“A wise woman used to tell me that every wall has a door, every door has a lock, and every lock has a key.

She also said that doors were locked for a reason.

You are a fool, Juniper.”

Grand Warlock Ionas

 

A hand on her shoulder.

“Tineke?” Sarea murmured, raising her head. But it wasn’t her mistress, just the stranger, crouched by her. She’d fallen asleep in front of the fire, empty cup near her hand.

“I sleep everywhere I can,” he said, flashing a smile. “Not a good habit to learn.”

The fire was low again. She sat up. “I was trying to watch you,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “In case you’d hit your head.” She looked past him, trying to judge from the light coming through the shutters the time of day. Dawn, maybe. “You seem well enough.”

“I had a soft landing.” He frowned. “You do this often? Let strangers in your house?”

She shrugged. “It’s my duty.”

“Hedge witches,” he said, but this time it was almost fond. “I wanted to thank you for the, ah, bed before I left.”

She jolted straight. “You’re leaving?”

“I’m not the safest person to be around,” he said, smiling. “So I’ll go before they pick up my -“

“You aren’t leaving until I’ve found you a good coat,” she snapped. “You’ll freeze to death in a month!”

” – scent?” He sat back on his heels.

“Maybe I could find a spare scarf around here, too,” she said to herself. “And I’m sure someone could spare a pair of socks…”

“The last time I was in one place for more than two days black hounds with fire for claws burned it down,” he said.

“Shoes are a little too expensive to hope for, but I think Mistress Junker might have some leather to patch those with.” She poked his toes. “You can’t walk anywhere if your toes freeze and fall off.”

“Are you listening to a word I’m saying?”

“No,” she said.

He laughed.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” she said, twisting around in search of it. “There’s enough heat left, I think -“

He flicked his fingers and the red-black embers erupted fresh, hungry flames. She watched them, wondering if every magician showed off like he did.

“What’s your name?” the man said suddenly.

She smiled thinly. “I was called Sarea by my grandmother, named Sahar by my mistress, and cursed to the sky and the Wall by my father.” She shrugged. “Call me what you wish.”

He put his head to one side, a rake-thin confused bird of a man. “You are an unusually forthcoming young woman.”

“And you are unusually wordy,” Sarea said. She bowed her head. “My apologies. My upbringing was flawed.”

“No,” he said. “I like it. Do you have a clan name?”

She nodded. “Durasoona,” she said, and waited for the curses.

He laughed. “A very good name,” he said. “The Durasoona family ruled Durabilis with honour and pride. Tell me, Sarea Sahar Durasoona.” He leaned forward. “How would you like an adventure?”

She raised her eyebrows.

He frowned. “What?”

“You’re a fool and a madman,” she said.

“A madman? Yes. From birth. A fool? Never.” He frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“No one would want a Durasoona with them,” she snapped at him, and stood. “I’ll fetch more wood.”

When she got to the door, he said, “Did they fall?”

“Sixty years back,” she said, and slammed the door shut behind her.

The world was lit in pale melted gold, burning away night’s shadow-grey, and Sarea couldn’t hold on to anger. She sagged back against the wood. A madman indeed, not to know what her grandfather had done. A fool, to think she’d believe anyone would whisk her away from her sanctuary with innocent intentions.

Her da, his father’s first-born, hadn’t the luxury of changing his name and leaving the taint behind. The Durasoona family were on the age-old charter. Their entire family would be cursed in life and death if it did. She and her da paid for the freedom of her aunts and uncle and countless cousins.

Most people around here only thought about her last name when they were reminded of it. She was Sarea Sahar, young and useful, the hedge witch’s assistant. It was as close to changing her name as she could get.

But she’d never be a hedge witch herself. Even they wouldn’t accept a Durasoona.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, on the other side of the door. “I’ve been alone for a very long time.”

She shouldn’t talk. She should get wood, then kick him out of her cottage and her life, damn his lack of coat.

“How long?” she said, turning her head towards the door.

“Years enough to know that everything I do is doomed to fail. But I have to try anyway.” A pause. “I knew a man called Koln Durasoona. He ruled Durabilis with honour and wisdom. How did his line fall?”

She stayed silent.

“And you have every right not to tell me,” the man said, after a moment. “Please, believe that I meant no offence.”

She watched the light on the leaves, surrounded by the morning chorus. If music could be seen on the air, it would fall out of the sky like rain, flooding theworld with liquid sound.

Yes, he was insane. But she couldn’t believe he meant harm.

She turned around and opened the door. He smiled at her hopefully.

“What’s your name?” she said.

He said, “Ionas.”

“Go fetch some wood, Ionas,” she said.

He grinned at her.

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