Seventeen-year-old Jessamine is heartbroken over an unexpected tragedy but has no time to grieve before the throne delivers an ultimatum: become a spy or face banishment.
Laec is under house-arrest for his part in Çifta’s rescue but still keeping his eyes and ears open for his Seelie queen. He’s suspicious of the winter kingdom leaving their lands for the first time in forty years and arriving at the Scented Court… where dire predictions of darkness loom. Can he prove himself to the court, and maybe Çifta’s father?
Çifta longs to command her own future. She is safe—for now—in Solana, a place that appreciates her talents. But can she convince her father to annul the betrothal, without putting more lives at risk?
As their paths converge at the famed Midwinter Festival, the three schemers uncover threads of a twisted plot. With life, limb, and love on the line, they realize joining forces once again is the only hope of stopping an encroaching evil. Will their secret maneuvers bring them back into sovereign favor or leave them out in the treacherous cold?
A Memory of Nightshade is the lush second book in The Scented Court a young adult epic fantasy series. If you like suspenseful adventures, witty dialogue, and forbidden romance, then you’ll adore A.L. Knorr’s faerie realm.
Release date: July 15, 2022
Publisher: Intellectually Promiscuous Press
Print pages: 350
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A Memory of Nightshade
SPOILER ALERT: Sample may contain spoilers if you have not read A Blossom at Midnight.
Sasha stared at the distant smudges of green and brown. He stood with booted feet lodged in two feet of snow, the other Silverfae seated behind him, dozens of them, mostly male, eating and talking in low tones about the conditions of the road, and the way they’d been rounded up and told on very short notice that they’d been selected to make the journey to Solana for the Midwinter Festival.
They’d been told it was time for the Silverfae to branch out. Time to rebuild the network they’d had many decades ago. And Prince Ruskin, Queen Sylifke’s only son, was the perfect representative to send, but he needed a beautiful entourage to accompany him. No prince could make an impact without a large group of supporters.
Those chosen had to look more Silverfae than simply fae, which meant only those with the palest eyes, and the whitest hair were asked to go. It also meant only those who were tall, healthy, nicely muscled, and with a beautiful bone structure. They were to enchant the Scented Court with their exotic presence, they were to enthrall the citizens of Solana and Ivryndians visiting from other kingdoms. They were to set the stage for alliances, trade agreements and open roads between Silverfall and the other nations of Ivryndi. They were to bring back wagonloads—transitioning into sleighs at the border—full of Solanan perfumes and cosmetics, beautifully scented products to enhance the ice-white hair and porcelain skin of the Silverfae elite.
They had been warned they would have to endure some difficulties. The weather for example would be uncomfortably warm. They would sweat. They might have to change or even bathe multiple times per day. There would be irritating insects, which could also be noisy at night. These flying critters were special to the court and even allowed indoors. The latter was whispered in horror. The food would be too rich, too varied, poorly combined and poorly prepared. The courtiers would be shallow and would not understand Silverfae culture or etiquette. They would have their own strange ways of behaving, which might involve unusual rituals, ridiculous ceremonies and trumpery.
By the time Prince Ruskin’s entourage had been fully informed and were ready to leave, Sasha was very confused, but too embarrassed to ask someone to clarify whether this trip was a privilege or a punishment, an honor or a castigation.
Due to actions his father—Elvio, Queen Sylifke’s ex-sorcerer—had taken when Sasha was too young to remember, Sasha was a member of an undesirable family. These same actions had forever bent Elvio like a tree growing on an intolerably windy slope, prematurely aged and deformed. Yet Sasha had still been chosen for this mission, not because he had the right build and features, but because the purpose of the trip was only partly to do with alliances.
What the other Silverfae did not know, was that Prince Ruskin was looking for someone. Someone who had been poorly described in a poem. A poem that Sasha was only allowed to read part of—and he was certainly not allowed to understand the significance of this person.
Sasha, promised by his father to Queen Sylifke as payment for his mistakes, had been raised alongside Prince Ruskin at the Court of Silverfall. They’d had the same fencing master, the same tutors, the same elocution training and language classes. They were even friendly once, when they were young boys. But those memories were so faded and Sasha and Ruskin were so clearly no longer friends that it left Sasha wondering whether those memories were merely tricks of his mind.
It all changed when Sasha hit a major growth spurt at the age of fourteen. In the course of a year he gained six inches over Ruskin. Where the boys had once been well matched, now Sasha was undeniably advantaged over the shorter, stockier prince. Though Ruskin was older by a mere seven months, Sasha’s voice changed first, he was able to grow facial hair first; he put muscle on faster and was beautifully proportioned, with the long limbs the Silverfae admired. The females took obvious notice of him at court, even the daughters of the richest nobles and most powerful aristocracy.
By the age of fifteen, Ruskin—a previously decent lad with nice manners and gracious speech—became hostile toward Sasha. He took every opportunity to lord his royal heritage, never letting Sasha forget that Elvio had betrayed Queen Sylifke, shaming himself and his kin. Yes, Sasha was permitted to live at court to pay off the debt, but Sasha had traitor’s blood running through his veins, he had a deceiver’s name, and a turncoat’s genes. Sasha came to dread his classes, because in every session Ruskin was there, abusing him, calling him ugly names, cheating to beat him—while the instructors and masters looked the other way. Ruskin was the prince, Sasha an indentured servant with no one to advocate for him. His only friend had been Rialta.
Surely the other reason he was chosen for this mission.
The big white direwolf bounded through the snow on the mountainside, then stuck her face deep in the powdery stuff and froze, still as marble, listening for prey. She exploded high into the air in a powerful and graceful leap, sending her snout straight down upon her prey. She did this at least a dozen times before she was full.
Sasha was the only fauna fae in the Silverfall Court, despised as much as he was admired, a source of disgust as much as fascination. What kind of fae has a bond with an animal? No one could deny the benefits of being magically bonded with a creature like Rialta. She made every hunt successful, she lifted the heart of anyone who set eyes upon her, she delighted the young Silverfae and shared her body heat with Sasha on bitterly cold nights… which was all of them. Yet somehow, she was also sneered at, a target of derision, and Sasha considered inferior because of his strange magical union with a “smelly overgrown dog.”
This too was Prince Ruskin’s doing. His trail of sycophants and flatterers—without a drop of genuine love between them—scorned whoever he scorned. Whom he ridiculed, they ridiculed more viciously. Whom he derided, they disparaged even more bitterly.
One benefit of this journey to Solana was the chance for a bit of air, time away from court and its snide residents. In Solana, the Silverfae would be on their best behavior, and one of their imperatives was to give an impression of unity and decency among themselves. Sasha looked forward to not being the brunt of open gibes, and for Rialta to be valued the way familiars should be. After all, Solana had a whole retinue of fauna fae. Sasha was desperately curious about them. But he had to wait patiently to reach the famous palace, lit with etherlights and smelling of roses, so he could see them for himself.
Smiling, Sasha watched Rialta bound through the snow, happy. They were happy, and traveling felt good. They had no other friends, but they didn’t need anyone aside from each other. Sasha believed he was lucky, blessed, and this blessing was a secret treasure that he carried within his heart, protected like a rare jewel. No one could take it away from him.
Heavy cloud cover blocked out most of the light, but where a few errant shafts pushed through and touched the covered hillside and white-dusted trees, the snow sparkled. It took Sasha’s breath away. Beyond this frozen hillside, somewhere far ahead where the brown and green smudges waited, was their destination: a land without snow. They would see the green of leaves, and the rusty brown of iron-rich soils, they would see flowers. No one had prepared Sasha for the feeling of anticipation. Even the bad stuff would be easy to bear to get to see the earth uncovered and smelling like something other than frozen minerals and falling snow. Sasha’s whole body swept with goosebumps. Solana’s winter was balmier than Silverfall’s warmest summer.
“Wolfboy! Eat or starve. We move in ten minutes.”
Grudgingly, Sasha returned to the circle of courtiers. Someone passed him a plate of the worst cuts of cheese, the driest and hardest jerky, and stalest crusts of bread. A chunk of dirty snow floated in his tea.
He sat without a word of complaint and swallowed it all down.
Chapter One: Jessamine
The reins slipped through Jess’s fingers as she pulled her mare to a stop in front of the cottage she had grown up in. She stared at it. Had it always been so small?
Just ahead of her, Regalis dismounted. He took the bridles of both horses with an encouraging smile. “Welcome home, Jessamine.”
They hadn’t talked much on the journey but somehow that had been okay. It had been comfortable, even companionable. Because of his respectful silence, Jessamine had begun to suspect that Regalis understood what she was feeling better than she did herself. She’d hardly noticed the scenery or the passing traffic. When they’d arrived in countryside that she recognized as being very near Dagevli, Jess gave a jolt—she couldn’t remember most of the journey. There was one moment she could recall clearly, where a rider went sprinting by them at top speed, one hand holding his hat to his head, the other urging his steed on. Clods of dirt flew up behind him as Regalis and Jessamine guided their horses out of his way. Otherwise, the entire journey home her mind had been a storm of questions, speculations, scenarios. What would Marion think of what Jess had done in Rahamlar? Or should Jess not tell her? At least not until after Marion had explained her own behaviors and secrets.
The self-righteousness of being the wronged party was still present as Jess bounced back and forth between speculating on the reasons her mother might never have told her about her twin, and how exactly she herself was going to explain that she’d invaded a foreign kingdom, poisoned a handful of unseelie guards, and rescued a lady. She and Laec had not just helped a woman in need, but someone important, someone that even King Agir and Queen Esha knew. Was Jess proud of herself? Was she ashamed? She examined her feelings the way a child examines an exotic insect or sparkly mineral, until she finally determined that she felt both… at the same time, which was overwhelming.
The breeze had a nip to it, lifting tendrils of her hair as she stood at the front gate. She felt Beazle shift against her scalp as he woke up.
We’re home, Beaze, she thought.
The cottage looked smaller and the front garden—Greta’s favorite place, Jess thought with a pang—had browned and decayed as summer’s window came to a close. The garden beds behind the cottage that stretched almost all the way to the banks of the stream at the back of the property, would now be cleared and covered with mulch to rest for the winter.
An ache went through her as she took the paving stones to the front door, passing bare rosebushes, their thorns jutting every which way. Jess had always thought there was something a little humiliating about a rosebush with no foliage, all its charms stripped away, the fragrant petals gone and the bones and spikes exposed.
Jess paused at the door, hitching the bag Ilishec had loaned her higher on her shoulder, and pushed into the cottage. Would there be tension between her and Marion? Of course, but it couldn’t be helped, and Jess was too eager for answers for it to matter.
Hidden in her hair, Beazle gave a quiet chirp. Jessamine was too startled to focus on him. A woman who was not Marion was kneeling on the floor beside her mother’s single cot. The woman gasped as she turned toward the door then struggled to her feet, bracing herself on the cot’s wooden frame.
“Jessica? Good heavens, that was fast.” The lady’s voice cracked.
It took Jess a moment to recognize Hanna. Clair’s mother’s face was so ravaged by sorrow, pain and shock that it took Jessamine time to identify her neighbor. It took her several seconds longer to focus past Hanna… at the figure lying on the cot. Marion. Pale, eyes closed, utterly still.
“Oh, Jess.” Hanna rushed to her, wrapping her arms around her and squeezing her tight against her bosom, one hand curled over Jess’s skull, like she was still a little girl. “I didn’t expect you to arrive so soon. You startled me, darling. Honey… I’m so sorry. It happened so fast—”
Jess stared at her mother’s face over Hanna’s arm, still confused. She pushed away, going to her knees by the bed. Marion’s strong, calloused hands lay on her stomach, one crossed over the other. Jess was afraid to touch her mother, afraid of what she might feel. But she had to. She put the pads of her fingers on the back of her mother’s hand, then, slowly, lay her whole hand over Marion’s. Her mother was cool to the touch, cool and lifeless.
Hanna’s warm hand touched her shoulder. “I found her on the floor last night. At first I was sure she’d fainted, maybe from too much wine. My own mam would faint from time to time, but”—Hanna took a shuddery inhale—“her face…”
Jess’s gaze went to Marion’s eyes, nose, mouth. Her mother appeared to be asleep, perfect in restful stillness.
“Her face… what?”
Hanna swallowed. “You can’t see it now because she’s… passed on, but the right half of her face wasn’t working properly. So I knew it was more serious than fainting. She brushed me off, saying it would go away on its own. It took me an hour, but I convinced her to let me get Mr. Moody. I sent Tad, but before they returned Marion had a second spell. After that one she was just… gone. By the time Tad and Mr. Moody arrived, there was nothing he could do for her.”
Gone. The word was a cold wind slicing through thin clothes. Gone. Gone, like Greta was gone.
I’ll never see those eyes open again. She’ll never look at me again, she’ll never smile at me. She’ll never know what I did… and I’ll never know her secrets.
Jess’s eyes felt dry. She rubbed them with her knuckles. Why wasn’t she crying? She felt like she should be crying, but nothing was coming.
“…a stroke.” Hanna was still explaining. “That’s what Mr. Moody said it was. One stroke, then another. I’m sorry, love. I sent a messenger with a letter for you. You must have passed him on the road.”
The sprinting horseman holding his hat down? He’d been carrying a message for her.
Beazle emerged from her hair and crawled down Jessamine’s sleeve, slowly, creeping like someone inching down from a tower by a rope. He reached her elbow, pausing with his little snout in the air to sniff, full of caution. With a little hop, Beazle landed on Marion’s stomach.
Hanna took in a quick breath, followed by a satisfied sigh. “Beazle! I haven’t seen him in such a long time. There have been many days in the last sixteen years that I was sure I must have imagined him. Now here he is, the little darling.”
“You didn’t imagine him,” Jess murmured.
Beazle sat very still on the rough fabric of Marion’s dress. Then he turned big liquid eyes up at Jess, and something broke inside her. The truth was in his gaze. She hung her head, finally feeling a trickle of hot moisture gather behind her eyelids. Her mother really was dead.
“And the other one? The butterfly? It was Greta, yes?”
“Gone.” Jess sounded so empty, like her voice was coming out through the hollow throat of a sculpture made of glass. “Greta was killed. Just last week.”
Hanna knelt beside her on the floor, folding Jess’s slender hand inside of her own. They were as rough and strong and calloused as Marion’s hands, the hands of a mother. Jess pressed her shoulder against Hanna, feeling her solidity and warmth. They sat like that until the sound of subdued voices and a squeaky wagon wheel signaled the arrival of villagers.
“They’re here to take her away,” Hanna said. “Prepare her for burial.”
Beazle flapped to Jess’s shoulder but didn’t crawl inside her hair. It was pointless to hide now. The one who wanted so badly to keep him a secret would never protest about him again.
Clair and Tad came into the cottage with two men. Her old friend’s face was full of empathy and sorrow. Silently, Jess let herself be folded into Clair’s arms, then Tad’s. If they stared at Beazle, Jess hardly noticed, she was just thankful they didn’t make her talk.
They watched as Marion’s body was wrapped and carried to the two-wheeled cart sitting in the street, hitched to a dappled gray horse.
Regalis stood at the fence, watching, pale and quiet. When Jess emerged from the cottage with Hanna’s arm wrapped around her shoulders, she felt the weight of the Fahyli’s gaze. Distantly, Ferrugin—Regalis’s hawk familiar—screamed, a mournful and lonely sound.
Jess couldn’t tear her eyes from her mother’s wrapped body.
How could you leave me like this? I’m too young… far too young to lose you.
The world was a different place now.
With another squeak from the wagon wheel, Marion’s body was solemnly escorted toward the village center. Watching the wagon grow smaller and smaller, Jessamine felt the last of her childhood fall away, like the two halves of a walnut shell.
The next couple of days were a blur of visits from villagers. Jessamine received many lingering and loving hugs from people she had known all her life. None of them had ever guessed at her true nature, at least not out loud. Since it was now widely known that she was Calyx, a few boasted that they’d always had suspicions, only to be laughed at.
She could feel their eyes on her, at times staring with admiration, while other looks were less friendly. Perhaps they didn’t appreciate being fooled all this time. Beazle never hid, and Jess never once thought about covering her ears. Curious children hovered around her, wanting to talk to her, to ask her about her life in the shining city. But she had nothing to give them, nothing to give anyone. She’d barely stopped looking around for Greta, and now—without any warning—she had sunk to new depths of grief.
Could life really be this way? Someone you loved was there one moment, and the next they were gone? It seemed too cruel to be real, too much for a heart to bear. How did people survive this kind of pain?
She got an answer as the days went by, anticlimactic though it seemed. She continued to wake in the morning, continued to eat to fill her stomach, even if she didn’t enjoy the food, she continued to feel the sun on her face. Speckles of autumn rain fell on her hair as she stood with Hanna, Clair and Tad as the villagers lowered Marion’s body into the earth. Kind words were spoken, mournful songs were sung, and sweet prayers were offered. Then everyone dispersed and it was all over.
For a long time, Jess stood alone in the graveyard. She felt tears on her face but was hardly aware of weeping. When she sat on her haunches, Beazle dropped into her lap and curled up there, perhaps sensing that Jess had no intention of leaving Marion’s resting place any time soon. She put a hand around him and he snuggled against her palm; his tiny pink tongue darted out, licking her thumb.
Time passed. The light dimmed. More speckles of rain fell, like the tears of birds and faeries. The crunch of a dry leaf under a foot brought her back to herself. She turned to see Hanna and Clair. Clair was holding a coat by the shoulders, ready to put it on Jess.
Hanna touched Jessamine’s back. “Come darling. You can’t stay out here all night.”
“I could,” Jess replied. She really didn’t mind the cold or the damp.
Hanna’s look was freighted with something. Expectation? Concern?
“There’s something important you need to see.”
With tingly legs and a numb mind, Jess got to her feet and joined her neighbors for the walk through town. Clair put the coat over Jess’s shoulders and Jess realized only then just how cold she’d really been. Clair stayed by Jess’s side as they ate a meal of sourdough bread with butter, and a rich beef stew with homemade noodles. Warmth and Finn’s laughter reminded Jess of the life still going on around her, life she felt so distanced from. Jess was grateful for his chatter. When the meal was over she tried to help with clearing the table, but Hanna took her by the hand and led her to a room at the back of the cottage. A bedroom, cozy with a fireplace and a large bed heaped with handmade quilts, pillows, and a knitted throw. A window overlooked the garden, which looked a lot like the Fontana’s yard, filled with garden beds on the same sloped land leading down to the stream.
Hanna pulled a small trunk out from under the bed, opened it and withdrew a brown paper wrapping. She lay the package on the quilt and unfolded it with reverence. Inside were a dozen baby bonnets. Some were knit, others made of stiff and durable fabric, some had a little brim to keep the sun off a baby’s face. Some were simple, others had frills and faded ribbons. Hanna picked up a small green cap made of brushed cotton.
“Half of these are yours, and half belonged to your brother.”
Jess sucked in a breath. Marion was gone, but of course Hanna knew something. She’d been there when Jess and her twin had been born. When Hanna handed her the green baby’s cap, she brought it to her nose. It smelled of must and old lavender.
Rubbing the soft fabric with her fingertips, she pictured it hugging the tiny crown of an infant. “Why do you have these?”
Hanna sat on the bed and patted the quilt. Jess sat beside her, stroking her palm over the bonnet.
Hanna picked up another, this one woven with fine yarn dyed the color of a dove’s wing. “Your mother didn’t want you to find them by accident. Not before she’d had a chance to tell you about him.”
Jess felt something inside the cap and turned up the soft brim. A handmade name tag, with letters lovingly stitched in curlicues. Jess held her breath as the name imprinted itself on her heart. She’d had a brother, a brother named…
“Julian Fontana.” Saying his name out loud for the first time in her life, she loved the sound of it.
Hanna sighed. “Yes. Jessica and Julian. You were the sweetest wee things, such good babies.”
“What happened to him?”
“I don’t know.”
Jess’s heart fell.
But Hanna added, “Not after he was taken away, anyhow.”
Jess blinked. “Taken? He didn’t die?”
Hanna shook her head. She lay down the gray bonnet and picked up another, this one knit from white yarn with a yellow zig-zag pattern encircling the crown. “These were to hide your ears until your hair was long enough to cover them. Marion hoped it would be enough to protect you.”
Hanna turned toward her, her gaze soft but serious. “I can’t tell you very much, honey. Marion made me take an oath of secrecy and the only reason I complied is because she also promised she would tell you everything when she was ready. I was sure she would have done years ago. I always believed it was wrong of her to keep it from you, but Marion… well, no one can judge another’s suffering or force them to atone. But now that she’s gone… I want you to know everything that I know. Especially since there is a good chance that Julian is still alive and he’s the only family you have. I can’t tell you much, but I can tell you a little.”
Jess listened—afraid to move, almost afraid to breathe—as Hanna told her about events she’d been present for but was too young to remember. Hanna told her how excited she’d been when she saw the bat and the butterfly, how hopeful for the twins’ future she’d been, and Marion’s confusing and worrying response; how she seemed ready to kill the familiars. She explained Marion had had extreme paranoia that someone would discover she’d given birth to half-fae twins.
“I always thought she was being a little ridiculous about it, although I’d never say that to her. It was clear she was frightened of something, terrified even, but she never explained what she was so scared of. It wasn’t until that night that I finally understood that the danger wasn’t all in Marion’s mind.”
That night. The words made the hair on the back of Jessamine’s neck prickle.
Hanna and Tad had awoken to horrible sounds coming from next door. Marion’s twins were only ten months old. A baby wailed. There was yelling, followed by a bloodcurdling scream. Hanna hardly recognized her neighbor’s voice.
Tad and Hanna had scrambled from their bed. Hanna went to comfort Clair, crying from her cradle, while Tad grabbed an axe from the pegs inside their front door—dashing from their cottage in his bare feet. Hanna looked out the open door to see two horses with hooded riders galloping toward the center of town. When Hanna arrived at Marion’s cottage, she found her neighbor on her knees and weeping, with Tad crouched over her. Chairs had been overturned and there were fragments of broken plates and cups scattered across the floor. Bedding had been stripped and thrown on the floor, the narrow single mattress overturned. The ladder leading up to the loft sat askew, one rung broken. Hanna had expected to find things missing, but nothing of value had been taken.
At first Hanna thought that both the twins had been taken, but a soft baby sound led Tad to the dresser behind the ladder. He opened the bottom drawer and Greta fluttered out. The glasswing had zigged wildly around the cottage then out the open door, disappearing into the night.
Jessica was inside the drawer with Beazle sitting curled up on her chest. Her big eyes looked out at them without understanding. She began to fuss only after the chaos was over. Weeping, Marion put the baby to her breast.
“Beazle must have kept you quiet,” explained Hanna, stroking the bonnet as it lay over her thigh. “That clever little bat of yours must have known that if you had made any sound at all, you’d have been discovered and taken. Just like Julian.”
“Taken by who?”
Hanna gave a long weary exhale. “I cannot tell you how many times I begged Marion to tell me who took Julian and why. She wouldn’t. Only once, when she’d drunk too much, did she give me any hint at all. She said simply that he—she said he, not they, so I knew it was one person in particular who was responsible—was someone from her past, and that if she ever told me the truth I would hate her, that everyone would hate her. Even that she’d be run out of town.”
It was not just difficult for Jess, but impossible, to imagine the responsible disciplinarian having done anything anyone would reproach her for, let alone revile her or banish her for. “She really said that? That you would hate her?”
“She really did. I believe it’s safe to assume that its the same reason that she never told you either. She put it off and put it off because she couldn’t tell you who took Julian without including whatever it was in her past that she is… was… so ashamed of.”
Jessamine fingered the delicate fabric of Julian’s baby hat, running her thumb over the nametag. “But Greta came back.”
“Yes, the next day she returned and wouldn’t leave your side. I guess she had tried to find Julian but couldn’t. Wherever he’d been taken, she couldn’t follow. I suppose no butterfly, even a familiar, can keep up to a galloping horse, even in daylight.”
Jess brushed moisture from her eyes. “In the wild, butterflies only live for a month or two. If Julian died she should have died too, but she didn’t. I always thought it was our bond that kept her alive, but maybe I was wrong.” The gentle, motherly face she’d come to love as much as she’d loved Marion’s blurred as Jess’s vision swam with tears. “Is it really possible that Julian is alive? That he’s been alive all this time?”
Hanna pulled Jess into a hug and kissed her head. “I’m so sorry, dear. It’s a tragedy to lose your mother so young, and even moreso before she had a chance to explain her past to you.”
Jess sniffed, taking strength from Hanna’s kindness. “There has to be a way to find him. There will be clues. I’ll find them. I’ll find… him.” Julian was the only family Jess had now, aside from Beazle. He was her blood, her twin, and she needed to know what had happened to him, and what it was that Marion was so afraid to tell her. “Isn’t there anything else you can tell me? Anything you remember from when my mom first arrived in Dagevli? Did she never talk about her parents or family, or where she came from?”
Hanna put the bonnet back on the pile. “Believe me, Jess, we tried. Tad and I tried so hard over the years to get Marion to open up. She wouldn’t, and when she got fed up and angry with us and told us to leave it alone, we had to respect that. The only thing I can tell you is that Tad has always had an ear for accents. When Marion arrived she sounded like any other Dagevlian, except for when she drank too much.”
Jess knew this. Marion’s accent did change a little when she was drinking, but Jess had never read anything into it more than a drunken affectations.
“Tad thinks that she sounded like the peasants from Nasyk, but Jess, honey, he’s no investigator. He’s just a guy with a good ear, and it’s just a guess.”
“Nasyk.” Jess felt something open up in her chest, a tiny flower of conviction that—if she allowed—would blossom into full-grown hope. “Where is that?”
“East of Solana, on the edge of a big forest.”
“Have you ever been there?”
“No, but Tad has.”
As though he’d overheard, Tad appeared in the doorway wiping a wet dish with a towel.
Jess felt swallowed up by the compassion in his dark eyes. “You thought my mom was from Nasyk?”
But Tad only shrugged. “My guess is that she was raised there. The way that people talk is pretty fixed by the time they are ten. I think she spent her formative years there, but that’s as much as I would guess at.”
“How do you know what a Nasyk accent sounds like?”
Tad smiled, his eyes crinkling the same way Clair’s did. “I traveled quite a bit before Hanna and I settled down. I was a musician for a little while.”
Jess hadn’t known that about Clair’s father. It struck her just how much more of life these adults had lived than she had, so much that Tad had had a whole different occupation before he’d married Hanna, had a family and become a farmer.
“Nasyk is a village much like Dagevli, but every region has its dialects and local sayings. Your mom sometimes used phrases when she was drinking that I never heard used anywhere else except there. Phrases like ‘let us away,’ which no one in Dagevli uses. She also used to say she was ‘seeing snakes’ when she was tipsy. I only ever heard that phrase from a Nasykian, which is famous for being snake-infested in places, by the way.”
Jess chewed her lip. It wasn’t much to go on. It was highly unlikely her grandparents were still alive, otherwise surely Marion would have kept in touch with them—family had meant a lot to Marion. But there might be someone in Nasyk who remembered Marion as a young person. Someone who could give Jessamine another clue.
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