February 19, 1781
“By God, what happened here?”
The voice was familiar, and full of horror, but it was a thousand, no—a million miles away from the young woman kneeling on the packed frozen earth of the pasture. She had been there for . . . she considered, finally deciding with a faint smile that she had always been there, since the dawn of time. She frowned, wrinkling her nose, noticing for the first time that her spectacles were gone. She considered lifting her head to look for them, but no, she could not do that. She could not see the blood all around her—so much blood. She could not see the carnage visited upon the snow-crusted, frozen dirt. She had only just reached that faraway place where everything that had happened was a dream, a hideous nightmare, but just a dream after all, and if she stayed where she was, then it would all go away forever, and very soon.
“There she is!” cried another voice, softer, warmer, full of relief, and she heard running footsteps crunching dully through the snow.
“Is she all right?”
“I don’t . . . I don’t know. Cara? Cara, are you all right? Can you talk to me?”
She frowned again but lifted her head a little, enough to see that there was nothing to see anymore. Everything was mercifully dark. There were vague, eerie shapes all around, black earth making grotesque silhouettes in twisted white patches of snow. There was someone crouched before her, a young man, squeezing her shoulder and holding a lantern up to illuminate her face. It was the faint warmth of the lantern that made her realize how cold she was. Cold through and through, as cold as death, as cold as the two lifeless corpses lying nearby in the dirt. The young man removed his coat and draped it over her, and, for the first time in hours, she shivered. It was Raf, she realized through the fog clouding her hypothermic mind. Dear, sweet Raf.
“Is Robert there?” Rafael asked. As he spoke, he took her hands, hanging forgotten at her sides, and gently rubbed them between his own, blowing upon them with warm, life-giving breaths. The warmth was surreal. So different from the cold that had become her all-consuming reality.
“Yes,” said the other voice from the darkness, and there was a strange, heavy finality to that word. She blinked, still feeling that this was all a dream. Her brothers were not there. She had conjured them out of the horror to bring her comfort. Her stolid life-long companions, Henry and Rafael.
“He’s dead, Raf. He’s dead.”
She heard Rafael sigh, a long, slow sigh, and then felt him tucking her frigid hands under his armpits. He touched her face, bringing it toward him, and she did not fight his touch, but she did not look at him either. She continued staring straight ahead, quiet, unmoving, unthinking. She did not dare think.
“The horse?” asked Rafael.
“The mare’s dead too,” replied Henry, his voice soft, almost inaudible to his stunned sister. “That’s where all the blood came from. It’s not Robert’s. It’s awful.”
“What happened?” asked Rafael. “Are there any signs that someone else was here? Signs of a fight?”
Henry appeared out of the darkness. His youthful, pudgy face, with its endearing smile creases, looked old and strained to Cara, so unlike the ever-cheerful, fatherly, encouraging older brother she knew. “No. I think the horse killed Robert. Just based on what I can make out in the dark. He’s still tangled in the stirrups. And then . . .”
“And then she killed the horse.” Rafael finished, and a strange, ominous change came into his voice.
Cara shuddered hard at that but did not speak or look up, her eyes still staring off into nothing. She was annoyed. Why did they bring this all up? Why were her brothers torturing her with these reminders of what had happened in that nightmare? How could they be so cruel? She had only done what she had been taught to do for as long as she could remember. There was a threat, a threat against her father, and she had neutralized that threat. She had done what her brothers and her father had always stopped her from doing before.
She winced as she saw again the vision, as real as the cool, penetrating mist surrounding the three siblings, as real as the ice beneath them. She could see the languid, graceful rise and fall of the horse’s gait as she galloped. Beautiful. Such gorgeous, effortless motion, muscles rippling all across the fiery red mare’s body. Then came the bucking. It was beautiful too, sinuous, dance-like motions, up and down, and up again, until the man she loved most in all the world fell, his head cracking backward, buckling unnaturally upon his neck the instant he hit the ground. But it was not the angle of his twisted neck or the dent in his skull that made her shudder. It was his eyes, his face that haunted her. She had seen his face in that last instant, before he hit the ground, before the light went out from his eyes. She had acted, yes, but she had acted too late. She shuddered again and then, as if she was finally unfrozen, she toppled forward into Rafael’s arms.
“I’ve got her!” cried Rafael, and then he whispered into her ear, “I’ve got you.” He hoisted her up in his arms, and she felt him struggling a little beneath her tall, gangly form. “It’s too late to sort it all out now and she’s . . . she’s not well, Henry. We need to get her warmed up. We can sort out what to do with the bodies in the morning. We’ll make more sense of it all in the light of day, anyway.”
“Not long to wait for that. It’ll be morning soon,” replied Henry, and Cara saw the faint, dull yellow glow in the east.
Her brothers began their long trek back to the farmhouse, leaving the gore of the pasture and two frozen bodies behind. Rafael, still cradling his sister’s ice-cold form, whispered in her ear over and over again, “You’re all right, Cara. You’re all right. We’ll get you warmed up and you’ll see. You’ll be just fine.”
Cara shivered, feeling not horror, not pain, but the sense deep within her that Rafael was wrong. She would never be fine again. She had seen for the first time in her life that there was a killer within her, like the one inside her brothers, like the one that had been inside her father, but a killer much more cruel, more ruthless, and more deadly than any of them.
CHAPTER ONE: A MATTER OF VITAL IMPORTANCE
1781 ⚔ Early March
New York City, New York
A young man with brilliant green eyes stood silent in the narrow room, his back to the door. The small, dusty office was largely empty, furnished only by a desk, behind which sat a chair nearly lost beneath the girth of a plump older man, and a few bookcases and closed chests lining the wood-paneled walls. Shafts of fading evening light streamed through two curtainless windows, and the creaking of carriage wheels and jingling of harnesses drifted faintly in from the streets beyond.
The plump man cracked his knuckles as he studied the green-eyed youth, each joint making a resounding pop in the quiet of the office. Parbleu had known the young man nearly all the boy’s life. His proper name was Istäni, but in the network they called him Noaidi. Parbleu had known him since the day the agent they called Thrayder had brought him, tiny, silent, and studying, into the midst of their intelligence network.
“He’s not my son,” was all Thrayder had said in the way of providing background on the child. That much had been obvious; no one would mistake the beautiful child for the son of that hideous man. It was little wonder that Istäni had grown into such a strange, impenetrable adult, raised and trained as he had been by the mysterious Thrayder, the best agent they’d ever had, and the one that got away. Parbleu did not like that Thrayder’s protégé had come calling today, dressed in his strange, archaic green tunic, sporting at least a rapier and a pistol, though probably that was only the tip of the arsenal concealed among the young man’s garments. No, he did not like that the boy had come at all.
“My dear Noaidi,” Parbleu finally gathered himself and tried unsuccessfully to exude confidence under the young man’s unnerving, mesmerizing stare. “I am sensible of your plight, I really am. Who among us is not somewhat obsessed with our own personal struggles? However, you cannot be allowed to endanger another mission. I know it is your vision. You’re the one who supplied the information and secured the funding, but I’ve been in council with some of the others, Lottie and even Silver, to name a few. It has been determined that you are not to lead another mission. Not until you’ve learned some self-control. Your personal grudges and ambitions cannot get in the way of our unified goals. Bonum commune communitatis and all that . . .” He trailed off as he spoke the last few words, swallowing nervously and reaching up to loosen his cravat.
Istäni’s eyes suddenly seemed to catch fire, becoming somehow brighter as passion flooded across his face. Parbleu forced himself to look down.
“I did not ask for your permission, Parbleu. I’ve already secured funding for this project and I’m not passing it off to some incompetent sod.” Istäni’s voice, with its lilting, untraceable accent, held a faint hint of danger. “All I am telling you to do is to give me a list of the contacts in Boston.”
“Indeed, yes,” blustered Parbleu, swelling his chest out. “Yes, well, I don’t believe the major would condone my giving you that information. I’m sorry, you will have to go to him yourself, and return with a signed order.”
Istäni sneered, a twisted, condescending smile, almost pitying. “You misunderstand me, my dear old fellow. Perhaps it’s my accent? I have been authorized and funded to find Lubrerum. You are obstructing me. What do you think the major would think of that?” Then, without another word, he slipped past the desk and tossed open one of the chests behind Parbleu, overflowing with heaps of papers, all painstakingly encoded.
“You can’t!” cried Parbleu, turning excitedly from Istäni to the door and then back again, as if expecting someone else to appear and enforce his frantic orders. “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t look through those!”
Istäni continued rummaging among the dusty parchments, tossing them away in turn after a brief scan revealed they did not contain the information he sought. As he worked, he said, “What are you afraid of, Parbleu? Do you think I’m a traitor? If you consider me a threat, I wonder why you haven’t had me killed. Yes, I know you’ve tried, three times now, but all rather half-hearted attempts, weren’t they? Has the major not given you permission to kill off the best agent you have?”
At the casual accusation Parbleu let out a dismayed choking sound that faded into a low whine.
Hardly seeming to notice the older man’s reaction, Istäni continued, “Last year, in Charlestown, you pitted me against Thrayder. I am surprised that your opinion of my skill is so low that you imagined it inferior to his. I would have killed him, had it not been for that meddling new boy of theirs. Then I suppose Charlotte’s lobster could be considered an attempt upon my life, though it was even clumsier than the first. Poison, isn’t that a bit primitive? And the day Rounder shot at me was the third attempt, though you meant that to look like an accident. Actually, there were four attempts, weren’t there?”
“No, no, there weren’t,” the older man squeaked, then gathered himself and deepened his tone. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say. There have been no attacks, no attempts of any kind. You’re a respected, indeed, a crucial member of our network, Noaidi.”
“Your fourth attempt was very recent. Your marksman did manage to rip my coat, but that is all that he achieved. Tell me, Parbleu, did you decide to have me killed when I first sent word that I was coming today, or was it not until you heard that I was wearing my hunting doublet?”
Istäni paused in shuffling through the papers and gently laid his hand upon the rapier hilt hanging at his left side. He was smiling, the pleasant, joyful creases making his eyes stand out even more, accentuated by the old-fashioned emerald tunic he wore. Noaidi never killed without his archaic green costume—everyone knew that, every agent in the network. The young man moved his hand to touch the new tear on his sleeve with tenderness, almost lovingly. The moment passed and Istäni went back to sifting through the documents in the chest, as Parbleu’s breathing grew harsh behind him. The older man was mouth breathing in coarse, shaky gasps, the sound of ragged, unfiltered fear. Istäni could almost hear Parbleu’s thoughts, could see without looking that the man was drawing the knife from his boot, the one he always carried there, and reaching for his pistol at the same time.
Istäni let one hand trail over his own pistol, stuffed in the center of his belt, but drew back, shifting instead to his right side and fondling the axe hanging there. It was a small, ancient-looking weapon, little more than a hatchet in size, with an exquisite whalebone handle, and intricate carvings that laced up the handle and into the dark metal of the blade, strange twisting, sinuous shapes and symbols. The axe would do, he decided. Parbleu did not deserve to die so sophisticated a death as the rapier would afford him. The pistol too was just a little too good for the conniving old weasel.
The axe slid from its loop easily, and he turned about to face Parbleu, who stood trembling with his back to the door, a knife in one hand, a pistol in the other. Parbleu was panting, wearing the crazed, horrified expression of a man without hope, facing his own mortality. Istäni was still grinning.
“What’s the matter, old friend?” Istäni inquired, his voice gently mocking. “Have you not yet made peace with your maker? I have time, Parbleu; confess and commit your soul. I will wait.”
“No! You fool, I have a gun, I could kill you. In a second. Without a thought. I could kill you now. Before you even get near me, with your blasted, barbaric axe. Don’t try it, Mr. Seänkea. That’s right, I know your proper name! Istäni Seänkea. Don’t move . . . stay put. I said don’t move!” Sweat dribbled from the plump man’s face, and his eyes were rolling with fear, his pistol jerking violently. “Rounder missed you, but he was far away! I can’t miss! Don’t try it! I’m warning you, don’t try it!”
Wordless, Istäni crossed the distance between them. A loud, shattering bang broke the tension in the room, but the old man trembled so severely that Istäni did not even need to dodge. Parbleu dropped the empty pistol, smoke pouring from its barrel, and took one step backward. He fell upon his knees, as if weak and powerless, utter despair inscribed across his sagging countenance, gazing up at his advancing doom. Istäni stopped before him and raised the axe high above his head. The young man had entered a shaft of light from the open window, which reflected off his eyes, making them seem for an instant almost as bright as the sun, as fearsome as the coming of the Lord’s Judgment.
Parbleu let out a garbled cry and threw himself at the young man’s knees, driving his knife deep into Istäni’s thigh, through flesh, muscle, nerve, and blood vessels. Then he tore the blade out, ripping the wound wide. He was trembling too hard to hold on to the knife and it fell with a clatter to the floorboards. He shoved at the young man, trying to crawl past him, and Istäni lost his balance, falling backward but catching himself with one hand. Istäni twisted, pushing himself upward and swinging the axe down on Parbleu’s head with fantastic strength. There was a sound of bone crunching, and an arc of scarlet raindrops, and then the pudgy old man lay still, his bald head a mass of blood, shattered fragments of bone, and the white, stewy liquid of brain.
In agony, Istäni grasped at the laceration on his thigh. Blood spurted rhythmically from the wound, cascading fountains of rich maroon. His handsome, tan face had become ghostly pale as he clutched at the cut. He undid his belt hurriedly and bound it above the wound. Then, taking the axe handle, he twisted it in the belt, tightening and tightening until at last the fountain of blood slowed and then trickled to a stop. He paused, securing the axe in place, panting. Then, rallying his strength, he peered at the bloody wound, looking for the severed artery.
He pulled out the whalebone needle habitually stashed in his cuff and tore a string of thread from his jacket. He sewed quickly, without grimace or groan of pain, deft movements in the still-oozing wound, sweat dripping down his face as he worked. Finally finished repairing the vessels and skin, he released the axe, letting the blood flow return to his leg. The spurting did not start anew, just a gentle ooze from the expertly sewn laceration. He closed his eyes, leaning back again on the gory wooden floor. A new smile, a weary, triumphant smile, spread across his gray, clammy face.
He waited, listening to the faint sounds from the street outside, for any noise that might indicate someone looking for the source of Parbleu’s shot. But one pistol shot was not enough to concern anyone in that enormous, bustling new-world city. Satisfied with the undisturbed traffic outside, Istäni struggled to his feet, wiping the blood from his hands onto his equally bloody breeches. “Bonum commune communitatis, and all that, Mr. Parbleu,” he said, with a nod toward the still form on the floor and then turned back to the chests against the wall.
1781 ⚔ Mid-March
Though it was early in the evening, the tavern tables were already packed. It was cold outside and the ale warmed the grubby men gathering to their tankards. Nestled in the corner of the crowded room, a lanky man sprawled lazily in his chair, speaking to no one, listening idly to the low chatter around him. His clothing was dirty and disheveled. Though he still kept his jacket on, half the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt were undone to make allowance for the relative heat of the crowded alehouse. On his neck, a jagged white scar traced along his trachea, past his protruding Adam’s apple, then cut abruptly toward his left shoulder, disappearing under his shirt. His long arms draped over the back of his chair and his legs stretched out before him, his muddy boots resting on a chair on the other side of the narrow table. His face was mostly concealed beneath the shadow of a drooping chapeau, but the tip of his sharp nose projected from beneath the brim, and in the dark space between the hat and nose, two eyes, so dark brown they appeared black, gleamed dully with drink and amusement. He nestled his angular body deeper into his jacket and let his gaze drift back to the gazette open on his lap.
A short, shifty man entered the tavern. He was nearly lost in an enormous wool coat, a warm cap pulled low over his ears, his collar turned up to hide his face. He scanned the crowd for a while, finally catching sight of the tall, thin man lounging so carelessly in the corner. He shoved his way through the smelly farmers, darting anxious glances around him. Intermittently he shrugged his left shoulder, tilting his head as he did so in an awkward manner. He plopped himself down beside the tall man, clumsily dropping a small scrap of paper onto the gazette.
The tall man studied the paper fragment briefly, quickly deciphering the few encoded lines scrawled upon it. He slid it back to his new companion, shrugged and then spoke in a hoarse, rasping voice, “Is this supposed to mean something to me?”
“Do you need the cipher key?” asked the smaller man, misinterpreting the question.
The tall man shook his head with a patronizing smile. “I invented this cipher, Lefty.” It was not lost on him that if the message had been written in this particular code, the author had probably expected it to fall into his hands. Noaidi was issuing his challenge.
“Oh, well, yes. Of course. I mean—” Lefty took a deep breath and blew it out forcefully. He began speaking in what he imagined was a more authoritative tone. “Listen here, Mr. Thrayder, I do everything I can to protect you.”
“Because I’m valuable to you.”
“Aye, certainly. I’ll give you that. But, I mean, nevertheless, I protect your identity.”
“You don’t know my identity.”
“But I protect . . . listen here, show a little respect. I haven’t told anyone about where the information you bring me comes from. Nothing, nothing at all. I am asking for your help because you are . . . well traveled, and know a great many things, and I thought of anyone you would know what this message means. I don’t want to miss something of vital importance, something we should be involved in countervailing, if you take my meaning.”
“It’s not of vital importance.”
“Then you do know what it refers to?”
“A myth. It refers to a myth. If General Clinton has extra money to throw away chasing fairy tales, then you should be happy. Less funds devoted to the war and feeding his soldiers.”
“But what is it, this Lubrerum? What does it mean? Is it worth something? Is it a place? A person? A weapon? Why so much money? It would have to be worth a great deal for Clinton to authorize such a sum in pursuing it.”
“Because they are getting desperate. Ever since Cowpens. They are becoming more willing to risk pursuing the ravings of lunatics like Noaidi.”
“You’re not helping me. You obviously know more than you are letting on. Things are happening. You’ve heard about Parbleu, haven’t you? Someone snabbled him, but not one of ours, one of theirs. Unrest and a change in leadership could mean something very dangerous is happening. I need to know if I should approach the Committee about this. If we need to track down Noaidi and ascertain his designs.”
“I wouldn’t, if I were you,” answered Thrayder, a glib warning in his voice.
Thrayder paused, staring at the newspaper in his lap for a long moment. Then, quite unexpectedly, he stood up, his head pressing into the beams of the low roof. “Some things are better left alone. Lubrerum is no concern of yours, or of the Committee’s, or of your almighty General’s, trust me. But if you really are insistent, why don’t you find Noaidi and ask him yourself? Your last interaction was so pleasant, after all.” With that he swatted Lefty’s empty right sleeve with his newspaper, then thrust the gazette deep into his jacket pocket.
“Where are you going?” asked Lefty indignantly.
“I’m going to need a bit of furlough. I have personal affairs I need to see to. You understand, I’m sure.”
“Personal affairs? There are no personal affairs in this business, sir, let me remind you. There’s a war on!” A few others in the tavern looked around in alarm when Lefty’s shrill voice began to rise, and he stifled his outrage. Without looking back, Thrayder slid through the throngs of farmers and merchants crowding into the tavern to trade rumors of the war over tankards of ale and vanished into the gathering night outside.
1781 ⚔ Late March
The noise of men’s voices, loud, inappropriately loud in a house still in mourning, wafted into the room that had once belonged to Cara’s father. The room was tiny and cluttered, full of drifting dust and cobwebs, a shabby structure jury-rigged to the back of the main residence. Nothing had been moved since Robert’s death. A book had been sitting open on his desk for a month, along with a quill resting in dried and fissured ink, a candle burned to a stub, and a piece of parchment with nothing written on it save the date: ‘February 18, 1781’. His bed was made as he had left it, covered by an old, stained quilt, folded back at the top corner. It was a bed Cara had always thought too small to fit her lanky father. The room still smelled like him: of dirt, gunpowder, and tobacco.
Cara sat at his little desk. She was hunched in a chair with uneven legs that perpetually rocked with any movement, even a breath. As she sat, she wondered if perhaps it wasn’t the chair, perhaps the floor itself was uneven. It didn’t matter. The room was nothing without its former occupant. The last book Robert had ever read lay open before her, the words written in the archaic language the Firefax children learned as toddlers. A useless tongue, spoken by no known nation or tribe in the world. A shaft of light from a crack in the shingles illuminated the words inscribed painstakingly in the heavy tome.
The voices were getting louder. Cara closed her eyes, willing the noise to fade. Once she had pushed the sounds away, she opened her eyes again and smoothed her plain brown polonaise gown, the seams straining around her broad, angular shoulders. She adjusted her spectacles, tucked her dark, straight hair behind her ears, and focused on the book before her, tracing her finger along the opening line.
‘Com res grum tops scuim, praun vo tei plac aet sturvant, mo a aet vo la.’
The words came back to her slowly, so long had it been since she read in the tongue. ‘Behold this mystery, we all shall not sleep, but all of us will vary.’ No. That wasn’t right. ‘Be changed.’ A faint glimmer of triumph stole across Cara’s face as she decoded the verse. ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.’
The door opened and closed quietly on well-oiled hinges. She did not look up; the footsteps were unmistakable.
“There you are,” Rafael said softly, plopping himself onto Robert’s bed. He stared at her with that same worried look of trepidation that everyone had been giving her since the day their father died.
“These bloody farmers, all coming after Robert’s debts. And him hardly cold in his grave,” Rafael continued, blowing out a breath and shaking his head. “Halstead says Robert owed him a whole cow. You know what Robert would say to that, right? Udder nonsense.”
She gave him the slightest upward tilt of one corner of her thin lips.
Rafael beamed at this meager sign of life. “What have you got there? The versebook in Erlandagar?”
“One of the many pointless things Robert taught us. Are you going to teach it to Henry’s younger ones?”
“Come on, I know you’re not talking to anyone else, but we’ve always talked, Cara, always. Before you talked to anyone else, we talked, remember?” She remained quiet, and after a moment he went on, “I don’t know. You can teach it to them if you like. It’s tradition, after all. Useful for ciphers. The older ones already learned it anyway. But what really is the point?”
“Mother said they speak it in Lubrerum,” Cara said, startled by her own voice. She had not spoken to anyone since the day her father died. She sounded hoarse, raspy, her voice a strained, sharp gasp, like metal scraping against metal.
“Yes.” As Rafael spoke, his warm brown eyes lit up with joy. “That she did. And that Ali Baba discovered the secret magical caves of a network of thieves, full to overflowing with unimaginable wealth. Mother told us a lot of fairy tales, Cara.”
“Was Murdoch also a fairy tale?”
“I don’t know. I would think so if not for those clothes he left behind, the ones you wear sometimes.”
She always went hunting in the cast-off garments of their oldest brother, Murdoch, the only one of her brothers whose clothes she could still fit into with her ridiculous dimensions. Wearing his clothes made her feel a strange kinship with the man who had vanished from the farm long before she was born.
Rafael flipped through the pages of the Erlandagar versebook, nearly to the end. “Have you ever read this one? It’s quite a beautiful poem in English.”
Cara peered at it through her spectacles and shook her head. “The handwriting is different.”
“It’s Mother’s. She wrote this one.”
“Of course. Don’t you recognize your own mother’s script? This is why I do all the forging. Look at these e’s—the loop is incredibly tiny. They all look like c’s. She had such a peculiar way of writing. I can’t quite remember how it starts, something about everything being blue and turning it red . . .”
He trailed off as the voices outside the room crescendoed in the negotiations over how much Robert had owed Mr. Halstead.
“I wish they would leave off, really,” Rafael continued. “I know it’s been a month, but it still feels too soon. And we haven’t the money right now. One more contract and we can settle them all and have a great deal left over.”
“That last contract,” said Cara. “You remember?”
“The last contract that Henry and I did without you, or you mean the one before?”
“The last one I did, in Paris, with you and Father.”
“Of course I do, yes.”
“I had him, I had that target. But Father knocked me over and killed the man himself.”
“Did he? I wondered about that one. He said you did it, but . . .”
“He shouted ‘Murdoch, wait! Don’t do it!’ and pushed me over and stabbed the man. Why would he do that? I’m not Murdoch.”
Rafael bit his lower lip. “I . . . I don’t know, Cara.”
“Yes, you do. You all know. You all keep taking my targets. What are you afraid would happen if I killed someone?”
“Nothing. We just . . . it’s instinct, you know. Protect your little sister. Protect your daughter. It’s natural.”
“I’m almost as tall as you are now, and better at every weapon and hand-to-hand combat than you. I’m not your little sister in any way that counts, Raf. So what are you afraid of?”
“Well, what are you afraid would happen? If you really wanted to kill a target, you could. You’re good enough to stop us from taking them. Good enough by far.”
Cara’s frown deepened. “I’m afraid that I would . . . I don’t know.” She turned back to the book, her gut twisting. The vision of the mare running thundered into her mind again. The rise and fall of her perfect gallop, the hooves drumming, punctuated by the thuds of her father’s head upon the frozen earth, like the beats of some dark destiny relentlessly bearing down on her.
Rafael rose. “Anyway, I think Henry might need reinforcements out there. I’m glad you’re talking again.”
“I’m not,” Cara said quickly, looking up at her brother with an earnest, pleading expression. “I’m not talking to them yet. I’m not ready, Raf. I still see Father dying every time I close my eyes. I still see that horse . . . and what I did . . . I’m just not talking yet.”
Rafael nodded, and for a moment his face saddened, but then he smiled again, encouragingly. “That’s fine, Cara. Your secret’s safe with me.”
Then her brother slipped out of the shabby little room, leaving her alone in the dim light, staring at the old book written in the dead language of a fairy-tale place.