Night arrived slow and lazy. The wagons and carts came to their usual stuttering stops as each one found a spare patch of earth that somehow looked like a good place to lay out for the night to the drivers. They crowded a little closer than usual, the lanes between them shrunk to four or five shoulder widths, while men and women roamed around them.
Wesson picked a flat spread, and turned the cart so that the broad side met the wind. Thea marked out a place for the fire with her foot. Nodding when she pointed to it, Wesson started kicking stones toward her to form the fire circle.
Ma edged out of the cart, and started away in her usual way, winding through the walkers and riders. She called for Mel over her shoulder, who for once wasn’t too far away. Mel came running, and Anie stayed where she was, perched on the cart wall, out of the way and waiting for Thea’s instructions.
People are different.
Not different like, she’s a fiery redhead and he’s a blondie-bear. Not like, their insides match their outsides; hers grieving, guarded, guarding red; his, the golden heart that every other golden heart uses as a pattern. Not different colors, different heights, different ways they cut their hair and build their smiles and paint their eyes.
The roadblock was the kind of efficient, lazy installation that Danneel had come to expect from these northern roads. There were three soldiers, each shrugged out of the piece of armor they hated most. Two of them had taken their helmets off and set them under their elbows. The other kept his pushed back on his head, but had peeled out of his pauldrons. They all sat, propped up on tree stumps or rocks, with their feet in the dirt road, as if that was enough to tell their commanders that they’d never left it. They sipped from water pouches, munched on nuts and rolls, and rumbled through their idle conversations. They had been there, exactly long enough to grow thoroughly bored with everything around them, and to accidentally memorize every forest sound and shadow. Any uneven crunch in the leaves turned their curious heads.
Danneel bit her lip, swallowing a sigh and any sound that might come with it. “Any ideas?” she asked the others.
Jerdan, leaning against her same branch, with his arms crossed over the lower half of his face, said nothing. Heydi had her little fingers laced through Danneel’s and she cocked her head to one side in that empty clockwork way she did when she wanted a thought, but her young head hadn’t put it together yet. Evander tapped his fingers against the tree trunk, once, twice, a third and fourth time, then stopped.
Answers served with an out-dated, already-paid ransom note – Happy Easter!
Kate Kearney searched: Is there such a thing as too many post-it notes?
Once upon a time, in a land far away called University, a warrior princess asked her friends this very same question, as they stood in the stark white aisles of a shopping district, arms full of the bright, sticky squares. Her friends, including one the dark-haired maniac who had come up with the master plan that was currently swirling around their feet like a smirking python, looked at their own hands, and the stacks upon stacks of post-it notes. The dark-haired maniac looked at their collection, then at the scant amount left on the shelf.
“I think,” she said. “We shouldn’t go to a second store.” Then she plucked the remaining packets off the shelf.
On the way out of the shopping district, they picked up large amounts of duct tape, wearing them on their wrists and arms like giant silver bangles, since their hands were too full to hold them. The shop girl watched them come through her line. She scanned each package, eyebrows slowly rising with the kind of surprise that comes from discovering a bottomless pit, or unemptying jug. She also, asked this question.
“We’re doing an experiment to find out,” the warrior princess told the shop girl.
The shop girl blinked.
“It’s for science,” the dark-haired maniac said.
When they joined the service, they left everything behind. Anything that could earn a coin, they sold. They gave away family treasures. They passed inheritances to younger sisters and brothers. They abandoned homes they’d spent all their lives in. They left behind their second names, if they ever had them, and their families. They sold every book and trinket and shoe they had touched every day. They arrived at the barracks barefoot, with a sack of coins and the clothes on their backs. The coins, they handed to the master at the gate. Inside, they traded their clothes for the brown shirt and breeches of the initiate.
And then they left their voices. The barracks were never a silent place, clanging with metal, thrumming with booted heels, but the initiates didn’t speak until their training was complete.
Haiden never questioned why. It had always seemed obvious to her, even as the reasons flipped and altered from one year to the next.
First, it had just been tradition. The masters had all done it in the ages before them, and they passed it on in fairness. Haiden would not be the first to break something hundreds of years in the making, would never open her mouth and break a silence that hugged them like the wind, just because she could.
As far as landdwellers went, Cabre Daylor wasn’t bad. He was tall, hands callused and skin tanned from hours of work in the sun, even if his clothes looked like he spent most of his time sitting behind a gilt and carved desk. He had brown hair, fashionably long, so that it absently curled back from his forehead and stopped just below his ears. His beard was kept short, and he smiled with the sort of charm that was molded, not bred, but was still easy to fall into. It left room to wonder if he wasn’t hiding something, but never pointed to any shadow.
He owned a ship. It was just large enough to ride the waves of the open ocean, out where land was no longer in sight. He had made the trip to the islands twice. He arrived with all hands, and it was assumed that since there was no mutiny between voyages, the passings had been tolerable.
He played tricks in business, and everyone knew it. He himself seemed to do it more for fun than for greed, and when he was caught, he laughed. He didn’t mind being called a cheat, because that’s what he was. He wouldn’t stand for smuggler, thief, or idiot, because he wasn’t.
Trent arrived to breakfast looking as if someone had thrown deep purple paint in his face, and he’d been too timid to scrub it out of the corner between his eye and his nose. And he’d missed a large bit hiding under his eyebrow.
It took his four older brothers one moment to realize some jackum had punched him in the face, one more to snap their eyebrows down into heavy glares, and another to shove their chairs back from the table.
Danta stopped with his next sentence ready on his tongue, mouth already open. He blinked, then slowly closed his lips. Eoin offered him a smile, but Danta did not return it.
“You were on their side,” Danta said quietly. “You were in those battles to protect their borders.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Eoin told him. “Once you’ve seen what my brothers can do…” He shrugged. “We frightened them. They saw three keimon who could have held a battlefield against thousands, if they’d had to. And then they looked around, and saw how many keimon were living beside them, and I imagine they felt as if they were waking up inside a locked chest. You wouldn’t know it, but you’re watching kings panic.” He nodded down toward the field, to the scattered lines of horses and walkers and wagons. The mix of voices murmured up the hill. The wind hissed in the grass, stirred the trees on the far side. It bit into their clothes, and Eoin resisted the urge to step out into the sunlight for heat. Below, he watched the walkers falter against the heavy breeze and tuck themselves closer together.
“You could still go down to them,” Danta said.
Eoin shook his head and didn’t look at him. “No,” he said, on half a laugh. “If you’re afraid of nothing else in this world, Danta, fear the panicked man. There’s a madness in it. And a strength like you’ve never seen.”
Danta shifted on his horse, and did not speak again.
This is not a fight. She might be crying, he may be shouting, she may be holding herself together with shaking fingers, he might be clenching his jaw, but this is not a fight.
It’s a collision. An accident. Two hearts skidding with a sound like ripping metal. They’re both hurting, and they’ve known each other so long – piled trust into each others’ hands and hearts and never seen it dropped or abandoned – that they’ll show this pain without hesitation. This is the only place to show it, here, where they could lay it out between them, cut it in half, share it, shoulder it, use that cut edge as the one smooth place where they could grip the jagged mess. Together.
They’ve sent everyone else out, so they can stand alone in a room that echoes every word, strengthens every shout, and swallows every whisper, too large for just them. And it isn’t an effort to hide this, to quiet this, to save their embarrassment, or give them freedom to say what they want as loud as they want. She just doesn’t need to talk with anyone but him, and he’s always run to her. They’re the only ones they could ever want in this room.
Lediah’s Name Day passed in all the usual ways.
The night before was almost sleepless, and the first few hours of the morning passed between nervous shakes and stifled yawns. As she ate breakfast, she tapped her foot so quickly against the kitchen floor that her mother reached out and stilled her knee with a heavy hand, then stilled the rest of her with a wordless look. Lediah glanced around the table at the rest of her family, and swallowed her rice and broth as best she could.
The tests started mid-morning, deep inside a square stone building that felt as if had been constructed to hold people down to the earth. The walls were plain. The ceiling was high. The windows and doors were scarce. Lediah felt as if she had walked into a cave, the way her voice and motions echoed in the empty space. Her judges felt twice as tall, the way they spoke in the reverberating air. The sun continued its pace in secret, counting time somewhere she couldn’t see. Everything seemed to stretch and press in on her. When they finally announced that she’d passed, she was sweating, exhausted, and muscles slung loose with relief.
She walked out in the daylight, surprised at the shape of the shadows. Then she saw her parents. She smiled. Her momma beamed. Her father grinned. They both wrapped her in a hug, and walked her out past the front wall. Her teacher, Anxo had passed just before them, but had already disappeared, as he was supposed to. He’d left behind her new name, scrawled across the grey stone in clean white chalk. Lediah read it as she walked, facing it until her neck couldn’t bend any farther. Her mother and father read it, and said nothing aloud. The rest of her family followed after, just as silent.