The majihan sighed, weary of many things, this one more. He didn’t bother to chastise Anala – who was checking her back for a nub – grabbing hold of his braid over his shoulder. It was held in shape by a heavy, golden ring with a large black jewel. As he slipped it on his middle finger, Anala felt his magickal energy change. It no longer felt familiar to her – like snow on warm skin or hot tea in the pit of her stomach. It had magnified to a smothering power that filled the air like the tremors before an earthquake.
He placed his hand on the door, and with a low-pitched hum from the ring, they heard the sound of every lock unbolting obediently, one by one. Then the door shuddered and fell forward, clattering on the floor with a puff of dust. Anala couldn’t will herself to speak as they stepped inside, her mouth open in awe as her uncle replaced the ring in his hair. She had coveted it simply because it was attractive, unaware of its power, and now a desire of a different sort lit up inside her.
The room was cavernous and resembled a bubble of mud and stone erupting out of the ground. All the furniture had been crafted out of driftwood gathered from the Grey Shore, fixed with moss, vines and other salvaged materials. A steep and narrow staircase led up to the attic, whilst the ground floor contained everything. There was a bathing and washing area in the corner without a roof, consisting of a large barrel full of dish water and floating crockery, alongside a chipped, footless bathtub. The kitchen was a corner of drawers and cabinets, whilst the left half of the room was a living space. Three beaten-down sofas stained yellowish with projecting springs surrounded a low table and a stone fireplace with a cauldron and flue.
It was not the grandeur they knew.
Anala tried to remember what the highborn ladies had told her as she looked around at poverty and deprivation – “it’s the price of crime, dear one.” Her heart hardened half to stone.