Keep dancing until the music stops.
There was a withered white branch growing out of my broken forearm.
The bone should have set by now, after being cracked by Kazimir’s hand, but instead it had cracked more and more, until it broke completely, and now a bald, broken tree branch, pale as bone, stuck out from my aching skin. The rest of my arm hung bent at a horrid angle beneath it, and I could not use that hand.
At least the branch was forked, so that I could use the points to jab steadily into Pascha’s feathered back. Not that he seemed to care. His vast wings surrounded me, and his hot feathers turned my exposed skin parboiled red. But at least Sorina’s clothes protected the rest of me, even from the sun, which burned angrily at me from above.
For the first few minutes on his back I had felt sick terror, for it seemed that I should fall off at any moment- his feathers were too hot to hold on to even with just one hand. And in this form of his, I could only crouch on his back, not straddle him, unless I quickly learned how to do a harlot’s split. I could not even see how high we were- his churning wings and bobbing neck blocked my view, and it wasn’t as if I was going to try to lean out.
But I did not fall off, somehow, though I was tossed from side to side in a nauseating way. I suppose that would have been poor planning on Pascha’s part if he lost me in midair.
Pity. The fall might have done me good.
I did not attempt to speak to Pascha, nor he to me; I think we were both quite past that now. In truth, Kazimir’s actions had not been particularly shocking- but not so for Kezia’s. Even on Pascha’s hot back, I shivered. It was the silence… with rage I associated sound, fury, noise, but the golem had not made a single sound as it tore the horsemen apart. For a moment there, I had been less afraid of Baba Yaga than I was of she.
Of course, from my position now, that was reversed. In my feverish head danced visions of Kezia stamping through the bony fence, ripping the shingles from the witch’s roof, crushing Baba Yaga with her fists. Had I known she were capable of such rage earlier, I would… I would have…
My cheek suddenly smarted furiously. My head had lolled down onto Pascha’s back, and I had not the strength to lift it. The sun was making me feel sick. I closed my eyes, and saw dancing red haloes…
It seemed that I had lost consciousness on Pascha’s back, for when I next opened my eyes, I was no longer flying. Indeed, Pascha was nowhere in sight, and I did not have any earthly idea of where I was. Or how I had gotten myself to stand up.
I swept my eyes around. The best I could gather was that I was in somebody’s garden, for around me there were trees bearing red fruit I did not recognize. The sweet, fermented smell of it prickled my nose. Beneath the trees, there were vines bearing vast green gourds, bigger than my head, wrinkled and splotched with yellow in a pleasantly hideous way. Somewhere out of sight I heard the sawing of crickets.
It should have been obvious just whose garden I had landed in from the beginning, of course, but I did not draw the connection until my eyes focused beyond the trees and I saw the back wall of a house, all fading gray wood. As I stared, it moved slightly, and then swung a quarter-turn around.
I jerked, and found I could not move. No, it was not that I could not move- I was bound in some way. My ankles were tied together with coarse rope, and my waist was secured to a stake in the same manner, and- and a board across my back was fastened to each of my arms, so that they stuck straight out as though I were a scarecrow, or Christ himself.
I made a weak attempt to struggle, but to no avail. My still-broken arm, the protruding branch looking longer than I had last seen, didn’t even twitch. On the tips of the twigs were two closed, pinkish flower buds.
I gritted my teeth, squirmed vainly one last time, then called, “Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! What sort of punishment is this?”
Before me, the witch’s house shifted itself again, one bloody, scaly leg briefly visible before it nestled back down into the dry earth, but otherwise there was no reply, witch or otherwise. I craned my neck back and saw smoke billowing forth from the chimney. The witch was up to some mischief while I was restrained here. And surely this could not be her whole punishment… I had endured torment like this before, and I could do it again, especially now with my strigoi’s resilience. But for the wretched white tree, I could even have transformed and escaped. I bit my lip and went for a try, focusing on the idea of wolf, but with a cry of pain gave up the thought almost at once. It would not happen.
The soles of my feet, I realized, were itching quite painfully, and for the first time, I looked straight down. In the bare patch of dirt I was staked in, there were several freshly-planted bluebells.
She stood with her back against the tree, on that bright winter morning, where the sun reflected brilliantly against the fields of snow- except for the streets, where it was churned with mud and filth.
Everyone else was spread throughout the square, peddling or performing, for it was the end of the season and they all had to scrape enough up to pay the king’s tax. She should have been out there too, and she knew her sisters would scold her dearly when they noticed her absence. But the sun hurt her eyes- it always had. The meager shade of the bare tree was much better than standing out in the bright square, jostled on all sides by eager people.
When she said the sun hurt her eyes, they didn’t understand, they would mock her- “o, pale-eyes, pale-eyes! They get tired more quickly than our common brown, do they?”
But it wasn’t that, it was just that any bright light had always made her squint and flinch, and the pale-skinned men and women with eyes like hers never did that as far as she could tell. Only for her was the light an enemy.
Her father had said, once, “You’d better teach yourself to look into the light. People think those that shy from sun are devilish.”
He had tousled her hair then, to show that it was only a jest, except she found no humor in it. Perhaps she was devilish, with her blue eyes and red hair, even though her mother said they had always had family with those features. But she had never seen the rest of her mother’s family and never would.
Her mother had also said, “If the sunlight hurts your eyes, you are simply a person of the moon. If there are sun-people, there must be moon-people too.”
It was a typically unhelpful thing for my mother to say.
…That is, for her mother to say.
The ursari had the bear out, now, and he was the focal point of all attention, at least for the gadjo gawkers. The ursari’s name was Nicu, and he and his family frequently paired their caravan with her family’s, because there were not many Muslim Romani in these parts. And the ursari and the laiesi did not compete. As Nicu danced his bear, her father did brisk business selling tin likenesses of them to be worn as necklaces.
The bear’s name was Snout, and she spent most of her time lolling to and fro on the end of a short rope tied to a stake, or trundling along while tied to the back of the wagon. She seemed, to the young Gabi, to be perpetually hypnotized, perhaps by Nicu’s own magic skill: her moist brown eyes were glazed and unfocused, her protruding lip endlessly dangling threads of drool. The iron ring that Nicu had forced through her snout as a cub was often crusted yellow or dripping with bad-smelling fluid, but the gadjo never seemed to see it. They merely watched, jaws agape with laughter, as Snout jerked up and down in time to the music Nicu’s family played. Nicu stood with one hand upraised over Snout’s head. Gabi knew that normally, when not performing in front of an audience, Nicu had in that hand a stick, fastened to a rope, which in turn was fastened to Snout’s nose ring. The bear seemed to feel the upwards tugging with or without the rope attached, her nose pointed skywards, her vacant eyes fixed on the blue as the cheery music played.
Gabi’s father sold another tin bear. Business was good- when the season ended and they had to pay the King his dues, they might have a bit left over to spoil themselves with come Christmastime.
Come Christmastime, she would no longer be with her family.
She didn’t know that yet, though. Now all she could do was stand squinting under the tree, worrying about what would happen if her sisters spotted her idling.
Two gadjo men emerged from a nearby shop, the shorter blowing on his hands, the taller wrapping his scarf more securely around his neck. Gabi eyed them, and thought about trying to disappear back into the crowd. The men were looking at her. Her chest fluttered with anxiety.
The short man, his face creased into a frown, nudged his tall companion and pointed to her. They began to walk in her direction. Gabi found she couldn’t move.
“Hello,” said the short man, when they were just a few feet away. “He has a question for you, if you don’t terribly mind.”
He pointed up to the tall man, who had gained a slight flush over his cheekbones. Maybe it was from the chill.
Even then Gabi had a sharp tongue, even in front of gadjo, so the unpleasant-sounding phrase that tumbled out of her mouth was, “Well, what is it?”
The shorter man chortled, and the taller rubbed the back of his neck. Where his companion was small and squat, with a dark bristle of hair peeping out from around his cap, this man was lanky and nearly willowy, with high cheekbones and hair like straw. His eyes bore a slightly dreamy look, one Gabi caught herself thinking was similar to Snout the bear’s.
“What I mean to say is…” he began, ducking his head, “what I mean is, do you know how they get the bear to dance?”
The short man laughed again, and Gabi could not help but give a thin smile, for it was such a boyish thing to ask.
“The ursari enchants it,” she replied. “They know a secret tune that they play in the forest, and every beast can’t help but dance to it, even bears. Even when they bind their feet in chains, the bear will keep dancing until the music stops.”
The tall man smiled down at her, but the short one snorted.
“Tigani bollocks. If the tune bewitches beasts, why isn’t that dog over there dancing?”
He jerked his thumb at a dog at the edge of the crowd, which was hunched over licking itself in a most unfortunate area.
“Dogs are dirty and stupid,” replied Gabi, glaring at it.
“You are a tigani, aren’t you?” said the shorter man, leaning closer, so that she was forced to press her back against the tree. “You look like a half, at least. Did they steal you as a babe?”
She pressed her lips together and did not reply. The tall man put his hand on his companion’s shoulder and gently drew him back.
“Don’t frighten her,” he said. “You’re very pretty, for a tigani, that’s all he means.”
She said nothing again, and cast her eyes downwards; her sisters had said that when gadjo men called you pretty, you ought to cherish it, and maybe use it if you could.
Her mother had said that if white men called her pretty, she ought to run.
“Eh, now, no need to be spooked,” said the shorter, and moved away to give her more space. “We’ve seen you, you know, these past few days when the lot of them came in. Always a bit apart, aren’t you? Looking for better company?”
“What he means is, if you’re cold, we could pop back in there and bring you out something hot to drink,” said the taller.
She hesitated, looking at the two of them- their breath coming out in harsh puffs, their woolen jackets pinned tightly, scarves bundled- and considered herself, in one of her father’s old, threadbare jackets and nothing but a black skirt and thin stockings over her bare legs.
“I’ll have that drink,” she said, and the words came out bolder than she felt, but the taller man’s smile was quite warm.
“Excellent,” said the other. “My name is Ioan, and this haystack is Viorel. We’ll be back with a drink in a moment, eh?”
He nudged the other, Viorel, who smiled in a dreamy way.
“You can come with us, if you like,” he told Gabi, his voice soft. “It’s cold out here. They don’t let tigani in usually, but you’ll be with us and you’re so pretty.”
She was acutely aware that this was the second time he’d called her ‘pretty.’ She was also aware that from across the crowded square, her father’s eyes had locked onto her where she was standing under the tree speaking to two gadjo men.
“All right, I’ll go in,” she said, and Viorel put an arm over her shoulders and led her towards the tavern.
It did not take short Iaon very long to excuse himself and drift away in the smoky, crowded room, and once Gabi had had a few sips of something that scorched her throat she left the tavern with hazy-eyed Viorel and stood pressed close against him in a narrow alleyway.
Once they had kissed a few times he drew back, panting somewhat. Her arms around his neck could feel the heat of him even through the fabric of her sleeves.
“I’m not the first man you’ve kissed, am I?” he said, his pale, pretty cheeks flushed.
“Of course you are.”
“I think you may be lying.”
“Perhaps I am.”
“Oh, I don’t care at all, I don’t care at all,” he said, with a vehemence that surprised her, and kissed her again, warming her cold lips as the drink had warmed her throat. “I wish I could take you somewhere better,” he added, when they next broke apart.
“I don’t much feel like taking my clothes off outdoors in this weather,” she said.
“Oh, I didn’t mean like that,” he replied, but his flush suggested that the thought had, in fact, occurred to him. “Will you still be here tomorrow?”
She raised an eyebrow at the question, looking the tall length of him up and down, and he cupped her cheeks in his hands and touched her forehead to his.
“I must confess,” he whispered, “I saw you when the caravan first arrived some days ago, and I was taken with you then, and I have watched you ever since. Ioan had to prod me into speaking to you.”
Gabi felt herself blushing, for there were two rather different emotions warring in her in response to all that. She decided to take the more positive one, and felt flattered.
“We don’t leave for a good while,” she murmured, casting her eyes down, for his face was so close. “This is our last stop before the season ends.”
“It should never end, then,” said Viorel, in faux melancholy; she had to giggle.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing you again,” she said, and was perplexed to realize that it was an honest statement. “But my family will notice me missing soon, you know.”
“Will they be angry?”
“I am supposed to be helping my father, not entertaining a Romanian man.”
“You’re not entertaining me,” he corrected. “You’re helping me with some very serious matters, and certainly when a Romanian man calls you over, you can’t refuse him, can you?”
She affected another giggle, though this she did not find quite so amusing. In their close proximity he seemed to sense her reluctance, and kissed her forehead before withdrawing.
“Will you tell me one thing before you go?”
“What is it?”
He grinned. “Tell me how they get the bear to dance, really. I’m honestly curious.”
Gabi had to laugh, and cast a furtive glance over her shoulder just to make sure the ursari wasn’t somehow standing there, scowling and disapproving.
“Promise you won’t tell anyone? It’s a trade secret.”
“I promise,” he said, schooling his features into an expression of affected solemnity.
“It’s quite simple, then. They pass a ring through one side of the bear’s snout, and yank it up whenever the music plays. That’s how it learns.”
“That’s it?” His eyebrows drew together, his mouth forming a perplexed O. “I cannot believe that would work, on a bear, of all creatures!”
“The only difference between a bear and a mouse is the size,” she said, quoting Nicu. “The mouse would kill you, too, if he could.”
“Well, and he has a tail!”
“A bear has a tail too, it’s only very short.”
“O! You are the wisest girl I’ve ever met,” said Viorel, tweaking her nose. “Tell me, if I get you a pretty nose-ring, would you dance for me?”
“It would depend on how pretty it really was.”
“I would deck you in the finest gems,” he declared, “if my meager groom’s salary could furnish them. I know you want to go now, but will you be able to slip away again tomorrow? I want to see you again.”
“I suppose I could try,” she said, aiming a sly smile up at him, and he grasped her cheeks and gave her one last swift kiss.
She left him then, feeling a strange glow in her chest- did she realize? Did she know? Of how many kisses they would share, in the years to come? How could she have known just then?
But she did feel something, certainly, at the time, something both warm and shivery, at the thought of the tall man and his heated kisses.
She returned to the sunlight, which lanced accusingly at her eyes, just like her father’s glare, and when he spotted her merging back within the crowd still surrounding the bear he grasped her arm roughly and drew her aside.
“I should slap you,” he growled, bearlike himself.
“You may if it pleases you,” she replied, and she saw a start of fury in his eyes before he controlled himself.
“I pray to God every night,” he said, “that you will not dirty yourself anymore, with these gadjo men of yours. Do you think I will ever find a husband willing to take you?”
She laughed in his furious face, and now he did strike her, though there was a certain weakness in his wrist. He knew why she laughed. Despite his fierce denial, she and her sisters were half-Moor, and not Romanipen, and they would never find Romani husbands at all.
She saw the truth of it reflected in his drooping mouth, and through the pain of her stinging cheek she wondered spitefully if he regretted marrying her mother at all. He ought to.
And here was her mother now, weaving towards them through the crowd- a few people were staring, but a Romani striking another Romani was not a terribly interesting stpectacle- and her father let go of her arm.
“Take your daughter out of my sight,” he told her mother, in a low voice.
Gabi’s mother did so.
Later that evening, in their camp on the outskirts of the satra- where the local Romani passed them odious looks as they returned from their days’ work in the fields- Gabi’s mother bade her to wash and pray. Gabi did so, halfheartedly murmuring the words alongside her mother’s stronger voice. If anything still produced a vague sense of guilt within her, it was speaking to God.
When they had completed the prayer and rolled up their mats, Gabi’s mother took her hands and kissed the back of each one.
“You make your father cry, you know.”
Gabi withdrew her hands. “And what about you?”
Her mother smiled- it was strange to see it in her whole face, not just her eyes, since she normally wore a veil outside the tent.
“I don’t cry.”
This was not true. Gabi knew for a fact that her mother sometimes cried at the oddest things, like the sight of stone walls. She said that they reminded her of gravestones. Gabi’s sisters had teased her mercilessly over it.
“Try not to get pregnant,” her mother added now, making Gabi put a hand to her mouth.
“I wish you would play with Romani men instead of white men,” her mother continued, dauntless. “A Romani man would let you meet his family. A white man would hide you, or worse.”
“I’m not going to stay long enough for the ‘or worse,'” replied Gabi. “I’m not a fool.”
Though she did yearn to meet the tall gadjo man again tomorrow. It was on the tip of her tongue to say so to her mother- to tell her that his name had been Viorel, which meant bluebell, wasn’t that funny?
But it was easy enough to imagine what her mother’s negative response would have been to that, so Gabi held her tongue.
Perhaps if she had said something then, her mother’s reasonable voice would have talked her into avoiding that second meeting, and the chain of the ones following thereafter, all leading up to that inviolable decision not to go with her family when they left the town for the season.
But by then, she had already doomed herself, without realizing. Tryst after tryst with her sweet Viorel, lovely as the flower he was named for- it was intoxicating. The words he spoke to her, the dizzy, heart-thudding desire he gave her- the promises he whispered in her ear each time they parted. She was entranced, and as her family’s departure loomed, she found more and more she would give everything to be with him.
So she did.
She would have sold herself, as was every laiesi’s right, directly to him, but he refused; a master and slave could not legally be married, and besides, he had not the means to support his own house-slave. Instead he persuaded her to offer herself to the master of the house he served as a groomsman for, just until he earned the money to take both of them away.
It was a ridiculous plan. It was a harrowing and dangerous plan. And in the end, it was a most strange feeling pocketing the twenty lei in exchange for her freedom.
She never told her family she was leaving. On the day of their departure she merely walked from their camp into the heart of town, without stopping, until she reached her knew home at the master’s estate. She had the clothes on her back, and twenty lei, and a million thousand doubts she would never dare voice.
“I am saving what I have,” Viorel kept insisting. “I have some put away already, from when my mother was sick, but she died last year. A few months, Gabi, and I shall live like a church mouse all the while, and then I will petition the boyar for your freedom and marry you.”
It was five years she worked in the kitchens, and the barns, the gardens, the mending, the cleaning, the new stripes on her back. Viorel did save his money- he was no liar- and added her twenty lei to it, as well, but it was never enough. Each day he worked there he would find some errand to call on her for in the barn, and there would be a few blissful moments together in the stinking hay- though the bliss was always tempered by the fear of seeming idle. Servants and slaves might mingle frequently, but it was dangerous all the same, especially with a strict master.
She had known that the life of a house-slave would be more difficult than that of a laiesi, but not how much more so. As a laiesi she had been shouted at, and had rocks hurled at her, and had men follow her- always asking if she was stolen- but she had never been beaten or whipped. She had never had to wear the same single set of clothing day in and day out. She had never had to work from sunup to sundown, every day, except for mass on Sundays.
She didn’t even know their prayers.
Viorel was symathetic to her troubles; he had been whipped before too by the stablemaster, and by his father. But he seemed to tire of her complaints, even of her flagging spirit. On the day she saw Mirela’s lips cut off, she came to him sobbing, and he took her in his arms and tried to soothe her.
“It was a wretched thing to do,” he said, “but if you only do your work and act kindly towards the master and mistress, you won’t get into similar trouble.”
Gabi wanted to say, But the master didn’t even want Mirela punished! but it stuck in her throat, she could only nod silently.
“Listen,” Viorel had said, cupping her cheeks, “I know it must be difficult for you. You lived an easy enough life before, and now you have had to go away from your family and do a full day’s work. But I promise you, it isn’t so bad! You’ll become accustomed to it. It’s only cooking and washing, after all.”
“Only cooking and washing?” That was what she wanted to say, but again she said nothing; always there was the fear in her now that he might grow angry at her for some minor reason and leave her, sever their ties. And he was the only one who cared for her in this place. He was all she had.
And besides… what did she know? Perhaps he was right. She was weak after all. She was weak and vain and dirty. And the worst thing about her, the most loathesome thing, was that she found it harder and harder to love him anymore.
She was shriveling up and rotting like a peach left in the sun.
Gabi converted to Christianity on the same day she and Viorel were married, quite carefully and secretly, by a sympathetic priest. It was not a true, legal wedding, but it was, she began to feel more and more, the only one they would be able to get.
In the last year of her life she became companionable with his friend Ioan, a loudmouthed little fellow with no real bite to follow his bark. He was the son of the tavern-keeper, which explained why she’d been able to get inside so easily on that long ago day he’d offered to bring her a drink. There was a refreshing lack of attraction between the two of them, and she found it a relief often after being with Viorel to look for his smaller friend.
One night he was teaching her how to play cards in the barn, something that Gabi was hopeless at even though he insisted all Romani knew how to do it by instinct. She refused to gamble with him, for any money of hers should go to Viorel’s savings.
“Might make more, if you really show me that tigani hand of yours,” Ioan insisted, but didn’t even wait for her to answer before he began dealing out the cards. Gabi watched them slide over to her side of the table without picking them up. She’d cut her hand pretty badly in the kitchen, and bled copiously into an unfinished blackberry pie before realize what had happened. She ought to have scrapped the whole thing and started over, but blood did have nearly the same hue as blackberry juice, so…
It was a wonder how the masters never noticed the thousand small revenges their slaves passed on to them every day.
A plopping sound emanated from the stall beside their table, and Ioan wrinkled his nose.
“There ought to be better places to play cards than this.”
“Certainly,” said Gabi, flexing her sore hand, “but you’d have to go there without me.”
Even the barn was sometimes dangerous for her. She did not want the master knowing how often she went there to look for Viorel, and the other grooms passed around whispers.
A grey horse put its nose over the stall divider, and Ioan absently rubbed its long nose.
“Say,” he said, gathering up his cards with his other hand, “I’ve always wondered something about you. How many siblings have you got?”
“Two sisters,” said Gabi, flicking her eyes over at him. Gingerly she picked up her cards. Only one hand was cut, but both were sore, and the skin on her fingertips was dry, cracked, peeling. The edges of the cards felt like knives.
“Eh? Only two?”
“Two living,” Gabi amended, “four dead. I’m the youngest.”
Two had died as sickly babes, and the third… she couldn’t remember exactly what had killed the third. But for all she knew, she no longer had the two living either- it had been five years, after all.
“So! So you’re the youngest of seven sisters!” Ioan cried triumphantly, as the horse nibbled his shirt collar.
“I don’t understand what you’re on about.”
“Let me ask you something else, then. Were you born with a caul?”
Gabi raised her eyebrows. Her mother had kept the caul she’d been born with for years, dried and packaged in brown paper. Gabi’s baby shirt, she had called it, though Gabi had thought the whole thing rather disgusting. Eventually a Magyar had bought it from them at a ridiculous sum.
“Is that any of your business?” she asked Ioan.
“Just wondering, is all,” said Ioan, and showed his hand of cards to the horse with a grin. “I’m not a superstitious man, and you’re a tigani, of course. But it is an awful lot of coincidences.”
She sighed, and laid her cards back down on the table, face-down.
“What is the point you’re driving at?”
“Eh, pick those up, we’re not done. And my point is that you seem to bear all the marks of a strigoi!”
Evidently he had planned for this to generate an inpressive reaction, for he sat back in his chair and grinned, an expression which faded as she stared blankly at him.
“You do know what a strigoi is, don’t you?”
The word did sound mildly familiar- she had heard it used in passing before. Was it some sort of wicked spirit? She scoffed.
“I suppose you wouldn’t really be one anyway,” Ioan said, frowning now. “I’ve never heard of a tigani strigoi. But all the tales say they’re the youngest of seven, and they’re born with a caul, and they’ve got red hair and blue eyes.”
It was difficult to tell how serious Ioan was being. He had blue eyes as well, under that shock of black hair, and they seemed to dance merrily as he spoke the next words.
“Oh, and they’ve got two hearts.”
Again she snorted, and tapped her chest.
“Have a listen, I’ve only got one.”
He stroked his chin a moment, and abruptly leaned forward over the small table to thrust his ear into her breasts. She bit back a sharp retort and held still.
After a moment, as she barely breathed and felt nausea creeping up her throat, he said, “Only one, you’re right,” and withdrew.
That single heart was beating faster now, and she could feel a flush of outrage coloring her cheeks, but she could say nothing about it. Ioan did not even seem to realize he’d made her uncomfortable.
“Pick up your cards,” he said again. “I didn’t really believe the things existed anyway. It’s old-fashioned.”
She picked up her cards.
“My parents believe in them, though,” he said, a smirk creeping over his face. “That’s why they bar the doors with rowan each night and refuse to let in any strangers. Mum’s terrified of being looked at by an owl because she thinks it’s the bloodsucker choosing its next victim.”
“It drinks blood?”
“Aye, so no nipping at Viorel’s neck. Best lie to people if they ask if you’ve got seven sisters or a caul, too! If someone like Mum were to hear it, chop goes your pretty head.”
Gabi filed that away; it would be useful enough to know. She wondered if anybody else shared his suspicions. Certainly not Viorel.
As if reading her thoughts, Ioan added, “Makes perfect sense you’d end up with the lad, though. They say witches and nasty spirits like to hide under bluebells…”
“The horse is eating one of your cards,” Gabi pointed out, and Ioan looked back and swore.
Viorel eventually showed up at the barn that evening, after what seemed a thousand exhausting rounds of cards with Ioan, but they had little time together, for Gabi was so weary she was on the verge of collapsing. He carried her back to her small cabin in her arms and kissed her cheek before withdrawing. She felt the glittering eyes of the other slaves that shared the space upon them in the dark.
It was not long before they were betrayed…
It was not long before…
It was not…
She ran away and left him to face his punishment alone.
She ran away. She didn’t wait for him. She ran away.
The men chased her. At the edge of the wood, she felt the th-thud! of arrows entering her back.
As her vision faded, her second heart had begun to beat.
When she told him she wished for a wedding ring, even though they must keep their marriage a secret, he laughed and asked if he should put it in her nose.
“Is it true, Gabi? I yank your ring, and you dance for me?”
Note: Earthcast is taking a one-week hiatus after today and will return with chapter 38 on September 23.