Igniting Darkness – Robin LaFevers

Whether one is raised at a convent that serves Death or in a tavern room filled with whores, there is one lesson that always applies: There is no room for mistakes. The wrong amount of poison, the incorrect angle of the knife, poor aim, or a false gesture when pretending to be someone else can result in disaster, if not death. It was the same at the tavern where I spent my earliest years. How many of my aunts would have had other lives, but for one mistake? Some, like my mother, chose their path. But for others, it was too many years of poor harvests, or crossing the tanner’s guild, which was always looking for excuses to remove its female members. Being alone at the wrong moment, catching the eye of the wrong man might send one’s life skidding down the slope of destiny into a midden heap. Which is precisely where I have landed. The shadows in my darkened room loom large as I run my fingers along the silky edges of the crow feather. The good news is the convent did not abandon me. The bad news: They might, once they learn what I have done. And what will the king do with this knowledge of the convent I so foolishly handed him? He knew nothing about it until I spoke of its existence. Will his anger pass like a sudden summer shower, or will it fester and grow? Far off in the distance, a cock crows. Morning comes, but no answers with it. I have spent the night trying to convince myself that, after five years of their silence, I owe them nothing. But the sick shaking that has kept me awake all night tells me my heart believes something else.

Which do I listen to? Once before, I did not listen to my heart. Come with us, Maraud said. We can help. Maraud. Even though he did not know what I was facing, he offered his help. His friendship. And so much more. I have stood at only five crossroads in my life, and of all of them, that is the one I regret the most. Not trusting Maraud and accepting that help. Indeed, I have ensured he will loathe me as much as the king does.

My name will be a curse upon the convent’s lips and reviled for generations. Truly, the wreckage I have left in my wake is breathtaking. Thinking of Maraud is like rubbing my heart against broken glass, so I shove all thoughts of him aside. I must find a way to fix this—to unsay those words to the king. Or at the very least, convince him they are far less important than he thinks they are. But he may not ever call for me again or may decide to have me thrown into the dungeon. Something deep inside warns me that it is possible this cannot be fixed. Have I broken a piece of crockery that can be glued back together, or shattered a crystal goblet that is irreplaceable? As if in answer, the fine hairs at the nape of my neck lift in warning, and I realize I am not alone. I shift my hand toward the knife I keep under my pillow. “Good morning.

” It is a woman’s voice, low and melodious. Surely someone sent by the convent to punish me would not use such a cheerful greeting. I peer into the shadows for the source of the voice. It laughs, a note of earthiness among the lilting sounds. “You do not need your knife for me, little sister. Did you not see the feather I left you?” Keeping the knife hidden in the folds of my gown, I sit up. “I saw a crow feather.” My words are as carefully measured as pennies from a beggar’s purse. “But crows are a most common bird.” The young woman—mayhap a year or two older than myself—sits in the room’s lone chair.

Even though she is cast in shadow, it is clear that she is impossibly beautiful—the contours of her face so elegantly constructed that it borders on being a weapon in its own right. While I cannot see if she is smiling, I sense her amusement, all the same. “Who else would leave you such a thing?” I shrug one shoulder. “The French court is a complex and devious place, my lady. Messages can be intercepted and twisted to suit any number of intentions.” “You are wise to be cautious. But have no fear, I am well and truly convent sent—and your sister, besides.” My sister. The words throw me off balance as surely as a well-placed kick. This woman.

Margot. All of us at the convent are sisters. And I have betrayed them. They betrayed me first. I shove my hair out of my face. “If that is the case, if you are well and truly my sister . ” Weeks— nay, months—of anger swell up, as unstoppable as the tide. “Then I have to ask, what in the rutting hell took you so long?” She blinks, the only hint this might not be the greeting she was expecting. “You only just arrived, what, three—four—days ago?” Heat rises in my gorge, making my words harsh. “I’m not talking about the last three days.

I’ve been waiting for five years.” A flash of vexation distorts her face, but her voice remains calm. “The convent has been in disarray these last few months. No one was aware you had been removed from the regent’s household.” The words dangle like bait. I want to believe them, but to do so means that I fell into a trap of Count Angoulême’s making. “Surely they knew of my change in residence, else why was my patron receiving letters of instructions regarding me?” The woman grimaces—the grimace giving me more hope than any words she has spoken. “There have been many changes at the convent. The details of your and Margot’s location were missing.” Missing.

“We were not a pair of boots or a prayer book to be lost. We were two young girls left with no means of communication, no direction nor orders, nothing for nearly a third of our lives.” Her earlier warmth cools somewhat. “We have been rather distracted by France’s invasion, the warring amongst the duchess’s betrothed, and the matter of securing both her and our country’s safety,” she says dryly. “Surely the nature of your assignment was explained to you?” “That was no assignment, but abandonment. We assumed you’d forgotten about us.” “You could certainly be forgiven for thinking that.” I don’t want compassion, but answers. No, what I truly want is to slog back through time and unsay the words I spoke to the king. To undo my grievous mistake.

But since she cannot give me that, answers I shall have. “Had you forgotten about us?” She studies me, weighing how much to say. For all of her sympathetic manner, I must not underestimate this woman. “I only learned of your existence two months ago,” she says at last. “When I was assigned to accompany the duchess to France.” While her words bear the weight of truth, I also sense there is more to it than that. Frustration hums through my veins. “There are others at the convent besides yourself. Why not send someone sooner?” Just as the convent taught us, she pivots, going on the offense. “Why?” she demands.

“Are you indulging in a fit of temper, or has something happened to make timing of the essence?” Because everything inside me wishes to avoid her question, I lean forward instead, not caring that it brings my dagger out into the open. “If you want to come back into my life after five years of nothing, you’ll have to start with some explanations. Something far more satisfactory than ‘we were busy.’” She does not so much as spare my weapon a glance, but inclines her head, imbuing the movement with feline grace. “Very well. You are owed that at least.” For some reason, the sympathy in her voice infuriates me. She knows why we were left to molder. “The abbess who sent you and Margot to France was an impostor.” Although she speaks clearly enough, the words scarcely make sense.

“She was not a daughter of Mortain. Was not sired by the god of death. The person controlling all of our lives was not interested in the well-being of his daughters. Only her own.” Her words hit me like a blow, and I struggle to grasp the enormity of what she claims. “How could such a thing happen?” For the first time, she looks away, toward the window. “Sometimes the sheer scope and daring of a plan make it impossible to see it for the lie that it is.” Her gaze shifts back to me. “I am sorry that you were abandoned. Sorry that even now, you feel you must protect yourself with that knife.

” The sincerity of her words permeates my fog of anger, and for a moment, I want to throw myself into the comfort she is offering. Until I remember that she would never offer such comfort if she knew what I have done. Would possibly kill me on the spot. “Many of the decisions the abbess made were designed to keep her own secrets.” The note of bitterness in her voice is personal, hiding closely held pain. She, too, has been hurt by this woman. “Is the abbess going to be punished for what she’s done?” The woman studies me a moment before answering. “A convocation of the Nine was called. She was put on trial, stripped of her position, and is now serving the crones of Dea Matrona, making amends for those she should have mothered but failed.” I nod, but it is not enough.

Not for the enormity of what her crimes have cost me. Cost Margot. Will have cost this entire convent when the truth of what I have done is laid bare. “When did that happen?” “The abbess was removed nearly two months ago.” “What day precisely?” Two months was before Angoulême claimed to have received the fateful letter, but letters take time to reach their destination. Could she have sent it, or was it truly a deception on Angoulême’s part? “The convocation was called on the eighteenth of November. The abbess was relieved of her duties two days prior to that.” This answer is as helpful as a knife made of sheep’s wool. It is possible that the abbess sent the letter. “That does not explain where you have been for the last two months.

” Margot was still alive two months ago. Not that this woman could have saved her, but the red, angry part of my soul does not care. “The convent records were woefully inadequate and provided nothing to help us find you.” “But I have been in Plessis for four days!” If she had found me even a single day earlier, I would not have exposed the convent to the king. “It is a big palace with a large number of retainers. With my duties to the queen, I do not always know the moment a new person arrives. Especially if they are not formally announced.” She grows still, her head cocking to one side as she studies me anew. I can practically see the rash of questions she is forming. Since I’ve no wish to answer any of them, I toss another one of my own at her.

“How did you learn I was here?” “I came upon you praying in the chapel. It wasn’t until you placed an offering in one of the niches on the wall that I guessed.” She opens her hand. The bright red of my holly berry makes her skin look unnaturally white. “I couldn’t see what it was, nor understand the significance of it, until you had already left. And then there were pressing matters I had to attend to.” A cold, hard look flashes briefly across her face. A look that sends goose bumps down my spine and warns me that she would not hesitate to shove a knife in my back if my actions warranted it. But even that knowledge doesn’t temper the anger lapping along my skin like flames. Pressing matters.

But for a hand span of hours, I would not have ruined everything. “You should have come sooner.” The words are empty, those of a desperate child, but I utter them nonetheless, as if by repeating them often enough, I can make the fault hers, not mine. “I came last night, as soon as I was certain. You weren’t here. Where were you?” “I was at dinner, with the rest of the court.” “It was later than that. When everyone else was abed.” As I consider what to tell her, the silence between us lengthens. Her fingers are drifting to the edge of her sleeve when a sharp rap on the door stills her hand.

“Demoiselle Genevieve?” a voice calls out. Relief surges through me. “Coming!” I hop from the bed and straighten my skirts and bodice. “Why are you being summoned?” The question is as sharp as I imagine her knives to be. “We shall find out,” I snap, shoving my hair into some semblance of order. When I reach the door, I am surprised to find the steward standing in the hallway. I curtsy. “My lord, how may I serve?” “I am sorry to disturb you, demoiselle, but the king is looking for Lady Sybella. One of the other ladies said she thought she saw her heading toward your chambers.” Sybella.

I roll the name across my tongue. Grateful for this reprieve, for a chance to digest what little she has told me, I turn to her. “Apparently, you are the one being summoned.”


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