Flax 53rd, 1358
"Azure," she says. Her voice is calm.
I look down at my hands and try to shake off my surprise. The memory of what happened on the Snaztru fork rises in my mind.
I hadn't thought much of it at the time, but Mable had been dragged out of Railiss's carriage by Railiss's guard. Meaning she had been Railiss's captive.
This is what the guard had meant earlier. Queen offered to have you dressed up for the ball. Had to have someone else do the work. He was talking about Mable.
Mable clears her throat and I look up.
"You're a disaster, Azure," she says, eyes full of pity. "This'll take more work than I thought. I drew you a bath. You need to get cleaned up."
Her gaze drops down to my tattered clothes. I follow her eyes down to my dress and heat fills my cheeks once more.
I look back up. She gestures to the open door behind her and then turns away.
My reluctance lasts for a few more moments. But eventually, the thought of how much I probably stink propels me onward. I follow Mable.
She takes me down a short hallway which opens onto a bathroom. The stained glass windows on the ceiling cast multicolored light across the walls.
The room is surprisingly spare. A chamber pot sits in one corner. The other side of the room houses a tub brimming with water. Next to that is a flowery divider and a washstand with a bar of soap on it.
Mable turns and heads back to the open doorway. "Call for me when you're done," she says. "I'll find you a dress for the ball."
She closes the door behind her.
I head straight for the tub. In a matter of moments, I'm sinking beneath the bubbles.
I scrub at the dried blood, and it comes off in flakes. I scrub away the dirt. I wash the grease out of my hair and run my hands through it over and over again, tearing at the tangles. I scrub until my skin is flushed.
When I'm done, the water is nearly brown. I clamber out of the tub and cast around for the towel. There is one — sitting on top of the floral screen.
I seize it and run it over my dripping brown hair. The towel is surprisingly soft. After I wrap it around myself, I step out from behind the screen and toward the door.
But I can't make myself knock.
I take a breath. My hair drips a cold trail of water down my back.
For the first time since I got here, I'm not covered in grime. All I want is to stay in here and not come out.
None of it feels real. The torture, the Aestus, the threats. The kiss with Rolind.
My conversation with Kathhren. Her life, sentenced to end.
And I probably won't be far behind.
All of it is a world away. Like if I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I'll wake up and be back in my room in Dessely. No Tirak. No Zosto. Kathhren, safe. Peter, right next door.
I close my eyes and lean my forehead on the door.
My cheeks are wet. From tears or from my recent bath, I can't tell.
I'll never see Dessely again. I'll die here.
Of course, if Peter obeys Tirak's demands, I might be kept alive. But there's no way the King is letting us go.
The magic that you harbor is not a normal sort of magic. Words Tirak had said to Peter the day we arrived. And if they're true, the King won't free us after Peter is done in the Ocean of Time. He wouldn't let go of someone so powerful. He'll use Peter's power until his body gives out. We'll be slaves to his will.
I'll spend the rest of my life locked in a dungeon. Except for when Tirak feels like taking me out and poking at me so Peter will do his bidding.
I take a shaky breath and try to pull myself together.
For now, I'm going to a ball. And at the very least, I'll be able to see Peter again.
I hold tightly to that thought. I will get to see him again.
I wring out my hair one more time and make sure the towel is wrapped tightly around me before I knock on the door.
It flies open before I've even touched it — as if Mable had been waiting right behind it. From her expression, that's exactly what she had been doing. Her ears are practically fuming as she shoves a mound of lace and bright yellow fabric into my arms.
"Put that on," she instructs as she pushes me behind the floral screen. Then she takes up a spot on the other side and stands with the posture of a guard. "You're the slowest person I have ever met. You have a ball to attend, remember?"
"No," I say, lacing my voice with as much sarcasm as I can muster. "Actually, I'd forgotten."
I fumble with the heap of gold fabric until I've divided the lace-covered gold gown from the thin dress that goes underneath. I shed the towel and tug the dress over my head. Then I pull the gown on over it.
I lace up the back myself. When I'm done, I look down at myself. Surprise washes over me.
When had I... become so slight? My lips tug into a frown.
I had never been the thin girl. Living in Dessely meant there were always sweet shops within walking distance. When there was enough coin, Peter and I — or, later, Dominique and I — would buy cakes or sweets whenever we could and eat them. But I was the one with the sweet tooth.
I search my memory of the past few weeks. How much had I eaten lately? Rolind brought me food every day. Some days I had eaten all of it, but all of it wasn't much.
And after what happened with Zosto...
I couldn't stomach anything but water.
"Are you done yet?"
I look up. Mable has stepped around the screen and is scrutinizing me. Something passes through her eyes.
"Have they been starving you or something?" she asks finally.
"No." Not technically. "But being tortured didn't help."