O my Juliet, my most beloved Juliet— I have no right to call you “beloved” or “mine” any longer. ROMEO HAD WRITTEN MANY LETTERS in his life, but none so important as this one. He had thought about it all day, but it was only now, after the sun had sunk beneath the rooftops, that he began to write slowly by the light of a lamp. The first time he had written to Juliet, he had scribbled on page after page and thrown them all away as he tried to find the perfect words. But he was no longer the son of Lord Ineo, living in luxury; he was a fugitive presumed dead, hiding at the house of his friend Justiran, in the Lower City. And Justiran was only an apothecary; Romeo could not waste the pen and paper he’d been so generously given. Slowly, he wrote another line. If you thought me dead, know this: I am alive, and I deserve to die. He’d been so proud of his letters once, how his words had won him Juliet’s heart. But now there was no rhyme or turn of phrase that could ever set things right. All he could do was confess the truth. I am alive because when we tried to make me into your Guardian—when the magic went so terribly wrong, and the land of the dead opened around us—I was dragged out by your kinsman, Paris Catresou. Just thinking the name made the raw ache at the back of Romeo’s mind start up again. That terrible, hollow sense of nothing where he had once felt the mind of Paris, with all his pride and his kindness and his prickly sense of honor. Because Paris hadn’t just saved Romeo from being dragged into the land of the dead.
When his hand closed around Romeo’s wrist and pulled him back, the magic that Romeo and Juliet had meant to use on themselves had locked around the two boys, binding their minds together with the same link that was meant to exist between a Juliet and her Guardian. And now Paris was dead. Romeo had known it as soon as he woke up from his injuries, even before Justiran told him with sad eyes and a gentle voice. Even when they had both been trying to block the bond as much as they could, Romeo could still feel that Paris was there, alive and just a heartbeat away. Now he was gone. Romeo stared at the page. He wanted to write more. To say, Paris was loyal to you, he wanted to serve you, he was honorable and kind and the kinsman you deserved to have. And he deserved to have you know it. But this letter was not for making Romeo feel better about the loss of his friend.
It was not even for honoring Paris as he deserved. It was for Juliet, and what she needed to know. He began to write again: I deserve to die, because I destroyed your clan. You have been told that your father, Lord Catresou, conspired with necromancers. It is true. Barely had Paris saved me when Lord Catresou came to the sepulcher with one of his men. We overheard them discussing their plans to use you in the service of a nameless Master Necromancer. We swore to hunt down this necromancer and avenge you. We could not find him. But we discovered where he was about to conduct a ceremony with your father, one that would open the gates of death and destroy Viyara.
This is how much they betrayed you: when they wrote the spells on your back to make you the Juliet, they changed them. They made you into a living key, able to open up the land of the dead. After you disappeared, they found some relic they could use in your place. But that power still remains in you, and you must know this, because the Master Necromancer was never caught. He might still try to capture and use you. Romeo stared at the paper a long time after writing those words. Because he wanted to add: I am going to find him. I am going to stop him. I will save you. But he had promised her that they could be happy together, and that had been a lie.
He was done with making foolish promises out of his hopes. So he wrote the truth instead. That is one of my sins: that I could not stop the man who was the first author of all these misfortunes. But it is not the worst. Because we did not think we could stop the Master Necromancer alone. So we went to the City Guard. And Romeo couldn’t stop himself from writing the next paragraph; it felt like he would be slandering Paris if he did not. Paris did not want to. He knew what it might mean for your people. But I was too naive, and in the end we were both too desperate.
We stopped your father’s plot, though Paris died in the fighting. But it gave my father, Lord Ineo, the excuse he needed to destroy your clan. To force you to kill them. And it was I who made it possible. I am no longer the son of your enemies. I am the very worst of them, because first I swore to love you, and then betrayed you. And I am prepared to accept whatever punishment you see fit. I meant to tell you this to your face, to kneel at your feet again and of er you my life. But you have been too often forced to take vengeance already. I will not do anything that could force you again.
I will wait here, at the house of Justiran—the apothecary who helped us. If you desire justice, come here. Or send me your own letter, and I will come to you obediently. With deep love and deeper remorse, The one who no longer deserves to be called your husband, Mahyanai Romeo He put down the pen. His fingers were sore from gripping it, and he rubbed at his knuckles as he stared at the page. It seemed like such a pitiful little thing. But telling her the truth was all he could do for her. He wished— And then he heard the knock at the window. It’s Vai, he thought as he went to open the shutters. Because Vai, who had promised to carry the letter to Juliet, liked to travel across the rooftops more than half the time.
And she had said she would come this evening. He flipped up the latch, swung the shutters open— And stopped. Romeo’s fingers were still gripping one of the shutters, the wooden corner digging into his palm hard enough to hurt. But he couldn’t let go. Couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything except stare at the tall, dark-haired man crouched on the rooftop outside the window. Even in the dim moonlight, he knew that face. “Makari?” he whispered. Mahyanai Makari. His tutor, who had raised him since he was ten, who’d been father and brother at once, more kin to him than anyone who shared his own blood. Who was dead.
Makari was dead, murdered by Juliet’s cousin Tybalt. Romeo had held him in his arms as he died, had smelled his blood dripping across the hot cobblestones, and then he’d gone mad himself. He’d picked up Makari’s sword and killed Tybalt and doomed them all. “Nothing gets past you,” said Makari, in exactly the same tone of wry mockery that Romeo remembered, and he climbed in the window. Romeo stumbled back a step, numbly thinking, This isn’t possible. His head felt dazed and ringing, like somebody had struck him a blow, and then he remembered Makari’s knuckles rapping him lightly on the skull to startle him out of a daydream, and— And then he remembered that this was possible. That he and Paris had seen Tybalt summoned back to life by the Master Necromancer, and made into his slave. Tybalt had tried to kill them all, before they killed him again. He remembered that Justiran was alone and defenseless downstairs. He drew a breath, but before he could shout a warning, Makari had him pressed against the wall, an elbow to his collarbone and a hand over his mouth.
“Quiet,” said Makari, his voice deadly calm. “Nobody can know I’m here.” He wouldn’t hurt me, Romeo thought, heart pounding. Makari would never hurt me. But if Makari was living dead—a soul forced back into its undead body—then he would not have a choice. “Can you be quiet?” asked Makari, still calm. Romeo managed to nod fractionally, and Makari dropped the hand from Romeo’s mouth. “Who sent you?” asked Romeo. “Well,” said Makari, drawing out the word as he stepped back from Romeo and spread his hands, “you saw me die, so three guesses.” “The Master Necromancer.
” “He told me to kill you and everyone you cared about.” Makari shrugged. “I decided not to obey.” “You . decided,” said Romeo. Makari was making no move to attack, but the cold fear hadn’t left Romeo’s veins. He remembered Vai swearing to them that the living dead were slaves to the necromancers who raised them. He remembered the flat, lifeless tones of Tybalt’s voice. Makari sounded nothing like that now, but— “Yes,” said Makari. “I decided.
I disobeyed my master.” Romeo flinched. Tybalt had also said my master. “It nearly broke my soul apart, but now I’m free. And if you don’t believe me, well.” He drew a knife, and held it out to Romeo, hilt first. “Finish this painfully dramatic scene and kill me.” It wasn’t the knife that convinced Romeo, that made him fling his arms around Makari. It was the way he half rolled his eyes as he said painfully dramatic, exactly like he had when he read Romeo’s poetry. Surely no necromancer’s power could fake that.
“All right, enough,” Makari said after a moment, sounding just as exasperated as he always did. He pushed Romeo away, muttering “spoiled brat” under his breath, but then he grinned and ruffled his hair. Just like always. The next moment, the illusion shattered as Romeo saw Makari sheathe the knife. “You said . the Master Necromancer sent you to kill me?” Makari nodded. “Yes. Which is why you’re going to leave this house right now and hide somewhere I can plausibly pretend I can’t find you.” And that made sense, because Romeo couldn’t bear to put Justiran in danger, not after all he’d done, but— “Wait,” said Romeo, “you’re going back to him?” “Yes,” said Makari. “I’m going back to him, and I’m pretending to be his slave, so that he doesn’t tear the city apart looking for you.
Trust me. You don’t want to fight him openly.” “But—Vai’s people could help, we could go to the City Guard again—” “Oh, because that turned out so well for you last time?” Makari’s voice was light, but Romeo still cringed as he remembered the rumors he had heard: blood running across the streets of the Catresou compound as an entire clan was destroyed. “I . ” Romeo faltered, searching for words. He’d never fought with Makari about anything before. Probably Makari would have told him not to court Juliet, but that was why he’d never told him about her. “He hurt Juliet,” he said. “Mm, I think it was her own family that handled most of that,” said Makari. “I can’t leave you with him!” “It’s not up to you to leave me anywhere,” said Makari.
“Unless you think you’re ready to be my tutor all of a sudden.” Romeo’s shoulders slumped. Gently, Makari laid a hand on his shoulder. “Let me decide how I’ll avenge my own wrongs,” he said. “Just do me this favor, get yourself somewhere I won’t be forced to hurt you.” “I can’t leave yet,” he said. “I have to wait for Vai. She’s going to deliver my letter to Juliet. And the letter—it tells her to meet me here. If she wants vengeance.
” Makari rolled his eyes. “Cross out that line, tell her to meet you by whatever fountain you like best, and I’ll deliver it. And go.” Romeo hesitated. “Do you trust me?” Makari asked quietly. And there was only one answer he could give. “Yes.” Part I But Sad Mortality O’ er-Sways 1 SOMETIMES, IN THE FIRST MOMENTS as Juliet awoke, she could forget what she’d done. She might hear Runajo’s breathing, and think she was still hiding in the Cloister. She might feel the soft pillow under her cheek, and think she was still in her childhood bedroom at the Catresou compound.
She might open her eyes, look up at the whitewashed ceiling, and think for a moment that she hadn’t killed anyone yet. Not this morning. She dreamed of blood running across the floors of her father’s house. She woke, her heart pounding, her stomach churning with sick horror, and instantly remembered that the dream was true. Juliet lay very still, controlling her breathing and blinking rapidly at the ceiling. She did not deserve tears. Pale morning light glowed through the windows. She was alone in the bedroom, but as she thought this, she heard movement in the doorway. Juliet shut her eyes and slowed her breaths further, trying to mimic sleep. Soft, light footsteps.
“I know you’re awake,” said Runajo. Juliet didn’t move. The voice of her former friend still left a cold weight hanging in her chest. “Lord Ineo wants to see us,” Runajo went on in the bored, polished tone she used whether she was discussing the weather or the eventual doom of the city. “Do you really think that sulking in your bed is going to prove a point?” “I’m a prisoner,” Juliet said flatly. “If you want something from me, you can order me to do it.” There was a short silence. “Get up,” said Runajo, and now her voice was low and ragged. Juliet’s eyes snapped open and her body rose in one swift, fluid motion. Her stomach pitched.
Every time that the power of the bond between them seized her and forced her to obey, it felt like she was falling. “Happy?” asked Runajo. Her arms were crossed, her lips a flat line. She was dressed in darkgreen silk, with silver combs pinning her dark hair on top of her head. Except for the crimson tattoo on her chin—a round pattern of twisting briars—she looked like any rich and pampered Mahyanai lady. “Are you happy?” asked Juliet. Runajo looked away. It should have given Juliet at least a little satisfaction, but it only made her feel worse. Because she could remember when they had been in the Cloister together, when Runajo had been her ally, hiding her from the Sisterhood— When they had been in the Cloister, Juliet had still been a prisoner. She had still been enslaved to Runajo through the magic that had been meant to help her serve her people.
She had just fooled herself, for a little while, into thinking that an enemy could ever be a friend. Juliet dressed swiftly. She hadn’t wanted any of the Mahyanai servants to touch her, so she had learned how to put on the wide-sleeved dress and tie the sash herself, how to twist up her dark hair and pin it in place with combs. In just one month, the style had grown hatefully familiar. Lord Ineo was in the breakfast room, sitting on a cushion at the low table. He was a tall man with a proud, handsome face. His hair had started to gray at his temples, but there was no weariness or weakness to the way he held himself; even the way he reached for his cup of tea seemed to say how well he knew that he was leader of the Mahyanai clan and one of the most powerful men in the city. He was also Romeo’s father. Once, Juliet might have cared about the obedience she owed to her father-in-law. Now she bowed to him and said, “Anyone for me to murder today?” Lord Ineo blew on his tea.
Without looking at her, he said, “Runajo, tell your charge to be quiet.” “Kneel and be silent,” Runajo said tonelessly, and a moment later, Juliet was on the ground, her neck bent, her palms flat against the floor. One month since Runajo had offered Juliet’s services to Lord Ineo, and he’d still gotten no respect from her that wasn’t compelled. It was a cold comfort. “I thought you’d have her better in hand by now,” said Lord Ineo. “I thought you understood how this magic worked,” said Runajo, kneeling at the table. “You can order her to stop sulking and eat, surely.” A hundred furious words coiled behind Juliet’s teeth, and she couldn’t say a single one, because Runajo had told her, Be silent.