Chapter no 33

Crown of Midnight

The mines in Calaculla were stifling, and the slave girl could only imagine how much worse they would become when the summer sun was overhead.

She had been in the mines for six months—longer than anyone else had ever survived, she’d been told. Her mother, her grandmother, and her little brother hadn’t lasted a month. Her father hadn’t even made it to the mines before Adarlan’s butchers had cut him down, along with the other known rebels in their village. Everyone else had been rounded up and sent here.

She’d been alone for five and a half months now; alone, yet surrounded by thousands. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the sky, or the grasslands of Eyllwe undulating in a cool breeze.

She would see them both again, though—the sky and the grasslands. She knew she would, because she’d stayed awake on nights she was supposed to have been sleeping, listening through the cracks in the floorboards as her father and his fellow rebels talked of ways to bring down Adarlan, and of Princess Nehemia, who was in the capital at that very moment, working for their freedom.

If she could just hold on, if she could just keep drawing breath, she might make it until Nehemia accomplished her goal. She would make it, and then bury her dead; and when the mourning months were over, she would find the nearest rebel group and join them. With every Adarlanian life she took, she would say the names of her dead again, so that they would hear her in the afterlife and know they were not forgotten.

She swung her pickax into the unforgiving wall of stone, her breath ragged in her parched throat. The overseer lounged against a nearby wall, sloshing water in his canteen, waiting for the moment when one of them would collapse, just so he could unfurl that whip of his.

She kept her head down, kept working, kept breathing. She would make it.

She didn’t know how much time passed, but she felt the ripple go through the mines like a shudder in the earth. A ripple of stillness,

followed by wails.

She felt it coming, swelling up toward her, closer and closer with each turned head and murmured words.

And then she heard it—the words that changed everything.

Princess Nehemia is dead. Assassinated by Adarlan.

The words were past her before she had time to swallow them.

There was a scrape of leather against rock. The overseer would tolerate the pause for only a few seconds longer before he started swinging.

Nehemia is dead.

She stared down at the pickax in her hands.

She turned, slowly, to look into the face of her overseer, the face of Adarlan. He cocked his wrist, pronged whip ready.

She felt her tears before she realized they were falling, sliding through six months’ worth of filth.

Enough. The word screamed through her, so loudly she began to shake.

Silently, she began to recite the names of her dead. And as the overseer raised his whip, she added her name to the end of that list and swung her ax into his gut.

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