Seryn spread her fingers and, after a moment’s hesitation, added blue fire to the pile of bramble and flame. The taste of the smoke changed, cooling on her tongue, icing the inside of her chest. Her muscles tightened with the cold flow of energy running down from her shoulders. Standing very still, she watched, blinking away the ash that landed on her cheeks.
She only felt the heat on her face and her fingers. The rest of her had narrowed to a cool line standing in a breeze that cut through her. The fire bit deeper into the wall, winging out to either side.
Her bones were too light. She forgot their edges until her stillness began to ache and she shifted her heels on the soft ground just to remember she had them.
And she snapped her fingers wider.
Drean and Antoni owned the fastest horses on the island. Illia just rode them.
The first time, she was five, and her father was pushing her up on a horse that was much too big for her. She clung on with hands and feet, every limb too short to lock into place, and all of them together just enough to keep her on the beast’s back. When the horse ran, she screamed. As soon as she was off its back, she couldn’t say why.
She was ten before she was finally tall enough to drop her heels all the way down to the sides of their ribs. She watched them turn her first ride out into the pastures an hour before she rode her first race. Too old, he would never be ridden again. He threw his head in a breeze she couldn’t feel, kicked and danced in a patch of dust. He was still faster than a dream. He simply couldn’t carry a man’s weight and run at the same time.
Illia watched him, and understood. She was a light thing, thin bones and wiry muscle under hair that didn’t even seem to hold enough weight to stay in a braid. And she was heavy.
The house was quiet when Jaera woke, opening her eyes to the dim yellow light that wriggled its way through the shutters. Outside, she could hear people passing by on the street, her neighbors calling back and forth to each other, and someone pounded with a hammer, already deep in the day’s work. She was the last to wake, but she just yawned and stretched slowly. She had time.
She swung her feet out of bed and sat for a moment, blinking sleepily at the strips of light across her floor. When her thoughts started to lose their fuzzy edges, she stood up, stripped out of her nightshirt and put on the day’s shirt, breeches, and jacket. Then she finger-combed her hair enough to fit it into a braid.
Opening the door, she moved down the hall, then blinked in the brighter light of the main room as she came down the stairs. The windows were all open wide, letting in the breeze and the sunlight, and letting out the summer heat that was slowly building. The front and back doors were open as well. Jaera glanced at them, and pulled her sleeves down over her hands. She was still losing the comfortable, heavy warmth of sleep, and the air felt a little cold.
“Mornin’,” Barrett said behind her.
The water was warm in the inlet, shallow enough for the sun to comb its long fingers down to the scrubby bottom while the ocean gently tugged at its edges. It rippled under the breeze, and turned gently with every tide. The top gleamed blue and gold. The fish flicked idle fins through the clear water, and nosed carelessly between the green-ribboned plants. A single log dropped into the water a few yards out, pointing straight down into the water, while the top leaned against the rock face that closed around the wide pool.
Mier had memorized the features of the pool a long time ago. She had wasted a thousand afternoons here, slipping into the quiet and letting it slide the hours by without announcement. Most times, she carried some small work in, kept her hands busy and let her mind wander. She sat on the log, and watched the sun and ocean in their shifting sameness. She slipped her toes under the warm silk of the surface, and kicked bright flecks of water off them. She tried to imagine silk that flowed so perfectly, or held so seamlessly, or hugged so warmly.
When work was finished, or when she hadn’t bothered to bring it at all, she shucked herself out of her clothes, left them hanging on the angled log and ducked her whole self under the water.
This morning, my friend, Bek arrived at my house as planned.
“As planned” should be taken to mean: She texted me a few days ago, and inquired as to my plans on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I, in turn, inquired of my calendar, which stated in the invisible letters of nothingness that I was perfectly free. I then inquired of the household if they had any plans that would prevent the success of a friendly invasion. I was informed that there were no such events. So, I texted Bek back and told her that I had no plans for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, although I suspected we were about to make some. And then we made some plans.
We texted back and forth for a little while. Bek discussed her packing list and any additions I might make. I informed her that I had responsibilities at home that would keep us from going out anywhere on Tuesday. I made meal menus to make sure we would have food to eat.
Tamzen had a piano which sat in one sunny corner of the receiving hall. It was a thing of beauty, curves like waves that met with the firm angles of the keyboard so that the whole thing looked like an ocean breaking itself against a cliff face.
When she was younger, before it had been hers, she had sat for hours and imagined that it might sing like an ocean too, if it was played correctly. Her mother had played slow, somber things on it, and formal things, and never anything so sweet as a waterside breeze or lively as wave foam. Tamzen sat beside her, when her fingers were still too small and her hands too careless to be allowed to touch the keys, and she watched. She learned the sounds. She memorized each tone as her mother coaxed it from the piano, and sorted out her favorites.
Once, just once, in the dark of midnight, she crept down and pressed them. Just her favorites. One after the other, then two at a time to see how they sounded together, then three or four in rapid rolling motions to make them hum against each other. The sound echoed in the quiet house, and her heartbeat hammered and her fingers shook, and she looked over her shoulder every few seconds, certain her mother would hear her. After just a few minutes, she ran back upstairs. She never crept down again.
It took less than five minutes to load them all into the cart, most of which was spent settling Momma in the corner of the open bed. The girls dropped their packs in beside her and she leaned against their soft edges, half-turned so she could turn her head and easily see both ahead and behind.
One of the boys gave Anie a hand up and she clambered straight to the front, sitting on the wall of the cart just behind the driver’s seat. Wesson glanced back at her and snorted wordlessly.
“What?” she asked. She pulled back a little, not sure if she’d done something wrong.
“Nothin’,” Wesson assured her calmly. His smile was tugging at the paint on his face, scrunching his thin black whiskers together on his cheeks. “Just didn’t expect to be riding with a bird on my shoulder tonight.”
She pulled back further, and stopped when he looked at her again.
“But I suppose it’d be good luck, wouldn’t it?” he asked.
The room was quiet as Callix entered. His father, Zacarias sat, leaning against one heavy arm of his chair. His hand covered his gray beard and he watched the floor like there was something serious being written in the stone. Callix’s brother, Tiernan stood, one shoulder against the wall, curly brown hair roughed from running his fingers through it. He held his hands in his pockets now, and watched the door. He straightened up when Callix arrived and looked to Zacarias.
“Is everyone home?” Zacarias asked without looking up.
Callix nodded slowly. “Eoin was the last.”
“And our supplies?”
Callix settled over his feet, crossing his arms. “We have food and water for six months. The armory is stocked. We’ve bought and stockpiled as many necessities as we could. The merchants have sent their agreement: they’ll keep bring us supplies after this as long as we can keep the roads clear.”