Chapter Twenty-Seven- VERA
Come on, Bellek. Wake up. Wake up! I slap him hard across the face. He coughs roughly as he looks down at his chest. “Shit!” He rests his head back on the ground, and takes a deep breath.
“W...what do you want me to do?” I stutter.
“Use one of your knives,” he says, “and cut it low.”
I swallow. “Okay.” I grab one of the knives at my belt and begin sawing on the shaft. He cringes and gasps. Nate, Murrow, and Karl kneel down and hold him steady.
When the shaft snaps off Nate offers his hand to help Bellek up. Surprisingly the stubborn man takes it. I look around the room to the devastation I caused. How many more will I have to kill before this war is over? I should feel guilty for my actions, but I don’t. All I feel is a numbness, as if my feeling receptors have been burned away. When my sister finds how much blood is on my hands, I doubt she’ll want me at her side--not now.
“Was that Bruce who ran by with all those men?” Bellek gruffs.
“Yeah. Leave it to Bruce to show up right after Vera’s done the hard part,” Murrow scoffs.
“He’s probably looking for my sister. I knew the king wouldn’t completely trust me to do the job.”
Bellek clenches his jaw. “Vera, I need to tell you...” He stops at the sound of footsteps coming towards us. We quickly position ourselves around Bellek, and I keep my mind sharp.
Bruce comes bursting back down the grand staircase carrying a girl. He bounds over scattered bodies and rushes past us. The long, black hair that flows behind him tells me it’s Livia.
I take off after him, maneuvering between fallen men, then out the front doors. Bruce begins strapping Livia to his horse, and I rush to Provena and prepare to follow.
Bellek and the others find horses of their own and we take after Bruce across the bridge. We ride swiftly through the city, our horses hurdling fallen soldiers from both sides, and bypassing bursts of battles along the way, my gift keeping our path clear.
A large section of the outer wall lies in shambles. Bodies are scattered over the ground; dust still rises from the debris. We gallop through the fallen gate, and enter into the clangor of sword fighting. The once perfect white snow across the covered field is now a bloodied slush, littered with hundreds of lifeless bodies. In between battlements and under our shifting feet, I see stray limbs and more corpses--once men, who are no longer recognizable. Red masks lay strewn around--more than I can count.
The moment we reach camp, Captain Leech comes out to greet us. “Commander Vera! Bellek! Am I ever glad to see you both alive.”
“Captain,” I say.
“How are our men doing on the inside?” he asks.
“Still fighting strong. Unfortunately, too many of our own are being cut down.”
He nods grimly.
“Our healer is set up inside the tent,” he says to Bellek. “It seems you might need to visit.”
“Mind your business,” Bellek grumbles.
I look over my shoulder and see Bruce grabbing supplies and latching them to his saddle. He isn’t wasting any time getting the king’s prize to him. I know I have to follow.
“Bellek, I have to go with Bruce. I reinstate you as Commander of the Silent Watchers. They’re all yours now.”
“Hold your horse, Vera. I need a moment.”
He leads me away from the others. “I want you to listen carefully. You need to save your sister.”
“What!” I burst.
“Let me finish. Before my capture, I saw her welcomed by the Westerners. They worship her. All I could envision was how that could’ve been you. That could’ve been you feeling the love of these people, not a girl being beaten by my damn selfish nephew. Then I thought it can still be you. I don’t know how, but when your sister came to me after a brutal beating, she defended me and wanted my help saving you. I saw your chance.”
“How can you speak this way?” I spit. “She’s only out to kill me. She wants to secure her throne, and make sure I stay out of her way. And how can you speak of this so confidently to me? Do you know how betrayed I felt when I discovered you hadn’t told me of her? You’ve claimed for so long that you love me as your own, and I always thought you wanted the best for me. Why didn’t you ever tell me of her? And why did you never tell me I could be a queen?”
“I’m an Easterner. That’s where my loyalty lies, and it always has. I do as I’m told when duty to my kingdom calls. I do want the best for you. And I try to give that to you as best I can within my limits. What good would it have done you, to know you have a sister? Would it have made your life any better? Would it have changed anything? No.” He shakes his head. “Do you know what your sister said to me?”
I don’t respond.
“She said, Surely if she means anything to you, you know that her being here would be much better for her. How long must you watch her suffer under your nephew’s hand?”
He reaches over and takes my hand. I freeze. This is the first time he’s ever touched me. I look around, panicked.
“Forget the king’s stupid rules. Look at me.” My eyes shift back to him. “Your sister cares. I’d tried to kidnap her, and yet she cared about how I was being treated. And she cares about how you are treated. You might’ve done wrong, Vera, but she can help you get back the good life that was stolen from you. She’s your second chance at something good. Don’t believe the rumors of her wanting you dead. Some things are spread to make war.”
The sorrow in his eyes breaks me. He would let me go so that I can be happy. His words scream betrayal against the Eastern King, but I see something has changed, and he doesn’t care.
“It’s too late,” I mutter. “I’ve killed so many. And she’s on her way to the king now.”
Bellek’s gaze turns stern. “Then take back what’s yours.”
I keep Provena a ways back, not wanting to be too close to Bruce. I know I can’t take Bruce down, not with that stone around his neck.
Now that Livia is being taken to the king, I will soon uncover what whispers the Woman of the Scree has been feeding the Eastern King these many years. Soon I will know the true madness of their plans. A chill sweeps through me, and it isn’t from the snow-covered landscape surrounding me.