Bewitched & Betrayed (Raine Benares #4) - Page 47

“It’s complicated,” Tam said.

“You’re a goblin, Tam,” I said flatly. “Everything’s complicated. You were the queen’s magical enforcer, and Imala is the head of the secret service. You were both serving in the court at the same time.”

“We were.”

“Considering your jobs, you’d think you’d have common ground.”

Imala blew out her breath through her nose. “You would think that, wouldn’t you?”

“So all you two did was piss each other off on a daily basis?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Imala conceded. “Weekly would be more accurate.”

“How pissed?”

Tam scowled. “She stabbed me.”

Imala snorted. “A mere flesh wound. He had driven me quite beyond rational thought.”

“Yeah, he’s done the same to me. In other words, he deserved it.”

“I thought so.”

“She tried to kill me,” Tam protested.

Imala turned on Tam in exasperation. “If I had truly tried, you would not be here.”

Tam glared at her. “And if I had truly desired retaliation, you would no longer exist.”

I clapped my hands together. “So, as far as goblin behavior is concerned, you two sound downright cozy.”

“Cozy is not in Imala’s vocabulary, and apparently neither is loyalty.”

“Tam is referring to the fact that I remained in the Mal’Salin family service after he left. He sees this as a betrayal of the late Queen Glicara.”

“You serve Sathrik; enough said.”

“I believe we have been sufficiently over this ground—I serve the goblin people.”

“By carrying out Sathrik’s orders?”

“I do my job and I remain in power; but most important, I continue to gain influence with the people we will need.”

“We. You persist in using that word. Leave me out of this.”

“You’re in it whether you like it or not, and I had nothing to do with it. The fault is yours. Your relationship with Miss Benares has hardly gone unnoticed. Not ten minutes go by in the court without me hearing her name.”

“I’m famous in the goblin court,” I muttered. “Great. Just great.”

“Notorious would be a more apt description,” Imala told me. “Tam has thwarted Sathrik’s attempts to capture you, and he has spat in the face of the king’s commands.” She turned to Tam. “Your reasons are your own, but Sathrik has labeled your actions treason. Over the past few months, you have defied him at every turn.” Imala stopped and positively beamed. “Grandmother and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Since we’d set foot in the room, I’d had my eye on the biggest, most decadent-looking pastry on the tray. I handed it to Tam instead; he looked like he needed it. “Well, it looks like you can take the boy out of the court, but you can’t take the court out of the boy,” I said softly. “Tam, you should have walked away from me. Cancel that—you should have run.”

“You know I wouldn’t do that.”

“I know. Imala said you’re going to have to choose sides. I’d say you’ve already chosen. And when Sathrik made Rudra Muralin goblin ambassador, that wasn’t just to help him get the Saghred or me—it was to give him the authority he needed to legally

take you out, wasn’t it?”

Tam’s silence answered for him.

“You needn’t concern yourself about Rudra any longer, Miss Benares.” Imala Kalis sank her dainty fangs into a pastry. “He isn’t missing. He’s quite dead.”

Chapter 18

“I made sure of it myself,” Imala continued without missing a beat. “I wouldn’t want to be mistaken about a thing like that.”

“How did he die?” Mychael’s voice was terse. The paladin was back.

“I assure you, I had nothing to do with Rudra’s demise. He was found behind the embassy at five bells this morning, propped against a garbage bin. I was all for leaving him precisely where he was. The garbage is due to be picked up later this morning, but propriety demanded I do otherwise. Propriety and precaution.”

“Precaution?” I asked. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“Rudra Muralin returned from the dead before. I wanted to make certain that it did not happen again. One mad goblin regenerating himself on this island is quite enough.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Imala,” Mychael pressed.

“Merely saving the best part for last. He was dried and shriveled and delightfully dead. Sarad Nukpana must have been very annoyed at not having Markus for dinner. When my people called me out into the alley to see, I maintained my professional decorum, but my staff was cheering and applauding.” She gave us a quick smile. “I do like to see my people happy; it’s good for morale.”

Goblin humor. What other race would applaud a dead body? On second thought, elves would, especially if their last name was Benares.

Mychael’s face was grim. “Where did you put his body?”

“His husk is lying in state in the embassy.”

Oh no. “Uh, Imala, last time Rudra Muralin died, the power buildup he had from using the Saghred all those years brought him back to life.”

One corner of Imala’s lips curled ever so slightly. To a casual observer, it almost looked demure. “That scenario is unlikely to repeat itself. I cut off his head.”

Tam’s lips twitched against a smile. “You what?”

“I cut off his head,” she repeated matter-of-factly. “I tried my dagger, but the dried skin was too tough, so I ended up using an axe. It was quite heavy, but once I got past the upswing it worked beautifully.”

I burst out laughing. The visual of that tiny woman dragging an axe across the floor and lopping off Rudra Muralin’s head was too much.

“Well-done, Imala,” Tam grudgingly congratulated her.

“Thank you. I derived immense satisfaction from it.”

“I imagine the Khrynsani in the embassy feel otherwise,” Mychael pointed out.

Imala shrugged. “What they feel is immaterial since they are no longer there. Eight Khrynsani came with Nachtmagus Janos Ghalfari. They have been out with him all night, and should they have the poor judgment to return, they will be taken into custody as accessories to kidnapping and murder. As acting ambassador, I can hardly be seen harboring criminals. Janos and his Khrynsani are connected to who knows how many murders in the past week. The two that we know of are enough for me to have their heads, if I can get proof. Killing an elven general is an act of war, and to slaughter our very own ambassador—while very much needed and long overdue—is treason in the eyes of our government.”

“Shit,” Tam hissed. “Where

is Rudra’s head? Please tell me you didn’t leave it close to the body.”

Imala finished off the rest of her coffee. “Give me a little more credit than that, Tam. It’s on the other side of the room in a locked strongbox and only I have the key. The box is warded and my most trusted agents are standing guard. No one will get in that room without my permission.”

“You left him there?”

She arched one flawless brow. “To come and get you out of jail.”

“Rudra Muralin’s death solves one problem,” Mychael said, “but makes another one worse. Since it’s almost a certainty that Sarad Nukpana was responsible, he now has all of Muralin’s memories, power, and knowledge. Centuries’ worth.”

Damn. If he got his hands on me or the Saghred, he’d know exactly how to use both of us. Double damn.

“So in a way, Muralin’s not really dead.” Dread churned through me. “He’s just joined forces with Sarad Nukpana.”

“I seriously doubt that it was his idea,” Mychael noted, “but essentially, yes.”

“How much power would that give him?” I knew the answer, but I really wanted someone to tell me I was wrong.

“Enough to take any mage on this island,” Tam replied. “I know I’m stating the obvious here, but we need to find him. Now.”

The tunnels I’d seen when I touched Sarad Nukpana’s coach seat had smooth stone walls, a long corridor, and shafts of blue light from the ceiling. And rats. Mychael had only been here for four years. The archmagus had been here a lot longer.

My dad had been here for hundreds of years longer than that.

One of them had to recognize the place I’d seen.

We got to the citadel as fast as we could only to find that Talon had flown the coop.

Last night, he’d gone as far as the citadel courtyard with his Guardian escort, then he’d bolted. Not just bolted; he’d used that voice of his to freeze nearly thirty Guardians in their tracks to make his getaway. Vegard had been one of them.

Mychael, Tam, and I were now standing in that same courtyard and I’d never seen Vegard that pissed. The big Guardian was a barely contained, seething mass of fury. If I hadn’t been on the verge of dropping from exhaustion, I’d have been seething right along with him.

Talon wasn’t the only teenager missing from the citadel.

Piaras was nowhere to be found.

Mychael had his men patrolling the city looking for Sarad Nukpana add Talon and Piaras to their “people to be apprehended” list. Apprehended without undue force, but apprehended and brought directly back to the citadel.

“Talon asked me where Balmorlan and Carnades were going after they left headquarters.” Vegard was responding to Mychael’s rapid-fire questioning.

“And Piaras was here in the courtyard when you arrived?”

“No, sir. He was on the stairs there leading up to the parapet.”

“His guards?”

“With him, sir. Likewise zapped by that little . . .” He clenched his jaw against what he really wanted to say. “Sorry, sir,” he said to Tam, “but your son caused a major security breach. Thirty Guardians, frozen like bloody statues. Anyone could have strolled through those gates and slaughtered the lot of us. How Piaras managed to avoid being—”