Cada sits in her cell high in the cliff and looks out over the desert, watching the eastern road.

It is, truth be told, the only road leading to the prison that has been her life these seven years. She does not expect to see any riders on the road that day, but there is little enough to do but watch.

Her stomach clings to her ribs: her skin is pale. She sits and watches, blinking seldom, until the sun sets and the stars come out in a moonless sky.

Then she exhales, little more than a croak, and fetches the cracked flute from where it lies next to the hollow in which she sleeps.

Her back to the cavernous maw of her home, her lips on the holes of the much-repaired instrument (knotted together, clumsily, with her own hair), she places her parched lips to the mouthpiece and begins to play thin, warping notes.

Once, she thinks, as the pale glow of the music rises from her instrument, once the flute might have been gold, and marigolds to blossom from the fields of faraway. Once, she was clothed in silk, and might have gold as her reward for the night's work.

But she does not. Instead, she has a slight alcove in the cave, filled with murky rainwater. She has beans brought once a turning of the moon: enough to last her perhaps five days. She, like the other (likely former) residents of the exile's prison, is meant to starve slowly to death, not endure here.

But Cada won her place at court through stubbornness, and the same has seen her to this prison, and she will not admit defeat: not to any contest, not to any rivals, not to the slow turn of days or the burning of her stomach.

Cada may never play her gold flute again, or see marigold petals rise like rain in the wake of her music, but there is this: the slow creep of bean vines over the rocks, the warbling, broken notes of her flute, and the promise of harvest after harvest in the dark.

Outside, the stars turn on in the sky. The winds turn over the hardscrabble of the desert. The eastern road remains empty.

She plays on.

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