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Beck (Chapter 5 Part 10)

No one minded her as she walked through the camp. Jova could even hear quick steps moving away from her as she led Dep Sag Ko’s eelhound along the banks of the river. It made Jova think they knew what she had done, but of course that was ridiculous. It was just her appearance: the devil girl with no eyes scared even the most rational of the Hag Gar Gan.

The eelhound thrashed its head and pulled back as Jova walked it along. She struggled to hold it down, but it refused, snapping its teeth and growling in a low, vicious rumble. “Lo Pak, down! Down!” hissed Jova, digging her feet into the sand, struggling to control the animal. Even it did not seem to want anything to do with her.

Finally, grudgingly, the eelhound began to follow her again. Jova kept her distance from the animal’s head, walking by its side instead. It was beginning to dawn on her that Lo Pak was perhaps the only witness to her crime; of all the people who were scared of her, only its fears were justified. “Good thing you can’t talk, then,” muttered Jova, as she guided it further down the river.

She could hear the waves lapping against the hull of Kharr Ta’s barge, hear the rhythmic wooden thunk of the boat on the shore. Jova cocked her head, but no one appeared to be nearby.

“Stay, Lo Pak,” she said, clicking her tongue. The eelhound seemed to understand the command well enough, although it was in the king’s tongue, and sat on its hind legs with a crunch of sand and gravel.

Jova dipped her bare foot into the water. “All rivers flow to the sea,” she muttered. She felt like she had heard it before, although she could not remember where. “All rivers flow…free.” Jova turned her face to the sky. What would she give to just disappear now, to just dive into the water without fear of the consequences?

But she needed a plan. It would be a folly for a girl who could barely swim to escape into the river without solid contingencies for everything that could go wrong. Jova had been thinking, though. She had a plan.

It was doing it that would be the hard part.

“I will be free,” said Jova, feeling the fading light of the sun on her face. “I have always been free.”

She turned back to the shore before anyone could see her, keeping her head low, leading Lo Pak down to where the animals drank. The sandmen put high priority on their mounts, and Jova had to hold her breath as a whole host of eclectic smells assaulted her. There were crickets for Uten, oh, yes—and a bucket of dead rodents for Yora, and a bale of hay for Stel (although the horse was not there) and half-rotten fruits and roasted birds and even a pail of nothing but pebbles. Lo Pak dug its snout into a trough of slimy fish with a happy snort, and Jova let the beast be.

Jova clicked her tongue as she moved through the throng. It was lucky for her that the animals all had such distinctive shapes and sounds, or else she never would have found who she was looking for.

“Budge up, Uten,” Jova said, patting the molebison on the side. “I miss you too. I’ll come for you later, OK? Right now, I need…”

She clicked her tongue, and a complex jumble of echoes bounced back. The summer elk’s antlers were bowed before her, and the animal was breathing heavily as she approached.

“Hey, Cross,” said Jova, reaching a hand out gingerly. Cross’s fur was unnaturally hot; Jova did not know how Janwye had managed to ride him all that time. “I’m a friend, OK? I’m friendly.”

Janwye’s old animal snorted and stamped its hoof. It was jittery, and with good reason. Jova could hear the limp in its step as Jova pulled it away from the rest of the group. She wished she had something to pacify him with—lumps of brown sugar or a slice of fresh fruit—but those were luxuries a slave would never have. Her own voice would have to do for now.

Again, the desire struck Jova to simply run away. It would have been easy to ride Cross off into the wilds, safety be damned.

Except it wouldn’t. Dep Sag Ko still held the summer elk’s tabula, so she could lose the animal at any moment. Cross would leave tracks that could easily be followed, and Jova could not risk the chance of getting lost without the guiding presence of the river. She did not have the skills or the ability to survive in the wilderness on her own. No, it was better for Jova to escape to the trappings of civilization. Better for her to be among people, and be unafraid.

“This way, Cross,” she said, leading him along. She had no reins or tabula to command him, so she had to place a guiding hand on his muzzle instead. “Let’s go this way, come on.”

Her heart beat very fast as she began to walk back into camp with the elk in tow. This wasn’t what Dep Sag Ko had sent her to do. If anyone stopped her, or asked her why, her justification was flimsy. It was dangerous, this way.

Still less dangerous than escaping without a plan.

Cross fought harder than Lo Pak, dancing away from Jova at every turn. Jova had only ever felt that level of resistance from unfamiliar steeds she had worked with, in Rho Hat Pan’s stables, which the clients had brought in themselves. Those steeds had been scared,

What was Cross scared of?

“I miss Janny, too,” said Jova, as they walked. “But we’re going to be OK. We’re going to keep living anyway.”

The summer elk didn’t respond, but he wasn’t fighting back anymore either. That was victory enough for Jova.

The u-ha had a private tent. Jova stopped Cross before it, putting a firm hand against the elk’s snout. Jova swept her feet around and reached blindly to find some post that she could tie him to, but she could not find anything. “Stay. Here,” she said, finally, holding her hands in front of Cross. “If anyone asks, Dep Sag Ko sent me.”

Cross just tossed his head, and Jova decided to get the job done before the elk got too restless. She slipped in u-ha’s tent, doing her best not to look nervous.

The tent smelled of wood smoke and old spices and faintly of manure. It was hot and oddly muggy inside, and Jova could not help but feel light-headed. It reminded her of the pontiff’s chambers in a way, but more primal, closer to the earth. If this was what spiritual enlightenment smelled like, then Jova was content to live a secular life.

Ya tei, u-ha,” she said, respectfully. Good fortune, shaman.

There was a clattering as the old man rose. Dep Sag Ko did not appear to be with him; for once, he was alone. Except…

Kha gar pu a devil,” said a familiar voice. Rho Hat Pan shifted, and there was a rustle of cloth. “Excuse me, u-ha. Your medicines have been most helpful.”

Jova’s fists tightened.

The u-ha breathed very heavily as he hobbled forward. He mumbled something under his breath as he approached, but although Jova’s hearing was keen enough to catch the words, she could not decipher the slurred imperial tongue the u-ha spoke.

Rho Hat Pan began to talk in a very low, quick whisper to the u-ha; Jova could catch only snippets of their conversation. “…waste of time…” Rho Hat Pan said. “Intrusive…presumptuous, I shall lead her…not bother you…

Jova only knew this words because Dep Sag Ko had said the same thing about Ya Gol Gi, loudly and often. Jova turned her head, and tried not to listen. It was not a good sign, comparing herself to the man she had killed.

When the old man spoke, it was as unintelligible as ever. A breathless rasp came from his lips and through toothless gums.

Drumming her fingers on her hip, Jova waited. This was the part of her plan that she knew was extraneous, the part that she knew would be the most dangerous, the part that she knew she didn’t need to do. It was also the part that she was going to do, no matter what.

“…and, u-ha…my tabula?” said Rho Hat Pan. There was a pause. “I understand…medicines use it, of course…I am free…hold the tabula of the crippled.

And that was it. The crux of the matter. The u-ha held the tabula of the crippled and the dead. Ya Gol Gi’s slaves belonged to this old man now, and so it was this old man that Jova would have to confront.

She heard Stel move suddenly, heard her toss her head and stamp her hooves. It was restless behavior, the kind that meant she had been held very still for a very long time. Jova waited patiently as Rho Hat Pan hauled himself onto the back of his mount, keeping her expression neutral, disinterested, almost bored, even as her insides churned.

Stel brought her head close to Jova as the horse passed, her mane brushing against the girl’s cheek, but the horse jerked away suddenly and Jova was left standing alone, her face cold and the warmth leaving her.

Rho Hat Pan did not say a word to her as he passed. He did not so much as acknowledge her.

Jova didn’t acknowledge him, either. It was not Rho Hat Pan she needed.

U-ha,” she said, trying not let her voice falter. “Dep Sag Ko ak eri al iro.Dep Sag Ko sent me to you.

In the back of her head, a little voice whispered, “Lie.” She could only hope the u-ha was not thinking the same.

The u-ha mumbled something under his breath, and Jova took a step forward. She had to know what the old man was saying: not so that she could answer him, but so she could know the right way to respond.

Iro ta su har,” said Jova. I apologize. Eri ba va gat ha gha?Can you say again what you have said?

Jova could only catch some words: why was among them, as was listen. Frustrated by the blind girl who seemed to be deaf now, too? Jova could only hope so.

He was just an old, senile man, Jova reminded herself. He was just an old, senile man who wanted Jova out of his hair as quickly as possible so he could return to his old, senile life. “Dep Sag Ko ak eri al iro,” she repeated.

The u-ha stamped something that sounded like a cane on the ground, and Jova flinched. She couldn’t push him too far. What if he grabbed “her” tabula and commanded Jova to get out? That would not end well for either of them.

Kokro fi al gana Kharr Ta.” Kharr Ta wants to see the adults.

The old man made a disgusted sound. Jova heard has them already and belong to me.

Jova licked dry lips. “Dep Sag Ko ba va kokro mun fi al gana Kharr Ta.” He says Kharr Ta wants to see all of them. She coughed, clearing her throat. “Al ahab mun.” All of them.

A wooden cane tapped on her cheek, and the u-ha made an angry, low mumble. Those tabula did belong to him, after all. The thought of even offering to trade what belonged to their venerated u-ha must have been antithetical to the whole philosophy of the Hag Gar Gan.

Dep Sag Ko su ghal,” said Jova. “Pu zota iro Dock ji yesh.” He can’t come. He needed me to get past Dock.

And the old man fell silent.

The enemy is in your camp, Jova thought. The enemy sits and eats with you. You’re going to have to swallow your pride, old man. You’re going to have to give up your prize, because unless you get what you came here for you’re going to have a big problem indeed.

She could feel his breath on his face. It felt oddly cold, like wind whistling through a hollow shell. When he spoke, every word was so simple and so close that Jova could understand him perfectly.

Is that what he said?

Jova didn’t nod, or say yes, or respond. She stood, there, terrified, a slave girl who had been sent to do an errand and whose only priority was getting the job done right.

The old man walked away, grumbling to himself.

Jova did not let herself relax yet. She would not relax until Bechde’s tabula was in her hand.

Jova knew how much risk this move was taking on. Bechde would sell for infinitely more than her, if Kharr Ta was willing to take her. The Hag Gar Gan would be that much more incensed to find them, rather than if it had just been one crippled girl disappearing down the river.

There were justifications as well, to be sure. Bechde had connections, a home to go back to, people that cared for her. She could see when Jova couldn’t, and she could navigate the city much more easily.

But if Jova was being honest with herself, that wasn’t it.

Albumere could take away her eyes, her innocence, and her clean conscience—but it could never take away who she was. Her hands might have shed blood, but her heart was in the right place. It had to be.

More mumbled words. Jova stood, dumbly, as if she didn’t understand, and the u-ha pressed three cold amber disks into her hand. Three would have to be enough. She was about to take them, but the old man did not let go.

He mumbled in Jova’s ear, an almost painful tension in his fragile body. “You are going,” he said, in his thick accent. “Straight to Dep Sag Ko?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice hoarse. “Yes, u-ha.”

Zat,” he said. Go. And Jova went.

“Cross!” she shouted, the moment she got out of the tent. The sun had fully set now, and Jova could hear the crackle of fires as the Hag Gar Gan settled down for supper, then sleep. “Cross, where are you?”

She heard the heavy breathing of the summer elk behind her, to the side, and she edged forward to find the elk on the ground, sweating profusely. “I know it’s hot,” Jova said, putting her hands under the elk’s belly and trying to prompt him to rise. “I know this isn’t where you’re supposed to be. It’s not where I’m supposed to be, either.”

Cross planted his hooves laboriously onto the dirt and stood. Jova took him by the antlers and tugged. She didn’t have time for gentleness or subtlety.

As she heard the river get closer, Jova pulled out the first of the tabula. She cocked her head. Was anyone looking? Listening? Not that she could hear. She hid behind Cross’s girth and concentrated. It wouldn’t matter in a few minutes, anyway.

The tabula began to hum. Jova held her breath. She had never done a summoning before.

No, that wasn’t true. She had done one other summoning. Just one, a long time ago.

Jova thought of the river lapping at her feet, thought of the shifting sand between her toes and the night wind on her face, and as she thought all of it seemed to shrink down into one single point, surrounded by darkness. Fear was in the dark. Uncertainty. Not knowing whether things were going to go according to plan.

She heard a crunch on the sand in front of her.

Before the person had a chance to say a word, Jova thrust the tabula in front of him or her. “Do you want to be free?” she asked, quickly. “If you do, take this and run.”

“How did you…” said the voice, in the fieldman’s drawl, but Jova cut him off.

“Go, now!” she said, pressing the tabula into the man’s chest. He took it.

“They’ll kill me,” he hissed.

“Not if everything goes according to plan,” Jova said, and she began to concentrate on the second tabula. There was no time for this.

As she heard the man run quickly away along the shore, a treacherous thought floated across her mind that broke her concentration.

That was a lie.

The humming built in intensity as Jova poured all of her focus into the second tabula, and the blackness was now colored with frustration, guilt, and anger. She had given him a chance for freedom. It wasn’t a certainty that he would be caught. And his chance for freedom bought a guarantee for Jova’s.

The second person was summoned, and Jova said the same thing. “Take this and go,” she said, thrusting the tabula out.

“Jova?” said a stunned, female voice. Not Bechde’s. One of her alsknights.

“Please just take it and go, you won’t get another chance.”

The alsknight took the tabula briskly without further question. She ran, in the opposite direction of the first man, her feet padding heavily on the shore.

Two baits. Two distractions. Jova had hoped for more.

The girl walked very quickly towards the boat, the rhythmic knocking of the boat calling to her, the point fixed in her mind so that her feet walked toward it like a Jhidnu sailor’s compass pointed to the center of Albumere.

She stood just before the gangplank, her heart pounding. She hoped no one could see her.

“Cross, I need you to do something for me. I know you can do it. I know you can,” said Jova. She put a hand on Cross’s flank, and took a deep breath. He was the last reminder of Janwye the girl had left, and Jova wasn’t sure if she was ready to part with him. Jova’s grip on the elk’s fur tightened.

“Ignite, Cross,” she whispered. “Now is the time for summer. Now is the time for light. Now is the time for fire.”

The summer elk tossed his head, but did not respond.

“Fire,” Jova whispered, and though the night was cold, she was sweating. “Fire will free us, Cross.”

It was no use. Cross would not do it, and Jova did not remember Janwye’s command word. She would have to spook him.

With a rough shove, Jova pushed the elk onto the gangplank, and the elk moved more out of confusion than submission. She could hear voices now, confused and quizzical tones. They didn’t matter.

Jova reached for her blindfold and tore it off. Pits where her eyes should have been gazed upon the animal, and she shouted, in her deepest voice, “Cross! Fire.

The elk reared and screamed, and Jova heard the whoosh of his antlers igniting. Jova took a step forward, and the terrified animal had nowhere to run. Either side would mean jumping into the river, where his flames would be extinguished. Forward would be towards the terrifying creature of the deep that now stood before him. That only left…

Backwards. Onto the ship.

Fire!” screamed voices, as Cross galloped forward. Jova could already hear the flames crackling at the edges of the gangplank from the summer elk’s hooves, and she stumbled forward quickly before the whole thing collapsed.

Heavy footfalls rang on the planks as Kharr Ta’s crew ran after the summer elk. Jova stood in their way.

It’s all an act, Jova reminded herself. It’s all a game.

“Help!” she screamed, her voice high-pitched and desperate. She hugged her sides, fake sobs shaking her whole body. “Help, please, somebody help!”

“Out of the way, girl,” said a disgruntled voice. A calloused hand shoved her aside. “I said out of the way!”

They ran past her, and the moment Jova was sure they were gone she stood straight again. The crackle of flames and the dense smoke stung her face, and she walked forward slowly, calmly, tying the blindfold back on with deliberate care.

The shore was right next to them. No one was in a hurry to get off the ship. All of them were in a hurry to save it.

The raft was just where it had been. With a grunt, she hauled the raft over the side, and it landed with a splash in the water. She tossed the oar over next, and then Jova grunted and hauled herself over, landing in the water. It was shallow here, only waist height, and Jova clambered atop the raft that was now floating downriver, oar in hand. It rocked in the waters, but the slow Kaza stabilized it quickly.

Jova held the last tabula in her hands as she sat on that cramped little raft. There was only room enough for one.

Who said she had to summon Bechde now, though? That could wait until Jova was in the city.

The raft floated out past the prow of the ship, and Jova kept her head low. She doubted anyone would notice her—not with two runaway slaves sprinting down opposite ends of the camp and a slaver’s boat on fire. She was safe. The plan would work.

“Ma, Da,” she whispered, more to herself than to them. “I’m coming back.”

She moved at a glacial pace. Jova was beginning to understand now what Dal Ak Gan had meant when he said a child could navigate the Kaza with his eyes closed. It was slow and languid, and despite the chaos Jova left behind her she felt almost calm.

And then Jova heard a high-pitched scream.

At first, Jova would have just ignored it and moved on. She knew this was going to happen. But she recognized that voice. She was good with voices.

“I can’t move!” screamed Alis, among the pleading voices of all the other children on that ship that were about to be sold to Kharr Ta. “Please! Please!

Jova tensed. Someone would help her, right?

Except that sailor had shoved Jova aside so callously that Jova had no doubt in her mind that if they wouldn’t help a little girl with no eyes, then they wouldn’t help anyone at all.

Alis was going to die on that ship, and no one was going to do anything about it.

Jova gripped Bechde’s tabula in her hands. She didn’t give herself time to regret her decision.

The girl summoned her. It made her spin and her hands weak, but she recovered easily enough, and when she did, she saw Bechde kicking and spluttering in the water before her, utterly bewildered.

“Onto the raft,” said Jova, slipping off. “Come on, Bechde. You’re getting out of here.”

“Darling,” gasped Bechde, clambering aboard even as Jova dropped into the water. Despite its languid pace, the waters of the Kaza were shockingly cold, although perhaps Jova had simply spent too long under the Hak Mat Do sun. “How?”

“Take it, Bechde,” said Jova. She handed the tabula off to Bechde, holding onto the raft to conserve her strength as the waters grew deeper. She hoped there was nothing lurking below her, no crocodilebeasts waiting to snap her up.

Bechde seemed too shocked to do anything but obey.

“The river leads,” gasped Jova. “Into the city. You can find your way, can’t you? You can get out, back to Alswell?”

“Yes,” said Bechde, slowly. “Jova…do you have your tabula, too? Are you coming with me?”

Jova looked back to the ship. She would have to let go soon, if she wanted to swim back in time.

She turned back to Bechde, and shook her head. “You have your own people to save, Bechde,” she said. “I have mine.”

There was silence. “I’m sorry, Jova. I’ll…I’ll…”

Jova paused. Albumere could take away her eyes, her innocence, and her clean conscience—but it could never take away who she was. It would not take away the part of her that was willing to guide three strangers through a lonely forest, that was willing to help train a ragged wild child to realize his impossible dream, that was willing to right now give up the guarantee of her freedom for the chance to save a girl she had met just days ago.

“Go ahead,” said Jova, smiling. “I’ll be just fine.”

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Bred (Chapter 4 Part 8)

Jova did her best to wipe the girl’s face with the lace handkerchief, although the child squirmed and twitched as she sat, and Bechde kept fussing around over Jova’s shoulder. “Fallborn can be fickle,” the lady said, and Jova’s head spun as she tried to keep track of where Bechde was standing. “But they’re ever so quiet about it. It’s so hard to tell what a fallborn is thinking sometimes, isn’t it?”

However hard it may have been for Bechde to read the quiet girl’s emotions, it was nothing compared to how hard it was for Jova. She sighed, letting her arms fall as she let the girl go (and the girl was, contrary to Jova’s initial guess, a girl).

“What will you name her?” asked Bechde. “It’s very important, the name. She can’t run around with some Wilder name like Stick or Stone or River or Brook. It’s very lucky, really, that you found her. A nice civilized name, that’ll do it.”

“Anjan changed her name when she grew up,” said Jova. “I don’t remember what her name was first, but she changed it.”

Bechde sniffed, and patted Jova on the head. “Yes, well, it’s much easier if you start with a civil name, dear.”

“Do I have to name her?” asked Jova.

“She is yours, darling,” said Bechde, kindly. “I’ll help if you like. A good Alswell name, what say you?”

“I don’t want her to be mine, though,” said Jova, and she hung her head. “Bechde, why can’t you take her?”

“Where are you taking me?” said a soft voice, suddenly. Jova jumped. She had almost forgotten the girl was there. The girl spoke slowly and deliberately, and sounded almost too articulate for someone so young.

“Nowhere, dear,” said Bechde, quickly. The lady’s dress rustled as she moved past Jova, and the girl squeaked as Bechde picked her up. “Quele, come here! Get the child food and water, anything she wants.”

With nothing but the rustle of her chainmail and a curt “yes, m’lady,” the alsknight Quele picked up the girl and walked away.

“And now to talk in peace,” said Bechde, resuming her seat next to Jova. The lady had special travel cushions, just for sitting, and while it was still morning they could sit and talk by the fire, uninterrupted.

Jova could feel a light mist on her fingers and cheeks. The sun would burn it away soon, but the humid air still clung to her skin, and made her breathing short and shallow. She hadn’t slept much the last night, holding, for the first time in her life, a tabula in her hand.

“You can sell her in Hak Mat Do, if you like,” said Bechde, and even though Jova knew the lady was trying to be kind, she couldn’t help but shiver. “The markets beyond the Barren Sands thrive with the odd trade.”

Even under that pseudonym, Jova recognized what “the odd trade” was. Slavery had never agreed with her, even when it was such a natural facet of everyday life. It came from having a slave father, perhaps—a slave father who, unlike all other slave fathers, could tell his child stories of his servitude. All Jova said, though, was, “I don’t want to sell her.”

A comforting arm wrapped around her shoulder. “Then you’ll just have to keep her, dear girl. You’ve done so much good already! She could have died out here, or met Hag Gar Gan slavers next, or run in with a crowd of wild savages. You’ve given her a chance for a real childhood, Jova. That’s a very precious thing.”

What about the chance for freedom? Wasn’t that precious too? Jova didn’t say it out loud, though; it was too hard to articulate what she was feeling. She scratched her chest again, pensive.

“Just imagine if she had been found by the horse riders.” Bechde paused, and lowered her voice. “By Rho Hat Pan’s people. Imagine! The brutality of the Hag Gar Gan! Oh, I don’t dare to think it. No, it’s much better this way, honestly.”

“What do I do, though?”

“You clothe her, you feed her,” said Bechde. “She won’t be good for much work until she’s older, but I find that they are most excellent companions even in their younger years if you treat them well.” Bechde must have noticed Jova’s expression, because she said, after, “Oh, don’t look so unhappy, Jova. It will be a treat, honestly.”

“If she’s mine,” said Jova, hugging her knees, “Don’t I have the right to give her to you?”

“Then I have the right not to take her, dear. I’ll help, but Ladies know I’ve got too many of my own to look after.”

“But you will help me?”

“Yes, Jova, now stop worrying.” Jova felt a thumb press against her forehead, and move across it as if it was smoothing out the wrinkles in her skin. “Smile! There’s no need to have your face all scrunched up like that.”

Jova reached up to touch Bechde’s hand, not sure if she was going to hold it or push it away, but Bechde withdrew quickly.

“I’m so terribly sorry, Jova, that was far too forward of me,” said Bechde. “All this talk of children and mothers, I suppose it’s gotten to my head.”

This was the first time Jova had heard talk of mothers, but she didn’t inquire further. “It’s alright, Lady Bechde,” she said, smiling. “I don’t mind.”

Bechde sighed. “I hope you don’t mind my saying this, darling, but you are truly…open. It is something I have never seen before, and I think I am not alone in saying it is something I want to protect.”

Jova had to admit there was a pattern: Roan, then Janwye, and now Bechde. All the same, she could not help but feel that Bechde was not being entirely honest. It was her faults that marked her, not her strengths: it was pity she inspired, not care.

“For all your smiles and your laughter, you have known suffering,” said Bechde, her hand hovering just over Jova’s face, where her bandages were tied. “That takes real character, dear. Honestly.”

“Thank you, Lady Bechde,” said Jova, bobbing her head. Bechde sounded so sad, that Jova felt she had to say something else. She thought hard for a minute. “May I be forward too, Lady Bechde?”

“Why not,” said the Alswell lady, and Jova could tell she said it with a smile.

“Were you a mother once?”

Jova could almost hear the smile vanish. “I pray that I still am,” Bechde said, and her tone was resigned. “They are lost and gone now, Ladies take them wherever they may be. I haven’t had child in many years, though, old crone as I am.”

Jova scoffed. “You don’t sound very old, Lady Bechde.”

“Why, thank you, little darling, but I assure you I am.” She lowered her voice. “I am going on fifty summers, and there’s silver in my hair.”

“You’re young on the inside, though,” said Jova. “I think you might be younger inside than I am!”

Bechde laughed. “Oh, darling, you make me blush. I dare say you’ve got a little youth left in you yet, though.”

Jova was about to answer, when a horn sounded so suddenly and so loudly that she flinched. Bechde yawned.

“We really did spend the whole night talking, didn’t we?” Bechde’s dress rustled as she rose, and she patted down the cushion to wipe off the dirt. “Well, up we get, Jova, we’ve got a long way to go. You’ll ride with me today, how about that?”

Jova tensed. “What about Roan?”

“If the sandman wishes to be alone with his beasts then let him be,” said Bechde, dismissively. “If he needed you, he would have sought you out, but as it is you have no obligation to be with him.” Her voice softened slightly. “There’s plenty of room in the wagon, and the bumping’s not so bad. We could have pomegranates again! Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Jova nodded her consent, just once, all while wondering where on Albumere Roan could be and why he had suddenly become so distant.

“Oh, marvelous!” Bechde trilled, taking Jova’s hand. “There’s so much left to discuss. We simply must find a good name for the girl, Jova. I was thinking something with an ‘m’ sound, Methila or Makenna.”

“Bechde, can I ask you a question?” asked Jova. She was thinking back to the last night, of all the strange things that had happened then. There were things about that glade she wanted to forget, and at same time things that she wanted to know so much more about.

“As the Lady Fall listens, ask away,” said Bechde, unperturbed by Jova’s interruption.

Jova hugged her own cushion to her chest as they walked away, her ears pricked to the sound of the camp coming to life. Things were quieter on the Alswell side of things, the slaves breaking up camp almost mechanically, the other fieldmen’s morning exertions lazy and gentle. “Do you have many hollows in Alswell?”

“A fair number.” Bechde helped Jova up as they stepped into her personal wagon, nestled comfortably in shade on the jungle path. “Just as much or as little as any other nation, I would think.”

“And you keep them walled in, you said?”

“The great wells of Alswell, we call them, yes. Poets say we draw from them the sap of the world. Beautiful, don’t you think?” said Bechde. She made a sound as if she was going to say more, but then fell silent.

“And these hollows,” said Jova, feeling as if she would regret the words the moment she said them. “Do they…do they walk?”

“I would certainly hope not,” said Bechde, and her laughter made Jova’s face turn red. “The ones we’ve caught certainly don’t go anywhere, and if we lose them out there in the wild, well, there are quite a few trees in the woods, now, aren’t there?”

Jova nodded and did her best to laugh, all while wondering what the thing in the glade was last night if it wasn’t a hollow. She had already been wrong about the girl; if she could mess up something so simple, who was she to say that the thing she had heard was truly one of the walking trees? It was preposterous. There had to be another explanation.

Another question drifted across Jova’s mind unbidden, and before she could stop herself she asked, “Bechde, do the hollows have tabula? Tabula of their own, I mean?”

“What a clever little girl you are,” said Bechde, as the wagon rose and began to trundle away. The bumping was bad, even as they rolled over soft jungle mulch, and Jova could swear that her behind was beginning to bruise as they rumbled on. Bechde and her voluminous dress suddenly seemed rather practical now. “I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it before,” continued Bechde, unfazed by the wagon’s movement. “There must be some philosopher out there I’m sure who’s looked into this, but I’ve never seen a hollow with one. Perhaps it is buried somewhere under all those other tabula, dear, or perhaps one must simply be able to move to have a tabula.”

It was true, plants didn’t have tabula, but if moving was the only rule, then Jova was either an exception or the rule was wrong.

The tarp parted suddenly, and Quele said in her gravelly monotone, “She has been fed and watered, m’lady. I can’t carry her the whole way, though.”

“You’ve done excellently, Quele, thank you. You may leave.” The tarp closed, leaving the three of them in their comfortable little world. “Come here, little one. Did you eat well?”

“Yes,” she said, curtly. Again, there was an earnest dedication to the words that made it hard to imagine them coming from a mouth so young.

“We were just thinking of what your new name will be,” said Bechde, in a kind voice. “Jova, what do you think of Methila?”

Before Jova could respond, the girl said, “My name is Alis.” It wasn’t an argument or an assertion; it was just a practiced statement of fact. Her parents must have taught her that, Jova thought. They had taught her to protect the one thing she could bring with her, her name.

“Why don’t we let her keep her name?” suggested Jova.

“Oh, that’s not such a good idea,” said Bechde, quickly. “Best to start fresh, don’t you think? Whenever we take new ones in Alswell, we always give them new names.”

“I’m sorry, Bechde, but I think…” Jova reached out and took the little girl, Alis, by the hand. It was small and hot, and only squirmed slightly when Jova touched her. “I think we’re not in Alswell. I think she should keep her name.”

“Well…well, alright then,” said Bechde, and she sounded more disappointed than angry or upset. “Alis is a good name.”

“A holy name, too,” said Jova, patting Alis on the head. “Roan would approve.”

“What’s Roan?” asked Alis. She took a seat next to Jova and asked in her prim, directed voice. Who had this Alis been, before the Fallow took her away?

“Roan was the man on horseback, remember?” said Jova, holding Alis’s hand still. “You’ll talk with him more soon. He might seem harsh, but he’s really very nice.”

“What’s that on your face?” asked Alis, and Jova had to change tacts just as quickly to figure out what she was talking about.

“This?” Jova asked, indicated her blind fold.

There was an expectant pause, and Jova realized Ali must have nodded. “It’s called a blindfold,” she said, nodding back even though she wasn’t quite sure how far up or down Alis’s face was in the silence.

Alis continued with her interrogation. “Why do you have it?”

Jova’s breath caught in her throat. For a moment, she saw a glimpse of it what it felt liked to be unrestrained, unjudged, and realized how tempting it must have been for Roan. Jova hesitated, wondering what truth she had for little Alis, when at last all Jova chose to say was, “There’s something wrong with me.”

The little girl seemed to accept that, and asked no more questions.

The wagon jerked suddenly, and Jova nearly tumbled out of her seat. “What’s going on?” muttered Bechde, as she opened the tarp.

As Jova picked herself up, there was a fevered muttering between Bechde and one of her attendants, and as the attendant left Bechde whispered, “Three years and there are still refugees on the road from Ironhide’s revolution…”

There was a rustling of fabric as Bechde slid out of the wagon. “I’ll be back in a moment, Jova dear. We’ve met some people who want to talk to us. You two stay in here, and get to know each other!”

“Bye,” said Jova, meekly, as Bechde left. She was left alone with Alis in the wagon, wondering what to say. “Are you OK?” asked Jova, hesitantly. “After last night? Do you feel…better?”

Alis did not respond for quite some time. Then, she said, “Where are we going?”

“Very far away,” said Jova. “To Alswell, and to a place called the Seat of the King. You’ve probably already gone a far way, to here. This place is called Moscoleon.”

Jova felt the bench shift as Alis began to swing her legs. “When are we going home?” she asked.

It was like a hand had clenched around Jova’s chest. She felt sudden moisture around her eyes, and she shook her head to clear it. Her hand gripped Alis’s tighter. “I don’t know,” said Jova. “Not for a long time, I think.”

There was a sudden weight on Jova’s shoulder, and Alis mumbled, softly, “Will you be my sister?”

“OK,” Jova said, and she adjusted herself so that she could lower Alis’s head gently into her lap. “I’ll be your sister.”

She wasn’t sure what being a sister meant, but, as Alis’s little body leaned peacefully on her, Jova figured it couldn’t be so bad. Jova felt her own head begin to droop, as the warm air in the wagon and the trials of last night began to lull her into her slumber.

Jova did not know how long she had slept, or if she had even slept at all, when shouts from outside made her jerk upright.

“Lances up, tabula out!” shouted a voice from the outside, one that Jova recognized as Janwye’s. The shout echoed all the way down to the end of the procession. “Draw weapons! Lances up, tabula out!”

Jova tensed, and began to pat down the floor of the wagon, looking for something she could use as a spear or a stick. Alis stirred next to her, yawning and smacking her lips together. Her tabula felt heavy in Jova’s pocket.

Jova’s hand closed around something that would do, and she felt years of morning practice with Arim return to her. It was time to prove that she could make it in the real world, time to prove that she was no longer just a scared little blind girl.

It was time to protect the one that the Ladies had sent to her. It was time to find faith, once again.

Jova tensed, crouched in front of the tarp opening, and waited.

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Bred (Chapter 4 Part 2)

Jova traced the shawl of the lady, so soft that it felt like her fingers were tracing air. She sat on a velvet cushion, her legs folded under her, and when Bechde touched her hand the lady’s touch was smooth as silk. “How charmed,” said Bechde, and the Alswell drawl made her voice simply drip with elegance. “Oh, Ladies, however did Janwye find a precious gem like you in that stew of a city? You’ve made the whole trek across the sands worth it, darling, honestly.

It sounded like a lie to Jova’s ears, but she smiled anyway. It was a happy lie, and it did her no harm to believe it. “Thank you kindly, missus,” she said, bowing her head.

“Oh!” said Bechde (and the way she said it Jova thought the fieldwoman might swoon from sheer emotion). “How mannered! When this horrid affair is all done and over, you simply must stay with us at the manor in Alswell, Jova, I insist.”

Horrid affair. Bechde made it sound like it was something minor, like someone needed to clean the house instead of win a war before she could go home. Jova scratched her chest. Was the lady of Alswell simply that absent-minded?

“Would you like something to eat? Something to drink?” The wagon creaked as Bechde rose, and Jova could feel the humid jungle air flow in once Bechde opened the tarp. “Quele, would you be so kind as to fetch us a bite?”

The alsknight at attendance outside was a woman, but had a deep, rumbling voice. “We still have the pomegranates from Hak Mat Do, m’lady.”

“Oh, that’d be just lovely,” said Bechde, and Jova heard chainmail rustle as Quele walked away. Bechde sat down again opposite her in a rustle of cloth. “You’ll love them, Jova, they were grown directly in Do Yash. They’re a bit tart, but the juices are delicious, even if they are a bit messy.” Bechde laughed, high and airy, and Jova couldn’t help but laugh with her.

The girl smoothed out her coza and sat a little straighter, wondering how long it had been. Janwye had escorted her down the jungle path and left immediately to have her audience with the Holy Keep, while Roan had been falling in and out of consciousness for the rest of the night. Jova had been left in the care of Janwye’s liege, Bechde, and all her various attendants and slaves, left to sit and stew and wait for something to happen to her.

Jova’s fingers tapped on her knees. She needed to do something.

Something rustled beside her, and instinctively Jova clicked her tongue to get a better image. She didn’t get much; the canvas of the wagon didn’t make a very good surface for the sound to bounce off of, but she had the vague impression of something blocky being pushed through the entrance.

“Just the pomegranates, my dear,” said Bechde, kindly. “Thank you, Quele, you may go now.”

Bechde took Jova’s hand and put something round and firm in it gently. Jova turned the hard fruit over in her hands, but she couldn’t seem to peel it like she would a Jhidnu orange or bite into it like she would a Moscoleon tomato.

“I am so impressed by you, Jova, darling,” Bechde said, as she began to cut her own. “I mean, look at you! You’ve taken this disability of yours and made it something to be proud of. It’s like your own special little power, isn’t it?”

Jova’s grip tightened on the pomegranate until she thought it might burst. No, it isn’t, she wanted to scream. No, it’s not! It helps, but it can’t replace colors. It can’t bring back sunsets or art or human faces. It’s not a power, it’s a burden! If you’re so impressed, you can HAVE IT.

“Yes,” she said, out loud. “I suppose it is.” And she waited for Bechde to finish with the knife so she could use it to cut her own.

“Oh, no, no, I insist,” said Bechde, taking the fruit back from Jova’s hand. “What was I thinking, just handing it off to you? No, darling, it’s much better if I do it, honestly. Look, you can have mine, and I’ll eat this one.”

“You don’t have to-,” Jova began, but Bechde shushed her and cut her off.

“It’s really quite alright, darling. Here, have it! The seeds are to die for, honestly.”

Jova felt a metal disk being placed on her lap, and she felt the edges of the plate hesitantly. On it, she traced six slices of the fruit, and she let out a little gasp of surprise. “Is this all mine?”

“Why, yes, of course! Although, if you can’t finish it, please do tell me. I’ll give it to Quele, she does so hate to waste food.”

All hers. Jova picked out one of the seeds hesitantly and bit into it, and immediately her tongue vibrated with the sensation. Sweet and tart, just like Bechde had said, with a hint of a crunch as she chewed. Jova slowed to savor every bite, a great smile on her face. All hers. It would have taken Da days on end of extra work just to buy one for the whole family, and Ma would have had to trade in a whole day’s worth of kill for a chance at exotic fruit. Jova would have to ask Bechde if she could take some back to Ma and Da.

Jova caught herself, and bit her lip. She had to stop thinking that way, not if she wanted to make the journey any less painful. How long it would take, anyway? How long would Ma and Da be forced to worry? Jova knew that she could not stay at home, but if they were already waiting for Janwye to finish then why couldn’t Ma and Da just meet up with her before they went? It was Roan’s decision, and it didn’t make sense.

Speaking of Roan, Jova still had to talk to him. A shiver went down her spine involuntarily, and she shuddered as she remembered the emptiness where his legs should have been, the almost too-smooth stumps where they ended. What kind of accident must he have been in, to have lost both his legs?

An accident, Jova reasoned, much like the one that lost both her eyes. Something he blamed himself for, something he lived with day in and day out, something he wished simply never had the chance to happen.

If Roan was anything like her, his accident would have been like that.

“Jova, darling, were you listening?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Jova, distractedly. She shook her head, massaging her temple. “I was just thinking a bit too hard.”

“Oh! What about? Please do tell me.” Bechde leaned forward and whispered, “It can be our little secret.”

The grown-old sounded older than even Ma, and yet she had such child-like enthusiasm, such infectious affection, that Jova couldn’t just say no. “Life,” said Jova, vaguely. “My friends. My home.”

Bechde laid her hand over Jova’s. “I miss home, too,” she said. “But I think you’ll find that the parting just gives you more reason to finish the journey. Don’t be afraid, Jova. I was scared when I left Alswell, but if I hadn’t I would have never had the chance to meet you! Things will work out in the end.”

Jova smiled. Perhaps the lady of Alswell wasn’t so absent-minded after all. “What’s your home like, Bechde?” she asked. “I want to know!”

“All’s well in Alswell, darling,” said Bechde. “It’s so much more open than here! There is so much clutter in Moscoleon, but in Alswell we’ve got wide open fields, pretty little houses with the most charmed balls and parties, and a sky so blue it’d make you cry, darling—honestly, it is a picture.

Jova ate delicately, keenly aware of the marbleman table manners Da had once taught her now that she was in Bechde’s company. “I remember blue skies in Jhidnu,” said Jova. “I- I don’t know so much about Moscoleon, but most mornings I can feel the fog here.”

“Jhidnu? Jhidnu-by-the-Sea? You’ve been there? Why, darling, I never knew!”

“Eigh- four years,” said Jova, catching herself. Her four years before the Fallow, just like everyone else’s, would just have to go unaccounted for. “We stayed in the city proper once, but Anjan and Ell didn’t like it. It was too busy for them, they said. We stayed to the back roads in the Jhidnu wilds mostly, staying at traveler’s inns, camping by the trail.”

“And for you to be so young.” Bechde sounded positively astounded, but Jova did not know why. It had been normal life for her—for many people, in fact, living outside of the merchant city. “Tell me, Jova, were you…were you savage?”

“Wild?” Jova paused. Was she? She was neither slave nor wild. She fell into the crack in-between. “…No,” she said, finally. It wasn’t a lie. “Anjan was, though. And we met quite a few on the road, although they left us alone for the most part.”

“What are they like?” asked Bechde, breathlessly. “Wild children, I mean. We don’t have them in Alswell, you see, and we met hardly any when we were crossing the Vigil Sands…”

That got Jova’s attention. “There are no wild children in Alswell?” she asked, sitting straight. “Does the Fallow not call to them?”

“Oh, no, no,” said Bechde, dismissively. “We find the hollows, you see. Guard them, even. The animals we let out, and the children we collect to civilize. It’s all very progressive; we have no truck with that superstitious nonsense the Wilder tree-worshippers believe.”

“Oh,” said Jova, and she couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Another answer had been waved in front of her face, and it had been snatched away just as quickly. She scratched her chest again. “Well, um…we didn’t see many wild children, either, honestly. They keep to themselves in Jhidnu. Some of them attacked us while we were traveling, most just ran away.”

Bechde was not to be dissuaded. “How do they learn to speak the king’s tongue? Do they wear clothes? Is it true that they have some kind of bond to the wild beasts?”

Jova pursed her lips. Honestly, she had never given those questions much thought before. “I suppose they must remember the language from before they were called,” said Jova. “And from each other, I suppose.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “I saw some wild children without clothes, some with. Those were stolen, probably. And their bond comes from the tabula that they take with them.”

“The children take tabula?”

Jova nodded. “Anjan did it, after her Fallow. She summoned Mo—a weaseldog, I mean—and kept his tabula ever since.”

“Before the Fallow?” said Bechde, aghast. “The children wouldn’t have the constitution for it! And the animals would be so young.”

“Well, it’s just like anywhere else,” said Jova, a little confused. “They take care of each other. Don’t you have early summoning in Alswell? Don’t any of your children disappear before the Fallow?”

She heard Bechde’s dress rustle as the woman shifted across from her. “Yes, I suppose I see your point,” said the lady, and her tone for once was subdued. “It’s just so very strange to think of it that way. So how do you get slaves in Jhidnu, then? Where do they come from?”

Jova thought back. “Adventurers and explorers,” she said. “I saw a few at market once, trying to sell them away. They find hollows in the wild and take just the one tabula. It’s bad luck to take more than one.”

“Amazing,” whispered Bechde. “Truly amazing, isn’t it? All the ways people on this world live!”

“I suppose it is,” said Jova, although she did not feel amazed. It felt like all the ways the people on Albumere survived, but she would hesitate to call what the emaciated, desperate children lurking in the bends of the forest paths did living.

“Ladies, you’d think I wouldn’t be so parched in a place so humid,” said Bechde, and she opened the tarp again. “Quele, would you be so kind and fetch me Fosen? Oh, and put some tea on the kettle!”

“Cropper’s making tea right now, m’lady. For himself. Says it helps his stomach aches.”

“Oh, well, leave the old fart to his griping and groaning then. Just water, for myself and the little one. And don’t forget Fosen, it’s absolutely boiling in here!”

The alsknight marched away to do her lady’s bidding.

“Do you keep tabula of your own, Jova?” asked Bechde, politely, as Jova finished off her pomegranate. She wondered who or what Fosen was as she ate.

“No, I don’t,” the girl said. “Once, I tried to keep one, but…well, no. No, I don’t.”

“Oh! A darling girl like you, without companion? A travesty. We will remedy that immediately!” Bechde said. “What about the charming old molebison you came riding in on? Is that one yours?”

“Roan’s. He owns all the animals.”

“Roan…? Oh, Rho Hat Pan! Yes, Janny did tell me about the name change. It’s remarkable, really, that the savage finally decided to call himself something the rest of us could pronounce.” Bechde said it so casually that Jova almost did not notice the veiled insult, but she couldn’t help but wonder if Bechde was actually being offensive or just absent-minded again. “Do you fancy the molebison?”

“Uten is nice,” said Jova, nodding. “I like her.”

“Then I shall purchase her for you from Rho Hat Pan at once!”

Jova choked. She bent over, hacking and coughing, and managed to stutter out, “Bechde, really, there is no need—I already work with her so much, you don’t have to-.”

“Oh, but I insist,” said Bechde, clapping her hands together. “There is nothing like holding the tabula yourself. As soon as the man wakes, I will ask him about it. Really, Jova, it’s no concern to me, and you are such a darling child, you deserve something nice.”

“Really, Bechde,” said Jova. “Thank you. But I don’t need charity.”

The lady fell silent. “Well, if you’re certain,” she said, and she sounded slightly disappointed. She recovered quickly. “Ah! Here’s water. Come, Jova, come. No leather skins for us; this is a porcelain cup all the way from Jhidnu, made special for drinking.”

Jova took the cup, cool and smooth in her hands. It felt like an awful lot of bother to go through just to have a sip of water, as someone (either Bechde or Quele) poured water into her cup.

“And here’s Fosen,” said Bechde, and Jova heard the click of some kind of clasp. Fosen was a box?

The hum of a tabula and the breeze that swirled around them inside the wagon said otherwise. Whatever Bechde had summoned croaked in the corner, and the lady cooed as she picked it up.

“Usually we just let the wild animals go, but Greeve let me keep this one,” said Bechde. “I’ve raised him ever since he was a little fall tadpole. Come on, Fosen, give us a little breeze.”

The toad croaked again, and Jova felt a gentle gust against her face. She had to admit, it felt nice, although how the animal was generating the wind she had no idea (and she had not the inclination to find out).

“You can hold him, go on,” said Bechde, and Jova hurried to find somewhere to put the plate of fruit and the porcelain cup and all of Bechde’s little trinkets and baubles before she picked up the fall toad. “He’s a sweetie, honestly.”

He felt slick and slimy, and so bulbous that Jova wasn’t entirely sure where his head was. The girl laughed nervously, cupping the toad in her hands as cool wind continued to play across her hands and face, until Bechde clicked her tongue and the toad hopped off and away.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to get you the molebison?” said Bechde. “They can be such wonderful companions.”

“I’m sure,” said Jova, nodding. “I-.”

And then she heard shouting from outside. She twitched, head snapping up as she tried to hear the sound through the canvas of the wagon.

“What is it, Jova?” asked Bechde, real concern in her voice. “Is something wrong?”

Jova took several seconds to answer, distracted by the faint shouting. “Do you hear that?”

“I…oh, my.” The toad croaked in protest as Bechde scooped him up and opened the wagon entrance. “Janny’s come back.”

Jova stood to her feet immediately and near fell out and onto the ground as she hurried to leave. She stumbled and turned her head, listening to the source of the shouting. It was Janwye’s voice, and just her voice: she was alone. The jungle absorbed some of the sound, but it grew louder and louder as she got closer.

“Janny?” shouted Jova, standing on tiptoe. “Janny, what are you doing?”

“We must go!” she was screaming. “Quele! Cropper! Get lady Bechde, tell her we must go now!

“Janwye!” shouted Bechde, taking the steps off of the wagon lightly. “What’s going on? Did something go wrong? Will the Temple support us?”

Janwye was standing next to them now, in the little camp of fieldmen, alsknights and slaves alike. She breathed heavily, sucking in breath between words. “The Temple…the Temple…” she muttered, distractedly. “I…the Temple is fine. Bechde, look! Look at this.”

And Jova heard a hard clink, and a sharp gasp from Bechde.

“Whose was it?” breathed Bechde, and Jova realized with a start that the clink had come from the fragments of a tabula. It had broken; whoever or whatever was linked to it had died.

“This one was Bax’s. Not- not his, but we made a system- Bechde, I- he…” Janwye seemed too distraught to finish her sentences. “Something’s gone wrong in Shira Hay. We have to go help!”

“Janny, Shira Hay is weeks away,” said Bechde. “Do you even know what went wrong?”

“N-no, but Bechde- oh, Ladies, Bechde…”

“Breathe, Janny, go on. Have a seat, that’s it,” said Bechde, and her voice was soft and calm and motherly. “Now explain to me what happened. Fully, in all the details.”

“My friend in the Temple got me an audience,” said Janwye, and she spoke so rapidly that she tripped over her words. The friend, Jova assumed, was Zain. “Keep Tlai listened and I gave my address and I think it went well but I can’t entirely be sure because she wouldn’t give me a straight answer afterwards and I stayed in the house of the pontiff for the night and when I woke up the tabula had broken and I ran straight here and now we have to go, Bechde, please.

“Patience, Janwye!” shouted Bechde. The sudden silence rang as Janwye stopped talking, and Jova felt unease creeping in her stomach. Janwye had told her about the system her friends had made: if one of those tabula had broken, that meant something had gone very wrong indeed…

“So we do not know the Keep’s answer?” asked Bechde, after Janwye had a moment to compose herself. “We do not know how or if they will help the cause?”

“Zain can figure out a way to tell me, but we have to move fast! If Bax is in trouble, then-.”

“Do we know, Janwye? Yes or no?”

“No,” said Janwye, after a pause. “No, we don’t.”

“Then we stay. We do what Greeve told us to do, alright?”

“Yes, Bechde. I will…I will return to the Temple now.”

“Oh, Janny,” whispered Bechde, and Jova heard the rustle of her voluminous dress. Jova clicked, and the blurred molded shape that bounced back could only mean that Janwye and Bechde were close together, embracing. “There is nothing we can do now but pray, and see how fortunate we are! We are in the most holy place in all of Albumere. Where better to entreat to the Ladies than here?”

“Yes, lady Bechde,” said Janwye, hoarsely. “Thank you, lady Bechde. I will go now.”

“Bring someone with you at least?” said Bechde, and her dress rustled as she moved away. “Quele, or Cropper. For protection. If something happened to Engers and his people…I don’t want a repeat out here.”

Jova heard the clip-clop of hooves before the voice spoke. “I will go with her,” said Roan, his voice so low it sounded as if he might fall off of Stel at any time. Had he only just recovered?

“No, you won’t,” snapped Janwye. “It’s too dangerous for you to go back into the city. You are going to stay here with Jova.”

Yes, Jova thought, and her fists tightened as she heard Roan get closer: Roan, who had lied to her, Roan, who had used her, Roan, who had abused her blindness. We are going to stay right here.

And you are going to tell me the truth.

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