The Blood Spell (Ravenspire, #4)(2)

“I’ll be careful. I promise.”

She couldn’t find herself in his face—she had her mother’s dark brown skin and eyes, Grand-mère’s pointed chin and sharp cheekbones, and the tiny stature of her mother’s side of the family. In fact, the only proof Blue could find that she shared blood with her father, who was the son of a tall, dark-skinned man and a woman with the pale skin and smooth hair of her Morcantian ancestors, were the curls that lifted from Blue’s scalp and framed her face.

But she didn’t need to see herself in his face to feel every inch his daughter. They shared the same affection for the alchemy shop. The same passion for helping others. And the same love for a simple, uncomplicated life at their farmhouse, their garden, and the sea that bordered the cliff at the edge of their property.

Turning, Blue made her way toward the market. Falaise de la Mer was a busy port city that attracted people from Balavata and several of the surrounding kingdoms. But no matter how many moved into the city, the heart of Balavatan culture remained a celebration of food, artistry, and a fierce will to survive. Along the broad sides of buildings and homes, colorful pictures made from paint mixed with sand told the stories of Balavata—from the festivals to honor their folk heroes to the rise of the head families to the sea with its changing moods and constant bounty. The history of her kingdom surrounded Blue as she ducked through crowds, grumpily eyeing those who seemed wide awake and thrilled about it.

When she neared the eastern edge of the quarter, she cast a quick glance at the Gaillards’ pale blue mansion. As one of the kingdom’s nine head families, the Gaillards had coin to spare. Blue supposed they spent a fair amount of it on managing their quarter and the southern villages assigned to them—they answered to the queen for the safety, economy, and upkeep of their portion of the kingdom—but anyone who owned five carriages for a family of three could certainly afford to use some of their wealth to help the destitute who huddled in the city’s back alleys, begging for food and taking jobs no one else wanted just to survive.

Blue had long since stopped hoping the head families would do right by those who needed them most. Instead, she’d taken matters into her own hands.

And today would be a test to see how close she was to succeeding.

Thrusting her hands into the inner pocket of her light summer cloak, she brushed her fingers against the cold chunks of pale yellow metal she’d created after staying late at the shop the night before. It had taken Blue far too long to realize that help for the children who slept in alleyways and foraged through trash in her quarter wasn’t coming from the magistrate, the Gaillards, or even the queen. Once she’d accepted that if she wanted to solve the problem, she was going to have to do it herself, the answer had seemed obvious: she’d use her talent for alchemy to turn ordinary metal into gold.

Ten months later, after more failed experiments than Blue cared to count, she was close. Maybe even close enough to count it a success. She’d know soon enough, and once she could produce gold, she would buy a big home, hire tutors and provide fresh food, and gather up every child she could find so that they could finally do more than just survive.

She reached the northern edge of the quarter and followed a crowd through the gate that led to the market. The square was divided into twenty rows of stalls with small seating areas at the end of each for those who’d just purchased crisp gelleire fish or a platter of fried apple cakes, a Balavatan staple. The center of the square was dominated by a large raised stage, surrounded by benches. Some days traveling theatrical troupes put on shows or brokers auctioned off exotic creatures procured from far-off kingdoms. Other days, magistrates from each quarter brought a prisoner or two up on stage for public punishment, depending on their crime.

Blue looked toward the stage and winced as she entered the field. Nine flags—each with the crest of one of Balavata’s head families—hung from the scaffolding. It was a magistrate day. Last time, she’d accidentally seen a woman get whipped for the crime of stealing silver dishes from her employer. She’d rather not see anything like that again.

Turning away, Blue hurried down the ninth row of stalls toward one of her regular vendors, passing brightly patterned dresses with seashells embroidered along their hems, glittering beaded jewelry, freshly baked bread, and a stall featuring boots from the best cobbler in the city. There was another woman already talking with Maurice when Blue got to his stall, her voice rising as she debated something with the old merchant.

Ignoring them, Blue moved to the back of the stall to examine the crates of seeds, bark, roots, and dried berries that Maurice regularly procured from the fae isle of Llorenyae.

Casting a quick look over her shoulder to be sure no one was watching, Blue let her hands rest on a crate of yaeringlei seeds, feeling the gentle rush of the small magic she’d inherited from her mother tingle across her palms, seeking a connection with any natural thing—plant, animal, or mineral.

If they’d been harvested correctly, the large, pebble-size seeds would leap toward her magic, eager to be used. If the fruit that encased them had been forced from their bushes before they were ripe, the seeds would lie dormant, refusing her advances.

The crate’s wood was rough, and bits of it curled toward Blue’s hands as if eager to be used in her potions. She shot another look at Maurice and his customer, but they were engrossed in their discussion.

The seeds within the crate leaped for her hands, tapping against their wooden home like bits of hail against a window. Maurice’s gaze jerked toward her, a frown digging into the sagging skin between his eyes. Blue stepped away from the crate and shoved her hands into her cloak pockets, a chill racing over her skin as the woman turned to face her, pale skin flushed with anger at Maurice.

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