Prologue: Washed Away
Blood and rain dripped from the wagon onto the cobbled street of the busy market district of Kerjeel. A crowd made up of neighbors and other bystanders flanked two young girls in mourning. Jamine was crying.
Meg was too numb to cry as she stared at the sheet-draped shapes laying in the back of the wagon. Mr. Horak, their landlord, was telling the whole story to one of the city guards.
Mr. Horak paid no mind to the rain soaking his head.“Warreb worked in the slaughterhouse. His wife, Salora, helped the missus in the shop at times.”
Meg grew angry listening. Those were not their names. They had real names but now they were dead. No one cared who they really were, no one except Meg and her older sister Jamine. Pretend names were supposed to protect them, but the names failed.
“Can you tell me what happened?” the guardsman asked.
‘What are we going to do?’ Jamine’s voice was small in Meg’s mind.
‘I’ll protect you,’ Meg silently replied.
‘I’m the oldest, it’s my place…’
‘We’ll protect each other, then.’ She stepped out from under the hands of the shopkeeper’s wife. The woman was far too engrossed in her husband’s tale to notice or stop her.
“It looked like a ritual—like they had been punished.” To Meg, he sounded almost pleased about it, like it was exciting to have something so important to say.
“So brutal,” his wife shivered. “I fear I’ll have nightmares.”
The wagon’s side had been removed to make it easier to place the bodies. Meg stared at the only thing not covered by the bloody sheet: a hand. Entwined in the fingers was a silver chain. She reached for it and someone grabbed her wrist. “What’s this, missy?” She looked up at a city guardsman. “This is no place for—”
Meg just continued to stare at the bodies in the wagon.
“Oh… I see,” he frowned, realizing who she was. “Well, I suppose it’s all right, then.”
He stepped back and Meg took the necklace. She let the pendant dangle before her eyes: a silver torch aflame, the symbol of her religion. No. Her mother’s religion. Not hers—not anymore. Meg decided to keep it as a reminder of what happens when you believe.
“I thought you said there were three daughters,” the guardsman asked the shopkeeper.
Jamine slipped her hand into Meg’s and the rain increased.
“I don’t think the third was their daughter,” his wife inserted. “She was maybe a stray. She had blonde hair; wore an old red dress. I saw her earlier today across the way there, talking to a man in a gray cloak. I hope no harm has come to her.”
‘Rose.’ Meg hung her head in shame.
‘I never trusted her,’ Jamine said.
‘Mama did.’ Meg realized that she had, too. ‘I should have known.’
The guardsman looked speculatively at the sisters. “I wager they’ve seen no more than ten summers.”
“You are right about the older one, but I think the redhead is only eight,” the shopkeeper’s wife added.
“What will become of them?” one of the other bystanders asked.
The shopkeeper stroked his chin. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“We certainly don’t have room for them,” his wife insisted.
“What about kin?” the guardsman asked.
Jamine tensed. ‘This doesn’t sound good.’
Meg shook her head. Their parents were the only family they had.
“None that I know of,” the shopkeeper answered. “They were from one of the eastern kingdoms, ya’ know.”
The guardsman scratched his head. “Not much of a choice, then…”
‘Come on!’ Meg squeezed Jamine’s hand.
“…I’ll have to take them to an orph—”
The sisters ran down the street as fast as they could go.
The rain washed away their passing in the same way it washed the blood from the cobbled street.
(Continued in Chapter 1)