It was impossible to keep Albert anywhere.
Pushing open the door, Tien already knew that he was gone. He’d shut it tight behind him, but without the key he hadn’t been able to lock it again. The afternoon sunlight glared in the open window on the far side. It had seeped through the eaves, too, keeping the room comfortably warm even as the cool breeze brushed the walls. The cheese and bread she’d left with him was gone, empty wax paper crinkled on the floor. The book she’d left behind was untouched, but reading had always bee more work for him than for her, and it probably didn’t cure his boredom the way looking for a way out of the room had.
Tien brushed her hair behind her ears and took a careful breath as she moved farther into the room. She glanced out the window, marking the ledges on the house’s face. He must have tried climbing out. But she knew from past experience that it was only possible to climb halfway to the ground, and the second half was still too far to jump without risking broken bones. He would have climbed back inside.
She slid her hands over the window sill, then down the walls on both sides of it. The wood was smooth under her fingers.
Turning, she glanced over the rest of the walls, marking the builder’s seams. The first one she checked was held together with wooden pegs. Tien was sure that she could pry one out if she had the time, but it wouldn’t have done him any good, so she left it behind. The second had wooden pegs, and the third, as did all the seams on the opposite side the room.
Tien ran her hands all the way around the door, standing on tip-toes to reach the top on each side. Albert was taller than she was. Near the top, almost hidden from her sight unless she pushed her cheek up against the wall and rolled her neck as far back as it would go, the wood had splintered and started to come up in stripes where he had pried a long nail loose.
Tien smiled. If if she hadn’t been the kind of person to look, there would have been a sweet little mystery of how he’d gotten through the lock.
She was proud of him.
But they both knew that Deidri was after him. And Tien had worked so hard to lock him – snuck around while he was asleep, stole keys, fetched food, whispered little prayers to all the quiet gods – and she’d had a good reason to do it. She hadn’t finished what she’d meant to do, and it wasn’t safe for him outside his room yet.
She would have been prouder, if he had trusted her and let her trick stick.