Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)(11)

Written By: Cinda Williams Chima



“Did you now?” The king stood, hands on hips, gazing at Riley.

“No!” Jenna tried to fight her way toward the front of the crowd, but Brit Fletcher held her fast. He was rum strong for an old man.

“Look here,” he growled. “Don’t make that boy throw away his life for nothing. We both know he didn’t do it, but he’s a goner now anyway. Nobody jumps the king and lives to brag about it.”

“No,” Jenna whispered, tears rolling down her face. But she smelled the truth on Fletcher, so she no longer struggled to get away.

The king of Arden scanned the crowd, searching the sea of faces. Jenna held very still. Finally, heaving a sigh, he turned back to Riley. “I’m not sure I believe you, but you’ll do, I suppose. Hold him.” He drew his sword, turned, and rammed it into Riley’s stomach, all the way to the hilt, then twisted it. Riley made a sound, a kind of grunt, his eyes going wide.

The king yanked free his blade with a wet pop, then stuck it in again, in a slightly different spot. Now blood bubbled from Riley’s mouth. Somehow, miraculously, his eyes met Jenna’s and held.

“Finish him, you murderous bastard,” Fletcher muttered.

But clearly the king of Arden meant to take his time. He pulled out his blade, chose another spot, and stabbed Riley again.

By now, black spots were swimming in front of Jenna’s eyes, but Riley’s eyes were still locked with hers, and she refused to faint and leave him on his own. Just then, she heard a sound, a kind of thwack from above and behind her. Riley’s body jerked, and suddenly a feathered shaft stuck out of his throat, just below his chin. It was an arrow, and just like that, Riley was gone.

After that, it was bedlam. The king and queen disappeared in a hurry, and Shively’s thugs waded into the crowd, swinging their clubs. Jenna turned and tried to run, but something smashed into the back of her head and she went down.

When she awoke, she could hear people talking in low voices. It was dark, and it was cold, even though she was wrapped up in something that smelled like wet sheep.

It was Riley’s cloak. She rubbed the fabric against her cheek, sniffling, her shoulders shaking with sobs. Her head hurt like fury, but her heart hurt even more, being broken.

She sat up, put her feet down. Loose rock shifted under her feet.

“You’re awake,” somebody said in a gruff voice. “Good. I thought maybe you was out for keeps.”

It was Brit Fletcher. He set an oil lamp on the floor next to the bench she was lying on and thrust a steaming mug at her. It was barley coffee laced with something that just about lifted her scalp right off her head. Jenna drank it all.

Fletcher watched her, his eyebrows lifting higher and higher until she clunked the cup down.

“You’re a tough scrapper, an’t you.” He rubbed his chin. “How old are you? Ten?”

“Twelve.” She looked around. Stone, as far as she could see in the flickering light from the lamp. “Are we in the mine?”

“Sort of. We’re in the old Number One. We’ve dug out some of the tunnels so’s we can get in and out.”

“Why?”

“Makes a good hiding place, don’t it?”

“For who?”

Fletcher snorted. “You, for one.”

“What day is it? What’s happened?”

“It’s the day after the king’s visit. He’s already hightailing it back to the city.”

“And . . . and how many are dead?”

“That’s the thing. They can’t afford to kill too many of us, ’cause they need us to work the mines. There’s just four dead, counting Riley and little Maggi. Four too many. Five, counting you.”

“Me?” Jenna’s hand closed on a large rock. “What do you mean?”

Fletcher snorted. He sure snorted a lot. “Don’t look at me like that. I an’t going to hurt you. What I mean, is, as far as anyone knows, you’re dead. You was killed in the riot.”

“I’m dead?” She thought of her da, with his care-lined face and haunted eyes. “But—what about my da?”

“We got word to him that you’re safe. So. You have a choice. Would you rather stay dead and leave town? Or go back and take your chances?” He held up a hand. “Before you decide, you should know that the king an’t forgot about you. The blackbirds is looking for you on the quiet. Asking questions, trying to find out who you are. Nobody knows nothing, of course.”

Jenna’s middle hardened like iron slag. “Delphi’s my home. I’m not going to leave my da behind.”

“Wouldn’t he go with you? To save your life?”

“He’d have to leave the inn behind,” Jenna said. “It’s not that easy to make a living these days. He’s too old to start over. I don’t want to ask him to do that.”

Fletcher sighed. “I figured you’d say that. What if you come back as somebody else? Somebody brand-new to town, with a different name?”

Jenna thought about it. Could she really pull it off? She’d always liked pretending to be somebody else.

“I know it’s a risk, if you’re found out,” Fletcher said. “I just don’t want that boy Riley to have died for nothing.”

Me neither, Jenna thought, her fingers finding the raised emblem on the back of her neck. It was all her fault. First, she’d drawn the attention of the Breaker by laying claim to a power she didn’t have, a destiny rooted in witchery and fairy tales. Then she’d jumped the king with no thought to what might happen to those around her.

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