But…how? Hasan had said she’d left days ago. Was she only just leaving now to hide the astrolabe? Or was she returning from stowing it away?
“Rose?” Etta said, voice catching on the name. That was her first mistake.
Running after her when she turned and bolted was Etta’s second.
It was easy to track her progress—they were the only ones pushing against the flow of people moving through the bazaar. Angry words rang out behind her, but Etta barely heard them over her wheezing breath and the slap of her soft-soled shoes against the ground. Her mom was fast.
Reaching out, Rose tore down a display of silver platters, sending dozens of them slamming to the ground, along with the tables they had been artfully arranged on. Etta stumbled, barely catching herself with a sharp gasp. Rose tossed a look back over her shoulder, and Etta had a full, perfect view of her twisted scowl as her own mother threw a small dagger right at her.
It missed Etta’s neck by less than an inch—and only because she had finally tripped, her shoe catching on something jutting out from one of the nearby booths.
“Rose!” she called. “Please, I just want to talk to you—”
The crowd scattered around them—a woman screamed in alarm—but Etta’s whole attention was fixed on that face, the way her expression had sharpened like the finest of the blades in the market.
“You can tell Henry or Cyrus or whoever the bloody hell you work for,” she said, her accent so clipped it was nearly unfamiliar, “that they’ll never find it.”
“You mean the astrolabe?” Etta asked. “I’m not trying to get in your way, I swear—”
A pair of hands lifted her off the ground, and the last thing she saw before her veil was dragged back across her face was Rose—her eyes wide, backing away.
“Let me go!” Etta said, disoriented. She was lifted off her feet and thrown over a shoulder. “Nicholas, stop, it’s her!”
But…she sucked in another breath, the veil sticking to her lips and tongue, blinded by the fabric and her own hair. That smell—Nicholas always smelled like the sea, like soap and cedar. And now, with arms crushing around her legs, keeping her in place, all she could smell was camel—animal.
They veered right just as someone let out another cry of alarm. Wood splintered against the ground, and there was the sound of something shattering a second before Etta heard the call to prayer sound over the city.
Etta’s back was suddenly drenched in heat, and the world burned a fiery red beneath her closed eyelids. Her hands were trapped beneath her, pinned to someone’s shoulders. She thrashed wildly, kicking, her screams muffled by the fabric around her.
I’m being taken—
Etta’s foot hit a soft spot that brought the man to his knees. She spilled out onto hot stone and had barely crawled to her hands and knees when a sharp kick to the head sent her back down. Dust and dirt filled her mouth, grinding between her teeth as she tried to crawl away. Black and white exploded across her vision, blocking the sight of her bleeding hand against the pale stone.
There was a howl of fury and a shift in the wind at her back. Etta fell forward again, but managed to get the veil away from her face. That’s when she saw Nicholas barreling shoulder-first into one of the men she’d seen before.
People gathered around, some beginning their prayers, others arrested by the sight of Nicholas throwing his fist into one man’s face as the other attacker jumped on his back. The second attacker’s hand disappeared into the folds of Nicholas’s robe and Etta heard Nicholas cry out as he threw his head back and knocked him off.
No one moved to help, not until Hasan burst out of the bazaar and began to shout for aid. By then, both of the men in black robes were on their feet; Etta didn’t see how they managed it, but they ran into the chaos they had created, chased off by the Janissaries.
“Etta—Etta!” Nicholas dropped to his knees in front of her, his lungs working like bellows. “Are you hurt?”
Before her thick tongue could form a response, he swayed, his eyes blinking as if in surprise. She reached out, one hand gripping his arm to steady him, the other going to his side—where a large, wet patch of violently crimson blood was spreading.
“No—” Etta choked out, “no, no! Nicholas!”
She couldn’t even catch him as he fell.
HE KNEW THAT HE WAS IN trouble when the wound did not pain him at all.
Fragments of the last few hours were scattered across his mind, the way the wind had toyed with the white petals dusting the open courtyard. Had that really been only a few hours ago? Impossible. It was dark now. Days might have passed, and he could not surface long enough from the depths of a terrible, gripping sleep to see for himself.
Soft voices carried on above him. Soft hands lifted the bandages at his side to inspect his wounds. Soft cloths mopped away the infernal sweat from his face. If there was one thing Nicholas had not been expecting, it was how soft a touch Death had for him. It seemed unfair, somehow, to not go out fighting. To be denied the chance to burn, to rail against it, to shout it down until his last breath left him. Wasn’t that his right? Or did it only feel so wrong because he had spent the whole of his life fighting so bloody hard? To go with a whisper…the thought seemed to sit upon his chest, making it harder and harder to breathe.
Perhaps he would think upon it some more, when he was not so tired.
THE PLACE WHERE THEY HAD BROUGHT HIM SMELLED OF THE earth. There was a constant shuffle of quiet feet and voices around him. What he knew of their language was irrelevant; it was impossible to concentrate over the roaring of his own blood in his ears. A hospital, then? He forced his eyes open at the first touch of light on his lids.