Blood Metal Bone by Lindsay Cummings

Ten Years Ago


The Kingdom of Soreia


Tears trickled down Sonara’s cheeks as she crouched in the shadowy corners of the Soreian royal stables.

She’d awoken early that morning to find the word scraped in the sand between the aisles of stalls. Exactly where they knew she’d find it.

BASTARD



It had been gouged deep, as if drawn with the sharp edge of a warrior’s sword.

Many times, Sonara of Soreia wished the goddesses had never granted her life in her mother’s womb. For what was living, when you spent your days tucked away in the shadows, disowned and unwanted?

Sonara had scraped the awful word away with a mucking fork, then spent the rest of the morning cleaning out stalls, telling herself she wasn’t going to cry.

The damned tears came anyway, pesky drops that fell hard and fast the moment her brother entered the stables.

Soahm came as he always did: unannounced and disguised in a cerulean hooded cloak that did little to conceal his true identity.

Everyone knew the Crown Prince of Soreia.

He stood a few paces away, a pale mare nuzzling at his pocket, trying to uncover the hidden wintermints he’d purchased on his latest journey to the neighboring kingdom of the Deadlands. Soahm’s azure hair and eyes, deep as the sea, were the mark of Soreian purity; a trait that had passed down from generation to generation, marking the worthy from the not.

“If I were you,” Soahm said as he stroked the mare’s nose with a bejeweled hand, “I’d consider it a blessing that mother doesn’t look upon you at all. Some days I swear the goddesses are punishing me beneath her wretched stare.”

Mother.

Sonara flinched at the word.

“Careful,” she said softly. She glanced over her shoulder, where a quiet stablehand hauled hay around the corner. A chorus of nickers followed after it, steeds poking their heads out of stall windows in hope of sneaking a bite. “You’re speaking words of treason, Prince.”

But the stablehands and grooms were sworn to secrecy. Their very lives, their children’s lives, depended upon it. The last one who’d uttered a word of Sonara’s lineage was still displayed as an ornament upon the palace gates.

“Perhaps,” Soahm said. He shrugged out of his cloak and placed it on a bridle hook just outside the nearest stall. The mare huffed at it, then stuck her head over the polished gate and promptly removed it with her teeth. The cloak tumbled to the sand in a heap, the fine silk worth more than an entire year’s worths of wages for Sonara. Soahm sighed as he lifted it from the sand, a golden chain dangling from his throat as he shook out the dust. “But these aren’t the words of the crown prince. They’re the words of an older brother, who is doing his utmost to comfort his little sister.”

“That could be treason, too,” Sonara said. “Calling me such a thing.”

The crown prince held his arms wide. “Then let the queen send me over the cliffs to my death. I don’t fear the Leaping. And besides, when Rhya takes the crown in my stead and spends half the kingdom’s wages on flagons of liquor and ladies in waiting, mother will be begging the goddesses to pull me back from the depths.” He flashed that summertime smile of his. “You’re my sister, Sonara. You always will be, regardless of how much shared blood runs in our veins.”

He’d meant the words as a comfort. But Sonara sniffed, and more tears slipped from her eyes. They were darker than Soahm’s crystalline blue; a brown so deep they were almost black, her pupils scarcely visible in the dim light of morning.

She holds the darkness of night in her eyes, her mother’s voice whispered into her memories. The darkness of a demon.

“Don’t waste your tears,” Soahm said. He gently patted her shoulder, then tucked her long braid behind her ear. The strands caught in a ray of sunlight peeking through the gabled stall window, revealing the natural smudges of muddy brown mixed with pure Soreian blue. “Not on a single one of them.”

As he spoke, Sonara saw the royal family in her mind, the outline of the Queen, a shimmering crown perched atop her blue braids. And the three other half-siblings, all manicured menaces whose hearts had never known softness, never longed to show compassion. Not like Soahm.

“Easier said than done,” Sonara answered.

Soahm was older by several years. He’d traveled all across the continent, visiting the neighboring kingdom of the Deadlands, even traveling so far as the White Wastes up north. He’d seen other castles and cultures, dined with kings and queens and learned to wield a sword as any Soreian warrior should. He bore the weight of their kingdom’s future upon his shoulders, for someday, their mother’s crown would become his.

Soahm knew a great many things. But he would never truly understand what it was like to bear the burden of bastard.

It was whispered behind Sonara like a devil’s hiss in the city streets.

It sung wickedly to her each night in her dreams, when the wind sighed and the stars came out to shed their light on the kingdom below.

Sonara was a child without a known father to claim her, with a royal mother who’d never wanted to bear her at all.

“Well,” Sonara said, as her tears dried up. “I’ve work to do, and seeing as you’re here…”

“Fine,” Soahm said. “But I’m not going anywhere near Duran.”