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We were one, Running, exploring what was within us. How could we, at once, know that Tacivaar'[s act was part of living, hardly worth notice; and feel the stinging shock of mistreatment such as we had never known…?

It was a riddle worthy of Trinna, who loved such things, as puzzling as an unproven hypothesis. We had no answers, and so they worried at the edges of it in bemusement.

We Ran, and wondered, and knew only the joining and the puzzling.

Then, in the next breath, I was sitting on the stone floor of the kitchens, in Mother’s Keep, covered in sticky, stinking, scat-brown sweetsauce. The huge kettle crash-clattered across the floor, spraying the work tables as it shattered. The spit dogs yelped and cowered….

And so did the scullery-maiden, as she stared, gone pale and deathfrozen under the mess. Her breath panted from her dropping jaw. She was not looking at me, though, but to the wide arched doorway that led to the Serving Hall.

Only then did I realize that I had come naked to the Keep.

Covered in sweetsauce, I hadn’t smelled Mother. Now, though, the calm of her voice had a shiver quaking me, tugging at my lips, and my guts tied themselves into thorny knots around the food I’d gorged on in the Pridekeep.

And so did Kaivelt, whose soul whooshed urgently into mine, hungry to protect me –

Not because I was Trueborn, or the Kaiess.

Because I was myself, and he valued all of me.

It was a feeling I had never had before, of belonging to another exactly as I was, with nothing else expected.

I held to that as Mother’s voice stabbed the silence only punctuated by the breathing of the kitchen servants.

All save Niaan will leave now.”

There was no protest, only a swift and silent rush of bodies out the doorway I had come in. They would gather, I knew, in the slaughter-house – repugnant to them, but less dangerous than Mother. Even the two spit-dogs slunk from their wheels. Forbidden the slaughter-house, they would wriggle beneath.

The leather cord was drawn, and, knowing my duty and my role in what was to come, I lifted my hands, palms up and flat. My arms trembled, and I held to Kaivelt as the first lash sang and struck –