It rained during the funeral. Black carriages rattled through Summerholt under a sky the colour of iron. Crowds threw leaves and flowers under the wheels and braved spatters of mud.
Anjen watched from the crowd, jostled by elbows, the rain wet on her cheeks. The dead man’s kin rode up front in the place of honour. She ought to be up there; she was his true family, his right hand, the only one who would never have betrayed him. But she had to trudge through the mud and the rain to get even a glimpse of the man she’d loved.
It took her a glare and some sharp elbow work to squeeze into the back of the cathedral. There wasn’t room to breathe; she forced down the memory of fingers digging into her throat. She could barely hear the church father above the crowd. He spoke at length about the evil Kingkiller and her crimes, assured everyone that the Summer King had died a hero, and wrapped up by painting a picture of the dead man Anjen couldn’t recognise. The real picture was beyond a crowd of mourners to appreciate. They hadn’t fought with him. They couldn’t know him.
Afterward Anjen queued for hours to see the grave. It was nothing, just a patch of freshly-turned earth, guarded by grim-faced Summerholt troops. She could have told them not to bother. If even a spark of him had survived he would never have lain so still; he would have clawed his way out fighting before now.
The white rose in her hands seemed such a small thing. She’d given him a kingdom; she would have given him the world. She crushed the stupid rose in a sudden savage gesture and flung the petals away. They scattered across the bare earth like snow.
A hundred times she’d killed for him. What she’d failed to do was die for him. Once again, the only thing she could do for him was butcher people.
She was going to have to kill the Winter Queen. Again. And then destroy the body so that nobody else could ever resurrect her again.
A better person wouldn’t have a clue how to do that. But she was the master of doing horrifying things nobody else would even consider, and she had a plan.
The last white petals fell through her fingers and tumbled to the earth.