It was mid-November when Irene announced that my first test would be given the following Monday. By the time I left the room, I was nearly sick with anxiety, and it must’ve shown.
“Kate?” said Calliope in a concerned voice as I shut the door behind me.
“There’s a test,” I said shakily. “On Monday.”
She seemed less than concerned. “Have you never taken a test before?”
I shook my head. She didn’t understand. “Test,” I repeated. “The kind where my whole future’s on the line. If I fail…”
Calliope’s eyes widened. “Oh. That sort of test.”
“Yeah.” I started walking in the direction of my bedroom, not interested in lunch. My appetite had vanished.
“Uh, Kate? Dining room’s this way. They made fried chicken for you.”
I could hear her trotting to keep up with me, but I didn’t slow down. “I need to study.” If I failed, everything I’d done so far would be pointless. My mother would die, Henry would lose his place as ruler of whatever it was that he did, and Ava’s death would have been for nothing. I wasn’t about to let that happen.
I spent the next two days with my nose buried so deeply in Greek mythology—or “history,” as everyone seemed to call it, and Irene made sure I knew it when a story really was just a myth—that even Henry left me alone at night. Instead of going to the dining room, my meals were brought to me, but I ate so quickly that it was tasteless. I slept for exactly eight hours and not a minute more, but even while I was sleeping my mother quizzed me on the material I studied. I memorized the twelve labors of Hercules, the names of the nine Muses, and the plagues released when Pandora opened her box, but there were still hundreds of other stories. King Midas, whose touch turned everything, including his daughter, into gold. Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, gave it to the humans, and was punished for it. Icarus, who flew to escape his prison, only to fly so high the wax that held his wings together melted. Hera’s jealousy, Aphrodite’s beauty, Ares’s rage—it was never-ending, and I became so immersed in it that it all started to blend together, but I had to pass.
“You’re hurting yourself.”
I jumped when I heard Henry’s voice behind me. It was Sunday evening, less than twelve hours before I was due to take the exam, and I still had a few tricky chapters to review. If I didn’t use every last minute I had—and skip breakfast the next morning—I wasn’t going to make it.
“I’m fine,” I mumbled, sparing him only a glance before looking back at the massive book Irene had given me. I was trying to read about the Minotaur, but the words swam in front of me, and I had to squint to focus. My head was pounding and I felt sick to my stomach, but I had to do this.
“If I didn’t know any better, I would mistake you for one of the dead,” said Henry, his voice in my ear. I shut my eyes, not daring to move, not when he was so close. I could feel the heat radiating off his body, much warmer than the cool air of my room, and the desire to close the distance between us overwhelmed me. I shivered. Usually, when I wasn’t so tired, I was better at ignoring it. I was here for my mother, not for Henry.
Instead of Henry touching me, I heard pages rustle. When I looked, the book was closed and pushed to the side, and Henry sat across from me.
“If you do not know it by now, you will not learn it in time for your test.” His voice was gentle. “You need to sleep.”
“I can’t,” I said miserably. “I have to pass.”
“You will pass, I promise.”
I slumped in my seat. “What, can you predict the future now, too? You can’t promise me that. For all you know, I’ll fail so spectacularly that they’ll come halfway through the test and take me away. You might never see me again.”
He chuckled, and I huffed indignantly. “I have never seen anyone study so hard for a test as you have done this weekend. If you do not pass, then there is no hope for the rest of us.”
Before I could point out exactly how bad my luck was, the door to my room burst open. Ava skipped inside, followed closely by Calliope and a man I didn’t recognize.
“Kate!” she said, bouncing over to me. I gave Henry an apologetic look, but he didn’t seem to mind. Instead he was watching the man, who was dressed in a black uniform and stared at the floor, as if he wanted to be anywhere but here.
“Ava, I’m supposed to be studying,” I said, but this didn’t deter her at all.
“C’mon, you’ve been studying all weekend. You have to come out to play sometime.” She stuck out her lower lip in a pout. “Everyone’s in the garden having fun. There’s music and swimming and all sorts of stuff. I still need to teach you how, you know.”
The prospect of being forced to swim was enough to put me off the whole idea, and I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to make it down there anyhow, let alone enjoy myself. The fact that it was a party pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t. “I’m really tired,” I said, glancing between Ava and Calliope, who was lingering at the door and eyeing Henry.
“So what? You can sleep later,” said Ava. “You’re smart, you’ll pass. Besides, you have to meet Theo—”
“You two have not yet met?” Henry sounded surprised. He stood, beckoning for the man in the background to come forward. Theo moved crisply, and he had a look about him that made it clear he took himself very seriously. “Kate, this is Theo, my Master of the Guard. It is his job to keep an eye on everything that happens within the manor. Theo, this is Kate Winters.”