Free story: Children of Thorns, Children of Water
In a Paris that never was, a city of magicians, alchemists and Fallen angels struggling to recover from a devastating magical war…
Once each year, the House of Hawthorn tests the Houseless: for those chosen, success means the difference between a safe life and the devastation of the streets. However, for Thuan and his friend Kim Cuc, — dragons in human shapes and envoys from the dying underwater kingdom of the Seine — the stakes are entirely different. Charged with infiltrating a House that keeps encroaching on the Seine, if they are caught, they face a painful death.
Worse, mysterious children of thorns stalk the candidates through Hawthorn’s corridors. Will Thuan and Kim Cuc survive and succeed?
Children of Thorns, Children of Water was a preorder reward for The House of Binding Thorns. It is now available for free online in issue 17 of Uncanny Magazine.
2018 Locus Award Finalist, 2018 Hugo Award Finalist.
And if you’ve enjoyed this, you can read about further adventures of Thuan in The House of Binding Thorns.Buy now
The Dominion of the Fallen Reading Order (Novels Only)
The Dominion of the Fallen Reading Order (Complete)
0.5. “Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship” | 0.6. “In Morningstar’s Shadow” | 0.7. “Against the Encroaching Darkness” | 0.8. “The Death of Aiguillon” | 0.9. “The House, in Winter” | Book 1. The House of Shattered Wings | 1.5. “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” | Book 2. The House of Binding Thorns
With thanks to Stephanie Burgis, Kate Elliott and Fran Wilde
It was a large, magnificent room with intricate patterns of ivy branches on the tiles, and a large mirror above a marble fireplace, the mantlepiece crammed with curios from delicate silver bowls to Chinese blue-and-white porcelain figures: a clear statement of casual power, to leave so many riches where everyone could grab them.
Or rather, it would have been, if the porcelain hadn’t been cut-rate–the same bad quality the Chinese had foisted on the Indochinese court in Annam–the mirror tarnished, with mould growing in one corner, spread down far enough that it blurred features, and the tiling cracked and chipped in numerous places–repaired, but not well enough that Thuan couldn’t feel the imperfections under his feet, each one of them a little spike in the khi currents of magic around the room.
Not that Thuan was likely to be much impressed by the mansions of Fallen angels, no matter how much of Paris they might claim to rule. He snorted disdainfully, an expression cut short when Kim Cuc elbowed him in the ribs. “Behave,” she said.
“You’re not my mother.” She was his ex-lover, as a matter of fact; and older than him, and never let him forget that.
“Next best thing,” Kim Cuc said, cheerfully. “I can always elbow further down, if you insist.”
Thuan bit down the angry retort. The third person in the room–a dusky-skinned, young girl of Maghrebi descent, who’d introduced herself as Leila–was looking at them with fear in her eyes. “We’re serious,” he said, composing his face again. “We’re not going to ruin your chances to enter House Hawthorn, promise.”
They were a team: that was what they’d been told, as the House dependents separated the crowd before the House in small groups; that their performance would be viewed as a whole, and their chance to enter the House weighed accordingly. Though no rules had been given, and nothing more said, either, as dependents led them to this room and locked them in. At least he was still with Kim Cuc, or he’d have been hopelessly lost.
For people like Leila–for the Houseless, the desperate–it was their one chance to escape the streets, to receive food and shelter and the other tangible benefits of a House’s protection.
For Thuan and Kim Cuc, though… the problem was rather different. Their fate, too, would be rather different, if anyone found out who they really were. No House in Paris liked spies, and Hawthorn was not known for its leniency.