The Pledge Page 1




The air crackled like a gathering thunderstorm the moment the girl entered the chamber. She was just a child, but her presence changed everything.

With effort, the queen turned her head on her pillow as she watched the little girl pad into the chamber on slippered feet. The child kept her chin tucked tightly against her chest ahus

Maybe the queen’s guards weren’t even aware of the charge in the air, but she was suddenly conscious of the blood coursing through her veins, the quickening of her pulse, and the sound of each breath that she took—no longer ragged and wheezing.

She turned her attention to the men who’d escorted the child. “Leave us,” she declared in a voice that had once been filled with authority but now came out hoarse and papery.

They had no reason to question the command; certainly the girl would be safe with her own mother.

The child jumped at the sound of the door closing behind her, her eyes widening, but she still refused to meet her mother’s stare.

“Princess Sabara,” the queen said softly, in her quietest voice, trying to gain the young girl’s trust. In her daughter’s six short years, the queen had spent little time with her, leaving her in the care of governesses, nurses, and tutors. “Come closer, my darling.”

The girl’s feet shuffled forward, but her eyes remained fastened on the floor—a trait reserved for the lower classes, her mother noted bitterly. Six was young, maybe too young, but she’d delayed for as long as she could. The queen was young too; her body should have had many good years remaining, but now she lay sick and dying, and she could no longer afford to wait. Besides, she’d been grooming the girl for this day.

When the girl reached her bedside, the queen held out her hand, tipping the child’s small chin upward and forcing the young princess to meet her eyes. “You’re the eldest girl child born to me,” she explained—a story she’d told the child dozens of times already, reminding her of just how special she was. How important. “But we’ve talked about this, haven’t we? You’re not afraid, are you?”

The little girl shook her head, her eyes brimming with tears as they darted nervously one way and then the other.

“I need you to be brave, Sabara. Can you be brave for me? Are you ready?”

And then the girl’s shoulders stiffened as she steadied herself, finding her queen’s eyes at last. “Yes, Mamma, I’m ready.”

The queen smiled. The girl was ready; young but ready.

She will be a beauty in her time, the queen thought, studying the girl’s smooth porcelain skin and her soft, shining eyes. She will be strong and powerful and feared, a force to be reckoned with. Men will fall at her feet . . .. . . and she will crush them.

She will be a great queen.

She took a shaky breath. It was time.

She reached for the girl, clutching the child’s tiny fingers in hers, the smile evaporating from her lips as she concentrated on the task at hand.

She ushered forth her soul, that part deep inside of her that made her who she was. Her Essence. She could feel it coiling tightly inside of her, still full of life in ways that her body no longer was.

“I need you to say the words, Sabara.” It was nearly a plea, and she hoped the girl didn’t realize how badly she needed her, how desperate she was for this to work.

The little girl’s gaze remained fastened to the queen, and her chin inched up a notch as she spoke the words they’d rehearsed. “Take me, Mamma. Take me instead.”

The queen inhaled sharply, the muscles of her hand seizing around the girl’s as she closed her eyes. It wasn’t pain she felt. In fact, it was closer to pleasure as her Essence unfurled, misting and swirling like a dense fog as it spread through her, breaking free from its constraints at last.

She heard the child gasp, and then felt her struggle, trying to free her fingers from her mother’s grip. But it didn’t matter now; it was too late. She’d already said the words.

The overwhelming sense of ecstasy nearly shattered her, and then dulled, fading again as her Essence settled into a new space, curling into itself once more. Finding peace at long last.

She kept her eyes squeezed tight, not ready yet to open them, not ready to know whether the transfer had worked or not. And then she heard the faintest of sounds, a soft gurgling. Followed by nothing.

A deafening silence.

Slowly—so very slowly—she opened her eyes to see what it was . . .

. . . and found herself standing at the side of the bed, staring into the empty eyes of the dead queen. Eyes that had once belonged to her.





I gritted my teeth as Mr. Grayson’s voice grew louder and louder, until there was no mistaking that he meant for the people in the congested street to hear him, despite the fact that he knew full well they couldn’t understand a single word he spoke.

It was the same thing every day. I was forced to listen to his shameless bigotry simply because his shop stood across the crowded marketplace from my parents’ restaurant. He didn’t bother disguising his contempt for the refugees that flooded our city, bringing with them their “poverty and disease.”

And he did it right in front of them, smiling falsely to their faces while they filed past his shop, displaying wares he hoped to sell them. Of course, they had no real way of knowing—other than his scornful tone—that the shopkeeper mocked and ridiculed them since he spoke in Parshon, and they were obviously not vendors. They were the impoverished, sharing the downcast gazes of the Serving class. Yet even as the merchant called them names they couldn’t understand, they never glanced up. It wasn’t permitted.