Star Cursed - Page 18/73

“Is she a likely candidate?” Sister Gretchen asks.

Is she a witch, Sister Gretchen means.

But, in Rory’s case, is that enough?

“Yes and no,” I say. Gretchen and I clatter down the stairs along with dozens of girls streaming toward their breakfasts. “She’s a witch, but she’s unstable.”

Sister Gretchen blinks at me owlishly. “Weren’t we all once?” She waves a hand at the formal sitting room. “She’s in there, with Cora.”

Sister Cora sits on the olive settee. Her face is pale, her blue eyes haloed with pained purple shadows. Rory is pacing before the cold, ash-filled grate. She whirls on me the moment I enter. Her eyes are red-rimmed, and her black hair is sliding out of its messy chignon. She’s dressed with uncharacteristic modesty in a ruffled mint-green taffeta monstrosity.

“Cate! You have to help me.” She snatches my wrist with cold fingers.

“What’s the matter? Is it Sachi?” Her crime—Rory’s crime—was shocking, but surely they would still hold a trial for her?

“It’s my father.” The word is venomous on Rory’s tongue. “Now that she’s been arrested, he can’t see the back of me fast enough. He’s sending me home. I’m to leave tomorrow morning.”

I adjust a hairpin that’s poking me. “Well, that’s probably for the best. You don’t want to spend any more time with him than you’ve got to.”

“Do you honestly expect me to go home and marry Nils as though nothing’s happened?” Rory rocks backward as though I’ve slapped her. “This is all my fault, Cate!”

I glare at her, stalking over to the window. The burgundy curtains are tied back with brown velvet bows, and I gaze out at the empty street, trying to control my temper. “Then don’t make it worse. Sachi wanted you safe, and you can’t do anything for her here. Go home and stay out of trouble.”

Rory collapses onto the brown silk chair, burying her face in her hands. “I want to do better. Be better. And I believe I could, except then I think of how he’s always looked down his nose at me, how he never thought I was good enough to be friends with Sachi, and—I get so angry I could smash everything in sight. Perhaps I could forgive him for the way he’s treated me, if he was a good father to her, but he’s completely renounced her! Said he no longer has a daughter.”

When he had one staring right at him. Brother Ishida is a cruel man.

“I can’t see him at church twice a week. I can’t be in the same town!” Rory presses her fist to her mouth, her breath ragged. “You have to help me, Cate. Please? I can’t go back to Chatham.”

I glance sidelong at Sister Cora, but her face is impassive. I look up at the ceiling, searching for the right words, admiring the ornate cornices fashioned with grapevines and clusters of thick grapes. I’ve never noticed it before, but they do match the hideous purple and olive grape-themed wallpaper. I wonder if the original decorator of this room intended for people to want to escape it as soon as possible. “I understand that you’re upset, Rory, but you mustn’t do anything rash. Just last night, you said you wanted to be a mother more than anything. Has that changed?”

Rory eyes me steadily. “Everything has changed. I want to be the sister Sachi deserves. If—when—she gets out of that place, I want to be someone she can be proud of.”

Oh. The fact that she doesn’t deny what she’s done, that she doesn’t try to make excuses for it, makes me think better of her. I feel a stab of guilt for treating her so coldly, but I won’t coddle her. If I am to vouch for her, I need to know she won’t pose a risk to me and my sisters and the rest of the convent girls.

“Can we trust you not to lose control again?”

Rory and I both spin to look at Sister Cora, who has obviously figured out the truth of last night.

“The Sisterhood is a refuge for dozens of girls,” she adds. “We can’t have you jeopardizing us.”

“A refuge for . . .” Rory repeats slowly, and I can practically see the gears in her mind turning. She looks from me to Cora and back again. “You’re witches? All of you? But that’s perfect! I’d make such an awful nun.”

“But you have to be able to pretend,” I point out.

Rory looks at me with eager puppy’s eyes. “I’ll be good, I swear it! I grew up with Sachi, didn’t I? I know how to dissemble when I need to. I can do this, Cate. I know I can.”

I look at Sister Cora. She hasn’t moved, has barely blinked. It’s impossible to deduce what she’s thinking. “Let me speak to Sister Cora alone for a moment, Rory. You can wait in the hall.”

Rory tugs at her awful green skirt. “I know what I’ve done, and I’ll never forgive myself for it. If I could take Sachi’s place, I would, truly. But as I can’t—I need to be near her. And away from my father. Give me this chance. Let me prove that I can be better, Cate, please.”

I nod, and Rory plods out into the hall. Her bouncy, hip-swaying gait is gone; she walks head down, as though she’s on her way to a prison sentence of her own.

When the door closes behind her, I sit next to Sister Cora on the settee. I want to be seen as her equal, not a supplicant student. I want a say in this.

“So Miss Elliott and the girl who was arrested last night are sisters?” she asks.

“Half sisters. Rory’s a bastard.”

“She’s the one who did magic in the square? And she let her sister take the blame?” Cora’s feathery eyebrows arch in disapproval.

“Rory would have stepped forward, too, but I stopped her. I couldn’t see any good in them both getting arrested,” I explain. “Rory hasn’t had an easy life. She’s got a lush for a mother and a sherry habit of her own. And that mad oracle—Brenna Elliott—that’s her cousin.”

“Interesting. Perhaps she could give us some insight into Brenna.” Sister Cora’s blue eyes rest on me. “You want to send her away?”

I stare back, lifting my chin. “On the contrary, I think we should take her in.”

“Why?” Cora drums her fingers on the carved mahogany armrest. Almost a dozen silver rings line her hands. “You’ve just outlined a damning case against her.”

“But we’ve got a duty to Rory. Isn’t that why the Sisterhood exists, to take in witches like her and teach them to control their magic? Half the reason she’s so reckless is because she doesn’t want to be a witch; she doesn’t know what to do with it. And the other half is because—because she’s never felt like she belongs anywhere except with Sachi,” I say, puzzling it out as I go. “We could help her.”

Sister Cora rises, wincing, and reaches for her cane. “It’s a risk.”

“It is.” Rory has her faults, but so do I. So do my sisters. And what Rory did was only a more public version of what Maura did after Elena betrayed her.

I frown, remembering Maura on the night before I left Chatham: a small hurricane of heartbreak, shattering everything in her path.

I would want someone to give my sister a second chance.

“She said she’s betrothed,” Sister Cora points out. “Breaking her intention could cause quite a stir.”