When I awoke, I felt a great wrong. I didn’t understand it at first. My breaths came heavy and humid, and I tossed aside my wolfskin blanket. I was sweat-soaked down to my smallclothes—and Théa was gone. I jerked about like a marionette as I looked for her in the seconds after waking.
My flesh peeled off the bedsheets as I rose, and I stumbled out of the longhouse in search of her. That aside, my skin was dry and my hands were so sweat-soaked that they’d wrinkled like raisins.
I needed a breeze off the water.
But even as I bust out the door the air was claustrophobic. My breaths came heavy—and the air felt thick as butter. I wondered if I’d been poisoned.
I realized there was something wrong with the way things sounded, too. Or rather, there was a distinct lack of sound. My footsteps felt hollow. There was no hiss of waves, nor the flap of war banners.
I crested a dune overlooking the beach to find the ocean was as flat as polished steel.
I saw Théa out there, naked and chest deep in the sea. I rushed down the dune to join her. I discarded my smallclothes, picking them off like dead flesh.
I waded out—the water was warm as piss, though the lack of waves made it easy to close the gap between us.
I seized Théa’s forearm. “What’s wrong?”
“I was talking with Father,” she said. She cloaked her face in impassivity. “The High Queen should not have offered me insult so close to the shore. He heard her.”
“Has he done this? I wasn’t aware he had control of the wind.”
“He’s not alone in his anger. He’s enlisted the help of my cousin, the Lord of Wind. He’ll give give speed to Eldish arrows, save any toward me.”
“We have to get back to camp, warn the others, tell the High Qu—” Realization dawned on my face, and Théa nodded along.
“The outcome will be the same regardless of what she thinks. They’ve bottled the wind until the High Queen apologizes.”
“She’s not like to apologize if she thinks you asked this of him.”
Her dispassion cracked for and a smile bled through. “Does she have a choice? Let’s tell her this news.”
We waded onto shore, dripping wet. The heat had baked us dry by the time we reached the longhouse where I helped Théa into her finest armor. She was meeting with a High Queen after all. Comfort was secondary to appearances.
We exited the longhouse as others were beginning to wake, calling to others in confusion. Men and women scrambled about the camp. Messengers ran from longhouse to longhouse. And Théa and I approached Queen Maev, leaning against the outside of her great walls.
“I think she expects us, my Lady.”
“Then I don’t doubt she knows why this has happened. Mayhaps this is a sign of a hasty apology.”
I looked from Maev to Théa and back again. “That’s doubtful, my Lady.”
Every shout had no echo, every footstep rang hollow. It was as if some force moved to silence all sound the moment it noised itself.
The High Queen stood straighter as Théa arrived, attempting to wipe the sweat from her forehead with her sweat-soaked forearm. “What are your terms?”
“Cutting straight to business, are we?” Théa said.
“What. Are. Your. Terms?”
“The gods have stopped the flow of wind where walks a woman or man of Morgad.
The High Queen made a noise like a support beam before it snaps. “How do you know this?”
“My Father told me, your Majesty. He said he cannot countenance your slights against me last night, and holds the wind hostage until you make a public apology.” Queen Maev made to speak, but Théa interrupted her, “My cousin, the Lord of Wind, has also promised to aid Eldish arrows until the aforementioned apology has been made.”
The Queen slitted her gaze. “You cannot fool me, Lordess. I order you to set this to rights or—”
“What will you do?” Théa spread her arms wide, this time shouting, “What will you do?”
Red-face, sweaty men and women were turning to watch the two women. There was a crowd drawing. A deliberate act, I realized.
The Queen closed the gap between them, still squinting and still not acknowledging my presence. “What I will do, Lordess, is give you three sunrises to set this to rights. After that, we ride out against the Eldish. And any casualties in battle are on your head.”
I didn’t realize I’d spoken until the words left my mouth: “Even the High Queen can’t make demands of the gods.” I offered a belated, “Your Majesty.”
Théa and Maev turned to look at me. Théa eyes were as wide as Maev’s were narrowed.
The High Queen’s knuckles cracked against my jaw and the ground rushed up to meet me. I pushed myself to my knees, spitting sand and blood.
Above me, Maev shook three fingers in Théa’s face. “Three days,” she repeated. “And see to it that your whelp holds her tongue in the future. I have no words for the base born.” She turned to leave as Théa helped me to my feet.
When I had my feet solidly beneath me, Théa turned to shout, “You arrogant bitch!”
Maev whirled around and sauntered back to us. “What did you call me?”
“Would you like me to say it a little louder?”
“I’m giving you a chance to redact them, Lordess.”
“Why redact them?” She turned to address the crowd that had formed. “It’s on display for everyone to see!”
“You called this down on us. You will not shift the blame onto me.” She left without another word. I turned to the crowd, trying to see where their favor lay, but decided not to chance it. “We should get inside,” I said, and half-dragged Théa to our room.
When we arrived Théa pinched my chin and turned my head sideways. She brushed a finger against the bruise on my jaw.
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
“I’m fine, Théa.”
Another bruise-brush. “This…” Théa said, thinking aloud, “She’s marked you. She will not do this again.”
“There’s nothing you can do if she does.”
“I cannot allow this to pass.”
“Do you have a choice?”
She sat on the bed and wrung her hands. “Yes,” she said. “I always do. Don’t you remember last night’s song?”
There would be no further incidents that day, save that Queen Maev marched out to the middle of our camp to announce our predicament, for the few who hadn’t heard.