Nativity of the Stars
It was the second year of the reign of Queen Myemi, in the third configuration of the stars, some 7,909 years after the creation of the world.
‘Ring the first bell,’ intoned the priest. The first of the faceless boys pulled on his rope. The priest tilted back his head; as the echo of the bell reverberated around the green, he chanted: ‘In the beginning there was only the song and it moved and twisted around itself and it soared and it split into song and singer.’
‘Ring the sky bell,’ the priest called, and the second of the faceless boys pulled on his rope.
‘We need to talk,’ muttered Arnecht. We were at the very back of the congregation, a little way from the crowd, where nobody could hear us. ‘There’s something wrong at the palace.’
‘Now isn’t the time.’ I tried to speak without moving my mouth; I tried to concentrate on the priest’s chant, or at least look like I was.
‘The court enchanter, Gyarlecht – I think he’s done something to M— to her majesty.’
‘Ring the sea bell!’
I looked at her sideways. She looked worried, and she wasn’t hiding it. Her jawbone was set; her hair was scraped back into a simple ponytail, with none of the elegance that would be expected of a warrior of the royal palace. I tried to remember the last time she’d looked so scared; all I could think of was when she had stayed at my family’s house as her mother had been quarantined with grey fever. Arnecht had been nine.
‘What do you want from me?’
‘I need someone I can trust at court, Chiri.’
‘And you can trust me?’
She sounded so sure – she didn’t even hesitate. And, well, she wasn’t wrong, I suppose.
‘Ring the doom bell,’ said the priest, as we walked away.