Main Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Girls Made of Snow and Glass

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2017
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page



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TO MY FAMILY





1

LYNET

Lynet first saw her in the courtyard.

Well, the girl was in the courtyard. Lynet was in a tree.

The juniper tree in the central courtyard was one of the few trees still in leaf at Whitespring, and so it was one of the best hiding places on the castle grounds. Nestled up in its branches, Lynet was only visible to anyone directly beneath her. This hiding place was especially helpful on afternoons like these, when she had decided to skip her lessons without telling her tutors.

The young woman who walked briskly across the courtyard did not pass directly under the tree, so she didn’t notice Lynet watching. What struck Lynet first was the girl’s clothing. Instead of a dress, the girl was wearing a long brown tunic over loose trousers, allowing her to move more freely, in a long, striding gait. She walked with purpose, dark eyes staring straight ahead.

Lynet thought she knew every face at Whitespring, but she didn’t recognize the girl at all. True, they had visitors come and go throughout the year, but usually for special occasions, and even then, Lynet could recognize most of them by sight, if not by name.

A stream of questions all fought for attention in Lynet’s head: Who was this girl? Where had she come from? What was she doing at Whitespring? Where was she heading now with such convict; ion? Why was she carrying a large bag in her hand? She was a mystery, and mysteries were rare at Whitespring, where so little changed from day to day. The stranger was certainly more exciting than the music lesson Lynet was avoiding.

Now at the other side of the courtyard, the girl went up the short flight of stone steps that led to the west wing of the castle. As soon as she’d disappeared through the arched doorway, Lynet dropped down out of the tree and hurried after her, her bare feet silent on the snow. She peeked down the hall and saw the girl starting to go up the stairwell on the left. Lynet waited until the girl was out of sight and then scurried directly across the hall to climb out the window. Whitespring’s uneven stones and ledges and sharp corners made the castle excellent for climbing, something she had discovered at a young age. She used the ledge above the window to pull herself up, careful not to snag her gray wool dress on the sharper parts of the sculpted ledge. She didn’t want to have to explain to her father why there was a tear in her dress, or to see the forced smile on her sewing mistress’s face as she asked why the embroidery on the hems that Lynet had done just last week was already coming undone.

Crouching silently on the ledge, Lynet traced the young woman’s movements in her mind: after going up the stairs, she would come down the hall until she reached the first turn, a little past where Lynet was perched, at which point she could continue straight ahead or turn right down another hallway. Lynet counted the seconds, knowing that she should be hearing footsteps any moment—

Yes, there they were, passing down the hallway just inside. Lynet was sure to duck her head so the girl wouldn’t see her hair peeking up past the window frame, and she listened as the footsteps continued on past the turn, straight down to the end of the hall, followed by a loud knock.

She heard a voice call, “Ah, come in!” and then the sound of the door closing again.

Lynet wasn’t sure who had spoken, but it didn’t matter who, as long as she knew where. She peeked over the ledge just in time to see the stranger going through the door at the very end of the hall to her left. Lynet climbed in through the window, hurried down the same hall, and went back out the last window so that she was now on the other side of the castle. She carefully skirted the ledge, counting the windows in her head.

When Lynet reached the window of the room where the stranger had gone, she knelt on the ledge and peeked in through the corner. The window was closed, but she had a clear view of the young woman, and that was what truly mattered. Lynet recognized the other person as Tobias, one of the nobles who had lived at Whitespring since before Lynet was born.

Tobias was saying something now, his enormous eyebrows making him look fiercer than he really was. But the young stranger didn’t seem at all intimidated by Tobias’s intense stare—she held her head high and stared right back.

In fact, the stranger didn’t seem to let anything trouble her. There were flakes of snow in the messy dark braid down her back and on the collar of her shirt, but she made no move to brush them away. The bag she was holding was bulging full, and yet even after carrying it through the castle, she showed no sign of tiring. The inky thumbprint on her jawline, the fraying edge on one sleeve … these small imperfections fascinated Lynet because the girl wore them all with such ease and confidence. Lynet had never seen a woman look so comfortable in her own skin without appearing pristine.

Who was she?

Lynet leaned in farther, and the young woman set down her bag and opened it. With her head bent, her sharp cheekbones were especially striking, her eyelashes casting long shadows across her pale brown skin.… She looked up suddenly, and Lynet jerked her head away from the window. She was sure the girl hadn’t seen her—Lynet had been barely visible in the corner—and yet in that brief moment, she’d thought their eyes had met.

When Lynet peeked again, the girl wasn’t looking up anymore, and Lynet squinted to see what she was taking out of the bag—that would be one mystery solved, at least. And then she saw in the girl’s lean hands a long metal instrument that curved at the end like the beak of some vicious bird. Lynet gasped sharply, and she could tell from the way Tobias was rapidly blinking that he hadn’t expected this either.

The young woman was watching Tobias, waiting for some response, and Lynet couldn’t stop watching her. She wondered how this girl could stand so perfectly still, hands never trembling under the weight of that monstrous instrument she was holding. She seemed almost defiant as she held it, and Lynet longed even more to know this strange girl—not just to know who she was, but to know her, and maybe to absorb some of that boldness for herself.

Tobias gave a short nod and settled down in a chair. On the table beside him was a wineskin, and he drank heavily from it before tilting his head back. The young woman took a breath and then placed the curved end of the metal instrument inside Tobias’s mouth.

Finally, Lynet understood what was about to happen, but not before it was too late to look away.

The young woman yanked the instrument back, and the nobleman screamed as his tooth was wrenched out of his mouth.

Lynet was glad he screamed, because she had let out a small yelp herself. She ran her tongue over her own teeth, reassuring herself that they were still in place.

A surgeon. The young woman must be a surgeon. Though the answer should have satisfied her, Lynet only grew more curious. She had never seen a woman surgeon before.

Lynet remained perched on her ledge until the surgeon had cleaned Tobias up and given him some herbs for the pain. When Lynet heard her leave, she abandoned her post and went back around the ledge, listening for footsteps inside. Her heart was thumping; where would the surgeon go next? What would she do?

When the surgeon had gone down the hall, Lynet slipped back inside through the window just in time to see her turn a corner. Lynet silently followed, but as she rounded the same corner, she ran into the Pigeons.

“Princess Lynet!” one of the women cried, and then they were all around her, and it was too late to escape.

She called them the Pigeons because of their gray hair and their constant cooing, and because they always traveled in flocks. Unlike most of the nobility, who preferred to live in their own private estates in clusters throughout the North, the Pigeons lived in Whitespring permanently, having made their nests here long before Lynet was born. They were Whitespring’s oldest residents, and so they always seemed so surprised to see how much Lynet had grown, even if they had only seen her yesterday.

“Her mother would be so proud,” one of them was saying now.

From behind her, another of the women said, “Look at this hair. So much like the queen’s.”

When she was a child, Lynet had thought they’d meant she looked like Mina when they said she looked like the queen, and she had swelled with pride at resembling her stepmother. But now she understood that when they talked of the queen, they always meant the late queen, Emilia. And the worst part was that they were right: Mina’s hair was a dark auburn, her eyes light brown, while Lynet had her mother’s thick black hair and nearly black eyes. Mina’s face was angular and defined, her skin golden-brown, while Lynet had her mother’s round face and muted olive-brown coloring. Lynet’s cheeks, her nose, her lips, and everything else she possessed belonged to a dead woman who she didn’t even remember.

The unofficial leader of this little band, a gray-haired, long-necked woman named Xenia who served on the king’s council, bent down a little—out of habit, mostly, since Lynet was now taller than her—and took Lynet’s face in her hand. “So lovely. King Nicholas must be so proud of you, my lady. You’ll be such a splendid queen, just like your mother.” Even in the shadows of the dim hallway, Xenia’s eyes shone with a suspicious gleam—she always squinted at people like she thought that they were lying to her.

Lynet smiled and nodded and thanked them until the Pigeons were finished. Perhaps it was flattering to be fussed over, but she knew their fondness wasn’t for her own sake. They loved her mother, and Lynet looked like her mother, so they thought that they loved her, too.

Once the Pigeons continued down the hall in a cloud of gray, Lynet wandered through a few corridors before she had to admit that she’d lost the surgeon. Still, Lynet was sure she would see her again soon enough. The castle had been without a court surgeon since the prior one had left several months ago, so the new surgeon would be in high demand for a while. Lynet would keep watch, and next time she wouldn’t lose track of her.

Lynet dragged her feet down the hall until she reached the music room, where her tutor was waiting for her, seated at his harp. He was mid-yawn when she walked in, and as soon as he saw her, he straightened, swallowing the rest of the yawn with a startled chirp. “There you are, my lady!” he said. “A little late, perhaps, but that’s no trouble.” His lined face stretched into a smile. She was more than an hour late, but he wouldn’t scold her. None of her tutors ever scolded her for anything.

Lynet had once liked the idea of playing the harp. But the actual lessons were long and tiresome, and she never seemed to improve, so she didn’t see any harm in skipping them when she could. She felt less bitter about the tedious hour to follow now that she had a new project, but as she sat down at her harp, she knew she would play even worse than usual today, her mind still following the new surgeon even when her feet couldn’t.

* * *

When her lesson was finished (miserably, as expected), dusk was falling. Without even thinking, Lynet flew up the stairs to the royal apartments. Sometimes she felt that her entire day was only a prelude for her nightly visit with Mina, a tradition that had begun so long ago, Lynet couldn’t remember exactly how it had started.

The fire was blazing high when Lynet stepped quietly through to her stepmother’s bedchamber. Even though Mina had come to Whitespring from the South nearly sixteen years ago—around the same time Lynet was born—she had never become accustomed to their constant winter, and so she was always cold. Lynet, having been born in Whitespring, was never cold.

A maidservant braided Mina’s hair in front of the mirror. Lynet could see her stepmother’s reflection, serene and regal, her head held high, her back straight.

When Mina saw Lynet’s reflection behind hers in the mirror, she held her hand up to signal the maid to stop. “That’ll be all for now,” she said, and the maid dipped a curtsy before hurrying away, managing a quick smile for Lynet before she left.

Mina stood to let Lynet take her place on the low chair in front of the mirror. As soon as Lynet sat, Mina smiled. “You have snow in your hair.”

Embarrassed, Lynet reached up to brush it away. She supposed one day, when she was queen, she would have to appear as effortlessly composed as Mina did, but that day was years away.

Mina started to comb through Lynet’s hair with her fingers. Combs and brushes were useless on Lynet’s hair; they only snagged and caught in her curls, while Mina’s hands deftly unsnarled and untangled them. They’d done this every night since Lynet was a child, and neither of them ever mentioned that Lynet was old enough to untangle her own hair by now.

Mina asked her about her day, and Lynet told her how useless she was at playing the harp, how she’d already been through three music tutors. “I never get any better, so they all give up on me in the end,” she said.

“It’s not you,” Mina reassured her. “Whitespring is too gloomy and isolated for most people.” Lynet knew she was right. It wasn’t just the music tutors who all left. The only people, noble or not, who stayed at Whitespring permanently were those who had been here so long that they couldn’t be troubled to leave. Lynet wondered about her new surgeon, how long she would stay.…

“You’ve left me behind,” Mina said softly after Lynet had lapsed into silent thought for too long. “Where did you go?”

“There’s a new surgeon,” Lynet said without thinking.

“I’m glad to hear it. Whitespring has been without one for long enough.”

“She’s quite young,” Lynet said.

Mina lifted an eyebrow. “She?”

Mina was watching her with interest, but Lynet didn’t want to tell her more. She felt oddly protective of her new stranger, and she didn’t want to share her with anyone else yet. “I also saw the Pigeons today,” she said quickly.

Mina grimaced, and she accidentally tugged at one of Lynet’s curls. “Same as usual, I expect?”

Lynet knew the Pigeons would distract Mina—Mina found them even more unbearable than Lynet did. The first time Lynet had slipped and called them by that name in front of Mina, she’d been afraid that she’d be scolded. Instead, Mina had burst into laughter. Lynet didn’t blame her; though the Pigeons were always charming and respectful to Mina’s face, Lynet heard the way they talked about her when they were alone. They called her the southerner, or the southern queen, never just the queen—that title was still reserved for Lynet’s mother.

“Same as always,” Lynet grumbled as Mina started braiding her hair. “I look so much like my mother, my hair looks just like my mother’s, I have my mother’s eyes … they probably even think I have my mother’s elbows.”

Mina frowned a little and bit her lip, but said nothing.

Lynet continued. “It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just them, but—” She stopped, feeling too guilty to give voice to her thoughts.

“But you wish your father would stop comparing you to her as well?” Mina offered.

Lynet nodded. She started twisting a piece of her skirt in her hands. “It’s even worse with him,” she said quietly.

Mina laid her hands on Lynet’s shoulders. “Why do you say that?”

Lynet kept her head down. It was easier to talk about it when she wasn’t looking at anyone else—or at herself. She wanted to change the subject, but she had already done that once, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to manage it again. Whenever they talked about Lynet’s father, Mina seemed to … harden somehow, like she was putting a shield in place that even Lynet wasn’t allowed behind. Sometimes Lynet wondered why they had married at all, when they seemed to spend so little time together and show such little affection when they did.

Mina squeezed Lynet’s shoulders gently. “It’s all right, wolf cub,” she said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Mina’s special name for her rallied Lynet’s spirits, as it always did. She hated feeling afraid. “It’s just that … well, the others only talk about how much I look like her, but Papa … I think he wants me to be like her in every way. He expects me to be sweet and gentle and—and delicate.”

Lynet practically choked on the word. It was what her father always said about her mother—and about Lynet, too. Your features are delicate, Lynet, like a bird’s. You shouldn’t be climbing trees, Lynet, not when your hands and feet are so soft and delicate. Emilia had died, he said, because her body had been too delicate for childbirth. Being delicate had killed her mother, and yet he was so eager to bestow the quality on her.

“You say that like it’s a curse,” Mina said, her voice low and heavy. “There are worse things in the world to be than delicate. If you’re delicate, it means no one has tried to break you.”

Lynet felt ashamed without knowing why. She had always tried to emulate her stepmother, but the way Mina spoke now, Lynet wondered if she was trying to take on a weight she didn’t fully understand. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I must sound like such a child.”

“That’s because you are a child.” Mina smiled, but her smile started to fade as she studied their reflections in the mirror. “Or maybe not,” she said. “You’re turning sixteen soon, aren’t you?”

Lynet nodded. “In a month and a half.”

“Sixteen.” Mina knelt down beside her. “That’s how old I was when I left my home in the South to come to Whitespring. I think part of me has always thought of myself as sixteen, no matter how many years have passed.” Mina looked at the mirror and scowled, seemingly disturbed by what it showed her. Their faces were side by side, and for the first time, Lynet noticed a single white strand in her stepmother’s hair.

“You’re still young,” Lynet said uncertainly.

Mina wasn’t paying attention to her, though. She brought her hand up to her cheek, examining the corners of her eyes, the thin lines around her mouth. “If they love you for anything, it will be for your beauty,” she murmured softly, but Lynet didn’t think the words were meant for her, so she felt guilty for hearing them at all.

She waited a moment and then she said, “Mina? Is something wrong?”

Her stepmother shook her head. “Only a memory.” She turned to Lynet and kissed her on the head. “You’ve grown up so fast. It took me by surprise. Soon you won’t even need me anymore.” Mina stood and gave Lynet’s braid a playful tug. “Run off now, and enjoy the rest of your evening.”

Lynet started to go when Mina called to her, “And do let me know what happens with your young surgeon. It’ll be good for you to have someone closer to your own age to socialize with for a change.”

Lynet didn’t respond as she hurried out the door, but for some reason she couldn’t explain, she felt herself blush.





2

MINA

At sixteen, Mina knew she was beautiful. Sitting on the grass, angling her mother’s hand mirror so that the reflected sun wouldn’t blind her, she discovered the secrets of beauty: the way the blaze of the afternoon sun transformed her dark hair into a halo of fire; the way her golden-brown skin glowed when she held her face at the right angles in the light; the way the shadows elongated her cheekbones.

These were secrets no one had taught her. Her father, when he was home, kept to himself, and her nurse, Hana, would sneer at her for being so vain. Her mother was long gone, of course, but Mina liked to think that she had left behind the silver-backed mirror as a guide for her daughter.

“Dorothea,” Mina whispered to herself, wishing that just saying the name could conjure her mother on the spot. She had died so soon after falling ill that Mina didn’t remember her being ill at all. She’d been four, recovering from an unrelated illness of her own, when her mother had died, so memories of her mother were faint, shimmering things, like coins at the bottom of a moving river.

“Mina!”

Mina groaned at the sound of her nurse’s call. She had hoped that leaving the house for the refuge of the hills would allow her some peace from the woman’s constant disapproval.

Hana had been old and shrill for as long as Mina could remember, but now that Mina was growing out of girlhood, Hana had become superfluous as well. The only reason Mina listened to her at all was because she was the best source of information about her mother. Hana loved to talk about the lovely girl who had run off with a young man against her wealthy family’s wishes and had consequently been disowned by them. Mina wondered sometimes if the nurse was just making up stories—it was hard to imagine anyone risking such displeasure for the love of her father, and Hana hadn’t become Dorothea’s maidservant until after the marriage. But even half-true stories were better than nothing.

“Mina, I know you can hear me, you selfish child!”

There was a hint of desperation in Hana’s voice, like she was scared of something. But there was only one thing Hana was scared of, and that was Mina’s father, Gregory.

He’s home, Mina thought. He’d left on one of his frequent journeys nearly two months ago. Mina always valued the times when he was away; the house felt lighter with Gregory gone, like some stormy cloud overhead had dissolved. Mina looked at herself in the mirror once more, wishing she could crawl inside it and wait until both her nurse and her father went away.

“There you are,” Hana said, huffing behind her. “I know you come all the way out here just to make me kill myself from climbing these hills.”

She was almost right. Avoiding Hana was one benefit of the hills, but if the nurse had been paying any attention, she might have noticed that the Summer Castle was visible from this hill. Though the royal family had never finished its construction, leaving it half-finished for nearly a century, the completed gold domes of the Summer Castle still gleamed in the sun, shining through the trees like a beacon. If it weren’t so far, Mina would have tried to sneak onto the grounds, maybe plant a little garden there. She imagined that garden growing all around the castle, keeping everyone—especially her father—away.

“Your father is home,” Hana said. “Don’t you want to greet him?”

“Did he ask to see me?”

Hana glowered at her, but didn’t respond, so Mina knew he hadn’t. Still, she couldn’t avoid him forever, so she stood up and brushed the grass from her skirt.

“Fine,” she said, “let’s go.”

Hana grabbed her by the arm, but then she released it and reached for the mirror lying on the grass. “Is that—is that your mother’s mirror?”

“I was just borrowing it,” Mina said, blocking Hana from taking it away.

“I can’t believe you would treat your dear mother’s belongings so poorly. What if you had broken it? What if you had lost it? It’s as if you don’t care about her at all.” She shook her head at Mina in reproach.

“I do care!” Mina protested.

“I don’t know about that,” Hana muttered. “You don’t care for anything but yourself.” She grabbed at Mina’s arm again. “Now hurry up.”

Mina wrenched her arm out of her nurse’s grip, grabbed the mirror, and charged down the hill past her. She was in no hurry to see her father, but she didn’t want Hana to think she was afraid of him. She kept up her quick pace until she reached the edge of the village market.

She hadn’t been planning to come home so soon. She had snuck out early this morning, and she’d been planning to stay out for a few more hours. She’d never purposefully walk through the village in the middle of the day, especially not on market day, when it would be at its busiest.

“Just keep your head down and walk fast,” Hana whispered. “No one bothered me on my way through. It’s your father they fear, not you.”

But Hana was as forgettable as she was unthreatening. People remembered Mina just as clearly as they remembered her father. Ever since magic had made the North freeze over, people were often suspicious toward those born with unnatural abilities. Whenever her father heard rumors of others with magical talents, he would set off at once to investigate, but as far as he knew, he was the only magician for the past few generations. Still, that didn’t stop the villagers from considering Mina to be just as dangerous as her father. It never occurred to them that now it was Mina who felt she had to keep safe from them.

The village on market day was a visual feast. There were the familiar sights of the South—brightly colored fruit, fresh dates and nuts, colorful woven rugs—along with the rarer luxuries of the North—jewelry with gems from the mountains, soft furs, intricate wood carvings. Mina would have loved to spend all day walking back and forth down the long passageway between stalls, reveling in all that beauty. But as she and Hana passed through the crumbling stone archway that marked the entrance to the marketplace, Mina kept her eyes down on the dusty ground, letting her sheet of hair fall forward to cover her face.

It didn’t matter. No matter how dowdy she tried to look, how modestly she cast her eyes downward, someone always recognized her, and then the whispers spread outward until they surrounded her.

The villagers went quiet as she passed. Then she heard the word magician in hushed tones, over and over again, until it sounded less like a word and more like the chirping of crickets. Once the whispers had spread far enough, the villagers started to step aside from her, keeping their distance from the magician’s daughter. But in the narrow passageway through the market, there wasn’t much room for keeping one’s distance, not for the villagers, and not for Mina, either.

On all sides, people jostled into her and then jumped away. It would have wounded her, perhaps, if she’d felt anything but contempt for these people. They were hypocrites, shying away from her in the light of day, but sneaking to her father’s house at night, begging him for magical solutions to their mundane problems. She passed by Lila, the weaver, who glanced away from her as she wrapped her arms around her swollen belly. She had come to Mina’s father a few months ago asking for something to help her conceive a child, and even though she had gotten what she wanted, she didn’t want to be reminded of how she’d done it. Vulgar midwifery, her father had dismissed the potion he’d given her. He didn’t even consider such services to be magic, but they provided him with money to conduct his own experiments in his private laboratory. Of course, it was rumors of those experiments—his meddling with the forces of life and death—that made the villagers so wary of the magician and his daughter in the first place.

They were nearing the last of the merchants’ stalls when Mina felt something strike the backs of her ankles. She halted, and she could practically hear the collective gasp of breath. When she turned around, she saw a young boy scurry behind his mother’s legs, peeking guiltily up at Mina. Small rocks littered the ground by her feet—he must have thrown them at her. For now, it was only the children who struck out at her, but she knew she couldn’t count on that forever.

“Come on, Mina, stop lingering.”

“Just a minute, Hana,” Mina said, loud enough for people to hear. They were all pretending to go about their business, but their movements were slow and unfocused. “Since we’re here, we might as well do some shopping.”

The backs of her ankles still stung from where the small stones had hit her. If she hurried away now, it would only prove that violence would deter her, that they could scare her away. The scale of fear was still tipped in her favor: they were more scared of her than she was of them.

She walked to the nearest stall and picked an object at random: a plain silver bracelet. “How much?” Mina demanded of the merchant. If he had been local, he might have waived the fee to get rid of her quickly. But Mina could see from the cool olive of his skin and the drab colors he wore that he was from the North, too concerned with his own business to worry himself with gossip about the magician and his daughter, and so he named his price. Mina handed some coins over to him and placed the bracelet around her wrist, a reminder that she would not be chased off.

“I’m ready to go home now,” Mina said, turning again to Hana. She pitched her voice a little louder: “I’m ready to see my father.”

* * *

Her bravado faded once she reached home. Mina knocked on the door of her father’s study, taking a deep breath. After receiving no response, she peeked inside, but the room appeared empty. “Father?” she called softly.

Did he not even want to see her, after being gone for so long? True, she wasn’t particularly eager to see him again, but some part of her always stubbornly expected him to reach out to his daughter, the way she imagined most fathers did, even though he never gave her any reason to believe that he would.

Mina’s hands balled into fists at her sides. Her eyes went to a door at the back of the room, almost hidden by the surrounding bookshelves—the door to her father’s laboratory, the inner room where he did most of his work. Mina had been here in her father’s study before—it was ordinary, if a little chaotic, with books scattered everywhere—but it was merely a presentable facade meant to distract from the hidden door leading to that secret adjoining room. She’d only been in the laboratory once in her life. Those memories were foggy, though, and her head pounded whenever she tried to remember.

She listened for the sound of her father approaching, and when she didn’t hear anything, she crossed the study to that unassuming door. It was unlocked; she slipped inside.

The laboratory was dim and narrow, and along the walls were shelves full of vials and jars. She read a few of the scrawled labels: some were simply potions for sleep or health, but others announced themselves as deadly poisons. They had oddly fanciful names, like Whisper of Death or Burning Needle, and she knew from the proud penmanship that they were Gregory’s inventions. He brewed death here, in a myriad of creative ways, just to pass the time.

She walked past a long wooden table where a lamp burned low. There was a dark black stain in one spot, but otherwise the table was covered in open books with strange symbols and drawings. She knew how to read, but most of the books were written in unfamiliar languages, so she ignored the books and focused again on the shelves.

Mina’s eyes kept flickering to the contents of the jars, and she grew more unsettled each time. In many of the jars were misshapen lumps of … flesh? Bone? Feathers? She wasn’t sure what they were until she saw an actual miniature replica of a human being in one of the jars. It floated in cloudy liquid, like a tiny wax doll, except she was sure it wasn’t made of wax.

At the back of the room was a single jar resting on a small table. There was something inside the jar, and when Mina saw it clearly, she drew back at once. Unlike the strange fleshy things in the other jars, the contents of this one hadn’t been preserved. She peered at the rotten lump of meat in the jar, thankful there was no smell coming from it. What purpose did this withered, shriveled piece of flesh serve for her father? Another failed experiment? An ingredient for one of his poisonous concoctions? The sight of it filled her with an inexplicable sense of dread.

“Repulsive, isn’t it?”

Mina whirled around at the sound of her father’s voice. He leaned against the doorway, his arms folded over his chest. But he wasn’t the same as he had been when he’d left two months ago. His dark hair had lightened to gray, and there were more lines on his now-gaunt face. He looked to have aged at least twenty years while he’d been away.

“What happened to you?” Mina said, forgetting for a moment that he had caught her trespassing.

He walked over to the table, ignoring her question completely. “Do you know where I’ve been these past months?”

Mina was still tense, waiting for him to scold or berate her for invading his inner study. “Off on a useless search for another magician, I assume,” she said.

He fumbled with the books on his table, tossing some on the floor, while stacking others in a pile. “Wrong,” he said. “I was at Whitespring.”

Mina couldn’t hide her curiosity. “At the castle? With the king and queen?”

“With King Nicholas, yes. Queen Emilia, however, is dead.” He looked up and watched for her reaction, but Mina gave none. Why should she care if the queen was dead? What happened in the North was of little concern to her.

Gregory chuckled to himself and leaned heavily against the table. “I don’t know why I expected you to care. You should care, though, because her death has changed both of our lives forever.”

Again, he waited for a reaction, for her to ask him what he meant. Mina knew he was baiting her, so she refused to answer at all. He’d tell her whatever he wanted to in the end, with or without her prompting.

“She died in childbirth,” he continued, “but she left behind, in her stead, a daughter as beautiful as she was.”

“I didn’t know she was carrying a child,” Mina said placidly.

“News travels slowly, I suppose. But she had … complications. The child was killing her from the inside out. The king called for me in secret to see if I could save her and the child through magic, since medicine had failed. He’d heard what I could do, he said. He’d heard whispers that I had power over life and death.” Gregory’s eyes glittered in the dim light, his voice solemn with pride, but then he glanced away, and Mina saw his hands gripping the side of the table. “I was too late to save the queen,” he forced out, “but I did manage to save the child, using unconventional means. That’s why you find me so … changed. The process was draining.”

For a moment, Mina forgot that she was pretending not to care, drawn in by her father’s faltering words, his altered appearance. She had never seen her father look so vulnerable, so uncertain, and she wondered if the change in him was more than physical. Shyly, she reached out to lay a hand on his arm. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Gregory looked down at her hand and then brushed it away like it was a piece of dirt on his sleeve. “You’ve never pretended to care before, Mina. There’s no need to start now.”

Mina flinched and crossed her arms, trying to keep herself from storming out. She didn’t want to give her father the satisfaction of driving her away.

“And now what?” Mina snapped. “You said this would change things for us.”

His eyebrows went up in mock surprise. “You don’t think I would perform such a feat without a price, do you? In exchange for saving his daughter, the king has invited us to live at court.”

“At Whitespring?”

“A fresh start for us both.”

“But it’s so … so…” Cold, she was thinking. Mina was used to the bright days and warm nights of the South. Whitespring was so named because even in the spring, the ground was white with snow. How could she ever belong in such a place?

“It’s better than living like outcasts.”

Mina wrung her hands, trying to think of a way to persuade him without having to beg. Summoning as much authority as she could, she dropped her arms to her sides, stood tall, and said, “Go without me, then. I’ll take care of things here. You don’t need me.”

He released the table and stepped closer to her. “Oh, but I do need you. I need that face of yours.” He took her face in one hand, his fingers pressing into her jaw. “You’ll marry someone highborn, and my place—our place—will be secure even if the king forgets his debt to me.”

Mina tried to push his arm away and free herself from his rough grip, but even in his weakened state, he was stronger than she was. He waited until she’d given up before finally letting go.

“If you need me,” she said, rubbing her jaw, “then you should try to be more persuasive. I don’t owe you anything.”

His face twisted in anger, but then he laughed. “You don’t owe me anything? No, Mina, you owe me everything. You owe me your life. And not just because I’m your father.”

Mina wanted to turn away, but there was nowhere safe to look. The whole room was full of him. “Fine,” she said. “Tell me what I owe you, exactly. If you’re convincing enough, maybe I’ll change my mind.”

He nodded, wearing the arrogant smile of a man who knew he was about to win. “All right, if that’s the game you want to play.” Gregory grabbed her wrist, and Mina, resenting the feel of his fingers digging into her skin, but knowing from experience that she couldn’t break his grip, allowed him to drag her over to the table. He took a small pouch from his pocket and poured its contents—a handful of sand—out onto the table.

“Watch carefully,” he said, sifting through the sand.

To Mina’s astonishment, the sand started to move, to shift even without his touch, and then it wasn’t sand anymore but a small gray mouse, bouncing off the sides of his cupped hands. She gasped, berating herself for it when she heard him laugh. She’d heard the same whispers that the king had, that the magician Gregory had the power to create life, but she’d never seen her father demonstrate his otherworldly power. He played the part of magician for the villagers with his potions, but he kept his real magic in his laboratory, for himself alone.

Gregory was grimacing, his jaw tense as if with pain, but then he recovered. “It’s alchemy in its purest form,” he said, “transforming one thing into another without any intermediary. I was born with the power to take any inanimate substance and transform it into something organic … but only to some extent. This mouse is no true mouse. It is, in its essence, still sand. It will not grow or age or die. It’s not even truly alive.” To prove his point, he balled his hands into fists, and the tiny, squeaking mouse abruptly disintegrated, once again a pile of sand.

Mina nearly gasped a second time, but though her jaw hung open, she made no sound. Her eyes saw a pile of sand, but her mind transformed it into a pile of bones and meat. It was both grave and corpse in one.

With a careless gesture, Gregory swept the sand back into the pouch. “It’s like a mechanical doll, do you see? If you wind it up, it resembles life, but it is only a resemblance. In order to make it a real, living mouse, I would need to add my blood—the source of my magic.” A weary note crept into his voice. “It … has taken me many years and many attempts to figure that out.”

“What’s the point of all this?” Mina rasped, her throat dry. She kept thinking of the shelves around her, of the misshapen creations in their jars.

“Ah yes. This was only a prologue to the story I want to tell you. When you were a child, no more than four years old, you fell deathly ill. Your mother wept, for there was no one who could help you. Your heart was damaged, likely since birth, and all we could do was wait for it to stop altogether. And one day, it did. Your mother was frantic, almost furious, in her grief, and I hated to see her in such a state.”

Mina couldn’t help raising an eyebrow at that, especially since Gregory’s lip curled slightly at the mention of her mother. Gregory paused, glaring coldly at her, and Mina couldn’t stop herself from taking a step back away from him.

“I know what you’re thinking, but I did love your mother once. I wanted her to be happy. And so I brought you here, to this room. I laid you down here, on this table. And then I opened up your chest, took out your useless heart, and replaced it with a new one, made from glass.”

Mina almost laughed at him. Was he trying to frighten her? True, she’d been sickly as a child—Hana had told her that—but this was the first she’d heard of glass hearts. She made no effort to hide her skepticism, but Gregory was undeterred. He placed one hand on her chest and said, “Don’t you have a scar, right here? Haven’t you ever wondered why you don’t have a heartbeat?”

This time, Mina did laugh. “I may have a scar, but I also have a heartbeat. I wouldn’t be alive, otherwise.”

“Have you ever heard it? Felt it?”

“Of course not. It’s too quiet for me to hear.”

“Give me your hand,” he said, but he grabbed her hand before she could give it and held her palm to his chest.

Mina instantly started to take her hand back, but she stopped when she felt something peculiar under her palm: a faint, rhythmic pounding. She pulled away in shock. “What is that? What’s wrong with you?”

“It’s not me, my sweet. Put your hand to anyone’s chest or wrist or throat, and you’ll feel the same steady pulse.”

Mina put her hand on her own chest, waiting for something she’d never felt before.

“Don’t bother. You won’t find it, because you don’t have one. Remember what I told you about my blood? When you were sick, I didn’t yet know how to create something more genuine than that sand mouse.”

Mina’s throat tightened and she had to force out the question: “Are you saying that I’m just like—”

“Oh no, no,” Gregory said, frowning at her like she had said something completely ridiculous. “You are alive, Mina, and you will grow and live and die the same as any living being; it’s only your heart that’s artificial. I commanded your new heart to keep you alive, but because I created it without my blood, it is still, in essence, glass, so it lacks some of the nuances of a real heart—like a heartbeat. It was the best I could do.”

She tried to think back to a time when her heart might have lurched or pounded or fluttered—anything to announce its presence—but there was only ever silence. She thought again of that mouse dissolving into sand. “I don’t—I don’t believe you.”

“Do you need more proof? I was hoping you would. Turn around.”

She knew. She knew as she turned to the table at the end of the room what he wanted her to see. She knew what that withered, rotten piece of meat inside the jar was, and she fought the urge to retch.

“That’s your heart, Mina,” Gregory said from right behind her. “Aren’t you grateful that rotting thing isn’t a part of you anymore? Don’t you think you owe me, after all?”





3

MINA

Mina stared at the heart—her heart—and tried not to scream. “Why couldn’t you save my mother, if you could save me?” she asked her father. She might still trap him in a lie, if she kept calm.

Gregory’s voice grew harsh. “Your mother was never ill. She was horrified when she learned what I had done to save your life. The idea of it was repulsive to her. She’d been unhappy for a long time, but only after I replaced your heart did she choose to do something about it. She wanted to punish me for what I’d done—and to punish you for what you had become.” He roughly turned Mina by the shoulders so that she was facing him. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Mina? Your mother … your mother killed herself.”

“You’re lying,” Mina said at once. “She died because she was ill. Hana told me.”

“Because that’s what I told Hana to tell you.” The words sounded bitter on his tongue. “Your mother chose death over me, over you, because she was weak. She could endure me, but when she sensed an emptiness in her child, it was too much for her to bear. Your heart was shaped to survive, not to love, and your mother was selfish: she was incapable of loving someone who could never love her back.”

“I—I can love,” Mina said. She tried to think of a way to prove him wrong, to fight back. But she didn’t love her father, and even if she pretended she did, he would never believe it.

Hana? Hana was familiar, but there had never been much affection between them. What did love feel like? How would she know if she’d ever felt it before? I loved my mother, she wanted to say, but then Hana’s accusation came back to her: It’s as if you don’t care about her at all. Mina had denied it, but now she wasn’t sure. She loved the memory of her mother, the idea of having a mother, but the woman herself was a mystery to her, as was everything that had happened to her before her father gave her a glass heart. She always wondered why she had such trouble remembering her early childhood, but now she understood: her old life had ended the day her heart stopped, and a new one had begun.

She felt so drained, suddenly, so empty. For the first time, she noticed the silence in her body, the absence of that steady beating in her chest. You don’t care for anything but yourself. She couldn’t even remember if she had ever shed a single tear.

Gregory came to stand in front of her, blocking her view of the heart in the jar. His face was drawn and solemn. “There’s no point fighting me on this, Mina. I understand how you function better than you do. You can rage and hate and despair and hope as well as anyone else, but love is something more complicated. Love requires a real heart, which you do not have, and so you cannot love, and you will never be loved, except”—he came closer to her and brushed his knuckles against her cheek—“you have beauty, and beauty is more powerful than love. People can’t help themselves: they crave beauty. They will overlook anything, even a glass heart, for it. If they love you for anything, it will be for your beauty. But there’s nothing for either of us here. Come to court with me, and you’ll be the most beautiful lady there, the most envied, the most desired.”

He stopped to see if his words were having any effect on her, but Mina’s face was as still as her heart.

“Well? Do you agree? Will you be ready to leave for Whitespring by tomorrow?”

He reached his hand out for her in a gesture of reconciliation, and though she hated herself for it, Mina put her hand in his.

What else did she have?

* * *

Mina laid her mother’s mirror down on the grass by the stream. She had meant to put it back, but the thought of going into her mother’s room now was too painful. She was sorry to leave behind her favorite places—the hidden stream where it was always cool, the giant oak tree that she had once tried (and failed) to climb as a child, the ruins of the old church with the caved-in roof. They were all solitary places, of course—none of the villagers would miss her or her father when they were gone.

She remembered the first time she had been brave enough to approach a group of children playing by the stream, dangling their feet in the water. She had been only seven or eight, and her loneliness had finally overcome her timidity. Mina had already begun to notice the way parents would pull their children closer to them whenever Hana took her into the market, but she had never understood why. For all she knew, it was because of Hana, not because of her.

But she had been alone the time she tried to join the children at the stream, and so when half of them had jumped up from the water and run away, and the other half had sneered and called her and her father cruel names, Mina finally understood: They hate me.

She had decided at that moment that she hated them, too.

But today there was no one at the stream, so Mina was free to sit on its banks and say a final good-bye. She refused to hate this place just because of one bad memory on its banks. There was too much to appreciate here—the drops of sunlight falling in between the leaves overhead, the sound of the water rushing past, the scent of the grass. Mina even loved the large chunks of stone that littered the stream, remnants of a bridge that had collapsed years ago. She had come here to cheer herself up, but everywhere she looked, she found something else she was leaving behind.

Her reflection looked up at her from the mirror, and even that offered her little comfort anymore. From seeing the portrait of Dorothea that hung in her room, Mina knew they bore a fairly strong resemblance. Her life she owed to her father, but her beauty she owed to her mother.

No, I owe you nothing. You left me with him.

Weak, her father had called Dorothea. Mina didn’t think her mother weak; she thought her selfish.

And what about me? What am I? She looked into the mirror for an answer. Her face was ashen, her eyes dull. Even so, she was beautiful. And what was more, the mirror gave no indication of what lay beneath. With her beauty as a distraction, no one would ever know that she was, deep down, hollow. She touched her cheek, the bridge of her nose, the indentation above her upper lip, and she was alarmed by how soft her skin was, how impermanent, like the heart in its jar. Her beauty was merely a shell, and a shell was always in danger of cracking.

The surface of her mother’s mirror seemed to mock her, its image too flawless, too smooth for how she felt inside. It should be cracked, she thought. Maybe then her reflection could absorb what was broken in her, and Mina could be whole. Her fingers curled into a fist—

But before she even touched the glass, the mirror cracked by itself.

She gaped at the mirror in awe, trying to understand. Her chest was aching, and she felt so tired suddenly, but she ignored the feeling. Show me. Show me what you did.

The glass seemed to dissolve into liquid before knitting back together. Mina stroked the mirror’s undamaged surface with her fingers as the pain in her chest faded away.

It’s listening to me.

The glass was responding to her, to the glass in her heart. Her father hadn’t told her about this side effect; was he even aware of it? Was there still something about her that he didn’t understand? Gregory had given her a piece of his own magic when he’d shaped her heart, and she was almost certain that he didn’t know it.

And what was that ache in her chest? Had the magic done it to her? She started to panic as she thought of her father’s aged appearance, but she recalled that the ache and the fatigue had faded. Perhaps commanding the glass had drained something from her, but at least the effect wasn’t permanent. With growing excitement, Mina whispered, “Be a mouse,” to the mirror.

This last command drained her even more as the glass shifted again, spilling out of the frame onto the ground. And then the glass became a small brown mouse with twitching whiskers, and Mina heard a series of gasps.

Mina hissed a silent order for the mouse to become glass again, and the mouse crystallized as she looked up and saw a group of four girls her age gathered by the trees. She recognized their faces, but she didn’t know their names or who they were. They were all staring at her in horror, some of them moving their lips in silent prayer.

Mina staggered to her feet, hoping to distract their gazes away from the mouse that had just been glass, but several of them were pointing. “You’re just like him!” a tall girl cried. “My mother always said that you were.”

“No, you don’t understand—” Mina took a faltering step toward them, but they all took a step back together.

“Don’t come any nearer!” said the girl in front. She bent down and picked up a long, twisted stick from the ground, holding it in front of her like a sword. “We don’t want anything to do with either of you!”

“I’m not like him!” Mina yelled at them. But hadn’t they just seen proof that she was?

She took another step forward, and the girl threw the stick in panic. It scraped Mina’s arm, leaving a shallow scratch before it fell at her feet.

No one will ever love me anyway, so what’s the point in playing nice?

Mina could hurt them if she wanted to, just as they had hurt her. She could use the glass to scare them. All those sideways glances, all those sneering whispers—why fight their contempt when it would be so much easier to earn it? At least now it would be for her, not just her father.

“You should be careful how you speak to me,” Mina called to them, “especially when you don’t know what I can do.”

The girls watched with widening eyes as the mouse shifted into liquid glass and swirled up toward Mina’s hand, circling up her arm like a snake. Mina wondered if she should turn it into a real snake and hurl it at them the way they had thrown the stick at her—

But then Hana came bursting through the trees like an angry bull, and the girls scattered and ran.

Mina quickly gave up her hold on the glass, letting it fall back to the ground as shards and praying that Hana had been too distracted by the frightened girls to notice.

“What are you doing meddling with the villagers?” Hana said, taking Mina by the wrist. “You know it’s better just to ignore them. And stop wandering off without telling me where you’re going. You’re my responsibility, you know.”

“I’m going home now anyway, so you didn’t have to bother coming after me,” Mina said. She pulled away from Hana, still shaken. She was glad Hana had interrupted before Mina had done anything to hurt or scare them, and yet—and yet, she felt cheated, like she was still holding a breath that she had almost been allowed to release.

“Just a minute,” Mina said, kneeling down so that her back hid the glass and the mirror frame from Hana’s view. In a hushed whisper, she ordered the mirror to fix itself, and the glass slithered back to its home in the mirror frame, where it solidified. She picked it up and went to join Hana at the edge of the trees.

Hana kept fussing on their way home, and now Mina worried that she had made a terrible mistake. What if those girls told everyone what they had seen, and word eventually reached her father? For the first time, she was grateful that they’d be leaving so soon—perhaps rumors of Mina’s powers wouldn’t have time to reach him. She was almost certain Hana hadn’t seen anything, or else she would have mentioned it by now, but even so, Mina would have to be more careful. If Gregory found out about her power, he was sure to use it to his advantage in some way, and Mina didn’t think she could bear it. She needed to have something to herself, something that he couldn’t take from her.

Gregory was standing outside the house as they approached, looking even more haggard in the daylight. “There you are!” he called. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Mina went toward him, bracing herself, but Gregory passed by her and went to Hana, walking around her with a thoughtful frown. “You’re … what? Sixteen, seventeen now?”

It took Mina a moment to grasp that he was talking to her this time. “Sixteen.”

“That’s old to still have a nurse, wouldn’t you say?”

She glanced at Hana, who seemed to have no reaction to the question. “Yes,” Mina said. “I’ve thought so for a while.”

Gregory nodded. “I agree. And we want to travel as lightly as possible.”

Hana still didn’t react, even though Mina was sure she was about to be dismissed. Maybe Hana didn’t care. Maybe she’d be thankful to get away from them both.

Gregory stood in front of Hana, placing a hand on top of her head. “Say good-bye to your nurse, then, Mina.” Before Mina could even ask what he was doing, Hana’s body had hardened to wood and clattered to the ground as a pile of twigs and branches.

Of course, Mina thought. The only maid willing to serve a magician’s lonely wife and daughter was one Gregory had created. She should have known.

Gregory walked back into the house, leaving Mina alone with the remnants of her nurse. She stared at the pile wide-eyed, and she shivered despite the sunlight. One moment Hana had been here, real and human, and now she was nothing but kindling for a fire. Mina kept waiting for tears to come—she may not have been fond of Hana, but she had never wished her dead. But no tears came, and her lack of emotional display made her feel …

Heartless.

But that’s what I am, she thought. That’s what I’ll always be.

Mina stepped over the pile and followed her father inside.





4

LYNET

Crouching in the snow, Lynet peered into the small, dingy window of the surgeon’s basement workroom. Over the past several weeks, she’d fallen into the habit of following the new surgeon instead of attending her lessons, but she thought it was a worthwhile trade. After all, could her lessons have taught her that the surgeon’s name was Nadia, or that she was only seventeen?

Lynet watched Nadia now as she read and made sketches in her journal, pausing only to push back the strands of black hair that kept falling over her eyes. She rested her chin on one hand, her fingers turning the pages with something like reverence. Sometimes the hint of a smile crossed her face as she scribbled down a note. Lynet loved these moments of calm most of all, when the focused, serious surgeon relaxed just enough for Lynet to see the person underneath. It was during these times that Lynet wished she could watch Nadia from inside the room rather than from outside the window, that she could speak to her and know her thoughts as well as her actions.

But it was too late for that now; Lynet had spoiled it all by following her for so long. How could Lynet ever speak to her and pretend not to know who she was or how she spent her days? Why would Nadia ever agree to speak to her when she knew how Lynet had haunted her like a ghost?

A sudden flurry of movement startled Lynet as two men came bursting into the room, one of them supporting the other, holding him up because his foot was mauled and bloody. Lynet’s stomach lurched. She recognized the wounded man as a kitchen servant, and she started to turn away from the gruesome sight, but then—then Nadia reacted, and Lynet couldn’t look away at all.

Nadia rolled up the sleeves of her tunic, revealing lean but strong forearms, and knelt to examine the foot. She moved quickly but precisely around the room, fetching a wooden block and—to Lynet’s horror—a saw.

Lynet knew what would happen next as Nadia propped the servant’s wounded foot on the block. The blood, the white of bone, the look of anguish on the poor man’s face as he bit down on a rag to keep from screaming—Lynet tried to block them from her vision. But she couldn’t stop watching Nadia during the entire procedure, her stern look of concentration the one source of stability during such a terrible scene.

Just once, when the amputation was complete and Nadia was bandaging the stump, did Lynet see the surgeon betray any sign of agitation. Nadia let out a single, relieved exhale, her eyes closing briefly, but only when her head was bent, her face hidden from the servants—but not from Lynet.

Lynet decided that was as much as she could handle for the morning, and she climbed up the castle walls to her bedroom window, thinking herself a coward. Here she was, unable to speak to a girl when that girl regularly faced horrors without even flinching. She decided she would at least look in on that kitchen servant later and make sure he didn’t lose his position because of his injury.

She climbed in through the window, swinging both legs over the ledge, and nearly let out a yelp when she saw her father sitting in her chair, waiting for her.

“Lynet, we’ve talked about this,” he said.

No matter how stern or forbidding her father tried to appear, he always seemed sad rather than angry—perhaps it was the way his voice sounded like a sigh, or the dark circles under his deep-set eyes, or the way his hair and beard always seemed a little grayer every time she saw him, as though he were slowly being drained of all color. Lynet would have preferred that he scold her so she could feel indignant in response, but she didn’t know how to respond to that disappointed note in his voice other than to apologize.

“I’m sorry, Papa, I was just…”

“Just skipping your morning lessons? Just climbing in through your window despite your father’s many warnings?”

“I’m sorry,” she said again, more softly this time.

He looked like he wanted to say something else, but then he shook his head and stood, holding his hand out to her. “We’ll talk about this later. Today of all days, we should be at peace with each other.”

Lynet frowned. “What’s today?”

He dropped his hand and raised his eyebrows in surprise. “It’s two weeks before your birthday. It’s time for our yearly visit. Have you forgotten?”

“Oh, that’s … that’s right,” Lynet said. She had been so distracted following Nadia that she had forgotten this day was approaching—or maybe she hadn’t wanted to remember. Tiny prickles went up and down her arms, but she forced a smile and said, “Are we going now?”

He nodded, and Lynet followed him out of the room. Lynet let her father lead, walking slightly behind him so that he wouldn’t notice the deep breaths she took to calm her nerves. Normally she would have prepared herself, but this year she had forgotten, and so the dread came to her all at once, in a flood of nausea.

They passed other members of the court as they made their way down to the courtyard and around to the garden, all of them bowing their heads in solemn greeting. Lynet could see on their faces the moment they remembered what day it was and where the king and the princess were going—a slight intake of breath, a smile quickly turned to a somber frown. Today was a day of mourning.

It was appropriate, then, that they had to walk past the Shadow Garden. Lynet ordinarily liked the garden, especially seeing it from above, where the bare branches of the trees stood out against the snow like trails of ink spilled over paper. Today, though, she could only think of Queen Sybil and the story behind all those dead trees.

Centuries ago, before Whitespring had earned its name, the Shadow Garden had been called the Queen’s Garden, because it had belonged to Queen Sybil. But when the queen’s only son was thrown from his horse to his death, the queen hanged herself from one of the trees in her garden. At the instant of her death, the winds changed, and snow started to fall over the northern half of the kingdom, though it was spring. The castle froze, the passing of time blurring into one long winter, and the Queen’s Garden remained in its new, grim state: a grove of dead trees, a garden of shadows. The Queen’s Garden became the Shadow Garden, the castle was renamed Whitespring, and the everlasting winter became known over the years as “Sybil’s curse.”

Past the garden, at the base of the North Tower around the back of the castle, was a small door slightly below ground level, a short flight of steps cutting through the snow. When they reached that door, Nicholas froze, eyes fixed on the handle. Lynet gently put her hand on his arm. “We don’t have to go this year, if you don’t want to,” she said, trying not to sound too eager.

He rested his hand on hers for a moment, perhaps drawing strength from it. “No,” he said, “I wouldn’t deprive you of this. It’s the only time we have with her.” And without any more hesitation, he opened the door to the royal crypt, where Lynet’s mother waited.

Nicholas lit the lamp that hung by the door and held it up, offering his other hand to Lynet. The stairs down to the crypt were uneven and winding, and Lynet often had trouble with them, especially when she was little, so she gratefully took her father’s hand and let him lead her down.

Her father pressed her hand gently as they submerged into the stale air of the crypt, and she managed a weak smile in return. These visits meant so much to him; she didn’t want him to know that she always dreaded this day. They always honored her mother’s death shortly before Lynet’s birthday. When Lynet was younger, she hadn’t thought much of it, but now she understood that this was her father’s way of separating her mother’s death from her birth. He wanted to spare her the guilt of being the cause of that death. She was thankful for that, she supposed.

Lynet kept her eyes down as they passed through shadowed walls. She didn’t want to see the massive stone columns, because then she remembered that those pillars alone kept the crypt from collapsing under the pressure of the earth above. She didn’t want to glance up at the walls, because all along them were long, narrow alcoves, each housing a casket. The bodies of all her ancestors were here, and one day she would join them.

She had to look up, though, when they reached the Cavern of Bones.

Past the dead trees of the Shadow Garden was a statue of Queen Sybil standing over the lake. Her stone hands covered her face as she wept eternally, her grief strong enough to banish spring from the North. Here in the crypt, in the Cavern of Bones, was a statue of a different sort.

Lynet forced herself to look at Sybil’s bones, laid out on her bier. All around her were the remains of other skeletons, martyrs who had died on their knees when they came to pray to Sybil, asking her to end the curse that bore her name. Since then, the custom when passing through the Cavern was to stop and kneel and offer a prayer to Sybil in the hopes that one day her curse would end.

Nicholas knelt down, and Lynet followed, shutting her eyes to block out the sight of death. She prayed, as she had been taught, for the end of the curse, for the survival of the North, for respite from the cold.

When they finished their prayers and finally reached the alcove that held her mother’s casket, Lynet was so tense that she almost let out a moan of fear. Her father still held her hand tightly, and she was suddenly convinced that he would lead her straight into the casket to take her mother’s place.

“Papa, I—”

He shook his head. “You don’t need to say anything, my Lynetbird.” He released her hand only to put his arm around her and hold her close. “Look,” he said. “Look at her.” They were only words, but Lynet felt as though he were holding her eyelids open, forcing her to stare at that smooth wooden box.

“Every year,” Nicholas said, “when we come to see her, I always feel the pain of her loss all over again. I think of her laid out in that casket, her eyes forever closed, her soft hands crossed over her chest. I can imagine her so vividly as the woman she once was.”

Lynet could imagine her too: a corpse laid out, eyes closed, hands crossed—but the corpse had her own face. Thanks to the strong resemblance she shared with her mother, Lynet knew that if she opened that casket now, she would see something like herself—her own body, her own face—after nearly sixteen years of decay. Perhaps life was the only thing that set Lynet apart from her mother, the boundary between them as indistinct as a single breath. The faint sound of Lynet’s breathing, the rise and fall of her chest—without them, Lynet might have been indistinguishable from the woman in that box. She kept her eyes wide open, afraid that if she closed them, she would see the inside of the casket behind her eyelids.

Her father turned to her, studying her face. “You become more like her every year.”

“I’m not her,” Lynet said, barely above a whisper.

Her father smiled fondly, mistaking her terror for fear of inadequacy. “You will be. A few more years, and you’ll embody everything that she was.”

All Lynet wanted was to run outside and climb the highest tree, as far away as possible from this place, and then she would be more certain than ever that she was alive—that she was herself. But her father’s arm kept her weighed down beside him, and when they were finished paying their respects, Nicholas led her out of the crypt. Lynet followed in a daze, blinking away the sight of the casket.

Nicholas hugged her close and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “I’m so thankful for you, Lynetbird. On this day, especially, I see how fortunate I am.”

Guilt and pride mixed in equal measure in her chest—pride because she had made her father happy for one brief moment, and guilt because she knew she would disappoint him again. She could never be her mother, even if she’d wanted to be.

Only when they had emerged back into the fresh air did Lynet start to come out of her stupor and feel her blood flowing again. She could see the outlines of the dead trees in the garden and hear the distant lapping of the lake, all of these sights and sounds more vivid and sharp after the suffocating gloom of the crypt.

Her father’s voice seemed louder too as he said, “I have to meet with my council now, Lynet. Will you be all right on your own? Or perhaps you’d like to come with me? It would be good for you to see a council meeting.”

Mina had told her about those council meetings—a group of old men and women gossiping or else arguing over how much money to spend, while the king waited for them to make up their minds, and how they usually decided to do nothing at all. “No, thank you,” she said, “I’d like to go for a walk. Although … I wouldn’t mind going on your next hunting trip.”

He smiled at her in amusement. “Enjoy your walk, then. But don’t be late for your lessons,” he said, before heading back toward the courtyard.

When he was gone, Lynet practically threw herself at the nearest wall and started to climb. She didn’t even have anywhere to go, but she needed to climb up, away from the crypt, away from the bones and the stench of death. She found a jutting piece of stone as a foothold and found a ledge to bring herself up on top of the low, arched roof. She climbed up over the arch and then started down, toward the central courtyard. She almost slipped as she made her way across, and she relished the way her pulse sped in response—it was proof that she was alive, and that she was not the dead queen in her coffin. How could anyone mistake her for the late queen when she was scaling the walls of a castle? Would someone so delicate be able to climb these heights? Would someone so delicate risk her safety in such a way?

Lynet was overlooking the courtyard now, but she still felt like she was running away from something, and that if she stopped, it would catch her. It was a restless feeling, an itch that made her feel like her skin didn’t fit over her bones correctly. She thought she might leap out of herself and become someone new, and then she’d be at peace.

Leap. The thought appealed to her, made her heart race faster. The juniper tree was about five feet away from the edge of the roof, its branches inviting her. I can make that jump, she told herself. It was a farther distance than she had ever jumped before, and there was a voice in her head telling her that she was doing something pointlessly dangerous, but every muscle in her body ached to take that leap, to release whatever strange energy was building up inside of her. Her muscles tensed in preparation, and she relished the feeling of fear and elation that flooded her.

Lynet targeted the nearest juniper branch, its leaves covered in snow. She crouched lower, took a breath, and jumped.

One of her hands found the branch—and lost it again, her skin scraping painfully against the sharp bark as she tumbled down. She barely had time to absorb what had happened before her back hit the ground, her fall thankfully blunted by several inches of snow.

I knew I couldn’t make that jump.

She lay there for a moment, eyes closed, and even though she had missed the tree, she did still feel a kind of peace come over her. That feeling of something moving under her skin was gone, replaced by a stinging pain in her left palm. She took deep breaths as her pulse began to slow.

And then she heard an amused voice from above: “What’s this? A bird fallen from her perch?”

“I’m not a bird,” Lynet shot back immediately. She opened her eyes and then inhaled sharply as she looked up at a face that had become familiar to her.

The girl from the courtyard. The surgeon she had been following. Nadia.

Lynet seemed to be familiar to her, too, because Nadia was staring at her, wide-eyed, from above. “No, not a bird, a princess,” she said. “I apologize, my lady. I didn’t recognize you at first.”

Lynet rushed to her feet and tried to brush the snow off her skirt, hoping also to brush off the indignity of having been found falling from a tree. But the juniper branch had scraped a layer of skin off her left palm—the source of the pain she’d felt earlier—and she winced when her hand met the rough fabric.

“Did you hurt yourself, my lady?” Nadia said, reaching for Lynet’s hand. As she examined Lynet’s palm, Lynet took the opportunity to observe Nadia up close. After weeks of peering through windows and running after her over rooftops, Lynet’s mind was reeling with new details. Nadia’s hair wasn’t black, as Lynet had previously believed, but a deep, dark brown. Her heavy eyelids were lined with long eyelashes. And her eyes—her eyes were staring back at Lynet.

“It’s fine,” Lynet said, snatching her hand back. “Just a scrape.”

“I can put something on it to help it heal, if you come with me. I’m the new court surgeon.”

I know, she nearly said. “If you insist. But just … just call me Lynet, as if I weren’t a princess.” She couldn’t bear such formalities from her, not when Lynet felt so familiar with her already.

Nadia seemed surprised by the request, her head tilting slightly, but she nodded and began to lead the way across the courtyard. Lynet paused for a moment, and then she did what she had done the first time she’d seen Nadia walk across this same courtyard.

Lynet followed her.





5

LYNET

The surgeon’s workroom was much more vivid in person than from behind a dirty window. Lynet paused at the threshold, feeling like she was about to walk into a dream—or like she was waking from a dream only to find that reality was even stranger. Along one fragrant wall were shelves carrying a variety of potions and herbs, along with the occasional bowl of leeches. The jars and vials on the shelves reflected the light from the window, sending shards of sunlight and shadow throughout the room.

Hanging on another wall was a drawing of a bloody man pierced all over his body by different weapons. Underneath it was a low table of knives, scalpels, and other steel surgical tools, some of which Lynet recognized from watching Nadia work over the past few weeks. Strewn throughout the entire room were piles of books and bottles of ink and loose sheets of paper, which Nadia hurried to tuck away as soon as she set foot in the room.

Lynet took a moment just to absorb it all. Ignoring the mess on the table, since Nadia seemed so embarrassed by it, she walked slowly along the edge of the room, observing it from new angles with each step. From the corner of her eye, she saw that Nadia was watching her now with the focus she usually reserved for surgical procedures, waiting until Lynet had come full circle back to the doorway.

“This is where you work?” Lynet said, though she already knew the answer.

Nadia nodded. “Also where I sleep.” She gestured to a dark room in the back.

That was something new, something Lynet hadn’t known from watching her. She had never seen Nadia sleep, not even for a moment over her books. She wondered how it would feel to sleep in a room like this. She wondered what kind of dreams Nadia had.

“I have an ointment for your hand,” Nadia said. In one smooth motion, she turned to one of her shelves and reached up for the jar without even needing to look for it. “My name is Nadia, by the way.”

Lynet nearly said, “I know,” before stopping herself.

“Here, give me your hand.” Nadia started applying the greenish ointment to Lynet’s wounded palm. Lynet pretended to fiddle with the silver bracelet around her wrist, but she also watched from beneath her eyelashes as Nadia rubbed ointment on her skin with the same delicacy as when she turned the pages of her books.

“What is that?” Lynet said, wrinkling her nose at the ointment.

“Comfrey.”

“It smells terrible.”

Nadia laughed, a husky exhalation that seemed to take her by surprise. Lynet didn’t think she’d ever heard Nadia laugh before.

Nadia replaced the ointment on its shelf, and then paused, her back to Lynet. “May I freely ask you something?” she said.

Lynet shrugged. “I suppose.”

Nadia came to stand at the other side of the table, opposite Lynet, and looked her directly in the eye. “Why have you been following me?”

Lynet gaped at her. She was ready to lie and deny it, but she knew her stunned face must have already given her away. What should she do? What would Mina do in her position? The answer, of course, was that Mina would never be in this position in the first place.

When Lynet opened her mouth, the truth slipped out: “Because you were wearing trousers.”

There was a confused pause, and then another burst of laughter escaped from Nadia, and she covered her mouth with her hand. Lynet started laughing too, and she felt the same thrill as when she was climbing, her heart fluttering at the unpredictability of each step she took.

“Is that really why?” Nadia said, shaking her head in amazement.

“That’s how it started, but—wait, how long have you known?”

Nadia looked up at the ceiling as she tried to remember. “I think … the day I first noticed you, I was pulling a tooth.…”

“So you’ve known all along.” Lynet groaned. She covered her face with her hands before the smell of the comfrey made her drop them again. Still, she wasn’t ready to look Nadia in the eye again, so she stared down at the floor and asked, “You … you weren’t angry about it, were you?”

She peeked up in time to see Nadia lean forward, her braid falling over her shoulder as she rested her forearms on the table. “Not … angry, exactly. But once I found out you were the princess, I was so worried that I would slip up in some way while you were watching, and then you’d tell your father and I’d be dismissed.” She shrugged, wearing a rueful smile. “But I couldn’t exactly ask you to stop, could I?”

Lynet frowned, considering the truth of this. If Nadia had come to her and asked her to stop, would she have been angry, or asked her father to throw the surgeon out of the castle? Of course Lynet wouldn’t have, but Nadia had no way of knowing that.

“Even if you’re not angry with me, I’m still sorry,” Lynet said, not just to appease her, but because she meant it. Lynet rested her arms on the table surface across from her, mimicking her pose. “It’s an old habit of mine since childhood, following people, seeing how they spend their days.”

“That’s an odd habit, isn’t it?”

Lynet shrugged. “When I was little, I would see other children at court running around and playing, and I wanted to join them, but my father—I wasn’t allowed to play with them, in case I got hurt.” She stared down at the table. Lynet could feel the words spilling out of her, but she made no effort to stop them. This workroom seemed a world apart from Whitespring, and so any secrets she told here would be buried under snow and earth.

“And then they never stayed for long, anyway,” she continued. “People never stay for long at Whitespring. So I started to follow them around, watching from a distance, hiding so no one would see me. It was the only game I had, and this way I didn’t have to worry about growing too attached to any of the other children my age before they left. And then I just … never stopped. I started following other people too, but all they do is sit around and gossip and complain about each other, so it’s not very exciting, not like you—” She stopped herself too late and her head snapped up, her face growing warm, but Nadia didn’t react to her unintended confession. She just kept watching, waiting for Lynet to finish.

“I … I don’t think I ever considered how invasive it must be to feel like you’re being spied on. I’m truly sorry.” She forced herself not to look away, hoping that Nadia would reward her with a smile, but instead, Nadia’s face seemed to fall, a dark look in her eyes before they darted away.

After a short but uncomfortable silence, Nadia said, “I wouldn’t have asked you to stop, anyway. I became a little—” She broke off and looked down at the table.

Lynet leaned forward. “What?”

Nadia shook her head, but then her lips curled in a slow smile and she answered, “I was going to say ‘flattered.’ I’ve been traveling through the North for almost a year, trying to help people when I can … and during that year, so many people have dismissed me or laughed at me for wanting to practice medicine.” Her voice was light, but she started tracing the lines and whorls on the table, her nails scraping against the wood. “They think girls are too softhearted to witness any suffering, that I’ll be scared off. They think I’m just playing at being a surgeon. But you … no matter what I was doing, whether I was letting blood or pulling a tooth or even amputating a foot this morning…” Her hands stopped moving and she looked across the table at Lynet. There was something heavy, almost expectant, in the force of her gaze that made Lynet lean back again, taking her arms off the table. “You never turned away,” she finished. “And so I always felt like a true surgeon in your eyes.”

Lynet retraced all the steps she had taken following Nadia, now imagining them from the other girl’s point of view. All this time, Lynet had been trying to understand her from a distance, while Nadia had been purposefully showing Lynet exactly who she was.

She offered Nadia a shy smile, never breaking her gaze. “I’m glad I fell out of that tree,” she said quietly.

Nadia laughed again, more freely this time, and Lynet laughed too, dispelling the serious air that had come over them.

Lynet liked to see Nadia smile, to hear her laugh. When Nadia smiled, her whole face softened, like clouds giving way to the sun. But Lynet also liked the stoic, focused surgeon that she had watched from windows—so different from this smiling girl, but still such an essential part of her. And the fact that the two were the same, that the girl and the surgeon could exist freely in the same person, was to Lynet the very meaning of possibility—of freedom.

“I’d never seen a female surgeon before,” Lynet said. “Are you the first?”

Nadia shook her head, her back straightening into what Lynet knew was her surgeon’s posture. “My father told me about others, mostly from the South. I’ve even read that Queen Sybil knew all the medicinal properties of the plants in her garden and used them to help the ailing. But hardly anyone remembers her for that anymore. They only blame her for the curse.”

“Sybil’s curse,” Lynet murmured, for the first time wondering why people called it that when no one knew whether Sybil herself was responsible for it. But then, what was the life of a queen compared to the legend people created for her after her death? The truth had stopped mattering years ago. “It hardly seems fair,” she said, more to herself than to Nadia.

“Medicine was my family’s trade,” Nadia continued. “My mother was a midwife and my father was a surgeon.”

“Was?” Lynet asked gently.

“They’re both dead now,” she said simply. “A fever.”

“Oh, I—I’m sorry.”

But Nadia just shook her head with a strained smile. “I don’t want to mourn their deaths anymore. I only want to honor their lives.”

Lynet leaned forward. “How do you choose to honor them?” What she really wanted to ask was how anyone could honor the dead while still feeling alive.

“I want to do what they did,” Nadia said at once, like she’d been ready for the question. “My father studied medicine in the South, before the university closed. He taught me what he learned before he died, but now that Queen Mina has reopened the university, I want to go there too, to walk the same halls that he did.”

“When will you go?” Lynet asked, trying to sound light and casual.

Nadia stared at her without answering, and for a moment Lynet saw the light in her eyes waver with uncertainty. “In the next year, I hope,” she said.

Lynet looked down at her feet on the stone floor. What else had she expected, that Nadia would stay at Whitespring forever, when so few people did? That because Lynet had come out of hiding and spoken to her, she would be forced to stay here forever, to keep her company? No one stayed at Whitespring for long, she knew that, except … except perhaps some part of her had thought that Nadia was so unflinching, so steady even in times of crisis, that even the cold and the gloom of Whitespring wouldn’t scare her away.

“I can’t stay here anymore,” Nadia said softly. “I’ve seen so much misery in the North, so much death.…”

Lynet’s head shot up. “What do you mean?”

Nadia’s eyebrow arched in response. “Have you ever been outside the castle? Have you seen what it’s like for people who can’t afford to bury themselves in fur or sit by a fire all day? Nothing grows here, nothing ever … changes, or gets better. Half of this kingdom has frozen over.” She lowered her voice. “And ever since, all we’ve had are kings and queens who hide behind walls while their people suffer.”

Lynet bristled. “You’re talking about my father, you know.”

“I thought you didn’t want me to talk to you like you’re a princess,” Nadia shot back.

Lynet flushed in anger, a fire spreading through her, and she relished the feeling. She had made the mistake of reaching out to someone who would be leaving soon anyway, but she wouldn’t make the mistake of growing attached to her. Let Nadia leave, if she thought the North was so terrible.

“Well, then, I wish you luck,” Lynet said, her words clipped and even. “I’ll leave you to your work.”

She turned for the door behind her, but before she reached it, Nadia had come around the table and was taking her arm. “Wait,” she said, “don’t be angry with me. Princess or not, I shouldn’t have said that. I understand family loyalty.”

Lynet looked down at the hand encircling her upper arm, and Nadia released her, taking a step back.

“I apologize,” Nadia continued, looking Lynet in the eye. “I’ll be more careful of what I say.”

“No,” Lynet said, “I don’t want that. Then you’ll just be like all the rest. No one here ever tells me the truth; they only tell me what they think I want to hear—what my father wants me to hear. They all treat me like I’m … I’m…”

“Like a butterfly,” Nadia said softly. “Something beautiful but frail.”

Lynet stepped away from the door. “Why would you say that?”

“Because that’s what I thought you would be like, before I met you—before you started following me. Everyone spoke of you in such hushed tones, like you might break if they said your name too loudly.” She studied Lynet, brow furrowing in contemplation. “But you’re not like that at all. That’s not your nature.”

She was still watching Lynet like she was some kind of riddle or puzzle, a mysterious specimen caught in a jar. Lynet found that she didn’t mind, though, because she knew that when Nadia looked at her, she was seeing Lynet and not Emilia.

“And how would you know what my nature is?” Lynet said, tilting her head up at Nadia in a manner she hoped was playful and not lofty or superior.

But Nadia didn’t notice her inviting tone. Instead, she seemed to be silently deliberating something as she focused her intense stare on Lynet. “I might know more about it than you think,” she murmured. She turned away then with a little shake of her head and returned to the table, opening one of her journals.

Lynet followed her to the table, closing the journal she was paging through. “What do you mean?”

Nadia wouldn’t look at her, but her forehead was furrowed in thought. That meant she could be persuaded, if Lynet just pushed a little more. “Did you hear something else about me?”

Nadia glanced up at her briefly, just long enough for Lynet to know that she had guessed correctly. “What was it?” she pressed. “Why won’t you tell me? What can you possibly know about me that I don’t have a right to know?”

“I agree,” Nadia said, and now she lifted her head to look at Lynet, her dark eyes shining. “I do think you have a right to know. I thought at first they were keeping it from you for your own good, but I don’t believe that anymore. It’s not fair for them to keep it from you.” She was still watching Lynet intently, and Lynet understood that she wasn’t just teasing—she did truly think Lynet had a right to know. Perhaps she even wanted to tell Lynet this mysterious secret, but something was stopping her.

“How do you even know about this, whatever it is?” Lynet said, more calmly now. To get the answers she wanted, she just had to ask the right questions.

“Because it’s something the court surgeon should know.”

“And why can’t you tell me?”

“Because I’m under strict orders not to tell anyone, especially you.”

Lynet bit her lip. Her father might know, but she knew there was no point asking him—he would think she was too delicate for any secret. The only person she could trust to answer her was Mina, but Mina would never have kept anything from her in the first place. “But you want to tell me, don’t you?”

Nadia smiled in response, leaning toward her just slightly. Lynet only needed to ask one more question—

“So if I ordered you to tell me…”

Nadia shrugged. “Then I would have to tell you, wouldn’t I? No one could blame me for following the direct orders of a princess.”

“Then as a princess,” Lynet said, “I order you to tell me what you know about me.”

Permission granted, Nadia gave a slight nod of her head and said, softly but clearly, “The truth that they don’t want you to know is that your mother never gave birth to you. She died before you were born.”

It took Lynet a moment to understand what Nadia was saying, but even then, it was preposterous. If Emilia wasn’t her mother, then how could Lynet look so much like her? “Oh, really?” she said. “Then who’s my real mother?” But despite the skepticism in her voice, a flutter of hope in her chest betrayed her, her heart whispering the name: Mina?

Nadia shook her head. “You don’t understand. You have no mother, no father. You never did. You were created magically, out of snow.”

Lynet repeated the words to herself, but they didn’t make any sense. “What did you say?”

Nadia’s jaw tensed; now that the thrill of the secret had passed, she seemed to realize the full impact of what she was telling Lynet. “Your stepmother’s father—the magician—shaped you in your mother’s image out of snow and blood. You were made to resemble her exactly.”

The whole idea was so ridiculous that Lynet almost laughed. This was Nadia’s secret? It was nothing more than a joke, a story, a fabrication. True, her stepmother’s father was a magician—he had magical abilities that made even Mina lower her voice when she spoke of them.

But how could any of this be true if Lynet’s mother had died in childbirth? She had died on the day Lynet was born—that was why her father always took her to the crypt two weeks early, to separate those two occasions in Lynet’s mind.

Unless, she thought, that’s the day my mother really died.

“Nadia?” she said, her voice too loud in the quiet room.

Nadia had been watching her, waiting for her reaction to this discovery. “I’m here.”

“If what you’re saying is true, then when did my mother die? It couldn’t have been in childbirth.”

Nadia’s lips thinned in concern at Lynet’s flat voice, at her glassy eyes staring ahead at nothing. “Two weeks before,” she said.

Lynet took a long breath. That still didn’t have to mean anything. It was a coincidence.

But other hints came rushing to her now—her uncanny resemblance to her mother along with her father’s complete confidence that she would grow up to be exactly like the late queen; a burn scar on her hand even though she never remembered burning herself; the fact that she could lie in the snow for hours and never feel cold. Mina’s pitying look whenever Lynet said she wished she looked more like her—

Did Mina know?

Lynet had never spoken to Gregory alone, and she wondered now if that was no accident, if her father had kept him away from her, for fear that he would tell her the truth. But there had been one time, just a year or two ago, when she had been running to Mina’s room and collided with the magician. Lynet had been mortified, but Gregory had only smiled down at her and insisted that there was no harm done. He had put his hands on her shoulders and told her that if she ever needed help, she could always come to him, that he was always her friend.…

And then Mina had hurried toward them both. She asked Lynet to go wait in her room for her, because she needed to speak to her father alone. Lynet hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, but now she remembered the slight note of panic in her stepmother’s voice, the way her face was stretched into an unnatural smile, the bloodless grip she had on her father’s arm.

Mina knew. Mina knew and she had kept it from her all these years.

The full weight of this revelation finally fell on her, the truth becoming increasingly undeniable, and Lynet closed her eyes, trying to shut it out. But she couldn’t keep Nadia’s words from reaching her: You were made to resemble her exactly. Made, created, shaped—all those words meant the same thing: she was something artificial. She was a duplicate, created to live out all the days that had been stolen from her mother. Unless she was meant to die her mother’s death, as well. Had Lynet ever had anything of her own? Was she even a person?

“What do I do now?” Lynet whispered. “Am I supposed to just go on like before and pretend I don’t know?” She opened her eyes and looked to Nadia.

Nadia shook her head and leaned over the table, her shoulders hunched with remorse. Her fingers were drumming against the wood, and finally she nodded to herself and looked up at Lynet with a mixture of guilt and resolve.

“If I were you,” she said in the same firm tone as when she gave advice to one of her patients, “I would want to know more, even just for your own safety. That’s why I’m allowed to know, as the court surgeon—I need to know that the cold won’t numb you, because you’re immune to it.”

Lynet didn’t hear a word Nadia said. The room seemed to be getting smaller, and she was having trouble breathing. “I have to go now,” she said.

“Lynet, don’t go—I’m so sorry I told you, please—” But Lynet was already rushing out the door, up the stairs, out into the open air. She kept moving until she had crossed through the courtyard and into the garden, and then she collapsed in the snow, hoping that for the first time, she’d feel something like cold.





6

MINA

The first time she saw Whitespring, Mina’s skin prickled, and not just from the cold. As she took in the sharp spires and steeply curved archways, the high stone walls as blank as snow, Mina thought she was looking at the skeleton of a castle, its meat picked off over the years until only the bones were left. Whitespring was as gray as the sky, and already she missed the bright colors of her home.

And she was so cold. She kept adding layers of clothing, furs and thick wools, but she felt trapped underneath all that fabric, too constrained to move comfortably. She longed to feel fresh air on her skin again. Instead, she had to settle for blowing on her hands to keep them warm.

Gregory hadn’t been thrilled with their small set of rooms in a forgotten corner of the castle, but he said that would all change once he’d made a good marriage for Mina. She was glad the rooms were small; they gave her the illusion of coziness.

“You haven’t gone outside since we came here,” her father told her three days after they’d arrived. “Go get some air. We’re cramped in here as it is.”

It was true. She’d holed herself up in her room, thinking that if she curled up tightly enough, she’d be warm again. Mina weakly protested out of habit, but she was growing restless, so she threw on another layer of fur and obeyed.

“Take the left corridor and keep walking straight, and you’ll end up at a courtyard,” Gregory told her. “Don’t get lost. I don’t want to find you freezing somewhere.”

“I appreciate your concern,” Mina snapped at him.

All the same, she took his advice. She didn’t want to wander the castle’s labyrinthine corridors for the rest of the morning. As he had said, she eventually came to a courtyard, smaller than Whitespring’s central courtyard. Winged statues stared down from the balconies, and Mina stared back to show them that she was unafraid. In the center of the courtyard was an empty fountain. But there were none of the usual sounds Mina expected to hear outdoors. No birds sang, no breeze whistled through the trees. Seeing a fountain without hearing the trickle of water was unsettling.

She sat on the edge of the fountain and pulled a peach from her pocket. Fruit was in short supply in the North, so she’d been sure to take some with her before leaving.

“Where did you get that?”

Mina tensed. A man walked toward her, his arms crossed. He was dressed finely, so he wasn’t a servant, but he didn’t match the image of older, pompous noblemen she had in her head. This man was likely not yet thirty, with a dark beard lining his square jaw and curling black hair. Despite his relative youth, he seemed to be dragging the full weight of his body as he walked.

“It’s mine,” Mina said, trying not to sound too defensive. “I brought it with me.”

“Don’t let me interrupt you, then.” He gestured to the fruit. “Eat.”

She took a bite of her peach. In the silence of the courtyard, the squelching sound of the fruit was embarrassingly loud. “Do you want a bite?” she said, holding the peach up to him. “I’m sorry I don’t have another to offer you.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t intend to disturb you. I only came here to…” He fell silent, and Mina thought maybe he was finished speaking to her, but then he said, “This was the queen’s favorite place to sit.”

Mina glanced up at the gloomy statues on the balconies. She didn’t understand how this courtyard could be anyone’s favorite anything, but she didn’t want to insult the late queen in front of a stranger. “Did you know her?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, his expression softening as he looked down at Mina. “She was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Her daughter will take after her.”

“But she’s a baby. She doesn’t look like anyone yet.”

“She looks like her mother,” the man insisted. “She is the late queen returned to us. She will grow up to be as beautiful and as gentle as her mother once was.”

Mina shrugged. “I haven’t seen her. I don’t even know her name.”

“Lynet,” the man said, smiling for the first time. “That was what the queen had always wanted to name a daughter. Princess Lynet. Like the bird.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Mina said—or tried to say. She’d taken another bite of the peach before speaking, and she coughed as a piece of fruit caught in her throat.

“Didn’t your mother teach you not to speak when you eat?” he said, with a hint of amusement in his voice.

She swallowed and said, “No, she didn’t. My mother is dead.” He inhaled sharply at her words and seemed so mortified by his error that she took pity on him. “It was a long time ago. I only remember her a little.”

“Is it terrible as a girl to grow up without a mother?”

Mina wasn’t sure how to reply. She had never known any alternative. “Sometimes.”

He nodded and sat on the ledge of the fountain beside her. Mina’s first instinct was to move away from him, but she stopped herself—he didn’t know anything about her, after all; he had no reason to be afraid of her, nor she of him. Without even Hana for company, Mina had spent most of her time alone since leaving home, and so she had forgotten that there could be comfort in another person’s presence. Perhaps she had never known it at all. She studied his profile, wondering how she could make him smile again.

Abruptly, he shook his head and turned to her. “Will you be attending the banquet in the princess’s honor tonight?”

She nodded. Her father had given her no other option than to attend. She had to be beautiful tonight, in order to be memorable.

“I’m glad,” he said.

“Then why do you seem sad?” Mina said before she could stop herself.

He answered at once, unperturbed by her question. “Grief,” he said. “Grief at the passing of our queen. You would be sad too, if you had known her.…”

He turned his face away from her, and Mina regretted her thoughtless question. She inched a little closer to him, until her skirt was brushing his leg. If she put her hand on his, would he smile for her? Would it be a comfort or a violation?

Just as she’d started to inch her hand toward his, he turned back to her and said, “I never asked your name.”

“It’s Mina.”

His mouth turned downward. “I know a man with a daughter of that name.”

If he’d met Gregory already, there was a good chance this man would want nothing more to do with her. Even if he didn’t know about her father’s peculiar talents, Gregory made people ill at ease. She might have lied and given a false name, but if she wanted this acquaintance to continue, he’d learn the truth soon enough.

“My father’s name is Gregory,” she said, resigned.

He nodded. “That’s what I thought.” He rose from the fountain, and though his face had shown no disgust or fear, she knew instinctively that she had lost him.

“I’m not my father,” she blurted out.

“I’ve stayed too long.” He spoke quickly, and before Mina could respond, he was walking away, leaving her with her half-eaten peach, which now tasted bitter in her mouth.

He hadn’t even told her his name.

* * *

That night Mina readied herself for the banquet, but in her mind, she was still in the courtyard, not quite daring to touch the hand of a man she barely knew.

But why bother thinking of him? a voice in her mind asked. You can’t love him, and he could never love you.

That was true, but she kept thinking about the softness of his voice, the kindness of his eyes when she was just a stranger to him. No one had ever spoken to her with such gentleness before. If she’d had less faith in her beauty, she might have decided to forget him, but perhaps if he saw her tonight, not bundled in furs, but gowned and bejeweled …

The only piece of fur Mina wore over her dress as she walked into the Hall was a shawl that served to warm the crooks of her elbows and little else. If Mina wanted to be ac