Home > Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(16)

Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(16)
Kathryn Purdie

I’d spent the better part of the last hour deciding how to phrase my question and felt rather clever in my choice of words, which were close to matching his from earlier. Would he notice? Think me impertinent? Or perhaps just think me ridiculous for trying to banter on something he’d said half the night ago? Because, truth be told, the first morning of our three-day journey had yet to dawn. We were still in the vast woods outside Ormina, and here I was already speaking to him. My will was about as iron as battered tin.

Enough moonlight shone through the canopy of evergreens that I caught the sharp glance he gave me. Had I startled him by breaking the silence or merely annoyed him? “It is for me,” he said, also using the words I’d answered him with before we left the convent.

“When my caravan traveled near Dubrov,” I said, “we were forced off the road for a good quarter hour while a baron passed us with an entourage of twenty guards and servants on their journey to his summer home. Twenty. For a baron, not a prince—not the sole heir to the throne of Riaznin.” It was a well-known fact the emperor had yet to marry or bear children. He was only a year older than his brother. Their closeness in age spurred a deep rivalry between them. Or so the rumors whispered. “And yet you came here alone.”

Anton stared ahead, adjusting his position to move farther away from me. It was a subtle distance, only a fraction, but I felt the icy air take hold of the increased space from his body, which had been offering me much-needed heat. I locked my jaw to keep my teeth from chattering. If a fur-lined coat were to materialize before me, I might trade its warmth for my ideals, after all. “A caravan?” he asked, avoiding the entire point I’d been laboring to make. “Do you mean to tell me you’re Romska-born? Your coloring is all wrong.”

My fingers moved to touch the end of my blond braid. The Riaznian Romska were known for their deep-olive skin, dark eyes, and darker hair. “I never claimed to be a blooded Romska, only that I kept company with them.”

“Because you are an Auraseer?”

“Yes.”

“Because you sought to evade the empire?”

“Yes.”

“Because your parents thought giving you up to the nomadic tribes was a better trade than the loss of your freedom?”

I shivered, not from the stinging cold but the wonder that the prince had me pegged. “Yes.”

He nodded and roughly exhaled in a muzzled sort of laugh. His breath frosted the air. “As if anyone in Riaznin could acquire freedom so easily.”

His rudeness amazed me. I sat stunned, gaping at him until a dip in the road jostled my mouth into working order again. “You call what I went through easy?”

“I did not say it was easy. Ease has nothing to do with the fact you couldn’t have attained freedom no matter what you went through.”

“You don’t know anything about me!” I snapped. He didn’t have me pegged, he had me simplified. To him, I was merely another commoner who dreamed of a life the empire’s shadow couldn’t touch. No doubt he thought himself big enough to be the one to cast the shadow.

“I am speaking of true freedom,” he said.

“Yes, which you’ve been kind enough to define as a thing I will never have—a reality of which I’m well aware and have had seventeen years to digest, thank you very much.”

His eyebrows arched. “For someone trained in the nuances of emotion, you are quick to anger.”

“Trained?” I laughed, my blood flaming. “Don’t you see how untrained, how unqualified I am? My time spent without true freedom while evading your empire has cost me the years I could have honed my ability for the servitude that has now been thrust upon me! And if I am angry, it is only because I feel what you, yourself, have not restrained.”

“I am not angry.”

My fingers curled in frustration and clawed the seat. I felt a flash of blinding pain from the animal that was slaughtered for the leather beneath me and the meat it must have provided at the emperor’s table. But that pain was swiftly eclipsed by my fury that Anton was right. He wasn’t angry. “You must be,” I said, despite the fact his face wore only the markings of piqued curiosity, and nothing I sensed within him could contradict it. That realization didn’t diffuse my anger in the least. If anything, it heightened it.

“Do you never take responsibility for your own emotions?” he asked.

“They far too often belong to someone else.” My teeth were on edge. Why couldn’t he be angry? He’d had anger enough to spare at the convent. Why now make me out for the fool I was?

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