Umi folded the summer curtains while Shiori sat watching. The winter drapes were long overdue; the windowpanes were gray with fog in the morning and had been every morning since Umi had arrived.
The yard behind the atrium was empty of the harem children and their carers. Only half of the parakeet cages swung outside, empty of birds. The only noise between the evening gusts was their metal hooks, clicking and creaking on their lines. A single white-robed woman stood in the yard’s center, standing on a block to pull the cages down.
“Ain't that the truth. So you’re training the patriarch’s boy, now?” Hanif wrestled playfully with his son's grip. “That’s a damned honor. Damned waste, too, if you ask me. Like five cats in one dog, that young man is. Think you’d be willing to give this little beast of wrath some lessons?”
Shardae kept her mouth shut. If she said Siskin, they would surely send her back. A life of holy discipline must be better than slavery, but somehow Shardae still felt like she hadn’t run far enough.
Why the sixteenth patriarch of Regnor had invited him to his residence was still unclear to Umi.
Her name was Zoya Nia. She was a foreign slave of an aristocrat who had ended the service for her crime a long time ago, and her owners paid her well. They trusted her with tending their babes and selecting the best of Árai’s horses for the warriors they sponsored.
Her first battle came only two days later. A gang of straggling Demons fell on them, rising from hills of mulch. They had no choice but to stop and stand their ground.
Persis had never heard a door slam in Seller’s Moon. No raised voices, and no babies’ cries—no one wanted to stir up dust from the long season.
Crushed between two pages bookmarking a section on home fertility remedies, Shiori found a head of dried hydrangeas. He plucked it out gingerly—the petals were veined and brittle as fly wings. They shuddered quietly in his grasp. Shiori's eyebrow ticked. He hated dead things.
Khurshid tapped her chin with the tooth of his curved sword. Umi flinched.