The first time Harrow shares a bed with her Griddle, she is six. She has no plans to, when she first settles into her own bed. After evening prayers, she had received her nightly kiss from Lady Pelleamena and Lord Priamhark, clutched her threadbare blankets against the chill of children’s wing of Drearburh, and closed her eyes, ready for another day of devotions, and learning necromancy, and preparing to become the next Lady of the Ninth House.
But she has nightmares. After the third time she wakes, choking back screams, and her chronometer blinks that it’s still several hours till morning bell. The children’s wing is a cavernous hole, shielded from the weak light of Dominicus, and kept lit by dimly flickering lights that haven’t been replaced in too long. In the past, she gathers, the children’s wing was kept bright and warm, to help nurture the next generation of the Ninth. Harrow has never even seen all of the harsh lights in the corridor working at the same time. It simply isn’t a reasonable use of resources, given that there are only the two of them in the wing.
As she calms down, she can hear another voice, whimpering. She frowns. Griddle is the only other person in the wing, and she is offended that Griddle dares copy after her in this of all things. This can not stand. She slips out of her cot and pads through the bleak halls, heading to where she can hear sniffling in the darkness. She works up an impressive head of steam on the short way there, and she turns the corner ready to shout at Griddle for interrupting her own sleep.
But Griddle is too pathetic, and her own nightmares are close at her heels, and when Griddle opens her arms in silent supplication there’s nothing she can do but slip into her cell and into her cot. In her arms she sleeps dreamlessly.
In the morning she is of course discovered and scolded. It is not meet for the Lady of the Ninth House (even if she is not yet the Lady) to be found in the arms of chattel. Lady Pelleamena stresses that it is the finding that is the shame, and Harrow takes that to heart. She gathers that Gideon is getting a much harsher scolding from Lord Priamhark elsewhere. She stumbles into Griddle’s bed again as soon as evening prayers are over, of course. She will simply need to not get caught.
Harrow sleeps in Gideon’s bed the next night, and the next. The nightmares never come. It becomes habit to wake at the same time every morning and to pad silently back into the cold bed in her cell. Griddle cannot seem to sleep without her either, which is fortunate. She loses count of the number of times a bleary-eyed Griddle has dragged her bodily from a lemma and into their bed.
Harrow isn’t quite sure what she would do without Gideon. Lady Novenarius continues to express her vocal distaste for the foundling, and scolds her whenever the Lady finds her in the same room as Gideon. Gideon, too soft for her own good, tries to avoid Harrow every time the Lady is near, but they neither of them are able to stay apart for long. Even when they fight, as they inevitably do, Harrow knows that the day will end with her in her Griddle’s arms.
When they are eight, Lady Novenarius and Lord Noniasvianus take her to the salt pool in the depths of their chambers. This is the first night that Gideon’s bed is not sufficient to keep her from nightmares. She shivers, crying, and it isn’t until it is deep in the night that Gideon’s clumsy, whispered reassurances calm her enough to finally sleep.
It is only until just after morning bell that Harrow has a moment alone with Gideon. The Lord and Lady are busy blessing the catacombs. Harrow drags Gideon past the massive double doors of her parent’s chambers, and then through the door that separates the anteroom from their bedchambers proper, past the locked and secret panel set in the adjoining bath, down the slick and crudely hewn steps, and into the salt pool that she knows already will be a fixture in her nightmares for years to come. (Gideon’s bulk is growing to the point where it was more cajoling than dragging. Harrow refuses to acknowledge this.)
Harrow owes Gideon an explanation. She owes Lady Pelleamena that the explanation be told hushed and secret, in the pool, as they had adjured her to. She tells Gideon everything, and waits for her only friend’s judgement. She does not deserve Gideon’s response.
Harrow is ten years old, and Gideon is eleven. Harrow has spent the last year planning their way through the Tomb. Gideon knows, and thinks that it is a bad idea. Harrow ignores Gideon. Her Gideon is good with a longsword (and with knuckle-knives, but mediocre with a rapier, and simply hopeless with powder) but she has never been and never will be particularly good at risk assessment and planning. That is Harrow’s job.
She knows she can do it. Her parents have bought and paid for her ability to do this. It would be trivial to guide herself through the Tomb; she could have done that nine months ago if that was all. But it is another thing altogether to coax the wards to allow Gideon to go with her. If she will be committing sacrilege and blasphemy, Gideon will be by her side. They are not yet completely inseparable, but even now they know, deep in their bones, that they both need to see what is inside the Tomb, and judge if the Ninth is worth preserving. Whether their generation will be the last.
In the end it is a simple observation: Laman’s Theorem needs only a co-application of the regularity principle and it becomes wide enough for two people to shelter under, and its relatively recent discovery and invention renders it proof to many of the cruelest wards in the Tomb. Harrow relays her discovery (omitting the technical details that she knows Gideon does not care for, and will write a monograph on later) and they make preparations for the entrance.
They enter in the dead of night, that time that has always belonged to just the two of them. Harrow cracks open the seal with ease. As the Rock is rolled past the entrance, the rush of wind from the Tomb makes a soft and mournful noise. As one they enter the Tomb and as one they walk past the wards and into the atrium. Gideon supports Harrow in hushed silence as she picks apart invisible traps, and they step by step enter the tomb proper. The tomb where the girl lies buried, insensate, in perpetual rest.
An indeterminate amount of time later, they gather their wits and exit the tomb. Gideon pushes the rock back into place, and Harrow waits for her, breathing heavily, swaying from the drain and the blood loss. Neither of them see the Lord and Lady of the Locked Tomb standing outside. Neither of them see Harrow’s parents pale with fear and horror.
Gideon never mentions that she was against the plan in the first place. Harrow is bitterly grateful.
To be completely honest, Harrow has no idea how she could have done this without Gideon. Keeping the facsimile of her parents in motion seems to take more and more effort every day, and Griddle is always there to distract with a rude remark and to pretend to bait her parents away to punish her when Harrow starts flagging.
Gideon even cheerfully submits to actual punishments for verisimilitude. Not in the leek fields, but rather in the training rooms or kitchens, where Harrow can sit with a book and a slate while Gideon works. They no longer can bear to be apart for too long, or Harrow’s hands start shaking and it becomes hard to breathe. Gideon says that she experiences similar symptoms. Harrow suspects she’s humoring her, but reports from Aiglamene in training sessions corroborate the claim. Harrow has no inclination to excise this weakness as she has excised other things she disapproves of herself. It isn’t a weakness if it never comes up, and she resolves it never will.
Griddle throws herself into rapier training, despite being indifferent with the weapon. Harrow insists that she will be named the cavalier of the Ninth regardless of her skill with the traditional weapon of the cavalier (for who could ever take Gideon’s place from her), but something about the image of standing behind Harrow with a rapier at her hip is appealing. Harrow thinks that, even once Gideon is named her cavalier, she will insist that Griddle carry the longsword across her back. Gideon may be getting better at the rapier, but she was born to hold the longsword.
The two of them practice nearly every day, Harrow practicing her control and endurance with summoning and puppeteering skeletons, and Griddle with the longsword and the rapier. The two of them always stop only when Griddle and Harrow are both exhausted. Gideon ends each session chattering excitedly about the cool moves she did while Harrow leans against her contentedly, sipping at her water to replace the blood she’s lost.
They still sleep in Gideon’s cell, and there’s nobody now to admonish them for it.
By the time they are both fifteen, Harrow has gotten quite used to puppeteering her parents about their daily tasks, and it is made easier by the fact that they have “taken” vows of silence, seclusion, and fasting. Griddle has become a vision with the blade, and Harrow is often tempted to go further than she can safely hold her skeletons, just to keep watching her fight. Griddle can always tell, and stops before Harrow can hurt herself. Griddle is one of the two bright things in Harrow’s borrowed existence, and every day in prayer she thanks the Necrolord Prime for her.
The Ninth House is dying. She is trying everything she can think of to attract new foundlings, short of vassalling her house under another’s. She cannot bring the poison of her blood into a house that does not deserve it, and she cannot trust anyone else with the girl in the tomb. Nothing works. Nobody wants to send their orphans to the House that killed two hundred of them only a short decade ago, and nobody is willing to join an aging sepulchre of doomed cultists waiting to die. Griddle brings up going to the army once, but neither of them take it seriously. Neither of them can bear even the separation of a few dozen yards, let alone the necromantic wastes of the stars.
Harrow is, obscurely, glad that the Ninth House is dying. In fits and spurts in Griddle’s cell, she confesses that she thinks the Ninth House deserves to be wiped from the earth for the transgression her parents committed, and her only worry is keeping the girl in the tomb safe. Griddle agrees with her. She was there with Harrow when they saw what was inside the tomb, and they felt the same pull to protect her and safeguard her. She is the only other who knows the secret of Harrow’s birth. She is the only one who Harrow can talk to this about. Just the two of them, whispering secrets in each other’s arms in the yawning emptiness of the Children’s Halls.
Harrow is seventeen, and Griddle is eighteen. A letter addressed to the Lord and Lady of the Ninth House arrives, on real cream paper and bearing the seal of the Necrolord Prime, the King Undying. Harrow opens it in her parents’ chambers with Gideon beside her. She pulls it out on trembling fingers. It is a summons. Gideon and Harrow, to the House of the First.
Gideon is eager. Finally she will have a chance to prove her skills against the other houses. Finally the Ninth House has a chance to be renewed. Harrow is reserved, and afraid. She cannot imagine a threat that would require such a call as has not been heard in a myriad. Harrow gains a new theme for her dreams now: Gideon, dead, locked in chains and bound in ice. Still and quiet as the girl in the tomb, robbed forever of her wit and warmth and smile.
In the end, her duty to the House and her confidence in their abilities—and her fear of what the Lord will do if He knows what they have done—win out. The shuttle to Canaan House is a somber affair. Harrow clings to Gideon, leeching off her warmth and thalergy as a ward against the hungry vastness of space. Gideon clings back. They sit, waiting, as the shuttle makes its slow way towards the light of Dominicus.