No Man Can Tame (Page 45)
She carefully creaked open one of her trunks and looked for something suitable to disguise herself in. She had no commoners’ clothes, but the best among the prostitutes might wear something approximating some of her plainer things.
With a wince, she hastily grabbed a bustier, white chemise, and as plain a blue overdress as she could find, low cut and laced in the front, but made of fine velvet. She stashed them in one of Veron’s knapsacks, similar to ones she’d seen other dark-elves carry.
Her copy of A Modern History of Silen sat on Veron’s table, and with a wary eye on him, she slowly dug out her quill and inkwell. She had to leave, but she couldn’t leave without saying goodbye, without letting him know how much he meant to her in case she didn’t make it back.
She opened to the first blank page. What could she say that would ease the sting of this? Was there anything?
She’d just be true.
I love you.
Maybe he’d hate her, maybe he’d curse the day he’d met her, maybe he’d never want to see her again. But she couldn’t do this, not even to stop a war, without telling him that one last time.
She left the book open, set her quill on the page, then at the door, turned to gaze at his slumbering face one last time.
Veron, prince of Nozva Rozkveta, I, Alessandra Ermacora, princess of Silen, offer you love—she rested a hand on her heart—peace, and a life here, quiet, safe from the Brotherhood, and every enemy I can protect you from… to harness for your ends or ours, as we… as we walk our lives together from this day forward for as long as the Deep allows.
Wiping at her cheeks, she took three deep breaths and slipped out into the hall.
All was quiet, and there was no one about. Everyone had to be sleeping at this hour. She could find her way to the lifespring, and from there, the tunnels were not far. There were clothes at the lifespring, including kuvari leathers, masks, and hoods, which she could use if she managed to sneak them, but from there on, she still needed a way to make it past the kuvari guarding the Gate.
Gavri and Valka were kuvari themselves, so perhaps she could use that to talk her way past.
As she headed out of the palace, no one stopped her. In fact, the few passersby she met greeted her warmly, by the proper form of address. The main part of the city—Central Cavern, as everyone called it—was empty, and she crossed its gleaming blackness toward the lifespring. Through the dark entryway, the lifespring pools glowed a bright teal, and the clothes would be in a small cave off to the side of the pools.
Inside, one of the violet-clad mystics spoke with a woman in one of the pools with her hair braided in a crown about her head.
Backing up, she turned to leave, but Yelena twisted and met her gaze. “You. What are you doing here?”
She straightened. “I could ask you the same.”
Yelena huffed. “I’m practicing the sword. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Those human eyes work after all. And you had the same couple days in the saddle I did.” Yelena looked her over with appraising eyes. “Your robes are all tattered. Rough night?”
She cleared her throat. “You could say that.”
Yelena smirked and swept an arm wide. “Well, then. Come and convalesce, human princess.”
She took a step forward, but… there was no time for this. Was there even any sense in trying to disguise herself in a mask and hood? She’d probably be caught anyway. “I…”
“What? Is my company not good enough for you?” Yelena quirked a brow.
“No, no, it’s not that—”
“What exactly are you up to? What’s in the bag?”
Shifting the knapsack, Aless looked over her shoulder, and the mystic had gone. I need a mask, a hood, and leathers, and I want to save Gavri and Valka and stop a war, she wanted to say, and then… blurted it all out.
Yelena’s brow furrowed and stayed furrowed a long while. Her head bobbed before she drew in a deep breath. “Well, if you need help getting rid of yourself, you’ve come to the right person.”
Outside the Gate and beyond the Bloom, Aless dropped her knapsack, removed her hood, mask, and borrowed leathers, then began changing into her bustier, chemise, and blue velvet overdress.
“What are you doing?” Yelena hissed in the dark. Confident and gruff, Yelena had led her through the earthmover tunnels disguised as one of her kuvari, and since Yelena wasn’t a citizen of Nozva Rozkveta, no one had even tried to stop her.
“In there”—smoothing her hands over her velvet skirts, Aless tipped her head toward the Gate—“I need a mask and a hood to blend in. Out here, I might be killed on sight. Better they see that I’m human.”
Yelena eyed her from beneath a frown, then took a deep breath. “Are you sure about this?”
“I thought you were pretty keen on getting rid of me?”
Yelena shrugged a shoulder and looked away. “Do as you will. I’ll keep Veron’s bed warm when you die.”
Holy Mother’s mercy, just thinking of him right now, about leaving him like that, made her hands tremble, but she fisted them. This was to save him, to save everyone from war and death, and even if she failed and got caught, at least it would force Papà to intervene and stop this.
To do what she needed to do, she’d have to shove down that trembling feeling, the memory of Veron’s passionate face, the sight of him sleeping soundly as she’d left. Shove it down.
She shook out her hair into an unbound curly mess, cleared her throat, and nodded to Yelena. “I’m sure he’d rather a harpy kept his bed warm than you, but thanks.”
Yelena crossed her arms and shot her a sheepish grimace. “I’ll wait here until dawn. If you’re not back by then, I’m going back in there to tell everyone you’re probably dead.”
Yelena’s words were harsh, but her help had been invaluable.
“Thank you, Yelena. Really.”
Yelena gave her a final nod.
This is it. She turned south and headed toward the Brotherhood encampment.
The forest was dark and quiet, with the rare animal call interrupting the silence. The only light came from the faint glow of the Bloom vines and flowers, and the little star-like twinkles of the pixies fluttering in the night air.
After walking for a while, the quiet and the dark hadn’t abated—she should’ve found the Brotherhood encampment already, shouldn’t she? The Gate she’d exited from wasn’t the same one as the Gate she and Veron had arrived by.
A pixie flew alongside her, and she sighed. “I don’t suppose you can help me find Gavri and Valka? Two dark-elves in a human camp?”
The pixie flitted about, darting erratically, then took off toward the side.
Is a pixie actually helping me? It was ridiculous, really, but if she was lost, then following a pixie wasn’t any more ridiculous than milling about in the wrong direction.
Her skirts clenched in her hands, she followed the pixie’s dimming glow, and soon, sparse firelight flickered between the trees and the undergrowth, and a sea of tents.
She suppressed a gasp, hiding behind an oak.
You really did help me? She eyed the pixie, who hovered next to her behind another trunk.
Thank you, she mouthed, keeping a wary eye on the camp.
It was quiet, with very few Brotherhood soldiers—or anyone—about, but considering the hundreds of tents, that could easily change with one alarm. Most on the outskirts were little tents, with the bigger ones toward the center of camp.
A few sentries walked a circuit, which would have been no problem if she’d been Yelena or Veron. But right now, even one was one too many. There was no possibility of walking in unnoticed here by blending in. They’d be waiting for someone to try a rescue from the trees here.
But toward the back of the camp, there was movement to and from a well-lit area, and she stalked through the undergrowth, keeping behind trees as best she could, to get a closer look.
Makeshift bars dotted the back end of the camp, along with some tents where soldiers entered and exited, smiling and laughing.
The camp followers.
If there was any chance of getting to the center of the camp, this was it. It would have to be from there.
As a chorus of crickets chirped, she crept as near as she dared in the forest’s concealment, fluffing her hair and pinching her cheeks, rumpling her gown, even dirtying its hem a little.
The pixie flitted closer, landing on her shoulder.
“Your light’s going to give us away,” she whispered, and the pixie’s light dimmed down to almost nothing, a barely audible little chime coming from it. Speech?
With the light, the pixie looked like a tiny winged person the size of a butterfly, a pink-haired woman wrapped in a leaf. An utterly adorable little pink-haired woman.
Her chest fluttered, and if this were any time and place other than sneaking outside a Brotherhood camp, she might have squealed with delight.
The pixie darted into her unbound hair, clinging on with the slightest tug. Unexpected, but somehow, this wouldn’t be as terrifying when there was someone with her.
She watched the movements of the camp, with two tents close to the edge completely dark, with no movements in or out. A lone man strolled down a lane and then ducked into a nearby, lantern-lit tent.