The Broken Kingdoms
Page 13

 N.K. Jemisin

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I kept gaping as three of the Order-Keepers grabbed him. I saw them, dark silhouettes limned by Shiny’s light, throw him to the ground and kick him and haul his arms back to tie them. One of them put his knee on the back of Shiny’s neck, bearing down, and I screamed before I could stop myself. The Order-Keeper, a malevolent shadow, turned and shouted for me to shut up, Maro bitch, or he would have some for me, too—
At that fierce bellow, I started so badly that I lost my grip on my stick. In the silence that fell, it clattered on the Promenade’s walkstones loudly, making me jump again.
Rimarn had been the one to shout. I could not see him; whatever he’d done to conceal his nature from me before, it was back in effect now. Even if I’d been able to see his godwords, I think Shiny would have drowned out his minor light.
Rimarn sounded hoarse and out of breath. He was on his feet, near the cluster of men, and spoke to Shiny. “Are you a fool? I’ve never seen a man do anything so stupid.”
Shiny had not struggled as the priests bore him down. Rimarn waved away the Order-Keeper who’d put a knee on Shiny’s neck—my own shoulder muscles unknotted in sympathetic relief—and then shoved the back of Shiny’s head with a toe. “Answer me!” he snapped. “Are you a fool?”
I had to do something. “H-he’s my cousin,” I blurted. “Fresh from the territory, Previt. He doesn’t know the city, didn’t know who you were…” This was the worst lie I had ever told. Everyone, no matter their nation or race or tribe or class, knew Itempan priests on sight. They wore shining white uniforms and they ruled the world. “Please, Previt, I’ll take responsibility—”
“No, you won’t,” Rimarn snapped. The Order-Keepers got up and hauled Shiny to his feet. He stood calmly between them, glowing so brightly that I could see half the Promenade by the light that poured off his flesh. He still had that terrible, deadly smile on his face.
Then they were dragging him away, and fear soured my mouth as I fumbled my way around my tables. Something else fell over with a crash as I groped toward Rimarn without a stick. “Previt, wait!”
“I’ll be back for you later,” he snapped at me. Then he, too, walked away, following the other Order-Keepers. I tried to run after them and cried out as I tripped over some unseen obstacle. Before I could fall, I was caught by rough hands that smelled of tobacco and sour alcohol and fear.
“Quit it, Oree,” Vuroy breathed in my ear. “They’re too pissed off to feel guilty about kicking the shit out of a blind girl.”
“They’ll kill him.” I gripped his arm tight. “They’ll beat him to death. Vuroy—”
“Nothing you can do about it,” he said softly, and I went limp, because he was right.
Vuroy, Ru, and Ohn helped me get home. They carried my tables and goods, too, out of the unspoken understanding that I would not need to store my things with Yel, because I would not be going back to the Row anytime soon.
Ru and Vuroy stayed with me while Ohn went out again. I tried to keep calm and look passive, because I knew they would be suspicious. They had looked around the house, seen the pantry that served as Shiny’s bedroom, found his small pile of clothes—neatly folded and stacked—in the corner. They thought I’d been hiding a lover from them. If they’d known the truth, they would’ve been much more afraid.
“I can understand why you didn’t tell us about him,” Ru was saying. She sat across the kitchen table from me, holding my hand. The night before, Shiny’s blood had covered the place where our hands now rested. “After Madding… well. But I wish you had told us, sweetheart. We’re your friends—we would’ve understood.”
I stubbornly said nothing, trying not to show how frustrated I was. I had to look dejected, depressed, so they would decide that the best thing for me was privacy and sleep. Then I could pray for Madding. The Order-Keepers probably wouldn’t kill Shiny immediately. He had defied them, disrespected them. They would make him suffer for a long time.
That was bad enough. But if they killed him, and he pulled his little resurrection trick in front of them, gods knew what they would do. Magic was power meant for those with other kinds of power: Arameri, nobles, scriveners, the Order, the wealthy. It was illegal for commonfolk, even though we all used a little magic now and again in secret. Every woman knew the sigil to prevent pregnancy, and every neighborhood had someone who could draw the scripts for minor healing or hiding valuables in plain sight. Things had been easier since the coming of the godlings, actually, because the priests—who could not always tell godlings and mortals apart—tended to leave us all alone.