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the maid of fortune

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The salt and the rust of the Inland Sea don't wash off. The sticky wet heat of Klurikon's jungles and the grind of too many long nights don't wash off, either; they hover over his shoulders, loose and easy shades, a shadow over his skin that turns him purple and strange.

Walen used to wonder what his mother had paid to have him sent here.

Now, he wonders what she would pay to get him back. There's entertainment value in the thought—maybe she thinks he's dead? The idea alone is enough to make his lips twitch—but it's rare that he finds anything truly funny.

He doesn't smile anymore, Walen—a wicked brush with a Tuatha faeblade put paid to whatever claim to handsomeness he might have had—but he doesn't do most things, anymore.

The war took it all right out of him. All that laughter, gone.

There might never be laughter again, if the Tuatha have anything to say about it.

His knuckles are raw in his gauntlets. It's the wet, and the salt, and a hundred other little grievances. His sword is heavy in his hands.

Never was much for being a soldier, Walen.

Even less so for glory, and least of all for war.

(There's no glory in war. There's no glory in dying, either, choking on your own blood, the gurgle of cut throat. His mother had known that. Maybe that's why she bought him away. There's no glory in freedom, and there's no glory in death. It's all the same.)

The others in his company think him glib. And he is.

Used to be, anyway.

Isn't, anymore.

His knuckles still ache with the salt. He's never going to be able to breathe in Rathir's sea air without wanting to be sick, twenty again and suddenly waking up, ill to death with the ocean rocking beneath him and a pounding in his head, on the wrong ship.

Faking his own death hadn't worked the first time.

In one way, his mother was right: Klurikon did make him grow up. He went to war.

He doesn't entirely think he's willing to come back.