A New York Times Notable Book of 2015
Shortlisted for the Hugo, Nebula, Kitschies, Audie and Locus Awards
The inaugural Wired.com book club pick
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS . . . FOR THE LAST TIME.
IT STARTS WITH THE GREAT RED RIFT across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
IT STARTS WITH DEATH, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
IT STARTS WITH BETRAYAL, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
Release date: August 4, 2015
Print pages: 512
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
The Fifth Season
You’re an orogene who’s been living in the little nothing town of Tirimo for ten years. Only three people here know what you are, and two of them you gave birth to.
Well. One left who knows, now.
For the past ten years you’ve lived as ordinary a life as possible. You came to Tirimo from elsewhere; the townsfolk don’t really care where or why. Since you were obviously well educated, you became a teacher at the local creche for children aged ten to thirteen. You’re neither the best teacher nor the worst; the children forget you when they move on, but they learn. The butcher probably knows your name because she likes to flirt with you. The baker doesn’t because you’re quiet, and because like everyone else in town he just thinks of you as Jija’s wife. Jija’s a Tirimo man born and bred, a stoneknapper of the Resistant use-caste; everyone knows and likes him, so they like you peripherally. He’s the foreground of the painting that is your life together. You’re the background. You like it that way.
You’re the mother of two children, but now one of them is dead and the other is missing. Maybe she’s dead, too. You discover all of this when you come home from work one day. House empty, too quiet, tiny little boy all bloody and bruised on the den floor.
And you… shut down. You don’t mean to. It’s just a bit much, isn’t it? Too much. You’ve been through a lot, you’re very strong, but there are limits to what even you can bear.
Two days pass before anyone comes for you.
You’ve spent them in the house with your dead son. You’ve risen, used the toilet, eaten something from the coldvault, drunk the last trickle of water from the tap. These things you could do without thinking, by rote. Afterward, you returned to Uche’s side.
(You fetched him a blanket during one of these trips. Covered him up to his ruined chin. Habit. The steampipes have stopped rattling; it’s cold in the house. He could catch something.)
Late the next day, someone knocks at the house’s front door. You do not stir yourself to answer it. That would require you to wonder who is there and whether you should let them in. Thinking of these things would make you consider your son’s corpse under the blanket, and why would you want to do that? You ignore the door knock.
Someone bangs at the window in the front room. Persistent. You ignore this, too.
Finally, someone breaks the glass on the house’s back door. You hear footsteps in the hallway between Uche’s room and that of Nassun, your daughter.
(Nassun, your daughter.)
The footsteps reach the den and stop. “Essun?”
You know this voice. Young, male. Familiar, and soothing in a familiar way. Lerna, Makenba’s boy from down the road, who went away for a few years and came back a doctor. He’s not a boy anymore, hasn’t been for a while, so you remind yourself again to start thinking of him as a man.
Oops, thinking. Carefully, you stop.
He inhales, and your skin reverberates with his horror when he draws near enough to see Uche. Remarkably, he does not cry out. Nor does he touch you, though he moves to Uche’s other side and peers at you intently. Trying to see what’s going on inside you? Nothing, nothing. He then peels back the blanket for a good look at Uche’s body. Nothing, nothing. He pulls the blanket up again, this time over your son’s face.
“He doesn’t like that,” you say. It’s your first time speaking in two days. Feels strange. “He’s afraid of the dark.”
After a moment’s silence, Lerna pulls the sheet back down to just below Uche’s eyes.
“Thank you,” you say.
Lerna nods. “Have you slept?”
So Lerna comes around the body and takes your arm, drawing you up. He’s gentle, but his hands are firm, and he does not give up when at first you don’t move. Just exerts more pressure, inexorably, until you have to rise or fall over. He leaves you that much choice. You rise. Then with the same gentle firmness he guides you toward the front door. “You can rest at my place,” he says.
You don’t want to think, so you do not protest that you have your own perfectly good bed, thank you. Nor do you declare that you’re fine and don’t need his help, which isn’t true. He walks you outside and down the block, keeping a grip on your elbow the whole time. A few others are gathered on the street outside. Some of them come near the two of you, saying things to which Lerna replies; you don’t really hear any of it. Their voices are blurring noise that your mind doesn’t bother to interpret. Lerna speaks to them in your stead, for which you would be grateful if you could bring yourself to care.
He gets you to his house, which smells of herbs and chemicals and books, and he tucks you into a long bed that has a fat gray cat on it. The cat moves out of the way enough to allow you to lie down, then tucks itself against your side once you’re still. You would take comfort from this if the warmth and weight did not remind you a little of Uche, when he naps with you.
Napped with you. No, changing tense requires thought. Naps.
“Sleep,” Lerna says, and it is easy to comply.
* * *
You sleep a long time. At one point you wake. Lerna has put food on a tray beside the bed: clear broth and sliced fruit and a cup of tea, all long gone to room temperature. You eat and drink, then go into the bathroom. The toilet does not flush. There’s a bucket beside it, full of water, which Lerna must have put there for this purpose. You puzzle over this, then feel the imminence of thought and have to fight, fight, fight to stay in the soft warm silence of thoughtlessness. You pour some water down the toilet, put the lid back down, and go back to bed.
* * *
In the dream, you’re in the room while Jija does it. He and Uche are as you saw them last: Jija laughing, holding Uche on one knee and playing “earthshake” while the boy giggles and clamps down with his thighs and waggles his arms for balance. Then Jija suddenly stops laughing, stands up—throwing Uche to the floor—and begins kicking him. You know this is not how it happened. You’ve seen the imprint of Jija’s fist, a bruise with four parallel marks, on Uche’s belly and face. In the dream Jija kicks, because dreams are not logical.
Uche keeps laughing and waggling his arms, like it’s still a game, even as blood covers his face.
You wake screaming, which subsides into sobs that you cannot stop. Lerna comes in, tries to say something, tries to hold you, and finally makes you drink a strong, foul-tasting tea. You sleep again.
* * *
“Something happened up north,” Lerna tells you.
You sit on the edge of the bed. He’s in a chair across from you. You’re drinking more nasty tea; your head hurts worse than a hangover. It’s nighttime, but the room is dim. Lerna has lit only half the lanterns. For the first time you notice the strange smell in the air, not quite disguised by the lanternsmoke: sulfur, sharp and acrid. The smell has been there all day, growing gradually worse. It’s strongest when Lerna’s been outside.
“The road outside town has been clogged for two days with people coming from that direction.” Lerna sighs and rubs his face. He’s fifteen years younger than you, but he no longer looks it. He has natural gray hair like many Cebaki, but it’s the new lines in his face that make him seem older—those, and the new shadows in his eyes. “There’s been some kind of shake. A big one, a couple of days ago. We felt nothing here, but in Sume—” Sume is in the next valley over, a day’s ride on horseback. “The whole town is…” He shakes his head.
You nod, but you know all this without being told, or at least you can guess. Two days ago, as you sat in your den staring at the ruin of your child, something came toward the town: a convulsion of the earth so powerful you have never sessed its like. The word shake is inadequate. Whatever-it-was would have collapsed the house on Uche, so you put something in its way—a breakwater of sorts, composed of your focused will and a bit of kinetic energy borrowed from the thing itself. Doing this required no thought; a newborn could do it, although perhaps not so neatly. The shake split and flowed around the valley, then moved on.
Lerna licks his lips. Looks up at you, then away. He’s the other one, besides your children, who knows what you are. He’s known for a while, but this is the first time he’s been confronted by the actuality of it. You can’t really think about that, either.
“Rask isn’t letting anyone leave or come in.” Rask is Rask Innovator Tirimo, the town’s elected headman. “It’s not a full-on lockdown, he says, not yet, but I was going to head over to Sume, see if I could help. Rask said no, and then he set the damn miners on the wall to supplement the Strongbacks while we send out scouts. Told them specifically to keep me within the gates.” Lerna clenches his fists, his expression bitter. “There are people out there on the Imperial Road. A lot of them are sick, injured, and that rusty bastard won’t let me help.”
“First guard the gates,” you whisper. It is a rasp. You screamed a lot after that dream of Jija.
You sip more tea to soothe the soreness. “Stonelore.”
Lerna stares at you. He knows the same passages; all children learn them, in creche. Everyone grows up on campfire tales of wise lorists and clever geomests warning skeptics when the signs begin to show, not being heeded, and saving people when the lore proves true.
“You think it’s come to that, then,” he says, heavily. “Fire-under-Earth, Essun, you can’t be serious.”
You are serious. It has come to that. But you know he will not believe you if you try to explain, so you just shake your head.
A painful, stagnating silence falls. After a long moment, delicately, Lerna says, “I brought Uche back here. He’s in the infirmary, the, uh, in the coldcase. I’ll see to, uh… arrangements.”
You nod slowly.
He hesitates. “Was it Jija?”
You nod again.
“You, you saw him—”
“Came home from creche.”
“Oh.” Another awkward pause. “People said you’d missed a day, before the shake. They had to send the children home; couldn’t find a substitute. No one knew if you were home sick, or what.” Yes, well. You’ve probably been fired. Lerna takes a deep breath, lets it out. With that as forewarning, you’re almost ready. “The shake didn’t hit us, Essun. It passed around the town. Shivered over a few trees and crumbled a rock face up by the creek.” The creek is at the northernmost end of the valley, where no one has noticed a big chalcedony geode steaming. “Everything in and around town is fine, though. In almost a perfect circle. Fine.”
There was a time when you would have dissembled. You had reasons to hide then, a life to protect.
“I did it,” you say.
Lerna’s jaw flexes, but he nods. “I never told anyone.” He hesitates. “That you were… uh, orogenic.”
He’s so polite and proper. You’ve heard all the uglier terms for what you are. He has, too, but he would never say them. Neither would Jija, whenever someone tossed off a careless rogga around him. I don’t want the children to hear that kind of language, he always said—
It hits fast. You abruptly lean over and dry-heave. Lerna starts, jumping to grab something nearby—a bedpan, which you haven’t needed. But nothing comes out of your stomach, and after a moment the heaves stop. You take a cautious breath, then another. Wordlessly, Lerna offers a glass of water. You start to wave it away, then change your mind and take it. Your mouth tastes of bile.
“It wasn’t me,” you say at last. He frowns in confusion and you realize he thinks you’re still talking about the shake. “Jija. He didn’t find out about me.” You think. You shouldn’t think. “I don’t know how, what, but Uche—he’s little, doesn’t have much control yet. Uche must have done something, and Jija realized—”
That your children are like you. It is the first time you’ve framed this thought completely.
Lerna closes his eyes, letting out a long breath. “That’s it, then.”
That’s not it. That should never have been enough to provoke a father to murder his own child. Nothing should have done that.
He licks his lips. “Do you want to see Uche?”
What for? You looked at him for two days. “No.”
With a sigh, Lerna gets to his feet, still rubbing a hand over his hair. “Going to tell Rask?” you ask. But the look Lerna turns on you makes you feel boorish. He’s angry. He’s such a calm, thoughtful boy; you didn’t think he could get angry.
“I’m not going to tell Rask anything,” he snaps. “I haven’t said anything in all this time and I’m not going to.”
“I’m going to go find Eran.” Eran is the spokeswoman for the Resistant use-caste. Lerna was born a Strongback, but when he came back to Tirimo after becoming a doctor, the Resistants adopted him; the town had enough Strongbacks already, and the Innovators lost the shard-toss. Also, you’ve claimed to be a Resistant. “I’ll let her know you’re all right, have her pass that on to Rask. You are going to rest.”
“When she asks you why Jija—”
Lerna shakes his head. “Everyone’s guessed already, Essun. They can read maps. It’s clear as diamond that the center of the circle was this neighborhood. Knowing what Jija did, it hasn’t been hard for anyone to jump to conclusions as to why. The timing’s all wrong, but nobody’s thinking that far.” While you stare at him, slowly understanding, Lerna’s lip curls. “Half of them are appalled, but the rest are glad Jija did it. Because of course a three-year-old has the power to start shakes a thousand miles away in Yumenes!”
You shake your head, half startled by Lerna’s anger and half unable to reconcile your bright, giggly boy with people who think he would—that he could—But then, Jija thought it.
You feel queasy again.
Lerna takes another deep breath. He’s been doing this throughout your conversation; it’s a habit of his that you’ve seen before. His way of calming himself. “Stay here and rest. I’ll be back soon.”
He leaves the room. You hear him doing purposeful-sounding things at the front of the house. After a few moments, he leaves to go to his meeting. You contemplate rest and decide against it. Instead you rise and go into Lerna’s bathroom, where you wash your face and then stop when the hot water coming through the tap spits and abruptly turns brown-red and smelly, then slows to a trickle. Broken pipe somewhere.
Something happened up north, Lerna said.
Children are the undoing of us, someone said to you once, long ago.
“Nassun,” you whisper to your reflection. In the mirror are the eyes your daughter has inherited from you, gray as slate and a little wistful. “He left Uche in the den. Where did he put you?”
No answer. You shut off the tap. Then you whisper to no one in particular, “I have to go now.” Because you do. You need to find Jija, and anyway you know better than to linger. The townsfolk will be coming for you soon.
* * *
The shake that passes will echo. The wave that recedes will come back. The mountain that rumbles will roar.
—Tablet One, “On Survival,” verse five
THE STRAW IS SO WARM that Damaya doesn’t want to come out of it. Like a blanket, she thinks through the bleariness of half-sleep; like the quilt her great-grandmother once sewed for her out of patches of uniform cloth. Years ago and before she died, Muh Dear worked for the Brevard militia as a seamstress, and got to keep the scraps from any repairs that required new cloth. The blanket she made for Damaya was mottled and dark, navy and taupe and gray and green in rippling bands like columns of marching men, but it came from Muh Dear’s hands, so Damaya never cared that it was ugly. It always smelled sweet and gray and a bit fusty, so it is easy now to imagine that the straw—which smells mildewy and like old manure yet with a hint of fungal fruitiness—is Muh’s blanket. The actual blanket is back in Damaya’s room, on the bed where she left it. The bed in which she will never sleep again.
She can hear voices outside the straw pile now: Mama and someone else talking as they draw closer. There’s a rattle-creak as the barn door is unlocked, and then they come inside. Another rattle as the door shuts behind them. Then Mother raises her voice and calls, “DamaDama?”
Damaya curls up tighter, clenching her teeth. She hates that stupid nickname. She hates the way Mother says it, all light and sweet, like it’s actually a term of endearment and not a lie.
When Damaya doesn’t respond, Mother says: “She can’t have gotten out. My husband checked all the barn locks himself.”
“Alas, her kind cannot be held with locks.” This voice belongs to a man. Not her father or older brother, or the comm headman, or anyone she recognizes. This man’s voice is deep, and he speaks with an accent like none she’s ever heard: sharp and heavy, with long drawled o’s and a’s and crisp beginnings and ends to every word. Smart-sounding. He jingles faintly as he walks, so much so that she wonders whether he’s wearing a big set of keys. Or perhaps he has a lot of money in his pockets? She’s heard that people use metal money in some parts of the world.
The thought of keys and money makes Damaya curl in on herself, because of course she’s also heard the other children in creche whisper of child-markets in faraway cities of beveled stone. Not all places in the world are as civilized as the Nomidlats. She laughed off the whispers then, but everything is different now.
“Here,” says the man’s voice, not far off now. “Fresh spoor, I think.”
Mother makes a sound of disgust, and Damaya burns in shame as she realizes they’ve seen the corner she uses for a bathroom. It smells terrible there, even though she’s been throwing straw down as a cover each time. “Squatting on the ground like an animal. I raised her better.”
“Is there a toilet in here?” asks the child-buyer, in a tone of polite curiosity. “Did you give her a bucket?”
Silence from Mother, which stretches on, and belatedly Damaya realizes the man has reprimanded Mother with those quiet questions. It isn’t the sort of reprimand Damaya is used to. The man hasn’t raised his voice or called anyone names. Yet Mother stands still and shocked as surely as if he’d followed the words with a smack to the head.
A giggle bubbles up in her throat, and at once she crams her fist into her mouth to stop it from spilling out. They’ll hear Damaya laugh at her mother’s embarrassment, and then the child-buyer will know what a terrible child she really is. Is that such a bad thing? Maybe her parents will get less for her. That alone almost makes the giggles break free, because Damaya hates her parents, she hates them, and anything that will make them suffer makes her feel better.
Then she bites down on her hand, hard, and hates herself, because of course Mother and Father are selling Damaya if she can think such thoughts.
Footsteps nearby. “Cold in here,” says the man.
“We would have kept her in the house if it was cold enough to freeze,” says Mother, and Damaya almost giggles again at her sullen, defensive tone.
But the child-buyer ignores Mother. His footsteps come closer, and they’re… strange. Damaya can sess footsteps. Most people can’t; they sess big things, shakes and whatnot, but not anything so delicate as a footfall. (She has known this about herself all her life but only recently realized it was a warning.) It’s harder to perceive when she’s out of direct contact with the ground, everything conveyed through the wood of the barn’s frame and the metal of the nails holding it together—but still, even from a story up, she knows what to expect. Beat beat, the step and then its reverberation into the depths, beat beat, beat beat. The child-buyer’s steps, though, go nowhere and do not echo. She can only hear them, not sess them. That’s never happened before.
And now he’s coming up the ladder, to the loft where she huddles under the straw.
“Ah,” he says, reaching the top. “It’s warmer up here.”
“DamaDama!” Mother sounds furious now. “Get down here!”
Damaya scrunches herself up tighter under the straw and says nothing. The child-buyer’s footsteps pace closer.
“You needn’t be afraid,” he says in that rolling voice. Closer. She feels the reverberation of his voice through the wood and down to the ground and into the rock and back again. Closer. “I’ve come to help you, Damaya Strongback.”
Another thing she hates, her use name. She doesn’t have a strong back at all, and neither does Mother. All “Strongback” means is that her female ancestors were lucky enough to join a comm but too undistinguished to earn a more secure place within it. Strongbacks get dumped same as commless when times get hard, her brother Chaga told her once, to tease her. Then he’d laughed, like it was funny. Like it wasn’t true. Of course, Chaga is a Resistant, like Father. All comms like to have them around no matter how hard the times, in case of sickness and famine and such.
The man’s footsteps stop just beyond the straw pile. “You needn’t be afraid,” he says again, more softly now. Mother is still down on the ground level and probably can’t hear him. “I won’t let your mother hurt you.”
She’s not stupid. The man is a child-buyer, and child-buyers do terrible things. But because he has said these words, and because some part of Damaya is tired of being afraid and angry, she uncurls. She pushes her way through the soft warm pile and sits up, peering out at the man through coils of hair and dirty straw.
He is as strange-looking as he sounds, and not from anywhere near Palela. His skin is almost white, he’s so paper-pale; he must smoke and curl up in strong sunlight. He has long flat hair, which together with the skin might mark him as an Arctic, though the color of it—a deep heavy black, like the soil near an old blow—doesn’t fit. Eastern Coasters’ hair is black like that, except fluffy and not flat, but people from the east have black skin to match. And he’s big—taller, and with broader shoulders, than Father. But where Father’s big shoulders join a big chest and a big belly, this man sort of tapers. Everything about the stranger seems lean and attenuated. Nothing about him makes racial sense.
But what strikes Damaya most are the child-buyer’s eyes. They’re white, or nearly so. She can see the whites of his eyes, and then a silvery-gray disc of color that she can barely distinguish from the white, even up close. The pupils of his eyes are wide in the barn’s dimness, and startling amid the desert of colorlessness. She’s heard of eyes like these, which are called icewhite in stories and stonelore. They’re rare, and always an ill omen.
But then the child-buyer smiles at Damaya, and she doesn’t even think twice before she smiles back. She trusts him immediately. She knows she shouldn’t, but she does.
“And here we are,” he says, still speaking softly so that Mother won’t hear. “DamaDama Strongback, I presume?”
“Just Damaya,” she says, automatically.
He inclines his head gracefully, and extends a hand to her. “So noted. Will you join us, then, Damaya?”
Damaya doesn’t move and he does not grab her. He just stays where he is, patient as stone, hand offering and not taking. Ten breaths pass. Twenty. Damaya knows she’ll have to go with him, but she likes that he makes it feel like a choice. So at last, she takes his hand and lets him pull her up. He keeps her hand while she dusts off as much of the straw as she can, and then he tugs her closer, just a little. “One moment.”
“Hnh?” But the child-buyer’s other hand is already behind her head, pressing two fingers into the base of her skull so quickly and deftly that she doesn’t startle. He shuts his eyes for a moment, shivers minutely, and then exhales, letting her go.
“Duty first,” he says, cryptically. She touches the back of her head, confused and still feeling the lingering sensation of his fingers’ pressure. “Now let’s head downstairs.”
“What did you do?”
“Just a little ritual, of sorts. Something that will make it easier to find you, should you ever become lost.” She cannot imagine what this means. “Come, now; I need to tell your mother you’ll be leaving with me.”
So it really is true. Damaya bites her lip, and when the man turns to head back to the ladder, she follows a pace or two behind.
“Well, that’s that,” says the child-buyer as they reach Mother on the ground floor. (Mother sighs at the sight of her, perhaps in exasperation.) “If you could assemble a package for her—one or two changes of clothing, any travel food you can provide, a coat—we’ll be on our way.”
Mother draws up in surprise. “We gave away her coat.”
“Gave it away? In winter?”
He speaks mildly, but Mother looks abruptly uncomfortable. “She’s got a cousin who needed it. We don’t all have wardrobes full of fancy clothes to spare. And—” Here Mother hesitates, glancing at Damaya. Damaya just looks away. She doesn’t want to see if Mother looks sorry for giving away the coat. She especially doesn’t want to see if Mother’s not sorry.
“And you’ve heard that orogenes don’t feel cold the way others do,” says the man, with a weary sigh. “That’s a myth. I assume you’ve seen your daughter take cold before.”
“Oh, I.” Mother looks flustered. “Yes. But I thought…”
That Damaya might have been faking it. That was what she’d said to Damaya that first day, after she got home from creche and while they were setting her up in the barn. Mother had raged, her face streaked with tears, while Father just sat there, silent and white-lipped. Damaya had hidden it from them, Mother said, hidden everything, pretended to be a child when she was really a monster, that was what monsters did, she had always known there was something wrong with Damaya, she’d always been such a little liar—
The man shakes his head. “Nevertheless, she will need some protection against the cold. It will grow warmer as we approach the Equatorials, but we’ll be weeks on the road getting there.”
Mother’s jaw flexes. “So you’re really taking her to Yumenes, then.”
“Of course I—” The man stares at her. “Ah.” He glances at Damaya. They both look at Damaya, their gazes like an itch. She squirms. “So even thinking I was coming to kill your daughter, you had the comm headman summon me.”
Mother tenses. “Don’t. It wasn’t, I didn’t—” At her sides, her hands flex. Then she bows her head, as if she is ashamed, which Damaya knows is a lie. Mother isn’t ashamed of anything she’s done. If she was, why would she do it?
“Ordinary people can’t take care of… of children like her,” says Mother, very softly. Her eyes dart to Damaya’s, once, and away, fast. “She almost killed a boy at school. We’ve got another child, and neighbors, and…” Abruptly she squares her shoulders, lifting her chin. “And it’s any citizen’s duty, isn’t it?”
“True, true, all of it. Your sacrifice will make the world better for all.” The words are a stock phrase, praise. The tone is uniquely not. Damaya looks at the man again, confused now because child-buyers don’t kill children. That would defeat the point. And what’s this about the Equatorials? Those lands are far, far to the south.
The child-buyer glances at Damaya and somehow understands that she does not understand. His face softens, which should be impossible with those frightening eyes of his.
“To Yumenes,” the man says to Mother, to Damaya. “Yes. She’s young enough, so I’m taking her to the Fulcrum. There she will be trained to use her curse. Her sacrifice, too, will make the world better.”
Damaya stares back at him, realizing just how wrong she’s been. Mother has not sold Damaya. She and Father have given Damaya away. And Mother does not hate her; actually, she fears Damaya. Is there a difference? Maybe. Damaya doesn’t know how to feel in response to these revelations.
And the man, the man is not a child-buyer at all. He is—
“You’re a Guardian?” she asks, even though by now, she knows. He smiles again. She did not think Guardians were like this. In her head they are tall, cold-faced, bristling with weapons and secret knowledge. He’s tall, at least.
“I am,” he says, and takes her hand. He likes to touch people a lot, she thinks. “I’m your Guardian.”
Mother sighs. “I can give you a blanket for her.”
“That will do, thank you.” And then the man falls silent, waiting. After a few breaths of this, Mother realizes he’s waiting for her to go fetch it. She nods jerkily, then leaves, her back stiff the whole way out of the barn. So then the man and Damaya are alone.
“Here,” he says, reaching up to his shoulders. He’s wearing something that must be a uniform: blocky shoulders and long, stiff lines of sleeve and pant leg, burgundy cloth that looks sturdy but scratchy. Like Muh’s quilt. It has a short cape, more decorative than useful, but he pulls it off and wraps it around Damaya. It’s long enough to be a dress on her, and warm from his body.
“Thank you,” she says. “Who are you?”
“My name is Schaffa Guardian Warrant.?
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...