Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)
The descent on the bridge was even more dizzying, and Nina was relieved when her feet struck solid white marble once more. White cherry trees and silvery buttonwood hedges lined the marble walkway, and security on this side of the bridge seemed decidedly more relaxed. The guards who stood at attention wore elaborate white uniforms accented with silver fur and less than intimidating silver lace. But Nina remembered what Matthias had said: As you moved deeper into the rings, security actually tightened—it just became less visible. She looked at the partygoers moving with her up the slippery stairs and through the cleft between the dragon’s tail and mouth. How many were truly guests, noblemen, entertainers? And how many were Fjerdan soldiers or drüskelle in disguise?
They passed through an open stone court and the palace doors into a vaulted entry several stories high. The palace was made of the same clean, white, unadorned stone as the Ice Court walls, and the whole place felt as if it had been hollowed out of a glacier. Nina couldn’t tell if it was nerves, imagination, or if the place really was cold, but her skin puckered with gooseflesh, and she had to fight to keep her teeth from chattering.
She entered a vast circular ballroom packed with people dancing and drinking beneath a glistening pack of wolves hewn from ice. There had to be at least thirty massive sculptures of running, leaping beasts, their flanks gleaming slickly in the silvery light, jaws open, their slowly melting muzzles dripping occasionally onto the crowd below. Music from an unseen orchestra was barely audible over the gabble of conversation.
The Elderclock began to chime ten bells. It had taken her too long to get across that stupid glass bridge. She needed a better view of the room. As she headed for a swooping white stone staircase, she caught sight of two familiar figures in the shadows of a nearby alcove. Kaz and Matthias. They’d made it. And they were in drüskelle uniforms. Nina suppressed a shiver. Seeing Matthias in those colors settled a different kind of cold into her bones. What had he thought when he put it on? She let her eyes meet his briefly, but his gaze was unreadable. Still, seeing Kaz beside him gave her some comfort. She wasn’t alone, and they were still on schedule.
She didn’t risk so much as a nod of acknowledgment, but continued up the stairs to the balcony on the second floor where she could get a better look at the flow of the crowd. It was a trick she’d learned in school from Zoya Nazyalensky. There were patterns in the way people moved, the way they clustered around power. They thought they were drifting, milling aimlessly, but really they were being drawn toward people of status. Not surprisingly, there was a large concentration eddying around the Fjerdan queen and her attendants. Strange, Nina thought, observing their white gowns. In Ravka, white was a servant’s color. But that crown wasn’t anything to sniff at—twisting spines of diamonds that looked like branches glowing with new frost.