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The Girl Who Drank the Moon / , (by Kelly Barnhill, 2016) -

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon / ,     (by Kelly Barnhill, 2016) -

The Girl Who Drank the Moon / , (by Kelly Barnhill, 2016) -

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: 628
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The Girl Who Drank the Moon / , (by Kelly Barnhill, 2016) -
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2016
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Kelly Barnhill
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Christina Moore
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intermediate
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09:31:58
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Girl Who Drank the Moon / , :

.doc (Word) kelly_barnhill_-_the_girl_who_drank_the_moon.doc [1.77 Mb] (c: 15) .
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audiobook (MP3) .


: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

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( , ).


In Which a Story Is Told Yes. There is a witch in the woods. There has always been a witch. Will you stop your fidgeting for once? My stars! I have never seen such a fidgety child. No, sweetheart, I have not seen her. No one has. Not for ages. Weve taken steps so that we will never see her. Terrible steps. Dont make me say it. You already know, anyway. Oh, I dont know, darling. No one knows why she wants children. We dont know why she insists that it must always be the very youngest among us. Its not as though we could just ask her. She hasnt been seen. We make sure that she will not be seen. Of course she exists. What a question! Look at the woods! So dangerous! Poisonous smoke and sinkholes and boiling geysers and terrible dangers every which way. Do you think it is so by accident? Rubbish! It was the Witch, and if we dont do as she says, what will become of us? You really need me to explain it? Id rather not. Oh, hush now, dont cry. Its not as though the Council of Elders is coming for you, now is it. Youre far too old. From our family? Yes, dearest. Ever so long ago. Before you were born. He was a beautiful boy. Now finish your supper and see to your chores. Well all be up early tomorrow. The Day of Sacrifice waits for no one, and we must all be present to thank the child who will save us for one more year. Your brother? How could I fight for him? If I had, the Witch would have killed us all and then where would we be? Sacrifice one or sacrifice all. That is the way of the world. We couldnt change it if we tried. Enough questions. Off with you. Fool child. 2. In Which an Unfortunate Woman Goes Quite Mad Grand Elder Gherland took his time that morning. The Day of Sacrifice only came once a year, after all, and he liked to look his best during the sober procession to the cursed house, and during the somber retreat. He encouraged the other Elders to do the same. It was important to give the populace a show. He carefully dabbed rouge on his sagging cheeks and lined his eyes with thick streaks of kohl. He checked his teeth in the mirror, ensuring they were free of debris or goop. He loved that mirror. It was the only one in the Protectorate. Nothing gave Gherland more pleasure than the possession of a thing that was unique unto him. He liked being special. The Grand Elder had ever so many possessions that were unique in the Protectorate. It was one of the perks of the job. The Protectoratecalled the Cattail Kingdom by some and the City of Sorrows by otherswas sandwiched between a treacherous forest on one side and an enormous bog on the other. Most people in the Protectorate drew their livelihoods from the Bog. There was a future in bogwalking, mothers told their children. Not much of a future, you understand, but it was better than nothing. The Bog was full of Zirin shoots in the spring and Zirin flowers in the summer and Zirin bulbs in the fallin addition to a wide array of medicinal and borderline magical plants that could be harvested, prepared, treated, and sold to the Traders from the other side of the forest, who in turn transported the fruits of the Bog to the Free Cities, far away. The forest itself was terribly dangerous, and navigable only by the Road. And the Elders owned the Road. Which is to say that Grand Elder Gherland owned the Road, and the other Elders had their cut. The Elders owned the Bog, too. And the orchards. And the houses. And the market squares. Even the garden plots. This was why the families of the Protectorate made their shoes out of reeds. This was why, in lean times, they fed their children the thick, rich broth of the Bog, hoping that the Bog would make them strong. This was why the Elders and their families grew big and strong and rosy-cheeked on beef and butter and beer. The door knocked. Enter, Grand Elder Gherland mumbled as he adjusted the drape of his robe. It was Antain. His nephew. An Elder-in-Training, but only because Gherland, in a moment of weakness, had promised the ridiculous boys more ridiculous mother. But that was unkind. Antain was a nice enough young man, nearly thirteen. He was a hard worker and a quick study. He was good with numbers and clever with his hands and could build a comfortable bench for a tired Elder as quick as breathing. And, despite himself, Gherland had developed an inexplicable, and growing, fondness for the boy. But. Antain had big ideas. Grand notions. And questions. Gherland furrowed his brow. Antain washow could he put it? Overly keen. If this kept up, hed have to be dealt with, blood or no. The thought of it weighed upon Gherlands heart, like a stone. UNCLE GHERLAND! Antain nearly bowled his uncle over with his insufferable enthusiasm. Calm yourself, boy! the Elder snapped. This is a solemn occasion! The boy calmed visibly, his eager, doglike face tilted toward the ground. Gherland resisted the urge to pat him gently on the head. I have been sent, Antain continued in a mostly soft voice, to tell you that the other Elders are ready. And all the populace waits along the route. Everyone is accounted for. Each one? There are no shirkers? After last year, I doubt there ever will be again, Antain said with a shudder. Pity. Gherland checked his mirror again, touching up his rouge. He rather enjoyed teaching the occasional lesson to the citizens of the Protectorate. It clarified things. He tapped the sagging folds under his chin and frowned. Well, Nephew, he said with an artful swish of his robes, one that had taken him over a decade to perfect. Let us be off. That baby isnt going to sacrifice itself, after all. And he flowed into the street with Antain stumbling at his heels. Normally, the Day of Sacrifice came and went with all the pomp and gravity that it ought. The children were given over without protest. Their numb families mourned in silence, with pots of stew and nourishing foods heaped into their kitchens, while the comforting arms of neighbors circled around them to ease their bereavement. Normally, no one broke the rules. But not this time. Grand Elder Gherland pressed his lips into a frown. He could hear the mothers howling before the procession turned onto the final street. The citizens began to shift uncomfortably where they stood. When they arrived at the familys house, an astonishing sight met the Council of Elders. A man with a scratched-up face and a swollen lower lip and bloody bald spots across his skull where his hair had been torn out in clumps met them at the door. He tried to smile, but his tongue went instinctively to the gap where a tooth had just recently been. He sucked in his lips and attempted to bow instead. I am sorry, sirs, said the manthe father, presumably. I dont know what has gotten into her. Its like shes gone mad. From the rafters above them, a woman screeched and howled as the Elders entered the house. Her shiny black hair flew about her head like a nest of long, writhing snakes. She hissed and spat like a cornered animal. She clung to the ceiling beams with one arm and one leg, while holding a baby tightly against her breast with the other arm. GET OUT! she screamed. You cannot have her. I spit on your faces and curse your names. Leave my home at once, or I shall tear out your eyes and throw them to the crows! The Elders stared at her, openmouthed. They couldnt believe it. No one fought for a doomed child. It simply wasnt done. (Antain alone began to cry. He did his best to hide it from the adults in the room.) Gherland, thinking fast, affixed a kindly expression on his craggy face. He turned his palms toward the mother to show her that he meant no harm. He gritted his teeth behind his smile. All this kindness was nearly killing him. We are not taking her at all, my poor, misguided girl, Gherland said in his most patient voice. The Witch is taking her. We are simply doing as were told. The mother made a guttural sound, deep in her chest, like an angry bear. Gherland laid his hand on the shoulder of the perplexed husband and gave a gentle squeeze. It appears, my good fellow, that you are right: your wife has gone mad. He did his best to cover his rage with a fa?ade of concern. A rare case, of course, but not without precedent. We must respond with compassion. She needs care, not blame. LIAR, the woman spat. The child began to cry, and the woman climbed even higher, putting each foot on parallel rafters and bracing her back against the slope of the roof, trying to position herself in such a way that she could remain out of reach while she nursed the baby. The child calmed instantly. If you take her, she said with a growl, I will find her. I will find her and take her back. You see if I wont. And face the Witch? Gherland laughed. All on your own? Oh, you pathetic, lost soul. His voice was honey, but his face was a glowing ember. Grief has made you lose your senses. The shock has shattered your poor mind. No matter. We shall heal you, dear, as best we can. Guards! He snapped his fingers, and armed guards poured into the room. They were a special unit, provided as always by the Sisters of the Star. They wore bows and arrows slung across their backs and short, sharp swords sheathed at their belts. Their long braided hair looped around their waists, where it was cinched tighta testament to their years of contemplation and combat training at the top of the Tower. Their faces were implacable as stones, and the Elders, despite their power and stature, edged away from them. The Sisters were a frightening force. Not to be trifled with. Remove the child from the lunatics clutches and escort the poor dear to the Tower, Gherland ordered. He glared at the mother in the rafters, who had gone suddenly very pale. The Sisters of the Star know what to do with broken minds, my dear. Im sure it hardly hurts at all. The Guard was efficient, calm, and utterly ruthless. The mother didnt stand a chance. Within moments, she was bound, hobbled, and carried away. Her howls echoed through the silent town, ending suddenly when the Towers great wooden doors slammed shut, locking her inside. The baby, on the other hand, once transferred into the arms of the Grand Elder, whimpered briefly and then turned her attention to the sagging face in front of her, all wobbles and creases and folds. She had a solemn look to hercalm, skeptical, and intense, making it difficult for Gherland to look away. She had black curls and black eyes. Luminous skin, like polished amber. In the center of her forehead, she had a birthmark in the shape of a crescent moon. The mother had a similar mark. Common lore insisted that such people were special. Gherland disliked lore, as a general rule, and he certainly disliked it when citizens of the Protectorate got it in their heads to think themselves better than they were. He deepened his frown and leaned in close, wrinkling his brow. The baby stuck out her tongue. Horrible child, Gherland thought. Gentlemen, he said with all the ceremony he could muster, it is time. The baby chose this particular moment to let loose a large, warm, wet stain across the front of Gherlands robes. He pretended not to notice, but inwardly he fumed. She had done it on purpose. He was sure of it. What a revolting baby. The procession was, as usual, somber, slow, and insufferably plodding. Gherland felt he might go mad with impatience. Once the Protectorates gates closed behind them, though, and the citizens returned with their melancholy broods of children to their drab little homes, the Elders quickened their pace. But why are we running, Uncle? Antain asked. Hush, boy! Gherland hissed. And keep up! No one liked being in the forest, away from the Road. Not even the Elders. Not even Gherland. The area just outside the Protectorate walls was safe enough. In theory. But everyone knew someone who had accidentally wandered too far. And fell into a sinkhole. Or stepped in a mud pot, boiling off most of their skin. Or wandered into a swale where the air was bad, and never returned. The forest was dangerous. They followed a winding trail to the small hollow surrounded by five ancient trees, known as the Witchs Handmaidens. Or six. Didnt it used to be five? Gherland glared at the trees, counted them again, and shook his head. There were six. No matter. The forest was just getting to him. Those trees were almost as old as the world, after all. The space inside of the ring of trees was mossy and soft, and the Elders laid the child upon it, doing their best not to look at her. They had turned their backs on the baby and started to hurry away when their youngest member cleared his throat. So. We just leave her here? Antain asked. Thats how its done? Yes, Nephew, Gherland said. That is how its done. He felt a sudden wave of fatigue settling on his shoulders like an oxs yoke. He felt his spine start to sag. Antain pinched his necka nervous habit that he couldnt break. Shouldnt we wait for the Witch to arrive? The other Elders fell into an uncomfortable silence. Come again? Elder Raspin, the most decrepit of the Elders, asked. Well, surely . . . Antains voice trailed off. Surely we must wait for the Witch, he said quietly. What would become of us if wild animals came first and carried her off? The other Elders stared at the Grand Elder, their lips tight. Fortunately, Nephew, he said quickly, leading the boy away, that has never been a problem. But Antain said, pinching his neck again, so hard he left a mark. But nothing, Gherland said, a firm hand on the boys back, striding quickly down the well-trodden path. And, one by one, the Elders filed out, leaving the baby behind. They left knowingall but Antainthat it was not a matter of if the child were eaten by animals, but rather that she surely would be. They left her knowing that there surely wasnt a witch. There never had been a witch. There were only a dangerous forest and a single road and a thin grip on a life that the Elders had enjoyed for generations. The Witchthat is, the belief in hermade for a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people, who lived their lives in a saddened haze, the clouds of their grief numbing their senses and dampening their minds. It was terribly convenient for the Elders unencumbered rule. Unpleasant, too, of course, but that couldnt be helped. They heard the child whimper as they tramped through the trees, but the whimpering soon gave way to the swamp sighs and birdsong and the woody creaking of trees throughout the forest. And each Elder felt as sure as sure could be that the child wouldnt live to see the morning, and that they would never hear her, never see her, never think of her again. They thought she was gone forever. They were wrong, of course. 3. In Which a Witch Accidentally Enmagics an Infant At the center of the forest was a small swampbubbly, sulfury, and noxious, fed and warmed by an underground, restlessly sleeping volcano and covered with a slick of slime whose color ranged from poison green to lightning blue to blood red, depending on the time of year. On this dayso close to the Day of Sacrifice in the Protectorate, or Star Child Day everywhere elsethe green was just beginning to inch its way toward blue. At the edge of the swamp, standing right on the fringe of flowering reeds growing out of the muck, a very old woman leaned on a gnarled staff. She was short and squat and a bit bulbous about the belly. Her crinkly gray hair had been pulled back into a thick, braided knot, with leaves and flowers growing out of the thin gaps between the twisted plaits. Her face, despite its cloud of annoyance, maintained a brightness in those aged eyes and a hint of a smile in that flat, wide mouth. From certain angles, she looked a bit like a large, good-tempered toad. Her name was Xan. And she was the Witch. Do you think you can hide from me, you ridiculous monster? she bellowed at the swamp. It isnt as though I dont know where you are. Resurface this minute and apologize. She pressed her expression into something closely resembling a scowl. Or I will make you. Though she had no real power over the monster himselfhe was far too oldshe certainly had the power to make that swamp cough him up as if he were nothing more than a glob of phlegm in the back of the throat. She could do it with just a flick of her left hand and a jiggle of her right knee. She attempted to scowl again. I MEAN IT, she hollered. The thick water bubbled and swirled, and the large head of the swamp monster slurped out of the bluish-green. He blinked one wide eye, and then the other, before rolling both toward the sky. Dont you roll your eyes at me, young man, the old woman huffed. Witch, the monster murmured, his mouth still half-submerged in the thick waters of the swamp. I am many centuries older than you. His wide lips blew a bubble in the algae slick. Millennia, really, he thought. But whos counting? I dont believe I like your tone. Xan puckered her wrinkled lips into a tight rosette in the middle of her face. The monster cleared his throat. As the Poet famously said, dear lady: I dont give a rats GLERK! the Witch shouted, aghast. Language! Apologies, Glerk said mildly, though he really didnt mean it. He eased both sets of arms onto the muck at the shore, pressing each seven-fingered hand into the shine of the mud. With a grunt, he heaved himself onto the grass. This used to be easier, he thought. Though, for the life of him, he couldnt remember when. Fyrian is over there by the vents, crying his eyes out, poor thing, Xan fumed. Glerk sighed deeply. Xan thrust her staff onto the ground, sending a spray of sparks from the tip, surprising them both. She glared at the swamp monster. And you are just being mean. She shook her head. Hes only a baby, after all. My dear Xan, Glerk said, feeling a rumble deep in his chest, which he hoped sounded imposing and dramatic, and not like someone who was simply coming down with a cold. He is also older than you are. And it is high time Oh, you know what I mean. And anyway, I promised his mother. For five hundred years, give or take a decade or two, that dragonling has persisted in these delusionsfed and perpetuated by you, my dear. How is this helping him? He is not a Simply Enormous Dragon. At this point, there is no indication that he ever will be. There is no shame at all in being a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Size isnt everything, you know. His is an ancient and honorable species, filled with some of the greatest thinkers of the Seven Ages. He has much to be proud of. His mother was very clear Xan began, but the monster interrupted her. In any case, the time is long past that he know his heritage and his place in the world. Ive gone along with this fiction for far longer than I should have. But now . . . Glerk pressed his four arms to the ground and eased his massive bottom under the curve of his spine, letting his heavy tail curl around the whole of him like a great, glistening snails shell. He let the paunch of his belly sag over his folded legs. I dont know, my dear. Something has shifted. A cloud passed over his damp face, but Xan shook her head. Here we go again, she scoffed. As the Poet says, Oh ever chang?d Earth Hang the Poet. Go apologize. Do it right now. He looks up to you. Xan glanced at the sky. I must fly, my dear. Im already late. Please. I am counting on you. Glerk lumbered toward the Witch, who laid her hand on his great cheek. Though he was able to walk upright, he often preferred to move on all sixesor all sevens, with the use of his tail as an occasional limb, or all fives, if he happened to be using one of his hands to pluck a particularly fragrant flower and bring it to his nose, or to collect rocks, or to play a haunting tune on a hand-carved flute. He pressed his massive forehead to Xans tiny brow. Please be careful, he said, his voice thick. I have been beset of late by troubling dreams. I worry about you when you are gone. Xan raised her eyebrows, and Glerk leaned his face away with a low grumble. Fine, he said. I will perpetuate the fiction for our friend Fyrian. The path to Truth is in the dreaming heart, the Poet tells us. Thats the spirit! Xan said. She clucked her tongue and blew the monster a kiss. And she vaulted up and forward on her staffs fulcrum, sprinting away into the green. Despite the odd beliefs of the people of the Protectorate, the forest was not cursed at all, nor was it magical in any way. But it was dangerous. The volcano beneath the forestlow-sloped and impossibly widewas a tricky thing. It grumbled as it slept, while heating geysers till they burst and restlessly worrying at fissures until they grew so deep that no one could find the bottom. It boiled streams and cooked mud and sent waterfalls disappearing into deep pits, only to reappear miles away. There were vents that spewed foul odors and vents that spewed ash and vents that seemed to spew nothing at alluntil a persons lips and fingernails turned blue from bad air, and the whole world started to spin. The only truly safe passage across the forest for an ordinary person was the Road, which was situated on a naturally raised seam of rock that had smoothed over time. The Road didnt alter or shift; it never grumbled. Unfortunately, it was owned and operated by a gang of thugs and bullies from the Protectorate. Xan never took the Road. She couldnt abide thugs. Or bullies. And anyway, they charged too much. Or they did, last time she checked. It had been years since she had gone near itmany centuries now. She made her own way instead, using a combination of magic and know-how and common sense. Her treks across the forest werent easy by any means. But they were necessary. A child was waiting for her, just outside the Protectorate. A child whose very life depended on her arrivaland she needed to get there in time. For as long as Xan could remember, every year at about the same time, a mother from the Protectorate left her baby in the forest, presumably to die. Xan had no idea why. Nor did she judge. But she wasnt going to let the poor little thing perish, either. And so, every year, she traveled to that circle of sycamores and gathered the abandoned infant in her arms, carrying the child to the other side of the forest, to one of the Free Cities on the other side of the Road. These were happy places. And they loved children. At the curve of the trail, the walls of the Protectorate came into view. Xans quick steps slowed to a plod. The Protectorate itself was a dismal placebad air, bad water, sorrow settling over the roofs of its houses like a cloud. She felt a yoke of sadness settle onto her own bones. Just get the baby and go, Xan reminded herself, as she did every year. Over time, Xan had started making certain preparationsa blanket woven of the softest lambs wool to wrap the child and keep it warm, a stack of cloths to freshen a wet bottom, a bottle or two of goats milk to fill an empty tummy. When the goats milk ran out (as it invariably didthe trek was long, and milk is heavy), Xan did what any sensible witch would do: once it was dark enough to see the stars, she reached up one hand and gathered starlight in her fingers, like the silken threads of spiders webs, and fed it to the child. Starlight, as every witch knows, is a marvelous food for a growing infant. Starlight collection takes a certain knack and talent (magic, for starters), but children eat it with gusto. They grow fat and sated and shining. It didnt take long for the Free Cities to treat the yearly arrival of the Witch as something of a holiday. The children she brought with her, their skin and eyes bright with starlight, were seen as a blessing. Xan took her time selecting the proper family for each child, making sure their characters and inclinations and senses of humor were a good match for the little life that she had cared for over the course of such a long journey. And the Star Children, as they were called, grew from happy infants to kind adolescents to gracious adults. They were accomplished, generous of spirit, and successful. When they died of old age, they died rich. When Xan arrived at the grove, there was no baby to be seen, but it was still early. And she was tired. She went to one of the craggy trees and leaned against it, taking in the loamy scent of its bark through the soft beak of her nose. A little sleep might do me good, she said out loud. And it was true, too. The journey shed been on was long and taxing, and the journey she was about to begin was longer. And more taxing. Best to dig in and rest awhile. And so, as she often did when she wanted some peace and quiet away from home, the Witch Xan transformed herself into a treea craggy thing of leaf and lichen and deep-grooved bark, similar in shape and texture to the other ancient sycamores standing guard over the small grove. And as a tree she slept. She didnt hear the procession. She didnt hear the protestations of Antain or the embarrassed silence of the Council or the gruff pontifications of Grand Elder Gherland. She didnt even hear the baby when it cooed. Or when it whimpered. Or when it cried. But when the child opened its throat into a full-fledged wail, Xan woke up with a start. Oh my precious stars! she said in her craggy, barky, leafy voice, for she had not yet un-transformed. I did not see you lying there! The baby was not impressed. She continued to kick and flail and howl and weep. Her face was ruddy and rageful and her tiny hands curled into fists. The birthmark on her forehead darkened dangerously. Just give us a second, my darling. Auntie Xan is going as fast as she is able. And she was. Transformation is a tricky business, even for one as skilled as Xan. Her branches began to wind back into her spine, one by one, while the folds of bark were devoured, bit by bit, by the folds of her wrinkles. Xan leaned on her staff and rolled back her shoulders a few times to release the kinks in her neckone side and then the other. She looked down at the child, who had quieted some, and was now staring at the Witch in the same way that she had stared at the Grand Elderwith a calm, probing, unsettling gaze. It was the sort of gaze that reached into the tight strings of the soul and plucked, like the strings of a harp. It nearly took the Witchs breath away. Bottle, Xan said, trying to ignore the harmonics ringing in her bones. You need a bottle. And she searched her many pockets to find a bottle of goats milk, ready and waiting for a hungry belly. With a flick of her ankle, Xan allowed a mushroom to enlarge itself enough to make a fine stool to sit upon. She let the childs warm weight rest against the soft lump of her midsection and waited. The crescent moon on the childs forehead dimmed to a pleasant shade of pink, and her dark curls framed her darker eyes. Her face shone like a jewel. She was calm and content with the milk, but her gaze still bored into Xanlike tree roots hooking into the ground. Xan grunted. Well, she said. Theres no use looking at me like that. I cant bring you back to where you were. Thats all gone now, so you might as well forget about it. Oh hush now, for the child began to whimper. Dont cry. Youll love the place where we are going. Once I decide which city to bring you to. They are all perfectly nice. And youll love your new family, too. Ill see to that. But just saying so made an ache in Xans old heart. And she was, all at once, unaccountably sad. The child pulled away from the bottle and gave Xan a curious expression. The Witch shrugged. Well, dont ask me, she said. I have no idea why you were left in the middle of the woods. I dont know why people do half the things they do, and I shake my head at the other half. But I am certainly not going to leave you here on the ground to feed some common stoat. Youve got better things ahead of you, precious child. The word precious caught strangely in Xans throat. She couldnt understand it. She cleared the debris from her old lungs and gave the girl a smile. She leaned toward the babys face and pressed her lips against the childs brow. She always gave the babies a kiss. At least, she was pretty sure she did. The childs scalp smelled like bread dough and clabbering milk. Xan closed her eyes, only for a moment, and shook her head. Come now, she said, her voice thick. Lets go see the world, shall we? And, wrapping the baby securely in a sling, Xan marched into the woods, whistling as she walked. And she would have gone straight to the Free Cities. She certainly intended to. But there was a waterfall that the baby would like. And there was a rocky outcropping with a particularly fine view. And she noticed herself wanting to tell the baby stories. And sing her songs. And as she told and as she sang, Xans step grew slower and slower and slower. Xan blamed the onset of old age and the crick in her back and the fussiness of the child, but none of those things was true. Xan found herself stopping again and again just to take yet another opportunity to unsling the baby and stare into those deep, black eyes. Each day, Xans path wandered farther afield. It looped, doubled back, and wiggled. Her traverse through the forest, normally almost as straight as the Road itself, was a twisty, windy mess. At night, once the goats milk was exhausted, Xan gathered the gossamer threads of starlight on her fingers, and the child ate gratefully. And each mouthful of starlight deepened the darkness in the childs gaze. Whole universes burned in those eyesgalaxies upon galaxies. After the tenth night, the journey that usually only took three and a half days was less than a quarter done. The waxing moon rose earlier each night, though Xan did not pay it much mind. She reached up and gathered her starlight and didnt heed the moon. There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and fill its belly, and in large enough quantities, starlight can awaken the best in that babys heart and soul and mind. It is enough to bless, but not to enmagic. Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like. Xan couldnt take her eyes off the babys eyes. Suns and stars and meteors. The dust of nebulae. Big bangs and black holes and endless, endless Space. The moon rose, big and fat and shining. Xan reached up. She didnt look at the sky. She didnt notice the moon. (Did she notice how heavy the light felt on her fingers? Did she notice how sticky it was? How sweet?) She waved her fingers above her head. She pulled her hand down when she couldnt hold it up anymore. (Did she notice the weight of magic swinging from her wrist? She told herself she didnt. She said it over and over and over until it felt true.) And the baby ate. And ate. And ate. And suddenly she shuddered and buckled in Xans arms. And she cried outonce. And very loud. And then she gave a contented sigh, falling instantly asleep, pressing herself into the softness of the Witchs belly. Xan looked up at the sky, feeling the light of the moon falling across her face. Oh dear me, she whispered. The moon had grown full without her noticing. And powerfully magic. One sip would have done it, and the baby had hadwell. More than one sip. Greedy little thing. In any case, the facts of the matter were as clear as the moon sitting brightly on the tops of the trees. The child had become enmagicked. There was no doubt about it. And now things were more complicated than they had been before. Xan settled herself cross-legged on the ground and laid the sleeping child in the crook of her knee. There would be no waking her. Not for hours. Xan ran her fingers through the girls black curls. Even now, she could feel the magic pulsing under her skin, each filament insinuating itself between cells, through tissues, filling up her bones. In time, shed become unstablenot forever, of course. But Xan remembered enough from the magicians who raised her long ago that rearing a magic baby is no easy matter. Her teachers were quick to tell her as much. And her Keeper, Zosimos, mentioned it endlessly. Infusing magic into a child is akin to putting a sword in the hand of a toddlerso much power and so little sense. Cant you see how you age me so, girl? he had said, over and over. And it was true. Magical children were dangerous. She certainly couldnt leave the child with just anyone. Well, my love, she said. Arent you more troublesome by half? The baby breathed deeply through her nose. A tiny smile quivered in the center of her rosebud mouth. Xan felt her heart leap within her, and she cuddled the baby close. Luna, she said. Your name will be Luna. And I will be your grandmother. And we will be a family. And just by saying so, Xan knew it was true. The words hummed in the air between them, stronger than any magic. She stood, slid the baby back into the sling, and began the long journey toward home, wondering how on earth shed explain it to Glerk. 4. In Which It Was Just a Dream You ask too many questions. No one knows what the Witch does with the children she takes. No one asks this. We cant ask itdont you see? It hurts too much. Fine. She eats them. Are you happy? No. Thats not what I think. My mother told me she ate their souls, and that their soulless bodies have wandered the earth ever since. Unable to live. Unable to die. Blank-eyed and blank-faced and aimless walking. I dont think thats true. We would have seen them, dont you think? We would at least have seen one wander by. After all these years. My grandmother told me she keeps them as slaves. That they live in the catacombs under her great castle in the forest and operate her fell machines and stir her great cauldrons and do her bidding from morning till night. But I dont think thats true, either. Surely, if it was, at least one of them would have escaped. In all these years, surely one person would have found a way out and come home. So, no. I dont think they are enslaved. Really, I dont think anything at all. There is nothing at all to think. Sometimes. I have this dream. About your brother. He would be eighteen now. No. Nineteen. I have this dream that he has dark hair and luminous skin and stars in his eyes. I dream that when he smiles, it shines for miles around. Last night I dreamed that he waited next to a tree for a girl to walk by. And he called her name, and held her hand, and his heart pounded when he kissed her. What? No. Im not crying. Why would I cry? Silly thing. Anyway. It was just a dream. 5. In Which a Swamp Monster Accidentally Falls in Love Glerk did not approve, and said so the first day the baby arrived. And he said so again, on the next day. And the next. And the next. Xan refused to listen. Babies, babies, babies, sang Fyrian. He was utterly delighted. The tiny dragon perched on the branch extending over the door of Xans tree home, opening his multicolored wings as wide as he could and arching his long neck toward the sky. His voice was loud, warbled, and atrociously off-key. Glerk covered his ears. Babies, babies, babies, BABIES! Fyrian continued. Oh, how I love babies! He had never met a baby before, at least not that he could remember, but that did not stop the dragon from loving them all to bits. From morning till night, Fyrian sang and Xan fussed, and no one, Glerk felt, would listen to reason. By the end of the second week, their entire habitation had been transformed: diapers and baby clothes and bonnets hung on newly strung clotheslines to dry; freshly blown glass bottles dried on recently constructed racks next to a brand-new washing station; a new goat had been procured (Glerk had no idea how), and Xan had separate milk jugs for drinking and cheese making and butter churning; and, quite suddenly, the floor became thoroughly strewn with toys. More than once, Glerks foot had come down hard on a cruel-cornered wooden rattle, sending him howling with pain. He found himself shushed and needled out of the room, lest he wake the baby, or frighten the baby, or bore the baby to death with poetry. By the end of the third week, hed had quite enough. Xan, he said. I must insist that you do not fall in love with that baby. The old woman snorted, but she did not answer. Glerk scowled. Indeed. I forbid it. The Witch laughed out loud. The baby laughed with her. They were a mutual admiration society of two, and Glerk could not bear it. Luna! Fyrian sang, flying in through the open door. He flitted about the room like a tone-deaf songbird. Luna, Luna, Luna, LUNA! No more singing, Glerk snapped. You dont have to listen to him, Fyrian, dear, Xan said. Singing is good for babies. Everyone knows that. The baby kicked and cooed. Fyrian settled on Xans shoulder and hummed tunelessly. An improvement, to be sure, but not much. Glerk grunted in frustration. Do you know what the Poet says about Witches raising children? he asked. I cannot think what any poet might say about babies or Witches, but I have no doubt that it is marvelously insightful. She looked around. Glerk, could you please hand me that bottle? Xan sat cross-legged on the rough plank floor, and the baby lay in the hollow of her skirts. Glerk moved closer, leaned his head near the baby, and gave her a skeptical expression. The baby had her fist in her mouth, leaking drool through the fingers. She waved her other hand at the monster. Her pink lips spread outward into a wide smile around her wet knuckles. She is doing that on purpose, he thought as he tried to force his own smile away from his wide, damp jaws. She is being adorable as some sort of hideous ruse, to spite me. What a mean baby! Luna gave a giggly squeal and kicked her tiny feet. Her eyes caught the swamp monsters eyes, and they sparkled like stars. Do not fall in love with that baby, he ordered himself. He tried to be stern. Glerk cleared his throat. The Poet, he said with emphasis, and narrowed his eyes on the baby, says nothing about Witches and babies. Well then, Xan said, touching her nose to the babys nose and making her laugh. She did it again. And again. I suppose we dont have to worry, then. Oh no we dont! Her voice went high and singsong, and Glerk rolled his tremendous eyes. My dear Xan, you are missing the point. And you are missing this babyhood with all your huffing and puffing. The child is here to stay, and that is that. Human babies are only tiny for an instanttheir growing up is as swift as the beat of a hummingbirds wing. Enjoy it, Glerk! Enjoy it, or get out. She didnt look at him when she said this, but Glerk could feel a cold prickliness emanating from the Witchs shoulder, and it nearly broke his heart. Well, Fyrian said. He was perched on Xans shoulder, watching the baby kick and coo with interest. I like her. He wasnt allowed to get too close. This, Xan explained, was for both of their safeties. The baby, full to bursting with magic, was a bit like a sleeping volcanointernal energy and heat and power can build over time, and erupt without warning. Xan and Glerk were both mostly immune to the volatilities of magic (Xan because of her arts and Glerk because he was older than magic and didnt truck with its foolishness) and had less to worry about, but Fyrian was delicate. Also, Fyrian was prone to the hiccups. And his hiccups were usually on fire. Dont get too close, Fyrian, dear. Stay behind Auntie Xan. Fyrian hid behind the crinkly curtain of the old womans hair, staring at the baby with a combination of fear and jealousy and longing. I want to play with her, he whined. You will, Xan said soothingly, as she positioned the baby to take her bottle. I just want to make sure that the two of you dont hurt one another. I never would, Fyrian gasped. Then he sniffed. I think Im allergic to the baby, he said. Youre not allergic to the baby, Glerk groaned, just as Fyrian sneezed a bright plume of fire onto the back of Xans head. She didnt even flinch. With a wink of her eye, the fire transformed to steam, which lifted several spit-up stains that she had not bothered to clean yet from her shoulders . Bless you, dear, Xan said. Glerk, why dont you take our Fyrian for a walk. I dislike walks, Glerk said, but took Fyrian anyway. Or Glerk walked, and Fyrian fluttered behind, from side to side and forward and back, like a troublesome, overlarge butterfly. Primarily, Fryian decided to occupy himself in the collection of flowers for the baby, a process hindered by his occasional hiccups and sneezes, each with its requisite dollops of flame, and each reducing his flowers to ashes. But he hardly noticed. Instead, Fyrian was a fountain of questions. Will the baby grow up to be a giant like you and Xan? he asked. There must be more giants, then. In the wider world, I mean. The world past here. How I long to see the world beyond here, Glerk. I want to see all the giants in all the world and all the creatures who are bigger than I! Fyrians delusions continued unabated, despite Glerks protestations. Though he was about the same size as a dove, Fyrian continued to believe he was larger than the typical human habitation, and that he needed to be kept far away from humanity, lest he be accidentally seen and start a worldwide panic. When the time is right, my son, his massive mother had told him in the moments before she plunged herself into the erupting volcano, leaving this world forever, you will know your purpose. You are, and will be, a giant upon this fair earth. Never forget it. Her meaning, Fyrian felt, was clear. He was Simply Enormous. There was no doubt about it. Fyrian reminded himself of it every single day. And for five hundred years, Glerk continued to fume. The child will grow as children do, I expect, Glerk said evasively. And when Fyrian persisted, Glerk pretended to take a nap in the calla lily bog and kept his eyes closed until he actually slept. Raising a babymagical or notis not without its challenges: the inconsolable crying, the near-constant runny noses, the obsession with putting very small objects into a drooling mouth. And the noise. Can you please magic her quiet? Fyrian had begged, once the novelty of a baby in the family had worn off. Xan refused, of course. Magic should never be used to influence the will of another person, Fyrian, Xan told him over and over. How could I do the thing that I must instruct her to never do, once she knows how to understand? Thats hypocrisy, is what. Even when Luna was content, she still was not quiet. She hummed; she gurgled; she babbled; she screeched; she guffawed; she snorted; she yelled. She was a waterfall of sound, pouring, pouring, pouring. And she never stopped. She even babbled in her sleep. Glerk made a sling for Luna that hung from all four of his shoulders as he walked on all sixes. He took to pacing with the baby from the swamp, past the workshop, past the castle ruin, and back again, reciting poetry as he did so. He did not intend to love the baby. And yet. From grain of sand, recited the monster. Births light births space births infinite time, and to grain of sand do all things return. It was one of his favorites. The baby gazed as he walked, studying his protruding eyeballs, his conical ears, his thick lips on wide jaws. She examined each wart, each divot, each slimy lump on his large, flat face, a look of wonder in her eyes. She reached up one finger and stuck it curiously into a nostril. Glerk sneezed, and the child laughed. Glerk, the baby said, though it was probably a hiccup or a burp. Glerk didnt care. She said his name. She said it. His heart nearly burst in his chest. Xan, for her part, did her best not to say, I told you so. She mostly succeeded. In that first year, both Xan and Glerk watched the baby for any sign of magical eruption. Though they could both see the oceans of magic thrumming just under the childs skin (and they could feel it, too, each time they carried that girl in their arms), it remained inside hera surging, unbroken wave. At night, moonlight and starlight bent toward the baby, flooding her cradle. Xan covered the windows with heavy curtains, but she would find them thrown open, and the child drinking moonlight in her sleep. The moon, Xan told herself. It is full of tricks. But a whisper of worry remained. The magic continued to silently surge. In the second year, the magic inside Luna increased, nearly doubling in density and strength. Glerk could feel it. Xan could feel it, too. Still it did not erupt. Magical babies are dangerous babies, Glerk tried to remind himself, day after day. When he wasnt cradling Luna. Or singing to Luna. Or whispering poetry into her ear as she slept. After a while, even the thrum of magic under her skin began to seem ordinary. She was an energetic child. A curious child. A naughty child. And that was enough to deal with on its own. The moonlight continued to bend toward the baby. Xan decided to stop worrying about it. In the third year, the magic doubled again. Xan and Glerk hardly noticed. Instead they had their hands full with a child who explored and rummaged and scribbled on books and threw eggs at the goats and once tried to fly off a fence, only to end up with two skinned knees and a chipped tooth. She climbed trees and tried to catch birds and sometimes played tricks on Fyrian, making him cry. Poetry will help, Glerk said. The study of language ennobles the rowdiest beast. Science will organize that brain of hers, Xan said. How can a child be naughty when she is studying the stars? I shall teach her math, Fyrian said. She will not be able to play a trick on me if she is too busy counting to one million. And so, Lunas education began. In every breeze exhales the promise of spring, Glerk whispered as Luna napped during the winter. Each sleeping tree dreams green dreams; the barren mountain wakes in blossom. Wave after wave of magic surged silently under her skin. They did not crash to the shore. Not yet. 6. In Which Antain Gets Himself in Trouble During Antains first five years as an Elder-in-Training, he did his best to convince himself that his job would one day get easier. He was wrong. It didnt. The Elders barked orders at him during Council meetings and community functions and after-hours discussions. They berated him when they ran into him on the street. Or when they sat in his mothers dining room for yet another sumptuous (though uncomfortable) supper. They admonished him when he followed in their wake during surprise inspections. Antain hung in the background, his eyebrows knit together into a perplexed knot. It seemed that no matter what Antain did, the Elders erupted into purple-faced rage and sputtering incoherence. Antain! the Elders barked. Stand up straight! Antain! What have you done with the proclamations? Antain! Wipe that ridiculous look off your face! Antain! How could you have forgotten the snacks? Antain! What on earth have you spilled all over your robes? Antain, it seemed, could not do anything right. His home life wasnt any better. How can you possibly still be an Elder-in-Training? his mother fumed night after night at supper. Sometimes, shed let her spoon come crashing down to the table, making the servants jump. My brother promised me that you would be an Elder by now. He promised. And she would seethe and grumble until Antains youngest brother, Wyn, began to cry. Antain was the oldest of six brothersa small family, by Protectorate standardsand ever since his father died, his mother wanted nothing else but to make sure that each of her sons achieved the very best that the Protectorate had to offer. Because didnt she, after all, deserve the very best, when it came to sons? Uncle tells me that things take time, Mother, Antain said quietly. He pulled his toddler brother onto his lap and began rocking until the child calmed. He pulled a wooden toy that he had carved himself from his pocketa little crow with spiral eyes and a clever rattle inside its belly. The boy was delighted, and instantly shoved it into his mouth. Your uncle can boil his head, she fumed. We deserve that honor. I mean you deserve it, my dear son. Antain wasnt so sure. He excused himself from the table, mumbling something about having work to do for the Council, but really he only planned on sneaking into the kitchen to help the kitchen staff. And then into the gardens to help the gardeners in the last of the daylight hours. And then he went into the shed to carve wood. Antain loved woodworkingthe stability of the material, the delicate beauty of the grain, the comforting smell of sawdust and oil. There were few things in his life that he loved more. He carved and worked deep into the night, trying his best not to think about his life. The next Day of Sacrifice was approaching, after all. And Antain would need yet another excuse to make himself scarce. The next morning, Antain donned his freshly laundered robe and headed into the Council Hall well before dawn. Every day, his first task of the morning was to read through the citizen complaints and requests that had been scrawled with bits of chalk on the large slate wall, and deem which ones were worth attention and which should simply be washed down and erased. (But what if they all are important, Uncle? Antain had asked the Grand Elder once. They cant possibly be. In any case, by denying access, we give our people a gift. They learn to accept their lot in life. They learn that any action is inconsequential. Their days remain, as they should be, cloudy. There is no greater gift than that. Now. Where is my Zirin tea?) Next, Antain was to air out the room, then post the days agendas, then fluff the cushions for the Elders bony bottoms, then spray the entrance room with some kind of perfume concocted in the laboratories of the Sisters of the Stardesigned, apparently, to make people feel wobbly-kneed and tongue-tied and frightened and grateful, all at onceand then he was to stand in the room as the servants arrived, giving each one an imperious expression as they entered the building, before hanging up his robes in the closet and going to school. (But what if I dont know how to make an imperious expression, Uncle? the boy asked again and again. Practice, Nephew. Continue to practice.) Antain walked slowly toward the schoolhouse, enjoying the temporary glimmers of sun overhead. It would be cloudy in an hour. It was always cloudy in the Protectorate. Fog clung to the city walls and cobbled streets like tenacious moss. Not many people were out and about that early in the morning. Pity, thought Antain. They are missing the sunlight. He lifted his face and felt that momentary rush of hope and promise. He let his eyes drift toward the Towerits black, devilishly complicated stonework mimicking the whorls of galaxies and the trajectories of stars; its small, round windows winking outward like eyes. That motherthe one who went madwas still in there. Locked up. The madwoman. For five years now she had convalesced in confinement, but she still had not healed. In Antains minds eye, he could see that wild face, those black eyes, that birthmark on her foreheadlivid and red. The way she kicked and climbed and shrieked and fought. He couldnt forget it. And he couldnt forgive himself. Antain shut his eyes tight and tried to force the image away. Why must this go on? His heart continued to ache. There must be another way. As usual, he was the first one to arrive at school. Even the teacher wasnt there. He sat on the stoop and took out his journal. He was done with his schoolworknot that it mattered. His teacher insisted on calling him Elder Antain in a breathy fawning voice, even though he wasnt an elder yet, and gave him top marks no matter what kind of work he did. He could likely turn in blank pages and still get top marks. Antain still worked hard in spite of that. His teacher, he knew, was just hoping for special treatment later. In his journal, he had several sketches of a project of his own designa clever cabinet to house and neatly organize garden tools, situated on wheels so that it could be pulled easily by a small goata gift intended for the head gardener, who was always kind. A shadow fell across his work. Nephew, the Grand Elder said. Antains head went up like a shot. Uncle! he said, scrambling to his feet, accidentally dropping his papers, scattering them across the ground. He hurriedly gathered them back up into his arms. Grand Elder Gherland rolled his eyes. Come, Nephew, the Grand Elder said with a swish of his robes, motioning for the boy to follow him. You and I must talk. But what about school? There is no need to be in school in the first place. The purpose of this structure is to house and amuse those who have no futures until they are old enough to work for the benefit of the Protectorate. People of your stature have tutors, and why you have refused such a basic thing is beyond comprehension. Your mother prattles on about it endlessly. In any case, you will not be missed. This was true. He would not be missed. Every day in class, Antain sat in the back and worked quietly. He rarely asked questions. He rarely spoke. Especially now, since the one person whom he wouldnt have minded speaking toand even better, if she spoke back to him in returnhad left school entirely. She had joined the novitiate at the Sisters of the Star. Her name was Ethyne, and though Antain had never exchanged three words in succession with her, still he missed her desperately, and now only went to school day after day on the wild hope that she would change her mind and come back. It had been a year. No one ever left the Sisters of the Star. It wasnt done. Yet, Antain continued to wait. And hope. He followed his uncle at a run. The other Elders still had not arrived at the Council Hall, and likely would not until noon or later. Gherland told Antain to sit. The Grand Elder stared at Antain for a long time. Antain couldnt get the Tower out of his mind. Or the madwoman. Or the baby left in the forest, whimpering piteously as they walked away. And oh, how that mother screamed. And oh, how she fought. And oh, what have we become? It pierced Antain every day, a great needle in his soul. Nephew, the Grand Elder said at last. He folded his hands and brought them to his mouth. He sighed deeply. Antain realized that his uncles face was pale. The Day of Sacrifice approaches. I know, Uncle, Antain said. His voice was thin. Five days. It He sighed. It waits for no one. You were not there last year. You were not standing with the other Elders. An infection in your foot, as I recall? Antain tilted his gaze to the ground. Yes, Uncle. I had a fever, too. And it resolved itself the next day? Bog be praised, he said weakly. It was a miracle. And the year before, Gherland said. It was pneumonia, was it? Antain nodded. He knew where this was going. And before that. A fire in the shed? Is that right? Good thing no one was injured. And there you were. All by yourself. Fighting the fire. Everyone else was along the route, Antain said. No shirkers. So I was alone. Indeed. Grand Elder Gherland gave Antain a narrowed look. Young man, he said. Who on earth do you think youre fooling? A silence fell between them. Antain remembered the little black curls, framing those wide black eyes. He remembered the sounds the baby made when they left her in the forest. He remembered the thud of the Tower doors when they locked the madwoman inside. He shivered. Uncle Antain began, but Gherland waved him off. Listen, Nephew. It was against my better judgment to offer you this position. I did so not because of the incessant needling of my sister, but because of the great love I had, and have, for your dear father, may he rest easily. He wanted to make sure your path was assured before he passed away, and I could not deny him. And having you herethe hard lines of Gherlands face softened a bithas been an antidote to my own sadness. And I appreciate it. You are a good boy, Antain. Your father would be proud. Antain found himself relaxing. But only for a moment. With a broad sweep of robes, the Grand Elder rose to his feet. But, he said, his voice reverberating strangely in the small room. My affection for you only goes so far. There was, in his voice, a brittle edge. His eyes were wide. Strained. Even a bit wet. Is my uncle worried about me? Antain wondered. Surely not, he thought. Young man, his uncle continued. This cannot go on. The other Elders are muttering. They . . . He paused. His voice caught in his throat. His cheeks were flushed. They arent happy. My protection over you extends far, my dear, dear boy. But it is not infinite. Why would I need to be protected? Antain wondered as he stared at his uncles strained face. The Grand Elder closed his eyes and calmed his ragged breathing. He motioned for the boy to stand. His face resumed its imperious expression. Come, Nephew. Its time for you to return to school. We shall expect you, as usual, at mid-afternoon. I do hope you are able to make at least one person grovel today. It would put to rest so many misgivings among the other Elders. Promise me youll try, Antain. Please. Antain shuffled toward the door, the Grand Elder gliding just behind. The older man lifted his hand to rest on the boys shoulder and let it hover just above for a moment, before thinking better of it and letting it drift back down. Ill try harder, Uncle, Antain said as he walked out the door. I promise I will. See that you do, the Grand Elder said in a hoarse whisper. Five days later, as the Robes swept through the town toward the cursed house, Antain was home, sick to his stomach, vomiting his lunch. Or so he said. The other Elders grumbled during the entire procession. They grumbled as they retrieved the child from its pliant parents. They grumbled as they hurried toward the sycamore grove. The boy will have to be dealt with, the Elders muttered. And each one knew exactly what that meant. Oh, Antain my boy, my boy, oh Antain my boy! Gherland thought as they walked, tendrils of worry curling around his heart, cinching into a hard, tight knot. What have you done, you foolish child? What have you done? 7. In Which a Magical Child Is More Trouble by Half When Luna was five years old, her magic had doubled itself five times, but it remained inside her, fused to her bones and muscles and blood. Indeed, it was inside every cell. Inert, unusedall potential and no force. It cant go on like this, Glerk fussed. The more magic she gathers, the more magic will spill out. He made funny faces at the girl in spite of himself. Luna giggled like mad. You mark my words, he said, vainly trying to be serious. You dont know that, Xan said. Maybe it will never come out. Maybe things will never be difficult. Despite her tireless work finding homes for abandoned babies, Xan had a deep loathing for difficult things. And sorrowful things. And unpleasant things. She preferred not to think of them, if she could help it. She sat with the girl, blowing bubbleslovely, lurid, mostly magical things, with pretty colors swirling on their surfaces. The girl chased and caught each bubble on her fingers, and set each of them surrounding daisy blossoms or butterflies or the leaves of trees. She even climbed inside a particularly large bubble and floated just over the tips of the grass. There is so much beauty, Glerk, Xan said. How can you possibly think about anything else? Glerk shook his head. How long can this last, Xan? Glerk said. The Witch refused to answer. Later, he held the girl and sang her to sleep. He could feel the heft of the magic in his arms. He could feel the pulse and undulation of those great waves of magic, surging inside the child, never finding their way to shore. The Witch told him he was imagining things. She insisted that they focus their energies on raising a little girl who was, by nature, a tangle of mischief and motion and curiosity. Each day, Lunas ability to break rules in new and creative ways was an astonishment to all who knew her. She tried to ride the goats, tried to roll boulders down the mountain and into the side of the barn (for decoration, she explained), tried to teach the chickens to fly, and once almost drowned in the swamp. (Glerk saved her. Thank goodness.) She gave ale to the geese to see if it made them walk funny (it did) and put peppercorns in the goats feed to see if it would make them jump (they didnt jump; they just destroyed the fence). Every day she goaded Fyrian into making atrocious choices or she played tricks on the poor dragon, making him cry. She climbed, hid, built, broke, wrote on the walls, and spoiled dresses when they had only just been finished. Her hair ratted, her nose smudged, and she left handprints wherever she went. What will happen when her magic comes? Glerk asked again and again. What will she be like then? Xan tried not to think about it. Xan visited the Free Cities twice a year, once with Luna and once without. She did not explain to the child the purpose for her solo visitnor did she tell her about the sad town on the other side of the forest, or of the babies left in that small clearing, presumably to die. Shed have to tell the girl eventually, of course. One day, Xan told herself. Not now. It was too sad. And Luna was too little to understand. When Luna was five, she traveled once again to one of the farthest of the Free Citiesa town called Obsidian. And Xan found herself fussing at a child who would not sit quietly. Not for anything. Young lady, will you please remove yourself from this house at once, and go find a friend to play with? Grandmama, look! Its a hat. And she reached into the bowl and pulled out the lump of rising bread dough and put it on her head. Its a hat, Grandmama! The prettiest hat. It is not a hat, Xan said. It is a lump of dough. She was in the middle of a complex bit of magic. The schoolmistress lay on the kitchen table, deep in sleep, and Xan kept both palms on the sides of the young womans face, concentrating hard. The schoolmistress had been suffering from terrible headaches that were, Xan discovered, the result of a growth in the center of her brain. Xan could remove it with magic, bit by bit, but it was tricky work. And dangerous. Work for a clever witch, and none was more clever than Xan. Still. The work was difficultmore difficult than she felt it should have been. And taxing. Everything was taxing lately. Xan blamed old age. Her magic emptied so quickly these days. And took so long to refill. And she was so tired. Young man, Xan said to the schoolmistresss sona nice boy, fifteen, probably, whose skin seemed to glow. One of the Star Children. Will you please take this troublesome child outside and play with her so I may focus on healing your mother without killing her by mistake? The boy turned pale. Im only kidding, of course. Your mother is safe with me. Xan hoped that was true. Luna slid her hand into the boys hand, her black eyes shining like jewels. Lets play, she said, and the boy grinned back. He loved Luna, just like everyone else did. They ran, laughing, out the door and disappeared into the woods out back. Later, when the growth had been dispatched and the brain healed and the schoolmistress was sleeping comfortably, Xan felt she could finally relax. Her eye fell on the bowl on the counter. The bowl with the rising bread dough. But there was no bread dough in the bowl at all. Instead, there was a hatwide-brimmed and intricately detailed. It was the prettiest hat Xan had ever seen. Oh dear, Xan whispered, picking up the hat and noticing the magic laced within it. Blue. With a shimmer of silver at the edges. Lunas magic. Oh dear, oh dear. Over the next two days, Xan did her best to conclude her work in the Free Cities as quickly as she could. Luna was no help at all. She ran circles around the other children, racing and playing and jumping over fences. She dared groups of children to climb to the tops of trees with her. Or into barn lofts. Or onto the ridgepoles of neighborhood roofs. They followed her higher and higher, but they couldnt follow her all the way. She seemed to float above the branches. She pirouetted on the tip of a birch leaf. Come down this instant, young lady, the Witch hollered. The little girl laughed. She flitted toward the ground, leaping from leaf to leaf, guiding the other children safely behind her. Xan could see the tendrils of magic fluttering behind her like ribbons. Blue and silver, silver and blue. They billowed and swelled and spiraled in the air. They left their etchings on the ground. Xan took off after the child at a run, cleaning up as she did so. A donkey became a toy. A house became a bird. A barn was suddenly made of gingerbread and spun sugar. She has no idea what she is doing, Xan thought. The magic poured out of the girl. Xan had never seen so much in all her life. She could so easily hurt herself, Xan fussed. Or someone else. Or everyone in town. Xan tore down the road, her old bones groaning, undoing spell after spell, before she caught up to the wayward girl. Nap time, the Witch said, brandishing both palms, and Luna collapsed onto the ground. She had never interfered in the will of another. Never. Years agoalmost five hundredshe made a promise to her guardian, Zosimos, that she never would. But now . . . What have I done? Xan asked herself. She thought she might be sick. The other children stared. Luna snored. She left a puddle of drool on the ground. Is she all right? one boy asked. Xan picked Luna up, feeling the weight of the childs face on her shoulder and pressing her wrinkled cheek against the little girls hair. Shes fine, dear, she said. Shes just sleepy. She is so sleepy. And I do believe you have chores to do. Xan carried Luna to the guesthouse of the mayor, where they happened to be staying. Luna slept deeply. Her breathing was slow and even. The crescent moon birthmark on her forehead glowed a bit. A pink moon. Xan smoothed the childs black hair away from her face, winding her fingers in the shining curls. What have I been missing? she asked herself out loud. There was something she wasnt seeingsomething important. She didnt think about her childhood if she could help it. It was too sad. And sorrow was dangerousthough she couldnt quite remember why. Memory was a slippery thingslick moss on an unstable slopeand it was ever so easy to lose ones footing and fall. And anyway, five hundred years was an awful lot to remember. But now, her memories came tumbling toward hera kindly old man, a decrepit castle, a clutch of scholars with their faces buried in books, a mournful mother dragon saying good-bye. And something else, too. Something scary. Xan tried to pluck the memories as they tumbled by, but they were like bright pebbles in an avalanche: they flashed briefly in the light, and then they were gone. There was something she was supposed to remember. She was sure of it. If she could only remember what. 8. In Which a Story Contains a Hint of Truth A story? Fine. I will tell you a story. But you wont like it. And it will make you cry. Once upon a time, there were good wizards and good witches, and they lived in a castle in the center of the wood. Well, of course the forest wasnt dangerous in those days. We know who is responsible for cursing the forest. It is the same person who steals our children and poisons the water. In those days, the Protectorate was prosperous and wise. No one needed the Road to cross the forest. The forest was a friend to all. And anyone could walk to the Enchanters Castle for remedies or advice or general gossip. But one day, an evil Witch rode across the sky on the back of a dragon. She wore black boots and a black hat and a dress the color of blood. She howled her rage to the sky. Yes, child. This is a true story. What other kinds of stories are there? As she flew on her cursed dragon, the land rumbled and split. The rivers boiled and the mud bubbled and entire lakes turned into steam. The Bogour beloved Bogbecame toxic and rank, and people died because they could not get air. The land under the castle swelledit rose and rose and rose, and great plumes of smoke and ash came billowing from its center. Its the end of the world, people cried. And it might have been, if one good man had not dared to stand up to the Witch. One of the good wizards from the castleno one remembers his namesaw the Witch on her fearsome dragon as they flew across the broken land. He knew what the Witch was trying to do: she wanted to pull the fire from the bulge of the earth and spread it across the land, like a cloth over a table. She wanted to cover us all in ash and fire and smoke. Well, of course thats what she wanted. No one knows why. How could we? She is a witch. She needs no rhyme and no reason, neither. Of course this is a true story. Havent you been listening? And so the brave little wizardignoring his own great perilran into the smoke and flame. He leaped into the air and pulled the Witch from the back of her dragon. He threw the dragon into the flaming hole in the earth, stopping it up like a cork in a bottle. But he didnt kill the Witch. The Witch killed him instead. This is why it doesnt pay to be brave. Bravery makes nothing, protects nothing, results in nothing. It only makes you dead. And this is why we dont stand up to the Witch. Because even a powerful old wizard was no match for her. I already told you this story is true. I only tell true stories. Now. Off with you, and dont let me catch you shirking on your chores. I might send you to the Witch and have her deal with you. 9. In Which Several Things Go Wrong The journey home was a disaster. Grandmama! Luna cried. A bird! And a tree stump became a very large, very pink, and very perplexed-looking bird, who sat sprawled on the ground, wings akimbo, as if shocked by its own existence. Which, Xan reasoned, the poor thing probably was. She transformed it back into a stump the moment the child wasnt looking. Even from that great distance, she could sense its relief. Grandmama! Luna shrieked, running up ahead. Cake! And the stream up ahead suddenly ceased. The water vanished and became a long river of cake. Yummy! Luna cried, grabbing cake by the handful, smearing multicolored icing across her face. Xan hooked her arm around the girls waist, vaulted over the cake-stream with her staff, and shooed Luna forward along the winding path up the slope of the mountain, undoing the accidental spell over her shoulder. Grandmama! Butterflies! Grandmama! A pony! Grandmama! Berries! Spell after spell erupted from Lunas fingers and toes, from her ears and eyes. Her magic skittered and pulsed. It was all Xan could do to keep up. At night, after falling into an exhausted heap, Xan dreamed of Zosimos the wizarddead now these five hundred years. In her dream, he was explaining somethingsomething importantbut his voice was obscured by the rumble of the volcano. She could only focus on his face as it wrinkled and withered in front of her eyes, his skin collapsing like the petals of a lily drooping at the end of the day. When they arrived back at their home nestled beneath the peaks and craters of the sleeping volcano and wrapped in the lush smell of the swamp, Glerk stood at his full height, waiting for them. Xan, he said, as Fyrian danced and spun in the air, screeching a newly created song about his love for everyone that he knew. It seems our girl has become more complicated. He had seen the strands of magic skittering this way and that and launching in long threads over the tops of the trees. He knew even at that great distance that he wasnt seeing Xans magic, which was green and soft and tenacious, the color and texture of lichen clinging to the lee of the oaks. No, this was blue and silver, silver and blue. Lunas magic. Xan waved him off. You dont know the half of it, she said, as Luna went running to the swamp to gather the irises into her arms and drink in the scent. As Luna ran, each footstep blossomed with iridescent flowers. When she waded into the swamp, the reeds twisted themselves into a boat, and she climbed aboard, floating across the deep red of the algae coating the water. Fyrian settled himself at the prow. He didnt seem to notice that anything was amiss. Xan curled her arm across Glerks back and leaned against him. She was more tired than shed ever been in her life. This is going to take some work, she said. Then, leaning heavily on her staff, Xan made her way to the workshop to prepare to teach Luna. It was, as it turned out, an impossible task. Xan had been ten years old when she was enmagicked. Until then, she had been alone and frightened. The sorcerers who studied her werent exactly kind. One in particular seemed to hunger for sorrow. When Zosimos rescued her and bound her to his allegiance and care, she was so grateful that she was ready to follow any rule in the world. Not so with Luna. She was only five. And remarkably bullheaded. Sit still, precious, Xan said over and over and over as she tried to get the girl to direct her magic at a single candle. We need to look inside the flame in order to understand theYoung lady. No flying in the classroom. I am a crow, Grandmama, Luna cried. Which wasnt entirely true. She had simply grown black wings and proceeded to flap about the room. Caw, caw, caw! she cried. Xan snatched the child out of the air and undid the transformation. Such a simple spell, but it knocked Xan to her knees. Her hands shook and her vision clouded over. What is happening to me? Xan asked herself. She had no idea. Luna didnt notice. She transformed a book into a dove and enlivened her pencils and quills so that they stood on their own and performed a complicated dance on the desk. Luna, stop, Xan said, putting a simple blocking spell on the girl. Which should have been easy. And should have lasted at least an hour or two. But the spell ripped from Xans belly, making her gasp, and then didnt even work. Luna broke through the block without a second thought. Xan collapsed onto a chair. Go outside and play, darling, the old woman said, her body shaking all over. But dont touch anything, and dont hurt anything, and no magic. Whats magic, Grandmama? Luna asked as she raced out the door. There were trees to climb and boats to build. And Xan was fairly certain she saw the child talking to a crane. Each day, the magic became more unruly. Luna bumped tables with her elbows and accidentally transformed them to water. She transformed her bedclothes to swans while she slept (they made an awful mess). She made stones pop like bubbles. Her skin became so hot it gave Xan blisters, or so cold that she made a frostbitten imprint of her body on Glerks chest when she gave him a hug. And once she made one of Fyrians wings disappear in mid-flight, causing him to fall. Luna skipped away, utterly unaware of what she had done. Xan tried encasing Luna in a protective bubble, telling her it was a fun game they were playing, just to keep all that surging power contained. She cast bubbles around Fyrian, and bubbles around the goats and bubbles around each chicken and a very large bubble around the house, lest she accidentally allow their home to burst into flames. And the bubbles heldthey were strongly magic, after alluntil they didnt. Make more, Grandmama! Luna cried, running in circles on the stones, each of her footprints erupting in green plants and lurid flowers. More bubbles! Xan had never been so exhausted in her life. Take Fyrian to the south crater, Xan told Glerk, after a week of backbreaking labor and little sleep. She had dark circles under her eyes. Her skin was as pale as paper. Glerk shook his massive head. I cant leave you like this, Xan, he said as Luna made a cricket grow to the size of a goat. She gave it a lump of sugar that had appeared in her hand and climbed aboard its back for a ride. Glerk shook his head. How could I possibly? I need to keep the both of you safe, Xan said. The swamp monster shrugged. Magic has nothing on me, he said. Ive been around for far longer than it has. Xan wrinkled her brow. Perhaps. But I dont know. She has . . . so much. And she has no idea what shes doing. Her bones felt thin and brittle, and her breath rattled in her chest. She did her best to hide this from Glerk. Xan followed Luna from place to place, undoing spell after spell. The wings were removed from the goats. The eggs were untransformed from muffins. The tree house stopped floating. Luna was both amazed and delighted. She spent her days laughing and sighing and pointing with wonder. She danced about, and where she danced, fountains erupted from the ground. Meanwhile, Xan grew weaker and weaker. Finally Glerk couldnt stand it anymore. Leaving Fyrian at the craters edge, he galumphed down to his beloved swamp. After a quick dip in the murky waters, he made his way toward Luna, who was standing by herself in the yard. Glerk! she called. Im so happy to see you! You are as cute as a bunny. And, just like that, Glerk was a bunny. A fluffy, white, pink-eyed bunny with a puff for a tail. He had long white lashes and fluted ears, and his nose quivered in the center of his face. Instantly, Luna began to cry. Xan came running out of the house and tried to make out what the sobbing girl had told her. By the time she began to look for Glerk, he was gone. He had hopped away, having no idea who he was, or what he was. He had been enrabbited. It took hours to find him. Xan sat the girl down. Luna stared at her. Grandmama, you look different. And it was true. Her hands were gnarled and spotted. Her skin hung on her arms. She could feel her face folding over itself and growing older by the moment. And in that moment, sitting in the sun with Luna and the rabbit-that-once-was-Glerk shivering between them, Xan could feel itthe magic in her bending toward Luna, just as the moonlight had bent toward the girl when she was still a baby. And as the magic flowed from Xan to Luna, the old woman grew older and older and older. Luna, Xan said, stroking the ears of the bunny, do you know who this is? Its Glerk, Luna said, pulling the rabbit onto her lap and cuddling it affectionately. Xan nodded. How do you know it is Glerk? Luna shrugged. I saw Glerk. And then he was a bunny. Ah, Xan said. Why do you think he became a bunny? Luna smiled. Because bunnies are wonderful. And he wanted to make me happy. Clever Glerk! Xan paused. But how, Luna? How did he become a bunny? She held her breath. The day was warm, and the air was wet and sweet. The only sounds were the gentle gurgling of the swamp. The birds in the forest quieted down, as if to listen. Luna frowned. I dont know. He just did. Xan folded her knotty hands together and pressed them to her mouth. I see, she said. She focused on the magic stores deep within her body, and noticed sadly how depleted they were. She could fill them up, of course, with both starlight and moonlight, and any other magic that she could find lying around, but something told her it would only be a temporary solution. She looked at Luna, and pressed her lips to the childs forehead. Sleep, my darling. Your grandmama needs to learn some things. Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep. And the girl slept. Xan nearly collapsed from the effort of it. But there wasnt time for that. She turned her attention to Glerk, analyzing the structure of the spell that had enrabbited him, undoing it bit by bit. Why do I want a carrot? Glerk asked. The Witch explained the situation. Glerk was not amused. Dont even start with me, Xan snapped. Theres nothing to say, Glerk said. We both love her. She is family. But what now? Xan pulled herself to her feet, her joints creaking and cracking like rusty gears. I hate to do this, but its for all our sakes. She is a danger to herself. She is a danger to all of us. She has no idea what shes doing, and I dont know how to teach her. Not now. Not when shes so young and impulsive and . . . Luna-ish. Xan stood, rolled her shoulders, and braced herself. She made a bubble and hardened the bubble into a cocoon around the girladding bright threads winding around and around. She cant breathe! Glerk said, suddenly alarmed. She doesnt need to, Xan said. She is in stasis. And the cocoon holds her magic inside. She closed her eyes. Zosimos used to do this. To me. When I was a child. Probably for the same reason. Glerks face clouded over. He sat heavily on the ground, curling his thick tail around him like a cushion. I remember. All at once. He shook his head. Why had I forgotten? Xan pushed her wrinkled lips to one side. Sorrow is dangerous. Or, at least, it was. I cant remember why, now. I think we both became accustomed to not remembering things. We just let things get . . . foggy. Glerk guessed it was something more than that, but he let the matter drop. Fyrian will be coming down after a bit, I expect, Xan said. He cant stand being alone for too long. I dont think it matters, but dont let him touch Luna, just in case. Glerk reached out and laid his great hand on Xans shoulder. But where are you going? To the old castle, Xan said. But . . . Glerk stared at her. Theres nothing there. Just a few old stones. I know, Xan said. I just need to stand there. In that place. Where I last saw Zosimos, and Fyrians mother, and the rest of them. I need to remember things. Even if it makes me sad. Leaning heavily on her staff, Xan began hobbling away. I need to remember a lot of things, she muttered to herself. Everything. Right now. 10. In Which a Witch Finds a Door, and a Memory, Too Xan turned her back on the swamp and followed the trail up the slope, toward the crater where the volcano had opened its face to the sky so long ago. The trail had been fashioned with large, flat rocks, inlaid into the ground, and fitted so close to one another that the seam between them could hardly let in a piece of paper. It had been years since Xan last walked this trail. Centuries, really. She shivered. Everything looked so different. And yet . . . not. There had been a circle of stones in the courtyard of the castle, once upon a time. They had surrounded the central, older Tower like sentinels, and the castle had wrapped around the whole of it like a snake eating its tail. But the Tower was gone now (though Xan had no idea where) and the castle was rubble, and the stones had been toppled by the volcano, or swallowed up by the earthquake, or crumbled by fire and water and time. Now there was only one, and it was difficult to find. Tall grasses surrounded it like a thick curtain, and ivy clung to its face. Xan spent well over half a day just trying to find it, and once she did, it was a full hour of hard labor just to dislodge the lattice of persistent ivy. When she got down to the stone itself, she was disappointed. There were words carved into the flat of the stone. A simple message on each side. Zosimos himself had carved it, long ago. He had carved it for her, when she was still a child. Dont forget, it said on one side of the stone. I mean it, it said on the other. Dont forget what? You mean what, Zosimos? She wasnt sure. Despite the spottiness of her memories, one thing she did remember was his tendency toward the obscure. And his assumption that because vague words and insinuations were clear enough for him, they must be perfectly comprehensible to all. And after all these years, Xan remembered how annoying she had found it then. Confound that man, she said. She approached the stone and leaned her forehead against the deeply carved words, as if the stone might be Zosimos himself. Oh, Zosimos, she said, feeling a surge of emotion that she hadnt felt in nearly five centuries. Im sorry. Ive forgotten. I didnt mean to, but The surge of magic hit her like a falling boulder, knocking her backward. She landed with a thud on her creaking hips. She stared at the stone, openmouthed. The stone is enmagicked! she thought to herself. Of course! And she looked up at the stone just as a seam appeared down the middle and the two sides swung inward, like great stone doors. Not like stone doors, Xan thought. They are stone doors. The shape of the stone still stood like a doorway against the blue sky, but the entrance itself opened into a very dim corridor where a set of stone steps disappeared into the dark. And in a flash, Xan remembered that day. She was thirteen years old and terribly impressed with her own witchy cleverness. And her teacheronce so strong and powerfulwas fading by the day. Be careful of your sorrow, he had said. He was so old then. Impossibly old. He was all angles and bones and papery skin, like a cricket. Your sorrow is dangerous. Dont forget that she is still about. And so Xan had swallowed her sorrow. And her memories, too. She buried both so deep that she would never find them. Or so she thought. But now she remembered the castleshe remembered! Its crumbly strangeness. Its nonsensical corridors. And the people who lived in the castlenot just the wizards and scholars, but the cooks and scribes and assistants as well. She remembered how they scattered into the forest when the volcano erupted. She remembered how she put protective spells on each of themwell, each of them but oneand prayed to the stars that each spell would hold as they ran. She remembered how Zosimos hid the castle within each stone in the circle. Each stone was a door. Same castle, different doors. Dont forget. I mean it. I wont forget, she said at thirteen. You will surely forget, Xan. Have you not met yourself? He was so old then. How did he get so old? He had practically withered to dust. But not to worry. I have built that into the spell. Now if you dont mind, my dear. I have treasured knowing you, and lamented knowing you, and found myself laughing in spite of myself each day we were together. But that is all past now, and you and I must part. I have many thousands of people to protect from that blasted volcano, and I do hope youll make sure they are ever so thankful, wont you dear? He shook his head sadly. What am I saying? Of course you wont. And he and the Simply Enormous Dragon disappeared into the smoke and plunged themselves into the heart of the mountain, stopping the eruption, forcing the volcano into a restless sleep. And both were gone forever. Xan never did anything to protect his memory, or to explain what he had done. Indeed, within a year, she could barely remember him. It never occurred to her to find it strangethe part of her that would have found it strange was on the other side of the curtain. Lost in the fog. She peered into the gloom of the hidden castle. Her old bones ached, and her mind raced. Why had her memories hidden themselves from her? And why had Zosimos hidden the castle? She didnt know, but she was certain where she would find the answer. She knocked her staff against the ground three times, until it produced enough light to illuminate the dark. And she walked into the stone. 11. In Which a Witch Comes to a Decision Xan gathered books by the armload and carried them from the ruined castle to her workshop. Books and maps and papers and journals. Diagrams. Recipes. Artwork. For nine days she neither slept nor ate. Luna remained in her cocoon, pinned in place. Pinned in time, too. She didnt breathe. She didnt think. She was simply paused. Every time Glerk looked at her, he felt a sharp stab in his heart. He wondered if it would leave a mark. He neednt have wondered. It surely did. You cannot come in, Xan told him through the locked door. I must focus. And then he heard her muttering inside. Night after night, Glerk peered into the windows of the workshop, watching as Xan lit her candles and scanned through hundreds of open books and documents, taking notes on a scroll that grew longer and longer by the hour, muttering all the while. She shook her head. She whispered spells into lead boxes, quickly slamming the door shut the moment the spell was uttered and sitting on the lid to hold it in. Afterward, shed cautiously open the box and peek inside, inhaling deeply as she did so, through her nose. Cinnamon, shed say. And salt. Too much wind in the spell. And shed write that down. Or: Methane. No good. Shell accidentally fly away. Plus shell be flammable. Even more than usual. Or: Is that sulfur? Great heavens. What are you trying to do, woman? Kill the poor child? She crossed several things off her list. Has Auntie Xan gone mad? Fyrian asked. No, my friend, Glerk told him. But she has found herself in deeper water than she expected. She is not accustomed to not knowing exactly what to do. And it is frightening to her. As the Poet says, The Fool, when removed from solid ground, leaps From mountaintop, to burning star, to black, black space. The scholar, when bereft of scroll, of quill, of heavy tome, Falls. And cannot be found. Is that a real poem? Fyrian asked. Of course it is a real poem, Glerk said. But who made it, Glerk? Glerk closed his eyes. The Poet. The Bog. The World. And me. They are all the same thing, you know. But he wouldnt explain what he meant. Finally, Xan threw the doors of the workshop wide open, a look of grim satisfaction on her face. You see, she explained to a very skeptical Glerk as she drew a large chalk circle on the ground, leaving a gap open to pass through. She drew thirteen evenly spaced marks along the circumference of the circle and used them to map out the points of a thirteen-pointed star. In the end, all we are doing is setting a clock. Each day ticks by like the perfect whirring of a well-tuned gear, you see? Glerk shook his head. He did not see. Xan marked out the time along the almost-complete circlea neat and orderly progression. Its a thirteen-year cycle. Thats all the spell will allow. And less than that in our case, Im afraidthe whole mechanism synchronizes to her own biology. Not much I can do about that. Shes already five, so the clock will set itself to five, and will go off when she reaches thirteen. Glerk squinted. None of this made any sense to him. Of course, magic itself always felt like nonsense to the swamp monster. Magic was not mentioned in the song that built the world, but rather had arrived in the world much later, in the light from the stars and moon. Magic, to him, always felt like an interloper, an uninvited guest. Glerk much preferred poetry. Ill be using the same principle as the protective cocoon that she sleeps in. All that magic is kept inside. But in this case, it will be inside her. Right at the front of her brain, behind the center of her forehead. I can keep it contained and tiny. A grain of sand. All that power in a grain of sand. Can you imagine? Glerk said nothing. He gazed down at the child in his arms. She didnt move. It wont he began. His voice was thick. He cleared his throat and started again. It wont . . . ruin things, will it? I think I rather like her brain. I would like to see it unharmed. Oh, piffle, Xan admonished. Her brain will be perfectly fine. At least Im more than fairly sure it will be fine. Xan! Oh, Im only kidding! Of course she will be fine. This will simply buy us some time to make sure she has the good sense to know what to do with her magic once it is unleashed. She needs to be educated. She needs to know the contents of those books, there. She needs to understand the movements of the stars and the origins of the universe and the requirements of kindness. She needs to know mathematics and poetry. She must ask questions. She must seek to understand. She must understand the laws of cause and effect and unintended consequences. She must learn compassion and curiosity and awe. All of these things. We have to instruct her, Glerk. All three of us. It is a great responsibility. The air in the room became suddenly heavy. Xan grunted as she pushed the chalk through the last edges of the thirteen-pointed star. Even Glerk, who normally wouldnt be affected, found himself both sweaty and nauseous. And what about you? Glerk said. Will the siphoning of your magic stop? Xan shrugged. It will slow, I expect. She pressed her lips together. Little bit by bit by bit. And then she will turn thirteen and it will flow out all at once. No more magic. I will be an empty vessel with nothing left to keep these old bones moving. And then Ill be gone. Xans voice was quiet and smooth, like the surface of the swampand lovely, as the swamp is lovely. Glerk felt an ache in his chest. Xan attempted to smile. Still, if I had my druthers, its better to leave her orphaned after I can teach her a thing or two. Get her raised up properly. Prepare her. And Id rather go all at once instead of wasting away like poor Zosimos. Death is always sudden, Glerk said. His eyes had begun to itch. Even when it isnt. He wanted to clasp Xan in his third and fourth arms, but he knew the Witch wouldnt stand for it, so he held Luna a little bit closer instead, as Xan began to unwind the magical cocoon. The little girl smacked her lips together a few times and cuddled in close to his damp chest, warming him through. Her black hair shone like the night sky. She slept deeply. Glerk looked at the shape on the ground. There was still an open walkway for him to pass through with the girl. Once Luna was in place and Glerk was safely outside the chalk rim, Xan would complete the circle, and the spell would begin. He hesitated. Youre sure, Xan? he said. Are you very, very sure? Yes. Assuming Ive done this right, the seed of magic will open on her thirteenth birthday. We dont know the exact day, of course, but we can make our guesses. Thats when her magic will come. And thats when I will go. Its enough. Ive already outlasted any reasonable allotment of life on this earth. And Im ever so curious to know what comes next. Come. Lets begin. And the air smelled of milk and sweat and baking bread. Then sharp spice and skinned knees and damp hair. Then working muscles and soapy skin and clear mountain pools. And something else, too. A dark, strange, earthy smell. And Luna cried out, just once. And Glerk felt a crack in his heart, as thin as a pencil line. He pressed his four hands to his chest, trying to keep it from breaking in half. 12. In Which a Child Learns About the Bog No, child. The Witch does not live in the Bog. What a thing to say! All good things come from the Bog. Where else would we gather our Zirin stalks and our Zirin flowers and our Zirin bulbs? Where else would I gather the water spinach and muck-eating fish for your dinner or the duck eggs and frog spawn for your breakfast? If it werent for the Bog your parents would have no work at all, and you would starve. Besides, if the Witch lived in the Bog, I would have seen her. Well, no. Of course I havent seen the whole Bog. No one has. The Bog covers half the world, and the forest covers the other half. Everyone knows that. But if the Witch was in the Bog, I would have seen the waters ripple with her cursed footsteps. I would have heard the reeds whisper her name. If the Witch was in the Bog, it would cough her out, the way a dying man coughs out his life. Besides, the Bog loves us. It has always loved us. It is from the Bog that the world was made. Each mountain, each tree, each rock and animal and skittering insect. Even the wind was dreamed by the Bog. Oh, of course you know this story. Everyone knows this story. Fine. I will tell it if you must hear it one more time. In the beginning, there was only Bog, and Bog, and Bog. There were no people. There were no fish. There were no birds or beasts or mountains or forest or sky. The Bog was everything, and everything was the Bog. The muck of the Bog ran from one edge of reality to the other. It curved and warbled through time. There were no words; there was no learning; there was no music or poetry or thought. There were just the sigh of the Bog and the quake of the Bog and the endless rustle of the reeds. But the Bog was lonely. It wanted eyes with which to see the world. It wanted a strong back with which to carry itself from place to place. It wanted legs to walk and hands to touch and a mouth that could sing. And so the Bog created a Body: a great Beast that walked out of the Bog on its own strong, boggy legs. The Beast was the Bog, and the Bog was the Beast. The Beast loved the Bog and the Bog loved the Beast, just as a person loves the image of himself in a quiet pond of water, and looks upon it with tenderness. The Beasts chest was full of warm and life-giving compassion. He felt the shine of love radiating outward. And the Beast wanted words to explain how he felt. And so there were words. And the Beast wanted those words to fit together just so, to explain his meaning. He opened his mouth and a poem came out. Round and yellow, yellow and round, the Beast said, and the sun was born, hanging just overhead. Blue and white and black and gray and a burst of color at dawn, the Beast said. And the sky was born. The creak of wood and the softness of moss and the rustle and whisper of green and green and green, the Beast sang. And there were forests. Everything you see, everything you know, was called into being by the Bog. The Bog loves us and we love it. The Witch in the Bog? Please. Ive never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life. 13. In Which Antain Pays a Visit The Sisters of the Star always had an apprenticealways a young boy. Well, he wasnt much of an apprenticemore of a serving boy, really. They hired him when he was nine and kept him on until he was dispatched with a single note. Every boy received the same note. Every single time. We had high hopes, it always said, but this one has disappointed us. Some boys served only a week or two. Antain knew of one from school who had only stayed a single day. Most were sent packing at the age of twelveright when they had begun to get comfortable. Once they became aware of how much learning there was to be had in the libraries of the Tower and they became hungry for it, they were sent away. Antain had been twelve when he received his noteone day after he had been granted (after years of asking) the privilege of the library. It was a crushing blow. The Sisters of the Star lived in the Tower, a massive structure that unsettled the eye and confounded the mind. The Tower stood in the very center of the Protectorateit cast its shadow everywhere. The Sisters kept their pantries and auxiliary libraries and armories in the seemingly endless floors belowground. Rooms were set aside for bookbinding and herb mixing and broadsword training and hand-to-hand combat practice. The Sisters were skilled in all known languages, astronomy, the art of poisons, dance, metallurgy, martial arts, decoupage, and the finer points of assassinry. Aboveground were the Sisters simple quarters (three to a room), spaces for meeting and reflection, impenetrable prison cells, a torture chamber, and a celestial observatory. Each was connected within an intricate framework of oddly-angled corridors and intersecting staircases that wound from the belly of the building to its deepest depths to the crown of its sky-viewer and back again. If anyone was foolish enough to enter without permission, he might wander for days without finding an exit. During his years in the Tower, Antain could hear the Sisters grunts in the practice rooms, and he could hear the occasional weeping from the prison rooms and torture chamber, and he could hear the Sisters engaged in heated discussions about the science of stars and the alchemical makeup of Zirin bulbs or the meaning of a particularly controversial poem. He could hear the Sisters singing as they pounded flour or boiled down herbs or sharpened their knives. He learned how to take dictation, clean a privy, set a table, serve an excellent luncheon, and master the fine art of bread-slicing. He learned the requirements for an excellent pot of tea and the finer points of sandwich-making and how to stand very still in the corner of a room and listen to a conversation, memorizing every detail, without ever letting the speakers notice that you are present. The Sisters often praised him during his time in the Tower, complimenting his penmanship or his swiftness or his polite demeanor. But it wasnt enough. Not really. The more he learned, the more he knew what more there was to learn. There were deep pools of knowledge in the dusty volumes quietly shelved in the libraries, and Antain thirsted for all of them. But he wasnt allowed to drink. He worked hard. He did his best. He tried not to think about the books. Still, one day he returned to his room and found his bags already packed. The Sisters pinned a note to his shirt and sent him home to his mother. We had high hopes, the note said. But this one has disappointed us. He never got over it. Now as an Elder-in-Training he was supposed to be at the Council Hall, preparing for the days hearings, but he just couldnt. After making excuses, yet again, about missing the Day of Sacrifice, Antain had noticed a distinct difference in his rapport with the Elders. An increased muttering. A proliferation of side-eyed glances. And, worst of all, his uncle refused to even look at him. He hadnt set foot in the Tower since his apprenticeship days, but Antain felt that it was high time to visit the Sisters, who had been, for him, a sort of short-term familyalbeit odd, standoffish, and, admittedly, murderous. Still. Family is family, he told himself as he walked up to the old oak door and knocked. (There was another reason, of course. But Antain could hardly even admit it to himself. And it was making him twitch.) His little brother answered. Rook. He had, as usual, a runny nose, and his hair was much longer than it had been when Antain saw it lastover a year ago now. Are you here to take me home? Rook said, his voice a mixture of hope and shame. Have I disappointed them, too? Its nice to see you, Rook, Antain said, rubbing his little brothers head as though he were a mostly-well-behaved dog. But no. Youve only been here a year. Youve got plenty of time to disappoint them. Is Sister Ignatia here? Id like to speak to her. Rook shuddered, and Antain didnt blame him. Sister Ignatia was a formidable woman. And terrifying. But Antain had always gotten on with her, and she always seemed fond of him. The other Sisters made sure that he knew how rare this was. Rook showed his older brother to the study of the Head Sister, but Antain could have made it there blindfolded. He knew every step, every stony divot in the ancient walls, every creaky floorboard. He still, after all these years, had dreams of being back in the Tower. Antain! Sister Ignatia said from her desk. She was, from the look of it, translating texts having to do with botany. Sister Ignatias lifes greatest passion was for botany. Her office was filled with plants of all descriptionmost coming from the more obscure sections of the forest or the swamp, but some coming from all around the world, via specialized dealers in the cities at the other end of the Road. Why, my dear boy, Sister Ignatia said as she got up from her desk and walked across the heavily perfumed room to take Antains face in her wiry, strong hands. She patted him gently on each cheek, but it still stung. You are many times more handsome today than you were when we sent you home. Thank you, Sister, Antain said, feeling a familiar stab of shame just thinking of that awful day when he left the Tower with a note. Sit, please. She looked out toward the door and shouted in a very loud voice. BOY! she called to Rook. BOY, ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME? Yes, Sister Ignatia, Rook squeaked, flinging himself through the doorway at a run and tripping on the threshold. Sister Ignatia was not amused. We will require lavender tea and Zirin blossom cookies. She gave the boy a stormy look, and he ran away as though a tiger was after him. Sister Ignatia sighed. Your brother lacks your skills, Im afraid, she said. It is a pity. We had such high hopes. She motioned for Antain to sit on one of the chairsit was covered with a spiky sort of vine, but Antain sat on it anyway, trying to ignore the prickles in his legs. Sister Ignatia sat opposite him and leaned in, searching his face. Tell me, dear, are you married yet? No, maam, Antain said, blushing. Im a bit young, yet. Sister Ignatia clucked her tongue. But you are sweet on someone. I can tell. You can hide nothing from me, dear boy. Dont even try. Antain tried not to think about the girl from his school. Ethyne. She was somewhere in this tower. But she was lost to him, and there was nothing he could do about it. My duties with the Council dont leave me much time, he said evasively. Which was true. Of course, of course, she said with a wave of her hand. The Council. It seemed to Antain that she said the word with a little bit of a sneer in her voice. But then she sneezed a little, and he assumed he must have imagined it. I have only been an Elder-in-Training for five years now, but I am already learning . . . He paused. Ever so much, he finished in a hollow voice. The baby on the ground. The woman screaming from the rafters. No matter how hard he tried, he still couldnt get those images out of his mind. Or the Councils response to his questions. Why must they treat his inquiries with such disdain? Antain had no idea. Sister Ignatia tipped her head to one side and gave him a searching look. To be frank, my dear, dear boy, I was stunned that you made the decision to join that particular body, and I confess I assumed that it was not your decision at all, but your . . . lovely mothers. She puckered her lips unpleasantly, as though tasting something sour. And this was true. It was entirely true. Joining the Council was not Antains choice at all. He would have preferred to be a carpenter. Indeed, he told his mother as muchoften, and at lengthnot that she listened. Carpentry, Sister Ignatia continued, not noticing the shock on Antains face that she had, apparently, read his mind, would have been my guess. You were always thusly inclined. You She smiled with slitted eyes. Oh, I know quite a bit, young man. She flared her nostrils and blinked. Youd be amazed. Rook stumbled in with the tea and the cookies, and managed to both spill the tea and dump the cookies on his brothers lap. Sister Ignatia gave him a look as sharp as a blade, and he ran out of the room in a panicked rush, as though he was already bleeding. Now, Sister Ignatia said, taking a sip of her tea through her smile. What can I do for you? Well, Antain said, despite the mouthful of cookie. I just wanted to pay a visit. Because I hadnt for a long time. You know. To catch up. See how you are. The baby on the ground. The screaming mother. And oh, god, what if something got to it before the Witch? What would happen to us then? And oh, my stars, why must this continue? Why is there no one to stop it? Sister Ignatia smiled. Liar, she said, and Antain hung his head. She gave his knee an affectionate squeeze. Dont be ashamed, poor thing, she soothed. Youre not the only one who wishes to gawk and gape at our resident caged animal. I am considering charging admission. Oh, Antain protested. No, I She waved him off. No need. I completely understand. She is a rare bird. And a bit of a puzzle. A fountain of sorrow. She gave a bit of a sigh, and the corners of her lips quivered, like the very tip of a snakes tongue. Antain wrinkled his brow. Can she be cured? he asked. Sister Ignatia laughed. Oh, sweet Antain! There is no cure for sorrow. Her lips unfurled into a wide smile, as though this was most excellent news. Surely, though, Antain persisted. It cant last forever. So many of our people have lost their children. And not everyones sorrow is like this. She pressed her lips together. No. No, it is not. Her sorrow is amplified by madness. Or her madness stems from her sorrow. Or perhaps it is something else entirely. This makes her an interesting study. I do appreciate her presence in our dear Tower. We are making good use of the knowledge we are gaining from the observation of her mind. Knowledge, after all, is a precious commodity. Antain noticed that the Head Sisters cheeks were a bit rosier than they had been the last time he was in the Tower. But honestly, dear boy, while this old lady appreciates the attention of such a handsome young man, you dont need to stand on ceremony with me. Youre to be a full member of the Council one day, dear. You need only ask the boy at the door and he has to show you to any prisoner you wish to see. Thats the law. There was ice in her eyes. But only for a moment. She gave Antain a warm smile. Come, my little Elderling. She stood and walked to the door without making a sound. Antain followed her, his boots clomping heavily on the floorboards. Though the prison cells were only one floor above them, it took four staircases to get there. Antain peeked hopefully from room to room, on the off chance that he might catch sight of Ethyne, the girl from school. He saw many members of the novitiate, but he didnt see her. He tried not to feel disappointed. The stairs swung left and right and pulled down into a tight spiral into the edge of the central room of the prison floor. The central room was a circular, windowless space, with three Sisters sitting in chairs at the very middle with their backs facing one another in a tight triangle, each with a crossbow resting across her lap. Sister Ignatia gave an imperious glance at the nearest Sister. She flicked her chin toward one of the doors. Let him in to see number five. Hell knock when hes ready to leave. Mind you dont accidentally shoot him. And then with a smile, she returned her gaze to Antain and embraced him. Well, Im off, she said brightly, and she went back up the spiral stair as the closest Sister rose and unlocked the door marked 5. She met Antains eyes and she shrugged. She wont do much for you. We had to give her special potions to keep her calm. And we had to cut off her pretty hair, because she kept trying to pull it out. She looked him up and down. You havent got any paper on you, have you? Antain wrinkled his brow. Paper? No. Why? The Sister pressed her lips into a thin line. Shes not permitted to have paper, she said. Why not? The Sisters face became a blank. As expressionless as a hand in a glove. Youll see, she said. And she opened the door. The cell was a riot of paper. The prisoner had folded and torn and twisted and fringed paper into thousands and thousands of paper birds, of all shapes and sizes. There were paper swans in the corner, paper herons on the chair, and tiny paper hummingbirds suspended from the ceiling. Paper ducks; paper robins; paper swallows; paper doves. Antains first instinct was to be scandalized. Paper was expensive. Enormously expensive. There were paper makers in the town who made fine sheaves of writing stock from a combination of wood pulp and cattails and wild flax and Zirin flowers, but most of that was sold to the traders, who took it to the other side of the forest. Whenever anyone in the Protectorate wrote anything down, it was only after much thought and consideration and planning. And here was this lunatic. Wasting it. Antain could hardly contain his shock. And yet. The birds were incredibly intricate and detailed. They crowded the floor; they heaped on the bed; they peeked out of the two small drawers of the nightstand. And they were, he couldnt deny it, beautiful. They were so beautiful. Antain pressed his hand on his heart. Oh, my, he whispered. The prisoner lay on the bed, fast asleep, but she stirred at the sound of his voice. Very slowly, she stretched. Very slowly, she pulled her elbows under her body and inched her way to a small incline. Antain hardly recognized her. That beautiful black hair was gone, shaved to the skin, and so were the fire in her eyes and the flush of her cheeks. Her lips were flat and drooping, as though they were too heavy to hold up, and her cheeks were sallow and dull. Even the crescent moon birthmark on her forehead was a shadow of its former selflike a smudge of ashes on her brow. Her small, clever hands were covered with tiny cutsPaper, probably, Antain thoughtand dark smudges of ink stained each fingertip. Her eyes slid from one end of him to the other, up, down, and sideways, never finding purchase. She couldnt pin him down. Do I know you? she said slowly. No, maam, Antain said. You lookshe swallowedfamiliar. Each word seemed to be drawn from a very deep well. Antain looked around. There was also a small table with more paper, but this was drawn on. Strange, intricate maps with words he didnt understand and markings he did not know. And all of them with the same phrase written in the bottom right corner: She is here; she is here; she is here. Who is here? Antain wondered. Maam, I am a member of the Council. Well, a provisional member. An Elder-in Training. Ah, she said, and she slumped back down onto the bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. You. I remember you. Have you come to ridicule me, too? She closed her eyes and laughed. Antain stepped backward. He felt a shiver at the sound of her laugh, as though someone was slowly pouring a tin of cold water down his back. He looked up at the paper birds hanging from the ceiling. Strange, but all of them were suspended from what looked like strands of long, black, wavy hair. And even stranger: they were all facing him. Had they been facing him before? Antains palms began to sweat. You should tell your uncle, she said very, very slowly, laying each word next to the one before, like a long, straight line of heavy, round stones, that he was wrong. She is here. And she is terrible. She is here, the map said. She is here. She is here. She is here. But what did it mean? Who is where? Antain asked, in spite of himself. Why was he talking to her? One cant, he reminded himself, reason with the mad. It cant be done. The paper birds rustled overhead. It must be the wind, Antain thought. The child he took? My child? She gave a hollow laugh. She didnt die. Your uncle thinks she is dead. Your uncle is wrong. Why would he think she is dead? No one knows what the Witch does with the children. He shivered again. There was a shivery, rustling sound to his left, like the flapping of a paper wing. He turned but nothing moved. He heard it again at his right. Again. Nothing. All I know is this, the mother said as she pulled herself unsteadily to her feet. The paper birds began to lift and swirl. It is just the wind, Antain told himself. I know where she is. I am imagining things. I know what you people have done. Something is crawling down my neck. My god. Its a hummingbird. AndOUCH! A paper raven swooped across the room, slicing its wing across Antains cheek, cutting it open, letting him bleed. Antain was too amazed to cry out. But it doesnt matter. Because the reckoning is coming. Its coming. Its coming. And it is nearly here. She closed her eyes and swayed. She was clearly mad. Indeed, her madness hung about her like a cloud, and Antain knew he had to get away, lest he become infected by it. He pounded on the door, but it didnt make any sound. LET ME OUT, he shouted to the Sisters, but his voice seemed to die the moment it fell from his mouth. He could feel his words thud on the ground at his feet. Was he catching madness? Could such a thing happen? The paper birds shuffled and shirred and gathered. They lifted in great waves. PLEASE! he shouted as a paper swallow went for his eyes and two paper swans bit his feet. He kicked and swatted, but they kept coming. You seem like a nice boy, the mother said. Choose a different profession. Thats my advice. She crawled back into bed. Antain pounded on the door again. Again his pounding was silent. The birds squawked and keened and screeched. They sharpened their paper wings like knives. They massed in great murmurationsswelling and contracting and swelling again. They reared up for the attack. Antain covered his face with his hands. And then they were upon him. 14. In Which There Are Consequences When Luna woke, she felt different. She didnt know why. She lay in her bed for a long time, listening to the singing of the birds. She didnt understand a thing they were saying. She shook her head. Why would she understand them in the first place? They were only birds. She pressed her hands to her face. She listened to the birds again. No one can talk to birds, she said out loud. And it was true. So why did it feel like it wasnt? A brightly colored finch landed on the windowsill and sang so sweetly, Luna thought her heart would break. Indeed, it was breaking a little, even now. She brought her hands to her eyes and realized that she was crying, though she had no idea why. Silly, she said out loud, noticing a little waver and rattle in her voice. Silly Luna. She was the silliest girl. Everyone said so. She looked around. Fyrian was curled up at the foot of her bed. That was regular. He loved sleeping on her bed, though her grandmother often forbade it. Luna never knew why. At least she thought she didnt know why. But it felt, deep inside herself, that maybe once upon a time she did. But she couldnt remember when. Her grandmother was asleep in her own bed on the other side of the room. And her swamp monster was sprawled out on the floor, snoring prodigiously. That is strange, Luna thought. She couldnt remember a single other time when Glerk had slept on the floor. Or inside. Or un-submerged in the swamp. Luna shook her head. She squinched up her shoulders to her earsfirst one side, and then the other. The world pressed on her strangely, like a coat that no longer fit. Also, she had a terrible pain in her head, deep inside. She hit her forehead a few times with the heel of her hand, but it didnt help. Luna slid out of bed and slid out of her nightgown and slipped on a dress with deep pockets sewn all over, because it is how she asked her grandmother to make it. She gently laid the sleeping Fyrian into one of the pockets, careful not to wake him up. Her bed was attached to the ceiling with ropes and pulleys to make room in the small house during the day, but Luna was still too small to be able to hoist it up on her own. She left it as it was and went outside. It was early, and the morning sun had not yet made it over the lip of the ridge. The mountain was cool and damp and alive. Three of the volcanic craters had thin ribbons of smoke lazily curling from their insides and meandering toward the sky. Luna walked slowly toward the edge of the swamp. She looked down at her bare feet sinking slightly into the mossy ground, leaving footsteps. No flowers grew out of the places where she stepped. But that was a silly thing to think, wasnt it? Why would something grow out of her footsteps? Silly, silly, she said out loud. And then she felt her head go fuzzy. She sat down on the ground and stared at the ridge, thinking nothing at all. Xan found Luna sitting by herself outside, staring at the sky. Which was odd. Normally the girl woke in a whirlwind, rousting awake all who were near. Not so today. Well, Xan thought. Everythings different now. She shook her head. Not everything, she decided. Despite the bound-up magic curled inside her, safe and sound for now, she was still the same girl. She was still Luna. They simply didnt have to worry about her magic erupting all over the place. Now she could learn in peace. And today they were going to get started. Good morning, precious, Xan said, letting her hand slide along the curve of the girls skull, winding her fingers in the long black curls. Luna didnt say anything. She seemed to be in a bit of a trance. Xan tried not to worry about it. Good morning, Auntie Xan, Fyrian said, peeking out of the pocket and yawning, stretching his small arms out as wide as they would go. He looked around, squinting. Why am I outside? Luna returned to the world with a start. She looked at her grandmother and smiled. Grandmama! she said, scrambling to her feet. I feel like I havent seen you for days and days. Well, thats because Fyrian began, but Xan interrupted. Hush, child, she said. But Auntie Xan, Fyrian continued excitedly, I just wanted to explain that Enough prattling, you silly dragon. Off with you. Go find your monster. Xan pulled Luna to her feet and hurried her away. But where are we going, Grandmama? Luna asked. To the workshop, darling, Xan said, shooting Fyrian a sharp look. Go help Glerk with breakfast. Okay, Auntie Xan. I just want to tell Luna this one Now, Fyrian, she snapped, and she ushered Luna quickly away. Luna loved her grandmothers workshop, and had already been taught the basics of mechanicslevers and wedges and pulleys and gears. Even at that young age, Luna possessed a mechanical mind, and was able to construct little machines that whirred and ticked. She loved finding bits of wood that she could smooth and connect and fashion into something else. For now, Xan had pushed all of Lunas projects into a corner and divided the whole workshop into sections, each with its own sets of bookshelves and tool shelves and materials shelves. There was a section for inventing and a section for building and one for scientific study and one for botany and one for the study of magic. On the floor she had made numerous chalk drawings. What happened here, Grandmama? Luna asked. Nothing, dear, Xan said. But then she thought better of it. Well, actually, many things, but there are more important items to attend to first. She sat down on the floor, across from the girl, and gathered her magic into her hand, letting it float just above her fingers like a bright, shining ball. You see, dearest, she explained, the magic flows through me, from earth to sky, but it collects in me as well. Inside me. Like static electricity. It crackles and hums in my bones. When I need a little extra light, I rub my hands together like so, and let the light spin between my palms, until it is enough to float wherever I need it to float. Youve seen me do this before, hundreds of times, but I have never explained it. Isnt it pretty, my darling? But Luna did not see. Her eyes were blank. Her face was blank. She looked as though her soul had gone dormant, like a tree in winter. Xan gasped. Luna? she said. Are you well? Are you hungry? Luna? There was nothing. Blank eyes. Blank face. A Luna-shaped hole in the universe. Xan felt a rush of panic bloom in her chest. And, as though the blankness had never happened at all, the light returned to the childs eyes. Grandmama, may I have something sweet? she said. What? Xan said, her panic increasing in spite of the lights return to the childs eyes. She looked closer. Luna shook her head as though to dislodge water from her ears. Sweet, she said slowly. I would like something sweet. She crinkled her eyebrows together. Please, she added. And the Witch obliged, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a handful of dried berries. The child chewed them thoughtfully. She looked around. Why are we here, Grandmama? Weve been here this whole time, Xan said. She searched the childs face with her eyes. What was going on? But why though? Luna looked around. Werent we just outside? She pressed her lips together. I dont . . . she began, trailing off. I dont remember . . . I wanted to give you your first lesson, darling. A cloud passed over Lunas face, and Xan paused. She put her hand on the girls cheek. The waves of magic were gone. If she concentrated very hard, she could feel the gravitational pull of that dense nugget of power, smooth and hard and sealed off like a nut. Or an egg. She decided to try again. Luna, my love. Do you know what magic is? And once again, Lunas eyes went blank. She didnt move. She barely breathed. It was as if the stuff of Lunalight, motion, intelligencehad simply vanished. Xan waited again. This time it took even longer for the light to return and for Luna to regain herself. The girl looked at her grandmother with a curious expression. She looked to her right and she looked to her left. She frowned. When did we get here, Grandmama? she asked. Did I fall asleep? Xan pulled herself to her feet and started pacing the room. She paused at the invention table, surveying its gears and wires and wood and glass and books with intricate diagrams and instructions. She picked up a small gear in one hand and a small springso sharp at the ends it made a point of blood bloom on her thumbin the other. She looked back at Luna and pictured the mechanism inside that girlrhythmically ticking its way toward her thirteenth birthday, as even and inexorable as a well-tuned clock. Or, at least, that was how the spell was supposed to work. Nothing in Xans construction of the spell had indicated this kind of . . . blankness. Had she done it wrong? She decided to try another tactic. Grandamama, what are you doing? Luna asked. Nothing, darling, Xan said as she bustled over to the magic table and assembled a scrying glasswood from the earth, glass made from a melted meteorite, a splash of water, and a single hole in the center to let the air in. It was one of her better efforts. Luna didnt seem to even see it. Her gaze slid from one side to the other. Xan set it up between them and looked at the girl through the gap. I would like to tell you a story, Luna, the old woman said. I love stories. Luna smiled. Once upon a time there was a witch who found a baby in the woods, Xan said. Through the scrying glass, she watched her dusty words fly into the ears of the child. She watched the words separate inside the skullbaby lingered and flitted from the memory centers to the imaginative structures to the places where the brain enjoys playing with pleasing-sounding words. Baby, baby, b-b-bab-b-b-eeee, over and over and over again. Lunas eyes began to darken. Once upon a time, Xan said, when you were very, very small, I took you outside to see the stars. We always go outside to see the stars, Luna said. Every night. Yes, yes, Xan said. Pay attention. One night, long ago, as we looked at the stars, I gathered starlight on my fingertips, and fed it to you like honey from the comb. And Lunas eyes went blank. She shook her head as though clearing away cobwebs. Honey, she said slowly, as though the word itself was a great burden. Xan was undeterred. And then, she pressed. One night, Grandmama did not notice the rising moon, hanging low and fat in the sky. And she reached up to gather starlight, and gave you moonlight by mistake. And this is how you became enmagicked, my darling. This is where your magic comes from. You drank deeply from the moon, and now the moon is full within you. It was as though it was not Luna sitting on the floor, but a picture of Luna instead. She did not blink. Her face was as still as stone. Xan waved her hand in front of the girls face, and nothing happened. Nothing at all. Oh, dear, Xan said. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Xan scooped the girl into her arms and ran out the door, sobbing, looking for Glerk. It took most of the afternoon for the child to regain herself. Well, Glerk said. This is a bit of a pickle. Its nothing of the kind, Xan snapped. Im sure its temporary, she added, as though her words alone could make it true. But it wasnt temporary. This was the consequence of Xans spell: the child was now unable to learn about magic. She couldnt hear it, couldnt speak it, couldnt even know the word. Every time she heard anything to do with magic, her consciousness and her spark and her very soul seemed to simply disappear. And whether the knowledge was being sucked into the kernel in Lunas brain, or whether it was flying away entirely, Xan did not know. What will we do when she comes of age? Glerk asked. How will you teach her then? Because you will surely die then, Glerk thought but did not say. Her magic will open, and yours will pour away, and you, my dear, darling five-hundred-year-old Xan, will no longer have magic in you to keep you alive. He felt the cracks in his heart grow deeper. Maybe she wont grow, Xan said desperately. Maybe she will stay like this forever, and I will never have to say good-bye to her. Maybe I mislaid the spell, and her magic will never come out. Maybe she was never magic to begin with. You know that isnt true, Glerk said. It might be true, Xan countered. You dont know. She paused before she spoke again. The alternative is too sorrowful to contemplate. Xan Glerk began. Sorrow is dangerous, she snapped. And she left in a huff. They had this conversation again and again, with no resolution. Eventually, Xan refused to discuss it at all. The child was never magic, Xan started telling herself. And indeed, the more Xan told herself that it might be true, the more she was able to convince herself that it was true. And if Luna ever was magic, all that power was now neatly stoppered up and wouldnt be a problem. Perhaps it was stuck forever. Perhaps Luna was now a regular girl. A regular girl. Xan said it again and again and again. She said it so many times that it must be true. Its exactly what she told people in the Free Cities when they asked. A regular girl, she said. She also told them Luna was allergic to magic. Hives, she said. Seizures. Itchy eyes. Stomach upset. She asked everyone to never mention magic near the girl. And so, no one did. Xans advice was always followed to the letter. In the meantime, there was a whole world for Luna to learnscience, mathematics, poetry, philosophy, art. Surely that would be enough. Surely she would grow as a girl grows, and Xan would continue as she wasstill-magic, slow-to-age, deathless Xan. Surely, Xan would never have to say good-bye. This cant go on, Glerk said, over and over. Luna needs to know whats inside her. She needs to know how magic works. She needs to know what death is. She needs to be prepared. Im sure I have no idea what you are talking about, Xan said. Shes just a regular girl. Even if she wasnt before, she certainly is now. My own magic is replenishedand I hardly ever use it in any case. There is no need to upset her. Why would we speak of impending loss? Why would we introduce her to that kind of sorrow? Its dangerous, Glerk. Remember? Glerk wrinkled his brow. Why do we think that? he asked. Xan shook her head. I have no idea. And she didnt. She knew, once, but the memory had vanished. It was easier to forget. And so Luna grew. And she didnt know about the starlight or the moonlight or the tight knot behind her forehead. And she didnt remember about the enrabbiting of Glerk or the flowers in her footsteps or the power that was, even now, clicking through its gears, pulsing, pulsing, pulsing inexorably toward its end point. She didnt know about the hard, tight seed of magic readying to crack open inside her. She had absolutely no idea. 15. In Which Antain Tells a Lie The scars from the paper birds never healed. Not properly, anyway. They were just paper, Antains mother wailed. How is it possible that they cut so deep? It wasnt just the cuts. The infections after the cuts were far worse. Not to mention the considerable loss of blood. Antain had lain on the floor for a long time while the madwoman attempted to stop his bleeding with paperand not very well. The medicines the Sisters gave her made her woozy and weak. She drifted in and out of consciousness. When the guards finally came in to check on him, both he and the madwoman lay in a puddle of so much blood, it took them a moment to find out who, exactly, it belonged to. And why, his mother fumed, did they not come for you when you cried out? Why did they abandon you? No one knew the answer to that one. The Sisters claimed they had no idea. They hadnt heard him. And later, one look at the whiteness of their faces and their bloodshot eyes led everyone to believe that it was true. People whispered that Antain had cut himself. People whispered that his story of the paper birds was just a fantasy. After all, no one found any birds. Just bloody wads of paper on the ground. And, anyway, who had ever heard of an attacking paper bird? People whispered that a boy like that had no business being an Elder-in-Training. And on that point, Antain couldnt have agreed more. By the time his wounds were healed, he had announced to the Council that he was resigning. Effective immediately. Freed from school, from the Council, and from the constant needling of his mother, Antain became a carpenter. And he was very good at it. The Council, owing to its members profound discomfort whenever they had to look at the deep scars covering the poor boys facenot to mention his mothers insistencehad given the boy a tidy sum of money with which he was able to secure rare woods and fine tools from the traders who did their business via the Road. (And oh! Those scars! And oh! How handsome he used to be! And oh! That lost potential. Such a pity it was. What a great and terrible pity.) Antain got to work. Very quickly, as word of his skill and artistry spread on both ends of the Road, Antain made a good enough living to keep his mother and brothers happy and content. He built a separate home for himselfsmaller, simpler, and infinitely more humble, but comfortable all the same. Still. His mother did not approve of his departure from the Council, and told him as much. His brother Rook didnt understand, either, though his disapproval came much later, after he had been dismissed from the Tower and returned home in shame. (Rooks note, unlike his brothers, did not contain the preface, We had high hopes, and instead simply said, This one has disappointed us. Their mother blamed Antain.) Antain hardly noticed. He spent his days away from everyone elseworking with wood and metal and oil. The itch of sawdust. The slip of the grain under the fingers. The making of something beautiful and whole and real was all he cared about. Months passed. Years. Still his mother fussed at him. What kind of person leaves the Council? she howled one day after she had insisted that he accompany her to the Market. She needled and complained as she perused the different stalls, with their various selections of medicinal and beautifying flowers, as well as Zirin honey and Zirin jam and dried Zirin petals, which could be reconstituted with milk and slathered over the face to prevent wrinkles. Not everyone could afford to shop in the Market; most people bartered with their neighbors to keep their cupboards slightly less bare. And even those who could manage a visit to the Market could not afford the heaps of goods that Antains mother piled into her basket. Being the only sister of the Grand Elder had its advantages. She narrowed her eyes at the dried Zirin petals. She gave the woman standing in the stall a hard look. How long ago were these harvested? And dont you dare lie to me! The flower woman turned pale. I cannot say, madam, she mumbled. Antains mother gave her an imperious look. If you cannot say, then I shall not pay. And she moved on to the next stall. Antain did not comment, and instead let his gaze drift upward to the Tower, running his fingers over the deep gouges and gorges and troughs that marred his face, following the rivers of scars like a map. Well, his mother said as she browsed through bolts of cloth that had been brought from the other end of the Road, we can only hope that when this ridiculous carpentry enterprise winds itself toward its inevitable end, your Honorable Uncle will take you backif not as a Council member, then at least as a member of his staff. And then, one day, your little brothers staff. At least he has the good sense to listen to his mother! Antain nodded and grunted and said nothing. He found himself wandering toward the paper vendors stall. He hardly ever touched paper anymore. Not if he could help it. Still. These Zirin papers were lovely. He let his fingers drift across the reams and let his mind drift to the rustly sounds of paper wings flying across the face of the mountain and disappearing from sight. Antains mother was wrong about his coming failure, though. The carpentry shop remained a successnot only among the small, moneyed enclave of the Protectorate and the famously tightfisted Traders Association. His carvings and furniture and clever constructions were in high demand on the other side of the Road, as well. Every month the traders arrived with a list of orders, and every month, Antain had to turn some of them away, explaining kindly that he was only one person with two hands, and his time was naturally limited. On hearing such refusals, the traders offered Antain more and more money for his handiwork. And as Antain honed his skills and as his eye became clear and cunning and as his designs became more and more clever, so too did his renown increase. Within five years, his name was known in towns he had never heard of, let alone thought to visit. Mayors of far-off places requested the honor of his company. Antain considered it; of course he did. He had never left the Protectorate. He didnt know anyone who had, though his family could certainly afford to. But even the thought of doing anything but work and sleep, the occasional book read by the fire, was more than he could manage. Sometimes it felt to him that the world was heavy, that the air, thick with sorrow, draped over his mind and body and vision, like a fog. Still. Knowing that his handiwork found good homes satisfied Antain to the core. It felt good to be good at something. And when he slept, he was mostly content. His mother now insisted that she always knew her son would be a great success, and how fortunate, she said again and again, he had been to escape a life of drudgery with those doddering old bores on the Council, and how much better it was to follow your talents and bliss and whatnot, and hadnt she always said so. Yes, mother, Antain said, suppressing a smile. You truly always said so. And in this way, the years passed: a lonely workshop; solid, beautiful things; customers who praised his work but winced at the sight of his face. It wasnt a bad life, actually. Antains mother stood in the doorway of the workshop late one morning, her nostrils wrinkling from the sawdust and the sharp smell of Zirin hip oil, which gave the wood its particular sheen. Antain had just finished the final carved details on the headboard of a cradlea sky full of bright stars. This was not the first time he had made such a cradle, and it was not the first time he had heard the term Star Child, though he did not know what it meant. The people on the other end of the Road were strange. Everyone knew it, though no one had met any. You should get an apprentice, his mother said, eyeing the room. The workshop was well-organized, well-appointed, and comfortable. Well, comfortable for some people. Antain, for example, was extremely comfortable there. I do not want an apprentice, Antain said as he rubbed oil into the curve of the wood. The grain shone like gold. You would do better business with an extra pair of hands. Your brothers Are dunces with wood, Antain replied mildly. And it was true. Well, his mother huffed. Just think if you I am doing fine as it is, Antain said. And that was also true. Well then, his mother said. She shifted her weight from side to side. She adjusted the drape of her cloak. She had more cloaks herself than most extended families had among them. What about your life, son? Here you are building cradles for other womens grandchildren, and not my own. How am I supposed to bear the continuing shame of your un-Councilment without a beautiful grandchild to dandle upon my blessed knee? His mothers voice cracked. There was a time, Antain knew, when he might have been able to stroll through the Market with a girl on his arm. But he had been so shy then, he never dared. In retrospect, Antain knew that it likely wouldnt have been hard, had he tried. He had seen the sketches and portraits that his mother commissioned back then and knew that, once upon a time, he had been handsome. No matter. He was good at his work and he loved it. Did he really need anything more? Im sure Rook will marry one day, Mother. And Wynn. And the rest of them. Do not fret. I will make each of my brothers a bureau and a marriage bed and a cradle when the time is right. Youll have grandchildren hanging from the rafters in no time. The mother in the rafters. The child in her arms. And oh! The screaming. Antain shut his eyes tightly and forced the image away. I have been talking with some other mothers. They have set a keen eye on the life youve built here. They are interested in introducing you to their daughters. Not their prettiest daughters, you understand, but daughters nonetheless. Antain sighed, stood, and washed his hands. Mother, thank you, but no. He walked across the room and leaned over to kiss his mother on the cheek. He saw how she flinched when his ruined face got too close. He did his best not to let it hurt. But, Antain And now, I must be going. But where are you going? I have several errands to attend to. This was a lie. With each lie he told, the next became easier. I shall be at your house in two days time for dinner. I havent forgotten. This was also a lie. He had no intention of eating in his familys house, and was perfecting several excuses to remove himself from the vicinity at the last moment. Perhaps I should come with you, she said. Keep you company. She loved him, in her way. Antain knew that. Its best if I go alone, Antain said. And he tied his cloak around his shoulders and walked away, leaving his mother behind in the shadows. Antain kept to the lesser-used alleys and lanes throughout the Protectorate. Though the day was fair, he pulled his hood well over his forehead to keep his face in shadow. Antain had noticed long ago that his hiding himself made people more comfortable and minimized the staring. Sometimes small children would shyly ask to touch his scars. If their families were nearby, the child would invariably be shooed away by a mortified parent, and the interaction would be over. If not, though, Antain would soberly sit on his haunches and look the child in the eye. If the child did not bolt, he would remove his hood and say, Go ahead. Does it hurt? the child would ask. Not today, Antain always said. Another lie. His scars always hurt. Not as much as they did on that first day, or even the first week. But they hurt all the samethe dull ache of something lost. The touch of those small fingers on his facetracing the furrows and ridges of the scarsmade Antains heart constrict, just a little. Thank you, Antain would say. And he meant it. Every time. Thank you, the child always replied. And the two would part waysthe child returning to his family, and Antain leaving alone. His wanderings brought him, as they always did whether he liked it or not, to the base of the Tower. His home, for a short, wondrous time in his youth. And the place where his life changed forever. He shoved his hands in his pockets and tilted his face to the sky. Why, said a voice. If it isnt Antain. Back to visit us at last! The voice was pleasant enough, though there was, Antain realized, a bit of a growl, buried so deeply in the voice that it was difficult to hear. Hello, Sister Ignatia, he said, bowing low. I am surprised to see you out of your study. Can it be that your wondrous curiosities have finally loosened their grip? It was the first time they had exchanged words face-to-face since he was injured, years now. Their correspondence had consisted of terse notes, hers likely penned by one of the other sisters and signed by Sister Ignatia. She had never bothered to check on himnot oncesince he was injured. He tasted something bitter in his mouth. He swallowed it down to keep himself from grimacing. Oh, no, she said airily. Curiosity is the curse of the Clever. Or perhaps cleverness is the curse of the Curious. In any case, I am never lacking for either, Im afraid, which does keep me rather busy. But I do find that tending my herb garden gives me some amount of comfort She held up her hand. Mind you dont touch any leaves. Or flowers. And maybe not the dirt, either. Not without gloves. Many of these herbs are deadly poisonous. Arent they pretty? Quite, Antain said. But he wasnt thinking much about the herbs. And what brings you here? Sister Ignatia said, narrowing her eyes as Antains gaze drifted back up to the window where the madwoman lived. Antain sighed. He looked back at Sister Ignatia. Garden dirt caked her work gloves. Sweat and sunshine slicked her face. She had a sated look about her, as if she had just eaten the most wonderful meal in the world and was now quite full. But she couldnt have. She had been working outside. Antain cleared his throat. I wanted to tell you in person that I would not be able to build you the desk you requested for another six months, or perhaps a year, Antain said. This was a lie. The design was fairly simple, and the wood required was easily obtainable from the managed forest on the western side of the Protectorate. Nonsense, Sister Ignatia said. Surely you can make some rearrangements. The Sisters are practically family. Antain shook his head, let his eyes drift back to the window. He had not really seen the madwomannot up close anywaysince the bird attack. But he saw her every night in his dreams. Sometimes she was in the rafters. Sometimes she was in her cell. Sometimes she was riding the backs of a flock of paper birds and vanishing into the night. He gave Sister Ignatia half a smile. Family? he said. Madam, I believe you have met my family. Sister Ignatia pretended to wave the comment away, but she pressed her lips together, suppressing a grin. Antain glanced back at the window. The madwoman stood at the narrow window. Her body was little more than a shadow. He saw her hand reach through the bars, and a bird flutter near, nestling in her palm. The bird was made of paper. He could hear the dry rustle of its wings from where he stood. Antain shivered. What are you looking at? Sister Ignatia said. Nothing, Antain lied. I see nothing. My dear boy. Is there something the matter? He looked at the ground. Good luck with the garden. Before you go, Antain. Why dont you do us a favor, since we cannot entice you to apply your clever hands to the making of beautiful things, no matter how many times we ask? Madam, I You there! Sister Ignatia called. Her voice instantly took on a much harsher tone. Have you finished packing, girl? Yes, Sister, came a voice inside the garden sheda clear, bright voice, like a bell. Antain felt his heart ring. That voice, he thought. I remember that voice. He hadnt heard it since they were in school, all those years ago. Excellent. She turned to Antain, her words honeyed once again. We have a novice who has opted not to apply herself to an elevated life of study and contemplation, and has decided to reenter the larger world. Foolish thing. Antain was shocked. But, he faltered. That never happens! Indeed. It never does. And it will not ever again. I must have been deluded when she first came to us, wanting to enter our Order. I shall be more discerning next time. A young woman emerged from the garden shed. She wore a plain shift dress that likely fit her when she first entered the Tower, shortly after her thirteenth birthday, but she had grown taller, and it barely covered her knees. She wore a pair of mens boots, patched and worn and lopsided, that she must have borrowed from one of the groundskeepers. She smiled, and even her freckles seemed to shine. Hello, Antain, Ethyne said gently. It has been a long time. Antain felt the world tilt under his feet. Ethyne turned to Sister Ignatia. We knew one another at school. She never talked to me, Antain said in a hoarse whisper, tilting his face to the ground. His scars burned. No girls did. Her eyes glittered and her mouth unfurled into a smile. Is that so? I remember differently. She looked at him. At his scars. She looked right at him. And she didnt look away. And she didnt flinch. Even his mother flinched. His own mother. Well, he said. To be fair. I didnt talk to any girls. I still dont, really. You should hear my mother go on about it. Ethyne laughed. Antain thought he might faint. Will you please help our little disappointment carry her things? Her brothers have gotten themselves ill and her parents are dead. I would like all evidence of this fiasco removed as quickly as possible. If any of this bothered Ethyne, she did not show it. Thank you, Sister, for everything, she said, her voice as smooth and sweet as cream. I am ever so much more than I was when I walked in through that door. And ever so much less than you could have been, Sister Ignatia snapped. The youth! She threw up her hands. If we cannot bear them, how can they possibly bear themselves? She turned to Antain. You will help, wont you? The girl doesnt have the decency to show even the tiniest modicum of sorrow for her actions. The Head Sisters eyes went black for a moment, as though she was terribly hungry. She squinted and frowned, and the blackness vanished. Perhaps Antain had imagined it. I cannot tolerate another second in her company. Of course, Sister, he whispered. Antain swallowed. There seemed to be sand in his mouth. He did his best to recover himself. I am ever at your service. Always. Sister Ignatia turned and stalked away, muttering as she went. I would rethink that stance, if I were you, Ethyne muttered to Antain. He turned, and she gave him another broad smile. Thank you for helping me. You always were the kindest boy I ever knew. Come. Lets get out of here as quickly as possible. After all these years, the Sisters still give me the shivers. She laid her hand on Antains arm and led him to her bundles in the garden shed. Her fingers were calloused and her hands were strong. And Antain felt something flutter in his chesta shiver at first, and then a powerful lift and beat, like the wings of a bird, flying high over the forest, and skimming the top of the sky. 16. In Which There Is Ever So Much Paper The madwoman in the Tower could not remember her own name. She could remember no ones name. What was a name, anyway? You cant hold it. You cant smell it. You cant rock it to sleep. You cant whisper your love to it over and over and over again. There once was a name that she treasured above all others. But it had flown away, like a bird. And she could not coax it back. There were so many things that flew away. Names. Memories. Her own knowledge of herself. There was a time, she knew, that she was smart. Capable. Kind. Loving and loved. There was a time when her feet fit neatly on the curve of the earth and her thoughts stacked evenlyone on top of the otherin the cupboards of her mind. But her feet had not felt the earth in ever so long, and her thoughts had been replaced by whirlwinds and storms that swept all her cupboards bare. Possibly forever. She could remember only the touch of paper. She was hungry for paper. At night she dreamed of the dry smoothness of the sheaf, the painful bite of the edge. She dreamed of the slip of ink into the deepening white. She dreamed of paper birds and paper stars and paper skies. She dreamed of a paper moon hovering over paper cities and paper forests and paper people. A world of paper. A universe of paper. She dreamed of oceans of ink and forests of quills and an endless bog of words. She dreamed of all of it in abundance. She didnt only dream of paper; she had it, too. No one knew how. Every day the Sisters of the Star entered her room and cleared away the maps that she had drawn and the words that she had written without ever bothering to read them. They tutted and scolded and swept it all away. But every day, she found herself once again awash in paper and quills and ink. She had all that she needed. A map. She drew a map. She could see it as plain as day. She is here, she wrote. She is here, she is here, she is here. Who is here? the young man asked, over and over again. First, his face was young, and fine, and clear. Then, it was red, and angry, and bleeding. Eventually, the cuts from the paper birds healed, and became scarsfirst purple, then pink, then white. They made a map. The madwoman wondered if he could see it. Or if he understood what it meant. She wondered if anyone couldor if such things were intelligible to her alone. Was she alone mad, or had the world gone mad with her? She was in no position to say. She wanted to pin him down and write She is here right where his cheekbone met his earlobe. She wanted to make him understand. Who is here? she could feel him wondering as he stared at the Tower from the ground. Dont you see? she wanted to shout back. But she didnt. Her words were jumbled. She didnt know if anything that came out of her mouth made any sense. Each day, she released paper birds out the window. Sometimes one. Sometimes ten. Each one had a map in its heart. She is here, in the heart of a robin. She is here, in the heart of a crane. She is here, she is here, she is here, in the hearts of a falcon and a kingfisher and a swan. Her birds didnt go very far. Not at first. She watched from her window as people reached down and picked them up from the ground nearby. She watched the people gaze up at the Tower. She watched them shake their heads. She heard them sigh, The poor, poor thing, and clutch their loved ones a little more closely, as though madness was contagious. And maybe they were right. Maybe it was. No one looked at the words or the maps. They just crumpled the paperprobably to pulp it and make it new paper. The madwoman couldnt blame them. Paper was expensive. Or it was for most people. She got it easily enough. She just reached through the gaps of the world, pulling out leaf after leaf. Each leaf was a map. Each leaf was a bird. Each leaf she launched into the sky. She sat on the floor of her cell. Her fingers found paper. Her fingers found quill and ink. She didnt ask how. She just drew the map. Sometimes she drew the map as she slept. The young man was coming closer. She could feel his footsteps. Soon he would stop a good ways away and stare up, a question mark curling over his heart. She watched him grow from youth to artisan to business owner to a man in love. Still, the same question. She folded the paper into the shape of a hawk. She let it rest on her hand for a moment. Watched it begin to shiver and itch. She let it launch itself into the sky. She stared out the window. The paper bird had been lamed. She had rushed too quickly, and didnt fold it properly. The poor thing would not survive. It landed on the ground, struggling mightily, right in front of the young man with scars on his face. He paused. He stepped on the birds neck with his foot. Compassion or revenge? Sometimes the two were the same. The madwoman pressed her hand to her mouth, the touch of her fingers as light as paper. She tried to see his face, but he was in shadow. Not that it mattered. She knew his face as well as she knew her own. She could follow the curve of each scar with her fingers in the dark. She watched him pause, unfold the bird, and stare at the drawings she had done. She watched his eyes lift to the Tower, and then arc slowly across the sky and land on the forest. And then look at the map once again. She pressed her hand to her chest and felt her sorrowthe merciless density of it, like a black hole in her heart, swallowing the light. Perhaps it had always been so. Her life in the Tower felt infinite. Sometimes she felt she had been imprisoned since the beginning of the world. And in one profound, sudden flash, she felt it transform. Hope, her heart said. Hope, the sky said. Hope, said the bird in the young mans hand and the look in his eye. Hope and light and motion, her soul whispered. Hope and formation and fusion. Hope and heat and accretion. The miracle of gravity. The miracle of transformation. Each precious thing is destroyed and each precious thing is saved. Hope, hope, hope. Her sorrow was gone. Only hope remained. She felt it radiate outward, filling the Tower, the town, the whole world. And, in that moment, she heard the Head Sister cry out in pain. 17. In Which There Is a Crack in the Nut Luna thought she was ordinary. She thought she was loved. She was half right. She was a girl of five; and later, she was seven; and later she was, incredibly, eleven. It was a fine thing indeed, Luna thought, being eleven. She loved the symmetry of it, and the lack of symmetry. Eleven was a number that was visually even, but functionally notit looked one way and behaved in quite another. Just like most eleven-year-olds, or so she assumed. Her association with other children was always limited to her grandmothers visits to the Free Cities, and only the visits on which Luna was permitted to come. Sometimes, her grandmother went without her. And every year, Luna found it more and more enraging. She was eleven, after all. She was both even and odd. She was ready to be many things at oncechild, grown-up, poet, engineer, botanist, dragon. The list went on. That she was barred from some journeys and not others was increasingly galling. And she said so. Often. And loudly. When her grandmother was away, Luna spent most of her time in the workshop. It was filled with books about metals and rocks and water, books about flowers and mosses and edible plants, books about animal biology and animal behavior and animal husbandry, books about the theories and principles of mechanics. But Lunas favorite books were the ones about astronomythe moon, especially. She loved the moon so much, she wanted to wrap her arms around it and sing to it. She wanted to gather ever morsel of moonlight into a great bowl and drink it dry. She had a hungry mind, an itchy curiosity, and a knack for drawing, building, and fashioning. Her fingers had a mind of their own. Do you see, Glerk? she said, showing off her mechanical cricket, made of polished wood and glass eyes and tiny metal legs attached to springs. It hopped; it skittered; it reached; it grabbed. It could even sing. Right now, Luna set it just so, and the cricket began to turn the pages of a book. Glerk wrinkled his great, damp nose. It turns pages, she says. Of a book. Has there ever been a cleverer cricket? But its just turning the pages willy-nilly, he said. It isnt as though it is reading the book. And even if it was, it wouldnt be reading at the same time as you. How would it know when to approach the page and turn it? He was just needling her, of course. In truth, he was very impressed. But as he had told her a thousand times, he couldnt possibly be impressed at every impressive thing that she ever did. He might find that his heart had swelled beyond its capacity and sent him out of the world entirely. Luna stamped her foot. Of course it cant read. It turns the page when I tell it to turn the page. She folded her arms across her chest and gave her swamp monster what she hoped was a hard look. I think you are both right, Fyrian said, trying to make peace. I love foolish things. And clever things. I love all the things. Hush, Fyrian, both girl and swamp monster said as one. It takes longer to position your cricket to turn the page than it does to actually turn the page on your own. Why not simply turn the page? Glerk worried that he had already taken the joke too far. He picked up Luna in his four arms and positioned her at the top of his top right shoulder. She rolled her eyes and climbed back down. Because then there wouldnt be a cricket. Lunas chest felt prickly. Her whole body felt prickly. She had been prickly all day. Where is Grandmama? she asked. You know where she is, Glerk said. She will be back next week. I dislike next week. I wish she was back today. The Poet tells us that impatience belongs to small thingsfleas, tadpoles, and fruit flies. You, my love, are ever so much more than a fruit fly. I dislike the Poet as well. He can boil his head. These words cut Glerk to his core. He pressed his four hands to his heart and fell down heavily upon his great bottom, curling his tail around his body in a protective gesture. What a thing to say. I mostly mean it, Luna said. Fyrian fluttered from girl to monster and monster to girl. He did not know where to land. Come, Fyrian, Luna said, opening one of her side pockets. You can take a nap, and I will walk us up to the ridge to see if we can see my grandmother on her journey. We can see terribly far from up there. You wont be able to see her yet. Not for days. Glerk looked closely at the girl. There was something . . . off today. He couldnt put his finger on it. You never know, Luna said, turning on her heel and walking up the trail. Patience has no wing, Glerk recited as she walked. Patience does not run Nor blow, nor skitter, nor falter. Patience is the swell of the ocean; Patience is the sigh of the mountain; Patience is the shirr of the Bog; Patience is the chorus of stars, Infinitely singing. I am not listening to you! Luna called without turning around. But she was. Glerk could tell. By the time Luna reached the bottom of the slope, Fyrian was already asleep. That dragon could sleep anywhere and anytime. He was an expert sleeper. Luna reached into her pocket and gave his head a gentle tap. He didnt wake up. Dragons! Luna muttered. This was the given answer to many of her questions, though it didnt always make very much sense. When Luna was little, Fyrian was older than shethat was obvious. He taught her to count, to add and subtract, and to multiply and divide. He taught her how to make numbers into something larger than themselves, applying them to larger concepts about motion and force, space and time, curves and circles and tightened springs. But now, it was different. Fyrian seemed younger and younger every day. Sometimes, it seemed to Luna that he was going backward in time while she stood still, but other times it seemed that the opposite was true: it was Fyrian who was standing still while Luna raced forward. She wondered why this was. Dragons! Glerk would explain. Dragons! Xan would agree. The both shrugged. Dragons, it was decided. What can one do? Which never actually answered anything. At least Fyrian never attempted to deflect or obfuscate Lunas many questions. Firstly because he had no idea what obfuscate meant. And secondly because he rarely knew any answers. Unless they pertained to mathematics. Then he was a fountain of answers. For everything else, he was just Fyrian, and that was enough. Luna reached the top of the ridge before noon. She curled her fingers over her eyes and tried to look out as far as she could. She had never been this high before. She was amazed Glerk had let her go. The Cities lay on the other side of the forest, down the slow, southern slope of the mountain, where the land became stable and flat. Where the earth no longer was trying to kill you. Beyond that, Luna knew, were farms and more forests and more mountains, and eventually an ocean. But Luna had never been that far. On the other side of her mountainto the norththere was nothing but forest, and beyond that was a bog that covered half the world. Glerk told her that the world was born out of that bog. How? Luna had asked a thousand times. A poem, Glerk sometimes said. A song, he said at other times. And then, instead of explaining further, he told her shed understand some day. Glerk, Luna decided, was horrible. Everyone was horrible. And most horrible was the pain in her head that had been getting worse all day. She sat down on the ground and closed her eyes. In the darkness behind her eyelids, she could see a blue color with a shimmer of silver at the edges, along with something else entirely. A hard, dense something, like a nut. And whats more, the something seemed to be pulsingas though it contained intricate clockwork. Click, click, click. Each click brings me closer to the close, Luna thought. She shook her head. Why would she think that? She had no idea. The close of what? she wondered. But there was no answer. And all of a sudden, she had an image in her head of a house with hand-stitched quilts draped on the chairs and art on the walls and colorful jars arranged on shelves in bright, tempting rows. And a woman with black hair and a crescent moon birthmark on her forehead. And a mans voice crooning, Do you see your mama? Do you, my darling? And that word in her mind, echoing from one side of her skull to the other, Mama, mama, mama, over and over and over again, like the cry of a faraway bird. Luna? Fyrian said. Why are you crying? Im not crying, Luna said, wiping her tears away. And anyway, I just miss my grandmama, thats all. And that was true. She did miss her. No amount of standing and staring was going to change the amount of time that it takes to walk from the Free Cities to their home at the top of the sleeping volcano. That was certain. But the house and the quilts and the woman with the black hairLuna had seen them before. But she didnt know where. She looked down toward the swamp and the barn and the workshop and the tree house, with its round windows peering out from the sides of the massive tree trunk like astonished, unblinking eyes. There was another house. And another family. Before this house. And this family. She knew it in her bones. Luna, what is wrong? Fyrian asked, a note of anguish in his voice. Nothing, Fyrian, Luna said, curling her hands around his midsection and pulling him close. She kissed the top of his head. Nothing at all. Im just thinking about how much I love my family. It was the first lie she ever told. Even though her words were true. 18. In Which a Witch Is Discovered Xan couldnt remember the last time she had traveled so slowly. Her magic had been dwindling for years, but there was no denying that it was happening more quickly now. Now the magic seemed to have thinned into a tiny trickle dripping through a narrow channel in her porous bones. Her vision dimmed; her hearing blurred; her hip pained her (and her left foot and her lower back and her shoulders and her wrists and, weirdly, her nose). And her condition was only about to get worse. Soon, she would be holding Lunas hand for the last time, touching her face for the last timespeaking her words of love in the hoarsest of whispers. It was almost too much to bear. In truth, Xan was not afraid to die. Why should she be? She had helped ease the pain of hundreds and thousands of people in preparation for that journey into the unknown. She had seen enough times in the faces of those in their final moments, a sudden look of surpriseand a wild, mad joy. Xan felt confident that she had nothing to fear. Still. It was the before that gave her pause. The months leading her toward the end she knew would be far from dignified. When she was able to call up memories of Zosimos (still difficult, despite her best efforts), they were of his grimace, his shudder, his alarming thinness. She remembered the pain he had been in. And she did not relish following in his footsteps. It is for Luna, she told herself. Everything, everything is for Luna. And it was true. She loved that girl with every ache in her back; she loved her with every hacking cough; she loved her with every rheumatic sigh; she loved her with every crack in her joints. There was nothing she would not endure for that girl. And she needed to tell her. Of course she did. Soon, she told herself. Not yet. The Protectorate sat at the bottom of a long, gentle slope, right before the slope opened up into the vast Zirin Bog. Xan climbed up a rocky outcropping to catch a view of the town before her final descent. There was something about that town. The way its many sorrows lingered in the air, as persistent as fog. Standing far above the sorrow cloud, Xan, in her clearheadedness, chastised herself. Old fool, she muttered. How many people have you helped? How many wounds have you healed and hearts have you soothed? How many souls have you guided on their way? And yet, here are these poor peoplemen and women and childrenthat you have refused to help. What do you have to say for yourself, you silly woman? She had nothing to say for herself. And she still didnt know why. She only knew that the closer she got, the more desperate she felt to leave. She shook her head, brushed the gravel and leaves from her skirts, and continued down the slope toward the town. As she walked, she had a memory. She could remember her room in the old castleher favorite room, with the two dragons carved in stone on either side of the fireplace, and a broken ceiling, open to the sky, but magicked to keep the rain away. And she could remember climbing into her makeshift bed and clutching her hands to her heart, praying to the stars that she might have a night free from bad dreams. She never did. And she could remember weeping into her mattressgreat gushes of tears. And she could remember a voice at the other side of the door. A quiet, dry, scratchy voice, whispering, More. More. More. Xan pulled her cloak tightly around her arms. She did not like being cold. She also did not like remembering things. She shook her head to clear away the thoughts and marched down the slope. Into the cloud. The madwoman in the Tower saw the Witch hobbling through the trees. She was far awayever so far, but the madwomans eyes could see around the world if she let them. Had she known how to do this before she went mad? Perhaps she had. Perhaps she simply did not notice. She had been a devoted daughter once. And then a girl in love. And then an expectant mother, counting the days until her baby came. And then everything had gone wrong. The madwoman discovered that it was possible for her to know things. Impossible things. The world, she knew in her madness, was littered with shiny bits and precious pieces. A man might drop a coin on the ground and never find it again, but a crow will find it in a flash. Knowledge, in its essence, was a glittering jeweland the madwoman was a crow. She pressed, reached, picked, and gathered. She knew so many things. She knew where the Witch lived, for example. She could walk there blindfolded if she could just get out of the Tower for long enough. She knew where the Witch took the children. She knew what those towns were like. How is our patient doing this morning? the Head Sister said to her at the dawning of each day. How much sorrow presses on her poor, poor soul? She was hungry. The madwoman could feel it. None, the madwoman could have said if she felt like speaking. But she didnt. For years, the madwomans sorrows had fed the Head Sister. For years she felt the predatory pounce. (Sorrow Eater, the madwoman discovered herself knowing. It was not a term that she had ever learned. She found it the way she found anything that was usefulshe reached through the gaps of the world and worried it out.) For years she lay silently in her cell while the Head Sister gorged herself on sorrow. And then one day, there was no sorrow to be had. The madwoman learned to lock it away, seal it off with something else. Hope. And more and more, Sister Ignatia went away hungry. Clever, the Sister said, her mouth a thin, grim line. You have locked me out. For now. You have locked me in, the madwoman thought, a tiny spark of hope igniting in her soul. For now. The madwoman pressed her face to the thick bars in her thin window. The Witch had left the outcropping and was, right now, limping toward the town walls, just as the Council was carrying the latest baby to the gates. No mother wailed. No father screamed. They did not fight for their doomed child. They watched numbly as the infant was carried into the horrors of the forest, believing it would keep those horrors away. They set their faces and stared at fear. Fools, the madwoman wanted to tell them. You are looking the wrong way. The madwoman folded a map into the shape of a falcon. There were things that she could make happenthings that she could not explain. This was true before they came for her baby, before the Towerone measure of wheat would become two; fabric worn thin as paper would become thick and luxurious in her hands. But slowly, during her long years in the Tower, her gifts had become sharp and clear. She found bits and pieces of magic in the gaps of the world and squirreled them away. The madwoman took aim. The Witch was heading for the clearing. The Elders were headed for the clearing. And the falcon would fly directly to where the baby was. She knew it in her bones. Grand Elder Gherland was, it was true, getting on in years. The potions he received every week from the Sisters of the Star helped, but these days they seemed to help less than usual. And it annoyed him. And the business with the babies annoyed him, toonot the concept of it, really, nor the results. He simply did not enjoy touching babies. They were loud, boorish, and, frankly, selfish. Plus, they stank. The one he held now certainly did. Gravitas was all fine and good, and it was important to maintain appearances, butGherland shifted the baby from one arm to the otherhe was getting too old for this sort of thing. He missed Antain. He knew he was being silly. It was better this way, with the boy gone. Executions are a messy business, after all. Especially when family is involved. Still. As much as Antains irrational resistance to the Day of Sacrifice had irritated Gherland to no end, he felt they had lost something when Antain resigned, though he couldnt say exactly what. The Council felt empty with Antain gone. He told himself that he just wanted someone else to hold the wriggling brat, but Gherland knew there was more to the feeling than that. The people along the walkway bowed their heads as the Council walked by, which was all fine and good. The baby wriggled and squirmed. It spat up on Gherlands robes. Gherland sighed deeply. He would not make a scene. He owed it to his people to take these discomforts in stride. It was difficultno one would ever know how difficultto be this beloved and honorable and selfless. And as the Council swept through the final causeway, Gherland made sure to congratulate himself for his kind, humanitarian nature. The babys wails devolved into self-indulgent hiccups. Ingrate, muttered Gherland. Antain made sure he was seen on the road as the Council walked by. He made brief eye contact with his uncle GherlandAwful man, he thought with a shudderand then slipped out behind the crowd and hooked through the gate when no one was looking. Once under the cover of the trees, he headed toward the clearing at a run. Ethyne was still standing on the side of the road. She had a basket ready for the grieving family. She was an angel, a treasure, and was now, incredibly, Antains wifeand had been since a month after she left the Tower. And they loved one another desperately. And they wanted a family. But. The woman in the rafters. The cry of the baby. The cloud of sorrow hanging over the Protectorate like a fog. Antain had watched that horror unfold and had done nothing. He had stood by as baby after baby was taken and left in the forest. We couldnt stop it if we tried, he had told himself. Its what everyone told themselves. Its what Antain had always believed. But Antain had also believed that he would spend his life alone, and lonely. And then love proved him wrong. And now the world was brighter than it was before. If that belief could be proved wrong, could not others be as well? What if we are wrong about the Witch? What if we are wrong about the sacrifice? Antain wondered. The question itself was revolutionary. And astonishing. What would happen if we tried? Why had the thought never occurred to him before? Wouldnt it be better, he thought, to bring a child into a world that was good and fair and kind? Had anyone ever tried to talk to the Witch? How did they know she could not be reasoned with? Anyone that old, after all, had to have a little bit of wisdom. It only made sense. Love made him giddy. Love made him brave. Love made foggy questions clearer. And Antain needed answers. He rushed past the ancient sycamore trees and hid himself in the bushes, waiting for the old men to leave. It was there he found the paper falcon, hanging like an ornament in the yew bush. He grabbed it and held it close to his heart. By the time Xan reached the clearing, she was already late. She could hear that baby fussing from half a league away. Auntie Xan is coming, dearest! she called out. Please dont fret! She couldnt believe it. After all these years, she had never been late. Never. The poor little thing. She closed her eyes tight and tried to send a flood of magic into her legs to give them a little more speed. Alas, it was more like a puddle than a flood, but it did help a bit. Using her cane to spring her forward, Xan sprinted through the green. Oh, thank goodness! she breathed when she saw the babyred-faced and enraged, but alive and unharmed. I was so worried about you, I And then a man stepped between her and the child. STOP! he cried. He had a heavily scarred face and a weapon in his hands. The puddle of magic, compounded now with fear and surprise and worry for the child that was on the other side of this dangerous stranger, enlarged suddenly into a tidal wave. It thrummed through Xans bones, lighting her muscles and tissues and skin. Even her hair sizzled with magic. OUT OF MY WAY, Xan shouted, her voice rumbling through the rocks. She could feel her magic rush from the center of the earth, through her feet and out the top of her head on its way to the sky, back and forth and back and forth, like massive waves pushing and pulling at the shore. She reached out and grabbed the man with both hands. He cried out as a surge hit him square in the solar plexus, knocking his breath clear away. Xan flung him aside as easily as if he was a rag doll. She transformed herself into an astonishingly large hawk, descended on the child, gripped the swaddling clothes in her talons, and lifted the baby into the sky. Xan couldnt stay that wayshe just didnt have enough magicbut she and the child could stay airborne over at least the next two ridges. Then she would give food and comfort, assuming she didnt collapse first. The child opened its throat and wailed. The madwoman in the Tower watched the Witch transform. She felt nothing as she watched the old nose harden into a beak. She felt nothing as she saw the feathers erupt from her pores, as her arms widened and her body shortened and the old woman screamed in power and pain. The madwoman remembered the weight of an infant in her arms. The smell of the scalp. The joyful kick of a brand-new pair of legs. The astonished waving of tiny hands. She remembered bracing her back against the roof. She remembered her feet on the rafters. She remembered wanting to fly. Birds, she murmured as the Witch took flight. Birds, birds, birds. There is no time in the Tower. There is only loss. For now, she thought. She watched the young manthe one with the scars on his face. Pity about the scars. She hadnt meant to do it. But he was a kind boyclever, curious, and good of heart. His kindness was his dearest currency. His scars, she knew, had kept the silly girls away. He deserved someone extraordinary to love him. She watched him stare at the paper falcon. She watched him carefully unfold each tight crease and flatten the paper on a stone. The paper had no map. Instead it had words. Dont forget, it said on one side. I mean it, said the other. And in her soul, the madwoman felt a thousand birdsbirds of paper, birds of feathers, birds of hearts and minds and fleshleap into the sky and soar over the dreaming trees. 19. In Which There Is a Journey to the Town of Agony For the people who loved Luna, time passed in a blur. Luna, however, worried that she might never be twelve. Each day felt like a heavy stone to be hoisted to the top of a very tall mountain. In the meantime, each day increased her knowledge. Each day caused the world to simultaneously expand and contract; the more Luna knew, the more she became frustrated by what she did not yet know. She was a quick study and quick-fingered and quick-footed and sometimes quick-tempered. She cared for the goats and cared for the chickens and cared for her grandmother and her dragon and her swamp monster. She knew how to coax milk and gather eggs and bake bread and fashion inventions and build contraptions and grow plants and press cheese and simmer a stew to nourish the mind and the soul. She knew how to keep the house tidy (though she didnt like that job much) and how to stitch birds onto the hem of a dress to make it delightful. She was a bright child, an accomplished child, a child who loved and was loved. And yet. There was something missing. A gap in her knowledge. A gap in her life. Luna could feel it. She hoped that turning twelve would solve thisbuild a bridge across the gap. It didnt. Instead, once she finally did turn twelve, Luna noticed that several changes had begun to occurnot all of them pleasant. She was, for the first time, taller than her grandmother. She was more distractible. Impatient. Peevish. She snapped at her grandmother. She snapped at her swamp monster. She even snapped at her dragon, who was as close to her heart as a twin brother. She apologized to all of them, of course, but the fact of it happening was itself an irritation. Why was everyone vexing her so? Luna wondered. And another thing. While Luna had always believed that she had read every single book in the workshop, she began to realize that there were several more that she had never read at all. She knew what they looked like. She knew where they sat on the shelf. But try as she might, she could not picture their titles, nor remember a single clue as to their contents. And whats more, she found that she could not even read the words on the spines of certain volumes. She should have been able to read them. The words were not foreign and the letters hooked into one another in ways that ought to have made perfect sense. And yet. Every time she tried to look at the spines, her eyes would slide from one side to the other, as though they were not made of leather and ink, but of glass slicked with oil. It did not happen when she looked at the spine The Lives of a Star and it did not happen when she looked at the beloved copy of Mechanica. But other books, they were as slippery as marbles in butter. And whats more, whenever she reached for one of them, she would find herself unaccountably lost in a memory or a dream. She would find herself going cross-eyed and fuzzy-headed, whispering poetry or making up a story. Sometimes she would regain her senses minutes or hours or half a day later, shaking her head to un-addle her brains, and wondering what on earth she had been doing, or for how long. She didnt tell anyone about these spells. Not her grandmother. Not Glerk. Certainly not Fyrian. She didnt want to worry any of them. These changes were too embarrassing. Too strange. And so she kept it secret. Even still, they sometimes gave her strange looks. Or odd answers to her questions, as if they already knew something was wrong with her. And that wrongness clung to her, like a headache that she couldnt shake. Another thing that happened after Luna turned twelve: she began to draw. All the time. She drew both mindlessly and mindfully. She drew faces, places, and minute details of plants and animalsa stamen here, a paw there, the rotted-out tooth of an aged goat. She drew star maps and maps of the Free Cities and maps of places that existed only in her imagination. She drew a tower with unsettling stonework and intersecting corridors and stairways crowding its insides, looming over a town drenched in fog. She drew a woman with long, black hair. And a man in robes. It was all her grandmother could do to keep her in paper and quills. Fyrian and Glerk took to making her pencils from charcoal and stiff reeds. She could never get enough. Later that year, Luna and her grandmother walked to the Free Cities again. Her grandmother was always in high demand. She checked in on the pregnant women and gave advice to the midwives and healers and apothecaries. And while Luna loved visiting the towns on the other side of the forest, this time the journey also vexed her. Her grandmotheras stable as a boulder all of Lunas lifewas starting to weaken. Lunas increasing worry for her grandmothers health pricked at her skin, like a dress made of thorns. Xan had been limping the whole way. And it was getting worse. Grandmama, Luna said, watching her grandmother wince with each step. Why are you still walking? You should be sitting. I think you should sit down right now. Oh, look. A log. For sitting on. Oh, tosh, her grandmother said, leaning heavily on her staff and wincing again. The more I sit, the longer the journey will take us. The more you walk, the more pain youll be in, Luna countered. Every morning, it seemed, Xan had a new ache or a new pain. A cloudiness in the eye or a droop to a shoulder. Luna was beside herself. Do you want me to sit on your feet, Grandmama? she asked Xan. Do you want me to tell you a story or sing you a song? What has gotten into you, child? Lunas grandmother sighed. Maybe you should eat something. Or drink something. Maybe you should have some tea. Would you like me to make you tea? Perhaps you should sit down. For tea. Im perfectly fine. I have made this trip more times than I can count, and I have never had any trouble. You are making a fuss over nothing. But Luna knew something was changing in her grandmother. There was a tremor in her voice and a tremble in her hands. And she was so thin! Lunas grandmother used to be bulbous and squatall soft hugs and squishy cuddles. Now she was fragile and delicate and lightdry grasses wrapped in crumbling paper that might fall apart in a gust of wind. When they arrived in the town called Agony, Luna ran ahead to the widow womans house, just at the border. My grandmothers not well, Luna told the widow woman. Dont tell her I said so. And the widow woman sent her almost-grown-up son (a Star Child, like so many others), who ran to the healer, who ran to the apothecary, who ran to the mayor, who alerted the League of Ladies, who alerted the Gentlemens Association and the Clockmakers Alliance and the Quilters and the Tinkers and the town school. By the time Xan hobbled into the widow womans garden, half the town was already there, setting up tables and tents, with legions upon legions of busybodies preparing themselves to fuss over the old woman. Foolishness, Xan sniffed, though she lowered herself gratefully into the chair that a young woman placed right next to the herb garden for her. We thought it best, the widow woman said. I thought it best, corrected Luna, and what seemed like a thousand hands caressed her cheeks and the top of her head and her shoulders. Such a good girl, the townspeople murmured. We knew she would be the best of best girls, and the best of best children, and one day the best of best women. We do so love being right. This attention wasnt unusual. Whenever Luna visited the Free Cities, she found herself warmly received and fawned over. She didnt know why the townspeople loved her so, or why they seemed to hang on her every word, but she enjoyed their admiration. They remarked at her fine eyes, dark and glittering as the night sky, her black hair shot with gold, the birthmark on her forehead in the shape of a crescent moon. They remarked on her intelligent fingers and her strong arms and her fast legs. They praised her for her precise way of speaking and her clever gestures when she danced and her lovely singing voice. She sounds like magic, the town matrons sighed, and then Xan shot them a poisonous look, at which they started mumbling about the weather. That word made Luna frown. In that moment, she knew she must have heard it beforeshe must have. But a moment later, the word flew out of her mind, like a hummingbird. And then it was gone. Just a blank space was left where the word had been, like a fleeting thought at the edge of a dream. Luna sat among a collection of Star Childrenall different agesone infant, some toddlers, and moving upward to the oldest, who was an impressively old man. (Why are they called Star Children? Luna had asked possibly thousands of times. Im sure I dont know what you are talking about, Xan answered vaguely. And then she changed the subject. And then Luna forgot. Every time. Only lately, she could remember herself forgetting.) The Star Children were discussing their earliest memories. It was a thing they did oftenseeing which one could get as close as possible to the moment when Old Xan brought them to their families and marked them as beloved. Since no one could actually remember such a thingthey had been far too youngthey went as deep into their memories as they could to find the earliest image among them. I can remember a toothhow it became wiggly and fell out. Everything before that is a bit of a blur, Im afraid, said the older Star Child gentleman. I can remember a song that my mother used to sing. But she still sings it, so perhaps it isnt a memory after all, said a girl. I remember a goat. A goat with a crinkly mane, said a boy. Are you sure that wasnt just Old Xan? a girl asked him, giggling. She was one of the younger Star Children. Oh, the boy said. Perhaps you are right. Luna wrinkled her brow. There were images lurking in the back of her mind. Were they memories or dreams? Or memories of dreams of memories? Or perhaps she had made them up. How was she supposed to know? She cleared her throat. There was an old man, she said, with dark robes that made a swishing sound like the wind, and he had a wobbly neck and a nose like a vulture, and he didnt like me very much. The Star Children cocked their heads. Really? one of the boys said. Are you sure? They stared at her intently, curling their lips between their teeth and biting down. Xan waved her left hand dismissively while her cheeks began to flush from pink to scarlet. Dont listen to her. Xan rolled her eyes. She has no idea what shes talking about. There was no such man. We see lots of silly things when we dream. Luna closed her eyes. And there was a woman who lived on the ceiling whose hair waved like the branches of the sycamore trees in a storm. Impossible, her grandmother scoffed. You dont know anyone that I didnt meet first. I was there for your whole life. She gazed at Luna with a narrowed eye. And a boy who smelled like sawdust. Why would he smell like sawdust? Lots of people smell like sawdust, her grandmother said. Woodcutters, carpenters, the lady who carves spoons. I could go on and on. This was true, of course, and Luna had to shake her head. The memory was old, and faraway, but at the same time, clear. Luna didnt have very many memories that were as tenacious as this oneher memory, typically, was a slippery thing, and difficult to pin downand so she hung on to it. This image meant something. She was sure of it. Her grandmother, now that she thought about it, never spoke of memories. Not ever. The next day, after sleeping in the guest room of the widow woman, Xan walked through the town, checking on the pregnant women, advising them on their work level and food choices, listening to their bellies. Luna tagged along. So you may learn something useful, her grandmother said. Her words stung, no mistake. Im useful, Luna said, tripping on the cobblestones as they hurried to the first patients house on the other edge of town. The womans pregnancy was so far along, she looked as though she might burst at any second. She greeted both grandmother and grandchild with a serene exhaustion. Id get up, she said, but I fear I may fall over. Luna kissed the lady on the cheek, as was customary, and quickly touched the mound of belly, feeling the child leap inside. Suddenly she had a lump in her throat. Why dont I make some tea? she said briskly, turning her face away. I had a mother once, Luna thought. I must have. She frowned. And surely, she must have asked about it, too, but she couldnt seem to remember doing so. Luna made a list of what she knew in her head. Sorrow is dangerous. Memories are slippery. My grandmother does not always tell the truth. And neither do I. These thoughts swirled in Lunas mind as she swirled the tea leaves in the boiling water. Can the girl rest her hands on my belly for a little bit? the woman asked. Or perhaps she could sing to the child. I would appreciate her blessingliving as she does in the presence of magic. Luna did not know why the woman would want her blessingor even what a blessing was. And that last word . . . it sounded familiar. But Luna couldnt remember. And just like that, she could barely remember the word at alland was only aware of a pulsing sensation in her skull, like the ticking of a clock. In any case, Lunas grandmother hastily shooed her out the door, and then her thinking went fuzzy, and then she was back inside pouring tea from the pot. But the tea had gone cold. How long had she been outside? She hit the side of her head a few times with the heel of her hand to un-addle her brains. Nothing seemed to help. At the next house, Luna arranged the herbs for the mothers care in order of usefulness. She rearranged the furniture to better accommodate the growing belly of the expectant lady, and rearranged the kitchen supplies so she wouldnt have to reach as far. Well, look at you, the mother said. So helpful! Thank you, Luna said bashfully. And smart as a whip, she added. Of course she is, Xan agreed. Shes mine, isnt she? Luna felt a rush of cold. Once again, that memory of waving black hair, and strong hands and the smell of milk and thyme and black pepper, and a womans voice screaming, Shes mine, shes mine, shes mine. The image was so clear, so present and immediate, that Luna felt her breath catch and her heart pound. The pregnant woman didnt notice. Xan didnt notice. Luna could feel the screaming womans voice in her ears. She could feel that black hair in her fingertips. She lifted her gaze to the rafters, but no one was there. The rest of their visit passed without incident, and Luna and Xan made the long journey home. They did not speak of the memory of the man in the robes. Or of any other kind of memory. They did not speak of sorrow or worries or black-haired women on ceilings. And the things that they did not speak of began to outweigh the things that they did. Each secret, each unspoken thing was round and hard and heavy and cold, like a stone hung around the necks of both grandmother and girl. Their backs bent under the weight of secrets.

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