Jaera and Zain slipped up through the rear hatch, running shoulder-to-the-wall across the back of the officers quarters in the soft light of early evening. The ocean was turning to shards and edges as it gleamed in the setting sun, while shadows faded in the rest of the world. Half the sky grew hazy in shades in blue and gray while the other side rioted orange and purple and pink. Jaera led the way, leaned forward to watch for the rest of the crew while they aimed for Terius, leaning against the rail. He was watching the water, leaned on both elbows, and didn’t see them coming.
He didn’t mind either, when they claimed their places on either side of him, just raised his eyebrows carefully to examine the tilt in Zain’s smile and the quiet light in Jaera’s eye.
“What?” Terius asked quietly. He glanced between them, and they glanced at each other, preparing their answer.
“We need you to go into the city,” Jaera said. “To get paint.”
“Paint,” Terius repeated. He looked at Zain, remeasured his smile, as if he could see the tipping point coming when it would be come a full grin and was trying to calculate how much time he had left before that disaster struck. “Why me?”
“Because,” Zain told him. “All three of us can’t go, or we won’t come back to the ship. We’ll skip the face-painting altogether, get stuck in Festival, and that just wouldn’t be as much fun.”
Thea left Anie at home the next morning. The walls creaked in the quiet, and she did her chores as quickly as she could. She brought in water, and sand-scrubbed the floor by the back door to get rid of last night’s mud. She hung the blankets in the window to air them out, and took the refuse down to the bins at the end of the quarter, then stopped to pay up the cob for next week’s water barrel. Running back to the house, she ran straight up the stairs, grabbed a book off her table, and kept running until she jumped up onto Momma’s bed.
Momma rolled over when she felt Anie on the mattress. She tucked her arm around her daughter and put her head back on the pillow. “Read aloud?” she asked quietly.
Anie pulled her book open at the bookmark, and started where they’d left off a few days before, running her finger under each sentence as she went.
Iva watched the evidence of the changing seasons every day as she walked home from shop. The green trees on the corner repainted themselves in orange and red. The buildings seemed to shift their towns to match, square chameleons intent on setting themselves on fire to keep company with the trees.
Out came men and women’s heavy coats in dark colors, covering over skin and white shirts. The breeze changed direction, cut different lines through the city center and through Iva. She changed her route home just to stay out of it. The birds flew away or dropped their feathers and traded their bright summer wings for brown and gray feathers.
The night crept in sooner, and the sun woke later. Iva moved slower in the morning, and faster in the evening, eager to be home in the dark hours. Snow drifted in, silent in the middle of the night. The trees lost their leaves, and the buildings faded to quiet colors.
And one row at a time, little paint pots stacked up the front windows of the market houses. Gold and orange, and purples so deep they were almost black. White and red and blue and green, bright and intense and thick as the coming night. They patterned the windows, each one about the size of Iva’s thumb, climbing toward the ceiling as they counted down the days to festival.