Star Cursed - Page 13/73

Then Brother Ishida is next to us, his face gray and frozen with shock. I feel almost sorry for him as he looks down at his daughter, lying unconscious at the feet of the guards in a flurry of pink lace and black wool and gray fur. There’s a gash on her temple, blood trickling down into the dirt. I think nonsensically that I could heal it, if only I could touch her. But of course I couldn’t. Not in front of all these people.

A handsome blond guard spits on her. “Damned witch.”

“Should throw her into the fire, too,” a dark-haired one says, pointing his rifle as though he’s prepared to shoot her if she so much as twitches.

No. Please, Lord, no.

“Sachiko, a witch?” Brother Ishida murmurs, confused. “My daughter, a witch?”

An older guard picks Sachi up, hauling her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “This girl is your daughter, sir? I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Where—where are you taking her?” Brother Ishida asks.

“To the prison, to await trial. Though after a display like that, there isn’t much need of a trial, is there?” The guard shakes his head. “Best to get her out of here, sir.”

“No,” Rory moans.

I grab her by the shoulders and shake her, hard. “Stop it. Stop it this instant! You have to pull yourself together.”

Rory looks down at me, then buries her face in my hair, her voice soft in my ear. “Cate, please, please, don’t let them take her away. She’s all I have. Please.”

And even though she’s been a fool, my heart breaks for her.

“Brother Ishida.” It’s Finn, standing very close but not quite touching me. His voice is smooth, unfettered by emotion. I stare at him blankly, stupidly. “Sir, allow me to see Miss Elliott back to the inn for you. She’s suffering from a great shock.”

Brother Ishida doesn’t even glance back at Rory. He has so little concern for her, even now. “Of course. Thank you, Belastra. I’ll just . . .” At a loss for words, he strides after the guards.

We are alone now, the three of us on an island apart from the rest of the gawking crowd. Half of the people around us have fled to a safer distance, while the curiosity-seekers have pushed closer to watch the spectacle. Cheeks flaming, I pat Rory awkwardly on the back. Sister Cora will have my head for this.

Brother Covington says something about how evil will out itself, but the light of the Lord and the virtuous cannot be extinguished. He seems pleased by this awful display. The fire has settled. The ceremony begins anew. Sister Cora and Sister Inez lead a group of the convent girls forward with books from our library.

Covington’s words seem to come at me from very far away. “We have seen tonight that witches are so eager to save their false idols they would even risk performing magic in a crowd of this size. Of course, this only proves the righteousness of our cause.”

My arms are trembling, my legs unsteady. Rory seems suddenly, impossibly heavy.

“Give her to me,” Finn says, taking her weight. “I’ll see her home. You ought to join the rest of your order, Sister Catherine.”

Oh. It’s so strange, Finn calling me that. So formal.

My composure cracks, my eyes flying to his. “I—I—”

“Miss Elliott ought to be more restrained in her grief,” he interrupts. “A lady should not show emotion in public. Your choice of companion is drawing attention to you in a way that is unbecoming to a Sister.”

I gape at him, surprised by his coldness. After all that’s happened, he can’t offer a word of comfort? Rory isn’t the only one in shock.

I gather myself, giving Rory’s hand a quick squeeze. “I’ll come to you when I can. Or you can call on me at the convent. You aren’t alone, Rory. Do you hear me?”

Her tearstained face peeks at me from Finn’s shoulder. “You aren’t alone,” I repeat, before making my way back across the grass toward the Sisters.

Rilla steps forward, grasping my hand. “Oh, Cate, how awful. Did you know that girl very well? What on earth was she thinking? Lord, your hands are freezing. Drink some of my cider; it’ll warm you up.” She shoves a cup at me.

I take a sip, warmth burning down my throat. I inhale the bracing cinnamon scent of it before I hand it back to her. “Thank you.”

“Oh, you look as though you’re about to fall over. Here, lean on me,” Rilla says, putting her arm around me and rubbing my back. She’s a big sister, too; she’s good at comfort. “Lord, this night has been just awful.”

My eyes prick with tears at her kindness. I don’t deserve it. I haven’t been a good friend to her. I haven’t been a good friend to anyone. I just saw Sachi beaten and arrested, and I stood there and did nothing to help.

What good is all my magic if I can’t help the people I love?

I shove my hands in the pockets of my cloak, and my fingers brush a folded piece of paper. A piece of paper that was not there an hour ago, I’m certain of it. I tease it out of my pocket and glance down at it surreptitiously.

Cate, it says. And the handwriting is Finn’s.

Chapter 4

THERE AREN’T ENOUGH CARRIAGES for all of us, so we walk back to the convent. It is a long way, and the night has grown bitterly cold. We walk in twos and threes along the cobbled sidewalks, hands shoved into fur muffs or cloak pockets. The mood is somber; even Rilla doesn’t try to make idle chat. People stream past us: fathers carrying sleepy-eyed children and women with their gloved hands twined around their husbands’ arms. A sour-smelling man jostles my shoulder without so much as an apology.

We cross from the government district into the market district. During the day, it’s a madhouse of people rushing in and out of cheesemongers’ and dressmakers’ and butchers’ shops, but now all the shops are shuttered. Candles flicker in the flats above the stores as shopkeepers arrive home from the bonfire. The foot traffic thins even more as we reach our own quiet neighborhood; most of the people who live in these fine houses have the means to travel by carriage. I trail my fingers along a neighbor’s trellis of red roses, inhaling their sweet scent.

As we walk up the marble steps, I look longingly toward the window of my third-story room.

Sister Cora is waiting for us inside, her face lined with worry. She waits until everyone is gathered in the front hall, and then she holds up a hand for quiet. “What we were forced to witness tonight was horrible. I’m sorry you had to see it. But it serves as an important reminder that we must keep control of our magic. What happened to that young witch tonight could happen to any of us who lost our temper. With the Brothers searching for the new oracle, we must be particularly circumspect.”

“That girl was a fool.” Alice pulls off her cloak to reveal a black brocade dress with a velvet sash at the waist.

I flare. “That girl was my friend. Is my friend,” I amend, horrified. Sachi isn’t dead.

Alice folds her arms across her ample chest. “And by standing there while she was arrested, you drew attention to all of us. I’m surprised the guards didn’t question you.”

“I’m sure Catherine would have handled herself well if they had,” Sister Cora says. She raises her voice again. “Be careful, girls, and do not lose hope. These dark times will not last forever.”