The View From Worldsbridge

A Road’s Beloved Short Story by Erica Anoe

In the distance, a traveler approaches Worldsbridge, bringing secrets and change.

Etta, Queen of the Crossroads and ruler of the great city of Worldsbridge, wears her rank uncomfortably. Born in humble circumstances, consumed with loss, she fears she is not capable of becoming the queen the city needs and deserves.

Worldsbridge, the great city where all roads meet, is truly many cities in many worlds, and Etta is responsible for all of them. Neglected for a generation under the rule of a stagnant, mad king, the people of Worldsbridge will no longer stand for the rule of a useless leader.

Etta’s fate is bound to the fate of Worldsbridge, and now she must prove before it is too late that she is the true Queen of a mysterious, magical city whose rules she has yet to understand.

“The View From Worldsbridge” is a Road’s Beloved short story set in the legendary city of Worldsbridge.

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The View From Worldsbridge: A Road's Beloved Story by Erica Anoe

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Each morning at dawn, Etta stepped out of bed, slipped on her robe – which even after a year still surprised her with its softness – walked to the window of her royal bedchamber and looked out at the view. The skyline of the City sloped gently downward from the high point of the palace, then rose again at the wall. No matter which version of Worldsbridge she looked at, that curving shape was the same, even if sometimes the palace was above the garment district while in this one the smoked meat vendors set up their stalls right outside the palace gates, the scents of their wares sending her stomach to confusion with both the promise of salt and savor and the offputting tang of unfamiliar game.

Beyond the wall was the Road, snaking a meandering route toward the City from somewhere beyond the horizon, its very shape communicating its eternal nature. A mortal being, aware of limited time, would choose a more direct path, but the Road chose interesting ways, paths that wound around haunted hills and through secret places where its chosen Beloved, its eternal travelers, would be sure to find adventure and influence.

Beyond the Road were the beginnings of the Wild. At first, the Wild only manifested in touches among an otherwise tame line of shrubbery along the path, spots where growth took on shapes that seemed more like beings than plants. Farther out, a line of fairly decorous trees sometimes grew fruit of unusually bright and strange colors. But beyond that, the trees crossed their branches like swords and concealed any further revelations from curious eyes.

In the farthest distance to the west, where the world became undefinable, hints of ocean glinted when the sun reached its height in the sky, threads of its seaweed aroma sometimes traveling surprising distances over gusts of strong wind.

The view from her palace in Worldsbridge, Etta had discovered, included City, Road, Wild and Beyond in similar locations no matter how unknown and discomfiting everything else might be. She shivered. As Queen of Worldsbridge, Queen of the Crossroads, the paths available to her were both infinite and limited. She could occupy any world if she could find the way to it – any version of Worldsbridge that ever had or could ever exist. But she must be bound to the City, for any attempt she’d made to leave simply landed her in another version of Worldsbridge.

Etta tugged the robe tighter around her body and breathed the air of this latest world. It resembled the Worldsbridge she’d grown up in, but slight changes like the nature of the meat set her more on edge than when she found herself in utterly alien versions of the City. In some ways, she’d felt more comfortable in the version of Worldsbridge where the people had tried to burn the palace with her inside it, for example, or the one where the Road’s Beloved had become poachers and bounty hunters and walked about adorned with gruesome trophies. At least in those places, she’d known in her bones never to let down her guard. Here, she was disarmed by the false resonance with her childhood, only to have a wall of anxiety snap suddenly in place whenever something reminded her she wasn’t actually at home.

She was startled from those memories by movement on the Road far beyond the wall – though she didn’t admit this to herself, she checked the view regularly to watch for just this sort of movement. Piper, she thought, the name accompanied by a wash of complicated feelings – freedom, pleasure and loss.

Etta leaned so far out the window that she had to catch herself on the sill to prevent herself from toppling over. In the distance, she could just make out a figure on foot. Of course, it wasn’t Piper, Beloved of both Etta and the Road. The Road had taken Piper from Etta the first time they’d crossed one of the bridges between worlds that gave the city its name. Etta didn’t know the reason for the separation, and she had no idea where Piper had wound up. Much as she might wish for it, there was little chance Piper would simply walk up to this version of Worldsbridge now. Besides, Etta would have recognized Piper’s silhouette anywhere, and this wasn’t her.

Sighing, Etta hauled herself back into the bedroom. Its richly appointed furnishings had lost their luster for the moment, as had the breakfast of eggs and buttered leeks that had been delivered by a servant while Etta looked out at the view. She picked up her plate absently and forced down the meal one bite at a time, despite how thick it felt in her mouth. Whether or not she wanted the rich food at the moment, she’d grown up too poor to let it go to waste.

Etta moved toward the closet and started when she realized the servant who’d delivered the breakfast hadn’t left. The woman stood beside the doorway, hands tucked as tightly behind her back as her hair was tucked into her cap. “May I help you?” Etta asked, setting the plate down and then unable to resist the urge to adjust it on its tray. She still felt odd around people who expected her to act like a Queen – she still wasn’t sure how a Queen was supposed to act.

“Your Majesty, it is I who should ask that question of you.”

Preorder now to continue reading on April 14.

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