In the beginning, there was Nothing, kept in Silence. Then came Everything, expanding into Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Life, Time, and Death, and all that came after is but a mixture of those seven. Nothing disappeared, lost forever, but Silence remained. It hides within the true silence of the world, just before dawn, or at midnight. It is the deathly quiet we cannot bear without inventing noises and games, or singing, or going mad.

Remember me, it says. Remember that I, only child of Nothing, am waiting here for Everything to fade away. I am the curse that befalls existence, the harbinger that lies beyond Death. Yet I think on. If Silence is such a maddening curse, are all the deaf insane?

Of course not. This is the lie Silence tells us: that it is simple.

Alexander Sawyer

 

That night, when Ionas was asleep upstairs, Sarea said to Master Keyne, “I want to hurt them.”

He didn’t even move, pretending sleep in the other chair.

She stared at him, counting in her head. At fifty three, he opened his eyes and said, “Vengeance is unbecoming of a lady.”

She waited.

“It’s hardly safe,” Keyne said, rubbing his legs. “You’ve met Guilliarme twice. He’ll remember you well, the third. Should anyone carry away your description, he’ll know where to come.”

Ninety four, ninety five, ninety six…

“Especially for our young Sun,” he added, deep voice deepening in concern. “That you will not leave until our problem is solved becomes you, but to take arms yourself -”

She narrowed her eyes. Laced her fingers together. He fell silent.

At one-twenty nine, he said, “Is it right for a hedge witch to carry such anger?”

She said, soft, “No hedge witch could see the cruelty of the West Side and stand aside. I may be Durasoona, but I am no lady.”

“You misjudge your kindred,” Keyne returned, just as quiet. “I will speak to Tolle.”

She nodded. Said, “Thank you,” and looked away.

:-#-:

The drumming woke her up.

In the darkness, she stared up at the roof and listened to it. It was an erratic, constant beat. Gregor Keyne’s snoring, through the curtain partition, made for a haphazard melody.

The first real rain of winter. It would be fat, wet rain, the sort to soak you through in minutes if you weren’t wearing a coat or layer upon layer of clothing, and brought on the first real chill. With Tineke, it hadn’t been so bad. But in Durabilis…

There were only so many ratty blankets you could heap over yourself, only so much warmth that could be shared between two small bodies.

Too cold, up here, near the roof.

She got up and dressed, and she took her coat and the bed covers downstairs with her. Ionas slept on the floor, a restless doze, in front of the dying fire. Barefoot, she left the mass of material on a chair and padded past him, feeding the fire with offcuts from the workshop and coaxing the fire into a steady burn.

Fire, she liked. Having heat on command thrilled her, sent trembling shivers down her spine.

“‘Rea?” Ionas murmured. He sat up, yawning. “What time is it? Is that rain?”

“Real rain,” she said, dragging the bedclothes off the chair. She stopped, turning back to him, hands tight around the mass of hems. “I thought – maybe, since the cold can’t be doing you any good -”

“Only good company in a storm, am I?” He grinned at her. “Come on down.”

It took minutes of moving and arranging before they settled, back to back, blankets wrapped around them. He said, “Sarea, I’m sorry -”

“Don’t. Not tonight.” He wouldn’t really mean it, anyway.

“Mm. I’ve been enchanting.”

She frowned at the wall. “What?”

“You mentioned earning our own money. So I’ve been enchanting. Between keeping Lord O’Hallorn happy and working with those idiots, anyway.” His voice became cheery. “Good luck charms, health, that sort of thing.”

Well, they have to come from somewhere. “For who?”

“A merchant in town. He ships them down to Lenife. It’s a gold piece for the first batch of the day, a gold and three silver for any extra.” He turned his head against hers.

“That seems to be a lot,” she offered. A whole gold just for what, carving a symbol in something and giving it power?

“For most people a whole batch would be hard work,” he said. “Not us. A batch is forty charms, anyway, and they’ll sell for a silver a piece. They’re put in some crate of supplies he sends down, so the shipping isn’t more than normal, and he gets a tidy profit out of it. He pays me by the day, but I’ll be done by tomorrow. Not that many left to do. Here.” Something rang out. He held a purse over his shoulder. “You’re in charge of our funds.”

She took it, and tipped it out into her lap. Gold and silver shone in the firelight. She inhaled sharply. “How many are you…”

“Two a day,” he said. Then, soft, “Is that enough?”

She sorted through it, dropping the golds into the purse like the precious things they were. Ten, and a full fifteen battered silver coins. When Keyne put golds in her purse, it’d been the most she’d ever had in her life, but this –

“Sarea?”

“I spend my entire life with barely a silver’s worth in my pocket,” she said, “And here I am, a month with you, richer than I’ve ever been.”

He laughed. “Money doesn’t matter, Sarea.”

“It does.” She held up a silver coin, examining the head of a foreign leader. Coins all weighed the same, but the faces changed. “We could have feasted on this for a year. Why do you do this?” Why give her money instead of honesty, or telling her where he was going in the first place?

Ionas fell silent.

“Or bought our way out,” she said. “Found good clothes and travelled far away. There’s always farm work, or a travelling troupe. Menial work doesn’t pay anywhere near as much as this, but it would’ve been better than stealing.”

Sarea,” he said, soft. Like a prayer. “You didn’t deserve to grow up there.”

She shrugged. “No one did.” Then – “We’ll need to get you a pack, and more clothes. You can’t wear those all the time.”

“They’re clean.”

“You look like a beggar.”

“And you have a pack.”

“Do you expect me to carry everything we have on my back alone?” She rolled her eyes. He probably did. “The more I carry, the less space there is for food.”

“It’s always food with you.”

“Try starving,” she snapped.

Quiet, again. Just the rain, and their breathing.

“You’re being conned,” she added. “A purse full of golds gains far too much attention. Silvers, coppers, tins. They’re better.” And silvers were easier to break down. She pulled her coat down, taking her purse from the pocket, and tipped them both into her lap.

Away the golds went, again. The silvers she dropped back into her own purse and picked through her copper and tin.

“Money never mattered to me,” Ionas said. “There’s always someone who’ll pay for below-board magic. Always more money if you look for it. After a while, you stop caring.” He sighed. “I hope you do.” A pause. “Do I really have to carry a pack?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes.”

“You know, there’s always supplies somewhere, if you look. I’m not a bad forager.”

“You’re getting a pack, Ionas.”

“Damn.”

:-#-:

Keyne worked in the workshop, Ionas had ducked out into the rain hours ago, and Sarea sat in her chair, staring at Mae. Mae stared back, eating a greasy pasty that leaked juice onto her fingers.

“You know,” Mae said, between mouthfuls, “I was ordered to keep you busy.” She chewed loudly. “Make you feel useful, keep you out of trouble.”

“Were you,” Sarea said. She’d nearly expected as much, but… how many people did she have to get to tell her the whole truth?

Mae flashed a smile and bit into the pasty again. When she swallowed, she said, “I don’t see the point in keeping you down and out, biter. We’ll do something I’ve been wanting to do for years.”

“And that is?” Sarea said evenly.

“Spy on the Instigators,” Mae said. “From inside.”

From – “From inside the West Side?”

She shrugged. “You know the place. We need to gauge patrols. We won’t go in now-like. I want to check out some crates been sent to them. In the next few days. Watch patrols, maybe get an eyeful of their practises, work out the patterns.” She grinned, toothy. “Things we need to know to pull off raiding runs. Then, maybe… you know any plants that’d give them the squits?”

Sarea opened her mouth and shut it again. Not the revenge she was hoping for, but da hadn’t robbed a cart without checking out who’d be on it, either. The more she was useful, the more likely she’d get to be in on something else.

“I know what grows in the pit,” she said. “I can do better than that.”

 

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