Being in Envado when those I care for the most are stuck in Chardonia makes me want to spit. What terrors are befalling them while Iâ€™m here, unable do anything to help? Cynthia is being hidden by our rebel group. Serena is living alone, away from her sisters and mother who are once again owned by her father.
|Mine to Fear (Mine #3) Series: Mine By Janeal Falor|
Iâ€™d like to think at least my brother Zade and Serena are happy now that theyâ€™re engaged, but knowing they could have gotten engaged just a little sooner while I was there to witness it? It makes me want to spit again. And to make things even worse, Zadeâ€™s previous fiancÃ©e arrived here for a visit this morning. Unfortunately, I did witness her engagement, which makes it all the more awkward.
Whatâ€™s worse is that Zadeâ€™s previous fiancÃ©e doesnâ€™t know about Serena and Zade. I need to tell her that he chose a girl Zade formally owned over her. He didnâ€™t just give Serena her freedom, but he gave her his heart. While the two fell in love, Cynthia proved to everyone at the tournament she can do magic, and do it well. Maybe itâ€™d be easier if I wasnâ€™t such close friends with both Serena and Zadeâ€™s previous fiance. Itâ€™s dreadful this is much too formal of a setting as my motherâ€™s entertaining room to spit. Plus, my mother is here, and she wouldnâ€™t put up with it.
â€œIâ€™m so glad you came to visit.â€ The words are true enough, though they would be even more heartfelt if she already knew about the engagement.
â€œI should have come sooner,â€ Tawny says. â€œIâ€™d like to use my duties as an excuse for not coming, but really, I just didnâ€™t know how long it would take you to adjust to returning home. With the things they say about Chardonia it must be a challenge.â€
Iâ€™ll never adjust. This no longer feels like home, even though itâ€™s safer.
â€œIt was very thoughtful of you to take time away, Tawny.â€ Mom fills my silence, pouring sincerity into her words. Since my return from Chardonia last week, she knows what a pest I have been.
â€œHow was Chardonia?â€ Tawnyâ€™s question is sure to make Mother cringe inside, even if she doesnâ€™t show it. â€œWere the men as bad as everyone says?â€
â€œNo. They were worse.â€ Which is why I should be there, helping, instead of here having tea and biscuits in a room with pictures spelled with sparkles and a floor spelled to stay cushioned and warm.
â€œWill you tell me about it?â€ Tawny presses.
Sheâ€™s just like everyone else whoâ€™s paraded through our entertaining room since my return, all wanting to know the gossip from Chardonia. Politicians wanting to know the state of the government, women wanting to know how much better off we are, men wanting to know how other men really behave, shop owners trying to see if thereâ€™s any news on trade. All wanting something for themselves.
Except Tawny. She seems different, even if her question is the same. Thereâ€™s a glint in her eyes as she holds herself as if ready to jump up for a fight instead of leaning in to pick up every word to pass onto others. It would be like her. She always was ready to take action when others just wanted to talk. Perhaps itâ€™s time to really tell someone about what things are like. Lands know Iâ€™m well past wanting to.
â€œMom, would you mind asking Cook to make those new treats sheâ€™s learned? Iâ€™m sure Tawny would love to try them.â€
â€œWonderful idea, dear. I need to check on your father anyway.â€ She brushes a kiss to my forehead, something sheâ€™s done much more often since my return. â€œIâ€™ll see you again soon, Tawny. Send your mother my regards.â€
Once the door closes behind my mom, I grin at Tawny. â€œMom always did like you.â€
â€œI think sheâ€™s still hoping Zade will come back for me.â€
Discussing the state of Chardonia is much more preferable to this. â€œAnd is that what you want?â€
She looks at her hands. â€œI donâ€™t know. We grew up together. We always thought we were destined to be married. Itâ€™s almost expected. But since he wrote to break off the engagementâ€¦ Mom isnâ€™t taking it well. Dad seems to have expected it, though.â€
That doesnâ€™t answer my question about her, though. Itâ€™s the perfect time to tell her about Zadeâ€™s engagement. â€œChardonians are horrid,â€ tumbles out instead.
â€œThe warlocks treat the women worse than animals and those who have been tarnished, people who are spelled to be bald, inked, and barren. Then the women who they want to discard or men that have little to no magic, are taught to believe they arenâ€™t even people. Theyâ€™re just tools with brains.â€
â€œCould you do anything to help?â€ Her eyes grow bright with interest.
â€œNot nearly enough.â€ The words feel so good to get out. â€œJust trying to get the women to understand their worth was a chore. I wish I was still there helping them figure it out.â€
â€œIt does sound like something worth doing.â€ She glances up shyly and in a whisper says, â€œSomething Iâ€™d like to help with. Not just here yammering about things, but over there making a difference.â€
Shock courses through me. I would have never guessed she would have an interest in such things. â€œWould you truly?â€
The room is silent as I think about that. What would Tawnyâ€™s parents say? Her mother, the Queen, would likely not want her daughter, the third in line for the throne, in harmâ€™s way. It would probably be my head on the chopping block since I brought the idea back with me from Chardonia.
Tawny breaks the silence. â€œMother wanted to make certain your family got the invite to the ball this evening.â€
Iâ€™m still lost on the idea of her wanting to help in Chardonia. Mother would want me to accept the invitation even though Iâ€™d rather stay home and father is still too weak to leave. â€œThank you. We did and would be delighted to attend.â€
After Tawny leaves, I remain in the sitting room staring at nothing, wondering what to do, if anything, about Tawnyâ€™s declaration. Not that I can even be in Chardonia like I want to, though, so I donâ€™t know why Iâ€™m contemplating anything to do with her declaration. Thereâ€™s no way she could go. Besides, Zade would have my head.
â€œAre you pining for Chardonia or for Chadwick?â€ Momâ€™s question startles me from the thought.
â€œThatâ€™s not even a question.â€
I donâ€™t have the heart to tell her itâ€™s definitely only one. Though I do miss Chadwick, itâ€™s not the way she means. At least I donâ€™t think it is...
â€œI accepted the invitation to the Queenâ€™s ball this evening,â€ I say.
â€œOh good. Itâ€™s been too long since Queen Brundy and I chatted. When I saw Tawny, I was hoping her mother had joined her. I suppose sheâ€™s busy with government, especially with all the growing political problems with Chardonia.â€
â€œIâ€™m certain she is.â€ New rumors spread everyday, and it quickly feels like Iâ€™ve lost touch with those I care about. The border closures are getting tighter. The watching, even the lower class, is stricter. The hunt for the rebels is vigorous. There hasnâ€™t even been word from Cynthia. Why hasnâ€™t she spelled me a message to let me know if sheâ€™s safe? Have they caught her and Lukas?
As I enter my room, it just makes me long for a room back in Chardonia, whether one of the cramped ones or big, it wouldnâ€™t matter. At least in Chardonia I was not only helping but I gained freedom from the expectations set on me here in Envado. Of marrying and becoming a woman of taste and elegance. Of course, those expectations are nothing compared to what the women in Chardonia face, and they still donâ€™t even realize how bad it is. The horrors of being beaten and hexed by men who owned them. If I could bring them all here for a month, maybe then theyâ€™d begin to understand.
Going there was the best choice I ever made. After Zade freed Serena and Cynthia showed everyone that women could not only do magic but win the entire tournament with itâ€”me doing a few magic spells when no one was looking and helping with simple chores there doesnâ€™t seem like enough. I want to be more. I want to do more. I want to make a difference.
Instead, Iâ€™m going to a ball.
Gee, what good am I doing? If only Sanos, the rebel group secretly aiding Chardonia, would have let me help. They should have at least sought my opinions instead of just rumor digging like everyone else. If only they didnâ€™t see me as a liability because I wasnâ€™t as trained as they were, thanks to Zade and Chadwick trying to protect me. I shouldnâ€™t be home while theyâ€™re in Chardonia helping. Just thinking of it makes me wish Zade was around to argue with.
I still canâ€™t believe they sent me home.
The ball is more lavish than others I remember attending. Spells are everywhere, sparkling, dancing, swishing across the room in the form of birds and butterflies. Drinks are flaring up like fireworks. Dresses are changing colors and styles. Menâ€™s suits are too. It used to impress me, but now itâ€™s a waste. Donâ€™t these people realize whatâ€™s going on just across the border?
A woman approaches mother and me, hair spelled bright fuchsia, twisted up too high atop her head with pink and purple spelled butterflies flitting around it. Her dress is spelled to sparkle in time with the music, and her make-up changes every few seconds, each time to something more gaudy than the last. â€œWaverly, youâ€™re back! Are you going to hold a party soon? No one throws parties as grand as yours.â€
I make some excuse, but my thoughts are on the parties I held. Is she right? Were they really more garish than this? What type of example did I set? The thought sends my stomach churning as I disengage from the woman. Who did I used to be? When did I change?
I want to be back at home, and my mom knows it.
Mom pulls me forward. â€œWe have to greet the Queen at the very least. It would be rude to leave before then.â€
Itâ€™s true, but being here has only made me more frustrated with the frivolous behaviors of my fellow countrymen when there are women who canâ€™t breathe without their husbandsâ€™ permission back in Chardonia. The way everyone here flitters about without a care, or at least cares that arenâ€™t life-threatening, drinking and talking and casually casting their spells, makes me long for a place that actually needs my help. Or someone to punch.
When I donâ€™t respond to motherâ€™s statement, she says, â€œIâ€™m worried about you. Nothing has been the same since you came home.â€
Nothing seems the same as it did before.
â€œI thought this ball might cheer you up. You always loved them before,â€ she says. â€œWhen you told me you accepted the invitation, I thought it might be the opportunity you needed to return to your old self. I think I was wrong, though. Not just about the ball but about more. This feeling, and the way youâ€™ve been since coming home, it goes deeper than socializing, doesnâ€™t it?â€
I wave randomly around the room. â€œAll this, everyone here, all the spells and extravagant things? It seems wasteful after living with women who canâ€™t even go out in public without a male chaperone. Who canâ€™t even make their own choices without being punished because of them.â€ And I need to get back to where I can do some good. How do I convince my parents of that?
â€œI suppose living in Chardonia would change how you see things.â€ Her shoulders slouch like the weight on them is growing too heavy. She has enough to worry about with Dad and Zade. I shouldnâ€™t add to it. Iâ€™m just so restless, and the words keep popping out.
â€œIt has changed everything,â€ I say.
She dabs her eyes with her kerchief even though thereâ€™s no sign of tears. â€œHonestly, with your dad feeling so sick when we left, Iâ€™m not of the mind for this type of thing anyway. Letâ€™s pay our respects to the Queen and King and return home.â€
As we make our way toward the thrones, another woman stops me. â€œYouâ€™re Waverly, yes?â€
â€œItâ€™s such an honor to meet you. Iâ€™ve heard all about everything youâ€™ve done for Chardonian women.â€
Oh, she has, has she? Itâ€™s funny that she knows more than Iâ€™ve told anyone. Someone in Sanos, the rebel group, must have been talking, but even they donâ€™t know everything.
â€œYouâ€™re held in such high esteem,â€ the woman continues. â€œWhat, with helping the first woman to duel in the Chardonian tournament.â€
This is ridiculous. I did so little, and everything they think they know about what I did is just a rumor. They have no idea what itâ€™s really like. Iâ€™ve heard more than enough. â€œI did nothing but teach her to make bubbles and color nails.â€
I storm away from the woman, fuming as I head toward the Queen. What an inane country I belong to. They claim to want to help the Chardonian women, yet all they do is parade around in the spelled finery. No, I want out. Iâ€™m needed out there.
Mom parks the motor car.
â€œThis is one thing I did miss,â€ I say. â€œItâ€™s such a refreshing change to be able to get places faster. They donâ€™t even have windows in their carriages, Mom. And they wouldnâ€™t let me ride a horse unless we were hidden from prying eyes.â€
Mom blanches. â€œThey grow more barbarous every time you say something about them.â€
She would never survive without her daily horse ride.
â€œThe girls were wonderful, though,â€ I say, trying to point out at least something good since I did nothing but complain about Chardonia on the way home. Sheâ€™s probably sorry Zade didnâ€™t send me home sooner, so Iâ€™d have less to complain about.
We wander into the house together and head toward the study. â€œThey sound wonderful the way youâ€™ve described them. Itâ€™s amazing how they could turn out so good with such terrible surroundings.â€
I suppose I may have over-talked the girls. Even if Iâ€™ve been hesitant to speak about anything else but Chardonia up until this point, I havenâ€™t refrained from telling her all about the girls I now consider my sisters. My heart aches from missing them so much, each and every one of them.
Itâ€™s too quiet here without the little ones and lonely without the others.
The study is quiet as we enter. Dad is pale and much too thin where he sits near the fire reading. Zadeâ€™s so much like him, but the resemblance has been worn by sickness. It makes me ache for them both.
â€œHow are you feeling tonight, Daddy?â€ I place a kiss on his forehead and curl up by his feet.
â€œDandy.â€ He does sound better than when I first left for Chardonia. â€œHow is the Queen?â€
â€œAs graceful as ever.â€
Mom sits on the arm of the chair and wraps her arm around Dadâ€™s shoulders. Something about the movement reminds me of Zade and Serena, and Lukas and Cynthia. It pierces my heart with longing.
I stand, even though I just got settled. â€œI think Iâ€™ll do some reading.â€
I take a step, but Dad stops me. â€œWait a moment, dear. Your mother and I have been talking.â€
Perfect. The last time they said theyâ€™d been talking like this, I ended up cleaning out the horsesâ€™ stalls for a month. Best nip that. â€œYouâ€™ve decided to buy me my own motorcar?â€
â€œThat may actually be preferable to what weâ€™ve decided.â€
Mom shifts uncomfortably. It must be worse than I think. I plop down on a nearby chair. â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œWeâ€™re so glad to have you home,â€ she says. â€œWe missed you so very much.â€
And thatâ€™s one of the reasons I havenâ€™t snuck back to my almost-sisterâ€™s yet despite the overwhelming desire to run off. â€œI know.â€
â€œBut youâ€™re not happy,â€ Daddy says.
I force a smile. â€œI am happy. I missed you both so much.â€
â€œBut weâ€™re not enough. You miss your brother and new friends.â€
Sigh. â€œItâ€™s not that you two arenâ€™t enough. Itâ€™s only that they need me more.â€
â€œWe know, and we love you so much. Love having you home, love spending time with you, love only having to worry about the life of one of our children. Itâ€™s been a good week. But we know thereâ€™s greater things out there for you.â€ My heart pounds. â€œThis isnâ€™t where you want to be, or where you need to be. Zade and Chadwick had good intentions, but they were wrong to send you home.â€
Are they really saying this? Is this really leading to what I think it is?
â€œYour notes sounded like things were hard, but you knew how to handle them. How to help your friends and the other Chardonians. To make things better. Without that, well, sweetie, you now seem to be floundering.â€
â€œJust look at you,â€ Mom says. â€œYouâ€™re already perking up just at the mention of it.â€
Guilt pricks me at the fact, that this is what makes me happy and not my parents. Despite that, the drive to help is too strong to pretend otherwise. â€œWhat are you both saying?â€
â€œWeâ€™ll miss you dearly, but if you wish to return, you have our blessing.â€
I bounce from my seat and wrap them both in a hug, unable to contain my excitement. â€œThank you! Oh, thank you so much. I will do my best to stay as safe as possible. I promise!â€
Plans are already forming in my head regarding what I need to pack and do before leaving. I never thought Iâ€™d be so happy to return to such a vile place.
â€œThereâ€™s just one thing,â€ Dad says. â€œWe need you to deliver a message to Chadwick.â€
â€œWhy Chadwick? Canâ€™t I give it to Zade?â€
â€œI thought youâ€™d be happy to have a reason to talk to him.â€
I shrug. Interactions with Chadwick are hard enough as it is. Whatâ€™s more, I plain just donâ€™t want to interact with him if I donâ€™t have to.
â€œThe fact is, Zade is already overworked.â€ Stress lines Dadâ€™s face. How hard is this on him, having Zade, and soon me again, in Chardonia? â€œChadwick can do as much, or even more than Zade in some cases, since heâ€™s not in the spotlight.â€
A message to Chadwick it is. I just donâ€™t know how I feel about it.
As Iâ€™m frantically throwing things into my pack, Iâ€™m making a mental note of what Iâ€™ll need. I canâ€™t take much since I have to carry it all, but I should be able to pack the basics. If only the Grand Chancellor hadnâ€™t closed the borders, this would be so much easier.
I whirl around to see Tawny standing in my doorway, hands behind her back.
â€œAs a matter of fact, I am. Iâ€™m going back to Chardonia.â€ I grab an extra pair of shoes and throw them in my pack. â€œAnd donâ€™t try to talk me out of it like everyone else has done. Zadeâ€™s already sent three notes telling me not to go, even though he knows better than anyone how desperately Iâ€™m needed.â€ No word from Chadwick, though. Iâ€™ll have to talk to him at some point.
â€œIâ€™m not going to talk you out of it.â€
â€œIâ€™m going to try and talk you into taking me with you.â€ She pulls a pack out from behind her back.
My frantic movements come to a screeching halt.
â€œYou can stop looking like Iâ€™ve grown an extra head,â€ she says.
That knocks me back into reality. â€œI donâ€™t know. It sort of feels like you have.â€
She snorts. â€œMom and Dad thought so too.â€
â€œThey know and are fine with you coming?â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t say fine.â€
I snap my fingers. â€œUnder no circumstances will you be coming with me without their permission. Even with their permission, I canâ€™t imagine having to take care of you. Youâ€™re one of the heirs to the throne.â€
â€œOh, I have their permission. They just arenâ€™t fine with it.â€
â€œWell, that makes me feel better.â€ Not.
â€œPlease let me do this, Waverly. I need to do more than just sitting through yet another useless meeting. I need to make a difference, too.â€
I should probably try harder to dissuade her. Chardonia isnâ€™t a place to go on tour, especially not for an heir to the throne. But thereâ€™s a glint of determination in her eyes. I doubt I could stop her even if I tried. Sheâ€™d find another way to go, and it wouldnâ€™t be with someone who knows what itâ€™s like. Besides, if the Queen has given her permission, who am I to argue?
â€œA two-headed person may be just what I need for this trip,â€ I say, happy to have a friend along.
â€œDoes that mean I can join you?â€
Zade is going to kill me. Serena just might do the same.
â€œI understand now why we couldnâ€™t bring our trunks.â€ Tawny is almost out of breath from our journey up the mountainside. Though in all fairness, sheâ€™s done a fantastic job so far. How does a princess stay in such good shape? From exercising more than I, a non-princess.
â€œHard to decide what to bring when you have limited space, though.â€ I scan the area until I see the rock with an â€˜Sâ€™ etched into it. â€œItâ€™s just over here.â€
â€œThank the Queen.â€
â€œYou thank your own mother?â€
She shrugs. â€œPeopleâ€™s words rub off on me.â€
I stop near the entrance. â€œYou have to promise never to reveal the location of the secret entrance into Chardonia.â€
â€œOf course not. Iâ€™m very good at keeping secrets.â€ I suppose an heir to a country would have to be. â€œIâ€™ll even do the promise spell.â€
Itâ€™s not really necessary. I do trust her, but if sheâ€™s offering, Iâ€™m taking.
â€œAll right then,â€ I say. I think of a tie, binding us together in this secret, both a physical tie and a mental one. A bond that will keep the secret safe between the two of us. I let the spell out in a soft pink. She reaches out, and we shake hands, the pink spell encompassing our touch. Once complete, I pull my magic back in.
â€œThank you. Itâ€™s just that we canâ€™t be too cautious. Thereâ€™s only a few ways to get in Chardonia now, especially since weâ€™re not technically allowed in. We have to keep them well guarded.â€
â€œThatâ€™s as it should be.â€
I move back around the tree and into the cave. Itâ€™s dark and narrow, looking as if it ends before it even begins, but I press on, slipping through a crack in the back just wide enough for a person. Itâ€™s even darker back here. I pull my energy to my core and release it in the form of pure light. Only itâ€™s not very pure. My nerves have brushed hints of green into it.
Tawny casts her own spell, white and pure with the tiniest touch of purple. I have no clue what purple means to her. Even after knowing each other our entire lives, I have a hard time reading her emotions.
As we walk through the rocky tunnel, we chat, our voices echoing through the chambers. The chamber is damp and smells of earth.
â€œWill they be suspicious of us being in Chardonia?â€
â€œThey are suspicious no matter if we try to enter legally or not,â€ I reply. â€œIf that bothers you, itâ€™d probably be best to turn around and go home.â€
â€œIâ€™m used to suspicion. After all, I have lived at court all my life.â€
â€œAt least youâ€™ve had practice. Though thatâ€™s going to be one of the smaller problems.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s the biggest?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know which threat is bigger yet. The council or Zade.â€
â€œZadeâ€™s temper is something fierce,â€ Tawny replies.
â€œItâ€™s only gotten worse.â€ The tunnel grows steeper, making my legs ache with exertion.
â€œWorse? Howâ€™s that even possible?â€
Itâ€™s then I realize how bad it is that I havenâ€™t told her yet. The ground levels out, and we come to a cavern the size of a small room. I motion to the cave floor. â€œWe might as well rest here.â€
She doesnâ€™t hesitate to follow my direction, which bodes well for how seriously sheâ€™s taking this. Besides, we havenâ€™t eaten since we left and that was hours and hours ago. Iâ€™m starving, even if my nerves are trying to say otherwise.
Once weâ€™re sitting, I pull out hard tack, and we munch on it while I think on how to tell her that my brother was serious about not marrying a princess. About wanting instead another girl whoâ€™s sweet and kind. A girl who barely knows magic, though I know thatâ€™s not why they fell in love.
After weâ€™ve been eating a few minutes, she asks, â€œDo I get to know how Zadeâ€™s temper could have possibly gotten worse?â€
I set my food down, guilt making it too difficult to eat, even if Iâ€™ll need the strength later. â€œThe girl he owned, the one he set freeâ€¦â€
The fact she remembers Serenaâ€™s name is either really good or really bad. â€œUh, yes, her. She umâ€¦â€
â€œFound a way to make his temper worse?â€ Her expression is so neutral in the light of our wavering magic, I canâ€™t decide how sheâ€™s taking this all.
â€œTruly? How did she manage that?â€
I just have to spit the words out, no matter how much they stick to my throat. â€œShe captured his heart.â€
â€œOh.â€ The defeated word echoes through the cave.
Iâ€™m the inconsiderate person for not telling her sooner. My words grow quieter as I continue. â€œHe proposed, and she has accepted. They are engaged to be married.â€
Guilt presses in on me more than the walls of the cave. â€œIâ€™m sorry I didnâ€™t tell you sooner. I didnâ€™t know how.â€ Iâ€™m selfish like that. And still slightly upset that I wasnâ€™t there for the engagement. Or rather, majorly upset.
Her expression remains carefully guarded. Thereâ€™s no telling what sheâ€™s thinking. Being at court has probably given her ample opportunities to practice because sheâ€™s terribly good at it. Even her spelled light hanging just above her head and to the right doesnâ€™t change color to hint at what sheâ€™s feeling.
â€œTawny, are you all right? Do you want to return to Envado?â€
Finally, she squeezes her eyes shut as if in pain, but itâ€™s the only indication sheâ€™s feeling anything. One that passes all too quickly. â€œIâ€™m fine. Itâ€™s just unexpected is all. He made it clear that our relationship would be no more. I was fine with that. Our parents had more plans for us than I think we did. Theyâ€™re still disappointed he cut it off, though they understood why when they heard of his gaining ownership of a Chardonian woman. We heard of Zade breaking the first engagement with Serena, and we thought maybeâ€¦ But itâ€™s fine.â€
That may be what her words say, but her heart said differently when they were first engaged. â€œYou donâ€™t have to go through with this. I can make it on my own, and Envado still needs you.â€
â€œEnvado has what it needs.â€ The skin around her eyes tightens. â€œIâ€™m coming.â€
And so she is.
I should have told her sooner. The thought haunts me all through the tunnel, the cavern we stay the night in, and the tunnel out to Chardonian territory. I donâ€™t know if the guilt will ever leave or lessen. Sometimes I just make bad judgments. The thought still plagues me as we step into Chardonian sunlight.
The land is more beautiful than the evil hearts ruling the country. Hills covered with forest as far as the eye can see. Most women donâ€™t even know how pristine their country is because theyâ€™re too busy spending their lives locked up. If Tawny wasnâ€™t present, I think I might just curse.
â€œThis is Chardonia?â€ she asks, surprise tinting her words.
I glance over the forest. Rightness hums through me. This is where I belong. Where I need to be. â€œThis is Chardonia. A place of repressed dreams and trodden hopes. Dreams and hopes we will help set free.â€
â€œI like the sound of that.â€
I do too. Except the problem will take more than just saying a few words to be fixed. I donâ€™t even know where to begin with helping them put the idea forward except by continuing with what I was doing before. Helping Serena with whatever she needed while trying to place hints she was worth more than she thought. It wasnâ€™t enough, but at least it was something.
A few Chardonians may have come to accept some women have the same rights as a man does, like owning themselves and land, and that women can do magic, yet thereâ€™s a long, long way for them to go. The women need freedom from men. A say in things. A right to do what they want. And if most of those in power had it their way, the little progress weâ€™ve made would be stomped on. The Grand Chancellor will use any means necessary to do the stomping.
â€œWhatâ€™s this place?â€ Tawny asks.
â€œItâ€™s a house owned by a Chardonian who helps our cause. My friend is here also.â€
My skin tingles as I hurry toward the building. Suddenly, someone grips my arm and yanks me to the side. I whip my hand out, slamming it toward the side, just stopping myself from spelling Cynthia.
â€œYou scared me.â€ I embrace her tightly with a laugh. â€œItâ€™s been too long. How are you?â€
â€œShh.â€ She pulls me further into the trees, Tawny following. â€œThis house has been compromised.â€
â€œWhat?â€ I whisper, but roughly. â€œHow did this happen?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. We think thereâ€™s a mole.â€
A mole? My heart twists. Who would do this to us? Why would they do this? Everyone whoâ€™s helped us acted so genuine.
She flashes a message spell that darts away. â€œI tried to get word to you but didnâ€™t know where you were. Lukas will meet us somewhere safer.â€
Not safe, but safer. Too bad I have Envadi royalty with me. What was I thinking, letting her join me? We follow Cynthia through the trees until we reach a clearing that can be seen from the house. She stares at it, biting her lip.
I almost ask how bad it is but clamp my mouth shut. If she wanted to talk, she would have said something. Seemingly satisfied with whatever sheâ€™s staring at, she motions for us to run. We take off.
Once we get going, I see what is making her so stressed. Law officers. And theyâ€™re coming this way. I move faster, only in my haste, I run into a bush. Drat!
â€œThis way,â€ I hear one of the warlocks behind us call.
Land sakes! How are we going to ever get out of this? Weâ€™re going to end up captured. My chest burns with more than the need for air as we run.
I glance back. The warlocks are closer now. I duck my head, not that it helps hide my tall height, and place myself behind Tawny.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ she demands.
â€œKeeping you safe.â€ I throw a spell behind me, black and thick. A blinding spell. If they canâ€™t see us, they canâ€™t hit us.
My heart pounds as we make headway. When I peek back, one of the law officers is in sight, and another comes into view, the black spell hovering behind them like a fog. Theyâ€™re further away than they were but still not far enough.
A golden spell flies from the closest one, straight at me and Tawny. I jump on Tawnyâ€™s back, throwing us both to the ground. The spell soars over our heads, and crashes into a tree beyond us, making the inner layer visible. That could have been Tawny or me. I shiver.
But there isnâ€™t time to do more than that. Iâ€™m pulling Tawny to her feet as Cynthia bursts an emerald spell at them. They slow as it hits, coughing.
We press harder, running until my already sore legs burn. Cynthia turns and aims a burgundy spell at our pursuers. It slows them enough that they are out of sight, but they zap several spells our direction. Cynthia throws a dark red shield spell up, protecting all three of us from the attack.
As we continue to run, I canâ€™t help but wonder what Iâ€™ve done by bringing Tawny into Chardonia. This isnâ€™t the welcome I wanted for her or me.
â€œGet back here, wenches,â€ one of them calls.
Yeah, like thatâ€™ll entice us to stop.
Tawny flashes a pink spell behind us. It goes out of sight for a moment, only to flare up.
â€œGot them,â€ she says.
I gasp for breath as we continue to pull ahead. Cynthia covers our tracks with a spell I donâ€™t take time to study, though Iâ€™d love to see how she does this one. My own track-covering spell isnâ€™t what it should be.
After weâ€™ve been running off and on for what seems like all day but is probably closer to an hour, Cynthia stops us. She looks around and then moves a dead bush to reveal a cave entrance. Despite how hard the cave floor is, we all collapse on it, heaving for breath.
â€œThat was not fun,â€ I say.
Tawny nods. Oh lands, her parents will never trust me again when they learn how serious of a situation Iâ€™ve dragged their daughter into. Why did they ever agree to let her come? They know things are unstable here and getting worse.
Suddenly, Lukas is hugging Cynthia, gripping her tightly and whispering in her ear. I stare the other way, trying hard not to intrude on their moment.
â€œAre you two well?â€ he asks us after finally letting Cynthia out of the hug but still keeping an arm around her.
I wait for Tawny to nod before saying, â€œWeâ€™re fine. What happened?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Cynthia says. â€œThings seemed to be going well and were safe, but this morning while Lukas and I were on our way back from a walk, we saw several law officers go in the house. We hid in the trees but never saw them come out. Andâ€¦â€
â€œThere was screaming,â€ Lukas finishes for her, his voice hushed.
Pain shoots through me. â€œBut George has been working with us for years.â€
â€œThey are determined to have me,â€ Cynthia says. â€œI showed everyone what women can do with magic, and they want to annihilate that.â€
Determination fills me. â€œThey can try, but they wonâ€™t succeed.â€
â€œNo, they wonâ€™t. There have been a few other girls who have run away from home. Iâ€™m going to try and find them.â€
â€œThat sounds like a good plan. Do you need help?â€ I ask, excited there is a chance for me to do something.
â€œI think itâ€™d be best if Lukas and I keep the search group small.â€
â€œI should really move on anyway.â€ Though I long for a way to do more.
â€œGo to Serena,â€ Cynthia says.
If only Serenaâ€™s family situation werenâ€™t so fragile. If only her stupid father wasnâ€™t around so I could go directly to the girls. Better yet, if only I could spell his lights out. â€œI just donâ€™t know if we can get there safely now without the male chaperone our contact was supposed to provide.â€
â€œI can take you and catch up with Cynthia later,â€ Lukas says.
â€œHavenâ€™t they been coming down on foreigners?â€
â€œYes, but weâ€™re not completely banned. It will be less hassle for me to be caught than you.â€
â€œHeâ€™s right,â€ Cynthia says, though I can tell it makes her nervous by the way she twists her hands together. â€œTake him with you. Please give my love to Serena.â€ Her voice aches with longing.
â€œOf course I will.â€ I give her a tight hug. â€œI hope to see you soon.â€
She hugs Lukas. â€œCome back to me.â€
â€œYou know I will,â€ he replies.
They kiss, fierce and loving. I turn away to give them privacy. At least someone understands what love is.
Looking at the house Serenaâ€™s staying in, Iâ€™m grateful for the choice to come here instead of Zadeâ€™s, even if it meant taking longer to get here. Lukas got us here safely, so hopefully he can return the same way. And now Iâ€™m not only where I need to be, but I donâ€™t have to face Zadeâ€™s wrath quite yet. Unless heâ€™s visiting Serena.
I gulp past the thought, even though itâ€™s highly likely, especially the way things have been going since our arrival. When Zade and Chadwick find out Iâ€™m not only here, but Iâ€™ve brought Tawny with me, there will be two very angry warlocks.
At least, I assume thereâ€™ll be two. Perhaps it will be only my brother and not the man everyone expects me to marry. Itâ€™s been so long since Iâ€™ve heard from Chadwick. Maybe he doesnâ€™t care where I am. Maybe heâ€™s so wrapped up in the reason he left Envado in the first place to help the Chardonian people that Iâ€™m only a distant memory. I donâ€™t know if the thought is for better or worse. Whichever it is, I have to find him and deliver the message from my father in person.
Theyâ€™ll soon know weâ€™re here, if they donâ€™t already. Warlocks are visibly guarding the house, not even trying to hide like when I left. Have things gotten worse here as well?
â€œLetâ€™s go see Serena.â€
Tawny follows me and Lukas up the walkway. â€œDoes she know Iâ€™m coming?â€
More trouble. â€œI told her someone was joining me.â€
â€œBut she doesnâ€™t know who I am.â€
â€œI told her your name,â€ I hedge.
She gives me a look. â€œBut not who I am.â€
â€œFine. I didnâ€™t tell her of your previous relationship with Zade.â€ I eye Lukas, knowing I can trust him, but itâ€™s probably best to keep her identity from being spread around even with those we trust. â€œOr anything else.â€
Her entire posture takes on a regal bearing. â€œShe needs to know. About me and Zade at least.â€
At least she agrees about keeping her royalty status under wraps, even if itâ€™s clear just by the way she acts. â€œI know. Only there are more pressing things happening than just relationships.â€ And it makes me feel like the worst friend for keeping their former engagement a secret. Why am I doing this?
â€œTrue. Itâ€™s not as if Iâ€™m here to steal Zade.â€
Lukas gives her a sharp look. Sheâ€™d better not be. As much as sheâ€™s a friend to me, and possibly even my future queen, I wonâ€™t let anyone put Serena through more grief.
Before I can reply, the door bursts open, and Serenaâ€™s coming to me with a big grin on her face. â€œI canâ€™t believe youâ€™re here! I didnâ€™t know if I would ever see you again.â€
â€œIt was only a little over a week.â€ But I hug her tight anyway like itâ€™s been years.
â€œLetâ€™s get inside,â€ she says when I let her go, eying Tawny.
She ushers the three of us in quickly, looking around as if thereâ€™s something to fear. If I hadnâ€™t already known things were getting worse, this would confirm it. When she closes the door behind us and bolts it, her entire body eases.
â€œHow about I make you a treat?â€ I say.
â€œYou just got here. You donâ€™t need to cook anything,â€ Serena says as she leads us through the house.
â€œHasnâ€™t it been too long since you had cinnamon cookies?â€
She laughs. â€œYou know my weakness, but if you want time to settle in first, itâ€™s fine.â€
â€œI can settle later. Food is much more important.â€ Always more important than dealing with necessary chores.
She leads us to the kitchen, which is smaller than Zadeâ€™s or even the house thatâ€™s now her fatherâ€™s again, but itâ€™s workable. I donâ€™t hesitate to get cooking, looking through cupboards and pulling things out.
â€œHow are your mother and the girls?â€
â€œWhoâ€™s this you brought with you?â€ Serena asks, ignoring my question.
It must be really bad for them. Maybe I donâ€™t want to know how bad until thereâ€™s something I can do about it. Still, I will try to find out when she seems more open to talking.
Tawny is graciously waiting next to a wall, looking so regal I expect any moment to have one of them shout that Iâ€™ve brought royalty with me because Iâ€™m a dunce. And an even bigger dunce for not giving introductions right away. Even if Iâ€™m not going to reveal exactly who her parents are, she deserves my respect both because of who she is to my country and as my friend.
â€œSorry, the excitement of the moment caught up with me. This is Tawny, a very good friend of mine.â€
â€œIâ€™m happy to have met you, Tawny,â€ Serena says. â€œEven if the circumstances are not what Iâ€™d have them be.â€
â€œCome sit by me while Waverly makes us something mouthwatering.â€ When Serena sits down at the counter to watch me, the time and strain is immediately evident by the lines of worry etched in her face. Tawny eases into the chair next to her, back rigid. I suppose even court doesnâ€™t prepare one for sitting next to your ex-fiancÃ©eâ€™s new fiancÃ©e.
â€œHow are the girls, really?â€ I ask Serena about her sisters.
Her shoulders seem to cave into the rest of her. â€œIâ€™ve only managed to sneak in to see them once. The girls arenâ€™t handling things well. Most of them seem to be shutting down. Bethanyâ€™s doing what she can for them, but Iâ€™m afraid of the strain itâ€™s causing her. Especially as she tries to take care of Mother.â€
â€œWill the baby be born soon?â€
â€œWithin the next month or two. She seems to be taking this pregnancy harder than the others. Donâ€™t tell her I said this, but I think sheâ€™s getting too old for this. I wish there was a way to rescue all of them before then. Itâ€™s going to be very unpleasant when she has another girl.â€
Unpleasant to say the least. Who knows how Stephen will take his wrath out on his wife and daughters? I wish I could march over there right now and slam a hex into him so hard he wouldnâ€™t wake for a year. Never mind that I lack the power to actually do so.
Serena opens her mouth but closes it again before saying, â€œZade said you werenâ€™t coming. I didnâ€™t tell him about the letter you sent claiming the opposite.â€
â€œDonâ€™t know if heâ€™ll like the fact youâ€™re keeping secrets from him.â€
â€œYou canâ€™t keep a secret from someone who isnâ€™t around to speak with.â€
Lands, Zade, how are you treating your intended this time? Sometimes my brother needs a hit over the head with a frying pan to knock some sense into him. â€œWell, what he doesnâ€™t know will keep things going smoothly enough.â€
â€œThat will change as soon as he knows youâ€™re here and can get away from his duties,â€ Serena continues. â€œHeâ€™s not going to be happy.â€
â€œSo all his letters told me.â€ Over and over again. â€œYou didnâ€™t really think Iâ€™d stay away, did you?â€
â€œNo, but part of me hoped you would.â€
A slice of pain cuts through me. â€œYou donâ€™t want me here?â€
â€œI only said a part. Itâ€™s just that as much as we love your company, I fear for your safety.â€
â€œAs Zade fears for yours.â€
â€œYes, but there was a reason Zade sent you away. Things are changing. Things I can help with, and I need to do what I can for my sisters and Mother. But if I had left with you, or if I went now, who would take my place? Who will do what they can to protect my sisters? Who will show Chardonian women what sort of life they can have? What sort of power they can have? What sort of freedom they can have from being owned?â€
â€œThatâ€™s exactly why weâ€™re here as well.â€
â€œBut it doesnâ€™t have to be your fight. Youâ€™re not a Chardonian.â€
I stand taller. â€œJust by being a person in this world, itâ€™s my fight.â€
Serena gives the faintest of smiles before turning to Tawny. â€œWhat do you think? Did you come for the same reason? Did she warn you how dangerous things are?â€
The mention of danger makes me wonder if she knows about Cynthiaâ€™s situation, but I donâ€™t want to place more worries on her if she hasnâ€™t heard Cynthia has dealt with it as needed, and the Sanos contacts have been notified. Thereâ€™s nothing Serena could do about it but worry more.
Tawny says, â€œI was warned, but I need to be here. Iâ€™m sick of leading an idle life that is useless to anyone.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve found a precarious way to try, but if Waverly brought you I wonâ€™t turn you away. Do you know magic?â€
This is such a good change from having Serena cringe away from even the faintest hint of magic.
When Tawny doesnâ€™t reply, I say, â€œSheâ€™s much better at it than I.â€ Magic tutors are required for the next monarch. Those protection spells she was required to learn are stronger than an entire mountain.
â€œYouâ€™re much too kind.â€ Tawny blushes.
â€œGood,â€ Serena says. â€œEven if Waverly is exaggerating, we could use the help. Iâ€™m trying to learn and am coming across more and more women who are requesting help to learn as well.â€
She was warming up to it when I left, but I didnâ€™t expect her to willingly get so involved. Things really are changing. With Serena at least.
The door slams. Serena jumps, but I know that sound all too well. Zade is here.
I take a deep breath and prepare myself for battle. Tawny is resting in our shared room, which I should have been doing as well, but sleep wouldnâ€™t come. Instead, I sought Serena out to find more details about whatâ€™s been going on. I should have forced myself to stay in bed, though itâ€™d be cruel to leave Serena alone with his wrath. At least she can probably calm him better than I can.
Zade storms in with a force of tense muscles and a glare in his eyes that could turn into magic sparks at any moment. Serena relaxes back into her chair with a giant grin on her face. Either she doesnâ€™t realize how seriously his temper is flaming right now, or she doesnâ€™t care.
â€œWhat are you doing here?â€ His words boom at me.
Itâ€™s then I realize Chadwick is behind him. I stare at him, ignoring Zadeâ€™s fuming. My heart doesnâ€™t give a thump or a flutter or anything at all. Why canâ€™t it respond to him like I think it should? Like everyone expects it to? Maybe my idea of how loves feels, how it looks from outside, is wrong. Maybe the warmth of friendship is all there is for someone like me.
I roll my eyes and say in my sweetest voice, â€œYes, Master Zade?â€
â€œDonâ€™t you dare give me that. This isnâ€™t the time for jokes. Mom and Dad are going to have a heart attack when they realize you didnâ€™t listen to me and returned. You should know your brother only wants to keep you safe. Whatâ€™s that going to do to Dad? Did you think of him when you went gallivanting off?â€
Heâ€™s right. Itâ€™s not the time for games even if itâ€™s fun to tweak him. There are some things too precious to joke over. â€œTheyâ€™re the ones who told me to come.â€
This seems to trip him up. He pinches the bridge of his nose. â€œWhy would they do that?â€
â€œBecause they understand as much as I do that I need to be here.â€
He huffs. Serena goes to him and puts a hand on his arm. The change is instant. His eyes soften, and his shoulders relax. He kisses her full on the mouth like none of us are even there. I glance away, which leads to catching Chadwickâ€™s eye. I hurry to stare at my hands. More awkward than when I accidentally spelled his hair pink.
I make an exaggerated sound of clearing my throat.
Zade gives an exasperated sigh. â€œWell, youâ€™re clearly not in the mood for my temper, so just let me and my fiancÃ©e have some time together. Maybe then, just maybe, Iâ€™ll be able to talk to you without wanting to strangle you.â€
â€œBy all means, go right ahead. It sounds as if youâ€™ve been neglecting her.â€
He growls. â€œStupid council.â€
â€œOh, just kiss me again,â€ Serena says.
I turn away as he passionately does so. Iâ€™m all for true love and kissing, but my brother doesnâ€™t seem like the best person to illustrate the point. Ew.
Chadwick hurries past the couple, turning away from them as soon as he can. The kissing must bother him too. Or maybe itâ€™s my presence thatâ€™s causing issues. At least Serena and Zade finally seem to take a hint and move into the hall.
Chadwick takes the chair Serena vacated. â€œYou shouldnâ€™t have come back.â€
â€œI think my brother already made that clear enough.â€
â€œWe have seven warlocks guarding this house every day. Thereâ€™s a lot of people who come here to learn more about what Serenaâ€™s done and to hear more about Cynthia. About what theyâ€™re doing with freedom and magic. But some guests arenâ€™t as harmless as they appear. Attacks are almost a daily occurrence. Andâ€¦â€
Almost daily? I knew it was bad but not this bad. â€œAnd what?â€
â€œItâ€™s not just that Iâ€™m trying to keep you safe because I care about you. Itâ€™sâ€¦â€
My chest gives a strange little twist. The warmth of friendship could be enough. But I doubt it would spark kisses the likes of which came from Zade and Serena. Besides, doesnâ€™t he deserve that as well? â€œAnd what, Chadwick?â€
â€œAnd I donâ€™t think having a Chardonian, especially a female Chardonian, in the house will help.â€
â€œZade and you are already here, what difference does it make?â€
â€œZade is at least on the council, and no one notices me when heâ€™s around. Iâ€™m just a shadow,â€ he says. â€œThings are bad enough without adding to it.â€
This is exactly what I didnâ€™t want to hear. Of course I knew they sent me away for a reason, but I thought it was just for my own safety. How can I endanger Serena more? Some people still think weâ€™re cruel giants, barbarians, not worth being near.
In any case, he needs his message. â€œDad sent me to tell you something.â€ I scoot closer. Even in this house that is supposed to be safe, rebellion words arenâ€™t to be treated lightly. Exactly why Dad didnâ€™t just send a spell message. â€œThe Envadi rebels are lessening. With the borders closed, not only is it harder for them to get in, but they donâ€™t want to come in. Weâ€™re on our own with whatever is already set up here.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the note your dad sent? Why in all of Envado did he send you here if he knew things were getting worse?â€ He jumps to his feet.
Tawny picks just that moment to enter, a big, silly grin on her face that falters the moment she glances into the hall. Zade and Serena must not have gone far.
â€œTawny!â€ Chadwick practically shouts.
Instantly, thereâ€™s a giant thump from the hall, and Zade appears. Serena is not far behind with eyebrows crinkled. I am in so much trouble.
â€œWhat are you doing here?â€ Zade demands Tawny.
Well, thereâ€™s the fact that this is not only very awkward but also unexpected. Heâ€™ll probably chew me out for bringing her as well, but I wasnâ€™t going to be the one to stop her.
She glances at the floor, back rigid. She could give these perfect posture Chardonian girls competition. â€œI wanted to help like Waverly.â€
Zade is still staring at her. More like gaping.
â€œOf course you already know each other,â€ Serena says, not realizing what sheâ€™s walking into. What I didnâ€™t get around to warning her about. â€œI should have realized if you knew Waverly, youâ€™d know Chadwick and Zade.â€
Thatâ€™s such a small portion of it.
Tawny looks away from us all. Zade seems like heâ€™s going to rip his nose right off with how hard heâ€™s rubbing it.
â€œWeâ€™re all acquainted,â€ I say.
Zade glares at me. â€œYou are either completely inane or mad.â€
â€œSheâ€™s both,â€ Chadwick says.
â€œHey, Iâ€”â€ deserve both of their comments entirely. â€œHer parents agreed, and it was her idea to begin with.â€
â€œYou could have said no,â€ Zade snaps. â€œThey should have said no.â€
â€œAnd you could all talk with me instead of around me,â€ Tawny snaps.
We all scuff our boots on the floor.
Serena glances at Tawny, clearly confused. â€œIs there a reason your coming is worse than Waverly being here? This all seems a little extreme and everyone seems to know why except me.â€
Tawny seems to remember herself then. â€œThey just donâ€™t think I can protect myself properly.â€ Her voice lowers. â€œAndâ€¦â€ She eyes Zade.
â€œAnd sheâ€™s my previous fiancÃ©e,â€ he admits.
â€œOh.â€ Serenaâ€™s face goes calm. Too calm. â€œWell then, can I get you something to drink and eat? You didnâ€™t eat much earlier.â€
â€œThat would be lovely, thank you.â€ Tawnyâ€™s training has probably never been tried so thoroughly.
Zade mumbles some claim about needing to check on the guards, and Chadwick hurries out after him. Neither Serena nor Tawny respond but avoid eye contact as the men walk outside. What a fine place to leave us in. And I donâ€™t know which of us has it worse. Tawny intruding on Zadeâ€™s new love, Serena just meeting his old fiancÃ©e, or me for being the biggest dunce for bringing them all together.
The day doesnâ€™t get any more comfortable after that, but at least everyone pretends it is. When I get Serena alone and ask her about it, she claims itâ€™s fine. She still has trouble opening up to others, even if weâ€™ve known each other over a year now. Tawny wonâ€™t say anything either, but at least she doesnâ€™t pretend thereâ€™s not a problem, just that she doesnâ€™t wish to discuss it.
I toss and turn all night, unable to sleep for thoughts of our situation. I donâ€™t just worry about bringing Tawny here but also Chadwick saying our presence will make it worse for Serena. Which also means worse for Tawny. Even though itâ€™s dangerous here, I need to keep her in a place thatâ€™s safe, if such a thing is possible in a place like Chardonia. At the same time, not clue her into the fact Iâ€™m keeping her safe because sheâ€™d be livid to know she can help, but Iâ€™m not letting her.
I find Serena in the barn brushing Goldie. She pats the horse down, speaking in a soothing voice. Does it do more good for her or the horse? Itâ€™s difficult to say.
â€œMorning,â€ I greet her.
â€œI thought youâ€™d be making breakfast.â€
â€œWho, me?â€ I tease. â€œItâ€™s good that Zade was able to sneak Goldie away before Stephen got a hold of her.â€ Her dad is the biggest jerk of them all.
She nods, though her expression remains passive. â€œI just wish I could ride her more. But itâ€™s too dangerous for me to go gallivanting out in the open.â€
â€œThat must be hard.â€ When she doesnâ€™t say anything, I decide I just need to come out with it. â€œThereâ€™s something we need to discuss.â€
She starts flicking the brush rougher. â€œI already told you I donâ€™t wish to speak about it.â€
â€œNot about yesterday, about something else,â€ I say. â€œTawny and I have been talking.â€
At the mention of Tawny, Serena goes oddly still. Despite saying she doesnâ€™t want to talk about it, she doesnâ€™t stop me.
â€œWe think we should find work in another household.â€ The explanation doesnâ€™t have to do with her being in more danger because of our presence, but it has to be the right choice. Sheâ€™d likely insist her safety isnâ€™t jeopardized by me even if it is. â€œTawny wants to see more of Chardonia, and I think Iâ€™d like to go with her. Maybe somewhere where they arenâ€™t as antagonistic toward us Envadi, but where we can still do some good.â€
And keep everyone safe.
â€œYouâ€™re going to leave us? You just arrived.â€ Her big eyes are so sad, it makes me wish things were different. Safer.
â€œI want to stay. I missed you so much. More than I would have ever thought. But I came back to help. I feel like you have the help you need here now, and there may be something more I can do elsewhere.â€
â€œI understand.â€ Sheâ€™s silent a moment but continues brushing Goldie. â€œI may have somewhere that fits your needs. Councilman Daniel and Annabelle are very opened-minded, but there are other servants in their household and people they visit with that you may be able to reach out to.â€
â€œI remember them. Theyâ€™d be perfect if theyâ€™re willing.â€ I give her a tight hug. â€œThank you. Would you mind giving us a reference?â€
â€œI doubt youâ€™ll need it, but Iâ€™d be delighted to help both you and Tawny.â€
â€œThank you for your help,â€ I say. â€œDo you also think maybe it will help you by not having her around?â€
For a moment, I think sheâ€™s going to disagree, but then she says, â€œI admit, the thought crossed my mind. Iâ€™m certain weâ€™d be fine if she stayed, though, and I will miss you.â€
â€œI will miss you too.â€ I wrap her in a hug, tightly like she was my own sister. â€œI better go help with breakfast.â€
â€œI knew it.â€
â€œYou already know me too well.â€ I turn to leave.
â€œIs your leaving because of Tawny being Zadeâ€™s previous fiancÃ©e?â€
I swallow past the tightness in my throat. â€œZade loves you. He would never, ever leave you for anyone else. Iâ€™ve never seen a love as fierce as his.â€
â€œYet, youâ€™re going.â€
â€œIt will be good for us. All of us.â€
Iâ€™m not sure she entirely believes my response, and she shouldnâ€™t, just not for the reasons she supposes.
Leaving Serena again is harder than I expect. Even harder than being so close to Serenaâ€™s sisters and not being able to see them. Thereâ€™s an ache inside me without them here. Serena promises to send word if thereâ€™s any news or change with them and when her mother has the baby.
Tawny is silent the entire ride except for once saying, â€œI always thought the windowless carriages were an exaggeration. If anything I see now that it was under exaggerated.â€
Iâ€™ve never seen Annabelle and Councilman Danielâ€™s house before. Itâ€™s large, though not as grand as Zadeâ€™s. Ivy climbs up one side of their house, over all three floors reaching the roof. The rest of their house is white, with a good number of windows.
Annabelle greets us with a smile, wearing a pair of tan breeches. No one has embraced Katherineâ€™s designs as much as she has. Not only is Katherine, a friend who pretends to be a tarnished, an amazing seamstress, but she has a flair for womenâ€™s independence that influences others. Knowing Annabelle gets along so well with her makes me feel more at home already. â€œIâ€™m so glad youâ€™ve decided to join us. When Serena told me not one, but two Envadi were looking for a place to work, I was delighted. Letâ€™s have a sip of tea and discuss your duties.â€
As we move to the sitting room, Tawny asks, â€œDo you typically take tea with the servants?â€
She most definitely does not sound like a servant herself. It will be a miracle if she can not only do her work but do it without giving away who she really is.
â€œUsually, and of course, since Waverly and I have met, I couldnâ€™t pass up an opportunity to get to know another Envadi.â€ She insists on pouring the tea for us both, and once weâ€™re all settled, she leans in close and whispers. â€œDo either of you use magic?â€
I want to exchange a glance with Tawny to know what she thinks of this, but I donâ€™t dare give us away so blatantly. Instead, I mimic Annabelle by leaning closer and whispering, â€œDo you?â€
She giggles like my evasive reply pleased her and, with a wink, pours more tea in my cup. â€œI think we shall all get along just fine.â€
We chatter as we sip our tea. Annabelle and Tawny agree to try her as Annabelleâ€™s personal maid while Iâ€™ll help with general housework. It suits me and keeps Tawny more with someone I trust and myself out moving among the other servants. Hopefully, since Annabelle and Daniel have accepted me, weâ€™ll get rid of their notions that Iâ€™m a barbarian, and whatâ€™s more, convince them of womenâ€™s worth.
Once weâ€™re finished, Annabelle instructs another servant to show us around, including where weâ€™ll weâ€™ll be working, our bed chamber, where we are to report each morning, and where to eat.
The servant is nice, but quick, hurrying through the house as if itâ€™s a struggle just to find a little time to show us around, even though doing so will mean weâ€™ll be able to help ease her load. The last place she takes us is a tiny room.
â€œThese are the living quarters youâ€™ll be sharing. The Councilman was kind enough to install a flushing toilet down the hall we all share. We may even get the electric lights in our quarters if things continue to go well.â€
It would be a nicer prospect if it wasnâ€™t already expected. Itâ€™s hard to remember people live without these things and think itâ€™s perfectly normal. Electricity and flushing toilets should be as standard as food. Especially the toilets.
â€œThat sounds wonderful.â€ I fake a smile.
â€œWeâ€™re excited youâ€™re both joining us,â€ she replies.
â€œThank you,â€ Tawny speaks up for the first time since we left Annabelle. Her good manners never fail, even when she most likely feels like keeping silent.
â€œYou can unpack and come help in the kitchen when youâ€™re finished if youâ€™d like. Itâ€™d give you both a chance to get to know the others.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll be there shortly.â€ Once sheâ€™s gone, I ask Tawny, â€œWhat do you think so far?â€
â€œShe was nice.â€
â€œHopefully, the others are as well.â€
â€œAnnabelle is great at the very least. Sheâ€™s the one Iâ€™ll be spending most of my time with anyway.â€
â€œRemember to be really careful about how you do magic. Some women are aware they can do it, but that doesnâ€™t mean the council will let them.â€
Will the strides weâ€™re trying to make with these people ever be enough?
Iâ€™m so focused on Tawny and how sheâ€™s taking everything and if sheâ€™s giving anything away about who she is or the magic she can do. If only I had her skills when I was here, maybe I could have taught Cynthia something more useful. It doesnâ€™t matter. Itâ€™s too late. Cynthia survived and won the tournament, even if sheâ€™s now on the run. Thousands of Chardonians know about her and what she did, too many minds for the council to erase.
Mine feels erased. After all my wool gathering, all the servants are heading off to their duties. One of the other servant girls shows me my duties for the day and leaves me to clean the study while she goes off to accomplish her own chores.
I start with dusting the bookshelves, wishing I could pick up one of the books to read instead of cleaning them. Being Serenaâ€™s maid was a lot more exciting than cleaning all the time. At least I usually had someone to chat with. I trace my finger down the spine of one of the books. Itâ€™s unfamiliar, but the title is interesting. My fingers itch to pick it up and see if thereâ€™s something good inside.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ A harsh male voice demands.
I whirl around, my feather duster landing right on a warlockâ€™s chin.
He coughs and smacks it away. â€œYouâ€™re supposed to be cleaning the room, not covering me in dirt.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t know you were standing so close.â€ Not much of an apology but true.
â€œExcuse me? Did you just make an excuse instead of doing your job?â€ Now that heâ€™s smacking the dirt off his face, it easier to see his firm jaw line, golden brown eyes, and dark hair.
â€œJust letting you know why it happened. I donâ€™t usually greet strangers in such fashion.â€
He wipes his face with a handkerchief before yanking the duster out of my hand. â€œNeither do I, but for you Iâ€™ll make an exception since you havenâ€™t learned Chardonian ways. Do not address me so informally again. I may be a servant, but Iâ€™m still a warlock. You will treat me with the respect I deserve. Call me sir or Master Jack.â€
Is he serious? This whiner deserves absolutely no respect.
â€œWhile you manage to stay in this position,â€ the tone of his voice implies it wonâ€™t be for long, but Annabelle will surely keep us here as long as weâ€™d like, â€œyou will defer to me in all things.â€
â€œAll things?â€ Just who does he think he is?
â€œAre you daft? Thatâ€™s what I just stated.â€
I shouldnâ€™t. Oh, I know I shouldnâ€™t. But I just canâ€™t help it. â€œEven picking out which stockings Iâ€™m going to wear for the day?â€
For the briefest moment his face transforms, almost like heâ€™s about to smile, but before Iâ€™ve had time to decide if he really did, his face is an inch from mine, eyes narrowed. â€œDo not play games with me, girl.â€
The playful spark catches fire, heat flaming my words. â€œIâ€™m no girl, unless youâ€™re just a boy since we must be about the same age. Of course, the way youâ€™re throwing a tantrum, it must be you never grew out of being a spoiled toddler.â€
His mouth tightens into a firm, condemning line. â€œI wonâ€™t hesitate hexing you if you step out of line.â€
Though he doesnâ€™t move, it feels as if his weight is pressing into me, forcing me to back off. I refuse to budge, staring him down. Would Annabelle and the Councilman allow him such liberties? I doubt theyâ€™d be happy about it, but Iâ€™ve often been surprised in this country. No matter. Itâ€™s a known fact now that women do magic. If he tries anything, heâ€™s going to get a surprise blasted back in his face that will have him ruing the day he ever looked my way.
Finally, he eases from my space, slowly though, like he wants his threat to linger long after heâ€™s gone. Thereâ€™s a threat that will linger all right. The threat of me hexing his hair purple and his nose and ear hair to grow to his shoulders.
When heâ€™s several feet from me, I feel like I can breathe again. Only the air isnâ€™t cool enough to douse my anger.
â€œReturn to your work. When youâ€™re finished, go scrub the toilets and remember your place.â€ He strides toward the door.
â€œYouâ€™re only a servant, too. Like you have room to talk about remembering my place.â€
He swings toward me, eyes wild, and my magic pounds through me. â€œI am a Chardonian warlock. I may be working to keep my family out of debt, but I am nothing, nothing, like you.â€
Before I can give another flip response, he stomps off. My magic still pounds through me like boulders falling from a cliff. What a jerk.
â€œAnd keep your hands off those books,â€ he yells over his shoulder. â€œChardonian women only read the Womanâ€™s Canon. While youâ€™re here, you will do the same.â€
He stalks from the room, leaving clouds of anger in his wake. I donâ€™t know whose are bigger, mine or his.
As soon as heâ€™s gone, I let a firework spell fly, having enough presence of mind to keep it the size of an apple. If only I could direct it at him. Zade isnâ€™t the only one in our family with a temper. Itâ€™s only unfortunate I kept a tight lid on it instead of fully letting it out to teach that jerk how women really can behave. Stuck in the middle of a temper tantrum is enough to get me in trouble. Though I suppose hitting him with the spell would have been worse. That would have been a fantastic report for my first day of work.
I return to dusting, walking around like all the books are fake and donâ€™t need special treatment anyway. It doesnâ€™t last long. Even if that brute canâ€™t treat me with the respect I deserve, I can treat these books better. Iâ€™ll just have to pretend theyâ€™re all about math so Iâ€™m not tempted to open them again.
Itâ€™s not until several minutes later when Iâ€™ve almost finished the room, I realize he threatened to hex me. But even though he seemed past ready to do so, he didnâ€™t. Most Chardonian men have no such problem. A woman looking at them is enough of an excuse to hex them, especially ones so clearly rooted in their own superiority. I stare out the now empty doorway. So why didnâ€™t he hex me?
â€œHow was your first day?â€ Tawny asks.
â€œHow was yours?â€ I reply, hoping the evasive tactic works. Not only am I still confused by the incident with the brute, but Iâ€™m fuming from scrubbing toilets the rest of the day. I thought I was grateful for them yesterday, but thatâ€™s been over-trodden by the plethora of toilets. Disgusting.
â€œAnnabelle is really sweet. I like her a lot. Sheâ€™s going to be so much fun to work with. I always heard Chardonian women wear only dresses, but her wardrobe varies as much as the topics she likes to discuss.â€
â€œCynthia and Annabelle are the only women in Chardonia Iâ€™m aware of that wear breeches in front of company. And Annabelle is cautious to only wear them when sheâ€™s here, never in front of anyone outside of her closest friends.â€
â€œOh. Well, if thatâ€™s all sheâ€™ll wear them for, Iâ€™m glad she considers me a friend.â€
A twinge of jealousy pulls through me, but itâ€™s not of use to anyone. I was the one who chose it to be this way. If I was not working with Tawny and Annabelle, there would be a lot fewer people I could influence. This way I have more opportunities, even if it means dealing with warlock scum like Jack. Unless of course, he keeps me scrubbing toilets all the time.
â€œYou never answered my question. How was your first day?â€
With Jack still lingering in my thoughts, itâ€™s hard to think of a decent lie. â€œIt was a day.â€
I puff my pillow. â€œIâ€™m sure things will go smoother tomorrow.â€
I gather sheets and head for the laundry room. These people really need to get more appliances. Their lives would be so much simpler. At least Iâ€™m not scrubbing toilets today, though the laundry room is steaming in a way thatâ€™s almost worse than cleaning toilets.
â€œAre those from an extra room?â€ Jack startles me.
I jump, dropping the sheets.
â€œPerfect. At least they havenâ€™t been cleaned yet.â€ I bend down to gather them together before looking up. Sarcasm canâ€™t help but lace my words. â€œIâ€™m so sorry, sir. These will be cleaned as soon as I pick them off the floor from where I dropped them after you scared me. And yes, theyâ€™re from an extra room, the blue one.â€
His eyes tighten, just like they did yesterday, and I prepare myself for another lecture. And to discover how much like a typical Chardonian warlock he is. Will he attempt to hex me as I suspect he will?
â€œLook, about yesterdayâ€”â€
â€œDonâ€™t bother. The last thing I need to add to this day is another one of your helpful chats.â€
â€œFine. Just keep doing your job.â€ He storms off.
Good riddance. By the time I finish gathering the sheets, guilt is nudging in. It wasnâ€™t really his fault I dropped the sheets. Sure, he could have been louder, but I could have been more graceful, or at least gracious. It almost sounded like he was going to apologize before I cut him off.
I grumble at myself all the way to the laundry room before pasting on a fake smile. No sense being rude to them as well, especially since these are the very people whose opinions Iâ€™m working on changing.
I spend a few minutes talking with the other servants in the laundry room, being warm and friendly, even though all I feel like doing is shooting a few rounds at spelled targets like those Zade is so fond of. Pushing that desire aside, the girls seem friendly enough, so I must be passably convincing.
We talk of mundane things at first, but it quickly becomes apparent that they have a higher opinion of themselves than most Chardonian women. They donâ€™t cower or lower their heads, even when a man walks in the room. Annabelle and Daniel have already done an amazing job with most of them. Maybe there is more hope for this country than I thought could happen in a short time.
After giving a merry goodbye, I scoot back into the hall, heading for the next room Iâ€™m to clean. Iâ€™ve gone far enough that Iâ€™m no longer in the main hall and shouldnâ€™t have anyone passing by, when I slouch against the wall.
What am I doing here?
I suppose coming to an Envadi friendly home should have been my first clue I wouldnâ€™t be needed. Maybe I can find another place where my skills will be more useful while Tawny stays here.
While Iâ€™m still slouched against the wall, Annabelle comes into view. Peeling myself up, I plaster another smile on my face before she sees me moping.
â€œWaverly. Just who I was looking for.â€
My smile feels more genuine. â€œGlad we could bump into each other then. What can I help you with?â€
â€œI just wanted to say thank you for coming. Tawny is a lovely breath of fresh air. I simply adore her company.â€
She does have that effect on people. â€œShe said she enjoys being with you as well.â€
* * *