Today's Reading

Quint probably doesn't want to kill anyone either. The Palace Master is sitting at the opposite end, ostensibly here to keep a record of everything said. His jacket is only half buttoned, a loose lock of red hair drifting across his forehead. He's scratching notes in a leather-bound folio with a fountain pen.

Lochlan, the rebel leader, is seated to my left, and he casts a glare at Quint every few moments. If he had his way, he'd probably kill everyone. He already tried once.

"What is he writing?" Lochlan says. "What are you doing?"

Quint finishes whatever he was writing, then looks up. "I am here to document your demands," he says equably. "And the resulting response."

"I haven't made any demands yet," Lochlan growls.

Quint isn't easily cowed. I've seen him maintain composure while pieces of the Royal Sector were literally burning to the ground, so a little aggression barely registers. He's also one of the most considerate men I've ever met, and he has a bizarre talent for making people feel at ease during the prickliest of situations.

Quint sets down his pen and turns the paper around so it's more easily visible. "Just now, I was recording the names of those in attendance," he says plainly, without a lick of condescension, "along with the date and location of our meeting. I would gladly have a copy made for you to review, if you would like."

Lochlan glances at the paper, then back up at Quint. His jaw is tight.

"He's just taking notes," Karri says softly, with an apologetic glance at me. She rests a hand on Lochlan's forearm, but he doesn't relax.

Across from Karri is Allisander Sallister, the consul of Moonlight Plains. He should be in prison—or more likely, swinging from the end of a rope—yet he maneuvered his way out of a death sentence when he claimed that no one could handle the harvesting and distribution of Moonflower petals with as much efficiency as the truce with the rebels demanded.

The worst part is that he's probably right. It's the only reason he's sitting here. Eight weeks isn't a lot of time to dispense medicine. It's already taken two just to get everyone into the same room.

Allisander's expression is a combination of boredom and arrogance. He sighs and pulls a gold pocket watch from under the table to glance at it.

"Do you have somewhere to be, Consul?" says Corrick, seated at one end of the table, directly to my right. His voice is cold, his blue eyes like ice. This is the Prince Corrick I once feared. The one many people in Kandala still fear.

He'd light Consul Sallister on fire right this very instant if he could. The consul glances up. "Many places I'd rather be. Surely you could have waited to summon me until the ignorants were fully instructed as to the typical arrangement of a meeting." Lochlan's chair scrapes back as he begins to rise. "Are you insulting me, you spoiled—"

"You have to ask?" Consul Sallister strokes his goatee. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."

"Enough," says King Harristan, and I can't tell if he's talking to Consul Sallister, to Lochlan, or to the guards who've moved away from the door to prevent any trouble. But the king's voice is low, coolly placid. A level command spoken by a man who's used to immediate obedience. His eyes, a darker blue than his brother's, shift to me. "Tessa, you should begin."

"Right," I say. "Of course." I smooth my hands over my skirts to calm my nerves, but the slippery silk does nothing to quell my anxiety. I'm probably leaving handprints on the material.

I wish I were back in the infirmary, calculating dosages with the palace physicians. Weights and measures and vials don't care about diplomacy.

Really, though, if I could wish for anything, I'd wish to be back in the Wilds, sneaking through the darkness with Wes. Picking locks and stealing medicine might have been dangerous—and illegal—but I always felt like I was making a difference.

Here in the palace, trying to convince everyone to work together, I feel like I'm just making a mess. King Harristan and Prince Corrick have been seen as callous and cruel for so long that it's going to be tough to get anyone at this table to agree.

Allisander sighs and peers at his pocket watch again. Harristan clears his throat.

Corrick doesn't glance at me, but he picks up his pen and scratches a few words at the base of his own folio, then casually sets the pen down. The motion draws my eye to the words.

...

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