Home > The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(6)

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(6)
Author: Marie Lu

Raffaele waits for him to continue, but Enzo falls back into his deep silence again, his attention still on the ocean outside. Raffaele wonders whom Enzo is thinking about. It is not Adelina, but a girl long gone, from a happier time in his past.

After a while, Raffaele takes the bowl of water away and gently dabs Enzo’s arms dry, then applies a layer of ointment to the burned skin. It is an old salve that Raffaele used to request back at the Fortunata Court, when Enzo would visit him at night to have his hands bandaged. Now the court is gone. Queen Maeve has returned to Beldain to lick her wounds and restore her navy. And the Daggers have come here, to Tamoura—what is left of Tamoura, at any rate. Adelina’s Inquisitors dot the hills in northern Tamoura, holding strong.

“Any news of Adelina?” Enzo asks as Raffaele reaches for a fresh set of bandages.

“Dumor’s capital has fallen to her army,” Raffaele replies. “She rules all of the Sealands now.”

Enzo looks back to the sea, as if searching again for the eternal pull between him and the White Wolf, and his gaze seems very far away. “It won’t be long before her attention returns here, to the rest of Tamoura,” he says at last.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if her ships show up next at our borders,” Raffaele agrees.

“Will the Golden Triad meet us tomorrow?”

“Yes.” Raffaele glances up at the prince. “The Tamouran royals say their army is still weakened from Adelina’s last siege. They want to try negotiating with her again.”

Enzo gingerly moves the fingers of his left hand, then winces. “And what do you think of it?”

“It will be a waste of time.” Raffaele shakes his head. “Adelina turned down their last attempt without a moment’s hesitation. There’s nothing to barter—what can the royals offer her that she cannot simply take by force?”

Silence falls over them again, perhaps the only answer to Raffaele’s question. As Raffaele continues to wrap Enzo’s arms in fresh bandages, he tries to ignore the waves outside. The sound of the sea beyond the window. A pair of candles burning bright in the darkness. A knock on the door.

The memory comes unbidden and unrelenting, breaking through the walls Raffaele has put around his heart since Enzo’s death and resurrection. He is no longer tending to the prince’s wounds but standing, waiting, frightened in his bedchamber at the Fortunata Court years ago, looking out at a sea of masked people.

It seemed as if the entire city had turned out for Raffaele’s debut. Noblemen and noblewomen, their robes of Tamouran silks and Kenettran lace, fanned out across the room, their faces all partially hidden behind colorful half masks, their laughter mingling with the sounds of clinking glass and shuffling slippers. Other consorts moved amongst them, silent and graceful, serving drinks and dishes of iced grapes.

Raffaele stood in the center of the room, a demure youth dressed and groomed to the height of perfection, his hair a curtain of dark satin, his gold-and-white robes flowing, black powder lining the rims of his jewel-toned eyes, staring out at a sea of curious bidders. He remembers how his hands trembled, how he’d pressed one against the other to steady them. He had been trained in the types of expressions to allow on his face, a thousand different subtleties of the lips and brows and cheeks and eyes, regardless of whether they reflected his actual emotions. So, in this moment, his expression had been one of serene calm, of shy allure and gentle joy, silent as snow, absent of his fear.

Now and then, the energy seemed to shift in the room. Raffaele turned his head mechanically in its direction, unsure of what he was sensing. He thought at first that perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him—until he realized that the energy focused on a young stranger gliding between the crowds. Raffaele’s eyes followed him, mesmerized by the power that seemed to travel in his wake.

The bidding started high and spiraled higher. It soared until Raffaele could no longer make out the numbers, the sights and sounds around him beginning to blur. Other consorts whispered to one another in the audience. He had never heard such amounts tossed back and forth at an auction before, and the strangeness of it all made his heart pound faster, his hands shake harder. At this rate, he could never live up to the winner’s payment.

And then, as the bidding began to trickle down to a few—a young manservant hidden in the crowd doubled the highest offer.

Raffaele’s calm expression wavered for the first time as murmurs rippled through the room. The madam called again for an offer to top it, but none did. Raffaele stood in the silence, willing himself to remain still as the manservant won the auction.

That evening, Raffaele lit a few candles with unsteady hands and then sat alone on the edge of his bed. The blankets were silken, trimmed with gold thread and lace, and the scent of night lilies lingered in the air. The minutes dragged on. He listened for the sound of footsteps approaching his chambers and repeated to himself lessons that older consorts had given him over the years.

After what seemed like an eternity, he heard the sound he had been waiting for in the hall outside. Moments later, there was a soft knock on the door.

It will be all right, Raffaele whispered, unsure of the truth of these words. He got up and raised his voice. “Come in, please.”

A maid pushed the door open. Behind her, a masked young man walked into his chambers with the grace of a seasoned predator. The door closed behind him, right as he reached up to remove the mask from his face.

Raffaele’s eyes widened in surprise. This was the same stranger he’d noticed in the crowd. He realized, embarrassed, that the stranger was quite handsome—dark curls of hair tied back into a low tail, long black lashes framing his eyes, scarlet slashes in his irises. He stood tall, and he did not smile. The energy Raffaele had sensed during the bidding now enveloped the stranger in layers. Fire. Flames. Ambition. Raffaele flushed. He knew he should be inviting the stranger to come closer, to sit on the bed. But, in this moment, he couldn’t think.

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