Idun Verdandi was born in the Ísigstān kingdom. Idun was born a slave in the house of the Vetr Sun, living in the very same castle as the hēahcyning himself. This knowledge was no comfort. Idun had once been told the story of her beginning. Her mother, also a slave, had tried to first hide Idun, then to smuggle her from the castle. Although Idun’s father wasn’t complicit in this act, both he and Idun’s mother were killed. A warning to any who would try to deprive the hēahcyning of his property.

Idun hugged her knees to her chest and leaned her back against the ice-flecked stone wall of her chamber. The other slave girls slept. She could not. The night fevers often interfered with her sleep. Idun raised a thin hand perched atop a thinner arm and brushed her long hair toward the front of her face, making a vail. The silver-white strands making up the first foot of hair from scalp to shoulder looked dull, stringy. The other foot and a half, from shoulder to waist was in worse shape. The black dye, which marked slaves, dried her hair. Turned it brittle.

Ísigstān natives were born with three distinctive traits. The silver-white hair, pale skin, and black irises. These traits were adaptations to the frost-bitten land. The paleness of hair and skin to better hide from natural predators, and black irises that would better protect their eyes from the intensity of the sun. The slaves were made to dye their hair. The more valuable slaves could keep half of the growth—and only half—their natural silver-white. It wouldn’t be long before Idun would have to add more dye.

Another, more permanent demarcation was inflicted on slaves in early childhood. This was the brand that ran from one cheek to the other, curving over the nasal bridge in a turned down crescent shape. Many of the slave children died from the brand.

Idun touched the rough, raised skin before letting her hand fall away. Sleep would take her soon.

She grabbed the piece of cloth she had ripped from her bedding and placed it in her mouth. She let a corner piece of the cloth stay pressed between her lips so that once she awoke, she could yank the rag out. For almost a month, she slept that way. If her night screams ever woke the hēahcyning again, she was told, she’d pay with her flesh.

Idun lay back, almost curling in on herself. As she began to drift, she felt the skin of her arms start to burn, handprint shapes glowing along her biceps.

Every night, this is how it began.

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