The symbol was tattooed starkly against the back of her wrist, and it looked like it still hurt her. It was fully healed, flat black on flat tanned skin, no angry red from fresh art, and the other girl still held her arm stiffly. Like she was aware of it. Like she was resisting looking at it. Like she hated it.
Ryane looked down at the piece of leather wrapped around her own wrist. That was the piece of skin that the symbol was supposed to be set in. That was how the Clans sorted out their own from the land-dwellers and each Clan from another. A snake on the band here; he belongs to the Kuros. A hawk there; she belongs to the Isander. An open-face moon; he’s Demei. A jumping fish; he’s on the wrong side of an ocean, but he belongs to the Redniers.
A blank wristband, no symbol at all, she belonged with the Clans, but not to them. Ryane looked at the blank leather on her arm, suddenly aware of the stiff way she was holding her arm. Like she hated it.
“What’s the tattoo mean?” Ryane asked, leaning back against the wall of the shop. There was enough of a crowd around to cover the question, enough of a crowd to hide the fact that they were watching the girl across the street.
Garred glanced over his shoulder, slow, like he needed a reminder of what Ryane was talking about. He watched the other girl walk a few meandering paces. “Gossip says she was given a wristband, with a shiny nice snake on it, and she ripped it off.”
“What?” Ryane asked. She turned away from the girl entirely, watching his face instead.
Garred had his hands in his pockets, relaxed into his straight-stitched jacket and soft shirt. “She had a blank wristband when the Clan Lord found her,” he said. “He gifted her with a snake and she didn’t want it.”
“Shiny?” Ryane repeated. She looked at his wristband, with the snake outlined in silver. Just another little detail to mark out the noble from the common.
Garred shook his head. “Just gossip I think. I don’t think he’d go that far.”
“And the tattoo?” Ryane asked.
Garred looked surprised that his explanation hadn’t been enough. “Well… you can’t rip off a tattoo.”
Ryane stared over her shoulder at the girl. “He wanted her that bad?”
“Or he got that angry about his generosity being refused,” Garred said. He shrugged. “It’s hard to tell with him.”
Ryane turned her head slowly, scanning the street, and trying to keep her expression blank. It took her a moment to find the other girl again. She was dark-haired, pretty, but moved so gently it was easy to lose her in the rush of the crowd. She got lost behind the crowd again, then slid back into view, over and over in a few seconds while Ryane watched her. Then she turned and for a moment, Ryane caught her expression: calm, easy, with curve on her lips that hinted at a smile.
“Well…” Ryane said. “At least they can’t take the symbol away from her.”
Garred caught the jealousy in her voice and it pulled him around to face her immediately. Touching Ryane’s shoulder, he took half a step closer. “Yes, they can,” he murmured. “That symbol isn’t hers. And now her skin isn’t either.” Each word dropped from his mouth like a brick. Ryane blinked at the sound of it.
“I wouldn’t wish an ounce of her luck on you,” he said. Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, he held her gently against his side and turned her away from the street. “Come on.”
My friend, Kate is a thief! Check out her blog to see what she did when she stole the first line of this piece.