- Author: Danielle Jensen
Book online «Gilded Serpent Danielle Jensen (i can read with my eyes shut .TXT) 📖». Author Danielle Jensen
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It was pouring rain.
Monstrous droplets that stung as they struck, like having pebbles thrown against one’s face over and over again. A deluge that turned the streets of Aracam to streams, waterfalls pouring from the rooftops. Blackened skies flickered with lightning, the resultant thunder deafening Teriana’s ears.
Yet for all the storm’s ferocity, the Arinoquians had still come out in the thousands, in the tens of thousands, to witness the execution of Urcon.
A platform was set up at the center of the god circle, the great stone towers dedicated to each of the seven gods seeming to watch as the space filled with people. Men. Women. Children. Their faces were twisted with hate and fury and anticipation, their words indistinguishable, but the collective volume rivaled the thunder as they called for the blood of a tyrant.
Motion caught Teriana’s eye, and she glanced past Marcus to see Titus cross his arms, his helmet doing little to hide his disapproval of the scene. Not for the first time, she was struck by how much the young commander of the Forty-First resembled his father, Lucius Cassius. And not just in his features.
“If they riot, we’ll have more casualties than we did taking the rutting city,” Titus muttered. “Every blasted person in Arinoquia is here.”
“To bear witness is to strike the blow. It’s the closest thing to revenge these people have,” Marcus answered, his voice still raspy from his injured throat.
It had been only two days since he and Teriana had stood together on the hill overlooking Aracam. Since he’d committed to whatever it was that was between them: a fragile relationship built on affection and lust and something deeper she wouldn’t put a name to. Two days since she’d abandoned reason and committed to the same.
Water sluiced down Marcus’s face, but his eyes remained fixed on the crowd, mouth an unsmiling line, the slight flexing of the muscles in his jaw the only sign of emotion. A scrape marred one of his cheeks, and his throat was ringed with dark bruises in the shape of fingers. Injuries that he’d gained coming to her aid when she’d been kidnapped and held prisoner in a failed gambit to defeat the Cel legions.
As though sensing her scrutiny, Marcus turned his head, grey-blue eyes meeting hers with an intensity that made Teriana feel as though they stood utterly alone, despite being surrounded by fifty men of the Thirty-Seventh. The corner of his mouth tilted up for a heartbeat, and warmth flooded her chest, then his attention moved back to the crowd.
Her own skin prickled, and Teriana looked to her left, finding Felix’s gaze on her. The second-in-command’s bland expression did nothing to hide his anger and hurt at having his place at Marcus’s side usurped. Given he was potentially the one who’d paid Urcon’s men to get rid of her, standing elbow to elbow with him was unnerving at best. Was it you? she silently asked. Are you the traitor?
Or are you merely the scapegoat?
The crowd surged, pulling Teriana from her thoughts. A thin corridor formed, leading toward the platform, and several armed Arinoquians appeared, dragging a figure between them.
For more than a decade, he’d lorded over his people with a heavy fist, extorting their wealth, stealing their children for his armies, slaughtering any who stood against him, and enforcing his dominance with terrifying brutality. He was a monster. A villain of the first order.
But it was hard to remember that as she took in the ancient man the warriors were half-carrying, his legs were unable to bear his weight.
They’d stripped him, his naked body scrawny and feeble and showing signs of gout. A few wisps of white were plastered against his skull, and his sunken eyes were wild with fear and confusion. He tripped over his own feet, only the grip of his captors keeping him from falling.
He’s a murderer, she reminded herself, remembering the people from Imperatrix Ereni’s town that Urcon’s men had left slaughtered on the path as a warning for Marcus. Remembering how their blood had coated her bandaged feet, sticky and stinking of copper. Remembering the testimonies of the victims of Urcon’s men, who’d committed atrocities in his name. Remembering that it had been this feeble old man who’d employed Ashok, one of the corrupted, to exercise his control of Arinoquia and its people.
Yet for all the reminders brought back her terror, they still jarred with what she was seeing with her own two eyes. Who would follow this man?
Then the Arinoquians started to throw pebbles.
Teriana flinched as the first struck and Urcon cried out, blood running from a wound on his temple. Another pebble opened a thin line of red across his shoulder. Another a lesion across his thigh. Swiftly she lost count, the air filling with flashes of grey as the people he’d tyrannized for so long rained their hate down upon him.
“They’re going to kill him before Ereni has a chance to swing that axe,” Titus said. “What a mess this is. We should have handled the execution.”
“He’s their kill,” Marcus answered, and Teriana wondered whether he’d made that