She heard his little feet pad up to her bed before he spoke. “Mariah, you said we’d learn conjuring today.”
She kept her eyes closed, refused to answer. The boy thrived on abuse, and she was good at it.
“You promised we’d move on to conjuring,” he repeated.
Some wealthy villager—baker? armourer? didn’t matter—had invited the great heroes, Mariah the Witch and Sophus the Apprentice, to stay in his home. She’d slept in the guest room, he’d stayed in the women’s quarters, across the courtyard.
“I did?” she drawled, not opening her eyes. “Can’t recall.”
“Yes. You did. Three days ago, you said we’d do conjuring the next day, which means today—”
“Don’t care. Go away.”
The boy was from across the great sea, an Ethiope. They had the most annoying habit of sucking their teeth at you. She felt a child shouldn’t be doing it to an adult, but she didn’t know why. He was doing it to her just then, a real throaty suck.
“Ares’ asshole, will you stop that!” She sat up, opened her eyes. He glanced down, saw that she was already dressed, then for just a moment, flicked his eyes across the courtyard. She must never forget how quick he was.
She grabbed a now very empty wine jug, scraping it along the tile floor, and put it in front him. “Fine. Conjure something.”
He answered carefully, “I don’t know how yet…?”
“Conjure something or fuck off.”
He stared at her, then the jug. His clever little head remembered everything she’d ever shown him, deliberately or otherwise. She honestly couldn’t remember if she’d ever done this in front of him, though.
Finally, he looked in the bottom of the jug and saw traces of wine. He touched them with his fingertips then touched his fingers to his lips, tasting it, and then swallowed. He repeated a rhyme about Dionysus, one she’d drunkenly slurred a few weeks ago, and then wine started pouring backwards down the spout and into the jug. They both listened as it filled itself.
“Great!” she said. “Lesson over.”
One jug later, she was asleep and Sophus was sucking his teeth again. The boy had conjured some very strong wine.
Hours later, she woke up to his tiny hands shaking her, back and forth, back and forth. “Mariah! They told me to tell you that the Stone Man of Imbros is awake! He’s awake!” Her feet were in her sandals and halfway across the room before he finished talking.
She marched along the road—left, right, left, right—towards the nearest port. The Stone Man was awake. The thought was liquefying her bowels. She was in a cold sweat under a midday Sun.
“Mariah! Slow down!” Sophus called from behind her, far enough that he had to yell.
“Can’t! Have to kill him!” The curse was practically working her legs for her, which was useful because her mind was blank with panic.
“Fine!” He was huffing and puffing. “Then just tell me what a Stone Man is?”
He ran up beside her. “Why not?”
She yelled without stopping, “The Stone Man was a terrifyingly powerful war-mage, a general in an ancient army who conquered half the world. Someone, a priest, got right fucking lucky centuries ago and turned him into a statue. You think you’re up for that?”
That made him pause. “But but, I’m your apprentice! I get to go with you!”
She trudged on. “Sophus, I have to go. Curse won’t let me not. But you want to be in a fucking song! Heroes die, boy. They die horribly before anyone’s ever heard of them. I know because I live! I live by lying, treachery, and blinding violence. Heroism would have turned me into a corpse long before there were any songs for little idiots like you to get obsessed over.”
“But you promised!” He was starting to cry. Good.
She turned on him, shouted in his face, “What did I just tell you?!” They stared at each other. They’d had this fight over and over. “Go back to the house,” she said “The baker’s daughter was smiling at you. You could get between her legs in a few days if you’d make an effort.” Shit. Wrong tactic. The boy had balls, but they hadn’t dropped yet.
“Take me with you.” It was a demand.
“No. Go back. I don’t need you.” But he didn’t. He kept yelling questions, and she kept yelling insults. After their voices had gone hoarse, they trudged in angry silence.
She stopped to shit a few hours later. Shitting helped her think. She looked Sophus directly in the eye while she squatted over the sand.
He started pleading through a dry throat. “Why can’t I come? I’m your apprentice. I get to come!”
A thought occurred to her. “Hey hey! Stop. Shut up!” she said, still squatting. He waited. “Who told you the Stone Man was awake?”
Sophus’ eyes light up, “A messenger!” he croaked. “He was following you.” He would have loved to say “us.”
“What else did he say?”
“That the Stone Man was giving the evil eye to the Imbrosi, the islanders.”
She righted her dress as she stood up. “Just the ‘evil eye’? Is that exactly what he said?” Sophus didn’t answer. If there’d been more, he would have told her, and she knew it.
“Am I your apprentice again? Are you taking me with you?”
“No and fuck off.”
By evening, she was dragging her feet through the sand, and Sophus was doing only a little better. Youth and sobriety. It would have been just perfect if she’d died on the way to facing the Stone Man, she thought. A small part of her would have loved it. Sing a song about that, ya farty little bards. But a much bigger part of her would keep on living because fuck that witch who cursed her, that’s why. She would ask Gaia for food, Athena for strength, and she knew the shore was close. Keep living. That’s the only rule.
Sophus groaned, which pulled her away from her daydream of spitting in the Fates’ eyes. “I know it’s not safe. I know we could die,” he said.
“Will die, boy. We will die.”
“But I’m your apprentice! I chose this.”
“I don’t care! Sophus, I’m telling you to go back because,” and then she started lying, “you’re useless to me.”
“What? I’m saying, you’re weak.”
“No! No no no!” He literally stamped his foot in the sand.
She stopped, yelled in his face. “You are shit at magic! Get it? Absolute shit! I can’t use you!”
“I’m not,” he yelled back. “I’m clever. I’m good at this. I’m coming with you!”
All she could do was turn away, and as she walked, she whispered a prayer to Hestia that he would find happiness in the arms of the armourer’s daughter. For a moment, they both smelled wood burning in a hearth. Then it changed to iron and blood. He grinned a like a jackal, and she gave up.
Sophus started walking backwards in front of her. Entirely too much confidence.“So the Stone Man is awake! But you can put him back to sleep, right?”
She sighed. “The priest, one I told you about, got lucky? He died trying. And I’ve no idea how he did it. My mistress didn’t know.”
“Oh.” He turned around again, walked next to her. “So what do we do?”
“Die. We die.” Unless he got very good at lifting curses right now, of course.
They reached the shore before nightfall and found a ship. Mariah bartered magic for passage. She could bring good winds and had a foul mouth. Sailors loved her.
Once they were on board, she slumped down on the deck, the curse stopped pushing. Sophus slumped down beside her, and for a few moments, they watched the setting Sun, smelled the sea, listened to the strain of the oars.
“The locals,” she finally said, “think that if a virgin girl looks the Stone Man in the eye for five heartbeats, she will be barren for life. Girls dare each other to do it. And now he’s giving the actual evil eye. Those islanders aren’t stupid, turns out.”
“But what do we do?” Giving knowledge to that boy was like knocking an arrow. She hoped all she had to do was let go.
“I’ve been thinking all day, Sophus, and I’m pretty sure the answer is, we’re fucked. The curse is making me go there, and you’re not smart enough to turn back.”
He thought for a while. She prayed to Apollo, Demeter, and why not Hades that the boy picked up on the obvious. There was only one reason she had to go there, and he could change that.
“He’s not all the way awake, maybe? Maybe it’s only his eye?”
Damn. Smart boy, wrong detail. “Yeah. Thought of that. Could be just the eye. Maybe we can jam a pointy stick into it.” After a day at sea, another day of Sophus’ questions and Mariah shaking her head at him, they stepped onto Imbros’ shore, and that was still the best plan she had: a stick in the eye.
And the curse was screaming at her to go straight at the Stone Man: no preparation, no strategy. Ah well. Living had been fun. Maybe being a shade would be more peaceful.
When they got to the town square, there was a crowd in a wide ring around the former statue. Mariah pushed her way through, and Sophus gripped her dress, dragging himself through. She thought to herself that all these islanders looked alike: same faces over and over, same clothes. Maybe she thought that because she was a traveller and had seen so much that wasn’t Imbros. Maybe it was just because she was an outsider. Funny things occur to you when you’re about to die.
She broke the edge of the crowd, which despite being gathered was well back from the statue, and saw the Stone Man of Imbros much like it has always been described. He was dressed in the armour of an Ancient general, but kneeling on one knee. He was resting his elbow on that same knee, and the other arm hung at his side. It had been that way for two centuries, as far as she knew. But now, his right eye was awake and scanning the crowd, his mouth was flesh, and the hand at his side was brown skin to just above the wrist. The rest was unmoving stone. He couldn’t turn his head.
In front of the statue was an old man in flowing robes, head bowed low. He spoke loud enough for the crowd to hear: “swear allegiance until the rivers run dry and the mountains are brought low, until the sky and the land are one, until—”
“Stop that!” Mariah heard herself say, and then hated the curse extra hard for a second. But there was no going back, so she tried to do a hero voice. “Don’t swear an oath to a fuckin’ war-mage. They’ll make you keep it!”
The Stone Man’s eye fixed on her. He spoke in a halting voice, still rock on the inside. “Who addressed me?” he said to her.
“The Witch, Mariah,” said the curse, through her mouth. “Shit,” said Mariah.
She edged around the circle, sneaking out of his very limited field of view.
“Mariah,” he spoke slowly, in no hurry. “I know this name. It is not a warrior’s name, a conqueror’s name. It is the name of an angry woman, without children, without husband, without fortune or family.” That was all true, and she did not object to a word of it. “Come before me, daughter, so I may teach you your place.”
“Nah. I’ll stay here.” She edged slowly around him.
The Stone Man kept talking. “Ah, I see now.” His living hand wove shapes in the air. She saw old magic, divination. “You have no desire to challenge me. A compulsion has brought you here. A most ironic compulsion.”
There it was. He could see right through her. Names have power. But there was also a glimmer of possibility in it. Mariah picked her words carefully,
“I’m here because you are here. I can’t ignore that.”
“Yes. I see that you cannot.” There was a long pause. The crowd waited silently. “But…” Yes, she thought, be a smart monster. There’s another option that neither of us can name.
“My daughter, come before me.” Her heart thumped at her ribs. Her freedom was so close. She stepped gingerly into the Stone Man’s field of view. And then his free hand clenched in the air, and her body was frozen. He twisted his fist and reeled her in, pulling her face-to-face with him. She could only hope he was thinking what she was thinking.
He pulled her close enough that she could smell his stoney breath. “Compulsions can be dispelled. Removed. I could offer you this gift,” he said, “if you swore loyalty to me.” He wasn’t done, but he relaxed his hand for a moment, which meant Mariah could move, which meant the curse made her run from him. Fucking curse.
“Too slow!” she yelled, and darted to his left where he couldn’t see past the bridge of his own nose. She was intensely aware of the crowd, now, still in a wide circle around him. They were cowed, but there was no telling what they’d do. She had lost track of Sophus, but she couldn’t worry about that now.
She praised Gaia and a crack appeared in the ground underneath the Stone Man, but he lifted his hand, levitating himself for a moment, just long enough to bring his thumb together with his fingers and draw the crack closed. The statue thumped down to the ground. She couldn’t talk faster than he could wave his fingers around.
“Daughter, this ends in your death.”
“Yeah, got that.” The curse was screaming at her to kill him, kill him fast, kill him now! She couldn’t refuse, and the crowd had no idea what she might do next—the upside of having no plan—which gave her time to pray to Helios. A shaft of blazing light opened above the Stone Man. The soil blackened underneath him, and what little flesh he had started to burn, but he spread his fingers wide and floated them upwards. A thick cloud appeared, shading him.
“Child, you live because I am showing you patience—”
“Great!” The crowd was starting to animate. Sooner or later, someone would decide trying to stop her would earn them favour from their new god-king, so she kept moving, circling around his other side. One more idea. An especially stupid plan. They were too far from the shore, so it would take way too long, but she literally had no choice.
She dropped to her knees and raised her hands to Poseidon. The Imbrosi rushed forwards and grabbed her, but it was too late. She had summoned an ocean wave as high as a palace, rolling up from the shore. It ate houses and people, smashed stone and wood, and would surely kill them all.
It slammed into her and the rest of the crowd. She didn’t know her ass from her elbow for a moment, but then it stopped moving and she fell backwards onto the hard ground, looking up at a wall of shimmering water. She saw that her feet were still inside it and pulled them out immediately.
She looked at the Stone Man. He had raised his hand up, palm forward, and now the water just hung there. At the top, it sloshed back and forth, back and forth. Half the crowd had been swallowed by it, and what was left stood with gaping mouths and watched as their friends, family, presumably their lovers, frantically swam towards the air, towards life. There were unconscious bodies, too, floating in it, knocked out or dead.
And then the Stone Man slowly lowered his hand and the water drained away, placing everyone back on the ground. The islanders rushed in, trying to give aid. Others stood over their broken homes, dead friends and animals, and they wept.
They would blame her for this. They would be grateful to the Stone Man for saving them, and they would hate her. And they’d be right.
The Stone Man traced a circle in the air with his middle finger, and a ring of flame erupted around himself and Mariah, where she lay in the mud.
“You will die now, daughter. A shame. I was wrong. You are indeed a warrior.” Oh joy. She’d earned his respect.
The ring closed slowly, pushing her onto her feet and forcing her into the Stone Man’s field of view. Where he could kill her. Warrior or not, no plan, it turned out, was an especially shit plan. If not for the curse, she might have given up, but she was a spiteful woman, and she refused to give it the satisfaction. So she jumped on the Stone Man’s back and jammed her thumb in his eye.
Sophus had kept a good grip on Mariah’s dress, but at some point, the cloth slipped through his fingers, and he was suddenly surrounded by nothing but opaque torsos, so he closed his eyes and Hermes showed him the island, complete with this crowd. He watched Mariah step forward, speak to the Stone Man, and then start fighting him. She was clearly not going to last long, but he didn’t know what to do. He’d tried to help her in a battle once and died trying, so he stayed in the crowd, making for its outer edge. That’s when he saw the huge wave moving up the shore.
He had a few seconds’ head start, bless Hermes, so he begged Poseidon for aid, anything. When the water hit them all, there were a few moments of confusion—bodies bashed into him, up and down disappeared—but then he found he could swim like a dolphin. He was powerful and swift, slipping past the slow humans with ease.
Then the water lowered and drained away, and he was on all fours in the mud, feeling his lungs pulling in great gulps of air. He looked around at what Mariah had done, the scale of it. He couldn’t take his eyes off one particular child, a little younger than himself. The flesh had been torn away from her skull leaving an open wound that was oozing blood.
Then the wall of fire appeared, and a few seconds later, he and everyone else heard a scream of pain followed by silence. When the fire receded, the Stone Man appeared again, alone. Mariah was gone. Not injured. Not a corpse. Just gone. But the Stone Man had an empty eye socket that dripped with blood. Gore was still rolling down his hardened cheek. His one good hand shook with rage, clawed the air, then tightened into a hard fist. He strained against the stone, snarling and screaming. After a loud crack, shards of it fell, and half of his face was flesh again: both eyes, forehead, and mouth. His nose, cheeks, and chin were still stone. Finally, he screamed a terrible scream and ripped his arm free sending more bits flying. His lean, brown arm was covered in cuts where the stone had cracked, but it could move now.
“My children, your king will arrive soon,” he said, admiring his arm. “Once I am again flesh, this island will be the seat of a great empire, and you have only to—” his eyes fell on Sophus, the only dark-skinned boy in the crowd. The Stone Man extended his arm, blood dripping down the length of it, and beckoned. “Come forwards, boy.”
Sophus moved forward slowly, little feet taking especially little steps, and fought the urge to look the Stone Man in the eye.
“You came with her. Do not deny it. You are foreign,” he narrowed his eyes at him, “and you have her power. But not her curse. Why would you come here, boy?”
“I’m her apprentice,” he said, quiet but still proud.
The Stone Man’s fingers stirred. Sophus readied himself, but he didn’t know what for. “And what have you learned, apprentice?”
He clenched his jaw in concentration. No way to beat this Stone Man. His eyes darted back and forth. Nowhere to run. Sophus finally answered:
“Bring me an empty wine jug?”
The Stone Man smirked, waved a hand at the crowd. Seven people ran towards various buildings, came back with an assortment of jugs, and presented them to Sophus. He made a show of inspecting each one and then nodding at the adults who towered over him. The fifth jug was wet with wine, inside and out. She’d dumped it and then run back. He saw panic in her eyes.
He took the jug, tasted the wine, and recited the Dionysian rhyme. The crowd was so quiet, they could hear the jug filling itself, and when he lifted it, he made a show of how heavy it now was. He offered it back to its owner, but she looked terrified, so he took a sip himself. The Stone Man smiled, the crowd relaxed. For now, no more fighting, and he had bartered himself a little more time to live.
Mariah would be, well not actually proud, but probably impressed by his not dying. The thought comforted him.
Two days later, under a starry sky, Sophus staggered behind an islander’s home to relieve himself. He’d been gently intoxicated for days, and he was only just getting the hang of it. He once again remembered Mariah was like this all the time and wondered how she could possibly like it. He didn’t see the man hiding in the shadows behind him while he pissed. Young, strong, and handsome, he wore an islanders’ toga and bare feet. “You’ve been having fun. Still a virgin?”
Sophus’ bladder clamped down in mid-stream. It was not comfortable.
“Sorry! Sorry!” He put himself away, getting urine on his fingers.
“Oh come on, boy, don’t you recognize your mistress?” The young man unfurled a predatory gin.
“Mariah! You’re alive!”
“Yes, and I’d like to stay that way so don’t say that fucking name! These people want to kill me.”
“I’ve never seen you do this before,” he pointed at the man’s body she seemed to be living in.
“Oh pay attention! Dionysus is a generous god.”
“I thought you were dead!”
“I was sure you were dead. How did you manage to live?”
“No!” he hissed, too loudly. The young man narrowed his eyes at Sophus, just the way Mariah would have. He whispered, “What happened to you? You disappeared.”
The young man shrugged. “I couldn’t find a pointed stick.”
Sophus stared at her with glassy eyes, then half-laughed and half-sobbed.
“Oh you are right pissed, aren’t you?”
“I had to! It’s the only way I’ve stayed alive.”
“And how’d you do that?” she asked.
“No! You. First. What happened to you?”
“Fine. I drove my thumb in his eye, then there was a feeling like swimming, and I was back on the mainland. Alone, by the way. Thank you! So I paid for another ship with witchcraft. Then, sacrificed a goat to get here faster, smoked some cannibas with the crew, and they dropped me on the shore this morning. It took me that long to find the right moment to talk. And now, here we are, pissing in the bushes. And it’s your turn.”
He sighed. “I can make wine. He likes it. He told me to keep doing it, get all the islanders drunk.”
“Sure, he wants them grateful and docile. And you have to drink a little for every jug!”
“It didn’t affect me at first, but it’s so much, Mariah! After a while…”
“So you’re enjoying yourself then.”
“No!” He caught himself too late and lowered his voice. “I am not. I was trying to survive! It’s all I could think of. I couldn’t pretend to be Imbrosi.” He had a point. “I really thought you were dead.”
He was such a clever boy that she sometimes forgot he was still a boy, smooth-faced and a long way from home. The tension had faded and left sadness behind. Plus he was shitfaced. He’d start bawling soon. “No. No no no. None of that. I need an apprentice. If that’s not you, then you’re on your own.”
Sophus tried to choke back his tears.
Mariah rolled her eyes at him. “Oh pay attention!” She whispered a prayer to Athena, and Sophus was suddenly stone sober.
He took two cool breaths, stood up straight, and said, “I’ve never seen you do that before. Ever.”
She ignored him. “The curse still needs me to kill that statue, but it’s letting me take my time now.”
Sophus sat beside her, looked up to her. “What’s it like?”
“The curse. What’s it like?”
This was dangerous. “It makes me want things that I don’t want. Don’t want to want.”
“Like killing the monsters?”
“Yes, that’s what it wants, and it makes me feel like I want it, too.”
“Does it feel good?”
The boy didn’t know what he was asking, not really. If he had, she’d have punched him in the neck. “It’s… relieving. When they die. The curse backs off.”
“So it does feel good!” he said, with an oblivious smile on his face.
She glared at him, and he stopped smiling. “Tell me what you know about the Stone Man.”
He took a breath. “He’s managed to free more of himself from the stone. His arm is flesh up to the shoulder,” he pointed to the exact spot on his own arm. “And his face down to the chin.” He pointed again. “He’s got one leg free, but it’s not enough to move around because the rest of him is so heavy. His neck is stone, so he still can’t turn his head. But he can do his hand-magic, and it is so fast, Mariah! He healed his eye just by passing his fingers over it.” He mimicked the action; his hand never stopped moving. “It was just better. And then he left the blood on his cheek for half a day just to scare people.”
“So he’s stronger now, and he can heal himself.” She sat for a moment, chewing over their very limited options. “Make more wine.”
Gods be damned, it was a heavy bow. They hadn’t talked about that when they made the plan, how hard it would be to pull the bloody thing. Mariah was wearing the body of muscled young man the likes of whom she’d very much enjoy rubbing up against for an evening, but be fair! She drank every day and ate heavy food on principle. She didn’t get a lot of sleep. She wasn’t exactly fit. That was the point of magic.
She sighted her target. Athena had granted her eagle eyes, so now the Stone Man’s hand looked as big as a cow. There was no getting anywhere near the Stone Man with his hand-magic, so they would stay nowhere near him and take his hand out of the fight. It made sense. Just not her kind of sense. She daydreamed about jamming a knife in his neck. That sort of thing sends a message: Do Not Fuck With Mariah. She took a deep breath, aimed at the gigantic hand, and loosed the arrow.
Sophus’ part of the plan had been to fill as many jugs as possible. His fingers and lips were purple, half the town was trashed, and he could recite the sobriety prayer by heart. For their part, the Imbrosi had created a reverent orgy around the Stone Man.
Sophus had planted himself at the edge of the Stone Man’s field of view, and the great general barely took any notice of him. He would appoint himself god-king soon enough, and some little foreign boy did not present a threat. Sophus offered the Stone Man a goblet, but he raised his fleshy hand and drew a quick pattern over the liquor before bringing it to his lips, drinking deep, and smiling a wolfish smile. This orgy, this explosion of emotion, was for him, and he approved of it.
“My children!” he yelled. His voice was stronger now, more of him was flesh. “Every day, your King grows more powerful! Every day, his reputation spreads! Every day, we are closer to our new empire!” He spread his one arm wide. “Drink! Celebrate! Soon, we shall be gods!” The islanders—mostly the men—started going faster and harder. Sophus found it revolting but couldn’t look away.
And then an arrow came straight down from heaven and sank into the Stone Man’s good hand, knocking the goblet to the ground. He watched the blood drip down the arrow head, tried and failed to move his fingers. His eyes darted to his left, but Sophus wasn’t there. He had stepped behind the man-statue and started a long prayer to Chronos.
Sophus took a step, and a wooden handle appeared in his hand. Another step, beside the Stone Man now, and a curved blade grew from the handle. The Stone Man clawed uselessly at the ground with his good leg and pierced hand. Sophus raised the sickle above his head. They looked in each other’s eyes, both wondering if he had the strength to do it. He did. He brought the inner edge of the blade down where hand met wrist. The Stone Man screamed in pain. The hand was hanging by skin and tendons, how.
He glared at the boy, eyes full of murder. Sophus dropped the sickle and backed away. The Stone Man roared, strained against the rock that encased him, and ripped his other arm free in a shower of gravel and gore. He lifted his bloody hand, surely to kill Sophus, but a second arrow pierced his neck.
The arm went limp, and life disappeared from his eyes.
Most of the islanders gawped, but the angry drunks among them ran at Sophus. He spread his arms and prayed to Zeus. His neck stretched, his lips hardened, and he became a swan. He was in the air before they could stumble into punching distance. He climbed, levelled off, and flew to the shore.
Mariah silently prayed to Poseidon and Aeolus to keep them from being dumped into the sea. They’d stolen the tiniest of fishing boats, and the only thing keeping them alive was the sweet mercy of the gods, so she was just going to keep on praising them. She had just killed a legend, and she was not going to die on the getaway, thank you very much.
“That was amazing!” Sophus had a grin on his face that would not go away. “I’m going to be in a song! With you!”
“I’ve told you so many fucking times how much I hate those songs! I’m not a hero, Sophus. This is not fun!” He stared at her, impassive. “I’m not special!” She started screaming, “I’m just some asshole with a curse!”
He looked at her, calm but confused. She’d learned to loath that look.
“But you are special, Mariah. You’re special because you’re cursed.” Oh fuck. “It makes you fight the monsters. It makes you a hero.”
She couldn’t look at him. She concentrated on the huge swells all around them, up and down. And he kept talking.
“That’s why I had to go and find that messenger. The baker’s daughter said he had already turned back, but I caught up with him.”
And now she couldn’t even look at the waves any more. She stared at the hull of their little boat. It would have already capsized if not for her magic. Such a vulnerable little collection of planks. Then she looked at Sophus and realized how wrong she had been about him. He would never lift her curse. He had the keys to her freedom, but he wasn’t her saviour. He was the jailor.