“I think sometimes when we find love we pretend it away, or ignore it, or tell ourselves we’re imagining it. Because it is the most painful kind of hope there is.”
“You look beautiful," Alodia says.
I startle at the compliment. Then I smile. "I’m beautiful to the one person who matters."
She nods. "Hector’s mouth is going to drop open when he sees you.”
“I hope so. But I meant me. I’m beautiful to me.”
“A word is the only thing in the world made more powerful by absence than existence.”
“I am strong enough, man enough, to be subject to you.”
“I love you, too," he whispers in my ear. "Wholly. Madly."
"Does that mean you'll marry me?"
“Peace is such hard work. Harder than war. It takes way more effort to forgive than to kill.”
“Weren't you scared?" I ask.
"Yes. But it was a good scared."
"There's a good kind?"
"Oh, yes." Her voice drops so low I have to strain to hear. "Orlin made me scared all the time. Scared I would starve. Scared I would get too cold. Scared he would hurt me again or get so mad he'd throw me to one of the men. That was nasty bad scared." She pauses, scuffing her boots against the floor. "But you never hit me, even though I'm your slave... You always feed me. You call me my true name. Now when I'm scared, it's not because of meanness. And today, I chose my own scared. It's always a good scared, when you get to pick it your own self.”
“It would destroy me to have you just a little”
“Promise me you'll live," he insists. "Because when this is all over, we must discuss how you sometimes kiss me to shut me up, and how I'll no longer stand for it.”
“Rosario is safe. You were supposed to outlive me. Elisa is ten times the ruler you were. I've stolen your wife. I'm not sorry.
I miss you.”
“It is human nature to concoct explanations to fill the great void of the unknown.”
“Belén shrugs. "It's a perfect plan."
"As easy as falling in love," Mara adds.
"Foolproof," Hector agrees.
I don't deserve such friends. I blink against the sting of threatening tears and say, "All you Joyans are filthy liars.”
“Until recently, I believed all horses were alike. They’ve been giant, four-footed animals with ugly dispositions and alarmingly large teeth for so long that it’s a bit startling to notice how different they are from each other. Mara’s mare, for instance, is a chestnut bay except for a wide white blaze down her nose that makes her seem perpetually surprised. My huge plodding mount is a dark brown near to blackcreature, with the most unruly mane I’ve ever seen. Her shaggy forelock covers her right eye and reaches almost to her mouth.
Mara’s mare head-butts her in the chest. Grinning, Mara plants a kiss between her wide, dumb eyes, then murmurs something.
“Have you named her?” I ask.
“Yes! Her name is Jasmine.”
I grimace. “But jasmine is such a sweet, pretty flower.”
Mara laughs. “Have you named yours?”
“Her name is Horse.”
She rolls her eyes. “If you want to get along with your mount you have to learn each others’ languages. That means starting with a good name.”
“All right.” I pretend to consider. “What about Imbecile? Or Poops A Lot?”
“Painting the enemy as being as inhuman as possible is a great way to win a war.”
“Storm leans towards her and says in a teaching voice, "Joyans consider it is rude to express one's true opinion unless it is unequivocally flattering."
Her brow furrows. "Then how do the express anything at all?”
“But you and I - " he brushes the collar of the gown aside - "are students of knowledge. We believe in careful practice to attain perfection.”
“Lord-commander, I won't pretend to love her the way you do. But I do owe her my life and my honour. I am Joyan now. And we are, all of us, filthy liars.”
“Don't be daft, I love you."
He grins, "You've never said.”
“She grabs my hand and squeezes. Then she looks me up and down, frowning. "You're disgusting."
"I dressed to commemorate the time you dragged me through the desert.”
“Elisa, tell me truly. Have you attained that kind of power? The kind that would frighten an animagus?"
Her eyes widen and her lips part. She says to Storm, "You always speak truly, yes?"
"Yes, Your Highness."
"You are also an animagus, are you not?"
"And you believe my sister has the kind of power she claims?"
"No," he says. "She is being modest.”
“It's possible I've been through too much, lost too much. War damages different people in different ways; Hector taught me that. King Alejandro became spineless and incapable. His father before him was rash and unpredictable, if I'm to believe court gossip. Perhaps this is my damage. Maybe I am numb to fear because I am broken.”
“It’s the highest art form, deceiving without lying. A word is the only thing in the world made more powerful by absence than existence.”
“We have a saying. My people call it 'choosing the path of fewest lashes.'"
"That's terrible," I murmur; half to myself.
"You mistake 'terrible' for 'different,'" he says. "You have a similar say, do you not? 'The lesser of two evils'?”
“Storm explains, "Joyans find Invierno names complicated and incomprehensible."
I glare at him. Storm and I were going to have a conversation about 'complicated and incomprehensible" versus 'over-wrought and inefficient'.”
“Just thinking about her makes you shine with her fire.”
“I saw the way she looked at you. You are life and breath for her."
He's wrong about that. Elisa loves fiercely, it's true. But she loves with her heart and mind. If she comes for me, it will be part of a larger plan to rescue all of Joya.”
“All I know of Inviernos is bloodshed and cruelty and rage and..." Her voice trails off as tears fill her eyes.
"And me," Storm says softly. "You know me.”
“Pummel me all you want," I say. "Pummel me to death, in fact. My answers will not change."
The Invierno step back, frowning. "You must love her very much," he says, not unkindly.”
“Maybe you could heal her? You're the one who loves her."
"I don't know how to heal."
"What you mean is you're too afraid to try."
His face turns thoughtful. "Yes, that's exactly what I mean.”
“Storm returns with close-cropped hair the color of corn silk and a new swagger.”
“did when her hair was washed. When Mother finished she”
“I'm running out of things to say.
I've stopped stealing pages out of poetry books, but last week I pocketed a thesaurus and looked for synonyms for you and could only find rain
and more rain
and a thunderstorm that sounded like glass, like crystal, an orchestra.”
“Do you feel me? It's me, baby. It'll always be me.”
“It is my intention, moreover, to recount the misfortunes which immediately came upon the whole Jewish nation in consequence of their plots against our Saviour, and to record the ways and the times in which the divine word has been attacked by the Gentiles, and to describe the character of those who at various periods have contended for it in the face of blood and of tortures, as well as the confessions which have been made in our own days, and finally the gracious and kindly succor which our Saviour has afforded them all. Since I propose to write of all these things I shall commence my work with the beginning of the dispensation of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.”
“More and more these days, I'm realizing that I might be crazy, but I'm loved too. I don't think I ever really knew that before, but I do now.”
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