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The Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #3)
Author:Erika Johansen

For good reason.

True. It was important to keep the Tear before her now. Her death must lie somewhere at the end of this journey—she wasn’t even sure why she was alive now—but she left behind a free kingdom, headed by a good man. Her mind conjured an image of Mace, grim and unsmiling, and for a moment she missed him so badly that tears threatened to spill from beneath her closed lids. She fought the impulse, knowing that the man who sat across the wagon would take pleasure in her distress. She was sure that one of the reasons he had beaten her so badly was that she had refused to cry.

Lazarus, she thought, trying to alleviate her dismal mood. Mace sat on her throne now, and although he did not see the world precisely as Kelsea did, he would be a good ruler, fair and decent. But still Kelsea felt a subtle agony, growing with each mile traveled. She had never been outside her kingdom, not once in her life. She didn’t know why she was still alive, but she was almost certainly going to Mortmesne to die.

Something slid along her calf, making her jump. Her jailor had reached across the floor of the wagon and was stroking her leg with one finger. Kelsea could not be more revolted if she had found a tick burrowing into her skin. The jailor was grinning again, his eyebrows lifted as he waited for a response.

I am already dead, Kelsea reminded herself. On paper, she had been a dead woman walking for months. There was great freedom in the thought, and that freedom allowed her to draw her legs inward, as if to curl up in the corner of the wagon, and then, at the last moment, to arch her back and kick her jailor in the face.

Down he went, landing sideways with a thump. The riders around them exploded in laughter, most of it unkind; Kelsea sensed that her jailor was not very popular with the infantry, but that fact would not help her here. She tucked her legs beneath her and brought her chained hands forward, ready to fight as best she was able. The jailor sat up, blood trickling from one of his nostrils, but he seemed not to notice it, didn’t even bother to wipe it away as it worked its way down toward his upper lip.

“I was only playing,” he said, his voice petulant. “Doesn’t pretty like games?”

Kelsea didn’t reply. The rapid changes in mood had been her earliest indication that he wasn’t right in the head. There were no patterns of behavior that she could anticipate. Anger, confusion, amusement . . . each time, he reacted differently. The man had noticed his nosebleed now, and he wiped the blood away with one hand, smearing it on the wagon floor.

“Pretty should behave herself,” he scolded, his tone that of a tutor with a wayward pupil. “I’m the man who cares for her now.”

Kelsea curled up in the corner of the wagon. Again she thought, ruefully, of her sapphires, and with a blink of surprise, she realized that she actually meant to survive this journey somehow. The jailor was only one in a series of obstacles to be overcome. In the end, she meant to go home.

The Red Queen will never allow that to happen.

Then why is she taking me back to Demesne?

To kill you. She probably means to put your head in the place of honor on the Pike Road.

But this seemed too easy to Kelsea. The Red Queen was a direct woman. If she wanted Kelsea dead, Kelsea’s body would be rotting on the banks of Caddell. There must be something the Red Queen wanted from her, and if so, she might yet go home.

Home. This time it was not the land she thought of, but people. Lazarus. Pen. The Fetch. Andalie. Arliss. Elston. Kibb. Coryn. Dyer. Galen. Wellmer. Father Tyler. For a moment Kelsea could see them all, as though they were gathered around her. Then the image was gone, and there was only glaring sunlight in her eyes, making her head ache. Not a vision, only her mind, trying to free itself. There would be no more magic, not anymore; the reality was this dusty wagon, rolling inexorably onward, taking her away from her home.

The Mace never sat on the throne.