She woke up deliciously warm. Sleep fell away slowly, letting her down easy, and sunlight glowed behind her closed eyes. When she blinked them open, everything was flushed with yellow, edged in soft shadows. The window was closed, but she could still smell the ocean salt outside, locked in on the balmy air from yesterday. There was a faint citrus sharpness from somewhere she had yet to find. And she took a long breath in, pushed it back out, conscious, but thoughtless.
He breathed behind her.
Her back rested against his ribs. His arm laid flat beneath her neck. She listened to him, gently waking into the strange room.
“You know hiding in plain sight is actually a dumb idea, right?” Kayda asked.
She tapped a copper coin against the the table cloth and absently narrowed her eyes at it. The server had dropped their change back onto the table in a careful stack, but she had taken it apart, scattered it between her napkin and the silver service in the center of the table. She slid her fingers along the edges, an old habit to check for clippings, then didn’t let them go.
Brais sat across the table from her and sipped his tea.
The night crawled past in fits and starts. Eytan closed his eyes and opened them, felt an hour slid past as the shadows made their turns and the silence deepened into an older thing, but didn’t remember sleeping. The breeze kicked higher, and then died in the deep chill before dawn. The cave hummed, and then creaked. Gravel skittered haphazardly, abruptly, and Eytan lifted his head to listen, assuring himself there was no even human stride behind it.
Riva remained just as he had arranged her, the only thing in sight that didn’t shift while he slept. Sometimes he glanced at her from the side of his eye, and sometimes he stared. The shape of her was utterly familiar, while it seemed somehow she had been carved out of something heavier than flesh. Iron. Or something older.
There was no easy dawn that morning, no cool, lingering dark. The sun rose, dug hot, steady fingers into the earth and yanked it around to face it. Danneel woke into too-bright daylight, her blanket already pushed to the side, her mouth sticky after her short hours of sleep.
She had slept like something dead, she realized. There was no other way to account for the way she had lost time, the way daylight had invaded. And that woke her up fast.
Evander was already moving. He knelt on the ground, rolling his small sack of things inside his blanket. They had all gotten used to packing their small pile of things into even smaller packets for easy carrying, but he still gave it all of his attention. He tucked the end of the blanket in itself as if someone might be along to inspect the tightness of the fold, and he tied the rope to either end with careful knots, as if there were no hurry, and nothing else in the world. It bothered Danneel a little – the rest of them had learned to do it so much quicker – but he was also the only one who never made any noise as he walked, or had to stop to repackage his things midday to stop them from clinking.
The sky turned gray first. The ensuing riot of red, pink, purple, and yellow seemed like a bold thing, but it didn’t dare to touch the blue-black of the night. It waited at the horizon, toes stopped at the threshold, until gentle gray had nudged the darkness to the opposite side of the sky.
Leaning back from her desk, Ovie smiled slowly at the gray’s silent tenacity. She had worked through the night again, without really meaning to, though she was happy enough with the feeling of accomplishment that rested quietly behind the hum of her tired mind. She was too drained to appreciate the bright colors, and the sunlight streaming in behind them was waking her up more than she would like without giving her any fresh energy. She had been sitting too long, and she didn’t know a stretch that could soothe her more than the thought of curling up around her pillow. It was morning, and she didn’t want it quite yet.
But she understood the gray. She recognized that unintimidating, unyielding way to push.
The breakfast trays were laid out with plates, forks, knives, spoons, and folded napkins within a few minutes. Little dishes of butter went into the corner, and cups of coffee with their saucers into the opposite. The plates were warmed briefly over the oven, then they went on the trays as well, right before the kitchen staff filled them in with toast straight from the oven, eggs straight off the stove, and a fresh sprinkling of green onions and tomatoes. Four trays, perfectly matched in the bright morning light.
Eda pushed a tray across the table toward Javey. “Take this up to Master Toar?”
Javey picked up the tray, but stopped as soon as he had. “You mean Master Alek?”
“Whatever you’d like to call the younger one,” Eda said. “But I don’t want to know what he’d say if you got his name wrong after all this time.”
In the early morning, Ineli could wrap a blanket around her shoulders and sneak through the palace. From behind, the rich drape of the fabric made her look like just another wealthy little girl in a cape whose family held rooms in the massive complex.
If she encountered anyone ahead of her, she needed only to duck her head, giggle and put them behind her as fast as she could. They heard the giggle, saw the flash of cape, and thought nothing of a ten-year-old with brown curls at play. Maybe they saw the brocade of her skirt, and the heavy embroidery on her jacket. They never saw enough of her face to bow, or to politely question why she was out by herself.
Ineli held her blanket in one hand, and bunched her skirts in the other to run down the hallway. The windows on one side slid gray light across the floor as the sun fought to find its way through the maze and tangle of the palace walls. A long carpet under her feet kept the chill of the stone from seeping through her thin slippers. She slid on it as she reached the end of the hall, and let the slide take her around the sharp right turn that ended abruptly at her brother’s door.
Knocking firmly, she bounced on her toes. And waited. The rooms beyond were the usual three-fold living quarters – sitting rooms, guard’s rooms, bedroom. It might take a person a minute to make their way from the back room. It took Brance a while longer.
“It is utterly ridiculous that we are expected to get out of bed every day.” Samir threw his arm over his eyes, and otherwise did not move. He was sprawled on the bed, one leg off the edge. The blankets barely covered him any more, twisted under his torso and pooling on the floor under his foot. “Ridiculous,” he murmured, and the word followed so far after the first sentence that Bass looked over in surprise. He suspected Samir had fallen back to sleep in between.
“Absolutely,” Bass told him. He turned back to the window, changing into the day’s shirt and breeches and jacket. “It’s not like you’ve been doing it since you were a child.”
“Children are idiots,” Samir murmured. There was another long pause. “And they don’t have grand masters standing over them every day, making them research wars and treaties and trade agreements and famines and pig shortages, and asking them to write up reports that a thousand other students have already written and no one ever read.”
Bass laughed to himself, silently. He reached for his boots. “The sun does it every day. And it’s a good deal heavier than you.”
Samir threw his arm back off his face and propped himself up on his elbows. He stared at Bass. “The sun?” he said.
Bass nodded amiably.
Four in the morning and Nat was just starting to get tired. Sitting in front of the dwindling campfire, she yawned, laughed as if that might hide it and checked the time. The light on her cellphone reflected brightly against her face.
“Oh gosh,” she said. “It’s early.”
And as if the bright numbers had given her permission, she laid her head down on Leo’s knee and curled into a sleepy ball. Leo tucked her hair behind her ear. He smoothed it out and ran his fingers down to the ends at her shoulder. When he started to pull his hand away, she caught it and laced her fingers between his.
“I didn’t think you ever got tired,” he said.