The Triumphant (The Valiant #3)(11)

“You’re talking to an ex-princess,” I snorted. “It’s not as if he has something to prove to me, Elka.”

“Maybe he has something to prove to himself.”

She reached over and picked up the little beer jug I’d brought, pouring out the last of the liquid into both my cup and Nyx’s.

“Wait.” I turned to blink at her. “Did you say you’re going to the games with Quintus?”

She grinned, and if only the moon were a little brighter, I suspected I might have seen a blush tint her pale cheeks. “Are you going?” she asked, neatly deflecting the conversation again, back toward the subject of Cai’s upcoming contest.

If I was already in the city to attend the dedication of Caesar’s temple, I thought, it seemed a waste not to stay the extra day to see Cai’s match . . .

“Yes.” I nodded and drained my drink. “Yes, I am.”

Whether Cai wanted me to or not.

As we stood to leave and make our way back to the ludus together, I paused in front of another patch of ground, a plot set a little ways from the resting places of the Ludus Achillea gladiatrices, marked not with a stone but a newly planted yew bush. I pulled one of the empty cups from my bag and scooped up some of the earth, dark but flecked with ash, like Nyx’s. If I ever left this place, I thought, I would not want to leave what remained of Aeddan’s soul—whatever there was of him that had not found its way to the Blessed Isles and his brother, Maelgwyn Ironhand—there to languish alone. This way I could take a piece of his spirit with me. He deserved that, at least.

I stood with a sigh and gazed out over the little necropolis.

There might have been one more grave there that was the result of the night we retook the ludus, but Kallista and Selene and their Amazon sisters had requested of Sorcha that they deal with Thalestris themselves. Sorcha had agreed, and they’d taken her body, tightly wrapped in a plain linen shroud, and disappeared from the ludus into the surrounding countryside. They were gone for two days, and when they returned, they never spoke of it. But whether they burned her or buried her or left her beneath the sky for her bones to be scattered by the Morrigan’s ravens and wolves, I didn’t care. For what she’d done to Sorcha, it would serve for Thalestris’s spirit to wander lost forever. And if it made me cruel to think such a thing . . . then I had her, in part, to thank for teaching me such cruelty.


THE MORNING OF the temple dedication dawned clear and soft, the sky in the east veiled with a sheer curtain of blush-tinted clouds that vanished with the rising of the sun. Italia, I’d learned, never really got cold. Not like Prydain. The relatively mild winter had begun to fade, but the nights and early mornings still bore a distinct and often biting chill. We’d left the ludus well before sunrise and had dressed accordingly—both for the weather and the occasion—but as the sun climbed higher into the sky, the cool spring breezes that reminded me of home curled up in the hollows of the hills like cats and went to sleep for the day. I shifted the palla I wore, like all the other proper Roman ladies in the crowd gathering in front of the temple steps, and pushed it back off my forehead, shrugging uncomfortably beneath the heavy hang of soft folds that draped over my shoulders and arms.

“This is ridiculous,” I muttered. “I feel like a swaddled babe.”

“If you can learn to wear boiled leather and bronze, you can learn to wear that,” Sorcha said, a glint of amusement in her eyes as she reached to tug the material back up over my hair.

Easy for her, I thought. She’d had years more practice.

As we approached the temple at the far end of the Forum, I glanced sideways at my sister, wondering what she was thinking. Her expression, as usual, gave away almost nothing of what she felt. I sometimes wished I had that kind of control over my emotions. Ahead of us, six tall men draped in saffron-dyed tunics carried poles that held aloft a litter bearing the offerings that were to be enshrined in the temple, including the armor my sister had been wearing on the battlefield when she’d made her bargain with Caesar and saved our father’s life.

To the other side of Sorcha, Charon walked along with us. He’d offered to accompany us and then take Sorcha back to the Ludus Achillea while I stayed on to attend the games with Elka and Quintus tomorrow. The slave master—well, ex–slave master, really—had become something of a fixture at the ludus. Over the months since we’d reclaimed the academy, after Charon had been so instrumental in helping us do that and saving Sorcha’s life in the process, he’d given up that particular aspect of his business. The only “acquisitions” Charon made these days were the infrequent purchases of likely gladiatrix candidates.

Charon had been in Prydain—Britannia—with Caesar during his campaigns to conquer the Island of the Mighty, offering his slaver’s expertise. He’d been there the night my father was captured. The night Sorcha had surrendered her sword at Caesar’s feet in exchange for Virico’s freedom. And he was here now, offering his sun-browned arm to her as we ascended the steps to the temple with its eight marble pillars gleaming in the morning sun.

Once inside, Charon stepped back and took up a place at my side as Rome’s elite shuffled about, arranging themselves for the best vantage point. He glanced at me and offered a wan grin, likely guessing what I was thinking in that moment.

Lesley Livingston's Books