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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

“Of course I do,” he said bitterly.

“I made the charge. I begged them to save me. I knew they’d have to take you into custody, and bring us safely to Kerch. I didn’t know—Matthias, I didn’t know they’d throw you in Hellgate.”

His eyes were hard when he faced her, his knuckles white on the handle of his pick. “Why didn’t you speak up? Why didn’t you tell the truth when we arrived in Ketterdam?”

“I tried. I swear it. I tried to recant. They wouldn’t let me see a judge. They wouldn’t let me see you. I couldn’t explain the seal from the slaver or why I’d made the charges, not without revealing Ravka’s intelligence operations. I would have compromised Grisha still in the field. I would have been sentencing them to death.”

“So you left me to rot in Hellgate.”

“I could have gone home to Ravka. Saints, I wanted to. But I stayed in Ketterdam. I gave up my wages for bribes, petitioned the Court—”

“You did everything but tell the truth.”

She’d meant to be gentle, apologetic, to tell him that she’d thought of him every night and every day. But the image of the pyre was still fresh in her mind. “I was trying to protect my people, people you’ve spent your life trying to exterminate.”

He gave a rueful laugh, turning the pick over in his hands. “Wanden olstrum end kendesorum.”

It was the first part of a Fjerdan saying: The water hears and understands. It sounded kind enough, but Matthias knew that Nina would be familiar with the rest of it.

Isen ne bejstrum,” she finished. The water hears and understands. The ice does not forgive.

“And what will you do now, Nina? Will you betray the people you call friends again, for the sake of the Grisha?”

“What?”

“You can’t tell me you intend to let Bo Yul-Bayur live.”

He knew her well. With every new thing she’d learned of jurda parem, she’d been more certain that the only way to protect Grisha was to end the scientist’s life. She thought of Nestor begging with his last breath for his Shu masters to return. “I can’t bear the thought of my people being slaves,” she admitted. “But we have a debt to settle, Matthias. The pardon is my penance, and I won’t be the person who keeps you from your freedom again.”

“I don’t want the pardon.”

She stared at him. “But—”

“Maybe your people would become slaves. Or maybe they would become an unstoppable force. If Yul-Bayur lives and the secret of jurda parem becomes known, anything is possible.”

For a long moment, they held each other’s gaze. The sun sat low in the sky, light falling in golden shafts across the snow. She could see the blond of Matthias’ lashes peeking through the black antimony she had used to stain them. She’d have to tailor him again soon.

In those days after the shipwreck, she and Matthias had formed an uneasy truce. What had grown up between them had been something fiercer than affection, an understanding that they were both soldiers, that in another life, they might have been allies instead of enemies. She felt that now.