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“The doctor is sleeping,” she said. “He was up all last night and most of the day with two different maids, helping them deliver. Two boys back-to-back! Only fifteen minutes apart.”

I smiled at the happy news. “There’s no need to disturb him,” I told her. “It’s only a headache, and it’ll pass.”

“Nonsense,” Clarkson replied. “Send for a maid and have our dinners brought here. We’ll wait for Dr. Mission.”

The nurse nodded and headed off.

“You didn’t need to do that,” I whispered. “He’s had a rough night, and I’ll be fine.”

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t make sure you were properly taken care of.”

In my head I tried to turn those words into something romantic, but it sounded more as if he felt obligated. Still, if he had wanted to, he could have gone to eat with the others. Instead, he chose to stay with me.

I picked at my dinner, not wanting to be rude, but my head was still making me feel sick. The nurse brought some medicine for me, and by the time Dr. Mission showed up, his hair slick from a shower, I felt much better. The throbbing was more like a tiny pulse than a ringing bell.

“I’m sorry for the delay, Your Highness,” he said with a bow.

“It’s no problem,” Prince Clarkson replied. “We’ve been enjoying a lovely meal in your absence.”

“How is your head, miss?” Dr. Mission took my wrist in his fingers to check my pulse.

“Much better. The nurse gave me some medicine, and that did a world of good.”

He pulled out a little light and shone it into my eyes. “Maybe you should take something daily. I know you try to fix them once they start, but we might be able to stop them from happening. Nothing for certain, but I’ll see what I can get you.”

“Thank you.” I folded my arms over my lap. “How are the babies?”

The doctor beamed. “Absolutely perfect. Healthy and fat.”

I smiled, thinking of the two new lives that started in the palace today. Would they be best friends, maybe? And grow up telling everyone the story about how they were born so close to each other?

“Speaking of babies, I wanted to discuss some of the results of your physical.”

All humor left my face, left my whole body. I sat up straighter, bracing myself. I could read in his expression that I was about to be sentenced to something.

“Your tests show several different toxins in your bloodstream. If they’re showing up this heavily after weeks of being out of your home province, my guess is that the levels were much higher when you were there. Now, for some people this wouldn’t be an issue. The body responds, adjusts, and can live without any side effects whatsoever. Based on what you told me about your family, I would say two of your siblings are doing just that.

“But one of your sisters gets nosebleeds, correct?”

I nodded.

“And you get constant headaches?”

I nodded again.

“I suspect your body is not taking these toxins in stride. Between the tests and some of the more personal things you’ve told me, I think these bouts of tiredness, nausea, and pain will continue, probably for the rest of your life.”

I sighed. Well, that wasn’t worse than what I was experiencing now. And at least Clarkson didn’t seem bothered by my condition.

“I also have reasons to be concerned about your reproductive health.”

I stared at him, wide-eyed. In my periphery, I noticed Clarkson shift in his seat.

“But . . . but why? My mother had four children. And she and my father both came from large families. I just get tired, that’s all.”

Dr. Mission remained composed, clinical, as if he wasn’t discussing the most personal parts of my life. “Yes, and while genetics help, based on the tests, it seems that your body would be . . . an unfavorable habitat for a fetus. And any child you might conceive”—he paused, flitted his eyes toward the prince before looking back at me—“might be unfit for . . . certain tasks.”

Certain tasks. As in not smart enough, healthy enough, or good enough to be a prince.

My stomach rolled.

“Are you sure?” I asked weakly.

Clarkson’s eyes watched the doctor for confirmation. I supposed this was vital information for him.

“That would be the best case. If you manage to conceive at all.”

“Excuse me.” I leaped from the bed and ran down to the bathroom near the entrance of the hospital wing, flung myself into a stall, and finally heaved up every last thing in my body.

CHAPTER 8

A WEEK WENT BY. CLARKSON didn’t so much as look at me. I was heartbroken. I had foolishly let myself believe it was possible. After we’d moved past the awkwardness of our first conversation, it seemed as if he’d gone out of his way to see me, to look after me.

Clearly that had passed.

I was sure that one day soon Clarkson would send me home. Sometime after that my heart would mend. If I was lucky, I’d meet someone new, and what would I say to him? Not being able to create a worthy heir to the throne was something theoretical, a far-off maybe. But not being able to create any sort of healthy child? It was too much to bear.

I ate only when I thought people were watching. I slept only when I was too exhausted not to. My body didn’t care for me, so what did I care for it?

The queen returned from her holiday, the Reports continued, the days of endlessly sitting like dolls rolled blindly into one another. It was nothing to me.

I was in the Women’s Room, sitting by the window. The sun reminded me of Honduragua, though it was drier here. I sat praying, begging God to have Clarkson send me home. I was too ashamed to write my family and tell them the bad news, but being around all these girls and their aspirations to climb castes made it worse. I had limits. I couldn’t hope for that. At least at home I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.

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