Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(2)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(2)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

“You can undo it,” Dune insists. “You can save Roselle.” He is rigid with barely suppressed anger, except for one hand, which twitches near the sword sheathed at his waist. My eyes widen. I know his aggressive posture well. It’s the stance he uses before he attacks.

“You underestimate her,” my mother replies. “She’s resilient and capable of surviving whatever is thrown at her. She has my blood.”

“You will spill her blood!” Dune’s sand-colored eyes narrow. He takes a menacing step toward Mother. My response is automatic. I move between the Clarity and my mentor, as I’ve been trained to do. My hand rests on my own sword’s hilt. I face Dune, my warning unmistakable. “You see?” Dune flicks his hand toward me. “She wants only to protect you, Othala. You have nothing to fear from her. She would never harm you or Gabriel. She loves you both.”

“And you care for her,” Mother hisses. She walks around the golden silk settee, putting it between her and us. Dune grinds his teeth. It’s an accusation I don’t fully understand.

“Of course I care for her. Roselle has been my student since she could crawl!” He rubs his hand over the short, dark stubble of his new beard. “I have always treated her with the utmost respect.”

“Yes, you two are quite close. She looks at you like a father.”

“You and I both know how little interest her own father has taken in her.”

Othala waves her hand as if to dismiss my father from the conversation, or maybe from her life. “Kennet is not one to form attachments. But you treat her as if she were your own daughter. You’ve taught her everything you know about being a leader, a fighter, someone who could maybe one day be the commander of this Fate?”

“I’ve tried to prepare her for any eventuality.”

My mother grips the back of the settee, her bejeweled fingernails digging into the fabric. “You’d just need to get rid of anything that stands in her way, wouldn’t you?”

Dune rubs his eyes, for a moment looking older than his thirty-eight years. “So, this is revenge against me! My decision to end my personal relationship with you, Othala, has nothing to do with Roselle.”

“It has everything to do with her, Dune. You’re her mentor. We both know that if something were to happen to Gabriel and me, she’d be The Sword.” A snarl twists my mother’s lips.

My hand, still on the silver handle of my sheathed sword, grows damp. Dune meets my eyes, and his soften. “Your daughter has no idea what you’re talking about, Othala. She’s a student of chivalry. Her only thought is how to win your love, not steal your power.”

Mother’s blue eyes look upward. “Even if the thought never crossed her mind, she’s still too dangerous, Dune. I have to protect Gabriel. He will rule the Fate of Swords one day, not her. It’s his birthright.”

I cringe, turning to face my mother. “I would never hurt my brother. I only wish to serve him—to protect him.”

Mother’s normally supple mouth pinches. “You say that now, Roselle, but what happens in the next few years after your Transition Day? Gabriel will marry—have children. You’ll come to realize that you’ll never have a family, never hold a baby in your arms and call it your own. Gabriel will inherit all our wealth and property. What will you do when you realize the only option open to you for the rest of your life is government service? You are secondborn. The Fates own your life. It’s better that you leave us now. The abrupt change will be easier than a slow, excruciating march to your destiny.”

“It will be easier for you, you mean.” My eyes widen at my own audacity.

For once, she seems not to notice my breach in protocol. “It will be easier for us all when you’re gone.”

Dune glares at Othala. “You could make her an Iono soldier—part of this guard or one for another Clarity. She could—”

“Even if I concede that she poses no threat to Gabriel,” Othala interrupts, “which I don’t, and I make her the rank of Iono and assign her duties for one of the other Clarities, every secondborn of any consequence will cry ‘Nepotism!’” She lets go of the settee and paces.

“You expect me to believe that’s why you made her a Tropo?” Dune asks. “It’s equivalent to throwing her to the wolves, Othala, and you know it! And for what? So you don’t have to listen to a few complaints? They’ve never bothered you before. Secondborns may mutter about unfairness, but you strike them down hard whenever they do.”

She stops. “I show them their place!”

“And you wonder why we have a rebellion of secondborns? You never hear their suffering.”

“Their suffering?” she sputters. “You would side with the Gates of Dawn over the Fates? That’s treason!”

“You of all people know that my loyalty is to the Fate of Swords and to all the Fates of the Republic. I have fought for them since the day I was born.”

“Since the day you were firstborn,” she corrects. “Never forget you’re one of us, Dune.”

“Othala, see reason! Once Roselle is processed, she’ll be chattel. They could put her on the front line.”

“She’s eighteen years old—and a St. Sismode! Our commanders will have better sense than to do that.”

“So you haven’t even specified where she will be placed? You’re going to leave it to the secondborn commanders—or whatever algorithm they’re using—to decide your daughter’s life?”

“I have to trust that the Fates work, Dune. Otherwise, the Gates of Dawn are right. My father believed in the system. He allowed for an organic Transition for his secondborn child. He would expect me to do the same, were he alive.”

“Bazzle was dead within a month of his Transition.”

“He served the Fates with honor,” she says weakly. She walks to her desk and faces us from behind its broad expanse of glass and touchscreens.

“Your brother paid for your father’s position as The Sword, Othala. He was murdered as revenge for what some secondborns see as injustice in a system that makes them slaves.”

Dune grasps my left arm. He leads me to Mother’s desk, extending the back of my hand in front of her. In the shape of a fiery sword, the chip implanted under the skin between my thumb and index finger glows golden. My moniker is who I am. All my information is stored within it, from my name to my age, address, DNA profile—almost everything that makes me me can be accessed by scanning it. It contains all the codes that allow me to travel both within the Fate of Swords and into the eight other Fates.

“Once they process her and find out you’re her mother,” Dune says, “Roselle will be made to suffer for your decisions as The Sword. Do you want that?” Othala’s eyes dart to my moniker. I quickly pull my hand from Dune’s and hide it behind my back. My moniker has always been a source of irritation for my mother. It isn’t like everyone else’s. I have a small crescent-shaped birthmark on my left hand. When the holographic image from my implant shines through my skin, it is partially obscured by the birthmark, so the hologram looks as if a dark crown rings the top of the sword. Gabriel teased me about it, calling me the Crown of Swords.

“They won’t need her moniker to know who she is. Her face is everywhere. They’ve all watched her grow up.”

Dune’s eyes widen in shock. “You don’t care, do you?”

“Leave us, Roselle,” Othala demands. “Wait for Dune to join you in the Grand Foyer.” I retreat through a bronze doorway, leaving it open a crack. “I have given her all the tools she needs to survive,” Mother says. “I gave her you for eighteen years. The best strategists have trained her. She has a better chance than any one of the secondborns twice her age. We both knew this day would come, but unlike you, I was smart enough not to become attached to her. Anything you feel in this moment is on you, Dune.”

A foot taps behind me, and I turn to see Emmitt. Sighing, I close the door and try not to show any emotion. We hate each other, but it’s dangerous to antagonize him. He organizes all of Mother’s appointments. For my entire childhood, if I’ve wanted to see her, I’ve had to go through Emmitt, and it was rare that I was granted an audience with her. I want to believe it was him and not her who kept me away, but deep down I know it’s not true. Emmitt is vindictive, though. He once ordered all of my shoes a couple of sizes too small after I’d complained about wearing a pink velvet bow in my hair for All Fates Day.

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