The Boy from the Avaskance

The sun abandoned the sky. Afternoon shadows crept and coalesced, pulling a dusk-grey blanket over the room. Molna pressed Addam’s coat to her face, seeking the faint traces of him still laced in its seams. His small feet pattered down the hall, across floorboards–in another time. His happy squeal was but a whisper, an echo remembered in the walls.

His leather boots stood empty beside his bedroom door. There was no soldier to march them up and down the front step, no explorer to climb them up the great oak behind the house. The wagon-wheel swing hanging from the old tree was as still as the branch supporting it.

She pulled the shawl around her shoulders and went to the door, imagining she’d heard a knock. On her doorstep stood a poor child, more skeleton than boy.

His pale skin was taut, its cracks traced with grime. Memories of clothing hung from him, old rags stained by grass and earth. A strip of cloth tied around his head covered one eye. He stared up at her with the other, a carnival carving come alive.

Behind him, the road through the glade was empty. No cart or rider coming up from Riversbend; nor from the other direction, where the road curved back into the forest. Next door, the home of the captain and his wife was silent. Across the road, the Olwens’ place was similarly still, save a single candle, lighting an empty dinner table in their front room. Naught stirred but the dead leaves, raked by the chill breeze growing colder each night.

“Oh, dear child,” she said. “Come in out of the cold.”

She ushered him inside. He headed straight for the armchair, dragging a small sack behind him. It was as ragged as he: a tattered rope net, held together by frayed knots. His eye fell on Addam’s coat.

“No!” She pushed past him and snatched it up, placed it on the mantel above the fireplace.

“Here.” She gave him the shawl, gently pushed him into the chair. “What’s your name?”

He looked up at her, but said nothing.

“Where are you from?”

He stared at her. Through her. Touched by the slowest god, perhaps. She felt his cheek and forehead. No fever, mercifully, but his skin was cold. She pulled the shawl tight around him,

then stepped into the pantry.

“When did you last eat?” She cleared her lunch scraps from the wooden serving board and began filling it for the boy. She cut thick slices from a wheel of cheese, tore a chunk of bread from the fresher loaf, and poured a beaker of small beer.

“Fill your belly,” she said, dragging a side-table to the armchair. “I’ll get a nice fire going to warm your bones.”

She knelt at the hearth and struck one of the matches against the stone. “I’m sorry I don’t have one started already. I tend not to think of it of an evening. Not since it’s only me here.”

When she’d coaxed the flames up the logs, she turned to find him still watching her. His eye drifted once more to Addam’s coat.

“It’s my son’s,” she said. “He’d have been close to you in age, now. A season or two behind, perhaps. He wasn’t six springs when…” She turned away. Her hands went to the coat. “This was all red once, can you believe it?” She pointed to a lonely red swathe in the tapestry of blues and blacks and browns. “I found it on an old Venochian wagon. It wasn’t much to speak of then, either. Torn at the seams. Too thin for winter. Too thick for summer. But red was Addam’s favourite colour, so I took a needle and thread to it.” She traced a band of stitching with her

fingers. “He loved it so. And wore it always. The demons he’d raise whenever I took it…well, I sewed and patched this thing so many times that the original is…it’s…all gone.” She pressed it to her lips, folded it carefully and placed it back on the mantel. “But listen to me, going on! Eat, child. Truly, you look so poorly.”

Perhaps he couldn’t understand her. He was clearly foreign; she’d never seen his like. Not skin so white, nor an eye so black that pupil and iris were one.

“Where is your mother?” she tried. “Your father?”

He hadn’t set his rope sack down since coming inside. Even now, settled in the chair, he kept it on his lap. The holes in it were such that its contents were laid bare: an old, worn boy’s cap; a wooden flute; a stitched leather ball.

“Have you any family at all?”

The boy stood suddenly, ignoring the falling shawl and hoisting the sack over his shoulder. He headed for the front door—she’d forgotten to close it—and he was outside before she caught up and blocked his path.

“Where are you going? To your home?”

Still he did not speak.

“Do you live nearby?”

The boy’s eye settled on the house beside hers.

“The captain!” she nodded. “He’ll know what to do.”

Groaning iron hinges cried Karolyn’s return, snapping Henri from his reverie.

“Husband?” she called.

“Coming!” He quickly put the wooden toys in the trunk and shoved it back under the bed.

He stood too fast and fell against the wall, unable to breathe as searing bolts of pain pulsed from spine to hip to leg. Only when his body had settled back to its usual dull ache did he risk a careful step toward the door.

Even now, as the first leaves turned for the late-autumns of his life, the old wound had lost none of its bite. Across all the miles and all the seasons since, the Venoch was still reaching out from his grave, his ghostly blade forever finding its mark.

Henri limped out to find Karolyn unpacking the sack she’d taken with her to Riversbend.

She kept her eyes locked on the vegetables.

Perhaps if he made some pretense, some casual remark about searching for one of his tools in there…

No. A clumsy lie would only hurt her more. She knew what drew him in there when the hour was quiet. Even hidden, buried beneath the bed, the wooden toys loomed in the silence.

He’d carved both himself, during the first spring here in their new home. A barrow for a son, a finch for a daughter: whichever the gods decided to bless them with first.

The gods chose neither.

The toys were relics now, like everything else in the room: tributes to blessings never received.

At some point they’d stopped calling it the nursery; stopped saying when. It became a void in their home, a corner where they left their dreams to die in dusty trunks. The bonnets and booties Karolyn had knitted, the hand-me-downs from their neighbours, the cradle he’d built: one by one, they’d all been quietly surrendered to that hole. Then one winter night, one fallow season too many, Karolyn’s eyes had turned to the nightstand, where the barrow and the finch stood patiently awaiting their charges. The tears came so suddenly, so violently, that he’d feared her bones might break.

“I thought you’d lost your way in the woods.” He softly kissed her forehead.

“We were stopped for inspection three times,” she said. “Once as we left Riversbend, then twice on the road. All on account of some Venochian leathers Jon received at the market.”

“Oh?”

“It was absurd. They went all over his cart. Gods know where they imagined he might hide an actual Venoch on there.” She cocked an eyebrow. “If only I’d had my husband secreted in my sack, to wave in their officious faces.”

He laughed, then: “You don’t ever regret it, do you? Wish I’d said yes?”

“No. I wanted my husband back.” She placed her hands on his chest. “And even though we didn’t get everything we hoped for here…I’m happy. We’re happy.” It was a question.

He closed his hands around hers. “You alone were all I ever needed.”

She kissed him and withdrew, wiping the beginnings of a tear. “Oh, but the stew will be so late now.”

He held onto her hand as she stepped away, until her fingers slipped from his. For all the damage it had done, the Venoch’s blade hadn’t cut him anywhere near as deeply as the shame in Karolyn’s sweet, sad eyes. That she could still think herself a failure as a wife, as a woman…

There was blame to be had, but she held claim to none of it. It was his sins that had been repaid upon their house. The gods didn’t care that he’d had no choice. They watched and named him crocodile as he cried streams into the creek, down behind the stark-lilies, where he retreated whenever the faces and the screams began to drown him. Or the gods simply did not see him at all: their view obstructed by all the fathers, brothers and sons he’d sent back to them.

He’d prayed every night as they’d turned this reclaimed Venochian building into a home, pressing all his love and hopes into every groove, every joint, every nail. But the blood on his hands stained everything they built.

There was a knock at the door.

“Captain?” Molna, from next door. “Captain, are you at home?”

Henri rolled his eyes at Karolyn. She patted his shoulder as he limped over to answer.

His uniform was the deepest buried item in the corner room, but the neighbours had always considered him their local officer. Even after the local vigiltower was built down the road, he continued to be their first call.

“I’m sorry to bother you at supper time,” Molna said when he opened the door. “But…”

A sickly-looking boy strolled inside, as though invited.

“Who is this?” Henri said.

“I’ve no idea. He just appeared at my door and hasn’t spoken a word. Isn’t he peculiar? Where could he have come from?”

“He’s one of the Ijari,” Henri said.

Karolyn gasped.

The boy’s one eye locked on Henri.

“Oh, I knew you’d make sense of it all!” Molna clapped.

Karolyn gently touched the boy’s matted silver hair. “What’s your name, dear?”

He looked up at her but said nothing.

“I don’t think he understands,” Molna said.

“He should,” Henri said. “Eubic is the native tongue of most Ijari tribes, too.” He knelt before the boy. “He’s a very long way from home.”

“He’s alone?” Karolyn asked, stroking his hair.

“I fear so,” Molna said. “He made to leave, but…I didn’t know if he was going home, if he was lost…I just didn’t know what to do.”

“In either event, it’s too dark out there now,” Henri said.

“We should keep him here,” Karolyn said. “So he’s in the one place if anyone’s looking for him.”

“I suppose,” Henri said. “And I can always take him into Riversbend in the morning.”

“Are you sure?” Molna said. “I wasn’t looking to lay burden at your doorstep, I just…”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Karolyn grinned. “Leave him with us.”

Henri shifted one pile of junk atop another until he’d cleared the bed and nightstand. He fluffed the pillow and turned down the furs before returning to the front room.

Karolyn had installed the Ijari boy beside the fire with a bowl of stew, and was currently seeing to the cushions at his back. When she reached for the sack on his lap he recoiled from her, tucking it behind him.

“That’s all right,” she soothed. “You keep it with you.”

She caught Henri staring as she headed back to the oven. “Yes?”

He tucked one of her curls behind her ear. “You make a fine mother.”

Her smile faltered. She stepped into his arms, resting her head on his chest so she could watch the boy. “He’s so malnourished,” she whispered. “And pale.”

“The sun barely touches your skin in the Avaskance. There’s a permanent grey veil across the sky. Though, indeed, I’m not sure I ever saw one as pale as he.”

“Do you think he was there when…?” Her fingers clenched on his back. “No. He couldn’t have been more than a babe at teet back then.”

The boy was staring into the fire, focused on some distant point beyond the flames. With his wizened skin and desiccated frame, he could easily have hidden among the sculptures of the ancients in the Treegate cathedral.

“Born of wandering refugees, most like,” Henri said. “I’m sure one of the vigiltowers will have news of other Ijari in the area. I can’t imagine he ended up this far south all on his own.” The last was for her benefit. It was, in truth, all too easy to imagine.

In the final winters of the war, when the last Venochian fleets were driven from the sea, they retreated inland, cutting and burning all they’d ruled over as they went. When the joint forces of the Ordsus Accord collided with them in the Avaskance, the simple folk of those cold and dusty plains had been caught between. Seas of blood and fire flooded their lands, and the tides washed the Ijari away.

“You’re there again, aren’t you?” Karolyn’s hand was on his cheek.

Henri blinked back a tear. The boy was watching him.

“Come!” Henri forced a smile. “Let’s show the young master to his quarters.”

“Captain!” A hammering fist shook the front door. “Captain! Mrs. Pidus!”

Henri struggled out of bed, kicking free of the furs. He answered the door to Molna; she was hysterical in the predawn grey.

“Where is he?” she demanded.

“Who?”

“That boy!”

“What’s wrong?” Karolyn joined them, wrapping herself in her robe.

“Addam’s coat is gone! That boy has taken it!”

“What?” Henri said. “No, surely you’ve just misplaced it.”

“It was on my bed as I lay down to sleep last night and now it’s gone! It was him, I know it! He was eyeing it the whole time he was in my home! Bring him out!”

“Calm yourself.” Henri caught her frantic hands. “I’ll check now. Then Karolyn and I will come over with you and we’ll all look together. I’m sure it’s just fallen somewhere.”

Karolyn slid an arm around her. “Breathe, Molna. Shh. That’s it. We’ll find it.”

Molna reluctantly surrendered to Karolyn’s care. Henri went to the corner room.

The boy wasn’t inside.

The bed was still freshly turned down, undisturbed, just as Henri had prepared it the night before. The untouched bowl of stew sat congealing on the nightstand.

Henri returned to the front door. “I, he’s…gone.”

Molna slipped from Karolyn’s arms and wailed.

Across the road, Jon Olwen came out of his house. “What’s wrong over there?” s

“Thief!” Molna cried.

“What?” Jon ran across to them.

“Last night, a beggar boy!” Molna said.

“The one lingering yesterday? But I only just saw…” Jon’s face paled. “Sarra! Sarra!”

His wife appeared in the doorway of the Olwens’ home.

“Check the house!” Jon said. “That boy that called on us was a thief!”

Sarra disappeared back inside.

Jon pointed to the line of trees behind Henri’s house. “I saw him heading for the creek not a half hour ago.”

“Did he have Addam’s coat?” Molna said.

“Too dark,” Jon shrugged. “But he had that sack with him. I thought nothing of seeing him still about. Figured he’d just called on the Captain and…oh, my stock!” He dashed back across the road and ripped the tartan cover from his cart.

“Jon!” Sarra burst from the house. “The girls’ dolls are gone!”

“The devil!” Jon spat.

“Wait!” Karolyn said. “We don’t know for certain he’s taken anything!”

“I might have known,” Sarra said. “He had an unsavoury look, that one. And much too curious about the girls’ bedroom.”

“But he was with us all night,” Karolyn said. “We never heard him leave. And we haven’t been burgled.”

“You may want to check again,” Sarra said.

“I’ll flog him!” Jon grabbed a riding crop from his cart, cut the air with several vicious slashes. “How about it, Captain? He can’t be far.”

Karolyn’s hand seized Henri’s arm. The panic in her fingers bore into his skin.

“I’ll go,” Henri said. “You all wait here.”

“But your back?” Jon said.

“It improves with a night’s rest.” Henri stretched to his full height. “Also, I’m the only one here who can arrest him.”

No one would question the lie. It was they, after all, who refused to accept he’d ever retired.

“Right you are, Captain.” Jon surrendered the riding crop to him.

“Stay calm, and wait for my return,” Henri said. “We’ll sort this matter out.”

“Someone ought fetch the vigilats, too,” Sarra said.

“Yes!” Jon was sprinting off into the fog before Henri could say otherwise.

“I’ll get your coat and boots.” Karolyn hurried back inside.

Henri hadn’t realized he was still in his night-clothes. Suddenly he was aware of the ice air biting his flesh.

“Please hurry,” Molna said as she and Karolyn helped him into his boots. “Without his coat, Addam is utterly lost to me.”

“Yes, be swift, my love.” Karolyn glanced between he and the line of trees that had swallowed Jon.

Henri acknowledged the plea in her eyes with a quick nod and set off.

Henri was ready to collapse by the time he caught sight of the boy. He saw the sack first: it was bobbing and weaving through the stark-lilies carpeting the rocky bank of the creek.

“You there! Stop!” Henri summoned one last sprint from his aching body.

The boy glanced back as Henri came stumbling down, but didn’t stop. The rope sack had swelled since the previous night. A patchwork sleeve now dangled from one of the holes.

Henri seized him by the arm. It was a twig. “The coat,” he said, gulping air. “Hand it over.”

The boy looked at the riding crop. Henri hadn’t realized it was still in his hand. The boy dropped his shoulders and squared his back, set his eye on the rocks below. He waited patiently, swaying softly with the stark-lilies. They stayed that way several moments, until Henri realized what was happening.

“What, you think…?” Henri dropped the riding crop like it had bitten him. “No, child. I’m not going to beat you.” He grabbed at the sack instead.

The boy held firm as Henri tried to extract the coat. The other items inside were of similarly dubious value. Nothing the boy might trade or sell. No jewels, no finery. Just a leather ball…a child’s cap…a flute…a rag doll…a wooden barrow and finch.

“You stole from us, too? After we took you in?” Henri yanked harder on the bag.

The boy stumbled. His knee hit the rocks with a crack. He did not cry out, did not let go of the sack.

“Gods.” Henri went to his aid.

With his help, the boy righted himself. Both legs, sticks though they were, appeared to be fine.

“Listen to me,” Henri said. “The laws are different here. Thieving’s a serious crime, even for things such as these. You’d be in serious trouble if you were found out.” He lifted the boy’s chin. “Do you understand?”

If he did, he didn’t care. There was no fear in that empty stare. No hope.

As sure as autumn bows to winter, this boy had known war. Henri could see the deep crack in his soul. It fractured the light in that small, exhausted eye. It was unmistakable: Henri had seen the same broken glass in every mirror since the Avaskance.

And he’d seen this boy before. Many more times than his heart could ever bear to count.

He’d seen him in the blackened Avaskani villages, wandering alone amongst the scorched homes and funeral pyres; in the wagons rolling east, cradled in the arms of whoever was alive to take him; in a hundred mass graves, where Ijari children lay squashed between strange men from other lands, their small ashen faces staring up into oblivion.

Henri suddenly couldn’t breathe. He tried a steadying step. Fell hard on his arse.

At least he’d marked all his early-summers before the winters turned red. Before red was the only colour in his dreams. The moonlit wagon rides, the rhythm of the axle as Father recounted the lives of gods and which stars were their homes. The hot summer evenings in the marsh Mother forbade them visit, where Jarik and he chased waivils through the reeds until the sun fell behind the mountain. His first kiss with Karolyn behind the cedar tree at the bottom of the garden, hidden from the parlour windows and her parents beyond. Those memories, etched into his heart, had kept one small candle alight when the darkness swallowed everything else.

What time could there possibly have been in this poor boy’s life to wax such a candle? Here stood the shadow of a child, clinging to a bag filled with the childhoods of others. Indeed, the only spirit left in him was the determination to not surrender those stolen memories.

“Take the barrow and bird,” Henri said. “Just give me what you took from the others.”

The boy’s attention drifted over Henri’s shoulder, to the fog-wrapped trees above. Two lights had appeared on high.

“Hurry, now!” Henri tried to wrest free the coat and the girls’ dolls.

But the more he tugged at the tangle of rope, the tighter it closed. He tossed the sack over and over, jerked it this way and that. The boy gave no quarter.

“Stubborn, foolish boy!” Henri said. “They’ll hang you!”

Horses’ hooves thundered above. The lights–two lanterns swinging in the mist–closed in.

“They’re upon us!” Henri said, still unable to free a single item from the tangled rope and the boy’s grip. “Fine, then!” Henri let go. “Go! Get out of here!”

The boy took a couple of steps back and reached for his eye patch. He pulled the strip of cloth around his scalp, revealing a dark hole where his other eye had once been. The skin around it was charred, adding to the black void swallowing his small face. He pulled the sash over his good eye, covering it completely.

“What are you about now?” Henri said. “Quickly, off with you!”

Horses whinnied as they were reined in overhead.

“You down there!” someone called.

Henri could only see the lanterns. Hopefully, visibility was as poor from their vantage.

The boy was on his way now, but in no hurry. And the fool child was still blindfolded–believing, no doubt, he was invisible while ever he himself could not see.

The lanterns dismounted. Sabres rattled in scabbards. “You, in the blue coat!”

The way the boy dragged his feet, they were sure to see him when they reached the creek. Henri scrambled up the incline to intercept them, his useless hip playing saboteur all the way.

Two vigilats issued from the fog. One thrust his lantern in Henri’s face. “Name yourself!”

“Bronis, you dog’s whore,” the other said. “Put that down. Don’t you know who this is?”

“Should I?”

“That’s Captain Pidus, of the 4th Spears!”

Bronis jerked the lantern back. “Forgive me, sir!” He snapped erect. “I didn’t…that is—”

“Easy, friend,” Henri said. “I’m not a captain anymore.”

“I would shake the hand of a hero,” the other said, offering his own.

There were no heroes, Henri nearly said, as he did to every man who extended a hand, or insisted on buying at the alehouse (right before someone started singing The 4th Went North). “An honour, Captain,” Bronis said, shaking Henri’s hand in turn.

“We’re after a thief,” the other vigilat said. “A boy, headed down-creek. Has anyone passed you this morning?”

“No. I sought him too,” Henri said. “But no sign of him that way. I was headed home.”

“This fog!” Bronis spat. “Like as not, we’ve passed him already.”

“Or he’s slithered off into the brush,” the other said, waving his lantern at the wall of twisted, ancient trunks on the opposing bank. “These woods are true friends to snakes.”

“Still too suited to the former landowners, eh, Captain?” Bronis winked.

“It’s a fool’s errand from here,” Henri nodded.

“We’re sorry, Captain,” said the other. “Did he get much from you?”

“Nothing I need anymore.”

“That’s as well, then. Come,” Bronis clasped Henri’s shoulder. “Let us take you home.”

Henri stood at the window the following evening, watching Jon and Molna unload her market purchases from his cart. They went about it like string puppets in a grim performance: arms and legs busied themselves while heads drooped lifelessly above.

“You saved that boy’s life,” Karolyn said behind him.

“And gutted what little remained of theirs.”

“You made the best choice you could.”

“I always did,” Henri sighed. “And ever was it this way. No saving one without—”

Something dashed past the window, a black-brown blur. It crashed into Molna, throwing small arms around her waist. Her eyes bulged down at the child clinging to her. She slowly reached for his head with trembling hands. Her fingers gingerly tested the black curls…then plunged in, pulling the boy into her belly.

She turned her face to the sky and cried.

Henri’s heart quickened. The back of the boy loomed before him, every detail as sharp as through looking-glass. The tattered old coat. The grey velour pants. Just as Addam had looked as the lid closed. Before they lowered the box into the ground, and Henri struck shovel to dirt, and Molna screamed that awful scream and dived into the hole because she couldn’t let him go, wouldn’t let him go, so Henri dropped the shovel and held her while she held her boy, helped her take the coat off that small, cold—

“What’s happening?” Karolyn joined him at the window.

Her hand nearly crushed the bones in his.

“No,” Henri said, before she thought it too. Because it wasn’t happening. It wasn’t possible.

But Jon was out there too and he was looking at the boy’s face, and his wide eyes said it is happening. And then Jon’s head swiveled around, because something else caught his attention, something that brought him to his knees.

Lena and Melodie jumped onto their stunned father.

“S-Sarra!” Jon cried. “Sa…” He saw Henri and Karolyn through the window, laughed and cried and blubbered delirious gibberish at them.

Melodie looked back and waved at them with one of the rag dolls in her hand, her baby face as bright as her frock.

The frock they’d buried her in.

Henri steadied himself against the small shelves beneath the window, heard them break; settled for the wall instead.

Melodie’s little body never stood a chance against the fever. The sun rose but three times before she and Addam were gone. Lena had lingered, her heart pumping defiant life as the black fire burned through her until there was nothing left.

And now here they were, the three of them, smiling and laughing, as though it was all just one big jape they’d played on their parents.

Henri followed Karolyn to the front door. They swung it open to find two more children approaching, a boy and a girl. Henri didn’t recognize either…but he did know the wooden bird and barrow in their hands.

Beyond them, watching from the road, was the Ijari boy.

“Hello, Father,” the boy with the barrow said. “Hello, Mother.”

He stepped between Henri and Karolyn, leading the girl by hand into the house. The pair sat on the rug and began playing quietly with the toys.

“Uh…” Karolyn looked to Henri.

He could only shake his head. Karolyn, steadier on her feet, moved to the children.

“Hello,” she said, sitting on the settee behind them. “What are your names?”

“Rulan,” Henri said, finding it on his tongue.

Karolyn’s face mirrored his shock. “Isa,” they said together.

The children smiled up at them then returned to their game. Karolyn’s eyes fired a hundred questions at Henri. He limped onto the settee beside her and took her hand.

Rulan was the older, though couldn’t have more than two or three springs on Isa. His brown hair and caramel skin were in stark contrast to the blue and blonde of his paler sister.

Rulan’s simple brown shirt and pants were old and crudely made. Isa’s lavender frock and matching half-bonnet could have come from the pages of one of the antique seamstress tomes Karolyn collected.

“Where do you live?” Henri said.

“Here,” Rulan said.

“No, I mean: where are your parents?”

“Right here, silly!” Isa laughed. She dropped the finch and climbed onto Karolyn’s lap.

Karolyn’s eyes closed as the little girl’s cheek touched hers. When she opened them, they were glazed with tears.

“They’re ours,” she said. “I don’t know how, but…they’re really ours.”

“I know,” Henri shook his head, as Rulan squeezed onto the settee between them.

“But how can this be?”

Henri suddenly remembered the Ijari outside. “That boy…”

“He led us home,” Rulan said.

“Home from where?” Henri said.

“The shore.”

“And Rulan was a good brother,” Isa said to Karolyn. “He held my hand all the way.”

“What shore?” Henri frowned. The nearest coast was three hundred miles away. “Was it a beach, with sand? Or a cliff, with rocks?”

“It was dark,” Rulan said.

“But in the daytime?”

“It was always dark.”

“I didn’t like it there.” Isa burrowed between Karolyn’s arm and bosom.

“Don’t worry.” Rulan patted his sister’s back. “We’re home now.”

“Yes,” Karolyn squeezed them both. “You are.”

Henri pulled himself from the settee and limped to the front door.

The neighbours had taken their families indoors. Inside the Olwens’ place, Lena and Melodie squealed as Jon chased them from window to window, with Sarra catching falling chairs and

plates in their wake. Next door, the chains on the swing Henri built for Addam clinked and grated with a rhythm not heard in their little glade in six winters.

The boy from the Avaskance was gone.



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