When Cloud was twelve years old, she woke up one morning to discover she had become a girl. She had been dozing the winter away, rising every now and then to root in the town middens and sniff after her mother. But this time she must have fallen asleep before returning to her den. She opened her eyes to see the steps leading into her mother’s house. She lay beneath them, huddled against the bitterly sharp breeze of a winter dawn. A knot of men and women stared down at her in silence.
She tried to struggle onto four legs to growl at them, make them step back. Only a gurgle emerged from her throat, and her limbs collapsed beneath her. She tried again to rise, more carefully, one foot at a time. That was when she noticed her right forelimb: delicate bones covered in smooth skin like humans wore. Five long fingers, slender little twigs that would break if someone stepped on them.
She could remember what had been in the place of that human hand—shaggy fur, heavy claws—but it was a vague image, already fading. Her mind felt as peculiarly awkward as her legs. She knew she had just forgotten something important.
A woman turned and raced into the house. “Lady Thrush!” she shouted. “Master, master! Come quickly!”
A moment later Cloud’s mother ducked through the low door, blinking sleep from her eyes. Thrush had wrapped a fur robe over her dress and her black hair lay disordered on her shoulders. Cloud wanted to run to her mother, bury her face in her mother’s hands and inhale the beloved fragrance, but then the king pushed out of the house behind her. When his gaze fell on Cloud, a ripple crawled up her back and her mouth pulled into a snarl.
The king also checked in his movements. “What!” he said. His eyes narrowed and his mouth drew down.
This man had always kept his distance, would circle her warily if they happened to meet. But now he jumped down the stairs toward her. He wore only a robe tied around his waist, and his necklace of teeth that rattled on his muscular chest.
Cloud backed away. He caught her by the arm and yanked her onto her hind legs. Again a growl tried to push out of her belly, only to emerge as a ridiculous squeak.
“A girl now,” he said.
“Rumble,” said Cloud’s mother.
King Rumble did not glance at his consort. Instead, he stared a long time at Cloud, mouth twisting as if he tasted something rotten, and then his gaze slid down from her face, past her chest and belly to her unsteady new legs, her awkward feet. Cloud tried to shield her exposed belly, but Rumble jerked her arm, forced her round again.
Thrush’s hands went to her face. “Rumble,” she said again.
“How did this happen?” Rumble demanded, in a voice that fell on Cloud like stones.
“Master,” said one of the men nervously, “she was sleeping here last night, and this is how she looked this morning.”
“Just like that?” he said, face darkening. “Nothing else?”
“Please don’t hurt her, Rumble,” Thrush begged, coming up behind him.
She took off her fur robe to wrap around Cloud. Rumble ripped the robe from her and threw it on the ground. “You think you’re going to take care of it now? You think you’re going to take this creature into my house?”
“She’s just a girl now.”
“A girl!” he shouted. “You think I’ve forgotten where she came from?”
“It’s all over,” pleaded Thrush. “Oh, Rumble, that was all finished long ago.”
Rumble slapped Thrush, and she stumbled back. “It’s not finished!” he shouted. “Look at her! How can it ever be finished!” Cloud tried to wrench her arm away, and she clawed and swatted at him, but her new body had no more strength than a blade of grass. Rumble smashed his fist into her chin. Pain and darkness shot through her head as she crumpled to the ground. A noisy tumble of images surged after: children screaming, Rumble with a bloody spear, dogs baying. She ran, ran, ran…
“What’s all this?” said another voice. An unfamiliar pair of arms circled Cloud. “Who is this girl?”
Trembling and whimpering, Cloud opened her eyes. An old woman crouched beside her, shielding her from Rumble, who held his fist ready to strike again.
Thrush shakily smoothed her hair with an arm crisscrossed by old scars. “It seems she’s my four-legged child, Aunt Glory.”
Glory pulled off her own robe to wrap around Cloud. The robe was warm, but did not stop Cloud’s convulsive shuddering. “And now she’s turned into a girl?” said Glory. “It’s a wonder!”
“A wonder!” Rumble spat. “The wizards will tell us what’s really happened here.”
Glory looked at him as if she had just noticed his presence. “Will you take care of your wife’s daughter now that she’s human?”
Rumble said, as if he could not get the rotten taste out of his mouth, “Let her own father take care of her.”
Thrush closed her eyes. Cloud saw water beading her mother’s lashes.
“Well, then,” said Glory, and she stood, holding out her hand toward Cloud. “The child had better come with me.” Cloud tried once more to stand, but her feet still weren’t working right, and she toppled, banging against the heavy planks of the stairway. This time Glory lifted Cloud onto her hind legs. “Come on, now.”
Glory tucked the robe more closely around Cloud and urged her to start walking. Cloud took a teetering step, glanced back at her mother. Neither Thrush nor Rumble had moved. Rumble stared at them, eyes narrowed, but water now trickled down Thrush’s cheeks.
“You can’t stay here, child,” Glory said in Cloud’s ear.
She hurried Cloud along the beach path. Cloud still trembled uncontrollably, and she kept tripping and stumbling. “What’s wrong with you, child?” Glory asked. “Can’t you find your feet? Well, of course not; you’re used to all fours.” On the right, they were passing the long row of houses. Cloud knew their scents: wood smoke, fish, a vat of old urine, freshly cut cedar, human sweat. But the smells were faded today. Instead, everything looked so clear and sharp as to hurt her eyes. The weathered boards of the great houses shone silver in the dawn light. The still waters of the harbor rippled and shivered in a thousand colors, breaking apart reflections of houses, green forest, gray sky.
Men, women, and children stared as the two of them hurried along. A dog ran up to Cloud and sniffed. Before she could snarl and swat, Glory shooed it away.
Glory did not stop until they reached the far end of town, at the head of the long curving spit of sand that shielded the harbor. In front of them stood a house as large as King Rumble’s, but cracks veined the wall planks, and grass and seedlings sprouted from the roof. Cloud looked back. She could see her mother’s house, but it was tiny with distance, and no one stood in front of it anymore.
“Here we are,” Glory said. She took a deep breath, as if she had expended great effort. “We will have to call you something. Do you know your four-legged name?”
Cloud glanced at her, unsure what Glory meant. She did remember walking on four legs. She could vaguely remember her old self—fur, claws—but she had no memory of a name at all.
“Well,” Glory said. “I will have to give you one, then. Cloud, perhaps. You are a pretty girl. Very much like your mother was.” Glory smoothed the hair from Cloud’s forehead, and then stroked the spot Rumble had hit. Even so light a touch made it throb anew. “That’s going to leave a nasty bruise. Yes, Cloud is a good name. Come on, child, you’re filthy as a slave. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Glory led Cloud into the house. The people at the hearth glanced at them. Cloud could smell the dried fish they were eating and wanted to stop, but Glory urged her on, rummaging for a moment in storage chests before sweeping her out the back.
A path led through the brush to the creek. Glory made Cloud stand in the swift, icy water while she rubbed her down with a gritty liquid, starting with her head. The liquid dripped into Cloud’s eyes, stinging, and she jerked and whimpered. “You have to close your eyes, child!” Glory said, splashing clean water onto Cloud’s face.
As Glory toweled her dry, she clucked over the white scars on Cloud’s shoulder and side, tsk-ed over Cloud’s flea bites. (Cloud remembered fleas: a torture of thorn pricks that made you twitch and turn without rest. But the fleas had vanished along with her former self.) Then Glory struggled to pull a skin dress over Cloud’s arms and head. Her arms felt like a pair of snakes, and they tangled with the dress, Glory, tree branches, each other, but at last Glory was tugging it down past her knees.
After combing Cloud’s short hair, Glory wrapped the fur robe around her once more and hugged her tightly. Not her mother’s arms, not her mother’s beloved smell and soft voice, but Cloud huddled into it anyway. Eventually the shivering lessened. Cloud wondered when she would see her mother again.
“Now you look a proper young woman,” said Glory. Cloud sniffed the dress: smoke, a faint old scent of deer. “How old are you now? Twelve? Can you speak, child? Can you say my name? I’m your Aunt Glory.”
“Aunt,” Cloud said, “Glory.”
The words surprised her. They came out as if it was something she had always known how to do. Not like walking on two legs.
Aunt Glory let out a sigh. Then they walked back to the house, where Glory introduced her to the other residents. They were Thrush’s relatives and in-laws, Glory explained. Everyone stared at Cloud, and she wished she was back in the forest.
Then Glory laid a piece of half-dried salmon on a mat in front of her. Cloud’s mouth began to water. She got down onto all fours, and with one hand holding the backbone in place, she tugged at the delicious orange flesh with her teeth. “Oh, no, child, no!” Aunt Glory grabbed Cloud by the shoulders and pulled her back. “Use your hand.” Glory picked up the backbone, and pushed and twisted the fingers of Cloud’s hand until they held the thing by themselves. “Lift it up to your mouth.”
When Cloud tried to raise her arm, she lost control of her fingers, and the backbone dropped to the mat. Glory sighed and repeated the process. This time Cloud managed to move the fish to her mouth. “Small bites,” Glory said. “You’re a young lady now.” But Cloud was hungry. She chewed all the flesh from the bones, then sucked the crumbs from her hand.
Aunt Glory pulled Cloud’s fingers out of her mouth. “I see we have a long way to go.”
Cloud’s new home was called Halibut House. She spent that day huddled beside its hearth at the center of the cavernous hall, trying to follow Glory’s instructions: how to sit on her rump, upper limbs hanging loose; how to pick up things with her twig-like fingers. All the while Glory asked her questions: “Why did you change?” And “Can you change back?” And “Do you know why it happened now?”
“I don’t know,” was all Cloud could answer. Some things that day were familiar: the beach and houses, the smells of wood smoke and human skin, her ever-present hunger and her longing for Thrush. Many more things were strange: her shape, her weakness and confusion, the painful new vision that showed her a world whetted sharp as a knife.
Eventually Glory let her rest, and she sat as Glory had taught her, expecting that she would slip into a doze. But sitting like a girl was uncomfortable, and her wintertime sleepiness did not return. Other people came in and looked at her, and murmured nervously or with astonishment.
In the evening Aunt Glory gave her more dried fish, still not nearly enough to sate her hunger. Afterward, a few last visitors arrived at Halibut House.
The first to step through the door was an old man with tattoos crawling across his sunken chest and flabby arms. He wore a crown of animal claws and a skirt strung with puffin beaks, and a greasy tangle of gray hair in a knot atop his head. When he pushed through the doorway, everyone in the hall glanced first at him and then at Cloud, and fell silent.
Behind him, two boys maneuvered a box drum through the door and pulled the door-plank shut behind them. The old man descended the stepped platforms in a rattle of puffin beaks. An icy draft wandered ahead of him, bringing Cloud the stink of rancid grease and mildew.
She tried to slink away, but Glory’s hand gripped her shoulder. “Well, well,” said the old man mildly when he reached the hearth, “so this is the four-legged child?”
“I don’t believe anyone in this house hired your services,” said Glory.
“No, indeed,” he said. “The king sent me to see what I could see.”
“The winter king,” said Glory. “This is the summer side of town.”
“Yes, yes,” said the old man, “yes, indeed, but where is the summer king of Sandspit Town?” He sat beside Cloud. It felt as if someone had just set down a chunk of ice next to her; the cold draft rose from his flesh. “Where is the noble lord of Halibut House right now?”
Glory did not answer. The old man, or man-shaped chunk of ice, leaned forward. “You don’t have any wizards left in your house,” he said. “This is for your good as well as the king’s. She’s been skulking around town all these years, growing bigger, making everyone nervous, but no one dared do anything. A four-legs! The queen’s daughter! And now she’s taken off her fur robe. You think she isn’t dangerous? This is for everyone’s good. We have to know what it’s about.”
“It’s plain what happened,” said Glory. “She grew old enough and shed the part she got from her father. Now she’s human, like her mother.”
“Nothing at all is plain,” said the old man.
He put an icy hand on Cloud’s arm and drew her closer to the light. His faded eyes, peering from their pouches of flesh, seemed to jab at Cloud like fingers.
“A pretty little thing,” said the old man, “now that she’s taken off her mask.” He grinned at Cloud without kindness. “My name is Bone, little four-legs. Why don’t you tell me where your animal skin is?” When she did not answer, he urged, “Speak, girl! Confess!”
Cloud shook her head. Bone’s frigid hand sucked the warmth from her body. “I don’t know,” she managed to whisper.
He leaned closer and the icy draft ruffled her hair. “You had better tell me. Or I might have to beat you.”
“It’s gone,” Cloud said, beginning to shiver. “I don’t know where it is!”
“We’ll see,” said Bone.
He made her lie down and beckoned to the two boys who still waited by the door. They staggered down to the hearthside with the huge carved drum. Aunt Glory and the other residents withdrew to the shadows.
One boy held the drum on its corner while the other began to pound it with a stick. The drum’s voice was deep, and it vibrated through the floor into Cloud’s bones. The boys began to sing in high, clear voices. She could not understand the words.
Bone shook a rattle and opened his own mouth to sing. His voice was loud, nasal, and droning. The fire lit his wrinkled face from beneath and cast wild shadows against the roof. As he danced over her, bending slowly at knees and waist, his eyes rolled up into his head. The draft flared into a wind gusting out of him. Under its force, the oil lamps smoked, the hearth fire guttered, and clouds of ash sailed through the hall.
The drumbeat and the chatter of beaks and claws and pebbles dizzied Cloud. The gloom of the hall deepened into impenetrable darkness. She felt as if she herself had become a flake of ash and flew through a wintery night.
All of a sudden a white-haired dog stood over her. “Where is her spirit mask?” said Bone’s voice, from nearby in the darkness.
The dog sniffed at Cloud. She wanted to push it away but could not move.
“I couldn’t find it,” said a deep, rough voice. The dog looked in Bone’s direction, and Cloud realized that the voice must somehow belong to it. “It’s beyond a maze of a hundred mountains. It must have gone back to her father’s house.”
“It must have,” Bone mimicked. “But you don’t know!”
“I can do no more,” said the dog, and it bounded away.
“I didn’t release you!” Bone shouted after it. The dog was already gone.
The cold wind swirled, and Cloud spun with it. Maybe she slept. Then a touch startled her. Suckered tentacles streamed out of the darkness on an invisible current, curling, flicking against her. She tried to jerk away but still could not move.
“Why has her mask disappeared?” demanded Bone.
“She lost it,” said a new voice, cold and sleek.
“I know she lost it!” shouted Bone. “I asked you why!”
The octopus said, “I have no other answer,” and it, too, shot away into the dark.
The drum pulsed on, like Cloud’s heartbeat. Or maybe it was her heartbeat. The wind rose and fell, grew even colder. Snow flurried across the darkness.
“Why has this happened now?” Bone burst out, startling Cloud.
This time she could see only a swarm of ice-blue lights overhead. A high, ragged chorus answered, “The child becomes a woman.”
“Yes, yes,” Bone said angrily. “I see. But is that all? Will she regain her mask?” And when the flickering lights winked out, “I posed you questions! I sent you to do my bidding!” The lights did not reappear.
Cloud sailed further and further into the dizzying night. After another long while footsteps approached her.
“Will she regain her spirit mask?” demanded Bone’s voice.
The footsteps shuffled closer and a corpse came into view. Seaweed streamed from its long hair, and a tiny crab picked flesh from its cheek, and only darkness waited where eyes should have been. But the corpse stooped over Cloud as tenderly as a mother with her child.
“Don’t be angry, master,” the drowned woman murmured, dribbling seawater from her mouth. “Something is sitting athwart the eyesight of all of us. The power of the First People is greater than ours. Even if we found the trail to her father’s house, none of our kind could get through the door to glance inside. But look at her—she’s naked as a real girl now. She could no more find her way to her father’s house than she could open the door of the world and step outside. In that condition, how could she regain her four-legged shape? Leave it, master, let her alone and she will never be a threat to anyone.”
“Away with you too,” shouted Bone. “Useless, all of you!”
The wind surged and the drowned woman spun upward in a cloud of bubbles. Cloud was spinning after her when the drumbeat stopped. And Cloud tumbled down, fell and fell through darkness until she landed hard on the floor of Halibut House. Bone crouched motionless above her. His eyes rolled forward. He lowered his rattle with a little slide of pebbles. Finally he straightened.
“Well?” asked Glory. “What did your servants tell you?”
“Hmph,” was all he said. He slipped his rattle into its cover and hobbled stiffly up the stepped platforms to duck out the door. The boys, hauling the bulky drum, scrambled after.
The cold draft followed him out the door. The hearth fire and lamps flared up again. The residents of the house returned to the hearthside. Shivering violently, Cloud crawled up from the floor to sit beside Glory.
“What did they mean?” Cloud whispered.
Glory wrapped Cloud’s robe around her. “What did who mean, child?”
“The ones who came and talked to him,” said Cloud. “Who are the First People?”
“You heard his servants?” Glory’s voice dropped to the same low whisper. She turned Cloud so they faced each other. “What did they say?”
“They think my, my mask has gone back to my—father’s house.” Cloud said the word father very carefully. It felt dangerous in her mouth, as if sharp-edged. Who was this father that Rumble said should take care of her?
“Well,” Glory said, “that’s good, I suppose. Did they say you’re going to stay a girl?”
Cloud nodded. “Is my—is my father one of the First People, Aunt Glory?”
Glory tightened her lips. “We don’t talk about him, child.”
She put Cloud to bed in her own room, which lay against the outer wall near the back of the house. She showed Cloud how to get into the bed, how to pull the furs over her. The furs were deliciously soft and thick, and warm; yes, much better than the muddy hollow in the forest where Cloud had been sleeping.
Glory climbed in after her and right away began to snore. Her breath stirred Cloud’s hair. Cloud shut her eyes, looking at darkness. The events of the day had been too much to take in, and none of Aunt Glory’s care made her feel less bewildered.
What happened to her spirit mask?
She lost it.
Cloud felt as if it was she, not her mask, that had been lost, as if she had been stranded in this new self a very long way from home. She touched the strange body through her clothes: a young woman’s breasts, a narrow hairless belly.
Do you know your four-legged name? Glory had asked.
She could not remember any name before the one Glory had given her, and Cloud felt as unnatural as the fragile arms and legs she now wore. She did not know who or what she was, except Thrush’s daughter, and Thrush was beyond her reach, in Rumble’s house at the other end of town.
As Cloud drifted into sleep, the darkness faded to winter gray, and she was chasing after Thrush. She wanted to turn back, but Thrush kept running through the forest, and she had to follow or lose her mother.
When Glory shook in the morning, she woke to bewilderment. What was she doing here? Where had she found this body? It was only the smell of food that got her out of bed.
That next day, after making her bathe again and comb her hair, Aunt Glory started teaching her manners. Cloud tried hard to remember everything Aunt Glory told her, but there was a great deal of it. No licking or sniffing food before she ate it, no eager devouring of her meal no matter how hungry, no gorging until satiated. “Our stores have to last until the Bright Ones return,” said Glory.
No scratching herself. No clawing at any human who came too close, though she was allowed to chase away dogs. She certainly must not relieve herself wherever or whenever she needed to.
She had to take care of the fish bones. “We don’t let dogs get to them,” Aunt Glory explained. Cloud nodded; she did not like dogs either. She was supposed to stack skin and bones upon a mat and place them in the fire afterward. Or, when the tide was right, she and Aunt Glory would carry the bones down to the sandy mouth of the stream, wade into the channel to where fresh water mixed with salt, and with a prayer spill them into the outflowing current. “So the Bright Ones can be born again,” Aunt Glory told her. “Treat them right and they will always return.”
She had to learn all the names of her fellow residents in Halibut House, and how they were related to Thrush. The most important thing, Glory told her, was whether they belonged to the Halibut House mother-line. Cloud did, because what house you belonged to came through the mother, and Thrush was the highest-ranking princess of Halibut House. There were no Halibut House men, so the house sheltered only a few widows like Glory who had come back from their husbands’ houses, a few men of other houses who lived there with Halibut House wives and children, and a handful of elderly slaves from the glory days of times past.
“What happened to the men?” Cloud asked.
“Misfortune,” Glory said. “No, Cloud, sit with your knees together. You’re a young lady now.”
Cloud pressed her knees against each other. “What do you mean, misfortune? What happened?”
“They died,” Glory said shortly.
Cloud could not help but ask, “But how do you die of misfortune?” Misfortune had no shape or smell, it didn’t sound obviously threatening like Rumble’s fist or a bloody spear.
“We don’t like to talk about it, Cloud. It makes people grieve to remember.” Glory looked sad herself, and tired.
“But,” Cloud said, “I don’t understand. All of them died? From misfortune?”
Glory sighed. “Your father killed them, child.”
“My…father?” Cloud said. “Why did he do that?”
“They went searching for Thrush,” said Glory.
“But how did Thrush get lost?”
“Your father abducted her,” Glory said. “He forced her to be his wife. That’s how you came about. Now leave it be, Cloud.”
“But,” Cloud said. She was not sure what it meant that her father had forced Thrush to be his wife. The way Glory said it, it had to have been dreadful. And all of the men killed. She understood killed: screams, blood everywhere—
Her father had killed them. No wonder Rumble hated her.
But Thrush loved her anyway.
“How did Thrush get free?” Cloud whispered.
“Rumble rescued her,” said Glory, “and killed your father. Listen to me, child. You must always be careful of other people’s shame, and their pain. This was a thing that brought grief into every house in our town. So you must let it lie. And a girl shouldn’t pester people with questions, no matter what the subject. Listen and observe to learn. All right? Now let me explain about the people you’re related to through Thrush’s father, who was the king in Storm House before Rumble.”
Cloud tried to pay attention to Aunt Glory. But it was hard to put aside the subject of how her father, her father, had hurt Thrush and killed so many men, and how Rumble had killed her father. No one seemed to know what Cloud was, but they all knew where she had come from. Everyone but her.
In the evening, as the residents gathered for their meal, Glory formally bestowed Cloud’s new name. Glory gave a little speech to the assembly, telling them that although the name Cloud had not been used recently, it had been passed down for many generations in Halibut House, in the lineage of the summer kings of Sandspit Town, which was an old and proud mother-line even if they did not now have a king. The name, Glory explained, did not refer to the rain-heavy skies of winter, but to incandescent threads of cirrus on a splendid summer’s day. The sun’s younger sisters, they were called.
Then Glory gave each of the witnesses a trifle: a cedar-bark mat, a spoon, a berry cake. “Someone should hold a feast for you and do this properly,” Glory muttered. “You are a high-born girl, the daughter of a queen.”
That night, Cloud dreamed again: of sheer peaks lit by dawn, of a rude house under the trees, of small boys who splashed, laughing, through a swift creek. Though she did not see Thrush in those dreams, the air smelled of her, safe.
She woke again in the morning to her awkward new body, and the smell of humans.
She was sitting with Glory beside the hearth, trying not to gobble down her bit of fish, when quick, heavy footsteps sounded at the door. Rumble entered, dressed this morning in a fine deerskin tunic beneath his fur robe and gripping a jade battle-axe. As he came down toward the hearth, Glory rose to her feet. Cloud shrank into a corner, trying to be inconspicuous.
“You’ve made a mistake, old hag,” Rumble said to Glory, his face purple with anger.
He pointed his axe at Cloud. “You bestow such a name upon this, this bastard creature, as if it’s a princess in this house—“
“Cloud?” Glory asked.
“—as if giving out mats and spoons to a few old slaves can buy such an honor! You’ve gone too far!”
“Cloud,” said Glory, “was my grandmother’s name. I have the right to give it to whom I choose. May I remind you that the name belongs to Halibut House, not to you.”
“Thrush was going to give it to her daughter!”
Glory looked at him. “This is Thrush’s daughter.”
Rumble slammed his axe into the platform beside him and the old plank splintered. Cloud curled into a ball, trembling helplessly. But Glory didn’t move.
“She was going to give it to Radiance!” Rumble shouted. “She was going to give it to the true princess of this house!”
“Thrush never told me so,” Glory said. “And what does Thrush’s other daughter need it for? Radiance already has a wonderful name, a royal name, and if she needs a second, or a third or fourth, Halibut House owns plenty of others. As for the mats and so on I gave away for Cloud, yes, I would have liked to do things properly. But we’re not what we once were in this house. As you know. Anyway, it’s done now.”
A wild light leapt in Rumble’s face. “You think it can’t be undone?”
He smashed the axe into the wood right beside Cloud’s head. She scrambled away, arms and legs weak with terror. Rumble leapt after her, seized her by the arm, and threw her hard against the platform. Noise rolled through Cloud’s mind: dogs barking in a frenzy, children screaming, she ran—
“You leave this child alone!” Glory was shouting at Rumble. “She’s nothing to you! She’s Halibut House business!”
Glory had thrown herself in front of Cloud, clutching at Rumble’s arm. “Old woman,” he said wildly, “don’t forget your place. Don’t forget who my children are, they’re Thrush’s children, they are Halibut House children, they’ll inherit everything in this house. Their business is my business.”
“My brother was king in Halibut House,” said Glory. “I know my place well enough. You would do better to show more respect under this roof.”
For a moment Cloud was certain Rumble would strike Glory down. But he lowered his axe.
“Don’t ever think,” he ground out, “that this misbegotten animal will push aside my children in this house. This creature is less than a slave to me. If you feel sentimental because it looks human now, go ahead, feed it scraps you save from the midden! But be careful. It isn’t human.” Rumble aimed his axe at Cloud. “If I ever think it’s a danger to anyone in this town I’ll strike it down where it stands.”
With that he ducked out the door. Glory sat down heavily beside Cloud. After a moment, she asked, “Are you all right, child?”
Cloud, still curled into a ball, was trembling so hard she couldn’t speak. Something new was happening to her: water leaked from her eyes, a terrible sharp lump had lodged in her chest that made it hard to breathe. Glory turned to look at Cloud, then gathered her into her arms. “Oh, you poor child,” said Glory. “How can he not see that you’re just an ordinary girl now? Don’t cry, Cloud, it’s over. It’s over.”