This is NOT related to my novel, Moscow Nights. My Novel takes place in the present day. The Story, Shadow & Bone is by Israel Born Leigh Bardugo, who graduated at Yale University right here in Connecticut, but Yale University is in New Haven. Shadow & Bone is the first book in the Grisha Trilogy, which would be turned into a film by the same guy who turned Harry Potter into a film.
Leigh, this is for you.
I TURNED AND SAW the Darkling standing in an archway, flanked by Ivan and several other Grisha whom I recognized from the journey. Marie and Sergei backed away hastily. The Darkling surveyed the crowd and said, “We are expected.”
Instantly, the room bustled with activity as the Grisha rose and began to file through the large double doors that led outside. They arranged themselves two abreast in a long line. First the Materialki, then the Etherealki, and finally the Corporalki, so that the highest-ranked Grisha would enter the throne room last.
Unsure of what to do, I stayed where I was, watching the crowd. I looked around for Genya, but she seemed to have disappeared. A moment later, the Darkling was beside me. I glanced up at his pale profile, the sharp jaw, the granite eyes.
“You look well rested,” he said.
I bristled. I wasn’t comfortable with what Genya had done, but standing in a room full of beautiful Grisha, I had to admit that I was grateful for it. I still didn’t look like I belonged, but I would have stuck out much worse without Genya’s help.
“Are there other Tailors?” I asked.
“Genya is unique,” he answered, glancing at me. “Like us.”
I ignored the little thrill that went through me at the word us and said, “Why isn’t she walking with the rest of the Grisha?”
“Genya must attend to the Queen.”
“When Genya’s abilities began to show themselves, I could have had her choose between becoming a Fabrikator or a Corporalnik. Instead, I cultivated her particular affinity and made a gift of her to the Queen.”
“A gift? So a Grisha is no better than a serf?”
“We all serve someone,” he said, and I was surprised by the harsh edge in his voice. Then he added, “The King will expect a demonstration.”
I felt as if I’d been dunked in ice water. “But I don’t know how to—”
“I don’t expect you to,” he said calmly, moving forward as the last of the red-robed Corporalki disappeared through the door.
We emerged onto the gravel path and into the last of the afternoon sunshine. I was finding it hard to breathe. I felt as if I were walking to my execution. Maybe I am, I thought with a surge of dread.
“This isn’t fair,” I whispered angrily. “I don’t know what the King thinks I can do, but it isn’t fair to throw me out there and expect me to just … make things happen.”
“I hope you don’t expect fairness from me, Alina. It isn’t one of my specialties.”
I stared at him. What was I supposed to make out of that?
The Darkling glanced down at me. “Do you really believe I brought you all this way to make a fool out of you? Out of both of us?”
“No,” I admitted.
“And it’s completely out of your hands now, isn’t it?” he said as we made our way through the dark wooded tunnel of branches. That was true too, if not particularly comforting. I had no choice but to trust that he knew what he was doing. I had a sudden unpleasant thought.
“Are you going to cut me again?” I asked.
“I doubt I’ll have to, but it all depends on you.”
I was not reassured.
I tried to calm myself and to slow the beating of my heart but, before I knew it, we had made our way through the grounds and were climbing the white marble steps to the Grand Palace. As we moved through a spacious entry hall into a long corridor lined with mirrors and ornamented in gold, I thought how different this place was from the Little Palace. Everywhere I looked, I saw marble and gold, soaring walls of white and palest blue, gleaming chandeliers, liveried footmen, polished parquet floors laid out in elaborate geometric designs. It wasn’t without beauty, but there was something exhausting about the extravagance of it all. I’d always assumed that Ravka’s hungry peasants and poorly supplied soldiers were the result of the Shadow Fold. But as we walked by a tree of jade embellished with diamond leaves, I wasn’t so sure.
The throne room was three stories high, every window sparkling with gold double eagles. A long, pale blue carpet ran the length of the room to where the members of the court milled about a raised throne. Many of the men wore military dress, black trousers and white coats laden with medals and ribbons. The women sparkled in gowns of liquid silk with little puffed sleeves and low necklines. Flanking the carpeted aisle, the Grisha stood arranged in their separate orders.
A hush fell as every face turned to me and the Darkling. We walked slowly toward the golden throne. As we drew closer, the King sat up straighter, tense with excitement. He looked to be in his forties, slender and round-shouldered with big watery eyes and a pale mustache. He wore full military dress, a thin sword at his side, his narrow chest covered with medals. Beside him on the raised dais stood a man with a long, dark beard. He wore priest’s robes, but a gold double eagle was emblazoned on his chest.
The Darkling gave my arm a gentle squeeze to warn me that we were stopping.
“Your highness, moi tsar,” he said in clear tones. “Alina Starkov, the Sun Summoner.” A rush of murmurs came from the crowd. I wasn’t sure if I should bow or curtsy. Ana Kuya had insisted that all the orphans know how to greet the Duke’s few noble guests, but somehow, it didn’t feel right to curtsy in army-issue trousers. The King saved me from making a blunder when he waved us forward impatiently. “Come, come! Bring her to me.”
The Darkling and I walked to the base of the dais.
The King scrutinized me. He frowned, and his lower lip jutted out slightly. “She’s very plain.”
I flushed and bit my tongue. The King wasn’t much to look at either. He was practically chinless, and close up, I could see the broken blood vessels in his nose.
“Show me,” the King commanded.
My stomach clenched. I looked at the Darkling. This was it. He nodded at me and spread his arms wide. A tense silence descended as his hands filled with dark, swirling ribbons of blackness that bled into the air. He brought his hands together with a resounding crack. Nervous cries burst from the crowd as darkness blanketed the room.
This time, I was better prepared for the dark that engulfed me, but it was still frightening. Instinctively, I reached forward, searching for something to hold on to. The Darkling caught my arm and his bare hand slid into mine. I felt that same powerful certainty wash through me and then the Darkling’s call, pure and compelling, demanding an answer. With a mixture of panic and relief, I felt something rising up inside me. This time, I didn’t try to fight it. I let it have its way.
Light flooded the throne room, drenching us in warmth and shattering the darkness like black glass. The court erupted into applause. People were weeping and hugging one another. A woman fainted. The King was clapping the loudest, rising from his throne and applauding furiously, his expression exultant.
The Darkling let go of my hand and the light faded.
“Brilliant!” the King shouted. “A miracle!” He descended the steps of the dais, the bearded priest gliding silently behind him, and took my hand in his own, raising it to his wet lips. “My dear girl,” he said. “My dear, dear girl.” I thought of what Genya had said about the King’s attention and felt my skin crawl, but I didn’t dare pull my hand away. Soon, though, he had relinquished me and was clapping the Darkling on the back.
“Miraculous, simply miraculous,” he effused. “Come, we must make plans immediately.”
As the King and the Darkling stepped away to talk, the priest drifted forward. “A miracle indeed,” he said, staring at me with a disturbing intensity. His eyes were so brown they were almost black, and he smelled faintly of mildew and incense. Like a tomb, I thought with a shiver. I was grateful when he slithered away to join the King.
I was quickly surrounded by beautifully dressed men and women, all wishing to make my acquaintance and to touch my hand or my sleeve. They crowded on every side of me, jostling and pushing to get closer. Just as I felt fresh panic setting in, Genya appeared by my side. But my relief was short-lived.
“The Queen wants to meet you,” she murmured into my ear. She steered me through the crowd and out a narrow side door into the hall, then into a jewel-like sitting room where the Queen reclined on a divan, a snuffling dog with a pushed-in face cradled on her lap.
The Queen was beautiful, with glossy blond hair in a perfect coiffure, her delicate features cold and lovely. But there was also something a little odd about her face. Her irises seemed a little too blue, her hair too yellow, her skin too smooth. I wondered just how much work Genya had done on her.
She was surrounded by ladies in exquisite gowns of petal pink and soft blue, their low necklines embroidered with gilded thread and tiny riverpearls. And yet, they all paled beside Genya in her simple cream wool kefta, her bright red hair burning like a flame.
“Moya tsaritsa,” Genya said, sinking into a low, graceful curtsy. “The Sun Summoner.”
This time, I had to make a choice. I executed a small bow and heard a few low titters from the ladies.
“Charming,” said the Queen. “I loathe pretense.” It took all my willpower not to snort at this. “You are from a Grisha family?” she asked.
I glanced nervously at Genya, who nodded encouragement.
“No,” I said, and then quickly added, “moya tsaritsa.”
“A peasant then?”
“We are so lucky in our people,” the Queen said, and the ladies murmured soft assent. “Your family must be notified of your new status. Genya will send a messenger.”
Genya nodded and gave another little curtsy. I thought about just nodding right along with her, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to start lying to royalty.
“Actually, your highness, I was raised in Duke Keramsov’s household.”
The ladies buzzed in surprise, and even Genya looked curious.
“An orphan!” exclaimed the Queen, sounding delighted. “How marvelous!”
I wasn’t sure that I would describe my parents being dead as “marvelous,” but at a loss for anything else to say, I mumbled, “Thank you, moya tsaritsa.”
“This all must seem so very strange to you. Take care that life at court does not corrupt you the way it has others,” she said, her blue marble eyes sliding to Genya. The insult was unmistakeable, but Genya’s expression betrayed nothing, a fact which did not seem to please the Queen. She dismissed us with a flick of her ring-laden fingers. “Go now.”
As Genya led me back into the hallway, I thought I heard her mutter, “Old cow.” But before I could decide whether or not to ask her about what the Queen had said, the Darkling was there, steering us down an empty corridor.
“How did you fare with the Queen?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” I said honestly. “Everything she said was perfectly nice, but the whole time she was looking at me as if I were something her dog spit up.”
Genya laughed, and the Darkling’s lips quirked in what was nearly a smile.
“Welcome to court,” he said.
“I’m not sure I like it.”
“No one does,” he admitted. “But we all make a good show of it.”
“The King seemed pleased,” I offered.
“The King is a child.”
My mouth fell open in shock and I looked around nervously, afraid someone had overheard. These people seemed to speak treason as easily as breathing. Genya didn’t look remotely disturbed by the Darkling’s words.
The Darkling must have noticed my discomfort, because he said, “But today, you’ve made him a very happy child.”
“Who was that bearded man with the King?” I asked, eager to change the subject.
“Is he a priest?”
“Of a sort. Some say he’s a fanatic. Others say he’s a fraud.”
“I say he has his uses.” The Darkling turned to Genya. “I think we’ve asked enough of Alina for today,” he said. “Take her back to her chambers and have her fitted for her kefta. She will start instruction tomorrow.”
Genya gave a little bow and laid her hand on my arm to lead me away. I was overcome by excitement and relief. My power (my power, it still didn’t seem real) had shown up again and kept me from making a fool of myself. I’d made it through my introduction to the King and my audience with the Queen. And I was going to be given a Grisha’s kefta.
“Genya,” the Darkling called after us, “the kefta will be black.”
Genya drew a startled breath. I looked at her stunned face and then at the Darkling, who was already turning to go.
“Wait!” I called before I could stop myself. The Darkling halted and turned those slate-colored eyes on me. “I … If it would be all right, I’d prefer to have blue robes, Summoners’ blue.”
“Alina!” exclaimed Genya, clearly horrified.
But the Darkling held up a hand to silence her. “Why?” he asked, his expression unreadable.
“I already feel like I don’t belong here. I think it might be easier if I weren’t … singled out.”
“Are you so anxious to be like everyone else?”
My chin lifted. He clearly didn’t approve, but I wasn’t going to back down. “I just don’t want to be more conspicuous than I already am.”
The Darkling looked at me for a long moment. I wasn’t sure if he was thinking over what I’d said or trying to intimidate me, but I gritted my teeth and returned his gaze.
Abruptly, he nodded. “As you wish,” he said. “Your kefta will be blue.” And without another word, he turned his back on us and disappeared down the hall.
Genya stared at me, aghast.
“What?” I asked defensively.
“Alina,” Genya said slowly, “no other Grisha has ever been permitted to wear a Darkling’s colors.”
“Do you think he’s angry?”
“That’s hardly the point! It would have been a mark of your standing, of the Darkling’s esteem. It would have placed you high above all others.”
“Well, I don’t want to be high above all others.”
Genya threw up her hands in exasperation and took me by the elbow, leading me back through the palace to the main entrance. Two liveried servants opened the large golden doors for us. With a jolt, I realized that they were wearing white and gold, the same colors as Genya’s kefta, a servant’s colors. No wonder she thought I was crazy for refusing the Darkling’s offer. And maybe she was right.
The thought stayed with me through the long walk back across the grounds to the Little Palace. Dusk was falling, and servants were lighting the lamps that lined the gravel path. By the time we climbed the stairs to my room, my stomach was in knots.
I sat down by the window, staring out at the grounds. While I brooded, Genya rang for a servant, whom she sent to find a seamstress and order up a dinner tray. But before she sent the girl away, she turned to me. “Maybe you’d prefer to wait and dine with the Grisha later tonight?” she asked.
I shook my head. I was far too tired and overwhelmed to even think about being around another crowd of people. “But would you stay?” I asked her.
“You don’t have to, of course,” I said quickly. “I’m sure you’ll want to eat with everyone else.”
“Not at all. Dinner for two then,” she said imperiously, and the servant raced off. Genya closed the door and walked to the little dressing table, where she started straightening the items on its surface: a comb, a brush, a pen and pot of ink. I didn’t recognize any of them, but someone must have had them brought to my room for me.
With her back still to me, Genya said, “Alina, you should understand that, when you start your training tomorrow … well, Corporalki don’t eat with Summoners. Summoners don’t dine with Fabrikators, and—”
I felt instantly defensive. “Look, if you don’t want to stay for dinner, I promise not to cry into my soup.”
“No!” she exclaimed. “It’s not that at all! I’m just trying to explain the way things work.”
Genya blew out a frustrated breath. “You don’t understand. It’s a great honor to be asked to dine with you, but the other Grisha might not approve.”
Genya sighed and sat down on one of the carved chairs. “Because I’m the Queen’s pet. Because they don’t consider what I do valuable. A lot of reasons.”
I considered what the other reasons might be and if they had something to do with the King. I thought of the liveried servants standing at every doorway in the Grand Palace, all of them dressed in white and gold. What must it be like for Genya, isolated from her own kind but not a true member of the court?
“It’s funny,” I said after a while. “I always thought that being beautiful would make life so much easier.”
“Oh it does,” Genya said, and laughed. I couldn’t help but laugh, too.
We were interrupted by a knock on the door, and the seamstress soon had us occupied with fittings and measurements. When she had finished and was gathering up her muslin and pins, Genya whispered, “It isn’t too late, you know. You could still—”
But I cut her off. “Blue,” I said firmly, though my stomach clenched again.
The seamstress left, and we turned our attention to dinner. The food was less alien than I’d expected, the kind of food we’d eaten on feast days at Keramzin: sweet pea porridge, quail roasted in honey, and fresh figs. I found I was hungrier than I’d ever been and had to resist picking up my plate to lick it.
Genya maintained a steady stream of chatter during dinner, mostly about Grisha gossip. I didn’t know any of the people she was talking about, but I was grateful not to have to make conversation, so I nodded and smiled when necessary. When the last servants left, taking our dinner dishes with them, I couldn’t suppress a yawn, and Genya rose.
“I’ll come get you for breakfast in the morning. It will take a while for you to learn your way around. The Little Palace can be a bit of a maze.” Then her perfect lips turned up in a mischievous smile. “You should try to rest. Tomorrow you meet Baghra.”
Genya grinned wickedly. “Oh yes. She’s an absolute treat.”
Before I could ask what she meant, she gave me a little wave and slipped out the door. I bit my lip. Exactly what was in store for me tomorrow?
As the door closed behind Genya, I felt fatigue creep over me. The thrill of knowing that my power might actually be real, the excitement of meeting the King and Queen, the strange marvels of the Grand Palace and the Little Palace had kept my exhaustion at bay, but now it returned—and, with it, a huge, echoing feeling of loneliness.
I undressed, hung my uniform neatly on a peg behind the star-speckled screen, and placed my shiny new boots beneath it. I rubbed the brushed wool of the coat between my fingers, hoping to find some sense of familiarity, but the fabric felt wrong, too stiff, too new. I suddenly missed my dirty old coat.
I changed into a nightdress of soft white cotton and rinsed my face. As I patted it dry, I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass above the basin. Maybe it was the lamplight, but I thought I looked even better than when Genya had first finished her work on me. After a moment, I realized I was just gawking at myself in the mirror and had to smile. For a girl who hated looking at herself, I was at risk of becoming vain.
I climbed onto the high bed, slid beneath the heavy silks and furs, and blew out the lamp. Distantly, I heard a door closing, voices calling their goodnights, the sounds of the Little Palace going to sleep. I stared into the darkness. I’d never had a room to myself before. In Keramzin, I’d slept in an old portrait hall that had been converted into a dormitory, surrounded by countless other girls. In the army, I’d slept in the barracks or tents with the other Surveyors. My new room felt huge and empty. In the silence, all the events of the day rushed in on me, and tears pricked my eyes.
Maybe I would wake tomorrow and find that it had all been a dream, that Alexei was still alive and Mal was unhurt, that no one had tried to kill me, that I’d never met the King and Queen or seen the Apparat, or felt the Darkling’s hand on the nape of my neck. Maybe I would wake to smell the campfires burning, safe in my own clothes, on my little cot, and I could tell Mal all about this strange and terrifying, but very beautiful, dream.
I rubbed my thumb over the scar in my palm and heard Mal’s voice saying, “We’ll be okay, Alina. We always are.”
“I hope so, Mal,” I whispered into my pillow and let my tears carry me to sleep.
That Chapter is different, but the end of the first chapter had a similar ending with Oxana and her brother. I hope you all love it.