Gathering Darkness

Page 33

"He was meaningless," she agreed.
"Entirely. He was a pathetic excuse for an Auranian, not that I think highly of any Auranian. But I'd assumed that most wouldn't fall on their knees to lick the boots of their conqueror. At least, not nearly as quickly as the former kingsliege did. Taking every order, all with a smug smile on his face. Following through, no matter who got hurt, who got killed."
A muscle in Magnus's cheek twitched and he wrenched his gaze from Cleo's, but not before she saw the bolt of raw pain pulse behind his eyes.
It was moments such as this when she found the prince to be the most confusing. It was so unexpected to see pain in a boy so cold, a boy responsible for all the monstrous deeds she hated him for. But a true monster shouldn't be capable of feeling pain like that.
And then there was Aron. According to Jonas, Aron had killed the queen. But why would he have done such an unexpected and heinous thing?
Could it . . . have been on the king's orders?
The thought made her gasp inwardly. But why would the king want his wife, his queen, murdered?
It made no sense. None at all. And yet, this piece somehow seemed to fit this horribly confusing puzzle.
Although a hundred questions burned on her tongue, Cleo remained silent. She was not fool enough to put such dangerous suspicions into words. Not now. Not here. And not with the unpredictable, intimidating boy who stood before her.
Acting like a cornered victim would do her no justice. She would not tremble before this boy, not ever. She would not beg. She had been a rebel since the day Gaius stole her kingdom and killed her father. Every thought, every goal, every need screamed rebellion.
"Enough of this," she hissed. "You've had your say. You've bullied me to your heart's content. Now, either alert the king to my alleged crimes or release me this instant."
Magnus studied her intently, his expression stony and unreadable despite the storm raging in his dark eyes. "Very well, princess. But let me leave you with this warning. If you're caught eavesdropping again, Cronus will take you directly to the king. And I'll let him. Happily."
He exited the room and closed the door, leaving her there alone. Heart in her throat, she waited for Cronus to return to extoll further punishment.
But he never came.
Finally, she tried the door to find it unlocked. She slipped out into the halls and navigated the corridors until she found a servant, whom she asked to find Nerissa and send her to her chambers.
Shortly after Cleo was safe inside her chambers, Nerissa arrived.
"Your highness, you wished to speak with me?"
Cleo stood and regarded the girl in the simple gray servant's dress standing by the door. The last time she'd seen Nerissa, her hair had been long and shiny. Now it was cropped short and blunt, making her look different, much plainer than the seamstress who'd led her directly into Jonas's trap. Still, there was no denying how pretty she was, her features holding an exotic beauty that hinted at an ancestry from a faraway land.
Nerissa's face held no fear, but her expression grew tighter as Cleo came closer. Cleo wondered how well Jonas knew this girl and how grateful he might be to one willing to put herself in danger to help him.
She expected to feel jealous, but instead felt only curiosity about what it would be like to be Nerissa, a servant only because of her allegiance to the rebel cause.
But Cleo didn't have time to muse on Nerissa any longer. "You're the one who tucked Jonas's message into my sketchbook."
"Yes, your highness." Nerissa didn't seem the least bit surprised to be confronted.
"And I've been told you can deliver messages to him. Is this true?"
"It is, your highness." She met Cleo's gaze directly.
Cleo studied the girl's face, searching for any sign of deception. "What are you willing to do to help the rebellion? To bring down the king?"
"Anything." Nerissa didn't hesitate. "And you?"
"The very same." She'd never spoken truer words in her life. They felt right to say, especially to one she had quickly come to believe was a trusted ally.
"Whenever you need me-as a messenger or for anything else-know that I'll be here." Nerissa reached forward and squeezed Cleo's hands, giving her an unexpected smile. "You will have your throne one day very soon, your highness. I swear to the goddess you will."
And then she was gone. Cleo went to her window and looked outside toward the city walls and the green land that stretched out beyond it.
Her beloved home, stolen from her by her enemies.
She swore she would soon steal it back.
Magnus found Lucia in the courtyard with an alarmingly chilly expression on her face.
"Well, this is quite a surprise," she said. "Did you lose your way?"
"I wanted to speak with you privately."
"You've been back for well over a week. This is the first effort you've made to speak with me at all."
It was true. He'd been avoiding her. They'd both changed so much; a wedge had formed between them, invisible, but strong enough to do lasting damage.
"Come now," he said. "I know you've been busy with your new friend. Wouldn't want to interrupt that, would I?"
He didn't look directly at her, choosing instead to focus on the flowers Lucia tended to. Some of the roses-red, yellow, pink, white-flourished large and plump, while others were brown and withered, as if winter's deadly touch had made its mark in this land of eternal summer.Source: www_Novel12_Com