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‘Miss Lewys?’ Erik offers me his arm after Jost has passed.
I make it to the hallway before the tears start.
‘Yeah.’ Erik pats my hand. ‘Ambassador Patton has that effect on me too.’
‘Sorry,’ I whisper, and offer him the smallest smile I can muster.
‘Don’t be,’ he says. ‘It’s nice to be around someone who has more than two emotions, and if I have to suffer Maela’s wrath later, I might as well enjoy your company.’
‘She’s going to be mad?’ I ask between sobs.
‘Patton’s a jerk. He sent for me to put Maela in her place – remind her who’s in control. I mean, I’ve met him at least ten times before today.’
‘But you were so polite when he forgot your name.’
‘Being rude won’t get you anywhere,’ Erik says. His tone is conversational, but I’m sure it’s a warning.
He lets me cry for most of our walk back through the halls, and in the brass lift he hands me a soft linen handkerchief.
He nods.
At my door, I offer it back to him.
‘Keep it.’ He pushes it into my hands. ‘I have a feeling you’re going to need it more than I am.’
I wish I could tell him he’s wrong.
As a child I sat rapt on the bathroom floor and watched my mother line her eyes with a fine pen and then smooth pink rouge on her cheeks. She was the perfect Western woman – attractive, groomed and obedient – but she was made more beautiful by her laugh-lines and the faint crow’s-feet that crinkled as she smiled. Day by day, I am remade, into someone else, and I wonder if age will ever leave her tracks on my face. I’m sixteen now, and I will be almost flawless forever. That thought helps me fall asleep at night, secure in my place here, but it also wakes me up trembling with nightmares.
Stockings are the biggest sartorial change in my life. The first time I wore the flimsy hose I loved how the silk caressed my bare legs, but I soon realised that they leave a film of sweat on my skin. The seam is always running crooked up the backs of my legs, and the stockings constantly slip down. Keeping up my proper appearance has ceased being glamorous, and now that I’m expected to travel with Cormac Patton, it’s even worse.
I’ve spent little to no time at a weaving station since his visit. Instead I’ve been fitted and measured and trained in etiquette. While it’s saving me from actually using my weaving ability, it’s also leaving me plenty of time to dwell on the fate of my mother and sister. The image of my father in a body bag is inexorably burned in my mind and while I see it when I close my eyes to sleep, at least his death is real to me. But my sister’s fair hair and my mother’s flawless face feature endlessly in my dreams. I obsess over Amie’s new life while they pin and tack my new gowns. She would love this – being fitted for fancy dresses. At least my Amie would. The idea that she’s alive but a completely new person makes me ache like I’ve been hollowed out and left to stand too long without a core. It’s too much to process, so instead I count the dresses I’ll need. Dresses for rebounding, dresses for interviews, dresses for pictures. Judging by the amount of silk and tulle filtering into my quarters, I’m not looking forward to wearing any of them.
Enora might as well move into my quarters. I’m expected to know every Guild official, the name of his wife, where he resides, and his sector’s primary exports. Arras has a prime minister, and then each sector has a governing minister; every metro has one as well. The roles are granted through bloodlines as long as each man has a male heir. A Guild office can never pass to a woman. It’s more information than I learned in ten years at academy, and I can’t imagine how I’ll ever use it. I’m not much for small talk.
‘Will there be a test?’ I ask Enora after the third hour of quizzing she’s given me on the Eastern Sector.
‘Why don’t you call and ask Cormac?’ she snaps, clearly as tired of this as I am, but too worried to send me off unprepared.
‘So how do I address these officials?’
‘Yes, what do I call them? Are they considered ministers?’ I recall how many of his officers refer to Cormac as Minister Patton instead of Ambassador.
‘You shouldn’t address them at all.’ She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.
I don’t bother to hide my annoyance. ‘Then why am I learning this?’
She lets out a long, motherly sort of sigh before responding. ‘As Ambassador Patton’s escort, you will be expected to remind him of important names and information.’
‘Wait a minute.’ I tug out of the grip of the seamstress who is quietly sewing at my feet and turn to Enora. ‘Are you telling me I’m learning this so Cormac won’t have to?’
‘Of course.’
‘But I shouldn’t talk to these people?’
‘Only if they address you and only to make very casual conversation.’
‘Unbelievable.’ I’m not sure if I’m referring to the expectations or to Enora thinking this is normal.
‘That’s another thing.’ Enora hesitates. ‘You’re a bit too comfortable with him. Has Ambassador Patton asked you to call him by his first name?’
‘I can’t remember. He doesn’t seem to mind.’
‘Adelice,’ Enora says quietly. ‘He usually visits us once or twice a year, and he’s informed our head valet that he’ll be here at least once a week for the next month. Because right now he’s enamoured with you.’