‘Goodbye, Snow Child’, Jo M. Thomas

Illustrations © 2019 Cécile Matthey



1

She wakes. Probably.

At least, she thinks she’s now aware where previously she wasn’t.

Everything is black and warm and there is no memory of what has gone before, only an impression that the blackness is some kind of contrast.

She has opened her eyes, right?

She lifts her hand to touch her face but can’t even see the movement. Until the moment she feels her face beneath her fingertips, she’s not entirely convinced there has been movement. But she feels her fingers touching her face and her face beneath her fingertips, even if there is some soft, thick cloth between.

The cloth is what makes it dark and warm.

There’s a voice but it doesn’t make sense. She doesn’t understa—

“—s awake.”

“Ah,” says another voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

She opens her mouth to speak but nothing comes out. Her mouth definitely opens. She can feel the movement under the cloth.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

There is a pause as if she is expected to reply. She can’t.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says. “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is.

That is almost as dark as the world behind the cloth.

Who is she?

She opens her mouth again to ask but, also again, no sound comes out. And no air. It feels as if the cloth is pushing itself into her mouth, although she can’t feel any such movement beneath her fingertips.

The cloth is closing in on her.

Is it her imagination or has the world got darker still?

There is no air in here.

Why don’t they know that?

Why aren’t they helping her?

She gasps and struggles for air, clutching and clawing at the cloth.

“There’s no need to do that,” the second voice says calmly.

Hands rougher than the voice grab hers and hold them away from her face, from the cloth. She struggles to free herself but she is pinned down and restricted before she manages more than a wriggle.

“Now this just won’t do,” says the second voice. “Not at all.”

There is the smell of something burning and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

2

She wakes. Probably.

At least, she thinks she’s now aware where previously she wasn’t.

Everything is black and warm and there is no memory of what has gone before, only an impression that the blackness is some kind of contrast.

She has opened her eyes, hasn’t she?

She lifts her hand to touch her face but can’t even see the movement. Until the moment she feels her face beneath her fingertips, she’s not entirely convinced there has been movement. But she feels her fingers touching her face and her face beneath her fingertips, even if there is some soft, thick cloth between.

The cloth is what makes it dark.

There’s a voice but it doesn’t make sense. None of this makes any sense. She doesn’t understa—

“—s awake.”

“Ah,” says another voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

She doesn’t try to reply. She has a feeling she know what’s coming next, a sense that this has been done before, but she can’t quite think what this next will actually be.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

There is a pause as if she is expected to reply. She doesn’t.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says. “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is.

That is almost as dark as the world behind the cloth.

Who is she?

She opens her mouth to ask but no sound comes out.

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with honeyed concern. “Are you not with us?”

She croaks. Faint but a sound, a noise, a proof that she exists in whatever place this is.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

“Send her off,” says the second.

And there’s no air. She inhales, or tries, as hard as she can but there is nothing. It feels as if the cloth is pushing itself into her mouth, although she can’t feel any such movement beneath her fingertips.

The cloth is closing in on her.

Is it her imagination or has the world got darker still?

There is no air in here.

Are they doing this to her?

If they aren’t, why aren’t they helping her?

She gasps and struggles for air, clutching and clawing at the cloth.

“There’s no need to do that,” the second voice says calmly.

But hands rougher than the voice grab hers and hold them away from her face, from the cloth. She struggles to free herself but she is pinned down and restricted before she manages more than an initiating wriggle.

There is the smell of something burning and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

3

She wakes. Probably.

At least, she thinks she’s now aware where previously she wasn’t.

Everything is black and warm and there is no memory of what has gone before, only an impression that the blackness is some kind of contrast. She lifts her hand to touch her face and feels soft, thick cloth between skin and skin, between the outside and her eyes. It feels… familiar.

There’s a voice she recognises but it doesn’t make sense. She can’t put a name to it, can’t remember where she heard it before. She doesn’t understa—

“—start. She’s awake.”

She has a feeling she know what’s coming next, a sense that this has been done before, but she can’t quite think what this next will actually be.

“Ah,” says another voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

She doesn’t try to respond, even if it’s what she’s supposed to be doing.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

There is a pause as if she is expected to reply. She doesn’t.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says. “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is.

That is almost as dark as the world behind the cloth.

Who is she?

She opens her mouth to ask but no sound comes out.

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with honeyed concern. “Are you not with us?”

She croaks. Faint but a sound, a noise, a proof that she exists in whatever place this is.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

“Send her off,” says the second.

She gathers herself together and forces out a “no” that sounds pitiful and weak.

But at least it sounds enough for the second voice to say, “Ah, you can talk.”

She tries for “just” but manages only another croak.

“Would you like some water?” the second voice asks.

How is she supposed to drink through the cloth on her face? But she raises her hand and tries to nod. The hand moves, the head does not.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She hears movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, an arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held to her lips without any question of whether she’s ready.

She isn’t.

She chokes on sweet, cold water.

She struggles, trying to push the cup away.

“There’s no need to do that,” the second voice says calmly.

And the first voice’s hands, familiar in their roughness, grab her and hold her down as the water is poured on her face, pouring through the cloth. She manages a wriggle before there is the smell of something burning and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

4

She wakes. Probably.

At least, she thinks she’s now aware where previously she wasn’t.

Everything is black and warm and there is no memory of what has gone before, only an impression that the blackness is some kind of contrast. She lifts her hand to touch her face and feels soft, thick cloth between skin and skin, between the outside and her eyes. She realises she expected the barrier to be there.

There’s a voice she recognises but that doesn’t make sense. She can’t put a name to it, can’t remember where she heard it before. She doesn’t understa—

“—start. She’s awake.”

“She’s awake,” she wants to say as the other voice says it but can’t quite get her mouth to move.

“Ah,” says another voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

She doesn’t try to respond, even though she wants to yell at them. “My dear child” is not the right way to address her.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

There is a pause as if she is expected to reply. She leaves him to fill it for himself.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says. “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is.

That is almost as dark as the world behind the cloth.

Who is she?

She opens her mouth to ask but no sound comes out.

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with honeyed but insincere concern. “Are you not with us?”

She croaks. Faint but a sound, a noise, a proof that she exists in whatever place this is.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

“Send her off,” says the second.

She gathers herself together and forces out a “no” that sounds pitiful and weak.

But at least it sounds enough for the second voice to say, “Ah, you can talk.”

She tries for “just” but manages only another croak.

“Would you like some water?” the second voice asks.

How is she supposed to drink through the cloth on her face? But she raises her hand and tries to nod. The hand moves, the head does not.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She hears movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, an arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held to her lips without any question of whether she’s ready.

She isn’t but she catches up quickly, before the sweet, cold water can be inhaled instead of drunk.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

She snarls, unseen behind the mask, and chokes on the water. Her first thought is “not again”, her second is to wonder why “again”.

By this time, her reflex to resist the continued flow of water has kicked in and she struggles against the first voice’s hold on her.

“There’s no need to do that,” the second voice says calmly.

And the hands holding her grip tighter as the water is poured on her face, pouring through the cloth. She manages another wriggle before there is the smell of something burning and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

5

She wakes, aware now where previously she wasn’t.

The world is black and warm and it feels like this is some kind of contrast to what was there before awareness but she can’t be sure. She lifts her hand to touch her face and feels the expected soft, thick texture of cloth between the outside and her eyes. Velvet thick enough to hold out any light, that makes the world black.

There’s a voice she recognises but she can’t remember from where. The words make no se—

“—start. She’s awake.”

“She’s awake,” she mouths as the other voice says it.

For some reason, she knows there is no point trying to speak aloud.

“Ah,” says another voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

The “my dear child” makes her snarl silently.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

She doesn’t respond in the appropriate pause. She probably isn’t expected to. It’s more of a pretence, like fine manners.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says. “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. There’s nothing there.

Who is she? She would ask but weren’t they asking her?

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern. “Are you not with us?”

She croaks. A faint sound but still a noise, still proof that she exists in whatever place this is.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

That first person is still a bastard.

“Send her off,” says the second.

She gathers herself together and forces out a “no” that sounds pitiful and weak. But at least it’s enough for the second voice to say, “Ah, you can talk.”

She tries for “just” but manages only another croak.

“Would you like some water?” the second voice asks.

She raises her hand and tries to nod. The hand moves, the head does not. She feels no bindings—is it some kind of magic?

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She hears movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, an arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held to her lips without any question of whether she’s ready.

She isn’t but she catches up quickly, before the sweet, cold water can be inhaled instead of drunk.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

She wants to snarl again but doesn’t. It’s unlikely the first voice will stop the water flow and she knows what drowning in sweet water feels like. She fears the memory even more because she doesn’t know where it comes from.

“You have become quite well known,” says the second voice. “Everyone here asks us how you are and if we’ve solved the little mystery of who you are, yet.”

Perhaps everyone should mind their own business. Perhaps one of them knows who she actually is and these voices are asking the wrong person.

She grunts to show she’s heard, in case staying quiet ends badly.

The second voice seems disappointed with the response because he also says, “Even His Majesty, the King, has asked about you.”

The world is red, not black.

There are many feelings but the only one that she can actually identify is rage.

She snarls, still unseen behind her velvet mask and pushes away the first voice and the sweet water, strong enough in her anger to achieve escape. Then the realisation that this isn’t the way it has been before makes her pause, giving the first voice time to grab her with strong, coarse hands.

There’s the smell of something burning again and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

6

She wakes, burning up, mouth open and screaming an anger that destroys everything before it, even words.

The world is red and too hot with emotion and too cold to survive in. She lifts her hands to tear at the velvet mask that prevents her from making the world outside as red as the world within.

“—start. She’s—”

“I am awake!” she shouts.

The voice has woken her. The voice is why she is angry. She lunges for it.

“Oh,” says another voice, “dear Gods!”

She will kill that one, too.

The first voice grabs her with rough familiarity and she fights back with abandon. She hears the snapping of small bones as she clenches her hand around fingers foolishly left open instead of curled into a protective fist.

The first voice screams.

There’s the smell of something burning again and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

7

She wakes, burning up, mouth open and screaming an anger that destroys everything before it, even her throat.

The world is red and too hot with emotion and too cold to survive in. She lifts her hands to tear at the velvet mask that prevents her from making the world outside as red as the world within.

“—start. She’s—”

“I am awake!” she shouts.

The voice has woken her. The voice is why she is angry. She lunges for it.

“Oh,” says another voice, “dear Gods!”

She will kill that one, too.

The first voice grabs her with rough familiarity and she fights back with abandon. He has the sense to curl his hands into protective fists and she is disappointed not to hear the snap of bones.

She screams her disappointment.

“Stop!” says the second voice but it has no ability to command her. “Stop! There’s no need to do this.”

Her screaming is reduced to an animal growl, if only because she can no longer give voice to her anger. Her throat is raw and painful. She grabs at the first voice’s throat. Let him see how he likes it, to have a throat so damaged by his attack.

There’s the smell of something burning again and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

8

She wakes, burning up, mouth open and screaming in anger through a torn throat.

The world is red and too hot with emotion and too cold to survive in. She lifts her hands to tear at the velvet mask that prevents her from making the world outside as red as the world within.

“—start. She’s awake.”

At the same time, she tries to shape her scream to “I am awake!” but it doesn’t change the croaking roar.

She lunges for the voice.

“Oh,” says another voice, “dear Gods!”

She will kill that one, too.

The first voice grabs her with rough familiarity and she fights back with abandon. He has the sense to curl his hands into protective fists and she finds no purchase on him. She can only strike wildly and with no leverage.

She screams her disappointment. Silently.

“Stop!” says the second voice but it has no ability to command her. “Stop! There’s no need to do this.”

She knows that air passes from her lungs but her voice has gone. Her throat is raw and painful. She grabs at the first voice’s throat and shakes. Let him see how he likes it, to have a throat so damaged by his attack.

“Let go of him!” says the second voice with something akin to desperation. “Stop it!”

She hesitates but doesn’t loosen her grip.

“I have no choice,” says the second voice. “You brought this on yourself.”

There’s the smell of something burning again and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

9

She wakes. Probably.

At least, she thinks she’s now aware where previously she wasn’t.

Everything is black and warm and there is no memory of what has gone before, only an impression that the blackness is some kind of contrast. She feels washed out and faded, as if whatever went before took everything from her, or as if she didn’t sleep well. Her throat aches as if she has screamed her way through nightmares. She cannot remember anything.

She lifts her hand to touch her face and feels the expected soft, thick texture of cloth between the outside and her eyes. Velvet thick enough to hold out any light, that makes the world black. The mask tires her even more. Someone expects her to be something she isn’t.

There’s a voice she has reason to dislike, though she can’t remember what that reason is.

“—start. She’s awake.”

“She’s awake,” she mouths in time.

She sighs though it makes no discernible sound. She feels disinterested, sullen like a child forced to do something, angry because she is no child to be forced. There is no point trying to speak.

“Ah,” says another voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

The “my dear child” makes her snarl. It isn’t a suitable form of address.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

She doesn’t respond in the appropriate pause. She isn’t expected to. It’s a pretence, like their fine manners that ignore etiquette.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says. Perhaps that explains the throat. “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. There’s nothing there. Just the knowledge that this person should not be addressing her in this manner.

Who is she? She would ask but weren’t they asking her?

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern. “Are you not with us?”

She croaks. A faint sound but still a noise, still proof that she exists in whatever place this is.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

That first person is still a bastard.

“Send her off,” says the second.

She gathers herself together and forces out a “no” that sounds pitiful and weak. But at least it’s enough for the second voice to say, “Ah, you can talk.”

She snarls and it’s a feeble croak that wouldn’t scare a timid mouse.

“Would you like some water?” the second voice asks.

She raises her hand and tries to nod. The hand moves, the head does not. She feels no bindings but she must be held by something, some magic. Wizards. Her skin crawls. She’s not entirely sure why.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She hears movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer. Each move is a careful choreography with beats she can anticipate.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, an arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held to her lips without any question of whether she’s ready.

She isn’t but she catches up quickly, before the sweet, cold water can be inhaled instead of drunk. It soothes her torn throat.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

She wants to snarl again but doesn’t. The first voice won’t stop the water flow and she knows what drowning in sweet water feels like. She fears the memory even more because she doesn’t know where it comes from. Wizards and magic. It shouldn’t be something she fears so much.

“You have become quite well known,” says the second voice. “Everyone here asks us how you are and if we’ve solved the little mystery of who you are, yet.”

Perhaps everyone should mind their own business. Perhaps one of them knows who she actually is and these voices are asking the wrong person. Perhaps one of them put her hear and is making sure she stays where they put her. Perhaps the voices are in on it.

She grunts to show she’s heard, in case staying quiet ends badly.

The second voice seems disappointed with the response because they also say, “Even His Majesty, the King, has asked about you.”

There are many feelings but the only one that she can actually identify surely is rage. However, she is too tired, too thin in her energy, to give in to it. It’s not so much that she resists the push as she has no energy to move after it. She snarls sullenly but can manage no more than that.

“So,” says the second voice, “who are you?”

Her mind is blank. She has no answer. She shrugs.

“You don’t know?” the second voice asks.

She lies still and waits for more questions but they don’t arrive.

“Good,” says the second voice.

And there’s the smell of something burning again and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

10

She wakes. Everything is black and warm and she has the feeling that both blackness and warmth are in contrast to whatever came before. Her self feels worn and torn about the edges, thin with lack of energy. Her throat is sore, as if she has spent the day before talking without end.

She lifts her hand to touch her face and feels the expected soft, thick texture of cloth between the outside and her eyes. Velvet thick enough to hold out any light, that makes the world black. She has enough energy to wonder why this time it is expected; why “this time”.

There’s a voice she dislikes, though she can’t remember who or why.

“—start. She’s awake.”

“She’s awake,” she mouths in time.

She sighs. She feels disinterested, sullen like a child forced to do something, angry because she is no child to be forced. There is no point trying to speak.

That little drop of energy asks, But why?

“Ah,” says another voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

The “my dear child” is wrong. It isn’t how this person should be talking to her. She dislikes it even more than the first voice and would prefer it if they didn’t address her at all.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

She doesn’t respond. It’s a pretence, an artifice, like fine manners that ignore etiquette.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says. Perhaps that explains the throat and the sense of sleeping badly. “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. There’s nothing there. Just the knowledge that this is not the way she should be treated.

Who is she? She would ask but weren’t they asking her?

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern. “Are you not with us?”

She croaks, a faint proof that she exists.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

That first person is still a bastard.

“Send her off,” says the second.

She gathers herself together and forces out a “no” that sounds pitiful and weak. But it’s enough to cause the second voice to say, “Ah, you can talk.”

She snarls and it’s a feeble croak that wouldn’t scare a timid mouse.

“Would you like some water?” the second voice asks.

She raises her hand and tries to nod. The hand moves, the head does not. She feels no bindings but she must be held by something, some magic. Wizards. Her skin crawls. She’s not entirely sure why.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She hears movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer. She knows exactly when each beat and change of beat will be. As if she’s been through this several times before. Perhaps she has, if she has woken in her fever and forgotten again the next time she has woken with anything like lucidity.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, a rough arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held up to her lips and tipped whether she’s ready or not. She’s ready, knowing somehow that it would happen, and the sweet, cold water is drunk instead of inhaled. It soothes and cools her sore throat.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

She wants to snarl again but doesn’t. She knows what drowning in sweet water feels like. She fears the memory even more because she doesn’t know where it comes from. There is magic here.

She didn’t used to fear magic so. Perhaps the magic or its users had been at her command before.

“You have become quite well known,” says the second voice. “Everyone here asks us how you are and if we’ve solved the little mystery of who you are, yet.”

Anyone of the people asking for her identity, even these voices, could mean her harm—whether that’s as an ignorant prisoner or as whomever she really is. If she knew who she was, she wouldn’t tell them.

She grunts to show she’s heard, though, in case staying silent results in harm.

The second voice seems disappointed with the response because they also say, “Even His Majesty, the King, has asked about you.”

There are many feelings. The strongest and loudest is rage but that’s because it springs from the others; disappointment, hurt, fear. She needs to hurt as she has been hurt. She needs to defend… something. But she is too tired, too thin in her energy, to do anything. There is nothing she can do.

“Kind of him,” she says and wonders at the bite in her own words.

“So,” says the second voice, “who are you?”

Her mind is blank.

“Someone,” she says.

“You don’t know?” the second voice asks.

“Does it matter?” she asks in return, despite the welling of fear she feels. “I’m a person. Someone who needs help.”

There’s a pause as if the response was not the expected one.

“If that’s what makes you feel better,” says the second voice.

She thinks for a moment and says, “I was under the impression that your help was what was supposed to make me better.”

The first voice chuckles but stops suddenly. Perhaps a harsh look from the second voice.

“Do you know who you are?” the second voice asks impatiently.

“No.”

“Good,” the second voice says.

And there’s the smell of something burning again and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

11

She wakes.

She lifts her hand to touch her face and feels the expected soft, thick texture of cloth between the outside and her eyes. Velvet thick enough to hold out any light, that makes the world black. Why is this all so familiar?

There’s a voice. She dislikes it, though she can’t remember who or why, and it isn’t the important one. Which is a shame because it’s near enough for her to try attacking.

“—start. She’s awake.”

“She’s awake,” she says in time.

No sound comes out although she knows she tried speak. Magical control of her voice. Perhaps of other parts of her. She managed to lift her hands so she’s not totally bound. Is it worth trying to stand up?

“Ah,” says another voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

She dislikes this voice even more than the first, even without considering that they call her “dear child”. Of the two, this is the one in charge. This is the one to take down. If she can get to them. If she can remember how. If she ever used to know.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

She doesn’t respond. Let them work for knowledge, not that she has any to share.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says.

She blinks behind her mask, suddenly remembering all encompassing white. Is that a real memory or a magical image set off by her captor’s description?

They continue, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. There’s nothing there. She only knows that she should not be treated like this and that her world was snow white for a short while that seemed like forever. She doesn’t even know if that second thing is true.

Who is she? Don’t they know if they are her captors?

She has a moment of doubt about their moral alignment. Perhaps they really are her rescuers.

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern. “Are you not with us?”

She says, “Yes,” but it comes out a whisper, a faint proof that she exists.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

No, she was right before, they really are a pair of bastards.

“Send her off,” says the second.

“I am here,” she says, louder than her last whisper.

It’s enough to cause the second voice to say, “Ah, you can talk.”

“More or less,” she says. “Bring me water.”

There is a pause, as if neither voice is entirely sure how to respond, before the second voice asks, “Would you like some water?”

“Did I not just say that?” she asks.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She hears movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another—

She knows exactly when each beat and change of beat will be. The second voice sounds near enough that she could reach them, the first voice is far enough away that she only might get to them.

She lunges—

—more steps getting closer.

—and goes nowhere. The magic holds her to the surface she lies on. Only her hands have moved, a useless fluttering in the direction of the second voice.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, a rough arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held up to her lips and tipped whether she’s ready or not. She drinks from the constant stream of sweet, cold water.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

She snarls silently around the drink, conscious of how it would feel sliding down into lungs instead of stomach. It feels like a memory, whether it’s a real one or one they’ve embedded in her. She shouldn’t fear them but she does. Fear can be used to stoke anger, though, and anger might give her enough strength to break these false bonds.

“You have become quite well known,” says the second voice. “Everyone here asks us how you are and if we’ve solved the little mystery of who you are, yet.”

If she knew who she was, she wouldn’t tell them. If they know who she is, they aren’t telling her. Would they hold her like this if they didn’t? She grunts to show she’s heard, though, in case they would use her silence as a reason to hurt her.

The second voice sounds disappointed when they add, “Even His Majesty, the King, has asked about you.”

There are many feelings. The strongest and loudest is rage but that’s because it springs from the others; disappointment, hurt, fear. She needs to hurt as she has been hurt. She needs to defend… something. The rage is the thing she can work with.

“Kind of him,” she says with bite.

“So,” says the second voice, “who are you?”

She ignores the mental blank and focuses on the rage. She only needs to grab the second voice.

“You don’t know?” the second voice asks.

Her rage is only glowing embers. She wants to lunge again, to grab the second voice and see what they are made of. Or feel, at least.

“No,” she says finally.

She can’t think of what to say or do that will bring the second voice closer and make the first voice unable to stop her trying again.

“Good,” the second voice says.

And there’s the smell of something burning again and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

12

She wakes.

She lifts her hand to touch her face and feels a soft, thick velvet mask without eye-holes. It feels familiar.

There’s a voice. Unimportant but she dislikes the owner all the same. She could take it out but it’s the other one, the one she hasn’t heard yet, who’s in control. She’s sure of it, though she doesn’t know how.

“—start. She’s awake.”

“Oh, I’m awake,” she mutters.

She channels all of her rage and frustration when she speaks, although she has no idea what she has been through to make her feel that way. Her voice should be louder than that. There is magic holding her and her words in. She managed to lift her hands so she’s not totally bound. But standing up is likely to be impossible without a way to put some power behind it.

“Oh,” says the important voice. For some reason, this isn’t what she expects it to say. But it recovers, saying words she can almost mouth in time, “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

You do not get to call me ‘dear child’,” she mutters, forcing as much of her anger through the magical ties that bind as she can.

There is an awkward silence. These are not the reactions they expect. She still doesn’t know how she knows.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that hated second voice.

She growls. They both step back, she can hear it.

“We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days,” the second voice says.

She pictures all encompassing, calming white but replies, “You should have left me there.”

The second voice says crisply, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. She doesn’t know who she is, but perhaps what is more important.

What is she? That is also blank.

“Don’t you know?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern.

It isn’t quite the question she was expecting but, then, “can you not speak?” no longer makes sense. How does she know that was what they should be asking?

“Come closer,” she says, feeling like she shouts to get the words out in a soft whisper. “Come closer and I’ll tell you who I am.”

“This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go,” the first voice whispers.

“Shh,” the second voice hisses back.

She could almost think she’d imagined it, they were so quiet.

“What happened to the drink of water?” she asks, as sweetly and insincerely as they have questioned her.

There is another pause, as if neither voice is entirely sure how to respond, before the second voice asks, “Would you like some water?”

“Did I not just say that?” she asks.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She hears movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another—

Now.

She throws herself forward, driven by anger and hatred of that second voice, and manages to stand, separate from the surface they were holding her to. She can feel the magic snap and crack, like so many tiny threads broken by a clumsy movement.

—more steps getting closer but the container of water is dropped before the first voice makes it back.

She doesn’t get to the second voice. She can’t take another step.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s tackled right back down, rough arms across her shoulders and round her neck.

“Aren’t you going to call me a ‘good girl’?” she taunts in a whisper, not sure where the words come from.

“How does she know that’s in the script?” the first voice asks plaintively.

There’s the smell of something burning again again again and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

13

She wakes.

She doesn’t need to raise her hand to touch the soft, thick velvet mask without eye-holes she wears. She knows what it is without thought but she still wonders why she wears it. Is it to hide her from others or others from her?

There’s a voice. The owner of it is unimportant but she dislikes them all the same. She could take it out but it’s the other one who’s in control. They’re the one to take down. Whoever they are.

“—start. She’s awake.”

“Oh, I’m awake,” she mutters.

She says it quietly to herself but it takes the force of an underlying rage and frustration she doesn’t understand to even put that much sound behind it. There is magic holding her and her words in. She is starting to feel the threads of it binding her although it seems her hands are free—she could lift them if she wanted.

“Ah,” says the important second voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

She is going to take their “dear child” and find a way to shove it somewhere anatomically impossible. Her anger burns inside her. It almost seems like it makes the magic holding her stand out, like dark threads across the light of a glowing fire.

There is a slight pause as if they expect her to answer. She ignores them to feel out this new sensation. It’s like vision, and touch, but it isn’t. They are simply the words she has to use to explain it to herself.

“No doubt,” she says without thinking.

Apparently it was loud enough to hear. She feels a shift in the room, as if the two voices are wondering what to say next.

The second voice recovers and says the more expected, “You’re something of a mystery to us. We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days.”

She can imagine being in the snow. She finds the thought oddly comforting.

“You really should have left me there,” she says.

There. She can actually grasp those magic threads if she just—

The second voice says crisply, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. She doesn’t know who she is, but perhaps what is more important. Something magical. Humans aren’t wizards.

So, what is she? That is also blank.

“Don’t you know?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern.

It isn’t quite the question she was expecting but, then, “can you not speak?” no longer makes sense. How does she know that was what they should be asking?

“May I have a drink of water?” she asks.

There is another pause, as if neither voice is entirely sure how to respond, before the second voice asks, “Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please,” she replies.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She hears movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another—

She knows exactly when each beat and change of beat will be. The second voice sounds near enough that she could reach them, the first voice is far enough away that she only might get to them.

She touches the magic threads with her thoughts, just so and it feels like they twang beneath unsteady fingers—

—more steps getting closer.

The threads break, untidily, noisily. Not all of them but enough for her to less bound from where she lies. Not all of the threads broken held her down. Not all of threads that remain are for that purpose, either. She cannot tell what they were for.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, an arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held to her lips without any question of whether she’s ready.

She isn’t but she catches up quickly, before the sweet, cold water can be inhaled instead of drunk.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

They really do deserve to die.

“You have become quite well known,” says the second voice. “Everyone here asks us how you are and if we’ve solved the little mystery of who you are, yet.”

She would hardly tell them who she was, even if she knew. If they don’t know, they would use it against her. If they do know, they already are.

The second voice seems disappointed with the response because he also says, “Even His Majesty, the King, has asked about you.”

He is their authority for doing this. Why would a king need a young woman held like this? What did he gain from it?

There are many feelings. The strongest and loudest is rage but that’s because it springs from the others; disappointment, hurt, fear. She needs to hurt as she has been hurt. She needs to defend… the world from this king.

The rage is something she can work with. It may even make up for her lack of technique with the magic around her. It’s unlikely she’ll succeed but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try.

She laughs. “Kind of him.”

“So,” says the second voice, “who are you?”

She ignores the mental blank and focuses on the magic threads. It doesn’t seem like the broken ones alerted the second voice to anything. It doesn’t seem like she can break the ones that remain. She doesn’t know what they do. Hopefully her rage will be enough to counter anything they can throw at her. She only needs to grab the second voice.

“You don’t know?” the second voice asks.

Her rage is a hearthed fire, banked by her need to observe and watch and control. She still wants to lunge, to grab the second voice and find out what they are made of.

“Come closer,” she says. “Come closer and I’ll tell you who I am.”

There’s another of those pauses that seems to cover when the two voices are uncertain of the correct response. It lasts a couple of heartbeats before it’s broken by the second voice stepping closer. She can feel them bending over her, she can feel some of the threads that remain thicken and strengthen with the closeness.

Wizard. Elf-blood or dwarf-blood.

“Tell me,” the second voice whispers.

They sound caught between eagerness and terror. Perhaps they don’t really know the answer, after all.

She lunges.

After a moment of shock, the first voice’s arms tighten around her—how could she have forgotten about him?—and the second voice scuttles back out of her reach before her hands can close about his throat.

“You’re not supposed to leave the script!” the first voice shouts at the second.

It smells like the whole world is burning and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

14

She wakes.

The world is hidden by a soft, thick velvet mask without eye-holes that makes everything on the inside just a bit too warm and a bit too dark for comfort. It hides her determination and anger. It hides that she is concentrating already on her magical bindings.

There’s a voice. She could take him out but it’s the other voice who’s in control. The one she hasn’t heard yet.

“—start. She’s awake.”

“Oh, I’m awake,” she says.

“Oh,” says the important second voice.

As they’re unintentionally expressing their surprise, she’s touching the threads that hold them all together. She doesn’t know what each of these little magical strings do but many hold her down to whatever it is she’s lying on. She can see those. She can tug on those. She can slide them on to something or someone else.

“My dear child,” the second voice says, recovering. “You’re awake. We were worried about you.”

That someone else is going to be the first voice. She doesn’t think she can work out how to move them further than that.

“No doubt,” she says without thinking.

She feels a shift in the room, as if the two voices are wondering what to say next.

How about these threads that do something else? Can she move those over, too?

The second voice recovers and says the expected, “You’re something of a mystery to us. We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days.”

Expected… Why does she expect without actually having a memory of what is happening? How would she have a memory of something that is happening now? She pokes at the magic threads but sees nothing that immediately suggests they’re the cause. Would she be able to tell if they were?

“You really should have left me there,” she says.

Oh. What’s that? This one doesn’t feel like the others. It doesn’t belong with them. Is that because someone else made it?

The second voice says crisply, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. She doesn’t know who she is, but perhaps what is more important. Something magical. Humans aren’t wizards. She’s not human. She thought she was.

So, what is she? She stops poking at threads and thinks. There are only three magic bloods but she can’t be any of them. Dwarves are shorter than she is. Elves are less solid. Dragons are scaly shape-shifters—they can look like almost anyone but they can never hide the fine scales along their spines and surely she would feel that?

“Don’t you know?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern.

She has a feeling that question could have been something else. Perhaps something that no longer fits.

“May I have a drink of water?” she asks.

There is another uncertain pause before the second voice asks, “Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please,” she replies.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She expects to hear movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer. She hears nothing. The first voice is still.

“I can’t move,” he whispers, his voice laced with terror.

She smiles beneath her mask.

“Oh,” says another voice, “dear Gods!”

It smells like the world is burning—

So that’s what those other threads do.

—and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

15

She wakes.

Her head is wrapped in soft, thick velvet that hides her face and thoughts from the world. Unless they can mind read.

There’s a voice. The words don’t resolve into sense at first.

“—start. She’s awake.”

She’ll get to him, with time and luck, but she’s more concerned about what she hasn’t heard yet.

“Oh, I’m awake,” she says.

“Oh,” says the more important second voice.

As they’re unintentionally expressing their surprise, she’s touching the magical threads that tie her down and hold her prisoner. These ones do this and those ones do that and this set here respond to her prodding and these ones resolutely stay where they are—

“My dear child,” the second voice says, recovering. “You’re awake. We were worried about you.”

“No doubt,” she says without thinking.

She’s thinking about magic. She can move these threads and tie them to someone else. Not all of them but enough to free her, although she seems to have some restricted movement if she wants to try it out. She can’t move the threads very far, maybe as far as the first voice. It takes energy to move them. Should she move them now or wait for a better moment?

The second voice recovers again and says, “You’re something of a mystery to us. We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days.”

She actually mouths the words along with them as they speak. The fore-knowledge is a ripple of unease but it’s not a problem she can solve right now. Freedom first, answers later.

“You really should have left me there,” she says.

The second voice carries on as if she hadn’t spoken or, if she had, she made no sense, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. She doesn’t know who she is, but perhaps what is more important. Something magical. Humans aren’t wizards. She’s not human. She thought she was and signs suggest she’s too tall to be a dwarf and too solid to be an elf. Being a dragon is unlikely, although they can shift shape. Can she? If she can, she doesn’t know how. There’s nothing in the threads that suggests her form has been tied down to one shape as well as to whatever she is lying on. Which would suggest this wizard doesn’t think she’s a dragon, either.

“Don’t you know?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern.

“May I have a drink of water?” she asks.

There is another uncertain pause before the second voice asks, “Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please,” she replies.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She expects and hears the first voice’s movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, a rough arm across the back of her shoulders.

Before he can raise the container to her lips, she has slipped as many of the threads that bind her as she can to his extended arm. He freezes but an extra knot in one of the threads that should have bound her own voice has made it impossible for him to speak.

She raises her hands, removes her mask with one hand while taking the revealed glass of water with the other.

“Thank you,” she says smoothly as she stands.

She toasts the second voice, the elf-wizard she plans to kill first, and sips from the sweet, cold water as they splutter.

Elf? Were those threads elven? How would she know?

She looks around the room. It’s surprisingly large, although sparsely furnished. Enough space for the tied up human, the supervising elf, a cabinet with food and water, and… a dwarf.

“Oh,” she says, “dear Gods!”

The dwarf gestures with one hand.

It smells like the world is burning and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

16

She wakes.

Her head doesn’t move as she tries to look around for the threat she feels is present. She’s trapped. Pinned down with magical ties and masked, thick velvet hiding her face from the world and the world from her. She can concentrate on the threads that bind her and the threads that do… something else.

There’s a voice, though it takes her a moment to comprehend what he’s saying.

“—start. She’s awake.”

She’ll get to him, with time and luck, but she’s more concerned about what she hasn’t heard yet. There is someone beyond him. And someone else beyond that someone. She knows it. She doesn’t know how she knows but she knows.

“Oh, I’m awake,” she says.

Either the second voice or the one beyond are responsible for these threads. It’s hard to tell whose is whose. Perhaps she can work it out.

“Ah,” says a second voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

There’s still a third person. She can’t sense them but they’re here. She knows it. There’s no point trying to adjust the magical threads that hold her prisoner until she knows where they are. He. The third person is a he.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

Threads shift beneath her magical senses. They have varying thicknesses—strength, she thinks—and some are smoother than others. This pattern seems to tie her to whatever she lies on and still her voice. She can move these ones. That pattern seems to indicate another kind of binding loop but she can’t tell to what. She can’t move those ones. This third pattern—they are death and they twitch under her touch but refuse to move or untie.

“No,” she says without thinking.

The second voice continues as if she hadn’t said a thing, “We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days.”

She should move these stillness threads and tie them to someone else. Just enough to free herself from the restrictions they impose on her. Apparently, she could move her hands without breaking any of them or getting caught further. Which only means they don’t expect her to do enough with her hands to hurt anyone. She doesn’t do magic with her hands and they never expected her to.

It will take energy to move the stillness threads and she isn’t sure she has enough to move beyond the nearest, first voice. Should she move them now or wait for a better moment? Wouldn’t she rather tie up the second or the unheard third?

“You really should have left me there,” she says.

She will make them pay for this, one way or another.

The second voice carries on as if she hadn’t spoken or, if she had, she had made no sense, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. She doesn’t know who she is, but perhaps what is more important. Something magical. She can’t be human because humans aren’t wizards. She’s too tall to be a dwarf and too solid to be an elf. She can only be a dragon. That’s all that’s left.

But the only living dragon she knows of is the king.

The thought of the king makes her stomach roil with anger and disappointment and bitterness and hurt.

“Don’t you know?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern.

“May I have a drink of water?” she asks.

There is another uncertain pause before the second voice asks, “Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please,” she replies.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She expects and hears the first voice’s movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, a rough arm across the back of her shoulders.

Before he can raise the container to her lips, she slips almost all the stillness threads that bind her to his extended arm. He freezes but an extra knot in one of the threads that should have bound her own voice has made it impossible for him to speak. She holds a few remaining stillness threads and stokes her strength with the glow of anger.

She raises her hands, removes her mask with one hand while taking the revealed glass of water with the other.

“Thank you,” she says to the second voice, an elf-wizard, as she stands.

The elf-wizard looks horrified.

She turns to face the direction she knows she has to look in. She should be surprised to see the dwarf sitting in an armchair in the otherwise sparsely furnished room. She’s not.

“Hello,” she says and throws the stillness threads that remain at the dwarf.

They miss.

The dwarf gestures with one hand.

It smells like the world is burning and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

17

She wakes.

She’s trapped. There is no point fighting it. She can feel the magical threads that bind her and the thick velvet mask that hides the world from her. She touches the threads gently, counting elven and dwarven stillness binding her throat and body, some kind of binding loop by a third hand, and death in purely dwarven design.

There’s a voice, though it takes her a moment to comprehend what he’s saying.

“—start. She’s awake.”

She mouths the words at the same time. She is not supposed to be able to speak with the threads binding her, otherwise she would have spoken aloud.

She’ll get to him. Right now, she must focus on finding the two other wizards in the room with her. She doesn’t know how she knows the hands that wove her bindings are here, but she knows.

“Ah,” says a second voice, an elf voice, the elf-wizard that bound her. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

She feels like she is watching a play that has been staged every night of a festival, only the players seem to expect her to take part in it as well. “Child” is not a part she cares to play, even to someone who must be one of the king’s advisors. There are few elves, and even fewer dwarves, and none of them seem to find work anywhere outside the king’s court.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says the second voice.

The threads shift beneath her senses. She can move the stillness threads, though the dwarf-spun ones take a little more effort than the elven. She cannot shift the looping bind although something about it seems older and less refined than the others. Power over technique, perhaps, although she doubts her own threads would be any smoother. Can she spin her own threads? Has she ever tried? The thread of spun death flexes but she cannot untie it as it is.

The second voice continues, “We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days.”

She will move these stillness threads to the others. The weaker elven threads to bind the human first voice, the stronger dwarven threads to bind the second elven voice or the unheard dwarf. She will need to knot them further to make them bind more tightly than she was bound. Only the first voice is near enough at the moment. Should she move now or wait for a better moment?

The second voice carries on, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is. She doesn’t know who she is, but perhaps what is more important. She is not human, or elf, or dwarf. All that is left is dragon, despite the only dragons she knows of are the king and, before that, his father.

The thought of one makes her feel angry and hurt, the other makes her feel protective. She feels a duty to one and not the other. What duty does an unknown have to a dead king?

How does she know he’s dead? How does she know anything?

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern. “Are you not with us?”

She snarls silently beneath her mask. It is better not to show that they have angered her. It is better not to show the stillness bindings have so little power over her. Still, she needs to make some sign she is alive. She croaks. A faint sound but still a noise, still proof that she exists in whatever place this is.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

He’s a bastard. He will also pay.

“Send her off,” says the second voice.

She croaks a pitifully weak “no.”

It works well enough that the second voice says, “Ah, you can talk.”

She croaks, “Just.”

She smiles beneath her mask.

“Would you like some water?” the second voice asks.

She raises her hand. Let them think she has no strength to fight the binding on her throat and can only move her arms as they intended.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She expects and hears the first voice’s movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, a rough arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held to her lips without any question of whether she’s ready.

She isn’t but she catches up quickly, before the sweet, cold water can be inhaled instead of drunk.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

She can feel her anger strengthening, from an ember in her stomach to a fire that licks at the edges of her mind. It would be easy to let it go and stoke it into a wild bonfire but she can’t guarantee she would secure anything other than her death.

“You have become quite well known,” says the second voice. “Everyone here asks us how you are and if we’ve solved the little mystery of who you are, yet.”

Which probably means there is someone who doesn’t want her to know, to remember. Why else would two wizards who could only be the king’s own advisors be watching her?

She grunts to show she’s heard, in case staying silent results in harm.

The second voice adds, “Even His Majesty, the King, has asked about you.”

There are many feelings. The strongest and loudest is her anger turning to rage but that’s because it springs from the others; disappointment, hurt, fear. She needs to hurt as she has been hurt. She needs to defend… something. The king has caused her hurt and disappointment. She must defend… whatever it is from him.

“Kind of him,” she says with bite.

“So,” says the second voice, “who are you?”

She slips the elven stillness threads from herself to the first voice, who still holds her in a sitting position. It will be a while before the others notice he is bound because she also puts an extra knot in a thread that should have bound her own voice to make it impossible for him to speak. She holds the dwarven stillness threads and stokes her strength with the rage the second voice raised. She needs to decide which of them to go for.

“You don’t know?” the second voice asks.

Perhaps there are enough threads that she can try for both.

“Come closer,” she says. “Come closer and I’ll tell you who I am.”

The first voice tries to speak and shift about in his binding. She feels the threads flex a little and then wrap around him tighter. She smiles again beneath her mask.

The second voice’s uncertainty lasts a couple of heartbeats before it’s broken by the elf-wizard stepping closer. She can feel them bending over her, she can feel the threads that remain thicken and strengthen with the closeness.

It will take less energy to bind him with the dwarven threads. She won’t need all of them if she knots carefully to cover the relevant points.

“Tell me,” the second voice whispers.

They sound caught between eagerness and terror. Perhaps they don’t really know the answer, after all. She ties them up, regardless. Knotting them so that they cannot wave their hands to set off any dormant thread controls.

“Thank you,” she whispers to the second voice as she pulls the mask from her face.

“Your Ma—Highness!” the elf-wizard exclaims.

She should never have stepped aside for her brother. She should never have accepted his appearance as proof that he was the rightful ruler. She was the one who was trained to it, not him.

It smells like the world is burning and then—

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

18

She wakes.

There is no point fighting the magical threads that bind her. She touches the threads gently, finding both elven and dwarven stillness binding her throat and body, some kind of binding loop by a third hand, and death in purely dwarven design. All of this and a velvet mask to hide her face in case her jailers recognise her.

There’s a voice, though it takes her a moment to comprehend what he’s saying.

“—start. She’s awake.”

She’ll get to him. First she must focus on the elf and dwarf that bound her, that oversee her captivity. How does she know they’re there?

“Ah,” says a second voice, an elf voice, the elf-wizard that bound her. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

She is tired of being called “child”, although she cannot remember hearing it before.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

The threads shift as she touches them. The dwarven stillness threads hold a little tighter than the elven but they will all move. The threads that seem to loop feel older, more primitive and rougher than the others. It could easily be as old as time and just as certain. She can’t move them. Death… Death might be shifted but she can’t quite grasp the threads.

The second voice continues, “We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days.”

She toys with altering the pattern and texture of the stillness threads as she works out where she must put them on the human helper and the elf-wizard. She knows she must bind the dwarf-wizard’s hands. He likes the showmanship of gestures. He relies on them. She remembers that from somewhere.

The second voice carries on, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is, when what is more important. They think her only human like her mother but she isn’t human. Nor is she elf or dwarf. She is dragon, like her father, or close enough to have something of his magic after all.

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern. “Are you not with us?”

She should remember this one. She should remember who they are because surely they served her father before they served the current king? She does not remember their voice beyond this prison. They should also know her well enough not to do this, too, but she feels that they don’t recognise her. Yet.

She croaks. A purposefully faint sound but still a noise, still proof that she exists in whatever place this is.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

She should remember that bastard, too, but she cannot think of anything beyond whatever walls currently contain her.

“Send her off,” says the second voice.

She croaks again, a pitifully weak “no.”

It fools the second voice well enough. “Ah, you can talk.”

She croaks, “Just.”

She smiles beneath her mask.

“Would you like some water?” the second voice asks.

She raises her hand, maintaining the pretence that the bindings still hold her.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She expects and hears the first voice’s movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, a rough arm across the back of her shoulders. The container is held to her lips and she drinks the sweet, cold water.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

She does her best to ignore it. She doesn’t need any more anger to strengthen her. She has reached her fill.

“You have become quite well known,” says the second voice. “Everyone here asks us how you are and if we’ve solved the little mystery of who you are, yet.”

She grunts to show she’s heard.

The dwarf is scared she will remember. Or the king is. Having a rival around, no matter how little she wants to rival him, was always going to be a problem. Even without realising her share of her father’s magic, there are many humans who would follow her for being only human like them. She must have been stupid not to realise she was so much of a threat sooner.

The second voice says, “Even His Majesty, the King, has asked about you.”

There are many feelings. The strongest and loudest is her rage but that’s because it springs from the others; the disappointment that her brother would do this, hurt that he would not trust her, fear that he might win. She needs to hurt as she has been hurt. She needs to defend… the kingdom from a king who would imprison his sister. A king who only has the appearance, not the ability.

“Kind of him,” she says with bite.

“So,” says the second voice, “who are you?”

She slips the elven stillness threads from herself to the first voice, who still holds her in a sitting position. She puts an extra knot in a thread that holds his throat as it should have held hers to keep him quiet. She holds the dwarven stillness threads and stokes her strength with the rage her brother inspires. She will need it to take the other two down.

“You don’t know?” the second voice asks.

She must tie the elf’s joints and voice with as few threads as possible.

“Come closer,” she says. “Come closer and I’ll tell you who I am.”

She hears something extra in the first voice’s breathing as if he tries to speak and shift about in his binding but she feels nothing in the threads she tied around him. She smiles her hunter’s smile beneath her mask.

The second voice’s pause lasts a couple of heartbeats before they give in to curiosity and steps closer. It’s only a wonder that the watching, unheard dwarf doesn’t kill them for it. The elf-wizard bends over her and she can feel the magic threads they created, now tied to the human first voice, thicken and strengthen with the closeness. The elf’s proximity also means it will take less energy to shift the dwarven threads to them. If she knots carefully to cover the relevant points, she won’t need many.

“Tell me,” the second voice whispers.

They sound caught between eagerness and terror. She knots them up in threads so tightly and quickly, they never have chance to ask again. She steals their voice last, to ensure they cannot alert the dwarf to his coming doom. She will need to approach him with more care. He’s wily. He raised the king in whatever hiding place it was. He will have both power and technique.

“The correct form of address,” she whispers to the second voice, “is ‘Your Majesty’,” although that will only be true if she defeats her brother and reclaims the throne.

The dwarf’s threads are so strong, she can’t even feel a small amount of flex as the elf-wizard no doubt tries to escape.

She turns her masked face in the direction she knows she has to look in. She should remove her mask to see him—she can’t know where he is without looking—but she casts the stillness threads that remain over where something inside her knows his hands are.

The threads catch, then flex and stretch but hold. She has no idea over what.

She raises her hands, removes her mask with one hand while rising to her feet. She finds the dwarf sitting in an armchair in the otherwise sparsely furnished room. There’s a wave of anger and hurt pride. She’d trusted him, she’d trusted her brother. She had stepped down because kings were better positioned than queens. She had stepped aside because her brother had seemed as golden and strong as her father.

“Hello,” she says.

The dwarf’s hands can only twitch as he tries to gesture. The threads don’t hold still like the others do. The dwarf is strong enough to fight his own magic but he can’t quite beat her knots. Yet.

“Do you want me to remember who I am?” she asks. “Or am I somehow supposed to prove I really have forgotten?”

The dwarf smiles, a little forced while he continues to fight the bindings on his hands. “It doesn’t matter.”

The twitching of his hands becomes a circular movement, as if flexing his wrists.

“I only needed to make you mad enough for no-one to believe you if you live,” he says. “But you had to fight me and prove my distrust was well placed. So you’ll die.”

He gestures with one hand.

It smells like the world is burning and then—

 [ Threads, © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]

19

She wakes.

She touches the magical threads that bind her gently. The bindings on her throat and torso are both elven and dwarven stillness. Besides them she finds thick threads woven into a dwarven pattern of death that awaits someone’s—it can only be the new king’s advisor and uncle—final instruction. There’s a third type of thread, thick and old and primitive, that seems to be some kind of binding loop. Despite all this magic, someone has also seen fit to hide her face with an airless, sightless velvet mask. She is supposed to go quietly and unrecognised to her death.

There’s a familiar and contemptible voice, though it takes her a moment to comprehend what her human jailer is saying.

“—start. She’s awake.”

She’ll get to him but he is less important. Humans have no magic and that makes him less dangerous than the elf and the dwarf that bound her, that oversee her captivity. The threads they wove sing with their closeness, like strings on an instrument being strummed.

“Ah,” says a second voice, the elf-wizard’s voice. “My dear child, you’re awake. We were worried about you.”

If she had a voice without playing with the threads, she would sigh tiredly. Or perhaps laugh at the wizard’s arrogance before she breaks them. She might feel a little guilty about the lack of politeness for a while but she would also get over it.

“You’re something of a mystery to us,” says that second voice.

The threads shift as beneath her touch. The threads that hold her still can be moved and shifted to others. She just has to divide them amongst the two known and the third, unseen jailer.

The second voice continues, “We found you wandering in the snow and you’ve been full of fever for days.”

She could alter the pattern and texture of the stillness threads, make them hold more tightly so that the human and elf use fewer. They bother her less and will step away from her in fear and horror once she has convinced them of their mistake. The dwarf-wizard is more of a problem. He will not stop because he is driven to protect the nephew he loves like a son. At the very least, she must bind his hands to stop his showy gestures. He relies on them. She remembers that.

Perhaps she can kill him with his own woven death spells, although they shift only slightly under her touch.

The second voice carries on, “We need to know who you are so we can contact your family and let them know you’re safe.”

Who she is, when what is more important. Too tall for a dwarf, too solid for an elf, she can only be a dragon, to sense magic like this. As there are precious few dragons to chose from, she can only be her father’s daughter, not a human like her mother, like everyone always assumed she was. Like her brother assumed he was when he returned and claimed the throne because he looked the part. It is hard to remember before. It is impossible to remember how she knows these things.

“Can you not speak?” asks the second voice with sweet but insincere concern. “Are you not with us?”

She should remember this one because surely they served her father before they served the current king. Her, they must have served her because she knows that the old dragon king died three years before his son returned and the old king’s wife, the queen, died five years before that. But she does not remember a name to go with the voice, a shared time before this prison. But it would seem the elf doesn’t recognise her, either.

She croaks. A purposefully faint sound that edges around her bindings and makes enough noise to prove that she exists without showing her true strength.

“She’s not responding,” the first voice says.

She should remember that bastard, too. Perhaps he’s a King’s Guard.

“Send her off,” says the second voice.

She croaks again, a pitifully weak “no,” that won’t alert them to her abilities.

It fools the second voice well enough. “Ah, you can talk.”

She croaks, “Just.”

She smiles beneath her mask.

“Would you like some water?” the second voice asks.

She raises her hand, maintaining the pretence that the bindings still hold the rest of her.

“Get her some water,” the second voice commands.

She expects and hears the first voice’s movement: steps, liquid pouring from one container to another, more steps getting closer.

“Here,” says the first voice and she’s lifted up, his rough arm stretching the bindings just a little as it comes across her back, around her shoulders. The container is held to her lips and she drinks the sweet, cold water. She has a vague memory from nowhere of choking on it and she has to hide the shiver that would prove the bindings no longer hold her properly.

“Good girl,” says the second voice.

The little burst of anger the elf’s patronising tone causes is enough for her to shift one of the death threads slightly sideways. She freezes more than her bindings demand of her as she waits to see if the dwarf noticed.

“You have become quite well known,” says the second voice. “Everyone here asks us how you are and if we’ve solved the little mystery of who you are, yet.”

She grunts at the elf-wizard, to show she’s heard.

The second voice says, “Even His Majesty, the King, has asked about you.”

“Kind of him,” she says dryly.

The dwarf, and her brother, should have let her walk away. She was happy to step aside and let someone else rule, to take a peaceful life in a quiet convent where she could fake her belief in the gods and study any book she could find. Instead, they both had to assume that she was as paranoid and power-hungry as they were and imprison her. This single decision is a sign of how untrustworthy, how power-hungry, how unsuitable for rule either of them are. They deserve what they have coming.

“So,” says the second voice, “who are you?”

She slips a number of the elven stillness threads from herself to the first voice, who still holds her up. The threads slide easily over the physical connection and she weaves an extra pattern in them, making a rope from disparate threads, so that the will be held rigidly still unable to do more than breathe. She starts to prepare a mixture of the remaining elven threads and a couple of the dwarf threads to form a stronger rope to hold the second voice. The remaining dwarven stillness threads must bind the unheard dwarf-wizard, her uncle, but she wants to twist them in with the death sentence he has waiting for her. She must work on that—quickly—once she is free from sorting the elf-wizard.

“You don’t know?” the second voice asks.

She ties the elf’s joints and voice with knots that will start loosely, not alerting the elf to their presence, and tighten with both time and struggle.

“Come closer,” she whispers, faking continued weakness. “Come closer and I’ll tell you who I am.”

She hears a change in the first voice’s breathing. Perhaps he would like to warn the others but he can’t. The rope that binds him doesn’t feel any different, so it remains far stronger than him. She smiles again beneath her mask.

The second voice’s pause lasts a couple of heartbeats before they give in to curiosity and steps closer. The watching dwarf should kill her now and save himself some bother. He doesn’t. While the elf-wizard bends over her, she quietly loops the rope of magic she intends for her unseen uncle, ready to throw it in his direction—when she knows what that direction is. The vibrations of the threads he contributed, the sign that he is close by, don’t help her guess. Perhaps her sense is confused by the way the elven magic threads thicken and strengthen with the elf-wizard’s closeness.

“Tell me,” the second voice whispers.

Their voice holds both eagerness and terror. If she tells them the truth, it will make the terror win. She knots them up, stealing their voice last, to ensure they cannot alert the dwarf to his coming doom. He will be wily, with both power and technique after years more practice than she has had. She needs surprise or she will fail.

As the elf becomes caught, she twists the remaining dwarven threads into a rope for her uncle. She puts in extra knots to ensure the death threads will hold even if the stillness doesn’t.

“The correct form of address,” she whispers to the second voice, “is ‘Your Majesty’.”

She removes her mask, letting the elf see her face and letting her see theirs. They pale.

She turns to look in the direction she knows, somehow, is the right one.

She throws.

The rope catches, then flexes and stretches but holds. It feels like the rope has caught on the dwarf’s hands. He shows no signs of distress or noticing that his magic has been displaced. Perhaps he is better than that.

“Hello, uncle,” she says.

The dwarf’s hands can only twitch as he tries to gesture. He is fighting but he can’t quite beat her knots. Yet.

“Why?” she asks, simply.

Why could he not just let her be?

The dwarf’s smile is strained as he continues to fight the bindings on his hands. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” she replies.

His hands continue to twitch as he fights against his own magic.

“You ran away,” he says. “You ran to find support for your useless, human claim to the throne.”

The right of her mother’s blood? Useless? Ha!

“I did not.”

She suddenly remembers walking into the snow, leaving because there was nothing else to stay for. It was stupid to leave in bad weather. If they’d asked her without this artifice, though, she would have told them she had been heading for the convent her “useless” mother founded.

“You couldn’t accept being displaced by your older brother, a dragon, your father’s true heir, despite the lies you told the nobles,” the dwarf accuses.

“I am also a dragon,” she says.

There is no point denying his assumptions now. If her feelings about being a queen, rightful or otherwise, hadn’t been clear to him before, they are hardly going to be proven by her repeating herself. Well, she assumes it would be repeating herself. She still doesn’t quite remember any of what happened before waking here. She merely knows it.

The dwarf laughs. “Impossible.”

She points at the hands he continues to twitch. “Then who else bound you, dwarf?”

“A coincidence,” he says. “You have no magic and you certainly can’t have learnt any during your illness, nor your few moments of lucidity.”

His response jars and she touches the threads left behind, the unknown loop. She has a sudden flash of actual memory. Father, she thinks. Father telling me to keep doing it again until I got it right. She has another flash, or seventeen, as she suddenly recalls the other times the magical loop has run.

“I may not have the appearance of a dragon,” she concedes, “or even all the magic. But I have the most important characteristic.”

The hand twitches pause for a while.

She doesn’t explain herself.

The twitching resumes. “You were born a human, you will die a human.”

Her brother has left his egg days and his dwarf days behind him to become that rare, shining, golden figure. She merely has the figure of a human.

“Does my brother have any dragon magic?” she asks.

The twitching of the dwarf-wizard’s hands becomes a circular movement, as if flexing his wrists. “You’ll never know.”

“Oh,” she says, recognising what happens next, “I will.”

He gestures with one hand.

He has enough time to look as pale and horrified as the elf-wizard did before his own magic kills him.

 [ Threads (detail), © 2019 Cécile Matthey ]


© 2019, Jo M. Thomas

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