Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LXXXII

Anie fire_handANIE

Da called up the stairs. His voice was a little muffled coming up through the wooden floor beside Anie’s bed. Her room seemed a little large. Thea was sleeping in a dozen beds at once. But it was good to hear his voice.

Anie shifted onto her side, reburying her head in the pillow. She was going to steal her few more minutes of sleep. Da would understand. She thought he was probably proud of her too, now that she wasn’t really running away after all. They hadn’t gone so far from the city.

Her thoughts seemed to stutter against each other, matching what she knew had happened to the room around her. She realized her eyes were shut. She realized she was dreaming. The floor should not be standing upright and there were too many Thea’s in the room. Da’s voice was too high, too much like Drystan’s.

“Come on, come on, come on!” Drystan called, a sing-song too bright for the early morning. “Roll out of bed. Put your feet on the floor. Walk yourselves to breakfast. If you’re still dreaming, I suppose you can swim there, but move, move, move!”

Anie opened her eyes slowly. The older boy was standing in the doorway, clapping his hands so that the sound echoed between the walls. Behind him, the main length of the hall was humming and clattering and grumbling along as it always did in the first hours of the morning. She pushed herself up on her hands and blinked at Drystan, each time, almost leaving her eyes shut.

Rhian should have been there. Anie had gotten used to how she woke them, all quiet firmness and long strides between their cots. Drystan was annoying. She thought that was odd, because she had always liked his smile before.

“Why are you here?” Nessim asked. He was sitting straight up as usual, legs crossed in front of him as if he had been that way for a while.

“Because it’s time to get up,” Drystan told him. “Come on, Out of bed.”

“Where’s Rhian?” Cidra asked.

Anie watched Drystan take a quick breath, as if he were bracing for something. She wondered if he’d meant to show it, because his smile held perfectly. “She got hurt yesterday, so the poor thing has to stay in bed today. We all get to climb out of bed, which means we can get our own breakfasts and bribe the cooks into extra pieces of bacon with pretty smiles. She’ll have to take whatever bacon she gets brought.”

“What happened?” Anie asked.

Turning toward her, Drystan thought she saw a little more sincerity in his smile. “She says she fought a bear.”

Denna dropped out of her bed. “A bear?” she asked. She ran toward Drystan, collided with his knees. “Is it dead?”

“Don’t worry, kit,” Drystan assured her. He peeled her hands away from him so he could crouch down and look her in the eye. “It’s gone.”

“Can we eat it?” Denna asked.

Drystan stared at her.

Sevi laughed from his bed. “Our Da brought a bear home year before last. We ate good all winter. Denna liked the soup Momma made with its bones.”

Drystan stared a little longer, then shook his head. “No, we’re not going to eat it,” he said. Standing, he shouted to the rest of the room, “We’re going to eat bacon! Up, up, up!”

Drystan didn’t leave until they were all climbing out of their beds, until he had heard each of them at least groan at him, and he’d seen them all throw their blankets back over the bed. Then he walked around the room, pushing the shutters open in the high windows, and disappeared back through the door. With the light, and the cool morning air drifting inside, they all moved a little faster. They tucked themselves into their day clothes and shoved their shoes on their feet. In groups of three and four, they stepped out into the main hall and aimed straight for the cook lines.

Anie turned around as she walked, scanning the lines of coats in the outer hall. Most of the ones closest to the wall were empty while Seryn’s folk mixed for morning. The ones coming off night watch were milling around, waiting to run with the others before they tucked themselves in to sleep through the day. The other half had already pulled themselves out of bed, eating breakfast while they chatted with the night watch.

But Rhian was wrapped up in her cot. She looked too big, too many blankets draped around her. Anie thought she was sleeping, but she wasn’t quite still enough. She shifted, as if she couldn’t find the comfortable dent in the middle of the canvas.

Seryn sat on the next cot over, elbows on her knees as she watched the other girl, steady enough for both of them. Anie liked the look of it.

She watched them both until Seryn turned to scan the room. The Anie quickly ducked her head and ran forward.

She ate her breakfast with the others and carried her plate to the washers. Drystan let them sit a little longer than Rhian usually did, caught talking with Aled and Celyn at the long table in the center of the room. Anie thought they were louder than usual that morning. It took her a longer moment to realize they were all in their green coats as well, when some of them would have worked their way out of them by now.

When they had all started to feel a little drowsy again, Drystan came up behind them and dragged them out of their seats. Denna giggled when he threw her up onto his shoulders. Every one else hurried to catch up with him. They broke into the sunlight in a mass, and were running by the time Drystan led them up onto the wall.

Twenty times around and Drystan led them back to the center of the yard. Anie started to follow. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t, but she stopped, turned back, and ran around the wall two more times. Cidra scooted to the side to give her space in the circle when she came back and picked up her staff. The older girl looked at her sideways, but didn’t say anything.

It was almost noon before Drystan waved them inside for lunch. He herded them all into the hall, still swinging his own staff in front of him. Anie and the others ran in front of him, giggling, and keeping just out of his reach. He grinned at them from behind the blur of the staff.

Rhian was still in her cot in the back corner, turned on her other side. Aled sat beside her now. He rested his elbows on his knees, just like Seryn had. Anie wondered if they had all been taught to sit like that. She wondered if there was any good in leaning forward like that, watching Rhian’s face as if they could shield her with their attention.

Anie glanced behind her. Drystan wasn’t paying attention, chasing Nessim and Sevi toward the cook lines. The rest of the soldiers weren’t watching either, and she slipped away between them, working her way toward the corner.

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