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MARROW: CHAPTER EIGHT, SCENE TWO

SECTION TWO: THE HALL OF ONE HUNDRED PETALS

In the Fifth Era of the Paltran Emperors

Late Winter of Year Forty-Three

through

Winter of Year Forty-Four


VIII

WHEN DID YOU MEET MARTERE MAJ SUTKI?

The Twenty-Seventh Day of Spring, Year Forty-Four of the Fifth Era of Paltran Emperors


I entered my room and undressed, readying myself for bed. I had just donned my nightshift, still thinking about the Duchess, when a knock at my door nearly startled me out of my skin. I opened it. Pashzak stepped inside, followed closely by Laude.

“Where have you been?” Pashzak’s words were sharp and punctuated.

“Where have I been? Where have you two been? I could have been eliminated because of you! A lone uzņika wandering the Inner Court alone? Why weren’t you waiting for me? What if I had to go to another assessment?”

Pashzak and Laude exchanged looks; his, sour, and Laude’s, knowing.

“Wait outside, please,” Pashzak said to Laude.

“I cannot do that. I fear. Guardians are not supposed to be in here, anyway. She could be eliminated for it.”

“Im her brother. You think I’m going to go after my own sister?”

“I did not mean to insinuate that—”

“Please?” I asked.

Sighing, Laude stepped outside and shut the door.

“I hear you made a friend.” Pashzak sauntered over to sit on the lone chair. “A very, very important friend.”

I watched him, tight-lipped.

“This is more than I thought you could pull off at this stage. Your patron will be pleased. Good job, Lady Dahlia.”

“I will not use her as a means to your end. The Duchess is good and kind. She will not be involved in this.”

“Involved in what? There’s nothing here for her to be involved in. All you’re here to do is be in the right places at the right times, listen, and tell big brother Pashzak all about your day. There are plenty more valuable assets to tap into around here than the Duchess.”

“I will not use her,” I snapped. “Not at all. Put it out of your mind. I can practically see the thoughts brewing behind your eyes.”

“Surely she said something of import.”

“Not unless you particularly care about her summers in Maj Dvogas or her embroidery.”

“Pass.”

I pulled back my bedsheet. “Where were you?”

“I was called to help escort other uzņika to the House of Good Humours. You’re lucky to have missed supper. Around twenty-three were struck down by bad food. Pity, considering your ilk should be the portrait of good health.”

My face grew hot. “I will not be involved in cheating. I already cheated my way into the title. This is my proving ground. Don’t you dare take that away from me.”

“Where in Divine creation did you get the idea that I had anything to do with it? Sometimes bad things happen. I suppose the Divine Fortunes just favour you.”

I squinted. “Are you insinuating that you’re a Divine?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time I was called such.” He winked. “For your sake, though, I have to warn you that Artis heard about your performance at the Hall of Fellowship. He isn’t happy. I’d avoid him if you can help it.”

I sat on my cot. No run of luck went unspoilt. Just when I thought my life here might not be so miserable, Edidzhanis had to rip that hope away.

“Has he…has he always been like this?” Pashzak asked.

I looked at the floor. “No. No, he has not. It wasn’t like this at all, in the beginning, and I don’t know what it is that turned him so cruel.”

“Has he apologised?”

I chortled. “Artis? Apologise? He openly denied throwing me to the ground with two eyewitnesses to see. And, even if he did apologise, it hardly excuses what he did. You saw. My patron saw. And then he ignored me. For weeks.” Anger bubbled within me anew. I still hadn’t forgiven him. I didn’t think I ever could. “If I could just know why I—”

“Some men go mad when a carrot is dangled in front of them and they haven’t eaten in days,” Pashzak interrupted. “It’s not anything you can help or prepare for. It’s certainly not your fault.”

“What does that mean?”

“That what he did wasn’t because of anything you’ve done.”

“No—about the carrot.”

“It means I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I revealed my entire hand, would I?” Pashzak rose. “Remember, Lady Dahlia, that everyone here wants something. I want something. You want something. Artis wants something. Your patron wants something. The Duchess wants something. When those desires converge, deals are struck, but no need is ever met without sacrifice.”

“And what do you want?” I asked.

“Goodnight, Lady Dahlia.” He turned to leave.

“So you’re going to wax philosophical about mortal desire but not entertain any discussion?” I scoffed. “I thought we were supposed to playact as siblings. I still know nothing about you. This seems like a good time to learn.”

“I would not be in the position I find myself in if I shared intimate knowledge,” he bluntly stated.

I shifted so he could see the faintest sliver of my bare neck beneath the collar of my nightshift just to see if he looked. Perhaps I did know what he wanted. Knowing Artis as he was now, I wouldn’t put it past him to have offered Pashzak something that was not his to give.

“Not that sort of ‘intimate,’” he muttered under his breath. He glanced away, though his eyes lingered on me to the very brink of a moment. “Good night, Lady Dahlia,” he repeated.

Then, he closed the door and I was alone.

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