Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price--and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly ...(more)
There was no sound but their breathing, the slosh of the water, the roll of the waves. He kept them moving - though they might well have been paddling in a circle - and she kept both of them breathing. Which one of them would give out first, he didn't know.
"Why did you save me?" he asked finally.
"Stop wasting energy. Don't talk."
"Why did you do it?"
"Because you're a human being," she said angrily.
Lies. If they did make land, she'd need a Fjerdan to help her survive, someone who knew the land, though clearly she knew the language. Of course she did. They were all deceivers and spies, trained to prey on people like him, people without their unnatural gifts. They were predators.
He continued to kick, but the muscles in his legs were tiring, and he could feel the cold creeping in on him.
"Giving up already, witch?"
He felt her shake off her exhaustion, and blood rushed back into his fingers and toes.
"I'll match your pace, druskelle. If we die, it will be your burden to bear in the next life."
He had to smile a little at that. She certainly didn't lack for spine. That much had been clear even when she was caged.
That was the way they went on that night, taunting each other whenever one of them faltered. They knew only the sea, the ice, the occasional splash that might have been a wave or something hungry moving towards them in the water.
"Look," the witch whispered when dawn came, rosy and blithe. There, in the distance, he could just make out a jutting promontory of ice and the blessed black slash of a dark gravel shore. Land.
They wasted no time on relief or celebration. The witch tilted her head back, resting it against his shoulder as he drove forward, inch by miserable inch, each wave pulling them back, as if the sea was unwilling to relinquish its hold. At last, their feet touched bottom, and they were half swimming, half crawling to shore. They broke apart, and Matthias' body flooded with misery as he dragged himself over the black rocks to the dead and frozen land.
Walking was impossible at first. Both of them moved in fits and starts, trying to get their limbs to obey, shuddering with cold. Finally he made it to his feet. He thought about just walking off, finding shelter without her. She was on her hands and knees, head bent, her hair a wet and tangled mess covering her face. He had the distinct sense that she was going to lie down and simply not get back up.
He took one step, then another. Then he turned back. Whatever her reasons, she'd saved his life last night, not once, but again and again. That was a blood debt.
He staggered back to her and offered his hand.
When she looked up at him, the expression on her face was a bleak map of loathing and fatigue. In it, he saw the shame that came with gratitude, and he knew that in this brief moment, she was his mirror. She didn't want to owe him anything, either.
He could make the decision for her. He owed her that much. He reached down and yanked her to
her feet, and they limped together off the beach.
They headed what Matthias hoped was west. The sun could play tricks on your senses this far north and they had no compass with which to navigate. It was almost dark, and Matthias had begun to feel the stirrings of real panic when they finally spotted the first of the whaling camps. It was deserted -
the outposts were only active in the spring - and little more than a round lodge made of bone, sod, and animal skins. But shelter meant they might at least survive the night.
The door had no lock. They practically fell through it.
"Thank you," she groaned as she collapsed beside the circular hearth.
He said nothing. Finding the camp had been mere luck. If they'd washed up even a few miles further up the coast they would have been done for.
The whalers had left peat and dry kindling in the hearth. Matthias laboured over the fire, trying to get it to do more than smoke. He was clumsy and tired and hungry enough that he would have gladly gnawed the leather off his boot. When he heard a rustling behind him, he turned and almost dropped the piece of driftwood he'd been using to coax the little flames.
"What are you doing?" he barked.
She had glanced over her shoulder - her very bare shoulder - and said, "Is there something I'm supposed to be doing?"
"Put your clothes back on!"
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to freeze to death to preserve your sense of modesty."
He gave the fire a stern jab, but she ignored him and stripped off the rest of her clothes - tunic, trousers, even her underthings - then wrapped herself in one of the grimy reindeer skins that had been piled near the door.
"Saints, this smells," she grumbled, shuffling over and assembling a nest of the few other pelts and blankets beside the fire. Every time she moved, the reindeer cloak parted, revealing a flash of round calf, white skin, the shadow between her breasts. It was deliberate. He knew it. She was trying to rattle him. He needed to focus on the fire. He'd almost died, and if he didn't get a fire started, he still might.
If only she would stop making so much damn noise. The driftwood snapped in his hands.
Nina snorted and lay down in the nest of pelts, propping herself on one elbow. "For Saint's sake, druskelle, what's wrong with you? I just wanted to be warm. I promise not to ravish you in your sleep."
"I'm not afraid of you," he said irritably.
Her grin was vicious. "Then you're as stupid as you look."
He stayed crouching beside the fire. He knew he was meant to lie down next to her. The sun had set, and the temperature was dropping. He was struggling to keep his teeth from chattering, and they would need each other 's warmth to get through the night. It shouldn't have concerned him, but he didn't want to be near her. Because she's a killer, he told himself. That's why. She's a killer and a witch.
He forced himself to rise and stride towards the blankets. But Nina held out a hand to stop him.
"Don't even think about getting near me in those clothes. You're soaked through."
"You can keep our blood flowing."
"I'm exhausted," she said angrily. "And once I fall asleep, all we'll have is that fire to keep us warm. I can see you shaking from here. Are all Fjerdans this prudish?"
No. Maybe. He didn't really know. The druskelle were a holy order. They were meant to live chastely until they took wives - good Fjerdan wives who didn't run around yelling at people and taking their clothes off.
"Are all Grisha so immodest?" he asked defensively.
"Boys and girls train side by side together in the First and Second Armies. There isn't a lot of room for maidenly blushing."
"It's not natural for women to fight."
"It's not natural for someone to be as stupid as he is tall, and yet there you stand. Did you really swim all those miles just to die in this hut?"
"It's a lodge, and you don't know that we swam miles."
Nina blew out an exasperated breath and curled up on her side, burrowing as close as she could get to the fire. "I'm too tired to argue." She closed her eyes. "I can't believe your face is going to be the last thing I see before I die."
He felt like she was daring him. Matthias stood there feeling foolish and hating her for making him feel that way. He turned his back on her and quickly sloughed off his sodden clothes, spreading them beside the fire. He glanced once at her to make sure she wasn't looking then strode to the blankets and wriggled in behind her, still trying to keep his distance.
"Closer, druskelle," she crooned, taunting.
He threw an arm over her, hooking her back against his chest. She let out a startled oof and shifted uneasily.
"Stop moving," he muttered. He'd been close to girls - not many, it was true - but none of them had been like her. She was indecently round.
"You're cold and clammy," she complained with a shiver. "It's like lying next to a burly squid."
"You told me to get closer!"
"Ease up a bit," she instructed and when he did, she flipped over to face him.
"What are you doing?" he asked, pulling back in a panic.
"Relax, druskelle. This isn't where I have my way with you."
His blue eyes narrowed. "I hate the way you talk." Did he imagine the hurt that flashed across her face? As if his words could have any effect on this witch.
She confirmed he'd been imagining things when she said, "Do you think I care what you like or
She laid her hands on his chest, focusing on his heart. He shouldn't let her do this, shouldn't show his weakness, but as his blood began to flow and his body warmed, the relief and ease that coursed through him felt too good to resist.
He let himself relax slightly, grudgingly, beneath her palms. She flipped over and pulled his arm back around her. "You're welcome, you big idiot."
He'd lied. He did like the way she talked.