The Hidden Twin

The Hidden Twin by Adi Rule Page A

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Authors: Adi Rule
most people would expect to find reading aloud from Merry Mother May’s Big Book of Fairy Stories for Well-Behaved Children. But I am harder to surprise than most people. I don’t even raise an eyebrow when he starts in on “The Tale of the Blind Miller” as we stand before a group of twenty or so priests of varying rank in an almost oppressively warm candlelit room.
    Not that the Onyx Staff would have made a good First School teacher. There is no comfort in his deep voice as he reads to the gathering. “But the Miller,” he intones, “though he could not see the two men, was not fooled by their disguises, for he heard the likeness of their voices and knew them for what they were .” He gives me a hard stare clearly meant to be meaningful. From his perch on a high, wooden chair at one end of the small room, the Onyx Staff reminds me of an illustration of the wild raptors on the cliffs of Drush, their white feathers smoothed against the wind, their beaks dulled by the gritty air.
    For all the stairs the guards and I climbed, we must be somewhere near the top of the Temple, but the room’s one meager, brown window offers little insight into the world outside. The priests, their faces obscured by bandannas, are quiet. I don’t look at them, these people who have nothing better to do today than watch this nonsense. Instead, I keep my eyes focused on the face of the Onyx Staff, his white hair shining in the gleam of the small window. The light does little to soften his cruel edges.
    I stand at the other end of the room with my wrists chained to the floor. Indistinct shapes crowd the room’s shadows, spiky iron devices and asymmetrical structures I don’t really want to think about. Behind me, the wall is carved with a relief of Rasus, the many-handed sun. “Are you familiar with the story of the blind miller, Beloved?” the Onyx Staff asks.
    I clench my fingers. The iron cuffs are starting to chafe. “Yes, Your Benevolence.” My voice is muffled by the still, hot air of this cramped room. “My father read me fairy tales just like everyone else’s parents did. And he did the voices much better than you, although I’m certainly willing to hear your Harko the Happy Bat if you’d like another shot.”
    Someone snickers, but quickly stifles it. Maybe some of them will feel bad for me. Hey, remember that girl? She was feisty, wasn’t she? I mean, unspeakably evil, yes, but haven’t you always wanted to give the high priest a bit of lip?
    The Onyx Staff continues to stare at me with all the warmth of a dead maggot. “The miller in this story discovers the secret the merchant and the tailor are hiding,” he says. “What is that secret, Beloved?”
    â€œI plead silence, Your Benevolence,” I say, “so that I might not spoil the ending for these good priests.”
    Scattered laughter bubbles from underneath a few bandannas. Nervous eyes glint in the gloom. Are the faithful starting to wonder if the Onyx Staff will raise the actual onyx staff he holds in his right hand and bash my head in with it before a verdict can be reached?
    But he doesn’t. Instead, he gives us all his sourest frown and says, “I do not accept your plea of silence in this instance, Beloved, and if you want to have any hope of convincing the Temple of your innocence, I’d advise you to answer all questions simply and truthfully.”
    My lungs expand, stretching my skin tight. The scars on my back seem to writhe like living things trying to burn themselves off my body. Convincing the Temple of your innocence. It’s possible, then. Maybe I’ll make it out of here with everyone in one piece after all.
    â€œThen the simple truth,” I say, “is that I have not been accused of a crime.”
    Two or three priests mutter in protest. The Onyx Staff leans forward into the light from the dirty window. “I will repeat my question:

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