—The Early History of the Tearling, as told by Merwinian
For a brief period, Kelsea had made a practice of opening her eyes whenever the wagon hit a bump. It seemed as good a way as any to mark the passage of time, to watch the landscape change in small flashes. But now the rain had stopped, and the bright sunlight made her head ache. When the wagon jolted her awake again, from what seemed an endless nap, she worked to keep her eyes tightly closed, listening to the movement of horses all around her, the jingle of bridles and the clop of hooves.
“Not so much as a piece of silver,” a man on her left grumbled in Mort.
“We get a salary,” another man replied.
“Our salary’s tiny.”
“That’s true enough,” a third voice broke in. “My house needs a new roof. Our pittance won’t cover that.”
“Well, what of you? Do you know why we’re going home empty-handed?”
“I’m a soldier. It’s not my job to know things.”
“I heard something,” the first voice muttered darkly. “I heard that all of the generals and their pet colonels, Ducarte on down, are getting their share.”
“What share? There’s no plunder!”
“They don’t need plunder. She’s going to pay them directly, from the treasury, and leave the rest of us hanging out here in the wind!”
“That can’t be true. Why would she pay them for nothing?”
“Who knows why the Crimson Lady does anything?”
“That’s enough of that! Do you want the lieutenant to hear?”
Kelsea listened for another minute, but heard nothing more, and so she tipped her head back into the sun. Despite her persistent headache, the light felt good on her bruises, as though it were permeating her skin to heal the tissue beneath. She hadn’t been near a mirror in quite some time, but her nose and cheeks were still swollen to the touch, and she had a fairly good idea of how she looked.
We’ve come full circle, she thought, stifling a dark chuckle as the wagon hit another bump. I see Lily, I become Lily, and now I have her bruises to match.
Kelsea had been captive for ten days: six spent tied to a pole in a Mort tent, and then the last four chained in this wagon. Armor-clad men on horseback surrounded her, precluding any thought of escape, but the horsemen weren’t Kelsea’s real problem right now. The problem sat on the far side of the wagon, staring at her, his eyes narrow slits against the sun.
Kelsea had no idea where the Mort had found this man. He was not old, no more than Pen’s age perhaps, with a meticulously groomed beard that wrapped like a strap beneath his chin. He didn’t have the bearing of a head jailor; in fact, Kelsea was beginning to wonder whether he had any official capacity at all. Was it possible that someone had simply tossed him the keys to Kelsea’s bonds and put him in charge? The more she considered it, the more she was sure that this was exactly what had happened. She had not had even a glimpse of the Red Queen since that morning in the tent. The entire operation had a distinctly improvised feeling.
“How are you, pretty?” the jailor asked.
She ignored him, though something seemed to shudder in her stomach. He called her “pretty,” but Kelsea didn’t know whether it was a personal comment or not. She was pretty now, Lily in duplicate, but she would have given anything to have her old face back, though she didn’t know if being plain would have allowed her to escape this man’s attentions. After their third day in the tent, he had administered a thorough, careful beating to her face and upper body. Kelsea didn’t know what had set him off, or even whether he was angry; his face remained empty, void of expression, the entire time.
If I had my sapphires, she thought, staring back at him, refusing to drop her eyes lest he view such behavior as weakness. Weakness encouraged him. Kelsea had spent many hours of this journey fantasizing about what she would do if she ever got her sapphires back. Her short life as queen had comprised many forms of violence, but the threat presented by the jailor was entirely new: violence that seemed to come from nowhere, to accomplish nothing. The very senselessness of it made her despair, and this, too, reminded her of Lily. One night, perhaps a week ago, she had dreamed of Lily, of the Crossing, a bright and gaudy nightmare of fire and raging ocean and pink dawn. But Lily’s life was encapsulated somehow in the sapphires, and they were lost to Kelsea, and now she wondered, almost viciously, why in hell she’d had to go through that, to see so much. She had Lily’s face now, Lily’s hair, Lily’s memories. But what purpose did it all serve, if she couldn’t see the end of the story? Row Finn had told her that she was a Tear, but she didn’t know what that was worth without the jewels. Even Lady Andrews’s tiara was gone now, lost in the camp. Everything of her old life had been left behind.