Chapter no 22

These Infinite Threads (This Woven Kingdom, 2)

OMID AND MISS HUDA STOOD center stage, both tall and too proud in equally awful, ill-fitting attire, shouting in different languages at a trio of stubborn footmen. In the wings stood Deen, the wiry apothecarist, and Mrs. Amina, the brutal housekeeper of Baz House; this unlikely duo stood silently side by side, each with a hand clapped over their mouths in horror.

Angels above.

Kamran had given the boy a single task.

He’d charged Omid with bringing in the apothecarist and the housekeeper for a round of questioning. After Miss Huda’s unexpected arrival at the palace this morning, he’d been inspired to interview all others who’d known or conversed with Alizeh at length—and though Kamran had spoken once, briefly, with the apothecarist while incognito, he’d intended to ask the man more direct questions this time around.

Now, he knew nothing but regret.

“I’m sorry, miss,” said a footman who didn’t sound sorry at all. “I can’t let you pass. I have no idea who this boy is”—he nodded to Omid—“and I don’t care who your father is. So unless you’re hoping to land yourself in prison tonight, step aside.”

Miss Huda reared back, clasping a hand to her chest with no small amount of drama. “How dare you—”

“This is your final warning,” said another footman.

“Oh, just you wait,” she said, drawing herself up to her full height. “Just wait until I speak to the prince about this. My associate and I are here on royal orders—”

“Your associate?” Kamran said sharply, emerging from the shadows. “Your Highness!” cried a chorus of breathless voices.

All bowed and scraped before him in an almost choreographed motion, all but Omid, the boy peeling off from the crowd to approach Kamran with wild eyes, his head shaking hard as he spoke in rapid-fire Feshtoon:

“I swear I would’ve been here before nightfall, sire— I swear with my whole heart I would’ve— I brought them just as you asked, except there was a mob gathered outside the palace gates—”

“A mob?”

“Yes, sire, the people are very angry, sire, and the guards were threatening to pull up the drawbridge to prevent anyone from coming through until Miss Huda told them who she was and finally we did get through the gates but then they wouldn’t let us come through the front door

because they said you weren’t accepting visitors but then we finally got through the door and then they—”

Enough,” Kamran said.

Omid bit his lip and slunk back, looking suddenly like he might cry. The prince ignored this, his mind in chaos. He’d suspected the people would riot, so it wasn’t a surprise, exactly, to hear that a mob had assembled—but it was devastating nonetheless.

Solemnly, he nodded at the footmen. “You may go.” “But— Sire—”

“Ha!” cried Miss Huda, jabbing a finger at the trio of young men. “I told you that you’d be sorry—”

“If I hear you say another word,” Kamran said quietly, his eyes flashing, “I will have you barred forevermore from the palace.”

Miss Huda fell back, two spots of pink appearing high on her cheekbones.

Kamran took a steadying breath, struggling to rein in his anger, his frustration, his myriad disappointments. He turned to the footmen, acknowledging them one by one. “Thank you for your efforts. I’ll take it from here.”


“Yes, sire.”

“As you wish, sire.”

And then, they were gone.

Finally Kamran was left no choice but to face his strange audience, the odd group staring at him now with terror. The prince knew he’d no one but himself to blame for this shameful turn of events, and wasn’t sure then whether his anger was aimed more at himself, or Omid. Or perhaps even the infuriating Miss Huda.

Quietly, he said: “Someone explain to me at once what is going on here before I have the lot of you carted off to the dungeons.”

Omid and Miss Huda, so loud only minutes before, seemed incapable then of saying a word. Their mouths opened and closed as they shared frightened, uncertain glances, and Kamran thought he really might lose his mind when, finally, Deen stepped forward and broke open the silence.

“If I may, Your Highness”—he cleared his throat—“I’d only like to say that I, too, would love to know what is going on here, for I haven’t the faintest idea.”

Kamran raised his eyebrows. “How is that possible?”

“All I know, sire, is that the ruination of my day began when this young woman”—Deen nodded at Miss Huda—“barreled into my shop oh, about four hours ago and, without warning or even an introduction, began interrogating me—in front of my customers, no less—about someone I’d treated days ago, demanding all the while that I divulge confidential information to a complete stranger—which I feel I should point out is not only unethical, but illegal—and I was still trying to get the miss to leave the premises when this absurdly tall child”—he pointed at Omid—“barged into my store for the second time today, and this time demanded I follow him back to the palace or else hang at dawn for defying an order from the crown


Kamran made a pained sound.

“And then—and then these two hooligans”—Deen gestured vaguely at Miss Huda and Omid—“forged some spontaneous and no doubt nefarious alliance, after which they forced me into the back of a foul, rented hackney, where I was made to wait at least forty-five minutes before I was suddenly thrust into the very unpleasant company of the woman standing beside me now. I’m afraid I don’t know her name”—he turned to Mrs. Amina and muttered an apology, which she ignored with a scowl—“but she spent the entire ride moaning about how angry her mistress would be upon discovering she’d gone, for her mistress was in terrible spirits and she couldn’t be spared, especially not on such short notice—”

“All right,” Kamran said flatly. “I think I’ve heard enough.” Deen nodded, then stepped back.

The prince was about to send the witnesses home, fire Omid on the spot, and bar Miss Huda from the palace grounds on principle, when Mrs. Amina suddenly cleared her throat. “I’d like to say a word, too, sire, if I may.”

Kamran studied the woman—her beady eyes, her small nose, her ruddy cheeks—and couldn’t help but feel a note of revulsion, even now. He’d never forget the bruises he’d seen on Alizeh’s face, the threat of brutality this housekeeper had unleashed before his very eyes. Mrs. Amina was a cruel woman.

“You may speak,” he said, watching her closely.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” she said haltingly. “First, I’ll preface this by saying that I realize now might not be the best moment to say my piece, but I feel I might never have another opportunity to stand before you, sire,

and clear my name, and so I will say now in my own defense that when you last came to visit your good aunt at Baz House I fear you got the wrong idea of me, for I’ve read enough in the papers now to know I’d been right all along to discipline that girl, and in fact I think she could’ve benefited from a good beating, sire, for maybe then she wouldn’t have gone on to cause such trouble—”

“Wait, what girl?” said Miss Huda, clearly forgetting her tacit agreement to be silent. “You don’t mean Alizeh?”

Kamran flinched.

“Indeed, I do,” Mrs. Amina said triumphantly. “I read the girl’s name in the papers this morning and I knew straightaway when I saw it seemed familiar, and then I remembered how I’d heard that awful girl tell her name to this boy”—she pointed at Omid—“when he’d come to Baz House to hand her a dratted invitation to the ball, and which I see now I was far too generous to allow, and after the way my dear mistress came home last night, all affright over the terrible tragedy, I told her, I said to her—as I brought her a cup of mint tea to soothe her nerves—I said well how do you like that, milady, I’ve pieced it all together myself, the girl from the papers had worked here at Baz House all that time— And my mistress was ever so upset about the whole thing, I can’t even describe her horror, for she’d begun thinking that you, sire, had known all along about the girl’s deception and lied about it, for why else would you have defended her so ardently that day and again at the ball, but I assured her that the girl had likely bewitched you, Your Highness, and that you shouldn’t be blamed for her wickedness


Mrs. Amina, that is quite enough—”

“Forgive me,” Deen said, frowning as he glanced around the group. “But were we brought in to be questioned about the same girl? The Jinn snoda who came to me for salve? If so, I cannot corroborate these stories, for I don’t know her name, and I’ve no notion of her attending a ball or causing any kind of trouble—”

“She was no ordinary snoda!” Mrs. Amina cried. “Don’t you see? I’d long suspected there was something the matter with her—she was always putting on airs, speaking all the time like she was some kind of toff—and I only blame myself, sire, for not exposing her sooner. I felt the darkness in her the first day I saw her, and when I watched her eyes change color right in front of me I should’ve known she had the devil inside her—”

“If anyone has the devil inside her,” Omid said angrily, “it’s you!”

“Vile girl,” Mrs. Amina was saying, ignoring this outburst from the boy. “Never liked her. She never followed instructions, you know. Always sloppy with her work, cutting corners—”

Sloppy with her work?” Deen cut her off, his eyes wide with shock. “The girl who came into my shop with hands so destroyed by hard labor she could hardly make a fist?” He shook his head, took a sharp step away from the woman. “You’re the housekeeper who beat her, aren’t you? Don’t tell me you’re responsible for that infected cut across her throat, too?”

“Oh, no, sir,” Omid said quietly in Ardanz. “That was me.”

Deen looked suddenly revolted. “Who are you people? Pray tell me, what crimes have I committed to deserve the great misfortune of your company? I merely treated a girl for her wounds!” He looked beseechingly at the prince. “Your Highness, will you not allow me to return home? I’ve done no wrong here—I don’t deserve to have my name lowered by association with these heathens—”

“Hold a moment,” Kamran said, considering Deen closely. “You can confirm that the girl’s injuries were real, then? They weren’t the result of an illusion?”

“An illusion?” Deen hesitated. “Your Highness, I can’t imagine what reason she’d have to waste magic on torturing herself, but if for some inane purpose she’d managed to enchant her hands to ruin, I should think she’d have the ability to change them back. What need would she have of my salves if she could do such a thing on her own? No, sire, I don’t believe her wounds were any kind of illusion.” The apothecarist frowned then, appearing to remember something. “She did, however, discover in my presence that her body was able to heal itself at a more rapid rate than was normal, and removed her bandages after only days, instead of the week I’d suggested—”

“Heal itself?” Kamran repeated, going still. “Really?”

“Yes, sire.” Deen blinked at him, surprised by the prince’s interest. “Her skin recovered itself at a rather unnatural pace, which is not considered common even among Jinn—”

“A sign of the devil!” Mrs. Amina cried. “Here is proof!” “Oh, do shut up,” Miss Huda said irritably.

“You ignore the signs at your own peril, miss,” Mrs. Amina countered sharply. “Jinn can make themselves invisible, not blurry—and no one was

able to get a good look at the girl last night, almost certainly on account of the devil’s influence—”

“There are possibilities other than the devil,” Miss Huda shot back angrily. “The clothes she was wearing— Well, they’d been delivered with a note I couldn’t read, but garments are all the time bewitched, particularly in battle, to offer their wearer anonymity or protection, and her blurriness might’ve been the work of a fairly straightforward magical enchantment—” “Dark enchantments! Dark magic!” Mrs. Amina cried. “Everyone

knows that dark magic cannot be born without the devil’s interference!”

“This is utter rubbish,” said Deen, rolling his eyes. “If the girl had access to dark magic, do you really think she’d accept a pittance in exchange for scrubbing scum from your mistress’s floors? You think if she had access to dark magic that she’d willingly share a roof with a brutal housekeeper who clearly took pleasure in beating her? I should think not.

Mrs. Amina gasped in outrage, took a step back, and promptly lashed out at the apothecarist, who rallied with ease.

Kamran wanted to put an end to this madness, wanted to clear these clowns out of his home, but he’d discovered then—to his dismay—that he could not move. His pulse seemed to be pounding in his head, his heart beating violently against his chest.

Bit by bit, he was being proven wrong about Alizeh.

Having now been personally subjected to Cyrus’s manipulations of magic, Kamran could imagine that the southern king possessed the skills necessary to have imbued her garments with protections. Indeed it would make sense if he’d magicked the gown to protect her identity from those who wished her harm—for what else might explain why so few people at the ball had been able to identify her? What else would explain Cyrus’s cryptic statement, his subtle accusation that Kamran could see her?

Alizeh’s gown had been incinerated, twice, as she entered and exited the fire. Perhaps in the process the frock had lost some of its effectiveness, blurring her from the crowd instead of blotting her out altogether. This might explain why Kamran’s eyesight had failed him with such inconsistency, why she’d seemed to fade in and out of focus before him; as Alizeh’s betrayals were revealed, he’d swung wildly between hatred and longing, wanting at once to kill her and save her.

The magic had perhaps reacted to his warring emotions.

If Alizeh had thought her identity was protected, this would explain, too, why she’d not felt the need to wear her snoda. It did not, however, explain why she’d physically assaulted the young man she’d—allegedly— agreed to marry.

Kamran grit his teeth; he felt then the onslaught of a powerful headache, pain gripping the base of his skull.

He didn’t know what he felt most in the face of these reveals: anger or relief or confusion. Perhaps some mixture of the three. For while, on some level, these answers exonerated Alizeh, they also proved that she’d lied to him; she’d pretended not to know Cyrus while she was all the while allied with the Tulanian king. She’d accepted his help, his magic. She’d worn his gown; they’d had a plan. Kamran couldn’t conquer the chasm of uncertainty yawning open under his feet, for there remained a great deal to doubt about Alizeh, including her betrothal to Cyrus, her alliance with the devil, and her escape from the palace on the back of a Tulanian dragon.

He felt at sea, drowning in doubt, and his frustration only intensified. This anger was directed toward himself, toward his grandfather, toward the circumstances that now defined his life.

That King Zaal had died at all had been reason enough for Kamran to rage, but it was the aftermath, he realized, that had broken him the most, for in the wake of his grandfather’s murder, fear and grief had muddled the prince’s otherwise inviolable instincts, causing him to question everything that’d felt so certain only hours prior. Once again, his emotions had overruled him.

Of all the trials ahead, Kamran was beginning to fear that his greatest obstacle would be overcoming himself.

“Your Majesty,” came Deen’s sharp voice, returning the prince to the present. “I beg you: please dismiss me from this circus. I should’ve been home for dinner by now, and my loved ones will begin to fear for my safety


“Loved ones?” Mrs. Amina made a sound of contempt. “You’ve got loved ones, have you? While the rest of us must marry our work, warm our beds with pain, and give birth only to bitterness—”

Enough,” Kamran practically roared.

In a hundred ways he’d been tested throughout his life—in battle and death and devastation—but there was something about being forced to stand still and listen to a pack of idiots speak nonsense in front of his face

that made him want to self-immolate. “I don’t want to hear another word,” he said in a deathly whisper. “From any of you—”

The words died in his throat.

An eerie wave of sensation flared along his tortured skin as his heart thundered in his chest, the sound of his own breathing intensifying in his ears. He turned slowly, expecting to see a Diviner, and instead discovered Zahhak, the slippery man slinking toward him now with a cloying smile.

The defense minister came to a stop before him, clasping his hands as if in prayer. “I thought I heard a commotion,” he said, taking in the broad details of the unfolding drama with no apparent interest. He returned his blank eyes to Kamran. “I’ve been waiting for you all day, sire. Perhaps now, we might finally speak.”

Another tremor of sensation awoke along the prince’s golden veins, just as three Diviners drifted suddenly into view.

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