No Man Can Tame (Page 35)
With a smile, Gavri escorted her there, where a quiet whinny came through the open doors. At a nearby stall, strapping Zoran was feeding Noc an apple.
“We’re all feasting on human foods,” Zoran said softly, “so why should he be left out?” He looked over his shoulder with a pensive grin, fixing Gavri with a soft gaze.
Gavri stood still, chewing her lip for a long moment before she exhaled sharply and ran to him, threw her arms around him. He gathered her up in his embrace, held her close.
“I’m sorry I never said goodbye,” he whispered, resting his cheek on Gavri’s head. “There was so much I wanted to say, but—”
Clearing her throat, Aless meandered to Noc’s stall and opened it. “I think I’ll take Noc for a walk and give you two some time.”
Gavri glanced over her shoulder with teary eyes and nodded. “I’ll come find you in a bit. Stay close, Your Highness.”
She smiled. “I will.”
While Zoran and Gavri whispered to one another, she strapped a halter on Noc and attached a lead. “You could use a little walk, couldn’t you?” she whispered, rubbing his nose. “Let’s go.”
He snorted softly and nuzzled her before heading with her to the open doors. Outside, a few horses were corralled in dirt-laden paddocks, clustered around water and feed troughs, but Noc led her past them… despite her holding his lead.
Maybe a not-so-subtle message that he didn’t need one.
A tunnel abutted the paddock area, not as large as the one they’d entered Dunmarrow through—no, Dun Mozg. Why did the Sileni call it Dunmarrow when the dark-elves called it Dun Mozg?
Or Nightbloom, for that matter? Nozva Rozkveta.
Sparse floor candelabra lit the tunnel as they entered, casting firelight on a million shining colors.
Every surface was embedded with veins of gems, glittering in a kaleidoscope of colors, reflecting their vibrancy on one another, and on her and Noc.
“You’re a romantic at heart, aren’t you?” she joked softly, and he swatted her with his tail.
She petted his neck, gazing at the beauty around her, unable to decide where she should look. The jewel-studded tunnel continued on an upward incline, and she neared the edge to smooth her fingers over the many treasures.
It was strange. Dark-elves claimed not to value things like this, and yet, if that were true, surely they would have bartered all these jewels away by now? But here they were, preserved in their natural beauty, a joy for all to look upon.
Noc tossed his head. She grabbed his halter as he pulled her backward. “What’s wrong?”
The ground beneath their feet quaked. Dust rained from above, and bits of rubble thudded to the ground as something heavy crashed down behind them. Distant shouts rose up.
Noc dragged her up the incline—
“Where are you going?” She tugged on Noc’s halter to no avail. “Do you know a way out? We need to go back. Veron—”
The word appeared in her mind, more like a feeling than a voice, and the world slowed around her as she looked at Noc, really looked. He eyed her as he led her, and those dark eyes—there was something reassuring there, in that deliberate gaze, in that slow blink.
He really wasn’t just some horse.
With a resolute nod, she kept up with him, and the scent of fresh forest air filtered in while the crack and collapse of stone rumbled behind them.
Holy Mother’s mercy, this tunnel was coming down.
Noc pulled to a halt, and she reached forward, her palms finding a bar. A barred set of doors!
Grunting with effort, she pulled at the bar, trying to lift it, and it rose—
A little more, a little more—
Finally over the hooks, it crashed to the floor. She pushed at the solid stone before her while the ground bucked, and Noc leaned against it until it finally started to grind open.
They pushed through leafy overgrowth into a dark grove of tall turkey oaks, with the waxing moon casting its glow overhead. The rumbling echoed from the tunnel, no louder than before, as Noc led them to a grassy clearing.
Veron—would he be all right? Would Gavri, Zoran, Gabriella, and Riza? Everyone? Veron was still back in the palace, still in the city, where she couldn’t go.
She clutched at the satin over her chest, trying to catch her breath. The dark-elves had lived underground long before, and they had to have shelters of some kind.
“What was that?” she asked, and Noc rested his head against her.
An earthquake? Veron had said since there were no earthquakes, the earthmovers had gone. If there had been an earthquake just now, did that mean—?
“Holy Mother’s mercy,” she whispered, clutching Noc’s mane.
He squealed, an unsettled sound, and began to back up.
“We have to go back.” She headed for the doors again, and whatever it took, she would—
Dark figures waded in from among the trees. Three of them, in long coats, with swords at their hips and crossbows in their hands.
Her pulse quickening, she stepped back, pressed herself against Noc.
As the three walked into the clearing, beneath the moon’s light, they were men. Sileni men.
“Well, well. Look what our geomancer chased out.” A crooked grin from one of them, a man with a mass of black curls.
“Your Highness,” the second one mocked with an elaborate bow. “The general will be glad to see you unharmed.”
The general. Tarquin Belmonte.
They closed in as Noc kicked out with his hind legs.
Veron caught Yelena’s kick and shoved her out of the ring when a great rumble trembled through the hall.
People leaped from the benches, and Yelena moved to his side.
“Earthmovers?” he asked, frowning as he tried to isolate the sound.
Yelena shook her head and looked toward Nendra. “Mati?” she called out.
“Witches,” Nendra answered, standing at the head of the table, her voice echoing. “Dun Mozg’s heart is arcanir. They will not get through to us.”
No magic could penetrate arcanir, so they would be safe here. He looked to the section where he and Aless had been sitting, but only Riza looked back at him, her face grim. Where Aless and Gavri had been, only two empty spaces remained.
While the floor shook, he ran toward Riza, and she strode to meet him.
He grabbed her armored shoulder. “Where’s Aless?”
“She went to take some air and took Gavri with her,” she replied, grasping his forearm.
Behind her, Gabriella caught up to them. “Your Highness, I think she might be at the stables.”
“The stables?” Why would she go there? But as he looked toward Nendra and her concubines, her consort was nowhere in sight. Zoran.
He marched up to Nendra and bowed his head. “Your Majesty, I must take my leave—”
“Find your wife, Veron.” With a raise of her hand, she dismissed him, and he raced across the grand hall with Riza and Gabriella, and all of his kuvari followed in his wake.
Outside the grand hall, dust misted from the ceiling, and everywhere people scrambled for purchase as tremors wove through the rock. Gavri and Zoran wouldn’t let anything happen to Aless. They’d keep her safe. No doubt everything was just fine.
Even knowing all this, he ran for the stables and didn’t stop until he dashed through the open doors. Horses squealed in their stalls, but Aless was nowhere in sight. Neither was Noc.
Some horses circled restlessly in the paddock, but—
“Your Highness,” Riza called.
He followed the sound of her voice to a pile of rubble at a tunnel opening, where Riza, Gavri, and Zoran pried debris off the pile frantically. Deep, Darkness, and Holy Ulsinael, if Aless was—if she was under the rubble—
His heart hammering in his chest, he was already running before he could think to. He tore chunks of rock away from the rubble, clawing through it wildly.
“Your Highness,” Gavri said shakily, “she left with Noc, only for a few minutes, and—”
He threw a slab of rubble aside. No words mattered right now. “Just find her,” he snapped, and they all dug through the debris.
Holy Ulsinael, keep her safe. Deep and Darkness, cloak her in your sanctuary.
His hands bled, but he didn’t care. Let them. Let them break, if it meant finding Aless safe, but there was nothing. Nothing.
Finally two of the kuvari cleared away a large piece of rubble. Behind it, two slabs formed a passage, and he darted into it.
“Brother!” Zoran called after him. “It’s too dangerous! They could collapse if that—”
Rubble crashed behind him and voices shouted, but he squeezed through and picked a path until finally a night breeze blew in.
A doorway. A Gate.
He ran for it, and through, where the undergrowth gave way to sparse forest in the dark.
A loud neigh—Noc—and a scream followed.
His heart caught in his throat, he bolted toward the sound, cutting through the foliage. In the clearing ahead, two men dragged Aless, kicking and screaming, south. Noc clamped his teeth down on the lanky one’s shoulder, eliciting a cry.
Just ahead, a bearded man lay in the grass, groaning, with a crossbow nearby. Veron seized it as he passed—
Aless struck and kicked at Lanky, locked down by Noc.