Chapter 5

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Without the light of morning to wake her, Sam didn't rise from her bed until the day was already halfway done. She'd slept like the dead, too exhausted to even dream. It wasn't until she rubbed the sleep from her eyes that she recalled where she was and what had happened to Braeden. After clarity set in, she panicked. Why had no one bothered to wake her? She'd never forgive herself if the Arbiter had already begun Braeden's trial without her.

She barreled out of her room, right into a small woman. A servant, Sam thought, based on her simple white kirdle and the modest wimple covering her hair. She was too old to be a novice, though her age was indeterminate. Her face was smooth and without wrinkles, except for the faint lines that bracketed her mouth. "I beg your pardon," Sam said, fighting through her morning fog to find the words in Rheic. Servant or no, the poor woman had nearly been bowled over.

The woman gave her a nod of acknowledgment, but said nothing.

Sam cleared her throat. "Has the Arbiter arrived?"

The woman jolted, fear flashing across her eyes, disappearing so fast Sam thought she must have imagined it. Mutely, she shook her head.

Sam sighed with relief--too loudly, for the sound seemed to shock the small woman, who now stared at her with open curiosity. "Do you know where I might find Sister Nasrin?" The blood bond between Sam and her aunt was strained, but at least she hadn't shut out her niece entirely.

The woman's head bobbed up and down, and she pointed her index finger to the floor.

"I don't understand," said Sam. "Can you tell me where she is?"

The woman let out a little huff of frustration and jabbed her index finger downwards.

"She is on the floor below us?"

The woman shook her head again, clearly irked at Sam's lack of understanding.

Sam was irked too. "Can you just tell me?" she snapped. "I don't have time for whatever game it is you're playing."

The woman's gaze went flat, and she sauntered toward Sam in a manner far too bold for the average servant. She stopped less than an inch from Sam, and then her jaw dropped.

"Oh," Sam said faintly. Where a tongue should have been was nothing but a scarred, misshapen stump. Sam's gorge rose in her throat. Severing the tongue was a barbaric punishment, reserved for an enemy who had more value alive than dead...or meant to send a message. Execution might have been the less cruel fate.

Satisfied her point was made, the woman closed her mouth and stepped back, a single eyebrow quirked. Not the behavior of a servant--or if she was one, she hadn't been one long.

"I'm sorry," Sam said, biting the inside of her cheek to stop the burning question on the tip of her own tongue. Who did this to you and why? she wanted to know. Who are you? Instead, she added, "I didn't intend to make you feel uncomfortable."

The servant who was not a servant narrowed her gaze at Sam, and harrumphed, an odd, guttural sound. Then she made a gesture indicating Sam should follow her. Seeing no harm in doing so, Sam followed her down the long winding staircase to the first floor, through the enormous prayer hall and into the arched antechamber where Sam had first entered the convent. They passed only a few sun sisters along the way, none of them Nasrin. Not a single one offered them a word of greeting, instead eyeing them with open animosity. It was impossible to say who their animus was directed toward.

Her guide pointed again and then made a shooing motion. "Sister Nasrin is outside?" Sam guessed. The woman answered the only way she could, with a nod of her head."Thank you for your help."

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