No Man Can Tame (Page 46)
With a deep breath, she strode out of the forest confidently, with only the clothes on her back and a pixie in her hair. No one was about, and she only needed a minute or so to cross the clearing between the trees and the camp.
Just a little more.
If she ran, that would draw attention. At least walking, she might seem like a prostitute returning from relieving herself. Her heart pounded as she neared the first tent, and voices laughed from nearby.
Just a little more. A little more.
She peeked into the first tent—a woman was sleeping—and a belt buckle fastened and coins clinked nearly just as she peeked into the second.
She darted inside and drew the tent flap closed as booted footsteps emerged from the one next to her.
Holy Mother’s mercy.
She gulped in breaths, trying to slow her racing heart, and looked around the dark tent. The stench of the bedroll was enough to make her gag. Wine, queen’s lace, the bitter herbs…
A moment to gather her composure. She’d go to the center of camp, and if anyone stopped her, she’d say General Belmonte had requested her services. At best, she’d be left to go where she pleased, and at worst, she’d be taken to him—and of everyone here, Tarquin was still her best chance at not getting hurt, at the very least for fear of Papà’s wrath.
She grabbed a bottle of red wine—holding something would at least make her feel better and give her trembling hands something to do—and then counted to three before emerging.
No one was outside, but as she headed toward the center, a few soldiers walked past, paying her no mind aside from the rare whistle and kissing sounds.
Thank the Mother.
An otherworldly scream came from the outer ring of the center, unlike anything she’d ever heard. That couldn’t be Tarquin or any of the Brotherhood. Were any other Immortali being kept prisoner?
It’s our best chance.
She headed toward it, and the line of tents here was utterly quiet, and the stench—
Swallowing past the lump in her throat, she peeked past tent flaps, finding posts, ropes, chains, and bloodied rags.
Holy Mother’s mercy, had they killed—
No. She shook her head. They wouldn’t have killed their only leverage against Queen Zara; the Brotherhood was hateful and violent, but Tarquin was not stupid, and underestimating his intelligence instead of accounting for it would only lead to failure.
A grunt came from the large tent ahead.
Everything inside of her wanted to freeze to the spot, but if the person emerged, that would only look suspicious.
A man in a white tabard with a clasped red hands insignia left the tent, smirking, his flinty eyes settling on her as his smirk abdicated in favor of a frown. “What are you doing here, whore?”
The harsh tone was accusatory, but as he approached, he looked her over, and the furrows lining his face faded.
Her heart pounding, she plastered a seductive smile on her face, relaxing her posture as she put a hand on her hip and gave the bottle of wine a shake. “It must get very lonely out here. I thought maybe you could use some company.”
The smirk returned as his palm landed on her waist and traveled upward. “I wouldn’t think a face like yours would need to work so hard.”
Holy Mother help me. “Just trying to do my part.”
He reached for her chin—
The pixie dashed out of her hair and past him—
He whirled, and she swung the bottle of wine toward his head. It connected, shattering glass and spilling wine as he tumbled to the grass.
Her heart in her throat, she grabbed him by the tabard and struggled to drag him into the tent he’d emerged from while he groaned.
It had been too quiet, the contact too loud, and someone would’ve—someone had to be coming—
“Aless,” Gavri hissed, tied to a post across from another dark-elf woman—Valka? They were dirty, their leathers tattered, faces bruised and bloody. “What’re you—?”
She ran to Gavri, scrabbling for the ropes binding her wrists, and frantically cut at them with the broken bottle. They weren’t—it wasn’t—not sharp enough, not fast en—
That otherworldly scream pierced the air again.
“Behind you,” Gavri snarled.
She spun as the man grabbed for her, and both Gavri and Valka yanked at their bonds. The pixie darting at his face, he pulled her ankle and tumbled her to the ground, dragging her beneath him.
“You—” he snarled, but a foot crashed into his face, sending him flying off her.
Gavri snatched the broken bottle from her hands and buried it in the man’s neck, spitting at him. She took his short sword and cut Valka free, who stomped on his head.
The otherworldly screaming resumed.
“What is that?” Aless breathed, laboring to her feet as Gavri stripped bits of the man’s gear and his weapons.
“They have a unicorn here,” Gavri said, tossing her a sheathed hunting knife.
She tried to catch it, but it fell to the ground. A unicorn? Was it the one from outside Stroppiata? They had it here? She picked up the knife and tucked it into her boot, and the pixie fluttered past her face and landed on her shoulder.
“Thank you, Tiny,” she whispered.
“Come on,” Gavri said, nodding toward the tent flap. “That commotion won’t have gone unheard.”
Valka nodded, holding up the broken and bloodied wine bottle, and swept aside the flap. “No one’s here yet,” she said. “We make for the trees.”
“What about the unicorn?” Aless whispered as it continued its screaming. What would the Brotherhood do to it? Torture it? Sell it? Kill it?
“No time,” Gavri said.
No time? Something tightened in her chest, her breaths coming in short, quivering gasps.
“I’ll follow you soon,” she told Gavri, and then headed toward the screaming.
“Aless,” Gavri hissed after her.
“Go,” she whispered in reply. “I’m human. I’ll be fine.”
Eyes wild, Gavri stood frozen, but Valka grabbed her wrist and dragged her away as Aless cut through the lines of tents.
They had to leave. As dark-elves, they’d be identified and attacked in a second. But she’d gotten across the camp without incident. Human, well disguised, she stood a chance.
There was a chaos of shouting and boots thumping behind her, but she ignored it. Brotherhood soldiers yelling about Gavri and Valka’s escape, and bellowing orders to chase into the forest.
The unicorn’s screams quieted and quieted, faded to exhausted squeals and shrieks, and the clop of hooves was near.
A large, open tent contained a mass of sage-tinted chains, all binding the unicorn so brutally it could scarcely move. Red welts, old and extensive, marred its once-immaculate coat beneath the chains, staining it bloody, and the whites of its eyes showed as it regarded her warily. It was smaller than the one she’d seen on the way to Stroppiata, with a shorter horn, and even in the dimness, dazzling green eyes.
Holy Mother’s mercy, how could anyone do this to an innocent being? Bind it, torture it, and for what? Why even keep the Immortals? As trophies, as prizes? To study them? Just for malice’s sake?
Checking the surrounding area, she found it empty, and darted to the unicorn shuddering in chains. Where to even begin?
“I’m going to help you,” she whispered, and Tiny flew out of her hair again to a post behind the unicorn, where it disturbed a key ring on a hook.
Voices came from behind the tent.
She ducked inside, squeezing between the unicorn and the tent’s canvas, but the voices continued—two soldiers discussing the hunt for Gavri and Valka, wondering whether they’d hidden among the tents.
No! They couldn’t find her—they couldn’t. Not when she was so close to actually succeeding in her plan. Tiny fluttered back to her, taking refuge in her curls.
She sidled in the narrow space toward the post. If they did find her, then at the very least she could free this unicorn. It quieted, too, standing utterly still as she slowly reached for the keys.
Once she had them in hand, she followed the chains until she found the lock at her side, and opened it with a barely audible click.
The voices stopped for a moment. Had they gone?
The unicorn pulled against the chains, clinking them, and the noise only worsened as it yanked into the lane between the tents, dragging the chains out with it.
An ache formed in the back of her throat, and the trembling in her limbs spread to cold fingers twisting and wringing the velvet skirt, wet with wine.
Yelling and booted steps converged, and she huddled against the tent, hiding behind the canvas next to the entryway, shaking, reaching for the knife in her boot. But if the Brotherhood knew she was there, that knife wouldn’t save her. Running wouldn’t save her. Screaming wouldn’t save her.
But she could save Gavri and Valka. Divert the Brotherhood’s attention—
“Get them,” came an order.
With a swallow, she straightened, forced her arms to her sides, and raised her chin, taking deep breaths. There was only one thing that could save Gavri and Valka now. Raising her voice.
“My name is Princess Alessandra Ermacora of Silen,” she called out, firming her voice with every ounce of royal arrogance she could muster. “And I demand to speak to General Tarquin Belmonte at once.”