I was a beautiful child, or so they tell me, and I believe them. I am beautiful now. It’s why the Church took me in, I think; it’s certainly why they called me Angel. The Priest of the Dawn himself named me. I was just a few weeks old when I was left on the steps in the dead of winter wrapped in linen and furs, and I was perfect.
The Church of the Light was a fine place to grow up, especially for a good girl like me. I was always the first at morning prayer. I was the one who thought to bring an embroidered kneeling cushion to the elderly Twilight Priestess Emerita when her joints ached. When I was seven they started letting me carry the censer at evening prayers because I was more graceful than the older girls. I knew all the songs, all the prayers. When they asked me if I wanted to dedicate myself to the Church, I didn’t even have to think about it. At age 15 I was going to be the youngest priestess they’d had in eighty years, since the Emerita herself.
The day before my consecration, as was the tradition, I walked the city to leave offerings at the four Shrines. Two Church guards came with me, dressed – like me – in shining silver and white. We must have made a lovely picture, me in my bare feet with my white-blond hair let down, the god’s own light gleaming off the guards’ armor and axe blades. I can only assume. The offerings were simple: honey and a handful of grain at the Shrine of Eos; wine and a copper coin at Meridie; a dove and a basket of figs at Vesper.
By the time we reached the Nadir Shrine, white and red roses in hand, it was nearly dark. At the other Shrines, my guards had waited outside while I went in to make my offerings. This time they followed me in. “For your safety,” they said. Turns out, that was a fucking lie. Turns out, the three drops of blood I squeezed onto the altar from my thorn-pricked finger weren’t enough, according to them. And it turns out the god doesn’t actually answer prayers.
They dusted me off when they were done, smoothed the wrinkles in my robe. Made me comb my hair and wash my face. Told me if I said a word, they’d claim I brought it on myself, me, with my long limbs and dark eyes and shining hair. That I hexed them into it. I’d be cast out of the Church for wantonness and for dabbling in dark arts. I believed them, and so five months later, when I could no longer hide a swollen belly even under my loose robes, I found myself at a crossroads.
The Priest had been sorrowful and full of regret, but he also made it clear that I was no longer fit to serve the god, at least, not in the way he’d planned. He offered to raise the child in the Church as I had been raised and to find me a place in the kitchens. I didn’t care. At that point, I’d lost all faith I’d had in the benevolence of the god, not to mention what trust I’d once had in the goodness of his servants. I’d be damned if I’d let them have this bastard baby. So I walked out the Nadir Gate and made my way to the cliff’s edge, intending to throw myself into the bay. I hesitated a long while before finally gathering myself to jump.
“That is one solution, yes.” A melodious voice interrupted my movement. “But wasteful. And so very melodramatic.” Relieved and shamed by my own cowardice, I turned to see who was speaking.
The Lady was beautiful, so beautiful it hurt to look at her. Her hair was dark, her skin pale, and I could swear there were stars caught in her curls. All thoughts of leaping to my death vanished from my head. She offered me, in a word, vengeance.
“And what do you want in return?” I asked. I knew something of the fey.
“Nothing you are not willing to give,” she said, and gestured at my belly. “The babe, when it is born. For this I will give you the power to destroy the man who ruined you. And for your loyalty,” she added with a sly, sidelong glance, “I will let you keep it.”
What else could I do? I’d already hesitated too long at the edge of the cliff. I wasn’t going to jump. And when she sealed our bargain with a kiss I knew I was making the right choice.
Four months later in the Church’s ward I bore a beautiful baby boy with white-blond hair and dark eyes and a tiny port-wine stain like a red rose on his temple. The Lady let me keep him three nights before she came for him, my bastard child, and I gave him up without protest. I hadn’t even given him a name.
Before she left the Lady kissed me and whispered in my ear, told me where to find my attacker: he would be standing watch that night in the Cathedral. She told me other things, too, made me promises and gave me a word I didn’t remember. “Just this once,” she said, “for our bargain. Then you must learn properly.” I didn’t have a chance to ask what she meant; she kissed me again, took my child and disappeared in a haze of stars.
I wasted no time. I dressed in my robes of white and went to the Cathedral. Four guards stood outside the door. I recognized two of them. Two, and I realized I would have to choose, because the Lady had only given me one spell. So I chose the taller one for no other reason than I didn’t like the shape of his jaw. I spoke the word I didn’t remember, and he died, crumpling soundlessly to the ground.
They caught me, of course. It didn’t even occur to me to run, though I should have. I’d used dark magic on the steps of the Cathedral, killed a man in front of witnesses. I don’t know why I didn’t run. I’d run now, if I could. I know what happens in places like this to girls like me. I wonder where the Lady is and if she is thinking of me.