What if you knew how and when you will die?
Csorwe does—she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.
But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.
But Csorwe will soon learn—gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.
A.K. Larkwood’s debut fantasy, The Unspoken Name, is available February 11, 2020 from Tor Books. Read chapter two below, or head back to the beginning with chapter one. Check back here for additional excerpts up until the book’s release.
The Maze of Echoes
Csorwe had been sent to die before breakfast. By the evening of that day, she and Sethennai were far from the Shrine, aboard a riverboat. This was a new experience among new experiences. For the first night and day she lay on a coil of rope in the bilges, wishing she was dead, as she deserved.
On the second day, something worse than guilt occurred to her. There was a chapter that Csorwe had always enjoyed in The Book of Unmaking, detailing the proper punishment of a traitor. By the shore of the corrupted sea, in the shadow of the coal-black tower, she forsook the Nameless One. May the abyss consume the breaker of promises! May the maggots eat the flesh of her vessel! May her name be forgotten utterly!
“What would you do,” she said, picking her words with caution, “if the Prioress found out, and came to get me back?”
“How would she ever find out?” said Sethennai. “You went up the mountain and you did not return. If the Prioress was so keen to ensure that you were devoured by the god instead of, for instance, going on the run with a strange man, perhaps she should have kept a closer eye on you.”
“She might notice you’re gone,” said Csorwe, and added, very daring, “The librarian might notice.”
Sethennai laughed. “Oranna might notice long enough to be glad to see the back of me.”
“But what would you do if she came after me?”
“I suppose I’d have to kill her,” said Sethennai. He was very cheerful, sitting up at the prow and watching the murky banks as they passed. “Csorwe, even if it occurs to her that you are alive—even if she makes a spectacular leap of logic and realises you are with me—even then—how would she ever find us? We are long gone.”
They left the river, and at last they came to one of the Lesser Gates of Oshaar, green as a cat’s eye, sunk into a cliff face at the bottom of an overgrown valley.
Csorwe had seen Gates drawn and described before, but never in person. They had seemed easy to picture—a circle of green fire, burning in a frame of stone, large enough for someone to pass through—but the reality was both more solid and more strange than she had imagined.
The Lesser Gate was twice as wide as Sethennai was tall, and the flickering light that it cast turned the earth and the undergrowth greener than grass ever was. Bands and fronds of liquid light swarmed across its surface, swirling like leaves in the wind.
It hummed, like a glass bell, struck once and left to reverberate in eternity.
Csorwe had an uneasy feeling that perhaps it was forbidden for her to leave Oshaar, but dismissed it. Like Sethennai said, they were long gone.
“You just go through?” she said. “Does it burn you?”
Sethennai held out a hand, shimmering in the light of the Gate, and she took it. They stepped through as one, and then they were falling, like two twigs in a waterfall. Csorwe tumbled weightless into nothingness.
When they landed, the first thing she heard was the sound of wind. Her other hand, the one which was not still clenched like a claw in Sethennai’s, opened and closed against the current. For a while she was aware of nothing but the edge of the air against her palm.
“This place is called the Maze of Echoes,” said Sethennai.
Gradually her sight returned, and she gazed out at the Maze, as if by gazing she could make sense of it. They stood on a ledge above the place where a steep valley dropped away, down and down, out of reach of light. Pillars and arches of rock massed in the darkness, like misshapen brides, veiled and wreathed with mist. Fragments of sky like pieces of eggshell were visible in places, though not the places one usually saw the sky.
Sethennai pointed to a track that wound along a cliff face. “This way,” he said. “It’s not so far, really. The Maze is only an interstice. A great celestial entrepôt.”
Csorwe nodded as though she understood a word of this, and followed him. You heard of someone travelling by Maze, as they might travel on horseback or in a wagon. She knew you had to go through the Maze to reach other worlds, alien countries, dangerous places utterly unlike Oshaar—but she hadn’t imagined it anything like this.
As they travelled, Csorwe wondered what Sethennai meant by not so far. The journey soon became the longest she had ever taken. They passed through valleys, under arches, and through narrow passages in the rock. They trailed along the bottom of a gorge, in whose walls maze-gates like great emeralds glittered, high up and far out of reach. The sound of them, singing one to another across the deep, was like a choir far away. Shivers prickled at the back of Csorwe’s neck.
At times they stopped, and Csorwe slept. Once they saw a far-off maze-ship passing through: the hull of polished maze-oak, and the sail canopies belling above the hull like a growth of mushrooms. Up close, it would have been the grandest and brightest thing Csorwe had ever seen, but the mists of the Maze dulled its pennants, and it passed in oblivious silence.
All these wonders meant that it took her a long time to realise that she missed the House of Silence. She missed her cell. She missed the shape of the day: the prayers at every interval, the making of offerings, meals in the refectory, and all the rest. She could never have gone back to that. Even if she had stayed, those days were over. If Sethennai hadn’t come for her she would be dead by now.
These facts drifted along behind her, like huge tethered clouds, though she did her best not to look at them directly: she had betrayed her people. She had betrayed her purpose. She had betrayed her god.
She missed her home. They would have killed her if she had stayed. But still she missed it.
Well, she said to herself, she was away, now, and Sethennai had some other purpose for her.
After a while they left the Maze, coming out through another Gate into another world. Csorwe was tense with anticipation, struggling not to betray to Sethennai the fact that this was entirely new to her and almost entirely terrifying. In her old life, Csorwe had accompanied the Prioress on her annual procession to visit the faithful in their villages, but this had never taken them farther than a few days’ travel from the House of Silence. She couldn’t conceive how far they had come. Not just far from the House of Silence but far from Oshaar, from the whole realm of the Unspoken.
They had emerged from the Maze onto the edge of a still lake. A flight of white birds rose like a scattering of petals on the dark foliage.
“What kind of world is this?” said Csorwe, because it seemed childish to say Where are we? The birds were the first living things they had seen for days.
“An old and quiet one,” said Sethennai. “I’m afraid to say I don’t know its name.”
“Do people live here?” she said.
“No,” he said. “For the moment, I think it’s best that we avoid company.” His eyes were sombre, but when he saw Csorwe was watching he smiled again. “In the colleges of Tlaanthothe, there are dozens of scholars who catalogue the worlds and give an accounting of their peoples. I’m afraid I tend to leave them to it. But when we get there, if you still want to know, we can ask them.”
“Is that your home?” Csorwe didn’t want to try pronouncing Tlaanthothe. With her tusks, she worried it would come out as more spit than word. “Are we going back there?”
“Of course,” said Sethennai. “In good time. Tlaanthothe is the jewel of all cities. You’ll love it.”
He stalked along the lakeshore, inspecting stones. Once or twice he picked up a flat one and skimmed it across the water.
“What’s it like?” said Csorwe, running to catch up to him. In the House of Silence, it was unseemly to ask many questions, but Sethennai seemed to enjoy explaining things.
“Tlaanthothe is a university town,” he said, then frowned, realising the word wasn’t familiar to her. “A place of learning. Or at least, it was. I don’t know what my enemies have done to it.” He grinned at her. “I owe you a confession, Handmaid of Desolation. You’ve put your trust in a vagrant. Tlaanthothe is a long way off, and I am as much an exile as you are. The ways are closed to me. My enemy stole my city and banished me.”
Csorwe watched the ripples spreading in the water and tried to make sense of this. “Is your enemy a wizard, too?”
“Not a particularly skilful one,” said Sethennai.
“So you are a wizard,” said Csorwe, feeling cunning. “Everyone said you were, but I never saw you do any magic.”
Sethennai laughed at that. “I am too far from my patron,” he said. He tilted his head to consider her for a moment. “Magicians among your people call on the Unspoken One. They draw their power from the Shrine. But my goddess is very far away. She might not hear me if I call, and I don’t want to exhaust myself by calling without success.”
“Am I—I mean, are you—do you want me to learn magic?” she said. A twinge of anxiety gripped her. She did not want to call on the Unspoken One for any reason.
“No,” he said. “Magic is not like other trades. It runs in the blood. Of course, a practitioner must study and hone his skills like anybody else with a gift, but the gift itself is something that cannot be earned. Nor can it ever be cast off. I was born into the regard of my goddess and I will never be free of it. The Unspoken One has no such hold on you. It spoke through you, but you never used its power for your own ends.”
He tried another stone, which bounced only once before dropping gracelessly into the lake.
“In some ways it is a mercy for you,” he said. “The use of magic levies a heavy tax on the body.”
“Even for you?” said Csorwe.
He smiled. “The thing with taxes is that one can be clever about when and how one pays. But I do not use magic without need.”
He bent to select another stone from the shore.
“My enemy thinks that if I can’t get into Tlaanthothe, I will be cut off from my patron altogether. He has thrown every possible obstacle in my path. But he underestimates me.”
This stone skipped three times before sinking, and he turned to Csorwe, exultant. “And I very much doubt that he will ever see you coming.”
At the far end of the lake they found their next Gate and travelled back into the Maze. Csorwe soon got used to this. They passed through many maze-gates, across greying deserts and bare hillsides, into other worlds and back again into farther reaches of the Maze, skipping from one to another like a needle looping thread from one side of the cloth to another. Occasionally they saw birds and trees, but never other people. This made sense to Csorwe now that she knew that Sethennai was avoiding some powerful enemy.
And then they came out of the Maze of Echoes, and into the first city Csorwe had ever seen.
Her first impressions of the city were grubby and confused. Dull, punishing heat. The smell of dung and sweat and sawdust. Dust in the air, choking her nose and mouth. Worst of all, everywhere was a senseless jangle of noises and voices, all interrupting and cutting across each other.
Csorwe covered her ears with her hands and buried her face in her clothes. They waited in some kind of stable yard while Sethennai negotiated for a wagon. Once the wagon materialised, Csorwe curled up in the back and subsided into misery.
The boardinghouse was somehow worse. You could hear every cough, every grunt, and every burst of ugly, angry laughter in every room. Night brought no relief. Surrounded by voices, Csorwe couldn’t help feeling she was being watched.
Sethennai woke her the next morning. It was easy to tell when he was excited: his pointed ears fluttered, his eyes twinkled, and every fibre in his body became springy. Arriving in the city had restored something to him. Csorwe pulled the blanket over her head.
“We’re going to the market,” he said.
The market was dirtier and louder and more chaotic than she could have imagined. A many-headed crowd surged around them, shouting, staring, grabbing. Csorwe clenched her fists at her sides. She had heard from the priestesses how terrifying and corrupt the cities were, and she saw now that they were right. She didn’t see how anyone could live in such a place without going mad.
Csorwe prayed for the Unspoken One to open up the earth and devour the city, and tried to keep her balance.
“You do get used to it,” said Sethennai.
She doubted it. The crowds reminded her of the presence of the Unspoken, only more aggressive. It ate mindlessly at her, threatening to sweep her away.
She refused to reach for Sethennai’s hand. If he realised how helpless she was then he would certainly regret saving her from the Shrine.
The crowd swelled and surged and Csorwe tripped over a stranger’s foot. She fell flat on her back and at once the sky was blotted out by the swarm—cages of chickens, three dogs on a chain, a gang of children almost completely naked—but before she could be trampled to death Sethennai was there. He buffeted the chicken-seller out of the way and lifted Csorwe to her feet.
“Keep hold of my arm,” he said. “You’ll learn to find your way. Once you know how it works, it will be easier.”
He cut a path through the crowd for them, leading her toward a flight of steps that wound up the side of a building. She stopped at the bottom of the steps, shaking her head.
“Come on,” he said. “Trust me.”
She followed him, hanging on his arm, and they came to a roof garden, thick with ferns and strange bulbous flowers. There was nobody here, and Csorwe’s panic began to abate. In the centre of the garden, an old bell tower reached toward the sky. Sethennai beckoned her up the steps.
From the top of the bell tower they could see the whole extent of the city. It rose in a haphazard way from the grey hills, sprouting and tumbling over its ancient walls like a patch of lichen growing on a stone. It was monstrous, but at least now she could see the beginning and end of it.
“Are you afraid?” said Sethennai.
She swallowed. She couldn’t bring herself to nod.
“Nothing in this world has earned the power to frighten you, Csorwe,” he said. “You have looked your foretold death in the face and turned from it in defiance. Nothing in this world or any other deserves your fear.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. At that moment she was too sick and stunned to really hear the words, although she returned to them later, many times.
“Do you see the Gate?” said Sethennai.
It hovered above the docks in the far distance. The haze dimmed its co-lour, turning it yellowish, like a sickly moon swimming among the fumes.
“We won’t be here forever,” he said. “We’ll be safe from my enemies for a time, so we can rest and you can learn without having to look over your shoulder. But this isn’t home. Tlaanthothe lies through the Gate, and it’s waiting for us.”
The city was called Grey Hook. Sethennai explained early on that he had chosen it for their shelter because its people spoke Csorwe’s mother tongue as a lingua franca, and because they were very nice, discreet minders of their own business.
Sethennai never explained to her exactly how life was going to work from now on. He seemed to trust that she would figure it out, and for the most part she did.
He still talked to her as though she interested him. She accompanied him on many of his errands around the city, and they ate their meals together. Most of these were lentil curries from the vendor in the square below the boardinghouse, because he couldn’t cook.
It turned out that Sethennai seriously intended to pay her a wage. For what services, she wasn’t sure, and the idea of asking was distantly frightening. What if she asked him why he’d brought her here, and he admitted he’d made a mistake?
After deductions for room and board the wage wasn’t very much, Sethennai said, but it was still money, something Csorwe had hardly seen before, and never owned.
She hated the money, in fact, because it seemed to have been got for nothing. The little stack of copper coins, all for her pains in sitting around in the boardinghouse, terrified of the outside world and everything in it. It could not go on. Sooner or later Sethennai would realise he was paying her to be afraid. By that time she would have to get her act together.
The first time she steeled herself to leave the boardinghouse on her own was to resolve the serious matter of breakfast. Sethennai didn’t like getting up in the morning, and there was nothing to eat in the boardinghouse. It would be so good to get breakfast ready before he woke up. She knew where to buy food. The market in the square started trading at dawn. It really couldn’t be so difficult. They spoke her language here, so she could make herself understood. She was fourteen years old. Most people her age were already working for a living.
Nothing in this world or any other deserved her fear. That was all very well, but there was a great difference between climbing the steps to the Shrine of the Unspoken and going out to buy groceries. Csorwe had spent a lifetime readying herself to die, not to talk to strangers.
The market was full of gorgeous things Csorwe had never eaten and hardly knew the words for—tomatoes, hot peppers, baskets of fruit like huge, soft gems—but eggs, bread, and onions were cheap and easy to recognise.
“Six eggs, please,” she said, stopping at the chicken-man’s stall. She couldn’t face asking how much the eggs cost, so she just held out a fistful of coins and hoped he wouldn’t cheat her.
The chicken-man was Oshaaru, which could have helped a bit, but at the sound of Csorwe’s accent—purest, deepest old country—he squinted down at her, as though she might be mocking him. Then he decided that, no, in fact, he was mocking her.
“How many eggs, milady?”
She repeated herself. The anger bubbled up faster than she expected, taking her by surprise. If he knew what she really was he wouldn’t talk like that.
She suppressed her rage. She wasn’t what she really was, not anymore. She wasn’t the Chosen Bride. Nobody was going to come to her for prophecy. She was just another anonymous customer and the chicken-man would have forgotten all about her by the end of the day. And that was good.
The chicken-man seemed faintly disappointed that she didn’t want to play along, but he didn’t mind taking her money.
“Here without your boss today?” he said, handing over a box of eggs.
“That’s right,” said Csorwe, with an unbidden swell of pride. “I’m picking up breakfast.”
Back at the boardinghouse, she fried the onions in a pan over the fire, and scrambled the eggs in with them. The result was not perfectly beautiful but perfectly delicious: creamy eggs jewelled with golden onion. She ate her portion from the pan. Sethennai appeared as she was mopping up the scraps with a crust.
“I didn’t know you could cook,” he said. He was still in his nightshirt, with a silk scarf wrapped around his head.
“You ought to eat yours or it won’t be good,” she said, holding out his plate.
He blinked at it and rubbed sleep out of one eye, as if unable to comprehend the form the morning had taken.
Csorwe was pleased that he didn’t ask questions. She didn’t want to explain that she had done kitchen duties in the House of Silence. She would rather Sethennai think this was just a natural talent. He ate all of it, anyway, and seemed to like it.
After breakfast, he was much revived, and asked Csorwe all about her conversation with the chicken-man.
“Oshaarun will serve you well here in town,” he said. “But of course when we get home it will be necessary for you to speak the language of my city as a native. I happen to think Tlaanthothei is a beautiful language, so I was thinking I would teach it to you myself. Have you ever learned any other language?”
“Oranna the librarian tried to teach me,” she said, uncertainly. “So I could read the old books.”
“Ah,” said Sethennai. His eyes narrowed in private amusement. Until that moment, Csorwe had all but forgotten that he too had met Oranna, that she’d spied them working on some scheme in the library after hours.
She watched him carefully, wondering whether he’d say anything more. With each day that passed in Grey Hook, the House of Silence felt less substantial, as if the first fourteen years of her life had been a lotus hallucination. She didn’t know how it might feel to talk to Sethennai about everyone she had left behind, whether it would make them real in her head again, whether that might be a good or a bad thing.
“The Unspoken One has been worshipped in many tongues over the centuries,” Sethennai went on. “Although it prefers to see them plucked out. Ironic, really. Did you make progress with your lessons?”
Oranna had not had much patience with her as a pupil. It wasn’t that Csorwe hadn’t tried, but the warmth of the library had made her sleepy, and her mind had wandered.
“I can do verbs in the present tense,” she said. If Sethennai thought it was worth trying to teach her something, she wasn’t about to admit how useless she had been. “The queen sleeps in the castle, the servants bring the message to the master.”
“Oh, good,” said Sethennai. “If you’ve learned to put up with that kind of nonsense, the battle is almost won. Well, come and sit by me. We’ll begin with the Tlaanthothei alphabet and go from there.”
After a time, a letter arrived for Sethennai, written in cipher and containing a note of credit.
“So I do still have friends in the world,” he said, and winked at Csorwe.
They left the boardinghouse and rented rooms above a wineshop. Ciphered letters arrived for Sethennai once or twice a month, as his friends in Tlaanthothe kept him informed of the activities of his enemy.
Csorwe discovered that the enemy’s name was Olthaaros Charossa, though Sethennai almost never spoke it out loud, and even then in a low voice, all six syllables infused with distaste. This was the usurper wizard who had brought about Sethennai’s exile.
While Sethennai schemed, Csorwe studied. Three days a week they spoke nothing but Tlaanthothei at home, and it came to her more easily than she had expected. It was good to be able to speak Sethennai’s own language to him, although she still didn’t understand his jokes.
At Sethennai’s prompting she spent some of her saved wages on clothes. Her existing wardrobe was a pile of mismatched tunics and leggings, acquired secondhand and threadbare from the Grey Hook market. The dress she had worn up the stairs to the Shrine was folded neatly away in a drawer that she never opened.
Sethennai had offered no guidance, so she had to guess. All Sethennai’s clothes were brightly patterned, though ancient and much mended. Csorwe considered dressing to match, and rejected the idea. She would look like a housecat trailing after a tiger.
She had never chosen her own clothes, and didn’t want to make a spectacle of herself. It had been so much easier to be the Chosen Bride and just have Angwennad bring her the right habit for every day of the calendar. In the end, to escape from the tailor’s shop, she chose some plain tunics and a lamb’s-leather coat.
Sethennai was in a good mood when she got back to the apartment. “I’ve bought myself a present, too,” he said, beckoning her inside. “Come and admire yourself.”
The present turned out to be a mirror of real silvered glass, hanging on the wall of their sitting room. Csorwe had never seen such a thing. The Prioress of the House of Silence had strong views about personal vanity, so the novices and acolytes had been confined to small mirrors of polished copper.
She tried not to appear too fascinated by the new mirror, or by the weird spectre of her own clear, true-colour reflection. Grey skin, grey freckles, and yolk-yellow eyes were obscured by an overgrown mop of black hair. It turned out that her nose was slightly hooked, which she liked. The points of her milk-tusks poked out at the corners of her mouth.
With a jolt she realised that she might now live long enough to get her adult tusks. They didn’t come in until you were fifteen or sixteen, so she had never imagined what they might look like. She stared at herself for another second, then folded up the feeling and put it away, like the dress, in a safe place where she didn’t have to look at it.
She had chosen the new clothes well. She looked smart, but more to the point she looked like anyone you might see going about their business in the streets of Grey Hook, any one of a thousand couriers and apprentices. There was no way anyone could detect that she had ever been over the threshold of the House of Silence.
“Well?” said Sethennai. She realised she had been staring, and stepped back, shoving her hands into the pockets of her new coat.
“Think I need a haircut,” she said.
On her fifteenth birthday, to mark the end of the first stolen year, Sethennai gave her a dictionary called The Various Tongues of the Echo Maze, for the Traveller.
Around this time she lost her milk-tusks and gained a Qarsazhi tutor named Parza. He was an exile, full of sorrow for his homeland and even more irritable with Csorwe than Oranna had ever been.
“The Qarsazhi are difficult people,” said Sethennai. Csorwe had grasped this much. Qarsazh was an empire spread across many worlds, ancient and rich and huge enough that they had heard of it even in the House of Silence.
“Parza is particularly difficult,” Sethennai went on. “But don’t worry about him. You need to learn their ways but you don’t need him to like you.”
Csorwe had only ever heard of Qarsazh as a place of cruelty and corruption, but Parza was a sleek, small, affected person, with copper-brown skin, a neatly pointed beard, and very smooth grey hair, which he wore in a single coiled braid. His other traits were coffee drinking, homesickness, a delicate stomach, and religious devotion, although it was hard to tell which of these were the ways of Qarsazh and which the ways of Parza.
Csorwe made slow progress with Qarsazhi. The words were difficult— half-jagged and half-elusive—and Parza was openly disdainful of her clumsy pronunciation. But Sethennai needed her to learn, and she owed him her best efforts.
Alongside Parza there came a whole programme of study, and a whole succession of tutors—most of them eccentric, some certainly criminals. Csorwe had more than languages to learn. She learned to navigate the city. She learned to cook eggs the proper Grey Hook way, with hot pepper and pickled cucumber. She learned to fly a cutter, and to fight: first unarmed, then with knives, and finally with the sword.
Grey Hook was a strange place. One day she saw two people kissing on the Bridge of Flies, in public, where anyone might see them. One afternoon she fell asleep in the courtyard and got a sunburn the colour of basalt. She learned to understand the city at night, its voices, its cries, its distant music. She learned how to eat mealworms, how to speak her mother tongue with the Grey Hook accent, how to run and climb and creep through the battered streets, and how to wrap her hands for a fistfight.
From the old crooks and soldiers who were her tutors, she learned about the hungers that live in the heart of every city, and she was educated in the threat, the promise, and the scientific accomplishment of violence.
There were a few other expatriate Tlaanthothei in Grey Hook, mostly tall and dark as Sethennai was, all with long tapered ears. But their neighbourhood was on the other side of the city, and Sethennai was not interested in associating with his countrymen.
Instead, he had adopted the pseudonym “Dr. Pelthari,” and taken a job as a medic with the Blue Boars, a mercenary company whose barracks were just across the square from the apartment.
Csorwe wondered at times whether he missed Tlaanthothei food and habits, the way she occasionally missed cabbage soup and plainchant, but if he did he never showed any sign of it. He hadn’t explained much to Csorwe, but she understood that he had been thrown out of Tlaanthothe, that his enemies had lied and conspired and whipped up public feeling against him. He still had his friends, who sent him their coded letters from time to time, but any Tlaanthothei stranger could be an informant for Olthaaros Charossa.
When Csorwe turned sixteen, Sethennai gave her a sword of folded Torosadni steel, and requested that she be allowed to join the Blue Boars’ newest recruits for sparring practice.
She had dreaded this. It had been so long since she’d had to deal with a class of her peers. She imagined the Blue Boars would all know each other. They would have their own team jokes and they would not be happy to meet an interloper.
To begin with it was actually worse than this. She wasn’t the only Oshaaru or the only girl, but she was the youngest and smallest, and it was irresistible to the Blue Boars to treat her as a kind of mascot. But they soon learned that she was also the fastest and least merciful, and that she had been training for longer than most. Once she tripped the enormous Corporal Valmine on his face during training, they started to take her more seriously.
The Blue Boars all wore their hair long on one side, and shaven on the other. After a few months they took Csorwe to the company barber to get hers done to match.
She got home that evening to find Sethennai absorbed in one of his ciphered letters. Only when she brought him a glass of wine did he look up at her and notice the change.
“Joining up with the Boars permanently?” he said, after a second. There was an odd expression on his face, veiled as usual by ironic amusement. Csorwe stared back at him, and realised with horror that he might be upset with her—that it might be possible for something she did to wound him.
“No!” she said. “No—they were all getting theirs done—didn’t think you’d mind—”
“Why on earth should I mind?” he said, shifting effortlessly into cheerful bemusement. Csorwe couldn’t tell whether she was imagining a bitter undercurrent. Surely he didn’t think she might leave him to become a mercenary?
Occasionally, yes, she thought it was a shame they couldn’t just stay forever in Grey Hook. It was a shame she couldn’t spend the rest of her life exploring the rooftops and making new omelettes and memorising verb forms with Parza.
Still, she knew they were leaving sooner or later, and she was used to living with a deadline on the horizon. She liked Valmine and the others, but it was only thanks to Sethennai that she had these years at all.
“The Boars are a very respectable company,” he added. “And I suppose if you prefer to run with them—”
“I don’t,” she said, with vehemence, almost angry that he could think her so ungrateful. “I’m not joining up with them. They treat me like a baby anyway.”
This was true, Csorwe reminded herself, recalling now with shame that she had let Valmine carry her around on his shoulders after they’d got their haircuts.
“Well, if the soldiering life calls to you, far be it from me to stop you, although I must warn you it’s quite likely you’ll lose a limb,” he said. “But you do know we aren’t going to be here forever.”
“I know,” she said. There was no future for them in Grey Hook, and it was no good getting settled here. “Tlaanthothe.”
He smiled at last. It was an immediate relief. The tension went out of Csorwe’s body like tea leaves uncurling in water.
Beyond the Gate of Grey Hook, far away across the Maze, Sethennai’s city still waited for him—and for her. This was the purpose for which she had been chosen and trained. One day, maybe soon, they were going home to defeat Olthaaros Charossa.
Excerpted from The Unspoken Name, copyright © 2019 by A. K. Larkwood.