Snaith’s image of Tey forced its way to the surface once more. His still-point amid the chaos. So perfect it could have been mistaken for the woman sitting across the tumulus from him.
Yet it was a false image.
He’d never even suspected there was anything but virgin skin beneath her black dress and shawl. He’d pretended not to see as they lay side by side on the bed in Theurig’s house. What else could he have done? Told Tey she’d betrayed him? The idea was ridiculous, and yet he couldn’t deny that’s how he felt. All these years, and he thought she’d just covered up out of shyness. All these years she’d allowed him to go on believing a lie. Tey wasn’t shy. She was mad.
Because he had no doubt it wasn’t Khunt who’d scarred her all over: the cuts were too precise, too meticulously organized, just like his armies of wood-carved figures. There was a whole network crisscrossing every inch of her belly, breasts, and thighs, covering both arms, almost to the wrists—everything not hidden by her garments. Only her face, hands, and feet were unscathed. There was even a white line across her throat from where she must have taken a blade to it. Or a noose.
No, there was nothing random about Tey’s scars. They formed a pattern, a code, maybe even a map. It crossed Snaith’s mind that each scar could be a tally mark for every time she’d suffered. Because he could see that now, so clearly he cursed himself for not seeing it before. Khunt Moonshine had done something to her, probably for years. Probably since her mother died. Whether it was beatings or just treating her like a slave, he couldn’t say. Maybe it was worse. Snaith’s mind constructed vivid pictures, and his muscles knotted with the need to hurt Khunt, even though he was just imagining.
And besides, whatever the truth of what he’d done, Khunt had already been made to pay. If what Theurig had told Snaith on the way to the Copse were true, there was going to be one very happy colony of fire ants, grown fat on Khunt Moonshine’s staked-out carcass.
In spite of the revulsion Snaith felt for Tey’s mutilation, a thread of fascination wormed its way beneath the surface of his mind. Gone was the girl too shy to look a boy in the eye, the young woman too timid to speak in a crowd. In her place he saw something witchy, shrouded in mystique. Something that had been there all along, misleading him with appearances. Some kind of sorcerous glamor.
He ground his thumb once more into the squishy mush where the scab had been, used the pain to drive his attention back to the sorcerer drawing out the anticipation of what he was about to reveal.
One simple test, Theurig had told them, then their fates would be known. Even these lackwit others understood what that meant. It was hard to miss the anxious glances toward the trees ringing the clearing, the barely suppressed gasps each time a swaying branch cast a moonlit shadow. Fail, and they’d be dragged off kicking and screaming by the Shedim. But pass the test, and secrets would be unveiled, mysteries explained, either by Theurig himself or one of the other clan sorcerers. Everyone knew of the Malogoi wounded who’d been apprenticed to the sorcerers of rival clans. How they had fared, though, no one could say. Once gone from the village, they were never seen again.
The whip and snap of Theurig’s robes, the spreading of his arms, the sparkle of his emerald eyes reflecting starlight: all contrived to draw the postulants in, to heap expectation upon anticipation till it was fit to burst. Then, with a sharp inhalation and the glisten of crooked teeth, Theurig delivered the secret they had all been waiting for.
Please direct all queries about The Codex of Her Scars to my agent Laurie McLean (http://fuseliterary.com)