Reading the Bones
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Interlude
Stormsinger, First-Among-Mothers, held up her hands, two-fingered, three-fingered, witness of what had been given to the work. Whitebird, beside her on the stone bench, folded her own hands and watched firelight flicker on Stormsinger's skin. Day of threat and promise, begun under New-Eye's rising with Whitebird's secret blood first flowing, ending at nightfall in Stormsinger's hands. Whitebird knew the twin birds of hope and fear.

The hall deep under the Maker's Bones grew dark, but no one stirred to light the lamps. Gabble of shrill voices sank away. All turned eyes to Stormsinger.

"Now," Stormsinger, First-Among-Mothers, said. "Trust here."

Stormsinger looked down the long table at each Mother in turn, and Whitebird looked with her. Some were bent and some were blind, but none dared challenge Stormsinger.

"I choose my successor as every First chose hers."
Stormsinger waited. Cold moved through the hall and silence. The two-fingered hand came to rest on Whitebird's arm.

"I name Whitebird First in turn upon my death."

The hall filled with the sudden hiss of protest.

Longwalker-daughter-of-Birdcatcher-sister-of-two-younger stood to challenge, anger straightening her twisted spine. "Halfgrowns do not lead Folk!"

"Time for new thinking," Stormsinger said.


"She did not give bone." Longwalker held up her own three-fingered hand in witness of her words.

Down the long table Mother leaned to Mother sighing. Hands fluttered, four-fingered, scarred three-fingered. Breath caught in Whitebird's throat, her own fingers clenched. There was more, but even Longwalker dared not say it in Stormsinger's presence though she did not hold back when she found Whitebird alone.

"We need no bone now," Stormsinger said. "It is done! The time comes when we will need what Whitebird brings."

The spark Stormsinger lit long ago in Whitebird's heart flamed at this prophecy. Halfgrown, newly marked by blood she would not speak of now or ever, she must answer Longwalker's challenge and claim her destiny.

Rising, left hand on the table, right hand on the three-edged knife in her belt, Whitebird held Longwalker's angry gaze. The hall fell silent. Yellow eyes glittered in the flame-lit hall, watching, testing.

Whitebird raised the knife. "I am Folk. I am not afraid to give bone."

The blade sparked red in firelight. She slashed down at the five-fingered hand on the table. A spurt of blood and searing pain -- The smallest finger fell away.

The Mothers wailed, their voices echoing. Whitebird's eyes closed in darkness. Stormsinger caught her as she fell.
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