Bitterblue, p.1Part #3 of Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore
an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. • Published by The Penguin Group
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Text copyright © 2012 by Kristin Cashore
Maps and illustrations © 2012 by Ian Schoenherr
All rights reserved.
Designed by Jennifer Kelly
Text set in Adobe Garamond Printed in the U.S.A.
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bitterblue / by Kristin Cashore. p. cm.
Companion book to Graceling and Fire.
Summary: Eighteen-year-old Bitterblue, queen of Monsea, realizes her heavy responsibility and the
futility of relying on advisors who surround her with lies as she tries to help her people to heal from
the thirty-five-year spell cast by her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities.
ISBN 978-0-8037-3473-9 (hardcover) [1. Fantasy.] I. Title.
PZ7.C26823Bit 2012 [Fic]—dc23 2011035026
This one was always for Dorothy
PART ONE - Stories and Lies
PART TWO - Puzzles and Muddles
PART THREE- Ciphers and Keys
PART FOUR - Bridges and Crossings
PART FIVE - The Ministry of Stories and Truth
A WHO'S WHO OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
WHEN HE GRABS Mama's wrist and yanks her toward the wallhanging like that, it must hurt. Mama doesn't cry out. She tries to hide her pain from him, but she looks back at me, and in her face, she shows me everything she feels. If Father knows she's in pain and is showing me, Father will take Mama's pain away and replace it with something else.
He will say to Mama, "Darling, nothing's wrong. It doesn't hurt, you're not frightened," and in Mama's face I'll see her doubt, the beginnings of her confusion. He'll say, "Look at our beautiful child. Look at this beautiful room. How happy we are. Nothing is wrong. Come with me, darling." Mama will stare back at him, puzzled, and then she'll look at me, her beautiful child in this beautiful room, and her eyes will go smooth and empty, and she'll smile at how happy we are. I'll smile too, because my mind is no stronger than Mama's. I'll say, "Have fun! Come back soon!" Then Father will produce the keys that open the door behind the hanging and Mama will glide through. Thiel, tall, troubled, bewildered in the middle of the room, will bolt in after her, and Father will follow.
When the lock slides home behind them, I'll stand there trying to remember what I was doing before all of this happened. Before Thiel, father's foremost adviser, came into Mama's rooms looking for Father. Before Thiel, holding his hands so tight at his sides that they shook, tried to tell Father something that made Father angry, so that Father stood up from the table, his papers scattering, his pen dropping, and said, "Thiel, you're a fool who cannot make sensical decisions. Come with us now. I'll show you what happens when you think for yourself." And then crossed to the sofa and grabbed Mama's wrist so fast that Mama gasped and dropped her embroidery, but did not cry out.
"Come back soon!" I say cheerily as the hidden door closes behind them.
I REMAIN, STARING into the sad eyes of the blue horse in the hanging. Snow gusts at the windows. I'm trying to remember what I was doing before everyone went away.
What just happened? Why can't I remember what just happened? Why do I feel so—
Mama says that when I'm confused or can't remember, I must do arithmetic, because numbers are an anchor. She's written out problems for me so that I have them at these moments. They're here next to the papers Father has been writing in his funny, loopy script.
46 into 1058.
I could work it out on paper in two seconds, but Mama always tells me to work it out in my head. "Clear your mind of everything but the numbers," she says. "Pretend you're alone with the numbers in an empty room." She's taught me shortcuts. For example, 46 is almost 50, and 1058 is only a little more than 1000. 50 goes into 1000 exactly 20 times. I start there and work with what's left. A minute later, I've figured out that 46 into 1058 is 23. I do another one. 75 into 2850 is 38. Another. 32 into 1600 is 50. Oh! These are good numbers Mama has chosen. They touch my memory and build a story, for fifty is Father's age and thirty-two is Mama's. They've been married for fourteen years and I am nine and a half. Mama was a Lienid princess. Father visited the island kingdom of Lienid and chose her when she was only eighteen. He brought her here and she's never been back. She misses home, her father, her brothers and sisters, her brother Ror the king. She talks sometimes of sending me there, where I will be safe, and I cover her mouth and wrap a hand in her scarves and pull myself against her because I will not leave her.
Am I not safe here?
The numbers and the story are clearing my head, and it feels like I'm falling. Breathe.
Father is the King of Monsea. No one knows he has the two different colored eyes of a Graceling; no one wonders, for his is a terrible Grace hidden beneath his eye patch: When he speaks, his words fog people's minds so that they'll believe everything he says. Usually, he lies. This is why, as I sit here now, the numbers are clear but other things in my mind are muddled. Father has just been lying.
Now I understand why I'm in this room alone. Father has taken Mama and Thiel down to his own chambers and is doing something awful to Thiel so that Thiel will learn to be obedient and will not come to Father again with announcements that make Father angry. What the awful thing is, I don't know
I try. I really do. But I can't make myself alone with the numbers in an empty room, and suddenly I'm screaming.
The next thing I know, I'm throwing Father's papers into the fire. Running back to the table, gathering them in armfuls, tripping across the rug, throwing them on the flames, screaming as I watch Father's strange, beautiful writing disappear. Screaming it out of existence. I trip over Mama's embroidery, her sheets with their cheerful little rows of embroidered stars, moons, castles; cheerful, colorful flowers and keys and candles. I hate the embroidery. It's a lie of happiness that Father convinces her is true. I drag it to the fire.
When Father comes bursting through the hidden door I'm still standing there screaming my head off and the air is putrid, full of the stinky smoke of silk. A bit of carpet is burning. He stamps it out. He grabs my shoulders, then shakes me so hard that I bite my own tongue. "Bitterblue," he says, actually frightened. "Have you gone mad? You could suffocate in a room like this!"
"I hate you!" I yell, and spit blood into his face. He does the strangest thing: His single eye lights up and he starts to laugh.
"You don't hate me," he says. "You love me and I love you."
"I hate you," I say, but I'm doubting it now, I'm confused. His arms enfold me in a hug.
"You love me," he says. "You're my wonderful, strong darling, and you'll be queen someday. Wouldn't you like to be queen?"
I'm hugging Father, who is kneeling on the floor before me in a smoky room, so big, so comforting. Father is warm and nice to hug, though his shirt smells funny, like something sweet and rotten. "Queen of all Monsea?" I say in wonderment. The words are thick in my mouth. My tongue hurts. I don't remember why.
"You'll be queen someday," Father says. "I'll teach you all the important things, for we must prepare you. You'll have to work hard, my Bitterblue. You don't have all my advantages. But I'll mold you, yes?"
"And you must never, ever disobey me. The next time you destroy my papers, Bitterblue, I'll cut off one of your mother's fingers."
This confuses me. "What? Father! You mustn't!"
"The time after that," Father says, "I'll hand you the knife and you'll cut off one of her fingers."
Falling again. I'm alone in the sky with the words Father just said; I plummet into comprehension. "No," I say, certain. "You couldn't make me do that."
"I think you know that I could," he says, trapping me close to him with hands clasped above my elbows. "You're my strong-minded girl and I think you know exactly what I can do. Shall we make a promise, darling? Shall we promise to be honest with each other from now on? I shall make you into the most luminous queen."
"You can't make me hurt Mama," I say.
Father raises a hand and cracks me across the face. I'm blind and gasping and would fall if he weren't holding me up. "I can make anyone do anything," he says with perfect calm.
"You can't make me hurt Mama," I yell through my face that is stinging and running with tears and snot. "One day I'm going to be big enough to kill you."
Father is laughing again. "Sweetheart," he says, forcing me back into his embrace. "Oh, see how perfect you are. You will be my masterpiece."
When Mama and Thiel come through the hidden door, Father is murmuring to me and I'm resting my cheek on his nice shoulder, safe in his arms, wondering why the room smells like smoke and why my nose hurts so much. "Bitterblue?" Mama says, sounding scared. I raise my face to her. Her eyes go wide and she comes to me and pulls me away from Father. "What did you do?" she hisses at Father. "You struck her. You animal. I'll kill you."
"Darling, don't be silly," Father says, standing, looming over us. Mama and I are so small, so small wound together, and I'm confused because Mama is angry at Father. Father says to Mama, "I didn't strike her. You did."
"I know that I did not," Mama says.
"I tried to stop you," Father says, "but I couldn't, and you struck her."
"You will never convince me of that," Mama says, her words clear, her voice beautiful inside her chest, where I'm pressing my ear.
"Interesting," Father says. He studies us for a moment, head tilted, then says to Mama, "She is a lovely age. It's time she and I became better acquainted. Bitterblue and I will start having private lessons."
Mama turns her body so that she's between me and Father. Her arms around me are like iron bars. "You will not," she says to Father. "Get out. Get out of these rooms."
"This really could not be more fascinating," Father says. "What if I were to tell you that Thiel struck her?"
"You struck her," Mama says, "and now you'll leave."
"Brilliant!" Father says. He walks up to Mama. His fist comes out of nowhere, he punches her in the face and Mama plummets to the floor, and I'm falling again, but for real this time, falling down with Mama. "Take some time to clean up, if you like," Father suggests as he stands over us, nudging us with his toe. "I have some thinking to do. We'll continue this discussion later."
Father is gone. Thiel is kneeling, leaning over us, dripping bloody tears onto us from the fresh cuts he seems to have acquired on either cheek. "Ashen," he says. "Ashen, I'm sorry. Princess Bitterblue, forgive me."
"You didn't strike her, Thiel," my mother says thickly, pushing
herself up, pulling me into her lap and rocking me, whispering words of love to me. I cling to her, crying. There is blood everywhere. "Help her, Thiel, won't you?" Mama says.
Thiel's firm, gentle hands are touching my nose, my cheeks, my jaw; his watery eyes are inspecting my face. "Nothing is broken," he says. "Let me look at you now, Ashen. Oh, how I beg you to forgive me."
We are all three huddled on the floor together, joined, crying. The words Mama murmurs to me are everything. When Mama speaks to Thiel again, her voice is so tired. "You've done nothing you could help, Thiel, and you did not strike her. All of this is Leck's doing. Bitterblue," Mama says to me. "Is your mind clear?"
"Yes, Mama," I whisper. "Father hit me, and then he hit you. He wants to mold me into the perfect queen."
"I need you to be strong, Bitterblue," Mama says. "Stronger than ever, for things are going to get worse."
P A R T O N E
Stories and Lies
(Nearly nine years later, August)
QUEEN BITTERBLUE NEVER meant to tell so many people so many lies.
IT ALL BEGAN with the High Court case about the madman and the watermelons. The man in question, named Ivan, lived along the River Dell in an eastern section of the city near the merchant docks. To one side of his house resided a cutter and engraver of gravestones, and to the other side was a neighbor's watermelon patch. Ivan had contrived somehow in the dark of night to replace every watermelon in the watermelon patch with a gravestone, and every gravestone in the engraver's lot with a watermelon. He'd then shoved cryptic instructions under each neighbor's door with the intention of setting each on a scavenger hunt to find his missing items, a move useless in one case and unnecessary in the other, as the watermelon-grower could not read and the gravestone-carver could see her gravestones from her doorstep quite plainly, planted in the watermelon patch two lots down. Both had guessed the culprit immediately, for Ivan's antics were not uncommon. Only a month ago, Ivan had stolen a neighbor's cow and perched her atop yet another neighbor's candle shop, where she mooed mournfully until someone climbed the roof to milk her, and where she was compelled to live for several days, the kingdom's most elevated and probably most mystified cow, while the few literate neighbors on the street worked through Ivan's cryptic clues for how to build the rope and pulley device to bring her down. Ivan was an engineer by trade.
Ivan was, in fact, the engineer who'd designed, during Leck's reign
Sitting at the high table of the High Court, Bitterblue was a trifle annoyed with her advisers, whose job it was to decide what court cases were worth the queen's time. It seemed to her that they were always doing this, sending her to preside over the kingdom's silliest business, then whisking her back to her office the moment something juicy cropped up. "This seems like a straightforward nuisance complaint, doesn't it?" she said to the four men to her left and the four to her right, the eight judges who supported her when she was present at this table and handled the proceedings themselves when she was not. "If so, I'll leave it to you."
"Bones," said Judge Quall at her right elbow.
Judge Quall glared at Bitterblue, then glared at the parties on the floor awaiting trial. "Anyone who mentions bones in the course of this trial will be fined," he said sternly. "I don't even want to hear mention of the word. Understood?"
"Lord Quall," said Bitterblue, scrutinizing him through narrowed eyes. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"In a recent divorce trial, Lady Queen," said Quall, "the defendant kept mumbling about bones for no reason, like a man off his head, and I will not sit through that again! It was distressing!"
"But you often judge murder trials. Surely you're accustomed to talk of bones."
"This is a trial about watermelons! Watermelons are invertebrate creatures!" cried Quall.
"Yes, all right," said Bitterblue, rubbing her face, trying to rub away her incredulous expression. "No talk of—"
Bones, finished Bitterblue in her own mind. Everyone is mad. "In addition to the findings of my associates," she said, standing to go, "the people on Ivan's street near the merchant docks who cannot read shall be taught to do so at the court's expense. Is that understood?"
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore / Fantasy / Young Adult / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes