Star Cursed - Page 36/73

Oh, no. I take the steps two at a time. What has Rory done to warrant a disciplinary meeting already? She promised me she’d behave! She’s seemed fine—a little subdued, perhaps, but I haven’t smelled sherry on her once or heard her making inappropriate jokes—though, honestly, I’ve been preoccupied. Perhaps I should have been looking after her more. She must be lonely and half mad with worry for Sachi.

Sachi. I’ve hardly thought of her lately, in all the bustle of my sisters arriving. What sort of place are they holding her in? What must she be going through, waiting for her trial, knowing how likely it is she’ll be sentenced to Harwood for the rest of her life?

I burst into Sister Cora’s sitting room in a panic. “Whatever she’s done, she’s sorry,” I announce breathlessly. “Please don’t dismiss her.”

“Catherine,” Sister Cora says, “what on earth are you talking about?”

“Me, I think.” Rory’s sitting in one of the green-flowered chairs by the window, in a tomato-red dress with enormous puffed sleeves and a daring décolletage. She looks more courtesan than nun. “She thinks I’ve been misbehaving. Reasonable assumption, really, but I’ve been a model student, Cate. No flirting with men on the sidewalks.”

Sister Cora chuckles. Sister Sophia must have been to see her recently; she looks hale and hearty in a purple gown with silver fringe. “It’s not a disciplinary meeting. I wanted to speak with her about her cousin Brenna.”

“Oh. Well.” I hover in the doorway awkwardly. “I’m sorry for doubting you, Rory.”

“You’re forgiven. It’s quite nice, really, the way you came flying to my rescue.”

Sister Cora beckons me in. “Now that you’re here, you may as well join us. Victoria was just giving me a bit of background on Brenna.” She waves a hand, and the high-backed desk chair slides across the room to rest opposite her and Rory.

Rory nods, the red feather in her hair wagging. “We grew up together, in and out of each other’s houses a dozen times a day. Brenna’s father and my stepfather, Jack, were brothers.” Rory’s brown eyes dance, remembering, but then the light in them dims. “When my mother—fell ill, Brenna’s family kept her from visiting so much.”

“How did you find out about her prophecies?” Cora asks.

“Brenna came to us the day before Jack died. She told him not to go Newburgh—not to go anywhere he couldn’t walk. He laughed it off. And then on the way back from Newburgh, his horse spooked and the carriage crashed into a tree. Just like Brenna said it would. The day after the funeral, her father sent her to Harwood.”

So Brenna tried to stop it. She must have known how dangerous it was to speak of having visions, but she tried to warn him anyway, and look what thanks she got for her troubles.

No one can find out what Tess is.

“She’s always been a bit odd, but it was Harwood that turned her mind,” Rory says, her full lips pursed, and I know that she must be thinking of Sachi. Of whether that place will break her sister, just as it did her cousin.

“Was it Harwood, or was it her prophecies? Do oracles often go mad?” I’m frightened to ask, but I need to know. Have there been others besides Brenna and Thomasina?

“She’s not the first,” Sister Cora sighs. “But Brenna’s visions aren’t the cause of her illness—or at least they’re not the only cause. I daresay you girls ought to know the truth of it, especially you, Cate.”

Rory and I exchange mystified glances.

“We tried to intervene at Brenna’s first trial. When I heard she was an oracle, I wanted her safe at the Sisterhood. Witch or no, it was the best place for her.” Sister Cora’s voice is kind, as though they were doing Brenna a favor. “As she wasn’t a witch, however, we gave Brenna the choice. She refused to come to New London with us. She was frightened; she wanted to stay in Chatham. Honestly, I didn’t think it would be long before she was arrested again.”

“So you sent her to Harwood?” Rory shoots to her feet, incensed.

Sister Cora holds up a silencing hand. “That wasn’t our original intention. I meant to erase her memory of the conversation and our presence there. I’d brought a student with me who was capable of mind-magic; I thought it beneficial for her to witness a trial. I allowed her to compel Brenna. Unfortunately, it all went wrong. Understand—this is a risk we take, each and every time we perform mind-magic. Brenna’s not been the same since.”

Alice must be the one who ruined Brenna.

Brenna’s creepy chatter makes sense, suddenly. Holes in my head. The crows put them there. They came to my trial. The Brothers left me alone with them. I was so frightened. I thought they would peck out my eyes, but they only took my memories.

I’m so horrified I can hardly think straight. This is why Mother preached against mind-magic, why it mustn’t ever be used casually.

At the same time, a tiny part of me is relieved. Brenna’s madness isn’t because of her visions. That’s one less thing for Tess to fret about.

There are tears in Rory’s brown eyes. “You broke her. You let a student practice on her, you broke her, and then you abandoned her!”

“Victoria, I understand this is difficult for you. Please, sit down, so we can discuss it,” Cora says. “Brenna wasn’t well. Harwood was the best place for her.”

“Harwood isn’t a place anyone goes to get better,” I object. Cora must know that.

“That’s a lie. You were afraid she would give you away,” Rory accuses, looming over us. She’s as tall as I am, but voluptuous in all the places I’m not. Her eyes narrow. “You sent her there to rot, thinking no one would pay any mind to the ravings of a madwoman. But now they are paying attention, and you—I’ve heard the rumors. The war council met to discuss killing her!” Tears run down Rory’s face, and she’s trembling like a snowflake on the November wind.

“I’m sorry.” Sister Cora spreads her hands wide, shaking her snowy head. “I would like to promise you that no harm will come to Brenna from the Sisterhood, but I cannot. My first duty is to protect our girls, especially the next oracle. I can only tell you that, for now, we intend Brenna no injury.”

I wince. Lord, what a dreadful decision to make.

I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make it.

Will it be Tess soon? If Tess argued against killing Brenna but Inez argued for it, whose vote would win out? Would Tess have a vote, as the future headmistress? I am helping Inez, and yet it strikes me that if I were the oracle and had to let her rule in my stead for a matter of years instead of months, I would not be entirely comfortable with the arrangement.

“Can’t promise? Won’t, you mean. If it were Cate, you’d move heaven and earth to get her free,” Rory says bitterly. “But my cousin—my sister—they’re expendable!”

She stomps toward the door, her words reminding me of Zara’s warnings about Cora. Then she’s flailing, sliding back toward us. She collapses awkwardly into her chair, as if pushed by an invisible hand.

Sister Cora rises. There’s no sign of her pain today; her movements are graceful and strong. “You should thank Persephone it is not Cate. Do you know what could happen if it were? The prophecy says very clearly that if she falls into the hands of the Brothers, it could cause a second Terror.” Glaring down at Rory, her tall body clad in purple, Cora still looks like a fierce old queen. “Brenna wouldn’t be the only one imprisoned. We’d all be locked up, or worse. Burnt in our beds at night like the witches in the Great Temple, or in town squares throughout New England. Beheaded in front of our families—and our families beheaded, too, as sympathizers, if they tried to interfere. Weighted down with stones and thrown into rivers to drown. Is that what you want?”