“Only a single night,” Iseult said, forcing her mind to avoid considering the Bloodwitch. She had enough to worry about in the tribe.
Absently, she picked up a strip of uncut red stone from the worktable. A ruby, Iseult thought, and around it was a strand of sunset pink thread expertly wrapped with loops and knots.
Several stones away was its twin. And Iseult didn’t miss the sapphires along the back of the table or the smattering of opals.
Only in a Threadwitch’s home could one find such valuable jewels left unprotected. But a Threadwitch knew her own stones—she could follow them, even—and no Nomatsi would ever be stupid enough to risk stealing from a Threadwitch.
“Do you like the Threadstone?” Alma asked. She leaned against the table—though she kept rubbing her palms against her thighs as if they sweated.
Yet not once did Gretchya say to Alma, Keep your hands still. A Threadwitch never fidgets.
“Alma made it,” Gretchya said.
Of course you did. Iseult had never been able to get a Threadstone to work, and here was Alma, with a piece to outshine any other.
“I did,” Alma said—though the words almost came out as a question: I did?
Iseult’s gaze snapped to her. “Why would you make a Threadstone for me?” She felt her forehead bunch up, felt her lips curl back. It was such a disgusted face—such an uncontrolled and un-Threadwitch expression—she instantly wished she hadn’t made it.
Alma flinched—yet quickly schooled her face blank and plucked up the second ruby wrapped in pink thread. “It’s a…” She trailed off, glancing at Gretchya as if unsure what to say.
“It’s a gift,” Gretchya prompted. “Do not be shy—Iseult only frowns at you because she is confused and cannot control her expressions.”
Heat licked up Iseult’s face. Irate heat. Or perhaps shamed heat. “But how did you make it?” she ground out. “I’m a Threadwitch—you can’t see my Threads, so you can’t attach them to a stone.”
“Your … your mother,” Alma started.
“I showed her how,” Gretchya finished. She dropped the scissors on the worktable and marched toward the stove. “The cloths will finish burning soon and Corlant will be back. Hurry.”
Iseult pressed her lips thin. Her mother’s response was no answer at all.
“You should be grateful,” Gretchya continued as she poked at the stove’s flames. “Those rubies in your hand will glow when Safiya is in danger—and when you are too. It will even allow you to track each other. Such a gift should not be taken lightly.”
She wasn’t taking the gift lightly—yet nor would she feel gratitude toward Alma. Ever. Alma had made this out of guilt. She was, after all, the reason Iseult had been denied a place as a Threadwitch apprentice—and also rejected as Gretchya’s heir.
“Get dressed,” Gretchya ordered Iseult. “And quickly, while Alma sweeps up this cut hair. We must tell Corlant and the tribe that you changed your mind and wish to return to the tribe as a Threadwitch.”
Iseult opened her mouth—to point out that her mother could not have two apprentices and that the tribe was well aware of Iseult’s magical failings—but then she let her lips fall shut. Alma was grabbing for the broom and following orders just as a Threadwitch ought to. Because Threadwitches did not argue; they followed the cool course of logic where it led.
Logic had led Iseult here, so she would ignore her hurt and fear, and she would follow logic as she’d been trained. As she’d managed throughout her time in Veñaza City, with Safi at her side.
Never—not in ten million lifetimes—would Safi have expected to slip into her role as a domna this easily. Not with so many people around her, their body heat filling the vaulted ballroom and their constant lies scraping over her skin. But the children from her past had angled into adulthood while their parents had seamed into old age.
And with all the sparkling wine and the shine of chandeliers, with the wall of glittering glass that overlooked the Jadansi’s marshy shore, it was hard for Safi not to enjoy herself.
In fact, she found it no different from pulling a con with Iseult. She was playing the right hand while her uncle cut some unknown purse. If this was all that Uncle Eron wanted from her, then Safi could—almost happily—comply. Especially with Prince Leopold fon Cartorra at her side.
He had grown into a fine specimen of a man—though still much too pretty to be taken seriously. In fact, he was undoubtedly the most beautiful person, male or female, in the room. His curls were a glossy strawberry, his skin had a golden red-cheeked glow, and those long blond lashes that Safi so vividly remembered were still draped over his sea green eyes.
Yet for all his external changes, he was the same sharp-tongued, playful boy she remembered.
He tipped back a gulp of wine. It set his curls to flopping—and several nearby domnas to sighing.
“You know,” he drawled, “the blue velvet on my suit lacks the depth I’d hoped for. I specifically requested imperial sapphire.” His voice was a rich baritone, and the way he balanced his words with pauses was almost musical. “But I’d call this more of a dull navy, wouldn’t you?”
Safi snorted. “I’m glad to see you haven’t changed, Polly. For all your wit, you remain as infatuated with your looks as ever.”
He flushed at the name Polly—as he had every other time she’d uttered it this evening, which had only made her want to say it more.