Every word Kana spoke spawned dark upon her skin. A prayer on her left forearm in child-like scrawl; the love for her brother in ethereal wisps over her heart… her fear for him in a tapering scream down her right arm. Juro… 

Kana wore hatred too. Whispered in the darkness of her room to rise in flowing script—beautiful and bone deep. One, a vow scored into the roof of her mouth, the letters as sharp as the blade she would one day plunge into her keeper. 

Oracle, some called her; witch, did others. She’d called herself chattel once, and Dalyor had sliced free the word from her nape and fed it to her. Only his words could she speak.

A prince paid Dalyor a princely sum to watch his name dawn; paid double to have it burned from her sole. That had been the last solstice. What horror awaited her this one? 

The attendants had arrived this morn and draped her in muslin. No silks for her. They’d removed the weaves criss-crossing her lips then filled the hollows with glittering jewels. By evening, she was sat upon a dais in the banquet hall amongst the chosen—those who’d paid for the privilege. Be it gold or land or daughters. Sons, if the mood took her keeper. A token peasant milled but Dalyor hadn’t made his fortune, fortified his power by accommodating the commonfolk. 

She touched the words encircling her wrist: kindred souls until the end. How furious Dalyor had been when once she’d answered the stableboy who’d offered nothing but loyalty for the hand of a nobleman’s daughter. The girl’s hope had shone bright despite her father’s protestations, and Dalyor had lost the concubine he’d so coveted. 

Her small rebellion only strengthened her keeper’s lie that all were welcome to seek Kana’s words. Yet the truth of his schemes screamed from her skin if anyone cared to look. 

None did.

Nor would they tonight.

Soldiers occupied all the tables. They laughed as they drank; spewed words loud and carelessly to circle the hall like hawks. All but one table whose men spoke in hushed tones, their words flitting and fluttering like sparrows instead. 

Kana’s words were the birds that smashed against windows, staining the glass red. 

She looked beyond that glass now, past the high walls to the expanse of water between distant hills. The ocean. Home. A decade since she’d been torn from it. And from Juro.

Dalyor’s raised hand brought quiet. Weighted. Ravenous. “Ask, but only one will she answer.”

They stood before her, unsteady on their feet. Hawks each one. She listened to Dalyor’s greed spew from their mouths. Armour clinking, leather creaking. Bloodlust primed for his words spilling from her tongue.

The sparrows watched with narrowed eyes. Kana startled; an achingly familiar pair locked to hers.

Yet, it was an unfamiliar servant who placed a glass of water beside her; his forefinger tapped the end-table beneath. 

“Speak,” Dalyor commanded from his place at her side.


Her gaze flicked to the sparrows now lined behind the hawks. Found a brother grown. His eyes lingered on the end-table. 


Her seed of hope was rooted in vengeance, and it blossomed with Juro’s nod. 


Speak. But his death stalked in her silence.


The blade hissed from the sheath beneath the end-table. Whispered through the air to plunge deep into her keeper’s throat. Shrieked against bone as she stabbed again. Again.

Kana stood over her once-keeper, muslin spattered red like the finest silks. She opened her mouth, let him see the blood-oath scored there. He sputtered, eyes blowing wide when she severed his tongue; held it before him. 

“Speak!” Juro roared at him, snatching Dalyor’s sword from fumbling fingers and skewering the man to his throne.

Dalyor died in blood and piss and shit, his hawks dying with him on the blades of sparrows.

Juro wrapped her in a coat that smelled of boats and brine and the endless deep. “Home?”


About the author
Amanda J Spedding is a professional editor, and award-winning author and graphic novelist. She has twice won the Australian Shadows Award (short fiction; written work in a graphic novel) and was an Aurealis Award finalist (fantasy short story). She has a penchant for writing beauty into the macabre.