Star Cursed - Page 61/73

“Are you all right?” I ask, touching Tess’s knee.

Tess nods, but her gray eyes look haunted. “It will work. I saw it. Sister Sophia was driving a wagon full of girls. I recognized some of them from the uncooperative ward. It was near dawn, I think; the sky was pink, and they were driving down a long carriageway toward a strange house. It was pink, too, with turrets and a widow’s walk, and it was by the sea. I could hear the waves and the gulls; I could even smell the salt water. It was so peculiar.” She puts a hand to her temple, and now I feel the red haze of her headache flaring.

“I—I know that house. I’ve been there.” Zara’s voice comes out a rasp, and she clears her throat. “There was a network of scholars who sympathized with the Daughters of Persephone. They came under the Brothers’ suspicions often enough that they had need of safe houses. That was one of them.”

“Could you tell us where it is?” I ask.

A grin stretches ghoulishly across Zara’s thin face. “I can do better than that. If you’ve got anything to write on, I’ll draw you a map.”

Tess produces a folded piece of paper and a stub of a pencil and gives them to Zara, her hands shaking.

“Let me fix your headache,” I say, and she nods, leaning back against the wall, snuggling into her gray cloak. For a moment, the only sound in the room is the scratching of Zara’s pencil as she marks out the map.

After Cora and my work in the infirmary, healing Tess’s headache is nothing. I only feel a moment’s dizziness. I’m more worried about her. She gives a little sigh when her headache disappears, but her face is still pinched with worry. If she saw our success, why is she so upset? The existence of a possible safe house is a boon; we can only hide a few girls in the convent, and I’ve been fretting about what will happen to the others after they leave Harwood.

Thank the Lord her vision came upon her now and not fifteen minutes ago. We would have been in the middle of the uncooperative ward, with dozens of witnesses. She’s in no state to cast spells, and my mind-magic alone wouldn’t have been enough.

Bringing her here was mad.

“Here.” Zara hands us the map. Her pupils are normal now; the shock seems to have focused her. “It’s a full night’s drive, but it’s the closest of the three safe houses we had. A married couple ran the place—John and Helen Grayson. And there was a password. It may have changed, but it used to be corruptio optimi pessima.”

“The corruption of the best is the worst,” Tess translates.

Zara nods. She’s gazing at Tess with fascination, as though she’s an angel come to earth. “You—you’re the oracle.” She ducks her head and gives a shy little laugh. “I—oh, I’ve so many questions for you. I hoped that someday—I’ve never spoken with an oracle who wasn’t touched by madness.”

Tess bites her lip. “Were they all mad?”

“Brenna, and Thomasina before her. I don’t know how Marcela might have turned out; she only lived to twenty-five.” Tess flinches, and Zara puts out a hand toward her. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to frighten—”

“No. I want to know everything. That’s why I came.” Tess tucks her feet under her on the bed, then smooths her pink skirts around her. “Your book was very helpful. I read it twice, when the visions first began. It made me feel less alone,” she confides, and Zara’s smile could melt the snow on the hillside.

Tess needs more mothering—more guidance—than I can provide.

“I know the Sisterhood has been awful to you, Zara,” I begin, haltingly, my hands knotted together in my lap. “I would understand if you wanted to go to one of the safe houses or somewhere else entirely. But I would like it very much if you’d come back to the convent with us. You’d be a great help to Tess—and to me.”

Next to me, Tess is perfectly still, as though she’s holding her breath.

Zara looks at me for a long moment, her dark eyes searching. Then her hand goes to the gold locket at her throat. “You’re Anna’s girls. If you can get me out of here, I’ll come.”

Tess bursts into tears and hurls herself at Zara.

“Thank you,” I say fervently.

Zara opens her arms. “Thank you,” she says, in a voice choked with emotion. I think of how easily Tess expresses her affection—the way we hug and swat and pinch, braid each other’s hair and tie each other’s sashes—and I wonder how long it’s been since Zara’s had that, the simple comfort of human touch.

Zara smiles at me over Tess’s shoulder. “You’re strong girls. Clever. I wish Anna were here to see it. She would be proud.”

“Would she?” I stare at the ugly cement wall. “Sometimes I think she’d want us as far away from all this as we could get. Mother hated her magic.”

Zara shakes her head as Tess settles back next to me on the scratchy brown blanket. “Not always. Not when we were girls. We loved being witches then. But Anna used her magic in a way she regretted, and it soured her. She came to think of her gift as poison.”

I clench my hands tighter to hide their trembling. Here, finally, may be my chance for answers. “What did the Sisters make her do?”

Zara hesitates, glancing out the window. There’s nothing to see but gray sky and white snow and the farmer’s red silo over the hill. “This was your mother’s secret to tell, not mine.”

“But she didn’t tell it,” I say, tapping my boot impatiently. “There’s so much she never told us. I can’t forget the way she looked at me when she realized I could do mind-magic. She was horrified.”

Zara leans forward, patched elbows propped on sharp knees, like a puppet all made of right angles. “Not at you, Cate. She was ashamed of herself. The magic that broke your mother’s heart wasn’t something the Sisters made her do. It was something she chose.”

Tess and I shift closer to each other on the bed.

“You should know that she loved your father very much,” Zara begins. “I remember when they met—Brendan was just a poor classics student, but Anna didn’t care. She was so happy. So eager to become a wife and mother and leave the convent behind. She was always a bit of a romantic.”

I nod. I remember the way my parents laughed together, the way they walked through the gardens hand in hand when Mother was well enough. Before she died, Father could be downright merry.

“She never told him about the magic, though.” It seems such a large omission. Too big a lie for a marriage to survive.

“That,” Zara says, “is where you are wrong.”

But Father doesn’t know about our magic. He’s never once indicated—and Mother’s instructions were very clear: we were to keep the magic a secret from everyone, including Father. If he knew about her magic—

My faith in him is shaky at best, but he never would have betrayed her.

Which means she—

Tess arrives at the same conclusion, a second before me. She jumps to her feet. “She erased his memory, didn’t she?”

Outrage floods through me. Why deprive us of a father who could protect us, who would know what we are and love us anyway?

“For his own safety, and for yours,” Zara says softly. “He would have done anything for Anna. When I came under suspicion, she was worried she would be next—and that if she were arrested, Brendan would do something desperate to protect her. Then both of your parents would have been gone.”