Excerpt from The Bone Roses
“Tell me,” he shifts in the leather saddle. “Why do you run, rustler? Are you really that scared?”
I grit my teeth and suppress a growl.
“I was certain that you would have done something to defend this hellhole. We came expecting rebellious warriors. An impressive, immortalizing final stand from the lucky little settlement handpicked by Hyperion himself to show the other settlements the true meaning of survival. Instead you gave it to us.”
He shakes his head, that damn smirk degrading me to animal status. I clench my fists tighter to keep from reaching up and pulling him off that horse.
“You are fortunate Hyperion is merciful and your struggles have not gone unnoticed to our glorious king. Neither in the entire Northeast Territory or Adonis. I suppose you may thank your rebellious little rustlers for that small mercy. He has a special place for you in his Kingdom.”
Yeah, mutilated and on display in the middle of a settlement I’ve terrorized regularly just trying to keep this one from dying of infections and starving to death. His honey-soft voice bores deep into my soul, cutting and isolating me from the others. My shoulders bristle under those amber eyes.
“Clever bunch you are. But are you worthy to once again fly the colors of the Kingdom on your buildings and accept our generous bounty for your suffering all these years? I would certainly hope you’d be ready to accept forgiveness from our merciful king, but in order for it to be official, we must first examine each of you for the Kingdom’s marks, and evaluate your worth and true loyalty.”
His eyes lift from me and he taps his leather boot heels against the stallion’s sides. It parades before the crowd.
He doesn’t look at them as he rides back and forth. To him, they’re simply protocol. Chaff he can thresh and burn. No ‘selected’ settlement has ever been welcomed back into the Kingdom; especially one like Rondo.
The stallion turns back to us.
“Those who do not have a mark will be given one. Those of you who already have one-” The stallion halts in front of me and Henny looks down, knowing. “They will be dealt with accordingly.”
The wind chills even colder. There are three marks the Kingdom uses to brand its victims. Unlike the other two, my mark isn’t displayed on my right hand. It’s tattooed on my upper left arm in cold, black ink.
2046-13. The year I’ll turn eighteen and proof that I am legal currency in the Kingdom. I don’t know what the thirteen stands for. No one does. But if Henny sees it and chooses through some small miracle not to execute me for my crimes as a rustler, I’ll be returned to the slave pens, and this time they’ll make damn sure I don’t escape a second time. I try not to tremble at the thought of either fate.
I’d…rather be executed than kneel to the Kingdom, my eyes cut to him. I won’t go back.
Tracker glares at Henny. His mark is a death sentence too. If they see the running hare on his right hand, they’ll execute him. I don’t know what branch of the Kingdom Corps he once served in, or how he ended up stationed in Rondo before its exile, but right now he’s thinking about pulling that cocky son of a bitch from that horse himself.