“Oh fuck no,” Said Ianthe, sitting up in her armchair. “I am not marrying Babs.”
“You don’t have to, dear,” Started Abigail Pent, a little too kindly. She was sitting next to her cavalier, in a position that would have been almost downright illegal, if not for their findings.
“I’d rather do it the old fashion way,” Steamrolled Ianthe, cracking each finger methodically. “No offense, Babs.”
The cavalier in question had been standing next to the Second, and now looked positively ill. He inched slightly behind them, his hand on his rapier. “Offense taken.” He muttered, only just loud enough for Harrow to hear.
“We won’t let her.” Said Magnus kindly. “You’re under our protection.”
This did nothing to fix the look on Naberius Tern’s face, but he nodded in acknowledgment.
“I’m not sure you’d even be able to accomplish the theorem, Ianthe.” Palamedes Sextus spit out, looking uncharacteristically pissed. “It requires a strong sense of romantic— or platonic— love for the other. I’m not sure you’ve ever loved someone.”
Besides her, Gideon smirked with satisfaction. She even moved her fist in a sort of ‘good job, son!’ movement. It was annoyingly endearing.
After a moment Gideon caught her looking and Harrow had to snap her gaze back to Ianthe.
“-ier can’t even love you.” Ianthe was saying, back to her lounging position that looked both utterly ridiculous and incredibly uncomfortable.
Besides Palamedes, Camilla rolled her eyes. “You’re trying to bait him.” She said matter of factly. “That’s low hanging fruit, even for you Third.”
Ianthe just glared but didn’t have a retort back.
“Well!” Said Magnus Quinn. “I for one, am excited! Abigail and I spent so long trying to overturn this law, just to learn it was the secret to the lyctoral recipe. Hurrah!”
Harrow hadn’t thought that people still said hurrah. It seemed like a phrase from one of Gideon’s pervy magazines.
“About that,” Said Palamedes, his calm self once more, “When were you thinking of completing the ritual?”
Harrow took this as her cue to slip out of the room.
There would be no lyctoral ascension for her.
Gideon found her sitting at the edge of the pool.
She was sitting chin between her knees, arms wrapped around her legs, face turned towards the water. She wasn’t looking at her reflection, but instead at a chip of bone that had fallen to the bottom of the pool.
“Hey,” She said, and sat down beside her without ceremony. “Kinda fucked Ianthe wants to eat Naberius, right?”
Harrow looked up, her eyes unsteady and wet. When she didn’t say anything, Gideon continued.
“I thought they were cousins? Or siblings or something. Kinda gross to eat each other, you know?”
Harrow groaned and rested her forehead against her leg.
“You say the most vile things.” She said, though she had one hundred better things to say. They hadn’t really talked since Palamades had put the final piece together. Harrow wasn’t sure what she had been expecting. For Gideon to pick her up and yell happily? Whatever it was, it hadn’t happened. They had just sat in silence, watching the other’s process their conclusion. Most had been happy, the Fifth ecstatic. The Third and Eighth seemed less than thrilled, and the Seventh had already said she wouldn’t ascend. But at least they had discussed it. Harrow had no clue what her cavalier was thinking.
Probably, “Ah fuck, how will I charm hot ladies if I’m married to my tiny necromancer?”
That’s what Harrow would be thinking if she was Gideon.
“Wanna go swimming?” Gideon said instead. “Corona’s been giving me lessons.”
Jealousy spiked through her. “Oh she has?” Harrow spat out. “I wasn’t aware.”
Gideon didn’t answer, forcing her to look up. Her cavalier had stood up, and was peeling off her clothes. Harrow looked away, red heat filling her cheeks.
“You don’t have to be jealous.” Gideon said, as Harrow studied the pool tiles. “Corona is a great teacher, but she’s too caught up in her sister to care about me.”
“I wasn’t jealous.” Harrow said quickly, then made the mistake of looking back at Gideon.
She was standing a few feet away, wearing only a bandeau and tight shorts. Her toes curled around the edge of the pool and her eyes reflected the green light of the pool, turning them into self contained beaches. Water lapped against the warm gold of her iris. Her entire body seemed to be an intricate painting, a brush creating lines of smooth, tanned muscle. Her arms were a work of art, feeding into a smooth expanse of collarbone and shoulder. Her stomach was pale and lean, a testimony to Drearburh’s conditions. She had started to fill out during their time in Canaan House, but it wasn’t enough to erase the hunger of another life.
Then those golden eyes turned to hers. “Harrow?” Gideon said, and suddenly that was the prettiest thing anyone had ever said to her.
“I’m not jealous.” Harrow said, and divided into the pool fully clothed.
This, she realized immediately, was a mistake.
For one, she didn’t know how to swim, and the weight of her clothes seemed to drag her down to the bottom of the pool.
More importantly, she could only imagine what Gideon would say when she surfaced. She’d probably laugh in her face and call her a bedraggled puppy.
It was because of this that Harrow decided to stay under the water.
It was peaceful under there, the blue green alluring in a way she didn’t understand. The salt was starting to burn her lungs, which reminded her of home and conversations with her parents. She wondered dully how she could find a way to breath under there. A bone case around her face? Surely that would run out eventually.
Then Gideon was swimming in front of her, and God, she was a glory under the water.
Her hair ballooned around her, like a cloud of red. Her eyes were wide, trying to convey some message, but Harrow couldn’t stop tracing the outline of her biceps.
She was becoming slightly lightheaded, she decided.
Finally, Gideon gave up their eye conversation and pulled her up.
“You idiot.” Gideon said, hand still strong on Harrow’s arm. “You scared me.”
Harrow was used to scaring others. Most of the Canaanites still flinched when she passed, though the kinder half apologized. She knew her parents had feared her in those last moments. She was the end of the world as they knew it, the bringer of hell.
She was mostly thinking about the fear she felt when she saw her own face, though.
“I was worried I’d have to do mouth to mouth on you.” Gideon was saying, pulling her to the shallower end. “Which would be bad because I don’t fucking know how to do mouth to mouth.” She wiped her hair out of her eyes with her free hand. It was getting slightly long, which Harrow had noticed meant it curled more. Now, soaking wet, it formed little ringlets. “They do it sometimes in my comics but then it turns into more passionate kissing and…” Gideon was blushing, godlike in the ethereal lighting. “Well that wouldn’t have helped much.” She ended pathetically.
Harrow let air fill her lungs a couple more times before saying, “You could have left me down there.”
The look Gideon gave her was hard. “No I fucking couldn’t have, my penumbral lady. ‘Oh Gideon? What happened to your necro?’ ‘Thanks for asking Cam! I let her drown herself in the pool!’” Gideon glared at her and slid her grip down, so she was clutching Harrow’s wrist.
It was one of many sensations, thanks to the pool, but it was the one she clung to most.
“You know I don’t want you to die, right?” Gideon asked, her eyes soft. They still reminded Harrow of the ocean. She hadn’t spent a lot of time around the unending waters of the First, but she knew that they were multifaceted. Calm one minute, violent the next. She wouldn’t classify Gideon as the same, but it was hard to align this girl with the one she had fought with their entire childhood. “That’s absolutely the last fucking thing I want.” Gideon said, and then her hand had moved down to hold Harrow’s. “Camilla be damned. I don’t want you to die. For stupid Gideon reasons.”
Harrow looked up into her cavalier’s eyes. “What stupid reasons.” She asked quietly.
It had been Gideon who had put together the first clue.
Harrow had taken one look at the ring that Teacher gave them, and dismissed it. She was more concerned with the sealed up chambers under the explorable part of the House.
This had been her downfall, though it was nowhere as violent as Ianthe’s.
She had known the Third was also interested in the secret chambers, just as she knew the Fifth was focused on old Lyctoral conversations and the Sixth on the traceless ring they had all been given. She hadn’t been concerned with Ianthe’s interest, no more than she had been concerned with the ring. It, like the rule Teacher had told them, had meant nothing to her.
“There are no rules here.” Teacher had said. “We exist entirely outside the laws of the Empire. If you can think of a law, it does not apply.”
“Surely that can’t be true–” Started the Second, but Teacher had shushed them.
“This is the only rule.” He had said. “And it’s that there are no laws. A sort of black hole of a rule, isn’t it?”
Harrow had thought over his words until they were meaningless to her. And they were meaningless. A lack of laws would not help her ascend to lyctoralhood.
Of course, she had been wrong. She had been wrong a lot those first days.
While Harrow theorized about a secret energy chamber, full of lyctoral fuel perhaps, Gideon had unknowingly put together the first clue.
“Hey Harrow,” She said one night, because (in her own words) she was bored and Harrow didn’t let her talk to anyone. “Do you think I can fit the ring onto my fingers?”
Harrow had looked up from her notes with alarm, but before she could do anything, Gideon had slipped it onto her middle finger.
Instead of being slightly too small, as it had seemed before, it was perfectly sized, like it was made for her.
“Huh.” Gideon had said. “Weiiiird.”
Harrow couldn’t help but agree. “Let me look, Griddle.”
Gideon scowled but passed it over. When Harrow put it on her ring finger, it hadn’t just adjusted to fit her finger, but changed from its milky mother of pearl to a shiny black.
“What the fuck.” Gideon exclaimed, but her eyes betrayed only childish curiosity. “Lemme try again!”
When Harrow refused, Gideon tried to pull it off, resulting in it being flung across the room, and breaking in two.
“Look what you’ve done! You idiot, small brained peasant!” Harrow screamed, though she had never really cared about the ring.
Gideon narrowed her eyes like she was readying for a fight.
She probably had been. They had been oddly civil for the last couple of days, an odd combination of not interacting enough to blow up at each other and not wanting to alienate the only familiar thing.
Harrow would have let her yell the cruelest things, joining in herself, until they were all spent out, except that she looked back at the ring and gasped.
“You can’t distract me that easily– holy shit!”
The ring had split in two, one black as an oil spill, the other an incandescent rainbow.
“Fucking hell.” Gideon said under her breath, scooping them up.
That had been the beginning of their new theorem.
Gideon looked bashfully and turned away. “Maybe we should get you into dry clothes.”
Harrow felt something consume her. She grabbed her cavalier’s arm and pulled with all her might. It did nothing but give her Gideon’s attention.
That was all she needed.
“Tell me.” She said, trying to make her voice as soft as possible. It wasn’t her normal territory, but the thing between them seemed so delicate that it called for softness.
She imagined their relationship as a piece of paper. If touched with more than a nail, it would crumble. It was impossibly old, and incredibly new. It could contain the world, or it could hold a child’s scribbles.
Gideon watched the ripples that she made in the pool.
“I would miss you.” Gideon said, then shook her head. “That’s an understatement. That’s like saying Silas Octakiseron is only kinda creepy. I would lose another piece of myself if I lost you.”
Harrow let go of her cavalier’s arm. “I-”
Gideon put a finger against her lips. The sensation was light and thrilling. Harrow hated how much she liked it.
“Don’t say anything, Lamentable Queen. I don’t want a response.”
Harrow hadn’t had one at the ready. Whatever she was going to say, it was a mystery to them both.
Gideon decided that was her cue to get dried and dressed. Harrow watched her with a strange curiosity. It had seemed invasive to watch Gideon get undressed. Now, watching her get redressed, seemed intimate and tender.
When she was ready, she hauled Harrow out and wrapped her in a fuzzy towel.
“Don’t want you to get a cold.” She said with a laugh. When they got back to their rooms, Gideon insisted on wrapping a blanket around her and setting her next to a fire. An odd feeling followed Harrow as she let her cavalier dote on her. She couldn’t quite place it.
When she was satisfied that Harrow was cozy, Gideon went off to make them food.
Ever since the confrontation, as Gideon liked to call it, their skeleton servants had been dead. This meant the Canaanites were forced to make their own meals and clean up after themselves. Magnus made most dinners, and seemed to find joy in the process, while the others divided up lunch. Breakfast, which Harrow assumed it was, (Had they worked through the whole night? She had gotten so caught up in finishing the theorem, that she couldn’t remember if they started working that dawn or last) was a free for all. This meant she mostly skipped the meal, though Gideon often pestered her about it. A couple weeks ago, Gideon had decided to get cooking lessons from Magnus, which meant a lot of fresh bread in the morning. Harrow couldn’t turn down bread, especially seeing how much work Gideon put into it.
Now Gideon came back with a loaf and fresh made spread.
Harrow eyed her warily as she made their plates.
“Magnus thinks I can start moving onto harder things.” Gideon said, handing Harrow a large chunk of bread covered in pale white spread. “Pastries, maybe. Apparently those are desserts for breakfast!”
Harrow didn’t follow the conversation but nodded and took a bite of her meal. It was plain enough for her tastes, though soft and fluffy. She chewed and swallowed before saying, “It’s good.”
Gideon almost fell backwards. “Holy shit Harrow, you like things?”
Harrow made a crude gesture. “I like how soft it is.”
Gideon looked like she had swallowed a foot and found she liked it. “Harrowhark Nonagesimus, what alternate reality have I been dropped into?” Then, “I’ll remember that in the future.”
Harrow nibbled on her bread and let her thoughts drift. The Fifth had probably already ascended at this point. They were probably looking ahead at eternity, smiles on their faces, hands intertwined.
The Sixth would be next. She had learned that Camilla wasn’t the type to have romantic or sexual feelings, but Harrow knew she had mutually strong platonic ones with her necromancer. They’d complete the process and continue to do whatever they did. Study things and train, mostly.
They’d eventually join the Emperor, Harrow assumed, though she tried not to think that far. Ascending had been about saving her House. As long as the Ninth was renewed, she’d do whatever God wanted her to.
She stared at Gideon. She was nursing a mug of tea, her hair a scraggly mess. She looked equally lost in thought.
Harrow had been born from the impossible, raised to do the same. It was a foot in the chest that she wouldn’t be able to cross this final hurdle.
No matter what, she’d never be able to ascend to lyctorhood.
The thought sat heavy in her head but she knew it was true.
The Ninth House was doomed, and it was all her fault.
The second clue was to be credited to the Fifth.
“Harrowhark!” Said Abigail Pent, one bright afternoon.
Harrow had since given up on the hidden chambers. Even getting through the trapdoor, they were daunting and unrelated to Teacher’s words. She was convinced his only rule and the ring were connected somehow, and she found no reason for the answer to lie below the House.
Ianthe hadn’t given up, though her sister seemed to have. She found Coronabeth watching Gideon duel or giving her swim lessons. As far as she knew, Gideon never talked, but that didn’t mean she cared to see the two together. Corona was always touching Gideon’s arm and laughing or correcting her form and smiling. Harrow didn’t like it.
“Would you mind looking at something with me?” Abigail asked, with a smile.
The Fifth were not to be trusted, Harrow knew. They were her biggest threat, besides Palamedes. The necromancer, Abigail, was obsessed with lyctoral papers. This screamed trouble to her.
Harrow followed her inside, because she was frustrated at her lack of progress and wanted to get Corona’s hands on Gideon’s waist out of her mind.
Abigail had set up at the largest table. It was covered in loose leaflets, flimsy and paper both, and books. It was neat in an unknown way, something Harrow could respect.
Her cavalier, Magnus?, was off somewhere, the sound of his humming drifting back to them.
Magnus and Abigail were a story and a half. Harrow had heard it from Gideon, who had heard it from Corona, but she had really heard glimpses of it on the Ninth. Magnus had only become cavalier primary because Abigail would take no other. There had been talks of a secret love affair, illegal across the Houses. These escalated when the couple started to advocate to remove the law banning the marriage between necromancers and cavaliers. They argued that it was such a low crime for such a high punishment (death!) and that it marked an outdated Empire reeling from the Resurrection. It was rumored that the Emperor himself had gotten involved, denying their requests. It was the story of the century.
“I have some lyctoral conversations,” Abigail said, hurrying around the table to retrieve something. “Sit, sit, please. I was wondering if I could get a bone magician's eyes on them. I’ve been told you see the finest of details.”
Harrow took a piece of paper from Abigail, and watched from the corner of her eye as the women examined another.
nt to prevent, of co
deon luckiest, tho M would disa
told him that something was wr
“I’ll get back to you on this.” Harrow said, gingerly picking it up between her nails. She couldn’t make heads or tails of the message on it. She started to move to leave when Abigail looked up.
“Stay awhile, won’t you? I feel like I haven’t talked to anyone but the kids and Magnus in days.”
Harrow looked at the paper, then at the Fifth woman. She had a clean, comfortable niceness to her. It didn’t help that Harrow had nowhere else to go.
“Have you found a list of lyctor names?” She asked awkwardly.
This turned on a switch inside the necromancer. “Oh I wish! I have a theory that their names were purposely destroyed after the Resurrection. Wow! I would love one of those, would make my life a lot easier. All I have is fragments of names and letters. I’ve started cataloging handwriting, though. I think I have fifteen distinct handwritings. That means I’m missing one or two, depending on whether God himself wrote any of these.”
Harrow couldn’t help but be fascinated. “May I see the different handwritings?”
Abigail beamed and hurried her over to another table. It was divided into twenty squares, fifteen of them neatly filled with papers, the final four filled beyond their borders with splayed out documents.
“I’m no expert,” Abigail said, “But I spent a good amount of time looking at the differences in the letters. I’d love to hear your opinions.”
Harrow’s eyes swept over the stacks. She didn’t feel like she could touch the papers without destroying the meticulous work the Fifth had done.
“I’ll have to look later.” She said, in what she hoped was a polite invitation for herself to return.
The Fifth only nodded chipperly. “I have another question for you.” She led Harrow to two seats next to a fire. It seemed like a terrible addition to a library filled half with paper. “What law do you think Teacher was referencing?”
Harrow pondered this. She had thought about it a lot, since Gideon had ‘broken’ the ring in two. “It must be a law we need to solve the lyctoral question.” She said meditatively.
“Agreed.” Abigail said.
“If you could break any law, what law would you break?” Harrow asked, more rhetorically then not.
Abigail Pent answered anyway. “Well that’s an easy one. I’d marry my cavalier.”
At this Harrow’s eyes widened.
“Fuck.” She whispered under her breath.
It was a long time before either of them talked. It was the comfortable sort of silence, created from hours of working together quietly. Harrow found that she enjoyed it almost as much as she enjoyed Gideon’s useless chatter, though the latter she would never say. It would give her cavalier too big of a head, she reasoned.
“I’m going to catch up with Dulcie,” Gideon said eventually, stretching. “She seemed in good spirits earlier, so I’m hoping today’s a good day.”
Dulcinea Septimus was another ill-fated relationship of Gideon Nav, though it was less of a toxic romantic one, and more of a friendship on a time limit. Harrow prided herself on not being jealous of the amount of time Gideon spent with her, but really the girl was dying and had two other friends, one of which she had rejected the romantic advances of.
Harrow hummed and watched her cavalier get ready to leave. Gideon always had things to do, it seemed. She trained with the other cavaliers, did her independent exercises, swam with the Third, talked to the Seventh and managed to find time for Harrow.
Harrow, on the other hand, had let herself get consumed by her work, as always. Now that it was done (she wasn’t sure if that had set in yet. She had solved the lyctoral process!), she had nothing.
She wouldn’t even reap the benefits of her work.
“You should get some fresh air.” Gideon said, as she redid her paint. “When was the last time you went outside?”
Harrow couldn’t remember. A couple of weeks ago when Magnus and Abigail had a birthday dinner for Isaac? Or maybe that time she took a walk alongside the ocean with Gideon.
“Mm.” Harrow said noncommittally.
Gideon glanced over at her. Her skull was done. She had really been improving, though Harrow didn’t understand why she continued. Everyone knew Gideon’s story. There was no reason to pretend anymore.
“Don’t die without me around to save you.” Gideon said with a flash of a grin, then ducked out of the room.
Harrow let herself watch the fire for a bit longer, then pulled herself out of her blanket cocoon. Gideon was right, she needed something to do.
“Cam-Camilla,” Harrow said, standing above the Sixth cavalier.
Camilla was watching the Second and the Fourth duel. Jeannemary seemed to be holding up her own, though she had a lot more manic energy then precision. Even Harrow could tell that the Second had the superior skills.
“Yes?” Camilla asked, not looking up from the duel.
Harrow bit her cheek, let warm blood fill her mouth. The bitter iron taste allowed her to continue on and say, “Will you help me with something?”
Camilla finally looked up. Harrow was shocked to see her eyes were mismatched, one a cool stone grey, the other the brown grey Harrow was used to.
Camilla looked her over and nodded.
Harrow led the cavalier through the House. “I want to climb to the roof.” She said.
Camilla rubbed the back of her neck. “You want to climb to the roof?”
Harrow nodded vigorously. “To see the sunset.”
Camilla gave her a look like, ‘It’s the afternoon, bitch. What the fuck is wrong with you?’
“With Gideon.” Harrow amended.
The cavalier softened. Harrow knew she and Gideon had a sort of bond that Harrow couldn’t understand. Sometimes she’d peek into the training room and see Gideon yammering about God knows what and Camilla just listening intently. Once she saw the Sixth laugh so much that she couldn’t breath. Harrow understood that feeling. Gideon took her breath away.
“Fine.” Camilla said. “But it’s going to be hard.”
Hard didn’t come close. Harrow had no upper body strength, no arm strength and no leg strength. The only thing she had to her advantage was her petite structure, but even that came to bite her in the ass sometimes.
When they were clinging to a wall hundreds of feet above the ground, Camilla looked down at her and said, “You won’t be able to take Gideon up here today.”
No, Harrow knew that. A plan started to form in her head.
“Don’t… don’t tell her… her then.” Panted Harrow.
Camilla made a noise in agreement and they continued the climb.
It was like everything Harrow did, if she didn’t think about how hard it was, it could be easy. She hoped at least.
They reached a smaller roof by late afternoon. Harrow had sweated through her clothes and paint but didn’t feel shame. Camilla passed her a bundle of food that Harrow happily discovered was bread and flavorless, tender meat.
They ate in companionable silence.
“Did you do it?” Harrow asked eventually, her eyes trained on the sky. If she looked down, she’d fall. It was irrational and also the only semblance of safety she could cling to.
“Yes.” Camilla said. “Hence, the eyes.”
“Are they going to stay like that?” Harrow asked.
Camilla considered this. “We think so. If Palamedes had taken my whole soul, he would have gotten my eyes, and I would have gotten his. I’d be dead though. Since we tethered our souls together, we only exchanged half of our eyes.”
Harrow considered this. She had understood the theorem in theory, but to see it play out like this was interesting. She imagined herself with one gold, one black eye, and shuddered.
Don’t forget, she said to herself, this isn’t for you.
“Let’s continue.” Harrow said.
Camilla eyed her warily but worked her through stretches before letting them start again.
Harrow considered getting a construct to help her, but that meant giving up and she never gave up.
“Have you decided yet?” Camilla asked evenly, as if she was asking Harrow what she wanted for lunch.
Harrow shook her head. “We can’t ascend.”
This stopped Camilla in her tracks. She had been starting to pull herself up the next expanse, but she jumped down and looked at Harrow. Her two colored gaze was intimidating.
“Why not?” She asked.
Harrow dug her nail into her thigh. Camilla noticed and swatted her hand away. Cavaliers, Harrow scoffed internally.
“It won’t… work. Just like it won’t work for the Third.”
Camilla regarded her. “You’re an idiot.” She said. Harrow glared at her. “You obviously love her.”
Harrow snorted. “That’s not the problem.”
Camilla gave her an incredulous look. “You can’t be serious.”
“As serious as one ever can be.”
The cavalier rubbed her forehead. “You all give me a headache.” She walked back to her previous eating spot and gestured for Harrow to join her. “Palamedes was worried about us too.”
Harrow frowned. “Because you don’t get romantic feelings?”
Camilla shook her head. “No, he was worried that he couldn’t be as committed to me as I to him. He thought that his residual feelings for Dulcie could, ‘block a proportionate devotion to one another.’ I told him he was full of hot shit and that he loves me. Then we ascended.”
Harrow growled. “But Nav doesn’t… she can’t.”
Camilla didn’t even need to look at her, for Harrow to know what face she was making.
“Idiots. The both of you.” She said and got up. “Come on, we should head back down.”
Harrow protested but her heart wasn’t in it. They climbed down in silence, only broken up by an instruction of Camilla’s. When they were safely inside a room, Camilla told her how to take care of her sore muscles and to meet her there the next day.
Harrow watched her leave and considered their conversation.
They had discussed whether the bond needed to be romantic or not for ages. Palamedes had been sure it didn’t need to, to account for family and people who could not feel attraction for their partner or others. Camilla had piped in that she fell into the last category. That had convinced Harrow. If anyone could create a soul bond through a marriage, it was the Sixth.
And they had been successful. She wondered what that could mean for her and Gideon. Gideon didn’t love her romantically, Harrow knew that much, but if she could love Harrow platonically…
She shouldn’t let herself hope, but it sparked in her chest anyways. The idea that Gideon could feel that way made her strangely warm inside.
She’d have to do something to nurture that, she thought. Luckily, she already had an idea.
The catalyst had been Ianthe Tridentarius.
Harrow had been sparingly working with the Fifth and the Sixth, but they hadn’t combined their efforts entirely yet. She had been more occupied in caring for the tender thing between her and her cavalier.
It had started with Gideon confronting her.
“The Eighth says there was no creche flu.” She had said, when Harrow entered their rooms. “What the fuckity fuck does that mean?”
Harrow had been caught off guard. “I…” She started.
Gideon glared at her. “Start talking, Gloom Mistress.”
Harrow had wordlessly led her to the pool and let it all fall out between them. Gideon had not reacted like Harrow had suspected (a slap maybe or a kindhearted drowning) Instead she had taken Harrow’s face in her palms and recited the cavalier pledge.
Of course, Harrow had ruined it with talks of the Body, but she tried not to think of that.
After that, things were comfortably nice between them. Gideon slept on the cavalier cot, she brought Harrow food, she practically trailed her everywhere. It made Harrow feel uncomfortably right. Like this was meant to happen.
Then Ianthe Tridentarius had attempted to murder her cavalier.
She would have gotten away with it, if not for the Fourth. They had been lurking around, like they were known to do, and seen her draw his rapier. According to Isaac, Jeannemary had launched herself onto Ianthe, who had no skill with the sword and was caught by the element of surprise.
There had been a bit of a kerfuffle, injuring the Eighth and destroying their skelton servants. Eventually, they managed to subdue Ianthe and everyone gathered to discuss the conclusion she had come to.
Somehow she had reverse engineered the previously sealed up trials and decided Naberius must die. The Sixth had been disgusted, but parts of her research had struck them as useful.
“She’s not wrong about the soul stuff.” Palamades had said thoughtfully. “It makes sense that's the fuel for lyctorhood. But she’s approaching it wrong. The two souls should be connected somehow.”
That had devolved into a discussion of everything they had put together (mostly involving the Fifth, Sixth and Ninth, though Ianthe had a couple thoughts. Mostly, ‘This is boring and I already figured out a perfectly good way.’) From there, they met everyday, pooling their knowledge and learnings.
It was unlike anything Harrow had ever done.
It, like Gideon’s attention, felt strangely right.
In the end it came down to this. The two souls must be bound together. This was done by connecting them each to a ring and exchanging those rings. The rings were not exactly vessels to hold the souls long term, but ways to seep the soul into the other nonviolently. There also had to be an exchange of blood, and vows. The vows were more of a necessary precaution, but they reflected the main ingredient of the lyctoral potion.
That had been mostly Abigail’s doing. She had read thousands of lyctoral papers and found glimpses of the truth.
Plus, the law.
The only universal law across the Houses was that cavaliers and necromancers could not marry. It was punishable by death, and had been created by the Emperor before he disappeared into the stars.
As Teacher had said, there were no rules in the First House. That meant the one law that had haunted Abigail Pent’s life was gone, null.
Harrow could only guess how freeing it felt.
From there it was the simple matter of putting together a theorem. Palamedes based it off of one he had created to bind his soul to his dead body, if it ever came down to it. It only took so long because they wanted to get it right.
And they had.
Harrow embarked on the next step of her plan.
She found Magnus Quinn in the kitchen, cooking dinner. The teens were helping, though it seemed like they were throwing stuff at each other, more than cutting. Magnus was humming an unfamiliar song and looked rather at home.
Harrow felt weird intruding.
“Ninth!” He said, looking up. “Have you come to help?”
The teens snickered. Harrow ignored them.
“I’m afraid I’ve come for a favor instead.”
Magnus gestured for her to come closer. He was making soup, which Harrow had attempted once and decided to never attempt again. It was aromatic and bubbling.
“What can I do for you?” He asked, dropping vegetables into the broth.
She shifted slightly. “Well I was wondering… see it’s…” She sighed and tried again. “Gideon doesn’t have a birthday perhaps, but she’s always celebrated the day she was found. It’s coming up, in a week. I was wondering if you could make her a meal.”
Magnus looked at her for the first time. Harrow immediately noticed that his eyes were slightly off. One was a shade lighter brown then the other. She glanced at his hand, there was a mother of pearl ring on it.
“I would love to.” He said with a grin. “On one condition, you help cook it.”
Harrow made a face. “I think that might ruin it-”
“Nonsense! I can make a cook out of everyone, right Isaac?” (The boy in question made a face. “Dooon’t mention me, Magnus.”) Magnus ignored him. “I taught Isaac to cook when he was very young. Jeannemary too.” (“Stoppp.” She hissed.) “We’ll pick her favorite foods and I’ll teach you how to cook them.” Magnus continued, “She’ll appreciate it more if you help. It’ll taste better, too. They always say love is the secret ingredient, eh?”
Harrow blushed and hid it with a scowl. “Thank you.” She said quietly.
Magnus put a hand on her shoulder. “Of course, Harrow. Anything for you, yeah?”
She didn’t know how to answer this, so she didn’t. She let Magnus get caught up in his soup again, then went to find the Third.
Coronabeth Tridentarius was talking in hushed tones to Naberius Tern in the pool room. They were both dressed to swim, Naberius displaying his obnoxious abs, Corona her obnoxious boobs.
Harrow watched them warily, then stepped inside.
“May I talk to you?” She asked Coronabeth, ignoring the glares she was getting from Naberius.
She looked up and nodded. She seemed more subdued than normal, her eyes glossy.
Harrow led her into the secret hallway Gideon had discovered. There was a door at the end, but it was unopenable.
“I was wondering if you could throw a party next week.” Harrow said.
Immediately the girl cheered up. “A wedding party perhaps?” She asked, a glint in her eyes.
Harrow frowned. “No. It’s Nav’s birthday and I want her to have a celebration.” Then, laying it on thick, she said, “She’s never had a birthday party before.”
Coronabeth’s eyes widened. “We’ll have to change that then!” She smiled and nodded at Harrow. “It’ll be perfect, thank you for trusting me with this.”
Harrow eyed her warily and said her goodbyes.
Next she visited Dulcinea Septimus.
The woman was lying in her bed, reading a trashy novel to Palamedes Sextus. He seemed lost in thought as she spoke.
Harrow poked her head in and immediately disrupted the scene.
“Harrow!” Said Dulcinea. “How nice it is to see you!”
Palamedes startled out of his daze and stood. “I’ll go.”
“No, please stay.” Said Harrow, and before she could even think about what she had said, she continued, “I want you to hear my plans as well.”
He sat down and gestured to the chair across from him. It was obviously Gideon’s chair. It was molded to her ass, and a dirty magazine sat in it.
“I’m throwing a celebration for Nav.” She said. “I was wondering if you could sing at it, Dulcinea? Gideon says you have a lovely voice.”
The woman perked up. “Can I sing anything?”
Harrow, who knew only church songs, said, “Yes?”
Dulcinea’s eyes glistened in a way that made Harrow fear. “I will. Oh how fun!” She said, then started to rummage in a box besides her bed.
“You’ve unleashed a beast.” Palamedes said, not unkindly. “Is there anything I can do?”
Harrow had only one more piece to put together for Gideon’s birthday. It did not involve Palamedes Sextus.
“Can you keep her from figuring it out? I have Coronabeth on party duty, Magnus on food, Dulcinea on entertainment and Camilla is helping me with a surprise. If she learns any part…”
He nodded, looking thoughtful. “I’ll do my best.”
“Maybe enlist the teens.” Harrow said. “She loves spending time with them.”
The two settled back into whatever weird rhythm they had, and Harrow went to start the final task.
“Second.” She said, when Judith Deuteros opened the door. “I have a favor to ask.”
Judith looked vaguely annoyed. “What is it?” She asked impatiently.
Harrow shifted awkwardly. “Do you think you could build me a standard infantry sword, a two hander?”
It was the day of the party and Harrow was a ball of nerves.
There was only one thing left to do, and it made her more nervous then she had ever been.
She knocked on the Third’s door.
Ianthe opened it, eyeing her. “Corona isn’t here.”
“I know. I need… your help.”
Ianthe raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t left her rooms in days, seemingly depressed over her circumstance. Gideon had asked Corona if she planned to ascend in her sister's place, which had revealed the fact that Coronabeth Tridentarius was not a necromancer.
“What do you want?” She drawled, but she let Harrow inside.
“A outfit.” Harrow said. “One that’s versatile, I need to be able to move, but… pretty. Party clothing.”
Ianthe looked her up and down. “Hmph.” She said and moved to her wardrobe.
It was filled with thrilly, pale colored clothing. Ianthe muttered to herself as she looked through it. “BABS.” She yelled eventually.
Babs, who Harrow had not realized allowed himself to be alone with the Princess, came out of the bathroom.
“What?” He said curtly, then noticed Harrow. “What is she doing here?”
Ianthe ignored him. “I need your help. She wants a party outfit.”
Now they were both examining her, like she was an oddity. Harrow was regretting the entire endeavor.
“This is for the Ninth’s birthday party?” Naberius asked.
“We’ll make you something.”
Harrow watched them riffle through the wardrobe, finally deciding on a couple of fabrics to combine. She objected to the color, gold, but Ianthe said it would match Gideon’s eyes. She blushed, then allowed herself to be measured.
It was unlike anything she had ever worn. It had a high neck, but open arms. It was like a dress, except it turned into pant legs. The whole thing was soft and light.
Ianthe and Naberius looked satisfied at their work.
“How about her hair?” Naberius asked. Harrow had let it grow long. Ianthe considered this.
“Braid it?” She said. “French braid, single.”
Naberius agreed, and before Harrow could say anything, was braiding her hair. They put threads of gold into it and pronounced her alright.
“You’re going to ruin it with all of your bones and paint, aren’t you?” Ianthe asked, exasperated.
Harrow shook her head. ”No. Not for Gideon’s birthday.”
Ianthe raised an eyebrow. “I can’t believe you aren’t sporting a gold eye already.”
She furrowed her eyebrows. “I can’t.” She had gotten sick of saying that, but everyone demanded it of her.
Ianthe just rolled her eyes and pushed her out of their rooms.
Harrow arrived at the party first. It looked great, of course. Corona was a master. She settled into her spot and waited.
Jeannemary was under strict orders to dress Gideon up, without her paint. The food was prepared, Harrow had helped with half of it. Even Gideon’s gift was ready, sitting on the seat marked for Gideon.
The final piece, the roof, had been dealt with earlier. Harrow had laid out a blanket and a basket of pastries.
Now all she needed was the girl.
The others arrived first, marveling at how great everything looked, and milled around. Teacher struck up a conversation about Ninth birthday traditions (there weren’t any).
Then Gideon arrived.
She was wearing black, but a clean black that couldn’t be found in the Ninth. She had a crisp white shirt on, with a short tie formed into a bow. She was wearing a black jacket with gold edges. Her face was painted, but not as a skull. Black paint rimmed her eyes and someone had spread gold sparkles across her cheeks.
Harrow ached to touch her. She got up and met her cavalier at the door.
“Harrow?!” Gideon exclaimed. “What is this?”
From behind her, Jeannemary and Isaac tittered.
“Happy birthday.” She said.
Gideon looked at her with wide eyes. “You… all this? For me?”
Harrow smiled slightly and wiped her sweaty hands against her dress pants. “Yes. Do you like it?”
Gideon was gobsmacked. “Like it? Harrow I fucking love it!”
Then Dulcinea started singing, and the party started.
As Dulcinea sang dirty, dirty things, Gideon pulled her onto the makeshift dance floor. The others joined them, creating a rainbow of clothing and faces. Harrow could only see Gideon, her smile wide and uncontrollable.
Their hands were connected as Gideon spun her around. Harrow felt ecstatic, was ecstatic. Dancing with Gideon was so easy, it felt like they had done it a million times. It felt right, actually, so right that Harrow never wanted to leave that moment.
But one song turned into five, turned into ten, and Dulcinea needed a break.
Palamedes Sextus started to play a string instrument, and Harrow led Gideon to the table.
“I got you something else.” She whispered, unable to contain her happiness.
Gideon squeezed her hand.
When she saw what waited for her on her chair, she started laughing.
Harrow hadn’t exactly expected that, but she figured it wasn’t the worst response she could have gotten. “What’s so funny?” She asked.
Gideon looked at her and she had tears in her eyes. “Harrow!” She gasped. “I snuck my two hander into Canaan House!” Harrow blinked slowly. Gideon couldn't stop laughing. “I now have,” She gasped for air. “Two two handers!”
The Second glared at her, but Harrow ignored it. Instead she started to laugh alongside Gideon, until she could no longer breath as well. The others let them wear themselves out, then Magnus said, “Food anyone?”
Harrow placed Gideon in the seat of honor, then sat across from her. Everyone was at the party, even the unfortunate Eighth, but she had arranged the seats so that Gideon was surrounded by her favorite people. Harrow hoped Gideon didn’t mind that she had included herself among those.
The teens served the first course. Harrow and Magnus had put together a four course meal, filled with things they thought Gideon would like, and things they knew she loved.
“Harrow, want to tell her?” Magnus asked from her left.
Harrow blushed. Without her paint, she knew it was painfully obvious. “I helped cook this.” She said, poking at it with her fork.
Gideon gaped at her. “Harrow, what the fuck.” She said, and Harrow bristled. “You’re amazing!” Gideon said reverently.
Her red deepened and she focused on her food. They had made a plainer version of everything for her, though she was certain she wouldn’t get passed course two.
After awhile, she looked up and found that Gideon had already finished. She was talking to Camilla about something excitedly, but sensing Harrow’s gaze, looked at her and beamed.
“You’re amazing.” Gideon repeated.
The dinner continued wonderfully. Gideon wolfed down each thing placed in front of her and asked Harrow how she made it. Mostly she had to defer to Magnus, really she hadn’t done as much as he said, but it was nice telling her things.
The whole table was alive with conversation. It was mostly meaningless subjects, but Harrow found that’s what she liked most. She smiled and told Gideon about her week, discussed the novel Dulcinea was forcing them all to read, and laughed at Magnus’s terrible jokes.
Between the third and fourth course, Magnus got up and danced with his wife.
Wife. What an odd thing.
They barely talked about the theorem, which Harrow was thankful for. She had never discussed it with Gideon, but she knew it wouldn’t turn out well. She didn’t want to hear that the other girl couldn’t love her, as she had fallen deeper and deeper into love.
When the courses were over, Gideon looked around expectantly. “I hope you didn’t forget dessert.” She joked.
Harrow shook her head. “It’s somewhere else.”
She took Gideon’s hand and led her out of the party. Everyone waved goodbye and continued to celebrate without them.
They walked hand in hand through the silent hallways. Gideon didn’t even say a word, even when Harrow led her to the open window.
“It’s a bit of a climb.” She said. An understatement.
Once they had gotten the climb down, Camilla had decided it would be for the best if they put up a couple rope ladders. Harrow agreed. She didn’t want Gideon to fall to her death.
Gideon followed her up the ladders, there were five in total, and didn’t say a word until they reached the highest roof of Canaan House.
Harrow had timed it perfectly. The sun was starting to set, showing an explosion of colors.
Gideon whistled. “Hell of a place to propose, Nonagesimus.”
The color left Harrow’s face. “What?” She said weakly.
Gideon sat down on the blanket, pulling Harrow with her.
Gideon’s face was slightly concerned, as she studied Harrow’s. “Did I get it wrong?” She asked. “I thought this was a… a proposal. We never talked about it so I assumed that you’d...” She cut herself off. “Oh fuck.”
Harrow grasped for something to say and came up empty handed.
She put up a hand and said, “Let me compose some words?”
Gideon nodded and opened the basket Harrow had left up there. It was filled with pastries the teens had baked. She munched as Harrow thought over everything.
She had assumed Gideon never loved her. How could she? Harrow was a war crime, a genocide, the product of desperation and cruelty. Worse, Harrow had made Gideon’s life living hell. She had apologized in the pool, but it wasn’t enough. She’d never make it up to her.
“I thought you couldn’t love me.” Harrow said carefully.
Gideon choked on her pastry. “What the fuck? What gave you that idea?” When Harrow only looked at her with confusion, Gideon continued. “I’ve been in love with you this entire time. God Harrow, would you throw a party like this for anyone?”
Harrow shook her head quickly. “No! I love you too, I just thought… well I hoped you might love me platonically one day, but I never thought you could be… I just wanted you to know how loved you were.”
Gideon smiled at her. It was soft and inviting. “You idiot.” She said. “I’ve wanted to get cavalier primarried to you this entire time.”
Harrow would have pushed her if they weren’t on the roof. “Oh.” She said.
Gideon gently took her hand. “I thought you could only love the Body. Today gave me hope and… well I’m glad to see I didn’t hope in vain.”
Harrow smiled, because she couldn’t contain the happiness she felt. Gideon loved her. She loved her!
Gideon inched closer so that they were almost kissing.
“You look so pretty when you smile.” She said, then amended. “You always look pretty.”
Harrow kissed her.
She had never kissed anyone before. Neither had Gideon. It was a fucking mess.
She loved it.
Gideon adjusted until she was in a better position and then, oh. Harrow wished she had been kissing Gideon this entire time.
“I’m such an idiot.” She said into Gideon’s mouth.
“Yeah, pretty much.” Gideon said.
They kissed until the sun disappeared and the moon came out above them.
“We should sleep here tonight.” Gideon said. “You can build a bone fence or something.”
Harrow considered this, looking at the blush on Gideon’s face.
“Yes.” She agreed. “Do you want to… get married?”
Gideon laughed and pushed her. She luckily pulled her back before Harrow could go tumbling. “Of course, my Bone Empress.”
Harrow pulled out the rings. She had been carrying them with her since they figured out the theorem.
“Now?” Gideon said, then smiled. “I guess my birthday can be our anniversary too.”
Harrow blushed a deep red. Our.
She went to work binding their souls to the rings. Gideon got the mother of pearl, Harrow the obsidian oil spill. When she was done, she handed the one with Gideon’s soul to her.
“Vows?” She asked.
Gideon looked at her with those beautiful gold eyes. “One flesh, one end, bitch.”
She slipped the ring onto Harrow’s finger. It sent a sharp shock up her body, then settled into her body like the warmth of a fire.
“One flesh, one end.” Harrow agreed, and slipped the mother of pearl ring onto Gideon’s finger. Then she carefully pin pricked the insides of both of their mouths, and kissed her wife.