Chapter no 31

These Infinite Threads (This Woven Kingdom, 2)

KAMRAN HAD BEEN STANDING THERE for at least twenty minutes already, staring at the sky with a fragile, fracturing hope. He’d tucked the scrap of paper back into the box, and the box back into his cloak pocket, but the feather, now marred by his blood, was still clutched in his fist. His mind was a maelstrom of warring emotions, upended by the inconceivable evidence that his beloved Diviners had known, days and days before they were murdered, not only that King Zaal would die, but how Kamran would suffer.

It made his heart ache.

He marveled at how certain the priests and priestesses had been of his movements and actions. Kamran was now in possession of a piece of his grandfather’s will, and had he opened this parcel but a day sooner, he would’ve been shocked, yes, but also confused and devastated. He might’ve used the feather too soon, or at the wrong time. Worse: the slim box could’ve been easily lost. Misplaced. Handled incorrectly.

And yet, the Diviners hadn’t worried. All had happened precisely as they’d foreseen.

He’d mistakenly assumed that the new crop of Diviners had betrayed him by tossing him into the tower. He saw now that they’d been protecting him—locking him somewhere Zahhak might not reach him, and leaving him high enough in the sky so that Simorgh might come to him easily.

What he didn’t know, of course, was which part of all this was meant to be a test. He didn’t know what, exactly, he was meant to prove, or how he might prove it—but he saw now that they had known his plan. They must’ve known he was heading to Tulan, for the gift of Simorgh—the exalted character he’d heard so much about in childhood, about whose

kindness and generosity Zaal had told endless stories—was a gift of transportation and protection. Kamran knew he could ride upon her back, that she would carry him where he needed to go, that she would offer him her armor and her companionship.

Simorgh was beloved by many, but especially Ardunians, who believed she still lived here with her family but who hadn’t been spotted since the day Zaal was returned to the palace in a triumphant moment, blazing through the sky on the back of this brilliant, ethereal creature.

And now, here stood Kamran, presented with a possible exit from the madness of his life—an opportunity to ally with the most legendary magical beast in the history of his world—and he didn’t even know whether Simorgh would come. Kamran had no idea whether he’d done the deed right, or how long it might take the magnificent bird to find him.

Hours? Days? Would he freeze to death until then? Was she even alive, after all this time?

It occurred to Kamran that he might keep warm by searching the floor of this filthy tower for a pair of rocks he might strike together against a pile of dead leaves; and while he wasn’t beyond searching the decrepit depths of this cell with his bare hands, he did hesitate at the thought, hoping then for a third option, preferably something more like divine intervention, or—

He heard the sudden thunder of harried footsteps, the swell of agitated voices.

“Kamran? Kamran, are you in there?” There was a violent pounding against the metal door, and the prince was so stunned by this unexpected clamor that he struggled to rouse himself from his thoughts; indeed he’d hardly a moment to gather his wits before he saw a soft, gleaming light fall steadily from the sky above him. He’d been so consumed by silence and strangeness all this time that he thought, for a moment, he might be imagining things—just until he heard a growing buzz as the soft light approached, the little glow flickering as, without warning, it bopped gently against his face.

Hazan’s firefly.

Kamran was overcome. He’d never felt such elation or relief. He thought he might fall to his knees with the heft of it.

Instead, he said, quite calmly: “What took you so long?” Hazan, in response, broke down the door.

The rusted metal panel made a deafening groan as it was knocked free from its frame, the hinges screeching as they were torn apart. Kamran moved quickly out of the obstacle’s path, the entire cell shuddering as the weighty door hit the ground with a reverberant crash.

Once he felt it was safe, Kamran moved forward to clasp hands with his friend—to thank him for what he’d done—and instead, he recoiled so intensely he nearly tripped over the rotting lump of something extremely dead.

“Your Highness?” Miss Huda peered through the open doorway. “Are you quite well?

“He’s alive!” Omid cried, and tackled Kamran in a show of affection for which, just days ago, he might’ve been sentenced to death. “You’re alive!”

“Good God,” said Deen, roughly yanking Omid away from the prince. “Extricate yourself at once, boy. What are you thinking? One does not simply hug the prince of Ardunia—”

“I’m sorry,” Omid said breathlessly. “I’m terribly sorry, sire, it’s only that I’m just so happy to see you—I thought for sure the defense minister had done something terrible to you—”

“Oh yes, he’s spitting mad,” Miss Huda added, nodding eagerly. “He’s going around screaming at everyone, even the Diviners— I’ve never seen servants so spooked, and that’s saying quite a lot, for Mother can be unforgivably harsh with the staff.”

Kamran stood there, staring at this circus in a state of shock.

He’d heard their voices in his mind earlier; he knew that they’d been discussing him, wondering about his whereabouts; but he hadn’t thought they’d make up his rescue party.

“What,” he said, hardly able to speak, “on earth—are you lot doing here?”

“Obviously came to save you, you idiot,” said Hazan. “I was fairly close to the castle—stockpiling weapons to crate for the journey—when my firefly found me. I’d left her at the palace to keep an eye on things in my absence, and she alerted me to your situation as soon as Zahhak showed up. I came as swiftly as I could.”

“I’m not asking about you,” Kamran said dismissively. “Of course you’re here—and I’m very glad about it, thank you for coming, really, I mean that—I’m asking about these three—”

“Oh,” said Hazan, and Kamran heard the frown in his voice. “Yes. Isn’t it sweet? They insisted on helping me rescue you.”

“What? Why?

“Well, we saw that you were in danger, sire,” said Omid. “It was a terrible betrayal— I didn’t think the Diviners would ever use such awful magic on you—”

“And we weren’t going to stand there and let the rightful king be dragged away,” cried Miss Huda, “so that some serpent of a minister could steal your crown! My father detests Zahhak, and I know this for a fact because when Father is in his cups he often lists the people he loathes, and the defense minister numbers high on that list, which is fairly long, actually”—Miss Huda frowned—“I hadn’t really thought about it until just now.”

“And you?” Kamran turned on the apothecarist. “What’s your excuse?” “Oh, I haven’t the faintest idea, Your Highness,” said Deen, looking

about the tower with a visible revulsion. “That awful housekeeper was horrified by the idea of taking part in any of this—and I was stupid enough to agree with her out loud. She then demanded I be a gentleman and walk her the half mile down the bridge so she might hail a cab on a busier corner in town, the fare of which she suggested we share.” He sighed. “I think I might’ve said yes to these blockheads”—he nodded at Omid and Miss Huda

—“simply to avoid being alone with her, though, with all due respect, sire, I find I’m regretting that decision now.”

“I see,” said Kamran, frowning.

“Come on, then,” Hazan said, clapping the prince on the shoulder. “Let’s get you out of this hellhole. We’ll have to make a run for it straightaway; Zahhak is on a rampage. He’s tearing apart the castle looking for you—and for something else—your grandfather’s will, it sounded like


Kamran felt a bolt of fear.

“And I suggest we head to the docks without delay. There’s a great deal I need to tell you, and then we need to come up with a plan—”

“A great deal you need to tell me?” Kamran’s alarm intensified. “About what?”

Hazan almost smiled. “I ran into your mother.” “What? Where?”

Hazan nodded toward the exit. “Never mind that now. We’ll have plenty of time to talk and plot while we’re on the water.”

“On the water?” said Miss Huda, her head swiveling between them. “Are we getting on a boat?”

Not you,” said Kamran and Hazan at the same time.

“Hazan,” the prince said, shaking his head as he glanced again at the skylight. “I can’t leave yet. I have to stay here at least a while longer.”

“What?” Hazan recoiled. “Why would you want to stay here? You’re standing next to a matted pile of rats—”

Miss Huda shrieked.

“Oh God,” Deen whispered. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“They’re not rats,” said Omid helpfully, in a broken accent. “Well, they’re not only rats. There’s also a possum, I think, and, um, the other one, I can’t remember the name in Ardanz—”

Miss Huda shrieked again.

Kamran paid this no mind; he was about to hold out his hand to Hazan, to show him the feather clutched in his fist, the parcel tucked into his pocket, when suddenly the night was torn asunder by a beautiful, terrifying cry.

Kamran could not see her, not at first, for the astonishing bird was blocked from view by the mostly enclosed roof, but he felt his bleeding hand heat against the feather he still clutched, and he knew in his bones that she’d arrived. The tower prison shuddered as she alighted, and he was struck by the force of her power, the strength she wielded even now, when he couldn’t see her. He saw the shadow of an enormous talon through the skylight, and in a series of violent, elegant motions, she crushed the roof of the prison with her claws. Pulverized rock came raining down on their heads, and the group of them bolted from the room to avoid the catastrophic shower, returning only when all was quiet, and when, through the clearing dust storm, Simorgh appeared as if out of a dream.

She was magnificent.

Kamran moved forward as the others drew back, and he fell on one knee before her. Broad and gleaming, Simorgh spanned the width of the entire room, her downy, glimmering feathers a muted starburst of color in the moonlight. She canted her head and regarded him with dark, inky eyes a long time before she finally nodded in a simple acknowledgment that set

Kamran’s heart to flutter. She made a sound, a warble soft and tender, then dropped to her knees so that he might scale her back.

Kamran felt his breath catch in his chest. “Simorgh,” Hazan whispered.

“Heavens above,” Deen gasped. “I never thought, in all my life—” “Am I dreaming?” said Miss Huda. “I think I might be dreaming.” “Yes, miss,” said a dazed Omid. “You are.”

Hazan stepped forward and bowed before the bird, who only studied him curiously. The former minister rose incrementally, his body rigid with astonishment as he turned to the prince. “Kamran, how did you—?”

“I promise,” said Kamran. “I’ll explain everything later. But if the situation is as dire as you say, we better get going.”

“Get going?” Hazan’s eyes widened. “To Tulan, you mean?” “Yes.”

“With Simorgh?” “Yes.”

“Oh my goodness, we’re going to Tulan?” cried Miss Huda. “Are we going to save Alizeh?”

Again, Kamran flinched at the sound of her name. He didn’t dignify Miss Huda’s question with a response.

“Take these,” Hazan said to the prince, pulling a strap over his head. “I grabbed a few weapons from the stockpile before I left—I didn’t know if I’d need them. But if we’ll be entering Tulan from on high, best to have them at the ready, just in case.” He tossed Kamran a quiver of arrows, and then a bow, both of which his friend caught easily, and slung quickly over his back.

“Thank you,” said the prince. “Truly.”

Hazan only looked at Kamran a moment, then responded with a firm nod.

“Could I have something, too?” said Omid, who was approaching Hazan with an eagerness Kamran found unnerving. “I don’t have any weapons, and I’d like to be armed—”

“Oh, and I as well!” cried Miss Huda. “Do you happen to have any throwing stars? I’m quite good with throwing stars—”

“You can’t be serious,” Kamran said, horrified. “The two of you are not

coming with us.”

“Three.” Deen cleared his throat, sounding suddenly quite peppy. “There are three of us, actually.”

“I thought you had to get home?” Kamran said darkly, turning to face the apothecarist. “I thought you said you had loved ones waiting for you. That you had no idea what you were doing here.”

“That was before I knew I was going to meet Simorgh,” said Deen, who quickly bent in half when the bird turned to look at him. “My loved ones will understand. If they even believe me.” He stared at the bird in wonder. “I can’t go home now.”

Kamran shook his head. “Are you all blind?” he cried. “There are five of us. We can’t all five of us fit on the back of the same bird—”

Simorgh made a call.

It was a gentle, melodious sound, but it carried nonetheless, and in a moment Kamran realized they were not alone. Simorgh had brought others

—the children Zaal had known in youth, whose nest he’d shared as a babe.

Four more magnificent birds alighted at the top of the tower, the group of them peering down into the dark, trilling softly.

Briefly, Kamran closed his eyes. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he muttered. Deen whooped.

“If you choose to come, you’re coming under your own command,” Kamran said sharply. “Get yourselves killed and I won’t be bothered. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” cried Omid, pumping a fist in the air.

“Get ourselves killed?” Deen frowned. “I didn’t realize we might die—” “No, sire,” said Miss Huda, shaking her head. “With all due respect,

Your Highness, I don’t think that’s very responsible of you, for we shall require a leader, and you were quite literally born for such a role—”

Hazan,” Kamran said, pinching his nose.

“Miss Huda,” his old minster said quietly. “You may rely upon me should you require anything.”

Simorgh launched upward then with a resonant cry, landing heavily at the broken lip of the tower, which trembled under her weight. She then chirruped to her children, who landed one at a time in the round cell, loading passengers one by one.

Miss Huda first, laughing through her tears; then Omid, who hugged his bird like the child he was, unselfconsciously kissing its feathered face; then Deen, too proud to betray more than a small, delighted smile as he

mounted, even as he fought an obvious swell of emotion; and then Hazan, tall and dignified, he took his seat with the humility and grace befitting a knight, nodding just once at Kamran before he ascended, with a great flap of wings, into the sky.

When finally the others were settled among the clouds, Simorgh landed once more before the prince, and Kamran approached the beautiful bird in awe. He drew his hands along her silky feathers with great reverence, then mounted the incredible creature with care.

She took off at once.

Kamran was forced backward as they ascended, and quickly hooked his arms around the bird’s graceful neck as they rose higher and higher up the destroyed spire, and once they loomed above the palace Simorgh made a cry that wrenched open the night, flapped her powerful, shimmering wings, and assumed her place at the head of the pack.

There was a thunderous crack as she took off, and a shower of color streaked across the sky, painting the heavens in an otherworldly phosphorescence.

The sight filled him with a complicated joy.

Kamran looked back as they vanished into inky skies, wondering, with a quiver in his heart, who he might be if he ever returned.

You'll Also Like