Spy Glass Page 111

“Wait,” I said. “What’s left to cleanse?”

“Blood.”

“But—”

She whipped me with the seaweed, leaving behind lines of stinging pain across my back and the back of my legs. When she moved to do my front side, I yelped more from surprise. My skin was extra sensitive on my chest. The seaweed sliced thin cuts and blood welled from the rows. After all I had been through, the wounds felt minor.

It was over as quick as it had started. The girls released me, but my relief didn’t stay for long. The girls’ grim frowns warned me a second before they seized my arms and legs. Lifting me off the floor, they carried me over to the tub. Time to wash the blood off. But why did they brace themselves for trouble?

They dunked me in the tub and held me underwater. Every single cut blazed. Salt water! I struggled to sit up as the searing pain dug into me and set my whole body on fire. Keeping firm pressure on my shoulders and hips, the girls wouldn’t let go.

The ache in my lungs soon eclipsed my burning skin. This couldn’t be a part of the ritual. I gathered magic to me, but released it back into the power blanket when my brain caught up. Acceptance was a part of this custom. Relaxing as much as possible for a drowning victim, I stopped fighting. Five heartbeats later, they let go.

I broke the surface sputtering and gasping for air. The three girls wouldn’t meet my furious glare, but Mother had no qualms.

Her unflappable manner remained the same. “You are clean,” she said. “Here.” She handed me a white shift just like the one she wore. “Get dressed.”

“Undergarments?”

“Not for you.”

Better than nothing. I pulled it on. The dress dragged on the sand.

Mother stepped to me. “My single piece of advice. Obey Master Walsh. He has a bad temper. Remember the pain you felt in the tub?”

“Yes.”

“Imagine being whipped with leather and then submerged in salt water on a daily basis for a season. Master Walsh calls that pepper and salt, and that is just one of the punishments he hands out to those who upset him,” Mother said. “Your presence has caused us trouble. See my beautiful daughters?” She stabbed a thick finger at them.

“Yes.”

“I don’t want them to suffer because of you.”

As one of the girls pulled my hair up and wrapped it into a white scarf, Mother applied a colored paste to my eyelids.

Mother said, “We won’t be attending the ceremony. We’ll be in our cottage so we stay out of trouble. I don’t want my girls involved.”

A couple clues snapped together, and I guessed the reason Devlen had said I needed to be at the bonfire.

“Yet you’ll allow your girls to marry Walsh when it’s their turn. You’ll allow them to be his slaves. You’ll allow them to risk their lives diving for oysters or mining diamonds.”

“You know nothing about it. You’re not even a mother.”

I imagined raising Reema and Teegan in this place and a whole new fury burned inside me. “You are doing more to harm your daughters than I ever will. That is how Walsh is able to control all of you with so few armed guards. You’re terrified!”

“He’s a powerful magician. And now this Galen is giving orders, and you.” She jabbed my arm. “Galen’s slave. Quinn is young and inexperienced and foolish. How can he counter three magicians?”

“He can’t. That’s why he needs you.” I surprised her. Score one for the new girl.

“I can’t—”

“Yes, you can. Who is serving the clams tonight?”

Confused, she cast about for the answer. “One of the cooks…Miranda or Lilian.”

“Friends of yours?”

“Sort of. We don’t form close attachments.”

“Which just helps Walsh all the more.” I shook my head. “Here’s how you can help. Give some of that brown leaf stuff to Miranda and ask her to mix it in Walsh’s, Galen’s and my food. We can’t do any magic while we’re throwing up.”

“But only temporarily.” She snagged her lower lip with her teeth.

“Are you good with plants? Is there another leaf or root that would incapacitate us for a longer period?”

Fear and uncertainty flared in her eyes. “There’s beach root. It causes a horrible stomachache for a few hours.”

“Do you have any sleeping potions?” I asked.

“No.”

“Then use the beach root if you can. See? It takes everyone helping, otherwise we won’t be successful.”

“We? What can you do?” she asked.

“My usual. Cause trouble. But first, I need a few things.”

She chewed on her lip. “Things?”

I smiled. “Undergarments and pants for starters.”

“Hurry,” one of the girls called. “He’s coming!”

Adding a scarf around my shoulders, I turned in a circle with my arms out. “Well?” I still wore the shift.

Mother inspected me with a critical eye. “It’ll do for now. Don’t let him rub against you.”

I shuddered at the image. “That is always my intention.”

When the door swept open and Walsh entered, we all held our breaths.

“Is my bride ready?” he asked Mother.

She nodded and I remembered to breathe.

He held out his hand, and I grabbed it before he could notice how nervous the women were. We walked through the compound hand in hand. The sun dipped into the horizon as fingers of thick fog stroked the shore.

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