Clover puts away her chain sword in disgust. She’s breathing through her mouth, her split lips making a squishy wheezing sound. Nobody in the crowd laughs. There’s too much of Janice’s blood on her armor. A couple of medical serfs fawn over the sobbing warrior. Grunting. Unable to talk because her mouth has been ripped open.
“This will help with the pain,” says one, talking like a mother does with a child.
The crowd parts as Clover stomps away from Janice, away from the baroness and the messenger. She has to get away from them all. There’s murder in her heart. Underneath, a festering ache. “A good rut.” Janice’s mocking words. That imperial messenger could have come with news that they’d found the Lost World, Tirra, as the scholars suspect it had been called, and Clover will only hear Janice and her laughter at what she’d done.
Still sucking in air through her lips, Clover wonders if there’s any way for her to go back and claim Janice’s head. She’d be disobeying her lord, taking the life of one of her servants. Janice would die. Clover would have to end her own life with her chain sword. It would take her longer to die than Janice.
With a snort, Clover stops and realizes she’s standing at the pneumatic train terminal. Aurora’s twin suns are just about to set, glinting light off the glass and steel awnings over the simple metal benches and concrete platform. A holographic sign says the trains are on schedule. In floating pink letters, the word “Cuvala” flashes. Her estate.
Moments later the sloped and smooth front edge of the train comes through. Automated brakes slow the cars down with a light screech. Doors whisper open, and Clover steps inside. Several passengers in the tunics and rags of serfs and villeins look at Clover and avert their eyes to the floor. A child points at Clover and smiles. She wears an oversized tunic, almost a dress. Its many different stitches indicate its age, handed down and used until it falls apart. “Mommy, she has dirty armor,” says the child. “She spilled her drink.”
The child’s mother looks at clover and pulls her child’s arm down. “That’s not wine, child. You musn’t point,” says the woman.
“What is it, mommy?” asks the child.
Clover answers for the woman. “It’s the blood of my sworn enemy.” The child blinks and nods, satisfied by the answer. Her mother is trembling for reasons the girl does not understand.
“Did you kill her?” asks the child. The only noise in the car is the sound of the doors closing. All the peasants have moved their eyes from the floor to the child. Underneath the mother’s dirty face is crimson skin.
Clover waits for the train to start, taking a step towards the child. She grabs a railing above their heads. “Apologies, ma’am, this one is three years old and hasn’t learned her manners yet.”
“It is fine,” says Clover. Her eyes are on the child. “To answer your question, girl, I did not kill her.”
“Does she deserve to be dead?”
Clover smiles, her lips parting ways in a way that most find unsettling. The child does not wince. “Very much so,” says Clover.
“I hope you get her, then,” says the child. “I can clean your armor in the meantime.”
Clover can’t tell if the girl’s mother is going to faint. “What is your name, child?” asks the knight.
“Moira,” says the child.
“I am Lady Pallas,” says Clover. “Where are you and your mother headed?”
“We’re going to Kirkfield,” says the child.
“We’ve been summoned to work in the naval yard,” says the mother. “Our previous lady has died of sickness. The baroness commands us now.”
“Your daughter’s talents will be wasted in Kirkfield,” says Clover. The girl’s face brightens. “I will take her into my service. She will be paid well, and I’ll make sure she sends you her wages. She will want for nothing in my service.”
Moira’s mother stops shaking. “Are you…” The question disappears from her lips. Clover nods. “Bless you,” she says. “Moira, go with Lady Pallas. Do as she says.”
“I’m not going to Kirkfield?” asks Moira.
“No,” says Clover. “Say goodbye to your mother. You’ll be coming with me.”