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Chapter 1

Memories 9.21.23 .jpg

I’m not sure how the book got into my hands.

I’ve ignored the deep blue cover and the gilt lettering of the large volume for many lunars as I dust and clean my master’s study. It’s forbidden to me.

And yet, somehow, I’m holding it.

I sound out the title with my new self-taught skills. La-spen-teer-a-tee-a. L’a Spentiratia. I screw up my nose as I struggle to translate the words.

The Ancient Ocean. Oh! Is it full of tales of imaginary aquatic beasts? Or is it about the real wonders of undersea life?


I scarcely breathe as the book falls open to a drawing of a magnificent sea creature. The caption above the picture says E-nor-mer-i-pod. Enormeripod. The unfamiliar word rolls pleasingly over my tongue.

“Lydia!” A horrified gasp comes from the doorway. I shriek, and the book falls to the carpet, still open to the page I was studying. I stare at Bena, who stares back. The older woman opens her mouth to speak, perhaps to warn me, but it’s too late. Our master’s large frame appears behind her.

I take in his shocked face for only a moment before I throw myself to the floor, bowing so low my face flattens the carpet fibers, my arms thrust forward in supplication.

“Master!” I cry out. “I—I’m sorry! It’s just so beautiful and I tried to ignore it and I don’t know why—” Terror chokes off any further speech.

“Lydia.” His voice is stern, but not angry. “Lydia, look at me.”

I lift my head but can’t look him in the eyes, so I stare at his feet.

“It is a marvelous book, isn’t it?”

I give a tiny nod. “Yes, Master.” Tears gather in the corner of my eyes.

He walks over to the book. The page with the exquisite drawing lies open and incriminating. “Oh, yes. That was one of my favorite creatures, too. My father gave me this book when I was ten.” He bends over, picks it up, and puts it back on the shelf. Then he sits down in the large desk chair and swivels around to face my still-prostrate form.

“Lydia, you know what the rules are, and you know what the consequences are.” It’s a statement, not a question. I’ve known the law since my earliest memories as a child. I tremble, my head once more buried in the carpet as though humility can save me. “I think, however, it’s possible that you were only holding the book, not looking inside, and that it didn’t open until it fell to the floor.”

I can scarcely believe that he’s going to lie, for me. Holding a book is bad, but opening it to look at the pages more than doubles the penalty.

“Master?” I look up to him, blinking to clear the tears. He smiles at me. “Master, th-thank you.” My voice is so soft I’m not sure he hears me.

He leans over to cup my chin with a gentleness I don’t deserve. “If this were a smaller matter, we’d deal with it here, at home. But it’s not, and if I don’t report it, someone else will.”

“I know, sir.” There’s no question of escaping the consequences. Master is fair but strict, and the law is clear.

“I’m going to go enter your name on the list for the next Punishment Day. And you won’t clean in here anymore.” He shakes his head as he stands. “I’m just glad you can’t actually read the Br’ini words. The consequences for that are dreadful.”

He leaves the room and I struggle not to throw up on the expensive white carpet.

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