The Language of Souls

By: Lena Goldfinch


One





SOLENA SAT ON her hands as old Korvanus droned on and on about verb tenses. Normally she sat in the front of the stone cathedral during Ancient Languages and Philosophies. The other students teased her about it, saying the prefect was going to engrave her name on that bench someday, but today...today, she sat in the back. The cool marble beneath her seemed harder and more uncomfortable than usual, and she kept glancing up through the soaring, stained-glass windows above her to track the path of the sun. When the good teacher finally raised his hand, gave a brief benediction, and dismissed the class—a thousand thanks!—she bolted from her seat. She grabbed Theta by the arm and dragged her friend outside into the bright sunshine, ignoring the startled glares of two younger boys who were scrambling for the door.

Solena led Theta down the narrow street, past rows of tall sandstone houses, all packed closely together and capped with cheerful red clay roofs. The walkway under her feet had been baking in the sun all day and the bricks were warm against the soles of her feet. They were also slightly gritty with sand, as was everything in the seaport city of Torrani. She had to slow down a little to squeeze through a group of stout grandmothers balancing baskets of white linens against their hips, but soon she and Theta were able to turn onto the path that veered downhill toward the beach. At the welcome sound of waves crashing against the shore, she sped up.

“I thought he’d never finish today,” Theta moaned, as she trotted along at Solena’s side.

“Forget that.” Solena tugged impatiently on her friend’s elbow. She glanced around to make sure the younger boys from class weren’t following them, intent on a prank. “What did he say?”

“He who?”

“You know who! Leopold. Did you ask him? Did he say I could go with him?”

“He says it’s too dangerous. And it is. You can’t climb the cliffs with him.”

“I can and I will.” Solena lifted her long white student’s robe and climbed onto the rocky ledge that surrounded the beach. She jumped down and sank ankle deep into the dry sand.

“Solena,” Theta protested. She slowly picked her way down the rocks. When she reached the bottom, she blew a coil of dark hair out of her face. “Men have died climbing the cliffs.”

“I’m not going to die.”

“But you could.” Theta stared at her with those big doe-like eyes of hers, the ones that made you want to apologize even when you hadn’t done anything wrong.

Solena lifted one shoulder, wishing she could tell Theta everything but knowing the truth would only make her friend more afraid. What she intended to do was far more dangerous than climbing the cliffs with Leopold. She needed wild tymia to cure her grandfather’s terrible cough. Without the tea she’d steeped from its dried leaves, his lungs would soon fail and his embers would die out completely. It was wrong to question death, Solena knew, but she had this terrible, nagging feeling that it wasn’t his time yet. And, selfishly, she wasn’t ready to let him go. He’d taken her in as a foundling, back when she was very young. She’d been a stranger to him then, but he’d adopted her as his own and saved her from a life of hunger and loneliness. She didn’t remember much of her childhood, but that was one thing she’d never forget. So, if he needed medicine—and he did, desperately—she’d do anything to get it for him.

Unfortunately, she knew of only one place to find wild tymia: Oden.

She shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare and looked past the gently rolling hills of the surrounding Torrani countryside. In the distance stood the harsh cliffs of the Pirellens and, beyond them, the tips of the icy blue mountains of Oden pierced the sky. Just looking at them gave her a little shiver of apprehension. It was a harsh land, home to a people who hated Torrani. She couldn’t pretend she wasn’t afraid. Only a fool wouldn’t be afraid. But she owed her grandfather a debt of love, one she could never fully repay.

“I have to,” Solena said.

Theta sighed. “Fine. But you’ll have to ask him yourself.”

Solena thought of Leopold, Theta’s stubborn, over-muscled brother-in-law, and squared her shoulders.

“I will,” she said. Somehow she’d convince him. She had to. “And I’ll bring you back a token.”

“A token?” Theta snorted softly, but her eyes took on a slightly wistful gleam.

“I’ll find you a molten circlet, for a necklace. You’ll see.”

Her friend bit her bottom lip, clearly torn. Theta loved pretty things more than air or food. She had a deep fondness for full red roses, pink shells, and starry sunsets. She even wore ribbons woven through her hair; today they were a warm golden yellow, the color of Torrani. If someone found a circlet of molten rock it was considered a blessing. When given as a gift and worn on a cord around your neck, it was a symbol of friendship. Theta loved that sort of thing.

“You’ll see,” Solena promised. She frowned as she noticed Theta cradling her hand. “Did you hurt yourself?”

Theta stretched her fingers and winced. “I banged them on the rocks.”

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