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The woman-shaped thing travels first to the grand and exotic Kingdom of Brystal. Located in the narrow waterways between islands in the warm Mooncall Sea, Brystal is an accumulation of the great southern archipelago. Each isle boasts its own city-state, and though it has a capital in Queensdream, it has no real rulers to bury among the Hainish, Gadotian, and Urlish kings in the Valley of Tombs. Every city-state is backed by jungle and mountains; every window faces the salty, blood-warm water; every larder is full, and every flagon overflowing. And the Brystalians reason that, with bounty like this, who needs a single king?

In the resort town of Ariail, the woman-shaped thing folds herself down into the form of a courtier so as to be able to pass amid the crowds untouched. She was a rude farmer's wife for so long, her lips and hands chapped from laundry and cooking and gardening, that it is a luxury to have soft, smooth skin and shining hair again. The woman-shaped thing takes smug enjoyment from the way the humans regard her with lust and covetousness as she passes them. It is her due.

These are people who would sell their souls for a night between her legs. People who will be willing to make a Deal, and that is what the woman-shaped thing needs most.

She makes three Deals in Ariail, manipulating each of the dumb animals as she shakes their hands, so that their desires match her own. Creatures like her cannot Speak Words, but she can barter for them, can kiss and suck and lick them out of a human mouth, if the human is willing to let her.

Each of the three stupid mortals whimpers "Thank you, Mistress Solinde!" as she steals away their magic, twists the three new Words into spells of seeking and revelation. She casts them back into the air immediately.

That bitch-fairy, Luck, is on her side, it seems. That for which she searches is on this very island.

She finds the first totem in a cobbler's shop.

The shopkeeper is proud of his craft, despite how impractical shoes are when they're made of anything but leather and wood. Dancing slippers crusted with silver leaf, and crushed ruby powder, and sharded glass glitter on his shelf. They are meant for the courts, for the mistresses of those who claim royal blood—an overabundance in Brystal. They are meant to be danced in only briefly, meant to glitter under chandeliers, and then sat in carriages, and at tea tables, and to whist. They are not meant for the streets, for chores. They are not meant for farmers' wives.

Solinde despises them.

That night, when the cobbler and his offspring are fast asleep in their beds above the shop, Solinde sets fire to it. She is not allowed to kill mortals, by the laws of the Deal-Maker Spirits, so she is compelled to knock on the proprietor's door and alert him to the conflagration, though there is no rule saying how loud that warning must be. After all, it would not do for anyone with the talent or skill to remake the totem to live.

Solinde turns away from the burning building, slipping through shadows and the reflections of flame in nearby shop windows. She pauses in an alley and looks up, to be gleeful witness to her handiwork. Far above the veil of the skies, a realm burns.


"The Forgotten Tale" is available from Reuts Publications:

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