“They tell me I am blind, because all I can see is darkness. The world is black to my eyes, under sun or moon. They say I must be protected, for all I hear better than any soul alive, that no living thing would dare harm me.

The boy has brown hair and blue eyes. His face is soft and round, his hands calloused and his skin brown as any tree, and on his nose there is always some kind of ink stain. Nobody has told me these things. I can see him. He glows.

Tell me I am blind now, fools.”

Enitan, a priestess of local renown

written on the wall of her prayer cell

 

Middle Of Nowhere, South Of Durabilis was almost like home.

Not that home was special to Ionas. But magic had been everywhere there, and it was everywhere here. Outside every colour glowed brighter than it should, turning scarlet to flame red and blue skies to a richness of sapphires. Inside this new house, there was a constant faint grey mist filling the air, tasting of joy and grief.

“Was your husband a magician?” Ionas said, following Mistress Junker and her armful of clothing into the parlour.

She laughed. “No, and not for lack of trying! His father was, though, and a useful one at that. Why do you ask?”

Oh, nothing, he thought. I can see magic, that’s all. He grinned. “I’ve been around places of power before,” he said. “This feels the same.”

“My man always tried to be as good as his father,” Mistress Junker said, dropping the clothes on the empty table. “He travelled even as far as the other side of the world, once, right up to the Wall, following some silly rumours. Still, he came back with silks and treasures, and that’s not to be sniffed at.” She held a coat up to him. “This was his last one. He was putting on a little weight by then, but…”

“It looks wonderful,” he said, taking it. It felt wonderful, anyway, even if the sleeves were baggy and it came down past his knees. Snug and safe, filled with the quiet dreams of a married man.

“Sometimes, I wonder if he realised how good he was.” Mistress Junker buttoned it up. Her fingers were long and nimble. “Sarea’s just the same as him, but she hasn’t got a soul to look up to.”

Ionas put his head to one side. Gossip! “She doesn’t?”

“Not with what her grandfather did, poor dear.” Mistress Junker sighed. “It’s good to see you two getting along. She doesn’t have many friends. And when dear Tineke died, she shut everyone out everyone that loved her. Still.” A return to that lovely smile. “She’s coming back out of her shell, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he said obligingly. “I don’t understand. What did her grandfather do?”

How did a family so great and so grand ever come close to falling? That was what he wanted to say. Jermand had been strong and true. How could something like that not show in the breeding? He’d thought – well, he’d thought a lot of things.

Mistress Junker stepped back. “You didn’t hear?”

“I haven’t come this close to Durabilis in some time,” he said.

“You’re better hearing it from her, then,” the good Mistress said, shaking her head. “But how you can’t have heard of it – well. Can you do something for me when she tells you? Call it the price for the coat.”

“Mistress,” he said, “I’m beginning to think anyone would do something for you.”

“Flatterer,” she said.

“What is my task?” he said, as solemn as he could be.

“Don’t judge her for the actions of her kin,” Mistress Junker said. “Think on what you know of her, not her blood. Here.” She pulled a length of cloth out of the pile. On second look, Ionas realised it was a well-worn scarf. “I made it for him out of our first curtains,” she said proudly. “He took it on all his travels.”

Ionas took it, glancing back at where he knew the kitchen was, because Sarea was sat there. She had magic, even if she’d never used it – maybe she didn’t know she had it to use! How could that even be possible? – and it showed as pure illumination. This close, the light shone through the wall. Up close she was almost painful to look at, but he did it anyway. Otherwise he couldn’t see the spark of temper on her face, the quick wit, the glint of something dark and cold hidden in what might be her heart.

If he could lure her away, she might win his long, tiring war for him.

How long had it been since he’d tasted hope?

“Master Pachin?” Mistress Junker said. Ionas started.

“Sorry,” he said, grinning. “Lost in thought.”

“Our heads are mazes, make no mistake about it,” she said. “Now. Let’s see about a new shirt.”

 

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