And I Darken Page 50

On top of the body.

She staggered to her feet, then fell back down, crawling away from the ruined body.

Mehmed placed a hand on her face and turned it toward his own. “Are you hurt?”

She shook her head, then nodded, then shook it again. She did not know if she was hurt. Everything was trembling, everything was numb. She looked down at her hands, covered in blood, and could not feel them.

“Lada. Lada. Lada.”

She snapped her eyes back to Mehmed. He was the only thing in the room that she could focus on, the only thing that made sense.

“My guards never came.”

She knew that was important, knew she had known it was important, before…this. Before the blood. So much blood.

“Do you think they are dead?” Mehmed took a step toward the door. He should not go out there. She knew he should not, tried to figure out why.

Everything snapped back into place. “Stop! We need to leave. Another way. The guards are either dead or they were collaborators.”

Mehmed shook his head. “They are Janissaries. They would never—”

“He was a Janissary.”


Her teeth trembling, Lada peeled back the man’s mask. She did not recognize him, and found herself deeply grateful for that. But she still knew what he was, if not who. “The way he fought. I have sparred with dozens of versions of him. He trained as a Janissary. We need to get out of here, now, and we need to hide until we know who to trust.”

Mehmed was shaking as much as she was. “Who can I trust?” he whispered.

Lada held out her hand. He took it.

UNDER OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES, the look of utter bewilderment on Lada’s face would have delighted Radu. She was always so certain of herself that the image of her standing in the middle of the room, stiff, arms wrapped protectively around herself as her eyes darted everywhere, should have been one he treasured.

But she was covered in blood, and Mehmed’s jaw trembled when he was not talking, and both of them looked the way Radu always felt on the inside.

He could not feel that way right now. They needed him.

“We have to go somewhere else,” Radu said. “It is well enough known that we are Mehmed’s friends. If there are more assassins, and they search for him, they may look here.”

Lada shook her head, eyes pleading. “I could not think of anywhere else to go.”

If, as Mehmed and Lada suspected, a group of Janissaries were behind the attempt, the palace was not safe. They had no way of knowing who had set it up, whether it was the soldiers themselves, or whether they were acting under orders from someone else. What if they ran to an advisor or a pasha for help, and ended up in the clutches of the very person who had ordered Mehmed’s death?

No, they needed somewhere secure. Somewhere secret. Somewhere no one else here could go, but that they could get to quickly. Because they could not simply run. Mehmed was the sultan, and if they ran now, he would lose everything.

Where could a sultan go to hide?

Radu snapped his fingers. “The harem!”

Lada’s look of horror intensified.

Mehmed frowned. “But they might look there, too.”

“Your mother is there, yes?”

Mehmed nodded. “We do not speak much, though.”

Harem politics were as complicated as court politics, if not more so. Though the harem was a community unto itself, the women could exert incredible influence on the most powerful man in the empire, making them a political force to be reckoned with. The most powerful woman in the harem—and, therefore, in the empire—was the mother of the sultan. Radu had never met her, but the chief eunuch had remarked on her intelligence.

“Your mother stands to lose the most if you are killed, so she will protect you,” Radu said. “And the guards there are eunuchs, not Janissaries. We will be safe, and you can begin investigating.”

Mehmed clasped his shoulder. “Yes! Yes. Thank you, Radu.”

“No!” Lada shook her head, eyes still wild. “I cannot go in there! If a woman enters the harem complex, she belongs to the sultan!”

Mehmed peered out the window they had climbed through, to make sure their path was clear. “I would not hold you to that, Lada, and—”

“It would not matter! Everyone would know, I would be labeled your concubine, and—”

Radu took her hand, which still hung in the air pointing accusingly at Mehmed, and squeezed it in his own. “And you would be unmarriageable? What a tragedy. I know how dearly you treasured the hope of marrying some minor Ottoman noble, dear sister.”

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