Kadie has a scar now. A straight line, cutting one eyebrow short on the outside and skipping over her eye. It’s darkest over her cheekbone before it fades to nothing above her jaw. A fine line, nearly invisible, except that the best-trained and best-paid physicks couldn’t make it actually invisible. So it stands out.
“Lower your voice,” Kadelyn said. “I promise, Luck and Fate will still hear you, they just won’t have to cover their ears at the noise.”
Standing at the porch rail, Brance looked over his shoulder at her, slowly. His smile crept in, sneaking up on her, and maybe even on him, as he met her eye. He looked surprised at her sharpness. He looked pleased with her.
She tried not to be the one to drop his gaze.
At the end, his smile tilted up at one side, turned into something edged and honed. “I don’t have to,” he said, even as he dropped his voice to a murmur. He pushed off from the rail and took four easy strides toward the wall where she sat. With a lazy thud, he spun and leaned his shoulders back against it, hands shoved down into his pockets.
Then Kadelyn did look down, and she took a silent breath. She had won that time. She couldn’t help feeling that she didn’t know what sort of weapon she had just used on him. Or if she should have. Or if it would work the next time.
It was not so simple a thing anymore, to leave Kadelyn in her mother’s care. Once, Haldard would have followed the girl into her mother’s receiving room, sunk to his proper place, standing guard at the door, and just waited. In the closed familiarity of the room, Kadelyn would have forgotten he was there. Then he could slip out the door and she would only look up in happy surprise when he returned.
But she had gotten sharper in the last few months, learning – perhaps from her parents – to pay attention to where her bodyguard stood. She saw when he shifted toward the door now, and she pinned him in place with her quiet gaze.
“Are you going to find Brance?” she asked.
Haldard glanced at Kadelyn’s mother, sitting across from her on another padded couch with their afternoon drinks and sweets spread between them. Her mother shifted her cup of tea into both hands, and didn’t look at him. She had kindly been ignoring the fact that Haldard was meant to have both the twins with him, and that Brance kept slipping out of his hold. He never imagined that she would hold her silence when Kadelyn pointed out so baldly that the boy was somewhere wandering on his own, but he thanked her silently.
“That was my intent, my lady,” Haldard told Kadelyn quietly.
She had only heard gunshots at a distance. She knew they were loud. Every book she had ever read said that the blasts were louder than smith hammers. Every story she heard tossed around the table or spilled around the hearth said that the blasts were so loud they would shake through her bones. There was a certain Captain who had once told her that all he could do was laugh during his first gun battle, because he was deaf to everything except what sounded like a drunken giant stomping upside down across the sky. And still, to her, they were just thunderclaps in a storm that never quite made it to shore.
She had seen guns. There were two dozen on top of the palace wall, housed on sharp platforms that jutted off the main walk way. From above, she imagined the walls looked like a jeweled necklace, each gun a dull stud on its wooden stand. But they were cold as jewels, silent as stones. None of them had been fired in her memory.
All the salutes were saved for the guns aboard, safer firing out over the water.
Immediately, coming down onto the gun deck, those guns seemed like looser things. They were tied down, lashed to metal rings as if the roll of the ocean might have inspired them to something drastic in the past. They creaked on their stands, echoing the deeper groaning of the hull. Their muzzles gleamed when the light caught them, and their rough barrels were sand-scrubbed, light and dark.
She brushed her finger tips against the metal, and smiled just a little. They were still cold.
Dardo flicked an ear back again, picking out a new echo in the little garden square. Over the last hour, she had swung her head a dozen times to investigate, and had to shift on her hooves to keep turning as she found the gentle end of her lead line. Snorting to herself, she looked back at Vardan where he sat on the stone bench, as if to ask why he wasn’t concerned by the wolves lurking in the high windowed walls around them. He only held her line loosely, and smiled. He knew they were being watched.
It was a strange place to have brought a horse. The garden was thirty feet to a side, a tangled spiral of stepping stones and the winter dark branches of low trees. The paved walkway that wrapped around it was hardly long enough to ride around without getting dizzy. He might have attracted some curiosity just for bringing Dardo here, when there were fit fields and trails closer to the stables.
But this square was also where the Clan Lord’s twins liked to run wild. And Vardan was confident that he had been watched every day of the last ten months, every day since he had left his prison cell.
Leaning over his knees, he smiled at Dardo, slowly drawing her close enough to rub her nose. He had stopped caring a while ago.
“There’s no need for us to stay,” Haldard said. He looked over at Kadelyn.
Sitting beside him on the bench, she leaned forward on her hands, and didn’t bother to meet his eye.
Her brother, Brance stood in the middle of the room with Donnemey. He had his hands in front of him, hidden between them, but the shadows had started to play wrong on the floor around them. The early morning light colored everything in gray or laid down lines of shine, but he broke the lines and shadows, smeared them under his feet as he shifted. Kadelyn tilted her head, ear almost on her shoulder, and wondered what exactly he had made with his hands. Blinking slowly, she continued to watch.
“How long do you think this will take?” she asked.
Every footstep echoed as they passed between the pillars that hemmed in the practice courts. They were high in the palace, more of the outside breeze than usual meandering into the open hall, and still the walls and floors and ceiling were made of hard stone. As empty as it was, the long streak and dark star-patterned burns were obvious against the smooth gray surfaces.
Brance spun once on his heel as he entered, hands in his pockets. He had been here dozens of times before, but never seen it without a crowd. The ceiling looked higher. The walls seemed wider. And he liked it.
It was a good, clean space. He would have liked to reach back, tag his sister and race her across the length of it.
Behind him, Kadelyn was stepping lightly. Glancing back at her with a smile, he thought she must have known what he was thinking. Hands folded carefully in front of her, she stayed just out of his reach.
There was nothing in the dark. Kadelyn laid in bed and curled into a little ball, and tried to believe that. Eviene had said it was so, and Haldard had said it was so. Mother had said it was so, and even Father had that one time he’d found her still awake. But Father had come in the middle of the night to check on her, looking a little scared of the dark as well.
Kadelyn wanted to believe them, because they knew so very many things, but she heard things in the middle of the night.
Kadelyn knocked on the door, but wasn’t sure her polite tapping would be heard over the conversation and motion inside. Her little sister, Ineli was moving through the rooms at a speed that was unusual for her, but still easy-going for most. Cloth rustled, drawers opened and closed, lids creaked open or clicked shut, and Ineli chattered happily with her bodyguard, his deep voice more often dominating the conversation than hers. The door muffled their voices just enough that Kadelyn could amiably decide not to hear what they were saying, and she knocked a second time.
The conversation didn’t stop when Ineli moved to the door, and the girl was laughing when she opened it.
“Hello, Kadie,” she said. She dipped a curtsy out of habit, and held onto an easy, bright smile. Behind her, the room was warm and yellow from the light spilling in through the open windows. The breeze touched a cool hand to everything it could flick or flip, but most of the room and its comfortable circle of padded chairs seemed weighted down with clothing and books. Dresses and scarves and stacks of books striped the couch, the padded chairs, and the floor in deep, rich colors.
Kadelyn smiled back at Ineli without thought, glancing over the disarray. “Are you packing or just redecorating?” she asked.
Ineli’s smile broke into a grin.
“Packing,” she said. “I promise.”
“It’s been a long day,” Kadie said. She ran one hand across the back of the couch in her brother’s rooms. She wanted to sit, and she didn’t want to sit, knowing that her own bed was waiting for her several halls away. She wanted to rest, and she wasn’t sure if that meant sitting a while, talking, laughing, and spilling words, or shutting her eyes and disappearing into thoughtless sleep.
“You have no idea,” Brance murmured. Sitting in the padded chair across from her, he smiled long and wide, with the sort of lazy ease that came with exhaustion. The smile came slowly, but started fast, with all the usual way-points between thought and action erased by his tiredness. He shut his eyes, seemed content to sleep himself, then lifted his head from the back of his chair looked at her when he felt her responding quiet.
Kadie smiled a little in return. She didn’t know what he had been doing all day. She was a little afraid to ask.