Chapter 4

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Sam sat on the edge of a small bed on the fourth floor of the convent's main building. The room she'd been given was plain, with no furniture besides an old chest of drawers and the bed she sat on. An empty porcelain chamber pot lay at its foot, cracked but evidently still functional. The walls had no windows; without the candlelight from the sconce burning overhead, the entire room would be plunged into total darkness, no matter the time of day.

It's like a prison, Sam thought moodily, and then immediately felt guilty. Her door didn't lock from the outside, and no one had told her she couldn't leave. No one had said much of anything to her, far too busy with their real prisoner. Nasrin had deposited her here, with a promise to return. That had been hours ago. Though Sam couldn't see the sky, she was sure it had shifted from rosy dusk to the black of true night. She almost wished she were back in the desert, sleeping curled up next to Braeden underneath the stars.

Braeden. The tightness in her chest grew tighter. It had been a calculated risk to come to the Sun Sisters; Braeden had warned her that he wouldn't be well-received. "They want me dead," he'd said matter-of-factly. But they'd agreed there was no better alternative. They didn't have enough information to find the answers they needed on their own. Braeden had made no friends in Rhea--though he'd clearly made enemies--so Nasrin was their only hope. Instead, the cold-blooded woman had arrested Braeden before either of them had a chance to explain.

A knock came at Sam's door. Startled, she leapt to her feet. She had assumed Nasrin was no longer coming; it was so late. "You may come in."

The door opened with a creak, and a young woman stepped in, closing it behind her. She must have been three or four years younger than Sam, with a strong-featured face that was awkward now but would one day be considered beautiful. Her tawny brown skin glowed with health, her youth exaggerated by a smattering of freckles across her cheeks. Her nose was on the large side, but it was balanced by full lips. The bones of her face were sharp, her chin stubborn. Sam met the girl's hazel eyes and felt a pang of recognition. "Kameko."

The guard nodded, confirming her name. Without her mask and armor, she was much less intimidating. And so young.

"Did Nasrin send you?" Sam asked warily.

"No," said Kameko. She bit her lower lip and stared at the floor. The fierce guard was nervous, Sam realized. But why?

"Nasrin is your mother's sister," Kameko said in accented Thulian. She pointed at herself. "My mother."

Sam's jaw dropped. "Nasrin is your mother? But I thought Sun Sisters couldn't marry."

Kameko's angular face crinkled with amusement. "You do not need to be married to have a child."

A blush crept up Sam's neck and heated her cheeks. In Thule, children born out of wedlock were treated like the bastards they were, and their mothers were shunned. But she wasn't in Thule. "Nasrin has a...a lover?" Her tongue tripped over the word.

"Not now. Too busy," Kameko replied easily.

Sam couldn't fathom her cavalier attitude. "And your father?"

The guard shrugged. "I never knew him. My mother was finished with him once he got her with child."

The expression on Sam's face sent Kameko into peals of laughter. "The Sun Sisters are not ordinary women," she said. "We are wedded only to our weapons. Lovers are permitted, but our loyalty is to our sisters first. If those loyalties are compromised, we must leave the Convent forever. Few women keep a man for more than a few months, for fear of becoming attached."

"What happens to the children?" Sam managed.

"If the child is a boy, the father is notified and granted custody."

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