Home > Sleep No More (October Daye #17)(7)

Sleep No More (October Daye #17)(7)
Author: Seanan McGuire

August released my hand as we reached the stairs, charging gleefully ahead on her endless search for leftover cake and other treats. Father fed us well, when he was present, but his work for the Rose all too often kept him away, and Mother had yet to truly internalize the idea that children—even adult ones—needed to eat if they were to live. Of course August had never been taught to cook: Mother insisted it was beneath her and there was no point when one day she’d have a household to see to her comfort in all things, and while I had been taught, I had no talent for it.

If August’s eventual household consisted only of the two of us, we would both starve. An egg I fried was equally likely to become a piece of charcoaled leather or a puddle of uncooked slime, and while I could knead dough that someone else had made, the less said about my actual baking, the better. As the youngest of three, Father knew how to cook; even when his parents were alive, there had been concern that he wouldn’t be able to establish a household without a proper title or estate to bring to the arrangement, and so he had been allowed to learn skills that most purebloods would never even consider. That knowledge had served him very well, once he married our mother; her sensitivity to the balance and burdens of the blood meant she couldn’t stand the company of changelings before I was born, and that she won’t be sorry to see me go.

As a Firstborn, she could doubtless have found a pureblood from one of the lesser noble families or farming communities who would be willing to serve as her handmaid, but she had chosen to do her duty and bring me into our world instead. I would have resented her for that—who wants to be born out of obligation, and solely to serve someone else?—but my existence meant August would never have to be alone.

She got night terrors at times, my sister, who was the bolder of us in almost all ways. She clawed at the walls and cried, and only my presence soothed her. How could I wish myself away and leave August in the care of some faceless handmaid? I could no more begrudge my mother for bearing me than I could begrudge the sun for tearing down illusions. Faerie creates only what she needs, and for August’s sake, Faerie needed me.

At times, after watching Mother try and fail to feed us or herself when Father was away with the Rose, I had wondered somewhat spitefully if her choosing him over his brother hadn’t been based purely on the fact that Father was an alchemist, and alchemy is a kind of cooking. At least by choosing Father, she could ensure herself a life of hot food with or without the servants employed by most noble households.

Then I had pushed the thought aside and punished myself for it for three days, denying myself desserts or walks in the garden. A good daughter wouldn’t think such things of her mother. A good daughter would be grateful for the gift of her existence, and would know her place.

Right now, my place was among the household staff gathering the party’s debris like they were collecting apples fallen from a tree. I slid myself into their number, finding a broom and beginning to sweep up the remains of what seemed to have been an entire pile of plates before it had been carelessly allowed to shatter on the ground.

The nearest servant, a Hob changeling named Kerry, smiled wearily at me as I started sweeping. “Wasn’t sure they’d let you out of the house, being this close to Moving Day and all.”

“Why shouldn’t they?” I asked.

“There’s rumors been going around, about a change in the way the Kingdom trucks with changelings,” she said, dropping her voice to keep August from hearing. “Not sure they’d apply to you, given who your mother is, but she’s protective enough that I’d expect her to keep you close to heel regardless.”

August was on the other side of the balcony with a small, brightly frosted cake, her attention focused on a bronze-haired Daoine Sidhe who scowled at my glance in their direction. He wore the arms of the Duchy on the left side of his jerkin, and I silently cursed my sister as I turned my face away.

She hadn’t told me Quentin was Sir Etienne’s new squire.

The boy had been sent to Shadowed Hills as a blind foster when he was twelve years old, and the seven years he’d spent in local company had done nothing to improve his demeanor, nor his fondness for changelings. Rumor said he was the son of some high-up noble house, perhaps even royalty, but I tried to give as little credence to rumors as I could manage. Gossip only hurt the people who indulged in it.

Regardless of his parentage, it was well known that he hated changelings, no matter how necessary Faerie found us, and that he thought my parents allowed me too much freedom to consort with my betters. He wanted me to know my place.

Oh, I knew it. I knew it better than he would ever dream.

The pile of stoneware shards was large enough that I stopped sweeping and looked to Kerry. “Do you have any gloves?”

“I’m sorry, no,” she said, her face falling as she realized what I was actually asking. “We weren’t able to obtain any from the groundskeepers. Do you want me to handle the mess?”

“She can do it,” said a voice behind me. I turned. Quentin had crossed the balcony to stop only a few feet away, watching me with disdain in his cold blue eyes. “She’s a changeling. This is the work she was made for.”

“Of course, milord,” said Kerry, dipping a curtsey. There would be no further defense from her quarter.

I kept my eyes cast down as I said, “My apologies, milord, but the edges are sharp, and I—”

“You? You’re a changeling charmaid doing the work she exists to complete.”

Where was August? Slightly frantic, I looked past him to where my sister had been only a few seconds before. She was gone. This was Shadowed Hills, my uncle’s demesne, and I was among my own kind; she had every reason to expect me not to be abused.

Shrinking back a little, I mumbled, “My mother forbids me to break my skin.”

“Well, then, you’ll have to be careful, won’t you?” Quentin grabbed a dustpan from a nearby wall and shoved it into my free hand. “Clean up this mess.”

There was nothing for it but to follow a direct order from my superior. “At once, milord,” I said, and turned back to the pile of shards.

It looked even larger than it had a moment before, its myriad edges wickedly sharp. I bent to begin sweeping with as much care as I could manage.

The first two swipes of my broom were smooth and easy, and I kept my fingers well clear. I was beginning to think I might be able to achieve this without incident when something pressed against the small of my back, shoving me forward. My broom struck the edge of the dustpan, sending shards flying in all directions. I flinched as they struck my hand and arm, but managed not to drop the broom, only stood there, shaking, while I watched to see if I had broken the skin.

No blood rose, but I smelled it anyway. I glanced to Kerry in a panic, and saw my expression mirrored in her eyes.

“Meriel will get that, come now, let’s go see Mama in the kitchen,” she said, moving to grasp my shoulders and guide me toward the door. I let myself be steered away, only glancing back to see Quentin sneering after us. He didn’t try to stop us, which only confirmed that his casual cruelty had managed to draw blood.

The smell of blood was getting stronger, but there was still no pain. Kerry led me into the knowe, away from the bustle and noise outside, toward a hidden door in the wall. She pressed her fingers against a decorative lily on the nearby mantel. With a click, the door swung open, and we were able to pass through it into the servant’s hall.

Hot Books
» House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
» A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
» From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
» A Million Kisses in Your Lifetime
» Deviant King (Royal Elite #1)
» Den of Vipers
» House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2)
» The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #
» Sweet Temptation
» The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
» Chasing Cassandra (The Ravenels #6)
» Wreck & Ruin
» Steel Princess (Royal Elite #2)
» Twisted Hate (Twisted #3)
» The Play (Briar U Book 3)