Doubt the Stars Are Fire

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Chapter 2 - Frightened

1 year ago

Leda and Valentina didn’t talk about it at first. They were silent for a while after Leda had arrived. But like always, Valentina swept up their picnic basket and called over her shoulder to Cyrilla they were leaving now. The two sisters wore pale, gossamer-like dresses, and appeared as bursts of light under the sun-drenched meadow.

The gardens in the Haight district of London, where all the warlocks resided, had enchanted gardens that stretched for miles. And Irena’s Blue House garden was a wilderness of forest with glades and meadows that Leda and Valentina would travel through almost every day when Leda visited. To get away from their mother. From the world. They always packed a picnic and wandered until they grew tired.

And because barely a word had passed between both sisters the journey seemed longer, but when they reached a spinney of trees where they normally picnicked, the both of them felt as though they could keep going. But out of habit, out of fear that if anything changed that they would have to talk about it, they stopped and laid a blanket.

Leda barely looked at Valentina. Something had altered irreparably since hearing that she was Fated to a Tariel.

If Leda were to imagine darkness and something terrible, she immediately thought of the name Tariel.

It wasn’t the only dark coven: there were plenty that formed under a starless night or a full moon. But the Tariels were notorious— mostly because they remained deliberately mysterious. But Adonis was the one Tariel that was unequivocally dangerous. Leda felt her blood stop in her veins when she first heard that he poured molten gold down men’s throats.

She nearly hissed a why. Her beautiful cousin, Soler, nearly burst: “Greedy bastard!”

“But it makes sense, no?” Aunt Gemma’s fingers floated from her lips considering the hot molten gold, “it not only asserts power by sending a message, he is showing the extent of his power.”

She had glanced at Leda, who looked pale and frightened, but she was curious, nonetheless.

“That he can afford to melt the gold and expend it. Money is nothing. Death is a mere spectacle to him.”

And for the first time, Leda thought she saw a hint of admiration in her aunt, which only made her feel sick.

And when Leda glanced at her sister, who was just pulling the plates from the basket as well as a tall bottle of lemonade, she watched her warm, tan skin, which looked soft, warm, and also at once fragile. To be Fated to such brutality seemed unreal. Leda tried to push out of her mind that Adonis would over pour molten gold over her.

When Valentina looked at her, Leda tried to pretend she wasn’t staring.

“Go on,” Valentina shot at her rather abruptly.

Leda just shook her head.

“There’s nothing.”

Valentina threw back her head and laughed.

“Oh, I’m sure there’s something. Everyone’s talking about it except us! There’s plenty to discuss.”

She pulled out the glasses and popped open the top to the lemonade. Leda watched her carefully to see if she would falter.

Wasn’t she afraid?

But Valentina’s movements were swift and confident, but distant: she wanted to evade the topic altogether, too.

“You’re not scared?”

“I think that’s a moot point.”

“It’s not—“

“I mean,” she dropped her arms with a smile, “even if I was, does it matter?”

“To me it does.” Leda suddenly felt like a child. But she also felt like she wasn’t saying or asking the right thing at that moment. And she felt very foolish that her naivety should be so transparent, especially to her sister. Of course Valentina wasn’t scared. She was grown up, she had powers, and she was from a perfectly respectable family.

Leda lowered her head, blushing.

“Of course,” Valentina reached her hand over and squeezed Leda’s wrist.

But this only made Leda feel worse.

“What does he look like?” Leda straightened, looking ahead, wanting desperately to change the subject finally.

Valentina took out food that had been wrapped in brown paper and thought.

“I don’t quite know how to describe him,” but she considered it seriously.

But both sisters heard the rumors. They had seen him from a distance, even though the Tariels were elusive. Leda knew he had black hair, marble-white skin, and dark eyes. But she knew what people meant when they described his dark eyes: he was frightening. And to describe his character was to describe the character of a remote celestial being: it was impossible to penetrate something that felt so utterly alien to the rest of the covens.

Leda supposed she wanted to know his character. Valentina had seen him at her Fating ceremony, where the priest confirmed if their stars align. The next step was to mix their magic in a ceremony, and Irena insisted they wait.

To bide time? To escape the Fate?

But it would be foolish to evade a warlock’s Fate. Even though Leda barely possessed powers, she knew that to be granted the talents of a warlock also meant that every warlock was doomed follow the strict precepts of what the Fate determined through the Waterfire.

She could remember her uncle Pyramus telling her what could happen. He brought his hands together and suddenly flung them apart, making a soft explosion sound with his lips.

“We are guardians of the world,” Pyramus explained. “Whatever we are told to do, we must do— that is the price we pay for our powers.”

And since that day, Leda has always secretly hoped that she would have a grand and important Fate thrust upon her, even though many warlocks in their lives were never told much beyond a rather vague and standard precept— “Exercise virtue and protect the meek.”

But as Leda grew, as the magic world had become more and more remote, as she grew more and more frustrated with the weak, watery currents that passed through her fingers, Leda didn’t want any kind of Fate. It would be a joke. She neither belonged in that world nor did she belong in the world of the humans: the magic world, especially her mother, made sure Leda remained locked away— a scourge, a mark of shame for Irena.

The only person that made any effort, the only magic person that cared about her sister’s fate was Valentina.

“You can do whatever you please now!”

But Leda would only give her a cynical look: she didn’t have powers. She couldn’t do anything.

Valentina could do whatever she wanted, however: she was powerful, beautiful, seductive like their mother, and the most sought after young witch in Haight. But Valentina never seemed to notice or seemed to care.

“He seems cold,” Valentina’s voice was distant, but she was still considering. “But I didn’t really talk to him.”

She studied Leda, who wasn’t looking at her as she talked about Adonis Tariel.

“Are you scared?” Valentina asked softly.

Leda looked back at her, and when she did Valentina’s lips stretched into a smile.

“Don’t be scared!” She laughed.

And now Leda felt silly, “he’s dangerous!”

“And so am I!” Valentina giggled as she reached over and let her fingers gently squeeze under Leda’s arms.

Leda tried to suppress her laughter— it was completely unfair! She didn’t want to smile or feel better. But Valentina’s mischief and laughter were contagious. And when Valentina felt as though Leda had finally relaxed she sat up brushing her loose dark strands from her face.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of!” She breathed, trying recapture her breath. “Nothing bad is going to happen to me.”

Leda lay on her back and looked up into the branches.

“Are you sure about that?”

“What would he have to gain from it?”

Leda was silent a moment.

“No one can change their Fate. He knows he can’t.”

“What if he does? By getting rid of something that isn’t useful.”

Valentina jerked her head back, and Leda knew she had said the wrong thing. But Valentina then smiled: she understood.

“Then I guess I’ll have to make myself indispensable.”

She shrugged and smiled, drawing her knees up.

“You’ll be the first to know,” Valentina pressed her chin into her shoulder, hugging her legs. “If I ever feel unsafe.”

She narrowed her eyes at Leda, and Leda understood that she was serious.

The two sisters strolled back, Valentina’s arm slung over Leda’s shoulder. But Leda’s consternation did not leave her, and Valentina knew it. But Leda tried to savor the warmth of the sun, the smell of the heat and the rich green foliage. And when they returned they could see from at the other end of the house, from the open door to the entrance of the Blue House, that there was a black carriage and a dark blue spinning orb. They both paused, stiff.

Leda knew it was customary that warlocks that were Fated were to court. But she didn’t think, surely not, that Valentina and Adonis Tariel, two unlikely warlocks... why would there be a courtship? It was a farce! And surely Valentina thought so too. But Valentina’s hands immediately shot to her dark hair, and she immediately began arranging it on the top of her head. She glanced at Leda— “Best if you go through the ballroom so mother doesn’t see you!”

She pushed Leda off to the side hurriedly and scurried toward the drawing room where visitors were normally received. Leda tried to angle her head to get a look inside, to see the Tariel. But all she could see was the door closing, shrinking the sight of Valentina, who was mouthing “Go!”

Leda paused in the corridor, suddenly feeling very alone, almost paralyzed. But then she heard a distant set of footsteps and she ran toward the ballroom. There she knew she would be safe. There she knew she could safely get away, through the doors to the garden, without being seen.

As soon as she entered, she immediately felt small, dwarfed by its crystal and gold-gilt grandeur. She slipped off her shoes so as not to be heard, but mostly to feel the cool ground on the soles of her feet. They ached from the long walk, and the cool floor soothed them. She finally exhaled, and pulled the thick satin headband she had tied to her head all day. Her whole body felt lighter. And for the first time that day, she felt calm. She slowly made her way across the room, trying to stay in the floor barefoot for as long as she could. And when she heard the click of heel, and saw the the movement of a dark shadow from out the corner of her eye, she didn’t stop immediately. It took Leda a moment to realize she wasn’t alone in the ballroom. And when she finally did look up, every muscle in her chest seized when Adonis Tariel was staring right back at her.

It was odd how he stood there, looking perfectly normal. Innocuous. He certainly looked very bit the man she imagined, and more. But his solitariness was off-putting. He was looking at a the portrait of the Strykers, when her mother and Gemma were her age, and her grandparents were alive. He just turned his head and was watching her cross. And now, she stood frozen in the ballroom, the light pouring in from behind her. He didn’t do anything, didn’t say anything. He just looked at her, impassively. Almost disinterestedly, which perhaps helped her keep most of her wits about her.

At least he doesn’t look like he’s about to eat me, she thought.

Then he gave her a curt nod. A greeting, and Leda’s heart fluttered so violently that she immediately looked away and darted to the garden doors, and disappeared.

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