Fiction: Maybe When the Bones Crumble

Summary: His hand broken, his father dead, his brother rebelling and his mother dancing the bones, Einas ein Iteme has nobody at the Eyrie but the chancellor and one cursed question he can’t escape.

Content advisory: This story depicts several shades of ableism targeted at autistics and chronic pain patients, along with a good amount of casual cissexism and more direct heterosexism. I’m intentionally writing about the ableism that isn’t seen by the abled as ableism, but for this reason it may be more distressing for disabled readers. It also takes place in the context of civil war and familial abuse, with references to both. Please note that there’s references of medical mismanagement and poor handling of meltdowns; there’s also depictions of and references to self-harm, one of which may be interpreted as suicidal ideation. It’s also worth mentioning that this story does not have a happy ending, at least for the moment. This begins to change in Birds of a Feather.

Word count: 4, 945 words.

Note the first: Maybe When the Bones Crumble takes place before, during and immediately after Their Courts of Crows, detailing Ein’s time in the Eyrie while Paide and Zaishne war it out across Ihrne and Arsh. Please note that this isn’t written to be accessible to newcomers: I don’t spend words on detailed explanations on how Ein came to be injured or the fact of Ein’s autism.

Note the second: I have a relative who breaks me every time she asks me this same question. (What part of chronic pain do abled people not understand? All of it, including the fact that it doesn’t just magically go away.) Her latest rendition took place on the eighth anniversary of the injuries that caused my chronic wrist pain, an unexpected double-blow, so I wanted to put this hurt and frustration to story—the growing knowledge that just as my pain won’t change, neither will the attitudes of the people who hurt me. So this is a short, personal piece that I’m posting, fairly unedited, to get that weight of feeling outside my skin. I’ll also mention that this story is a deliberate examination of the way autism, anxiety and chronic pain come together, things inseparable in Ein and in me.

It seems to him then that pain is its own irrevocable truth.

“Your highness.” Chancellor Ansef sweeps a bow before walking into Mamman’s study. Tall and lean, with dark brown hair running to grey at the temples, every expression on his angular, clean-shaven face strikes Ein as disapproving. Ein’s oldest uncle, named regent while Mamman takes to the field, should be educating Ein in a long-neglected need to master statesmanship. While Mamman and her dead armies fight further south on the road to Arsh and Astreut, Ein sits in Mamman’s study and watches the chancellor sign the sundry documents involved in the running of a small kingdom. “And how is your hand today?”

His hand, Ein thinks, is as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow: splinted, aching, useless.

He grunts and reaches down to pat Key’s ears: Ein’s dog, a liver-spotted Astreuch Pointer, sits with her flanks pressed against Ein’s leg, her head warm on his leg. His other hand rests still on his lap, a sick, constant throb: dressing, even with the help of his attendants, flares the pain. It’s better than last week, true, but not so much that Ein feels good.

There’s no position that’s comfortable, only those that are least painful.

Attend, your highness. I am asking you a very simple question. How is your hand today?”

His uncle, after raging at Mamman over the very idea of thinking that Ein will have any suitability to hold the throne never mind navigate Parliament, raging in a voice that boomed down the marble hallways of the family wing, allowed that he will attempt to train Ein. This education, as far as Ein can glean, doesn’t include anything to do with politics, legal precedent and taxing a nation during civil war; it only imitates the tedious lessons in which Ein failed with his deportment tutor, Onia. Talking.

What does he say when the answer is always the same?

“It still hurts,” he says, for want of anything better.

“You think about it too much, your highness. A girl in the city workhouses doesn’t have your luxury in sitting around waiting for a limb to heal. You’re incredibly fortunate. It will do you better to think on all the advantages you have instead of sighing each day over your pain.” The chancellor sits himself down in Mamman’s great chair, a red plush and mahogany monstrosity that tucks behind an oversized mahogany desk, both desk and chair with legs made from rounded corkscrews in the fashion of Ein’s grandfather’s day.

In the days before broken bone and shattered court, he liked lying on the floor and running his fingers over the raised edges of the corkscrew. The carver managed to make every turning edge exactly parallel to the same height of the corkscrews of the other chair and desk legs, a feat of perfection he can only dream of recreating.

The chancellor, looking far too comfortable in Mamman’s chair, reaches for the wax-sealed stack of missives waiting on her desk. “And while I am your uncle, Einas, you still shouldn’t regard me so familiarly when in the capacity of my service.”

“I’m not a girl. Chancellor.” Ein draws his chair—an older bannister-back chair made from a darker mahogany and a worn-flat velvet cushion, desperately uncomfortable—closer to the desk in the hope that he’ll catch a glimpse of the day’s reports. Other than what Ansef deigns to tell him, Ein’s best source of information on the war comes from Anary, the Eyrie’s Horsemaster. It may not be deliberate that the chancellor holds his papers in such a way that Ein struggles to read over his shoulder; it also may not be accidental. “And it hurts.”

“If you dwell on your pain, you won’t get better, your highness.” The chancellor folds the topmost sheet before Ein has the chance to glimpse anything but the Convocation’s agreement on another release of bones. “You need to stop snipping at people. You can’t expect people to accept your gender if you’re correcting every utterance.” He breathes a long, soft sigh and looks at Ein over the top of the next report, his brown eyes boring into Ein’s face. He looks, Ein thinks, like Father. “Is this truly the best your tutors did with your conversation? Now, tell me: how will you greet the archduke of Arsh?”

Anary says Paide and his allying Arsha stopped gaining ground after Hallow Hin.

Maybe when Mamman comes home, it will be better.

Maybe when Ein’s splints come off, he won’t be in pain.


“Your highness.” Chancellor Ansef bows and strides towards the desk, settling himself down in the oversized armchair. He reaches for his own tortoiseshell pen and the morning’s stack of missives; Mamman’s pen lies tucked away in one of the desk drawers, along with Mamman’s blotter, penknife and black iron paperweight. Ansef’s glass of bitter black coffee scents the room, drowning out the familiar aromas of paper, ink and the fading traces of Mamman’s perfume. “And how is your hand today?”

There can’t be, Ein thinks, much left in the way of coffee or Eastern tea. The court won’t stop grumbling over the lack of lace, nix seed and sugar.

Ein sighs and twitches his fingers. The doctor removed the splints yesterday, baring a pale, limp, shrunken limb. Skin sits tight over bone, causing strange lumps at his wrist that aren’t visible on his plump left hand; he thinks of the dead, shed of flesh, crossing Ihrne’s once-flourishing fields. Even after several washings, he can still smell the must of sweat and dead skin. “It still hurts.” He hesitates, remembers. “Chancellor.”

Same as every day of the last three months. A sick ache, like a purpling bruise, takes the whole of his wrist joint, flowing down into his fingers and up along the side of his forearm. Pressing with his thumb for longer than an instant makes the pain shift from ache to stabbing. He can sometimes sleep at night, now, a tiny hope upon which to rest, but his hand doesn’t feel in any way healed.

“You should be grateful, your highness. A princess—a prince can have all the assistance he requires. A girl in the workhouse would be forced to do everything in pain. Look at the good things in your life and be grateful for them.”

The chancellor well knows how Ein’s hand came to be. Be grateful for a family that hurt him? Be grateful for a chair that presses against his back and an uncle that speaks only in tired platitudes?

When you keep referring to girls in the workhouse, Ein thinks, you’re just telling me how you truly see me. But those words, so easily thought, don’t reach his lips. It helps if he can write things down, to read the words he wants to say, but he looks down at his hand, lying limp on his lap, and tears burn, for now he can’t even hold a pencil for long enough to write one letter, never mind a whole sentence.

“You’ll only get better if you do your exercises and stop dwelling on your pain.” Ansef slices open the wax-sealed ribbon holding the bundle of missives together, opens the topmost and starts reading. The chancellor now holds the papers up by his chest, too high and close for Ein to read. “Tell me, your highness: in a salon with the High Convener, what topics are suitable conversation?”

Anary says that Paide’s allying Arsha are losing as many soldiers to deserters as to the enchanted dead.

Maybe when Mamman comes home, it will be better.

Maybe when Ein has built up the strength in his wrist, he won’t be in pain.


“Your highness.” Chancellor Ansef inclines his head from behind Mamman’s desk; Ein walks into the room with Key padding at his side. The room smells of coffee and sandalwood, a horrid mingling of woody, nutty and acrid flavours. What did Mamman’s perfume smell like? He doesn’t remember.

He’ll never forget the sandalwood and the salt sweat that wreathed Father that day, even if Father is now nothing more than a set of stripped bones gathering dust in the chest at the foot of Ein’s bed. Harmless. Terrifying.

“You’re late. And how is your hand today?”

Ein leans against Key as he stumbles, dizzy, to the tall-backed chair and its punishing hard rails. The doctor pushed on him that cup of herbal bitterness, the vile flavours coating his tongue long after his mouth empties, to make Ein stop hammering at the wall with his hands. He never feels good the next day; everything seems slow and distant and foggy, as though the world becomes as insubstantial as a dream.

Sometimes he isn’t sure that it isn’t.

Sometimes he wonders why he can’t make himself believe that it is.

Attend, your highness. If you can’t answer simple questions, how will you manage as a prince? Tell me: how is your hand today?”

He won’t manage. He can’t. He’s spent twenty-five years proving that, for why else does he come here each morning? Ein slumps forward on the chair, one hand on Key’s warm head, the other limp across his lap. His tongue feels thick and awkward in his mouth; his head, scratchy and empty, can’t hold onto the words long enough to direct them to his lips.

His right forearm isn’t as fat or muscled as the other, but no longer does Ein think of corpses. His hand pulses, sick and dizzying, even though the doctor said this morning that he only jarred it and there’s no reason for it to hurt this much. His wrist and fingers hurt yesterday, before the quivering panic, before the words got caught in his throat, before the desperation and the anger and the breakdown Ein can’t name beyond the recognition that there’s too much feeling for his body to contain. He threw his pencil across the room, weeping in frustration, and then everything rushed at him, a thrashing force exploding from his skin. He had no thoughts to check him; he was just tears, rage and an unexplainable need to smash, break, ruin his cursed, betraying, aching hands. Onia grabbed him, and the doctor dosed him, and after that, even when he wasn’t sleeping, his feelings weren’t loud enough to matter. If Ein still wasn’t thinking, drowsy and thick, at least that kind of not-thinking was quiet.

He bruised and split the knuckles on both hands, his skin reeking of stinging salve. If he trails the fingertips of his opposite hand over his fingers, he can feel the cuts and rents, a score of tiny little canyons breaking the vast landscape of the human body.

“Ihrne,” the chancellor says, his voice firm and tired, his face the same unruffled pond of colourless expression, “cares nothing for your childish fits of temper, your highness. I pray by the Hundred Thousand Names that your mother will make an accord with your brother, for traitor though he is, he at least can rule. Answer the question, Einas.”

It shouldn’t be hard to say the words when they’re true ones. Repeating them makes no difference when the world thinks he exaggerates. Lies. “It still hurts.”

Father broke Ein’s bones. Father broke something in Ein that can’t be reached or mended. Father broke the world.

“Of course it does when you smash your hands into the wall!” Ansef murmurs something under his breath, something hard and bitter. For a moment, just a moment, his lips and forehead tighten into a scowl. “Your highness, stop snivelling. Be grateful for your advantages! You have scribes and attendants! You have no right to weep like a child when you have much for which to be grateful!”

Dust cloaks Ein’s worktable, thick layers of grey-white shrouding pliers, saws and shears. If he can’t handle a pencil, how can he handle tools and wood and scraps of metal? How can he survive without something in his hands, that rare peace that finds him when he makes?

Attend,” the chancellor snaps. “If you can’t talk to me, how are you to talk to Parliament? To the Convocation? To your guards and serving girls? Do you think the world will halt and allow you to sulk whenever you have a bad night?”

Anary says that Paide and his allying Arsha are retreating to the Arsha border.

Maybe when Mamman comes home, it will be better.

Maybe when Ein can talk and smile like a prince should, he won’t be in pain.


“Your highness.” Chancellor Ansef looks up, for the briefest moment, from his stack of papers, awarding Ein something that looks more like a casual nod than any respectful obeisance. He scowls and pushes a porcelain teacup, glazed blue, to the side, the cup smelling of something woody and herbal. Ein isn’t sure what blend of local herbs the cooks now use to make tea, but it tastes to him like seasoned dishwater. “And how is your hand today?”

Nobody likes the tea, but Ein has nothing else to drink but milk and water. Canola rots in the fields not trampled into mud by Mamman’s revenants, and again Ein ponders the danger in Ihrne’s geography, so close to the border of the Parch. Cut Ihrne off from Arsh and Astreut, and there’s nobody with whom to trade but a handful of outlying settlements, all of them suffering the same wartime restrictions and limitations. Paide knows, as well as anyone in the Eyrie, that his best chance of winning Ihrne lies not in his slaying the dead but in his denying the living.

The court mumbles about Mamman and a pointless war, but not anywhere a priest of the Convocation can overhear.

Ein drops down onto his torturous high-backed chair, stroking Key’s ears with his good hand. She settles her head on his lap and Ein tries to school himself to an answer. Six months. The chancellor still thinks that there’s some magic in the world that will take a hand that aches yesterday into a hand that doesn’t pain him today. Why does he keep asking? Why does he force Ein to say those same words, to remember again that his pain won’t ease? Why can’t he ask about something, anything else? Books, Key, Ein’s morning rides? “It still hurts. Chancellor.”

The chancellor breathes a long, heavy sigh. He’s always run to the austere, showing wealth and name in the make and cut of his suits over the trimmings, but now his skin presses tight to his skull, his hair a dappled salt-and-pepper. Creases frame his eyes and the corners of his mouth; loose skin at his throat sags into his collar. “Your doctors,” he says, looking at the missive, “tell me you shouldn’t be in any kind of pain.”

They tell Ein that, too, as if lying often and loudly will vanish the constant ache in his fingers and wrist.

He nods, no longer bothering to look at the papers: he never sees enough to be worth the effort.

“Attend, your highness.”

Why do people make statements and then react as though a lack of response is some terrible failure in Ein when they give him nothing with which to respond? “Yes,” he says, staring down at his hands. “But, but it does. It does. I want…” He hesitates, for months of conversations suggest that Ein has no best way of saying this. “I want to do things! I want to write, and make, make my bits, and do things with my hands, and I can’t, I can’t, and there’s nothing to do if I can’t use my hands! I can’t hold a pen or a pair of pliers! I can’t hold cards in my right hand! I can’t hold a book! I can’t, I can’t do anything but sit—”

Ansef rests the silver letter-opener on Mamman’s desk with a heavy, final thud. “If you don’t calm yourself and still your hands, Einas, I will be forced to send for the doctor again. It is insupportable that you behave this way.”


Father used that word.

Ein, panting, slides his hands underneath his legs, the velvet prickling his skin. Every time he says something real, it comes out in a mess of clumsy feeling. Mamman gets angry at times; he’s seen the chancellor rage. Father rarely yelled, but he’d growl all manner of invective. There shouldn’t be anything reasonable or right in his calling Paide a “cocksucking deviant”, but when said quietly and clearly, without awkwardness or repetition, it’s somehow so. How, then, to make Ein’s feelings right enough to share? How to speak in ways that aren’t silences—or screams, tears and pounding fists? Is such a thing even possible? “Please. Please. I don’t want, I don’t…”

“Then don’t behave like a child.” The chancellor folds the sheet and turns to look right at Ein’s face, forcing Ein to jerk his head away from those awful, piercing brown eyes. “There is no reason for your pain, but even if there were, you are a—a prince. Why do you insist on complaining when you have every advantage, every opportunity for aid? You have, Einas, nothing about which to complain. It does your title and your family a grave injustice that you dwell over irrelevant limitations. I do believe that if you thought less about your pain and more about that for which you should be grateful, you’d be in less of it.”

The former king of Ihrne, Ein’s father, broke Ein’s hand. Family?

Ein presses his lips together, terrified that the words will emerge accompanied by screams or tears.

Attend, your highness. When someone speaks, you owe them the courtesy of a response. Can’t you even manage the simplest of conversations?”

No, because conversations in the Eyrie are a disaster of unclear verbiage and random utterances. Ein can only attempt to follow a strange dance everyone else knows well while being unable to recognise, never mind imitate, their steps.

Anary says that Paide and his allying Arsha have dug in just before the Arsha Way forks off the Northern Highway, a last stand from which to face the risen dead.

Maybe when Mamman comes home, it will be better.

Maybe when Ein doesn’t have to spend his mornings with the chancellor, he won’t be in pain.


“Your highness.” Chancellor Ansef strides into the bedchamber before Ein has the chance to think about offering assent, never mind opening his mouth to provide it. “Get dressed. The crown prince of Ihrne doesn’t lie abed, or hide in the corner, while the sun rises.” He stalks to Ein’s corner, leans down and tears the blanket from Ein’s clenching hands. A thin scream slides from Ein’s lips as the wool tears, leaving a torn strip dangling from his fingers. “Do you understand nothing? You are the heir to Ihrne. You will be king.”

Key, her collar held by one of Ein’s attendants, barks and pulls.

“I don’t, I don’t, I don’t…” The sleep brought on by liquid bitterness thickens his words, but he has no greater truth: not for anything in the world does Ein wish to be king. He bangs his head against his knees, shreds of wool clasped in his aching fingers, blood spotting the bandages poking out from under the sleeves of his nightshirt.

The chancellor grabs Ein’s chin in firm, broad fingers, tilting his head back so Ein can’t look anywhere but Ansef’s face, and Ein feels too dull and groggy, too pinned in the corner that once seemed the safest part of this echoing bedchamber, to pull away. “What makes you think I wish it? Why your mother and brother think you have any suitability is laughable at best. No, Einas, while you will be king, we’ll marry you off as soon as we are able—as soon as the queen-regent returns, we’ll talk. You can sit around, fat and contented, and coo at your babies.” He sighs, his voice gentling. “My wife’s brother will indulge your … perception of yourself. I’ll make sure of that. He’s a good man. Kind. He’ll do right by you.”

“I don’t, I don’t.” I don’t want to be king, I don’t want to marry, I don’t want children. Simple words, impossible words, but some absurdity meant Paide and Mamman came to their accord through naming Ein heir, an absurdity Ein doesn’t, can’t understand. Yes, Paide engaged in treason against the Convocation, but he can talk to people, navigate the swirling currents of politics, perform all the correct behaviours and acknowledgements of a prince. He’s a man by normal reckoning and an adult by law, a king in no need of a regent, and while he may be too queer for some in Ihrne, he isn’t Ein. He’ll be a better king than Ein, and the Eyrie if not Ihrne entire knows it. Why should this war see Paide lose what’s his by right of birth? Why should he agree to such a loss? He’s gravely injured, according to the reports, but a king doesn’t need to ride to rule.

Ansef sighs, releases his hold on Ein’s head and transfers those unrelenting hands to Ein’s own, pulling Ein up onto his feet. “As soon as the queen-regent returns, we’ll talk, but today you’ll stand with me as we address the court.” He hisses under his breath as Ein staggers and sways. “How much did they give you?”

Ein just closes his eyes, dizzy, lost.

Key barks. It won’t fix the world to have her warm, wiry coat under his hands, but it’ll help. “Key. Please.”

Ansef takes Ein’s hands in one broad hand and pushes up his sleeves with the other, baring the bandages. “Good thing he goes on so about his pain. If anyone asks, say his hand pains him—give him fresh bandages while dressing him, thick enough to hide any bleeding. And don’t let him do this again. Do you understand? If you must have someone sit beside him every moment of the day, don’t let him do this.” He taps Ein on the cheek; Ein jerks, trying to back away from the contact, but the chancellor’s punishing grip holds him upright. “Einas? Do you understand? If anyone asks about these, say your hands hurt.” He barks a laugh, staring down into Ein’s face. “And how is your hand today?”

“It hurts,” Ein whispers. A sharp, pulsing stab runs from fingertip to elbow, but he can’t unclench his hands. It seems to him then that pain is its own irrevocable truth, that nothing in this world will stop it and he’ll be broken forevermore—a cracked doll, defined by pain, defined by autism, defined by incapability, defined by uselessness, defined by people trying and failing to shape and manage him. “It hurts. Key. Please.”

“Be grateful,” the chancellor says, his voice firm and brisk, “that you’ve people here to help you. That’s far more than any workhouse girl ever dreams of. Someone like you, the way you behave, would have been abandoned by their family years ago. Be grateful that we’ve the ability to support you.” He jerks a hand towards the cluster of attendants at the door. “Take him now. Get him ready.”

One of the attendants takes Ein by the hands and brushes those cursed fragments of blanket to the ground.

He wants to scream, but there’s no voice left in him.

Anary says that Paide and Mamman ride for Ihrne, still bones piled in carts and watched over by the priests, the accord inked, the war done.

Maybe when Mamman comes home, it will be better.


“Einas.” Mamman looks up from her desk, the expanse of mahogany covered in a litter of books and papers, some of them sealed missives, many of them eldritch tomes. She looks worn and thin, her skin dry and creased like paper, as though the war took some vital energy from her weeks of rest and sleep have yet to replace. Something isn’t right with her, the world warped around her in ways that feel odd to Ein’s burgeoning magic-sense, but the one time he tried to ask, she told him it’s just the bones she made dance across Ihrne and Arsh. Draining, even for a necromancer like her. “Have you remembered your duty, this morning?”

She told the chancellor that Ein will marry whom he chooses, will rule in his own right, will manage court and Parliament and Convocation without the interference of Ansef’s brother-in-law.

She told Ein to choose a husband or wife—anyone with the ability to sire children—before the chancellor provokes Parliament to too much pondering over the succession. Einas ein Iteme, heir to the throne of Ihrne, has a duty to his country and his people, and if she rode to war for him and his right to be, he should wed for his people’s right to be.

Every person Ein can think to name fills him with a stomach-twisting terror. He shakes his head and sits in his back-breaking chair, the fingers of his good hand clasped tight around Key’s collar. He didn’t want to marry as the woman he isn’t, but he doesn’t know how to explain, explain so that people hear, that the person mostly a man but sometimes no gender at all has no more desire to wed. Why didn’t anyone ask him? Why do Mamman and Paide think he can manage something for which he is so unsuited?

He breathes in musty paper, the lavender soap from Mamman’s skin and the soft scent of black Eastern tea, the latter weak but, finally, reaching Ihrne’s merchants and traders.

“Einas.” Mamman sighs, her voice hoarse and croaking, and she shakes her head, her braid of grey, coarse hair slipping off her black-robed shoulder. “Ein. You’ll be king. You have countless privileges and a lifetime of service paid in return for them. You should be who you are. You should marry whoever suits you. But you must serve. Ihrne has asked no less of me.”

His inclination is none and nobody, but when he tries to say it to Onia and the doctor, all they hear is a fearful selfishness. He doesn’t need to tremble at marriage or intimacy, they say. Ein will enjoy it, like any other adult, if he just gives it a chance with someone gentle; they never think that he has, that his feelings are borne of experience and indifference. They laugh and smile and reassure, seeing this as another way in which autism renders him childish. How hard can it be, Onia said when she thought Ein wasn’t listening, to let someone bed him? Why won’t he grow up enough to just try it?

He shakes his head again, tugging Key closer so she rests, soft and warm, against his thigh.

“I know this has been hard for you. I know you need time. But Ihrne needs your action sooner rather than later.” Mamman sighs again, her eyes resting on Ein’s chest. “I know you’re better than this, Einas. I know it. Paide and I wouldn’t have declared for you if you weren’t.”

Paide seems little more than a robed doll in a chair, a broken thing retreating more and more from the Eyrie, but he still has his voice and pretty, elegant words. He’ll still be the king Ein can’t become.

Ein hunches over his lap, his hands resting over his ears, rocking backwards and forwards.

Einas. You must try harder to control. Do whatever you need in your own space, but save your rocking and flapping for your chambers.” Mamman leans forwards, reaching for a heavy tome with a cracked spine and peeling cover. “We’ll talk of something else, then. How is your pain? Are you keeping up with your exercises?”

He tries to force the misery down into his stomach, tries to hide the feeling that wells over his body and explodes out into the world. Tries and fails, for what good is wishing? He can’t stop his hands from flailing, can’t stop the smack of knuckles against wood or the stealing pain that flourishes in his fingers and wrist, can’t stop the tears that rain down his chin and tunic, can’t stop the desperate, bewildering hurt—and can’t stop the following mess of attendants and doctors and bitterness and sleep. He can’t stop the way that question leaves him lost and reeling, for his stumbling mouth can’t calmly explain how much the reminder shatters him, and nobody hears the speech of his failing.

He has no answer, no answer but the same.

The pain that never leaves him burns in his skin, flaring bright and ugly. Ein weeps, possessing nothing but the pain that won’t ease and the certitude that he will never be anything else, surrounded by a world set on asking the question until his personhood lies in his ruined, aching, flapping, autistic hands.

Be grateful, they say. How does he practice gratitude when they remind Ein, question after question, of the truth that people only value him when a miracle happens—when his pain, as certain as the setting sun, somehow vanishes from the earth? How does he practice gratitude, yearning to hold a pen or a book or a set of shears, when a magical possession of ability has become all that his family and people desire? How does he practice gratitude when they won’t let him survive a day without asking that cursed, heartbreaking question?

Maybe when the stars shine from a backdrop of scarlet will the world stop asking him about his pain.

Maybe when Father’s bones crumble into the earth, it will be better.

Maybe when Ein’s bones crumble into the earth, it will be better.