The Everlasting Rose (The Belles, #2)

The Everlasting Rose (The Belles, #2)

Dhonielle Clayton

The Goddess of Beauty chose the first queen of Orléans. Beauty searched for the one who would treasure her most sacred gift—the Belles. She knew she wouldn’t be able to journey back and forth between the sky and the ground for much longer. The tension among the gods required her to pick a realm. She enacted a series of tests—the Beauty Trials—to draw out the woman who had the right qualities. The one who could nourish their precious talents. The one who would never be jealous. The one who would, above all, keep them safe. When Queen Marjorie of House Orléans emerged the victor of the Trials, she pledged that she and her descendants would forever revere the Belles as extensions of Beauty herself; to be treated as if they were as delicate and precious as the petals on an everlasting rose.

from The History of Orléans

Maman never told me what to do when the world falls apart like a dress ripped at its seams, the beads scattering into faraway corners, the fabric a storm of shredded pieces left destroyed and unrecognizable. She never told me how to battle the nightmares that creep in like icy shadows, lingering behind closed eyes. She never told me what to do when all the color leaks out of the world like blood oozing from a mortal wound.

She gave me a mirror to see truth. I clutch it, the glass warming inside my palm.

But what happens when the reflection peering back is ugly, and when all I want to do is set everything ablaze, and she’s not here to help me?

The past three days are a chaotic blur, a télétrope in perpetual motion—the palace, Sophia’s dungeons, Charlotte waking up, and Arabella helping us get here with false papers.

“Are you listening to me?” Edel snaps. “You’ve been gazing out that window for almost a full hourglass.”

I don’t pivot around to face her or the small boardinghouse room we’ve been stuffed into. I fixate on the sun as it sinks behind the row of shops across the street and watch how it turns the sky the color of a peacock’s tail. Sunsets are much more beautiful this far south. It feels like the Spice Isles are at the very edge of the world and poised to float right off.

I press my nose against the frigid glass; the cold-season wind attempts to push its way through. I wish it would wrap its icy fingers around me and cool my insides. In the distance, the cluster of islands almost kisses at the Bay of Croix, and the capital city of Metairie overlooks them like a huge house-lantern out at sea, drawing ships safely near. Golden bridges connect the four isles and radiate like fireworks as evening arch-lanterns are lit. Decadent river coaches skate over the waters beneath, the light glinting off their gilded trim. Grand spice plantations stretch out in all directions with large white mansions overseeing fields of mint, lemon balm, lavender, and sage. Plant-lanterns crest over the crops, paper-thin bees carrying sunshine and nutrients.

This place feels even stranger than the palace did, so different than our home. I used to want to see every far-flung corner of this world, but now, all I think about is what it would be like to watch Orléans burn, each island turning to ash, clouds of thick smoke clogging the skies and stamping out the sun, the seas blackening from the leftover debris. Would the gods intervene?

I gaze back down at the maps littering the desk. My charts of the trade winds. My theories about how far Princess Charlotte could have gotten if she sailed west toward the Glass Isles or maybe east around the base of the imperial island.

Overcome with frustration, I throw the compass rose Rémy gave me, and it lands on the floor with an unsatisfying thud.

Edel picks it up. “Camille, I need to show you something!” She looks over my shoulder at my maps. “Come now. You don’t even know if Charlotte made it out that night.”

“Rémy said the queen’s private schooner was spotted. Who else could it be?”

“A thief? Pirates? Some drunken courtiers who got on the wrong boat?”

I scoff. “He said no one knows who was on it, and now you’re putting all your hopes into a girl who was unconscious for four years.”

She touches my bare shoulder. I jump.

“Your skin’s hotter than a cookstove,” she says. “Are you ill?”

I want to tell her a never-ending fire burns in the pit of my stomach now, the flames fed by my rage.

“And your fingers are like ice,” I reply.

I grab the compass from her and trace another potential route Charlotte might have taken, putting her north of the imperial island. “She was coughing and waking up when Amber and I rushed out.”

“Let’s forget Charlotte and storm the palace. We could take down Sophia ourselves.”

“Then what? Rule Orléans?”

Edel nibbles her bottom lip. “Maybe.”

“If Charlotte is queen, then she can return Orléans to what it used to be. The way Queen Celeste wanted.”

“I don’t want to go back. I won’t be in another teahouse again. I won’t be forced to—”

I take her hand, and she swallows the rest of the sentence. “We need to hope. If we can find Charlotte and bring her back to the palace, she can confront her sister. She can put an end to all of this.” I hold her close. “Then we will find a different way forward, a different life for us. I promise.”

“Fine, fine,” Edel mutters under her breath and pulls away. “But I have something more important to show you... something that will help us when we leave this place.” She’s shaky and casts nervous glances at the door. “I’ve been waiting until we were alone.”

Dhonielle Clayton's Books