Chapter no 3

Caraval (Caraval, 1)

Scarlett could still smell her father’s perfume. It smelled like the color of his gloves: anise and lavender and something akin to rotted plums. It stayed with her long after he left, hovering in the air around Tella while Scarlett sat by her side, waiting for a maid to bring clean bandages and medicinal supplies.

“You should have let me tell the truth,” Scarlett said. “He’d not have hit me this badly to punish you. Not with my wedding in ten days.”

“Maybe he wouldn’t have struck your face, but he’d have done something else just as vicious—broken a finger so you couldn’t finish your wedding quilt.” Tella closed her eyes and leaned back against a barrel of rum. Her cheek was now almost the color of her father’s wretched gloves. “And I’m the one who deserved to be hit, not you.”

“No one deserves this,” Julian said. It was the first time he’d spoken since their father left. “I’m—”

“Don’t,” Scarlett cut in. “Your apology will not heal her wounds.”

“I wasn’t going to apologize.” Julian paused, as if weighing his next words. “I’m changing my offer about taking you both from the isle. I’ll do it for free, if you decide you want to leave. My ship sets off from port tomorrow at dawn. Come find me if you change your mind.” He divided a look between Scarlett and Tella before he disappeared up the stairs.

“No,” Scarlett said, sensing what Tella wanted before she said any words aloud. “If we leave, things will be worse when we return.”

“I don’t plan on returning.” Tella opened her eyes. They were watery but fierce.

Scarlett was often annoyed by how impulsive her younger sister was, but

she also knew that when Tella finally set her mind to a plan, there was no changing it. Scarlett realized Tella had made her decision even before the letter from Caraval Master Legend arrived. That’s why she’d been with Julian. From the way she’d ignored him as he’d left, it was obvious she didn’t care about him. She just wanted a sailor who could take her away from Trisda. And now Scarlett had given her the reason she needed to leave.

“Scar, you should come too,” Tella said. “I know you think your marriage is going to save and protect you, but what if the count is as bad as Father, or worse?”

“He’s not,” Scarlett insisted. “You’d know this if you read his letters. He’s a perfect gentleman, and he’s promised to take care of us both.”

“Oh, sister.” Tella smiled, but it wasn’t the happy sort. It was the way someone smiles just before they say something they wish they didn’t have to. “If he’s such a gentleman, then why is he so secretive? Why have you only been told his title but not his name?”

“It’s not because of him. Keeping his identity a mystery is another way of Father trying to control us.” The letter in Scarlett’s hands proved as much. “Look for yourself.” She gave her sister the note.



The rest of the page was missing. Not only were her groom’s words cut off, but her father had been kind enough to remove any traces of the letter’s wax seal, which might have given Scarlett a further indication of who she was marrying.

Another one of his twisted games.

Sometimes Scarlett felt all of Trisda was under a dome, a large piece of glass that trapped everyone inside while her father looked down, moving—or removing—people if they weren’t in the right places. Her world was a grand game board, and her father believed this marriage would be his penultimate move, putting all that he wanted within his grasp.

Governor Dragna had more fortune than most island officials, from his rum trade and other black market dealings, yet because Trisda was one of the

Conquered Isles, he lacked the power and respect he desired. No matter how much wealth he amassed, regents and nobles from the rest of the Meridian Empire ignored him.

It didn’t matter that the isle of Trisda, or the four other Conquered Isles, had been a part of the Meridian Empire for more than sixty years; the Islanders were still thought of as the uncouth and undereducated peasants they’d been when the Empire had first subjugated them. But according to Scarlett’s father, this union would change all that, joining him with a noble family that would finally grant their own some respectability—and of course it would give him more power as well.

“This doesn’t prove anything,” Tella said. “It shows he’s kind and considerate and—”

“Anyone can sound like a gentleman in a letter. But you know only a vile person would make a bargain with our father.”

“Stop saying things like that.” Scarlett snatched the message back. Her sister was wrong. Even the count’s handwriting illustrated thoughtfulness, neat curves and soft lines. If he were uncaring, he’d not have written her so many letters to ease her fears, or promised to also take Tella with them to the Elantine Empire’s capital city of Valenda—a place where their father’s hands could not reach.

A part of Scarlett knew there was a chance the count might not be everything she hoped, but life with him had to be better than living with her father. And she could not risk defying her father, not when his vicious warning still echoed through her head: If anything gets in the way of it, more than your sisters face will bleed.

Scarlett would not jeopardize this marriage for a mere chance at winning a wish during Caraval.

“Tella, if we try to leave on our own, Father will hunt us to the edge of the world.”

“Then at least we’ll travel to the end of the world,” Tella said. “I’d rather die there than live here, or trapped in your count’s house.”

“You can’t mean that,” Scarlett scolded. She hated it when Tella made such

reckless exclamations. Scarlett often feared her sister had a death wish. The words I’d rather die passed Tella’s lips far too often. She also seemed to forget how perilous the world could be. Along with her tales of Caraval, Scarlett’s nana had also told stories of what happened to young women who didn’t have families to protect them. Girls who tried to make it on their own, who thought they were taking respectable jobs only to find themselves sold into brothels or workhouses with deplorable conditions.

“You fret too much.” Tella pushed up from the ground on wobbly legs. “What are you doing?”

“I’m not waiting any longer for a maid. I don’t want someone fussing over my face for the next hour and then forcing me to lie in bed all day.” Tella plucked her fallen shawl from the ground and wrapped it around her head like a scarf, concealing the bruised part of her face. “If I’m going to leave on Julian’s ship tomorrow, I have things to take care of, like sending word to let him know I’ll be meeting him in the morning.”

“Wait! You’re not thinking this through.” Scarlett dashed after her sister, but Tella raced up the steps and darted past the door before Scarlett could reach her.

Outside, the air was as thick as soup, and the open courtyard smelled like afternoon—damp, salty, and pungent. Someone must have recently brought a haul of fish to the kitchens. The ripe odor seemed to be everywhere as Scarlett chased Tella under weatherworn white archways and through clay-tiled halls.

Scarlett’s father never felt as if his estate was large enough. It was on the border of town, with more land than most, so he could constantly build more. More guestrooms. More courtyards. More hidden hallways to smuggle bottles of illegal alcohol, and who knew what else. Scarlett and her sister were not allowed in many of the newest halls. And if their father caught them running like this, he’d not hesitate to have their feet whipped. But injured heels and toes would be nothing compared to what he would do if he discovered Tella trying to leave the isle.

The morning mist hadn’t burned off yet. Scarlett lost sight of her sister multiple times, as Tella ventured into the foggiest corridors. For a moment

Scarlett imagined she’d lost her completely. Then Scarlett glimpsed a sliver of a blue dress, heading up a set of stairs to the highest point of the Dragna estate

—the priests’ confessional. A tall tower built out of white stones that gleamed in the sun, so everyone from town could see. Governor Dragna liked people to think he was a pious man, though in truth he would never declare his dirty deeds to someone else, making this one of the few spots on the isle where he rarely ventured—perfect for smuggling covert letters.

Scarlett picked up her pace at the top of the stairs, finally catching up to her sister in the half-moon courtyard right outside the carved wooden doors that led to the confessional.

“Stop,” Scarlett called. “If you write to that sailor, I’m going to tell Father everything!”

The figure stilled immediately. Then it was Scarlett’s turn to freeze, as the fog lifted and the girl turned around. Sharp sunlight streamed into the tiny courtyard, illuminating a young novice dressed in blue. With her head covered by a scarf, she had only looked like Tella.

Scarlett had to give her devious sister credit for being good at evasion. As sweat dripped down the nape of her neck, Scarlett imagined Tella pilfering supplies somewhere else on the estate, preparing to leave with Julian the following day.

Scarlett needed another way to stop her.

Tella would hate her for a while, but Scarlett couldn’t let her sister lose everything for Caraval. Not when Scarlett’s marriage could save them both— or destroy them if it didn’t happen.

Scarlett followed the young novice into the confessional. Small and round, it was always so quiet, Scarlett could hear the candles flicker. Thick and dripping, they lined the stone walls, illuminating tapestries of saints in various states of agony, while dust and dried flowers created a stale aroma. Scarlett’s nose itched as she walked past a row of wooden pews. At the end of them, papers for writing down one’s sins rested on an altar.

Before her mother disappeared, seven years ago, Scarlett had never been inside this place. She didn’t even know that to confess, people scribed their ill

deeds on paper, then handed them to the priests, who set the notes on fire. Like her father, Scarlett’s mother, Paloma, had not been religious. But after Paloma had vanished from Trisda, Scarlett and her sister had felt desperate, and with nowhere else to go they’d come here to pray for their mother’s return.

Of course, those pleas had gone unanswered, but the priests were not entirely unhelpful; Scarlett and her sister had discovered they were very discreet about delivering messages.

Scarlett picked up a piece of sin paper and carefully penned a note.

I need to see you tonight. Meet me at Del Ojos Beach.

One hour past midnight.

It’s important.



Before handing it to a priest with a generous donation, Scarlett addressed the message, but she didn’t sign it. Instead of her name, she drew a heart. She hoped that would be enough.

You'll Also Like