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.I grew bored just looking at them.‘That one,’ I said, pointing to a girl with a birthmark on her thigh – the only girl with something remotely remarkable about her.My page led the others out and I waited in silence until the girl and I were alone in my chambers.‘What’s your name?’‘Eliza, Your Majesty.’I moved closer, looking at her mouth, the pert little shape of it.Regardless of what I did to her tonight, she would never be allowed to look at me, lest our eyes meet and we bond.So the blindfold stayed on, and I bedded yet another copy of a woman, and we felt nothing for each other, and connected on no level at all.For a moment, I turned my head and gazed at the chamber my parents had once shared.There on that same bed was where I’d found them, throats slit, bleeding onto the marble floor below.And in the room next door was where I’d found my brother and sisters, all slain, too.I could have another room if I wished it, but this was where I stayed, because I saw the blood and the bodies each night, and they reminded me of why I had to be this way.A simple man was less of a threat.A foolish, incompetent man was underestimated and overlooked, even when he was an Emperor.He became an easy target, the kind of man enemies thought to erase without much concern.Enemies like the Sparrow.Emperor Feckless they called me.When you walked your city streets blindfolded, your ears grew sharp and you heard things you wouldn’t otherwise.I heard all the whispers, all the rumours, all the stories about Emperor Feckless and his reckless narcissism.And because Emperor Feckless drank far too much and bed faceless women, that was what I did.‘What do you wish of me, Majesty?’ Eliza asked.I tilted my head, banishing a momentary desire to tear her blindfold free and lock eyes with her.‘Tell me something interesting.Or clever.Or funny.’‘I … I beg your pardon?’ she stuttered.‘Tell me anything.’‘I’m not sure … I understand.’A sigh escaped me.I started to undress.‘Forget it.Just lie down on the bed.’Chapter 3Thorne‘The what?’‘The Siren Nights,’ Winn repeated excitedly.I gazed at him from the end of my bed.After the debacle in the square this morning I’d been shown to a large townhouse in the city where I would be staying while I was in Kaya.That was, until the truth of why I was really here became apparent to the Kayans.The house was full of servants, which I found uncomfortable after having lived my life with only Ma.Every room buzzed with them as they rushed around to make sure everything was perfect, and I found myself wishing for quiet.Winn, who was the head of the household – despite the fact that he couldn’t have been much older than me – had bloody well tried to take my boots off for me before I’d forbidden him from such tasks.‘What are the Siren Nights?’ I asked him, watching the way he drew back the curtains and used a lever to unwind a window in the roof with so much fervour that he nearly broke the handle off.He paused what he was doing and eyed me.He was literally about half my size, with shoulder length, dirty blond hair and brown eyes that kept turning green.And he was the first person I’d met since arriving who didn’t look like he was about to wet his pants at the sight of me.All the other staff in the house had been stiff with terror and very, very small.‘I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it, sire.’I could feel mischief afoot and smiled.‘Go on.I won’t say a word.’ In truth I’d gladly keep things from the general, the informants and the warder priest, none of whom had been particularly kind to me.I had yet to meet the Emperor or the Empress, who had not invited me to their palace in Sancia, which would really offend Ava if she were to find out.‘It’s a secret that belongs to the youths of Limontae,’ Winn explained.‘Something that was started a couple of years ago by the twins from the cliffs.’I waited for him to overcome his wariness.A grin spread Winn’s mouth.‘If you’d like, I could show you … I fear my description might be unworthy.’I stood up.‘Lead the way.’I’d spent my life by the sea, but it was different standing at the headlands of Limontae.The sight below was beautiful and dangerous, and I couldn’t take my eyes from it.The cliff itself had been built into – there were hundreds of houses within its face, spreading from the very top all the way down to the sand of the beach.These flickered with glowing lights, and from this distance they looked like fireflies in the darkness.Beyond lay the ocean, and as we stopped to survey the view I realised that I had never known the sea as I thought I had.This was a creature as savage and unquiet as wolves’ teeth tearing at the shore.The water I lived beside was quiet and calm and glistened silver in the moonlight.Here there was barely any moon at all, and the surf was an enormous throbbing mass of black.Although the cliff and the sea would have been enough to satisfy my wandering soul for one night, there was more beauty to behold.Along the headland, exploding out of the water, were seven enormous towers.Each was slender and straight, rising dozens of levels into the sky, and their surfaces seemed to be made of glass, winking in the starlight.I could imagine what they would look like under the sun.In all my life I’d never seen such feats of architecture.I’d thought Ambrose’s fortress to be tall, but it was as nothing compared to the shining towers of Limontae.‘I’d heard of them, of course,’ I murmured.‘But I never imagined them to be so grand.’‘Aye, they’re a wonder,’ Winn agreed.‘One for every subject of the academy.’‘Do you go to the academy, Winn?’‘No, sire – I look after your house.’I looked at him, abashed.‘Forgive me.’‘Of course not, sire.Shall we continue? We need to hurry or we’ll miss the betting, and that’s the craziest bit.’‘Where are we headed?’ I asked softly, for some reason feeling like I had to whisper.Winn pointed towards the first tower, but before we reached it he led me off the edge of the cliff.I couldn’t see anything below except rocks.‘Are you any good at climbing, my lord?’I shrugged.He led me over, climbing agilely down the rough surface to an invisible path, overgrown with shrubs and long grass.I followed far more slowly.I didn’t want to tell him that I had a very real discomfort with heights.I even struggled being near windows on the top level of Ambrose’s fortress.The darkness tonight helped me to trick my mind into believing I was not high on a rocky cliff.And facing the rocks made it marginally easier to concentrate on my feet and hands, taking each step at a time.I stumbled a few times, but soon made it lower into the grassy hills.‘Are you well, Majesty?’‘Yes, sorry.I’ve slowed you down.’‘Not at all.’We rounded a final corner, dropping out of view of the rest of the world.A huge sea cave opened up before us.We climbed over slippery rocks to reach the mouth, the ocean slapping dangerously close to our feet.If the tide were any higher, there would be no way to get into the cave.Noises reached me over the crashing surf.Voices shouting.Winn grinned and led me further in.Just inside the mouth I stopped, stunned.The cave was vast – deeper and wider than I could see – and the roof was so high that I could barely make out the stalactites that hung from it [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]