No Man Can Tame (Page 17)

“Where was this?” she whispered back to Gabriella.

“Near Portopersico, I think.”

A small village on the coast just east of Bellanzole—there had been a light-elf settlement nearby?

Tarquin and the Belmonte Company had been clearing out harpy nests near Bellanzole. Had he led this attack? He and his watchful “pride”? Where would they strike next?

It would be days before she and Veron would arrive at Stroppiata, their first stop, where they’d be presented to the duchessa, to earn a promise of her friendship. Too long of a time to go without news. She’d have to tell Veron about the Brotherhood and—

“Just how many trunks of silks and baubles do humans need to cart around?” the dark-elf guard with the braid asked outside the carriage, in Sileni, no less. Clearly wanting to be overheard.

The sharp-eyed guard shushed her, but Veron grunted in reply. It was about as much as he’d said all day since their argument last night.

The dark-elves had gaped at her luggage—really, it was only ten large trunks or so; she’d packed light for moving her entire life. What did they expect, for her to bring just one change of clothes and nothing else?

Besides, the cavalcade had left Bellanzole with dozens of carts bearing food and coins, all to distribute to humans and dark-elves alike along the Royal Progress. No complaints about those, it seemed.

“They have no respect,” Gabriella muttered. “You are a princess of Silen. You travel and dress in the style befitting your station.”

Nothing she was and nothing she had was acceptable to the dark-elves. Everything she owned was extravagant, unnecessary, indulgent. They wouldn’t be pleased until she wore a burlap sack and tied her hair with a daisy chain. “Fortunately, I don’t care what they think.”

Gabriella smiled and gave her a nod of encouragement. “Besides, all that leather can’t possibly be comfortable. Their fashions don’t have to be ours, do they?”

She smiled back. Her dresses won over leathers any day, but especially Sileni summer days.

“And what an insult,” Gabriella added, pursing her lips, “to provide you with no household.”

That had been the least of her concerns. Even if Veron agreed to her plan, she’d never have any wealth to speak of ever again. All of her wealth had come from Papà, and by his choice. He’d never welcome her back after this, so… so she’d have to learn to do things for herself.

She had what she needed for camp. Papà’s household had packed an elaborate silk tent, and naturally, he had sent no one to pitch it.

No one but her.

“We’ll make do,” she answered. Compared to dealing with Papà, it wouldn’t be hard at all. Not like telling Veron about the Brotherhood—and Tarquin—would be.

Chapter 8

Veron pounded his tent’s first stake into the ground while Alessandra and Gabriella rifled through the countless packs and chests from Bellanzole. “Has the princess been given one of our tents?”

Gavri huffed under her breath. “Yes, she has. I saw to it myself. No doubt she’s turning her nose up at it. Typical human.”

Stubborn, spoiled human princess. Dark-elves and humans were dying daily, fighting over senseless reasons, and Vadiha and Dita were starving waiting for this food from Bellanzole. He and Alessandra were tasked with sowing peace, ending the famine, and she’d wanted to let them keep suffering longer for a wedding? Of course she’d wanted to be there for such an important day in her sister’s life, but delaying the Royal Progress for that would have had negative consequences for so many more people—starving people—that Alessandra either didn’t seem to notice or didn’t concern herself with. He set another stake and hammered it.

“How dare she treat you with such disrespect,” Gavri added, but Riza glared at her. “You don’t need to appease her, Your Highness.” When Riza snarled at her, Gavri held up her hands and backed away before taking her leave.

It didn’t matter. Disrespect? He didn’t care about that. There was far more at stake. Their union and this Royal Progress through the realm was their one chance to stop the flow of blood before all-out war, and Alessandra couldn’t see past her own immediate family. Even beyond Mati’s orders, there was sound reason she ignored because it suited her.

She paid lip service to peace, but did she even understand what war truly was? The stench of blood and entrails after combat, the screaming widows and crying orphans? The disease that came after, and the famine resulting from the loss of able-bodied people and the bankruptcy of the powers financing it all?

Had she ever looked any of them in the eye, or had she only heard news from her lady-in-waiting and seen paintings of battles in the grand human ballroom, while faceless servants filled her goblet and brought platters of cakes and fruits?

He moved along the tent’s round edge, and Riza handed him another stake.

“Give her time, Your Highness,” she said nonchalantly as he hammered.

He speared Riza with a peripheral glare as he moved along. Could time fix this?

“She is young. Very young. And has been kept sheltered,” Riza said, handing him the stakes as he needed them. “Now that she is touring her own land, her eyes will open to many things. Be patient.” Riza stepped back and admired his work, then hmphed under her breath. She nodded toward the carts, where Alessandra and Gabriella were removing a large, bundled tent.

A yurta, or at least similar to what his people used for more permanent camps. What about the smaller tent Gavri had given her?

“Perhaps you may need to be a little more patient.”

Alessandra’s yurta was about six times the size of this tent, twice as tall, and made of purple-and-white-striped canvas. That monstrosity would take at least three people and two hours to assemble.

“Humans are drawn to ostentation like harpies to anything shiny.” Riza tsked and brushed a hand through her short hair. “That thing, for one night’s camp? At this rate, she’ll be sleeping outside.”

He rubbed his chin, then sighed. “No matter how we disagree, my bride will always have a place to sleep.” He’d suggest the tent Gavri had given her; hopefully Alessandra would see reason.

Riza nodded, a faint smile on her lips. “You treat her like a dark-elf bride, Your Highness—albeit a very inadequate one.”

“She is a dark-elf bride, Riza.”

She raised an eyebrow, then her mouth curved wider. “Her Majesty would be proud of you.”

Deep, Darkness, and Holy Ulsinael willing. But this wasn’t just for Mati’s praise; he and Alessandra would now be living a life together. He needed to make amends, and she… well, she needed a tent pitched.

Rubbing his face, he headed toward the heap Alessandra was now digging through. Her skirts in the dirt, she burrowed under the purple-and-white stripes, muttering while Gabriella held the canvas. As soon as he took hold of it, Gabriella released it, inclined her head, and excused herself.

“Raise it higher, Gabriella. It’s suffocating in here,” Alessandra said. Except Gabriella was making her way across the camp.

Suppressing a grin, he did as she bade.

Wood thudded against wood and ropes hissed while she shuffled around inside. “Yours looked so simple, but this one is—not. I’m definitely not going to ask him for help. Are you certain there are no instructions?”

He schooled his face. “None that I saw,” he answered, unable to hold back the amused lilt.

No answer came as she froze beneath the canvas, then scooted completely under it.


A heavy sigh. “I suppose you’re here to tell me you have orders that we must share your tent.”

He took a slow, deep breath. A very slow, deep breath. “I’m here to ask you whether I can pitch the tent Gavri gave you.”

“Who?” she shot back. “No one gave me anything.”

He rested a hand on his hip. “One of our tents. She gave you one.”

“No, she didn’t, whoever she is. I think I’d remember that.”

Then what? Gavri had made it all up? Why? She wouldn’t betray him. Ever. As one of his best friends, Gavri knew his father had lied to him once, just once, and had never returned to Nozva Rozkveta. Gavri would never—

“Besides, I have my own, thank you.”

He scoffed. “Even for three experienced people, this tent would take at least two hours to put together.”

She hmphed. “Oh, now you want to help me?”

This again. “I already told you—there are greater concerns than—”

“No, there aren’t. That’s what you led me to believe. That when it came to making an Offering, it meant there were no greater concerns.” A tremor shook her words. “But I suppose my understanding doesn’t matter, only your mother’s commands.”

He shook his head. “Our first stop is the city of Stroppiata in two days,” he said gently. “Did you know they’ve planned our reception for weeks now?”

“A reception can be postponed,” she shot back.

“How about a parade route, a banquet, and the feast the duchess promised her people? Those people are waiting for us to arrive in exactly two days.” When she didn’t reply, he added, “And then three days after that, we’re going to Dun Mozg—you may know it as Dunmarrow—a small dark-elf queendom farther inland. Queen Nendra’s people are starving, and they’re expecting us that day, will be celebrating us that day. My own sister barely has the energy to feed her newborn daughter, and we are bringing her food in Nozva Rozkveta. How long should she wait while we postpone for a wedding?”