The stone pillars of the room cast long black shadows across the large square floor stones, even in late evening. Windows on the right side of the room spilled some light, but ran crosswise across the shadows, the light that actually made them pouring in from the skylights cut into the ceiling.
Callix sat just beyond the pillars, the last shadow falling behind his back. He leaned in his chair, sitting sideways, at the edge of the half circle cut into the wall on the far side of the room. His leather jacket was buttoned in the coolness of the room, his breeches tucked into freshly shined boots.
His wife, Jaera, sat beside him, and he was leaning his head toward her, listening and smiling a little. Her pale skirts spilled around her, and touched the floor on either side of the chair. They were split to the hip, revealing matching breeches and boots that touched her knees. The soft wrinkle in the fabric of the skirt, stated plainly that they’d been knotted up a few minutes before, that she’d been working somewhere. Still, there wasn’t a stain or scuff on her clothes, and it was impossible to say what she’d been doing.
Zacarias was on his heavy stone chair on her other side, deep in the curve of the wall. He wore thicker breeches, a coat with its collar high against his neck, strikingly dark against his gray hair. He was listening to Jaera too, though he faced forward. He met Tiernan’s eye first, and nodded him inside.
“Welcome home,” he said.
Galen was not home when Tarra came back at the end of her work day. He was supposed to be at the table, bread and cheese and yesterday’s happy find of fresh carrots and zuchinni spread on the table for dinner. Instead, the house was dark as Tarra approached, and she spent ten minutes lighting the lamps and calling his name in every room upstairs and down, looking for him.
She exhausted every cranny that a seven-year-old could stuff himself into. Then she stood at the base of the stairs, listening for him. All she heard was her heart beat.
He was not home.
And the house was too empty.
Wrapping herself back into her coat, she snuffed the lamp, and ran outside. She knocked on one neighbor’s door, then the others. Neither Arri nor Ceddir had seen him. Ceddir who usually sat at his front window all afternoon putting in hems and patches, hadn’t even seen him come home.
In the warm light of the open taproom, Jenny leaned forward over the table, arms crossed, shoulders hunched forward to protect the smile twisting her lips. Across from her, Jasen leaned as far back as he could, shoulder blades pressed into his chair back, but his long legs were kicked lazily under the table.
“You can’t,” he said flatly.
Jenny’s smile twisted higher. “Sure, I can,” she said.
“You can’t,” he repeated, quick, as if he were playing the last seconds over, giving her the chance to take back her ridiculous argument.
Between them, Bess rested her elbows gently on the edge of the table, and held a full cider mug under her chin. She glanced at Jenny as Jasen spoke, then quick to Jasen to catch his reaction to her response, back and forth, back and forth. She didn’t laugh, because it would have ruined the flow of it, but she wanted to. At the glint in Jenny’s eye. At the smile that was creeping onto Jasen’s face despite the helpless and disbelieving look that was growing in his eyes.
Answer served with more magic than usual
IncyWincySpeeder searched: What’s your favorite mythical creature beginning with the letter U?
I have this feeling, that this question has a narrow aim for a specific target. However, I’m not sure if that target is unicorns or the undead.
But why would I pick a unicorn when I could choose the Uwan, Japanese disembodied voices that live in abandoned temples and homes, which spend their time shouting the linguistic equivalent of “Boo!” at anyone who steps inside?
Why would I pick the undead, when I could choose Alaska’s Urayuli, (“Hairy Men”), ten foot tall shaggy giants with knuckles that brush the ground, who scream like loons, but are otherwise quite friendly?
And why would I pick either, when I could choose the Uma-no-ashi, horse legs that grow on trees, hide in the leaves, and kick unsuspecting passersby?
Boomshadow searched: If you had to choose to give up one of your senses (smelling, hearing, etc.), in exchange for having another one super-enhanced, which sense would you give up and which would you boost?
If I had to, I can only think of three options:
There was a sharp knock at the door to Karleigh’s rooms. She folded her book shut, left it on the table, and answered it with a slow step back to keep her skirts out of the way as it brushed against the thick carpet.
When she saw her uncle, she smiled. “Back so soon?” she asked. It had only been two years since she’d last seen him.
Toar looked tired, as he always did, with a smile hovering one good breath under the surface. It took him that breath to catch the full weight of her joke, and then he did smile, his usual slanted twist of the lips. Shaking his head, he stepped inside.
“Good to see you, too,” he said, and gave her a sharp little bow.
She dipped a shallow curtsey and motioned him farther into her sitting room. He followed her hand, and his apprentice, Jaera followed him, one and a half steps behind him in her proper place.
When Connell heard that he had gotten a place on his first ship, he was ready to walk out the door with just his shirt, breeches, boots and the few boy’s oddments stuffed in their pockets. He had his pocket knife. He had a piece of string as tall as he was. He had a stone worn smooth, and a bent nail and a frog’s skull, and a piece of cake wrapped in good wax paper, and a second knife that he wasn’t quite sure was his, but after a year and a half in a hidden pocket of his shirt it didn’t much matter any more.
It wasn’t that he been expecting the call to come so soon, and so had got himself ready. It was just that he was waiting for it, and – in his usual nature – could get ready in the space of two breaths and a heartbeat.
He grinned as soon as he realized what his Da was telling him, then listened close to make sure he caught the name of the ship and where he was supposed to meet it.
The Bearer. East docks. Third pier. Leaving today at evening tide. Got it. Good.
“Make me a crown, and I shall wear it,” a Clan Heir had said once, and subsequently been quoted a thousand times in a thousand histories.
Supposedly, she had been standing in front of her father, making her case for why the throne should pass to her instead of her twin brother. How she said it – whether her tone was so light as to indicated that she might wear two or three at jaunty angles, or whether it was so dull as to say she wouldn’t have even noticed it on her head – was lost to time. Scholars generally agreed, however, that it was the most arrogant thing a young heir had ever spoken in public.
It was her only argument in a dozen pages of recordings, and she never explained herself. Yet, her father named her heir less than a day later. The scholars agreed that he was an idiot.
Oruasta was a large city, hidden under the cap of a mountain, so that the first thing Tiernan ever saw on returning home, was the straight gray sides of the imposing stone. A few trees clung to the sides, bony and dry in the lack of real spring reaching them so high on the slopes. A slashing track cut back and forth across the mountain, narrow and black with wear. The green grass never reached the foot, turning to chipped gravel.
It looked cool, stark and blunt. But it was home, and Tiernan couldn’t help but smile as it grew closer. It had been a long winter, and he knew exactly what was hidden under the streaked stone.
“If we push, we can spend the night in our own rooms,” Eoin murmured. He rode beside Tiernan, eyes trained on the mountain as well. It had been a year since either of them had been inside the walls they’d grown up in. His smile was tinged with all his need to be there again, to put his feet on familiar stone.
Tiernan loosened his hand on his horse’ reins, turning to look back at the caravan ranged behind him. They had picked up extra horses near the eastern mountains, taken carts and coats and boots and meat and salt anywhere they could find them, and paid more than they should have for such simple things. Still, they moved slow, and meals never seemed to stretch far enough. The whole of them looked tired, and walked with the rigid determination that came with knowing that large distances had to be crossed before real rest would fall. Tiernan watched them, and considered whether a long day would wear on them so much harder than one more night under a road’s sky.
I have been learning – probably since the first conscious day that I infant-army-crawled over to the shine on a finish line – to recognize the difference between being up for a challenge, and being up to it.
You see, I am always up for a challenge. My favorite phrases seem to be “Oh, yeah?” “Heck, yeah!” and “Watch me” (none of which have ever gotten me into anything less than magnificent trouble). I take dares like vitamins, I take “you can’t” statements as open invitations, and I climb the twisted ropes of impossible goals with a will because they take me past such interesting possible and near-impossible things.
But I am not always up to – capable and prepared for – a challenge. I often bite off more than I can chew. I prefer to win large or lose large, rather that fold or sit out.
When Jessim’s grandmother worked, she chose corners on the widest streets of the city. The greater the crowd, the more coins would be dropped into her donation basket, and she needed the space.
She walled herself behind a half ring of wooden buckets with wide mouths she could plant two open hands inside. They sat, filled at varying levels with chalk all tinged blue and green and red and yellow under their own whiteness, and never quite managed to look clean. Like painters buckets, they earned their stains and their scuffs and their wrong colors leftover from their last filling. They were never supposed to be pretty, because no one was supposed to examine them any longer than the quick glance to make sure they didn’t trip.
Behind her, or sometimes to one side of her if the breeze was in a different mood that morning, she kept a large tub of water and filled it to the brim.
Then she stretched, and she grinned, and she held her hands open in front of her, palm up.