Chapter no 21

These Infinite Threads (This Woven Kingdom, 2)

ON PERHAPS ANY OTHER EVENING, a previous version of Kamran might’ve complained aloud at the inconvenience of changing for dinner, for it had always seemed to him a senseless tradition. As a young prince, he’d managed to avoid such rituals more often than not, for Zaal had been indulgent of his grandson, who’d once loudly insisted that he couldn’t imagine the use in changing his clothes merely to eat a meal. He’d considered himself too practical for such nonsense.

In fact, just days ago he might’ve made some snide remark to his solemn valet about the waste of time, waste of fabric, waste of jewels. He’d thought himself above such frivolity, as he’d often described it. What was the point, he’d wondered, in such elaborate ensembles? What purpose did they serve?

For eighteen years, Kamran had been a fool.

A single day his grandfather had been gone, and already Kamran was beginning to understand that the hours the late king had spent in his dressing room were far from frivolous.

In fact, they were a small mercy.

While Kamran was being dressed, he could not be bothered. He was not asked to speak; he could not be questioned. There were no ministers to harangue him, no military maneuvers to put forth, no rivals to destroy. The enforced quiet was unexpectedly calming, the ritual requiring of him only to remain still, allowing his mind to prepare for the trials ahead. The clothes, too, were a gift, each layer like a bandage wrapped around his vulnerable body. He welcomed the weight: the heavier the pieces, the steadier he felt; the better armored for the hours he would endure, the physical and mental blows he would no doubt sustain.

Kamran even had the presence of mind to realize that this quiet window in the company of his unobtrusive valet might be his last for a long while.

He would savor it.

In any case, the prince’s mind required silence to spin, for his apprehensions were tripling by the moment: he’d been unable to deduce Zahhak’s intentions in his grandfather’s rooms, and the unsolved mystery had left him uneasy. The problem was, Kamran had never been intimate enough with the late king’s personal effects to know whether anything had been disturbed or rearranged. As far as he could tell, all was as it should’ve been, the glittering quarters as meticulous as always. And while some part of him knew he ought to have conducted a more thorough search, he’d lacked the fortitude to linger in the space any longer than was absolutely necessary.

It had been too soon.

His grandfather’s scent had hung in the air not unlike a likeness of the man himself; his imagined form had been conjured from only sense and sensation. So powerful was this force that Kamran half expected Zaal to walk into the room at any moment, scolding him for the intrusion. Kamran had struggled to be surrounded by such potent memories; his chest had ached as he toured the museum of his grandfather’s life. The experience had affected him a great deal more than he cared to admit, for it betrayed a weakness in his character—a weakness of which his grandfather would’ve deeply disapproved.

The prince closed his eyes on an exhale then, Zaal’s painful words reanimating, unbidden, in his mind—

“Enough,” his grandfather said angrily, his voice rising an octave. “You accuse me of things you do not understand, child. The decisions I’ve had to make during my reign—the things I’ve had to do to protect the throne— would be enough to fuel your nightmares for an eternity.”

“My, what joys lie ahead.”

“You dare jest?” the king said darkly. “You astonish me. Never once have I led you to believe that ruling an empire would be easy or, for even a moment, enjoyable. Indeed if it does not kill you first, the crown will do its utmost to claim you, body and soul. This kingdom could never be ruled by the weak of heart. It is up to you alone to find the strength necessary to survive.”

“And is that what you think of me, Your Highness? You think me weak of heart?”


Kamran’s eyes flew open.

He felt his hands tremble and quickly curled them into fists, struggling to restore his confidence. Kamran liked to think of himself as a powerful, invulnerable force, but a single look at the last week of his life was enough to prove the truth: he was too easily ruled by his heart, too easily manipulated by his emotions.

He was, in fact, weak.

The realization made him nauseous, a wave of self-loathing roiling in his gut. Kamran had been better in command of himself when he was distracted, when Hazan demanded from him a sharpness of mind and wit, when he was moving fast and making plans. But in the wake of Hazan’s and Omid’s departures—and after he’d dispatched a letter to his aunt—he’d spent the better part of the afternoon evading the stammering servants intent on delivering him hand-printed notes from Zahhak, all of which requested his immediate presence in one of the grand parlors.

Instead, Kamran had made himself scarce.

He’d flit from one darkened corner to another as a silver sea of Diviners slowly infiltrated his home; their long, liquid metal robes skimming the floor as they moved, the trained motions of their feet so unnatural they only ever appeared to glide.

He’d felt them as they arrived, each new presence striking him like a tap against a tuning fork, a low level hum of electricity buzzing along the distorted gold veins of his body.

It had frightened him, and like a child, he’d fled.

Kamran knew that a meeting with the nobles and Diviners would be explosive and absolute, for they owed him answers he was not yet ready to receive. There was more work he wanted to do before he was paraded before the priests and priestesses like a sick horse, assessed for worthiness and found wanting. He didn’t want to hear them declare him unfit to rule; he didn’t wish to be sentenced to a distant province, where he might live in an old, dilapidated holding of the crown, accompanied by a brooding cook, a miserable maid, and an unhappy valet, none of whom would’ve willingly left Setar to keep him company.

He was not yet ready for his entire life to change.

Instead, Kamran had pored over the enigmatic Book of Arya, which he kept clutched in one hand even now, loath to part with this essential piece of an enigmatic puzzle. Over and over he’d tried to get the book to give up its secrets, studying its skin for more hidden symbols, and pressing a pen to its pages without success, the paper proving impervious to ink. When he’d tired of that he’d filched food from the kitchens, filled skins of water, stocked empty crates with supplies they’d need for their weeklong journey

—all of which he’d then hidden carefully near the stables.

The prince only deigned to dress for dinner in the interest of upholding a veneer of the status quo, for though he’d no intention of sitting down to a formal meal, he figured he might, at the very least, pretend to make an appearance before surreptitiously ducking out. Night had fallen upon Setar like a stroke of tar, and he meant to use the darkness to his advantage—for he still had to haul the hidden crates down to the dock.

“Thank you, Sina,” he said quietly.

The valet drew back and bowed, straightening before saying, “As a reminder, sire, your cloak awaits you in your bedroom.”

Kamran turned carefully to face the man.

There was no reason Sina should suspect the prince of needing his cloak, for he’d done nothing to betray his intentions of leaving the castle at this hour. “I shouldn’t require my cloak,” he said quietly, “if I’m only going down to dinner.”

“Of course, sire.” Sina lowered his eyes. “It’s only that, earlier, one of the Diviners saw me passing in the hall and she bid me remind you that your cloak is hanging in your bedroom.”

Kamran stiffened. “Why would she say such a thing to you?”

“Forgive me, Your Highness,” Sina said, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”

Kamran’s heart was pounding in his chest now. Once again, he seemed to feel the electric hum of the Diviners’ presence, feel it spark along the glittering branches disfiguring his left arm. He didn’t know what this new sensation meant, but he suspected that, whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

“You may go,” he said.

Sina retreated with another bow and without a sound—after which Kamran charged into his room, retrieved his hooded cloak from its hook, and stormed the halls of his own home.

He was perturbed.

Too many disturbing revelations and unanswered questions had finally unraveled his mind enough that it seemed, sometimes, like he was little more than a mess of nerves. He felt powerless in the face of so much uncertainty, and inaction made him uneasy. He felt he must do something or combust, and this was his sole thought as he flew down the grand staircase, heaving the cape around his shoulders as he went, the superfine black wool billowing about him like a pair of wings. He fastened the heavy gold latch at his throat before making certain the Book of Arya was tucked safely into his cloak, then assessed his escape options. He was determined to make an undetected exit from the palace and was just reaching for the chain mail mask in his pocket when he heard the distant, echoing sound of Omid’s voice.

Omid, who’d failed him.

Night had fallen an hour ago, and the child had only now returned? Inwardly, Kamran sighed.

He was going out to the stables anyway; he figured he may as well track down Omid and take him along, assign him a new role, make the necessary introductions to the groom. Not only would this give him an excellent pretense for leaving the grounds wearing his cloak, but Omid would then become someone else’s charge, making him one less responsibility Kamran need worry about in his absence.

Resolved, the prince followed the muted resonance of the boy’s voice, noting as he drew closer to the source that, even from this distance, Omid appeared to be deeply agitated.

Kamran frowned.

The boy was not, in fact, speaking; he was arguing, exchanging frustrations with what sounded like an angry footman—and no wonder. Omid was shouting in Feshtoon, clearly oblivious to the fact that most footmen in Setar would not be educated enough to speak the language of his southern province.

Kamran picked up his pace then, striding impatiently toward the front hall, intending to resolve the matter at once—when he heard something altogether more upsetting.

Miss Huda.

Her voice was unmistakable, and Kamran experienced a spike of alarm at the sound. He could neither imagine why Miss Huda had returned to the palace at this hour nor what she was doing in Omid’s company, but the

young woman was now screeching at the angry footman, her shouts growing only more shrill as she cried—

“I most certainly will not step aside—and don’t you dare touch me—” “Miss, please, you’re not allowed to be here—this is a private hour for

the royal household, the prince does not receive unsolicited guests in the evening—”

“But she’s with me,” Omid said in accented Ardanz before giving up and carrying on in his native tongue. “We’re here on official orders! For the prince! You must let us pass!”

“Are you making any sense of this?” said a footman. “I can’t understand a word he’s saying—”

“What he’s saying,” Miss Huda interjected angrily, “is that we are here by order of the prince himself, and mark my words: my father, the Lojjan ambassador, will be hearing about this—”

Kamran thought his head might explode.

The audacity of this absurd young woman to invoke his name in the interest of her own immunity— Oh, he was already pitying himself for being forced to endure her company for the second time in the same day. He turned the corner too sharply, wishing he might leave these idiots to their fate when, suddenly, the entire abhorrent scene came into view.

Kamran stopped short, his body going slack in disbelief.

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