Arsha’s cabin aboard the Triskelion was tiny, but cosy. A scattering of wooden statuettes littered the top of her dresser, the tools she’d used to carve them now buried in one of the bottom drawers. A half finished dress was draped over the back of a chair, the needle tucked into the middle of a seam, and books lay scattered across the floor around an unmade bed. On the desk in one corner sat the pieces of a harmonic she’d been trying to build, with Shani’s help.
Arsha was sitting cross-legged on the bed, with her sending stone cradled in her hands. She concentrated, and felt the stone respond. She held the image of Shani’s sigil in her mind and let the connection come to life. Moments later a ghostly image of Shani’s room appeared before her. The girl was sitting on her bed, surrounded by the pieces of whatever project she was working on. Her hair had been pulled up into a winding mass of braids that spilled down one shoulder.
“Hey sister. I miss you already. How are you holding up?”
“Missing you too. I really wish you were here right now,” Arsha said.
“I know. I’m sorry sweetheart. But your Dad insisted you had to stay with him, and I couldn’t just go skipping out school right now… Believe me, I thought about it. I really did.”
“No, it’s OK. Its not your fault.”
“So, did you find out what all the noise is about yet?” Shani said. Arsha shook her head sadly.
“Dad’s been… Weird. He’s just in his cabin all the time. He’s been going through all his old books, looking up stuff for whatever he’s doing now. Everyone is just…” She shrugged, helplessly. “Like, Micah’s acting like it’s all no big deal like he always does, and Ilona’s just…”
“Just being ‘Lona. Yeah, I know. The more worried she gets, the more stone-faced she gets, as if that was possible. I think I nearly died the last time I saw her smile.”
“She smiles plenty. She’s just… Quiet,” Arsha said.
“Babe, you don’t have to defend her. I love ‘Lona to bits, but she’s not exactly sociable, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Arsha said, with a sigh of resignation.
“How are my parents doing?”
“They’re fine, I think. I sort of get that they both know a little, but they can’t talk about it. So everyone’s just, you know, not saying anything. Milima’s spending all her time working on stuff. Like, whenever she’s not in the engine room she’s cleaning something or fixing something.”
“Yeah, that sounds like Mum alright.”
“And Uncle Abasi’s just, you know, quiet.”
“Hang in there kid. It’ll all pan out. Your dad’s an odd guy sometimes, but he’s not, you know, crazy. What people say about him, it’s all rubbish. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. And he always knows what he’s doing, you know? Even it when it looks like he doesn’t.”
“Yeah. I know. I just… I know there’s stuff that he doesn’t talk about. Things he keeps to himself. But this is different. He’s different. You can see it, the way he’s been acting. Whatever this thing is, I think it’s really messing him up,” Arsha said, staring down at the floor as she spoke.
“He’ll sort it out, Arsh.”
“I just wish I knew why. Why he’s acting like this all of a sudden. Like, if I could just know what that sending was about. Even if I just knew who it was, maybe it would make some sense.”
Shani nodded, and seemed about to say something. But instead, her lips pressed into a thin line, as Arsha looked up at her, expectantly.
“It’s just…” Shani paused again, and then her shoulders fell a little. “You could find out. If you really mean it. About knowing what the sending was. There’s a way you could find out.”
Arsha felt her stomach twist.
“How… How would I do it?” she said.
Her father’s study had changed little over the years. She could still remember how his old mahogany desk, scratched and scarred by years of use, had once towered over her. The leather chair, a bed that was never made, and shelf upon shelf of books. Every wall was covered with them, carefully bound with hide straps to keep them from shifting with the movements of the ship.
Her father’s library had always fascinated her. As she grew older she had begun to borrow heavily from his collection, diving into one book after another. The unfinished volumes would pile up in her room until she came staggering back with armful after armful, and the cycle began again. She couldn’t say why she never seemed to finish any of the books she started. It just seemed like whatever she found behind those well worn covers was not what she was looking for there.
That would be her excuse, if her father woke; that she had crept into his room late at night in search of the book that kept eluding her. She knew it was a poor excuse. She hoped desperately that she wouldn’t have to use it.
She had waited in the hallway for hours until at last, one ear pressed to the door, she had begun to hear faint snoring from the other side. Her father often stayed up long past when anyone else in the ship had gone to sleep. Already a greyness was showing on the far horizon, glimpsed through the porthole in the corridor, and she was afraid that soon Abasi would be up and about. A lifetime aboard ships had made the captain a tenaciously early riser. With how late her father worked, she often wondered how the two had ever found enough time together to become such close friends.
She slipped into the room, easing the door closed behind herself. Her father had never even made it to the bed. He was sprawled in his leather office chair, head to one side, a fountain pen dangling between his fingers. She looked around for her father’s coat. Her hands were trembling as she checked each of the pockets in turn. His sending stone was not there.
Then she saw it, propped up beneath the lantern on his desk, gilded frame gleaming under the flickering ghostlight. A lump formed in her throat and she fought to swallow it down. She felt as if her heart might shatter her ribcage as she inched across the few scant yards to his desk. He was close enough to touch, faintly snoring. A little trail of drool had formed at the corner of his mouth. For one terrifying moment, she had to suppress an overwhelming urge to laugh. She reached out to lift the sending stone from the desk. Her hands were shaking so hard that the smooth stone nearly fell out of her grasp, and she barely caught it before it struck the desk. She heard a sudden intake of breath, as her father shifted a little in his seat and then settled again. Heart still pounding, she slipped out the door.
Out in the corridor, she leaned back against the wall and let out the breath she’d been holding. She pressed the sending stone deep into her pocket and stole away back to her bedroom, cursing her own curiosity.
As she was passing the main stairwell, a sudden sound froze her in place. One of the doors lining the corridor swung open and a tall figure stepped out. In the darkness, it took her a moment to realise it was Micah. He was mostly undressed, just a pair of loose pyjama trousers on.
“Mmm? Hey kid,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes.
“Hh… Hey,” she did her best to smile.
“Couldn’t sleep. I, uh, went up to the kitchen to get a drink,” she said, trying to sound as natural as she could.
“You?” she added.
He gestured at the door to the bathroom, just behind her.
“I’d best get back to bed,” she said.
As she stepped past him, he laid a hand, gently, on her shoulder.
“Arsh… Are you doing OK?”
“How do you mean?” she said.
“With all this, I mean. Your dad dropping everything, all of us suddenly running off to a city past the veil. I know it must all seem… Rough.”
Trying not to fiddle with her hands too much, she gave him a reassuring smile.
“I’ll deal with it. I mean, Dad’s gotta have a plan, right?”
“He always does,” Micah said. He sounded so confident, like he always did. It was enough to make her wish she believed him.
“Anyway. I should get back to bed.”
She smiled, and stepped away.
“Yeah. Nature calls.”
Micah nodded and slouched off towards the bathroom, as she ducked through the door to her cabin and pressed it closed behind herself.
Breathing hard, she threw herself down on her bed and buried her face in her pillow until her heart finally stopped beating so fast. It would have been so easy to just fall asleep, there and then. Instead, she had to force herself to sit up and rub the tiredness from her eyes. She removed the purloined sending stone from her pocket. For a moment it lay in her open palms, gleaming in the dull light. There was a sick feeling in her stomach as she thought about what she was doing. She almost wished she could just throw the stone in the bottom of a drawer and forget about it.
Instead she carefully laid the stone down on her bedside table, next to her own. Touching one hand to each, she focussed on her sending stone, and the weave that Shani had left there. She felt the thread uncoiling, like a rising note at the beginning of a symphony. Shani’s weaves always felt like music. As she focused, she could almost feel the weave sliding into her father’s stone, wrapping around the subtle locks that prevented her from seeing what lay inside. There was a feeling of tension, and then release. The contents of the stone opened up before her, choices flashing into her thoughts. She directed her attention to the recent calls. The past few days had been a flurry of activity. She skimmed through the most recent, mostly outgoing calls to names she did not recognise. Delving deeper, she came to a single sending, received a few days past, at just after six thirty in the evening.
Strangely, the sender was unnamed. She pulled up the memory of the sending from within the stone. Immediately, two ghosts joined her in the room. The first was her father, no surprise. The second was someone she didn’t know. A woman. Arsha was immediately struck by her beauty. Her age was hard to guess, but she had a slim, perfectly shaped face framed by long black hair that fell straight down her shoulders, and large, gentle eyes.
“Maya?” her father gasped.
“Hello Rishi. I’m sorry, I know it’s been a long time.”
“No, of course. I understand. Maya, isn’t it dangerous for you to be calling me like this?”
“It is. But this is important.”
“Maya, please… You shouldn’t be putting yourself in any danger for my sake.”
Maya covered her mouth, as she made a sound like something between a laugh and a sob.
“Fates, Rishi, do you have any idea how much I’ve missed seeing your face?”
“I’ve missed you too, Maya. You’re keeping well?”
“The Chamber keeps me safe and sound, as always. They even let me take walks in the gardens these days. I have a bodyguard now. I’m one of the elect.”
“That’s good,” her father said, his tone suggesting that he was having to bite back something else he might have said.
“Rishi, my sweet, you don’t have to pretend to be happy for me. I know it kills you, seeing me trapped here.”
“It’s like chewing on glass, every time I think of you being stuck in that place. But it’s good, that they let you take walks. You always loved the gardens.”
“You’re thinking of the estate, aren’t you? Fates, how did you put up with me? Always chasing at your heels.”
“You were never a bother, Maya.”
She lowered her eyes a little, smiling demurely. Her father seemed to gather himself in the momentary silence.
“Maya, why did you risk this? Calling me?”
“A dream I had.”
“A dream? You mean…”
“Yes. A vision.”
“Maya, you can’t. You know what it means, sharing a vision without…”
“Rishi, please don’t. I know what it means, but I have to. You’ll understand.”
“I can’t let you do this, Maya. Not for me.”
“Yes, you can. You have to. I can’t explain it, Rishi, but I feel it. I was meant to share this vision with you. I think… I think it was only meant for you…”
“You haven’t told them, have you? Fates, Maya, faking dream records…”
“I told you, I can’t explain it. I just know.”
She saw her father press one hand to his forehead. He seemed to be trying to steady his breathing. Finally he looked up at her again.
“OK. If you’ve risked this much to tell me…”
“Thank you,” she said.
Her father just nodded, swallowing.
“In the dream… There was a city. A city beyond the veil. A clock tower with four faces, old and much loved. A great wheel in the sky, by the edge of a river. Towers of glass. A bridge with two gatehouses. A palace.”
“London,” her father said, in obvious surprise.
“London? Really? I didn’t know.”
“It has to be London. It’s one of the great cities in the Hearth.”
Maya nodded, calmly.
“There’s a girl, Rishi. Young. She’s running away from something. She’s scared and in pain. I saw a boy with her, but I couldn’t see his face. He seemed to be made of shadows and smoke. Fates Rishi, he frightened me. Just looking at him made me feel sick. They were running through the streets, and there was an animal, some kind of animal hunting them. They were surrounded by broken glass and clouds of falling leaves, like autumn. She’s connected to you, Rishi. I don’t know how, but I could feel you hanging over her. Like a ghost. Like, you’ve been haunting her, or she’s been haunting you.”
Her father looked ashen as Maya related this.
“But there’s more,” the woman continued, as if just speaking the words was painful. “I saw this girl, standing in an open space in the middle of the city… And Arsha was standing with her.”
Arsha felt a coldness in her gut, a feeling like someone’s hand clenching around her stomach. In the memory of the sending, her father’s eyes widened.
“You’re sure? You’re sure it was her?”
Maya nodded, with a sadness in her eyes. It almost seemed like an apology.
“They were standing together, Arsha and this girl. Their hands were bound together with red string, wound all around them, spilling over the ground. The girl, her other hand was covered in a gauntlet of iron, rusted and old. The boy was with them, watching them. I could see his shadow, surrounding them both. And Arsha… I don’t know Rishi. She seemed like she was trying to make a choice. The kind of choice that changes everything about you. I remember she had wings, Rishi. Wings of iron, rusted, like the gauntlet the girl wore. I’m sorry, I don’t suppose any of this makes any sense to you?”
“A little,” he said, his voice hollow.
“Good. Because there’s one more thing. There’s been… Talk. Rumours, around the Chamber. You know how it is. We’re not supposed to discuss dreams, but when something big happens… You can feel it in the air. A Seed, Rishi. A Seed is going to open.”
“Maya, are you… Are you sure?”
The woman shrugged.
“Is anything sure? From what I’ve heard, just about every one of the elect has had the same dream.”
“It was the last part of the dream. The girl… She looked at me. Right at me, with eyes full of so much anger and sadness. And then she held out her hand, the hand covered by the iron gauntlet. It was there, in her palm. The Seed. Oh Fates, Rishi, I could feel it. I could feel its power.”
Her father seemed unsure of what to say.
“Thank you. For telling me,” he managed, at last.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I have to…” he floundered. Arsha saw that his hands were shaking. He seemed to be resting his weight against a wall. “Your father and I, we have a lot of debts to pay, Maya. I think… I think this might be the worst of them.”
For a moment, Maya was silent. She seemed to be studying his face, with an expression of sad longing.
“Rachael,” the woman said, softly. “Her name is Rachael. She whispered it to me, just as the dream ended. Do what you can for her, Rishi. Do what’s right. I know you will.”
“Thank you,” her father said. It was almost a whisper. Then the sending ended.
Arsha sat on her bed, the stone cupped in her hands, staring into the distance as she wondered what to make of it all.
The Stolen Child by Peter Brunton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.