Chapter no 3

Sword Catcher

The streets were full of revelers, clogging up the passageways. Usually respectable merchants’ daughters danced in the roads, their hair

whipping like ribbons; the doors of taverns were propped wide, spilling

roisterers onto the cobblestones. Music drifted down from wrought-metal balconies overhead, along with handfuls of stiff colored paper cut into the shapes of phoenixes, swords, ships, and other symbols. A crown cut from yellow paper had tangled itself in Asti’s reins; a girl in a white dress threw

red hearts from an open window. Conor caught one out of the air and tucked it in a shirt pocket. Conor wore an unremarkable black Valdish cloak, his

favorite disguise for wandering the city streets without being recognized; its hood was pulled up, covering his face. Kel wondered what the girl would think if she knew she’d given her paper heart to the Prince himself.

The young men entered the city, unrecognized and without guards. Or so Conor seemed to think; Kel suspected guards in the shadows watched them as they went. Jolivet’s Arrow Squadron, ready to intervene in the case of danger. But it was only a suspicion, and Kel did not voice it. It mattered too much to Conor to believe that he was free, if only for a few hours.

It was the sort of night that usually charged Kel with burning energy, left his veins humming with the contemplation of possibility. He wondered if it was the same energy that seized sailors as they approached the horizon and whatever might lie beyond it: uncharted islands, buried gold, ruins from the time before the Sundering.

They passed into the Temple District and turned toward Hourglass Street, where many found their own golden ruin in the night. Here there had once been an alluvial plain, reclaimed before the Empire fell and covered over with a skin of bricks bound together with gypsum and quicklime. The area was crisscrossed with canals; the water in them, fed by underground streams, ran a sluggish dark green beneath arched metal bridges.

Signs hung in front of the gabled “shops” that lined Hourglass Street. Each bore a painting indicating what sort of distraction one might find inside. Most were simply bodies twined together in some form of erotic congress. Others required deciphering: a female figure peering through a door, a man with a rope around his neck, a young woman carrying a flowering vine while another woman knelt at her feet.

Kel could remember the first time he had been here with Conor. Perhaps they had been fifteen. They had both been nervous, with Conor trying hard to hide it. He had said: Pick which one you like.

Kel had realized Conor didn’t know which place to select, either, or what to ask for. He was leaving it to Kel, because it didn’t matter if Kel seemed inexpert or ill at ease. So Kel had picked the Caravel, because he had liked their sign: a tallship with white sails, an open book beneath, its pages forming the waves on which the ship charted its course. He had introduced himself and Conor to the madam, Domna Alys Asper, who had been more than delighted to welcome them. To be able to boast the patronage of the Crown Prince would surely bring other clients to her door. She had given them each a gold hourglass, emblazoned with a ship. These, she had explained, were theirs to keep, and to use each time they visited.

In the Temple District, the cost of pleasure was measured in turns of the hourglass. One could have as many hours as one liked with a courtesan, enjoying their company and skills, as long as one could pay for each hour. Thus Hourglass Street had gained its name, and that night Kel had lost his virtue, over the course of two turns, to a red-haired courtesan named Silla.

Domna Alys had been correct about Conor, too. In the years since, the Caravel had become a favored gathering place for members of the noble

families on the Hill. Where Conor went, so went the fashions for everything from clothes to amusements. Never mind that Kel had been the one to

choose the Caravel; there was no need for anyone else to know that. Besides, Kel had become quite fond of Domna Alys over the years. Why shouldn’t she profit?

She was there tonight, hurrying to greet them as they left Asti and her brother, Matix, in the care of Caravel’s discreet footmen. Red and gold

lamps dangled from thin metal wires above the front door; brothels, too, could be patriotic. Alys waved them inside the small entryway, smiling.

“Monseigneur!” She glowed with pleasure at the sight of Conor. “And my

young lord.” She bowed to Kel. “What an unexpected delight. Your friends, I think, have already arrived.”

Falconet, then, and whoever he’d brought with him. Kel sighed inwardly. “A welcome visit, Domna,” said Conor. “After a wearying day, what

better resting place than here?” He produced the red paper heart from the

inside of his jacket and offered it to Alys. She smiled and tucked it into her bodice.

Domna Alys was the sort of woman whose beauty gave no clue to her age. Her skin was smooth, her cheeks flushed a pale rose, her eyes wide, blue, and enhanced with the expert application of kohl and shadow. Coils of black hair were dressed high at the back of her neck, and her dress fell in elegant pleats to her ankles, revealing brocaded slippers. She was, Kel thought, just that bit too fashionable to be a merchant’s wife, and not quite richly dressed enough to be a noble. She knew a great deal about everything that happened in the city, from the Hill to the Maze, and she kept it to herself. A madam who gossiped about her clients would not have a business for long.

She led them into the main salon, where the carcel lamps had all been lit and fresh flowers trembled in long-necked glass vases. The furniture was black lacquer inlaid with greenstone from Shenzhou, and carved screens from Geumjoseon showed images of dragons, manticores, and other extinct creatures. The room smelled heavily of jasmine and incense—a rich scent Kel knew would linger on his clothes for hours.

Joss Falconet, already draped across a green velvet sofa, waved to them in desultory fashion. He was the youngest of the Council members, having gained the spice Charter seat upon the death of his father two years ago. He was handsome, with high cheekbones and the smooth black hair of his Shenzan mother. Two courtesans shared the sofa with him already: a dark young man playing with the lace at the cuffs of Falconet’s scarlet velvet coat, and a blond woman leaning against his shoulder. Around his neck gleamed a chain of rough-cut rubies set in silver bezels. When he was pleased by a courtesan, he would pull one free and gift it to them. It made him very popular.

“Excellent,” Falconet drawled. “Finally someone to play with.”

Kel sank into a carved jade chair. It wasn’t the most comfortable item in the room, but he had no intention of relaxing just yet. “You seem to have

plenty to amuse yourself with, Joss.”

Falconet smiled and indicated the rosewood table before him. On it a game of Castles had already been half set up; there was a pack of cards

there, too. Falconet was an inveterate gambler and could usually convince Conor into a game. If there was no game handy, one could find them betting on which noble would fall asleep first at a banquet, or when it would next rain. “I did not mean that kind of amusement, Kel Anjuman. I am looking for a challenge, and courtesans are hardly a challenge—no disrespect meant, my dears—as they are inclined to let me win. Castles, Prince?”

Conor sank into a black armchair. “Of course.” His eyelids were half lowered, as if he were tired, or suspicious of something. Behind hung a mural displaying scenes from an orgiastic celebration; the setting seemed to be the marble steps of a temple, on which a crowd of young worshippers

were in the act of coupling. A woman with spilling golden hair wrapped her legs around the man arched above her, her face a mask of ecstasy; a man pinned another against a leaning column, one hand between the other’s legs; a woman, her hair wound with scarves, knelt to pleasure her female companion.

Alys looked from the painting to Conor, and smiled her cat’s smile. “Refreshments, Monseigneur?”

Conor nodded, eyes already on the Castles board. A silver bell was rung, and a few moments later the doors were flung open. The room began to fill with courtesans. Some carried platters of silver and laid them down on the low rosewood tables. Oysters, shining like pearl earrings, shimmered on

beds of ice; fat cherries lay beside pomegranates bursting with seeds. Cups of rich drinking-chocolate were dusted with gold and saffron. Kel caught Conor’s quick, amused look: All the foods were, of course, aphrodisiacs, intended to stoke sexual hunger.

He could hardly blame Alys; after all, she didn’t make her money from card games played in her salon. As she left the room, she laid a hand on Kel’s shoulder. He could smell the myrrh in her perfume as she said in a

low voice, “That meeting you wished me to arrange—is now a good time for it?”

Kel nodded.

Alys patted his cheek. “On my signal, go to the library,” she said, and swept from the room in a swirl of skirts.

Kel turned to see if any in the room had noticed his interaction with Alys, but none seemed to have; they were concentrated on Conor. Courtesans had begun to perch themselves on the Prince’s chair like birds in the boughs of a wind-bitten tree. Others circulated within the room, chatting among themselves. The Caravel had become one of the most expensive pleasure

houses in the Temple District since House Aurelian had begun patronizing it, and its courtesans reflected the taste of its customers. All were beautiful in one way or another, and all skilled and patient. Both men and women

were dressed simply, in white, like Temple sacrifices in the old days. The white clothes against all the black lacquer was a striking sight, duochrome as the face of the Windtower Clock.

A girl with red hair brought Kel a cup of chocolate; he looked at her quickly, but she was not Silla, of whom he was still fond. The last time they had come to the Caravel, Silla had told him she had saved enough money to set up her own house down the street from the Caravel. Perhaps she had already done it?

Conor captured one of Falconet’s pieces and chuckled. Kel noted it in the back of his mind, where his awareness of Conor always lived. He wondered if mothers were like this about their children—always knowing where they were, if they were wounded or pleased. He did not know; he had little

experience of mothers.

Falconet, unmoved by his loss, stretched back to kiss the blond girl hanging on his left shoulder. She leaned in, her hair falling like a veil across the velvet nap of his jacket. By this time, several other wealthy patrons had arrived. Kel recognized only one of them: Sieur Lupin Montfaucon, who held the Charter for textiles. An aesthete and bon vivant, his voracious

appetite for food, wine, sex, and money was known to everyone on the Hill. He was dark-skinned and elegant, with several dueling scars: one on his cheekbone, and another at the base of his throat. When younger, he had set the fashion for every young man at Court, having started crazes for everything from lynx-fur trousers to paper hats. He was now somewhere in his thirties and, Kel suspected, more than a little bitter about ceding his position as tastemaker to Conor.

He bared his teeth at the half-finished Castles board. “What are the stakes? Gold would seem dull for you, Falconet.”

“Money is never dull,” said Conor, not taking his eyes off the board. “And not all money is gold. Currently we are playing for shares in the latest dye fleet.”

“That will annoy Roverge,” said Montfaucon, speaking with some satisfaction of the family who held the dye Charter. Most of the Charter Families, though forced to work together in the Council, disliked the others, like feral cats defending their territory.

“I will play the winner,” Montfaucon added, tossing his gold broccato

jacket across a chair back. “Though I would prefer cards.” “You could play Kellian,” said Conor, not looking up.

Montfaucon glanced at Kel. While Joss seemed to like him well enough, it was always clear that Montfaucon did not. Perhaps his jealousy of Conor expressed itself through disliking his constant companion. After all, to

dislike the Blood Royal was treason. But Kel, even when posing as the Prince’s cousin, was not royal. His only claim to lineage was through Marakand, not Castellane.

Kel smiled pleasantly. “I do not think I would present much of a challenge for Sieur Montfaucon.”

It had taken Kel years, back in the beginning, to learn all the Court’s honorifics: Monseigneur for a prince, Your Highness for a king or queen, Sieur for a nobleman, Chatelaine for a married noble-woman, and

Demoselle for one as yet unmarried. Most of the nobles, having been told he had lately come from Marakand, had been patient with him. Only Montfaucon had once slapped him, for forgetting the Sieur; now that Kel was an adult, he continued to use it, deliberately. He knew it was an

annoyance Montfaucon could do nothing about.

“Nor, would I imagine, do you own any fleet shares, Amirzah Anjuman,” said Montfaucon. He used the Marakandi term for a nobleman to refer to Kel; it was probably intended to annoy, though it did not work. It only amused Kel to wonder what Montfaucon would think should he ever discover he was conferring a nobleman’s title on a mudrat from the gutters. One who might not be Marakandi, either. Over the years Kel had grown used to being addressed as if his background were the same as Conor’s. Not that it mattered. Being who he was, he had no history to unwrite.

“I do not. It is a shame,” Kel said. “But I see others are arriving; perhaps one could be interested in a hand of red-and-black.”

Indeed, the room was slowly filling up with young nobles from the Hill, and a few wealthy merchants. Falconet rose to his feet to greet them, ceding his position at the Castles board to Montfaucon. Kel kept a discreet eye on Conor as a group of newcomers surrounded a young, Hindish courtesan, who had before him a stack of telling cards. He was reading fortunes for

nobles and courtesans alike.

Once, years ago, a fortune-teller had come to the Palace, brought by Lilibet to enhance some festivity or other. Conor had argued that she should read Kel’s fortune, too. She had taken his hands and looked into his eyes: In that moment, he had felt she could see through him, as if he were made of Sunderglass. “You will live a life of brilliant strangeness,” she had said, and then tears had come down her cheeks. He had hurried away, but always remembered: the words, her tears.

Brilliant strangeness.

He had always wondered what the fortune-teller had told Conor; Conor had never revealed it.

A movement at the door caught Kel’s attention. It was Charlon Roverge

—his elegant tunic straining over his broad shoulders—escorting Antonetta Alleyne and two other noble young ladies: Mirela Gasquet and Sancia Vasey, whose family did not have a Charter, but had grown wealthy from

landholdings in Valderan.

Startled, Kel looked directly at Antonetta. It was something he did not often do. Fortunately, she did not appear to notice: She was looking around the room, a blush coloring her cheeks. She wore a dress of pink lace with fashionably puffed sleeves, a heart-shaped gold locket at her throat.

It was not unheard of for ladies from the Hill to visit the Temple District.

It was a delicate dance in which they stood well back and giggled at the

scandalous goings-on while never partaking of the lascivious pleasures on offer. Still, until this night, Antonetta—no doubt due to her protective mother—had never been one of them.

Falconet shot Kel an amused look. “I’d invited Antonetta,” he said, in a low voice, “but I didn’t think she’d come.

“I’d guess Charlon talked her into it,” Kel said. “She would always do anything if we dared her to, as I recall.”

This was true. As children, they had all been friends—Joss and Charlon, Conor and Kel and Antonetta. They had raided the Palace kitchens and

played in the mud together. Antonetta had been fiercely independent then, furious at even the suggestion that she could do less than the boys. She was always longing to prove herself, to climb the highest tree, ride the fastest horse, be the one who snuck into the kitchens to purloin treats, risking the

infamous wrath of Dom Valon.

When they were fifteen, she had vanished from their little group. Conor had only said to Kel, “It was time,” and Kel had been miserable and Joss indifferent and Charlon angry, until some time later, when Antonetta made her debut at a ball as one of the Hill’s marriageable young ladies. Her hair had been curled as it was now, tight corsets constricting her movements, her formerly bare and dirty feet now laced into satin slippers.

Kel remembered that debut now as he watched Antonetta smile up at Charlon. She had hurt Kel quite badly that night. Later, Montfaucon had replaced her in their group and begun to introduce the other three to the pleasures of the city. Games and tree climbing had been left behind, for good.

Whether Antonetta knew she was the subject of discussion now, Kel could not be sure. She’d sat down on a velvet chair, her hand against her chest, her mouth open as she took in the room. A picture of wide-eyed naïveté. Heavy-lidded, Roverge leaned on the back of her chair, watching a group of courtesans dance below the painted mural, their movements slow and sensual. He seemed to be trying to point out their activities to Antonetta, but she was watching Conor.

Conor seemed oblivious; he was deep in conversation with Audeta, a freckled girl from Valderan perched on the arm of his chair. Her eyelids were painted in stripes of gold and scarlet that flashed as she blinked.

“If Lady Alleyne catches wind that Charlon brought her precious daughter to the Temple District, she’ll tear out his ribs and make a musical instrument out of them,” said Falconet, sounding as if the prospect amused him.

“I’ll talk to Charlon,” said Kel, and was off across the room before Falconet could stop him. As he got closer to Charlon, he saw that the Roverge heir was playing with a strand of Antonetta’s dark-gold hair. Ten years ago, she would have turned around and pinched him savagely; now she sat calmly, ignoring him. Looking at Conor.

“Charlon.” Kel clapped his friend on the back. Not that Charlon was a friend he would have selected himself, but Conor had known him since the cradle and he was firmly planted in Kel’s life. “Good to see you.” He inclined his head in Antonetta’s direction. “And Demoselle Alleyne. This is a surprise. I would have thought your delicate nature and spotless reputation would have kept you far from a place like this.”

Something flashed across Antonetta’s face—a brief flicker of annoyance. Kel savored it. It was like a glimpse behind an actor’s mask, truth hidden by artifice. A moment later it was gone, and Antonetta was smiling the smile that made him grit his teeth. “You are so lovely to be concerned about me,” she said brightly. “But my reputation is safe. Charlon will look after me, won’t you, Charlon?”

“Quite,” said Charlon, in a tone that made Kel feel as if spiders were marching up his spine. “Her virtue is safe in my keeping.”

Antonetta. He almost wanted to say something, to warn her—but she was already rising to her feet, smoothing down her dress. “Oh, a fortune-teller!” she exclaimed, as if she’d just noticed. “I adore getting my fortune told.”

She hurried over to join the crowd around the young man with the cards. “You won’t get her into bed, Charlon,” said Kel. “You know her mother

wants her to marry Conor. And she seems amenable enough to it.”

“Conor won’t have her,” Charlon said, with a lopsided grin. He had light brown hair and a pale complexion, a reminder that his mother had been from Detmarch. “He needs to make a foreign alliance. When her dreams

come crashing down, I’ll be there to wipe away her tears.”

Kel glanced over at Conor, who had pulled Audeta into his lap. They

were sharing the fruit of a cherry, passing it from his mouth to hers. Matters might have escalated from there had Alys not appeared, all apologies, tapping Conor on the shoulder. After a moment of discussion, he rose and followed her from the room, leaving Audeta to turn her attentions to Falconet.

As she left the room, Alys dropped a nearly invisible nod in Kel’s direction. Wait for my signal, she’d said, and he wondered if she’d distracted Conor for his benefit. Surely not; she would not manufacture business with the Prince if she did not truly have any.

With a last glance at Antonetta—her head bent over the fortuneteller’s

cards as Sancia squealed at her side—Kel rose to his feet and made his way

quietly out of the salon, heading for the back stairs. On the landing two young men were pressed up against a wall, kissing; neither noticed Kel as he went by. He kept going, ever upward, until he reached the last landing and a familiar, unremarkable door.

The first time Kel had seen the library at the Caravel, he’d been surprised. He’d expected whips and blindfolds hanging from the walls, but had found a wood-paneled room full of books, small tables and chairs, the smell of ink and leather and tallow. Small, diamond-paned windows were tucked beneath gables; carcel lamps hung from metal hooks beside them, casting a saffron light. A wooden archway led into a second room, where

the rarest books were kept.

“We have the largest collection of books dedicated to the arts of pleasure in all of Dannemore,” Alys had said, with some pride. “Our customers may scan their pages and choose any scenario or act that delights them. No other house offers such.”

Kel wandered to the stacks now, trailing a finger over the leather bindings. A Brief History of Pleasure. (He wondered why that would be better than a lengthy history of the subject, which surely would be more suitable.) Many were from other lands, and Kel’s gaze skipped over the spines, translating: The Mirror of Love, The Perfumed Garden, The Secret Instructions of the Jade Bedchamber.

“You came,” said a voice behind him. “Alys said you would, but I rather wondered.”

Kel rose, turning, and saw a young man about his own age leaning in the archway, his expression open and curious. He was younger than Kel had expected, and pretty as a girl, with pale-gold hair and dark-blue eyes. Kel wondered for a moment if he had Northern blood—which would mean Alys did, too, though it showed less in her. “You’re Merren Asper?” Kel said. “Alys’s brother?”

Merren nodded pleasantly. “And you’re Kel Anjuman, the Prince’s cousin. Now that we have identified each other by our relatives, come and talk,” he said, advancing into the room and pulling out one of the chairs surrounding a long table. He gestured for Kel to sit, too.

Kel complied, studying Merren. He wore the unofficial uniform of a student at the Academie, Castellane’s university: faded black jacket, a loose white cravat at the throat, worn old shoes, and too-long hair. Up close, he

could see the resemblance to Alys in Merren’s blue eyes and delicate features. A faint scent rose from his clothes, not unpleasant: something sharp and green, like the freshly cut stems of plants.

“Your sister tells me you’re the best chemist in all of Castellane,” said Kel.

Merren looked pleased. “Does she?” He ducked under the table and reemerged with a bottle of wine. He peeled away the wax stopper from the bottle before discarding it on the table. Imprinted into the wax was a pattern of grapevines: the symbol of House Uzec. It was impossible to get away from the Charter Families, Kel thought. “Would you like a drink?”

“I’m not sure,” Kel said. “Your sister also says you’re the best poisoner in all of Castellane.”

Merren looked offended. He took a swig from the bottle, coughed, and said, “I am a student of poisons. They are all chemical compounds, after all. It doesn’t mean I go about madly poisoning people—especially not my sister’s clients. She would murder me.”

This seemed true. Alys protected her business as a mother might protect a child. Besides, Merren had drunk from the bottle himself. Kel held a hand out. “All right.”

The wine was crisp as an apple and spread a pleasant warmth through Kel’s chest. Well chosen, Uzec. “I didn’t realize the Academie offered

courses on poison.”

“They don’t. Technically, I am a student of chemistry and botany. Where it comes to poisons, I am self-taught.” Merren smiled as brightly as if he

were discussing the study of poetry or dancing. “As a scholar once said, the only difference between a poison and a remedy is the dose. The deadliest poison is not fatal in a single grain, and milk or water can be lethal if you

consume too much of it.”

Kel smiled a little. “Yet I am sure those who seek you out are not trying to purchase milk or water.”

“They want different things. Compounds for dyes, soaps, even shipbuilding. Anything, really.” Merren looked thoughtful. “I am a poison- maker because I find the components of poison interesting, not because I find death interesting.”

“What is interesting about poison?”

Merren looked down the neck of the wine bottle and said, “Before the Sundering, mages could kill with a touch, a look. Poison is the closest we have now to such power. A real poisoner can create a venom that takes

years to work, or place a toxin on the pages of a book so that the reader is envenomed by each page he turns. I can poison a mirror, a pair of gloves, the hilt of a sword. And poison makes us equal. A dockworker, a noble, a

king—the same dose kills them all.” He cocked his head to the side. “Who do you want to poison?”

Under the saffron light, Merren’s hair was the color of the brocade on Montfaucon’s jacket. In another time, another life, Kel might have been a student alongside someone like Merren. Might have been his friend. But a glass wall existed between Kel and all those outside a small circle who

knew who he truly was. He could not breach it. And he was here on Palace business, he reminded himself, whether the Palace knew it or not.

“No one,” Kel said. “Chemistry offers more than just poisons, does it

not? It offers remedies and cures—and antidotes.” He sat back in his chair. “One of the Castelguards, Dom Guion, was poisoned last week. By a lover, they say, a noblewoman of Sarthe. Now, I am not that concerned about the ill-considered affairs of Castelguards, but the emergence of a new poison, one in use by the nobles of Sarthe, a country that does not like our country

—a venom that might be used against Princes—that concerns me.” “You are worried for your cousin?”

Kel inclined his head. Worrying about Conor was his job. No, keeping Conor alive was his job, and that meant more than simply standing in front of crowds pretending to be him while half expecting an arrow to the chest. It meant thinking about who might want to harm Conor, and how.

In this sense, his job overlapped with Jolivet’s. But Jolivet’s only comment on the death of the Castelguard had been that one should avoid entanglements with Sarthian women. Meanwhile, Kel had prickled with anxiety. The idea that there was some new threat out there bothered him.

“Well,” said Merren, “it wasn’t a new poison. It was, in fact, quite an old one, often used during the time of the Empire. Cantarella, it is called. Many have thought the formula lost, but—” He waved a hand expansively—“not me, of course.”

“So you know the poison. Is there an antidote? I’d like to buy it from you, if it exists.”

Merren looked as pleased with himself as a mother cat with a litter of kittens. “It does. But I have to ask—you live at the Palace, don’t you? I would assume that the chirurgeons there could get anything they wanted. Poisons, antidotes, remedies—”

“There is one doctor, the Royal Surgeon,” said Kel. “He is a minor son of the Gasquet Charter Family. He is also an idiot.” Kel had never managed to discover where Gasquet had come by what medical knowledge he had. The Palace denizens tended to steer clear of his treatments unless they were unavoidable; Gasquet was a great fan of bleeding, and kept an unfriendly colony of leeches in his private apartments. “Not only a terrible physician, but knows nothing of what you call remedies. Says the best cure for poison is prevention, and Conor should simply avoid eating food unless someone

tastes it first.”

“And the Prince doesn’t want to do that?”

Kel thought of Conor, downstairs, his lips stained with wine and cherries. “It’s not a practical solution.”

“I suppose not,” Merren said. “Besides, many poisons show their effects over time. A taster is only useful if the poison is meant to be instant.”

“Perhaps when you leave the Academie, you could replace Gasquet. He certainly needs replacing.”

Merren shook his head. “I’m against the monarchy,” he said cheerfully. “Though monarchies in general,” he added hastily, “not House Aurelian in particular. And it is only a philosophy. The only king I like the sound of is the Ragpicker King.”

Kel couldn’t help but smile. “You are against kings but for criminals, then?”

“He’s a good sort of criminal,” said Merren, serious as a child asking whether it was true that the Gods lived in the clouds. “Not like Prosper Beck.”

Kel had heard of Prosper Beck. The area just behind the docks was called the Maze: a labyrinth of flophouses, pawnshops, cheap food stalls, and crumbling warehouses that, at night, became venues for illegal boxing tournaments, duels (also illegal), and the buying and selling of various contraband. It was a place the Vigilants themselves refused to go after dark. Kel had always assumed the denizens of the Maze answered to the Ragpicker King, but in the past few months he had heard the name Prosper

Beck whispered about; rumor held that someone new was controlling the Maze.

Outside, the Windtower Clock chimed eleven and Merren frowned.

When he turned to look out the window, Kel could not help but note the carefully mended tears in his jacket. Montfaucon, it was said, never wore the same article of clothing twice. “It grows late,” Merren said. “The

cantarella antidote—I can have it ready by Seaday. Ten crowns for four doses—two of poison, two of antidote.”

He said ten crowns as if it were an enormous sum, and Kel reminded himself that, for most people, it was. “That’s fair,” Kel said. “We should arrange a place to meet. I assume you have lodgings in the Scholars’

Quarter? What’s the address?”

“Chancellor Street, across from the Lafont Bookshop,” said Merren, and closed his mouth sharply, as if he had not meant to let that information out. “But we shouldn’t meet there. I know a tea shop—”

There was a knock on the door. Domna Alys’s partner, Hadja, peeked her head into the library. A band of colorful silk held back her cloud of curling dark hair.

“Sieur Anjuman,” she said, inclining her head in Kel’s direction, “the Prince awaits you outside.”

Kel scrambled to his feet. This was not at all part of his plan; by his calculations, Conor ought to have been distracted for at least another few hours. “Is something wrong? Why would he be leaving?”

Hadja shook her head, setting her gold earrings to swinging against her russet-brown skin. “I’ve no idea. I didn’t speak with him. One of the Hindish girls passed me a message.”

Kel felt in his pocket for his coin purse and tossed five crowns to Merren. “Half now, half when I pick up the doses. I’ll see you then.”

“Wait—” Merren began, but Kel was already out the door. He loped downstairs, cutting through the main room of the Caravel, where the hanging tapestries had been drawn back to reveal the raised dais of a stage. Props were being brought out; it seemed a performance was soon to take place. Odd that Conor would have chosen to miss it.

Still puzzling, Kel made his way outside, into the fading warmth of the night. He glanced up and down Hourglass Street. Light spilled in dancing squares onto the cobblestones, and laughing groups strolled by the canal

water. In the distance, a black carriage rattled toward the Caravel; someone inside was singing a loud and drunken song. A light wind spun discarded paper into miniature funnels.

There was no sign of Conor, or the horses. Kel frowned. Perhaps Conor had grown tired of waiting for him; it would not be entirely out of character. Kel had half turned to go back inside the Caravel when he heard the screech of wheels. He spun around. Whoever had been singing inside the black

carriage had stopped. It swung toward him, wheels skipping over the cobblestones.

They were painted blood red.

The body of the carriage skidded sideways, blocking Kel’s path. Black curtains shaded the windows; he could not see who was inside. He turned,

ready to flip himself over the low stone wall along the canal—he’d take his chances in the water—but wine had made him slow. A hand caught the back of his jacket. He was jerked back, half flung through the open door of the carriage and onto the seat.

Kel scrambled up as the door slammed shut behind him. He was not alone. There was someone else in the carriage—two someones—and a flash of something silver. Eyes still adjusting to the dark, Kel saw metal gleam, and felt the point of a knife rest against the hollow of his throat. He closed his eyes.

For that moment, there was only silence, darkness, his own breathing, and the knife at his throat. Then the driver, overhead, shouted hoarsely; a moment later, the carriage jerked forward, flying over the cobblestones into the night.

“In times of old, the wrath of the Sorcerer-Kings scorched the earth,” Lin read, “for they had taken to themselves power that is not meant for men to have, but only Gods. Their fury boiled the seas and brought down mountains. The land was marked with Sunderglass where magic had scarred it. Each person on earth ran before them in terror—save Adassa, the Queen of Aram. She alone rose against them. Knowing she could not destroy them, instead she destroyed magic itself, rendering them powerless. All magic was taken from the earth, save that which Adassa had set aside for the use of her people alone: the magic of gematry. And Adassa passed

into the shadowed realm, where she became a Goddess, the light of the Ashkari people, who are her Chosen ones.”

Lin closed the book. Mariam, a small figure half buried beneath a

massive pile of bedcovers, smiled faintly. “I always like the parts where

Adassa is a woman best,” she said. “Before she becomes the Goddess. She had her moments of weakness and fear, like the rest of us.”

Lin put the back of her hand against Mariam’s forehead. It was cool now, to her relief. Mari had been crying out, feverish and delirious, by the time they had arrived back from Valerian Square that afternoon. There had been some consternation among the guards at the gates of the Sault over the

appearance of a Palace carriage, but they had helped Lin carry Mariam inside. She’d brought her friend directly to her own house and settled her into bed in Josit’s room; her brother was away on the Gold Roads, after all, and she knew he would not have minded.

It had taken some arguing with Chana Dorin, who thought Mariam would be better treated at the Etse Kebeth, the House of Women. But Lin was used to arguing with Chana. Lin pointed out that she was a physician, that no one knew her skills better than Chana, and that here, in Lin’s small whitewashed home, Mariam would have peace and quiet and constant attendance.

It was Mariam who had put an end to the battle; she’d turned over on the bed and, between bouts of coughing, announced: “Honestly, the two of you will still be fighting over me when I am dead and gone. Chana, let me stay here with Lin. It’s what I want.”

So Chana had succumbed. She’d helped Lin get Mariam into a clean nightgown, and wrapped her hands and forehead in wet cloths to break her fever. Lin had brewed evening primrose into poultices and placed them on Mariam’s chest to reduce inflammation; she’d fashioned tisanes of cinnamon and turmeric to make her cough, of ginseng, lemon, salt water, and honey to open her lungs, and spikenard to soothe her. When—despite the cloths—Mariam’s fever rose, Chana had gone to the physick garden to fetch willowbark to bring it down.

Mariam’s fever had broken after midnight, as fevers often did. The end often came in the late watches of the night, but so did healing: Life and death both struck in the shadowed hours. When Mariam had woken, restless and aching, Lin had decided to read to her from a book of the old tales she’d found on the windowsill. She and Mariam had loved the stories when

they were small: tales of Adassa, of her bravery in defeating the Sorcerer- Kings of old, of her cleverness in keeping back a small part of the magic that had been destroyed by the Sundering and holding it for her people. It was because of her that the Ashkar could still work even small magics; without the Goddess, they would be as bereft as others.

“Do you remember when we were children?” Mariam asked. “We both thought we were certain to be the Goddess Returned. We would dress up in blue robes and try to cast spells. I spent several whole afternoons trying to move bits of sticks and paper with my magic.”

That was a long time ago, Lin thought. Not quite her earliest memory. Far, far back she could recall her mother and father; both traders on the Gold Roads, they had smelled of cinnamon and lavender and faraway places. She recalled them swinging her between them while she laughed; recalled her mother cooking, her father holding baby Josit up, his chubby hands reaching for the clouds.

She did not recall learning that they were dead. She knew it must have happened, that someone would have told them. She knew she had cried, because she had understood what was happening, and that Josit had cried

because he did not. Bandits had overtaken her parents’ caravan near Jiqal, the desert that was all that remained of what had once been Aram. Their waggon had been seized, their throats slashed, their bodies thrown into the

Road to be picked over by vultures. Though surely no one had told her that; still, she had overheard whispers: Such a terrible thing, people said. Such bad luck. And who would take the children?

Children were precious to the Ashkar. They represented the survival of a people who had no homeland, and thus had been in danger of extinction

since the Sundering. It was assumed Lin and Josit’s one surviving relative, their maternal grandfather, would take them in. Lin had even heard envious muttering. Mayesh Bensimon, the Counselor to the King. Save the Maharam, he was the most influential man in the Sault. He owned a grand house near the Shulamat. A lucky life they would have with him, surely.

Only he had not wanted them.

She recalled sitting in her bedroom with Josit in her lap, listening to Davit Benezar, the Maharam, arguing with Mayesh in the corridor outside. I cannot do it, Mayesh had said. Despite the words he was saying, the sound of his voice was, briefly, comforting to Lin. She associated it with her

parents, with feast nights when the whole family gathered and Mayesh read aloud, as the candles burned, from the Book of Makabi. He would ask Lin questions about Judah Makabi, the wandering of the Ashkar, and the Goddess, and when she got the answers right he would reward her with loukoum, a sweet candy of rosewater and almond.

But: “No, no, no,” he said to Benezar. “My duties will not allow for raising children. I do not have time, nor attention. I must be at the Palace every day, at any hour they call me.”

“Then step down,” snapped the Maharam. “Let someone else counsel the King of Castellane. These children are your blood and flesh.”

But Mayesh had been curt. The children would be better served in the community. Lin would go to the Etse Kebeth, and Josit to the Dāsu Kebeth, the House of Men. Mayesh would look in on them from time to time, as their grandfather. That was the end of it.

Lin still recalled the pain of being separated from Josit. They had pulled him wailing from her arms to take him to the Dāsu Kebeth, and though he was only a street away from her, she felt his absence like a wound. Like the Goddess, she thought, she had been wounded thrice, each name a scar of

fire beneath her heart: mother, father, brother.

Chana, who headed the House of Women with her wife, Irit, tried to

console Lin and make her comfortable, but Lin’s rage would not allow it. She was like a wild thing, clambering up into trees from which she could not be fetched down, screaming and smashing plates and glasses, tearing her own skin with her nails.

“Make him come,” Lin sobbed, when Chana, at her wit’s end, took her only pair of shoes to stop her running away. But the next day, when Mayesh did come to her in the physick garden, bringing an expensive gold necklace from the Palace as a gift, she only flung it at him and ran back inside the Women’s House.

That night, as Lin lay shaking on her bed, someone came into her room. A small girl with smooth dark braids wound around her head, pale skin, and short, spiky lashes. Lin knew who she was. Mariam Duhary, an orphan

refugee from Favár, the capital of Malgasi. Like Lin and several others, she lived here in the House of Women. Unlike Lin, she didn’t seem to mind.

She climbed onto the bed beside Lin and sat quietly while Lin thrashed and hit her pillow and kicked at the walls. Eventually, kicking and thrashing

in the face of so much quiet patience became unrewarding. Lin settled into silence, glaring up at Mariam through her tangled hair.

“I know what you’re feeling,” Mariam said. Lin got ready to snap; no one

knew what she was feeling, even if they all claimed they did. “My parents are also dead. When Malgasi turned against the Ashkar, they sent the vamberj—the wolf-masked soldiers—to hunt us down. They would call out through the streets: Ettyaszti, moszegyellem nas. Come out, wherever you are. They caught my mother on her way to market. She was hung in the main square of Favár, for the crime of being Ashkar. My father and I fled, or the Malgasi would have killed us, too. We traveled the Gold Roads until he grew too sick. We came here, traveling through the night. My father had said things would be better for us in Castellane. But by the time we arrived in the morning, he was dead in the back of the waggon.” Her voice was

matter-of-fact as she recounted these horrors, so much so that Lin fell silent. “Everyone wants to tell you that it isn’t so bad, but it is. You will be so sad that you will feel like you will die. But you won’t die. And with every day that passes, you will get back a little piece of yourself.”

Lin blinked. No one had spoken to her like this since her parents’ death.

There was something extraordinary about it. “Besides,” Mariam added, “you’re lucky.”

Lin sat up, angry, kicking at her covers. “What do you mean, I’m lucky?” “You’ve got a brother, don’t you?” said Mariam. In the shadows, the gold

circle that hung on a chain around her neck gleamed darkly. The words of the Lady’s Prayer looked like scratches. “I have no one but me. I am the only Duhary in Castellane. Maybe the only one in the world.”

Lin noticed that Mariam did not mention Mayesh. She was glad. She realized in that moment how foolish she had been, demanding that Mayesh visit her. Mayesh waited on the pleasure of the King, not the whim of his grandchildren. He did not belong to Lin. He belonged to the Palace.

Mariam had drawn the shawl from around her thin shoulders and handed it to Lin. It was a pretty thing, of fine cambric and lace. “Take this,” she said. “It makes a very satisfying sound when you rip it. Whenever you feel everything is unfair and awful, tear a piece off.”

And she tore the shawl in half. For the first time in weeks, Lin smiled.

After that, the girls were inseparable. Mariam was sister and best friend all in one. They took lessons together, played together, and helped each

other with tasks like cleaning the kitchen and planting the physick garden, where all the Sault’s herbs and medicinal flowers were grown. Lin thought of Mariam, with some envy, as graceful and delicate in her sensibilities; she never seemed to want to dig in the dirt, wrestle with the other children, or clamber up into the chestnut trees with Lin and Josit. Lin envied her decorum but knew perfectly well she could not change her own nature. She herself was always dirty and knee-skinned from playing; she loved to climb the Sault walls and stand at their very edge as the Shomrim did, her toes jutting over the side, the harbor and the crowded streets of the city swaying below.

When Lin turned thirteen, she realized Mariam was not simply uninterested in roughhousing as Lin previously thought. She began to see, with a more adult eye, that Mariam was not delicate, but rather fragile.

Fragile and ill. Her pale skin bruised easily; a short walk would leave her short of breath. She had fevers that came and went, and often she’d be up all night coughing, while Chana Dorin sat with her, giving her ginger tea.

“There’s something wrong with her,” she’d observed to Chana Dorin one day, when the older woman was plucking leaves from a feverfew plant in

the physick garden. “Mariam. She’s sick.” “So now you notice,” was all Chana said.

“Isn’t there something you could give her?” Lin had demanded. “Some kind of medicine?”

Chana had sat back on her heels, her patched skirt spreading around her in the dirt. “Don’t you imagine I’ve tried everything?” she snapped. “If the physicians could help her, Lin, they would.”

Something about her tone made Lin realize that Chana was angry because she, too, felt impotent, powerless to help the girl in her care.

Whatever had killed Mariam’s father, it seemed, was going to kill her, too, unless someone did something about it.

Lin decided that someone would have to be her. She had gone to Chana and told her that she wanted to study healing. The boys her age who planned to be physicians had already begun their training. She would need to catch up if she was to learn everything there was to know about medicine and cure Mariam.

“Please,” Mariam said now, snapping her out of her reverie. “You look half dead from tiredness. Go take a nap. I’ll be fine, Linnet.”

Hardly anyone ever called Lin by her full name. When Mariam did, though, it sounded like family in Lin’s ears. A mother’s sternness, a sister’s exasperation. She touched Mariam’s thin cheek. “I’m not tired.”

“Well, I am,” Mariam said. “But I can’t settle. Some hot milk and honey


“Of course. I’ll get it.” Lin set the old book down on the nightstand and headed to the kitchen. She was already thinking about what else she could put in the milk that would be covered by the flavor of honey. Her mind ticked through remedies for inflammation. Pine bark, frankincense, cat’s claw—

“How is she?” Chana’s voice brought Lin out of her reverie. The older woman was seated at Lin’s scrubbed pinewood table with a mug of karak. Her iron-gray hair hung long and straight about her shoulders; her dark eyes, set in a nest of fine, raying wrinkles, were sharp as needle tips.

Several pots were boiling away on the stove behind her. Like most houses in the Sault, Lin’s had a single main room that combined the

functions of sitting room, dining room, and kitchen. All houses in the Sault were small—square, whitewashed boxes, a function of the limited space within the walls.

Inside, Lin had done what she could to make the space hers, using items Josit brought back from the Gold Roads on his infrequent visits. A painted mirror from Hanse, wooden toys from Detmarch, a chunk of striped marble from Sarthe, a celadon horse from Geumjoseon. The curtains were Hindish fabric, a fine linen with a multicolored woven border. Lin did not like to think of her brother out on the Roads, but the fever for traveling had been in his blood since he was born. She had learned to accept his absences, his wandering, the way you accepted things you had no choice about.

She turned back now to glance into his room. She was not surprised to see Mariam already asleep, her arm flung across her face. She closed the door quietly and came to sit with Chana at the table.

“She’s dying,” Lin said. The words tasted as bitter as failure. “Not quickly, but she’s dying.”

Chana got up from the table and went into the kitchen. Lin stared unseeingly ahead as Chana clanked about with the kettle.

“I’ve tried everything,” Lin said. “Every talisman, every tisane, every remedy in every book I could find. She was better for a while—a long

while. But now nothing is working.”

Chana returned to the table with a dented mug of steaming tea. She pushed it across the scrubbed wood toward Lin before folding her hands— big, capable hands, strong looking, with knobbed knuckles. But Lin knew

those hands were capable of incredibly delicate gematry work; Chana Dorin made the best talismans in the Sault.

“Do you remember?” Chana asked, watching as Lin took a sip of the hot liquid. It burned a pathway into her stomach that reminded her how long it had been since she’d eaten. “When I first brought you to the Maharam and told him he must allow you to study medicine?”

Lin nodded. It had been the first time she had been inside the Shulamat. Every Sault had its heart: the Kathot, its main square, and in the Kathot, the Shulamat. A combination of temple, library, and courthouse, the Shulamat was where the Maharam presided over religious ceremonies and heard small cases brought before him: a dispute between two neighbors, perhaps, or an argument among scholars over the interpretation of a passage in the

Book of Makabi.

She had always thought the Shulamat was the most beautiful building in the Sault by far, with a domed roof covered in shimmering blue tesserae and walls of creamy marble. One could see the roof even from outside the gates, like a piece of sky fallen to earth.

Lin could remember how small she had felt climbing the stairs of the Shulamat. How tightly she had held Chana Dorin’s hand as they passed through, and how her heart had soared once they stood in the main room, beneath the inverted bowl of the golden dome. Here the mosaic-work stunned with its beauty. The floor was tiled in patterns of green vines and fat red pomegranates; the walls were deep blue, against which patterns of stars were picked out in golden tesserae—the constellations as seen from Aram, she would learn years later. A great chest of silver held the hand- copied scrolls of the Book of Makabi; a thick cloth of gold draped the Almenor, the great altar. Woven into the cloth were the words of the first Great Question, the same words etched into the charm around Lin’s throat:

How shall we sing our Lady’s song in a strange land?

On a raised dais beneath the dome sat the Maharam. He had been younger then, though to Lin he had always seemed old. His beard and hair were pure white, his pale hands swollen at the joints. His shoulders were

bent beneath his dark-blue sillon, the ceremonial robe of the Ashkar. Around his neck gleamed a large circular pendant that bore the Lady’s Prayer. The Book of Makabi instructed all Ashkar to bear some version of the Prayer with them wherever they went: Some embroidered it into their clothes, while many others preferred to wear the words as a charm: a bracelet or a pendant. Something that kept it always close to their skin.

The Maharam had greeted Chana Dorin with an expression of sympathy for the recent death of her wife, Irit, which Chana waved away with her usual stubborn refusal to hear anything that smacked to her of pity. It seemed clear the Maharam had known Chana was coming and even what

she would ask, though he heard her out patiently enough. Lin’s ears burned as Chana told him how clever she was, how quick-minded, and what a ready student of medicine she would make. She had not been so praised in years.

When she was done, the Maharam had sighed. “I do not believe it is a good idea, Chana.”

Chana stuck her jaw out. “I don’t see why not. The Goddess was a woman, before she ascended. She was also a healer.”

“That was in the time before the Sundering,” the Maharam had said. “We had magic then, and Aram, and freedom. Now we are without a home,

guests in the city of Castellane. And not always welcome guests.” His gaze came to rest on Lin. “If you were a physician, my girl, you would have to

traverse this city alone, often at night. And men of the malbushim are not like men in the Sault. They are not bound to respect you.”

“I can protect myself,” Lin had said. “All the boys in the Dāsu Kebeth are afraid of me.”

Chana had snorted, but the Maharam had not been amused. “I suppose your grandfather put you up to this,” he’d said to Lin.

“Davit, no,” Chana had protested. “Mayesh is quite against the idea, in fact.”

Davit. So the Maharam had a name. He responded to hearing it with a shrug. “I will think on it, Chana.”

Lin had been crushed, sure they’d been brushed off. But Chana, brisk as always, had only told her not to mope. The next day a messenger had come from the Shulamat, bearing the news that the Maharam had given his

approval. Lin could study to be a physician, as long as she passed every test. No mistakes would be allowed, and no second chances.

Now, remembering the exuberance of that day, the way she and Mariam had danced around the physick garden, Lin managed a smile. “I remember.”

“I always counted it as a great victory,” Chana said.

“I never understood why the Maharam agreed to it,” said Lin. “He must be fonder of you than he lets on.”

Chana shook her head, setting the colorful beads of her necklaces to swaying. “Not at all. He agreed to annoy your grandfather, that’s all. He and your grandfather cannot stand each other.”

“Then I suppose I ought to be glad Mayesh was against my becoming a physician,” Lin said. “So typical of him. He was allowed to choose to be Counselor, but the Goddess forbid I have a hand in my own destiny.”

“Is he so bad?” Chana set her mug aside. “I had hoped, Lin, that when you grew to adulthood, you could find some peace with your grandfather. He did send that carriage for you and Mariam today, did he not?”

Lin shrugged, uncomfortable. “It was not meant as a kindness. He was simply showing his power.” And that he made the right decision, she thought, choosing the Palace and its opportunities over Josit and me.

Chana did not respond. She was examining the books flung across the table—the Book of Remedies, the Seventeen Rules, the Sefer Refuot, the Materia Medica. Well, not quite examining them, Lin thought. She was staring as if she could bore a hole through the pages with her eyes.

“Linnet,” she said, “there is something I ought to tell you.”

Lin leaned forward. “What is it, Chana? You’re scaring me.”

“Your grandfather was never opposed to you becoming a physician.

When I consulted him, he merely said it was your decision, not one for him to help or hinder. I told the Maharam otherwise because I knew it was the only way to get him to agree to allow it.”

“Mayesh said it was my decision?”

“Yes,” Chana said. “I should have told you before. I didn’t realize you even still remembered what I said that day, much less that you were still angry with Mayesh for it. There is much he has done that has earned your anger, Lin, but that was one thing he did not do.”

“Why . . .” Lin began, slowly. “Why does the Maharam hate him so much?”

Chana took a swig of cold karak and made a face. “You know of the Maharam’s son?”

“Yes. Asher.” Lin thought back. She did not remember the boy, but the stories about him persisted. “He was exiled, wasn’t he?”

Exile. The worst punishment the Sault and its council of elders could dole out. To be exiled was to be stripped of your identity. You were no longer Ashkar, forbidden to ever speak to or see your family, your friends, your spouse. Cut off from everything you had ever known, you would be driven from the gates to fend for yourself in the world of the malbushim, without family, money, or a place in the world.

“He was,” Chana said heavily. “You would have been perhaps five years old when it happened. He delved into what is forbidden.” She gazed at the fire, now sunk into saffron embers. “He believed that the magic that existed before the Sundering had not all been lost forever. That he could awaken it, access it, learn to practice it.”

Lin’s heart gave an odd little thump. “He was exiled just for trying to learn about magic? He was only a boy, wasn’t he—fifteen or sixteen? It seems like a mistake, not a crime.”

“He did more than just learn about it,” said Chana. “He tried to use it. Do you know what bone conjuring is?”

Lin shook her head.

“His mother had died a year or so before,” said Chana. “He was trying to bring her back. Even before the Sundering, such things were forbidden.”

She crossed her arms over her broad chest. “Your grandfather was the only one of the elders to speak up against his exile. He told the Maharam he would regret it forever if he banished his only son, his only remaining family, from the Sault. The Maharam has never forgiven him for it.”

“Do you think he does regret it? The Maharam?”

Chana sighed. “I think he had no choice but to do what he did. He adored Asher, but the boy could have done nothing worse in his father’s eyes. In all our eyes. The world was nearly destroyed once by such dangerous magic.

Mayesh should have known better than to say such things.”

Lin was silent. What, she wondered, had Asher Benezar done, precisely? Read books? Attempted spellwork? Like everyone in Dannemore, Lin knew of the Sorcerer-Kings whose battles had scorched the earth, leaving scars of Sunderglass behind—a constant reminder of the dangers and evils of magic.

But she did not know how they had done it. How had magic been

performed? The knowledge had been lost, she thought, along with the power.

“Lin,” said Chana. “What are you thinking?”

Lin stood up, crossing the room to the window. Outside she could see the winding cobblestoned street; over the tops of the nearest houses, the dome of the Shulamat rose, glimmering under the moonlight. And all around, of course, the walls, rising to cut off her view of Castellane. Only the Hill was visible, high and distant, and the white glow of Marivent—the Palace—like a second moon. “I am thinking,” Lin said, “that if there was a chance for me to heal Mariam using magic, I would be tempted just as Asher was.”

“We—the Ashkar alone—have magic. We have gematry. We have talismans. They are what we are allowed to use, and they assist us greatly. Lin, you know that.”

“I do know that. I also know that in the days before the Sundering,

physicians mixed magic and science to wondrous effect. They could knit broken bones instantly, heal a shattered skull, stop the growth of tumors—”

“Enough.” Chana cut her off, her tone coldly forbidding. “Keep such

thoughts out of your head, Lin. The Maharam was willing to exile his own son for seeking such knowledge. Do not imagine he would be any kinder to you.”



But power cannot remain untrammeled forever. As the knowledge of the One Word spread through Dannemore, magic altered from a force anyone with the talent and will could master to a jealously guarded secret gathered in the hands of a few powerful magicians. Those magic-users quickly rose to political prominence. They named themselves kings and queens, and began to lay out the borders of their territories. Tribes became towns, towns became cities, and land became kingdoms. And thus the age of the Sorcerer-Kings began.

Tales of the Sorcerer-Kings, Laocantus Aurus Iovit III

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