Oruasta had been a sweet sight when they first arrived. Even in the shadowy light of almost night that turned the gray stones to an even duller color, it had been beautiful. The hollow echo of the old stone in the middle of the night twisted every voice into something lilting. Even empty, quiet, and plain, it had soothed Tiernan’s skin like warm oil.
But Oruasta did nothing so well as bright colors and lights and wide tables and crowded streets.
The whole city was fitted into the mountain, with the bulk of it nestled into the carved out center under an open sky. The jagged face of the mountain rose around it, pointing always upward, while it housed those with the most money and those with the most responsibility. The entire north side belonged to Tiernan’s father, with rooms appointed to each of his sons, and long halls for diplomacy and storage and enterprise. On the slopes, the streets twisted like sleepy snakes, content to lay over top of each other and kink and bow. Homes and stores and workshops planted one corner into the stone and balanced all others on stilts to hold level. In the basin, the buildings climbed on top of each other, growing as high as they dared, while the streets widened. Paving stones cut straighter lines, though they were more concerned with their sharp-cornered patterns than their even edges.
Tiernan looked down at the old designs as he moved, finding his old favorites again. The hundred point star that jutted off the side with no need to stay inside the lines the other stones set. The flower vine made of long diamonds pressed edge to edge. The rabbit that kept up a lively hop despite its lack of curves. He kept his head raised as much as he could, conscious of the crowd, and how well they knew his face and rank, but there was no need to in the slow boil of the feast and party that stretched down the entire street.
Eoin clapped him on the back as they found each other in the madness. His younger brother had a grin as wide as the sky, and he had a half-finished drink in his hand.
“I think they like us!” he said, voice raised to be heard, and still almost lost in the tangle of conversations.
“I think so!” Tiernan returned, and nodded to make sure he was understood.
Eoin slapped him on the back again, turned and walked beside him.
Callix was here, too, standing with his wife on the other side of the street. They had been caught in a quick circle of people, as if they were holding court, very pleasantly, with no actual problems to be addressed. Jaera leaned on his arm, happy to keep quiet and listen well, while Callix talked just enough to encourage the crowd to talk for him.
Sibeal was dancing. And Eoin looked over his shoulder all the time to see her, merrily spinning in the cleared square.
Tiernan had seen Breitt earlier, and suspected that he had already gone back to the upper city to keep his wife company while she was confined to bed. The baby was due to come soon, but they were happy to let her wait in her quiet, ready to take an excuse to celebrate again later.
Samsin had been everywhere, and Tiernan had no idea where he had run off to since.
It was easy to laugh here, easier with all of them together, and so many others besides. But he kept catching the faces of the Serres’ refugees among the carts and banners. They were smiling too, but the same hesitance guarded each of their expressions.
“It’s amazing what can be done in days!” Eoin yelled again, leaning toward Tiernan’s shoulder as they walked.
Tiernan let his gaze slide away from a man’s face across the way, back to the lamps strung over head, the glittering strings between, the brightest stars beyond that. He nodded.
“Sibeal said it had been too long since they opened the street like this,” Eoin continued.
Tiernan leaned in too, to catch every word.
“You should have seen their faces when they saw everything coming out of Father’s stores,” Eoin said. “He’s been handing out some for a while now, but he’s feeding everyone tonight. I’ve seen so many little sprits running off home with their pockets stuffed with sweet things!”
Tiernan nodded one more time, and tried not to feel as if Eoin was laughing at heavy things. His city was hungry. They were happy tonight, but the lack of guardedness in them told him how long they had been in strain. It was all the more obvious, their exuberance sidled up beside the refugees’ staid stances.
“And I have a surprise for you,” Eoin said. “You’ve done a lot in the last few days too!”
Tiernan stopped to look at him. He hadn’t done much. Written a dozen letters, so short and vague that they had all been written inside an hour. It had only taken him days because he kept thinking of new names to address them to. The rest of the time he’d been waiting, knowing he couldn’t expect a response from the wide-ranging men and women for weeks yet.
Eoin might have read his mind for the way he shook his head, grin spilling wider. He nodded farther down the street.
“Come on!” he said. “I’ll show you.” And he shouldered past Tiernan to lead the way.