A week later, the stone lions were still dressed in their dancing skirts and, a week later, Zain was still pleased with his handiwork.
The hats were still happily slanted. Ribbons still held their perfect bows. The skirt of one, the corner of which he had tucked up into its paw on a whim, was still trapped in place in a perfect cascade of elegant folds. He thought they might just stay that way forever, as everyone in the house seemed to like his joke better than the talent of the sculptors.
Except, of course, they couldn’t stay that way. One of the lions was wearing his shirt, the other his cousin, Terius’. They’d both want the shirts back before they left harbor again.
Zain smiled at them and continued on his way to the front door across the hall from them.
The double doors that led back into the rest of the house creaked open behind him. He turned, curious about who could be so close on his heels. His little brother, Silas had a way of moving quietly enough to surprise him, and his mother’s grace was seldom noisesome enough to be heard one room over, but it was neither of them. His father, Cade had stepped into the entrance hall, and stood with one hand still braced on the door.
“Going out again?” Cade asked.
Zain spread his hands wide, rocking back another step toward the front door. “Great big island,” he said, smiling helplessly. “And I haven’t been home to see it in ten years.”
Cade tapped the door. It echoed between the stone walls. “Great big house,” he said. “And you haven’t been home to see it in ten years.” He nodded back over his shoulder. “Come on. Stay in this afternoon. Unless you’ll be disappointing somone…”
“I am supposed to be meeting…” Zain told him.
Cade waited for him explain further.
“I mean, Jaera’s waiting for me down at the docks,” Zain said.
“She can wait,” Cade said. He pushed the door open wider in a clear invitation and turned back toward the rest of the house.
Zain wanted to inform him that Jaera spent most of her life waiting on people, and that it was actually one of their friendship’s foundation stones that he arrived on time, early, or delightfully unexpectedly. Whatever most people saw on first glance, she was not the type of girl that should have had to wait for anything.
But she was also unbelievably patient. He could have told her that he was waylaid by a band of gangmen mice who forced him to sing ten songs about rodent heroics before they allowed him to passby with the entire weight of his purse and person, and all she would have done was shaken her head, called him a liar, and asked which way he wanted to go first. She would understand if he said that his father had asked for his time.
Zain followed Cade down a hall and through the main rooms of the house. Cade’s study was tucked nunder the east wall, a long room that had been paneled over in wood to give it a rich, warm tone. Shelves occupied one wall, topped by a series of carved animals that Cade had made himself. There was a large window cut across from the shelves, a wide, round table beneath the sunlight and a large desk on the right with a full set of chairs around it where Cade could handle his business.
Cade went to the table first, and nudged a chair out with his knee so that Zain could sit. Then he pulled a decanter and set of glasses off a sideboard, and poured them each a drink. Zain sat down in front of his glass and Cade tossed a deck of cards onto the table between them.
“Your uncle Ryden tells me you play,” Cade said.
“Yes,” Zain said, without hesitation. He knew most games that were being passed around these days, and if he didn’t, he was always willing to learn.
“So.” Cade sat with his glass in hand and nodded toward the cards. “Deal me in.”
Zain shuffled the cards, once, twice, three times, and then a fourth while he gave himself time to think of a good game for two. Most times, he played at full tables. Finally, he settled on Blind Strike and dealt the hand. His father watched the cards coming toward him in the distinct lay of three facedown piles and nodded as he realized the game.
“So where is your ship headed next? Ryden hasn’t told me yet,” Cade said absently as he fingered through his cards.
“Edde,” Zain told him. “Have you ever been?”
“No,” Cade said. “Should I?”
“Sure,” Zain said, and laughed a little. “But I think a person ought to go everywhere.”
“You like the travel?” Cade asked.
Zain shrugged. “There aren’t many places that aren’t worth seeing once.”
They chatted their way through the plays, sometimes looking at each other, but mostly considering their own cards. Zain moved quickly, as he always did, snapping his cards down almost as soon as Cade laid his, while Cade stopped, thought, shifted the cards into new orders, and hesitated.
Zain whipped him in the first hand, beat him soundly in the second, and wiped the floor with him in the third. Cade shut his eyes when he saw the winning play the third time around, but his face twisted into a laugh rather than show any pain.
“I think we’d better call it quits while you’re still smiling,” Zain said, mirroring his response.
Cade gathered the cards. “Shall I pick the next game then?”
But Zain had already started to slide his chair back, draining the last of his glass while he prepared to rise. “I think I should be going actually,” he said, tacking an apology into his tone. “Jaera, the docks…” Gesturing over his shoulder, he scooted away from the table.
Slowly, Cade leaned back in his chair. His glass was still half full, and he gathered his hands into his lap, lacing his fingers together. His smile faded, quickly but not sharply, until it was just a gentle, contemplative curve as he examined Zain. The look was steady and surprising enough that it stopped Zain’s feet and he sat back too, examining Cade.