Star Cursed - Page 30/73

I lead him down the aisle. “These are oncidiums—they’re called dancing ladies, because they look like a lady’s skirts. And these are the dendrobiums. They’re a bit sturdier than the others, so Sister Evelyn lets me help with them.”

Finn stands behind me, wrapping his arms around me. “You love it out here, don’t you?”

I do. It’s a relief to get away from the prying eyes and gossiping tongues inside the convent, but I always feel a bit guilty somehow, as though I’m being unfaithful to Mother’s roses with these hothouse orchids.

“It’s my favorite place in New London, especially now that it’s too cold for proper gardening.” I lean back into his embrace. “Have you had any time for your translations lately?”

“Hardly any. They keep us busy between council meetings and feasts and sermons. Ishida introduces me to everyone we pass as if I’m some sort of pet. It’s revolting.”

“Really? You seem rather cheery,” I say, suspicious.

“Well, I’m happy to see you, of course. That and—I’ve got a plan.” He spins me to face him. “I wasn’t going to tell you until it was official, but I met this afternoon with Brother Szymborska, the head of the National Archives. I’ve applied for a job in their office, as a clerk, and I think I’ve got a good shot at it.”

“You want to stay here, in New London?” I ask. Sister Inez’s offer pounds like a drumbeat in my head.

“With you.” He looks at me expectantly.

“That’s grand. I’m so glad,” I say, but my voice comes out flat. How can I ask it of him?

His smile fades. “You don’t sound glad.”

I turn, plucking a weed from a seedling. “You’ve always wanted to be a teacher. And what if something happens to your mother or Clara and you aren’t there? I don’t want you to wind up hating me for keeping you here.”

“I won’t. This isn’t just for you, Cate.” He smiles to soften the words. “In part, yes, I want to be near you. But teaching the Brothers’ approved curriculum is hardly my dream. At the Archives, I won’t be arresting innocent girls. I’ll be registering and preserving books—the only extant copies in New England, in some cases.”

He’s already given up so much for me. How can I ask him to sacrifice this, too? I move on to the next plot. “That sounds perfect for you.”

“For us, I thought.” Finn circles my wrists with his hands, stopping my busyness. “If you don’t want me staying in New London, you ought to just say so.”

I whirl on him. “No! That’s not it at all. Of course I want you nearby.”

“You could have fooled me.” He stares down at me. “Look, Cate. All of the Brothers’ records are housed in the Archives. The local councils send reports of every arrest. If I worked at the Archives, I’d be privy to information that could prove useful to the Sisterhood.”

“Are—are you saying you want to be a spy?” I burst into laughter.

Finn nods uncertainly. “Why is that so ridiculous?”

“It’s not! Sister Inez caught me coming back inside the other night. She saw us together. Perhaps I should have compelled her to forget, but I didn’t. She suggested that you might be able to help us. There’s another position open, as a clerk for a member of the Head Council—a Brother Denisof—and Inez asked if you would apply for it.”

Finn lounges against the table. “Well, I can see how information from the Head Council would be advantageous.”

The Head Council includes Brother Covington and eleven of his closest advisers. Their meetings are shadowy, secretive affairs; no one knows where or when they’ll be. Rumors abound about who the eleven advisers are, but no one will admit to it publicly for fear of becoming a target.

I shuck off my cloak, damp with melted snow. “It’s awfully dangerous. If they caught you passing information—”

“I’d still be in less danger than you are,” he points out, running a finger over my bare wrist.

My pulse jumps in response. “I was born into that. I haven’t got a choice. Besides, it sounds like you could be happy at the Archives.”

“I’d rather be useful. I know Denisof. Know of him, anyway. I’m not surprised he’s on the Head Council.” Despite the scruff of his beard, Finn’s face looks suddenly boyish, vulnerable. “Whichever position I get—you wouldn’t be unhappy to have me in New London?”

I shake my head. “Not at all. I want to see you as much as we can manage it.” I twine my arms around his neck. He’s got a headache; I can feel it whenever I touch him. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you yet. I’ve become a very capable nurse. I can tell you’ve got a headache, for instance.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose, grimacing. “It’s Ishida. The man goes on and on.”

I lean my forehead against his. I can see his headache: a red, throbbing haze that slowly subsides as I push against it with my magic. I would protect him from all the harm in the world if I could; a headache is nothing.

“Better now?” I ask, and he nods, looking astonished. I clutch at his shoulders as the world spins around me. “I can heal more serious injuries, too, but there are side effects. It makes me feel a bit—wobbly.”

“Wobbly?” He steadies me with a hand on either side of my waist.

“I’m fine. A headache is very minor magic; loads of witches could do that much. I saved a woman’s life yesterday.” I’m startled by my own boasting; I’ve never felt this way about magic before. I continue, in an impulsive rush: “It’s getting easier, the more I practice. I’m the best in the convent, aside from Sister Sophia, and she’s the healing teacher. I like it. I like helping people. At Harwood, I felt like—like I was doing something useful, something good.”

“At Harwood?” Finn’s voice rises. “You were at Harwood?”

I nod, pulling back so I can see his face better. His forehead is furrowed, his brown eyes grim behind his glasses. “I wasn’t alone. Sister Sophia takes girls on a nursing mission once a week. And I got to meet my godmother, Zara. Did your mother ever mention her to you?”

“The Sisters let you go to Harwood?” He seems stuck on that.

“I was perfectly safe,” I assure him. “Sister Cora—she’s the headmistress here—asked me to go speak to Zara about the past oracles. There were two between the Great Temple Fire and Brenna.”

“What happened to them?” he asks warily.

“It’s a little unsettling,” I confess. It’s a relief to tell him about the torture and experiments and madness Thomasina suffered. I haven’t wanted to worry Maura and Tess, but last night I dreamed of Brothers closing in on me with old-fashioned torches. Ishida was right at the front of the pack, cackling. It was dreadful.

I pray that it was just my fear and not a premonition.

“Good Lord.” Finn’s hands clutch at my waist. “How can they torture girls like that and still claim to be men of the Lord?”

“If they’re witches, no one cares.” My voice breaks, and I lean my cheek against his shoulder. “Have you heard about the girls they’re holding in the basement of the National Council building?”