Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LXXVIII

Seryn fire_handSERYN

The little ones had scattered for the afternoon, as they always did. Most of them had tucked themselves into the main hall, hanging off Aled and Wynn and the books they readily supplied or playing their own games in sprawling circles. Some of them had found a deck of cards somewhere, and day by day they taught each other every game they knew, circling back to the ones they liked best. Others played outside the cool stone walls, happy to move a little even after the work of the morning.

They were easy to keep track of.

Seryn watched them as she entered the hall, then ignored them. There were others around to keep an eye on them. She slid toward Rhian where the younger woman was finishing her lunch with her elbows leaned against the table. She chewed slowly, finding the end of her hunger, or just in no rush to move on, her eyes on her plate until Seryn slid onto the bench beside her.

“Trouble this morning?” Seryn asked. She leaned backward against the table, happy to face the wall and keep her conversation hidden.

Rhian shook her head. A small smile curved one side of her mouth, her message clear: nothing she couldn’t handle.

Seryn laughed silently and patted her on the shoulder. “How are they doing?”

“Fine, I think,” Rhian said.

Seryn turned her head to meet Rhian’s eye and waited for an explanation.

“Slow,” Rhian amended. “So slow.” She shook her head. “Is this what we were like when we were learning?”

Seryn laughed again and looked down at her knees. “That was a long time ago. You’ll have to ask Macsen when he gets here.”

Rhian glanced at her quickly. “He is coming then?”

“Yeah,” Seryn said.

“When?”

“Soon. You know he never likes to give exacts.”

“Still?” Rhian asked. Her smile stretched. “I thought that was just one of the tricks he liked to pull to keep us on our toes while we were training.”

“Still,” Seryn assured her. “And probably forever.”

“Well, there’s a thing to look forward to,” Rhian said. She shook her head and looked across the hall.

The tables were starting to clear out, soldiers swiping their dishes off the tables and dropping them in the deep tubs in the front corners. Aled’s voice grew a little more distinct as he taught, and Wynn laughed at something, the children’s voices still a jumble around them. Seryn couldn’t even sort them from the ones squealing over the speed round of their card game in the echoes coming off the stones. She wished that the walls did a better job of holding directions, but it was hard to tell where a shout came from unless you had your back to the wooden wall at the end.

“I’d like that,” Rhian said.

Blinking, Seryn turned back to her. “What?”

Rhian went still.

“What would you like?” Seryn asked.

Rhian shook her head. “Nothing,” she said, a little too quickly.

Seryn watched her.

She was steadying her hand against the edge of the table, breathing, but she still hadn’t moved, as if her spine were suddenly a single rod holding her in place. She glanced at Seryn and flinched just a little to find her staring at her. Then she flicked a look sideways at the empty air over the bench on her other side. She didn’t dare look that way for long, and eyed her plate again, drawing a thin breath through her lips.

“Rhian,” Seryn said carefully. “Are you seeing things?”

“No,” Rhian murmured. The word came out lightly, forced and airy. Seryn wondered where she learned that voice for a lie. It was too thin for her. She forced a smile, then made herself look at Seryn. “What are you talking about?”

Seryn looked her up and down, holding herself just as still. Then she straightened her spine as if she were stretching, looking all the way around the hall as she did. She wasn’t sure why. She already knew every exit in the room.

“Get up and follow me right now,” Seryn murmured.

Rhian didn’t move when Seryn stood, one hand still locked on the table.

Seryn leaned over her. “Now,” she whispered in her ear.

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