Hereditary (Beatrice Harrow Series Book 1)By: Jane Washington
For Madison, my first reader.
My father used to walk with me every morning, back when I was young and blissfully naïve… while I was a part of a family isolated in its perfection, and perfectly isolated because of it. We would leave the cottage without my mother—while it may have been safe for us, it certainly wasn’t for her—and would skirt the northern side of the high, stone walls that encompassed the Market District of the Read Empire. And every single day, he would give me the same riddle.
What is the one thing that will never change?
Never once did I take the question seriously. I answered him differently each morning, challenging myself to come up with something new, something funny, something tragic, and often in my younger teenage years, something bratty. One day it was his snoring, that may have altered in pitch and intensity, but never failed to shake the cottage and keep me awake. The next day it was my mother’s total inability to produce edible food. On days when I was feeling particularly philosophical, it could have been the sun, which rose in varying degrees of splendour, but rose each day all the same. With every answer I provided, he would shake his head and tell me to try again the next morning. In the end, it wasn’t even my father who taught me the answer… it was my mother. A week after she died, we went on our last walk, as father had just been awarded his new position on the Black Guard, and we would not be able to maintain our recluse lifestyle any longer. There also wasn’t much reason for it anymore; not now that Caroline Harrow was dead.
Though we still walked that morning, it was the first time he had refrained from asking me the question, and it was the first time I had taken it seriously. I looked at everything differently that day. I looked at the blooming flowers that would soon wilt, at the fluttering of the leaves that fell before my eyes, and at the reliable sun that would retreat into darkness as it did every night, just as reliably. I had never seen his question for the lesson it was, because until that moment, I had never experienced death.
It might have been his way of preparing me, in some small part, for how difficult my life would be. I never really respected how hard it must have been for my mother, mostly because we had steered clear of the other civilizations under the Read rule. Father had put off promotion after promotion to stay with us, knowing that it wouldn’t be safe for my mother, but after she passed, there must have simply been too many bad memories in that little cottage, and he finally caved in and moved us into one of the bordering villages. It wasn’t as dangerous for me as it would have been for her, not really.
He was worried at first that his new position would only make things worse for me. After all, the black guardsmen weren’t exactly knights in shining golden armour. Those were the men of the King’s Guard, and they had a commander of their own. Father’s dominion was a very different squadron of recruits. Assassin, I distinctly recall hearing someone whisper, as we passed a crowd of people near the gates to the kingdom one morning. I thought it was a horrible label, especially after I started training with them myself.
I never had ambitions of being a black guardswoman, or even a regular solider, but father had initially been scared to leave me at home alone while he was away. He had never really had much of a hand in raising me, and that barely changed even after my mother passed. He had always preferred to leave all the decisions up to her, and she had joked that even though he could take down five men at once, he was still scared witless at the idea of disciplining his own daughter. That hadn’t been entirely true, of course. I had never needed disciplining, and I highly doubted that my softhearted mother would have been any more capable than my father, if it had ever come to it.
I don’t think he intended me to pick up a wooden sword and start mirroring the men through their morning paces, but there wasn’t much else to do in the barracks, and it saved me from going wandering alone in the forest the moment he turned his back.
It wasn’t the physicality of the training that drew me in at such a young age, but something less tangible. It was the unity of so many outcasts, a comfort that I found in these huge, scary men who snarled and spat and picked their fingernails with daggers. These people were hissed at by groups of others meeting them at the gates to the kingdom, just as I was. They were scared, feared, and often rejected in royal society, just as I was. Heck, they were scared, feared, and rejected in any society. They were the only people who didn’t stare at me, or whisper about me as I passed them, they treated me as one of their own, just as I did them. Of course, that didn’t stop them from laughing at my pitiful attempts with a sword, even when I graduated from a wooden tip to a steel tip. I’d like to say that I’ve gotten better over the years—and while I may be faster, leaner, and subtly stronger—I would still be lying.