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.
All his life, Taavi had been dully aware that the Captain was always the last to leave the ship. It should not have come as a surprise to him that Erya’s promotion would mean that he could no longer meet her on the docks in the morning, as he had when she was a little cabin bird. He could not find her for a late lunch like when she was a full member of the crew, could not even share dinner with her as he had when she was an officer. Erya arrived home only after the sun had set, having registered with the portmaster, inspected the ship, dismissed the crew, contacted the banks to reserve coinage for the payroll, arranged the cargo dispatch, finalized the logs, reported to the ship’s owner, and finally, packed up her own things in the dark.
She came through the doors with her shoulders rounded, but smiling as if she’d caught a falling star in her pocket.
“Hello, Da,” she said.
Taryn’s father had scars like constellations, overlapped like tidelines on the beach, washing his arms in curls of red and brown and white. His mother’s arms were the same shade of tan from fingertip to elbow, slowly fading as it reached her shoulders, touched only by the sun. But she didn’t have any fire in her hands, like Taryn and his father. She didn’t have this ice under her skin.
Taryn had known all his life he would have scars, too. He just hadn’t known that before they would lay flush against his skin, they would bleed, and they would throb like fresh bruises deep in the muscle.
He winced, trying to wipe the blood away from his skin. It welled up from a strip two inches wide, as if he had skidded across the rug on his shoulder, not burned himself. A moment ago, he thought it had stopped, but every time he washed it away, red seeped back, gathering into thick drops.
When the door clicked open, he caught the hiss and roar of the training hall outside. His father stepped inside, shut the door, and it faded back to the deep, spaced out thunks and claps.
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.
Visiting her father was the only time she dressed down for a public event. She owned silks and brocades that she wore every day, and gowns sewn with glinting twists of beadwork from neckline to hem that would have been perfect for the holidays in her own home. She owned dresses that sang, and hummed, and whispered as she walked, and every one of them would have been too loud in her father’s halls. Even the dresses she had worn as a girl for the celebrations in his home would have drawn too many eyes.
She dressed as plainly as she could get away with on such an exalted day. Her blue dress turned dull silver if it caught the proper shine, though the evening’s yellow lamplight was turning it muddy gray. The neck was embroidered with a line of rolling waves, and the hem echoed the pattern in larger strokes. The skirt bunched stiffly in its gathers where it should have flowed, an expensive fabric made in the wrong pattern.
She looked properly decadent, just shy of real elegance. In the long hall, roiling with party-goers, no one looked at her twice.
Rell had mixed feelings about the attic.
On the one hand, he was sure there were more interesting things up there than any place beneath it. The lean little house seemed to enjoy the come and go of boarders, seeming always infinitely friendly to strangers, and stand-offish to anyone who had lived under its roof for more than half a year. His father and him had lived there forever, sharing the biggest room on the ground floor, but no one else seemed to last long in the four rooms above them. Every time they left, they left things behind, and his father boxed, bagged, or otherwise packed them up, and shoved them up into the attic, just in case they came back.
On the other hand, the attic was four stories above ground, higher than any other house on the block, and the windows showed it clearly. The trapdoor with the ladder beneath it always seemed like just a giant hole in the floor when he got up above it. On the other side of the attic, there really was a hole, broken in some interesting event that Rell had never gotten the full story on. Standing in the attic, Rell was always aware of the holes. Without meaning to, he would glance at one of them, and suddenly imagine the bone-numbing sensation of falling through one of them. His stomach twisted, and he wondered what kind of brain he was keeping that so easily slipped on that kind of thought.
The line of recruits held straight, shoulder-to-shoulder as Hemmark passed in front of them. It wasn’t particularly hard, with their heels backed against their packs behind them, and their packs touching the barracks wall behind that. They looked directly ahead and didn’t waver, but that wasn’t hard either when turning would have meant looking into the sun that was threatening a too-bright day in the middle of the gray dawn. Hemmark, coming to a stop at the end of the line, pretended to be impressed with his handful of men and tangle of fresh sixteen-year-old boys.
“Welcome to the City Watch,” he said. He tipped his voice into a pitch that he knew would carry clearly down the courtyard, but did not raise his tone into anything that could be called a shout. Some of the boys glanced at him sideways, blinking into the light behind him, as if he might have snuck up just beside them. Meeting his eye, they immediately snapped their heads forward again and straightened like he’d kicked them. He reserved a smile for later.
“We will give you a bed. We will feed you. We will hand you uniforms and weapons and pay you besides. We will train you into the sort of men that this city will respect and sometimes fear. We’ll make you into the sort of man that the man next to you can trust. And in return, you will protect this city, from now until the day you are dismissed. You will follow orders. You will put yourself on the line. You will fight when we tell you fight, stand down when we tell you stand down, wake we tell you wake, and keep to your feet when we need you.”
Hemmark glanced down the line for the inevitable shifting that always arrived when he gave his speech. Feet shuffled. Shoulders rolled a little forward or squared defiantly. It was always half and half in these recruits, between those who relaxed into the idea of taking orders and those who disliked the idea entirely. But there was no more shuffling than usual and he nodded them toward the barracks.
Zain’s father was an intelligent man. He knew it, from what he’d heard about him and what he remembered of the shelves upon shelves of books that he was not allowed to touch when he was small. Still, the wordlessness with which he showed his quick questions and capability of reading the answers without any response, was interesting, and Zain stayed where he was. He answered with his own curious look, and slight tilt of his head.
“Are you angry with me?” Cade asked. “Or is this just the way you are? Crisp and polite and cold with strangers…”
Zain blinked. He had never been called cold before. It was a fascinating statement, if only for its newness, but it was not altogether pleasing. “I don’t think anyone would say my father counted as a stranger,” he said simply.
“I think, with a little more explanation, you could get almost anyone to say that a seventeen-year-old who hasn’t been home in ten years, or seen his parents more than a dozen times since he was five, could name his father a stranger,” Cade mused back. “And you’re smart enough to know without my saying, that you didn’t answer my question.”
Zain shook his head. “And folks would agree, that by that last statement, you prove you’re no stranger. Strangers think I’m an idiot.”
A week later, the stone lions were still dressed in their dancing skirts and, a week later, Zain was still pleased with his handiwork.
The hats were still happily slanted. Ribbons still held their perfect bows. The skirt of one, the corner of which he had tucked up into its paw on a whim, was still trapped in place in a perfect cascade of elegant folds. He thought they might just stay that way forever, as everyone in the house seemed to like his joke better than the talent of the sculptors.
Except, of course, they couldn’t stay that way. One of the lions was wearing his shirt, the other his cousin, Terius’. They’d both want the shirts back before they left harbor again.
Zain smiled at them and continued on his way to the front door across the hall from them.
The stone pillars of the room cast long black shadows across the large square floor stones, even in late evening. Windows on the right side of the room spilled some light, but ran crosswise across the shadows, the light that actually made them pouring in from the skylights cut into the ceiling.
Callix sat just beyond the pillars, the last shadow falling behind his back. He leaned in his chair, sitting sideways, at the edge of the half circle cut into the wall on the far side of the room. His leather jacket was buttoned in the coolness of the room, his breeches tucked into freshly shined boots.
His wife, Jaera, sat beside him, and he was leaning his head toward her, listening and smiling a little. Her pale skirts spilled around her, and touched the floor on either side of the chair. They were split to the hip, revealing matching breeches and boots that touched her knees. The soft wrinkle in the fabric of the skirt, stated plainly that they’d been knotted up a few minutes before, that she’d been working somewhere. Still, there wasn’t a stain or scuff on her clothes, and it was impossible to say what she’d been doing.
Zacarias was on his heavy stone chair on her other side, deep in the curve of the wall. He wore thicker breeches, a coat with its collar high against his neck, strikingly dark against his gray hair. He was listening to Jaera too, though he faced forward. He met Tiernan’s eye first, and nodded him inside.
“Welcome home,” he said.