The Amulet Saga, Volume Three
The Silver Shores
What Came Before:
Reith woke to a sharp pain in his head. He sat up and looked around. The room seemed to swim before him. Stark white walls, high windows that let in bright sunlight, and rows of beds stacked three high with narrow aisles between them.
Where was he? How had he gotten here?
He blinked a few times, trying to orient himself to his surroundings. The last thing he remembered was the striking woman from the auction standing over him. Interesting, she’d said.
What was interesting? Was he interesting? Why?
He was at her house, a stately estate outside of the city. Yes, that was it. He’d found his way here by following the sensation of pain and illness waning. The other slave—Revat, she’d called him—had brought him here and pointed to the bed, middle bunk, third from the door. How long ago had that been?
The room was empty except for him, the narrow beds all made up with sheets as stark as the walls.
His stomach grumbled. Would he be given food? Was there some sort of procedure he was supposed to figure out, like finding the estate after the auction the day before?
He slid to the floor and straightened the sheets on the bed so they matched the others in the room, then walked toward the door. Limped, really. A burning ache leftover from the magic that had coursed through him the day before left his limbs throbbing.
He made it to the door, however, and almost bumped into Revat. Without a word, Revat turned and started walking down the hall. Not knowing what else to do, Reith followed.
The hallway stretched on for a long time, with doors opening into other rooms that seemed to be hubs for various industries, such as laundry, wood working, metal working, along with a conservatory filled with plants and herbs. In each, slaves in the customary uniform—snug breeches and bare chests for the men and short, flowing gowns for the women—worked at whatever task dominated the room.
Revat stopped in front of a door. He made no sound or gesture, but Reith understood he was supposed to go into the room. The aroma of fresh bread and some sort of spicy meat filled the air. His stomach grumbled again, and he went through the door into a room similar to the dining area at the slave compound.
Revat turned and walked the other way, so Reith turned slowly and examined the room. It was about the size of the kitchen in the castle at home. Large enough to accommodate several people, but not so large that it was overwhelming or intimidating. Long tables sat in rows across the room, and a window on one wall looked out over a lush garden, while another window, shuttered, seemed to be where the food smells were coming from.
On one table, in the center of the room, a bowl of some sort of fragrant, steaming porridge sat within a silver cage.
He took a step closer. Was this to be his breakfast? Why was it in a cage? He sat on the chair in front of the bowl and stared at it. It smelled delicious. He could pick out the distinct smells of cinnamon and clove, and there was some sort of meat in it.
His stomach told him just how long it had been since he’d eaten, and he stuck a finger through the bar of the cage to try to get a spoonful.
The cage was just large enough that his fingers couldn’t quite reach.
He lifted the cage and tilted it slightly, hoping to slide the bowl closer to the side, but it was fixed in place. He only succeeded in sloshing the porridge onto the table. He scooped up the glob with his finger and tasted it. It was even more delicious than it smelled.
The bowl seemed to mock him from within its prison. This was a test of some sort. He glanced around the room, but didn’t see anyone. They were watching, though. He knew it. They were waiting to see if he would eat this morning. Something told him he had a limited amount of time. Sooner or later, someone would come for him and take him to his duties, whatever they might be.
Whether or not he ate would depend on whether he could figure out how to get to his food. He could dump it on the table and lap it up like a dog. It would solve the problem, but not pass the test. There was a trick to it, he knew. There had to be.
He touched the cage. It was made of little sticks of metal, bent around one another, woven almost. Ada had once told him that metal was almost as good a conductor as gemstones for magic. It had no inherent properties, as did gems or herbs, but it could be used to draw magic in and magnify it. Had the cage been built using magic? Could he use magic to undo it? He could at least use magic to bend the bars.
But something in him told him not to. If he was ever to escape this place, he would need to use magic. He didn’t want to give away the fact that he knew how to use magic, not this soon. He had to figure out another way, even if it meant skipping a meal or two.
He ran his fingers along the metal bars, feeling for inconsistencies, loose places, sections where there might be a latch or an opening.
They had to have gotten the bowl in there—how had they done it? He pulled on the metal bars, one by one.
When he’d gone over about half the cage, systematically pulling, pushing, and wiggling each bar, one of them gave. It turned, just a little.
His heart thumped a little faster and he turned the bar again. It twisted, and little by little it unwound from the bar it was screwed into and he pulled it out.
The next bar was the same, and the one after it, and then three running the other direction did the same thing, until he was able to open a hole large enough to remove the bowl.
No spoon appeared, so he drank the porridge directly from the bowl as quickly as he could. He didn’t want to risk losing his reward as soon as he’d earned it. He didn’t have time to even savor it, but it was still one of the best things he’d ever eaten.
Just as he slurped the last of it from the bowl, Revat appeared at the door. Reith stood and faced him. Revat turned and walked down the hall, so Reith hurried to follow, satisfied in the knowledge that he’d passed the first test, but a little nervous about how many more were to follow.