“Come on!” Terius whispered. He held Jaera’s hand and, in the dark, stumbling over dirt and tree roots, she hung on tight, laughing at the dim shadow of his head in front of her.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
She spun back a little as they reached an even patch of ground, looked through the whispering trees, tried to mark the way they’d come. His mansion was somewhere behind them, along with its neat gardens and stables and barracks and side houses. What noise they’d carried on at midnight was lost already, hidden in the breeze and the leaves and the clear tone of the dark. The yellow light of the lamps was gone too, replaced by the low white of the partial moon, lighting the woods as if it were dusted with snow.
Terius was still moving, slowing just enough to let her finish her turn. When she faced him again, he was smiling, bright eyes in the dark. “Don’t you trust me?” he murmured. His tone was too easy to need an answer.
He pulled her farther into the woods. They startled together as something crashed in the leaves to their left, laughed when they saw the deer with her ears pointed straight up and her tail held straight out. She bounded away, and Jaera rested her forehead against Terius’ shoulder for just a moment, and then they ran on.
“What’s even out here?” Jaera asked behind him. He was still holding her hand, but she had slipped her fingers between his, brought herself up to his shoulder as they moved, and the way he slowed again, letting her keep pace beside him, she knew he liked it.
“Nothing,” he told her happily.
Jaera shook her head. “Nothing?”
“Well, trees. I think I saw a deer.”
She pulled on his hand, almost as if she might pull away, and he tightened his fingers, but she hadn’t ever loosened hers. He pulled himself back to her shoulder.
“What are we doing here?” she asked.
“You’ll see,” Terius promised.
So, she followed him.
The ground turned uphill after another minute, and they leaned against each other as they ran up it. She caught him as he slipped in the loose dirt. He held her elbow as she jumped a thick root. After a quarter of an hour, the trees broke apart and the hill crested in a cap of green grass and little white flowers. Jaera spun back again. The mansion was still well within sight, but it was half hidden in the trees, along with the city behind it. Far on the other side, the ocean glittered in the moonlight. It was too far away to hear, but she could imagine the hiss of it, seeing the wave lines break and roll.
Looking back at Terius, Jaera started to take another step forward, ready to follow him on.
He caught her by the hip, pulled her to a soft stop. “Look up,” he murmured.
Jaera hesitated. Slowly, she tilted her head back. Then she let out a low breath.
The sky was black beside the curve of the moon. The brightness of it looked like a blade against the sky, a tear that let light from the other side through. The stars poked through as much as they dared, bolder the farther away they rested. Some of them winked at her, and her favorites held steady in their places. The Archer. The Wheelman. The Scorpion. The Bear. She marked each of the constellations the way she always did, calculating north off them by instinct. Then she saw one of the stars fall out of its place, tearing a line across the sky like chalk, and on the next breath the sky had healed behind it. Then another fell and, a little while later, another.
“It started hours ago,” Terius whispered. She could feel his breath on her ear, and he wrapped his arms around her, watching the stars behind her. “Dozens of them. Sometimes all at once, and sometimes all spaced out, but they just keep falling.”
Jaera resettled her hand on his arm, careful.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
Jaera paused. Then she shook her head. “No,” she murmured. “It’s very pretty.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she repeated. Then she realized he had gone as still as she had, and she squeezed his arm gently. “It’s nothing. They’re just… falling stars are bad luck.”
She could hear him start to laugh, catch himself, force himself to stop. “I don’t think they’re anything,” he told her gently. “I think they’re just lights in the sky, something that happens without meaning or intention. Like lightning.”
Jaera nodded quickly, smiling. “I know,” she assured him. “But they’re…” She paused, trying to put her words in the right order to move her thoughts to his head. “We read the stars for directions, because they don’t move. We spin and they stand still.”
“Yes,” Terius said.
“And I’ve grown up on stories,” she said. She rested her head back on his shoulder. “About falling stars, coming down out of the sky, when you’re too lost for them to even know which way you want to go.”
Terius was quiet. The leaves hissed in the breeze and the stars continued to fall, silent as the distant waves. Jaera took a breath and let it out, and watched the next chalky streaks slide down the sky.
“Maybe they’re only bad luck if you take it that way,” Terius finally said.
“How else can you take it?” Jaera said. “You’re lost.”
“And you know it,” Terius said. She could hear the smile creeping back into his voice. “You can’t find your way again until you’re aware that you’ve taken a wrong turn, right?”
“Right,” Jaera said.
“So, maybe the stars aren’t falling because they’re at a loss,” Terius told her. “Maybe they’re just that willing to do what it takes to get your attention.”
Jaera watched the next star fall, watched the tail stretch a little farther than the others, flare a little brighter. She smiled.