Home > Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(13)

Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(13)
Kathryn Purdie

“The emperor will not find that excuse tolerable,” Anton replied.

“Yes, you have made the emperor’s stance on this convent quite clear.” Sestra Mirna straightened her back. “Let us not waste any more words. Sonya will leave—”

“When we have buried Yuliya,” I finished for her, “and paid our respects to the fallen Auraseers.”

She frowned at me, her gaze drifting to my hair. “What are you doing, child?”

I pulled my hand away from my head to discover a clump of hair caught between my fingers. “Dasha,” I murmured, spinning around to the open doorway.

The little girl stood barefoot in her nightdress, her hands working away at what little hair remained on her scalp. Beside her, Tola whimpered, nose running and face streaming with tears. I touched my wet cheek. How much had they heard?

“Are you leaving us, too?” Tola asked me.

My heated emotions took a sudden halt. Looking at the two remaining Auraseers—the only two, besides me, who’d managed to survive—my heart split apart like the last leaf from an ice-frosted tree. What if I did run away? Anton would be forced to take Tola to Torchev. How could I allow a child to be sent in my place to protect Emperor Valko when a seasoned Auraseer had been executed for failing to do just that? It would be a death sentence. And after Tola, Dasha would be required.

Building within myself a shaky fortress of resolve, I crossed to the doorway, knelt by the girls, and took their hands in mine. If I made a show of convincing confidence, they would glean it from my aura. “You must be brave,” I said. “Sestra Mirna will depend upon you.” My words felt insensitive as they spilled from my mouth. Dasha and Tola were more fragile, more vulnerable, than they had ever been. But I needed them to find the courage to live here in such an abandoned state. “I will go to the emperor myself and see to it you are comfortable here.”

Tola nodded, accepting her fate, though her tears never ceased to flow. I swallowed my heart, clawing up my throat, and looked to Dasha. “And when I come to visit”—something the emperor would surely never allow—“your hair will be so long, it will sweep the convent halls.”

Dasha grinned a little at that, and I did my best to mirror her flickering hope. Then, biting my lip, I rose to my feet and revolved to face the prince. His piercing gaze was inscrutable, his emotions locked behind some new barrier he’d thrown up against me.

“I will go with you to Torchev,” I said. “Tonight. So long as you promise to have these walls rebuilt and send a guard immediately upon our return to protect the convent.” At least some provisions remained here. The cold storage cellars were surely standing, and the library’s fireplace could be used for cooking now the kitchen was gone.

Anton’s eyes lowered to Dasha and Tola, flanking my sides. His boot tapped three times before he said, “You have my word.”

I inhaled a steadying breath. Every fiber holding me together threatened to give way until I crumbled back to the dust and earth I came from. “Then you should prepare your horses.”

I was not ready. Nothing could have prepared me for this moment.

“I am ready,” I said.

CHAPTER FIVE

SESTRA MIRNA STOOD IN THE SNOW BEFORE THE BLACKENED rubble of the convent. Dasha and Tola clung to her skirt. The three of them watched me on the edge of the road, preparing to say one last good-bye as I waited for the troika to pull out from the stables.

Breathe, Sonya. Just breathe.

I pictured Yuliya in the infirmary when I had tried my best to give her a deserving farewell. Sestra Mirna hadn’t yet had the chance to clean her body, so I stripped away my friend’s crimson-soaked sheets and removed the bandage from the crook of her arm. My hands trembled when I sponged away the dried blood from the gash in her leg and worked the tangles out of her matted ginger hair.

“I’m so sorry,” I told her again and again.

Tending to her was a torment. Every time I touched her blood, the echoes of her last agonizing moments of life rushed into my awareness.

Terror. Helplessness. Sheer anxiety. Pity. Sorrow. Despondency. Her suffering stole my breath, made my body seize with pain, my teeth grind together so I wouldn’t cry out.

Then a strange euphoria flooded into me. A blissful abandon, even though her physical suffering intensified. And past it came the most amazing feeling of all—calm courage. She was brave in the face of dying.

Setting my rag aside, I swallowed, closed my eyes, and took her cold hand in mine. This time I let myself cry. I fell to my knees and bent my head over Yuliya’s stiff hand.

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