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Revolving Door


This chapter contains mentions of graphic injury, arrest.

For an hour after she left the Diamond Palace, Curia found she missed Arican. This new horse was too reckless, too unsteady, and it was harder than before to sink into the trance of riding. But this was just another journey in thousands and she knew the tune by heart. Time quickly smoothed her misgivings away, so her mind was occupied by nothing but the journey, and the rhythm of hooves on stones.

Quietly she left the duchy’s borders, and was out in the Queen’s country again. To the lone pedestrian or farmer who spied her from the grassy wayside, she appeared only as the silhouette of a rider, the scout’s cloak billowing behind her. They did not see the Duchess of Diamonds and her protector riding with her, safe in her pocket.

The crossing gate stood at the end of two hours' riding, heralded by its piercing light. As she approached the stone plaza at the intersection of six roads, Curia slowed down to take in the spectacle of the gate: a tapering archway that towered upon impossible spiralling pillars, Light charms shimmering all up its height that made the carvings dance. A chain of flaming gemstone beacons hovered along the contour of the arch, casting their light on every field and roof for miles—so bright that the chains of lamps adorning the streets seemed to wane in their light.

There was nothing to show that it was an entryway of any kind. The incoming roads on the facing side could all be seen through the archway, as if there were nothing of interest here but the structure itself. On both sides, pairs of cloaked guards crossed spears in front of the archway.

“Halt, in the name of the Queen of Hearts!” shouted one, faceless in a white mask. “What is your business in the Second World?”

Curia tugged firmly on the reins till her mount began to slow, chains and rings jangling. “Curia the Arid, a commander of the Ducal Scouts,” she answered, tapping the badge on her cloak. “I came through here a week ago to deliver a message to the Duchess of Diamonds, and I am returning to my post.”

“One of the Duchess’ scouts,” the guard repeated to the other. The leer in their voice was all they conceded to whatever they might feel about her station. They uncrossed their spears, and Curia flicked the reins, the horse galloping across the gap between the worlds.

The heat pounced. The air rippled and the dark fields dissolved, condensing as barren earth, moonlit red, and dotted by straggly stalks of grass and fleshy, finger-like urana plants.

For seconds, the scent of her birth-land stirred Curia’s every memory from the recesses of her mind, the sweet, sharp scent of the urana flowers bringing a vision, like a lightning-bolt, of when she had gathered their spiny stalks for her chief, cuts bleeding in her fingers.

She no longer knew which way it was to her home village, or even whether it still stood.

Shaking her head to clear it, she rode out of the light of the crossing gate and into the pressing heat, rocks clattering away under hooves. Each step jarred her joints, and she found herself steeling herself against the ache. Many a year it had been since she had been sturdy enough to ride overnight, and she was not about to attempt it again.

Due northeast rose the dark mound of Poma Hill, and upon it twinkled a yellow beacon, marking the first way-station. It was a swift twenty minutes as she rode the winding road by the light of lamps on wooden poles, the path of rocks and gravel dipping into Poma Valley and then rising to the rocky peak where the station stood on unsawed stilts.

The lights in the windows glowed out into the evening, and in one of them a silhouette stirred, craning its neck. “Is it Eniun I see? Returned from her diamond land business?” called a raspy voice from the warden’s booth in Leysian.

Curia blinked at the syllables of a name she had long stopped going by. “The Third World does not explore itself,” she called back.

“What if it does not wish to be explored?” answered the silhouette in the window.

“My job does not need me to ask these questions.”

They refused to ask questions, too, when they came to explore our land.” He chuckled harshly. “I mean no offence. We all live how we can. That is why you run the errands of conquerors. And why I spend my weeks rotting here!”

“Your service is much appreciated, that I can tell you.”

By now, Curia had come to a stop at the base of the stilt-borne building, beside the staircase leading down from the warden’s roost, her lips drawn into a line. She listened to the chorus of creaking steps as he scurried down to meet her.

When he appeared, Acun took the stallion by the reins and handed her a crudely-fashioned key in exchange. “You're my only guest tonight,” he said. “First room on the left.” He led the horse away before she could respond, and she shrugged, starting to ascend.

The rooms at the way-station were barely wide enough for two bedrolls, but she would not need that much space. She stood outside and waited while the warden returned, sweaty and panting, arms wrapped around her packs. Taking them from him almost felt like wrestling, but he eventually relinquished them without letting anything slip from his grip. She reentered the room and slung them onto the floor.

Once the door was locked behind her, she knelt and laid the two cards out on the ground. “Your Grace,” she said.

Light beamed out of the first card and took the form of Orobelle. Her blinking eyes emerged first, then her frown, muttering “Are we there?” while the rest of her followed. Stunned for a moment, she glanced about, then turned to the card on the floor beside her. “Dorian! Out of there!”

At once he burst from the card in the same way the duchess had, bowing as soon as he had materialised. “My duchess, I apologise,” he said, a hand to his heart.

“Never mind your apologies. Will you please find me the bath?”

Curia lifted a hand. "Stay hidden, Dorian. I will go."

Within ten minutes, Curia had returned with the unfortunate news that there was no bathing facility in the way-station. After the expected bout of complaining, Orobelle lay down in a huff and dozed off on her bedroll, before midnight would have come in the Duchy.

Once her soft snores filled the room, Dorian turned to Curia with a gesture to the door. “May I go outside?” he said. “Or should I remain hidden?”

“If Acun is asleep.” From the bundle of cloth and wrappings on the ground, Curia took two bottles of satiation and rose, exiting the room. When she returned a minute later, she gestured for Dorian to follow.

Acun was snoring like a bear in his booth, the noise filling the lamplit hallway. They walked the opposite way quietly, out of the lamplight and onto a deck overlooking the dark valley on the other side. Dorian glanced out, eyes sweeping the horizon: here and there, through the smoke, were stars he knew, different from the ones in the Duchy—the only things visible beyond these impenetrable chains of volcanoes. Somewhere in the distance, a bright river of lava filled a crack in the darkness.

This was their homeland in all its glory: fire and peaks, smoke and death.

Curia’s hand entered Dorian’s vision, holding out a bottle to him. He met her eye, and then bowed away, hand faltering mid-reach. “You ought to have it for yourself,” he said.

She sniffed a laugh and shook her head, pressing it into his palm. “I brought it for you, boy. What is your name?”

The sound of those Western Range syllables jolted him out of his blankness. It was the Leysian dialect she spoke, but like all the dialects of the area, the words all resembled his own. “Eirucan," he said, uncorking his bottle. "I almost forget the taste of real food." He sipped and swallowed, closing his eyes.

Curia’s brow furrowed. “Eirucan. How long have you lived like this?”

“I have been in the Duchy for two years,” he replied. “I don’t mean to suggest that I am not grateful for my employment, but—”

She swallowed her bottle’s contents in a gulp. “She's asleep. There’s no need to speak cloyingly of the Duchy here.”

He stared briefly. “In the Duchy,” he started again, “I have never seen salad, nor wine, nor any of the dishes I used to love.”

“Never have they been hospitable employers. Generous, maybe, but thoughtlessly so.” She paused to sigh. “Have you been allowed to return to Tyse since the start of your employment?”

Dorian shook his head, looking out at the desolate, beloved land around them.

“Poor boy. I return to the diamond land after all these years, and even that has not changed.” She said this more to herself than to him, each word deepening the lines in her forehead. “I hoped Her Grace’s daughter would be more…compassionate.”

“Which twelve-year-old child is compassionate?” Dorian replied.

They shared a dry laugh, but the insolence of those words burned in Dorian's thoughts long after.

Acun was awake before they were. If he had seen the uninvited guests, he made no mention. In the hush of morning, Orobelle and Dorian took card-form again, and Curia left the warden three pressed blocks of wakefulness in gratitude. He greeted them with a cheery “don’t fall into any rivers!”, and they were gone before the first light of dawn, newly-filled water flasks bouncing on the horse’s flank.

With her hood pulled loosely over her head, Curia rode the twenty miles in the parching day towards the looming shadows of dark mountains, down roads that had cracked and buckled into dusty brown fragments. At every stone kiosk she stopped for a drink and to hide from the dizzying heat, reaching into her pocket to check that the cards had not been dislodged. She passed three riders throughout the day, all headed the way she had come; all greeted her in the words of the Western Range—none were of the First World.

By evening they were riding parallel to the volcano range. Pillars of smoke hovered over the peaks, and it was impossible to tell where they ended and the thick glowering sky began. Here no more grass and urana grew, and the fragments of road shrank to the size of grains on a dirt track.

A kiosk stood in the gravel by a foothill, easy to miss in this sun, which turned everything red. As sunset deepened, Curia stopped and dismounted once more, tying the horse to the pole by the near-empty trough outside. She unbuckled her packs from the belts and slung them over her shoulder, hunching under their weight.

The door of the kiosk was gone, and the inside smelled of soot, a loose scattering of ash drifting across the floor as she entered. She shrugged and dumped the packs in a corner, lowering herself to her knees to unwrap them. Once the lamps were lit and the bedrolls lain, Curia laid the cards out upon them with sooty hands, and watched the twin lights emerge, her companions reappearing like illusions.

Orobelle looked about as she materialised, cross-legged. “Are you certain no one will find us here?” she said, eyes narrowed on the doorless doorway.

“It's hard to imagine anyone will so much as pass this way.”

“And they will, if they know to look here! You cannot be certain news of my departure has not slipped out,” she exclaimed, patting the bedroll beneath her flat. “Well...I suppose now is too soon for anyone to have breached my trust. Give me my box.” She extended an open palm towards Curia. With a nod, she unbuttoned the flap of one of several leather bags, and with a ginger grasp retrieved a small gold-leafed chest inlaid with diamonds from inside.

The instant Orobelle’s hands brushed the lock, it clicked, and the lid sprang open. The objects inside clattered as she searched and eventually fished out a pocketwatch. The lamplight gleamed off its case of gold and glass, illuminating bright patches on her face. From its hands she read the date: the ninetieth day of the 827th year—or, one day since their departure, as measured in the First World.

Curia sat back down upon her own bedroll, massaging her legs. “What is there to discuss, if I may, Your Grace?” she said. Dorian stirred, but did not speak: he had not moved from where he stood since he had reappeared.

“We left the palace in a hurry,” the Duchess answered. “Now I must tell you what I mean for us to be doing out here. We’re searching for someone who can help us further along. No, without her, this journey would all be quite pointless. Her name is Honourless.”

At that Curia lifted her head. “Ah, Honourless!”

Orobelle's eyes widened. “Do you know who she is?”

“The child who was exiled by the Baroness of Spades?” she answered. “She was quite the story, back in the day, yes.”

“Oh.” Orobelle groaned. “Why didn’t you say you knew about her? It would have saved me days of hunting. Those archivers wouldn’t let me so much as breathe on the court annals without a stated reason. Me, the Duchess of Diamonds! Mother must have put them up to it. I can think of no other reason!”

Curia shook her head at the fuming Duchess. “Anyone older than yourself could have told you about her, Your Grace,” she replied.

The girl scrunched up her face. “Well, do you know where she is?”

“Yes, in fact I saw her two months ago,” said Curia. “She has been chained to the same cliff wall since the day she was sent there.”

Lowering herself on one knee, an exile sank the shaven point of a stick into the earth and twisted it until it was one-third buried. From the spot where she had planted it, an arcing line of similar branches extended and vanished between the trees, all protruding from the earth just like this one, an arm’s length apart from each other.

She had started to mark the perimeter of her living area with these after she’d realised that trees and vines changed too quickly to be useful as landmarks for more than a year at a time. This semicircle of land, four-hundred arms’ lengths wide, encompassing forest, a creek and a bit of dry field, was a respectable amount of space—but barely enough to live in.

She found it almost baffling that every single other exile had fallen to their knees and given themselves up to death the instant they had arrived. Unlike her, none of them had worn chains, and all of them could have roamed the entire world beyond this cliffside.

Yet none of them had taken it, and here she stood, a knee on the ground, the sole surviving exile in the Third World.

She glanced down at her arm, where a shackle gripped her wrist, tarnished but unyielding yet. On that same arm, the name ALTA was scarred. She had pricked those letters into her skin with a hot needle two decades ago, although the memory of that was hazy—as were all her memories of the times before the trial—before she had lost her name.

She possessed this scar for the same reason she lived here on this semicircle of land, and indeed for the same reason she was an exile in chains. Really, it seemed most of the extraordinary twists that her life had taken thus far could be attributed to one single thing.

Her name was Honourless, and she was a ghost.

Honourless couldn’t remember why she’d decided to go to the garden that day twenty-two years ago, but she did remember what she had decided to do there. Standing in a patch of flowers and staring up at the blue sky, she had squeezed her eyes shut, trying what every child had once tried at her age: to will herself through the walls between the worlds.

Ghosting, they called it. Up till that point, the only ghost that the three worlds had known was a man named Victor of River’s South, who had entered the Queendom from outside, and then left without a trace—whose tale still haunted the dreams of young children.

As she had stood there with her eyes shut, something like the roar of thunder had filled her ears, and she had felt the world strain and tear around her. Then she had landed on her bottom on a mound of hardened lava, under a sky whose colour was no longer in her memory. She had taken a single breath of the smoky air, heart racing, then clenched her fists and slipped back to the First World.

From the moment Honourless had reappeared inside her mother’s garden, pants stained black by the acrid soot of the Second World, the cards of her fate had been lain out for her.

Over a few months’ adventuring back and forth between the two worlds, Honourless discovered the rules governing her ghosting. If she liked, she could choose the point of her arrival. This in itself was merely interesting when travelling to the Second World; it was when she realised she could choose her destination on returning to the First World that it changed from wondrous to invaluable.

Overcome with glee and hungry for adventure, she began to conduct brief and unplanned travels to far-off realms, but only for a few minutes at a time. She stole candies from a stand in the Vistas and waded in the crystal seas near Lands of Undoing, bringing back gifts for her sister Alta. She was never late for an appointment again.

Indeed, it all seemed too good to be true and soon enough, she began to understand that she did pay a fare for her travel—in memories.

Every journey she made, she forgot the thing at the centre of her thoughts: a recent event, a fact, or even a word. After losing track of a few errands, missing a meeting with friends and forgetting the word for the paved routes passing in front of houses, she became afraid to ghost without deciding in advance on which memories to spend.

She tried creating junk memories by starting inane conversations prior to departing—but even that became increasingly chorelike, until the effort and her impatience led her to decide that it was easier simply to travel on foot.

All that changed when she watched the tattooist at work in the town square, and was struck by an idea. She snuck out to light the fireplace in the dead of night, dipping a sewing needle in the fire and pricking a thousand wounds in her arm, the way the tattooist had, gradually shaping her sister’s name in hot pinpricks. She had hidden the red scars spelling ALTA under her sleeve for weeks, even from the name’s owner.

Alta was quite the memorable child: precocious as Honourless was, but wilder. Where her elder sister would plot and design, Alta would leap in without a thought, break branches and break bones. She ruined the things she touched and she apologised to make it better. She took punishment without crying and broke the rules again. Honourless knew there was no way her younger sister could ever be scrubbed fully from her memory.

So the next time she ghosted to the Second World, she forgot Alta’s name.

She stood on the ash on a stretch of empty land, staring dazed at the mountains that rose up before her while the heat beat on her, feeling as if something were missing. Then the stinging of the wound in her arm brought her gaze to it, and when she read the name, she remembered the plan and she remembered Alta—the child who had been in her life almost as long as she could remember, the girl wailing for her sister’s toys, getting her face dirty in the garden earth, pulling up flowers and then abashedly pushing them back in.

Her ghosting days returned, and her ventures grew daring. She visited the peak of the Spire. She hopped islands before lunch. But all this failed to satiate her.

One day, while she browsed the marketplace in the town centre, the obsidian carriage of Baroness Blackrain and its train of mounted guards passed before them, windowless and sparkling. As it turned out onto the courthouse boulevard, she stared after it, and for the first time saw what it was that she craved to do.

The Baroness was in the habit of drawing a conspicuous air of mystery about her like a sequined mask that brought attention to the fact that something was being obscured. She hid her treasures in the baronial safehouse—a forbidding black house by the town square that was much taller than it was wide. Here on the square, her spokesperson made regular announcements that stiff and swift punishment would be delivered to those caught trespassing upon it.

It was hard not to take that as a dare.

To anyone else, this windowless building surrounded by guards would be as impenetrable as a fortress—but for Honourless, entering the baronial safehouse was quite simple. She held the scar up to her gaze and, as she had done those hundreds of other times, willed herself into the Second World and back. Gravelly earth turned into sparkling black floors and the sky darkened into a velvety ceiling. It was all too cold and too silent, and at once the profanity of her act struck her. Breathlessly she scurried along corridors under lamps that burned black, watching her reflection move across the obsidian pool beneath her feet. Through open doorways she caught glimpses of chests upon chests, some half-open with gemstones spilling out.

The pathways led her, almost irresistibly, up the lacquered stairs and towards a room at the top of the safehouse. As if hypnotised, she ascended countless flights, and when she reached the very pinnacle of the building, she found a pair of dark double doors awaiting her. Inside that room, a single coronet, silver with an inset gemstone cut into the shape of the Spades' symbol, sat on a black velvet cushion upon an onyx pedestal.

Anyone else might have decided to turn and leave at this point, having eluded discovery this long. Instead, she decided she would give the coronet a touch, just so she could say she had done it.

No sooner than her fingers brushed it did a guttural groaning creak resound from the ceiling, and a door open above her to let a massive cage crash to the ground. She flinched at the deafening clatter and stumbled to the ground. Her ears were still ringing when the guards began to pour up the stairs, dragging her on her knees out of the cage and locking her in handcuffs.

As naturally as breathing, Honourless ghosted out almost as soon as the guards looked away. Up until this point she had assumed her skills would allow her to elude any sort of capture—but when it came to it, she knew of nowhere else to go except home. So homeward she went, counting—wrongly—upon her fellow townspeople to hide her till her crime was forgotten. But it was their very own neighbour who turned her in when she came home, his face no longer kindly as he kicked her out onto the pavement. This time, the guards shackled her to a wall.

This was where she learned two rules of her ghosting that had eluded her till now: first, that she transported everything she touched, directly or indirectly through something else solid; and second, that even the price of her sister’s name was not enough to transport the entire dungeon in which she was chained.

It was only then that the despair hit her like a falling tower. She screamed and screeched and pounded her fists on the walls, but mercy was alien to Baroness Blackrain and all who served her.

The matriarchs of the four houses were not known for their prudence. If she had not known before, she knew now, that it was no coincidence, but a vile disease, running through their blood.

Unlike the Queen of Hearts and her outlandish love for rolling heads, or even Duchess Adamanta whose archery range had criminals in place of targets, Baroness Blackrain was a private woman who put the things she hated as far away from herself as she could.

“For your crimes against Baroness Blackrain, the Spade Barony, and the blood of the First Queen," so her sentence was pronounced, "you are to lose your name and your place in this world. Forever you shall wander the Exile Lands, hated and spurned, until you find your only repose in death. May that death be peaceless and slow.”

She had struggled so long not to lose her memories, and yet, now, she could not forget these words even if she wanted to.

They chained her thrice over to the stone slab, and spread the shimmering pages of the Book of Punishment before her, threatening at her with the points of spears until she wrote her name on its pristine parchment. Then the name faded from the page, and from her memories, and from the memories of all who had ever known her.

They had fashioned her a new epithet, Honourless, which they now spat at her face, as if to be rid of it.

It was Honourless they yelled at that weeping girl as they locked her in the stocks on the town square and left the townsfolk to stare. It was the name Honourless that her mother and Alta cried.

Beside the metal hoop that kept Honourless’ chain bound to the cliff, there grew a stout tree with wide-reaching branches. It leaned away from the rock face, as if to avoid touching it, branches thick enough to bear her weight. Every year, those same branches grew heavy with white flowers, and then fruit, which ripened to pink before the seeds burst through the rind.

This tree, Honourless had come to think of as her tree: her lone friend and provider, in a land that hated her almost as much as her old home did.

It was the only tree in this jungle that she had seen bear fruit in all her time here, and its wood was too soft to fashion tools out of, so it was saved for a more honourable task. Every day, perhaps between mouthfuls of meat or seeds, she sawed at the bark of its lowest branches with the corner of a wrist shackle or a bone shard from a dead reptilian, until she had formed a tiny white notch in its grey surface. Thousands of such notches peppered the branches now, so many she had long stopped keeping count.

It didn’t seem to matter how many days she had spent here in the Third World, how many marks she had carved. What mattered was that there was a way for her to know.

The branches of other trees, Honourless carved into spears and piecemeal furniture. The vines she wove into nets and traps. The grey shirt she had worn into exile was still on her back, faded to white, the ragged cloth knotted over one shoulder where it had given out. The pieces that comprised life were constantly being replaced and patched over, and she began to enjoy the knowledge that there would come a day when every trace of the Spade Barony would have deserted her.

Except, of course, for this chain—this indelible piece of the Barony that she had worn for twenty-two years.

The chain, almost two hundred arms long and made of links of wolfram, wasn’t more than a trivial hindrance. Now Honourless often hunted and trapped and sawed and built without even noticing it. But however far she wandered from the attachment point, it would always tether her to the cliff, and to the old continent from which it rose.

Standing at the edge of her semicircle, Honourless looked out at the untouched lands beyonds its edge: horsetails with their fanlike leaves, grasses in green and yellow, a distant range of hills. Every months or so, scout and guard units sent by various realms of the First World would pass her by and strike up conversation, but none were ever of the Spade Barony. She decided she wouldn’t know what to say to them, if they ever did pass.

Many a night she had sat on the lowest branch of her tree, running her fingers over the raised bumps of her wounds. It had always struck her how there were more red stars here than at home, only sometimes visible between the shifting leaves, and how choirs of insects were constantly serenading nothing at all, buzzing beneath her.

If the mental arithmetic was right, the Third World was the oldest of the three, and must have seen more than any of the others. She traced the letters on her arm, and saw it all over again: how her sister had cried, how she had knelt in the garden with leaves and soil on her skirts, how they had fought, how the world had changed, twenty-two years ago.

It was two days later, as she sat chewing on roasted beetles off the end of a stick, that Honourless first heard hooves crunching on leaves and twigs in the distance. She spent another minute dining on the insects before it struck her that the hoofsteps were headed in her direction.

It was like a vision of the Light, when the tall grey stallion wove through the last trees and trotted in an arc about her, its rider tugging on its reins with a shout. The creature came to a stop at the edge of the clearing, and the rider, wearing the black of the scouts of Duchess Adamanta, dismounted.

“Honourless,” she said, the word silencing some of the chirping in the vicinity.

Honourless had long been staring, but only now did she rise from her makeshift log-seat. The scout strode up to her, touching a hand to her heart. With her other hand, she slid two cards from inside her pocket, and fanned them before her.

In a blaze of light, two figures emerged from within the cards: a long-haired man with a sword on his belt and a child in a pale dress. “Is this Honourless?” the child repeated her name. “The ghost, sentenced by Baroness Blackrain to exile?”

Perhaps Honourless would have answered eagerly and politely, if she had been twenty years younger. Instead she gaped, and then thought of laughing, before the slim possibility that they were not here to condemn her crossed her mind.

“That’s the name they gave me,” she answered, offering a shrug. “Why do you visit me? To mock my misery?”

“If you cared at all for your freedom, you would speak to me as befits my station.”

“Excuse me?”

The child folded her arms and rolled her eyes. “Oh, you're from Mother's time, aren't you? Never mind then, just tell me, are you a ghost, and have you moved between worlds at will?”

“I don't know, am I in exile because I trespassed on the Baroness’ safehouse?” answered Honourless in a huff, to which the child scowled. “I’m sorry. Yes, I am a ghost; it’s how I committed the crime that sent me here.”

The child, whose identity Honourless now had suspicions about, sniffed the way her mother would have sniffed. “Good, then,” she said. “I want to employ you. I do not know for how long, but if you complete your service well, your name and life will be returned to you.”

Honourless squinted. “And are you sure you have the power to do that, child?” she said. “They say only the blood of the Spade lineage may unlock this chain.”

“Blackrain is my aunt,” the girl snapped, reaching into her collar to lift a pale red diamond-shaped pendant from inside her bodice. She depressed a metal catch with a click, and from inside the pendant, pushed out a tiny blade that tapered to a point. “This is no joke, Honourless.”

With so little hesitation that even Honourless went momentarily rigid with shock, the girl gashed her palm with the blade. Dark red blood beaded along the line of the wound.

“The palm doesn’t scar easily,” she said. The line of blood was thickening still. “Dorian, give me her wrist.”

Before Honourless could react, Orobelle’s vassal had gripped her right forearm and thrust her hand towards the duchess, palm up, revealing the engraved spade symbol glimmering beside the hinge. She took hold of Honourless' wrist, and swiped her pale hand over the engraving. Her blood left no stain.

Then the handcuff loosened, and fell away, the chain crashing to the ground.

Up till this point, every word this child had uttered had carried a tinge of dreamlikeness, much easier to dismiss than to believe. Now, with the sound of chain links rattling on the leaves, it was as if every moment of the past fifteen minutes were finally crystallising into reality.

Honourless stared at her newly-freed wrist. She began to massage it where years of chafing had left a bracelet of faint scars. She opened and closed her hand. It barely looked like her own.

In that moment she seemed to feel the breeze from the far-off plains for the first time.

“Thank you, Your Grace,” Honourless finally breathed, swallowing hard before tears could begin to well up. “What may I do for you?”