Kestrel woke. She’d fallen asleep. The floor of the moving wagon creaked beneath her cheek. She hid her face in her hands. She was glad that her dream had ended where it did. She wouldn’t have wanted to see the rest, the part where the girl’s father discovered that she’d given her heart to a lowly thief, and wished her dead, and cast her out.
He told himself a story. Not at first. At first, there wasn’t time for thoughts that came in the shape of words. His head was blessedly empty of stories then. War was coming. It was upon him. Arin had been born in the year of the god of death, and he was finally glad of it. He surrendered himself to his god, who smiled and came close. Stories will get you killed, he murmured in Arin’s ear. Now, you just listen. Listen to me.
The footsteps stopped. Her shackles rattled as she fumbled to get a finger and thumb up her left sleeve. She pinched the moth she had hidden there and pulled it free. She put her hand through the bars.
If her heart were truly a scroll, she could burn it. It would become a tunnel of flame, a handful of ash. The secrets she had written inside herself would be gone. No one would know. Her father would choose the water for Kestrel if he knew. Yet she couldn’t. In the end, it wasn’t cunning that kept her from jumping, or determination. It was a glassy fear. She didn’t want to die. Arin was right. She played a game to its end.