Home > Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(6)

Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(6)
Kathryn Purdie

“Come . . . come . . .”

I shivered, leaning back against the bars. My legs splayed out in front of me, pink with cold and exposed from knee to ankle. Snowflakes collected in my tangled hair, which had escaped my braid. I couldn’t feel my toes or fingertips. My chin wobbled, whether from the unbearable chill or my stunned recollection of myself, I didn’t know.

What in the name of Feya, or all the holy gods, had come over me? I turned slowly and observed the trodden snow beyond the gate where the masses of peasants had stood, where the wolves had tracked behind them.

Nothing more remained of the madness. Their madness. Mine.

“Basil,” I gasped, and pressed my hand to my head. Had I really locked him and the Auraseers in the east wing?

Nadia was right. Something was terribly wrong with me. Perhaps my parents should have turned me over to the bounty hunters a decade ago and not given me to the Romska. My chance at freedom wasn’t worth this. At the very least, I should have worked harder at my lessons with the sestras. It was unnatural to feel the urges of animals, even for an Auraseer. This is what happens when an ability goes unrestrained, Sestra Mirna had once told me. It becomes wild.

I was more than wild, I was a walking keg of gunpowder. What if I’d made it to the gate mere moments before I had? What if I’d let the peasants in? Or the wolves?

A whimper stirred the air. I craned my head. Stone towers mirrored each other from both sides of the gate. At the base of the left one, a something shifted. A huddle of black. Another whimper came.

“Hello?” I said.

A pale face lifted at my greeting. I stepped closer and pressed my body against the bars. A gnarled-looking man rested there, curled into himself. His face was so thin it seemed strangely oblong. Dark hollows cut beneath his eyes and cheekbones. He tugged a ragged coat closer to his chest. That and his matted fur hat were all he had to keep him warm.

A flicker of emotion burned its way past my frozen ribs and lodged inside my heart. This man was desolate, without hope—nothing like the powerful pulse the mob had radiated, but just as real. I ached with him. At the very least, I could help one person tonight. What harm could one famished man do?

“Excuse me.” I curved my numb lips into a semblance of a smile. “If you can reach past the bars and help me clear this snow, I would be happy to repay you with a warm meal and a seat beside our fire.”

I removed the man’s snow-laden coat and draped it over a kitchen chair, then drew up another one until its legs butted against the raised hearth. “Sit here.”

The man removed his fur cap and twisted it with bony fingers. His nails were jagged and filthy. I felt shameful for staring, so I raised my eyes to his bare head. His hair stuck up from the wrath of dueling cowlicks and strange partings. Physical signs of insanity. Perhaps that’s why he hadn’t spoken a word as we worked together to open the gate and made our way inside.

Muffled noises echoed above us. The man jumped as the copper chandelier rattled. The candles weren’t lit or else they might have flung hot wax onto his skin.

“Never you mind about them.” I nodded at the ceiling. Above us, the Auraseers remained trapped in the east wing. Their anger tried to smother me, but I ground my teeth and pushed it back, only letting it prick at my skin. My own shame felt more insufferable. I couldn’t face them yet, nor bear their reprimands for my loss of self-control. Could I help it that I took pleasure in confining them, when that’s all they had done for months—confined me with their ostracizing? Nadia and her ring of friends could wait it out up there a little longer.

Taking hold of the man by his shoulder, I gently guided him to the chair by the fire. Sestra Mirna once told me the sense of touch heightened an Auraseer’s awareness. I would use that to lose myself to the man’s numbed emotions and drown out the fury of the barricaded Auraseers.

He sat stiffly on the chair. His energy was so focused on his physical needs that it served as a blissful escape from reality. I kept my leg brushed against his knee as I ladled him a bowl of stew. The sestras always kept something bubbling in the iron pot, adding water, herbs, and chopped roots throughout the day. After passing him the bowl, I added another log to the coals. In moments, the dry wood crackled with flames.

“That’s better.” I broke our contact to draw up another chair beside him. That brief separation was enough to make my gut twist with guilt. I had prevented a catastrophe tonight by not letting the peasants in the convent, but I had also failed them. How many would still suffer from their hardships because of me, and for how long?

I quickly ladled a second bowl for myself—no matter I’d already had second helpings for supper—I had to do something to quell the ghosts of hunger inside me.

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