The main hall was full, edged with the gauze and frill of the vendor’s canopies. They hung out their wares, the best of glitter and gleam, while men and women wove through the center, shining in their silk and leather, draped in their long jackets or thick skirts, tapping rich heels against the flagstones. The windows had been flung wide, letting the breeze run its cool fingers over everything. At one end, the great double doors had been flung wide as well, along with the smaller doors to either side, and people passed in and out as they pleased, escaping to quieter air, or running in for the festivities. At the other end, the court thrones and podiums and judges seats had been cleared away. A band of seven played just beneath the dais, and unlike in the city markets, not a single vendor shouted to be heard above them.
No one shouted, though here and there, someone laughed a little too loudly. Coins clinked, but no one haggled. Children ran around the room, and their parents called for them slow down, but never to stay close. Everywhere, the party whirled on, under its thin market skin.
Leonne watched it all out of the corner of her eye, most of her attention focused on Kadelyn sitting on the floor a few feet away.
The little girl had plopped herself down after she took a few teetering steps, bored with the attempt to walk. Her father, Damion had laughed, scooped her up, kissed her. She giggled at the feel of his beard, at the way he swung her almost upside down, then grinned at him when he pulled her upright and smoothed her skirt back down. He set her on a blanket on top of the dais after a moment, and she stayed just there. Wide eyed, she looked around at every shifting color, every passing person, and the gleam off the belled brass instrument straight below her.
When her twin, Brance tottered past her, back and forth, back and forth, running between his mother’s knees and his father’s, Kadelyn spared him the closest thing to a glare that a one-year-old could gather. There were very few things she knew yet, but she knew he was a show-off.
“I wish you’d just admit that you want one of your own,” Aymee said, beside her.
Leonne didn’t look at her, but fought to keep her smile from twisting up into a laugh. “They’re children, Aymee,” she said. “It’s not like I can watch yours, fall in love, and run to a kennel to pick out one just like them.”
“Well, yours would be fairly similar, sister,” Aymee said.
Leonne shook her head, just a little, and said nothing. Vardan was working his way up through the crowd, and half a step away from him, Cerena followed with her blue skirts tucked into one hand. Both of them had something small tucked against their palms, and their heads leaned together just so. They murmured back and forth, building some secret plan that had Cerena looking like an imp, and Vardan looking like he’d stepped into a ray of unexpected and awe-inspiring sunshine.
Leonne nodded toward them as they approach. “Why don’t you give your pitch to them?” she murmured.
Eyebrows raised, eyes wide, Aymee turned to look at her. “Are they finally engaged?”
Leonne shook her head.
Aymee snorted, very quietly. “Then I stick to trying to prove to them how in love with each other they are.” And she snapped into a broad smile when they stepped up on the dais. “I’m glad you came!”
Cerena dipped into a bow, hugged Aymee, then Leonne. Vardan waited half a step behind, and bowed as well.
“Have they gotten their first birthday wishes yet?” Cerena asked Aymee conspiratorially.
Aymee shook her head.
“Can we be the first?”
Aymee waved them both toward the twins. “Please,” she said. “You didn’t even have to ask.”
Vardan gave Aymee a careful look, then turned with Cerena. They exchanged one more whisper. Then Cerena dropped back to follow in Brance’s uneven footsteps, and Vardan dropped onto his knees, crawling up behind Kadelyn.
Leonne and Aymee laughed.
Cerena spun on one heel, just to keep behind Brance, and out of his sight, as he turned suddenly. The little boy tottered to a stop. Spun a full circle, and fell, somehow, with Cerena neatly behind his back.
Vardan dropped flat and didn’t move when Kadelyn looked over her shoulder at some whisper he had made.
Leonne covered her mouth with her hand, laughing still.
Then, in two quick motions, Cerena bent down and Vardan scooted forward, and they both slipped something small into the children’s pockets. Then Cerena turned, dipped another bow, and grinned at Aymee. Standing, Vardan dusted himself off, and went to stand beside Damion, trying very hard to act as if nothing had happened.
It took a very short moment for Brance to suddenly notice the heavy thing at his hip. He stared down at it, poked at it through the cloth. Kadelyn lifted up her skirt, looking for where the thing had disappeared to.
Leonne laughed, again, too loud.
Aymee leaned in next to her. “Try to tell me you don’t want one,” she said, bright, happy, and glowing.
“I want one,” Leonne said, quietly. “Just… don’t do this please.”
Aymee turned to her slowly.
“I know I need them. Every heir needs an heir of her own and all that. I’ve heard it forever, Aymee. Just… let me have a few more years of being selfishly my own self.”
A moment’s pause, and Aymee nodded, then turned away.
Leonne watched her, and took a breath, not sure why she’d decided to let that out here and now. “I’m happy for you,” Leonne murmured.
Without looking at her, Aymee nodded.
And Brance pulled a little wooden dolphin out of his pocket, stared at it. Kadelyn saw him, and reached her hand into her pocket as well, eyes going fat and wide as her little finger met something.
Leonne clapped her hand over her mouth again.
“Hush,” Aymee told her. But she was grinning too. “It’s their birthday, so they needed pockets. But it’s not like they’ve ever worn them before!”