There were three people hanging off the wall, fingers and toes tucked into whatever holds they could find in the dark wood carvings. The first nodded to him, and gave him another half-embarrassed smile.
The second, a girl with a dark braid dangling off the back of her head as she looked up, simply stopped where she was. Her face showed no surprise, or really anything at all, just a little curiosity.
The third, the other boy, had dirty blonde hair that curled down over his ears, and he leaned out on the full length of his lanky arms. He had a sack tied across his back, and it sagged gently, barely pulling on his rich brown jacket despite the fact that it looked stuffed to the seams. He smiled when he met Silas’ eye, surprised, but not displeased. “Oh,” he said. “Can we come in?”
Slowly, Silas looked at each of them again. Then he shrugged. And he nodded.
They clambered the rest of the way up, still rattling on the panels. Silas pulled back and they dropped inside, forming a shallow arc with their backs to the window. The boy with the curly hair took another easy step into the room. The other two stayed where they were with one hand on the sill. The girl raised her eyebrows and glanced between the boys, but said nothing.
“Silas?” the curly-haired one asked.
“Yeah,” Silas said. “Do I know you?”
The boy started to answer. Then he stopped himself. “No,” he said. “Not really.”
Silas looked him up and down, suddenly realizing how tall the boy – almost man – was. He had square shoulders, stubble like the first boy scattered across the tops of his cheeks, and hands that were heavily callused from work. He was at least five years older than Silas, and a lot heavier, and had just climbed – politely – through his bedroom window.
Silas rocked a step back.
The first boy took a quick half-step forward, away from the window. “I’m Terius,” he said. “I’m your cousin. I think you were expecting me today?” And he was tall too, but he ducked his head a little, and smiled in a careful, friendly way.
“Not through the window,” Silas muttered.
Terius’ smile stretched, less careful, but more assuring. “Sorry,” he murmured.
Silas paused, then nodded, accepting his apology.
“This is my friend, Jaera,” Terius said. He put a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
The girl raised her hands, maybe to wave, maybe just to show them empty and innocent. Her palms were calloused, too, and Silas could see the smooth tattoo-like keimon scars weaving their way up from her wrists. When she smiled, the flatness of her expression lifted and her dark eyes sparked in a quiet sort of way.
Silas smiled back, without meaning to, then blinked at her. She was prettier than he’d first seen.
“And this…” Terius looked toward the curly-haired boy uncertainly.
“I’m Zain,” the curly-haired boy said quickly. “I’m your brother.” He watched Silas closely as he said it, then fell abruptly quiet, waiting.
“Oh,” Silas said.
And that made sense. Because he had a lot of brothers – Kashel, Brex, Denald, Lainan, Trent, Stuard, and Zain – because they’d all escaped the big house a while ago and he didn’t know them well, and because they all had that broad-shouldered, dangerous devil look to them.
They all came and went on their own tides. Their ships came into port, they stayed for a few weeks, and then they left again when their captains called. Mostly, they arrived, looked at Silas, told him he’d grown too much, and left him to the wide echoes of the house again. Denald brought gifts, most of the time. Trent and Stuard each snuck him into town when he was meant to be tucked into bed, and made him swear to tell no one. Brex taught him new games and Kashel brought him books.
Zain hadn’t been home since Silas was two. Silas had no idea what he brought, but he relaxed all the same.
Tilting his head, Silas looked at Zain’s blonde hair – the same color as his own – and his gray eyes – so different from Silas’ brown – and wasn’t sure what more he was supposed to say.
Zain shifted the strap of the sack across his chest as he waited. His fingers were tight on the cloth. He shifted one foot, turning it so that the toes pointed off toward a corner of the room.
“What’s in the sack?” Silas asked, his curiosity quick to fill the silence, as usual.
Zain blinked, breaking into a confused smile. But he pulled the sack off his back, and yanked the drawstring open so Silas could look inside. There were clothes stuffed inside, balled up despite the richness of the fabric, the fine stitching that lined the hems in elegant patterns.
Silas touched a hand inside. He pushed down a little to make sure that there wasn’t something wrapped up inside. Then he met Zain’s eye with his brows scrunched together in question.
“Mother still have those lions?” Zain asked. “The big stone ones with their paws in the air?”
Silas nodded. “With the teeth, and the lips all snarled like they just ate something rotten, and mean to complain to the waiter?”
Zain laughed, quick and delighted. “Yeah. Did she bring them out again? Because Uncle Ryden loves them so much?”
Silas confirmed it with another nod, and Zain barely waited for it before he broke into a grin.
“He hates them, too,” Zain said. “Thought we might pretty them up. Skirts, shirts, jackets, dancing shoes. Hats.” He waggled his eyebrows as if hats was a very excellent idea. “We thought it might finally get them to talk true things about the ugly cats.”
Silas snickered. Zain was definitely one of his brothers.
Zain paused. He seemed to consider Silas for a moment, size him up, measure how far he had to look down to reach the top of Silas’ head. “Want to help?” he asked finally.
“Sure,” Silas said, then wondered if he shouldn’t have been so quick about it.
Zain’s grin only stretched wider, somehow sharp, but just as easy and infectious as Terius’ earlier smile. “Good.”
Silas leaned back on his heels, just to keep from bouncing on his toes.
Another moment’s consideration of him, and Zain turned back toward his friends. “I think you two can get out of here,” he said. He looked back at Silas. “We’ve got this.”