The Chronicles of Eirie series by Prue Batten (#1-4)
The ink burned into the paper, the message darkening as the air settled on the ink-gall. Isabella had slit the bamboo pen into a needle-fine sliver in order to write as secretly as possible. In the silence of deep night the scratching of pen over paper reverberated around the room, so loud she thought the Master or his wife would wake. But the young woman persisted thin angular letters, short words, with no sign of the begging desperation that drove her to do something that could end in her death if she were discovered. Simple words: Nico, farthest north by northwest.
She lay the pen down on a bamboo tray and removed the tiny saucer of ink, pouring it through the smallest gap in the floorboards in a corner of the room.
Then she began, for the stripping at least must be finished by the time the Master woke. Her work-roughened hands itched and burned as she grasped the bone-handled knife, wincing as blisters burst. Bringing pressure to bear, she slid the blade through the paper, slicing friable, infinitely narrow strips. She took a handful of water from the bowl that had been left outside her door during the night, battered fingers cracking the hoar across the surface as she began to sprinkle scoop after scoop.
Each droplet sparkled, flashing as it fell to sink into the paper fibre and she wanted to slow the motion so she could examine the reflection held in the tiny liquid sphere. Her heart wished for some scrying power so she could see family, her home. But her head knew all that would be reflected would be a bare paper-screened room, mats on the floor, her quilt rolled on top of her sleeping mat and a lantern flickering as the last of the oil burned away.
She took up the strips, rolling and massaging. Anyone looking into the room would think they had chanced upon a noodle-maker except that the room lacked the comfort of a kitchen fire or the smell of star-anise, or ginger and garlic. Reddened fingers lifted the fibrous bundle and she stood shaking and gyrating so the strips separated and fell apart, hanging like an oyster-coloured veil.
She could see little of the writing, maybe faintly with the acuity of an informed eye, but she relied on the fact that paper had a memory. Her mother had heard it from a gifted papermaker long ago. Paper could be cut, even shredded and if the pieces were ever re-joined, innate bonding occurred – a harmony, a gathering together of like with like, the need to be side by side with familiars.
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