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The Secrets of the Universe

Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair of cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there's no country music involved. Her fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. She can be found online at katotis.com or on Twitter @kat_otis.

The god gave his keys to my brother, but I knew it was a mistake. Keys are a woman's domain.
My first key belonged to my dowry chest. Mother gave it to me when I was but five years old, promising to help me fill it with everything I would need when I was grown and married. It is a beautiful chest, intricately carved and carefully painted with scenes of the gods. Someday, it will be carried through the city streets in my wedding procession and everyone will wonder about the riches it holds.
The richly embroidered linens would not surprise anyone, but the geometry books might.
When Piero met the god in our palazzo's chapel, the god spoke to him thusly: "I give you the keys of my kingdom, and with them the power to bind and loosen."
Piero fumbled and nearly dropped the shining keys--one silver, one gold. "But what am I to do with them?"
The god did not answer, for the god was already gone.
My second key belonged to our kitchen pantry. When I was ten, Mother informed me that every merchant's wife must know how to cook before she could properly supervise her servants. I was an attentive student and soon mastered the art of creating fancifully shaped breads and sweet subtleties. As a consequence, I swiftly became Piero's favorite sister.
Neither my brother nor the cook saw fit to mention my more alchemical kitchen experiments to Mother.
After the god departed, I stepped out from behind the latticework cancellarii where I had been hiding. Piero turned to look at me, a mix of relief and fear on his face. "What now, Contessina?"
I held out my hand and, after a moment of hesitation, he dropped the keys onto my palm.
My third key belonged to the palazzo's garden. Now that I was fifteen, Mother explained, I could no longer venture out into the city for fear of damaging my reputation. The garden would be my consolation for the few months it took to arrange my betrothal and marriage. I spent many long summer days lounging in the garden, thinking about the men who showered me with love letters and expensive gifts from afar.
They promised me the heavens, but none of them thought to give me a perspective glass so I could truly see the stars.
Piero's shoulders relaxed, as if a great weight had been lifted from them. "Shall we go back to the salon? Your betrothed and his kin might be here by now."
"Soon." There was a keyhole in the chapel door, though I had never known it to be locked. The silver key fit it perfectly. I turned the key and locked the door, its bolt shooting home with a loud scraping and ringing clank. The bolt was silent when I turned the key the other way.
"What are you doing?" Piero came to stand at my side.
"Binding and loosening." I added the keys to the chatelaine around my waist, then opened the chapel door.
My next keys would belong to my own palazzo. Mother promised me that, after Father told me I was to be betrothed to a dullard thrice my age and twice widowed. I smiled like a dutiful daughter, then escaped to the chapel where I cried at the end of my dreaming.
When my brother came to find me, he found a god instead.
I opened the door and looked upon the kingdom of a god.
Piero sighed for he knew me better than anyone. "What shall I tell them when you cannot be found?"
"Tell them...." I hesitated on the threshold. "Tell them I am discovering the secrets of the universe."
Then I stepped through and locked the door.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Author Comments

This story was originally inspired by the awesome Vylar Kaftan's Title Rummage Sale on Codex, in which she donated a number of extremely inspiring titles to fellow authors for story prompts. Alas, by the time I'd finished writing the story, the title that inspired it no longer fit with the historical setting, but I still have the title sitting on my hard drive in hopes that some day I'll get to use it.

- Kat Otis
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