Galen watched Terius take the seat next to him, surprised to the see the younger man in a plain shirt and breeches under a brown jacket that looked like it was made for use more than style. He had been prepared to stand and bow, but Terius had entered the crowded barroom without his usual force of presence and now slid into his seat as if he appreciated the invisibility. So, Galen sat.
A few months ago, Terius’ partial disguise wouldn’t have been odd, but with Jaera gone…
Galen put his drink quickly to cut off the thought, and folded his hands over the bar top. There was nothing here in the lower parts of the city that he needed to hide anymore.
It was some kind of prank. Galen smiled at the idea and picked up his mug again. “If we’re playing a game here, I’ll need to know the rules,” he said.
Terius seemed to like the idea too, but he shook his head. “No games,” he said.
“So…” Galen gestured toward his plain clothes.
Terius raised a hand to draw the attention of the woman behind the bar. She slid him a full mug and didn’t pay him any more attention. He settled his elbows on the bar and balled his hands over each other by his chin. His shoulders curled. He’d been doing that more and more over the last few months, but now it looked like he was purposefully hiding, preparing the air for a string of secrets.
“I have some news,” Terius said. “It’s not public knowledge. It will be soon, but I don’t want to be the one to break it.”
“How soon is soon?” Galen asked.
“An hour,” Terius said. He looked around the walls, like they might be enough of a barrier to keep out whatever was coming. “Maybe three.”
Galen leaned forward on his elbows as well, cocking his head to listen. “And you’re telling me?” he said.
Terius met his eye seriously. “The Kuros are declaring war,” he said.
Galen’s drink tapped the table again. He glanced behind him at the quiet running of the room, suddenly aware of it. There was really nothing quiet about it, with a dozen conversations layered over each other, friends shouting across the room, boots stomping on the thin wooden floor, but it was as comfortable as the hum of silence, all happy voices swinging back and forth.
“Or rather, they’re not,” Terius corrected himself. “But they’re idiot enough to raise war flags and take shots at us anyway.”
“Okay,” Galen said. Turning back, he nodded. “So, we’re declaring on them.”
“Yes,” Terius said. “Except we can’t, so we’re not.”
Galen dropped his head into his hands. He laughed, quietly, quickly, and hung his head a moment before he looked back at Terius. “What are you telling me?”
“That it’s going to feel like war very soon around here, no matter what the official records say,” Terius said. “And it will probably stay that way for a long time.”
Galen looked at the room again, breathing in the gentle thrum of motion.
“The Clan Lord has given orders to increase the fleet as fast as we can,” Terius continued. “He’s granted a Captain’s commission to any member of the high families currently serving as a ship’s officer.”
“That’s a lot of new Captains,” Galen said.
“If they all accepted, yes.” Terius shook his head. “But he left some wide escape routes in the commissions. Current Captains can revoke them for any of their officers. Officers can decline them. No reason has to be given for either. This isn’t a draft. At least not now. It’s just a way to speed up promotions. But it does give me some new freedoms…”
Galen looked at him curiously over the lip of his mug.
“Captains have also been given permission to nominate watch commanders,” Terius said. He watched Galen’s face carefully. “I can give you a ship.”
Galen met his gaze, just as carefully. “So do it.”
“It won’t be the Captaincy you’ve wanted,” Terius said. “You’ll still answer to me.” He paused, as if he couldn’t believe what he was about to say. “You’ll be sailing next to Zain.”
Galen laughed again. Then he straightened out his smile. “You need me?”
Terius hesitated. “I could use you, yes.”
Galen listened to the change in wording, weighing its meaning. Then he picked up his mug and gently tapped it against Terius’. Looking at the younger man, he drained it and set it back on the counter with a solid thud. Terius looked at the empty mug, smiled and nodded. Then he drained his own.
“Hey, keep!” Galen shouted suddenly. Terius startled at the sound. The woman behind the bar looked up quickly, and her eyes narrowed a little as she picked out who had called for her.
“Another round!” Galen said. He waved his hand around the bar. “For everyone.”
The men nearest him turned, suddenly interested. Conversation dulled, just enough so that the keep’s response rang a little clearer across the space.
“I’ll need the money up front,” she said.
Galen fished his purse from his jacket pocket and tossed it on the bar top. “Done,” he said cheerily.
“What are you doing?” Terius asked.
“Celebrating!” Galen shouted.
Terius looked alarmed for half a second, leaning forward against what Galen might say next.
“My wife just had our third baby!” Galen said. Three whistles bit through the air. Several other people cheered. The keep started sliding drinks down the bar as fast as she could fill them off the tap.
“You don’t have a wife,” Terius murmured.
“Yeah,” Galen smiled sheepishly, dropping his voice again. “But people don’t celebrate for no reason.”
“But they need to celebrate?” Terius questioned. He looked uncertainly around the room.
“Yeah,” Galen said. Smiling, he accepted his next drink. He held it for a moment rather than take the first swallow. “Because you just said it’s going to feel like war very soon. You and me have felt it for a while now. But these people, they get one more hour of not knowing. If they celebrate hard enough, they might get their full three.”
Terius nodded and raised his mug in a quiet salute.