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Chapter no 27

These Infinite Threads (This Woven Kingdom, 2)

THE NIGHT WAS BLISTERING.

Kamran clambered to his feet and dusted off his cloak, taking a moment to calibrate after having been so incapacitated, and only moments later he was shivering. The stone floor underfoot was icy in places, frost having recently chased the rain. The silence was serrated by the devoted chitter of crickets, occasionally stirred by the hoot of a hunting owl; terrible gusts howled and battered the tower skylight, the wind not knowing how to navigate the narrow opening.

Kamran looked up.

This small, distant window, he was realizing, was both a blessing and a cruelty in this dire place, for while it provided what was no doubt a welcome light during the day, it also exposed its prisoner to the elements at night—proving to Kamran once again that pleasure and torture were often delivered in the same blow.

It made him think of Alizeh.

It was impossible not to think of her then, to be reminded of the linchpin of the tragic story that had become his life. Alizeh, who’d awoken in him emotion he’d never before experienced, who’d opened his eyes to a kind of glorious madness he hadn’t even known was possible—and then, with a tender smile, so delicately snapped in half his entire world.

She’d risen up from dust, come to life on a breeze, and left a trail of perfumed flowers in her wake as she ushered in the fall of a king who’d ruled the greatest empire on earth for nearly a century. The true wonder was how she’d done it. Without lifting a finger—without even raising her voice

She’d simply stood tall, and his world had collapsed.

She spoke, and the Diviners had been slaughtered; she spun, and his grandfather had been murdered; she laughed, and his body had been disfigured; she breathed, and his mother had vanished; she sighed, and his aunt no longer spoke to him; she left, and his own people had turned on him. Kamran could not even hear her name without taking it like a shot to the chest.

Even then, he wondered whether he’d ever see her again.

With great effort he forced himself to clear his mind of her, and, as his gut twisted, he felt a quiet gratitude for the icy chill that braced him, for it was an excruciating blessing: this cold was likely the only reason Kamran could breathe through the stench of his revolting cell. He was afraid even to

move, for his foot had a moment ago brushed against a soft heap of what had to be a stock of dead animals. The feathered among them he could not explain, but the furrier beasts whose carcasses littered this floor had no doubt fallen to their deaths from the lip of the skylight. He supposed he’d know more about his rotting inmates upon sunrise; until then, he was left with only the curse of his imagination, for it painted him a terrifying picture of his days ahead.

Still, he was not without a sliver of hope.

For some perplexing reason the Diviners had not stripped him of his weapons before locking him in the tower, and he wondered whether he might not, in daylight, be able to use his daggers to scale the stone wall; he could perhaps wedge his blades between bricks bit by bit, carefully levering himself up the steep incline. It would place an excruciating demand upon his body, one he wasn’t sure he was capable of, but even the possibility of escape granted his lungs the necessary inch they needed to expand, and finally, he was able to draw breath.

If only he could survive this brutal winter night, he might overcome this. He would break this tower apart brick by brick if he had to; he would not be left here to rot; he would not be dragged from this pit to an unjust execution.

He swore this to himself.

And then he wondered, as he shouldered the weight of his present failure, how long Hazan would wait for him at the docks tonight before giving up. He wondered whether anyone would ever realize where he’d gone. It was then, as he had this grim thought, that he seemed suddenly able to hear them.

Or hear something, anyway.

The sounds of the world around him dimmed in a disorienting, unnerving sea change; a hush soon filled his head in incremental, staticky fits and starts, this warbling birth of sound and vibration generated as if from nowhere, and which haunted him then in that eerie darkness. The white noise evolved into whispers that stroked cold fingers along the inside of his head, making him want to tear his skin from his body; the soft tremors grew steadily louder, crawling forth from an unformed, senseless hush into a swarm of voices that clamored in his eardrums, attacking him with a forceful resonance, shouting and fighting to be heard all at once—

Kamran clapped his hands over his ears, falling hard on one knee as his head exploded.

“—have any idea that the nobles were reconsidering his right to the throne? How cruel—and in the wake of his grandfather’s murder—”

“I don’t know, miss, his grandfather wasn’t a very good person—”

“Oh, I only meant that it must be hard for him, you know, to deal with all these revelations—”

“Where is it?! I know you know where it is, and I demand you tell me

—”

“I can’t believe I’m helping you hooligans. I was supposed to be at

home hours ago—”

“Kamran, you idiot. What have you gotten yourself into now? Come along then, pet, thank you for telling me—”

“—can’t just leave him in there! Omid, do you remember which way they turned after that?”

“—already searched the king’s rooms! I couldn’t find it!” “At least that horrid housekeeper is no longer with us—” “Yes, miss, I followed them all the way up—”

“—didn’t see you? How did you manage that?”

“—a long time, sir, being a street child means learning how to disappear in plain sight and I—”

“Hazan!”

“Oh, thank goodness you’re here—”

“Why are you protecting him? Where did you take him? Why are you willfully jeopardizing the future of this empire—”

“—the hell are you two doing here? And—aren’t you the apothecarist?” “Your cloak weighs heavy tonight, sire.”

“Yes, I’m an apothecarist. Who are you?” “—saving the prince!”

“It’s my duty to assume control of the throne! You must tell me where it is! It’s my right! It’s my—”

“You should turn out your pockets, child, and unburden yourself.” “—what have you done with it? Where did you put it?

“Turn out your pockets, child.” “Turn them out.”

“Turn out your pockets.” “DO IT NOW—

With a rising, whistling shriek that nearly took off his head, the voices were suddenly ripped out of his mind, leaving in their absence only a lingering scream that all but blew out his eardrums. Kamran was on both knees now, fighting back a cry of agony as his chest heaved, and his head ached, and his ears rung painfully as the sounds of the world slowly regenerated around him. He soon heard the trill of crickets, the call of a nightbird, the wind sweeping a scatter of dead leaves toward his feet. Still, he struggled to regain his strength. In the aftermath of this strange episode Kamran was left shaking, his limbs trembling. He felt an unexpected warmth of moisture at his ear and lifted an unsteady hand to inspect it, his fingers coming away smeared with blood.

Kamran’s heart was pounding.

He didn’t understand what’d just happened, but he was aware enough to fuse together what seemed the most likely theory: that this experience could only have been crafted through the use of magic, which meant the Diviners must’ve been trying to communicate with him.

Turn out your pockets.

These cryptic words made no sense. There was nothing in his pockets save a bit of gold, Alizeh’s book, and his chain mail mask, and last he’d checked, none of these things was a sledgehammer, which was the only item he truly cared to possess at the moment.

Nevertheless, he was too curious to ignore such a direct command, and he clumsily patted himself down, turning out his pockets even as his head swam, his frozen fingers fumbling. The usual suspects were all here, all accounted for, and there was nothing else to—

Kamran’s hands stilled, then, as he felt the shape of something unfamiliar in his interior cloak pocket.

Carefully, blinking to clear his blurry vision, Kamran withdrew a small, rectangular package from his pocket. It was a slim box wrapped in brown paper, tied with simple red twine. He recognized the gift at once, the significance hitting him with an astonishing blow. His understanding of the moment was indeed so powerful, so fiercely unsettling that he felt his eyes prick with emotion.

The late Diviners had given this to him days ago.

Before they’d been murdered, before his home had been invaded, before his grandfather had been killed, before he’d ever known the satin of Alizeh’s skin. It was because of this package that he’d arrived at all in the

Royal Square; the Diviners had summoned him for a visit that day despite the fact that he’d never announced his return to Setar. He’d awoken early to avoid the crowds that would inevitably swarm the streets, and was making his way to the Diviners Quarters when he was stopped in his tracks at the sight of what he thought was a grown man about to murder a servant girl.

This moment.

It had changed the course of his entire life.

Later, after the pandemonium had settled, and after the Diviners had taken in the street child to care for him, Kamran had finally gone to see the priests and priestesses to whom he still owed a visit. He’d checked in on the boy while he was there, but Kamran had been so distracted by the outcome of his infuriating meeting with Omid that he hadn’t paid much attention to the gift the Diviners had pressed into his hands on his way out the door. The prince, who’d been by then accustomed to receiving small gifts on occasion from both Diviners and commoners alike, merely tucked the parcel into his cloak pocket, meaning to open it at a later, less chaotic moment.

It had remained here ever since.

Now he stared at it with shaking hands, but he did not delay any further in unwrapping this package. He tore it open like a crazed man, tossing the scraps to the filthy ground, and carefully lifted the delicate lid of a simple wooden box. A wisp of paper fluttered out at once, and which he caught in a desperate motion with his unbloodied hand. Then, his heart pounding in his chest, he looked inside the box, within which he discovered a single black feather, resting in a bed of linen.

At first, he did not understand.

He scrambled to unfurl the paper, which he quickly held up to the moonlight, and in the distant glow he was able to discern that the scrap was but a piece of a much larger document. It was a small slip of paper with torn edges, and its pale skin had been printed upon in the neat, careful script of his grandfather.

It read:

leave this feather to my grandson, to use only when all else seems lost, when his tragedies feel insurmountable, and hope feels impossible. He will need only to touch it to his own blood, and Simorgh will come for him, as she once did for me. I also leave him my

There, the message was cut off, and Kamran’s heart sped up to a truly frightening pace; suddenly he could hear nothing but his own breaths, the harsh sounds echoing between his ears, his mind spinning as the world around him seemed to fracture and reassemble, fall apart and resurrect.

Still, he did not hesitate.

Kamran pressed the feather into his bloodstained hand and, with a shaky, terrified breath, he closed his fist.

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