Garett Ledwich has been suspicious of me from day one. “I know you’re hiding something,” he’d said, leering.
I’d been in the house for two days and had no friends to speak of, so I did the only thing I could think of and pushed my nose right into his face. It wasn’t easy. He was taller and bigger than me, but I’d learned a thing or two about looking menacing when you’re not. I pushed my shoulders back and raised my chin. “And I know you’re ugly, but I’m not taking offense.”
He swung and I ducked and slammed my shoulder into his guts. He hit the ground, knocking his head against a wooden bench. It made an unsurprising hollow sound. That was where the fight ended, but I’d made a life-long enemy of the Master’s son, which might have been the end of things if he hadn’t also made enemies with every other boy in the house.
Sunset pours orange and pink through the western windows of the library. It illuminates my notebook and exposes thousands of dust motes in the air. They swirl around the end of my pen, racing back toward the darker air where they won’t be forced to reveal themselves. I make careful notes on herbs for foreseeing and hinderseeing annotating each with sketches - fennel and meadowsweet and clove. Between them I draw the face of a girl, my sister, as I remember her with a watchful expression and hair curling away from her shoulders.
When the bell rings six times, the door opens and Master Ledwich enters. He wears no jacket and his sleeves are pushed up to his elbows. Red stains the tips of each of his fingers and I sit up straight. The other four young men in the study do the same. No one misses his fingertips. He hasn’t said a word, but we are attentive as dogs.
“The moon is full tonight. And you are all ready.” His eyes rest on each of us in turn, settling last on me. “Everard, you’re first. The bath is prepared. The rest of you will follow in one-hour intervals.”
I stand, pulling gently on the hem of my vest. “Thank you, Master Ledwich.”
Garett gifts me with a sneer as I pass. “Do us a favor and drown.”
I make no reply. I follow Master Ledwich into the hall where the gas lanterns are dim and light crawls across black mirrors. Any other night, I’d stop and stare into them. But tonight, I keep my eyes on the Master’s back. Our footsteps fall in between the soft ticks of the Grandfather clock. I match mine to his so the rhythm is clean and predictable.
“Everard,” Master Ledwich says without turning around. “Remember to relax. Do not bring expectation into the chamber or you will meet with disappointment.”
“Yes, sir.” I hope I sound more certain than I feel. I’ve been in the house for six months and in all that time I’ve not set foot inside the descrying chamber. It lies below the house, where it is quiet, with a shaft that goes all the way through the house to capture the moonlight. No other light ever touches the chamber because it is only in darkness that one may truly see anything at all. And it is the sole reason I am here. To see her. To find my sister and bring her back.
He gestures to the bath chamber and I leave him in the hall. The room is filled with steam and scents of fennel and orange blossom. They’ll have been added to the bathwater in order to cleanse my skin of any impurities. I don’t relish the thought of smelling fennel in my hair for three days, but it is the first step of the cleansing ritual and I must complete them all if I’m to have any hope of seeing.
I undress carefully and slip into the scalding water. I stay in as long as I can, focusing on the meditation that is meant to clear my mind of thoughts and expectation and my sister. This may be my only chance to prove my worth and I intend to do everything exactly as I should.
I cannot fail her.
When I’m as red as the dye on Master Ledwich’s fingers, I step from the water and dry off quickly. Steam sticks to my skin, keeping me warm and damp as I complete the last steps of the cleansing. Clove oil behind my ears to remind me to listen, a drop of sweet hibiscus on my tongue to seal my lips, and lavender oil over my heart to keep me calm. I am ready, but I let myself linger because it isn’t often that I’m allowed privacy enough to be unfettered by layers of cotton and wool and silk. It feels honest.
And that was my mistake because Garett, too eager to wait his turn, took that moment to open the door.
Cold air rushes in, cutting the steam in half. I scramble to pull one of the descrying robes from the hooks on the wall, but it’s too late.
Garett’s mouth works like a fish gasping for air. His eyes are wide and his cheeks pale as he lifts a finger to point at me. “Everard?” He asks in a voice much softer than I’ve ever heard him wield. “You’re a girl?”
Lacey's up next on Wednesday!
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