Burning Glass - Kathryn Purdie


I CLUTCHED THE CARVED FIGURINE OF THE GODDESS UNTIL A splinter of wood bit my finger. The sting was only a fraction of the pain I felt—pain that wasn’t entirely my own. “You shouldn’t be letting her bleed.”

Sestra Mirna startled, whirling around with wide eyes. When she saw it was only me, her face settled back into its complex array of sags and wrinkles. “Sonya, what are you doing here?” She pressed a bandage to the crook of Yuliya’s arm. “Novices aren’t allowed near the diseased.”

Ignoring her, I crept farther into the convent infirmary.

I breathed through my mouth to avoid the stench of sickness in the air, lifted the hem of my nightgown, and tiptoed around the blood spatter on the floor. Despite the coldness in the rest of my body, the heat from the fireplace stung my eyes, and the tiles near the hearth baked the soles of my feet.

I pulled my shawl closer across my chest and peered around Sestra Mirna. A notched porcelain bowl rested on Yuliya’s bedside table. Blood skimmed its highest measurement line. My friend’s eyes were closed and her ginger hair lay plastered against her bone-white face. I swallowed. “There must be another way to treat her. She doesn’t have any more blood to lose. Have you seen her legs? She cuts herself.” I winced as the figurine’s splinter dug deeper past my skin.

“It’s her emotional release,” Sestra Mirna said, and rubbed her brow with the back of her hand to avoid her stained fingers. She wasn’t careful enough. A smear of blood marred the kerchief tying her gray hair away from her face. “You would do well to find one, too.” Harsh lines formed between her brows. “Perhaps then you would be able to refrain from sneaking into forbidden wings in the dead of night.”

I pinched my lips and curled my toes, fighting to keep my frustration at bay. I wanted self-control without cutting myself like Yuliya, pulling the hair from my head like Dasha, or weeping night and day like Kira. Besides, my frustration wasn’t solely my own. I must be allowing Sestra Mirna’s emotions to nest inside of me.

“I came to give Yuliya this.” I held out the figurine of Feya while keeping my shawl together with one hand against the chill. My time with the Romska had dispelled any religious notions I’d had, but Yuliya was even more devout than the sestras of the convent. I hoped seeing the goddess of prophecy and Auraseers nearby would give her strength to recover from the ague.

As I watched the faint rise and fall of her chest, I bit my trembling lip. The rattle of her breath was too soft, her pulse too slow.

The truth was, I needed Yuliya to be better. I couldn’t endure this place without a friend, without someone to make me smile and tell me stories into the long hours of the night.

Sestra Mirna took the figurine, and the lines on her face softened, changing pattern. The frustration inside me also faded, though I grew colder as she reached up to set the goddess on the frost-rimmed windowsill, all the while keeping her hold on Yuliya’s bandage. Outside, the snowfall kept its steady torrent.

My stomach rumbled. Sestra Mirna must be famished. When had she last allowed herself a meal or a moment’s rest? Little Dasha and Kira, fast asleep in their beds on the other side of the room, had regained some of the color in their skin, and many of our peers had been excused from the sick wing after recovering from the epidemic. But Yuliya kept declining.