Bewildered, I looked back and forth between them, trying to figure out if he was joking. He wasn’t. “I don’t—” I froze. How was I supposed to do this? Taking a deep breath, I said in a small voice, “Um, what are the options?”
“Whatever you wish,” said Henry, his eyes as hard as diamonds as he glared at Calliope.
I opened my mouth and shut it again. This was the job, wasn’t it? The one I was supposedly signing up for. Deciding people’s fates. If I couldn’t figure this out when I was the one she’d tried to kill, how was I supposed to decide for people I’d never met before?
As I stared at Calliope’s pale face, I realized it wasn’t knowing her that made me freeze up. It was knowing why she did it. She loved Henry, and like me, she must’ve hated seeing him hurt. Putting up with Persephone, knowing she didn’t love him, having to watch him go through losing her—and then being faced with girls who were supposed to take Persephone’s place when she’d loved him first? No one could’ve possibly been good enough for him, not when she was standing right there waiting for him to notice her. It was no excuse for murder, but I understood wanting to be the one to make Henry happy.
I chose my words carefully, keeping eye contact with her as I spoke. She stood across from me, looking like she wanted to kill me all over again. “I know you don’t like me. I know you think I’m not good enough for Henry, and I know you want him to be with you. I get why, too. I get that you love him and just want him to be happy. I get that you probably thought the girls who came before me were too stupid or petty or selfish to love him like you do, and I know that love can make people do some really dumb and hurtful things sometimes.”
I glanced at Henry, but his expression was impossible to read.
“I can’t punish you to eternal torture or whatever it is just because you loved someone enough to try to protect him. While you went about it the wrong way, I get what you were trying to do. And that makes this really, really hard.”
Again I looked at Henry, although this time he was looking at the ground. “I want you to spend time with every girl you killed,” I said, my voice breaking. “I want you to get to know them and appreciate them for who they are. I want you to stay with them, one by one, until you understand their individual worth. I can’t make you like them, but I want you to respect them and appreciate them as people. It can’t be superficial, either. You have to mean it. And I want you to make amends with them as well.”
Calliope glared at me with such intensity that I considered myself lucky to still be in one piece. Angering a goddess wasn’t the smartest thing to do if I wanted to stay alive for much longer, but I trusted Henry to make sure she didn’t turn me into a pile of ash.
“When all of this happens—and when they forgive you for what you did to them—then you can go on and live your life, or whatever it is that you have. But you’re never going to see Henry or me again after today. Not because I want to hurt you, or because I hate you. I don’t. Like I said, I understand why you did it, in a way. But neither of us can trust you anymore.”
Even though I was sure I was being fair, my decision felt cruel. She loved him. The possibility of never seeing Henry again tore at me, and I’d only known him for six months. How could I possibly be okay with separating her from the person she loved for the rest of her eternal existence?
“And I wanted to let you know that I love him, too,” I said quietly. “If—if I pass, I’m never going to hurt him like Persephone did, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure he’s happy. I promise.”
A long moment passed before Calliope reacted. I half expected her to scream and shout and tell me how unfair I was being, but instead she nodded, her eyes brimming with tears. Stepping back to her throne made of cushion and lace, she sat down looking like I’d ripped her heart out of her chest. I felt like the most horrible person on the planet. The only thing that kept me from taking it all back was the ache in my abdomen from where her knife had slid inside of me.
“And so the decision has been made,” said Henry in a grimly satisfied voice. “I will uphold Kate’s ruling no matter what the council decides.”
“As will I,” said James weakly. I felt a stab of pity for him, but there was nothing I could say to make it any better, not when I didn’t understand it in the first place.
Henry sat back down, and it was several seconds before anyone spoke. I stared down at my lap, too afraid to see the looks on their faces. Was I fair? Or did they, too, think I was being cruel?
“Katherine Winters,” said Walter as he stood, and I looked up. “You were tasked with seven tests, to be distributed throughout your time in Eden Manor. If you have failed any of these, you will return home and live out your existence without any memory of the past six months. If you succeed in all seven, you will be married to our brother, and you shall rule his realm with him for as long as you wish. Do you accept?”
There was no backing down now. “Yes.”
Irene stood next, her hair flaming in the bright light. “For the test of sloth, Kate passed.” She gave me an impish smile. “Your study habits were quite inspiring, you know.”
Was that what Henry had meant when he’d said I couldn’t possibly fail after nearly killing myself studying for that stupid test? It had to be. But they couldn’t all be so simple.
Sofia was next. She looked as warm and motherly as ever, and it was hard to imagine that she could be part of something so terrifying and official. “For the test of greed, Kate passed.” She must’ve seen my confused look, because she smiled and added, “Your clothing, dear. When you were offered a new wardrobe, you didn’t hesitate to allow your friends to help themselves as well.”