just had a storm days ago …”
“… find your brother and tell him to get home now …”
“… worse growing season than last year …”
The bridge brought them into narrow streets bordered by stone houses that were several stories high. Aria took the lead, following the main road. The way was tight, shadowed as a tunnel and crowded with people, their voices echoing off stone and stone and more stone. Gutters were strewn with filth, and a fetid scent carried to her nose. Rim was large, but she could already tell it was nowhere near as modern as Marron’s.
The streets climbed and turned, and then ended abruptly at the tower. Massive wooden doors opened to a stone chamber that flickered with torchlight. Guards in trim black uniforms with red stag horns embroidered on the chest watched the traffic of people who passed inside.
As she and Roar walked up, a hulking guard with a thick black beard blocked their path. “Your business?” he asked.
“We’re here from the Tides to see Sable,” she said.
“Stay here. ” He disappeared inside.
It felt like an hour passed before another guard arrived, giving Roar a cursory look. “You’re Marked?” he asked. He had close-cropped dark hair, almost shaved, and an impatient look in his eyes. The stag horns at his chest were woven in silver thread.
Roar nodded. “An Aud. ”
The guard’s gaze turned to her, his impatience disappearing. “And you?”
“Unmarked,” she answered. It was true, in part. She was Unmarked on one side.
The guard’s eyebrows lifted slightly, and then his gaze trailed down her body, settling at her belt. “Pretty pair of knives. ” His tone was flirtatious and teasing.
“Thank you,” Aria answered. “I keep them sharp. ”
His mouth curled in amusement. “Follow me. ”
Aria exchanged a look with Roar as they stepped inside. This was it. No turning back now.
Inside, the wide hall smelled faintly of mold and rancid wine. It was cold and damp. Even with the wooden shutters thrown open, and lamps, the stone corridor was gloomy and shadowed. The faint chatter of voices carried to her ears, growing louder.
Roar prowled beside her, searching every person, every room they passed, with hunger in his eyes. Aria couldn’t imagine how he felt. After so many months of searching, he’d finally see Liv.
They crossed a wide threshold, entering a hall as expansive as the cookhouse at the Tides’ but with high, arched ceilings that reminded her of Gothic cathedrals. A meal was in progress. Dozens of guards were packed around the tables, a sea of black and red spreading out before her. Sable kept his military force close.
A stroke of luck, she thought. She’d been worried about Sable reading her temper. Maybe in such a crowd he’d miss scenting the fear swirling inside her.
“Which one is Sable?”
At the far end of the hall she saw a dais, where several men and women sat above the rest. None of the men wore a Blood Lord chain.
“I don’t see him,” said the guard. “But you might. He has short hair. Blue eyes. He’s about my height. Exactly my height, actually. ”
The humor in his tone sent a chill crawling down her spine. She looked at the guard—at Sable—standing beside her.
He was older than she’d expected. In his thirties, she guessed. Average in height and build, with features that were refined and well-proportioned but somehow unremarkable. She’d have thought him bland if it hadn’t been for the look in his steel-colored eyes. That look—confident, cunning, amused—catapulted him from forgettable to appealing.
Sable smiled, obviously pleased with the trick he’d played on her. “I know you’re from the Tides, but I didn’t catch your names. ”
She cleared her throat. “Aria and Roar. ”
Sable’s eyes moved to Roar and narrowed in recognition. “Olivia has spoken of you. ”
“Where is she?” Roar asked.
Seconds passed. The hall bustled with noise around them. Her pulse pounding, Aria watched Sable’s chest expand and contract with a breath and knew he was scenting Roar’s rage. His jealousy. A year’s worth of worrying about Liv.