“Did I mention that my mother’s name is ‘Tanith’? It means ‘snake lady.’” Chaya frowned. “I guess her parents named her well, anyway.”
“What was this idea of hers?”
“On the day I was born, my mother decided she’d have as little as possible to do with me. She arranged for my nanny, Ophelie, to raise me. Of course I lived in my parent’s home, but I rarely saw either of them. Ophelie was responsible for my every need.”
“What of your father?”
“My father?” Chaya shook her head. “Huh . . . My father was rarely home, and when he was there, he avoided me. The truth is—I’m not sure if I’d even recognize him if I saw him today.”
The Oathtaker’s eyes widened. “Seriously?”
“Tell me more.”
“I remember the first time I learned of Tanith’s plans for me.”
“You call her by her first name?”
The question seemed to shock Chaya. “I only ever called her ‘mother’ once.” She went silent, lost in thought.
“Go on,” he finally urged.
“Oh, where was I? Oh, yes. When I first learned of my mother’s plans for me, I was probably about . . . five, or six, maybe. She came into my nursery to inquire of Ophelie why a local physician charged her for services rendered on my behalf. Ophelie explained to my mother that while she was away, I’d taken ill. Tanith was furious. Do you want to know what she said?”
“She told Ophelie that the physician’s charges were, as expected, twice what they’d have been if I’d been a boy. She said, ‘Ophelie, you must use care. I don’t know what price she’ll bring in the future, and now there are further expenses to recoup.’”
Marshall said nothing.
“Ophelie was distraught—practically inconsolable. I remember that she held me and cried. Over and over again, she said she’d do what she could to keep me safe, to get me out of Chiran and to Oosa before Tanith could sell me.” She dropped her head into her hands. A moment later she lifted her haunting bluebird eyes back up at him. “From that day, I was frightened nearly to death any time Ophelie left my side for anything, or if she took ill.”
“But she didn’t get you out of Chiran.”
Tears welled in Chaya’s eyes. She wiped them away brusquely with the back of her hand. “No, she didn’t. She taught me everything she knew about Oosa and about freedom—the freedom to think your own thoughts, speak your own mind, come and go as you please, enjoy the fruits of your own labor—” She stopped short.
“What?” he urged, sensing there was more.
She smirked, though the expression portrayed only sadness. “She taught me about Ehyeh, the Good One.”
He bit his lip. He knew he risked a great deal, but found he couldn’t help himself. “Freedom is a great thing.”
“Freedom is the only thing.” She glanced her husband’s way. He, still deep in conversation, hadn’t moved. She turned back and looked Marshall in the eye. “And I intend to experience it one day, no matter what I have to do, or I swear . . . I will die trying.”
“I understand.” He pulled back, stretched his shoulders, then leaned forward and tied the reins to a hook at the front of the wagon as the horses skittered. “Why didn’t Ophelie get you out of Chiran?” he finally asked.
She breathed in deeply. “One day,” she began, and then her memories, her story, fully engrossed her thoughts—and his attention.
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