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“I thought the evil queen was chasing her.”
The women cackled. “Precisely.”
“But you are already queen.”
“Martin didn't need to know that. And because Victor holds my chain, as much as he is able, dallying with Martin was at no cost to myself.”
“I still don't understand how his wife gave birth to a girl of any power.”
“I've told you it isn't only maternal lineage. Otherwise princesses who escape would have magical daughters. We need that male input, as much as I wish we didn't.” Helen threw leaves in a tea pot and added the boiling water.
“I have no royal blood,” Tabitha said with pride.
“I think you must be mistaken. Perhaps an exiled prince? It doesn't matter. The point is, the most mundane woman can have a magical daughter, provided she is sired by royalty.”
Pandora listened, stunned. She hadn't seen her mother in years, and now she learned it was because she was being a mother to another girl, one who hadn't appreciated it.
“Do you want a cup?”
Pandora blinked, feeling tears on her lashes. “Um, yes, thank you.” She rose to take it.
Helen kept the cup and took her hand. “What's wrong?”
“You left me to be her mother.”
Helen let out a sigh and set the cup on the table, wrapping her arms around Pandora. “Only because I knew you were in the best care. Think, Bianca had nothing. Her mother was dead and her father was waiting to marry her off to the best ally. She needed me more than you did. And I'm here now,” she reminded her daughter. “You have me while Bianca sleeps.”
Pandora shuddered. “You should release her. Were you ever put in the death-sleep? It's awful.”
Tabitha handed Pandora her tea. “You are special, love. Most people don't feel the passing of the death-sleep. Your mother doesn't and I expect Bianca won't either.”
Helen's eyes went wide. “You are conscious in the death-sleep? I didn't know that was possible.” Then she shuddered too. “Oh that would be horrible. No, Pandora, I didn't condemn her to that. I'm preserving and hiding her.”
“You can't teach her while she sleeps,” Pandora pointed out, sipping her tea.
“I can't teach her at all,” Helen said flatly. “She refuses. Tabitha?”
“She took the apple from me, but I could tell she didn't want anything more. I doubt she would trust me.”
“Is there no one else?” Pandora asked.
The women looked at her.
“I can't teach anyone!” she cried. “I've only just learned myself.”
“I will give the lessons, but you could be her peer, another pupil,” Tabitha suggested. “You can assure her that I mean no harm.”
Helen nodded. “It might work. We should try. You can always put her back to sleep if things don't work out.”
Pandora thumped back onto the bed, scalding herself with hot tea. She only grimaced and fluffed her skirt. “I don't know if I can do that.”
“Oh, don't worry, dear,” Tabitha assured her. “You won't have to lie to her or put on any act. You are an experienced student and she is a new one. All you need is to be her friend, put her at ease.”
Her cup rattled as she tried to set it back on the saucer. “I've never had a real friend.” That brought back memories of Magnificent. She set the cup carefully on the floor before weeping openly.
“Oh, love,” Helen murmured, sitting beside Pandora and holding her. “I'm so sorry you didn't have anyone.”
“That's not it. He killed them, Tabitha. All of them. I saw them, broken and lifeless on the ground. How could he?”
“No,” she replied feeling bile in her throat. “I'll hate him for coming to my bed wearing their blood.” Her magic surged past her ability to contain it and the coals flared into flame and a hot wind blowing through the cottage.
It was immediately countered with a flow directing the smoke back up the chimney. Then Tabitha put a shield around Pandora, keeping her magic under the lid.
“Calm down, child. You'll kill us and yourself lashing out like that.”
The fight went out of her and she sagged into her mother. “I don't want to wake her, not yet. Can we wait a while?” She sniffled. “Can I have you to myself for a while?” she asked her mother.
“Of course, Pandora.” Helen kissed the top of Pandora's head. “I'm all yours.”