Feneng 7: Magnificence

"You honour us with your presence."

Blackbird Lantern shrugged. "Not at all, Magnificence."

"Not yet," Feneng corrected.

"You wear the Serpent's Crown."

"What does that mean?"

He caught her eyes with his own, and for a while she was lost in them. It was like gazing into a banked fire; they were so blue, so black, and filled with tawny sparks. He slowly turned his head and she watched the sunlight play across the angles of his face. What was he? Shadows skated down his arm and pooled in the palm of his hand. Feneng realised then that he had stood up. His jaw was clenched, his eyes downcast. "I wish I knew what happened to you there, in the forest."

Feneng shook her head violently, to clear her mind of cobwebs. Blackbird Lantern's presence was simply too distracting, hypnotic. "What does it matter to you? I'm just some damaged heiress; you are perhaps the most precious thing the church of Veamándhi has ever encoutered."

Somehow, she was now holding a pendant, its fine gold chain looped round the dancer's neck. There was a hazy recollection of someone's hand reaching under his jacket to retrieve it, but now Feneng could not remember whose. The pendant was a thin disc of amber. Trapped inside was a tiny butterfly, made black by resin and the passing of years. One of its wings was missing.

Blackbird Lantern touched Feneng's hair. Her crown coiled happily into his fingers, and he held it for her to see. Beneath one beaten-gold leaf was a little sphere of amber, another three-winged butterfly. "This is why, cousin. I am not so much a stranger as you think." He replaced the crown. He smelled like fire, too, like smoke and heat and pine.

Feneng fled.

A long time later, Hospitable Sword refilled his friend's wine cup.

"It would be easier," the dance master murmured, "if only she were less beautiful." They finished more bottles before the kohl stopped running down his face in angry carmine streaks.


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