Chapter no 33

This Woven Kingdom (This Woven Kingdom, 1)


The seamstress stuck him with yet another pin, humming quietly to herself as she worked, pulling here, tucking there. The woman was either oblivious or heartless, he’d not yet decided. She never seemed to care that she was maiming him, not even when he’d asked her, several times, to desist from these nonessential acts of cruelty.

He looked at the seamstress, the ancient woman in a velvet bowler so diminutive in stature she hardly reached his waist, and who tottered over him now on a small wooden stool. She smelled like caramelized eggplant.

“Madame,” he said tersely. “Are we not yet finished?”

She started at the sound of his voice and stabbed him yet again, causing Kamran to draw a sharp breath. The older woman blinked big, owlish eyes at him; eyes he’d always found disconcerting.

“Nearly there, sire,” she said in a weathered voice. “Nearly there now.

Just a few minutes more.” Soundlessly, Kamran sighed.

Kamran loathed these fittings, and could not understand why he’d needed one, not when he owned an entire wardrobe full of clothes still unworn, any number of which would’ve been sufficient for the night’s festivities.

It was, in any case, his mother’s doing.

The princess had intercepted him the very moment he’d stepped foot inside the palace, refusing to listen to a word of reason. She’d insisted, despite Kamran’s protests to the contrary, that whatever the king and his officials needed to discuss could wait, and that being properly dressed for his guests was far more important. Besides, she’d sworn, the fitting would take only a moment. A moment.

It had been nigh on an hour.

Still, it was quite possible, Kamran considered, that the seamstress was stabbing him now in protest. The prince had neither heeded his mother upon arrival, nor had he flatly refused to accompany her. Instead, he’d parted with a vague promise to return. An enemy on the battlefield he might’ve cut down with a sword, but his mother in possession of a seamstress on the night of a ball—

He’d not been properly armed against such an adversary, and had settled for ignoring her.

Three hours he’d spent discussing the Tulanian king’s possible motivations with Hazan, his grandfather, and a select group of officials, and when, finally, he’d returned to his dressing room, his mother had thrown a lamp at him.

Miraculously, Kamran had dodged the projectile, which crashed to the floor, causing a small fire upon impact. This, the princess had ignored outright, instead approaching her son with a violent gleam in her eyes.

“Careful, darling,” she’d said softly. “You overlook your mother at great cost to yourself.”

Kamran was busy stamping out the flames. “I’m afraid I don’t follow your logic,” he’d said, scowling, “for I cannot imagine it costs me anything to avoid a parent who so often takes pleasure in trying to kill me.”

The princess had smiled at that, even as her eyes flashed with anger. “Two days ago I told you I needed to speak with you. Two days I have waited to have a simple conversation with my own son. Two days I have been ignored repeatedly, even as you made time to spend an entire morning with your dear aunt.”

Kamran frowned. “I don’t—”

“No doubt you forgot,” she said, cutting him off. “No doubt my request fell right out of your pretty head the moment it was spoken. So swiftly am I forgotten.”

To this, Kamran said nothing, for if she’d indeed asked for a moment of his time, he could not now recall such a summons.

His mother stepped closer.

“Soon,” she said, “I will be all you have left in this palace. You will walk the halls, friendless and alone, and you will search for me then. You will want your mother only when all else is lost, and I do not promise to be easily found.”

Kamran had felt an unnerving sensation move through his body at that; a foreboding he could not name. “Why do you say such things? Of what do you speak?”

The princess was already walking away, gone without another word. Kamran made to follow her and was halted by the arrival of the seamstress, Madame Nezrin, who’d entered the dressing room promptly upon his mother’s exit.

Again, Kamran flinched.

Even if he deserved it, he did not think Madame Nezrin should be allowed to stab him with impunity. Surely she knew better. The woman was the crown’s most trusted seamstress; she’d been working with the royal family since the beginning of his grandfather’s reign. In fact, Kamran often marveled that she hadn’t gone blind by now.

Then again, perhaps she had.

There seemed little other explanation for the ridiculous costumes he regularly discovered in his wardrobe. Her ideas were meticulously executed, but ancient; she dressed him always on the edge of a different century. And Kamran, who knew little of fashion and fabrics, understood only that he did not like his clothes; he possessed no alternative suggestions, and as a result felt powerless in the face of such an essential problem, which drove him near to madness. Surely the mere act of getting dressed should not inspire in a person such torment?

Even now she dressed him in layers of silk brocade, cinching the long emerald robes at his waist with more silk, this time a beaded belt so heavy with jewels it had to be pinned in place. At his throat was yet more of the awful material: a translucent, pale green scarf artfully knotted, the coarse silk netting like sandpaper against his skin.

His shirt, at least, was a familiar linen.

On a single, regrettable occasion he’d once said to his mother— distractedly—that silk sounded just fine, and now everything he owned was an abomination.

Silk, it had turned out, was not the soft, comfortable textile he’d expected; no, it was a noisy, detestable fabric that irritated his skin. The crisp, stiff collar of his robes dug into his throat now not unlike the edge of a dull knife, and he turned his head sharply away, unable to keep still any longer, paying for his impatience with yet another needle in the rib.

Kamran grimaced. The pain had at least done a great deal to distract him from his mother’s ominous parting words.

The sun had begun its descent in the sky, fracturing pink and orange light through the lattice screen windows of the dressing room, the geometric perforations generating a kaleidoscope of oblong shapes along the walls and floors, giving him somewhere to focus his eyes, and then, his thoughts. Too soon, guests would begin arriving at the palace, and too soon, he would be expected to greet them. One, in particular.

As if he’d not been delivered enough suffering this day.

The news from Tulan had been less distressing than Kamran had expected and yet, somehow, so much worse.

“Remind me again, Minister, why on earth the man was even invited?”

Hazan, who’d been standing quietly in the corner, now cleared his throat. He looked from Kamran to the seamstress, his eyes widening in warning.

Kamran glowered.

None of this was Hazan’s fault—logically, the prince understood that— but logic did not seem to matter to his abraded nerves. Kamran had been in a hateful mood all day. Everything bothered him. Everything was insufferable. He shot an aggravated look at Hazan, who’d flatly refused to leave the prince’s side in the wake of the recent news.

His minister only glared back.

“There’s little point in your sitting here,” the prince said irritably. “You should return to your own rooms. No doubt you have preparations to make before the evening begins.”

“I thank you for your consideration, sire,” Hazan said coldly. “But I will remain here, by your side.”

“You overreact,” said the prince. “Besides, if you should be concerned for anyone, it should not be me, but th—”

“Madame,” Hazan said sharply. “I must now escort His Highness to an important meeting; if you would be so kind as to finish the work in his absence? No doubt you have enough of our prince’s measurements.”

Madame Nezrin blinked at Hazan; she seemed uncertain, for a moment, which of the two young men had spoken to her. “Very good,” she said. “That should be just fine.”

Kamran resisted the infantile impulse to kick something.

With great care, the seamstress slid loose the robes from his body, collecting every meticulously pinned article into her small arms, and nearly toppling over in the process.

Briefly, Kamran’s upper half was left bare.

Kamran, who spent little time staring at his own reflection, and who’d not been facing the mirror when he’d first undressed, was disquieted to see himself so exposed now. The triple-paneled looking glass loomed before him, revealing angles of his body he seldom studied.

Someone handed him his sweater, which Kamran accepted without a word. He took a tentative step closer to the mirrors, drew a hand down the

length of his bare torso.

He frowned.

“What is it?” Hazan asked, the anger in his voice tinged now with concern. “Is something the matter?”

“It’s different,” Kamran said quietly. “Is it not different?” Hazan drew slowly closer.

It was the tradition of Ardunian kings to hand over their heirs, on the very day of the child’s birth, to the Diviners—to have them marked by an irreversible magic that would claim them, always, as the rightful successor. It was a practice they’d stolen from Jinn, whose royals were born with such markings, sparing their kingdoms any false claims to the throne. Clay royalty had found a way to incorporate such protections into their own bloodlines, though what had once been considered a serious precaution had, over centuries, become more of a tradition—one they soon forgot had been borrowed from another people.

On the day of their birth every Ardunian royal was marked by magic, and it touched them all differently.

King Zaal had found a constellation of dark blue, eight-pointed stars at the base of his throat. The prince’s own father had discovered black, branching lines along his back, ominous strokes that wrapped partially around his torso.

Kamran, too, had been marked.

Every year of his boyhood the prince had watched, with a kind of horrified fascination, as the skin of his chest and torso gave the illusion of splitting open down the center, revealing at its fissure a glimmer of gold leaf. The burnished gold mark appeared, as if painted, straight down his middle, from the shallow valley of his throat to the base of his abdomen.

The Diviners had promised that the magic would display its final form by the end of his twelfth birthday, and so it had. The glittering lash had long ago lost his interest, for it had become as familiar to him as his eyes, the color of his hair. It had become so much a part of him that he seldom noticed it these days. But now—suddenly—

It looked different.

The fissure seemed a fraction wider, the once dull gold shining now a bit brighter.

“I do not see a difference, sire,” Hazan asked, peering into the mirror. “Does it feel unusual in some way?”

“No, it feels no different,” Kamran said absently, now running his fingers along the gold part. It was always a bit hotter there, at his center, but the mark had never hurt, had never felt strange. “It only looks . . . Well, I suppose it’s hard to say. I’ve not noticed it in so long.”

“Perhaps it only seems different,” said Hazan quietly, “because you’ve lately been rendered an idiot, and stupidity has clouded your better judgment.”

Kamran shot his minister a dark look and promptly pulled his sweater over his head, tugging its hem down over his torso. He looked around for the seamstress.

“You need not worry,” Hazan said. “She’s gone.”

“Gone?” The prince frowned. “But— Were not we the ones who were meant to leave the dressing room? Was she not meant to stay here to finish the work she’d started?”

“Indeed. The woman is a bit batty.”

Kamran shook his head, collapsed into a nearby chair. “How much time do we have?”

“Before the ball? Two hours.”

Kamran shot him a look. “You know very well to what I am referring.” “To whom you are referring, you mean?” Hazan almost smiled. “The

Tulanian king is with the ambassador now. He should be arriving at the palace within the hour.”

“Lord, but I hate him,” Kamran said, pushing a hand through his hair. “He has the kind of face that should be kicked in, repeatedly.”

“That seems a bit unfair. It’s not the fault of the Tulanian ambassador that he’s charged with an empire so widely detested. The gentleman himself is nice enough.”

Kamran turned sharply to face his minister. “Obviously I’m speaking of the king.”

Hazan frowned. “The king? Cyrus, you mean? I’d not realized you’d met him before.”

“No. I’ve not yet had the pleasure. I’m merely assuming he has the kind of face that should be kicked in, repeatedly.”

Hazan’s frown cleared at that; he fought back another smile. “You do not underestimate him, I hope?”

“Underestimate him? The child killed his own father. He stole a bloody crown from the rightful king for all the world to bear witness, and now he

shows his shameless face here? No, I do not underestimate him. I think him mad. Though I must say I fear our own officials misprize him, and to their detriment. They underestimate him for the same inane reasons they underestimate me.”

“Your lack of experience, you mean?”

Kamran turned away. “My age, you miserable rotter.”

“So easily provoked.” Hazan stifled a laugh. “You are in quite a state, today, Your Highness.”

“You might do us all a favor, Hazan, and begin to manage your expectations of my state. This is where I live, minister. Here, between angry and irritable, lies my charming personality. It does not change. You may be grateful that I am consistent, at least, in being boorish.”

Hazan’s smile grew only wider. “I say, these are strange declarations from Setar’s melancholy prince.”

Kamran stiffened. Very slowly, he turned to face Hazan. “I beg your pardon?”

His minister retrieved from the inside of his jacket a folded copy of Setar’s most popular evening journal, the Quill & Crown. The nightly post was widely known to be trash, a sloppy rehashing of the morning’s news, cut with unsolicited opinions from its self-important editor. Indeed, there was little newsworthy about it; it was a spectacle in printed form, useless drivel. It contained rambling letters from breathless readers, and was stuffed with articles like—

Suggestions for the King, Ten Items Long

—and devoted an entire page to baseless gossip of goings-on in the royal city.

“It says right here,” Hazan said, scanning the paper, “that you are a sentimental idiot, that your bleeding heart has been laid bare twice now, once for a street child and now for a snoda—”

“Give that to me,” Kamran said, jumping to his feet to snatch the paper out of Hazan’s hands, which he promptly tossed in the fire.

“I’ve got another copy, Your Highness.”

“You disloyal wretch. How can you even read such garbage?”

“I may have exaggerated a bit,” Hazan admitted. “The article was actually quite complimentary. Your random acts of kindness toward the lower classes seem to have won the hearts of common folk, who seem only too eager to praise your actions.”

Kamran was only slightly mollified. “Even so.”

“Even so.” Hazan cleared his throat. “You were kind to a snoda, then?” “It’s not worth discussing.”

“Is it not? When you spent a great part of the morning in the company of your aunt at Baz House, where we both know resides a young woman of interest? A young woman in a snoda?”

“Oh, shove off, Hazan.” Kamran collapsed once again in his chair. “The king is well aware of both my actions and my reasons, which should be more than enough for you. Why are you trailing me, anyway? It’s not as if the Tulanian king will murder me in my own home.”

“He might.”

“What good would it do him? If you’re so concerned, you should be protecting the king. I’m perfectly capable of defending myself.”

“Your Highness,” Hazan said, looking suddenly concerned. “If you harbor any uncertainty about the life hurtling toward you, allow me to assure you now: the inevitable is coming. You must prepare yourself.”

Kamran turned away, exhaling toward the ceiling. “You mean my grandfather will die.”

“I mean you will soon be crowned king of the largest empire in the known world.”

“Yes,” said the prince. “I’m quite aware.” A tense silence stretched between them.

When Hazan finally spoke, the heat was gone from his voice. “It was a formality,” he said.

Kamran looked up.

“Your question,” said the minister. “You asked why the Tulanian king was invited. It is a long-standing tradition, during peacetime, to invite neighboring royalty to the most elite affairs. It’s meant as a gesture of goodwill. Many similar invitations have been made these last seven years, but never before has the Tulanian king accepted.”

“Excellent,” Kamran said drily. “He’s come now to enjoy a bit of cake, no doubt.”

“It’s certainly good to be cautious, fo—”

Just then there was a sharp knock, immediately after which the door to the dressing room opened. The elderly palace butler entered, then bowed.

“What now, Jamsheed?” The prince turned in his seat to face the man. “Tell my mother I’ve no idea where the seamstress went, nor what she did

with my robes. Better yet, tell my mother to come find me herself if she wishes to speak with me, and to stop pitching you about the palace as if you haven’t far better things to do on such an evening.”

“No, sire.” Jamsheed, to his credit, did not smile. “It’s not your mother.

I’ve come because you have a young visitor.” Kamran frowned. “A young visitor?”

“Yes, sire. He professes the king himself granted him permission to visit you, and I come to you now to ask—only out of the greatest respect for His Majesty—whether there exists even a grain of truth to the child’s claim.”

Hazan stood straighter at that, looking suddenly perturbed. “Surely you cannot mean the street child?”

“He does not look like a street child,” said the butler. “But neither does he appear to be trustworthy.”

“Yet he’s arrived here, at this hour, demanding an audience with the prince? This is outrageous—”

“Don’t tell me he has a shock of red hair?” Kamran ran a hand over his eyes. “Too tall for his age?”

The butler started. “Yes, sire.” “His name is Omid?”

“Why— Yes, sire,” Jamsheed said, no longer able to hide his astonishment. “He says his name is Omid Shekarzadeh.”

“Where is he?”

“He awaits you now in the main hall.”

“Did he say why he’s come?” Hazan demanded. “Did he give a reason for his impertinence?”

“No, Minister, though his manner is a bit febrile. He seems deeply agitated.”

With great reluctance, Kamran got to his feet; this day felt suddenly interminable. “Tell the boy I’ll be down in a moment.”

The butler stared, stupefied, at the prince. “Then— Then what the child says is true, sire? That he has permission from the king to speak with you?”

Kamran hadn’t even the chance to respond before Hazan moved in front of him, blocking his path.

“Your Highness, this is absurd,” the minister said in a forceful whisper. “Why would the boy request an audience at this hour? I don’t trust it.”

The prince studied Hazan a moment: the flash of panic in his eyes, the tense form of his body, the hand he held aloft to stop him. Kamran had

known Hazan too many years to misunderstand him now, and a sharp, disorienting unease moved suddenly through the prince’s body.

Something was wrong.

“I don’t know,” Kamran said. “Though I intend to find out.” “Then you intend to make a mistake. This could be a trap—”

To the butler, the prince said, “I’ll meet the boy in the receiving room.” “Yes, sire.” Jamsheed glanced from the prince to his minister. “As you


“Your Highness—”

“That is all,” the prince said sharply.

The butler bowed at once, then disappeared, the door closing behind him.

When they were alone, Hazan turned to face the prince. “Are you mad?

I don’t understand why you’d consent t—”

In a single, swift movement Kamran grabbed Hazan by the collar and slammed his back against the wall.

Hazan gasped.

“You are hiding something,” Kamran said darkly. “What is your game?” Hazan went rigid with surprise, his eyes widening with a touch of fear.

“No, sire. Forgive me, I meant not to overstep—”

Kamran tightened his grip. “You are lying to me, Hazan. What is your preoccupation with the b—”

The prince cut himself off, suddenly, for he was startled by a soft, buzzing sound in his left ear.

Kamran turned, blinking in surprise. A slight, glowing insect hovered inches from his face, bumping incessantly against his cheek.



“What on earth—” The prince grimaced and stepped back, relinquishing the minister to swat the fly from his face; Hazan slumped against the wall, breathing hard.

Go, Kamran thought he heard him whisper. Or was it merely an exhale?

Kamran watched, stunned, as the fly darted straight toward the door and through the keyhole, disappearing into the world beyond.

Had the insect obeyed a command? Or had Kamran lost his mind? He spared his minister a single, strange glance before he quit the room, pulling

open the door with forced calm and striding down the hall with unusual speed, his skin prickling with unease.

Where had the blasted creature gone?

“Your Highness—” Hazan called, catching up, then keeping pace. “Your Highness, forgive me— I only worried the child might prove a distraction on such an important evening— I spoke thoughtlessly. I meant no disrespect.”

Kamran ignored this as he barreled down the marble staircase, his boots connecting over and over with stone, the sharp sounds filling the silence between them.

“Your Highness—”

“Leave me, Hazan.” Kamran made it to the main floor and kept moving, marching toward the great room with unconcealed determination. “I find your shadow cumbersome.”

“I cannot leave you now, sire, not with such a threat looming—” Kamran came to an abrupt, disorienting halt.


The Fesht boy was not in the receiving room where he was meant to be. Omid was instead pacing the main hall when they approached and did not wait for permission before he rushed toward the prince, darting out of reach of the footmen who sought to restrain him.

“Sire,” the boy said breathlessly, before speaking in rapid-fire Feshtoon. “You’ve got to help, sire— I’ve been telling everyone but no one believes me— I went to the magistrates and they called me a liar and of course I tried to inform the king, but n—

Kamran jerked suddenly back.

Omid had made the mistake of touching the prince, reaching out a trembling hand in a thoughtless, desperate motion.

Guards,” Hazan called. “Restrain this child.”

“No—” Omid spun around as guards came rushing from all sides, easily pinning the child’s arms behind his back. Omid’s eyes were wild with panic. “No— Please, sire, you’ve got to come now, we’ve got to do someth


Omid cried out as they twisted his limbs, resisting even as they dragged him away. “Get off me,” he shouted, “I need to speak with the prince— I have to— Please, I beg you, it’s important—”

“You dare lay your hands on the crown prince of Ardunia?” Hazan rounded on him. “You will hang for this.”

“I didn’t mean no harm,” the boy cried, thrashing against the guards. “Please, I just—”

“That’s quite enough,” the prince said quietly. “But, Your Highness—”

“I said, enough.”

The room went suddenly, frighteningly still. The guards froze where they were; Omid went limp in their grip. All the palace seemed to stop breathing.

In the silence, Kamran studied the Fesht boy, his tear-streaked face, his shaking limbs.

“Release him,” he said.

The guards dropped the child unceremoniously to the floor, where Omid fell hard on his knees and curled inward, his chest heaving as he struggled for breath. When the child finally looked up again, his eyes had filled with tears. “Please, sire,” he said. “I didn’t mean no harm.”

Kamran was eerily calm when he said, “Tell me what has happened.”

A single tear tracked down the boy’s cheek. “It’s the Diviners,” he said. “They’re all dead.”

You'll Also Like