Kadelyn was tired, and not in any of the easy ways that could be cured with something sweet or bitter. She wasn’t yawning, and her eyes stayed open all on their own, but she moved slow just because she couldn’t find a reason to move quickly. Behind her, her bodyguard, Noach was keeping his same even stride. She could feel him slow to keep his heavy boots off her skirts, and she’d felt him slow a dozen times so far that morning. She considered picking up her feet, lengthening her stride, and decided not to pretend.
“Any further business this morning?” Noach asked gently.
Kadelyn took a breath, and shook her head.
“So, we’re headed home?” he asked, uncertainly.
She smiled a little. They did not always head home when she said they were finished. Sometimes they just kept working on whatever came to her mind, forgetting about the idea of appointments. Not today. “We’re going home,” she confirmed.
Noach took a long step, too long, and it brought him up beside her. It was the wrong place for him to walk, no longer the respectful follow of a guardsman. His shoulder might have touched hers if they swayed too much in their steps. It might have brushed the back of hers, only half a step behind hers now. Kadelyn didn’t mind.
She dropped her hands to her sides, and on his next stride, his fingers brushed hers.
The inner palace gate stood open in front of them, a narrow gap in the flat stone wall. Overhead, the arch pointed toward the wide wall top where the sentry was crossing on his patrol. He clanked by in silence, hidden behind the noise on the ground. A thin stream of people moved in an out, pausing by the soldiers standing watch. They stayed to the left, pushed aside by a string of three tarp-covered wagons. Kadelyn glanced at the beds as they came toward them, noting the many corners and slanted edges of the uneven contents pushed against the tarps. It looked like a jumble, a hundred things pushed together, like a backroad tinker’s cart, not a calm organized delivery. The horses at the front of the carts stamped nervously, tired of standing in one place. The drivers had all stepped down, and talked quietly to each other against the wall.
Kadelyn followed the line of walkers. Her slow pace left a gap between her and the group of women ahead of her, while those behind gave her space as well. The soldier on watch bowed to her, and she didn’t pause as she passed, though she gave him a small smile.
“-told you,” the guard on the other side of the gate was saying, with all the forced patience that came from saying something for the tenth or twentieth time. “This gate is for personal deliveries only. If you have a palace contract, you’ll have to go around to the east gate, and ask for your contact there.”
“And I’m showing you that this is a personal delivery,” the tall man in front of him said. He shook a long piece of paper. It flapped from its creases.
“It’s three wagons,” the soldier said.
“Yes,” the man said. “I counted them when I left the warehouse. You’ve counted them here. Our numbers match. Thank the stars.”
Noach swallowed a laugh behind Kadelyn. She glanced over her shoulder at him, smiling too.
“Take them around to the east gate,” the soldier said again. Kadelyn caught the tense line of his shoulders before she turned forward again, and his hard grip on his belt.
“They couldn’t clear me at the east gate,” the man said again. “Because this is a personal delivery.”
“For Lord Brance Reanden,” the guard said. “I heard. But I can’t clear you here with three wagons.”
Kadelyn stopped. Slowly, she turned her feet on the pavement, facing the soldier. She took a breath, suddenly very tired. Noach turned with her, leaning his chest toward her shoulder. He watched her face, but she only met his eye for a moment, shook her head and moved back toward the gate.
“You said this is all for Brance Reanden?” she asked.
The soldier stopped, turned, bowed, immediately. The tall man raised his eyebrows first, then hurried into a deep bow as well.
“My lady,” he said.
Kadelyn waited patiently for him to straighten again, folding her hands in front of her. He met her eyes hesitantly, glancing from her to the soldier and back. “You said this was for my brother?” she repeated.
He swallowed, hard, as if he had only suspected who she was, and the confirmation was another pound he hadn’t been prepared to carry. “Yes, my lady. He made it very clear that it was to be delivered today.”
Kadelyn held out her hand for the paper. He passed it to her gently, and she ran her fingers down the page to straight out the folds while she read. It was a long list, as jumbled as the packages had appeared under the tarps. There were large amounts of cloth, ceiling drapes and embroidered wall hangings, rugs and long hall runners. There were lamps, and there were stone and wooden statues. A handful of chairs, long padded seats, and painted screens. Kadelyn marked her way down the list with her thumb and tried not to shake her head.
“Is he redecorating?” she asked.
The man shifted on his feet. “I believe so, my lady,” he said.
“Then you really are at the wrong gate,” Kadelyn said. She shook her head, still reading. Nothing on there could have been worth less than a week’s wage. “You’ll have an easier time getting to his rooms with those wagons from the east gate, personal delivery or not. I’ll send word for him. He can meet you at the gate, and I’m sure he’ll be able to explain to the Watch why they should clear you for passage.”
She looked up, and the man was shaking his head. She blinked.
“I’m sorry, my lady,” he said slowly. “I believe he intends to redecorate your stables.”
The man eased forward, holding her eye to be sure he had her permission. Reaching a hand over the paper, he pointed to specific lines – the draperies, the heavy wall hangings, the lamps. “He chose these reds and black specifically to compliment the color of hay.” The man swallowed, hesitated, as if he wasn’t sure how to explain. He licked his lips and looked up at her. “I believe he thought it would make it look rather like gold.”
Kadleyn looked down. Carefully, she folded the paper back into a neat package, one crease at a time. Noach shifted behind her. She just took a breath.
She handed the paper back to the man gently, and started to turn away.
“Let him pass,” she told the soldier just before she took her first step away. “If you need any permissions signed, send them to me.”
“Yes, my lady,” the soldier said dutifully. He tapped the man on the shoulder to turn him back toward the wagons. There was a quick shout, a shuffle, and the drivers came forward in a rush.
Kadelyn was already three steps away, and she smiled without meaning to.
“Don’t tell him I did that,” she told Noach.
Noach shook his head innocently beside her.
“It just made me laugh,” Kadelyn said. She took a long step, lifting her feet easily.