In the twilight, Lord Tiernan’s camp moved languidly. The neatness of the tent lines gently hedged in the growing shadows from cook fires and torches. Canvas rustled, flaps opening and closing. Charcoal smoke drifted lazily. Ahead of Anie, one of the soldiers leading them encouraged them to keep moving, but her tone was unhurried. The whole crowd of them leaned lightly into their steps, looking around, talking quietly. Anie watched the men and women drifting between their tents, breathed in deep to catch the warmth of venison and broth boiling for supper.
And Momma leaned over one of the cookpots, long hair tied back with a single string, falling over one shoulder.
Anie stopped just where she was.
Ranem caught glimpses of the island in jerks and starts, under an arm or along the edge of the canvas, as he and the rest of the crew hauled their fat-bellied ship into port. It grew from one moment to the next, gray haze turning into rounded roofs and rich wood, the little town sidling up to them through the water. He didn’t stop to look at it until the anchor had clattered to the seabed, and he had dropped into one of the longboats to row to the docks.
And then he caught a shallow breath, went still. It took him a long moment to realize he was staring.
It was all utterly familiar. He had grown up here. He had traced every street with a running step, and backed himself into most of the corners. He could have mapped the entire tangle in his sleep. He could have found his way to any of his old fortresses in perfect dark.
He left a long time ago, but time seemed to slide more easily just now.
Marnie found me in a corner where I’d begun to collect attention. Her boots were road-scuffed, the shoulders of her coat were rain stained, and her shirt and breeches were an average assemblage of homespuns and old clothes. In all her muted tones of beige and brown, she slipped across the room, tapping shoulders and elbows so they could make room for her to pass between the scattered tables and chairs, and no one even glanced up at her. When she was six steps from my table, they started to stare. She slipped into the seat across from me, unaware that any of them existed.
I tried not to hunch my shoulders farther around my ears.
Alex thought that it wasn’t really his fault. And the others repeated their conviction that it was.
He had been very small when he first learned about liars, about the half-truths that they could tell and the way they could spread their words into unwary mouths, so that the lie was repeated with real honesty under the syllables. He had been less than ten years old when he stopped believing what he was told and stopped believing in truths that could be easily stated.
He had been only a little bigger when he was taught that liars could be right as well. The sharp twist in that had bitten him so much deeper, and from time to time, he remembered it in better detail than he would have liked.
Henri wanted to steal colors.
She wanted to be able to reach up and pull the exact shade of green that limned the horizon on stormy nights down into a thick coil she could hide in the back yard, or under the shirt in her closet that she never ever wore. She wanted to strip it off every long blade of grass in the field beside the city, stack it up and pack it away. She wanted scrape it off the tree leaves, and rub it out of the moss. She wanted to take it away from every painter, and hide it from every printer, and nick it from every mind’s eye.
If she managed that, she would steal that specific red, that particular blue, that ripe yellow, and that bold gray. Because they too effortlessly reminded her.
They decided to bury the box in the yard, their two brown heads bent together as they dug their hole with hands and thick sticks. Every once in a while, one of the sticks broke, and one of them would jump up to find another, then jump back and continue digging. Remei leaned her head against the window frame, arms crossed over her chest and the cold seeping through, and watched.
Felip was ten. He pointed to the corners of the hole, showing his sister where to widen it. Then he picked up the box, sliding it into the ground to test the space. Lora was eight. She leaned back on her hands, body still made of straight lines and narrow bones. She waited for him to pull the box back out, then leaned forward and immediately started digging again.
They’d spent all morning poking around the house, picking up their favorite things and tucking them into that box: The carved bear, curled up to sleep, that Felip’s Da made for him. The lion he’d made for Lora with the long sleep body and bare teeth. The jar of crushed yellow flower petals she liked to stick her nose into every night before she went to sleep. The red leaves he’d painted in thick wax to save their brilliant color. His favorite scarf. Her favorite ribbons and the laces from her old boots that she’d tied around her wrist rather than let go. The ball they played with. The perfect skipping stones they’d collected off the beach the summer before. The sea shell with two many colors, that they’d sworn belonged to the Fish King, that they’d kept to make sure they could collect their wishes from him. A jar of the fennel and tarragon that they liked to chew on lazy afternoons. All their favorite things.
“What if we forget where it is?” Remei heard Lora ask. The girl didn’t raise her head until she noticed that her brother had stopped digging to look at her seriously.
Lediah’s Name Day passed in all the usual ways.
The night before was almost sleepless, and the first few hours of the morning passed between nervous shakes and stifled yawns. As she ate breakfast, she tapped her foot so quickly against the kitchen floor that her mother reached out and stilled her knee with a heavy hand, then stilled the rest of her with a wordless look. Lediah glanced around the table at the rest of her family, and swallowed her rice and broth as best she could.
The tests started mid-morning, deep inside a square stone building that felt as if had been constructed to hold people down to the earth. The walls were plain. The ceiling was high. The windows and doors were scarce. Lediah felt as if she had walked into a cave, the way her voice and motions echoed in the empty space. Her judges felt twice as tall, the way they spoke in the reverberating air. The sun continued its pace in secret, counting time somewhere she couldn’t see. Everything seemed to stretch and press in on her. When they finally announced that she’d passed, she was sweating, exhausted, and muscles slung loose with relief.
She walked out in the daylight, surprised at the shape of the shadows. Then she saw her parents. She smiled. Her momma beamed. Her father grinned. They both wrapped her in a hug, and walked her out past the front wall. Her teacher, Anxo had passed just before them, but had already disappeared, as he was supposed to. He’d left behind her new name, scrawled across the grey stone in clean white chalk. Lediah read it as she walked, facing it until her neck couldn’t bend any farther. Her mother and father read it, and said nothing aloud. The rest of her family followed after, just as silent.
Kynbessne had left so many things behind: A whole house with its stone face and artful fence, canopy bed and pony in the stable yard. Then jewelry traded in for more precious things like bread and roofs. The shoes that had never been much good for walking, and clothes that she outgrew and couldn’t afford. Finally, the things that she’d never believed she could sell: a necklace she’d always worn like silver skin, a book her father had loved and scrawled in, a scarf of her mother’s that had seemed to warm her more than the fabric suggested.
All of them traded in and stacked up as coins in her pocket that Kynbessne also left behind in an uneven trail of crumbs. She could never pick them up again, and if she followed them back, they wouldn’t take her home. That was the first thing she’d lost, without even realizing her last moment inside it.
Ineli sat on the stone bench, legs bent right up to her chest so that her feet disappeared into her skirt and her whole body felt like a sturdy knot. On either side of her, a line of white stone pillars held up absolutely nothing, pointed straight up into a blue sky. The sun touched her shoulders, dripped warmth down her back. A little beyond the pillars, square walls held back the rest of the city. Eyes shut, Ineli rested her head on her knees and the breeze lifted her hair a strand at a time. Just enough for her to feel it. Eyes shut, she listened to the silence that was trying so hard not to be.
It was like remembering the tune of a string quartet that had come round the year before last. She heard it, drifting a note at a time between her ears. Each sound was clear, strong as the day that it escaped the violin. That last high note resonated in a cloud around her head, swelling into that same victorious ascent so sharp it cut her out of the world and left her spinning in its grip.
Then she tried to hum it and the tune came out muted, every note a little too close together on the scales, every note just a little off. Then she thought she remembered that next progression, and ended up repeating it over and over to herself, because it came out in the wrong order like the key taps of her first piano lessons. It wasn’t the sound stored up in her head, just the wordless message it had printed onto her. A silence, that could never be soundless.