Deliverance Page 84

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“I’m very good at getting people to tell me the truth.” Willow sounds haunted even as she calmly asks Nola for her dagger. I remember the way she looked when she said her first kill had been at age eight—her test to see if she was ready to take part in the family business—and the way her eyes went cold when she talked of her father, and I put my hand on her arm.

“Willow, you don’t have to do this.”

“You need the truth.” She slaps the tracker again, and he stirs. Her voice is drained of all emotion.

“I don’t want you to do this.”

She turns on me. “Look at yourself. Covered in blood. Destroying our plan because you couldn’t see anything but the fact that a tracker told you Rachel is dead. You aren’t thinking clearly, and you won’t start to unless we know the truth. I can get the truth.”

“So can I,” the Commander says behind us. “And it won’t take me half as long.”

Willow moves aside without argument, her face as stoic as her brother’s.

“Why would you care if a messenger told James Rowan I wasn’t coming?” I ask as the tracker’s eyes flutter open and awareness snaps back into his gaze.

“Because that messenger would also tell him about my army, and about my trip north, which could only mean that I’m trying to gather more troops. The more we know before we go into battle, the fewer risks we unknowingly take.” He crouches beside the tracker, draws a knife, and says, “I think we’ll start with the hands.”

I reach for the stub of my little finger, for the pain that grows less each day, and wince as the Commander chops off two of the tracker’s fingers in one blow. The man screams, and the Commander smiles grimly.

“You know who I am, don’t you?” he asks.

The tracker pants heavily.

“Answer me, or lose the entire hand.”

“Yes.”

“Good.” The Commander flays a piece of skin from the tracker’s cheek. Blood puddles on the ground, and the man goes white, his lips drawn tight against the pain. “Every time I have to ask a question twice, you’ll lose another piece of yourself. Understood?”

The tracker nods.

“Did a messenger leave from Lankenshire to tell James Rowan that Logan McEntire and I went to the northern city-states?”

The tracker glares, but quickly nods as the Commander’s knife hovers above his neck.

“When do you expect that messenger to arrive at Rowansmark?”

“How should I know?” the tracker asks, his voice shaky.

The Commander slices through the tendon on the man’s elbow. Nola gags and disappears into the trees. Jodi drops down from her perch and joins her as the man curses and moans.

“Once more: When do you expect the messenger to arrive?”

“I don’t know.” The man’s eyes widen as the Commander reaches for his stomach. “Wait! Ian took the boat before our messenger arrived so he had to walk. He probably won’t arrive for another week, though if he hurried, he could cut that down by a couple of days.”

The vise wrapped around my chest eases, and I take a deep, steadying breath. I still have time. I’m weeks away by land, but if Ian took a boat to Rowansmark, I can too. Chelmingford is on an island. I can convince Tara Lanning, the leader of the city, to give us a boat. I can push my people to move faster. Sleep less.

I can still get to her. I can save her.

As the Commander drives his blade into the tracker to end the man’s suffering, I grab some leaves, scrub the blood off me as best as I can, and mount my horse.

“We aren’t stopping again until we’re on a boat heading toward Rowansmark,” I say.

No one argues with me as I spur my mount forward and set a course for Chelmingford as fast as my horse can travel.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

LOGAN

The rest of our group is waiting for us at the little wooden dock that usually houses the Chelmingford ferry. I’m relieved to see that Frankie, Connor, Smithson, and Adam made it safely. Less relieved to see that Orion made it as well, but he’s the least of my concerns. The ferry isn’t here, but a small boat with the name Myra painted in bold blue letters on the side is tied to the dock. The captain agrees to ferry us to the city once he realizes we’re the group Lyle Hoden’s emissary told Chelmingford to expect.

The Myra’s engine is powered by steam. On a normal day, I’d be fascinated by the way the engine propels the boat through the water like a knife slicing through butter.

Instead, I’m preoccupied with wondering what tech Rowansmark is using against Chelmingford, since the tanniyn won’t surface underwater. Wondering what Tara Lanning is like and if she’ll agree to help us.

Wondering how far away I am from Rachel now, and how fast I can get to Rowansmark so I can keep my promise.

I lean against the bow with Connor on one side of me and Frankie on the other, my hands gripping the rough, splintery railing beneath me, and watch the blue-gray water lurch away from the boat’s nose as I think of Rachel and how desperately grateful I am to know that I still have a chance to see her again. Of the way something burned in my stomach, like I swallowed a live coal, when I’d watch her spar. How I didn’t know where to look when she’d catch me watching. Remembering the way her body flowed from one movement to the next makes me feel like the live coal in my stomach is slowly melting into my bloodstream.

I close my eyes and imagine that the railing beneath my hands is Rachel’s hair instead. Hair that shimmers like a flame and suits the intensity with which she lives her life. The intensity in her eyes when she looks at me. The intensity in her kisses—like I’m a challenge she enjoys trying to conquer.

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