Chapter One: No One's Daughter

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A huge thank you to seventhstar for the gorgeous cover!

OMG did you see the cover she made for this one? *faints*

Chapter 1 - No One's Daughter

It was the first time I wore a mask that wasn't meant for me. The unfamiliar coolness of silk over my face was startling. It felt as if I wasn't wearing a mask at all.

The dissipating mists that hung over the market square of Klesei looked like floating ghosts. I kept to where the crowd before the executioner's dais was thickest. The intoxicating aroma of baking bread rose above the pungent smell of horse manure but was ruined by the sour stench of rotting flesh.

Behind the executioner's dais were the Pillars of Sin, where the corpses of criminals hung for all to see. Most were so decomposed, they looked more like shrivelled dolls than anything that had ever been human. At the foot of the pillars, piles of crumbling bones remained from executions past.

I let the sight steel my resolve as I forced myself to look towards the dais. This was a reminder for me of what I came here today to accomplish.

A man and a woman sat chained to metal chairs. The woman had a long silver braid slung over her shoulder. Her wide hands, weighed by shackles, clutched handfuls of her torn, brown skirt.

Those same hands kneaded bread and mended clothes, picked the grapes from the vines, milked the goats, folded linen, washed the floors. When I was a child, those hands had stroked and patted my hair and back and smacked my small thieving hands away when I tried to steal a hot cheese pastry from the cooling rack.

The man at her side had a white beard and a severe jaw. His eyes, the colour of tree bark, scanned the crowd slowly. I desperately wanted him to look at me. I wanted them both to know I was there.

They wore masks of plain cotton, dyed green, as appropriate for their station, but the cut of the cloth was a perfect fit for their faces. The woman's mask was embroidered with red thread that went around her eyes in a floral pattern. The man's mask had a small yellow sea-gull stitched over the corner of his right eye. Embroidered masks were little vanities they allowed themselves because it was work of my hand. Because wearing these masks was admitting that, despite everything that I had done, they were proud of me, their daughter.

The executioner walked onto the dais, his heavy leather boots drumming over the wood. He was followed by Lord Aspertin's steward, a pepper-haired man who wore a delicate silver mask inlaid with a single sapphire—a lesser noble.

He held up a sealed letter, the crimson wax of Aspertin's sigil, a screaming stag, gleamed in the first rays of the morning sun before he broke it.

"I shall now read the sentence as it was delivered by Lord Aspertin," he announced, holding the letter before his eyes. "Charlin Diader and his wife, Salyn Diader have been brought before me, Lord Alik Aspertin, head of the Cervi, to be judged. They have been found guilty for their crimes. I hereby sentence them both to death by unmasking at dawn."

A murmur went through the crowd. It wasn't the excited whirr of an execution. Something had unsettled the People today. A bubbling suspicion that sizzled beneath the surface.

They knew the real story here. Everyone knew. But, of course, no one would say a word. We were weighed and measured on the scales the Lords of Vynam had built to entrap and protect us. To question would mean to challenge. The Lords held all our lives in the palms of their jewel-encrusted hands, any confrontation would result in our immediate defeat.

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