Home > Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(3)

Secondborn (Secondborn #1)(3)
Author: Amy A. Bartol

Emmitt appraises me, taking in my unflattering new uniform. He pinches the bridge of his nose with his long fingers. “Remind me to address the hideous state of the Tropo uniforms in our next session with the Clarity,” he says to Clara, who stands next to him.

“What difference does it make?” she asks, giving me a cursory glance and twirling a piece of her lavender-colored hair around a sharp fingernail. Emmitt’s calm is a mask. He doesn’t like to be questioned by anyone.

“This color doesn’t play well to the cameras.” He flails his lanky arm in my direction. “It makes her eyes look haunted and her skin too pale. And the fit!” I stand still as he straightens my already-straight collar. “It hides her delicate neck.”

“She’s going to war, not to tea.”

“It’s more important than ever to show secondborn citizens the example of sacrifice. Roselle is the embodiment of the service they owe to the Fates.”

“You mean she’s propaganda.”

Emmitt snorts. “She’s essential to our great nation and to firstborn supremacy. The Clarity of Virtues himself is adamant that she make a final statement today to show her support for the cause.”

Clara sniffs and touches her stylus to her blue-painted lips. “Her support? She’s eighteen. She’s been raised to do whatever you tell her to do.”

“And she does it so well,” Emmitt purrs. They discuss me as if I’m not even here. He pauses in his fussing with my collar to take in the effect, tilting his head to one side with a delicate lift of one ruddy eyebrow.

“Will I get to see my brother before I leave?” I ask.

“Of course you’ll see your brother. You just have to memorize this official statement, and then you’ll have a few moments with Gabriel.” He extends a small tablet with the crest of St. Sismode on its underside. “How long will it take you to memorize that?”

“‘It is my honor to serve Clarity Bowie and to uphold the founding principles of the Fates of the Republic,’” I read. “‘Today I fulfill my birthright as defender of the firstborn bloodlines.’” I scroll down for more, but there isn’t anything else. “That’s it?” I stop short of adding that I have the same bloodline as the firstborn of my family.

Emmitt wrinkles his long nose. “Do you have it memorized or do you need more time?”

“But it says nothing about the Fate of Swords—our Fate of the Republic—or my mother—”

Emmitt snatches the tablet from my hands. He reads it aloud in a mumbled, insulting way, then looks directly at me. “It says exactly what Clarity Bowie wants it to say. Do you have a problem with that?”

“No.” I lower my chin.

Emmitt thrusts the tablet back into my hands. “You have less than an hour to practice this before you’re taken to your Transition point. Follow me.”

He turns with a prissy swivel of his hips. We traverse the west wing. As we pass secondborn servants in the corridors, they stand aside and bow their heads. Emmitt ignores them. Like them, he is from the Fate of Stones. He’s not a Sword, but he pretends to be, as if he has forgotten that he’s secondborn as well.

We enter the cavernous reception area of the Grand Foyer at the entrance of the Palace. The windows afford views of the Warrior Fountain outside, and I study the mobs of photographers and spectators gathered to watch the hovercade transport me to secondborn processing at the Stone Forest Base.

The wrought iron gates and fences outside are lined with people waiting for a glimpse of me. Young children rest on their parents’ shoulders, clutching little blue flags with golden swords on them. Others carry “red Roselle roses,” a fad that began when Father sent Mother flowers to mark my birth. The idea had come from one of Mother’s PR specialists, intended to make my parents’ relationship appear loving.

I set down the tablet on a nearby table and press my face against the one-way glass, observing the citizens who have come to wish me farewell. A commotion behind me makes me straighten. Gabriel’s voice rises in irritation as he enters the foyer, descending one side of the Grand Staircase. He’s arguing with his advisors. “She’s my little sister! I’m going to see her before she leaves, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it!” His reflection is clear in the glass. He shakes off the hand of his mentor, Susteven. “The next person who touches me loses his hand!” Gabriel warns.

His black boots click on the marble floor as he crosses directly over the inlaid St. Sismode crest, which we’ve both been taught to circumvent as a show of respect. His image in the glass grows larger—dark and brooding. He stops next to me, facing the glass. He’s at least a foot taller than me. Our blue-eyed stares meet in the window. Gabriel’s little finger brushes mine, and he whispers, “It should be me.”

Chapter 2

No Sudden Moves

Gabriel has changed so much since we last spoke. Once upon a time, he would sneak into my training sessions to watch me fight. He’d ask me to teach him combat—a boy in love with war but with no one to instruct him in the art. No one dared raise a hand to him. Now he’s a man—a man doing everything in his power to forget that he’s firstborn.

My heart feels sore as I gaze at his reflection. He has a puffy, night-after look about him. He’s probably still coming down from some drug-induced fun. He and his firstborn crowd are notorious for their fetes, which are little more than excuses to get intoxicated and destroy their palatial apartments, leaving the wreckage for the secondborns of their estates to sort out. I hear his secondborn attendants whisper about it when they think I’m not listening.

On a normal day, they say he doesn’t leave his apartment before noon. I’m a little surprised he has made this exception for me. It hadn’t been easy for him, as his appearance attests. He’s too thin. His shoulders lack the bulk of muscle that men of the guard achieve through constant physical training. Gabriel compensates by wearing a thicker cape. The midnight-blue wool attaches to his shoulders with golden clasps in the shape of swords, flowing down his back from his impressive height. It drapes one bicep, the other uncovered. His one-of-a-kind sword is sheathed at his waist—a gift from our maternal grandfather to the heir to The Sword.

I lean against his shoulder. “It shouldn’t be you, Gabriel. You’re not meant for Transition. The Fate of Swords needs you here. It’s you who carries the burden of everyone’s tomorrow.”

Shame turns to anger. “There is no burden! I get everything I want, Roselle. I don’t work for anything. I’m useless.”

“You’re the next Clarity of Swords.”

“I don’t even know how to use the sword that I carry.” His chin juts out. The skin over his cheekbones is gaunt. I wonder when he last had a meal.

“I taught you to fight.”

He snorts. “When you were eleven. I haven’t touched my sword since.” His fingers move to the arch of his eyebrow, where the hair no longer grows. A small white scar runs from his brow over his eyelid to just beneath the bottom lashes of his left eye. I remember the terror of the moment when I sliced through his skin. It had been unintentional, a lapse in concentration, but it cost me almost all contact with the brother I adore.

To my immense relief, he hadn’t lost his eye. It’s still as blue as ever. The wound was superficial, just a graze from the tip of my fusionblade. There was no blood. The intense heat of the golden light of my sword seared his flesh as it moved through.

Gabriel sees me staring at the scar, and his face clouds with shame. “It wasn’t your fault. I begged you to show me how to fight.”

“You threatened to have me sent to Transition if I didn’t. Listen, you look tough, Gabriel. Practice your scowl, and you’ll intimidate the Heritage Council into siding with you on all of your important issues.”

He lets out a small sigh and gives me a grudging smile. “I already do. They all fear me for my ferocious glare.”

They fear your temper. I think of the pieces of gossip passing between Sword guards and Stone chamber workers. “Is that why you haven’t had your scar removed?” I ask. Skin regeneration is commonplace, takes only a few hours, and is nearly painless.

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