Authors: Katherine Hurley
THE GRIEVER’S MARK SERIES
The Griever’s Mark
Chains of Water and Stone
coming April 2015
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The Griever’s Mark
Copyright © Katherine Hurley, 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations for review purposes.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.
Cover Illustration and Design Copyright © Apple Qingyang Zhang, 2014
Three people, in particular, helped bolster me through the writing (and rewriting) of this book. They know who they are, but deepest love and gratitude to my Mom, to Cynthia, and to Nik.
My thanks also to David Farland, whose candid advice helped me understand the bigger picture.
MY EYES SLIP to the Shackle, and I shudder. It rests like a coiled snake on the stone table, its links of pale bone like a kinked spine. The two cuffs touch each other, which I find somehow grotesque. I rub my wrist. Only once did I wear the Shackle, when I was seven, on the first day I entered the Drift. I am told it was originally a teaching tool; now it is used only for Leashing.
I hold my breath while Belos paces the study. His footsteps stir dust, which whirls yellow-gray behind him. The rug under his feet was probably once red, but the dust of the Dry Land and this crumbling fortress has dulled it to a sickly orange. Belos stops at the crudely cut window, where the harsh light makes his black vest gleam white and flashes on the silver studs along his shoulders. It makes him look like he’s bristling.
His voice is deep and commanding. I obey it now, as I always do.
I stand right behind him because I don’t want to be told, “Closer.” Belos’s blond hair bleaches in the light. Over his spiked shoulder I see the spires of broken stone on the horizon, reaching out from the wasted earth like fingers. I have never seen them closer—Belos doesn’t allow it—so I don’t know if it’s true that they are the remains of an ancient city.
“You understand why I hesitate to give you such an important assignment?”
I nod before I realize he can’t see me, that he is refusing to look at me. “Yes.”
“And you will redeem yourself with your success, correct?”
I’m not fooled. The question is a threat. I speak the words of commitment, as I have so many times: “To serve is to live.”
I am relieved that my voice is strong, that it doesn’t creak from lack of use. I have been in the dungeon for two weeks.
Belos turns to me. Technically, he is handsome. But to me, with his eyes like blue lights in a face too deeply tanned by the harsh sun, he looks severe. His cheeks are hollowed out, the bones too prominent. I wonder: is it the power he’s taken from others that has worn him down to such sharp edges? Or has anger carved him into these lines? Sometimes, it’s hard for me to understand why people call him the Seducer. Who would want what he offers? Some of the other names people give him ring more true to me. The Deceiver. The Liar.
Ironically, he throws this last name at me, though I suppose it’s true.
“You are a liar, Astarti, and you have been all seventeen years of your life. How can I bind you to me”—I hear the word
—“more than I already have? Did I not raise you? Give you power, a place? You would be dead if not for me, washed away by the ocean before you had learned to crawl.”
He is using my mother’s abandonment as a weapon against me, but I am untouched by it. She left me, yes. I’m over it.
When I don’t react, he digs harder.
“Do you forget that you bear the Griever’s Mark? That you have only me?”
The back of my neck prickles at the mention of my tattoo, as though the tattoo itself, roughly shaped like a Y with an extra fork up the middle, crawls on my skin. The Mark tells me two things: that I have Runish blood, for only Runians bear the blue tattoos, and that my mother tried to kill me. It’s called the Griever’s Mark because they bleed it into the flesh of those about to die: the old, the sick. And unwanted children.
I resist the urge to rub at the tattoo. It won’t come off. I’ve tried. The old crisscross of scars is evidence enough of that.
Belos is waiting for some answer from me, but I won’t speak about my mother. Or my tattoo. I keep it simple. “You are right, as always. I serve your will.”
The last words snap with anger, and I curse myself for carelessness as Belos eyes me over his shoulder. I try to look meek and contrite.
“You could serve my will. Directly.”
Another threat, and a reminder. I may be Leashed, but my mind is my own, for now. Through my Leash, Belos can take even that, and he did once. My first great transgression, my first great punishment. He made me a body only, a tool. Not a person at all. At the memory, something dims inside me.
Belos leans against the windowsill, his leather pants scraping noisily on rough stone. “What is it you want, Astarti? I can still hardly believe the report. You stood against one of my Seven, which is to stand against me, and let that Earthmaker Warden escape.”
He’s asking me for justification, but I won’t walk into that trap again. I tried to explain myself two weeks ago, and the tug of healing flesh from the lash marks across my back reminds me of my foolishness. Only to myself can I say it: the Earthmaker was a child, younger than I am. I could not let Straton kill her. I just could not.
A rap at the door puts a scowl on Belos’s face, so I assume there was more he wanted to say, but he barks, “Enter.”
Straton sweeps into the study, closely followed by Theron. Both wear the silver shoulder guards of the Seven, though there is little need for protection here. Who would come to this dead place? The dark blond of Straton’s hair shows how much time he spends inside the Fortress, and the shocking white of his tunic seems impossible in all this dust. Theron wears green, as usual, and I am struck by a pang of longing for the Green Lands. I wonder how he bears the reminder of all he gave up to follow Belos.
I try not to shrink at their approach, but I am conscious of my greasy dark hair in its ratty braid, of the sharp stink of clothes I have been wearing for two weeks. Dust, pasted to my skin with sweat, cakes my neck and chafes the corners of my eyes. I close filthy fingernails within my fists. Theron glances at me, and I think I see a flash of sympathy, but then his face is stone again. He might be my friend on occasion, but not right now.
“Well?” Belos demands.
Straton’s eyes slide to me. “Is it wise for me to speak in front of her?”
“Do the wise ask questions to which the answer is obvious? I know she’s here.”
An ugly flush bleeds through Straton’s pale skin. He hates when Belos mocks him.
Straton says stiffly, “Martel is in Tornelaine. For the past three nights, he’s been seen at a brothel called the Trader’s Choice. He’s asked each night for a whore by the name of Imelda. Where his men are, we have not yet been able to determine.”
A cold smile tugs at the corner of Belos’s mouth. “Perfect.”
“My Lord, shall we approach him?”
I wonder if Belos hears the way Straton sneers when he says, “My Lord,” but nothing in Belos’s casual demeanor suggests it. Belos pushes away from the window. He ambles past the stone table holding the Shackle, runs his finger along a stone bookcase by the wall, stirring dust. The battered volumes hint at their former colors, but this land is determined to bury us all under its yellow-gray skin. He brushes dust from a map of the Green Lands, scrubbing methodically at Kelda and the king’s city of Tornelaine. He leaves the northern and eastern countries hidden in dust; they don’t concern him. The Floating Lands of the Earthmakers, who were once Belos’s people, are marked only by a burn hole in the Southern Ocean.
When Belos turns and stares at me, I cringe inwardly at the satisfied look in his eye.
“Astarti will approach Martel. She will have to clean up considerably, but I know she can look...attractive, if she puts in a bit of effort.”
My heart sinks. I will approach Martel at the brothel. I will pose as a woman for hire, a whore. Belos smiles at the understanding in my eyes.
“But you don’t expect me to—”
“I expect you to do whatever is necessary. And to do it with gratitude, considering where I could have left you.”
I swallow my anger and bow my head. I will myself to think only of my return to Kelda. The Green Lands. “I will prepare.”
When Belos says nothing to stop me, I stride for the door, my shoulders forced back. I will not give him the satisfaction of my dread. Theron shifts out of my way, but I have to brush past Straton, who refuses to move for me. I catch the cloying scent of clove oil when I edge around him. It should be a relief from the flat smell of dust and my own stink, but it makes my stomach turn.
The hallway is dim, lit only by what light cuts through the high window slits. Dust hangs in the wedges of light, and I feel like I am breaking through physical barriers. The heavy tread of my boots is muffled by dense stone; this place refuses to give me even so small a thing as my own sound.
I follow one hallway to another until I reach the winding stair that rises to my chamber. The stairs are crumbling, like so much of the Fortress, and when my foot slips, I break another fragment from a step. Belos shaped the Fortress sixty years ago, when he lost his war with the Earthmakers and had to flee to this desolate place. No one here would dare say it, but Belos is weak in earthmagic, and that is why the Fortress crumbles. I have often suspected that his weakness in earthmagic is why he turned to the power of the Drift. No one can accuse him of being weak in that.
I shoulder open the heavy door, its wood salvaged from human lands because no tree can grow here. It always sticks because the Fortress shifts, and I have not opened it for two weeks.
My chamber is plain and bare, like the rest of the Fortress. I open the door of the dresser, which screeches on dry hinges, and dig through my clothes. I choose a pair of brown leather breeches and a loose shirt of undyed linen. I throw them on the bed, causing fine dust to whip into the air before settling over them again.
At the rickety bedside table, I pour tepid, stale water from a tin pitcher into a chipped earthenware bowl. I am tempted to go to the pump room for fresh water, but I don’t want to see anyone and don’t want to delay. I just want to get out of here.
I strip off my soiled shirt, wincing as it catches on the scabbed stripes across my back. I dip a coarse washrag into the grayish water and begin to scrub.