Across Pack Ice, a Fire

Issue #233

The icon of the saint glistened in the gaslight like a map of empire, and not Solveig’s own empire. The green and red mineral paints for the verdant background, the saint’s lips and wounds, were from her own lands, of course, iron and copper hauled by horse cart from the famous mines to the brand-new railways and then traded to the Veralduki icon painters to the east. Those pigments were usually used to ground spells, to anchor them.

The blue, vivid blue, gleaming blue, marking the saint’s robe: that was ground lapis, from the Veralduki empire itself, as was the shimmering lead white of the spirit attending the saint as an ivory gull. One was for summoning, the other for cleansing. She had used both many times in the years she had been the prince’s personal sorceress.

But the gold, the gold leaf that picked out the halo and made it shine—that was dragged out of the ground, at no small human cost, in the contested lands of the Kvenmark in between.

That was where the trouble lay.

It was fitting, Solveig supposed, that the troublesome gold part of the icon’s spell should come from the troubled Kvenmark. Gold was always a wild card in sorcerous workings, and the modern sorcerers who attempted to apply natural philosophy to their methods had not found a way around that. It would take her a great deal of study to work around the gold, with the spell she had in mind—and at the moment her mind felt hollow, emptied out by the very loss that sparked her desire for revenge, or justice, or both.

Solveig swallowed her brennivin all at once, barely tasting the caraway as it burned its way down her throat. Behind her there was a tiny rustle, more felt than heard. She turned.

The refugee girl Noora was there. Thin and sallow from her long illness, she would never have been a beauty at the peak of health, uneven features, snaggle teeth. The black silk mourning frock Solveig’s mother had bought for Noora hung on her like a pall. Her three-dimensional pallor made the icon on the wall look like humanity’s perfection, the actual child—sniffling, hungering—a copy.

Several people had whispered in Solveig’s ear that they wouldn’t blame her if she hated Noora for carrying the Veralduki-crafted disease that had killed Per. A dirty peasant child was bad enough, they hinted; a diseased one, far more than anyone could be expected to countenance. But Solveig only saw Noora’s hunger for love, revenge, and as many good meals as she could put in front of her. Per had been the one who wanted to take in a refugee child. Solveig couldn’t betray his most loving impulses, even when they had betrayed him.

Solveig put her arms out, but Noora did not come to them for a hug. Solveig turned the gesture into an open-palmed shrug. “I couldn’t stand the funeral crowds either. Have you eaten?”

Noora shook her head miserably.

“You must eat. I must eat.” Solveig felt the truth of it as she stood. A long day of sympathizers and well-wishers, shaking hands, having her cheek pressed by them, topped by brennivin, left her shaky and empty. If the child had only come for an embrace, Solveig could have leaned on her. But Noora was not like that. “Come. We will face them together, and fix ourselves plates.”

Solveig knew that they could not help but make an entrance among the mourners. Only a few of them were talking of Per himself, what a good man he was, what a good doctor, what a good friend. The rest were speculating as to whether his widow the sorceress was taking it well, what she would do with the ugly sickly little foreign child, whether the neighbors should buy extra magic shielding against the grief of Solveig Martasdottir.

Solveig knew that those who should fear her magic were not her immediate neighbors. But she could not blame them for seeing that she was holding herself together by the very narrowest of margins, even if they had not troubled themselves to understand precisely why. She put her hand on Noora’s shoulder protectively—steadyingly—and went in.

Her mother, a grey and rigidly upright copy of Solveig, swept over to them. “My dear. My dears.”

“We need food,” said Solveig. “We need food, and we need—” Her eyes scanned the packed salon. “Mama, I can’t, I can’t have all these people. It has been too much already.”

“I can feed the child,” said Marta. “There’s plenty on the smorgasbord yet, I will take her to make a plate.”

Solveig bobbed her head. “And I will clear the people out.”

Marta looked dubious but focused her attentions on the refugee child, on thin slices of cheese and apple and crisp rye cracker breads, on trying to coax her into eating richer things, crepes stuffed with cheese and salmon, little nut pastries that had appeared without Solveig requesting them.

Solveig forced herself to turn from marveling at the way that her servants had handled things, to speak to the guests quietly, politely, decorously. “So sorry,” she murmured to each. “Thank you so much for your support in this difficult time. But I’m afraid the family needs some quiet. There is so much to attend to. So sorry. So sorry.”

They took the hint reluctantly, leaving in clumps and clusters, clucking to themselves about how thin she and the child looked, how pale. Whether it was safe, even now, for her to keep the child in the house. What she might be driven to do—though their speculation fell woefully short of her own plans.

Finally she reached the secret heart of the gathering. On her own favorite deep red velvet divan, eating the last of the grapes he had sent for Per when Per was sick, was the prince. Solveig bowed her head into the least curtsy politeness required, feeling that she might tip if she bent any lower. Feeling that she would break.

“My lord,” she murmured.

“Oh, do not stand on ceremony, Solveig Martasdottir, not in your own house, not on this sad occasion,” said Prince Eugen. “Per Helgisson was our faithful servant. We mourn him as you do.” Though the prince was impeccably correct—even, by his own lights, compassionate—Solveig found his unctuous tone grating, and she had to force herself to respond graciously.

“My lord, I fear that it has been a long day for me,” said Solveig. “While your presence honors us all....”

Prince Eugen got to his feet in one smooth movement, kissing Solveig on both cheeks before she knew what was happening. His moustache was waxed, something Per had never done no matter how he had moved in the prince’s inner circles. It poked at her stiffly. She stifled the urge to slap it—and him—away.

“Poor dear lady,” he said. “We feel your loss as our own. Think no more of it, but come to the palace again when you have decided that you are ready to serve again.”

“Thank you, my lord,” said Solveig softly.

The prince’s departure hastened the exodus of the rest of the mourners, sincere and otherwise, and soon it was only Solveig and her mother, and little Noora, who took the prince’s spot on the divan and earnestly munched her apple slices.

“When will you serve again?” asked Marta.

Solveig sank down next to Noora. “Mother, I don’t know.”

Marta handed Solveig a plate with all the same things on it as she had given Noora. Solveig picked at the cheese. “The prince won’t forgive you the little intruder forever. For now Per’s death has wiped the slate clean.”

“I cannot think right now.”

Marta steepled her fingers together. “You are a sorceress. If there is anything I have taught you, it is that sorcery means you are never exempt from thinking. Not in illness, not in exhaustion. Not even in grief.”

Solveig closed her eyes, swaying a little as the room spun around her. She knew Marta was right. But it was too soon, far too soon. When Noora was fully well—when it had been more than a week since Per’s death—when she could eat cheese without someone having to hand it to her, tell her how much cheese was the right amount of cheese. When she could look at the prince without wanting to scream at him for not using his famed charm to intercede and stop the war between his neighbors, to keep the atrocities from spreading. When she was absolutely sure that her wrath would not fall on him instead of the Veralduki empire, where it belonged.

In the old days, she had trusted the prince. She had thought that working for him and traveling with him would mean that he would listen to her and Per. But that had been before the Veralduki Empire had decided to take the Kvenmark lands for their own, before Prince Eugen and his parents had decided to let it happen without lifting a finger. Before a war had torn the neighboring countries apart while Solveig and her compatriots watched. The incomparable cold-weather gardens of Jakani burned, the Porvian waterdance troop held hostage to the Veralduki emperor’s sadistic whims. The suffering and disease that radiated from the trenches of the North Kven front. She had thought that being part of Prince Eugen’s entourage meant she could influence him toward greater justice in the world. She had thought that her years of service meant he would listen. At the very least, she had believed that the prince she served would have brought a smaller kind of justice to her husband’s killers.

She would have to find another way to get those kinds of justice.

Solveig opened her eyes. Her mother and Noora were still there. Per was still dead. The plate still looked impossibly full, and far more distant than it ought to be.

But between the icon upstairs and Noora on the divan with her, Solveig began to understand how, exactly, she might achieve her revenge on her husband’s distant and faceless killers.

The icon was a relic of their travels with Prince Eugen. In those times, Solveig and Per had sailed the waters of the far north in the prince’s personal guard on his boreal exploration ship, and her skills as sorceress and his as physician had been indispensable to His Highness in ways she could never have predicted.

One winter they were marooned in the pack ice off the northern Veralduki coast for several weeks.   

The peasants had heard that there was a rich Fendik ship, and three of them came together, trudging across the ice. The captain lowered a ladder down to receive the Veralduki callers, who were wrapped in enough layers to look like walking rag bags to Fendik eyes, in their tidy furs and sweaters.

“They’re looking for a doctor,” the translator reported.

Prince Eugen looked at Per inquisitively. “You don’t have to go. It’s filthy down in those little towns, you could catch anything.”

Per drew himself up indignantly. “I am a doctor. And my wife is very good at disinfectant spells.”

The prince shrugged. “Have it your way.”

Solveig walked out of the prince’s cabin with Per, out on the cold deck with the interpreter and the ragged Veralduki peasants. “Do you want me to go with you?”

He kissed her. “You can stay here where it’s warm if you like. If there are any magical illnesses I can send a runner for you, but in a village this poor, I expect it’ll just be malnutrition, filth, unlanced boils, unset bones. Nothing you need to stand around watching.”

Solveig had been relieved, but only briefly. Soon she realized she had nothing to do all day but stand on deck in the cold, watching the ivory gulls wheel and waiting for Per to return. She did not consider this a grand bargain.

Per came back hours later, bags under his eyes and a large rectangular bundle under his arm. He bade the modest among the crew not to watch, for he stripped to his smalls, whistling though the wind came across the pack ice, and dropped the clothing he had worn to be burned in a fire upon the ice rather than letting it on board ship. His smalls he sent to the galley to be boiled.

“I could have decontaminated those,” said Solveig, surveying her naked husband with mingled dismay and satisfaction as he scrubbed himself.

“A waste of spell ingredients,” he replied. “I’m glad you didn’t go, Sol. It was grim. It was dire. Those poor people.”

“But you did some good.”

“Oh, plenty of that. They insisted on paying me, poor wretches.”

“With what? Contaminated eggs and their firstborn children?”

He gestured at the wooden rectangle, whose rags had gone overboard with his clothes. Solveig turned it away from the wall and gasped. It was a glistening icon of Sankt Vidkun.

“It was what they had. The village all together.”

“You can’t take an icon from a village sorcerer. I am one, I know how dangerous our gifts can be. Even little children know, gifts from a sorcerer can be blessing and curse in equal measure. What if it’s a trick, a trap?”

“Be calm, love, it was not their sorcerer. They are too poor to have one. It was in their church, and I healed enough of them—”

“You can’t let them give you their church icon, Per!”

“I can’t not let them, Sol. They were too proud to let me do it free, they were beside themselves.”

Solveig turned to the icon, examining it closely. “Not exactly going to make a showing in the Academy, but beautiful in its way.”

“We’ll keep it. Of course we will, we have to.”

It had hung in their house for seven years, the beginning of a war, the arrival of a child—but not their own—and Per’s death. Solveig had tried not to think of the way that Per and the prince had fought, long into the night, after the icon came on board. About what to do about the Veralduki. About whether the prince could continue to sail around regarding the world at an impeccable distance. Per had lost. The prince, inevitably, had won. And now Solveig looked to the icon for her answers.

But there was still Noora to tend to, in the month it took Solveig to crack the puzzle that occupied all her days: how to use the icon to house the spell that would avenge Per. Despite the gossip of half the malicious souls at the funeral, an eleven-year-old girl was not an inconvenient parcel to be shipped back and forth between countries as it became politically expedient. She had to be fed, though she did not want to eat after her long illness. She had to rebuild her strength, though she was listless after the death of her protector.

Nor did Solveig herself have much more interest in these activities. It was Marta who marched them outside into the bracing winds for walks, Marta who made sure the servants had instructions for preparing all of Solveig’s childhood favorites, simple things that might not daunt Noora’s foreign tongue.

It was Marta who confronted her daughter in her workshop as she tried to solve the problem of the icon.

“Not more lapis,” said Solveig out loud. “More lapis would give them an actual plague. No plague. We have had enough of plagues.”

“Solveig,” said Marta.

“And not phthalocyanine blue, that’s too modern, too contained, it’s got to be contagious.”

“Solveig!”

“In a minute, Mother.”

“Whatever it is can wait until you and Noora have had a walk in the fresh air with me.”

Solveig blinked at her. “Oh dear no. You take Noora for her walk now. I have to apply—ah, ochre, yellow ochre—and then I will have this all finished. And I can go to see the prince about Noora’s and my journey.”

“You and Noora are going on a journey? To the country, perhaps? It would be good for you to—”

“To a country.”

“You’re not taking her back to Kvenmark.”

“No, Mother.” Solveig took a deep breath. “To the Veralduki Empire.”

It took three diagrams and an hour and a half to convince her mother that she had not taken leave of her senses, by which point Noora had taken her coat back off and was building a fort with the beautiful tasseled pillows in the sitting room. Marta decided that a game was close enough to the kind of healthy exercise she wanted for the child and joined her at it.

Prince Eugen took less time and fewer diagrams than Marta, which was a great relief, as Solveig did not intend to offer him any, nor anything like the truth. He greeted her with smiles and a samovar of chocolate.

“Prepared to rejoin my service, Solveig Martasdottir?” asked the prince, once again bristling her cheek with mustaches.

“I have one final task, but I think your highness will approve,” said Solveig.

He raised a well-manicured eyebrow and circled his hand for her to continue.

“I fear that my husband and I—members of your highness’s retinue—taking in a refugee was politically inexpedient for you, for the country,” said Solveig. “I would like to make a gesture toward retrieving your neutrality, if I may—or rather toward demonstrating that yours was always there, that any lapse in neutrality was ours alone. I would like to return the icon given to my husband by the Veralduki people when we were trapped in the ice.”

Prince Eugen clapped his hands. “What a thoughtful gesture! Return to them the icon that your husband received, demonstrate to them that you bore no ill will toward the Veralduki people or their government, merely that your husband felt a sentimental attachment to an orphan child.”

Solveig forced a smile. “Just so, my lord.”

“Brilliant! And then you will return to service?”

“Stronger than ever, my lord. And to further the cause of diplomacy, I will bring the child with me. A Kven child bringing a gift to Veralduki people—surely this will help her people to understand that they ought to sue for peace.”

Prince Eugen gave her a long look. “We cannot take a position in this conflict.”

“Peace is always the goal of a neutral state, my lord.”

“I suppose it is. Well then. Return safely, and further the goal of peace.”

Solveig curtsied neatly and took her leave, her divided skirts swirling around her. She managed to suppress a smile of triumph in case anyone was watching. There was a long and arduous task ahead yet, so triumph was premature in any case.

Outside the palace, the prince’s servant, anonymous in palace livery, had Solveig’s horse waiting, fresh and warm from the stable. Everyone’s breath came white in the cold. Across from the palace, the line of Kven refugees stretched for blocks: children and old people, huddled into their coats, clustered together for warmth. Kven who had never met each other before became each other’s new families in the refugee lines. She thought of Noora, weak and ill as she had been, subject to the rough-and-tumble vagaries of those lines, and shuddered. Was it worth Per’s death? Nothing was worth Per’s death. But unless her sorcery managed to turn time back and notice in time that Noora’s illness was of magical origin, the question was moot.

When they had first taken Noora in, Per thought that she was having a hard time adjusting to a new country. Solveig thought that she was sullen—which was not as bad a thing as it could have been, as Solveig too had been a sullen girl at eleven. She had stared at the ground on the ride home, wept at the bright colors of the sitting room, and closed herself in the nursery—intended for a much smaller child—taking only bread and milk, and that only when the maid begged her in Kven.

A doctor and a sorceress. Solveig felt sure that they should have seen, should have known, that there was something more wrong than only difficulties settling into a new home in a new country with a new family. But “should haves” cultured no cheese, as the peasants said. The fever the Veralduki had planted among the Kven blossomed in the child and spread to the rest of the household. “Should have” was turned to “should now,” and a long ride into the cold.

When Solveig returned home from her audience with the prince, Marta had prepared Noora as promised, with a riding coat and hat and fine boots. Noora looked as sullen as if these had been manacles, her early demeanor returned.

“Do I need to send for another physician, as ours is gone?” asked Solveig.

Noora glared at her.

“Many’s the poor child who would give their left thumb for that hat, foreign or native alike,” said Marta.

Noora ripped the offending headwear off and flung it at Marta’s head, then fled the scene.

Solveig pursued. Chaos followed. By the time order was restored, Marta had soothed two housemaids and the neighbor across the square, Solveig had cast two spells, and Noora had apologized, grudgingly.

Solveig had also explained that she had no intention of returning Noora home.

“You have to trust me.”

“I trust no one who takes me on a ride to the north of the Veralduki scum with winter coming on,” said Noora. “And you would be well-advised to keep the same as your own maxim for life.”

“She’s not wrong about that, daughter,” said Marta.

“Hush,” said Solveig. “It’s just a visit. We’ll ride back out again.”

“That’s what the Emperor of Bonterre said,” said Noora.

“Who educated her?” said Solveig, astonished. The child was not wrong, but her timing was, as always, drastically inconvenient.

Marta rolled her eyes.

But the next morning they set out on their horses all the same, the two of them with pack animals in tow for winter supplies, and for carrying the icon. It was wrapped much more carefully going into the Veralduki Empire than it had come out, swathed in layers of canvas and then packed in its own box specially built for carry on a saddle.

The snows fell as they left home to ride north, and Solveig tried not to be disheartened. It would be worth it. It would have to be.

She checked Noora’s color periodically as they rode. Her face was angry and closed, but her cheeks were pink with exertion and cold, her health returned. Any Kven child who couldn’t bear the temperatures of early winter would find herself in serious difficulty, but the magical plague that had taken Per had nearly taken Noora too. It had been intended to. Solveig felt vindicated in worrying.

In fact Noora had reached death’s pier first, she had just lingered there longer and eventually taken a different ship. Per had hovered at her bedside, trying remedy after remedy, until he too collapsed. By the time Solveig shouldered aside his colleagues, it was too late. She only barely did the counterspell on Noora in time—her younger constitution made her last longer.

By the time they reached the Veralduki borders, she was beginning to think Noora was trying to make her wish she had not.

Every furlong was a snow-covered misery. Noora replied only to direct questions. She would not sing songs. She would not play road games. She cared for her horse, spoke to him in caressing tones; even the pack beasts she showed regard for. For her foster mother, nothing.

Finally, in their rooms in the shabby inn that was the best they could find the night before the Veralduki border crossing, Solveig had had enough. “You will not make a difficulty for me with the border guards,” she said. “I do not have the power to protect you from their wrath.”

“No, foster mother,” said Noora.

“Also if you annoyed them it would thwart schemes of which you know nothing, and I cannot have that.”

Silence.

“Am I understood?” Solveig continued.

Noora burst out, “How am I to know anything of your schemes if you won’t tell me?”

Solveig sighed. “I am trying to keep you safe.”

“By marching me into a country full of people who hate me, very safe.”

“Noora. They do not hate you. You are only a child.”

“They have slaughtered hundreds of children like me. Thousands.”

“And your people have killed hundreds of their children in return.”

“We were the invaded, not the invaders,” said Noora fiercely. “Do not forget that.”

“I never do, or I would not be on this mission.”

Noora went still.

“Did you think I was neutral? Your foster father and I took you in against the prince’s wishes. The Veralduki Empire is no friend to us.”

“You are returning to their care a valuable piece of art. Why not keep it?”

“Noora, what do I do for a living?”

Their hearth fire snapped. The tiny inn bedroom stretched large between them. “You are—you are a sorceress.”

“And what are children told from their earliest days about accepting gifts?”

“That a gift from a sorcerer....” Noora’s mouth made an o.

“Blessing or curse, what do you think, Noora?”

Noora’s eyes darted to the parcel, too valuable to leave in the inn’s stable with the horses’ tack. “I had thought,” she whispered.

“What had you thought?”

Noora slipped off her bed and padded over to her own bags. She pulled from them a tiny pot of indigo ink. “I was going to sabotage the icon. So that they would suffer, the Veralduk scum. I was going to put a spell on it.”

Solveig rubbed her temples. “There is a spell on it already.”

“What does yours do?” asked Noora eagerly. “Wait, I know, I know. It brings them the same illness they gave Per and me. That’s what it has to do, doesn’t it, Solveig? It has to.”

Her thin face was alight with joy. Solveig almost hated to disillusion her, but she remembered what the illusion was, what source for her joy. “Noora. No.”

“No? No? What do you mean, no? What else could it be? Unless it has more pestilence, more despair, how could it be enough? They killed your husband. He was the best man I met since my father, and they killed my father too, and they used me to do it. You have to kill them all!”

The hearth fire lit Noora’s thin, pale face a flickering orange. Vengeance gave it an internal glow. Solveig winced away. “Noora. Sit down. Let me explain.”

“No!”

Noora.”

Glowering, she subsided onto the bed.

“The people in this village, the people who gave Per the icon,” Solveig began. “Wait until you see them. They are poor, desperately poor. He helped them. They are no better off under the Emperor than your people would be.”

“They’re Veralduki,” Noora objected.

“They’re from the far north. The empire gives them nothing and takes their children in conscription, all the strongest of their sons and daughters,” said Solveig. “They are losing too. If I sent plague among the Veralduki elite with this icon—if I killed them through these peasants—it would be just as unfair as if I used one of your cousins to do it. And it might not work. The people from this village don’t travel much.

“So the plague I’m sending takes some time to kill.”

Noora frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s a revolution, child. I am undermining their government. I’m sending it as a seed from this tiny village, but since no one will die directly, it can spread from there.”

Noora frowned suspiciously. “That sounds like the sort of thing grown-ups say when they don’t want to do anything at all.”

“Quite the opposite. I was married to a doctor for years—I learned how important the tiniest things can be. This revolution will spread like a disease. Like the one you had, that you gave to Per. But with magic assistance. Like the one you had.”

“That I gave to Per.”

“And the fishers, the farmers, eking out a living along the coast, they will pass it to the cities, and they will kill the people who killed your family in this horrible way. The people who killed Per. But not the innocents living in squalor. Not the ones Per wanted to help.

“They’re like you. You’re someone he wanted to help. We can’t betray him that way, Noora, can we?”

Noora was quiet for a long time. She got up and poked at the fire with the poker.

“I needed you to come along to convince the prince I was making a genuine effort,” said Solveig. “No one knows I’m doing this. He has to believe I’m trying to sow peace. We have to complete this mission for peace among our three countries: my neutral one, and yours at war. Perhaps we even will see peace—with the new government, when it settles. But for now, all we must do is complete the public gesture, which only we will understand. Then we can go. If you don’t want to stay with me after, I will take you home to Kvenmark, to whomever you can find to take you. Or you can come home with me as you said you wanted.”

Noora poked the fire again and did not turn. “You give them the death of their entire empire, in exchange for Per’s death.”

“Yes.”

“I think I am your daughter now,” she said very quietly.

“Then you will behave yourself with the border guards.”

“Yes.”

“And do as I tell you at the village.”

“Yes.”

They passed the rest of the very short night in quiet, and Noora was as good as her word with the guards at the only border Solveig’s country shared with the Veralduki Empire in the far north. Some eyebrows went up at a Kven child coming into Veralduk with a neutral sorceress, but Solveig’s diplomatic status made it impossible to object, especially when Noora showed so much respect and courtesy.

Still further north they rode, and soon the ivory gulls, rarely seen over any but the most coastal of lands, flocked overhead, alerting Solveig that they had almost reached their destination.

The village was much as she had imagined it from Per’s reports, much as it had appeared from the water. One church, no other public buildings. A handful of hovels. Snow-covered farms. It was the church to which she repaired. The villagers, unused to visitors, soon abandoned the tedium of their daily work and gathered on the front steps to hear their business.

Solveig performed a minor healing in honor of Per. The village priest, upon hearing of their loss, performed a short honorary service for their benefactor. Many bows all around, though only the priest understood what was being said on all sides. Everyone was shocked to see Solveig, uncomprehending of Noora’s status. The minute they saw the icon, no one objected.

And so the deed was done.

An old woman took them into her ramshackle hut after, her arm protectively around Noora, and gave them tea with berries floating in it. The hut was filled with smoke from the sullen fire. Everything between the child and the old woman was conveyed in gesture. Sit here. Be warm. Thank you. Thank you.

Noora’s eyes were as wide and wild as they had been since the height of the fever. She pressed the old woman with a fierce embrace when they left. Solveig was glad to get both of them out of there without an emotional breakdown or an international incident. She breathed the frigid outdoor air with relief.

She could not burn all of her clothes, but she was glad to get far from the village for the night, to start a campfire that was her own and her new daughter’s. To be unburdened, lightened, finished with what needed to be done. The wheels were in motion. She could go back and work on other things for months, years, waiting to hear the results.

She could afford to be patient.

“You were right,” said Noora. “They were—they were not a threat, those people. That woman. I couldn’t have—if I had sabotaged the icon, I would have felt so—”

“I know it,” said Solveig. She put her hand on Noora’s shoulder for a second only, then drew back to watch the birds side by side, content with the quality of the silence they had found.

Solveig feared that someday Noora would realize that igniting revolution was not clean or kind, especially to destitute villagers who were likely to bear the worst of it. She could only hope that the girl would realize that her foster mother had done her best. She could make vengeance her own; she could not make it clean.

The ivory gull wheeled out over the pack ice, a speck of white only distinguishable against the shimmer of blue-white ice because it was moving. They watched it into the distance before mounting their horses and turning south, toward home.


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Marissa Lingen lives in the Minneapolis area with two large men and one small dog. Her work has appeared in Tor.com, Lightspeed, Apex, and multiple times previously in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others.

If you liked this story, you may also like:
“Out of the Rose Hills” by Marissa Lingen
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