There were cut chunks of hair in front of the mirror. One was still stuck against the side of the water bowl, another had fallen to the floor and caught by one of the table legs. Rusty dye streaked the side of the tub.
The blanket on the bed had been thrown back. The sheet pulled at the corners, wrinkled across the middle. The dresser drawers were empty, each one not quite shut. The closet door was cracked open, one wooden hanger hanging deadly still.
Keddan turned back to look at Agne. She still leaned against the door frame, as if she hadn’t been able to push her way any farther inside.
“Well… She’s gone,” Keddan told her.
Agne glanced over the room behind him, and slowly nodded. When she met his eye, she didn’t look surprised, she just arched one eyebrow as if to ask if he was.
She stood up from the couch to leave, smiling a sweet, easy good-bye. For half a moment, he believed that just seeing that was worth the empty echo moment after the door settled shut behind her, and he smiled back without a thought. When she turned her back, crossing the room to gather her things, he let his eyes drift to the floor.
Her feet tapped lightly against the floor, and she rustled into her coat, and the edge of every sound held edge and echo, sharp and hollow.
“Can you stay a little longer?” he asked quietly.
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.
Terius faltered on the first step inside the open stone hall. “You’re still awake?” he said, seeing his cousin, Zain sitting at the rich redwood piano situated in the far corner. He looked a little disappointed, but not all that surprised, as if he’d hoped that Zain would have had the better sense of the two of them, but knew that he didn’t.
“Too full,” Zain said, patting his stomach, with one hand still idly pressing the ivory keys.
It had been hours since they’d eaten, but his mother’s welcome dinner was nothing short of culinary excellence. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to him. She was a woman who could have paid for someone else’s talent in her kitchen, but chose to complete the hot and time-consuming chore herself. Because she liked it. And anyone who enjoyed themselves in a task like that usually put in enough practice to be very good.
But Zain didn’t remember the food from when he was small, sitting around her table every night. He thought, maybe, it was just that he hadn’t yet been out on the ocean to learn about the rough nutrition of months aboard ship. Or maybe, it just hadn’t left an impression because he had never known anything else. Or because he was just too young. But he had taken a single bite of his juicy, pink-in-the-center, two-fingers-thick steak that night, and decided he was going to stuff himself.
Terius ran a hand over his own stomach, and nodded sympathy. Coming across the hall, he dropped onto the piano bench beside Zain. He sat with his back to the piano, and leaned forward over his knees.
Tarra took her jacket off as soon as she stepped through the door. Outside, the spring night had barely warranted the extra layer. She’d slipped it on as she left the workshop only out of habit. Inside the Hatchman, it was usually warm, but tonight the double ovens spilled heat from the kitchen and the usual crowd wove lightly through the room like sparks in the updraft of the flame. They laughed and talked and ate and drank and slid around each other as they moved toward friends, carried food back form the bar, or just sat trying to keep out of the way.
As usual, it was easy to spot the Captains. They were the only ones who kept their coats on in this heat, and even half of them had caved and hung them on the chair backs, shoulders squared, still showing off the yellow stripes. Some of them sat with their Mates. Others had brought lower officers, lieutenants or keimon. A few sat by themselves. They all had the same comfortable way of looking around the room as if they were waiting for something, and barely knew what.
Tarra knotted her jacket into one hand and moved toward the bar on the right side of the room. There was already a mug of cider waiting for her when she reached it, fresh and full to the brim. Tarra looked around for Rachlyn,wondering how she’s seen her come in through this crowd. The woman was pouring drinks at the other end of the bar, laughing at something one of the patrons had said and spinning to catch and fill the next mug. Tarra took a sip of her cider and waited.
It was only a minute before Rachlyn came running down to her. “Hey, Tarra,” she said. She let her gaze stop on Tarra’s face for the space of a breath, giving her that efficient, friendly assessment she always did to make sure that Tarra was happy and healthy, then turned to rearranging something under the bar.
“Hey,” Tarra said.
“How’s your brother?” Rachlyn asked.
He stepped into the room quietly, and wavered by the doorway as if he wasn’t sure she had heard him. He didn’t say anything, and Karleigh didn’t turn, surprised at his appearance so early in the morning.
She could see his apprentice, Jaera through her window. The younger girl sat on the back steps, arms crossed over her knees, waiting for him. The breeze was just cold enough to make her fold her limbs together to ward it off, but she kept her head up, letting the air play with the loose pieces of her hair.
Karleigh hesitated a moment, wondering why her uncle wasn’t on his way down to her, then continued folding the dress in her hands and fitting it into the case on the bed.
“Do you need any help?” Toar asked, behind her.
Karleigh smiled over shoulder. “I have plenty of time,” she told him. “My ship doesn’t leave for hours.”
“Do you want any help?” he asked.
Dean heard the suitcase clap against the floor as she finished coming down the stairs and stood straight up from his chair. He didn’t know what the noise was until he ran around the corner. It just sounded like something falling, maybe breaking. He rushed to find out what. Then he stopped in the doorway, one shoulder behind it and took one step back. Rissa was standing next to the front door, one hand against the wall while she slipped into her shoes. Her coat was already on. She had a bag over her shoulder, heavy against her hip.
Dean looked back at the suitcase. It sat touching the bottom step, like that’s as far as she’d been able to carry it in one go.
“You’re leaving?” he asked.
She looked at him over her shoulder. Then she nodded. She took a deep breath. “Yeah,” she said.
“Don’t,” he said.
Kadelyn knocked on the door three times before she determined that Brance wasn’t going to answer. She hadn’t expected him to come to the door, so it was easy to wait, easy to follow the quiet polite rules in the quiet stone hall. Then she slipped the key out of her pocket and unlocked his door.
“Wait here,” she told her bodyguard softly, and stepped into the room.
Paper crackled under her feet. She rocked backward, half to shut the door firmly behind her, and half to escape the heavy map laid out on the floor. There was another map beyond it, and another half propped against the legs of the couch. Maps covered the table at the center of the room, leaned into the seat of every leather chair around it, fell off each of the side tables and continued around the floor on the far side. The windows on the right side of the room were still covered over in heavy curtains from the night before, but the papers glowed dimly yellow in the light of the single lamp on the far wall. The light caught in the long sides of scattered empty bottles, and the whole room smelled like wine. Kadelyn picked up her skirts, stepping carefully across the maps on the balls of her feet to keep the narrow heels of her shoes from tearing them.