Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orïsha #2)

“You trying to send a message?”

A sly smile rises to my lips. “I think it suits you. I like it.”

He runs his thumb along my jaw, igniting a surge almost as powerful as my magic. I hold my breath as he lifts my face to his. But before our lips can meet, the ship groans into a sharp turn, jostling us apart.

“What in the skies?” I scramble to my feet, pressing my face against the smudged porthole glass. For the past three weeks, all it revealed were gray seas. Now vibrant coral reefs shine through turquoise waters.

Zaria’s coastline fills the horizon as the warship navigates the ivy-covered cliffs jutting out of the ocean. A lump forms in my throat at the number of villagers gathered on the white sands. There are hundreds of people.

Maybe even thousands.

“You’re ready.” Tzain comes up behind me, sliding his arms around my waist.

“I don’t even know what to wear.”

“I can help you with that,” Tzain says.

“You’re going to help me pick out clothes?” I arch my brow and Tzain laughs.

“I’ve spent a lot of time looking at you, Amari. You’re beautiful in everything you wear.”

Heat rises to my cheeks as he looks at the pile of rejects on my bed. “But no tunics today. You’re about to be Or?sha’s queen.”

He turns me toward the suit of armor I wore to the ritual grounds when we brought magic back. It’s still covered with the blood of every opponent I cut down with my sword. Father’s blood stains the front, darkest along the royal seal.

“I can’t wear that,” I exclaim. “It’ll terrify people!”

“That’s the point. I used to see that seal and my chest would clench. But when you wear it…” Tzain pauses and a smile like sugar comes to his face. “With you behind the seal, I’m not afraid. I actually feel safe.”

He rests his chin on the top of my head, grabbing my hand again.

“You’re the queen, Amari. Give everyone a new face to picture behind that seal.”





CHAPTER FIVE


ZéLIE


WHEN THE WARSHIP’S RAMP plunks into the wet sand, the people of Zaria don’t cheer. They don’t move. They don’t blink.

The people only stare.

Nobles line the path to the rally site, black hair occasionally marked by the white streaks of t?táns. Magic-less kosidán gather behind them, soldiers and military officers milling through their masses. I find my people standing at the fringes, white hair barely hidden under large hoods.

The stillness of the crowd holds the weight of this moment, this chapter of history we create. I can’t believe that after all that’s passed, we’ve finally made it here. My gods, I think to myself.

We’re really doing it.

“I can’t feel my legs.” Amari comes to my side, imposing in her suit of armor. Bloodstains still coat the royal seal. A helmet covers her dark hair, perfectly placed to hide her white streak.

I don my own stolen breastplate, sliding my staff where the past owner’s sword would have gone. I feel like I’m about to vomit, but she doesn’t need to hear that.

“You’ve faced worse.” I pat her shoulder. “You can face this.”

Amari nods, but her hands still shake. I haven’t seen this terror in her since we were strangers in Lagos’s marketplace. Back then she was only a runaway princess. I was just a poor fisherman’s daughter. She crashed into my life and now the entire kingdom will never be the same.

“You can do this.” I ignore the pain it brings me to look into her eyes. But with her streak tucked away, it’s easier to see her face and not the one of the brother who broke my heart.

“Father and Inan prepared their whole lives for this role,” Amari says. “I’ve barely had a moon.”

“Yet you’ve already given more to this kingdom than any man or woman who’s come before you. I wouldn’t have been able to bring back magic if it wasn’t for you.” I grab her hands and lace her fingers through mine, giving her another squeeze. “The gods chose you. They’re choosing you the same way they chose you to steal that scroll.”

Though I smile, it hurts to speak the words. If the gods chose her, then they chose for me to suffer.

They chose for me to lose Baba.

“Do you really believe that?” Amari looks away. “Even though I’m a t?tán?”

Her question makes my lips tense, but it doesn’t matter how I feel about her kind. The cost of my scars, the price of Baba’s blood—once Amari’s queen, it’ll all mean something. When she’s queen, I won’t have to carry this weight. I’ll finally be free of all this pain.

“I know it.” I lean in. “This is destiny. The gods don’t make mistakes.”

Amari hugs me with such force, I stumble back. I laugh and wrap my arms around her waist. I forgot how nice it feels to hold her like this.

“Thank you,” she whispers into my braids, voice straining with the threat of tears.

“You’re ready,” I whisper back. “You’ll be the best queen Or?sha’s ever seen—”

“Don’t forget the most important part.” Ro?n interrupts our embrace, sauntering up with a cigarette tucked between his teeth. “Once you’re queen you’ll be in full command of your royal treasuries.”

“As if you’d ever let me forget.” Amari rolls her eyes. “Are your men in position?”

“We’ve cleared the path.” Ro?n gestures down the ramp before shooting me a wink. “Ready when you are, my queen.”

Amari exhales and shakes out her hands, muttering her speech under her breath. “My name is Amari Olúborí. My name is Amari Olúborí.”

As she paces, I put two fingers in my mouth and whistle. In seconds, the sound of claws scratching against the ship’s metal floors surges toward us. Nailah gallops from my quarters, skidding to a stop before me.

“What’re you doing?” Amari’s brows lift as I unlatch the belt keeping Nailah’s saddle and reins in place.

“Giving you an entrance fit for a queen.” I cup my hands to help her up. “You’re the Lionaire. The least you can do is ride one.”



* * *



A COLLECTIVE GASP spreads through the crowd as Amari descends the iron ramp on Nailah’s back. Even I marvel at the sight. Behind me, Tzain blinks away the tear that wells in his eye.

Shining rays bounce off Amari’s suit of armor, glimmering every time Nailah moves. With her hands wrapped around my lionaire’s horns, she looks like more than a queen.

She looks magical.

“Stay sharp,” Ro?n whispers in my ear. “This isn’t a coronation.”

I follow his gaze to a thin soldier in the crowd, his hand wrapped tight around the hilt of his sword. He pushes through the nobles and kosidán along Amari’s path, sunlight bouncing off his breastplate’s royal seal. With a nod from Ro?n, Harun intercepts the guard, dragging him away before he can close in.

“I don’t understand,” I say. “I thought we only had to worry about the Iyika?”

“Not everyone was happy to find out their queen still lives,” Ro?n explains. “The military knows she’s a maji sympathizer. Most liked her better when she was dead.”

My body tenses and I glance up, hoping Amari didn’t see. Though the other soldiers don’t grab their swords, they don’t exactly bow before their new queen. Pairs patrol the crowd on both sides of the white sand path, nodding to each noble t?tán they encounter. But they watch the maji with beady eyes, hands hovering above the majacite blades in their swords.

The military’s hunting maji like dogs. The new admiral’s all but declared war.

Ro?n’s words return as I look back to my people at the edge of the crowd, too afraid to get close. Though the hot sun beats down from above, most hide beneath patterned cloaks. Our gifts have returned, yet my people still cower.

“Almost there.” Ro?n nods to a large sand dome a few dozen meters down the coast. The structure sits along the flowing tides. Waves foam white as they crash against the rectangular pattern carved into its sides. The towering dome is so large, it almost blocks out the sun.

“It’s perfect,” Amari whispers from above. A flash of joy lights her from within, but it flickers out when we near the smudged streaks of red along the dome’s side, the smeared paint still showing the shadow of an I.

Amari catches my eye and I give her ankle a supportive squeeze. “Don’t worry. No members of the Iyika are getting past me.”

“Jagunjagun!”

I glance down to find a young maji with large ears and a mole on his chin. Unlike the others, he stands at the front of the crowd, hood obscuring his small white coils. Though he whispers the Yoruba for “soldier,” he doesn’t seem to refer to the royal seal on my breastplate. I smile at him, and his eyes become so wide I worry they’ll fall from his sockets.

Baba wanted this for him, the realization sets in as we pass. Him and everyone like him. No more hiding after today. It’s time for my people to stand in the sun.

Amari stops Nailah at the cracked archway of the dome’s entrance and slips into the sand. She takes a deep breath before stepping forward.

I guard her close as we enter the rally.





CHAPTER SIX


AMARI


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