12/13/2021

Of Blood And Bone PDF Free Download

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“I think this is yours.” She hands him the cloak. “Thank you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Tzain takes the cloak and folds it into his pack. “It’ll be warmer as we get into the jungle, but let me know if you need it again.”
Amari smiles for the first time since we’ve met, and I bristle when Tzain smiles back. It should take more than a pretty face for him to forget she’s the daughter of a monster.
“Is that all?” I ask.
“Um, well, actually…” Her voice grows quiet. “I was wondering … what are we planning to do for, um—”
A deep groan escapes Amari’s stomach. Color rises to her cheeks and she grips her slim belly, failing to cage in another roar.
“Excuse me,” she apologizes. “All I ate yesterday was a loaf of bread.”
“A whole loaf?” I salivate at the thought. It’s been moons since I’ve had a good slice. Though I can’t imagine the stale bricks we trade for in the market could hold a candle to a fresh loaf from the royal kitchen.
I itch to remind Amari of her good fortune, but my own stomach twists and turns with emptiness. Yesterday passed without one meal. If I don’t eat soon, my stomach too will growl.
Tzain reaches into the pockets of his black pants and pulls out Mama Agba’s weathered map. We follow his finger as it trails down the coast from Ilorin, stopping just outside a dot marking the settlement of Sokoto.
“We’re about an hour out,” he says. “It’s the best place to stop before we head east to Chândomblé. There’ll be merchants and food, but we’ll need something to trade.”
“What happened to the coin from the sailfish?”
Tzain dumps out my pack. I groan as a few silver pieces and Amari’s headdress fall to the ground. “Most of it was lost in the fire,” Tzain sighs.
“What can we trade?” Amari asks.
Tzain stares at the finery of her dress. Even with dirt stains and a few burn marks, its long, elegant cut and lined silk scream of noble origin.
Amari follows Tzain’s eyes and her brows knit. “You cannot be serious.”
“It’ll trade for good coin,” I jump in. “And we’re going to the jungle, for gods’ sakes. You’ll never make it through in that.”
Amari scans my draped pants and cropped dashiki, gripping the fabric of her dress tighter. I’m amazed she thinks she has a choice when I could hold her down and cut it off with ease.
“But what will I wear?”
“Your cloak.” I point to the dingy brown cloth. “We’ll trade the dress for some food and get new clothes on the way.”
Amari steps back and looks at the ground.
“You were willing to evade your father’s guards to save the scroll, but you won’t take off your stupid dress?”
“I didn’t risk everything because of the scroll.” Amari’s voice cracks. For a moment her eyes glimmer with the threat of tears. “My father killed my best friend—”
“Your best friend or your slave?”
“Zél,” Tzain warns.
“What?” I turn to him. “Do your best friends press your clothes and make your food without pay?”
Amari’s ears redden. “Binta was paid.”
“A mighty wage, I’m sure.”
“I am trying to help you.” Amari clenches the skirt of her dress. “I’ve given up everything to help you people—”
“‘You people’?” I fume.
“We can save the divîners—”
“You want to save the divîners, but you won’t even sell your damn dress?”
“Fine!” Amari throws her hands in the air. “Skies, I’ll do it. I never said no.”
“Oh, thank you, gracious princess, savior of the maji!”
“Cut it out.” Tzain nudges me as Amari walks behind Nailah to change. Her delicate fingers move to the buttons on her back, but she hesitates, glancing over her shoulder. I roll my eyes as Tzain and I look the other way.
Princess.
“You need to lay off,” Tzain mutters as we face the natal mahogany lining the vibrant forests of Sokoto. A small family of blue-butt baboonems swings from the branches, shaking the glossy leaves free when they pass.
“If she can’t handle being around a divîner not enslaved by her father, she’s free to return to her little palace.”
“She hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“She hasn’t done anything right, either.” I nudge Tzain back. Why is he so insistent on defending her? It’s as if he really thinks she deserves better. Like somehow she’s the victim.
“I’m the last person to give a noble a chance, but Zél, look at her. She just lost her closest friend, and instead of grieving she’s risking her life to help maji and divîners.”
“I’m supposed to feel bad because her father killed the one maji servant she liked? Where’s her outrage been all these years? Where was she after the Raid?”
“She was six.” Tzain keeps his tone flat. “A child, just like you.”
“Except she got to kiss her mother that night. We didn’t.”
I turn to mount Nailah, positive I’ve given Amari enough time. But when I glance over, her bare back is still exposed.
“Oh my gods…”
My heart lurches as I take in the gruesome scar carved along Amari’s spine. The mark ripples across her skin, so ghastly it makes my own skin tingle with pain.
“What?”
Tzain turns just before Amari whips around, sucking in his breath at the mark. Even the scars lining Baba’s back don’t look half as hideous as hers.
“How dare you!” Amari scrambles to cover herself with the cloak.
“I wasn’t trying to peek,” I say quickly. “I promise, but—gods, Amari. What happened?”
“Nothing. A-an accident when my brother and I were young.”
Tzain’s jaw drops. “Your brother did that to you?”
“No! Not on purpose. It wasn’t … he didn’t—” Amari pauses, trembling with an emotion I can’t place. “You wanted my dress, you have it. Let us trade and be on with it!”
She holds her cloak close and mounts Nailah, keeping her face hidden. With nothing more we can say, Tzain and I have no choice but to follow suit.
He mumbles an apology before urging Nailah ahead. I try to apologize as well, but the words stall when I look at her cloaked back.
Gods.
I don’t want to imagine what other scars hide along her skin.
* * *
THE WEATHER WARMS as we reach the forest clearing that marks the settlement of Sokoto. Kosidán children run along the bank of the crystal clear lake, squealing with delight when one young girl falls in. Travelers set up camp between the trees and muddy patches; merchant carts and wagons line up their wares along the rocky shore. One cart’s aroma of spiced antelopentai meat envelops me, making my stomach rumble.
I was always told that before the Raid, Sokoto was home to the best Healers. People traveled from all over Orïsha, hoping to be cured by the magic of their touch. As I survey the travelers, I try to imagine what that might look like. If Baba were still with us, he might’ve liked this. A moment of refuge after losing our home.
“So peaceful,” Amari breathes, clutching her cloak as we slide off Nailah.
“You’ve never been here before?” Tzain asks.
She shakes her head. “I barely left the palace.”
Though crisp air fills my lungs as we walk, the sight reawakens the memory of burning flesh. In the lake I see the calm waves of the floating market back home, the coconut boat I should be in as I fight with Kana for a hand of plantain. But like Ilorin, the market’s gone, all burnt at the bottom of the sea. The memories sit among the charred lumber.
Another piece of me taken by the monarchy.
“You two trade the dress,” Tzain says. “I’ll take Nailah to get a drink. See if you can find a few canteens.”
I chafe at the prospect of trading with Amari, but I know she won’t leave my side until she gets new clothes. We par
t ways with Tzain, traveling through the campsites toward the row of merchant carts.
“You can relax.” I arch my eyebrow. Amari flinches whenever someone so much as looks her way. “They don’t know who you are, and no one cares about your cloak.”
“I know that.” Amari speaks quickly, but her stance softens. “I’ve just never been around people like this.”
“How terrifying. Orïshans who exist to do more than serve you.”
Amari inhales sharply but swallows any retort. I almost feel bad. Where’s the fun if she doesn’t fight back?
“Skies, look at that!” Amari slows as we pass a couple setting up their tent. The man uses vines to bind dozens of long, thin branches into a cone while his partner creates a protective layer by piling on moss. “Can people really sleep in those?”
Part of me itches to ignore her, but she stares at the simple tent as if it’s made of gold. “We used to build those all the time when I was young. Do it right and it’ll even keep out snow.”
“You get snow in Ilorin?” Again her eyes sparkle, like snow is an ancient legend about the gods. How strange that she was born to rule a kingdom she’s never even seen.
“In Ibadan,” I answer. “We lived there before the Raid.”
At the mention of the Raid, Amari goes quiet. The curiosity vanishes from her eyes. She grips her cloak tighter and keeps her focus on the ground.
“Is that what happened to your mother?”
I stiffen; how can she be bold enough to ask this when she can’t even ask for food?
“I apologize if that is too forward … it’s just that your father mentioned her yesterday.”
I picture Mama’s face. Her dark skin seemed to glow in the absence of sun. She loved you fiercely. Baba’s words echo in my mind. She would be so proud right now.
“She was a maji,” I finally answer. “A powerful one, at that. Your father’s lucky she didn’t have her magic during the Raid.”
My mind returns to the fantasy of Mama wielding her magic, a lethal force instead of a helpless victim. She would’ve avenged the fallen maji, marching on Lagos with an army of the dead. She’d be the one to wrap a black shadow around Saran’s neck.
“I know this won’t change anything, but I’m sorry,” Amari whispers so quietly I can barely hear her. “The pain of losing a person you love, it’s…” She squeezes her eyes shut. “I know you hate my father. I understand why you hate me, too.”
As grief breaks through Amari’s face, the very hatred she speaks of cools inside me. I still don’t understand how her handmaiden could’ve been anything more than another servant to her, but there’s no denying her sorrow.
No. I shake my head as guilt swells in the space between us. Grieving or not, she doesn’t get my pity. And she’s not the only one who gets to pry.
“So has your brother always been a heartless killer?”
Amari turns to me, brows raised in surprise.
“Don’t think you can ask about my mother and hide the truth about that awful scar.”
Amari steadies her vision on the merchant carts, but even so, I see the past playing out behind her eyes. “It wasn’t his fault,” she finally answers. “Our father forced us to spar.”
“With actual swords?” I jerk my head back. Mama Agba made us train for years before we were allowed to pick up a staff.
“Father’s first family was coddled.” Her voice grows distant. “Weak. He said they died because of it. He wouldn’t allow the same thing to happen to us.”
She speaks as if this is normal, like all loving fathers spill their children’s blood. I always pictured the palace as a safe haven, but my gods, is this what her life has been like?
“Tzain would never do that.” I purse my lips. “He’d never hurt me.”
“Inan didn’t have a choice.” Her face hardens. “He has a good heart. He’s just been led astray.”
I shake my head. Where does her loyalty come from? All this time I thought those of noble blood were safe. I never imagined what cruelty the monarchy could inflict on their own.
“Good hearts don’t leave scars like that. They don’t burn villages down.”
They don’t wrap their hands around my throat and try to bury me in the ground.
When Amari doesn’t reply, I know that’s the last we’ll talk about her brother. Fine. If she won’t tell the truth about Inan, neither will I.
I swallow his secret into silence, instead focusing on the roasted antelopentai meat as we near the merchant carts and wagons. We’re about to approach an elderly trader with a robust supply when Amari tugs on my pack.
“I never thanked you for saving my life. Back in Lagos.” She shifts her gaze to the ground. “But you did try to kill me twice … so perhaps it all cancels out?”
It takes me a second to realize she’s joking. I’m surprised when I grin. For the second time today, she smiles and I get a glimpse of why it was so hard for Tzain to look away.
“Ah, two lovely ladies,” an elderly kosidán says, beckoning us closer. He steps forward, his gray hairs glinting under the sun.
“Please.” The merchant’s smile widens, carving wrinkles into his leathery skin. “Come in. I promise you’ll find something you like.”
We walk around to the front steps of his wagon, pulled by two cheetanaires so large we stand eye to eye. I run my hands along their spotted fur, stopping to finger the grooves in the thick horn protruding from one’s forehead. The ryder purrs and licks my hand with its serrated tongue before I step inside the extensive space of wares.
The musk of old fabrics hits me as we pass through the crowded wagon. On one end, Amari fingers through old clothes while I stop and inspect a pair of suede mongix-hide canteens.
“What are you in the market for?” the merchant asks, holding an array of sparkling necklaces. He leans in, magnifying the deep-set eyes that mark those from Orïsha’s northern border. “These pearls come from the bays of Jimeta, but these glittering beauties come from the mines of Calabrar. Sure to turn any fella’s head, though I’m sure you have no problem in that department.”
“We need traveling supplies.” I smile. “Canteens and some hunting gear, maybe flint.”
“How much do you have?”
“What can we get for this?”
I hand him Amari’s dress and he unfolds it, holding it up to the light outside. He runs his fingers along the seams like a man who knows his cloth, taking extra time to inspect the burns around the hem. “It’s well made, no denying that. Rich fabric, excellent cut. I could do without the burns, but nothing a new hem can’t fix.…”
“So?” I press.
“Eighty silver pieces.”
“We won’t take any less than—”
“I’m not in the business of haggling, dear. My prices are fair and so are my offers. Eighty is final.”
I grit my teeth, but I know there’s no talking him up. A merchant who’s traded all over Orïsha can’t be swindled like an insulated noble.
“What can we get with eighty?” Amari asks, holding up a pair of yellow draped pants and a black, sleeveless dashiki.
“With those clothes … these canteens … a skinning knife … a few pieces of flint…” The merchant begins filling up a woven basket, gathering supplies to get us on our way.
“Is it enough?” Amari whispers.
“For now.” I nod. “If he throws in that bow—”
“You can’t afford it,” the merchant cuts in.
“But what if this does not end at Chân—at the temple?” Amari lowers her voice. “Won’t we need more money? More food? Supplies?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug. “We’ll figure it out.”
I turn to leave, but Amari frowns and reaches into the depths of my pack.
“How much for this?” She pulls out her jeweled headdress.
The merchant’s eyes bulge out of his head as he stares at the priceless adornment.
“My gods,” he breathes. “Where on earth did you find t
hat?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Amari says. “How much?”
He turns the headdress over in his hands, and his mouth falls open when he sees the diamond-studded snow leopanaire. He lifts his gaze to Amari, slow and deliberate. He looks to me, but I keep my face even.
“I cannot take this.” He pushes the headdress away.
“Why?” Amari shoves it into his hands. “You’ll take the dress off my back but not the crown off my head?”
“I can’t.” The merchant shakes his head, but now that gold sits in his hands, his conviction wavers. “Even if I wanted to, there’s nothing I can trade. It’s worth more than everything I have.”
“Then how much can you give?” I ask.
He pauses, fear dancing with greed. He looks back at Amari once more, before staring at the headdress shining in his hands. He removes a ring of keys from his pocket and pushes aside a crate to reveal an iron safe. After unlocking and opening it, he inspects the glowing pile of coins inside.
“Three hundred gold pieces.”
I lurch forward. That kind of coin could last our family a lifetime. Maybe two! I turn to celebrate with Amari when the look on her face brings me back.…
I wouldn’t have this if it weren’t for my handmaiden. It is the only thing of hers I have left.
There was so much pain in her eyes. Pain I recognized. Pain I wore when I was young, the first time my family couldn’t pay a royal tax.
For months Tzain and Baba worked the sunfish harvest from dawn to dusk; at night they took extra work from the guards. They did everything possible to keep me out of it, but eventually their efforts fell short. That day I entered the floating market, Mama’s gold amulet in hand. It was the only thing of hers that we could recover, torn to the ground when the guards dragged her away.
After Mama died, I grasped that amulet like it was the last remaining piece of her soul. I still rub my neck sometimes, plagued by its absence.
“You don’t have to do this.” It stings to say those words in the face of so much gold, but ripping myself from Mama’s amulet felt like ripping away her heart; a pain so harsh I couldn’t even wish it on Amari.
Her eyes soften and she smiles. “You mocked me for not wanting to take off my dress before, but you were right. I was fixated on what I’ve already lost, but after everything my father’s done, my sacrifices will never be enough.” Amari nods to the merchant, making her final decision. “I couldn’t save Binta. But with the gold from this sale…”

Of Blood And Bone Pdf Free Download Windows 10

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