Star Cursed - Page 28/73

“It’s not our fault. It’s Brenna’s for not being able to keep her mouth shut,” Maura argues. “What if her next prophecy leads them right to our doorstep? Gives them an exact location?”

I stare at the brown carpet. “Perhaps we could sneak Rory in to ask Brenna to keep quiet.”

Tess bounces the letter against her polka-dotted knee. “The moment Brenna stops telling them her visions willingly, they’ll torture them out of her. She’s only safe as long as she’s useful to them.”

I grimace, imagining the Brothers cutting off Brenna’s fingers. Breaking her legs.

Maura taps her black slipper against the floor. The look on her face is studied indifference. “It might be a mercy to end her suffering, then.”

The room is silent for a minute. A wagon goes past outside; I can hear the rattle of the wheels and the clomp of the horses’ hooves. Tess holds herself stiffly, her shoulders tight. “You want to kill her?” she says softly.

“I don’t want to, but—what life does she have in that place?” Maura’s mask of nonchalance slips, her blue eyes darting hopefully to mine. For a minute, she looks like my little sister again, with her heart-shaped face open and craving approval I can’t give.

“It’s still her life,” I argue, remembering Sister Sophia’s conversation in the carriage yesterday. “It’s not for us to play at being gods.”

“They would torture her, and who knows what they’d get out of her in the process? It would be quick coming from one of us. Alice says Sister Sophia could do it just like that.” Maura snaps her fingers.

Has Sophia done it before—killed at the Sisters’ bidding? Was she trying to warn me that someday they might ask it of me? I feel sick at the prospect.

“Brenna isn’t well,” Tess says. Her face has gone pale. “Who knows what it does to a person, seeing the future? We’ve got to think of it like that—what if it was one of us shut up in there?”

“It might be one of us soon, if she doesn’t keep her visions to herself.” Maura picks up the gold-rimmed teacup she brought with her and takes a sip of tea. “Brenna was strange before. I daresay her madness is down to her being Brenna, not her being an oracle.”

I grimace, remembering Thomasina Abbott. “It wouldn’t kill you to show some compassion.”

“We haven’t the luxury of compassion at times like this.” Maura sets her teacup back onto its saucer with a clatter. “Because of her, eight innocent girls are going to be murdered. How many lives do we risk every day we pardon her?”

“No, Maura. It’s wrong. We aren’t murderers.” Tess’s gray eyes are terribly serious.

“Maybe you’re too young to understand the complexities of this,” Maura ventures.

“Don’t you dare.” Tess jumps up, braids swinging. “I may be young, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fool or that I don’t have a right to my opinion.”

I stand, too. “I agree with Tess.”

“Of course you do!” Maura throws her hands up in the air.

“What’s happening to those girls is wrong, and I hope Sister Cora and the war council can come up with a way to stop it.” I glance down at the letter in Tess’s hand, a little crumpled now from her tight grasp. “The note says this may actually be to our advantage, to help turn public opinion toward us. I hate thinking of it so callously, but perhaps we should wait and see what—”

“Wait and see, wait and see,” Maura mimics. “You and Cora are a fine pair, aren’t you? Lord, I hope I am the oracle, or the Sisterhood will never do anything! You’ll just sit back and watch girls die without a care in the world!”

I step forward, chin leading the charge. “I do too care.”

“You’ve got a poor way of showing it,” Maura snaps, stomping from the room. She slams the door behind her.

Tess leans against the marble mantel, tears slipping silently down her cheeks. “I’m just angry,” she explains, wiping them away with both hands. “I hate being patronized. And I don’t like the way Maura’s acting, so . . . superior. You know she’s parroting all the things Sister Inez says, don’t you?”

I nod. It’s bad enough hearing Inez propose such a cold-hearted idea, but to hear it from Maura, who knows Brenna and grew up with her! When did Maura become a girl who could talk about assassination so calmly?

I’m meeting Finn tonight, but I haven’t decided what to do about Inez’s suggestion that he spy for the Sisterhood. I don’t entirely trust her, but I’m tired of secrets and lies and girls being hurt because we’re too frightened to fight back. If Finn could get information about the Brotherhood’s plans, could Inez use it to bring them down?

Inez is the sort of woman who might win a war, but at what cost?

• • •

Tess retreats to her room, but I make my way down to the sitting room to find Mei and ask about Chinese lessons. Maura, Alice, and Vi are chattering away on the love seat, and Maura glares at me when I come in. Lucy Wheeler is playing the piano, badly, while her friends Hope and Rebekah stand next to it, turning the pages for her and singing along to the old folk songs. Hope has a pretty, high soprano. Mei and Addie are gone, but Rory sits slumped in the corner in a blue plaid chair, listlessly flipping through a fashion magazine. She looks up when I come in. “Cate!”

“Rory. Did you post your letters today?”

She moved into the convent yesterday, with no objection from Brother Ishida. Cora offered to speak to him, but it wasn’t necessary; I daresay he was glad to have her off his hands. Sister Cora wrote a letter to Mrs. Elliott, and Rory wrote one to Nils to break their betrothal. Tess and I helped with it last night after supper. It was a masterpiece, all about atoning for her blindness to the evil of her bosom friend and choosing devotion to the Lord over her earthly affection for Nils.

Rory nods. She looks more like herself today in a tiered crimson dress with lace at the cuffs. “Nils won’t have any trouble finding another girl. I’ve caught him looking at Emily Ruhl before.”

I sink onto the fat blue ottoman at her feet. “Will you miss him?”

Rory shrugs. “I’ll miss the idea of him. I’ll miss having someone to kiss, someone to make me feel special,” she says, blinking back tears. “You understand, I suppose. Sachi told me it was Finn you were kissing, not Paul McLeod.”

The hair at the nape of my neck prickles, and I glance behind me. I expect to catch Maura and Alice gossiping about me, but instead I see Sister Inez lurking in the doorway. She turns her gaze to my sister. “Maura, may I have a word?”

Maura looks up eagerly. “Of course.”

I frown, wondering what Inez wants with Maura, and then turn back to Rory. “Sachi told you all the secrets, didn’t she?” She was the only person I’d confided in about Finn, right after she told me Rory was her sister.

Rory flushes. I’ve never seen her blush before; I didn’t think her quite capable of it. She glances at the little girls singing at the piano, at Alice and Vi chatting on the settee.

“After I caught her kissing Elizabeth Evans,” she whispers.

“Kissing—Elizabeth?” Elizabeth Evans is a shopgirl, tall and pretty, the niece of the Chatham chocolatier.