Home > Girl of the Night Garden(5)

Girl of the Night Garden(5)
Author: Lili Valente

Most people don’t approve of priests working magic. Da had to be careful as he planned our escape. He only approached families who had more open-minded views on the supernatural, who were willing to violate religious and social rules in the name of protecting their heirs.

That’s another reason the girls were left behind. This migration wasn’t merely grueling, it was also expensive. Even affluent families were only willing to pay passage for the boys who would carry on the family name, not girls who would be perfectly safe at home and married off someday in any event.

When our ship left Portsmouth, bound for warm Italian seas, I was a scrap of a boy with a sunken chest and peeling lips that had never gotten anywhere near a girl’s. Now, my seventeenth birthday has come and gone, and I’ve put on weight and muscle. I’ve grown a solid pair of shoulders and stopped squeaking when I talk. I would give up a lot for a chance to look upon a girl’s face, smell the perfume in her hair, spin her round the dance floor…maybe steal a kiss or two.

Father talks about bringing girls to the island after we complete our studies and year of spiritual contemplation—we boys will need wives if we’re to make Amaria a permanent settlement—but I don’t trust that it’s more than talk.

Father’s a priest, after all. He took his holy vows after my mother died giving birth to me, and any man who can go nearly eighteen years without a kiss isn’t likely to be overly concerned with the kissing needs of others.

And even if he’s not talking out his backside, graduation is still another eighteen months away.

Another entire year and a half.

Might as well be a thousand. An eternity.

I’ll die if I have to wait until I’m nineteen to see a girl again. Or if I finally meet one and do something unforgivably rude or repulsive without knowing better until it’s too late. After years of talking to no one but each other and a handful of priests and professors, how are we supposed to know what to do in polite company?

The girls will run screaming into the ocean…

And that—cross my heart—is the exact thought running through my head as it happens.

When the wind shifts and a great white albatross with charcoal wing tips glides toward the island. When the bird soars past the invisible wards and sapphire lightning flashes on the horizon, turning the sky a blue not found in nature. There’s a popping sound like the crack of a musket and where I thought I’d seen a bird, there’s suddenly a girl in its place.

A girl, with skin whiter than marble and hair longer than my arm, wearing not a stitch of clothing.

Not. A. Stitch.

In the second that passes between her appearance and plummet into the sea, I notice the setting sun has turned her hair the purple of a bad bruise and her lips are parted in surprise.

But mostly I notice that she’s naked.

I can’t help it. I’ve never seen a girl naked. I haven’t seen many boys naked—aside from myself and my bunkmates on the ship, Francis and Neil. I didn’t go to boarding school like the rest of the boys here. I’ve never lived in a dorm and here we wear bathing clothes to swim in the ocean during the summer.

I blame the shock of all that bare skin for how long it takes me to get to my feet. For why, when I finally convince my legs to move, I forget to ring the warning bell and I skid down the cliff and into the sea with my clothes and shoes still on. For why—for a moment—I forget how to swim and sink beneath the waves.

The beauty of her was enough to shock the sense right out of a man, let alone a boy like me.

With just a glimpse, I know this girl is the loveliest thing on God’s green earth. Even if I make it off this island, out into the world where there are thousands of girls—millions of ‘em—even if I live to be a hundred and search every corner of the earth looking for someone to match her, I’ll never see her like again.

I can’t let her die.

I can’t let the world lose something as perfect as that girl.

I kick off my shoes in the water, shrug off my only coat, and let the ocean claim them because I refuse to let it claim the girl.

I push to the surface, gasp in a raw, salty breath, and swim hard toward the faint blue glow lingering above the water, the hope of rescue burning in my chest.



Chapter Three






My insides peal like every church bell in the world is clanging beneath my skin.

I’m lost and bewildered, an empty cup rapidly filling with cold, wet, and wrong.

Beneath the waves, I thrash and roll, my arms and legs churning through the icy water, but I can’t reach the surface. I can’t find my magic, can’t grow fins or flippers or go up in a puff of smoke.

For the first time since I left the garden, I’m trapped in my girl form, in this shell too fragile to survive the ocean’s dark embrace.

In the skin of a girl who never learned to swim.

Why learn to swim when you can become a dolphin? When you can grow crab claws and scuttle along the sand beneath the waves until you find shore?

My thoughts are reasonable thoughts, but the rest of me isn’t being sensible at all. My eyes sting like open wounds, my lungs scream for air, and my heart slams franticly against my ribs. My fingers claw at the water, trying to tear a hole in the sea, just a small one, big enough for a girl to fit through.

If I can put distance between myself and the island, surely my magic will return. I’ll be able to turn into a seal and cut through the waves like a spoon through custard. I’ll swim hard and fast, find the driftwood where Wig and Poke await my return from my scouting mission, and tell them we must leave at once.

The magic of this island is real and far too strong for an Earworm or Skritch to breech. It was nearly too much for me.

I made it through the wards, but at what price?

Perhaps the ultimate price…

I have never imagined dying—plantings are vigorous creatures and a witch’s daughter practically immortal as long as she avoids capture by those with the skill to kill supernatural things. But I imagine it now.

I imagine…

As my chilled limbs go limp and my hair drifts like seaweed around my face, soft and seductively sleepy-looking, I think about what it would be like to live no more. I look back at my early life and dozen or so years on earth, and I wish for…something.

Something more than memories of being a part of my sisters. More than survival or brief moments of comfort. More than a mission imposed upon me by another.

Something that was mine.

Something I made…something I felt…


I don’t know the name of the thing, only that it’s missing, and that I will never find it at the bottom of the sea.

Down, down I go, until the water is impenetrably dark, until the ocean’s arms wrap around me and squeeze, until my lips part and—

Suddenly the ocean’s embrace is broken by new hands. Hot, urgent hands that tangle in my hair, ripping strands out by the root as they fumble and clutch. Something strikes my cheek, and I flinch, then flinch again as fingers graze my shoulder, my hip. And then an arm wraps around my waist and I’m being dragged in the opposite direction—up toward the surface, pressed to a sinewy body, delivered into the air in the arms of a gasping human child.

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