A dark glimmer under the mulberry sky

by Alessandra Pereyra (work in progress)

Chapter 1

The night before the last day of Averne, Antuané Roliette sliced the dagger across her hand in a single swift motion. Red drops ran through her palm, falling through the air until they met the piece of parchment that laid beneath her, and silently colored it dark.

A throbbing pain rushed through her hand as the princess cleaned the wound, one expert stroke after another, until only a single pale line remained to remind her she could still feel something.


It has been ten hours since the news had arrived, and the first moon was already out, her blank and faint shimmer doing as much as it could to provide some light to the dwindling city. In only eight more would she have to face the people, and in a week a crown would rest above her head, a gilded jail earned by the death of her father and brother.

Antuané took the scroll with her left hand, the blood glistening over it, the decrees already signed. Making a balanced effort to control her breath, she poured once and twice what little miso she could handle onto the candles until she had extinguished them and only a timid wisp of smoke remained.

She had finished her sacrifice of blood and scents, and if she had done them well enough—and she knew she had—she had announced her position as a living member of House Roliette, ensuring her caste would live on.

Once done with arts and protocols, she walked towards her balcony, already covered by the wisteria flowers that would bloom during the night, tiny purple and blue dots against dark wooden plates. A feeble essence of dew lingered up in the air.

Before her, Almerne had finally calmed down.

A few lights endured below the lower levels—dwindling dots of fire that floated far away from her woods and her flowers. Eventually, time and tiredness did their job, and those fires too receded, and like following the march of a silent orchestra, went off one by one, until only the light of the first moon remained washing the roads pale white. A giant sleeping at last.

Antuané already donned the black-and-purple long garbs that muddled her every step, doing nothing to help her usual apathy for dresses.

Not even during distress can I truly be happy.

Atop the highest tower of House Roliette, covered as well in greens and purples and blues, the clock’s mechanism shifted and grunted, and it rang once and once more. The True Night would begin soon.

She looked up, eyes expecting and like answering her thoughts, the mass of clouds that lingered above shifted, and for a second first but then completely, made way for the second moon’s face to shine across the starless sky, embracing what much light the first one had managed, reflecting it back in a dance that had lasted for millennia and had cared for the Selloian nights.

The clock’s pendulum swung back and forth again, its sounds travelling across the silence of the night, and Antuané knew then that True Night had started and the last day of Averne had begun.

Her days as princess of House Roliette were ending.

Bidding her time, she rapped the railing under her hands, and glanced below, towards the roads under the House’s hill. A carriage of shoe-billed storks strutted towards the main road, their pace slow and ceremonious. The dark and blue car yanked and moved whenever the storks walked until it settled near the palace’s entrance, before the gardens.

The men were returning.

Any minute now then, she murmured to none other one than herself, allowing a last glimpse at the tomes and the parchment and candles. Any minute now.

A stomping sound behind her back confirmed her assumption and the shadow of a tall man spilled across the wooden floor as he stood up, not completely, but enough to let her know she’d have to follow the dance now.

The princess let the railings of the balcony go and turned around to face him. She was days from turning thirty-three, but her dress would have fooled anyone to think she was older. But not him. Parents know best.

The man bowed a bit more and then raised his face until his eyes met hers and she nodded back.

“Did he suffer?” she asked.

Rae gue, not even a hello? You will find it easier to see yourself stung by wasps than drenched in bee’s honey with such an attitude.”

A smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes appeared on her face. Even then, the man didn’t lose any opportunity to educate her. She could even think she could grow to miss that. Almost.

“Better to be stung into awareness than put to sleep with the sweetness of the bees, Artuin. You didn’t answer my question. Have you forgotten you speak to a queen now?”

The man harrumphed, a smirk appearing on his face.

“I apologize, rae gue, and can only hope for your forgiveness. I feel, however, incapable of giving you the answer you seek. The man fought back in the end, as scarred men do. I had hoped for a swifter and painless end, after all, there had been enough blood spilled, but Hermain acted faster and his skill is beyond my age. The boy seems to find too much enjoyment in these missions for my taste, but I can not shame him for the work his sword professes, nor the results it carries.”

Antuané nodded.

Other people—lesser people—would often find in the man’s verbiage the sign of a pompous mind, more interested in exchanging words and winning favors than in following them through with actions.

She knew him better.

Artuin Halvener possessed the curse of the learned, as Masters of Libraries did, but something perhaps worse also damned him. The man was wise.

He relaxed and stood up. He wore his usual black tunic, Master of Libraries sigil still pinned in his chest above his badge as House Enforcer. Books over blades.

Behind his ears, and over them, two curved horns grew, a subtle sign that betrayed him as one of the few Nerudos living in Almerne.

He nodded to her, always trying to get her consent and, once received, dragged his boots out and walked next to her, the railings supporting his heavy frame.

“I wish you would not have to return here to wait, rae gue. Your father, may-Duarne-await-his-wake, never had to. Not when his father felt, and nor when your brother did.”

“My father was no woman, Artuin. You of all people know I must follow the customs. It’s just how things are.”

“I would not have taken you, rae gue, as someone so concerned with traditions, as you have made quite clear again and again through our lessons. Why, I can even remember you complaining about dress codes but a day ago.”

“I wasn’t meant to be queen a day ago. And I don’t want to be my father. I’ve been telling me that all day long. If I were to break the old oaths, the people—my people—will fear they have not only lost another king but gained a tyrant. I can’t change those things. Not now. Not so soon. There will be a time for that, but it won’t be tonight.”

The man smiled, recognizing in those words the fire that so infrequently lit in the woman’s heart.

“And so it will be, rae gue. There will be a time for that.”

Artuin saw the faint light of the candles that still glowered in the room behind.

“I presume you have completed the arodare.

The man walked back to the table, his golden eyes inspecting every line and glyph that covered the parchment, tracing with his fingers the path the blood had taken, and nodded in approval.

“You have learned well, rae gue. Their souls shall dance free after tonight and welcome us on the soulevard. Although, I must say, perhaps next time you can use your unharmed hand to guide the first. Your trace would become steadier.”

“Do you really expect a next time, Artuin Halvener? Is the Enforcer of the House already capitulating?”

“A simple misusage of words, rae gue.”

“You are never one to find yourself lost while using them. You shouldn’t worry.”

“One cannot be at fault for being too careful. Specially not now. I will ensure a platoon of men remains stationed in the palace grounds for your security, and—”

“I’ve already arranged for that to happen. A company of men will follow everyone to Chapel Hill, in case another attack would come. As unlikely as that’d be, it will help me feel better, and show my people their leaders remain strong. Ten men will remain here, chosen by Majorale Rolaine himself.”

Artuin raised one eyebrow.

“That is certainly some news I did not foresee. I would have paid high quarters to witness Majorale Rolaine bowing down to you and accepting that plan.”

“Majorale Rolaine dur Roliette,” she replied, Artuin not missing the emphasis she had made of the place in the House’s hierarchy the Master of Affairs maintained.

“That man is no friend of the crown, rae gue. Words can carry more weight than a stone blade, and yours are particularly sharp. Not that he should be exempt from them.”

“I have no use of men who would let words from their soon-to-be queen affect their judgment. And yes,” the princess turned back to meet him, “he deserved that.”

Artuin assented.

She was growing before his eyes, he noticed. Already marks had formed under her dark eyes, and it had been but a few hours since she was forced to face her new reality. He wondered what would happen next and if the fire he was seeing would settle, or if it would die among the ashes of her being.

“I will take my leave then, for these bones already yell for some rest. Do not let your eyes grow weary, your majesty. Much is still left to be done and said before the ceremony takes place. You are not a queen yet, rae gue.

“But you will be a formidable one.”

For a moment, Artuin seemed about to ask something else, surmised the princess. Just a mere turn on his stance and an almost imperceptible change of his stride and posture had told her so. But as he had done in the past, he instead bowed down, the light of both moons shining on top of the man’s already balding black and gray hair. The man was getting older.

The queen didn’t wait for him to depart before turning her eyes back to the city. The true night would remain in place for many hours more, and the carriage was nowhere to be seen now, the men it had carried already sleeping in their chambers.

Much indeed remained to happen before she’d feel comfortable enough in doing what she believed needed to take place.

Above her, the two moons slowly reached their apogees. For a second, their lights shone on top of the city and she saw a glimmer, a dark reflection, breaking for an instant the illusion the sphere encasing Almerne kept.

It had lasted but a moment, but Antuané kept glaring at it, her defiant eyes doing their best to fight back, for an instant at least, the prison that laid in the sky.

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