As war thunders forth, a fleeing slave-princess discovers that all is not as she thought.
Endangered by her cousin the Prince, Serva must take refuge with a protector, for despite being the King's bastard daughter, she was long ago condemned to slavery. She has little power of her own.
But when she loses her best hope for protection, she must draw upon her strength to protect herself. Soon she will realize that others need her protection as well.
"I had not heard many words before I forgot all my scruples."
Rated T. Boilerplate warning for all my stories + my rating system.
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The palace was silent. Sounds echoed throughout the dungeon, where I stood: groans from the wounded soldiers, the clatter of bowls being washed, chatter from the guards standing nearby. But nowhere was there music. The last of the wounded Daxions had been sent back over the border; the Spirit's power had disappeared from this land.
There was only one place where I could go to seek the healing song I required, and it was too late in the night for that. Although the Jackal appeared to be above such human necessities as sleep – he spent most nights in the hospital, helping the other doctors – Perry would be asleep by now, perhaps dreaming songs as Daxions do. I looked with longing for a moment at the lightly guarded entrance to the royal residence, then turned and began walking down the corridor that ran alongside it.
It took me some time to realize that this corridor was unlit. Then I found myself turning with astonishment to stare at the golden blocks that marked what had once been the exterior of the Koretian Council Hall. I had noticed on the first occasion I saw them how they seemed to glow in the shadows; now I realized that the glow arose, not from any reflection, but from some inner light. I reached out my hand to touch one of the blocks, and at that moment I heard singing.
It came, very faintly, from behind the wall. I had been able to hear it, I realized in the next moment, because the block I was standing next to was loose in the wall.
With my heart pumping hard, I looked back down the corridor. The guards had been standing inside the entrance to the royal residence when I left; from here, I could not see them. Touching the block, I found it to be both cool and soft, as though it were covered in moss. With a swiftness that came from long experience with these matters, I worked the block loose until I was able to grab hold of its edges and pull it out. There was no mortar to hinder me; this part of the palace seemed to be built without mortar. The next block was loose as well, and the next . . . After a few minutes' work, I had taken out enough blocks that I could pull myself through the waist-high hole I had just created.
There was no way for me to pull the blocks back in afterwards. I could only pray that the guards did not notice the luminous pile in the corridor and come to investigate. The gap in the wall, though, gave me just enough light to see that I was standing in a narrow corridor, barely wide enough for me to pass, and extending up into darkness beyond my sight. Directly in front of me was a ladder against the wall. All around me the winds sang their song.
This was too much for me; I felt as though the breath of the Spirit was heavy upon me. I had to remind myself forcefully that the King's palace was built in the year that Daxis was founded, that the Three Lands were all founded in the same year, and that the Koretian Council Hall might therefore have been built around the same time, perhaps even by the same architect. If so, the builder had taken care that both his designs should contain the same hidden passage.
As I scrambled up the ladder, I tried to remember the layout of the royal residence. The underground area, I knew, was where the servants' quarters were located, while the Jackal's quarters, the Council Chamber, and a few small guest chambers were on the topmost floor of the residence. The ground floor was the one I could not remember visiting. And so, more out of curiosity than anything else, when I reached the gap underneath the floorboards to this level, I squeezed myself into it.
The passage was quite cold and also very dusty, but to my relief I encountered no rats or other beastly defenders of their territory, just an occasional spider who scuttled away as my head broke its web. I could no longer see where I was going. After a while, I began to feel uneasy at crawling blindly into a passage I did not know; I no longer had the fearlessness of my childhood. In any case, the room above me was evidently empty, for I could hear no sound. I remembered now that it was the presentation chamber, used by the Jackal to receive his guests; it was unlikely to be in use at this time of night. Besides, I reminded myself forcefully, I had no business sneaking around the Jackal's palace. I was a guest here and was enjoying the Jackal's protection. It was time to leave.
So I thought, but in the next moment I heard a thump and then the sound of voices above me as two men walked into the room. And I had not heard many words before I had forgotten all my scruples and lay still on my stomach, listening to the men above with as much enthrallment as I had once listened to the Prince and his subcaptain.