Rhian woke up late in the afternoon. Seryn was not there to see it. She was told that Rhian woke quietly, that she opened her eyes, blinking as if the brightness of the sun coming through the window had suddenly reached her. She took a breath. She sat up. And she winced, but forced herself to twist her shoulders and stretch her spine before she allowed herself to settle back down.
Seryn wasn’t sure whether she would have wanted to be there or not. There was relief in hearing that she was conscious, but when she came back to the main hall for dinner, and met the girl’s eye, it only felt cold.
Rhian would survive. All the secrets between them would hold. No one would know that Rhian had been sick, and not even Rhian would know what Seryn herself did to keep the ghosts away. The hard edges of their shoulders would dull in time, and they would be able to work smoothly side-by-side again. Eventually.
Seryn ate her dinner, watching the hall as she usually did, and ignored the weight of the evening.
It was strangely easy.
Aled, Leolin, and Mari returned from their patrol on time. The hall was beginning to empty out again after the meal, and they were the only ones pressing inside, shrugging out of their coats, rather than throwing them back around their shoulders as they trickled out the doors. Leolin and Mari moved straight to the cook line, with their heads together, relaxing instantly in the same moment that they slipped out of their uniforms. Turning to glance over the hall, Aled saw Rhian where she sat on her cot with her back against the wall, and he almost ran to her.
Seryn took her next bite and chewed carefully.
When Aled worked his way back to the cook line he was grinning. When he slid onto the bench across the table from Seryn, she had a hard time not returning it.
“She’s awake,” he said, and took his first bite with a look of pure satisfaction.
Seryn laughed quietly. He had been in a good mood when she saw him this morning, as well, amiable, with just a little too much energy for her to stand under, without feeling the need to shove him. He’d been joking with Drystan when she left for Macsen’s office, joking and brightening everyone around them. That was the strength of Aled, when he was at his best. She hadn’t expected Macsen’s arrival to lighten him so much, but she understood the feeling.
“It’s a good day,” Aled said.
She nodded, gathering the last of the night’s mash into her spoon. They’d melted cheese into it today, and it was sweeter than usual.
“I was thinking,” she murmured.
He made a low grunt of encouragement, mouth full again.
“Now that all nineteen of us are back on our feet, I want to change how training will run tomorrow.”
Aled’s eyebrows pulled together. His mouth pulled at one corner, as if his good mood made it easier to laugh in his confusion than stare. “I don’t think Rhian’s quite well enough to take over for Drystan again, do you?”
“She can handle one of the children,” Seryn said. “The little one.”
“Denna?” Aled asked. He straightened, pulling back from the table to look at her more carefully.
Seryn took her last bite, and nodded. She chewed, and swallowed. “Rhian will understand her. She was about that age when she got fire in her hands. And her lessons will be easy for another year at least.”
“You want to separate Denna from the others?” Aled said. “Her brother might kick at that.”
Seryn shook her head, just a little. “There’s nineteen of them. Nineteen of us.” She flicked a look up at Aled. “It gives us an interesting option.”
Aled’s smile snapped back into place. “You want to separate all of them!”
Seryn wasn’t sure why he found that funny, or why she smiled in return, but she nodded. “Maybe.”
“Why?” There was a note of seriousness in his tone. “It’s not how we were trained, and we turned out deadly enough.”
“There was no need for us all to be trained together,” Seryn told him. “They didn’t ever expect us to fight together.”
Aled ran a hand through his hair, drawing in a long breath than ended in another chuckle. Leaning forward on his elbows again, he took another bite, then shook his head at her. “So, we each train one of them.”
Seryn hesitated, running the idea through her mind one more time. “Unless you think it won’t work.”
“I think that Reese is going to hate you for it,” Aled said. “Maybe Tes, too.”
She grinned at the thought. “It’ll be good for them, too,” she murmured.
“Are you going to take one of the younger ones, too?” Aled asked. “Perrol is only seven.”
Seryn shook her head, very slowly. She had been younger than Rhian when she went into training, but that didn’t matter much today. There only seemed to be one choice after talking to Macsen that morning. She was what she was, after all.
“The girl who keeps asking about her sisters,” Seryn said slowly. “What’s her name?”
“Anie,” Aled said.
“I’m taking her,” Seryn said. It was easy to bring up the steady gaze of the girl. It didn’t shift much, whether she was asking a question, taking an order, or looking at Seryn on a chill spring night when she’d broken from confinement and Seryn was flushed from a fight.
Aled nodded carefully. Seryn imagined he was trying to decide whether or not to suggest that she was crazy. He knew how Anie had seen her.
“Who do I get?” he asked instead.
Seryn shrugged, and enjoyed the indignation on his face from the small motion. “Make sure everyone is out in the yard after breakfast tomorrow, and I’ll make the assignments.”