It was getting irritating, listening to well-meaning statements about what was and was not possible. Lowri read it in Braelyn’s face while her little ring of advisor’s alternately offered their advice and slapped it into the dim, echoing hall. She listened to all of it in the same diplomatic silence, hands folded, back elegantly straight. But one corner of her mouth was tilting up, moment by moment, sharpening a crooked smile that Lowri loved and hated.
Ciskell was a small island, built out of shattered gray stone that didn’t quite have the constitution to escape the salt ocean. The wind liked to carve its name into every surface. The boys and girls liked to carve their names into the harbor wall, alongside the fat, fading white paint warning: THAT S NOT THE HORIZON. IT S THE DREKKIN EDGE O THE WORLD.
Ciskell didn’t get many visitors.
Every woman in Evanston over the age of twelve owned a red dress.
No one talked about it.
No one talked about the red dye on their mother’s hands either, bought in bricks or beaten out of Bloodroot. The stains clung to fingers and arms for weeks at a time as they dyed and redyed and redyed again.
No one talked about their aunts sneaking off into the woods to hang great sheets of precious cloth off the branches to dry, or their sisters hauling it in again, bright crimson, and whipped to gentleness in the constant island wind.
Trad’s grandfather had owned and captained a dozen ships. When Trad was thirteen years old, he took him aboard one, showed him deck and cargo, canvas and lines, wheel and rudder and the dance of the waves which really only earned a tempo once they left somber port behind. The port gates was the midnight line: All respectable folk stayed tucked on the proper side of it, while the rest of them made a revel of the open night on the other side.
The crew had laughed at him as he swayed on his feet, and his cheeks had burned. Clinging to the rail and the lines, he made sure it was the last day they had the opportunity to take their fun at his expense. He walked up and down the deck until dark, until he found the sweet balance of his feet. He learned every lesson his grandfather had to teach.
A decade later, it still wasn’t enough to keep him from gaping as he woke for his watch and found the horizon flattened to a perfect line of blue-green water touching blue-white sky.
Every tree in sight shot straight up, their trunks perfect lines from the dark earth to the green canopy. For just a moment, Darren thought they must have been hanging off the clouds, not standing on their own, invisible, roots. The moment passed, with only a gentle feeling of ridiculousness in its wake. There were no trees like this where he came from.
The tree beside the house where he had grown up had never grown straight, but leaned toward the corner of the house, reaching for the sun. Down the lane, near his cousin, three trees tumbled around each other, too close, and each one bent a different way to avoid the shade of the dominating leaves. By the port, by the bay, on the long strip of island that was more rock than sand, more sand than earth, they seemed to crawl out of the ground, knobby root and twisted limb. They grew straight after they had climbed out into empty air. Everywhere on that drop of land in a mile of ocean, the trees leaned back to let the wind slip past them.
The hour just before dinner was always a quiet one on the island. Work was ending, men and women finding their way home in the diminishing light, and the children were tearing themselves away from school or play or anything else that had occupied them for the day. The air was full on goodbyes, and not yet warmed up enough to find the newness behind the hellos of coming home to faces and hands seen day in and day out.
Kevlin had been on the island for two months. He had adjusted to the calm and quiet for that single hour in bits, but not entirely. It surprised him to be able to hear the echoes from the street outside, to listen to the haphazard clatter of doors on the street outside, each one a singular clap in the breath at the break in the day.
He paused in the middle of cleaning his boots, one hand balled into the leather foot as he lowered it to the floor. There were a lot of doors clapping that night, without the usual space between them, as if everyone had gotten home all at once. He blinked, because that seemed unlikely. Most people would have gotten home earlier than this.
“What’s going on?” he asked quietly.
“So, you want to buy some dirt.” The merchant strode around the back of his desk and raised his eyebrows at Dallon, amused and making no effort to hide it.
Dallon paused on his last step into the room. He glanced over his shoulder at Ellu. They exchanged a mutual look of disbelief, and Dallon faced forward again, mollified at least by the fact that they were both underwhelmed with him.
“Sorry,” the merchant said after he’d taken a seat. He seemed to notice that he was being offensive, and spread his hands to better make his apology. It didn’t seem to stop him from continuing. “It’s just not that often a request for a hundred cubic feet of dirt comes across my desk. But I guess…” He leaned forward and smiled. “I don’t often get any request from wizards.”