Aye, healing magic be wonderful, if you can find it, but too many be dying if it weren't for the humble bone-setter.
— Ratmis Galador, The Scarecrow Court (Act 2)
Kanéko wiped the tears from her face as she limped down the tower stairs. The cut in her side still hurt, and she rested one hand on the bandage. Her bare feet slapped against the cool stone and dust rose up in front of the tall, narrow windows that let spears of light illuminate the wide curved stairs. Her only baggage was the canvas travel pack on her shoulder.
In two hours, she had to meet Garèo, a desert man who showed up five months ago. Her mother had hired him to teach Kanéko the ways of sand and horses. Kanéko disliked the dark-skinned man, not only because he insisted on speaking only Miwāfu, the desert tongue that Kanéko barely knew, but also because his methods for teaching involved chasing her around the tower until she threw up, forcing her to shoot arrows until her fingers bled, and berating her constantly. The only good thing he did was to never mention Kanéko's inability to use magic.
As much as she despised him, she couldn't stay home. She was required by law to go on the trip, to travel at least a hundred leagues from her birthplace. The Silver King's law didn't specify anywhere in specific, only that she and every other teenager needed to spend a month away from the place they had been born to experience the rest of the country. Not that she wanted to stay behind, with her father's fury still raw. When she had returned to her room to pack, her father's bellowing beat against her window as he ordered servants to clean up the rubble and to find the bone-setter for Jinmel. He interrupted her packing long enough to announce she would be paying for the healer, and then stormed off to have a drink in the great hall.
She reached the ground floor and padded through the dining room and into the vestibule. She stopped in front of the double doors, trepidation rising to claw at her heart. Beyond the wooden doors was the wreckage of her dreams. Her fingers trembled as she grabbed the handle. She choked back a sob.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped outside. Her eyes rose automatically to the ruins of the boiler; it was the tallest thing still standing in the stables. She visually traced the pipes, looking for the valve that caused the explosion.
She couldn't find the source. Stepping closer to inspect it, she noticed that none of her tools were on the ground. Someone had picked them up while she was upstairs. Frowning, she trudged across the courtyard and peered into the wreckage.
She spotted footprints in the dust, ash, and mud. They were small, one of the many children that hung around the tower. One set of footprints trailed over to the imprint of her hammer, but the hammer itself was gone.
Kanéko sighed. Her father would have told the local children to gather up her supplies and put them in the storage barn. The next time a trader came visiting, they would pick what they wanted from the barn and make an offer in hopes of a profit.
The idea of her carefully collected tools being sold to some trader brought tears to her eyes. She had spent a year purchasing half of them with her allowances. Jinmel helped craft the remaining tools from blurry images and best guesses. She wished she could hide them until she got back. It would give her enough time to try again.
An idea came to her. She had a large chest in her bedroom that would be perfect for hiding everything. If she packed her tools away and then shoved the chest into a corner, no one would think to look inside for her missing tools and she would be able to rescue them when she returned.
Twenty minutes later, she finished wrapping the last of her tools in a shirt she never wore. She already knew where she would jam it into the heavily packed trunk. It fit perfectly and she closed the lid with a grin.
When she finished, she stepped back to admire her effort. It looked imposing and heavy; no one would even consider opening it.
With sweat dripping down her back, she looked for a good place to shove it. It needed to be buried, maybe under some canvas and ropes. Anything to
Kanéko jumped at her mother's gravelly voice. She spun around and slapped her hand on the chest, in case it wasn't latched. Fear prickled the back of her neck as she turned to look at her mother.
Mioráshi perched on the edge of a hay bale just inside the door. She wore a blue dress, embroidered with the desert script. Her short bow, with its heavily carved handle and feathers at the ends, bobbed over her head like a snake's rattle.
“What are you doing, foolish child?” Her mother was calmer than normal, otherwise she would be swearing more in her native language, Miwāfu.
Kanéko thought furiously. “I-I was just making sure my chest wasn't too heavy.”
Her mother raised an eyebrow and looked at the chest. “You had a sands damned bag you packed yesterday. It was small and light, worthy of travel. What is that fupujyu chìdo? Are you taking that instead?”
Sweat prickled Kanéko's brow as she realized she was trapped. While her parents fought frequently, her mother rarely disagreed with Ronamar's edicts. If she knew that Kanéko had hidden her tools, there was a good chance her mother would insist on telling her father or scream at her in two languages before telling her father.
Mioráshi cocked her head, the white strands in her curly hair almost glowing in the light streaking through the windows.
Kanéko fought the urge to look at the back of the barn as she thought furiously. There wasn't many options. She took a deep breath and tried to put on a casual face. “I couldn't get everything in it. In the bag.”
“And that,” her mother pointed at the chest, “is better, to carry something so heavy and bulky? Are you a witless idiot who carries her bucket upside down on her head?”
Kanéko nodded, cringing inside.
Mioráshi's eyes narrowed. Her knuckles tightened on her bow.
Kanéko squirmed under the look. She pictured her mother forcing her to open the chest and then the screaming would start.
“A foolish child must learn through pain.” Mioráshi straightened up and patted her bow. “Garèo won't be here for at least an hour. Come shoot arrows with me out back.”
Her mother looked like she was struggling with words. It was the same expression that Kanéko saw whenever her mother tried to act like a parent and a source of authority. It rarely worked out for the two of them, her mother was fifteen years younger than her husband and only eighteen when Kanéko was born.
The only one of the three of them that had any family experience was Ronamar with his previous wife and boy.
Her mother tightened her grip on the bow. “It would be a good way to pass the time and… I'm going to miss you.”
“I-I,” stammered Kanéko. She felt trapped by the lie she started. “I was going to meet Garèo by the milestone.”
Mioráshi's shoulders slumped. She gestured with her free hand to the chest. “How do you plan on bringing that back-breaking box with you? Drag it?”
“It isn't that heavy, Mama.” When her mother didn't look convinced, Kanéko lifted the end and set it down, pretending she dropped it. With the tools inside, it was a lot heavier than she had thought, but she couldn't strain with her mother watching.
With a sigh, Mioráshi jumped off the bale. She rested a hand on Kanéko's shoulder. She didn't seem to notice when Kanéko flinched. “You're an utter idiot with an empty vase for a skull. Be safe.”
She turned and strode out of the barn. There was no noise of her passing, no hint that she was even there except for the faint smells of bow oil and leather.
Kanéko stared in the direction of her mother and silently berated herself. She planned on hiding the chest, not bringing it with her. Now, if her mother found that she had left it behind, there would be questions and trouble.
Then she turned back. “Shit,” she muttered. There was no way she could leave the chest in the barn. If her mother saw it again, she would ask questions that could result in the contents being confiscated again. The tools made it too heavy to drag back up to her room, not without taking everything out and carting the contents upstairs. She had to find a new place, somewhere safe that no one would look.
She mentally worked her way through all the surrounding buildings, looking for hiding spots but finding none. The few houses that gathered around the tower were all occupied and small. Jinmel's smithy would have been a good place but her father went there frequently. He knew the contents of her room and would notice her chest in a corner.
Beyond the buildings were fields that stretched out a mile in all directions. Officially, it was to ensure that any invader wouldn't have shelter or protection as they approached the tower.
The seconds passed by as she struggled with her options. The growing dread finally came to a peak. She was trapped. The only way to keep her tools a secret was to bring the chest beyond the milestones and into the surrounding forest. There, she could bury it among the roots and it would be safe. With all the padding inside, the moisture wouldn't reach the metal to rust it.
With her new plan, she strained to lift the end before dropping it with a loud thud. There were easily a seventy pounds of metal and wood inside.
“Sands drown me,” she swore in frustration.
She stepped out into the road and looked at her destination. The milestone was exactly one mile from her father's tower. It was along a relatively flat road with a gentle hill at the end.
Returning to the chest, she opened it up and tossed her travel pack inside. She locked it and placed the key in her wallet, which contained around two hundred paper crowns—the currency of the realm—and an illustrated picture of herself with an official seal.
Kanéko steeled herself and then grabbed the handle. It would be a long mile.