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Time Heals All Wounds

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“Don’t you think we’re maybe getting too old for this?” Amaranthe asked idly. Sicarius glanced back at her, his eyebrow quirked. She could read a hundred thoughts in that one look alone, and she grinned in response. “You’re right.” She agreed to the unspoken disbelief. “We’d be bored otherwise.”

The tunnel they were creeping down eventually opened up into a cave that was obviously an important meeting place for the cult that had been lured outside minutes previously. There were seats carved into the sides and an alter in the middle with something that glowed faintly in the dim light. Sicarius led the way, as he always did, but he halted before they reached the alter. Amaranthe stopped as well, sliding her fingers along his lower back, letting him know where she was and requesting an explanation for why he’d stopped.

“They’ve enchanted an alien device.” Sicarius explained.

Amaranthe hissed in shock. “That sounds like a really terrible idea.” She knew the alien devices weren’t magical themselves, but it seemed to be asking for trouble to combine two such volatile and dangerous arts, especially when they were still a long way from understanding even a fraction of how the alien devices worked. “Any idea what they were trying to make it do? Any idea what it did before they meddled with it?” She wondered, turning ideas over in her mind.

“No.” Sicarius said shortly. He sounded wary, which put an extra hint of alarm in Amaranthe, too. “We should leave.” He added, in a tone that suggested he knew it wasn’t going to be that simple.

Amaranthe gave his back an unimpressed look. “Because it’s going to fizzle out on its own so there’s no point in our staying, or because it’s going to blow up and possibly take the houses above us with it?” She asked, thinking more of the distraction playing out above their heads. The one their daughter was orchestrating. Shaking her head to herself, Amaranthe slipped around Sicarius to approach the device.

She could feel him hovering at her shoulder, but he made no move to hold her back and didn’t try to dissuade her again. Amaranthe peered at the device in the light of its own glow and their weak lanterns. Now that she was close, she could see the dark sheen of that strange black material, lit up with glowing red symbols. It was strangely spiky in shape, and Amaranthe was a little tempted to see if those points would twist. “Well, it doesn’t look like any of those dangerous things I’ve seen before.” It wasn’t a cube shooting red beams of destruction everywhere. “But it doesn’t look like any of the harmless things I’ve seen before either. Oh, but I recognise those symbols!” That, at least, felt like something of a triumph, where all the rest of her ignorance irked her.

“Numbers.” Sicarius agreed.

“Yup. Do you think it’s a countdown, or could it just be recording something?” She wondered. One was far more ominous than the other, but neither were inherently harmless.

“Yes.” Sicarius replied, dry as a desert. Amaranthe couldn’t help but grin over at him for that old joke, and saw alarm race across his face. She was already jerking away from the device when Sicarius barked “Get back!” and pulled her further away with a hand on her arm.

The world shifted before her eyes.

The glow of her lantern became the faint light of dawn seeping in her window, the red glow of the device the glow a fire through a curtain, the dark stone of the cave became walls of dark wood instead. The tickle of stale air across her shoulder became the brush of hair, her momentum backwards halted by the prickling of a cheap straw mattress. Sicarius’s hand on her arm became someone else’s.

“If you want to say goodbye, flower, you’re going to have to wake up. I’m off in five minutes.”

Amaranthe sat up with a gasp, her heart racing. Her body was clumsier than she was used to, her limbs over-reaching and still not reaching far enough as her hand shot out and tried to grab at the owner of that voice, that hand. That someone caught her flailing attempts, and shushed her while reaching out to smooth her hair out of her face. Amaranthe blinked up at the face of her father. “Dad?” She rasped.

“Hey, yeah. What’s got you in such a panic, Ammy?” Her father replied, frowning at her in open concern. “Bad dream?” He asked gently.

Amaranthe just stared at him. Her father, alive and well and sitting there treating her like she was still a child, when she was fifty years old and he’d been dead for the last thirty! She couldn’t process what she was seeing, but she couldn’t bring herself to look away. He was, while perhaps not in his prime anymore, hale and whole and completely solid. The weight and warmth of his hand on her arm and her face could attest to that. “ Dad?” Amaranthe asked again, for lack of anything else in her brain.

Her father’s frown deepened. “Yes, Amaranthe, it’s me. What’s wrong?”

“I-” Amaranthe choked on an attempt at an explanation, because she didn’t have one. How could her father be here, in front of her, like he’d stepped right out of her fondest memories? It didn’t make any sense. Surely that device couldn’t have the power to bring the dead back to life, could it? If it did, could it be possible that everyone else she’d lost could be there?

She looked around, wondering if Sicarius had an explanation. But he wasn’t there. The cave was completely gone, replaced instead by her childhood bedroom. It was, really, just a corner of the main room curtained off so that she could have some privacy in their tiny little apartment, but it had her crappy attempts at drawing pinned up on the walls and one or two of her racing medals tacked up beside them. She was lying on a small cot, and her father had pushed the curtain aside to crouch at her bedside.

To shake her awake to say goodbye, like he did most mornings. Amaranthe finally returned her gaze to him, with the dawning realisation that he hadn’t fallen out of her memories, she had fallen in. “Bad dream.” She said, because it was the explanation he had already supplied her with. “You died.” She said before she could stop herself, and suddenly she was crying. She curled over and clutched at his worn and stained jacket, and he wrapped his arms around her and shushed her as she sobbed.

She tried desperately to get a hold of herself – if this went on much longer, he’d miss his train out to the mines – but she couldn’t. She wasn’t sure if her tears were because of grief, or relief, but in the end she decided it didn’t matter. “I’m sorry, I-” She choked out.

“No, hush. It’s okay. I’m fine.” Her father said at once. His large, work-calloused hand smoothed up and down her back. “Everything’s going to be okay, flower.”

Well, he wasn’t wrong. Amaranthe’s tears began to dry up as her mind finally began to work again. Her father was right, everything would be okay in the end, and while Amaranthe wouldn’t trade the future she’d helped build for anything, perhaps, if she was smart about it, she could make it even better. There was, of course, no guarantee that any of this was real, but Amaranthe was going to proceed as if it was until proven otherwise. It would be stupid to waste time trying to prove it was a dream if it wasn’t, and if it was, what did it matter? It would still be an interesting exercise.

“I don’t know what you’re cooking up in that crazy noggin of yours, but stop it.” Her father chided on a laugh, tapping lightly at her forehead with his knuckle in reprimand. “Feeling better?” He checked, although he clearly knew the answer. Amaranthe nodded, and her father smiled. “There’s breakfast on the stove for you, and don’t be late to school.”

“I won’t, Dad.” Amaranthe assured him. “Don’t you be late for work.”

Her father snorted at her, gave her one last hug, then ruffled her hair as he stood. “Be good.”

“I will. I love you, Dad.”

“You too, Ammy.” He called over his shoulder as he left. Amaranthe remained where she sat, staring at the door for several long minutes, wondering if she’d imagined the whole exchange. But no. She knew she hadn’t, and she needed to figure out when, exactly, she was, and what her plan was going to be.

On climbing out of bed, she tripped and stumbled and only barely managed to catch herself against the wall. She looked down at her tiny bare feet sticking out of her pyjamas, and gaped. Of course, she knew better than to expect the worn old feet she’d had fifty years to get used to, but the tiny, smooth, cute feet she was looking at still shocked her. They didn’t feel like they were hers. She wiggled her toes, just to make sure. Yup. Hers.

“How old am I?” She asked in disbelief.

She looked about for an answer, but the room did not present one. Yet, Amaranthe thought with determination. It would be interesting, snooping through her own life instead of someone else’s, but snooping was what she did, she wouldn’t be able to keep secrets from herself. Memories assailed her as she worked, poking through everything and tidying up after herself as she went. It was strange, getting used to a new body. She kept expecting that familiar ache in her hip to start up when she walked, and kept tripping and smacking her hands into things because her reach was smaller than she was used to. Still, with a little conscious effort, she could move with… not grace, but without any clumsy awkwardness.

It was the medals in her room that gave her the answer she sought, in the end. She had only one, and could find no others in the entire apartment, which meant that she was either seven or eight years old. She did a little mental maths, and realised that Sicarius must be seventeen or eighteen, and Sespian would be only one or two. Her heart suddenly ached at the thought of them, at the thought of the hard road that lay ahead of them. She wanted to fix that, but how on earth could she? There was no way a coal miner’s seven year old daughter was getting anywhere near the Imperial Barracks. She supposed she could ask after Sicarius, but that…

He’d been with her when the device had gone off, so perhaps he was here with his future memories, too. But then, perhaps he wasn’t. And if he wasn’t, getting his attention when he was still on Hollowcrest’s leash would be as good as a death sentence. She couldn’t bear the thought of dying at his hand, so she reluctantly set aside any notions of talking Sicarius out of displaying a bag of severed heads to a five year old. She’d reconnect them in the future. She’d done it before, she could do it again.

There were other people whose lives she could improve. Books. He wouldn’t die this time around, not if she had any damn say in the matter. She could let things play out as they did, except trying to save Books’ life at the very end, but… why stop there? That would just be leading everyone into the same dangerous situation all over again. No. Now that she knew the risks, she could avoid them. If she could stop Forge before they got enough clout to start the civil war, she would prevent the need for all that fighting.

Perhaps, she thought with a light-headed feeling of daring, she could even save Books’ son from Hollowcrest’s enforcers. She could save Basilard from his time fighting in the slave pit fights, and make sure Akstyr got a good magic teacher, and perhaps even save Maldynado’s sister.

That one had to come first, she realised with a jolt. Tia had been her age, she remembered, and she’d died when she was nine. If Amaranthe was eight right now, then Tia would be, too. She had to figure out a way to save her before it was too late. If she could change anything at all. Perhaps she was doomed to relive all the same disasters and mistakes all over again.

She shook that thought away viciously. No. That would be too cruel. She wouldn’t believe it. So she would have to find a way to… what, warn someone? Who would take the words of a child seriously? No, she’d have to find a way to be there, to make sure. The easiest way, of course, would be somehow attaching herself to the Marblecrests. That, however, had the same problem as doing anything about Sespian and Sicarius’s relationship. She was a miner’s daughter, not someone the Marblecrests would ever waste time on. Unless…

Amaranthe looked down at her hands, which were busy washing up the bowl of porridge she hadn’t noticed herself eating as she schemed. The idea unfolded in her mind, and she beamed, unseeing, at the wall. Yes, that was perfect. She was a bit young, admittedly, to be working, but if she gave herself a year to get used to being in the past before she acted… She was sure she could sell it. With the right words in the right ears, she could get herself some part time work cleaning for the Marblecrests. Then she would be on hand to help save Tia, and it might even foster some useful connections for later.

Somewhere in the building, a clock chimed, and Amaranthe jumped. She was late for school! She scrambled to get dressed and grab her notebook and pencils, and darted out of the door. It was going to be a tedious chore, drudging her way through the cheap local empire-funded and mandatory schooling again, but she would do it. She couldn’t drop out, not when Mildawn was her best link to Forge. If she could endear herself to Ms Worgavic, make connections with the other students that got recruited, like Retta, she could gather enough information to-

To what? Blackmail them? That was an option, she supposed, and not one she would flinch from anymore, not after seeing the havoc Forge had helped mastermind, but it wasn’t an option she particularly liked. She did flinch from the idea of giving Sicarius a list of names, but she didn’t entirely dismiss the idea. She hated herself for it, a little bit, but if she couldn’t think of anything better, she would pay that price to avoid the carnage of the revolution. There was the dubious possibility of, as Sicarius called it, subverting enough of the members that they’d lose traction before they could enact any of their more dangerous ideas, but she wasn’t sure enough of her own skills to manage it. She’d only partially succeeded with Retta, although she thought she might do better if she could start earlier, and Suan might be an ally, if Amaranthe could reveal to her what, exactly, her ‘colleagues’ were up to. Ms Worgavic had been a lost cause, and Amaranthe didn’t know enough about any of the other members to make any solid bets.

But, if she could infiltrate them from the beginning, go into business and finance, let them think she was one of them, perhaps she would have a better chance. She would try, but she wouldn’t rest all her hopes on the idea. She would try blackmail, if the opportunity came up, and she would try to win favours that she could cash in on to get people on her side, and she would keep her eyes peeled for opportunities. If none came, well. She’d at least have that list of names for Sicarius.

School was, as she had predicted, tedious. What she could not have predicted was just how hard it was to act like a child. She didn’t even notice that she was being far more studious and professional than she’d ever managed as a child, until she picked up on their teacher shooting her concerned looks. At lunchtime, she was rather expecting to be called aside, so she went with a resigned air, and waited politely for Mr Lyrgosk to speak first.

He gave her another one of those baffled and concerned looks, and Amaranthe belatedly realised that most children – and herself, at that age – would be either belligerent or nervous about being called over by the teacher, not politely interested in what they had to say. “Is everything alright, Miss Lokdon?” He asked, tentative in his concern.

“Fine, sir.” Amaranthe replied, trying for a baffled expression. “Why?”

Mr Lyrgosk’s frown became even more pronounced. “You seem…” He stopped, floundering for the right word. Amaranthe could have given it to him; ‘older’. Instead, what he chose was, “…distracted, today.”

“I guess I am, a bit.” Amaranthe agreed, struggling to find the right mindset for her younger self. Sheepish, she decided, since she’d always tried to take her studies seriously. She scuffed her shoe against the floor and looked down. “Dad’s been working really hard lately, and I… I worry about him.” She admitted.

Mr Lyrgosk sighed, and laid a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure your father will be fine. He’s working as hard as he is because he loves you, and wants the best for you.”

Amaranthe nodded quickly. “I know, sir.”

“Good girl. Now, run along.” He said, apparently reassured that nothing disastrous had happened to her. Amaranthe ran along, even though she chafed a little at the instruction. The only person who’d dared tell her to run along in the last twenty years was Fleet Admiral Starcrest, and the only reason she’d accepted it was because, from him, it had felt more like a welcome than a dismissal.

One or two of her tentative friends asked if she was alright over the rest of the day, and she waved them off with the same answer, which everyone seemed to accept, and Amaranthe resolved to get her act together.

It was hard. Acting like a child, to her friends, to her teachers, to her father, was far more difficult than she’d predicted. Her own body turned traitor, always that much smaller than she expected. She was constantly tripping over nothing, knocking elbows and knees into things and stubbing toes and fingers. Her father worried, she could tell, but she persevered, training her body the way Sicarius had shown her until she began to get used to it again.

She had to watch everything she said, too. Words she’d been using for decades suddenly made everyone around her stare, because she wasn’t fifty and friends with several academics. She was eight, and a coal miner’s daughter. She had to remember how play like a child, which was even harder than watching her words, because spending time around people her own – physical – age made her feel so old, like the grandmother she’d never quite had the chance to be. Unless she counted Sespian’s children, which she sort of did, if only sort of.

And then there was relearning her own life. It was unnerving to realise just how much she’d forgotten, not just about the day-to-day of being seven in her old neighbourhood, but the people around her, even some of her own father’s mannerisms. She’d forgotten, as well, how little he was there. He worked long hours, and the commute out to the mountains made it even longer. And to have him back, but not there hurt. It hurt a lot. Not nearly as much as realising that her own daughter didn’t exist here.

She spent a whole day in bed after realising that, feigning sickness so that she could wallow in her grief and misery and fear. If she changed things, her daughter might never be born at all. But even if she did her best not to change a thing, she couldn’t guarantee that she wouldn’t be just different enough to change that, anyway. She had to let go, and that was the hardest thing she’d ever done in her life. All she could do was hope that the life she’d built still existed somehow, and her daughter could continue to live there, even if she couldn’t here.

By the time her ninth birthday rolled around, as winter bled into spring, she thought she had finally started to get the hang of her new-old life. Enough that she resolved to put her plan into action a few days later, once she’d escaped from school.

Her first stop was the property library, and her youth plus a quarter of a century enduring Sicarius’s training – with only a few very memorable holidays in the mix – enabled her to get inside without being seen by anybody. Then she went snooping, looking for property owned by the Marblecrests. She could have asked around, but she didn’t want it being known that she’d searched them out specifically. That would be suspicious. So she had to trawl through maps, looking for the right name.

For once, it wasn’t hard. Proud warrior caste as they were, Amaranthe’s guess that the Marblecrest estate would be in the north of the city on Mokath Ridge, where most of the old-money manors were located, turned out to be correct. It was one of the largest estates, which didn’t surprise Amaranthe, and was nestled well within the wealthy neighbourhood, which annoyed her.

That was her next stop, of course, so she hopped onto a trolley that would take her close to the Crest neighbourhood, and scanned the crowds absently while she plotted. She might be able to get away with saying she was ten, or even eleven, and it wasn’t that unusual for kids that age, from her neighbourhood, to find themselves little jobs to help supplement the family income. It would be believable. Sort of. No child from her district would dare to solicit a Warrior Caste family for work.

When she reached the stop nearest the edge of the fancy manor houses of the warrior caste families, Amaranthe hopped off the trolley and braced herself. She could do this. Clenching her hands into nervous fists in the fabric of her skirt, Amaranthe marched – more like scurried, if she was being honest – into the grand streets speckled with milling nobility. She went unnoticed, for the most part, as she tried to keep to unoccupied streets. Her neck still prickled with the sensation of being watched every now and then, and she heard someone shout something about calling the enforcers if she didn’t clear off. Amaranthe ignored them all as she wound her way, not too directly, towards the Marblecrests’ estate.

Once there, she tried not to roll her eyes at the ostentatiousness of it all, and skirted around to the back. She loitered there nervously for long enough that she was fairly sure a servant inside would have spotted her, before squaring her shoulders and going to knock at the back door.

It was opened by a heavy-set, severe-looking woman with steel grey hair in a practical bun to match Amaranthe’s, who glared down at her with surprising ferocity. Amaranthe’s nervous gulp was not at all feigned. “Um, sorry to bother you, ma’am-”

“What do you want?” The woman snapped, interrupting. “I’ve a soufflé in the oven as needs watching, so don’t waste my time!”

“I was wondering if you had any need for a cleaning girl, ma’am.” Amaranthe blurted hastily.

The woman squinted at her. “How old are you?”

“Ten.” Amaranthe answered, lifting her child like a proud, defiant, but still nervous child would. She hoped. “I’m real handy around the house, ma’am, I can dust and sweep and mop and polish. Everyone says I’ve a real knack for it.”

“Bit young to be begging for work, ain’t you?” The woman asked, voice all full of warning and danger.

“I’m old enough, ma’am.” Amaranthe said defiantly, then made a show of wilting a little, when the woman seemed about to bark something angry at her again. “Please, ma’am. I’ve been looking for work all over. It’s just me and my Dad, see, and he’s a miner, and the pay’s not so good. He works real hard, does his best for me, ma’am, but I- I don’t like seeing him so tired all the time, and I know he’s trying to save to send me to a good school, and-”

The woman clucked her tongue. “Oh, come on in, girl.” She huffed grumpily, waving Amaranthe inside. Amaranthe darted in before the invitation could be retracted. She found herself in a spacious, well-kept kitchen, dominated by a massive stove and an even more massive sturdy wooden table, covered in all sorts of ingredients and preparation stations. “You’ll have to speak with the housekeeper, mind, but I’ve been hearing maids complaining about their workload.” The woman informed her.

“Thank you, ma’am.” Amaranthe breathed, all the gratitude in her voice completely genuine.

The woman scoffed at her. “Enough with the ‘ma’am’ nonsense. I’m Mrs Mevell, the head cook here.” She introduced herself gruffly.

“Amaranthe Lokdon, ma’a- uh, Mrs Mevell.” She corrected herself at a flinty glare from the woman in question, who nodded sternly once she’d done so.

The woman turned away from her, and bore down on a young woman stirring a pot full of hearty stew, if Amaranthe’s nose wasn’t mistaken. “Oi! You there, girl! Go and fetch Ms Cochovosk! And be quick about it!” Mrs Mevell barked, and the young woman scampered out of the kitchen like her heels were on fire. Amaranthe tried not to smile. Mrs Mevell went right back to her cooking, ignoring Amaranthe completely as she bustled about. Amaranthe’s fingers twitched at the mess all over the main table, and she wondered if Mrs Mevell would yell at her for tidying.

She decided she didn’t care, and got to work. It was more difficult than she was used to, given that the table was nearly taller than her, but she was a girl on a mission, and she could get creative. Mrs Mevell obviously didn’t mind her busy hands, because every now and then she would direct Amaranthe to the right cupboard to put something away, or bark at her not to touch something.

By the time a hawkish young woman with short black hair arrived in the doorway, the table was clear and the floor was sparkling, and Amaranthe was elbow-deep in silver polish. The girl who had been sent to fetch Ms Cochovosk gaped until Mrs Mevell barked at her to get back to work. Ms Cochovosk cleared her throat. “I assume you’re responsible for the kitchen’s current state of cleanliness?” She asked Amaranthe primly, flicking her fingers at the general area of the kitchen.

“Yes, ma’am.” Amaranthe replied, not stopping in her polishing.

Ms Cochovosk eyed her in what Amaranthe thought was pure bewilderment. “You’re looking for work as a maid?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Amaranthe said again.

“At your age?” Ms Cochovosk checked.

Amaranthe bit her lip, hard, before saying, carefully. “I work hard, ma’am, and I know it might be a bit inconvenient to only hire me part time, but I’d be happy to come straight here after school and work until supper.”

Ms Cochovosk eyed the kitchen again, then narrowed her eyes at Amaranthe. “Five ranmya an hour, for four hours a day, weekdays.”

Amaranthe wanted to bargain up, five ranmya was hardly a decent salary. But then, she was a child, and she didn’t think either of these women were thinking of her wanting this job for anything more than pocket change, and for that, five ranmya was very generous. “Five hours a day, every day.” She bargained up, hoping to make the point that she was serious about this.

Ms Cochovosk raised her eyebrows. “Three hours a day, every day, for the first two weeks. Then we can renegotiate.” She counter-offered.

Amaranthe considered. It got her into the house every day, at least, and that was the most important part. “Deal.” She agreed.

“I’ll write up the contract.” Ms Cochovosk sniffed, gave Amaranthe a dubious look, then left again.

“Good bargaining, kid.” Mrs Mevell complimented.

Amaranthe looked at her, startled, but then smiled. “Thank you. I’m hoping to get into Mildawn Business Academy for Girls when I’m old enough.” She answered.

Mrs Mevell snorted, and for a moment Amaranthe thought she was scoffing at her, but then she said, “They’d be fools if they didn’t take you. Now, if you’re starting work today, which you might as well, you can finish that silver up and get to work cleaning the pantry.”

Amaranthe leapt to obey.

By the time she left the Marblecrest estate three hours after she’d arrived she had fifteen ranmya in one hand, a work contract in the other, and the first step of her plan in motion. She went home, did her homework easily, and had dinner ready when her father trooped inside at ten in the evening. He paused when he saw the meal laid out, and smiled tiredly. “Thanks, Ammy.”

“I had time.” Amaranthe shrugged.

“Yeah? You ought to be in bed already.” Her father reminded her, although she could tell he didn’t mean it by the light in his eyes. Amaranthe stuck out her tongue. Once her father was sitting at the table and had started in on the food – with a small exclamation about how good it tasted – he asked Amaranthe how her day had been.

“It was good. I got a job today.” Her father’s eyebrows shot up. “Cleaning for the Marblecrests.” Amaranthe added, and tried not to laugh when her father choked on his mouthful and stared at her incredulously. “It’s going to be fun.” She added, bouncing a little. It wasn’t her dream job, but an excuse to let her – slightly neurotic, she could admit her faults – cleaning habit run loose for a while would be cathartic, if nothing else.

“The Marblecrests, you say?” Her father rasped. “How did that happen?”

Amaranthe shrugged. “I went door-knocking, same as most kids that are looking for work.”

“You went door-knocking at Crest houses?” Her father echoed.

“Yes?” Amaranthe replied, doing her best to look wide-eyed and guileless.

Her father stared at her for a moment, then snorted and shook his head. “Only you, Ammy. Well, the Marblecrests are lucky to have you, but mind you don’t work too hard.” He reminded her, wagging his fork at her.

“You’re a hypocrite.” Amaranthe informed him lightly.

Her father huffed softly. “I work as hard as I do so you don’t have to, flower.” He said gently. Amaranthe’s eyes filled with tears without her consent, and she hastily wiped at them, frustrated. “Hey, Ammy, love, what-?” Her father asked.

“I’m fine.” Amaranthe protested, knuckling at her eyes until she had control of herself again. “I just… You don’t have to work so hard, Dad. I know- I know you’re doing it to take care of me, and I appreciate it, I do, but, Emperor’s warts, Dad, you need to take care of you too!”

“Ah, come here, flower.” Her father sighed, turning in his chair and holding his arms out. Amaranthe didn’t even bother trying for dignity as she flung herself around the table and into his arms. “I’m tougher’n I look, I’ll be fine.” Amaranthe wanted to scream at him, but instead she swallowed it back and clung to him for a little while.

“Your dinner’s getting cold.” She muttered when the urge to tell her father everything had faded.

He chuckled at her. “So’s yours.” He retorted.

Amaranthe squinted at him in mock disgruntlement. “Next time, I’m making ration bars, if that’s how you’re going to appreciate all my hard work.” She paused. “Actually, that’s maybe not a bad idea. Good fuel makes for a healthier body. I will draw the line at spider’s eggs, though.”

Her father choked again. “Spider’s eggs?” He echoed.

Amaranthe mimicked her daughter’s best I-didn’t-do-anything-wrong-I-promise grin. “I hear they’re an excellent source of protein.” She announced, and snickered at her father’s disgusted groan.