The Broken Kingdoms
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“His friend,” said Sieh. His face was expressionless now, his eyes dry, his voice without inflection. I didn’t know if that was good or bad.
It sounded so weak. “Yes,” I said. “It’s… how I… think of myself, anyway.” Another silence fell, and in it, I grew ashamed. I didn’t even know Shiny’s real name. “Please just stop hurting him.” It was a whisper this time.
Sieh sighed, and so did the woman. The feeling that I was walking a narrow bridge over a very deep chasm began to fade.
“You call yourself his friend,” the woman said. There was compassion in her voice, to my surprise. And her eyes were darker green now, shading toward hazel. “Does he call you the same?”
So they had noticed. “I don’t know,” I said, hating her for asking that question. I did not look at Shiny, who was still beside me. “He doesn’t talk to me.”
“Ask yourself why,” drawled the boy.
I licked my lips. “There are many reasons why a man would hesitate to speak about his past.”
“Few of those reasons are good. His certainly aren’t.” With a last contemptuous look, Sieh turned and walked away.
He paused, however, a look of surprise crossing his face, when the quiet woman suddenly moved forward, coming over to Shiny and me. When she crouched, balancing easily on her bare toes, I caught a fleeting sense of the real her, the goddess underneath her unimposing shell, and it staggered me. Where Sieh had filled the alley, she filled… what? It was too vast to grasp, too detailed. The ground beneath my knees. Every brick and speck of mortar, every struggling weed and smear of mildew. The air. The muckbins at the back of the alley. Everything.
And then it was gone, just as fast, and she was just a small High Norther woman with eyes that made me think of a dark, wet forest.
“You’re very lucky,” she said. I was confused at first; then I realized she was speaking to Shiny. “Friends are precious, powerful things—hard to earn, harder still to keep. You should thank this one for taking a chance on you.”
Shiny twitched beside me. I could not see what he did, but the woman’s expression changed to one of annoyance. She shook her head and got to her feet.
“Be careful of him,” she said. To me this time. “Be his friend if you like—if he lets you. He needs you more than he realizes. But for your own sake, don’t love him. He’s not ready for that.”
I could only stare at her, mute with awe. She turned away, then paused as she walked past Madding.
“Role,” she said.
He nodded, as if he’d been expecting her attention. “We’re doing everything we can.” He threw me a quick, uneasy glance. “Even the mortals are looking into it. Everyone wants to know how this happened.”
She nodded, slowly and solemnly. For an instant too long she was silent. Gods did that sometimes, contemplating the unfathomable, though they usually tried not to do it when mortals were around. Perhaps this one wasn’t used to mortals yet.
“You have thirty days,” she said suddenly.
Madding went stiff. “To find Role’s killer? But you promised—”
“I said we wouldn’t interfere in mortal affairs,” she said sharply. Madding fell silent at once. “This is family.”
After a moment, Madding nodded, though he still looked uncomfortable. “Yes. Yes, of course. And, ah—”
“He is angry,” said the woman, and for the first time she looked troubled herself. “Role didn’t take sides in the war. But even if she had… you’re still his children. He still loves you.” She paused and glanced at Madding, but Madding looked away. I guessed that she spoke of Bright Itempas, who was said to be the father of all the godlings. Naturally, He would take exception to the death of His child.
The woman continued. “So, thirty days. I’ve convinced him to stay out of it for that long. After that”—she paused, then shrugged—“you know his temper better than I do.”
Madding went very pale.
With that, the woman turned to join the boy, both of them clearly intending to leave. From the corner of my eye, I saw one of Madding’s lieutenants exhale in relief. I should have been relieved, too. I should have stayed quiet. But as I watched the woman and boy walk away, I could think of only one thing: they knew Shiny. Hated him, perhaps, but knew him.