Deliverance Page 44

“Here. Chew on this.” Samuel settles beside me and pushes a thick piece of peeled ginger root into my hand. “It’ll help.”

“I don’t want to swallow anything.” My voice sounds hoarse.

“Trust me. An empty stomach only makes it worse. Ginger will help.”

I take the ginger and bite off a tiny piece. The peppery sweetness explodes across my tongue. Swallowing carefully, I wait for my stomach to rebel, but it doesn’t. I take another bite and chew while I look at Samuel.

“Thank you.”

“You could’ve killed all of us by driving the wagon off the dock like you did.” His voice is calm and measured, but there’s steel beneath it. I remember the way he looked at me when I punched him in the face to distract him from tracking Quinn’s location. I’m long past pretending I’m helpless, but maybe I can still keep him guessing enough to convince him I’m not a threat while we’re on the boat.

If I’m going to escape my captors once we’re inside the city, I’m going to need to search this boat for a weapon. I can’t do that if Samuel is watching me too closely.

“I didn’t mean to drive it off the dock.” I lift my chin and scratch at my right arm, where the burned skin feels tight and impossibly itchy. “I meant to run over Ian. Apparently, donkeys have issues with trampling people. They jerked to the side, and we went into the water.”

He hands me another plug of ginger. “Yes, I heard that you tried to run Ian over. He’d have a thing or two to say about the matter if I wasn’t keeping him busy elsewhere on the ship.”

“Why bother? You don’t care about me. Why don’t you let him punish me one more time for how disappointed he is at the way his life turned out?” The bitterness of my words tastes like ashes in my mouth. I can see the boy with dreams who watched his entire world shatter. Who sees the blood of his father on his hands every time he looks at himself. But I can also see Thom’s gentle smile and Donny’s eager gaze following Willow’s every move.

I can see Sylph.

Samuel’s voice is cold. “No, I don’t care about you. But I do care about him.”

“Oh, right. Because he had a bright future, and losing those he loved broke him.” I swallow the ginger, and scratch harder at my arm. It simultaneously burns like fire and provides some measure of relief. “You know what? I lost my dreams, too. I lost my family. But I didn’t go out and purposefully kill innocents just so that someone could pay the price for my pain.”

“He was charged with restoring honor to his family by returning the tech and by making an example out of those who took it. He had to punish the Commander, and Logan too if Logan was involved, in a way that would make it clear that the cost of challenging Rowansmark is too bloody to be worthwhile.” Samuel leans toward me. “He was just a boy. It was too big a task—”

“Forget about the size of the task.” I stop scratching my arm and sit up straighter. “Let’s focus on the fact that it was wrong.”

“I don’t expect you to understand.”

I laugh, but it sounds more like a sob. “Why, because I value the lives of those who died when Ian decided he couldn’t be bothered to confront the Commander or Logan directly?”

“They were an unfortunate sacrifice in a larger—”

“They were my friends!” My words echo across the water and die inside the vast darkness that presses against both shores.

“And Ian is mine.” Samuel’s voice is rigid. “He’s done too much already. I’m keeping him away from you because the opportunity to perform more sanctioned violence might cause him irreparable harm.”

I stare at him while the paddle wheel purrs quietly and the boat’s wake churns through the water behind us. I’m still staring as he hands me the rest of the ginger and tells me someone is watching to make sure I don’t jump overboard.

He walks away while I sift through his words until I find the ones that send a chill across my skin and cause my heartbeat to thunder in my ears.

Sanctioned violence.

He’s been saying it all along. Ian was commissioned by James Rowan to punish the Commander and Logan. To levy a sentence of pain atonement against the two by destroying everything and everyone they cared about so that no one would dare stand against Rowansmark again.

Ian might have destroyed our city and murdered our people, but he didn’t do it alone. Someone had to be watching over him. Making sure he restored his family’s honor while also making the innocents of Baalboden a bloody example of why Rowansmark’s supremacy should be left unchallenged. Someone had to be keeping supplies, like the white phosphorous that burned me, in a wagon until Ian needed them.

A wagon like the one I sent to the bottom of the river.

Slowly I get to my feet as the truth ignites a gut-deep well of anger I no longer knew I possessed. Heidi, the tracker I’d hoped someone would save from drowning. Samuel, the man I’ve been trying to make my ally.

The two trackers who were waiting in the Wasteland outside of Lankenshire. With a wagon full of supplies.

Something drips from my right hand and splashes against the deck. I look down to see blood leaking from my wound, the flesh scratched open by my nails.

Raising my hand, I let the starlight glitter against the drops of blood on my fingertips and fight against the sudden panic that steals my breath.

This isn’t a dream. The ghosts that haunt me aren’t going to come for me while the sky turns to blood and ash and horror.

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