Now I Rise Page 10

The window in front of her was not sealed shut. One corner was lifted enough to slide a knife in. Lada worked it open, each tiny creak or protest of the wood making her certain she would be discovered. When it was wide enough, she pushed herself in feetfirst.

A girl sat in bed, staring directly at Lada. She could not be older than ten, her hair pinned beneath a cap, her nightshirt white.

“If you scream,” Lada said, “I will murder your whole family in their sleep.”

The girl was solemn—and silent—in her terror.

“Show me how to get into the attic.”

The girl climbed out of bed, shivering, her small feet soundless on the wood floor. She eased open the bedroom door, looking both ways before gesturing for Lada to follow. At the end of the hallway was another door. Lada braced herself to face a foe, but the room was empty save for a jumble of old furniture and a ladder.

The girl pointed up.

Lada put one hand on the ladder, then paused. She turned back to the girl, who watched her in the same wide-eyed silence she had maintained since Lada first entered her bedroom.

Lada reached into her boot and pulled the small knife free. She turned it hilt out and bent down. “Next time someone comes into your room in the middle of the night, you should be prepared. Here.”

The girl took the knife, staring at it like it was a puzzle. Then she gripped the hilt and nodded.

“Good. I am leaving now. Go back to sleep.” Lada climbed up the ladder and eased open the trapdoor to the attic. The attic window, though, would not open. Cursing her luck, Lada grabbed a chair with a broken leg and smashed the window. She hoped Matei’s work had begun in earnest, distracting anyone who might raise an alarm.

After pushing the jagged remnants of glass free, Lada climbed out and crouched on the sill. Beneath her the night waited, dizzying and dark. She jumped.

The roof slammed up to meet her faster than she had anticipated, and she nearly rolled off before she caught herself. Then she ran. Up and over the peak, gaining momentum before launching herself across the void yearning to claim her. Another roof. This one was angled the opposite way, and the roof after that was several feet higher. Lada ran along the peak, put on a burst of speed, and jumped.

Her hands found the edge of the next roof. Her legs dangled, her weight threatening to drag her down. Swinging from side to side, she hooked a knee onto the roof and pulled herself up.

One more.

This time she crept carefully across the tiles. Though the air was icy, her body itched with sweat. The governor’s roof was higher than the one she was on, but it was not her goal. She prowled along the edge between the houses until she found what she was looking for—a window with a small ledge beneath it. She had planned on breaking in, but luck was finally on her side.

The casement window was flung wide, and a balding head leaned out, looking down toward the city center and the shouts echoing from that direction. There was a faint glow, and the distant sound of shattering glass.

For the eternal space between one breath and the next, Lada paused. He looked old and soft and vulnerable in his baggy nightshirt. He was a husband. A father. Then he cleared his throat with that same phlegmy rattle he had made while promising to help her and already planning to betray her.

Lada jumped the distance, slamming into the governor. They rolled together into the room. Lada recovered immediately and knelt on his chest, her knife to his throat.

“Who wanted me dead?”

He trembled, eyes crossing when they tried to focus on the knife.

She pressed her knife, drawing blood. The governor whimpered the words to a prayer.

“God is not here tonight,” Lada said. “It is only you and me and my knife. Who wanted me dead?”

“The prince!” he said. “The prince of Wallachia.”

“Why?”

“Because you are a threat.”

Lada smiled. She knew that should not please her, but it did. The prince thought her a big enough threat to warrant an assassin. She still had a chance. Where there was fear, there was power.

She withdrew the knife and placed it next to the governor’s head. He did not move. “A gift for the prince. Tell him I send my regards, and I will see him soon. And tell your god to make less flammable churches.”

Lada slipped out the window, followed by the relieved sobs of the governor. She carried them with her like a gift as she ran across the rooftops, away from the center of Brasov and toward her men.

 

5

February

URBANA WAS A decidedly odd houseguest. In the week she had been living with Nazira and Fatima in Kumal’s city house, she had not stopped talking.

“If she is a spy,” Nazira said, sitting with an exhausted sigh next to Radu in the garden, “she is the worst spy that ever lived. How can she gain any information if she never lets anyone else talk?”

“What does she talk about?” Radu had made himself scarce at the house, wary of drawing too much attention before he was certain the risk was worthwhile.

“Her horrible cannons. Nothing else. She pulls sticks from the stove to draw diagrams—on the walls, Radu, the lovely white walls. And then she expects Fatima to wash them, because we have to pretend that Fatima is nothing but a servant.”

“I am sorry.” Radu knew it was asking much of the two women to let someone else into their private life.

Nazira waved a hand. “I do most of the cleaning after Urbana retires for the night. Fatima understands.”

“So what do you think?”

“I think Urbana is insane, but she may also be a genius. I know nothing of cannons, but no one could fake what she is doing. And she is not lying when she says she will build them for anyone willing to fund her. She has been pursuing this her whole life, and rejected at every turn. Her only loyalty is to creating the most stunningly large and effective means of killing people the world has ever seen.”

Radu tried to temper his excitement. “So you think I should move forward?”

“She is an incredible find. She may even prove invaluable.”

Radu could not help his delighted smile. If Radu brought Mehmed something—someone—invaluable that he had found on his own? If Radu was the reason that Mehmed finally realized his dream of Constantinople?

Nazira put a hand on Radu’s cheek. “Where are you right now?”

Radu shook his head. “Sorry.”

Prev Next