Music had always been mine.
I could always sing. To lift my voice in music, for any occasion, large or small, joy or sorrow. The Church of the Saints taught that it was holy to sing in praise of God’s work. I had no shame to bury, no fear to overcome. I could be free in music.
He broke that with a touch. One hand, and my breath was gone. Music was gone. The world faded. Eris was there, at least, and my hearing was not taken from me. I heard her call my name a last time. She’d only sounded so despairing once before, when I’d bid her to flee.
It was hard to say goodbye to her, though I did it in a heartbeat. I would do it again to keep her alive, if I could only find a way to make the choice.
I heard Her call my name.
Not Eri. Someone else.
She sang my name in a smoldering contralto, and it sounded…
It sounded like the warlock.
She spoke like Sir Slate, our ragged and wayward knight in rags. I heard his voice in the rough-edge purr of Her vowels. But aside from once or twice with Eri, in the small hours of summer nights, I’d never heard anyone in the world who said my name as if it was so beautiful.
“Mariead, dawnsong, my firebrand,” She said. I felt arms cradling my head, raising me off the floor. I knew it had to be Eris, but it was Her voice that filled my ears. “Your light is waning.”
It was. I could not speak. I could not even see. I fought to pierce the dark. I won’t have my last sight be his face. I won’t. Eri…
“Mariead,” the muse whispered. “Mariead, listen to me. Listen very, very carefully; see, I don’t know when you and I will speak again.”
Who are you?
“I am your seraph, Mariead. My wee child of the dawn.” Her voice overflowed with a love I had not expected. It struck me through. “I see sunlight in you, and I won’t see it set. Not now.”
“I am.” I saw nothing. I heard the smile in Her voice, and it felt like a fox trap, sharp and silver and spring-loaded, daring me to put my hand inside. “I am. Do I frighten you?”
How could you? You’re beautiful.
She laughed. Even Her laugh sounded like Slate, as if She’d learnt from his, a low, un-self-conscious peal of sound, unladylike and voluptuous in its abandon.
I saw how he might kill for Her.
I smelled smoke. Our little church was burning. It smelled like a struck flint, with the acrid tang of sulfur.
I felt Her only once. Lips on my forehead, like a brand.
“Mariead,” She sang. “Mariead. Mariead. There is no fire without air. Do you know what to do?”
The bodkin came to my mind unbidden. A stiletto, solid steel with a thin wooden handle and a cheap pommel to hold it together. It hung before my eyes in the blind dark that had taken my love’s face from me, whirling as if thrown in the air.
It came apart. The pommel unscrewed itself and hung alongside the blade, and the wooden handle slid off the tang, a narrow tube of oak or ash, hollow.
The tip of the knife gleamed.
“Mari,” Eris said. “What are you doing–”
“Careful,” the muse cautioned. Her voice was choked with sorrow at the warning. “You will breathe. You will fight. But you may never sing again. And you may trade a swift death for a long and bitter one.”
It did not take me long to decide.
The bite of the blade was white-hot like the heart of a forge.