Home > Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(21)

Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen #2)(21)
Jeff Wheeler

“Am I the only one who betrayed us, Paedrin? You led the Arch-Rike and his men into Silvandom to destroy us.”

The look he gave her in a short glance showed the depth of his humiliation and pain. It was too raw a wound still. She should not have pecked at it.

“You are such a fool, Bhikhu,” she muttered angrily. “Why do I even bother trying?”

It took several long, furious strides before he had mastered himself enough to speak again. “My will was not my own,” he said tautly. “That ring he tricked me into wearing made it impossible for me to tell you the truth. I think you saw it in my eyes. I wanted to tell you, but I could not.”

“In many ways I felt the same. I betrayed you deliberately. I lied to you—”

“Here, this way. The alley is shorter.”

The shade from the alley brought a relief from the sun for a moment. It was narrow and full of rubbish and garbage, but no one was there except for pigeons examining the refuse. They fluttered and hopped to keep away from them as they walked. Wet clothes hung from poles extending from the upper windows, causing an almost rain-like pattering to descend, bringing with it the smell of laundry.

When they were far enough in, Hettie stopped and stared at him, hands on her hips. He looked wary of her, his eyes tight. She wanted him to say something humorous again, a quip or an insult. Something that showed the spark of who he truly was. This sulking, hurt creature was not her Paedrin.

“I did those things,” she said in a low voice. “I admit it. You were being forced by the Arch-Rike’s ring on your finger. I have a ring piercing my ear. It was forced on me when I was little. I am due another ring because of my age, but the debt has been paid. Kiranrao has what he wanted. He sent me to Kenatos to trick Tyrus. He promised me my freedom if I succeeded, which is more than Tyrus ever offered. But now I have been given my freedom, a chance to live in Silvandom.” She looked him straight in the eyes. “I want you to break this earring off. I am no longer a Romani.”

Her emotions were swelling inside of her, almost uncontrollably. All her life, she had wanted to be free. Only a Romani man could break the ring off of her. She knew she was violating the customs. She knew it could cost her her life. But if their quest was successful, they would remake their world, and it would be a world without the Romani curse. If what Tyrus had said was true, many Romani would be removing their earrings.

He looked at her sternly. “You said you did not know what would happen to you if you removed the earring. Was that a lie?”

“Of course it was a lie,” she answered impatiently, wanting to choke him. “You do not fully understand how good I am at lying. But this is the truth. This is the truth now. I wanted to tell you, Paedrin. I wanted to confide in you. I was not sure if I could trust you. I was not sure I could trust Tyrus. I knew I could trust Annon because he is my brother, but he’s not strong enough to save me from a man like Kiranrao.”

Paedrin nodded slowly. “What you are saying is the girl I thought I knew is a lie.”

She let out a pent-up breath and then stared him hard in the eyes. “The best of me was real. The rest was a lie. I was playing a role, Paedrin. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Kiranrao called the tune. I was dancing for my freedom. But I have been offered an opportunity to spend the rest of my life living in Silvandom. Freedom, at long last. I will snatch it! That’s the one place where the Romani cannot find me. Now break this earring. I don’t want to wear it a moment longer.”

She stared into his eyes, willing him to obey her. Words would not persuade him to trust her again, only actions would. And this act, something he had admonished her to do when they first met was one she hoped would begin to soften his heart to her.

Hettie turned her cheek toward him and smoothed the dark hair away from her neck. She thought she saw him swallow, but she kept her eyes locked on his.

“What will Kiranrao do to you for this? I need to know the consequence.”

“I don’t know what he will do for sure. He may do nothing.”

“I doubt it.”

She sighed. “The punishment for disobedience among the Romani is poison. There is a cruel poison called monkshood. Only Romani men and only a few of them are taught the antidote. When I was a child, I saw one of my sisters poisoned for disobedience. They let her suffer a long time before administering the cure. The symptoms are horrible and painful. Break this earring, Paedrin. The Romani will be the Arch-Rike’s next victims.”

Paedrin touched the earring as if it were a slug or a disgusting insect. His finger brushed her earlobe. He used both hands to find the spot where the ring had been welded together. Looking her in the eye, he snapped it.

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