Home > Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(3)

Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(3)
Kathryn Purdie

“Do you know what starving peasants are capable of?” Her gaze bored into mine. “Shall I tell you of the three widows from my village who lured strangers across their threshold, only to poison them and eat the flesh off their bones?”

My hunger briefly subsided as my gut roiled with nausea. “My caravan heard that same story spread from town to town. It’s a folktale. No one would resort to that.”

Her graveness settled over me and rooted my legs to the floor. “You are wrong, Sonya. This is the fourth harsh winter in Riaznin. You survived with the Romska because you traveled south. We survive here in Ormina by the grace and rations of the emperor. The peasants have nothing.”

My mouth watered and the animalistic hunger inside me drifted to thoughts of the convent’s pantries and cold storage cellars, fit to overflowing. “We have more than we need. We should help them.”

Sestra Mirna’s eyes went flat and transformed the cold in my veins to ice. “Basil, take her now.” She shoved me at him and threw my shawl after me.

Faint cries pierced the air as the peasants advanced nearer. My knees shook, threatening to give way. “Please, please, I beg you.” I looked between Sestra Mirna and Basil. “Just a few loaves of bread. If you could feel—”

“Enough!” She escorted me to the door herself, where Basil took my elbow by a gentler hold.

From the far side of the room, Tola and Dasha awoke in their beds. They felt the mob, too. I knew it. Tola’s face was tear-stained as she moved to Dasha’s bed, where the younger of the two little girls clutched her hair at the scalp.

“Once she is locked in the east wing,” Sestra Mirna said to Basil, “barricade the front door. Are the gates reinforced?”

The old man nodded. “I hope it will be enough. With any luck, the wolves will come before the peasants find a way to break through.”

I gaped at him. “You wish the wolves to devour them because they are hungry?” Basil’s floppy ears and close-set eyes always made him appear sweet. But even he had no pity. “What a horrible thing to say.”

“Not another word!” Sestra Mirna said. New lines of fury carved paths across her wrinkled face. With her emotion escalating inside me, it was all I could do not to strike out at her. I’d never seen her so unraveled. She wasn’t quick to anger, but tending to the sick night and day over the past weeks had pushed her to extremes. “Latch your mind onto someone else’s aura and forget the peasants!” Her nostrils flared. “Your unrestrained empathy will be the ruin of us all!”

Before she could see the tears spring to my eyes, she slammed the door. I clenched my hands. It was no matter that she didn’t know how she hurt me. My unshed tears weren’t for her. They belonged to the freezing swarm of people pressed against the convent’s gates.

As Basil haltingly led me to the east wing, I dug my hands through my hair and clawed at my arms, fighting not to lose myself to the aura of the mob. Their relentless desperation pulsed through my body. They weren’t just hungry. This famine would destroy them, body and soul. It was a pain worse than death if I didn’t feed my children, my village. No, their children, their village.

I flinched and whimpered as Basil dragged my weight through corridor after corridor. The peasants’ single purpose throbbed through my skull until there was no difference between us. Until I was one with them. Until everything became as clear as polished glass.

I formed the only barrier between them and their need.

I was more than the mob. I was the convent gate.

My bones were its welded iron.

I could open my doors. Let them in.

I alone could help them.

With a sidelong glance at Basil, I sized him up, as if seeing him with new eyes. He startled at every shadow, every noise. A mouse could overtake him. He wouldn’t stand in my way.

I scanned the dark alcoves for something with which to incapacitate him. A candlestick for a blow to the head. A length of rope or a sturdy chair.

The entrance to the east wing loomed nearer. Six or seven girls near my age huddled together around the light of a candle—Nadia’s candle. The senior Auraseer was only nineteen and already a master of controlling her ability. Every measure of her ink-stained skin proved her skill. She marked herself when she needed release, and the sharp cut of her quill made the etches permanent. In the last weeks, when the ague had claimed the lives of her elder Auraseers, Nadia did not weep with the rest of us. Instead, she accused me of bringing the disease from the “filthy gypsy camps.” Even if that were true, which it wasn’t, it only gave her cause to rejoice. With her elders now dead, she was next in line to serve the emperor, and that pride showed in the stiff elegance of her neck and the precise way she balanced her head upon it.

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