The Young Elites - Marie Lu Page 0,1
I wasn’t beautiful. I’m not being arrogant, only honest. My nursemaid once told me that any man who’d ever laid eyes on my late mother was now waiting curiously to see how her two daughters would blossom into women. My younger sister, Violetta, was only fourteen and already the budding image of perfection. Unlike me, Violetta had inherited our mother’s rosy temperament and innocent charm. She’d kiss my cheeks and laugh and twirl and dream. When we were very small, we’d sit together in the garden and she would braid periwinkles into my hair. I would sing to her. She would make up games.
We loved each other, once.
My father would bring Violetta jewels and watch her clap her hands in delight as he strung them around her neck. He would buy her exquisite dresses that arrived in port from the farthest ends of the world. He would tell her stories and kiss her good night. He would remind her how beautiful she was, how far she would raise our family’s standing with a good marriage, how she could attract princes and kings if she desired. Violetta already had a line of suitors eager to secure her hand, and my father would tell each of them to be patient, that they could not marry her until she turned seventeen. What a caring father, everyone thought.
Of course, Violetta didn’t escape all of my father’s cruelty. He purposely bought her dresses that were tight and painful. He enjoyed seeing her feet bleed from the hard, jeweled shoes he encouraged her to wear.
Still. He loved her, in his own way. It’s different, you see, because she was his investment.
I was another story. Unlike my sister, blessed with shining black hair to complement her dark eyes and rich olive skin, I am flawed. And by flawed, I mean this: When I was four years old, the blood fever reached its peak and everyone in Kenettra barred their homes in a state of panic. No use. My mother, sister, and I all came down with the fever. You could always tell who was infected—strange, mottled patterns showed up on our skin, our hair and lashes flitted from one color to another, and pink, blood-tinged tears ran from our eyes. I still remember the smell of sickness in our house, the burn of brandy on my lips. My left eye became so swollen that a doctor had to remove it. He did it with a red-hot knife and a pair of burning tongs.
So, yes. You could say I am flawed.
Marked. A malfetto.
While my sister emerged from the fever unscathed, I now have only a scar where my left eye used to be. While my sister’s hair remained a glossy black, the strands of my hair and lashes turned a strange, ever-shifting silver, so that in the sunlight they look close to white, like a winter moon, and in the dark they change to a deep gray, shimmering silk spun from metal.
At least I fared better than Mother did. Mother, like every infected adult, died. I remember crying in her empty bedchamber each night, wishing the fever had taken Father instead.
My father and his mysterious guest were still talking downstairs. My curiosity got the best of me and I swung my legs over the side of my bed, crept toward my chamber door on light feet, and opened it a crack. Dim candlelight illuminated the hall outside. Below, my father sat across from a tall, broad-shouldered man with graying hair at his temples, his hair tied back at the nape of his neck in a short, customary tail, the velvet of his coat shining black and orange in the light. My father’s coat was velvet too, but the material was worn thin. Before the blood fever crippled our country, his clothes would have been as luxurious as his guest’s. But now? It’s hard to keep good trade relations when you have a malfetto daughter tainting your family’s name.
Both men drank wine. Father must be in a negotiating mood tonight, I thought, to have tapped one of our last good casks.
I opened the door a little wider, crept out into the hall, and sat, knees to my chin, along the stairs. My favorite spot. Sometimes I’d pretend I was a queen, and that I stood here on a palace balcony looking down at my groveling subjects. Now I took up my usual crouch and listened closely to the conversation downstairs. As always, I made sure my hair covered my