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total eclipse of the heart

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When Camilla learns that she will be one of this year’s tributes, she does not cry.

She and Harrow stand apart, alone, separated from the rest of their village, and neither of them cry. Once she is named, everything fades to a dull buzzing in her ears, and Camilla does not hear the prayers, or the praises, or the directions given to them by Teacher, but she knows the most important words down to her very bones: she and Harrow will have the rest of the day to themselves and to say their goodbyes, and at first light, they will walk down to the beach, board this year’s ceremonial skiff, and row out to Ida, where they will spend the rest of their lives in service to their goddesses.

They will never come back home, and their names will be struck from the lips of all their people. It is a fate akin to death, highly honored and just as shunned. Camilla isn’t really surprised that she’d been chosen (she’d known deep down that one day, it would be her) but she can tell that Harrow was just as prepared.

Neither of them say a word, and no one in the entire crowd moves until finally, Palamedes comes bursting through the crowd, Camilla’s name on his lips. He doesn’t cry either, but he looks like he might, and Camilla can’t help the way she opens her arms to him. He’s always been melodramatic when it comes to her, though Camilla knows she would be just the same if it were him in her shoes. She holds him close, and breathes in his familiar scent, and lets herself feel weak, for just a moment. He will be the only thing that she misses, and when she glances over at Harrow, she sees that Harrow stands alone.

The last (the only) person she had was Gideon Nav, and Gideon is gone now, too.

When Camilla reaches out and takes one of Harrow’s hands in hers, she forces herself to smile, though she’s sure it comes out closer to a grimace. Harrow can’t even bring herself to smile (though if Camilla really thinks about it, she doesn’t think she’s seen Harrow smile since Gideon was chosen this time last year) but she does squeeze Camilla’s hand, in gratitude, or perhaps unity, and the understanding that it is just them and no one else now.

There is a ceremonial dinner after the tributes are chosen, and now Camilla understands why Gideon had skipped out on hers; the whole process is stifling, and awkward, and though the people sing and dance, there is a grave undertone to the whole thing that makes Camilla’s skin crawl. She doesn’t see Harrow, but she does see Palamedes. He is the only person that will meet Camilla’s gaze head-on now, and tells her with just a look to go, and that he will find her.

The first moment she can, Camilla obeys his unspoken order, though she knows deep down that no one will really try to stop her. They might ask where she is going, might bring themselves to ask her to stay, as it is a tradition, but there will be only fear in their voices, and no one will touch her. She is unmoored: no longer part of this village, but not yet god-touched, and for the next few hours, only Palamedes will be her anchor.

It is almost laughably easy to slip away from everyone, and Camilla takes her time, walking through the place she has called home for the past twenty years. It is nearing sunset already, and there is so little time left, but Camilla still feels...empty. There is a part of her that wonders if she is in shock, but she can’t even bring herself to really care. She just makes her way to her and Palamedes’s secret spot: a little cove by the beach that they’d spent countless hours at. She will miss it here, she decides as she sits on their favorite smooth stone, but even now, she does not feel sad. She just watches the ocean waves lap against the shore until she hears Palamedes’s familiar footsteps, and looks up to find him holding out a plate piled high with food.

She takes it without a word and lets Palamedes settle next to her. He is warm against her side, and heaves a deep sigh as she begins to eat. “Will you be okay?” he asks eventually.

Camilla just looks at him, and he must be able to read the answer on her face, because he shakes his head and tries again. “Will you miss anything from home?”

Another empty, worthless question. Even if she will—even though she will—there isn’t anything either of them will be able to do about it. But she can’t lie, not to him. They know each other too well for that. “You. This spot. The food. My knife.” Camilla’s voice sounds rough in her ears, but she does not bother trying to clear her throat, to steady herself.

“I’ll pray for you every day,” Palamedes says, another empty promise. Neither of them have believed in any gods, in anything but each other, since they were children and Palamedes’s mother had been chosen. If she could, Camilla would joke that being a tribute must run in their family. But she can’t.

The food tastes like ash in her mouth, but Camilla forces herself to eat everything. If not for herself, then for him, her baby cousin that she will never see again after tomorrow.

“I should see how Harrow is,” she mumbles to herself, “she has no one.”

But she does not move, and neither does he. Eventually, and just as quietly, Palamedes says, “I too will have no one, come tomorrow.”

And Camilla doesn’t know what to say to that, so she just leans against him, and they watch the moon rise over the ocean like they have so many times before, pretending that this isn’t the last time. But all too soon, the moon rises to its fullest height, and Camilla knows it’s time to go back home. She can’t even be grateful to the goddess for giving them just enough light to get home, though she knows it’s not exactly the goddess’s fault that she happened to be the one picked this year. If it wasn’t this year, it might have been next, or the year after that.

Camilla forces herself to stand, waiting quietly for Palamedes to scramble to his feet next to her. Silently they pick their way back to the village, where the people are still celebrating. Celebrating, while she and Harrow and Palamedes silently die inside. Though Camilla can’t even be properly mad about it, because just last year, she’d been there too, eating while Gideon spent her last night alone with Harrow.

As they pass Harrow’s home, Camilla sees that the light upstairs is still on—and realizes with a start that Harrow is in Gideon’s old room. That old wooden cabin had once been Harrow’s and Gideon’s, and tomorrow it will be no one’s. Camilla is torn between selfish relief and guilt that at least some of her things will be kept hidden and safe by Palamedes. She wants to tell him what to keep: a book she’d bought three bronze pence by a passing stranger, the sharp knife left to her by her father before he’d passed away, her favorite woolen blanket—but then, there is no point. Palamedes will keep what he can, and the rest will burn.

“You’ll be fine,” Palamedes says as they reach home, “I know you’ll be fine.”

Camilla forces herself to smile, and follows him mutely inside and upstairs. She knows that she should sleep, that she will need all her strength tomorrow, but she stops in front of Palamedes’s room, and lets him push her gently inside. He disappears for just a moment, just long enough to grab a blanket—her favorite blanket—and drapes it around her. Only then does Camilla finally allow herself to cry. Dimly, she knows that Palamedes is crying too, and knows that she should comfort him—she always comforts him, always puts him before herself—but it is him that wraps his arms around her, holding her close as they both shake.

Eventually, Camilla wakes to the sound of one of the village dogs barking. It is still dark out, though it won’t be for long, and after relishing the warmth of her blanket, Camilla eases herself carefully out of bed. She’s not sure exactly when she’d fallen asleep, doesn’t even remember anything other than sobbing and letting herself be held. Palamedes is still asleep, curled up around nothing now, and Camilla tries her best to burn this image into her mind: of her baby cousin, the last of her family, her best friend, peaceful at last. It isn’t often that he looks like this; he always has his nose in a book, always frowns and squints as he tries to make sense of the entire world down to its tiniest pieces. She will miss him fiercely.

It is easy enough to go through the motions of getting ready for the day: she washes, dresses, combs her hair. Makes her bed, gathers a few eggs from the coop out back and says her silent goodbyes to the still sleepy chickens. Her last breakfast will be eggs, and the bit of meat they’d been saving for a special occasion, and the last of the juice Palamedes had squeezed out from this month’s batch of oranges. A simple breakfast, but a good one.

Palamedes comes stumbling downstairs just as Camilla is about to wake him, he frowns through a yawn as she ruffles his hair and murmurs, almost petulantly, “I wanted to make you breakfast.”

“It’s okay,” Camilla pushes him to his seat, “You cooked yesterday, and besides, I wanted to do this for you one last time.”

Palamedes stills, and Camilla watches his shoulders slump as he realizes yet again the unspoken truth: in less than an hour, Camilla will be gone.

“I wish…” he starts, then falls silent. There are ten thousand things he could wish for, but nothing would change this moment, so Camilla sits opposite him and begins to eat. She remembers his mother, strong and resolute despite how red her eyes had shown. She remembers not quite understanding why the house was so quiet that morning, remembers hugging her aunt and dutifully telling her she loved her, remembers waving goodbye and thinking that she’d be back soon. Remembers taking her uncle’s hand in hers and telling him not to cry, that she’d be safe, remembers him scooping her up in one arm and Palamedes in the other, and telling them that it was just the three of them now. He’d told them to always love and protect each other, and they’d just stuck their tongues out at each other, but promised just so they wouldn’t get in trouble.

And now Camilla is breaking that promise, because she is leaving.

It’s enough to make her tear up all over again, but she blinks them away and returns to eating. Once her plate is empty, Palamedes takes it and brings it to the sink. By now, the sky has begun to lighten, and Camilla takes one last walk through the house, wishing so desperately that she had one more day, one more month, one more year. She knows, logically, that Palamedes will be fine, but it’s always been just the two of them, and will he really be fine without her?

And will she be fine without him?

Palamedes is waiting at the door when Camilla finishes her walk, and he gives her an awful look that Camilla realizes is anger. “Why did it have to be you? ” he asks.

Camilla sucks in a breath, lets it all out, and just opens her arms. They both know that this will be the last time they’ll ever touch, but still, there is a beat of stillness, then two, then three, and—Palamedes comes crashing into her, holding her as tight as he can, like if he squeezes her tight enough, she will somehow be able to stay.

And Camilla...Camilla breathes him in, keeps him close, tucks her nose into the curve of his neck and holds him tight. But it is time to go, and they both know it. Reluctantly, they step away from each other, and out into the light. There are already a few people milling about, but Camilla waits only for Harrow to drift outside, then leads the procession down to the beach.

Only Teacher is there, and he gives Camilla a worn little smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling up in joy despite the sadness clear on his face. Camilla is struck then, by a thought: how many people has he had to send off? How many girls has he seen grown up, only to send away?

But if Teacher really does feel any guilt, it is wiped away in a moment, and he gestures for Camilla and Harrow to step forward. He gives them his blessings, and the entire village murmurs their prayers to the goddess of the sea and the sky, asking for safety on their journey. Then they pray for Camilla and Harrow themselves, and then they are ushered into the skiff. Harrow goes first, so it is up to Camilla to row for the first leg of the journey. It is eerily silent in those last few moments, and Camilla forces herself not to turn around, even as someone (Palamedes, she just knows ) gives the boat one, two, three final pushes until it is fully in the water.

And that is it.

Harrow does not speak, so Camilla does not either. She keeps herself anchored by rowing, breathing in and out in time with each stroke, and focuses on the slow building ache and burn in her arms. Every so often, she looks up and around Harrow, to make sure she is still rowing in the right direction. Harrow never acknowledges her presence, not until Camilla takes her third break and stretches her arms out. And then, finally, Harrow speaks.  “We can switch.”

Camilla tries to ignore how raw her voice sounds (had she cried all night, all alone, in that empty home?) and nods. She’s exhausted, and there’s no point in hiding it, not to her only companion. “ Please.

Then there is an awkward shuffle as they switch positions, and Camilla finds herself unmoored again with nothing else to do. Harrow seems to struggle a lot more than Camilla had, and she can’t help smiling when she remembers that it had been Gideon that had done all of their heavy lifting. She’d been one of the strongest people in the village. She’s not sure exactly how Harrow had managed without her; trying to imagine her doing half the things Gideon had done is...quite frankly, hilarious.

“What’s so funny?” Harrow’s tone is like ice, and Camilla bites her lip, guilty again.

“Nothing, I was just...I was remembering Gideon.”

It is the wrong thing to say, and Camilla knows it even as the words leave her lips. Before, Harrow had been frustrated, annoyed, angry. Now she just looks broken. “You don’t get to say her name,” she whispers, “you don’t—”

And then her voice breaks, and she lets out an unholy sound that goes straight to Camilla’s heart. If they’d been closer, she would have wrapped Harrow in her arms without a second thought, would have held her close and let her cry—but they are not close, and if it weren’t for how bloodshot her eyes are now, Camilla would have thought that Harrow hadn’t cried since Gideon left.

“I’m sorry,” Camilla says, but the words have no weight, and they both know it. She and Gideon were...friends. Almost neighbors. But that was it. She knows—everyone knew—what Gideon and Harrow were to each other, and that isn’t the same in the slightest.

“Just...don’t talk about her.”

And with that, silence falls again.

They switch off three more times before they get close to the island. Camilla almost cries when Harrow tests the ocean’s depth with an oar and finds it low enough to hop out, and even Harrow (who has not spoken a word since that ill-fated conversation) looks almost happy, even if she refuses to get herself wet. So Camilla drags the boat the rest of the way, relishing in the cool water against her sunwarmed skin. It honestly isn’t hard work, even with Harrow still in the boat (she must weigh even less than Palamedes, Camilla thinks to herself) and soon enough, she’s pulled the boat all the way to the shore. Harrow hops neatly out, looking around as Camilla drags the boat high enough so that it won’t drift back out to see.

“What are we supposed to do now?” she asks.

And Camilla...isn’t sure. She wishes now that she’d gone fishing more often instead of leaving it for Palamedes, wishes that she knew her way around plants like Dulcinea did, wishes that she were prepared for this, though she knows deep down that no one could quite possibly be completely prepared for this.

“We should find drinking water,” Camilla decides, “maybe there’s a river that pours into the ocean. We could follow it inland, find its source.”

“That way?” Harrow points off into the distance, westward. Camilla nods, and casts a look back towards their boat to make sure it is high enough, then turns back to Harrow so they can start exploring the island.

And then, a voice, almost-familiar: “Oh, I wouldn’t go that way if I were you.”

Harrow gasps, and they both spin around, and there, impossibly, stands Gideon Nav. Her smile is crooked and fond, and she is golden-bronzed from a year of living in the sun, and she throws them both a wink as she says, “Sure has been a while, Cam!” And then, softly, just to Harrow, “I told you I’d see you later, didn’t I?”

There is a moment of stillness, and then Harrow is flying towards Gideon. Anyone else would have been bowled over by sheer force at which Harrow hurls herself into Gideon, but Gideon catches her oh so easily. Camilla turns away, and there is no room in her heart for jealousy, not now, not for this. She has made her peace, but she knows— everyone knew—that Harrow had never been truly the same after Gideon left. And now she is back, and Camilla is quite sure that Harrow will never let her go.

After a few minutes, Gideon clears her throat, and Camilla turns to see that she and Harrow have finally separated. Harrow is still clinging to one of Gideon’s arms, squeezing her hand tight like she is afraid that Gideon will somehow disappear if she lets go of her for even a second. Gideon, as usual, just takes it all in stride, and beckons Camilla over. “I’m not going to ask how you are, because I know,” she says, and she does, doesn’t she? “It’ll get better though, I promise you that. Now let’s get you two cleaned up, and I’m sure you’re hungry too, huh?”

Quite frankly, all Camilla wants to do is drag herself into a bed and sleep for the next few days, but she nods, and Gideon gives her this look, like she knows, but won’t pry. “Follow me closely, okay? Don’t want you getting lost.”

And with that, Gideon turns her attention back to Harrow, murmuring quietly to her as they pick their way through the forest. Camilla tries to keep from listening, but this close, she can’t really help it. Harrow tells Gideon about life after she’d been gone, and Gideon simply listens. There are things Camilla could fill in, but she’s quite sure that they’ve forgotten she is still there with how wrapped up they are in each other.

(There is a part of Camilla that knows she will never have that, but she pushes that bitter part of herself far, far down. At least she won’t be alone.)

Gradually, the foliage begins to clear, and after they round a final bend, they stand in front of a massive marble palace. Camilla isn’t quite sure how they’d missed it before, that’s how big it is, but Gideon just laughs and gestures and says, “Welcome home.”

Camilla can barely even begin to fathom that this is to be their home, and Harrow looks just as shocked as she does. But Gideon—who has been here for a year already—just strides forward like it is her own. It is fit for the gods, and it seems to even shine, and Camilla feels a sharp pang of awareness at how unworthy she is. If Harrow feels it too, she does not show it: she just squares her shoulders and holds her head high as she follows Gideon in too, so Camilla brings up the rear, only halfway listening to Gideon as she gives them a spontaneous little tour, pointing out rooms as they pass and sharing little anecdotes. Thankfully, the first room they properly stop in is the bathing room, and even that is far more than Camilla thinks she deserves.

But Gideon just pushes them in and in and in, and tells them to take their time, and to get clean. She says this twice, and Camilla is suddenly acutely aware of how grimy she feels from the ocean salt and sun. She and Harrow both hesitate for another awkward few moments, but the bathing pool is huge, and warm, and it is heaven once they step in, and somehow, Camilla soon forgets her initial shyness. They scrub themselves down until they feel clean, then lather on oils that smell sweet and make their skin shine, and there is a little pile of thin, silky robes that Gideon has left for them.

There are no mirrors in the bathing room, but Harrow looks different like this, dressed in all white, the colors of the gods. Her hair is still a bit tangled, and if they were closer, Camilla would have offered to comb her hair for her, but Harrow just runs her fingers through it and then turns to Camilla to ask, “Do you have a knife?”

And now Camilla remembers: Harrow had always worn her hair short, until Gideon. She reaches for the knife she always keeps at her hip, then stops when she comes up with empty air. “I—no. Sorry. Maybe...Gideon has one?”

Harrow nods, and she’s already glancing towards the door, as if worried that Gideon has disappeared on her again. “Let’s go then.”

Again, Camilla finds herself lingering behind Harrow, whose shoulders slump in relief as soon as she sees Gideon just outside, waiting for them. She gives them an easy grin when she sees them and drapes an arm around Harrow’s shoulders to keep her close as she says, “It’s just about time.”

And neither of them even have to ask what it’s time for, they just know : their goddesses will be here, physically here, soon. It sends a shiver of nerves up and down the length of Camilla’s spine, the thought that she will be meeting a goddess, face to face, but then again...she will have this all the time, for the rest of her life.

Gideon leads them outside again, into the sticky summer heat, but this time, she takes them around the back of the mansion and to the very edge of a cliff that overlooks the sea. There is a massive dais and Gideon instructs them to kneel, then takes her place just a half step in front of them before kneeling as well. Camilla instinctively keeps her gaze cast down so she can only see the tiles just in front of her. Each one is inlaid with gold and silver and precious gems, and Camilla is sure that when the dais catches the sun, it will look like it has come alight. And then, and then: there is a flash of light so bright it blinds her, and too late, Camilla squeezes her eyes shut tight. And then there is a tinkle of laughter, and a warm voice, an apology. By the time Camilla is able to blink the dark spots from her eyes, she realizes that Harrow and Gideon are standing, and she scrambles to her feet as well, feeling a hot flush of embarrassment. But the goddess in front of her just laughs again, warm and fond and so amused, and Camilla gets the feeling that it will be hard to feel shame around her.

She is tall, taller than Gideon even, and her skin is honey-bronzed by eons of drawing the sun on her chariot. Her hair is long and golden and her eyes are violet, shining and warm. When she smiles at them, it is like the sun peeking out from behind the clouds. “Gideon, darling, you didn’t even feed them!” she chides.

And Gideon actually looks bashful. “There wasn’t any time!”

“Well, there is time now,” Coronabeth—because this must be Coronabeth, goddess of the sun—says. “And please don’t feel afraid, you have no need for that. We won’t harm you here.”

And then, a quiet: “Not yet, anyway.” It is only then that Camilla notices Ianthe, standing just a bit behind her sister goddess. She is just as tall, but seems almost insubstantial, and she actually shines with a faint silver light. Her eyes are the same immortal violet, but she does not feel as warm, as alive as her sister does, and Camilla gets the sense that Ianthe is one of the gods that she should never, ever cross.

“She’s joking,” Coronabeth quickly says, but she places her hands on Harrow and Camilla’s shoulders (and they are so warm) and guides them back inside. Gideon trails at her side like a puppy, and Coronabeth casts her an even warmer smile despite her teasing just minutes ago. “Gideon darling, would you fetch the wine?”

Gideon dips into a bow, and Camilla casts an uneasy glance towards Harrow. Coronabeth must feel the sudden tension in her shoulders, because she laughs and explains, “Oh, Camilla, I haven’t any of those amorous mortal feelings—Gideon is simply one of my sworn maidens, just as one of you will be.”

And. Wait. “Just one of us?” Harrow asks.

Coronabeth sighs, and nods, but does not explain further. Instead, she guides them into a smaller room that contains a great wooden table piled high with fruits, meat and cheeses. “Let us dine first,” she says, and she sounds suddenly weary then. “Then we will discuss...”

“The unpleasantries,” Ianthe finishes. Something a bit dark has come alive in her eyes, and Camilla doesn’t quite like it. But she is a goddess, so she and Harrow obey her unspoken command, and sit.

Gideon slips into the room just a moment later, holding a jug of wine that she pours out rich and red into golden goblets set in front of each of them. Coronabeth first, then Ianthe, then Harrow, Camilla and herself. Coronabeth smiles when Gideon sits, and gazes at each of them in turn as she says a blessing. Then she gestures to the food, and urges them to eat, and the wave of hunger that overcomes her feels almost like a dam has broken in Camilla’s stomach. She eats until she is full—as does Harrow, and Gideon. Even Coronabeth and Ianthe deign themselves to reach for grapes and thin slices of ham and cubes of cheese, though they drink glass after glass of wine, until the jug has been completely emptied. Everything tastes so much better than it had at home (though this is home now, Camilla reminds herself) and an endless amount of time passes before plates and goblets are finally emptied for the last time.

And at last, it is time for the goddesses to speak. But they do not speak of the unpleasantries, as Ianthe had put it; instead they spin stories of lovers and loss, of simple lives and kings, of wars and innocent worshipers. Coronabeth has an easy love for her people, and blesses those that worship her with just enough sun for their crops to flourish and enough light to see by as they travel home. Ianthe is different. She knows intimately the darkest crevices of human nature, sees all that occurs after the sun falls, and turns her back against those that cheat and steal and lie. She guides weary sailors away from sharp rocks, casts a soft light over lovers (and here, her gaze travels between Gideon and Harrow and back again), and strands the worst of men in the dark.

Again, Camilla realizes that these are goddesses, these women, and marvels that she had been chosen to worship and convene with them. As if reading her thoughts, Ianthe smiles a sharp little smile at her and nods. And then, with no preamble: “There are two of you,” she says languidly, “and two of us.”

And Camilla realizes then, that this was not simply a meal to replenish themselves. It is a final goodbye.

“How will we…?” Harrow’s voice is a mere whisper, and she is leaning into Gideon now.

“I will go,” Camilla says before either goddess can speak. As much as she wants to stay with Coronabeth and her golden warmth, she would never be able to live with herself if she knew that she was the reason Gideon and Harrow were separated again.

Coronabeth looks almost sorrowful now when she shakes her head, and she is no longer a goddess but just a girl. “The choice isn’t up to you, I’m afraid. It isn’t about what you want, or what you desire. This is about something deeper, is simply your heart that matters now.”

And Ianthe now: “We have seen into your very souls, down to the deepest parts of yourself that you hide from the world. Camilla, you will stay here as Coronabeth’s newest charge, and Harrowhark, you will be mine.”

A shock runs throughout Camilla’s body like ice, and she cannot bring herself to look up. Coronabeth is still warm at her side, but even that does not come as a comfort, because…

(Harrow is sitting ramrod still, her face gone completely blank. She knows that no amount of begging or pleading will change her fate, but it is so unfair, that she should have one last glimpse of Gideon only to have to leave her yet again. )

“We will leave you to say your goodbyes,” Coronabeth murmurs, “but by this time tomorrow…”

She doesn’t even have to say it. By this time tomorrow, Harrow must be gone.

Heavy silence descends as the twin goddesses stand and exit, and as she looks from Harrow and Gideon sitting motionless in front of her to the goddesses that have turned away, Camilla finds herself hating them. They are all-powerful beings that shape the very skies and are incarnations of the sun and moon themselves, and they cannot give the women that will serve them for their entire lives this one bit of happiness.

Before she can really comprehend what she’s about to do, Camilla is on her feet and out the door, her bare feet pounding against marble as she chases the goddesses down. Of course, they are still there, standing just outside, as if waiting for her.

“Can’t you have me leave instead? I have no one already, and they—”

But Coronabeth is already shaking her head. She shares a look with her sister, then turns back to Camilla. “This was decided long before you arrived. It isn’t something we can just…” she spreads her hands, a helpless motion. It is sincere, Camilla knows that, but coming from her, like this, it feels mocking. “It is the will of the gods,” she finishes.

You are gods!” Camilla cries out. Her heart is pounding a drumbeat in her chest and she knows somehow that this is her last chance. “Can’t you have sympathy for us? Let them be happy together, it won’t change their service towards you. We gave up everything for this, let them have this one thing.”

“What my sister means is that some things are simply fated, and that even a god—even the king of the gods—cannot change what is meant to be.Harrow was meant to be mine the moment she was born.”

“The most we can do is give them until tomorrow night, and we gave them that.” Just an hour ago, having Coronabeth’s full attention on her made Camilla’s heart soar, but as Coronabeth places a hand on Camilla’s cheek, all she feels is disgust.

“And how am I meant to face them after this?”

Ianthe waves a hand away, dismissing Camilla’s concern as if it is nothing. “There’s a part of you that is glad you will not have to leave. You won’t feel this guilt forever. By this time next year, you will all have moved on.”

When Camilla forces herself to meet Coronabeth’s gaze, she sees only that her sister is telling the truth, and something in her breaks. “All you can say to them,” Coronabeth says quietly, and just for her, “is that it won’t be forever.” And it isn’t much, it isn’t anything at all, really, but Camilla nods.

Coronabeth gives her a soft little half-smile, then tips her head down. “Close your eyes, Camilla Hect.” It is not an order, and Camilla knows that it could’ve been one so very easily. This is Coronabeth, the goddess that can steal the truth from lips and make even the mightiest of kings obey her with just a look. She is the goddess of the sun, and she does not order, not now. So Camilla closes her eyes. When Coronabeth presses her lips to the center of her forehead, it feels like a brand, but Camilla does not flinch away. And in a moment it is over, and when she finally opens her eyes, they are gone.