Chapter 3: A Simple Lie

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 II

Kanéko wiped the tears from her face as she limped down the tower stairs. The cut in her side still hurt, but she just rested one hand on the bandage. Her bare feet slapped against the cool stone and dust rose up in the tall, narrow windows that let spears of light illuminate the wide curved stairs. Her only baggage was a canvas travel pack weighing down on her shoulder.

In two hours before 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 the desert. 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 thing he didn’t mention was Kanéko’s inability to use magic.

As much as she despised him, she couldn’t stay home. When she returned to her room to pack, her father’s bellowing had echoed against the tower walls for the better part of an hour 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 entry hall. She stopped in front of the double doors, trepidation rising up to claw at her heart. Beyond the wooden doors was the wreckage of her dreams. Her fingers trembled as she grabbed the handle and 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 through the pipes, looking for the valve that caused the explosion.

She couldn’t find the source, but 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 to her father.

The idea of her tools being sold to some trader brought tears to her eyes. She had spent a year purchasing half of them with her allowances. She made the other half with Jinmel’s help. She wished she could hide them until she got back. At least then, she could find some hidden place to try again.

An idea came to her. She could sneak into the barn and get her tools. She had a chest in her bedroom that would be perfect for hiding them until she returned. Grinning, she tore back into the tower to get it.

Twenty minutes later, she finished wrapping the last of her tools, her hammer, 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.

Digging into her pocket, she found the key. Just as she was locking it, she realized her travel pack was on the ground next to her. Exasperated, she opened the chest, shoved it into place, and slammed the lid. 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.

“Néko?”

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 looked around at her mother.

Mioráshi perched on the edge of a hay bale and towered over her. She wore a brown 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. She fought the urge to look at the back of the barn. Instead, she gulped and nodded. “I couldn’t get everything in it. In the bag.”

“And that,” her mother pointed the chest, “is better, to carry something so heavy and bulky? You are a witless idiot?”

Kanéko nodded, cringing inside.

Mioráshi’s eyes narrowed. Her knuckles tightened on her bow.

Kanéko squirmed under the look. She pictured her mother forcing it open and the screaming that would follow.

A foolish child must learn through pain.” Mioráshi straightened up. “Garèo won’t be here for at least an hour. Come shoot with me.”

“I-I,” stammered Kanéko. She felt trapped by the lie she started. “I was going to meet him by the milestone.”

Mioráshi shook her head. “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 that she dropped it. It was a lot heavier than Kanéko 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 away, disappearing around a corner. There was no noise of her passing, no hint of 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 more trouble for Kanéko.

Looking around, Kanéko tried to figure out some place to hide the chest without letting anyone know. Her original plan of dragging it back to her room wasn’t an option. She couldn’t hide the chest in plain sight, her mother knew about it. The storage barn wasn’t a choice either, which meant she had to find a new place.

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 them with her. With a groan, she lifted the end up again and let it drop.

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 hill at the end.

Returning to the chest, she grabbed the handle and dragged it toward the milestone. It would be a long mile.

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