December 25 (eight months later)
Iseult didn’t even ghost a smile back. Instead, her nose twitched more obviously and she glanced at her hands. My mother is there. I-I … don’t want to see her.Gods thrice-dammit. Of course Safi would pick a place where Gretchya would be. Before she could suggest other options—ones that were guaranteed to make Iseult smile—the cabin door banged open.
Evrane staggered in, with two sailors prodding her from behind. The monk slammed the door in their faces before stumbling for the girls—and Safi didn’t miss how Iseult’s spine erected. How her shoulders rolled properly back.Let me examine you, Evrane croaked, sinking onto the floor beside Safi. You’re bruised, Domna.It’s nothing. Safi tucked in her legs.
The bruises might not hurt, but this isn’t about you anymore. Evrane threw a glance at the window—a moonlit shore streamed by. A bruise is spilled blood beneath the skin. We should not mock the contract’s demands.Safi eased out a long breath, her mind careening back to Merik. The prince. The admiral. He was never far from her thoughts, and she’d barely thought of anything else for all those hours in the irons. She’d barely looked at anything but his rain-slicked hair and hard gaze while he steered the Jana toward his home.
After Evrane seemed satisfied with Safi’s health, she examined Iseult’s arm and Safi moved to the window to watch the approaching shore. Her muscles burned from the movement, from the strain of simply standing. She liked it, though. It kept away the cold, the thoughts of Merik, the horrors of Iseult’s tribe, and all the other things that were best ignored.
There was little for Safi to see outside, though. Rock walls and spindrift misting the glass. If she craned her neck, she could just glimpse pale dawn skies.She lifted her hands submissively, hoping the bindings on her palm weren’t too obvious. Iseult, she shouted. Iseult det Midenzi.
Oak leaves rustled; branches creaked. More Threads shimmered and moved as guards scooted over their trees to confer, to decide. The moments slid past with aching slowness. Iseult’s heart beat against her lungs and echoed in her ears while the mare tossed her head. Then stamped. She needed to be rubbed down.Then came another shout from a throat Iseult knew—and she felt like she was falling. Plummeting off some mountain peak, losing her stomach as the earth closed in fast.
Stasis, she screamed inwardly. Stasis in your fingertips and in your toes!She didn’t find stasis, though. Not before the scrape of the huge gate hit her ears. Then footsteps hammered on the ground and a figure in Threadwitch black came sprinting toward her.