Chapter no 18

The Cruel Prince

wake up groggy. I cried myself to sleep, and now my eyes are swollen and red, my head pounding. The whole previous night feels like a feverish, terrible nightmare. It doesn’t seem possible that I snuck into Balekin’s house and stole one of his servants. It seems even less possible that she preferred to drown than to live with the memories of Faerie. As I drink fennel tea and shrug on a doublet, Gnarbone comes to my door.

“Your pardon,” he says with a short bow. “Jude must come immediately


Tatterfell waves him off. “She’s not fit to see anyone right at the moment.

I’ll send her down when she’s dressed.”

“Prince Dain awaits her downstairs in General Madoc’s parlor. He commanded me to fetch her and not to mind whatever state of dishabille she was in. He said to carry her if I had to.” Gnarbone seems repentant at having to say that, but it’s clear that none of us can refuse the Crown Prince.

Cold dread coils in my stomach. How did I not think that he of all people, with his spies, would find out what I’d done? I wipe my hands against my velvet top. Despite his order, I pull on pants and boots before I go. No one stops me. I am vulnerable enough; I will keep what dignity I can.

Prince Dain is standing near the window, behind Madoc’s desk. His back is to me, and my gaze goes automatically to the sword hanging from his belt, visible beneath his heavy wool cloak. He does not turn when I come in.

“I have done wrong,” I say. I am glad he stays where he is. It’s easier to speak when he’s not looking at me. “And I will repent in whatever way—”

He turns, his face full of a wild rage that makes me suddenly see his resemblance to Cardan. His hand comes down hard on Madoc’s desk, rocking

everything atop it. “Have I not taken you into my service and given you a great boon? Did I not promise you a place in my Court? And yet—and yet, you use what I have taught you to endanger my plans.”

My gaze goes to the floor. He has the power to do anything to me. Anything. Not even Madoc could stop him—nor do I think he would try. And not only have I disobeyed him, I have declared my loyalty to something completely separate from him. I have helped a mortal girl. I have acted like a mortal.

I bite my bottom lip to keep from begging for his forgiveness. I cannot allow myself to speak.

“The boy wasn’t as badly hurt as he might have been, but with the right knife—a longer knife—the strike would have been lethal. Do not think I don’t know you were going for that worse strike.”

I look up, suddenly, too surprised to hide it. We look at each other for several uncomfortable moments. I stare into the silvered gray of his eyes, taking note of the way his brows furrow, forming deep, displeased lines. I note all this to avoid thinking of how I almost gave away an even greater crime than the one he’s discovered.

“Well?” he demands. “Had you no plan for being found out?” “He tried to glamour me into jumping out of the tower,” I say.

“And so he knows you can’t be glamoured. Worse and worse.” He comes around the desk toward me. “You are my creature, Jude Duarte. You will strike only when I tell you to strike. Otherwise, stay your hand. Do you understand?”

“No,” I say automatically. What he’s asking is ridiculous. “Was I supposed to just let him hurt me?”

If he knew all the things I’d really done, he would be even angrier than he


He slams a dagger down on Madoc’s desk. “Pick it up,” he says, and I feel

the compulsion of a glamour. My fingers close on the hilt. A kind of haziness comes over me. I both know and don’t know what I am doing.

“In a moment, I am going to ask you to put the blade through your hand. When I ask you to do that, I want you to remember where your bones are, where your veins are. I want you to stab through your hand doing the least damage possible.” His voice is lulling, hypnotic, but my heart speeds anyway.

Against my will, I aim the sharp point of the knife. I press it lightly against my skin. I am ready.

I hate him, but I am ready. I hate him, and I hate myself.

“Now,” he says, and the glamour releases me. I take a half step back. I am in control of myself again, still holding the knife. He was about to make—

“Do not disappoint me,” Prince Dain says.

I realize all at once that I have not gotten a reprieve. He hasn’t released me because he wants to spare me. He could glamour me again, but he won’t because he wants me to stab myself willingly. He wants me to prove my devotion, blood and bone. I hesitate—of course I hesitate. This is absurd. This is awful. This isn’t how people show loyalty. This is epic, epic bullshit.

“Jude?” he asks. I cannot tell if this is a test he expects me to pass or one he wants me to fail. I think of Sophie at the bottom of the sea, her pockets full of stones. I think of the satisfaction on Valerian’s face when he told me to jump from the tower. I think of Cardan’s eyes, daring me to defy him.

I have tried to be better than them, and I have failed.

What could I become if I stopped worrying about death, about pain, about anything? If I stopped trying to belong?

Instead of being afraid, I could become something to fear.

My eyes on him, I slam the knife into my hand. The pain is a wave that rises higher and higher but never crashes. I make a sound low in my throat. I may not deserve punishment for this, but I deserve punishment.

Dain’s expression is odd, blank. He takes a step back from me, as though I am the one who did the shocking thing instead of merely doing what he ordered. Then he clears his throat. “Do not reveal your skill with a blade,” he says. “Do not reveal your mastery over glamour. Do not reveal all that you can do. Show your power by appearing powerless. That is what I need from you.”

“Yes,” I gasp, and draw the blade out again. Blood runs over Madoc’s desk, more than I expect. I feel suddenly dizzy.

“Wipe it up,” he says. His jaw is set. Whatever surprise he felt seems gone, replaced by something else.

There is nothing to clean the desk with but the hem of my doublet.

“Now give me your hand.” Reluctantly, I hold it out to him, but all he does is take it gently and wrap it in a green cloth from his pocket. I try to flex my fingers and nearly pass out from pain. The fabric of the makeshift bandage is already turning dark. “Once I am gone, go to the kitchens and put moss on it.” I nod again. I am not sure I can translate my thoughts into speech. I am afraid I am not going to be able to stand much longer, but I lock my knees and stare at the notch of chipped wood on Madoc’s desk where the tip of the blade

hit, stained a bright but fading red.

The door to the study swings open, startling us both. Prince Dain drops my hand, and I shove it into my pocket, the pain of which nearly staggers me. Oriana stands there, a wooden tray in her hands with a steaming pot and three clay cups atop it. She is dressed in a day gown the vivid hue of unripe

persimmons. “Prince Dain,” she says, making a pretty bow. “The servants said you were sequestered with Jude, and I told them they had to be mistaken. Surely, with your coronation so close, your time is too valuable for a silly girl to take up so much of it. You do her too much credit, and no doubt the weight of your regard is quite overwhelming.”

“No doubt,” he says, giving her a tooth-gritting smile. “I have tarried too long.”

“Take some tea before you leave us,” she says, putting down the tray on Madoc’s desk. “We could all have a cup and speak together. If Jude has done something to offend you…”

“Your pardon,” he says, not particularly kindly. “But your reminder of my duties spurs me to immediate action.”

He brushes past Oriana, looking back at me once before stalking off. I have no idea whether I passed the test or not. But either way, he does not trust me as he once did. I have thrown that away.

I don’t trust him as much, either.

“Thank you,” I say to Oriana. I am shivering all over.

She doesn’t scold me, for once. She doesn’t say anything. Her hands come down lightly on my shoulders, and I lean against her. The scent of crushed verbena is in my nose. I close my eyes and drink in the familiar smell. I am desperate. I will take any comfort there is, any comfort at all.



I do not think of lessons or lectures. Shaking all over, I go straight back to my room and climb into bed. Tatterfell strokes my hair briefly, as though I am a drowsy cat, and then returns to the task of sorting my dresses. My new gown is scheduled to arrive later today, and the coronation will begin the day after. Dain’s being named as the High King will kick off a month of revelry, while the moon wanes and then swells anew.

My hand hurts so much that I cannot bear to put moss on it. I just cradle it against my chest.

It throbs, the pain coming in staggering pulses, like a second, ragged heartbeat. I cannot bring myself to do more than lie there and wait for it to ebb. My thoughts drift dizzily.

Somewhere out there, all the lords and ladies and lieges ruling over far-flung Courts are arriving to pay their respects to the new High King. Night Courts and Bright Courts, Free Courts, and Wild Courts. The High King’s subjects and the Courts with which there are truces, however wobbly. Even

Orlagh’s Court of the Undersea will be in attendance. Many will pledge themselves to faithfully accept the new High King’s judgment in exchange for his wisdom and protection. Pledge to defend him and avenge him, if need be. Then all will show their respect by partying their hardest.

I’ll be expected to party along with them. A month of dancing and feasting and boozing and riddling and dueling.

For that, each of my best dresses must be dusted off, pressed, and refreshed. Tatterfell sews on cunning cuffs made from the scales of pinecones around the edges of frayed sleeves. Small tears in skirts are stitched over with embroidery in the shape of leaves and pomegranates and—on one—a cavorting fox. She has stitched dozens of leather slippers for me. I will be expected to dance so fiercely that I wear through a pair every night.

At least Locke will be there to dance with me. I try to concentrate on the memory of his amber eyes instead of the pain in my hand.

As Tatterfell moves around the room, my eyes close, and I fall into a strange, fitful sleep. When I wake, it’s full night, and I am sweaty all over. I feel oddly calm, though, tears and panic and pain somehow smoothed over. The agony of my hand has turned into a dull throb.

Tatterfell is gone. Vivi is sitting at the end of my bed, her cat eyes catching moonlight and shining chartreuse.

“I came to see if you were well,” she says. “Except that of course you’re not.”

I force myself to sit up again, using only one of my hands. “I’m sorry— what I asked you to do. I shouldn’t have. I put you in danger.”

“I am your elder sister,” she says. “You don’t need to protect me from my own decisions.”

After Sophie plunged into the water, Vivi and I spent the hours until dawn diving into the icy sea, calling for Sophie, trying to find some trace of her. We swam under the black water and screamed her name until our throats were hoarse.

“Still,” I say.

Still,” she echoes fiercely. “I wanted to help. I wanted to help that girl.” “Too bad we didn’t.” The words catch in my throat.

Vivienne shrugs, and I am reminded of how, despite her being my sister, we differ in ways that are hard to comprehend. “You did a brave thing. Be glad of that. Not everyone can be brave. I’m not always.”

“What do you mean? The whole ‘not telling Heather what’s really going on’?”

She makes a face at me but smiles, clearly grateful I am speaking of something less dire—and yet both of our thoughts went from one dead mortal

girl to her beloved, also mortal. “We were lying in bed together a few days ago,” Vivi says. “And she started tracing the shape of my ear. I thought she was going to ask something that would give me an opening, but she just told me my ear modding was really good. Did you know there are mortals who cut human ears and sew them so they heal pointed?”

I am not surprised. I understand longing for ears like hers. I feel like I have spent half my life wanting them, with their delicate, furred points.

What I do not say is this: No one could touch those ears and believe they were made by anything other than nature. Heather is either lying to Vivi or lying to herself.

“I don’t want her to be afraid of me,” Vivi says.

I think of Sophie, and I am sure Vivi is thinking of her, too, pockets full of stones. Sophie at the bottom of the sea. Perhaps she is not so unaffected by what happens as she wants to seem.

From downstairs, I hear Taryn’s voice. “They’re here! Our dresses! Come look!”

Slipping off my bed, Vivi smiles at me. “At least we had an adventure.

And now we’re going to have another one.”

I let her go ahead, as I need to cover my bandaged hand with a glove before I follow her down the stairs. I press a button, ripped from a coat, over the wound to divert direct pressure. Now I have to hope that the bulge on my palm isn’t too noticeable.

Our gowns have been spread out over three chairs and a sofa in Oriana’s salon. Madoc is patiently listening to her rhapsodize over the perfection of their garments. Her ball gown is the exact pink of her eyes, deepening to red, and seems to be made of enormous petals that spread into a train. The fabric of Taryn’s is gorgeous, the cut of her mantua and stomacher perfect. Beside them is Oak’s sweet little suit of clothes, and there are a doublet and cape for Madoc in his favorite shade of crusted-blood red. Vivi holds up her silvery gray dress, with its tattered edges, sparing a smile for me.

Across the room, I see my gown. Taryn gasps when I lift it up.

“That’s not what you ordered,” she says, accusatory. As though somehow I have deliberately deceived her.

It’s true that the dress I am holding is not the one that Brambleweft sketched for me. It’s something else entirely, something that reminds me of the mad, amazing garments that Locke’s mother’s closet was stuffed with. An ombré ball gown, its color deepening from white near my throat, through palest blue to deepest indigo at my feet. Over that is stitched the stark outlines of trees, the way I see them from my window as dusk is falling. The seamstress has even sewn on little crystal beads to represent stars.

This is a dress I could never have imagined, one so perfect that for a moment, looking at it, I can think of nothing but its beauty.

“I—I don’t think this is mine,” I say. “Taryn’s right. It doesn’t look anything like the sketches.”

“It’s still lovely,” Oriana says consolingly, as though I am displeased. “And it had your name pinned to it.”

I am glad no one is making me give it back. I do not know why I was given such a dress, but if there’s any way I can fit into it, I will.

Madoc raises his brows. “We will all look magnificent.” When he walks past, departing the salon, he ruffles my hair. In moments like these, it is almost possible to think there is no river of spilled blood between us all.

Oriana claps her hands together. “Girls, come here for a moment. Attend me.”

We three arrange ourselves on the couch beside her, waiting, puzzled. “Tomorrow, you will be among the Gentry from many different Courts.

You’ve been under Madoc’s protection, but that protection will be unknown to most of the Folk in attendance. You must not allow yourselves to be lured into making bargains or promises that can be used against you. And, above all, give no insult that might excuse a trespass of hospitality. Do not be foolish, and do not put yourself in anyone’s power.”

“We are never foolish,” Taryn says, a blatant lie if ever there was one. Oriana makes a pained face. “I would keep you from the revels, but

Madoc has specifically instructed that you participate in them. So heed my advice. Be careful, and perhaps you will find ways to be pleasing.”

I should have expected this—more cautions, another lecture. If she does not trust us to behave at a revel, she certainly will not trust us at a coronation. We rise, dismissed, and she takes each of us in turn, pressing her chilly mouth against our cheeks. My kiss comes last.

“Do not aspire above your station,” she says softly to me.

For a moment, I don’t understand why she would say that. Then, horrified, I get her meaning. After this afternoon, she thinks I am Prince Dain’s lover.

“I’m not,” I blurt out. Of course, Cardan would say that everything I’ve got is above my station.

She takes my hand, her expression pitying.

“I am only thinking of your future,” Oriana says, voice still soft. “Those close to the throne are seldom truly close to anyone else. A mortal girl would have even fewer allies.”

I nod as though giving in to her wise advice. If she doesn’t believe me, then the easiest thing is to go along with her. I guess it makes more sense than the truth—that Dain has selected me to be part of his nest of thieves and spies.

Something about my expression causes her to catch both of my hands. I wince at the pressure on my wound. “Before I was Madoc’s wife, I was one of the consorts to the King of Elfhame. Hear me, Jude. It is no easy thing to be the lover of the High King. It is to always be in danger. It is to always be a pawn.”

I must be gaping at her, as shocked as I am. I never wondered about her life before she came to us. Suddenly, Oriana’s fears for us make a different kind of sense; she was used to playing by an entirely different set of rules. The floor seems to have tilted beneath my feet. I do not know the woman in front of me, do not know what she suffered before coming to this house, no longer even know how she really came to be Madoc’s wife. Did she love him, or was she making a clever marriage, to gain his protection?

“I didn’t know,” I say stupidly.

“I never gave Eldred a child,” she tells me. “But another of his lovers nearly did. When she died, rumor pointed to one of the princes’ poisoning her, just to prevent competition for the throne.” Oriana watches my face with her pale pink eyes. I know she’s talking about Liriope. “You don’t need to believe me. There are a dozen more rumors just as terrible. When there is a lot of power concentrated in one place, there are plenty of scraps to fight over. If the Court isn’t busy drinking poison, then it’s drinking bile. You wouldn’t be well suited to it.”

“What makes you think that?” I ask, her words annoyingly close to Madoc’s when he dismissed my chances at knighthood. “Maybe it would suit me just fine.”

Her fingers brush my face again, stroking back my hair. It should be a tender gesture, but it’s an evaluating one instead. “He must have loved your mother very much,” she says. “He’s besotted with you girls. If I were him, I would have sent you away a long time ago.”

I don’t doubt that.

“If you go to Prince Dain despite my warning, if he gets his heir on you, tell no one before you tell me. Swear it on your mother’s grave.” I feel her nails as her hand comes to rest against the back of my neck and wince. “No one. Do you understand?”

“I promise.” This is one vow I should have no trouble keeping. I try to give the words weight, so she’ll believe I mean it. “Seriously. I promise.”

She releases me. “You may go. Rest well, Jude. When you rise, the coronation will be upon us, and there will be little time left for resting.”

I curtsy and take my leave.

In the hall, Taryn is waiting for me. She sits on a bench carved with coiled serpents and swings her feet. As the door closes, she looks up. “What was

going on with her?”

I shake my head, trying to rid myself of a jumble of feelings. “Did you know she used to be the High King’s consort?”

Taryn’s eyebrows go up, and she snorts, delighted. “No. Is that what she told you?”

“Pretty much.” I think of Locke’s mother and the singing bird in the acorn, of Eldred on his throne, head bowed by his own crown. It is hard for me to picture him taking lovers, no less the quantity he must have taken to have so many children, an unnatural number for a Faerie. And yet, perhaps that’s just a failure of my imagination.

“Huh.” Taryn looks as though she’s having the same failure of imagination. She frowns, puzzling for a moment, then seems to remember what she’d waited to ask me. “Do you know why Prince Balekin was here?”

“He was here?” I am not sure I can weather more surprises. “Here, in the house?”

She nods. “He arrived with Madoc, and they were shut up in his office for hours.”

I wonder how long they arrived after Prince Dain’s departure. Hopefully, long enough for Prince Dain not to overhear anything about a missing servant. My hand throbs whenever I move it, but I am just glad I can move it at all. I am not eager to face any more punishment.

And yet Madoc didn’t seem angry with me just now when he saw me with my dress. He seemed normal, pleased even. Perhaps they were conferring about other things.

“Weird,” I say to Taryn, because I am commanded not to tell her about being a spy and I cannot bring myself to tell her about Sophie.

I am glad that the coronation is nearly here. I want it to come and sweep everything else away.



That night, I drowse in my bed, fully dressed, waiting for the Ghost. I have bagged out on lessons for two nights straight—the night of Locke’s party and last night, searching the water for Sophie. He’s bound to be annoyed when he comes.

I put that as far out of my head as I can and concentrate on resting.

Breathing in and out.

When I first came to Faerie, I had trouble sleeping. You’d think I’d have had nightmares, but I don’t remember many. My dreams struggled to rival the

horror of my actual life. Instead, I couldn’t calm down enough to rest. I would toss and turn all night and all morning, my heart racing, finally falling into a headachy sleep in the late afternoon, when the rest of Faerie was just rising. I took to wandering the corridors of the house like a restless spirit, thumbing through ancient books, moving around the game pieces on the Fox and Geese board, toasting cheese in the kitchens, and staring at Madoc’s blood-soaked cap, as though it contained the answers to the universe in its tide lines. One of the hobs who used to work here, Nell Uther, would find me and guide me back to my room, telling me that if I couldn’t sleep, then I ought to just close my eyes and lie still. That at least my body could rest, even if my mind wouldn’t.

I am lying like that when I hear a rustling on the balcony. I turn, fully

expecting to see the Ghost. I am about to tease him for actually making a sound when I realize the person rattling the doors isn’t the Ghost at all. It’s Valerian, and he has a long, curving knife in one hand and a smile every bit as sharp pulling at his mouth.

“What…” I scramble into a sitting position. “What are you doing here?”

I realize that I am whispering, as though am afraid of his being discovered.

You are my creature, Jude Duarte. You will strike only when I tell you to strike. Otherwise, stay your hand.

At least Prince Dain didn’t glamour me to obey those orders.

“Why shouldn’t I be here?” Valerian asks me, striding closer. He smells like pinesap and burned hair, and there is a light dusting of golden powder streaked over one cheek. I am not sure where he’s been before this, but I don’t think he’s sober.

“This is my home.” I am prepared for training with the Ghost. I have a knife in my boot and another at my hip, but thinking of Dain’s command, thinking of how not to disappoint him further, I reach for neither. I am flummoxed by Valerian’s being here, in my room.

He walks up to my bed. He’s holding the knife well enough, but I can tell he’s not particularly practiced with it. He is no general’s son. “None of this is your home,” he tells me, voice shaking with anger.

“If Cardan put you up to this, you should really rethink your relationship,” I say, finally, now, afraid. By some miracle, my voice stays steady. “Because if I scream, there are guards in the hall. They’ll come. They’ve got big, pointy swords. Huge. Your friend is going to get you killed.”

Show your power by appearing powerless.

He doesn’t seem to be absorbing my words. His eyes are wild, red-rimmed, and not entirely focused on me. “Do you know what he said when I

told him you’d stabbed me? He told me it was no more than I deserved.”

That’s impossible; Valerian must have misunderstood. Cardan must have been mocking him for letting me under his guard.

“What did you expect?” I ask him, trying to hide my surprise. “I don’t know if you noticed, but the guy is a real jerk.”

If Valerian wasn’t sure he wanted to stab me before, he’s sure now. With a leap, he slams the blade into the mattress as I roll out of the way and onto my feet. Goose feathers fly up when he draws back the blade, drifting through the air like snow. He scrambles to his feet as I pull out a dagger of my own.

Do not reveal your skill with a blade. Do not reveal your mastery over glamour. Do not reveal all that you can do.

Little did Prince Dain know that my real skill lies in pissing people off.

Valerian advances on me again. He’s intoxicated and furious and not all that well trained, but he’s one of the Folk, born with their cat reflexes and blessed with height that gives him better reach. My heart is hammering in my chest. I should scream for help. I should scream.

I open my mouth, and he lunges at me. The scream comes out as a whuff of breath as I lose my balance. My shoulder hits the floor hard as I roll again. I am practiced enough that despite my surprise, I kick his knife hand when he comes toward me. The blade skitters across the floor.

“Okay,” I say, as though I am trying to calm us both down. “Okay.”

He doesn’t pause. Even though I am holding a knife, even though I’ve avoided his attacks twice and disarmed him, even though I’ve stabbed him once before, he grabs for my throat again. His fingers sink into the flesh of my neck, and I remember how it felt to have fruit jammed into my mouth, soft flesh parting against my teeth. I remember choking on nectar and pulp as the horrible bliss of the everapple stole over me, robbing me of caring even that I was dying. He’d wanted to watch me die, wanted to watch me fight for breath the way I am fighting for it now. I look into his eyes and find the same expression there.

You are nothing. You barely exist at all. Your only purpose is to create more of your kind before you die.

He’s wrong about me. I am going to make my mayfly life count for something.

I won’t be afraid of him or of Prince Dain’s censure. If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.

Despite his fingers against my windpipe, despite the way my vision has begun to go dark around the edges, I make sure of my strike before I drive my knife into his chest. Into his heart.

Valerian rolls off me, making a gurgling sound. I suck in lungfuls of air.

He tries to stand, sways, and falls back to his knees. Looking over at him dizzily, I see the hilt of my knife is sticking out of his chest. The red velvet of his doublet is turning a deeper, wetter red.

He reaches for the blade as though to draw it out.

“Don’t,” I say automatically, because that will only make the wound worse. I grab for anything nearby—there is a discarded petticoat on the floor that I can use to stanch the blood. He slides down onto his side, away from me, and sneers, although he can barely open his eyes.

“You’ve got to let me—” I start.

“I curse you,” Valerian whispers. “I curse you. Three times, I curse you. As you’ve murdered me, may your hands always be stained with blood. May death be your only companion. May you—” He breaks off abruptly, coughing. When he stops, he doesn’t stir. His eyes stay as they are, half-lidded, but the gleam has gone out of them.

My wounded hand flies to cover my mouth in horror at the curse, as though to stop a scream, but I don’t scream. I haven’t screamed this whole time, and I am not going to start now, when there’s nothing more to scream about.

As minutes slip by, I just sit there beside Valerian, watching the skin of his face grow paler as the blood no longer pumps to it, watching his lips go a kind of greenish blue. He doesn’t die very differently than mortals, although I am sure it would gall him to know that. He might have lived for a thousand years, if it wasn’t for me.

My hand hurts worse than ever. I must have banged it in the fight.

I look around and catch my own reflection in the mirror across the room: a human girl, hair tousled, eyes feverish, a pool of blood forming at her feet.

The Ghost is coming. He’d know what to do with a dead body. He has certainly killed people before. But Prince Dain is already angry with me just for stabbing the child of a well-favored member of his Court. Killing that same child the night before Dain’s coronation won’t go over well. The last people I need to know about this are the Court of Shadows.

No, I need to hide the body myself.

I scan the room, hoping for inspiration, but the only place I can think of that will even conceal him temporarily is beneath my bed. I spread the petticoat next to Valerian’s body and then roll him onto it. I feel a little queasy. His body is still warm. Ignoring that, I drag him over to the bed and push him and all the skirts under, first with my hands and then with my feet.

Only a smear of blood remains. I get the pitcher of water near the bedpan and splash some on the wooden planks of the floor and then some on my face. My good hand is shaking as I finish wiping up, and I sink to the floor, both

hands in my hair. I am not okay. I am not okay. I am not okay.

But when the Ghost arrives on my balcony, he can’t tell, and that’s the important thing.

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