greater share of his fatigue-drunk mind. Kirot didn’t lead him back toward the darkened houses, though. He took him to the cliffside. Centuries of tides had eaten at the hard stone of the land, sucking away soil and leaving the the bones of the world exposed. Caves and tunnels pocked it, pools of darkness within the darkness. Kirot led toward one, the lantern swinging at his side. Milo gave silent thanks that the man hadn’t asked for his pipe back.

The cave leaned into the land. Seaweed and driftwood choked the way forward, ready cover for crabs or ice snakes. Brine and rot thickened the chill air. Kirot raised the small lantern, muttered to himself, and waded forward, into the black. Milo followed. The cave sank deeper in, then turned and became a tunnel. The stone changed from pebbled brown and grey and black to an almost luminous green. Milo had seen a knife once made of dragon’s jade, unbreakable and permanently keen. This looked the same. A black line marked where the water stopped, even at high tide. Milo wouldn’t have thought they’d gone up enough for that, but his mind still wasn’t wholly his own. Perhaps he’d lost himself for a time somewhere in the tunnel. Perhaps the tobacco Kirot had given him had a few seeds of some less benign plant.

“Here,” Kirot whispered. “Look, but fuck’s sake keep quiet.”

He held out the lantern. The old man’s face looked grim and uncomfortable and as close as Milo had ever seen to fear. Anxiety snaked down past Milo’s exhaustion and pain as he reached out for the light. The iron handle scraped against his palm as he gripped it. Kirot nodded him on, then plucked the pipe from between Milo’s teeth and squatted down on his wide haunches as if ready to wait there in the darkness forever. Milo walked on.

The tunnel opened out into a larger chamber. Milo had been in any number of salt caves in his life, natural gaps where softer stone or mineral had been eroded away to leave holes in the flesh of the world. Once, he’d even found the remains of a smuggler’s camp: rotted steel blades and shattered pottery. The place he stepped into now bore those natural caverns no resemblance. The green walls were plumb and square, black lines carved into them in forms that made Milo’s skin crawl to look at. Black streaks bled down from holes where iron sconces had rusted to nothing timeless ages before. And before him, in the great room’s center, a statue of a dragon larger than a house. Its scales were the black of the midnight sea under layers of lichen and moss. The closed eyes were larger than Milo’s head, and the wide claws that rested on the ground could have covered his full body and left no sign that he was under them. Great wings lay folded against its sides.

Milo found himself weeping. He had no words to describe the commanding beauty of the thing before him or the ice-in-the-crotch terror that it inspired. He murmured an obscenity under his breath, and the carved dragon before him made it seem like a prayer. His heart fluttering in his breast, he reached out and put his hand against the broad scales.

Stone. Cold, hard, and dead.

He had heard that the great cities had such things. Images of dragons so old they’d been carved from living models, the impressions of massive claws, miraculous bestiaries and towers. He had heard of the great and mysterious ships that fishermen saw in the freezing mist that never came to shore. His world had always been filled with stories of miracles, but never the things themselves. Not until now. He let himself sit, his abused legs folding. The floor of the buried temple was cold and gritty, and the tears dripped down his cheeks, hot and utterly without shame. A warmth seemed to grow in his breast, a heat that came from having a secret. And more than that, from at last being a man. He imagined Kirot decades before, with his hair black and his face smooth, where he now sat. He imagined his father, his older brothers. All of them had carried the secret between them, and no amount of friendship, fondness, or loyalty could bridge that chasm. He had crossed over now. He knew what they knew. He was one of them now, not a child, but a man of Order Murro. And yes, it was a secret he would carry to his grave.

The lantern flame fluttered, and Milo noticed the greasy smell of the oil. He didn’t want to be caught in the darkness of the temple, trying to find his way back to old Kirot in the inky black. He rose, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave. There needed to be something more. Some gesture that came from him, that made all of this his own.

“I will guard this secret,” he said, his thin voice echoing through the chamber. “No man alive will take it from me.”

He had a feeling of acceptance, almost of gratitude, radiating from the still stone before him. It was an illusion, of course, no more real than the voice of the water, but its unreality didn’t seem to matter. He would carry this moment with him, buried under the world with the sea at his back and the dragon before him, forever.

A sound came like the thunder of a gigantic wave, and Milo fell back. The great statue shifted, ripples passing along the expanse of its side, dust sheeting down. It shifted its foreclaws, raised its head, the vast mouth opening in a massive yawn. Within, the flesh of its mouth was wet and black, and the hot breath stank of oil and bit the air like the fumes from distilled wine. The massive head drooped, took a new position on its folded claws, and went still again. Milo heard something like a small girl’s laughter, high and small and paroxysmal, and knew it was him.

A hard-callused hand took him by the hair and pulled him back, another hand clamping down over his mouth and choking off his yelp. Kirot looked peeved; he scooped up the still-burning lantern and pushed Milo back down into the tunnel. Soon the walls around them grew soft and rounded again, and the cracking roar of the waves returned. When they reached the stone beach, Kirot stopped and lifted the lantern.

“I tell you that the world ends if the dragon wakes up,” the old fisherman said, “and to keep quiet, and what is it you do, boy?”


Kirot spat in disgust. When he spoke, his voice carried a full hold of contempt.

“Milo son of Gytan of Order Murro, I stand witness that you are now a man. Don’t let it go to your fucking head.”

Clara Annalise Kalliam, Formerly Baroness of Osterling Fells

Clara woke to the familiar sound of voices raised in the street below her window. The dawn had not yet transformed the darkness of her little room in the boarding house from black to grey, but it soon would. Her window was not glass, but oiled parchment that let in some light and a great deal of cold. She pulled the wool blankets close to her chin, pressed her body into the thin mattress, and listened while the married couple in the street berated one another again, as they did more mornings than not. He was a drunkard and a little boy in a man’s broken body. She was a shrew who drank a man’s blood and ate his freedom. He was sleeping with whores. She was giving all the coin he earned to her brother. The litany of marital strife was as common and boring as it was sad. And saddest of all, Clara thought, was that the two of them couldn’t hear the love on which all their resentments were built. No one shouted and wept in the street over someone they didn’t care about. She wondered what they would make of it if she sought them out and told them how very, very lucky they were.

When at last she rose, the light was enough that she could see the winter’s cold turning her breath to smoke. She got quickly into her underthings, and then a dress with stays up the side where she could reach them without a servant girl’s help. Under other circumstances, she would still have been wearing mourning clothes, but when one’s husband is slaughtered by the Lord Regent as a traitor to the throne, the rules of grief are somewhat changed. She made do with a small twist of cloth tied around her wrist and easily covered by her sleeve. She would know it was there. That was enough.

As the light waxed, she washed her face and put up her hair. The sounds in the street changed. The rattle of carts, the shouting of carters. Dogs barked. The sounds of Camnipol in the grip of winter. Dawson had hated being in the capital city during winter. Winter business, he’d called it, and his voice had dripped with contempt. A man of his breeding should spend the winter months on his lands or else with the King’s Hunt. Only now, of course, there were no lands. Lord Regent Geder Palliako had taken them back for the crown, to be doled out later as a token to someone whom he wished to reward. And Clara was living on an allowance scraped together by her two younger sons. Her eldest boy, Barriath, was gone God only knew where, and her natural daughter was busy clinging to her husband’s name and praying that the court would forget she had ever been called Kalliam.

In the common room, Vincen Coe sat by the fire, waiting for her. He wore his huntsman’s leathers, though there was no hunt to call in the city and the master he’d served was dead. The perfectly ridiculous love he professed for Clara shone in his eyes and in the uncertain way he held himself as she walked into the room. It

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