Today's Reading

ONE

Anna worked at the cold stone floor of the Tower, using a tool she'd made from the handle of a lantern years before. The entire floor was scored with small, white lines the size of matchsticks, each set of four lines crossed through with a bold diagonal.

She struck another line, knowing the next day would be her sixteenth birthday. She clenched her teeth against the familiar feeling of gloom settling inside her.

Anna heard the sound of keys grinding their way into the Tower's immense stone door. She jumped up, expecting to greet her advisors, but the King's Guard entered, followed by the Hierophant King himself.

"Anna," the King greeted her.

"Father." Anna suppressed the urge to lunge at him and scratch his eyes out. He stood for a moment and looked around.

The Tower was a circular stone structure with narrow stairways, and Anna lived in the round room at its top. There was one window overlooking the castle gates and the forest that lay beyond. On a windy day, she could fool herself into thinking she smelled salt coming off the sea, though she had never glimpsed or heard it. But she'd been told of the ocean's existence by her advisors, and now she imagined that it was behind her, in a direction she had never seen.

Despite a modest stone fireplace, the room was terribly drafty. The King pulled his robes closer. A small bed sat along the wall, but the room was mostly taken up by a large wooden worktable covered in sketches and a weaving loom the size of a small horse.

The King was not looking at the room itself but at the elaborate tapestries that curved around it, covering every inch of wall space. His heart caught in his chest at the sheer beauty of the tapestries.

"Heavens, Anna!" the King said. "These are truly extraordinary, and to think you are self-taught. The work of the so-called masters would surely pale in comparison. The pure imagination of it! My walls will be the envy of all." He paused. "You've accomplished so much since I was here last. Why, they look as if they are nearly finished."

"A year is a long time," Anna said quietly.

The King rubbed at the silver hairs of his closely cropped beard and ran a hand over his shaven head. "Has it been a year?"

"It has, and we made an agreement. When I completed the tapestries, you would let me go."

"So I did. Are you finished?"

"I just need to put some final touches on the last one, bind the threads. But other than that, yes."

"Please, take me through them. One by one." He shook his head, his eyes scanning the walls. "How one girl could create all of this . . ."

I have a lot of time, Anna thought. She wanted to say, Because you keep me locked up in here like I'm some kind of monster! But she bit her tongue.

Anna pushed aside a tall ladder that allowed her to reach the top of her tapestries, and then beckoned the King forward. She dove right in, worried that he could change his mind and leave her again at any moment.

"This is the land of Pentacles," she said. The two looked up at the great tapestry together, nearly fifteen feet high and just as wide. It was one of four grand tapestries, her life's work.

At the tapestry's center sat a king on an immense throne carved into the trunk of a magnificent brown oak tree. The king's robes were purple velvet and shimmered with golden silk threads that matched a bejeweled crown. At the center of the crown a golden pentacle symbol sparkled. Baskets brimmed with glittering gold coins at the King's feet.

The Hierophant King wore a large silver signet ring on his index finger, with a pentacle etched into its face. He twisted the ring now, staring at the scene while Anna spoke.
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