The Star-Touched Queen (The Star-Touched Queen #1)(10)

“Did you tell anyone?”

“No. I thought an apsara had left them there. Maybe she wanted them back and she’d get mad if I took them.”

“So you think finding hidden slippers qualifies you to enter the Otherworld?”

Gauri blinked at me as though this were the most obvious conclusion.

“I’ll tell you where to find it, then,” I said, laughing. Truthfully, the folktales never said how to get there, but Gauri looked at me so expectantly I couldn’t imagine any harm in playing up her imagination. “You have to go when the creatures are at their weakest, on the night of a new moon. The Otherworld is on the other side of a moonbeam and inside a hundred lotus petals. It’s in that space of time right before you fall asleep…”

Gauri muffled a yawn and looked sleepily at the door.

“I’m going to go someday.”

“Are you?” I asked, wrapping my arm around her. “You should take me with you.”

“I’ll take you, didi.”

Her voice was heavy with sleepiness, but her body was curled tight and tense. I knew she was trying to keep herself awake, drawing out the minutes where we could lie side by side. But we both knew she had to leave.

“Will we see each other again?” she asked softly.


Gauri fell silent. “In this life?”

I turned to face her. “What do you mean?”

“Mother Urvashi says that if I’m bad in this life then I’ll come back as a goat in my next life. Which means that there is another life.” Gauri didn’t look at me, focusing instead on tightly twisting the hem of her gown. “So will you see me again before I’m a goat?”

“You’re too good to be a goat.”

“Didi, you’re not answering me.”

“I know,” I said into her hair. “I just don’t know.”

“But if we were sisters this time, we would be sisters again, right?”

“Of course.”

“And we were sisters in our last life too, right?”


“What do you think we were?” asked Gauri, looking up at me. “Princesses?”

“Nothing as boring as that,” I said. “We could have been stars, you and me. And not the mean ones that blindly spell out the rest of your life, but beautiful constellations hovering far above fate.” I pointed to the open window. “We could have been something magical. Talking bears that built a palace in a mango tree. Or twin makaras with tails so long they could have encircled the ocean twice.”

“Makaras are scary.”

“No, they’re not.”

“They’re huge,” she said, spreading her arms, “and they have lots of teeth.” Gauri hooked her fingers into her cheeks and pulled, revealing a number of loose baby teeth and gaps.

“Er tharp tooth,” she said, still pulling on her cheeks.


She let go of her lips. “They’re sharp too.”

I laughed. “Well, you’re very small with lots of teeth and are just as vicious and scary as a sea dragon.”

“It’s bad to be a dragon.”

“Says who? Nothing wrong with a little bit of viciousness. Would you rather be a dove or a dragon?”

“Mother Dhina says—”

“I’m not asking about what Mother Dhina thinks, I’m asking you.”

Gauri peeked at me from beneath the blankets. “I think it would be nice to blow fire. I’d never get hungry.”

I laughed. “Sound reasoning, as ever.”

Slowly, Gauri slipped off the bed. I clenched my hands together so that I wouldn’t be tempted to comfort her. I couldn’t coddle her. I couldn’t lull her with false promises. All I could ask was that she would remember what I said, remember the stories I told and hope that some of that knowledge would, in time, be its own comfort.

“No matter where we are, we’ll always share the same sky. We can always find each other in the same constellation.”

Gauri sniffed. “Which?”

“The loveliest of them all,” I said, pointing at a slight angle in the stars. I may have hated the rest of them, but not this one. This constellation was far from the rest, a lonely cluster of lights. “The Solitary Star. That will be our constellation. Legend says it was built by the celestial architect who made the golden city of Lanka.”

“Real gold?” repeated Gauri. “Maybe I’ll go there too.”

I laughed and pulled her into one last hug. It was better this way, better to go without saying goodbye. After shutting the door behind me, I pulled out the heaps of clothes and set to work scuffing the hems of the saris and cutting holes into silks. I would need to blend in once I was in the city.

Doubt crept up on me. Sneaking out of the harem wasn’t the problem. It was what would come next. All those hours spent above my father’s inner sanctum, listening and watching. Whatever small hopes I had amassed over the years—to be significant in the eyes of this court, to rule, to possess a voice that others would listen to rather than shrink from—now lay bruised and trampled in my mind. If I left, I would live forever as a fugitive. Or perhaps no one would come looking for me. Either fate struck a blow.

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