Snowbone

Snowbone by Cat Weatherill Read Free Book Online

Book: Snowbone by Cat Weatherill Read Free Book Online
Authors: Cat Weatherill
his legs. Two Teeth, take his body.”
    And so they carried the boy up the beach to the shelters. There he was laid upon a bed and given water. He drank deeply, then wet his hands and wiped them over his face. He whispered his thanks and smiled weakly. Then he closed his eyes and slept—a deep, safe sleep—while the tiddlins watched and waited and wondered. Who? What? Why?
    The sun was setting by the time the strange boy awoke. He was feeling much better. His limbs ached but he could move them. He was ravenously hungry and readily devoured three bowls of soup. Mouse was thrilled—she had spent the whole afternoon making it. The boy didn't know how honored he was; Mouse had never made soup before. The pirate wives had taught her how, but the tiddlins were so wary of fire, they still ate everything raw.
    But the boy was human. Mouse had realized that when night came, he would be cold. He would need warm clothing and nourishing food. So she had rummaged in the store cave for a bundle of clothes, and gathered armfuls of vegetables. Tigermane had collected wood and together, very carefully, they had built a fire in the middle of the meeting circle. And that evening, as the boy sat by the fire, snug in his woolen jacket and britches, his fingers cradling another bowl of soup, the tiddlins gathered round and he told his story.
    “I am Manu, High Prince of Balaa,” he said proudly. “I am fourteen years old, and right now, I should be sitting in a palace—”
    “You should be dead,” said Snowbone.
    Manu stared at her, completely taken by surprise. Then he smiled. “You're right,” he said. “You saved my life. I couldn't have lasted much longer.”
    “Why were you in the chest?” said Snowbone.
    “It's a long story,” said Manu.
    “Shorten it,” said Snowbone.
    “Yes, Your Majesty,” said Manu, clearly amused. He finished his soup and settled himself. “My story begins on the island of Balaa, where I was born. My father was Meru, king of Balaa. My mother was Arcana, his queen. I was their only child and they doted on me—especially my mother, I believe. But she died when I was one year old, and my father chose to remarry.
    “His new wife was beautiful but ambitious. In the beginning, she tolerated me. But when I was eight years old, she gave birth to a boy, Jobi, and things began to change. My father was growing old, and my stepmother wanted Jobi to be king after him. But I was the heir to the throne. I was the firstborn. If Jobi were to be king, she would have to kill me first.”
    “No!” gasped Mouse.
    “Yes!” said Manu. “She had a servant, Enkola—a spiteful man—who had served her faithfully for years. He would do anything for her.
Anything.
So she told him to kill me. She didn't care how he did it. He could cut my throat, drown me in the river—anything, as long as I was out of the way.”
    “No!” said Mouse again.
    Snowbone dug her in the ribs. “Shut up!” she hissed. “We'll be here all night.”
    “Enkola was a superstitious man,” said Manu, picking up the thread of the tale. “A very clever man. He studied the stars. He believed in omens. He believed in the eternal power of kings and he believed in destiny. And when Enkola lookedto the stars for guidance that night, he saw a red moon. And he decided, there and then, that it was wrong to kill me. I was a prince. He had no right to determine my fate.
    “And so he chose both to obey and to disobey the queen. In the dead of night, he stole into my bedchamber, as she had commanded, and put a wet cloth against my face. I awoke. I struggled and fought, kicked like a rabbit, but the cloth made me drowsy. Enkola carried me down to the beach. But he didn't kill me.
    “He bound my hands and feet with cords and put me into the chest. All the while he gabbled on about omens and moons till I was quite dizzy. Then he slammed down the lid, fastened the padlocks and left me to my destiny. The tide carried me away … I drifted on the waves. For

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