The Lost Sisters Page 2

“That doesn’t seem fair,” I said, although I couldn’t help feeling a little resentful that Vivi had so many memories of Mom and Dad, while I couldn’t recall their faces with much detail.

“I thought so, too.” Vivi shrugged. “So I went back to drowning ships.”

“Oh,” I said, puzzled.

“But maybe I should have listened.” She turned toward me and fixed me with her eerie, cat-eyed stare. “I’m not sure I ever learned how to be particularly kind. What do you think?”

I didn’t like to admit it, but sometimes Vivi frightened me. Sometimes, for all her love of human things, she seemed entirely alien. Especially when I feel like just another of the human things she loves, possibly out of the same nostalgia for her childhood that makes her yearn for mortal movies and songs and comics.

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that way. Maybe I should have talked to you about it. Maybe I should have talked to you about a lot of things.

“Well,” I said, seeing my opening. “It would be particularly kind to help me right now. A boy sent me a note and I have to send him one back, but I’m not sure what to say.”

I took it from my pocket, feeling a frisson of hope and fear when my fingers touched the paper, half-expecting it to be a product of my imagination. I could feel my cheeks grow hot as I handed it over.

You have to understand, I never thought it would come to anything bad for anyone but me.

Vivi read the message, perfectly able to see in the dark. “Locke?” She seemed to be trying to place his name. I wasn’t sure if she was teasing. “So, you’d like to meet this boy under the moonlight? Steal a few kisses?”

She made it sound so easy. “What if this is a joke? A game?”

She turned to me, head tilted, her expression pure confusion. As though I had no reason to be afraid of a broken heart. She had no idea how dangerous a broken heart could be. You do, though. You know.

“Then I suppose you’ll have a laugh before you kick him in the shins for causing trouble,” Vivi said with a shrug. “Or bring one of Jude’s blades and chase him around with it. You got the same instruction in swordplay she did; you must remember some of it.”

“I was never very good. I kept apologizing when I hit anyone,” I reminded her.

Madoc wanted to teach at least one of us his trade—the art of war. I am sure he hoped for Vivi. But it was you who wanted to learn. You who had the real affinity. You who kept at it when he knocked you down.

You used to say that I was good. That I learned the moves easily. But I didn’t want to know them. I hated the idea I might have to know them.

Before Elfhame, I thought of us as just the same. Twins. We wore the same clothes. We laughed the same way and at the same things. We even had our own weird language, which was supposed to represent how our stuffed animals talked. Do you remember that?

There were differences, of course. I was always shy. And you never turned down a dare, even when it got a tooth chipped chasing one of the neighbor kids around the concrete edge of a pool.

But those differences didn’t seem important until Madoc came. Until you attacked him while I sobbed. You tried to hit him. Uselessly. Foolishly. You ran at him like you didn’t care if it cost you your life.

After that, it was like everything was a dare you couldn’t back down from.

And you started not telling me things. Like how your finger came to be missing or what happened the night that no one could find you. I am not the only one who hid things. You hid plenty.

Now you’re probably saying that I am making excuses. That I’m not really sorry. But I am just being honest. And I am trying to tell you the story the way it happened.

“So forget him, then,” Vivi said.

I didn’t listen. “Maybe it’s not a game. I still need a way to send him a note back.”

“Get Jude to distract him, and while he’s looking at her, drop the paper into his bag,” she suggested. “Or you go talk to him and she can do the slipping. He’ll expect that less.”

“Jude doesn’t care about boys,” I told her, maybe sounding harsher than I’d intended. I was terrified at the thought of being caught by Nicasia, or worse, by Prince Cardan. Giving Locke the note on the palace grounds was completely out of the question. “All she cares about are swords and strategy.”

Vivi sighed, probably already regretting admitting a desire to be kinder. “I could call a seabird to take your message to Locke’s estate. Is that what you want?”

“Yes,” I said, gripping her hand hard.

In my room, I selected a page of beautiful, creamy paper. Carefully, I penned a message: If you dare to come to my window, you will find me waiting.

Then I pressed a cluster of apple blossoms (for admiration) into the paper and folded it up into a tight little square, which I fixed with wax and Madoc’s seal.

I wanted to remind him, you see, that it wasn’t without risk to treat me poorly. You see, I wasn’t stupid. At least not yet.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Taryn. She suffered many indignities at the hands of the magical people called the Folk, yet she never was anything but kind, no matter how they despised her. Then one day, a fox-haired faerie boy looked upon her and saw her virtue and her loveliness, so he took her to be his bride. And on his arm, dressed in a gown as bright as the stars, the other Folk saw her for the first time. They knew that they’d misjudged her and…

All through the next afternoon at lessons, I watched for some sign he had received the note. He didn’t look my way. Not even once.

I started to doubt that Vivi had sent my message. Perhaps she’d made a mistake and enchanted the seabird to someone else’s estate. Or perhaps he’d merely crumpled the note and tossed it away.

On our shared blanket, you bit calmly into a damson plum, oblivious to my wild thoughts. I looked at the dullness of your hair, at the human softness of your body that no training with a sword could entirely erase. In the mortal world we might have been pretty, but here I could not pretend we were anything but plain.

I wished that I could kick you. I wished I could slap you. Looking at you was like looking into a mirror and hating what I saw. And your obliviousness, in that moment, made it worse. I know it was a terrible thing to think, but at least I am admitting it. See, I am confessing everything.

All afternoon, I stewed in despair and misery. But that night, a pebble struck my window and I saw the shape of a boy standing below, smiling up at me as though he already knew all my secrets.

That first time Locke came to my window, I climbed down from the balcony and walked with him through the woods. In the distance, I heard the songs of revelers, but the forest around us was hushed.

“I’m glad you agreed to a stroll.” He wore a russet coat and kept pushing back his hair as though he were the one who was nervous. “I wish to ask you about love.”

“You want advice?” I steeled myself for him to tell me something I didn’t want to hear. Still, it was flattering to think he wanted me for anything.

“Nicasia believes herself to be in love with me,” he said.

“I thought—” I began, then reconsidered what I’d been about to say.

“That she was Prince Cardan’s beloved?” Locke gave me a sly fox’s grin. “She was. And I seduced her away from him. Does it surprise you that she would choose me over a prince?”

I shook my head, startled into honesty. “Not even a little.”

He laughed, the sound rising through the trees like a whirlwind of leaves. “Do you not even think me a disloyal friend?”

I was glad for the dark, so that my blush might be even a little obscured. “Surely he gave you reason.” I did not point out what a hateful creature Prince Cardan was, but I doubted I had to if neither Nicasia nor Locke cared for him enough to consider his feelings.

“I like you,” Locke said. “Unwisely. I am fair sure I like you far too well.”

I frowned, wondering if he meant because I was mortal. But surely if he could steal a prince’s lover without reprisal, he need fear nothing from no one. “You can like me all you want, can’t you?”

“Nicasia might not agree,” Locke said with a smile that made me think he meant something more than I’d supposed by his declaration. Something more than tepid friendship.

I felt a little light-headed.

“So if I mean to keep visiting you,” he went on, “will you promise to tell no one? Absolutely no one, no matter what, until I allow it’s safe?”

I thought of Vivi, who helped me send the note. I thought of you, who’d be suspicious of his motives. “No one,” I said finally. “I promise.”

“Good.” Locke took my hand and kissed my wrist, then walked me back to the house.

I know what you’re thinking, that if I figured you’d be suspicious of his motives, then maybe I should have been suspicious, too. That if fairy stories warn us about keeping promises, I shouldn’t have given my word so easily. But there, under the stars, with everything feeling like a dream, I didn’t even hesitate.

The second time Locke came to my window, I snuck down the back stairs, carrying with me a bottle of night-dark wine, sharp cheese, and one of your knives. He and I had a picnic under the blanket of night, and then under the blush of morning, drinking from the stem of the bottle and from each other’s mouths.

The third time Locke came to my window, I threw down a rope and he climbed up to my balcony. He came into my bedroom and then into my bed, with the whole house quiet around us. We had to smother every sound.

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Taryn,” he whispered, and it was perfect. He was perfect.

Nights upon nights of happiness followed. We told each other stories, stories of the people we knew and other stories that we made up, just for each other.

And yes, I told him about you.

I told him too much.

I was giddy with love, stupid with it. At the next revel, I was too eager to catch sight of Locke, to stay safely removed from the fray. I plunged into the center of the wild circle dances, dragging you with me. Even though I knew he shouldn’t talk to me, I suppose I hoped for something. Happiness had made me too bold.

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