It had been a year to the day since he last saw her, which was about a thousand days too long. Yet the exactness of the time seemed to bode well for Galen. He couldn’t help but grin.
Holding himself to a walk in the crowded lower city was like waiting on the tide. As soon as there was enough space, he ran. Rucksack banging against his back, new commission tucked tight inside his jacket, fast as he could without running into someone or tripping into any old lady’s lecture. The streets emptied as he wound into the richer districts. Cobblestones turned to smooth stone. The buildings spread farther apart, divided by lawns and neat gardens. He passed velvet-lined couples, men in fine coats and women trailing servants behind them. He knew they stared, but didn’t much care. He ran right up to the door of a gray stone house, tucked into crook of a street lined with three story homes, rapped hard on the door.
A woman wearing a simple blue dress opened the door, her hair tied in an elegant tail. He didn’t know her, and from the slow way she drew open the door, she wasn’t expecting him.
“I’m looking for Toar,” Galen said.
She looked him over, eyes catching on his scuffed boots, the worn lines of his jacket, the simple shirt that had seen too many sea washings to be called white. “I’m sorry,” she said. And she was already starting to close the door.
“I’m Galen,” he said. The name made her stop, as if she’d heard it before. “He knows I’m coming.”
“He has no appointments today,” she told him gently.
“I couldn’t tell him when I was coming,” Galen said. He wanted to put his hand to the door, keep her from inching it further shut. “My ship just got in.”
She looked as if she were searching for a kind way to refuse him again.
“Please,” he said. “I’m here for Jaera.”
Another moment’s hesitation, but this time the door was inching open. He forced himself to be patient, almost bouncing on his heels. Finally, she motioned him through the front door, into a wide hall with a clean stone floor that echoed his steps. He felt a little bad, sure he was tracking some kind of mud in with him. The walls were hung with a modest group of paintings and a silver chandelier hung from the ceiling. She led him straight to the end of the hall, to a set of double doors that swung open into sunshine.
He couldn’t say that Toar kept a garden behind his house. It was green enough, but it looked more like a training yard: a level plane of grass, a high hedge boxing it in; a bent tree with sweeping branches in the corner as if to interrupt the severity of the lines. There was a web of winding pathways, spiraling out from the center, that might have once led between flowerbeds, but he’d dug them up a long time ago. Now they just pointed dully toward the center plate of white stone. Toar stood there, towering over Jaera in her apprentice’s coat.
Galen stopped a few steps outside the back door. She’d gotten taller, but he still didn’t think she’d come up to his waist. A little thinner, as if it was just her bones that had grown. Her hair was longer, but still knotted up in that tight, fishtail braid he’d taught her. For just a moment after he arrived, there was a blue-white glow reflecting off her fingertips, too dim to push much past the sunshine. It cut out quickly. Galen saw it and stayed where he was. He wasn’t sure what else the two might have hanging in the air around them, and he knew she’d be nervous about it if he came too close. But he wanted to run to her, hug her hard.
“Hey, Squidget,” he said.
She looked back at him, silent. Her hands dropped to her sides. She snuck a glance up at Toar.
“If you’re going to interrupt, then interrupt,” Toar said brusquely. He waved Galen toward them. Galen took a few loping steps forward, still unsure. Jaera took a hasty step back. Galen stopped immediately. Then Jaera ran.
She ducked to one side, keeping as far from him as she could and fled into the house.
“Jaera!” Toar yelled. She didn’t even look back. Galen could hear her thudding steps along the hall and up the stairs.
“What’s she scared of?” Galen asked Toar.
“You, apparently,” Toar said flatly. It was the least helpful thing he could have said, as far as Galen was concerned. Definitely the least true. But Toar had always had the habit of saying whatever he liked, even when it didn’t really answer the question. Ask him what to do to get a kid some training, and he demanded to take her away to train himself. Ask how long she’ll need to stay with him, and he whirled her away immediately. If Jaera hadn’t needed him, Galen wouldn’t have spent a minute on the man once he knew what he was like.
“She knows me,” Galen said. “She’s not scared of me.”
Toar was watching the door, as if he could read her mind through the open space. “She’s never done this before,” he told Galen.
“If I may?” Galen said, half-bowing, asking for his dismissal. Toar waved him on toward the house.
Jaera was in a small room at the end of the upstairs hall. It was obviously hers. There was a small bed in the corner that would only fit a child. The rest of the room was bare, all her things stowed in a chest at the foot of the bed as if it were a ship, and she was anxious about the First Mate’s inspection. Exactly the way she’d been trained. The door was only half open when he found the room, and he had to push it all the way against the wall before he saw her, standing in the corner, watching the door.
She was shaking.
“Can I come in?” he asked her, quiet, with his feet still firmly in the hall.
She shook her head. No.
Galen stayed exactly where he was.
“I was kind of hoping for a hug,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
He shrugged, offered her a low smile. “It’s all right. It’s good to see you.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again. And he knew that she wasn’t responding to anything that he was saying. She didn’t look at him, hands folded behind her. Her hair was coming loose from its braid, falling in thin strands in front of her face.
“Sorry for what, Squidget?” Galen asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said, one more time, louder. He could hear the tears in her voice now. “For what I did.” And finally she looked at him. “I’m sorry I made you leave.”
Galen stared at her.
“Whatever it was, I take it back. I won’t ever do it again. I’m sorry.”
Galen took one step into the room and she ran to him. He dropped to his knees to catch her. She wrapped both arms around his neck and clung to him. He locked his arms around her.
“You didn’t do anything,” he whispered to her. And he had to bite down hard on a breath, tasting anger and tears.
My friend Bek stole the first line of this piece from me yesterday, to use on her blog. Be sure to check it out, along with the piece that I robbed for yesterday’s post here on Apprentice, Never Master.