Home > The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(3)

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(3)
Author: Marie Lu

“Yes—at the cost of a third of your army. What will happen when you try to seize what remains of Tamoura? When the Beldish strike at you again? Queen Maeve is watching you, I’m sure.” He takes a deep breath. “Adelina, you’re Queen of the Sealands now. You’ve annexed Domacca and northern Tamoura in the Sunlands. At some point, your goal should be not to conquer more territories but to keep order in the territories you do have. And you won’t achieve that by ordering your Inquisitors to drag unmarked civilians out into the streets and brand them with a hot iron.”

“You think me cruel.”

“No.” Magiano hesitates for a long moment. “Maybe a little.”

“I’m not branding them because I am cruel,” I say calmly. “I’m doing it as a reminder of what they’ve done to us. To the marked. You’re so quick to forget.”

“I never forget,” Magiano replies. This time, there is a slight sharpness to his tone. His hand hovers near his side, where his childhood wound continues to plague him. “But branding the unmarked with your crest will not make them any more loyal to you.”

“It makes them fear me.”

“Fear works best with some love,” Magiano says. “Show them that you can be terrifying, yet generous.” The gold bands in his braids clink. “Let the people love you a little, mi Adelinetta.”

My first reaction is bitterness. Always love with this insufferable thief. I must appear strong in order to control my army, and the thought of handing out gold to the people who once burned the marked at the stake disgusts me.

But Magiano does have a point.

On my other side, Sergio, my Rainmaker, rides on without comment. The color of his skin looks pallid, and he seems like he still hasn’t fully recovered from the chill he’d taken several weeks ago. But other than his silence and the way he wraps his cloak around his shoulders even in this mild weather, he tries not to show it.

I turn away from Magiano and say nothing. He looks ahead too, but a smile plays at the corners of his lips. He can tell that I’m considering his suggestion. How does he read my thoughts so well? It irritates me even more. I’m at least grateful to him for not mentioning Violetta, for not confirming out loud that part of why I am sending my Inquisitors to force the unmarked into the streets. He knows it is because I am searching. Searching for her.

Why do you still want to find her? The whispers taunt me. Why? Why?

It’s a question they ask over and over again. And my answer is always the same. Because I decide when she can leave. Not her.

But no matter how many times I answer the whispers, they keep asking, because they don’t believe me.

We’ve reached the inner districts of Tarannen now, and although it looks deserted, Sergio’s eyes stay focused on the buildings surrounding the main square. Lately, the insurgents known as the Saccorists—taken from the Domaccan word for anarchy—have attacked our troops on several occasions. It has left Sergio searching constantly for the hidden rebels.

A tall archway leads into the main square, its stones engraved with an elaborate chain of the moons and their various shapes, their waxes and wanes. I pass under it with Sergio and Magiano, then pause before a sea of Dumorian captives. My horse stamps the ground in impatience. I sit straighter and lift my chin, refusing to show my exhaustion.

None of these Dumorians here are marked, of course. The ones in chains are those with no markings at all, the sort of people who used to throw rotten food at me and chant for my death. Now I lift a hand at Sergio and Magiano; they guide their stallions away from me to stand at either end of the square, facing the people.

My Inquisitors spread out too. Our captives shrink back at the sight of us all, their stares fixed hesitantly on me. It is so quiet that if I closed my eye, I could pretend that I am standing alone in this square. Still, I can feel the cloud of terror blanketing them, waves of their reluctance and uncertainty beating against my bones. The whispers in my head dart out like hungry snakes at scurrying mice, eager to feed on the fear.

I nudge my stallion forward several steps. My gaze travels from the people up to the roofs of the square. Even now, I find myself searching instinctively for a sign of Enzo, crouched up there like he used to do. The pull between us, the tether that binds him to me and me to him, tenses, as if from somewhere over the seas he knows that Dumor has fallen to my army. Good. I hope he senses my triumph.

My attention turns back to the captives. “People of Dumor”—my voice rings out across the square—“I am Queen Adelina Amouteru. I am your queen now.” My gaze goes from one person to the next. “You are all part of Kenettra and can consider yourselves Kenettran citizens. Be proud, for you belong to a nation that will soon rule all others. Our empire continues to grow, and you can grow along with it. From this day forth, you shall obey all laws of Kenettra. Calling a marked person a malfetto is punishable by death. Any abuse, harassment, or mistreatment of a marked person, for any reason, shall bring not only your own execution, but the execution of your entire family. Know this: The marked are marked by the hands of the gods. They are your masters and untouchable. In return for your loyalty, each of you will receive a gift of five Dumorian safftons and fifty gold Kenettran talents.”

People murmur in mild surprise, and when I look to my side, I see Magiano glance at me in appreciation.

Sergio jumps down from his horse and moves forward with a small team of his former mercenaries. They go through the crowd, picking out a person here and there, then drag them forward where Sergio forces them all to kneel before me. Fear washes over these chosen ones. As well it should.

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