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Blind eyes gazed straight through me. I tipped my head against the old yew and stared at the pupils etched into the wall. The goddesses always watched.
A door slammed and footsteps scurried across the courtyard. Heavy skirts swept over the stones. The breeze darted through the branches, pulling them into its dance. It plucked at my skin but, try as it might, couldn’t drag me into its embrace.
“What do you think you’re doing? You should have been ready by now.” Nevina peered down her nose at me. Even seated, I was barely a head shorter than her. The dressmaker was too small to intimidate me, but she tried. Being sequestered from court for the weeks since the aphelion soured her disposition more than usual.
“I am.” I closed the book of prayer in my lap and stood. A single collared dove cooed above while insects whirred and clicked, hidden within the tree. “The servants transferred my trunks to the gatehouse before the morning bell.”
Nevina shot the book a look of contempt. “The King should never have sent you here. It makes a mockery of the Sisters. This is no place for a girl in your position.”
I rose from the stone, smoothing my thumb over the ring on my index finger. She didn’t have any idea what my position was. “Perhaps you would care to tell him so when we return to court.”
She ignored my suggestion and turned on her heel. “The escort has arrived, My Lady. It’s time to leave.”
I tucked the small book into the pouch hanging from my belt and followed, scanning the windows overlooking the courtyard. The sisters had already left to tend to their duties, but a solitary figure peered down from the banqueting hall. Even in the gloom, her unblinking analysis was hard to miss… and her scowl. She wore the blue of the sisters, but I’d never seen her before. A single blonde curl hung free from the veil concealing her hair. Who was she? My studies with the Order de Triúr Cailíní had introduced me to all of the sisters. If I didn’t know them personally, I could at least recognise them on sight. What had I done to cause this woman, no, girl—she couldn’t be any older than I—to dislike me?
I ignored the doors and staircases leading from the courtyard and followed Nevina through an old archway. Above it, yet another set of eyes stared at me. Sculpted from the stone, they were there to remind the sisters that no matter where they were in the world, the gaze of the goddesses followed them. They reminded me of the girl in the banqueting hall. I fought the urge to look back. I could still feel the prickle of her scrutiny between my shoulder blades.
Shadows crawled from the walls, shrouding the stairs leading to the entrance hall. A single candle flickered on either side, little use in the darkness. The doors stood open, but what light filtered through the low cloud couldn’t creep inside. I wrapped my cloak more snugly around myself and stepped over the threshold one last time.
The path wound below, tracing between the scattered trees and grazing sheep, down to the barbican. The slightest trace of fragrant smoke tickled my nose. Mist curled around my ankles. The snows would arrive soon.