A Certain Slant of Light
Being a collection of drabbles, featuring Eugenides, Attolia, Eddis, Sophos, the Minister of War and his wife, Costis, and the-girl-who-puts-sand-in-Gen's-food.
A/N: I love this series of books so much it hurts. If you haven't read it, do. The story begins with the Thief and goes on for three more books, all by Megan Whalen Turner. There are rumors there will one day be a fifth. I dearly hope the rumors are true.
If you have a question concerning the subject of a certain part of this (somewhat peculiar) series of drabbles, let me know and I'll try to clear it up for you.
There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes —
She has cold, dark eyes, and whenever she looks his way, it is all he can do to keep from flinching out of his skin as they rake across his face.
The long sleeves might be designed to hide the hook to keep others from realizing its usefulness…or, Sophos reflects, he might just be hiding it.
Sometimes, as she watches her favorite cousin fiddle with his meat, carefully cut into bite sized pieces, she thinks that for his sake, she would willingly give up a lifetime of peace.
"No," says the Queen when Phresine holds up the green dress that once was her favorite. "And not the red one either."
"'Hero' is generally a nice way of calling someone an idiot," he says dryly—but then, no one has ever claimed he was anything but.
It must be that the gods are laughing at him, because no one—no one—could possibly be this stupid twice in a row.
"You should have heard Sophos roaring at me," he says, chuckling a little.
"Sounis," she reminds him, and his laughter dies.
She sometimes awakens and finds herself in a prison cell, walls stained with blood an echoing with the haunting pleas of a boy who stole dreamless sleep from her forever.
"The art of jumping is not about strength or height," the Thief says to his grandson wryly, "but about distance."
She had always been fond of gentle creatures—only she giggles when she thinks of poor Sophos trying to wiggle his poor broken nose.
It is only when Gen finds himself destroying fields of flowers picnic by picnic (death by plucking) that he finds the courage to move beyond a mere, "She hates me, she hates me not".
It breaks through the eastward facing window while she is yet asleep, curled beside him in the bed, and climbs through her hair like a dancing crown of sunbeams, and he can't help but think that she looks younger bathed in sunlight than she does in the light of the moon.
"Am I perfectly clear?" Teleus snarls, annoyed at being sent to warn the kitchens against putting things in the king's food. She feels in her pocket for the fresh sack of sand before the echoes of his footsteps have completely died away.
The Queen's chambers are re-painted three times after the Royal Wedding before her attendants replace the inkpots on the desk with paperweights in the evening.
It hurts when they sit on the roof at night and he looks toward Eddis and gets that look in his eyes like he's gone somewhere she cannot follow, so one night she takes his hand and whispers, "Take me with you."
"What's wrong?" asks Sophos.
"Nothing," replies the Mede, a little flustered. "I simply seem to have misplaced my fibula pin."
Costis is at a loss when the King of Attolia assumes a pout and says petulantly to his queen, "If we're visiting Sounis, you will find me a cart."
He sounds younger when he is hoarse, after he has screamed and screamed until all that is left is a dry rasping, a rawness in his throat that swallows him up and leaves him gasping for breath when he awakes.
"Politics is not a game," she snarls.
A grin flirts at her from his curling lips. "Don't be so sure."
"We are not naming him Eugenides," said Irene.
Her husband looks forlorn, then grins. "Shall I grovel? I'm very good at groveling."
"Now, now," says Nehuseresh, eyeing the gleaming hook and the blazing eyes of the king (who was the fool who said he never let his temper show?), "there's no need for any unpleasantness."
Sometimes, just after his feet leave the ground and he sees the space stretching out between him and the hard cobblestones below, he imagines that he can fly.
She thinks about her father, in the moment her hand slips for the first and final time, and wonders if he was as unafraid as she to meet the ground.
He does not know, when he is weeping in the darkest Attolian dungeon or lying in his own bed in Eddis, that he will one day manage to do more with one hand than any other Thief managed with two.
"My poor queen," he says softly, brushing her ivory cheek with his fingers. "You even have a mask for your voice."
Her face looks the softest in the first light of morning, when they lean against each other on the roof and watch the sun wake the world for a new day.
"Arguing with you is like trying to put sunlight in a bottle," he says during a fit of anger that leaves him rather wordless.
She literally stole his breath away.
"You must understand," Nehuseresh continues, "I did not mean for the queen to be burned with her palace."
"Gen," Eddis remarks, watching him whine as Galen changes the bandage on his ankle. "You are lucky you are my favorite cousin. Otherwise you would probably be dead by now."
"We could get you a pony," Irene suggests lightly.
He shakes his head. "Cart. The point is non-negotiable."
She learns to appreciate the irony of mercy only after she has cut off his hand and torn his world in two—only when she is faced with the undeniable certainty that her lack of mercy has left her to nightmares of the merciless, never-ending pleas and the incantation that has been branded into her mind forever.
"It would take more fingers than I have to count the times you've tried to kill me," he says, and she wishes he wasn't quite so cunning or painfully blunt (because it isn't as funny as he tries to pretend).
The Mede's dark face goes a little white as he feels the slender curve of the hook brush against his neck, and his blood turns to ice when Attolis whispers, "So much more terrifying than a sword, isn't it?"
"I DON'T BELIEVE IN YOU!" Attolis screams, and Eugenides answers, "We know, but that doesn't mean we're just going to leave you alone."
He is trying to wash it out from underneath his fingernails (and failing, because he only has one hand), when she enters and stares at him, taking in the drenched tunic and mask of red that streaks his face.
The Minister of War is proud of his niece when she proves with two words that brevity may be the soul of wit but is also a good indication of absolute certainty.
"I am not wearing that," Sophos says, and Helen smiles.
"Flattery, you'll find, may stop men and kingdoms in their tracks," he begins, startling Nehuseresh after moving liquidly through the shadows, "but unfortunately for you, steel has no ears."
It is when she finds the earrings beside her crown that Attolia feels the horrible feeling steal over her, chilling her as naught has chilled her since the night she poisoned her husband—and she knows that the only way to stop herself from being afraid is to make him fear her.
"How clever of you, Sophos," Attolis says quietly, and Sounis wonders if he, too, understands how clever must sometimes mean cruel.
She doesn't have to wait for the bloodstains to fade from her green dress before she decides she will never wear it again.
"You stole a lot from me," she tells him quietly, running a hand through his hair very, very gently. "Peace of mind. Sleep."
"And your heart," her Thief adds smugly, and she smiles and replies, "Yes. And my heart."
He is being perfectly honest when he looks past her crooked-nose and says, "You are the most beautiful woman in the world."
"Anything," Gen breathes, surrounded by the glinting light from earrings and cups that lie scattered across the altar. "I'll give anything. Only don't let her die."
"You will have to knock me unconscious and tie me up to make me leave," slurs the king of Attolia, crossing his arms and glaring with eyes bleary from lack of sleep, "And then you will have to imprison me somewhere without a lock that I can pick."
Irene stirs in her fevered sleep and Gen forgets about the guards and clutches her hand gently.
This Thief is different from the one he condemned that night in the palace, Nehuseresh realizes with growing horror, before the gleaming hook slices forward through the air. This Thief has learned how to hate.
"I dreamed you hated me," she stammers, lifting her face from where it had been buried in the shoulder of his now damp tunic. "I dreamed you gouged out my eyes and ripped the earrings from my ears."
His breath is soft against her skin. "I love your eyes. I love your ears."
"But my hair will turn gray first," she protests, and he murmurs, "I don't care."
"If you fall, my Thief, I will kill you myself," Attolia hisses, gritting her teeth in horror as her fingers begin to slip.
"Don't worry, my Queen," Eugenides replies (he is never Attolis when he looks up at her like this, grinning through the terror of a thief's death and waiting for the guards to respond to his queen's cries). "When I decide it is time to meet my god, I will be sure to take you with me."