The wooden door that divided Capri’s room from Marianne’s was thick, but Capri could still hear muffled sounds. It started with talking, laughing, and some convincingly playful murmurs from Marianne. But when they got down to business, it was clear Ekon was the only one enjoying himself.
Empathy cut Capri deep. She tried to fight it. Marianne didn’t deserve it. Still, tears pricked Capri’s eyes, memories of her own unwanted Victors in her mind. Emotions formed a whirlpool in her chest, slowly sucking down her resolve.
Brody wouldn’t think twice about it. Marianne would already be dead. Hadn’t she learned anything from her short time with the gunman? If no one would serve justice on her behalf, she’d have to do it herself. She’d have to. Marianne’s current state was no excuse for past crimes.
A muffled cry sounded from the next room, and Capri’s tears fell. She had to get out of there.She glanced briefly in the mirror and slipped out of the room. She nodded to the guards in the hallway. There were more than usual, due to the king’s visit.
Capri knew what she was doing but had only a vague idea of where to go: the kitchens or the infirmary. Which was more likely to have something she could use? She felt cold and scared. Maybe she’d lose her nerve. But she would execute this first step of her plan; she would make sure she had the means to Marianne’s end.
She walked slowly, running her fingers along the gilded railing. She wondered if this was what it felt like when a person lost their soul. She didn’t have much to cling to. Saving Brody wasn’t within her power, not without help. She might be able to make her way past Ekon’s far-reaching fingertips if she left, but there was no guarantee. He might catch her. He might kill her. She needed a purpose, and right now this was all she had.
She took the stairs and stopped on the landing where Sullivan had begun to seduce her, where Brody had rescued her for the first time, though she didn’t know it then. She continued down, acknowledging a guard as she passed through the kitchen door. The woman didn’t seem at all surprised to see her, which was strange.
It wasn’t unheard of for ladies to fetch something from the kitchen, but it was unusual. They could call for whatever they needed to be brought to them. It made her think of the night she’d met with Haddaway in the garden, how no one had seemed surprised by her presence then, either.
Were cameras included in Ekon’s security upgrades? If Briony knew about them, she’d have mentioned them. Before the shooting, the ladies had been afforded some privacy and trust, but these were different times. There would always be before the shooting and after the shooting.
She glanced at the ceiling for the telltale glare of a lens but found nothing.
“Can I help you?” a round-faced cook asked cheerfully, hands folded in front of her flour-dusted apron.
Capri lapsed easily into a relaxed demeanor, meant to put people—Victors—at ease and convince them of her acquiescence. “I’m looking for ginger tea,” she said. “My lady isn’t feeling well.”
The cook gestured to a closet. “It’s just in there. Do you mind having a look yourself? Everything is labeled. I just have to get these cakes out of the oven.”
“Of course. Thank you.” Capri nodded and stepped through the open doorway.
She felt a bit uneasy in the dim room. It didn’t seem as if letting outsiders rummage through a pantry would be standard procedure. It was what she’d hoped for—but it was too easy. She pushed the feeling aside and examined the shelves.
One held spare uniforms for the kitchen workers and miscellaneous supplies. The selection of herbs, spices, and teas was expansive, and she wracked her brain, trying to think of something she could use. She reached out for the ginger tea and paused as a draft moved her skirt. She followed the shelves around a corner and found a door that led to the warehouse. At the far end was another open door, and beyond that lay the docks.
She glanced behind her. She was the only one in the pantry, and there were no guards. She could leave right now and send word of Brody’s impending fate to Gypsy Lass. She could make sure they knew. And then, later, she could escape.
She pulled back. This was why she’d been let into the pantry. It had to be a test. Even if she couldn’t see them, there must be cameras. It also meant she couldn’t pilfer anything dangerous, even if she found something stronger than nutmeg.
She left quickly, holding the tea she’d come for in one hand, in plain view, so no one could suspect she’d been there for another reason. She left the kitchens and considered going to Briony. She couldn’t talk to her about everything, but her steady presence helped her feel centered.
But it was late, and her friend would be adjusting to life with a new lady. Capri tamped down a wave of jealousy.
She wandered again, until she found herself in the garden. This time, there were others milling about. A group of girls from the Maiden dorm had been taken to see the moonflowers and barely noticed her. Some ladies acknowledged her and offered friendly smiles. Others whispered to their companions.
Capri’s bandaged arm was visible, and the scar on her cheek hadn’t faded completely. Her demotion was common knowledge, as was her appointment to attend the most disliked beauty in the palace. For all she knew, her tryst with Brody was common knowledge, as well.
None of it would have happened if it wasn’t for Marianne’s interference. Brody would never have walked into the stairwell or into the closet. He wouldn’t have been her Victor that night because there would have been no Prize. He wouldn’t have taken her from the palace because she never would have been anything other than another one of Ekon’s beauties to him.
Her heart would never have been broken.
Tears pricked her eyes, and she found herself alone on a familiar path. She stared at the purple flowers again. Monkshood. Wolfsbane. Aconite had been mentioned in some of the books and poems that had made up Capri’s required reading, as well as in some of the books she’d chosen for herself. She reached out and picked a handful of the soft, purple hoods and tucked them into the same, small box that held the ginger tea.
She took the winding paths back to the entrance of the garden. A wave of dizziness washed over her, and she stumbled slightly. A guard watched her with concern but not suspicion. Ekon’s surveillance didn’t reach that far, then—if it existed at all. She pushed through the feeling and wondered if it was her conscience making her feel off or if the plant was just that powerful. It seemed to come with its own warning that killing someone else meant killing a bit of oneself, as well.
Is it worth it? the plant was asking.
Capri shivered and held the box more tightly as she approached her room. There was only the one guard now, which meant Ekon had finished with Marianne and was gone. In the safety and solace of her room, Capri shoved the box underneath her bed, stripped, donned her robe, and lay down to sleep.
She released a long breath into the darkness. She had time to answer the question the plant seemed to pose. If her answer was yes, she now had the means to go through with it, as well.