Gathering Darkness


Page 42




"What do you have to say for yourself, maggot?" Burrus was the more playful of the two, like a cat who enjoyed batting mice around for hours before finally gnawing off their furry little heads.
He wanted Nic to beg, that was clear enough. To show them how pathetic and weak he was. But even if he begged, Nic knew they'd kill him anyway.
All he could do was glare up at them and hope his eyes showed no fear.
He'd finally found a good enough excuse to leave the palace and travel to the Cortas's villa to learn more about Ashur and Amara's potential to be allies to the princess. But then he'd been interrupted by these two.
"You've been lucky so far," Burrus continued. "Prince Magnus's blond bitch of a wife calls you her friend-I can't think of any other reason for the king to have kept you alive this long. You're the most worthless guard I've ever seen."
"That little sister of yours was pretty sweet, though," Milo said. "Would have liked to get her on her back. Too bad she's dead."
His vision turning red with fury, Nic used every last ounce of his strength to push himself up from the ground. But the pressure of the sword and the pain as it pierced his skin drove him back down.
"Do not mention my sister again," he snarled, ready to fight. Ready to kill.
Burrus smiled cruelly. "Must make you so angry to have to bow down before her killer every day."
Burrus was right. Being forced to serve his sister's murderer made Nic so angry he couldn't see straight. The need for vengeance on those who had destroyed his life and his family consumed his waking hours and haunted his dreams.
Helping Cleo destroy the king and his family was Nic's sole interest now.
Suddenly, the two thugs froze and glanced warily at each other as a carriage approached, stopping right in front of them. The door creaked open and Princess Amara craned her head out and gazed back at them.
"Good day," the princess said sweetly.
"Good day, your grace," the two replied, straightening their shoulders.
Nic raised his hand from his crumpled position on the ground and gave a small, silent wave.
"Your friend looks like he's had a difficult day," Amara said.
"Don't mind him," Milo replied. "He ran into some thieves, nearly lost his life. Too weak to fight them off. Lucky for him we arrived before they killed him."
"Help him into our carriage. I'll have my maids tend to his wounds back at the villa."
Milo and Burrus hesitated. To deny royalty a request, even from a foreign princess, would be a very unfortunate misstep.
"Yes, your grace."
The two got Nic to his feet and roughly shoved him into the carriage.
Burrus gave him a tight smile. "We'll continue our conversation later."
The carriage door closed and Nic suddenly realized that the princess wasn't alone in the carriage. Her brother, Ashur, sat next to her.
Nic's mouth went dry. "Your grace."
"It's good to see you again, Nicolo," Prince Ashur said, frowning as he assessed Nic's condition. "Will you be all right?"
Nic hunched over in his seat, sure that at least two of his ribs were broken. He had a series of shallow stab wounds peppering his entire body, but the blood didn't show against the red of his uniform. His face felt as if it had been through a meat grinder; his right cheek throbbed with every beat of his heart.
"I think so," he managed. "Much gratitude to you both for your assistance."
"You're Cleo's friend, aren't you?" Amara asked.
"I . . . I am." He spared a glance at Ashur, who studied him curiously.
"Friends since childhood," the princess continued.
"Yes, that's right."
Had the prince shared with his sister their discussion from that fateful night? Did she know Ashur sought the Kindred, or was that his secret? It would be only one of many secrets the prince kept behind those gray-blue eyes.
They arrived at the luxurious villa which looked down upon a lush green meadow. The princess had two male servants assist Nic out of the carriage, helping him into the expansive home. After two handmaidens cleaned and bandaged his wounds, he was escorted to the villa's courtyard, where he sat down gingerly on the patio. A servant handed him a goblet filled with peach juice, which he drank with enthusiasm.
The princess sat opposite Nic, and suddenly the gravity of the situation lay heavily on his shoulders. Being pampered by the princess herself had certainly helped get him closer to the royals than any other guard would get without great effort. If his body didn't feel so broken and bruised, he might have actually thanked Burrus and Milo for facilitating this opportunity.
"Now, let's get one thing straight," Princess Amara said, breaking the silence. "I don't believe for one moment you were set upon by thieves. Those two brutes did this to you-two against one. Would they have killed you had we not shown up when we did?"
"I believe that was their plan," Nic admitted. "I'm very grateful that you intervened. I owe you my life."
"Why would they want to hurt you?"
"Because they don't like me."
Amara laughed lightly at his honesty. "Yes, I believe their sentiment is now written all over your face."
Ashur walked out and joined them, sitting in a chair next to Nic while Amara rose to receive a flower arrangement a servant brought into the courtyard.Source: www_Novel12_Com