No Man Can Tame (Page 18)
A barely audible throat clearing came from the tent. “Why didn’t you tell me that sooner? That the people were expecting us on specific days?”
“I told you we had a strict schedule, that people were expecting us.” But even as he’d spoken the words then, she’d stormed out in tears and hadn’t wanted to listen to another word.
And he shouldn’t blame her for it. At least she seemed of a mind to listen now.
“I didn’t know about your sister. I didn’t think the people were looking forward to the specific day. I thought…” A deep breath. “I don’t know what I thought.”
To people who barely survived on rations, the distribution of plentiful food was everything. She had to know that. Didn’t she notice the suffering of people now living in her own land?
The canvas shifted as she slowly wriggled out from under it, her brown eyes big as she eyed him, dusting off her dirt-marred hands. When there had been no servants to pitch her tent, she’d gotten her own hands dirty. She’d tried to do it herself. Perhaps she wasn’t as spoiled as he’d thought, just… hadn’t been allowed beyond the walls of the world she knew.
“You were thinking about your sister,” he said softly and crouched to meet her at eye level. “When my mother told me the schedule, I didn’t realize my bride’s sister’s wedding would be a few days later. If I’d known…” He would have wanted to speak up, to ask Mati whether he and his bride would be allowed to stay, perhaps send some food on ahead. “I’m sorry.”
Kneeling in the grass, she rested her smudged hands in her lap, centered on the gray fabric. Errant dark curls had escaped her elaborate coiled hairstyle, framing her face, spilling over slender shoulders. She bit her lip. “I should have heard you out. I’m sorry, too.”
There was so much more to discuss. The night of their wedding, she’d also mentioned wanting to talk to him about something. But this… unfortunate situation with Bianca had thwarted everything.
He rested a hand on hers. “Come with me. I’ll find you another tent.”
As he began to rise, she took his hand. “Wait. Can I sleep with you tonight?”
The question stopped him—stopped him completely—but he swallowed and helped her up as he stood.
“I mean—” she whispered. “Won’t it look bad if we sleep apart? As if we don’t agree, as if there’s disharmony between us.”
She was right, but there had been disharmony between them.
He’d assumed separate tents, but… “As long as it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”
“It doesn’t.” Her brief smile lit up her face with its brightness, just for a moment. It reached her eyes, their beautiful darkness gleaming, like moonlight over rippling night waters.
He hefted her pack and her bedroll, then led her toward his tent, nodding greetings to the faces that turned to them. What he’d wanted was to keep looking into those eyes, so different than the ones he was accustomed to, all in shades of amber and gold. But the surface of those night waters had rippled, and there was something lurking there that she hadn’t revealed. Until she did, the risk of drowning, no matter how small, wasn’t worth the consequence.
He’d already trusted a liar once. Watched Ata leave their family. Only to be crippled by the news of the truth.
And Gavri—if she’d lied—
No, there was no excuse.
He settled Alessandra into his tent, and then went back to the heap of a yurta they’d left behind and packed it up. Unlike human royalty, he didn’t travel with a legion of servants; dark-elves were expected to do nearly everything for themselves. Of course she wouldn’t have known that.
Humans had such different values, but Alessandra… She was to spend her life in Nozva Rozkveta. It wasn’t easy being a newcomer to a strange place; if he had been tasked with living in Bellanzole, no doubt Alessandra would have helped him find his way among the humans. And he could do no less—would do no less—for her.
Once he’d finally put the bundled tent back in the cart, he dug through his pack for his pipe and glanced back to check on Alessandra.
Outside the tent, Gavri stood, arms crossed, her brow creased. Her fire-bright eyes smoldered, every inch of her battle hard. What did any of this matter to her?
It clearly did, though.
She’d done it. She’d lied.
When she finally looked away, he caught her gaze. That battle hardness softened, her gaze cooled, and her mouth dropped open a moment before she closed it anew.
He jerked his head to come hither, and biting her lip, she approached.
“Your Highness, I only meant to—”
Scowling, he held up a hand. “You lied.”
She met his eyes, wouldn’t look away, that crease returning to her brow as she crossed her arms. “She put on that show in her ignorant human city and made you look like some barbarian, abducting her from—”
He leaned in. “I. Don’t. Care.”
Gavri had known him for his entire life. She should’ve known better. She had known better.
And this was about some minor hiccup in his arranged marriage? It had been a few years, but maybe she was still sore over Zoran making the Offering to Queen Nendra.
“Everyone at home is just suffering so much, and she throws these little fits over her whims. Rebellion. Disobedience.” She ran a hand over her hair, down the length of her braid, and exhaled a sigh through her nose. “You deserve—”
“I am not Zoran,” he hissed, “and Alessandra is not Nendra. She has done nothing to you.”
Gavri’s eyes widened a moment before a scowl creased her face. “This has nothing to do with Zoran! This is about some human disrespecting—”
She scoffed and shook her head, then turned away.
“From my guard.”
She whirled back around, eyes wide. “What? I was defending you!”
“By lying to me?” he bit out, stepping to her. “You are sworn to truth. But more than that, I trusted you. And you try to sabotage the peace your queen worked so hard to build? To sabotage my marriage before Alessandra and I have even gotten to know each other?”
Her lower lip trembled as she breathed hard. “I know, I know it, but I was just—”
“Don’t let me see your face again for the rest of this trip. And once we’re back in Nozva Rozkveta, you’ll be transferred from my guard.”
With a sharp breath, she grabbed his wrist. “Veron—”
He shook her off and strode to his tent, fists clenched. Gavri was like a sister to him, but if she was going to betray his friendship, endanger what they were doing here, disobey Mati’s orders, then she had no place among his inner circle. The cost of her recklessness could be catastrophic.
Outside the flap, he took several deep breaths. Relaxed his hands. Finally, he drew the flap aside.
Alessandra was already scrubbing her hands in a small basin of water she’d gotten from… he didn’t know where. And two plates of Bellanzole bread, cheese, and figs sat between two neatly laid-out bedrolls.
“You don’t waste time.” When her dark eyes met his, he added, “Will you be—”
She moved the basin aside and, sitting stiffly, nodded him inside. “Please, this can’t wait. We need to talk.”
Talk? That was cryptic. Drawing his eyebrows together, he ducked into the tent, pulled off his too-tight boots, and lowered onto the bedroll across from hers, trying to roll the tension out of his shoulders.
On their wedding night, she’d mentioned wanting to speak to him about something, perhaps the same matter lurking beneath those night waters in her gaze. Was this it?
Rubbing her palms on her skirts, she faced him. “Veron, there’s this group called the Brotherhood, and they’re—”
“A rogue human army devoted to ousting all Immortals. I’ve… come across them before.”
Alessandra nodded gravely. “I don’t suspect Luciano is involved—”
He took a slow breath. Thank the Deep, the Darkness, and Holy Ulsinael. Calling one of those bigots family wasn’t one of his life’s goals. Besides, King Macario had sworn to Mati that he’d finesse the Brotherhood as part of the agreement.
“—but his brother, Tarquin, has given me reason to believe he is,” she said, wriggling closer. “Veron, I think he might be… watching us.”
“Tarquin,” he said, testing the name as his claws bit into his palms. There had been a man in the abbazia who’d stared lances through him, the same man who’d cut into Alessandra’s dance with her brother Lorenzo.
“His sister Arabella disappeared, and he blames the Immortali. Before we left, there was an attack on a light-elf settlement in the night, not far from Bellanzole,” she said, wringing the gray fabric in her hand. “I don’t know whether it’s isolated or part of a greater plan, but I needed you to know in case…”
In case the Brotherhood came after the monsters. In case they rescued their human princess. In case they chose to make an example of him and his entourage, staking them out in the sun and starting the all-out war the Brotherhood so desperately seemed to want.