Home > King's Cage (Red Queen #3)(5)

King's Cage (Red Queen #3)(5)
Author: Victoria Aveyard

There are no mirrors, not even in the bathroom. But I know what this place is doing to me. Despite the hearty meals and the lack of exercise, my face feels thinner. My bones cut beneath skin, sharper than ever as I waste. There isn’t much more to do than sleep or read one of the volumes on Nortan tax code, but still, exhaustion set in days ago. Bruises blossom from every touch. And the collar feels hot even though I spend my days cold, shivering. It could be a fever. I could be dying.

Not that I have anyone to tell. I barely even speak through the days. The door opens for food and water, for the change in my jailers, and nothing more. I never see a Red maid or servant, though they must exist. Instead, the Arvens retrieve meals, linens, and clothes deposited outside, bringing them in for me to use. They clean up as well, grimacing as they perform such a lowly task. I suppose letting a Red in my room is too dangerous. The thought makes me smile. So the Scarlet Guard is still a threat, enough to warrant such rigid protocol that even servants aren’t allowed near me.

But then, it seems no one else is either. No one comes to gawk or gloat over the lightning girl. Not even Maven.

The Arvens do not talk to me. They don’t tell me their names. So I give them some of my own. Kitten, the older woman smaller than me, with a tiny face and keen, sharp eyes. Egg, his head round, white, and bald like the rest of his guardian kin. Trio has three lines tattooed down his neck, like the dragging of perfect claws. And green-eyed Clover, a girl near my age, unwavering in her duties. She is the only one who dares look me in the eye.

When I first realized Maven wanted me back, I expected pain, or darkness, or both. Most of all I expected to see him and endure my torment under his blazing eyes. But I receive nothing. Not since the day I arrived and was forced to kneel. He told me then he would put my body on display. But no executioners have come. Neither have the whispers, men like Samson Merandus and the dead queen, to pry my head open and unspool my thoughts. If this is my punishment, it is a boring one. Maven has no imagination.

There are still the voices in my head, and so many, too many memories. They cut with a blade’s edge. I try to dull the pain with even duller books, but the words swim before my eyes, letters rearranging until all I see are the names of the people I left behind. The living and the dead. And always, everywhere, Shade.

Ptolemus might have killed my brother, but I was the one to put Shade in his path. Because I was selfish, thinking myself some kind of savior. Because, once again, I put my trust in someone I shouldn’t have and traded lives as a gambler does playing cards. But you liberated a prison. You freed so many people—and you saved Julian.

A weak thought, an even weaker consolation. I know now what the cost of Corros Prison was. And every day I come to terms with the fact that, if given the choice, I would not pay it again. Not for Julian, not for a hundred living newbloods. I wouldn’t save any of them with Shade’s life.

And it was all the same in the end. Maven had asked me to return for months, begging with every bloodstained note. He had hoped to buy me with corpses, with the bodies of the dead. But I’d thought there was no trade I would make, not even for a thousand innocent lives. Now I wish I’d done as he asked long ago. Before he thought to come for the ones I truly care for, knowing I would save them. Knowing that Cal, Kilorn, my family—they were the only bargain I was willing to make. For their lives, I gave everything.

I guess he knows better than to torture me. Even with the sounder, a machine made to use my lightning against me, to split me apart, nerve by nerve.

My agony is useless to him. His mother taught him well. My only comfort is knowing that the young king is without his vicious puppeteer. While I am kept here, watched day and night, he is alone at the head of a kingdom, without Elara Merandus to guide his hand and protect his back.

It’s been a month since I’ve tasted fresh air, and almost as long since I saw anything but the inside of my room and the narrow view my single window affords.

The window looks out over a courtyard garden, well past dead at the end of autumn. Its grove of trees is twisted by greenwarden hands. In leaf, they must look marvelous: a verdant crown of blossoms with spiraling, impossible branches. But bare, the gnarled oaks, elms, and beeches curl into talons; their dry, dead fingers scraping against one another like bones. The courtyard is abandoned, forgotten. Just like me.

No, I growl to myself.

The others will come for me.

I dare to hope. My stomach lurches every time the door opens. For a moment, I expect to see Cal or Kilorn or Farley, perhaps Nanny wearing another person’s face. The Colonel, even. Now I would weep to see his scarlet eye. But no one comes for me. No one is coming for me.

It’s cruel to give hope where none should be.

And Maven knows it.

As the sun sets on the thirty-first day, I understand what he means to do.

He wants me to rot. To fade. To be forgotten.

Outside in the courtyard of bones, early snow drifts in flurries born of an iron-gray sky. The glass is cold to the touch, but it refuses to freeze.

So will I.

The snow outside is perfect in the morning light, a crust of white gilding barer trees. It’ll melt by afternoon. By my count, it’s December 11. A cold, gray, dead time in the echo between autumn and winter. The true snows won’t set in until next month.

Back home we used to jump off the porch into snowdrifts, even after Bree broke his leg when he landed on a buried pile of firewood. Cost Gisa a month’s wages to get him fixed up, and I had to steal most of the supplies our so-called doctor needed. That was the winter before Bree was conscripted, the last time our entire family was together. The last time. Forever. We’ll never be whole again.

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