Warden’s Day. Of all the days, she chose Warden’s Day. Everyone was at the park; the warden (of course), the teachers from hall, the lower hall children, everyone from upper hall, Krem and all his curls, and (worst luck) mother. Father wasn’t there, so I should say almost everyone.
Father hates Warden’s Day. It’s because the wardens are employed by the Academy and if it weren’t for the bloody alchemists of the bloody Academy, we wouldn’t need a bloody warden. Those are his words, not mine. The wardens are just normal people. I read in Severn’s Whole History that the Academy only allows 200 hundred practicing alchemists. There are hundreds of thousands of setins, so there has to be a warden for almost every village near a river. They don’t get much money from the Academy anyway, just enough to live on. The Academy wasn’t even formed when the setin were created, but father says it doesn’t matter, as they’re all a bunch of bastards.
I don’t talk about Warden’s Day around father, because it’s the only thing that makes him angry. He didn’t even get angry when I left his coat in front of the fire to dry and burned it. But I try not to mention wardens to him at all. I like the warden. I’d like to be a warden and learn everything there is to know about the setins. If you can keep people safely away from the setins, then the setins won’t need to eat them. It’s pretty straightforward, really.
I like Warden’s Day, because Warden’s Day is the village’s way of saying thank you to the warden. He is out there every day walking the banks, keeping track of the setins, running from house to house if any of them stray from the river.
Miranda says the warden tells the families of people who have been bitten by capius setins where their loved ones have gone. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them. The capius are as beautiful as they are scary, their blue skin carving gracefully down the river on undulating yellow frills. Four rows of razor-sharp teeth that rarely leave a victim alive, but turn anyone who survives their attack into one of them. At least, that’s how the books describe it. I have never seen a capius. I have never seen a dessius setin either. I am the only person in the whole village that I know who has never seen a setin at all. I bet I know the most about them though.
I prefer setins to mothers any day of the week. Setins may have plagued the village for a hundred years, but you can avoid them. A mother you’re stuck with. They may be less deadly, they may even be friendlier, but the real fact of the matter is there’s no getting rid of them.
Also, and I don’t care how large it is, how venomous it is, whether it’s dessius or capius, no setin is ever going to humiliate you in front of all your friends.
I sit here with quill to notebook only because there is no outside world anymore. How could there be, after the incident on Warden’s Day?
The girls from my hall were all dressed up in their finest. Even Miranda, whose finest looks like most people’s normal. I can’t believe I’ve been stuck with the same group all these years. I was hoping that when we moved from lower hall to upper hall there might be some change of scenery, but it’s the same nine girls and seven boys it’s always been.
Everyone who still goes to hall has to wear a scarf on warden’s day, except the boys, of course. Pater Rother even checks us, which is not fair, because he’s only supposed to be in charge when we’re in the classroom.
I had borrowed Nana Rose’s scarf. Borrowed, mind you, I do not take things without permission. It’s a gorgeous scarf: silk with a print of lilies on the river surface and the blue streak of a capius setin just below the surface. You can see the outline of the body, long and fluked, a yellow ribbon of colour about its frills. No hint of the person it once was.
Nana says the scarf commemorates someone that means a lot to her, although she won’t say who. Nobody tells me anything.
“Your Mother wouldn’t like it if I told you.”
She is no doubt correct; Mother doesn’t like anything.
I’m not allowed a scarf, because I lost my last one. Miranda borrowed it to carry plums. She says it got juice on it and she washed it, then hung it in the tree to dry. Miranda isn’t the smartest and as you might expect, the wind blew it away. Bethan and Kaye have been going on about it ever since. They said Miranda sold it to a hawker for jam tarts and buttons. She does have new buttons and she has got a bit fatter, but Miranda is my friend, there’s no way she’d do that. And there’s nothing out of the ordinary about her getting fatter.
I borrowed Nana’s scarf because I wanted to teach Bethan and Kaye a lesson. The two of them have airs far above their station. Both of their families are moneyed, but neither of them has a scarf as beautiful as Nana Rose’s. As soon as I walked through the park gates, they were both green with the not-gots. I think Kaye was just about ready to spew.
The girls of the upper hall had to sing “Oh save me brave”. Mater Grierly had us practice it on our lunchtimes for a month. The boys danced, slapping sticks and shins. They all had red rags instead of scarfs. But I saw Krem look at mine. I think I must look pretty wearing it.
We were lined up to thank the warden. The lower hall goes first, so it’s a long queue. I made a point of standing between Bethan and Kaye. Kaye had just asked where I got the scarf when Mother came busting out of the crowd with her lips puckered, her brows creased, and cheeks as red as coals.
“Thisne, give me that before your idiot friends trick another one out of you.”
She snatched it from around my neck.
“Of all the things to give you,” she muttered.
Mother didn’t even glance back to see the two of them laughing at me. Or to see me running down to the river. I must have cried for three hours, and not a single setin lurched out of sludge to end my suffering. I’m always hearing tales about capius attacking beautiful maidens to turn them, so their lack of interest just adds insult to injury.
When I got back to the park, the celebration was over, and the warden had left. Thankfully, so had Bethan and Kaye.
Fiffnal 08, Third Passage, Moonrise
I spoke to Father; he says Mother has the right ideas but that she sometimes goes about them in the wrong way. I suppose that’s why he doesn’t let her cook. If today was her idea of helping, I dread to think what her idea of shepherds’ pie would be.
People sometimes say father is funny because he’s not from Hessell. People from Hessell are funny like that.
I remember Mater Grierly joking when we were doing sums back in lower hall.
“You talk funny like your father.”
Nobody laughed, because you get in to trouble for laughing when Mater Grierly teaches. Everyone hates her and she dresses like a tramp. She says mean things all the time. I’m glad I have Pater Rother now.
Father is from Thinvoll, which is a hamlet. I’ve never been there but he says it was like Hessell, though without a hall, a park, or even a warden. Only three families lived there, right on the riverbank. The houses weren’t spread out like they are in Hessell, but crammed close together.
The setin attack on Thinvoll is famous, it’s in all of the books. Father won’t talk about it, but I know a few things that I haven’t read. I shouldn’t really write this down, but I don’t suppose anyone but me will read it.
The two types of setin are believed to have been created at roughly the same time by two rival alchemists. The dessius are bigger with ink-black skin. They are more aggressive and stronger than the capius, but the capius scare me more, because of their infectious bite.
A dessius killed my father’s sister and he watched both his parents transformed by a capius. They are out there somewhere. Father dreams about them. He screams for them, that’s how I know. I wish mother would be more sympathetic, she’s never had anything bad happen to her.
Fiffnal 09, Third Passage, Sunup
I have told mother I am too sick to go to hall for lessons. It’s not a lie; I couldn’t sleep for worry and stayed up reading last night. My eyes are sore and my head hurts.
She is still making me go!
I shall skirt by the river and give the setins another chance. Given that my other option is abject humiliation, being eaten wouldn’t be the worst. I might get lucky and have one of them turn me. If they did, I’d eat Kaye first, she laughed the most.
Fiffnal 09, Third Passage, Long Shadows
Hall wasn’t that bad. Bethan told Krem Barton what happened at the park. He didn’t seem to understand why it was important. He just said my mother sounded very sensible. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to love him for not caring or be mad that he took my mother’s side.
I looked at his beautiful wavy hair and decided I was closer to loving him than hating him, but then I looked down at his unpolished shoes and I wasn’t sure how close to loving him I could get. It takes no time to polish a shoe, but the contrast of satin stockings and scuffing is a difficult image to get out of the mind.
He’s not terribly smart either and this seems to be a theme with the people I feel affection for. I suppose I must take after my father.
Speaking of stupid people, Miranda was a brick today. She threatened to punch Bethan on the nose and has promised to replace my scarf, given all the trouble it’s caused. I thanked her but told her there was no need, but she insisted and after the way she spoke to Bethan, I was a bit too scared to say no.
Fiffnal 10, Third Passage, Sunup
The old hag woke me up by churning butter. She has no sense of rhythm. I’m not sure she doesn’t do it on purpose. When I churn butter, I do it in a gentle melodious way, so that it sounds like waves lapping the riverbank. When Mother does it, it is in a frantic stop-start way that no human ear could find pleasure in.
She’s not terrible at everything; if she wanted to wake me up, she can congratulate herself on a job well done.
Fiffnal 10, Third Passage, Midsun
I still haven’t seen a setin. And I’m still the only person I know who hasn’t.
It is not for want of looking. Hessell is the biggest village for miles and the Deva River coils around it like a rope. Mother and father travel to sell their barrels, but I’ve never been beyond the river. Aside from father, I’ve never met anyone from outside the village, either. Though I know there is a visiting hawker.
Father says Hessell is the prettiest village in the whole of Afon, but like most people in Hessell father has never been more than forty miles. I have read that the whole of Afon stretches hundreds of miles — full of cities and towns; that has to be much more interesting. Hessell is mostly just fields, trees, and houses. There are flowers in the park and a swing, but nothing like the statues or towers you read about in Garsdon. Beyond the Deva there are more fields, more trees, and more houses. If you go far enough north, you can see Garsdon over the Merrisea, and if you go south, you can see the slate hills of Whelston far across the water. I’ve never seen either. Even I know better than to go to bodies of water that large — I want to see one setin, not an ocean of them.
Mother would never let me go to the Deva as a child, and I am still banned from going alone. I go all time, of course, but I’ve still never seen one. Everyone else I know has seen scores.
Mother would execute me if she knew I was going to the river alone.
She says, all I need to know about setin is to stay away from them, but it just makes me more curious. After all, Nana had a famous encounter with one — not that anyone will talk about it.
I have hall again tomorrow; it would be nice to get through one day without being humiliated. I still have a headache too and now my eyes hurt. I smell toast cooking, I had better get dressed.
Fiffnal 10, Third Passage, Blackest Midnight
Our house is decidedly too small. I have been woken by the sound of my parents arguing. That is to say, Mother was arguing whilst Father spoke with the calm tones of a reverend brother ministering to the possessed.
“She’s just like Caleb,” Mother was shrieking.
I don’t know who Caleb is, but he often comes up when they argue, especially when they argue about me. Dorethea in the senior hall had a twin sister who died at birth. Sometimes I like to imagine Caleb is my twin brother and my parents sent him away when I was very young. I keep hoping he will show up and give them something better to argue about than me.
I could hear father take a deep breath. I’m not sure if he’s frightened of mother or if he just doesn’t have the energy to keep up with her. He spoke slowly, like a ticking metronome:
“She’s exactly like Caleb,” said father, “It’s in her blood. It’s in all of your blood.”
Father rarely sounds firm, but there was enough certainty in his voice to shut Mother up for at least half a second.
“It wasn’t in Caleb’s, and it isn’t in mine, so it can’t be in hers.”
I don’t know what they’ll talk about when I grow up and leave. I bet they’ll have hobbies. Miranda’s mother knits.
Fiffnal 11, Third Passage, Long Shadows
I think Miranda may like Krem. Every time I glance over at him, I see her staring at him. My eyes ached after reading and my head felt woozy, so I spent most of hall noticing things.
Did you know that the first mention of a setin in Afon is just after King Humber returned from his expedition to the ice flats? It’s longer ago than I thought. Back then, the Academy ran everything and nobody else could read much. They brought in hall just to teach people how to live around the setins. Of all the terrible things the setins have done, eating people, luring them from their families, and destroying homes, making me go to hall must be the worst.
Krem doesn’t seem to notice anything. He stares at Bethan. I think he must like her scarf, it’s almost as pretty as the one I used to have. I can tell he doesn’t really like her though, because she sits in front of him, and he never looks down at her ankles. Lucky for Bethan; they’re very boney and I think they would make him sick.
Nobody was in when I got home, and there was a note saying they were at Nana’s. I had cheese and bread for dinner, and a whole pot of tea to myself.
I lay in bed thinking about Klem. I hope Miranda gets me a nice scarf. I know her family don’t have much money, but I could use the attention. I’ve never even held hands with a boy. When you add that to my never having seen a setin, you might wonder what I’ve been doing with my life.
Fiffnal 11, Third Passage, Evensong
Father has come home without Mother. He briefly checked on me. I asked him if Mother was well, and he said she was comforting Nana.
I asked if it was anything to do with Caleb. Father looked surprised but I could tell he wasn’t going to tell me anything.
“More to do with Nana,” he told me.
If I do have a secret twin, I’ll never keep secrets from him the way my parents do.
“Who is he?” I asked.
Father frowned; you could almost see his brain straining to find an answer that wouldn’t get him into trouble.
“When your mother’s ready, I’m sure she’ll tell you all about him.”
So, now I still don’t know, and I will have to talk to Mother. I consider this the worst of all possibilities.
Fiffnal 12, Third Passage, Long Shadows
Mother is still not back. Went for a walk, did not see a setin.
Fiffnal 13, Third Passage, Midsun
I think there is something wrong with my eyes, I have trouble reading. It can’t be that I have gotten stupider. I was trying to get through what should have been an easy chapter on the colourings of dessius setins, but the page kept blurring. If Mother were here, I would complain about it.
I told Father, and he said I might need focus lenses. He said the hawkers sometimes sell them.
Then he made me gut and pluck one of the pheasants he has hanging. He’s salted it and is going to cook it for Mother when she gets back. It’s a double-edged sword; the pheasant will be delicious, but a delicious meal isn’t always a pleasant one.
As I am nearly blind, I asked him to read to me. I gave him my copy of Cordon’s Field Study of Setin Habits, but he said he could not stand to hear another word about the wretched creatures, and didn’t I have any books with stories?
Three years ago, Mother decided I was “too old” for “fairy stories”. Father watched whilst mother donated all my old story books to the lower hall, so he knows very well that I don’t. We ended up with him reading from a recipe book. It made me hungry for rhubarb and custard, but we didn’t have eggs or rhubarb. Father suggested he could look for a recipe for toast.
Fiffnal 14, Third Passage, Mornsong
Father is sending me to Nana’s house. He wants me to try her focus lenses. Mother will be there. I think he is punishing me for reading recipes we don’t have ingredients for.
Fiffnal 14, Third Passage, Long Shadows
I tried Nana’s pince-nez. I am relieved to discover that I am not getting stupider. It is not good news that my eyesight is failing, however. Nana has given me her spare pince-nez to use until I can go to the hawker.
Mother walked home with me. We did not speak much, and I dared not ask her about Caleb. Instead, she asked me about hall. I told her about Bethan’s ankles, and she asked which boy I was getting jealous over. I don’t believe she will ever understand me.
The pheasant dinner was very tasty. Father made rhubarb and custard for dessert.
Fiffnal 15, Third Passage, Night
Went to Miranda’s house. Her elder brother Iain was skinning rabbits to make gloves. He has very deft hands. He’s a similar build to Miranda, but it looks better on him because he doesn’t have to wear a dress. Miranda is the only person I know who has any siblings. It’s probably why her family is so poor.
I’m not sure what Iain was dipping the skins in, but it smelled even worse than a hanging pheasant. And dead rabbits look unpleasant when they’re skinned, like undernourished babies.
He told me Miranda was at the park. He wiped his bloody hands on his leather apron and winked at me.
“You let me know if you want some garters like the ones I made her.”
I thanked him for his generous offer.
There was no sign of Miranda at the park. I met Kaye and Bethan by the wrought iron gates. Bethan has a new scarf with a picture of a kestrel. She should wrap it around her pointy ankles.
They hadn’t seen Miranda, but they made it very clear they had seen someone else. Kaye said “someone else” in a sing-song lilt that suggested it was someone very interesting.
I wasn’t going to take the bait. There are only 16 families in Hessell and none of them has ever been especially interesting before. I bet if you took a ship and left Afon to search all the wonderous foreign lands you still wouldn’t find a group of less interesting people. Kaye is just too boring to notice it.
Fiffnal 1, Fourth Passage, Short Shadows
Sylvia from the lower hall has been attacked by a setin. Her family were fishing on the Deva. Luckily it was a dessius, so she won’t turn. I have heard she’s quite sick but should get better within a stint. I am quite sick too; here I am at age fourteen and I’ve still never even seen a setin. I blame Mother for mithering me about keeping away from the river.
I wonder what would happen if Sylvia did turn. Would her family try to visit her? And if they did, would she try to eat them?
Fiffnal 2, Fourth Passage, Long Shadows
Miranda brought my ‘new’ scarf to hall. It is quite the most ragged thing I have ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised it weren’t one of the rags Iain cleans up rabbit guts with.
As Miranda is my friend, and I know she has done her best, I graciously tied my hair up in it. I might look like a roaming beggar, but that is better than being an ungrateful priss.
Krem smiled when he saw me wearing it, I couldn’t tell if he was being polite. Bethan and Kaye both laughed aloud at me.
When I put on my pince-nez Bethan said I reminded her of Mater Grierly. Krem laughed. I have decided that he is beneath my affections.
Fiffnal 3, Fourth Passage, Night
I loathe it when it rains; the mice in the thatch become frantic and it is difficult to sleep. I have asked Father for a cat. He grunted and pretended to be asleep. Mother told me to get to sleep, they have barrels to coop in the morning. Hopefully, that means I’ll be able to buy a new pince-nez soon.
There is an awful musky smell when it rains heavily like tonight and in the flicker of the lamp, you can see damp on the plaster of the walls.
I have been fixed to my window for the last hour. Nana tells me that on nights when it rains very heavily, the setin come inland looking for victims. There was a flash of lightning earlier and I saw something move in the hedges near the gate. It may have just been a fox though.
Fiffnal 4, Fourth Passage, Long Shadows
I may look like an old woman, but Pater Rother says I was the best reader today. The muddy paths had rendered my dress filthy, but most of the other girls had suffered the same fate and at least two of the boys had managed to push each other over and had little clusters of dirt around their desks.
We had to do an oral quiz. Miranda didn’t know the six stages of the capius, and Bethan got three sums wrong. So, all things considered, I shone. I know everything about the stages of the capius except what they look like in real life. Pater Rother has let me borrow a book about dessius. He says I could make a good warden — so long as my eyesight doesn’t get any worse.
Mother made me brush my dress and shoes. She and Father have not finished with the barrels yet, so I had to make dinner. They had not so much as shopped and I had to walk back into the village to get fresh supplies. We had potatoes and trout.
I mashed the potatoes, but we didn’t have any cream, so I had to add water. The trout was good, even though I wasn’t able to filet it very well and now my hands smell of fish guts. I scrubbed them with potato skins, but there’s still a smell.
Fiffnal 5, Fourth Passage, Short Shadows
Miranda is no longer my friend. She was talking to Kaye and Bethan and as I approached, she said, “Here comes Mater Grierly.”
The outrage! I was only wearing that beggar’s scarf to save her feelings. Worst still, at lunch she sat with Krem, and they held hands. I am truly alone in the world.
Two of the lower hall girls, Geraldine and Rhian, saw me crying in the cloakroom. They were very nice and friendly. They calmed me down by telling me all about Sylvia. Sylvia has a patch of scales around the area where she was bitten. The veins in her arms have turned bright blue. This is normal in dessius bites, some people stay that way forever.
She had travelled quite far up the river; her mother is a net fisher. I don’t know the spot where she was attacked, but it is supposed to have a clump of willows and a small mooring. Dare I visit it alone? I certainly have no friends to go with.
I may still invite the treacherous Miranda, but to use as bait!
Fiffnal 6, Fourth Passage, Moonrise
I had to make dinner again. This time I could only make eggs and bread, though my parents seemed happy enough with it. They have finally finished cooping the barrels and looked too tired to care much about anything.
Mother was in a bad mood, which is to say, a normal mood. She found me reading and chastised me for using too much lamp oil. Then she asked what I was reading and why. I told her about the book Pater Rother had lent to me, and how he thinks I could become a warden. Mother snatched the book away and is going to hall to embarrass me tomorrow.
She says she plans on having a stern word with Pater Rother for putting such foolish ideas into my head.
Fiffnal 7, Fourth Passage, The End of the World
True to her word, Mother barged into hall and shouted at Pater Rother in front of the whole class. It is as well that I have no friends left to lose.
I feel too sick to write and I have no books to read, so at least Mother will save on her precious lamp oil.
Fiffnal 8, Fourth Passage, Mornsong
Dad has taken pity on me and given me enough money for both a pince-nez and a scarf that doesn’t look like it has been used to dust a barnyard.
The hawker visits Hessell every sixth fiffnal. He’s a bright-eyed chap who wears a yellow jacket, even in the summer. I have heard people describe him as handsome, but he has a metal nose tied on with a leather cord.
Mother says the metal nose is proof that he must have been handsome once. Father laughed when she said it, but they wouldn’t let me in on the joke.
Father replied that he was a well-travelled man, Mother laughed and said he had been to all sorts of places, which they both found hilarious.
Fiffnal 8, Fourth Passage, Short Shadows
The hawker was not as grubby a man as I was expecting, and aside from the metal nose, I found him to be both presentable and charming. He was a big help in showing me through a collection of pince-nez, and eventually, we found the perfect pair.
As we were discussing noses anyway, I told him how handsome I thought his own was. It is a bronze alloy that almost perfectly matches his skin tone.
“Thanks. My last one was a touch longer, but I like it well enough. You pay no mind to rumours, I didn’t lose it through no wrongdoing or ought,” said he.
I had never suggested he did and told him as much but asked how he did get it.
“Let’s just say I put it somewhere it didn’t belong, and it got stuck there.”
His face fell and the tone of his voice dropped with it, so I changed the subject and asked what scarves he had for sale. An instant smile sprang up on his face and his nose sparkled as the movement lifted it and the sun caught it.
“You want to see this one, it’s divine.”
Reaching into his bag, the man pulled out the very scarf Miranda claimed to have lost.
Why, I thought, of all the deceitful sneaks…
I had lent the scarf to Miranda in good faith, I couldn’t believe she had sold it. It’s not the scarf, you understand, it’s the betrayal of making me wear that awful rag.
“Where did you get this?”
“A bonny lass about your age.”
I asked him to describe the girl and aside from the word bonny, there was no mistaking that it was Miranda.
The hawker was most sympathetic to my plight and agreed to give it to me at no charge if I purchased one of his other scarves. It is of a much lesser quality, but it has a rather fetching pattern of red and white stars.
Miranda will live to regret this betrayal, or my name isn’t Thisne Ome!
Fiffnal 9, Fourth Passage, Midsun
Mother has spent the morning enraged at my choice of scarf, which she says is too flamboyant and makes me look like a roaming jezebel. I told her about Miranda’s betrayal. She was not sympathetic, but instead told me she hoped I had learned the difference between decent people and Miranda’s type.
Father asked how much the hawker had charged and then looked surprised.
“You didn’t make any arrangements, did you?”
I told him what happened. He laughed aloud when I told him about the hawker’s nose.
As if that poor man hasn’t suffered enough.
Fiffnal 10, Fourth Passage, Long Shadows
Sylvia continues to be crowded around and adored in a way that must be both smothering and liable to inflame the mind. But I did finally get to speak to her, by elbowing my way past a lower hall student with a face full of spots. I must say I can see the fascination; Sylvia has a large bite mark on her arm. At each of the points where the teeth of the dessius sank into her skin, there is a green spider web pattern. Dessius toxins can’t transform a person but they stay in the blood forever. In Setin and Their Ways, Joan Wilts records that people with those marks often dream that they are the setin that bit them; they see through their eyes: diving and hunting in the blackest rivers. It must be more exciting than reading about them.
Nobody has noticed my new pince-nez, which is a tragedy because it has a rather fetching inlaid etching, but I suppose they may have been too distracted by the sudden return of my scarf. Bethan and Kaye were particularly keen to hear the story.
“You mustn’t be too cruel to her, her family are desperately poor,” said I.
They both giggled at each other and ran off to tell the story to anyone who would listen.
Miranda glowered at me throughout the whole late session of hall. Since I have my pince-nez, I have become more determined than ever to become a warden, and I answered all Pater Rother’s questions. I watched Miranda through the corner of my eye, her face contorted with rage. I wouldn’t be surprised if Krem hadn’t gone off her; she looked quite the ugliest I have ever seen her. I doubt even the hawker would have found her bonny.
After hall, she was waiting for me against the birch in the front garden. I could tell she was waiting for me; she had the determined look of somebody waiting, her eyes scanning each passing face to check that it wasn’t mine.
“Looks like she’s waiting for you.”
Bethan looked delighted by the prospect. She and Kaye seemed to be waiting in anticipation of the spectacle.
“Are you worried she’ll try to thump you?” Kaye asked.
I glanced out the window at Miranda. I do not know her as well as I had thought. If I hadn’t been worried before that Miranda might try to thump me, I was by then.
I made a show of forgetting some books. Pater Rother was only too pleased to keep me talking about the importance of the volumes I was being allowed to borrow, so I did manage to pass enough time. Miranda had moved on by the time I left. It is worth noting that neither Kaye nor Bethan had left and they were waiting at the gates of the hall.
“Miranda says she’ll get you tomorrow.”
I walked with purpose and my head held high, but they walked alongside me, continuing with their taunts.
I will pay no mind to them or Miranda. I am the one in the right.
Fiffnal 10, Fourth Passage, Blackest Midnight
I am somewhat concerned that Miranda may attack me tomorrow. She is far bigger than I and from a much rougher family. I am unable to sleep and have been reading by lamplight.
Wilkes has a note about dessius setins that I found fascinating. The bite often kills days after. I think Sylvia is in the clear, but what a trial she must have had. I find myself both in awe of the setins and wracked with fear by them.
It is lucky that she was not bitten by a capius. There is no turning back from that.
Fiffnal 12, Fourth Passage, Estimate
Mother brought my journal to my bedside, I am having a hard time concentrating. It hurts to write and my hand is shaking.
I cannot tell what happened and what is a dream. Miranda has visited me. She cried when she saw me.
I don’t know the date.
Fiffnal 13, Fourth Passage, Estimate
This much I am clear on. I have seen a setin and I am no longer sure I will be a warden.
Fiffnal 3, Fifth Passage, Estimate
Days are too bright.
Fiffnal 7, Fifth Passage (I think)
I love Mother and Father. I hope they will know that if I die.
Fiffnal 10, Fifth Passage, Long Shadows
I ate soup today and was able to stand. Mother will not let me near a mirror, though she changed my sheets whilst I sweated in the wicker chair.
I am starting to be able to tell the fever scenes from real life. Just not when they are happening.
I keep seeing myself in the Deva, I can feel myself swimming. Then I am in bed with a feather scratching through the pillow onto my face.
The warden has been to see me. He says if I survive the next two days, I might be able to live a normal life.
Fiffnal 15, Fifth Passage, Estimate
I have not been able to write for a while. Three days? It is hard to tell. I don’t remember anything but broth and Mother. I suspect she has saved me a second time.
Fiffnal 2, Sixth Passage, Long Shadows
I must get this down whilst it is fresh in my mind. Or, before I die. There is a thought; death from setin venom is sudden, so at least I won’t suffer. By all accounts, it waits in your system, showing no more signs than the bite itself. Then, you just die. Waites speaks of the victims having contorted faces like demons. Sylvia survived. Bethan and Kaye will be beside themselves if a girl from the lower hall survived and I don’t. Poor Miranda will never hear the end of it.
Miranda is distraught. She thinks this is her fault, but I am sure that the blame is mine. Even if I had to read back and refresh my memory.
It was the scarf. Miranda stole my scarf and I told everyone. The next day at hall she waited for me in the cloakroom. Her face was grave, her fists were clenched, and she had rolled up her sleeves. It seemed as if she was ready to thump me.
I bit my lip and closed my eyes and waited for the blow to come.
What I felt was Miranda taking my hand. As I glanced down, I could see why she had rolled her sleeves up, they were wet with tears.
“I can’t believe you told everyone I stole your scarf.”
I was upset. She shouldn’t have taken it. I told her so and she fell into a flood of tears.
She had only sold the scarf because her mother spent all of their money on setting up the glove business for her brother. Miranda hadn’t eaten anything but a crust of bread in two days.
It is a sad story and at the time I thought, as awful as Mother is, at least she has never let me starve.
Miranda cried some more and begged for forgiveness.
“You don’t know the shame of being poor.”
Well, she’s right — I do not. But I did know the shame of seeing her flirt with Krem.
“It’s his stupid wavy hair, I can’t think straight around it.”
I of course forgave her. Krem’s wavy hair seems to affect me in a peculiar manner also. But when she asked how she could make it up to me, I did ask for something unreasonable. I asked if she would help me see a setin.
Therefore, if I am dead by the end of the week, let it be known that it is on my request.
Miranda didn’t want to go, not really. I’m too tired to write anymore and feel I may not make it. But I had to set the record straight.
Fiffnal 4, Sixth Passage, Bright Morning
It would appear that I have survived. Mother will still not let me see my reflection and I want to. I feel I need to know.
My strength ebbed to the point that the village held a vigil. But I am not dead, and I no longer think I will die. I must sleep.
Fiffnal 5, Sixth Passage, Short Shadows
I have been forced to rest in bed, though the sun is glorious outside and I am feeling well. A strange thing has happened today, I have been reading voraciously but I no longer need the pince-nez to see the words.
I have had a visit from Miranda this morning. She is still giving me peculiar looks. I have asked if she could bring me a looking glass, but she says that she is too afraid of my mother. I can’t blame her for that. She keeps saying she is sorry for running away, but what else could anyone expect from her?
There are things I recall clearly from the day I was attacked, other bits of it keep jumping out at me when I’m trying to sleep.
I had followed Miranda up the banks of the Deva. We stood a good distance away from the water.
“It’s odd, you can normally see them from here.”
I had been to the spot a thousand times and never seen a single setin. I didn’t want to go another day without seeing one. So, I just pressed Miranda to take me to the next spot.
She walked down toward the bank and then on to the bridge. It was the most basic route.
“When I last came here there was a dessius in the centre of Deva. I had to run up the bank.”
Still, there was nothing to be seen.
After checking two more places, Miranda was looking both surprised and frustrated.
“What about the spot where Sylvia was bitten?”
Miranda was not the model of enthusiasm, but I reminded her that she had promised. I knew I was taking advantage of her guilt, but I didn’t care.
We had to pass through a thicket of gorse. There was a small trail leading up a steep hill and then down. The Deva dipped out of sight as we climbed. Then, as we descended, a small rocky inlet became visible.
I had never seen the spot before. The water of the Deva ran more rapidly there. And someone, probably Sylvia’s fisher family, had built a small wooden jetty.
I tumbled down towards it, leaving Miranda behind me.
As I stepped out onto the jetty and ran to the far end, I realised my mistake. I felt the movement on the jetty, and I turned to see.
The breath caught in my throat.
A large dessius had climbed on to the jetty behind me. I have read how big they are, but I had not imagined how powerless I would feel when stood in front of one. I felt my legs weaken and then I felt my resolve strengthen; I was not going to die without at least trying to stay alive.
With the jetty blocked I had no means of escape, other than to plunge into the river. I cannot swim, but a chance of survival seemed preferable to certain death.
In the water, I saw the capius. Blue and purple with white frills. I swear I have never seen anything so beautiful. I was transfixed by the graceful movement of vivid colours twisting and brightening in the sunlight. So now my choice was to be eaten by the dessius or turned by the capius.
The capius shook itself, jumping out of the water. Its deep black eyes held my own.
I felt a sharp pain in my leg as the dessius bit me. I crashed down onto the hardwood. I bit my tongue as my skull shook in shock.
The body of the capius loomed over me. I could hear it. A low and rapid set of clicks. The dessius responded at the same pitch but faster. I tried to stand up, but the pain in my leg pulled me sideways.
The dessius bit my arm. Its teeth pressed hard into the bone. I remember screaming and the capius rearing up to attack. As the pressure released, I blacked out.
Fiffnal 6, Sixth Passage, Mornsong
I have some vague memories of movement, of something gentle lapping against my wounds. I am sure it was the tongue of the capius, though that makes no sense. Mother says the capius was still there when she got to me. Which I remember to be true.
She says it ‘scarpered’ at the sight of her, but that is a lie. I remember hearing her voice, calm but full of pain.
“Caleb. Thank you.”
Then the splash of a heavy body returning to the water.
Mother says I dreamed it, but they keep talking as if I’m not in the room. I heard Nana Rose say, “It’ll out, blood knows things. You can’t believe it’s a coincidence.”
Mother sounded utterly defeated.
“I’ll tell her,” she said.
She hasn’t, but I know. I can feel him in my veins, see through his eyes. I can talk to him in my dreams. I know he spent years keeping the setins away from me. I know he saved me.
Fiffnal 7, Sixth Passage, Short Shadows
Nobody has ever had an open wound licked by a capius before me. I am the first. I have a connection that goes beyond any other survivor. And no capius has ever saved a person before, so Uncle Caleb is the first too.
Today I held up the looking glass and saw my face. There is a map of blue lines all over my body. I don’t know if I am changed forever.
I look strange but not ugly. It is no wonder I am still friends with Miranda, that is just one of the things that we have in common.
Of course, she doesn’t have an uncle who is a capius setin. She can’t share his thoughts, feel where the other setin are, or see the setin blood through her skin. But, I suppose I don’t know what it’s like to be her, either.
Mother still hasn’t told me about the day Caleb was bitten, though I have the memory from him — vivid and full of terror. Her, taking her younger brother down to the banks against Nana’s will, and what became of him, what would have become of her if Nana hadn’t been chasing them.
Poor Mother, it is no wonder she has been so protective. Nobody will have to worry again when I become warden. Here she comes now, bringing me more food. I do hope she hasn’t cooked it herself.