The church is supposed to protect their castrati but sometimes a zealot will slip through their walls. A knife in my mouth, cutting down to the cheek, took away the voice that another, equally cruel, blade had preserved in me. Without my gift I was of no use to the order and I passed from the church, to the streets, to the harbour, to a ship bound for India.
We were wrecked in the middle of the ocean. I awoke on a shore that should not exist: the Island of the City of Ghosts: a thousand black-capped houses pushed together into a labyrinthine warren: a hundred ivory streets leading to a glass palace. They say that nobody lives on the island but still the streets are full of voices. The victims of a crippled suitor to the queen, spurned for not being perfect, who poisoned the island’s wells in spite.
That is the legend, the truth was one step removed from it. There was one soul in the city; a girl of four or five. I don’t know where she came from or how she got to the island. To her, the voices were not the wails of the damned but the calling of her friends. She did not want to leave the island, and so I stayed to raise her.
On her fourteenth birthday she began to look at me differently. I knew then that we had to leave the island. A castrato may just about manage as a father but he makes a poor husband. She needed a better option. I built a makeshift silena from the trees that lined the beach. We set off at dawn in a direction of the wind’s choosing.
I looked out to sea. I did not need to turn around to know that when I did the houses of the city would have vanished, the glass palace would be gone, there would be no one in my boat but me.