Home > Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)(14)

Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)(14)
Author: Ilona Andrews

Hugh turned to the window. The day was peaceful and quiet. He supposed he should shower and get dressed. He was getting married, after all. And he would buy food and safety for the Dogs with his marriage. And get a castle as a dowry. Once the moat was done…

The moat. The tech was up, it was midafternoon, and he’d ordered the construction to start this morning. Where were the fucking bulldozers?

“It’s a beautiful dress,” Nadia said.

“Very beautiful,” Beth agreed, brushing her hair.

Elara hid a sigh. They were doing their best to make her feel better. This wasn’t the way she imagined the day of her wedding. This was some hellish caricature of it.

She was doing it for the right reasons. She promised to protect her people and d’Ambray’s troops would protect them. The Iron Dogs seemed barely human, but they’d been inside the walls for a week and she couldn’t fault them. They’d taken over patrols. They ran and did endless amounts of push-ups. They were unerringly polite to her people. The castle had come with the barracks, but there weren’t enough spaces for all of them in the building, so she had to relegate them to tents in the bailey while the left wing was renovated. There wasn’t a whisper of complaint.

They had almost no supplies, except for what they could carry and a covered wagon. They brought the wagon in and unloaded two dozen sealed plastic drums, which they dragged inside and locked in a room in the barracks. None of the spying and scrying her people had done had managed to shed any light on what was in the barrels. It wasn’t money. D’Ambray was broke, so broke, that the contract they’d signed specified a week’s worth of clothes for every Iron Dog. They didn’t even have spare underwear.

Tonight she would have to marry that insufferable ass.

Some girls dreamed about getting married and planned their wedding. Elara never had. But when she thought about it occasionally, she always imagined getting married to someone who loved her.

“Have you decided what to do about the hair, my lady?” Eve asked from the back.

She’d given up on trying to get them to stop calling her that. At least when she was in earshot, they’d stopped referring to her as the White Lady. Having people pretend she was some medieval queen was better than the actual worship, Elara reminded herself. Worship had to be avoided at all costs.

“I don’t know.”

Her hair, the mark of her curse, fell around her face in soft waves after being twisted at the nape of her neck for the whole day. If she straightened it, the long white strands would reach past her butt. The hair was a pain. Elara had wanted to cut it for years, but it became a symbol of her magic, and she’d learned long ago that symbols were important.

“We could do a full updo,” Beth offered. “Something with flowers. We could do a very loose braid.”

“Or a waterfall braid,” Nadia said.

Elara bit down on another sigh. She almost told them she didn’t care, but it would hurt their feelings.

“We could leave it down,” Eve suggested. “You almost never wear it down.”

She didn’t wear it down, because she hated it. She still remembered her real hair, the dark, chocolate-brown curls. Three years ago, just after they left West Virginia, she got two bottles of hair dye and soaked the white strands in it. She kept it on until her scalp began to itch. When she walked out of the shower, her hair was still pristine white. Not a single strand took the dye.

“Let me think about it.”

“There are only two hours left,” Eve murmured.

“It’s not like they can have a wedding without me.”

A soft knock echoed through the room. Rook.

Eve opened the door. “She is busy.”

“Let him in.”

Elara drew her thin white robe around herself, hiding the translucent white camisole she wore underneath.

The door swung open. The spy stepped inside, his hair hidden by the hoodie he always wore. She waited for a report, but he just stood there. He’d brought her something private.

“Give us a minute,” she said. “I’ll call you when I’m ready.”

The three women left the room, with Beth closing the door behind her. Rook approached and held out a piece of paper.

Vanessa and Hugh:

V: Are we gonna keep doing this after you’re married?

H: Scared of Elara?

V: If the Lady didn’t want me here, she would tell me.

Elara read the rest of the conversation. Hardly surprising. That was the one thing that always set her teeth on edge about Vanessa. The woman didn’t have an ounce of loyalty in her. Still, she was one of her people.

“Where is he now?”

He pulled on his pants and ran outside to the construction crew.

That meant he would be at her door in a minute.

“Thank you.”

Rook nodded and slipped outside the door. Elara barred it and sat at her vanity. She had to do something about her hair. She couldn’t care less about what it looked like, but the wedding had to appear genuine. She had to keep up appearances. She would manufacture the glow for the sake of her people.

Someone pounded on her door.

“Go away.” Elara dipped her fingers into a small tub of lotion.

“Open the door.”

There was something about his voice that made people want to obey. Some imperceptible quality. It was probably very handy in the middle of battle.

“Go away. I’m not dressed, and you can’t see me before the wedding.”

“Open the door.”

“No.” She dabbed the lotion on her face and in the hollow of her neck and worked it into her skin.

The door took a hit with a hard thud. It was a heavy wooden door, reinforced with steel, but the few days she’d spent with d’Ambray convinced her that he could be extremely single-minded.

“If you break it, the money for the replacement will come out of your discretionary budget.”

Elara raised her hair up in a semblance of an updo. Ugh.

“Do you really want to do this through the door?”

“I don’t want to do it at all.”

“You cut the gas for my bulldozers.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s expensive.”

A furious silence fell. She imagined him on the other side of the door steaming and smiled.

“I need it. I need the gas.”

“We all need things.”

“Elara! We need to stay alive. The moat will keep us alive.”

Moat, moat, moat… Moat? Moat. Moat! Ugh.

“You want to dig a trench that is ten feet deep and seventy-five feet wide. That’s ridiculously large.”

“It has to be that large to function.”

Elara sighed and picked up the eyeshadow. Maybe rose gold?

“How are you planning to fill it up?”

“With water from the lake.”

“Are you planning to make the water flow up the hill?”

“No, I’ll pump it in.”

She put down her eyeshadow. “You want to pump the water into that massive trench? Do you have any idea how much fuel that will take? So we’ll be paying for the gas for that too?”

“It’s necessary.”

“Won’t the water just seep into the ground?”

“We’ll line the bottom with concrete.”

“So magic can crack it.”

“No, the magic won’t crack it, because we’ll use Roman concrete mixed by hand.”

Rose gold was working out nicely. “Don’t you need volcanic ash for Roman concrete?”

Another silence. She’d had a detailed discussion with the Dog he assigned as foreman before she took away their gasoline. It wasn’t her first construction project.

“Where are you going to get volcanic ash?” she asked.

“I’ll have it shipped from Asheville.”

“I wasn’t aware Asheville had suddenly sprouted volcanoes.” She blended a darker shade of the eyeshadow into the crease of her eyes.

“Asheville had a Cherufe manifestation five years ago. They have an entire mountain of volcanic ash and we can buy it dirt cheap.”

“More money.”

   
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