Page 29

 C.J. Redwine

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“Connor?” I take a step forward, and Jodi whimpers as the Commander presses the point of his sword against her chest.
“It’s merely a flesh wound,” Connor says, his voice tight with pain.
I glare at the Commander. “You stabbed the Lankenshire ambassador assigned to vouch for us at Hodenswald?”
The Commander’s mouth twists with derision. “Foolish boy tried to rescue the girl who attacked me.” He gives Jodi a rough shake. “I don’t care where he’s from. If you think you’re man enough to draw your sword against me, then you’re man enough to take what’s coming to you.”
I tear my gaze away from the blood dripping down Connor’s arm, and look into Jodi’s wide, terrified eyes. “Jodi, it’s going to be okay. Don’t move. Everything will be okay.”
“You’re a liar,” the Commander says, malice dripping from every word. “A liar and a thief. These are my people. Look at their cloaks. Their boots. Baalboden made. They’re my people, and you had them attack me.”
“We aren’t your people anymore,” Frankie says.
I reach over and squeeze his shoulder, both in appreciation of his loyalty and in warning that now isn’t the time to antagonize the Commander further. Jodi squeaks as the Commander yanks her hair back and raises his sword.
We can’t stop him. He holds Jodi in front of him, an effective shield against Willow’s arrows. The three guards surrounding us still have their weapons up. If we move, they’ll attack. We’d never get to the Commander in time to save Jodi.
I scramble madly for a plan, but only one scenario presents itself. Slowly, I let go of Frankie’s shoulder and raise my wrists.
“I’m not attacking you,” I say as I take a small step forward. “I wasn’t attacking your guards, either. I was trying to stop everyone. I was trying to tell them that we are all on the same side.”
“We are not on the same side,” Adam snarls from my left. “He had his sword to your throat.”
“Logan’s right,” Connor says. “He was negotiating an alliance with the Commander to work together to assure Rowansmark’s destruction.”
Adam’s shoulders drop, and he looks at Jodi with desperation on his face. I know the feeling. “You didn’t know,” I say quietly. “You were protecting me. All of you. It’s not your fault.”
“No, this is your fault,” the Commander says. “Did you really think you could distract me with talk about Rowansmark and then have these traitors attack me so you could steal the device for yourself?”
I take another step toward him.
“I didn’t know they were coming. I’ve been inside the Lankenshire dungeon since right after you arrived at the gate. None of them were allowed to visit me—”
“You expect me to believe this wasn’t planned?” He bites his words off.
“Logan didn’t tell us where to find him. Willow did,” Adam says. “She sat beside me during Logan’s trial, and she told me they were going to escape the dungeon and meet at the tree where she’d hidden the device.”
The Commander’s laugh is a harsh bark of disbelief. “And you just happened to know which tree she meant?”
“I’ve been here before. With Willow.” Adam’s voice shakes with anger. “I knew how to use the tunnels beneath Lankenshire and where to bring the people who wanted to help Logan fight this war.”
I take a few more steps forward until I’m alone in the stretch of ground between the Commander and the group behind me. “It was a misunderstanding, and it won’t happen again.”
“This girl attacked me. I didn’t misunderstand that. You know what I do to women who defy me.” He pulls Jodi close, his sword pressed against her throat. His dark eyes are coldly furious as he looks at me.
I push away the memory of my mother’s last moments and say, “Jodi thought you were trying to kill me—”
“You deserve it,” he snarls.
“Maybe I do.” I meet his gaze. “But James Rowan deserves it more. And so does my brother, Ian. We have to be able to work together if we want to bring Rowansmark to its knees. Trackers will be after us by now. We need to bury the dead and—”
“We?” He glares at me. “You follow orders, or you die.”
I force myself to ignore my anger and my pride. They won’t help me now. I have to give him what he wants—the belief that his power is above question—or he’ll kill us all and try to take on Rowansmark himself.
Raising my hands in surrender, I force myself to say, “We aren’t your enemies. James Rowan is. Together we can bring him down. You and I. Please. Let her go.”
He stares at me for a moment, and then shoves Jodi away from him. She stumbles over to Connor and fusses over his wound, her fingers shaking. He awkwardly pats her shoulder, leaving bloody fingerprints on her tunic.
The Commander leans toward me. “A real man doesn’t raise his hands in surrender. A real man doesn’t beg for the lives of those who aren’t his equals. You are a worthless example of a man, and we are not a team. I don’t need a team.”
“You did once.”
He jerks as if I’ve cut him with my sword.
“When the Cursed—when the tanniyn first surfaced, you led a team down to the beast’s lair to destroy it. You were the kind of man others could respect and trust. Your team followed you because they believed in you, not because they feared you.”