The Cabinet Of Wonders Page 29

But, to her surprise, Dita did no such thing. She just walked across the room, pressed Petra\s hair back from her face, gazed at her, and then held her tight. ’’We thought you were dead,’’ she said. Her voice shook.

’’Is it true?’’ Mikal Kronos stood in the doorway. David was leading him by the hand. ’’She\s not really here? Safe?’’

’’I am, Father!’’ said Petra. ’’And I\ve brought back your eyes!’’

’’You ... what?’’ He let go of David and felt along the wall for a chair, then sank into one. Astrophil darted across the room and climbed onto his knee. Dita, Josef, and David stared at Petra.

’’You did not,’’ David scoffed.

’’I did!’’ Forgetting her sickness, she launched with excited energy into the entire story, from the moment Neel tried to steal her purse to her dream last night. Josef listened, his face impassive. Petra couldn\ see Dita\s reactions, for the woman stayed beside Petra, sitting on the edge of the bed, with her arm around her. David was riveted. He looked tense during the moments that had scared Petra, laughed at the funny parts, and wrinkled his brow when she explained a dilemma that she\d had to solve. But when Petra finished speaking and a silence stole over the room, David just said, ’’That\s a great story, Petra. But I don\ believe any of it.’’

’’Maybe you\ll believe this.’’ She reached into her pocket and pulled out her father\s eyes. They rested on her palm.

’’Those are the ones Master Stakan made,’’ David said.

’’That\s what you think. Father will know the difference.’’ She marched to where Mikal Kronos sat, and put the eyes in his hand.

Petra stood before him, waiting for him to speak. He just sat there, holding his eyes with one hand and his bandaged head with the other.

He closed his hand into a fist, opened his mouth, and then shut it into a thin line. ’’What have you done?’’

’’What what do you mean? I\ve brought you your eyes.’’

’’You\ve brought danger on this house!’’ He flung his silver eyes across the room and they rolled on the floor.

’’But ’’

’’You told Iris December who you were! That man recognized you!’’

’’But they won\ tell. I trust Iris. And they helped me. They can\ tell anyone about me without getting themselves into trouble, too.’’

He gave a hollow laugh. ’’It\s when they are in trouble that they will reveal every detail they can about you.’’

Petra felt suddenly angry. ’’For someone who was stupid enough to be tricked by the prince, to think he was so friendly and nice and smart, you seem to pretend to know an awful lot about what people really think, and how they act, and how they feel!’’

’’Petra,’’ Josef said warningly.

’’And for someone who\s done the last thing in the world I would have ever wanted, you seem to pretend you know what\s best for me!’’ Mikal Kronos shouted back. ’’How long do you think it will take before the prince realizes that a theft from the Cabinet of Wonders by two children has something to do with me? It\ll take about two seconds, Petra. It will take two seconds for the prince to realize that the clock\s heart is destroyed.’’

’’Lots of people could have wanted to break that heart! I told you what John Dee said. If he knew about it, plenty of other people must have known, too. The prince will think that one of his brothers found out about it, and hired somebody to destroy it.’’

’’And my eyes? Do you think that he won\ notice that they\ e missing?’’

Petra was at a loss for words. ’’Well ... so what?’’

’’So what? A few months ago, I was blind but we were all safe. Now, we are not.’’

’’You you think we would have been safe here? The prince couldn\ figure out how to put the heart together, but he wouldn\ have waited around forever. He would have sent for you. He would have made you do it.’’

’’And that would have involved only me. Petra, don\ you see? I made my decisions. I made my plans. I didn\ ask you to become part of them.’’

’’But I already was! I know you wanted to send me to the Academy. Oh, yes, I know!’’

Mikal Kronos waved his hand. ’’Well, that will never happen now.’’

’’Good! I\m glad! Because I never would have gone! You ’’ Her voice broke. She felt as if something were wringing her insides, as if she were a rag. ’’What do you want from me? What do you want me to say? I did this for you.’’

’’Did you really?’’ He raised his hands and then let them fall to the arms of the chair. Petra stood before him. He shook his head again. ’’This is the worst thing you could have done.’’

This was not what Petra had imagined. This was not what she had imagined at all. And so she said something she could never have imagined she would ever say. ’’I hate you,’’ she whispered. Then she ran out of the room.

SHE SPED across the wet snow, which was already melting in the rising sun. She ran until she choked on her own breath. She pushed her way into the woods, sat in the cold mud, and cried. Unless you count several hours of chopping onions, Petra hadn\ shed a tear since her father had been brought home to Okno, even though there were many times when she had wanted badly to do so. Now Petra didn\ think she would ever stop crying.

When she did, she felt like a dried-up riverbed. Like packed, cracked dirt with no chance of ever being anything else. She stared blankly ahead, and wondered if she should run away again, if she should try to find the Lovari. She fingered the horseshoe around her neck. Maybe it wasn\ too late ...

But then something silvery crept across her foot.

’’Go away, Astro,’’ she said in a dull voice, without looking down.

’’I\m not Astrophil. I\m Roshina.’’

It was a tin mouse with a long tail and tiny paws. Petra saw Josef pushing aside bare tree branches. He walked steadily toward her. She didn\ move. He hunkered down beside her. ’’Petra, you\ve done a brave thing.’’

She didn\ look at him. She rubbed at her tears.

’’When your da\s less scared he\s going to realize that, too.’’

’’Scared?’’

’’When Lucie and Pavel returned from Prague and said they\d left you there with some make-believe aunt, we were very worried. Prague isn\ a place for a twelve-year-old girl on her own.’’

’’I\m thirteen,’’ she said sullenly.

’’Thirteen.’’ He nodded. ’’Everyone rounded on Tomik. I don\ think he\s been let out of his room all this time you\ve been gone. He kept claiming that the only thing he knew was that you wanted to go to Prague.’’

Petra had known she could trust Tomik not to reveal her plan.

’’So I went to the city to look for you,’’ Josef said.

’’You did?’’

’’Of course. Do you think we would have waited around until you came home, if you came home? What would you\ve done in our shoes?

’’I asked the beggar children about you. I saw homeless, crippled, and mad children your own age. And I had to go home empty-handed, thinking the worst things. Don\ you understand that when your da\s upset the way he is, it\s because he\s still seeing all the things that we thought must\ve happened to you? Even though you\ e here and alive and safe? He blames himself that you left in the first place.’’

As Petra listened, she imagined how everything could have gone wrong. She had never let herself think about it before, because then she might not have had the courage to go through with her plan. But she understood now what it would have been like if she had been caught, thrown into prison, or hanged. She realized that this would have given her father misery on top of his blindness. She imagined what it would have been like if she had returned home, as triumphant as she had felt only an hour ago, and discovered that her father was dying from a sickness, or from worry, or from anything. Then everything she had done would have been for nothing.

’’Let\s go back,’’ Josef said, and held out his hand.

She took it.

WHEN SHE WALKED into the Sign of the Compass, she could hear Dita and her father arguing. They stopped when they heard the door creak. Her father turned around. He wore no bandages, and his face was whole and cured. His silver eyes gleamed. ’’Petra.’’ He walked toward her and put his hand on her cheek. He looked into her face. ’’Now, that ’’ he started to say. He tried again: ’’That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’’

Epilogue

PETRA HAD TO LIE IN BED for two weeks while she recovered from her fever. She wasn\ unhappy, however, for she had visitors.

Tomik, freed by his father, was at first thrilled to see Petra. The tin dog thumped her tail with fierce delight as she and Tomik stood by Petra\s bedside. Atalanta had grown into a hulking, bristling, sweet-tempered beast. The dog\s shoulders were powerful, but her slender flanks suggested that she might fill out even further. Oil dripped from her fangs as she wriggled her broad head under Petra\s arm. She drooled all over Petra\s pillow until it was splotched with grass-green stains.

Tomik proudly said that he had always known Petra would be able to accomplish what she had set out to do. He told her about his new inventions. Tomik had created an antidote to the Worry Vial\s flaw: a gel that coated the inside of the jar, just like Petra had suggested. Tomas Stakan\s gratitude had made Tomik\s virtual imprisonment at the Sign of Fire after Petra had disappeared a little more bearable. A little.

Tomik was impressed when Petra described how she had used his Marvels. ’’That much water?’’ he said. ’’I\ll have to fix that.’’ As he mused about how to do that, he looked at his friend\s tired face. A sudden awareness of how much danger Petra had faced without him rose in his heart, and awoke the seeds of unpleasant questions: Should he have gone to Prague with Petra? Would their friendship change because he hadn\ ?

’’Maybe you should leave it as it is,’’ Petra suggested. ’’Make the next Bubble just like the first. It was pretty useful.’’ She didn\ notice the shadow that changed Tomik\s expression. Astrophil did, but he remained silent.

David made her tell the story over and over again. Neel was his new hero, and he kept pestering his mother to make a red and gold page\s jacket for him.

Dita scolded Petra for talking too much, reading too much, staying up too late, and overall doing just about everything she could do to avoid getting better. Petra found herself breaking rules deliberately, just so Dita would complain that she\d have to check in on Petra every hour, since the girl clearly didn\ have the wits to take care of herself. The cousins played this game with each other, and Petra realized, perhaps for the first time, that they played it with love.

After his rare burst of eloquence, Josef went quiet again. He nodded at Petra if he passed by her room. He said very little, as if he were embarrassed for having said so much. But then, he was busy, for he had a lot of work to do as a laborer. During the winter months, there wasn\ much work related to farming, so Josef hired himself out. He did odd jobs, repaired houses, and took care of horses. He rode Boshena. She obeyed him willingly, and he didn\ ask too much of her, for they recognized that some affinity rested between them.

Petra\s father came by her bedroom several times a day. Although he was no longer blind, the family had decided that this should remain a secret from everyone but their closest friends, the Stakans. This meant that Mikal Kronos rarely left the house, and if he did, he had to wrap bandages over his face and pretend the need to lean on someone\s arm. He didn\ like to fake blindness. But he knew that word of his miraculous recovery could so easily reach the prince.

Petra and her father shared ideas as they had almost a year ago, before Mikal Kronos left for Prague to build a clock for Prince Rodolfo. But things were different. You could see this in the slightly stiff way that they talked together, as if they each wanted to ask for the other\s forgiveness.

One morning, Petra woke up at dawn. This was another way in which things had changed. Ever since she had worked as a servant, she had gotten used to rising early, and found that she liked it. Today she felt strong and well.

She slipped from her bed and went to her father\s library. Astrophil rode on her shoulder.

Petra shut the library door behind her, and then opened the secret compartment in the floor. She pulled out the bag of invisible tools. This action marked another change. For, you see, she now knew why her father had hidden that bag away. It was because the tools could be used as weapons.

She carefully sorted through the bag, trying not to prick her fingers on any sharp edges or points. Feeling along the invisible shapes, she found one that was not really a tool. It was not a screwdriver, or a hammer, or a wrench. It was a thin sword. She hefted it in her hand. It felt light. It felt as if it had been made for her. Indeed, it probably had been.

The greatest change of all for her family had been shouted by her father: they were no longer safe. He hadn\ meant to be so angry. He hadn\ meant to accuse her. Petra knew this. But she also knew that some of the things he had said were true. It might not be long before the prince came looking for them.

She stared at the blade, even though she saw nothing.

What are you going to do with it?

She replied to Astrophil as if the answer were obvious: ’’I\m going to practice.’’


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