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I pause for a moment and then take a deep breath. ‘Come on. Let’s not stand out here. Besides I expected you to do my hair hours ago.’
If Valery is puzzled, she doesn’t show it. She simply follows me to my door. As I open it, I catch her glancing at the door to the stairs. Tugging on her arm, I urge her inside my quarters.
In the bathroom, I turn the tap on, like Jost showed me weeks ago. Valery starts to gather her supplies: an apron, shampoos and hair tonics. I take them away and push her into the prep chair. Leaning against the wall, I study her. Valery. Kind, quiet Valery. She’s a lot like Enora.
‘You don’t have to tell me anything,’ I say.
‘It’s a long story,’ she says bitterly.
‘A lot of those around here. Look, I can’t tell you what Pryana is going to do, but it’s none of my business.’
‘Oh, they already know,’ Valery says. Her voice trembles, but she holds her chin up. ‘That’s why Enora is acting off.’
‘Is she worried they’re going to kick her out?’
‘Nothing like that. She’s just been acting differently since the mind-mapping. She’s been . . . distant.’
I know exactly what she means. ‘I noticed. She barely told me anything about it.’
‘She went in twice.’
Twice? A tremor races up my spine.
‘And you’re sure the Coventry knew that you two were . . .’ I don’t even know what to call it.
‘In a relationship?’ she offers. ‘Yes.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I say, looking past her to the bathtub. ‘I’ve never—’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Valery says, but her voice is thick and angry. ‘The Coventry nips these things in the bud pretty fast.’
‘I thought they caught most deviants,’ I say, feeling unsophisticated. This is what the doctor was asking about. Pryana knew exactly what his questions meant, but I didn’t, because I had never even noticed anything between Valery and Enora.
‘Just because there are rules against it, doesn’t mean it goes away,’ she says. ‘There are more of us out there, but we keep low profiles. It’s harder when—’
‘You’re in love with a Spinster?’
‘Exactly. We managed to keep it quiet for a long time, but lately surveillance has been stricter, especially on Enora.’
Because I came along.
‘Do you think they did something to her?’ she asks.
I think back to the State of the Guild, and Enora’s own words echo in my head: Don’t be ridiculous.
‘It was like she didn’t know me,’ Valery says in a soft voice. ‘I cornered her—’
‘They remapped her.’
She shakes her head. ‘But they can’t remap Spinsters. It’s too dangerous. They only remap criminals and unstables! She might not be able to weave.’
‘Trust me,’ I say, placing a hand gently over hers. ‘There’s new tech.’
‘Why? Because of us?’ Her voice cracks on the question, and tears pool in her eyes. ‘She’s not even allowed to marry. She’s not endangering the population.’
‘The Guild takes threats to Arras’s balance seriously. I know it’s not comforting, but if they believed they could fix her—’
‘Fix her? Is that what you think? That we need to be fixed?’ Valery’s voice rises over the tap’s rushing water.
I clasp her hand and speak in a low voice. ‘None of us need to be fixed, but the Guild looks out for itself.’
Valery stares into my eyes for a long minute and then withdraws her hand like I’ve bitten her.
‘They’re after you.’
‘I assume so,’ I admit.
‘They’d never test their new protocol on their prize catch,’ she says. ‘Enora was protecting you. She kept interfering with Maela’s punishments.’
‘I know.’ I could try to argue that I wasn’t to blame for Enora or Pryana’s sister or my own parents’ deaths, but I can’t deny I’m the common factor.
‘Then you know this is your fault.’
Valery stands, and with one last sob, wipes her eyes. Without so much as a glance at me, she exits, leaving me alone with my guilt.
She doesn’t come to dress me for dinner. A gnawing ache in my stomach tells me I’ll never see her again, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t push the strange sensation away. At the table, where I sit with the other Spinsters, Enora’s seat is empty, which only increases my dread. It’s so consuming, I almost don’t notice that Jost is serving tonight.
‘More wine?’ he offers. Our eyes meet, and his crinkle at the edges in concern.
‘Water’s fine.’
He returns a moment later with the water pitcher. He follows my gaze to where Enora should be.
‘Valet,’ I say, as he pours my drink, ‘there’s a problem with the auto light on my fireplace.’
‘I’ll check on it later,’ he says, and fades back to attend to the other women.
As I glance down to the other end of the table, Pryana catches my eye and raises her wineglass. She smiles and then tips her head as though we’re toasting something. I turn away, but I don’t take another bite from any of the six courses they serve.
Jost is toying with the buttons on my mantel when I return from dinner. Kicking off my heels, I wander over in front of it. He presses a button and the fire roars to life.