The invitation arrived by ship, hand-delivered by the captain of The Halstarr. The paper was heavy, honey-yellow as if it had tanned in the sun. Inked in rich blue, the script spilled across the page, purposed and beautiful. Every corner was sharp as the day it was folded.
Kariel accepted it carefully.
Motioning the captain back out of the room, she shut the heavy doors with a thud that barely shook the silence. The couches behind her were empty and still covered in shadow. Threading back through them, she returned to the shallow pool of morning light around the windows. It turned the curtains brilliant red and shadow gray, and warmed the air around the wing-back chairs.
Dropping the invitation into her brother’s hand, she sat back down in her chair. Out the window, the city streets were already full, wound up and ready for the day, while the light sifted through the buildings. She rested her chin on her fist and watched.
“This is for me,” Leonathan said.
Kariel didn’t look at him. She understood the question in his tone, but knew she couldn’t give him a better answer than he would find in a moment.
Ryan and I had a pretty good childhood, all things considered.
We had mutually agreed a long time ago not to mention the hand-me-down fiascos. Not the embarrassments or the petty revenges we had dealt in with the knowledge that anything I talked Mom and Dad into buying for me would one day get passed down to him. There was a pink and blue and yellow tye-dye t-shirt that had gotten burned, though the only thing that was really odd about that was that it had happened on purpose.
We had mostly agreed not to tally up who gave who more scars too. I’d gifted him a chipped tooth. He’d thrown an elbow that put a permanent line through my right eyebrow. Neither of us was afraid to use the obvious – minor – injuries to win an argument from time to time. We never talked about the white line just beneath my ribs that once needed thirteen stitches to keep my insides where they belonged. We definitely never talked about the jagged thing on his calf where bone had torn skin. We’d both covered them with tattoos of things we wanted to remember more.
After a half-drunk midnight where we both broke down the fine points of all the ways our parents had wound us just too tight and broken us for better things, we agreed that there was no need to confess sins twice. Especially when they weren’t our own.
We had survived. To the brilliant ages of twenty-seven and twenty-four, even if there were days we felt ninety, and days we felt five. We had gotten our smiles and forged our precious silences.
Sitting across from him now, though, I knew he was going to break one of them.
It was dark. Bretnie blinked up at the ceiling, certain that there was something else she was supposed to be doing besides staring at simple shadows. She should have been sleeping, or she should have been moving, but she had no idea which.
It had been dark for hours, though she couldn’t begin to calculate how many. She thought she had dozed through some of them, shut her eyes and let some of them slide by uncounted. She wasn’t sure. She couldn’t remember falling asleep, and she couldn’t remember waking. The longer she thought about it, the easier it was to believe she might have been in the middle of a dream, watching time twist.
Then she shifted. The sheets hissed. The bed creaked. Her ribs moved properly in a sigh, and the whole world cracked back into firm reality. She just couldn’t count the hours.
Alea stands perfectly still in the middle of the yard. I watched her measure it out a moment ago, looking forward and back, over each shoulder, and shuffling in the grass to place as much distance between herself and each of the stone walls. Then she shuffled a little farther from the house, a little farther from me sitting on the back steps, to give herself all the space she needed.
Now, she’s perfectly still, and I’m shuffling in my seat. Arms crossed over my knees, I shift my fingers, turn my heel until my ankle stops complaining about this silence, scuff my toes in the dirt, bury my chin and watch her over my wrists.
When she raises her hand into the air, palm out in front of her chest, I hold my breath. But she goes still again.
This is the restraint that Momma keeps telling me to mimic. This is patience. This is careful. But all I feel is wait for it.
“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.
Anie tripped her way between the tables, ducking under elbows, and generally trying to keep behind people’s backs as she slipped through. She knew she hardly succeeded, but Aled, at least, didn’t seem to notice her until she was almost leaning over his shoulder.
Rhian was sweating. Pieces of her hair stuck to her forehead, but she was still pulling the blankets closer while she slept, as if she wanted them knit into her skin. She was shivering to. Anie’s smile slipped away as she watched her. She had never seen anyone after a bear attack before, but she knew what people looked like when they were sick. Rhian wasn’t really sleeping, wasn’t resting, she was aching with her eyes closed to pray thought away.
“You’re supposed to be getting lunch,” Aled said. He gave Anie a slow look and a small smile.
Anie returned the look, eyebrows bent together. “You’re supposed to be asleep,” she told him.
He raised an eyebrow.
“I know you were on watch last night,” Anie said. “And you’re on watch again tonight.”
“You’re very observant,” he said. If he hadn’t been so quiet, she would have said he was impressed. “Now tell me what I’ve been watching…” Aled turned back to Rhian before he had finished speaking. Anie wasn’t sure she was supposed to guess.
Silas was rarely awake in time to see the sun come up, let alone up, dressed, and walking outside in the crisp last moments of darkness. The air was chillier than he thought it should be, but it had been less than half an hour since he had been asleep under a stack of warm blankets as thick as his arm. It could have been the comparison that made him tuck his chin into the collar of his coat, not the actual bite in the fall air.
It was quieter than he expected too. He had never been so aware of the pattern of the pavement on the main streets, but without a crowd, or even a single passerby, the rectangular, cross-hatched bricks were the most interesting thing in sight. All the doors they passed were closed, as were the windows, except for the few that had swung half open in a forgotten way, like they had bounced when someone slammed them shut. The seller’s carts that took up space on certain street corners were now only boarded up boxes, and while the breeze touched his hair idly, there was nothing hanging out for it to toy with. He expected an echo of his heels at least, but even that noise seemed to be missing, dulled into nothing in the city still asleep.
“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.
“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.
Eoin’s easy, wandering stride lengthened. He turned his shoulders to thread through the crowd, but he faced directly forward, focused on his destination, or directly backward, checking to make sure that Tiernan had stayed close. The rest of the street held onto its noise and nature. No one looked at the two of them on their sudden direct path more than they had a few moments before. Tiernan nodded toward the men and women who met his eye and stayed behind Eoin’s shoulder.
His brother turned to the right side of the street after a few more yards, and threaded his way there, right under the walls and windows of the buildings for a dozen more strides. Then, he turned and ducked into the hollow between two stone walls, sheltered by a gabled roofing leading up to a thin wooden door. The building behind it, seemed to lean forward over the two on either side in a neighborly way, as if it only wanted a better view of the street. It had a pointed roof, trimmed, and scrubbed bright.
“Are you feeling all right?” Tiernan asked.