The fortress was awake as Seryn slipped back in through the open gate.
It was well after midnight, and the lamps were lit as soldiers crossed and recrossed the yard. The walls crawled with too many shadows, the watch doubled by men and women crowded shoulder to shoulder to oggle the mottled orange sky, the dim fire, and the sharp outline of the trees in front of it. A few of them glanced at Seryn, made a perfunctory check of her person, but didn’t seem to notice that she had come back twice. The yard rumbled with their curiosity. In one corner, someone was loading a wagon with water, the only bright point of hurry.
For the last eight months, Dev had looked at the room from a height of two feet and three inches. He knew, because he had measured it repeatedly by the length of his arm, letting his hand drop over the side of the bed until his palm was flat against the floor. He liked the motion. For half a second, he could trick himself into believing he had caught himself, that he was carrying his own weight on his arm, not that he had laid there so long there was a permanent ditch in the middle of the mattress.
His arm was exactly two feet three inches from wrist to shoulder. Lyda had helped him measure, so she could be sure he could reach every gift of water and broth she left him while he was sleeping. He’d liked that, too: the ridiculousness of her stepping so purposefully into the room with her measure string, and the smile she was trying so hard to hide as she moved him, touched him, made him laugh. Then, for a few more afternoons he measured things that did not need measuring, and laughed then too.
Rhian repeated it dully, as if she repeating sounds she hadn’t understood yet. “You fixed me…” It was only a whisper. Then, after a moment, she blinked fast. Tilting her head up, she stared at Seryn.
Seryn met her eye without flinching. “If I cut deep enough,” she said. “The bruise-blood will spill out, and you’ll stop seeing things that aren’t there.”
Rhian tried to take a deep breath. She almost lost the strength in her arms. “It hurts.”
“I’m sorry,” Seryn said flatly.
“You’re letting me bleed?” Rhian asked.
The first night they drove as far from Serres as the horse would take them. They piled together and settled into a sleep that matched the rattling cart, wobbling, and drifting into false turns, and, from time to time, jouncing them out of stillness. The first time Anie woke, Wesson still had the reins. The next, he’d traded places with his son, Darien. A few hours later, she turned and found the other boy, Chas guiding the horse.
So, they all caught their uneven chance to sleep, and it was the horse that made them stop an hour past sunrise. The city was so far behind them, it looked like one of the wooden toys Da had made for them when they were small. The sunlight made its shadows into straight dark lines, and its face into a brighter gray that stone should have worn. Nothing about it looked real.
Anie glanced at Thea. The older girl was blinking at the city as well. It was hard to tell if the flatness of her expression was tiredness or disbelief.