Home > Caraval (Caraval #1)(5)

Caraval (Caraval #1)(5)
Author: Stephanie Garber

“This doesn’t prove anything,” Tella said.

“It shows he’s kind and considerate and—”

“Anyone can sound like a gentleman in a letter. But you know only a vile person would make a bargain with our father.”

“Stop saying things like that.” Scarlett snatched the message back. Her sister was wrong. Even the count’s handwriting illustrated thoughtfulness, neat curves and soft lines. If he were uncaring, he’d not have written her so many letters to ease her fears, or promised to also take Tella with them to the Elantine Empire’s capital city of Valenda—a place where their father’s hands could not reach.

A part of Scarlett knew there was a chance the count might not be everything she hoped, but life with him had to be better than living with her father. And she could not risk defying her father, not when his vicious warning still echoed through her head: If anything gets in the way of it, more than your sister’s face will bleed.

Scarlett would not jeopardize this marriage for a mere chance at winning a wish during Caraval.

“Tella, if we try to leave on our own, Father will hunt us to the edge of the world.”

“Then at least we’ll travel to the end of the world,” Tella said. “I’d rather die there than live here, or trapped in your count’s house.”

“You can’t mean that,” Scarlett scolded. She hated it when Tella made such reckless exclamations. Scarlett often feared her sister had a death wish. The words I’d rather die passed Tella’s lips far too often. She also seemed to forget how perilous the world could be. Along with her tales of Caraval, Scarlett’s nana had also told stories of what happened to young women who didn’t have families to protect them. Girls who tried to make it on their own, who thought they were taking respectable jobs only to find themselves sold into brothels or workhouses with deplorable conditions.

“You fret too much.” Tella pushed up from the ground on wobbly legs.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m not waiting any longer for a maid. I don’t want someone fussing over my face for the next hour and then forcing me to lie in bed all day.” Tella plucked her fallen shawl from the ground and wrapped it around her head like a scarf, concealing the bruised part of her face. “If I’m going to leave on Julian’s ship tomorrow, I have things to take care of, like sending word to let him know I’ll be meeting him in the morning.”

“Wait! You’re not thinking this through.” Scarlett dashed after her sister, but Tella raced up the steps and darted past the door before Scarlett could reach her.

Outside, the air was as thick as soup, and the open courtyard smelled like afternoon—damp, salty, and pungent. Someone must have recently brought a haul of fish to the kitchens. The ripe odor seemed to be everywhere as Scarlett chased Tella under weatherworn white archways and through clay-tiled halls.

Scarlett’s father never felt as if his estate was large enough. It was on the border of town, with more land than most, so he could constantly build more. More guestrooms. More courtyards. More hidden hallways to smuggle bottles of illegal alcohol, and who knew what else. Scarlett and her sister were not allowed in many of the newest halls. And if their father caught them running like this, he’d not hesitate to have their feet whipped. But injured heels and toes would be nothing compared to what he would do if he discovered Tella trying to leave the isle.

The morning mist hadn’t burned off yet. Scarlett lost sight of her sister multiple times, as Tella ventured into the foggiest corridors. For a moment Scarlett imagined she’d lost her completely. Then Scarlett glimpsed a sliver of a blue dress, heading up a set of stairs to the highest point of the Dragna estate—the priests’ confessional. A tall tower built out of white stones that gleamed in the sun, so everyone from town could see. Governor Dragna liked people to think he was a pious man, though in truth he would never declare his dirty deeds to someone else, making this one of the few spots on the isle where he rarely ventured—perfect for smuggling covert letters.

Scarlett picked up her pace at the top of the stairs, finally catching up to her sister in the half-moon courtyard right outside the carved wooden doors that led to the confessional.

“Stop,” Scarlett called. “If you write to that sailor, I’m going to tell Father everything!”

The figure stilled immediately. Then it was Scarlett’s turn to freeze, as the fog lifted and the girl turned around. Sharp sunlight streamed into the tiny courtyard, illuminating a young novice dressed in blue. With her head covered by a scarf, she had only looked like Tella.

Scarlett had to give her devious sister credit for being good at evasion. As sweat dripped down the nape of her neck, Scarlett imagined Tella pilfering supplies somewhere else on the estate, preparing to leave with Julian the following day.

Scarlett needed another way to stop her.

Tella would hate her for a while, but Scarlett couldn’t let her sister lose everything for Caraval. Not when Scarlett’s marriage could save them both—or destroy them if it didn’t happen.

Scarlett followed the young novice into the confessional. Small and round, it was always so quiet, Scarlett could hear the candles flicker. Thick and dripping, they lined the stone walls, illuminating tapestries of saints in various states of agony, while dust and dried flowers created a stale aroma. Scarlett’s nose itched as she walked past a row of wooden pews. At the end of them, papers for writing down one’s sins rested on an altar.

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