Christopher Key, chapter eight scene three

Just finished writing something horrible that has to happen further on – the horror scenes are hard to write, because I don’t want to – but next as a reward I get to write my very own Great Fire of London. With war-dragons! There is no downside.


He woke.

The thick bedcurtains had been drawn back, and the slit let candlelight in, a gentle glow. He sat up, scrubbing at his eyes and feeling very rumpled, and then leaned over to pull the curtains shut. Then he noticed he was being watched.

Mere stood next to the outer doors, as if she’d just shut them. She carried a candle in an old-fashioned candleholder, and her hair was just a little mussed. Two more girls were sitting up on their pallets, rubbing their eyes. Mere exchanged glances with them, and padded soundlessly across to the bed.

Christopher sat on the edge of the bed. She stood at his knee, her face calm.

“I thought I heard someone crying,” he said. “A nightmare?”

She shook her head. “She’s gone out to the hall so she won’t disturb you … She just misses her family. Nothing you need to worry over. You’re safe here.”

“I feel like a prisoner.” He shifted backward. “Don’t open the bedcurtains when I’m sleeping.”

“You’re not a prisoner. I promise you that.”

“Can I go then?”

She bit her lip, then shook her head again and retreated, carrying her candle.

Halfway across the room she paused and seemed to glance around in confusion, then looked back over her shoulder.

Her hair shone in the candlelight. So did her eyes, mirror-polished.

“I feel …” she said.

Several more of the girls had wakened. He could see how they’d turned their heads to watch.

Mere knelt down right where she was, in the middle of the room. She set the candlestick down carefully next to her knee. On the broad expanse of fine patterned carpet she suddenly looked exhausted and defenseless. She was panting slightly and her forehead shone with sweat.

It seemed like all the girls were awake now, up and moving. They converged on her.

“Don’t call for help,” she said.

“What’s wrong?” Christopher asked. He went over too—they got out of his way—and picked up the candlestick.

Maybe she was just a stranger, but on that calm face of hers, that look of distress seemed extreme.

Bewilderment, pain, and shock.

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