Roar and Liv / Page 7

Page 7


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Vale’s eyes stay locked with mine as I’m shoved down the trail. “As I was saying,” he calls out, “they’re going to grow tired of this. I know I am.”

All I see in his face is victory. He pierced the weakest part of me.

Vale has never needed a weapon to draw blood.

Yanking myself out of Perry’s hold, I veer off the trail, leaving him and Liv behind.

What Vale said is the truth.

I’m not made for greatness like Perry and Liv. I have no desire to save a tribe or to right injustices, or even to become the best warrior. I’m an expert knifeman because I have quick hands—not my doing—and because I flirted with the weapon, teasing out its secrets in the name of fun. Spinning a blade and catching it with my eyes closed was an easy way to impress Liv. Becoming lethal was just a consequence.

My ambitions aren’t grand. All I have ever wanted is to be there for the two people who mean everything to me. Maybe that’s a small goal to others, but it’s always felt like enough.

8

I give myself an hour to brood, and then I pack my thoughts away and wait by a bend on the wooded trail. Without realizing it, I’ve pulled well ahead of Liv and Perry.

I made a mess of Liv’s departure from the Tides by getting into it with Vale. It was selfish of me. She deserved better than that. She deserves better right now. When I see Perry walk up, my regrets vanish and my hands close into fists.

“Are you cured?” he asks. There’s a slight lift to his chin that tells me he’s scenting my temper.

I don’t bother answering; he knows I’m not. “Don’t ever step in like that again.”

Perry stops. “What was I supposed to do? Let you kill my brother?”

“Yes! You should’ve helped me back there. Look at what he’s done! She’s your sister. How can you protect him and not Liv?”

“He got into your head, Roar. You’re not thinking straight.”

“You’re not seeing what’s right in front of you! Vale ruins everything.” He’s even ruining my friendships, I realize. Perry and I don’t fight like this. In a dozen years, we’ve barely ever argued. “What makes you think he won’t come after you next?”

Perry stills. “Careful, Roar.”

Liv comes around a thicket. She looks from me to Perry. “Well done, you two. This is just what we need,” she says as she walks past.

That night as we’re gathered around the campfire, Wylan complains about his tired feet and his tired eyes. A steady stream of nonsense continues to pour from his mouth as we eat and then watch the fire burn low.

“It should take us around two weeks to get to the Horns,” he says. He tips his chin, gesturing to Liv, who’s fallen asleep with her head resting on my lap. “Guess your days of doing that are numbered.”

“I guess they are,” I say. I’ve been running my fingers through her hair, watching the way the firelight turns it to gold and copper and bronze. Though she might not feel it anymore, I can’t bring myself to stop. She’s been angry with me all afternoon. Perry has been too. We haven’t spoken since our argument.

“Never thought I’d see you and her split up,” Wylan continues.

I take my bottom lip between my teeth and look up, holding back my first reply. “Neither did I.” Through a web of tree branches, I see the Aether running in flowing sheets. We don’t have to worry about storms since it’s spring, but tomorrow we’ll be exposed to another danger when we leave Tide land. Outside the tribe territories, every day is a fight for survival. The borderlands test even the strongest.

Wylan turns his attention to Perry, who’s sitting across the fire staring into the flames. “What about you?”

“What about me, Wylan?” Perry answers without looking up.

“Scires are in demand, though I have no idea why. You think Vale’s gonna sell you off like your sister?”

“I don’t know what Vale’s plans are,” Perry says, lifting his eyes.

I know he’s thinking the same thing I am: Wylan is like a skunk. Always foul-smelling, occasionally intolerably so. Tonight, apparently, we’re getting sprayed.

Wylan props his elbows on his knees and scratches the black bristle on his chin. “Well, you can’t stay with the Tides much longer, the way the two of you have been locking horns. You’re gonna have to find a match somewhere else, or disperse and spend the rest of your life in the borderlands—which wouldn’t be long.”

Perry crosses his arms. “You’ve given this some thought.”

Anger creeps into his voice, and I can’t blame him. There’s no easy answer to his situation. There can only be one leader. Eventually Perry will have to leave the tribe or challenge Vale for the right to be Blood Lord. When you’re facing your own brother, kill or be killed is a winless situation. He should have just let me off Vale for him earlier.

“I have,” Wylan says. “And so should you.”

I can’t stand this anymore. Not Wylan’s drivel, or being at odds with Perry. Liv shifts her head on my lap, turning slightly. She peers through her lashes and smiles at me, sleepy and perfect. Not wanting to wake her, I wait until she drifts off again before I speak.

“I’ve got a solution for you, Per.”

He looks at me, his eyebrows drawing together in surprise. I’ve broken our war of silence. “All right,” he says. “Let’s hear it.”

“It seems to me there’s a dearth of Scires,” I say. “Seeing as how you’re only about a tenth of all Marked.”

Perry nods. “Probably even less. There aren’t many of us.”

“Right. Which is why I was thinking you should propose to Vale that he loan you to other tribes as a breeding stud. He could make some money from your services and it would keep the two of you apart for long stretches of time. And I think the benefits, to you, are obvious.”

Perry looks back at the campfire. He rubs a hand over his mouth and nods like he’s pretending to mull it over, but I can tell he’s trying not to laugh. “That’s not a bad idea,” he says after a moment.

“I know,” I agree. It actually isn’t a poor plan. Perry’s never settling down and girls fawn over him anyway. Liv once told me that part of why they’re drawn to him is because he comes across as a mystery. We didn’t get any farther than that; I’d rather keep my best friend’s appeal a mystery to me too.

“If you’re open to that kind of . . . work,” I continue, “Vale could turn a nice profit.”

“Sure,” Perry says. “I could warm up to that kind of work.”

“Rise to the occasion?”

“Definitely.” A wide grin spreads over Perry’s face. “No problem.”

His question from earlier pops into my mind. Are you cured? I think we’re both on our way.

“You’re uniquely suited for the job,” I say. “A month here, a month there. You could really boost the population. In a couple of years there could be little Scires scurrying around all over the place. Or maybe not so little, since they’d be yours.”

Perry shrugs. “I don’t see any downside. Thanks, Ro. I’ll talk to Vale when we get back.” He turns to Wylan, whose black eyes are narrowed in suspicion. “Guess we figured it all out.”

Wylan looks from Perry to me and makes a sound of disgust. He flops to the ground and pulls his blanket over his head. “You’re both idiots,” he mutters.

Hardly. We got him to shut up, which is damn near impossible to do.

That makes us brilliant.

9

The next morning, after a quick meal of hard cheese and harder bread, we break camp and set off. As we fall into a comfortable formation—Collins and Wylan at the lead; Liv, Perry, and me at the rear—I mull over my plan for coming up with a plan.

I need to speak privately with Liv. If there is one thing that’s always been clear to me, it’s that my happiness is linked with hers. Only when I know exactly what she wants will I be able to coordinate our next move. As we head toward the Tides border, I vow to get her away from Wylan’s eavesdropping ears and Collins’s skitty eyes. Away, even, from Perry.

My gaze moves to him, walking a few paces ahead. As I watch, he tosses a few blackberries he found earlier into his mouth.

“Want some, Liv?” he says without looking back.

“No,” she answers. “Thanks,” she adds as an afterthought.

The tension between the three of us has faded, but Liv is still quiet. She’s allowed to be quiet.

“I want some,” I say, to chase away the silence a little longer.

Perry turns and waves a hand, indicating everywhere. “Then start looking,” he says, but he flips a few to me.

I chew the ripe fruit, thinking about the past days. Perry has defended me from Vale, and then Vale from me. And he has comforted Liv. His actions have shown he supports us, but now it occurs to me how little he’s actually said in support of us. Then it occurs to me that I haven’t heard him say anything. I have no idea what he actually thinks of Liv’s betrothal to Sable.

A cold feeling rolls down my spine. Is it possible that he actually agrees with Vale?

Thoughts fire off in my brain, one after another. Maybe he’s behind the arranged marriage because he doesn’t understand what love means—what Liv and I have. The closest he’s been to a girl is Brooke—which isn’t close at all. But even if he did understand, he wouldn’t make the same choices. Perry is selfless. For the Tides, he would sacrifice himself and love and anything else that got in the way.

Then it hits me. Could he actually be working against me and Liv? Did he come on this journey to keep track of us? To make sure we don’t run? He would never betray us for Vale; his allegiance to his older brother is a rotted thing, ready to crumble. But didn’t I just admit to myself he’d do anything for the Tides?

Sweat trickles down my back as I think of the thousands of times we’ve competed against each other in this thing or that—in everything. Our competitions were never earnest. Never malicious. Even when we argued last night, I never viewed him as a true adversary. What if he becomes one?

What if he tries to stop me from being with Liv?

Liv looks over at me then, her expression questioning and a little confused. I know I’m making a face. “Tart,” I say. “The berries were.” I wink at her and look away, focusing on the sound of our footsteps.

By some twist of fate, our pace is synchronized. Three pairs of feet land in near perfect rhythm. I concentrate on that—on the small miracle happening in this moment—but a rebel chant begins in my head and it’s loud. Too loud to ignore.

If I have to lose everything to keep her, I will.

I will.

I will.

I will.

Stealing some time to talk with Liv turns out to be simple. That night, as I’m circling our camp on night watch while the others sleep, she finds me.

I’ve been with her all day. All week. For months and years. But my heartbeat picks up at the sight of her approaching slowly, a tall liquid shadow moving through the black trees. She stops a few feet away, her eyes shining in the darkness. I notice that she’s wearing her weapon. We’re well into the borderlands now.


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