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A SONG FOR ORPHANS
Morgan Rice is the #1 bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the epic fantasy series THE SORCERER’S RING, comprising seventeen books; of the #1 bestselling series THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS, comprising twelve books; of the #1 bestselling series THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY, a post-apocalyptic thriller comprising three books; of the epic fantasy series KINGS AND SORCERERS, comprising six books; of the epic fantasy series OF CROWNS AND GLORY, comprising 8 books; and of the new epic fantasy series A THRONE FOR SISTERS. Morgan’s books are available in audio and print editions, and translations are available in over 25 languages.
Morgan loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.morganricebooks.com to join the email list, receive a free book, receive free giveaways, download the free app, get the latest exclusive news, connect on Facebook and Twitter, and stay in touch!
Select Acclaim for Morgan Rice
“If you thought that there was no reason left for living after the end of THE SORCERER’S RING series, you were wrong. In RISE OF THE DRAGONS Morgan Rice has come up with what promises to be another brilliant series, immersing us in a fantasy of trolls and dragons, of valor, honor, courage, magic and faith in your destiny. Morgan has managed again to produce a strong set of characters that make us cheer for them on every page.…Recommended for the permanent library of all readers that love a well-written fantasy.”
--Books and Movie Reviews
“An action packed fantasy sure to please fans of Morgan Rice’s previous novels, along with fans of works such as THE INHERITANCE CYCLE by Christopher Paolini…. Fans of Young Adult Fiction will devour this latest work by Rice and beg for more.”
--The Wanderer,A Literary Journal (regarding Rise of the Dragons)
“A spirited fantasy that weaves elements of mystery and intrigue into its story line. A Quest of Heroes is all about the making of courage and about realizing a life purpose that leads to growth, maturity, and excellence….For those seeking meaty fantasy adventures, the protagonists, devices, and action provide a vigorous set of encounters that focus well on Thor's evolution from a dreamy child to a young adult facing impossible odds for survival….Only the beginning of what promises to be an epic young adult series.”
--Midwest Book Review (D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer)
“THE SORCERER’S RING has all the ingredients for an instant success: plots, counterplots, mystery, valiant knights, and blossoming relationships replete with broken hearts, deception and betrayal. It will keep you entertained for hours, and will satisfy all ages. Recommended for the permanent library of all fantasy readers.”
--Books and Movie Reviews, Roberto Mattos
“In this action-packed first book in the epic fantasy Sorcerer's Ring series (which is currently 14 books strong), Rice introduces readers to 14-year-old Thorgrin "Thor" McLeod, whose dream is to join the Silver Legion, the elite knights who serve the king…. Rice's writing is solid and the premise intriguing.”
Books by Morgan Rice
THE WAY OF STEEL
ONLY THE WORTHY (Book #1)
A THRONE FOR SISTERS
A THRONE FOR SISTERS (Book #1)
A COURT FOR THIEVES (Book #2)
A SLONG FOR ORPHANS (Book #3)
A DIRGE FOR PRINCES (Book #4)
OF CROWNS AND GLORY
SLAVE, WARRIOR, QUEEN (Book #1)
ROGUE, PRISONER, PRINCESS (Book #2)
KNIGHT, HEIR, PRINCE (Book #3)
REBEL, PAWN, KING (Book #4)
SOLDIER, BROTHER, SORCERER (Book #5)
HERO, TRAITOR, DAUGHTER (Book #6)
RULER, RIVAL, EXILE (Book #7)
VICTOR, VANQUISHED, SON (Book #8)
KINGS AND SORCERERS
RISE OF THE DRAGONS (Book #1)
RISE OF THE VALIANT (Book #2)
THE WEIGHT OF HONOR (Book #3)
A FORGE OF VALOR (Book #4)
A REALM OF SHADOWS (Book #5)
NIGHT OF THE BOLD (Book #6)
THE SORCERER’S RING
A QUEST OF HEROES (Book #1)
A MARCH OF KINGS (Book #2)
A FATE OF DRAGONS (Book #3)
A CRY OF HONOR (Book #4)
A VOW OF GLORY (Book #5)
A CHARGE OF VALOR (Book #6)
A RITE OF SWORDS (Book #7)
A GRANT OF ARMS (Book #8)
A SKY OF SPELLS (Book #9)
A SEA OF SHIELDS (Book #10)
A REIGN OF STEEL (Book #11)
A LAND OF FIRE (Book #12)
A RULE OF QUEENS (Book #13)
AN OATH OF BROTHERS (Book #14)
A DREAM OF MORTALS (Book #15)
A JOUST OF KNIGHTS (Book #16)
THE GIFT OF BATTLE (Book #17)
THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY
ARENA ONE: SLAVERSUNNERS (Book #1)
ARENA TWO (Book #2)
ARENA THREE (Book #3)
BEFORE DAWN (Book #1)
THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS
TURNED (Book #1)
LOVED (Book #2)
BETRAYED (Book #3)
DESTINED (Book #4)
DESIRED (Book #5)
BETROTHED (Book #6)
VOWED (Book #7)
FOUND (Book #8)
RESURRECTED (Book #9)
CRAVED (Book #10)
FATED (Book #11)
OBSESSED (Book #12)
Did you know that I've written multiple series? If you haven't read all my series, click the image below to download a series starter!
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Copyright © 2017 by Morgan Rice. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
Kate stood in front of Siobhan, feeling as nervous as she did before any fight. She should have felt safe; she was standing on the grounds of Thomas’s forge, and this woman was supposed to be her teacher.
And yet she felt as though the world was about to disappear from under her.
“Did you hear me?” Siobhan asked. “It is time for you to repay the favor you owe me, apprentice.”
The favor that Kate had bargained back at the fountain in exchange for Siobhan’s training. The favor that she had been dreading ever since then, because she knew that whatever Siobhan asked, it would be terrible. The woman of the forest was strange and capricious, powerful and dangerous in equal measure. Any task she set would be difficult, and probably unpleasant.
Kate had agreed, though she didn’t have a choice.
“What favor?” Kate asked at last. She looked around for Thomas or Will, but it wasn’t because she thought the smith or his son could save her from this. Instead, she wanted to make sure that neither of them would find themselves caught up in whatever Siobhan was doing.
The smithy wasn’t there, and neither was Will. Instead, she and Siobhan now stood by the fountain of Siobhan’s home, the waters running pure for once rather than the stone of it being dry and filled with leaves. Kate knew it had to be an illusion, but when Siobhan stepped up into it, it seemed solid enough. It even dampened the hem of her dress.
“Why so frightened, Kate?” she asked. “I’m only asking you for a favor. Are you afraid that I’ll send you to Morgassa to hunt for a roc’s egg on the salt plains, or to fight some would-be summoner’s creatures in the Far Colonies? I’d have thought you’d enjoy that kind of thing.”
“Which is why you won’t do it,” Kate guessed.
Siobhan quirked a smile at that. “You think I’m cruel, don’t you? That I act for no reason? The wind can be cruel if you are standing in it with no coat, and you could no more fathom its reasons than… well, anything I say you cannot do you will take as a challenge, so let’s not.”
“You’re not the wind,” Kate pointed out. “The wind can’t think, can’t feel, can’t know wrong from right.”
“Oh, is that it?” Siobhan said. She sat on the edge of her fountain now. Still, Kate had the impression that if she tried to do the same, she would fall through it and tumble to the grass around Thomas’s forge. “You think I’m evil?”
Kate didn’t want to agree with it, but she couldn’t think of a way to disagree without lying. Siobhan might not be able to reach the corners of Kate’s mind, any more than Kate’s powers could touch Siobhan, but she suspected that the other woman would know if she lied now. She kept silent instead.
“The nuns of your Masked Goddess would have called it evil when you slaughtered them,” Siobhan pointed out. “The men of the New Army you butchered would have called you an evil thing, and worse. I’m sure there are a thousand men on Ashton’s streets right now who would call you evil, just for being able to read the minds of others.”
“Are you trying to tell me that you’re good, then?” Kate countered.
Siobhan shrugged at that. “I’m trying to tell you the favor you must do. The necessary thing. Because that is what life is, Kate. A succession of necessary things. Do you know the curse of power?”
This sounded a lot like one of Siobhan’s lessons. The best Kate could say for it was that at least she wasn’t being stabbed in this one.
“No,” Kate said. “I don’t know the curse of power.”
“It’s simple,” Siobhan said. “If you have power, then everything you do will affect the world. If you have power and you can see what is coming, then even choosing not to act remains a choice. You are responsible for the world just by being in it, and I have been in it a very long time.”
“How long?” Kate asked.
Siobhan shook her head. “That is the kind of question whose answer has a price, and you still haven’t paid the price for your training, apprentice.”
“This favor of yours,” Kate said. She was still dreading it, and nothing Siobhan had said made it easier.
“It’s a simple enough thing,” Siobhan said. “There is someone who must die.”
She made it sound as bland as if she were ordering Kate to sweep a floor or fetch water for a bath. She swept a hand around, and the water of the fountain shimmered, showing a young woman walking through a garden. She wore rich fabrics, but none of the insignia of a noble house. A merchant’s wife or daughter, then? Someone who had made money another way? She was pleasant looking enough, with a smile at some unheard joke that seemed to take joy in the world.
“Who is this?” Kate asked.
“Her name is Gertrude Illiard,” Siobhan said. “She lives in Ashton, in the family compound of her father, the merchant Savis Illiard.”
Kate waited for more than that, but there was nothing. Siobhan gave no explanation, no hint as to why this young woman had to die.
“Has she committed some crime?” Kate asked. “Done some terrible thing?”
Siobhan raised an eyebrow. “Do you need to know such a thing to be able to kill? I do not believe that you do.”
Kate could feel her anger rising at that. How dare Siobhan ask her to do a thing like this? How dare she demand that Kate cover her hands in blood without the slightest reason or explanation?
“I’m not just some killer to send where you want,” Kate said.
“Really?” Siobhan stood, pushing off from the lip of the fountain in a movement that was strangely childlike, as if stepping off of a swing, or leaping from the edge of a cart like an urchin who had stolen a ride through the city. “You have killed plenty of times before.”
“That’s different,” Kate insisted.
“Every moment of life is a thing of unique beauty,” Siobhan agreed. “But then, every moment is a dull thing, the same as all the others too. You have killed plenty of people, Kate. How is this one so different?”
“They deserved it,” Kate said.
“Oh, they deserved it,” Siobhan said, and Kate could hear the mockery in her voice even if the shields the other woman always kept in place meant that Kate couldn’t see any of the thoughts behind all this. “The nuns deserved it for all they did to you, and the slaver for what he did to your sister?”
“Yes,” Kate said. She was certain of that, at least.
“And the boy you killed on the road for daring to come after you?” Siobhan continued. Kate found herself wondering exactly how much the other woman knew. “And the soldiers on the beach for… how did you justify that one, Kate? Was it because they were invading your home, or was it just that your orders had taken you there, and once the fight starts, there isn’t time to ask why?”
Kate took a step back from Siobhan, mostly because if Kate hit her, she suspected that there would be consequences that would be too much to deal with.
“Even now,” Siobhan said, “I suspect I could put a dozen men or women in front of you through whom you would put a blade willingly. I could find you foe after foe, and you would cut them down. Yet this is different?”
“She’s innocent,” Kate said.
“As far as you know,” Siobhan replied. “Or perhaps I simply haven’t told you all the countless deaths she is responsible for. All the misery.” Kate blinked, and she was standing on the other side of the fountain. “Or perhaps I simply haven’t told you all the good she has done, all the lives she has saved.”
“You aren’t going to tell me which it is, are you?” Kate asked.
“I have given you a task,” Siobhan said. “I expect you to perform it. Your questions and qualms do not come into it. This is about the loyalty an apprentice owes her teacher.”
So she wanted to know if Kate would kill just because she had commanded it.
“You could kill this woman yourself, couldn’t you?” Kate guessed. “I’ve seen what you can do, appearing out of nowhere like this. Killing one person, you have the powers to do it.”
“And who’s to say I’m not doing it?” Siobhan asked. “Perhaps the easiest way for me to do this is to send my apprentice.”
“Or perhaps you just want to see what I’ll do,” Kate guessed. “This is some kind of test.”
“Everything is a test, dear,” Siobhan said. “Haven’t you worked that part out by now? You will do this.”
What would happen when she did? Would Siobhan even really allow her to kill some stranger? Perhaps that was the game she was playing. Perhaps she intended to allow Kate to go all the way to the edge of murder and then stop her test. Kate hoped that was true, but even so, she didn’t like being told what to do like this.
That wasn’t a strong enough term for what Kate felt right then. She hated this. She hated Siobhan’s constant games, her constant desire to turn her into some kind of tool to use. Running through the forest hunted by ghosts had been bad enough. This was worse.
“What if I say no?” Kate said.
Siobhan’s expression darkened.
“Do you think you get to?” she asked. “You are my apprentice, sworn to me. I may do as I wish with you.”
Plants sprang up around Kate then, sharp thorns turning them into weapons. They didn’t touch her, but the threat was obvious. It seemed that Siobhan wasn’t done yet. She gestured over the water of the fountain again, and the scene it showed shifted.
“I could take you and give you over to one of the pleasure gardens of Southern Issettia,” Siobhan said. “There is a king there who might be inclined to be cooperative in exchange for the gift.”
Kate had a brief glimpse of silk-clad girls running around ahead of a man twice their age.
“I could take you and put you in the slave lines of the Near Colonies,” Siobhan continued, gesturing so that the scene showed long lines of workers working with picks and shovels in an open mine. “Perhaps I will tell you where to find the finest stones for merchants who do what I wish.”
The scene shifted another time, showing what was obviously a torture chamber. Men and women screamed as masked figures worked with hot irons.
“Or perhaps I will give you to the priests of the Masked Goddess, to earn repentance for your crimes.”
“You wouldn’t,” Kate said.
Siobhan reached out, grabbing her so fast that Kate barely had time to think before the other woman was forcing her head down under the water of the fountain. She cried out, but that just meant that she had no time to take a breath as she plunged into it. The cold of the water surrounded her, and though Kate fought, it felt as though her strength had abandoned her in those moments.
“You don’t know what I would do, and what I wouldn’t,” Siobhan said, her voice seeming to come from a long way away. “You think that I think about the world as you do. You think that I will stop short, or be kind, or ignore your insults. I could send you to do any of the things I wanted, and you would still be mine. Mine to do with as I wished.”
Kate saw things in the water then. She saw screaming figures wracked with agony. She saw a space filled with pain and violence, terror and helplessness. She recognized some of them, because she’d killed them, or their ghosts, at least. She’d seen their images as they’d chased her through the forest. They were warriors who had been sworn to Siobhan.
“They betrayed me,” Siobhan said, “and they paid for their betrayal. You will keep your word to me, or I will make you into something more useful. Do as I want, or you will join them, and serve me as they do.”
She released Kate then, and Kate came up, spluttering as she fought for air. The fountain was gone now, and they were standing in the yard of the smithy once more. Siobhan was a little way from her now, standing as if nothing had happened.
“I want to be your friend, Kate,” she said. “You wouldn’t want me for an enemy. But I will do what I must.”
“What you must?” Kate shot back. “You think that you have to threaten me, or have people killed?”
Siobhan spread her hands. “As I said, it is the curse of the powerful. You have potential to be very useful in what is to come, and I will make the most of that.”
“I won’t do it,” Kate said. “I won’t kill some girl for no reason.”
Kate lashed out then, not physically, but with her powers. She drew her strength together and threw it like a stone at the walls that sat around Siobhan’s mind. It bounced off, the power flickering away.
“You don’t have the power to fight me,” Siobhan said, “and you don’t get to make that choice. Let me make this simpler for you.”
She gestured, and the fountain appeared again, the waters shifting. This time, when the image settled, she didn’t have to ask who she was looking at.
“Sophia?” Kate said. “Leave her alone, Siobhan, I’m warning you—”
Siobhan grabbed her again, forcing her to look at that image with the awful strength she seemed to possess here.
“Someone is going to die,” Siobhan said. “You can choose who, simply by choosing whether you kill Gertrude Illiard. You can kill her, or your sister can die. It is your choice.”
Kate stared at her. She knew that it wasn’t a choice, not really. Not when it came to her sister. “All right,” she said. “I’ll do it. I’ll do what you want.”
She turned, heading for Ashton. She didn’t go to say goodbye to Will, Thomas, or Winifred, partly because she didn’t want to risk bringing Siobhan that close to them, and partly because she was sure that they would somehow see what it was she had to do next, and they would be ashamed of her for it.
Kate was ashamed. She hated the thought of what she was about to do, and the fact that she had so little choice in it. She just had to hope that it was all a test, and that Siobhan would stop her in time.
“I have to do this,” she said to herself as she walked. “I have to.”
Yes, Siobhan’s voice whispered to her, you do.
Sophia walked back toward the camp she’d made with the others, not knowing what to do, what to think, even what to feel. She had to concentrate on every step in the dark, but the truth was that she couldn’t concentrate, not after everything she’d just found out. She stumbled over roots, holding onto trees for support as she tried to make sense of the news. She felt leaves tangle in her long red hair, bark brushing stripes of moss against her dress.
Sienne’s presence steadied her. The forest cat pushed against her legs, guiding the way back to the spot where the wagon stood, the circle of light from the campfire seeming like the only point of safety in a world that suddenly had no foundations. Cora and Emeline were there, the former indentured servant at the palace and the waif with a talent for touching minds looking at Sophia as if she’d turned into a ghost.
Right then, Sophia wasn’t sure she hadn’t. She felt insubstantial; unreal, as though the least breath of air might blow her in a dozen different directions, never to fit back together again. Sophia knew the trip back through the trees would have left her looking like a wild thing. She sat against one of the wheels of the wagon, staring blankly ahead while Sienne curled up against her, almost the way a domestic cat would have rather than the large predator she was.
“What is it?” Emeline asked. Did something happen? she added mentally.
Cora went to her too, reaching out to touch Sophia’s shoulder. “Is something wrong?”
“I…” Sophia laughed, even though laughing was anything but the appropriate response to what she was feeling. “I think I’m pregnant.”
Somewhere in the middle of saying it, the laughter turned into tears, and once they started, Sophia couldn’t stop them. They just poured from her, and even she couldn’t tell whether they were tears of happiness or despair, tension at the thought of everything that might be coming for her or something else entirely.
The others moved in to hold her, wrapping their arms around Sophia while the world blurred through the haze of it all.
“It will be all right,” Cora said. “We’ll make it all work.”
Sophia couldn’t see how any of it could work right then.
“Sebastian is the father?” Emeline asked.
Sophia nodded. How could she think that there had been anyone else? Then she realized… Emeline was thinking of Rupert, asking if his attempt at rape had gone further than they thought.
“Sebastian…” Sophia managed. “He’s the only one I’ve ever slept with. It’s his child.”
Their child. Or it would be, in time.
“What are you going to do?” Cora asked.
That was the question to which Sophia didn’t have an answer. It was the question that threatened to overwhelm her once again, and that seemed to bring tears just in trying to contemplate it. She couldn’t imagine what came next. She couldn’t begin to try to figure out how things would work.
Even so, she did her best to think about it. In an ideal world, she and Sebastian would have been married by now, and she would have found out that she was pregnant surrounded by people who would help her, in a warm, safe home where Sophia could bring a child up well.
Instead, she was out in the cold and the wet, learning the news with only Cora and Emeline to tell about it, without even her sister to help her.
Kate? she sent out into the dark. Can you hear me?
There was no answer. Perhaps it was the distance that did it, or perhaps Kate was too busy to answer. Perhaps any one of a dozen other things applied, because the truth was that Sophia didn’t know enough about the talent she and her sister had to know for sure what could limit it. All she knew was that the darkness swallowed her words as surely as if she had simply yelled them.
“Maybe Sebastian will come for you,” Cora said.
Emeline looked at her with incredulity. “Do you really think that will happen? That a prince will come after some girl he’s gotten pregnant? That he will even care?”
“Sebastian isn’t like most of them in the palace,” Sophia said. “He’s kind. He’s a good man. He—”
“He made you leave,” Emeline pointed out.
Sophia couldn’t argue with that. Sebastian didn’t really have a choice when he’d found out about the ways she’d lied to him, but he could have tried to find a way around the objections his family would have raised, or he could have come after her.
It was good to think that he might be trying to follow her, but how likely was it really? How realistic was it to hope that he might set off across the country after someone who had deceived him about everything, even down to who she was? Did she think that this was some song, where the gallant prince set off over hill and vale in an effort to find his lady love? It wasn’t how things worked. History was full of royal bastards, so what would one more matter?
“You’re right,” she said. “I can’t count on him following. His family wouldn’t allow it, even if he was going to do it. But I have to hope, because without Sebastian… I don’t think I can do this without him.”
“There are people who raise children alone,” Emeline said.
There were, but could Sophia be one of them? She knew that she could never, ever give a child away to an orphanage after all that she’d been through in the House of the Unclaimed. Yet how could she hope to raise a child when she couldn’t even find a place for herself to be safe?
Perhaps there were answers ahead for that part of things as well. The grand house wasn’t visible now in the dark, but Sophia knew it was out there, pulling her on with the promise of its secrets. It was the place where her parents had lived, and the place whose corridors still haunted her dreams with half-remembered flames.
She was going there to try to find the truth about who she was and where she fit into the world. Maybe those answers would give her enough stability to be able to raise her child. Maybe they would give her a place where things would be all right. Maybe she could even call for Kate, telling her sister that she’d found a place for all of them.
“You… have options,” Cora said, the hesitation in her voice hinting at what those options might be even before Sophia looked at her thoughts.
“You want me to get rid of my child?” Sophia said. Just the thought of it… she wasn’t sure that she could. How could she?
“I want you to do whatever you think is best,” Cora said. She reached into a pouch on her belt, next to the ones that held makeup. “This is rakkas powder. Any indentured woman soon learns about it, because she can’t say no to her master, and her master’s wife doesn’t want children who aren’t hers.”
There was a layer of pain and bitterness there that a part of Sophia wanted to understand. Instinctively, she reached out for Cora’s thoughts, finding pain, humiliation, a nobleman who had stumbled into the wrong room at a party.
There are some things even we shouldn’t intrude on, Emeline sent across to her. Her expression betrayed no hint of what she felt, but Sophia could feel the disapproval there. If Cora wants to tell us, she will tell us.
Sophia knew she was right, but even so, it felt wrong that she couldn’t be there for her friend the way Cora had been there for her with Prince Rupert.
You’re right, she sent back, I’m sorry.
Just don’t let Cora know that you were prying. With something like this, you know how personal it can be.
Sophia knew, because when it came to Rupert’s attempt to force her to be his mistress, it was something she didn’t want to talk about, or think about, or have to deal with again in any way.
When it came to the pregnancy, though, it was a different thing. That was about her and Sebastian, and that was something big, complicated, and potentially wonderful. It was just that it was also a potential disaster, for her and everyone around her.
“You put it in water,” Cora said, explaining the powder, “then drink it. In the morning, you won’t be pregnant anymore.”
She made it sound so simple as she passed it to Sophia. Even so, Sophia hesitated to take the powder from her. She reached out, and just touching it felt like a betrayal of something between her and Sebastian. She took it from Cora anyway, feeling the weight of the pouch in her hand, staring at it as if that would somehow give her the answers she needed.
“You don’t have to,” Emeline said. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe this prince of yours will come. Or maybe you’ll find another way.”
“Maybe,” Sophia said. She didn’t know what to think right then. The idea that she would have a child with Sebastian might be a wonderful thing under other circumstances, might fill her with the joyous prospect of raising a family, settling down, being safe. Here, though, it felt like a challenge that was at least as great as anything they’d faced on the way north. She wasn’t sure it was a challenge she could meet.
Where could she raise a child? It wasn’t as though she had anywhere to live. She didn’t even have a tent of her own at the moment, just the partial shelter of the wagon to keep off the fine drizzle that fell in the darkness and dampened Sophia’s hair. They’d even stolen the wagon, so they had to feel a little guilty every time they ate or drank because of how they’d acquired it. Could Sophia spend her whole life stealing? Could she do it while she raised her child?
Maybe she would make it to the grand home in the heart of Monthys, and which lay just ahead. What then? It would be ruins, unfit for any human habitation, let alone a safe place in which to bring up a child. Either that, or there would be people already there, and it would take everything Sophia had just to prove who she was to them.
Even after that, then what? Did she think people would just accept a girl with the mask of the goddess tattooed on her calf to show that she was one of the Unclaimed? Did she think people would take her in, give her a space in which to raise her child, or help her in any way? It wasn’t what people did with the likes of her.
Could she bring a child into a world like that? Was it right to bring something so helpless as a child into a world that had such cruelty in it? It wasn’t as though Sophia knew anything about being a mother, or had anything useful to teach her offspring. Everything she’d learned as a child had been about the cruelty that came from disobedience, or the violence that it was only right for something as wicked as an orphan to expect.
“We don’t have to make any decisions now,” Emeline said. “This can wait until tomorrow.”
Cora shook her head. “The longer you wait, the harder it will be. It’s better if—”
“Stop,” Sophia said, cutting the potential argument short. “No more talking. I know you’re both trying to help, but this isn’t something you can decide for me. It’s not even something I’m sure I can decide, but I’m going to have to, and I have to do it alone.”
This was the kind of thing she wished she could talk about with Kate, but there was still no answer when she called into the night with her thoughts. In any case, the truth was that Kate was probably better at problems that involved enemies to fight, or pursuers to escape. This was the kind of thing she hadn’t had to face, any more than Sophia had.
Sophia went to the far side of the cart, taking Cora’s powder with her. She didn’t tell them what she was going to do next, because right then, she wasn’t even sure that she knew herself. Sienne got up to follow her, but Sophia pushed the forest cat away with a flicker of thought.
She’d never felt as alone as she did in that moment.
The last time Angelica had gone to the Dowager’s rooms, it had been because she had been summoned. She had been worried enough then. Now, marching in of her own accord, she was terrified, and Angelica hated that. She hated the sense of powerlessness that followed her, even though she was one of the greatest nobles of the kingdom. She could do as she wished with servants, with so-called friends, with half the nobles of the kingdom, but the Dowager could still have her killed.
It was worse that Angelica had given her that power. She’d done it the moment she tried to drug Sebastian. This wasn’t a kingdom where the monarch could just snap her fingers and order a death, but with her… there wasn’t a jury of noble peers who would call what she’d done anything other than treason, if the Dowager chose to bring it to that.
So she forced herself to pause as she reached the doors to the Dowager’s rooms, composing herself. The guards there said nothing, merely waited for Angelica to make her case to go inside. If she’d had more time, Angelica would have sent a servant to request this audience. If she’d had more confidence in her power here, she would have rebuked the men for not showing her the proper deference.
“I need to see her majesty,” Angelica said.
“We were not informed that our queen would be seeing anyone,” one of the guards said. There was no apology for it, none of the courtesy that Angelica was due. Silently, Angelica resolved to see the man pay for that in time. Perhaps if she could find a way to repost him to the war?
“I didn’t know it would be necessary until a little while ago,” Angelica said. “Ask her if she will see me, please. It’s about her son.”
The guard nodded at that, and set off inside. The mention of Sebastian was enough to motivate him even if Angelica’s position couldn’t. Perhaps he just knew what the Dowager had already made clear to Angelica: that when it came to her sons, there was little she wouldn’t do.