Blood is precious to every family, even that spilled on the ground.
— Kompas Diovanim, Children of Stone (Act 1, Scene 3)
Lily sat in the middle of her mother’s closed carriage and stared down at her gloved hands. She felt vulnerable and exposed despite the curtains drawn over the windows and the solid doors that were firmly latched. She glanced around at the familiar interior of the carriage and then returned her gaze back to her clasped hands.
The rest of Society would be talking about her now. Even if they weren’t there when she drove away, it would be a matter of hours before the whispers would have traveled through the city. There were very few kudames that she knew about, so her fall into that title would be noteworthy for at least a few days.
She adjusted the bottom of her dress, a dark green with delicate golden embroidery. One fold had caught underneath her thigh. Even though no one could see her in the carriage, she still kept her movements discrete as she tugged the fabric free and settled back into place.
The carriage hit a pothole and everything jerked violently.
Lily slipped along the leather bench, her heels dragging against the carpeted floor. She grabbed the side railing tightly and held on. She hoped that the remaining road wouldn’t be as rough.
As the rock glasses clinked loudly from the shifting, Tabithas spoke through the narrow window between Lily and the driver’s bench. “Sorry, Bedame dea Kasin. I’m not familiar with this part of town. It smooths out in a chain or so.”
Lily gritted her teeth and held tighter. “Thank you.”
True to Tabithas’ word, the carriage stopped bouncing after a few yards. Lily relaxed her grip, but didn’t move her hand from the railing. There would be more rough patches in store for her; it was not unlike her fate in life.
She contemplated her future home, wondering about it. It was a good place, her mother promised that, but Lily knew it wouldn’t be even a tenth the size of the Manor Rose. She only had a few abstracts to cling to: a two bedroom townhouse, a small bathroom, carriage service to her store for a year, and even a small stipend. A far cry from her mother’s lavish lifestyle and one that Lily wasn’t sure she could accept.
She twisted her fingers together, struggling with the tears. She was a spinster in everything but title. An unwanted woman.
Her despair kept her company for the rest of the ride. The carriage came to a halt and Tabithas hopped off as a woman half her age, her white hair fluttering as she did.
Lily turned on the seat and took a deep breath. She didn’t know what to expect other than the tears that threatened to roll down her cheeks.
The door creaked.
Her heart pounded.
Tabithas opened the door, stepping aside as she did to reveal the front of Lily’s new home.
It was a two-story townhouse made of dark-brown bricks with white trim. The front door was ornate, white with a stained glassed window and the Kasin family crest hanging off the keystone. A wrought-iron fence protected a small garden in the front. The earth was recently tilled and brightly colored flowers filled the cramped space. The smell of fresh earth, sweet perfume, and sweat filled the air. Someone had planted two rose bushes next to the gate, no doubt to remind her of Manor Rose.
Lily took a deep, shuddering breath. “I-I can do this.”
She took a step out of the carriage, lifting her head as she did to look up at the second floor. A balcony stood out above the front door, a matching iron railing giving it an empty look. Above it, the roof came to a rounded tip with a short railing along the gutters. Two stone flowers sat on the corners of the roof. The flower statues had one thick branch leading out to drain water away from the foundation.
Lily stood there, staring at it. It was tiny, not much larger than her bedroom suite. As she stared at it, trying to comprehend living in such cramped quarters, tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“Oh, no, no,” whispered Tabithas as she stepped in front of Lily and blocked her view. She brought up a white silk cloth and held it in her gloved fingers. “No, don’t cry. Not here.”
“It… it’s so small.”
“Only now. In a day, it will feel big again.”
“W-What did… how can I?”
Tabithas gave her a wide smile, the wrinkles around her eyes crinkling. “Because you are Kasin and you are loved by your family.”
“I’m a kudame now.”
“No, you are still Bedame Lily dea Kasin, the daughter of Tadame Sarlin da Kasin ne Genifir. You are strong and this is but one moment in your life.”
“I… I… I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Tabithas took the cloth and blotted the tears from Lily’s face. “You are going to calm yourself. And then you are going to walk into that house as if you own it. Be proud, be strong, be Kasin.”
Lily took the cloth to finish drying her tears. “Thank you, Tabithas.”
“I serve, Bedame dea Kasin.”
“But you won’t serve me now.”
Tabithas’ eyes shimmered for a moment. “No more. But it was an honor to watch you grow up into a beautiful woman. I cherished every moment that I did serve you.”
Lily sniffed and the tears threatened to fall again.
“No, no, not now, Bedame dea Kasin. You are proud, right?”
Lily swallowed hard. “Y-Yes.”
“Good. Welcome home, Bedame dea Kasin.” Tabithas stepped to the side, discretely taking the cloth from Lily’s hand as she did.
Lily felt exposed as she stood in front of her home. She took a hesitant step and then another, each one easier than before as she walked through the open gate and up to her new home. As she held her dress off the stairs, she wondered if the door was unlocked.
She glanced back but Tabithas had remained behind. The older woman looked like she was also on the edge of tears as she folded the cloth in her hand.
Their eyes met and Tabithas gave a tiny gesture for Lily to continue.
Shuddering with emotions, Lily turned.
The front door was opened. She caught sight of blond hair as an older man bowed deeply with his top hat held to his chest. His black suit seemed to suck in the yellow light from the magical lights that shone down a hall of rich, dark wood. When he straightened, he spoke firmly. “Welcome to your new home, Kudame dea Kasin.”
Her new title, or what would be her title, slapped into her. She froze as she stared at the house, desperately trying to contain the cry that rose in her throat or the tears that burned in her eyes. She clutched the fabric of her dress as she stared through the tears, the world rippling.
“I’m sorry, Kudame? Bedame?” The man’s voice sounded familiar.
Lily ducked her head. She considered correcting him, but didn’t. She would have to get used to the name now. Stomach fluttering, she responded softly. “Sorry, I’m not used to that title yet.”
She sniffed and entered her house. It smelled of her mother’s roses, a touch of her previous home that brought a pang of sadness. She pushed it aside and continued inside.
“It’s a good home, Lily.” The man gulped. “I’m sorry that your first one…”
Lily’s skin tingled as she focused on the words.
The man cleared his throat. ”… wasn’t ours together.”
Lily straightened her back. “W-What?”
Turning around, she stared at the man who still held open the door. She didn’t recognize him at first until he looked up. Brown eyes with flecks of gold looked back at her, shimmering with unshed tears. He had a narrow face, cleanly shaven, with a scar that bisected his left eyebrow.
She remembered the scar. Kendrick had made it during the duel over her hand, a mocking cut as he soundly defeated his opponent. She had stared at it pouring blood down his face as Hasan swore that he would never let her go.
Trembling, her eyes slid down from the scar to the rest of his face. The memories she had tried to recall a few days ago came rushing back, filling in the gaps long forgotten. He had held her tightly as they danced, swirling around the floor as she enjoyed the months of being wanted and desired, a debutante.
He had promised he would have her then, a whispered proclamation that had vibrated with intensity. The same intensity that burned in his gaze now. She felt pinned by his stare, held tightly just as he did during their dance.
“I… never got to have you, Lily. I’m sorry.”
He nodded once and then bowed again. “Hasan da Kasin de Pilnok at your service, housing coordinator for the family of Kasin.” He looked up. “And the man who never stopped loving you.”
Lily’s hand dropped to her side. She didn’t know what to say, what to think. She could only stare at Hasan as he closed the door and stepped forward.
“I was supposed to be the one who got you. But, after that… incident,” he swept his hand to the side, “my father had me confined to his house for a few days to clear my head. When I got out—” His hand balled into fist. “—I was forbidden to see you again. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, it wasn’t.”
Lily’s tears threatened to return. Years ago, she wanted him or Kendrick to return to her but neither did. Instead, she had been abandoned by Society: the invitations stopped showing up in the mail, her dresses for later events were returned half-finished, and even her former friends went to events without her.
“Did you remember me?”
She didn’t have the heart to tell him that she couldn’t remember his face. Instead, she nodded twice.
Hasan stepped forward, a smile on his face. “I never forgot about you. Not once in all these years.”
Lily caught sight of movement and glanced down. Hasan wore a wedding bracelet.
He looked down before pulling his arm behind his back. “I didn’t have a choice. I had to get married. Mindil is a good woman but she… she isn’t you.”
Stepping back, Lily tried to regain her emotions that Hasan had ripped open. She missed him, she craved the intensity of his actions and his voice. She trembled at the idea of him holding her again, clinging to her as they danced across the floor.
She gulped and gestured to the house, unable to take her eyes away from him. “I-I… I should see the place.”
Hasan held still for a long heartbeat and then nodded. Clearing his throat, he picked up a carved wooden box from an ornate table by the door. “I’m sorry. These are your keys.”
Their fingers touched as he handed over the box. Lily jumped at the electric touch. It coursed along her skin, underneath her dress, and prickled against her senses. She gasped and snatched the box away, holding it to her chest as her heart pounded painfully.
“The Kasin family holds the mortgage for the place. You have five… six years to take title. We’ll help you throughout the time, paying bills and easing in your duties. The paperwork in the dining room—” He pointed to room to the side. “—has the schedules. I can adjust them if you need to, I have a fair amount of autonomy in this regard.”
It was almost a relief to speak business with Hasan, but not quite. She peeked at him, taking in his profile. He had changed over the years, thinner but trimmer. His suit was also impeccably tailored, unlike Kendrick’s. He was the epitome of a Kasin bureaucrat, a man of means in the city. He would have been a good husband for her, one that could have cared for her.
Lily forced down her feelings, sorrow for her new life and the sparks of interest that were starting to flare up. She could have had him, he still wanted her, that much was sure.
When Hasan took her elbow and guided her into the dining room, she followed meekly with the electric touch rippling along her skin. His touch was hot and confident, almost commanding.
“Sit here,” he said and held out a leather-padded chair.
She did without questioning, sinking down.
He pushed it in and sat down next to her, his leg brushing against hers. He pulled out the paperwork and started to go over the numbers.
Lily sat there, trying to comprehend the numbers and agreements. The room spun around her as she clutched to the table with one hand and Hasan’s hand with the other.
It took her a moment to realize they were holding hands. She didn’t remember who made the first movement, but the thrill of it sent her pulse racing and the room spinning even faster.
And then silence.
Lily looked up. “W-What?”
Hasan stared at her with his intense eyes. The grip on her hand was firm, almost tight. “Have you seen Kendrick? I heard he came into town a few weeks ago. Been missing for a long time.”
Lily’s breath caught in her throat.
“He was arrested that night.”
“I-I didn’t know.”
“But then his father threw him on a boat to cool his senses.” Hasan’s grip tightened. “He was only supposed to be gone two years but he didn’t come back until recently.”
“All I heard that he was part of some trouble and ended up in a prison. A nasty prison off the Coal Shores.”
Lily’s chest tightened. She didn’t know that Kendrick had been in prison, or anywhere else. Only that he showed up at her store.
“He’s not a good man for you, Lily. You should stay away.”
She shook her head. “He doesn’t want me. I… hit him over the head with a bottle of wine.”
A faint smile quirked his lip. “You hit him?”
Gingerly, she nodded.
Hasan chuckled and let out a sigh of relief. “Good, he deserved it.”
Lily said nothing.
“Do you want me to order dinner?” He leaned close to her and she felt the heat of his body against her skin.
With a flush rising in her cheeks, she found it difficult to swallow. “A-Aren’t you expected home?”
Hasan said nothing for a long moment, his intense stare peering into her eyes. Then, his shoulders slumped. Standing up, he cleared his throat. “I should be going, my… you’re right. I’m expected. But, don’t hesitate to call on me any time of day or night. I’ll do whatever I can to serve you.”
Lily stood up feeling like she had said the wrong thing.
After scrawling his home address on a piece of paper, he folded it twice and placed it in her hand. “I’m sorry for everything, Lily. I… I’ll make it up, somehow. I promise.”