I’m your story. Take me with you and you’ll have your song, the one that makes a bard out of a two-pence minstrel. I’ll show you magic and danger. I’ll lead you under the hill and out again.

Or would you rather go alone?

Run with me, boy. I’ll never lie to you.

Mariska d’Alethi

 

Somewhere under Durabilis, her da sat in a corner of a small chamber, huddled up and hugging himself. Sarea leaned in the corner opposite, watching Mae talk to Tolle Range off to the side.

All da did was sit there. He didn’t even look up. And Ionas –

She spared a glance to her right, where a beaded wooden curtain lead to an area with beds. At least he was resting. She hoped.

Tolle came over.

“He’ll need mild foods,” she said. “Broth, for a few days, maybe longer, and good foods, not just vegetables. Fruit, especially, and meat -”

Tolle took her hand. She flinched away, yanking her hand free.

“I’m sorry,” he said, touching his cheek. “I meant to soothe you.”

She nodded.

“We’ve taken care of West Siders before,” he said. “We know what to do. If he wants to live, he’ll live.”

“Hey!” Mae, crouched by da. “He’s wearing something. Tracking charm?” Her hand caught a cord around his neck.

No. No. Sarea didn’t know she could cross a room that fast, pulling Mae away from him. Too late to stop her pulling the necklace out, but soon enough to stop her touching what it held.

“Instigators find the tunnels, we’re ruined,” Mae snapped. “If there’s anything they can use to track him, it needs to be gone.” She gripped Sarea’s arm and made to haul her out of the way. Sarea pushed in the opposite direction, sliding down the wall between Mae and her da.

Tolle said, “Stop, Maevanon. We couldn’t do anything about these.”

Mae looked up, scowling. “How do you know?”

He was crouched down in front of da, lifting the cord with the end of a short stick. Mae made a noise of sheer horror and shuffled backwards, fast as she could. “Bones!”

Finger bones. Sarea turned back, gently shifting Tolle out of the way. She took it herself, because only family could do that, and worked through the necklace. He’d more than she thought, some two dozen. Small bones from children and the larger from adults.

Mae said something in what had to be mountain language, each word twisted but strangely close to ones Sarea knew. Then she said, “Cursed land, cursed people, carrying bone -”

“We don’t have anything to burn,” Sarea said, and gently tucked the necklace under da’s clothes. He didn’t move. He’d fallen asleep.”You’ve seen where our dead go – it’s there or the pit. No one gets their rites. But the Temple here used to do a service, they’d… they’d bless a bone, if you brought it, and they’d put it in their sacred fire, so the bone-ash went into the river with the rest. That isn’t an insult to the poor. Water is clean and good.” She smoothed out his ragged clothes. “They didn’t charge very much for it, either. I don’t know if they still do it… it was all we had.”

She didn’t look up. Couldn’t. “Wouldn’t be worse if they went unsanctified, unremembered?”

“It would,” Mae said, “But that -”

Tolle rose up and moved towards Mae, clothes rustling, footsteps light. Sarea stayed where she was, trying to match up this broken man with the father she’d known. He’d been a little on the older side, head bowed, but he’d had fight then. He’d had a lot of children, gotten on whores, but never said why, and all of them a bone taken to the Temple. His friends, too, they had to fill his necklace now, and one from Amisine, and the others…

Breeding. Like they’d bred him, but it’d be worse for her.

Why did the Instigators need Durasoona blood so badly? And why let all the children die?

Except…

She’d found a book in Isaye’s secret, dated to the year seven hundred and ninety seven, that said the Durasoona family just lost the throne – but grandfather’d died in eight hundred and forty three, and he’d been old enough to have a second wife without separating from the first. Maybe he was alive at the time.

Maybe that had something to do with what he did later.

She bit her lip and glanced at Tolle and Mae. “I’m going back to Master Keyne’s,” she said. “I need to sleep.” She paused. “It’s safe there, isn’t it?”

“It’s safe,” Tolle said, waving her off. “Take care.”

Sarea nodded and rose to her feet.

Outside, she bypassed Keyne’s workshop and headed towards the O’Hallorn house in the dim-lit, empty streets. She walked between shadows, but there weren’t any drunk dancers to see her. The music still rang out, like a ghost haunting Durabilis with distant, hollow joy.

She ducked into the alcove behind the house and entered the darkness of the secret chambers. She lit her way with sunlight, speeding up, heading for the study they’d eaten picnics in. She found the book and settled at the desk, opening it up.

It wasn’t as if she’d sleep tonight, anyway.

:-#-:

2/9/797 –

I’d hoped to start a new chronicle with good news, but my father died not six days ago, and the last Durasoona king with him. They may hold onto their properties, save those taken in battle, which leaves them with little. The only Durasoona who wasn’t involved is Gavirn, but only through being out of the country.

I thank all gods for that small mercy. The King himself has mysteriously disappeared, and I believe he will only be found when he is bone and dust. All three of his children took money and jewels and fled west, for whilst the Empire there has no love of Durabilis, it is vast and Durabilian agents have no friends on Western earth. Gavirn was a third cousin, and in their absence, he is our only Durasoona left.

His beloved Bethilde holds up well. She has recently borne him his first child, which can only draw him home. She has maintained a small group of friends and devotees, and I visit her when I can. We court this new Viceroy, as we must.

He often asks me of secrets I may have been told, in confidence with the King or my father. I professed to knowing where the passages were in the palace, and let go of a small stretch of tunnels I know to be isolated from the rest.

These chronicles are to be passed from father to child, and as I read of my father’s words, so shall you read of mine. I hope – I have no child today, and no bride, and there is no one willing to marry me. Yet, as far as the family falls, there is always a way…

To my unknown child, I tell you this: the Viceroy is as small minded as the King always was. He refused to be truly crowned, fearing that the crown is a ring of gold and bright stones that carries corruption, rather than the soul of the man wearing it. Yet he would have turned on Gavirn Durasoona to keep his power, had he not been counselled against it. For Gavirn has friends in the Empire, and only two countries have defied the Empire so thoroughly since the Empire’s rise as to remain as they are: Durabilis and Lenife. We owe our freedom to the Durasoona family, but if persecuted, Gavirn would have right to seek help from the Empire. He would doubtless attain the throne, with their help, but they would annex us –

Doubtless I will have told you all this myself.

Have I told you this, my child? My son, I hope? We fight an older war than those over borders, or thrones, against a threat that makes the Viceroy seem petty and weak. No matter what I do in the coming days, months, or years, I am fighting for that. For something greater than you or I or our entire family.

Here is the secret the Viceroy would not have you know:

He is of Auros, and he fights the same war. But we do not follow Auros. We follow Durasoona. I fear for us all, should he learn this.

:-#-:

A cold hand touched her cheek.

Sarea jerked awake, eyes wide. She blinked at Isaye, bent over and staring her in the face, smiling.

“Sorry,” Sarea said, and the word barely came out through her dry mouth. She cleared her throat. “What time is it?”

“Just after breakfast.” Isaye giggled. “Look at you! Did everything go well?”

“I – ” Mae’s story. “Yes. The boy’ll be fine. But I couldn’t sleep, so…”

She hadn’t drooled on the book. Just fallen asleep with her head half on it and half on the table, halfway through an entry marked 11/01/798.

“Have you been here all night?” Isaye said.

Sarea pushed herself up, nodding. “I should tell Ionas and Master Keyne where I was, where I’ll be -”

“You can do that on the way to the bath house,” Isaye said. “I mean no offence, really I do, but it looks like you need a bath.” She smiled, eyes crinkling. “At least to relax in.”

 

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