The invitation arrived by ship, hand-delivered by the captain of The Halstarr. The paper was heavy, honey-yellow as if it had tanned in the sun. Inked in rich blue, the script spilled across the page, purposed and beautiful. Every corner was sharp as the day it was folded.
Kariel accepted it carefully.
Motioning the captain back out of the room, she shut the heavy doors with a thud that barely shook the silence. The couches behind her were empty and still covered in shadow. Threading back through them, she returned to the shallow pool of morning light around the windows. It turned the curtains brilliant red and shadow gray, and warmed the air around the wing-back chairs.
Dropping the invitation into her brother’s hand, she sat back down in her chair. Out the window, the city streets were already full, wound up and ready for the day, while the light sifted through the buildings. She rested her chin on her fist and watched.
“This is for me,” Leonathan said.
Kariel didn’t look at him. She understood the question in his tone, but knew she couldn’t give him a better answer than he would find in a moment.
The rage surging across her skin was probably making her stupid, funny how she didn’t care. For just a moment, she tried not to smile, then forgot every reason why she should hold back. She smiled up at him from her seat and pushed herself back in her chair. Leaning one elbow on the carved wooden arm, she tilted her head toward her hand as if she might hide her mouth. She touched her lips with two fingers and covered nothing.
She tried to understand how it was that someone else’s anger could make her so reckless. Then she watched him a moment longer as he leaned against the table in front of her, jaw working at throwing his words out loud and sharp and fast, and understood she had swallowed a piece of it. She wasn’t only face forward in the gale of it, she was breathing it in, and there was just enough heat under her skin now to relax her into this stupidity.
It barely took him a moment to take in her smile, though he finished his sentence before he held himself to a brief silence.
“Are you mocking me, Lady Marike?” he asked.
As far as Cerena could see, Arnaud was just a boy with big hands, a permanent confident smile, and brown hair cut too short for fashion and too long to keep from spiking at sprightly angles. He was built like a real sailor, muscle-rounded shoulders padding out his silver-green jacket, palms bulked with old calluses, his stride permanently modified by the roll of the ocean. He was sweet, every word balanced on the line between polite and genuinely friendly, and Cerena had a hard time finding things to dislike about his company.
But when he approached, Leonne returned his greeting as if it bored her. She stopped and smiled, asked him how he liked the cooler weather they’d been having, asked if he’d heard any news from home and how his mother was doing, and never managed to lose the impression that she had somewhere she needed to be at the far end of the hall. She was polite, as she always was, but nothing more and very soon Arnaud bowed to her, said he hoped he would see her again soon, and let her and Cerena continue on their way.
They had nowhere to be and continued wandering down the open air hall in lazy steps.
Cerena glanced over her shoulder after a moment, making sure that they had sufficiently distanced themselves.
“We don’t like him?” Cerena murmured.
Tiernan entered the stable, then pulled to the side to let the men in his party pass him. The woman, wearing her heavy coat, her dark hair knotted behind her head, stayed exactly where she was. The guards stayed in their circle in front of her, and Teirnan watched them through the shifting line of horses in front of him. Their hooves clattered off the of the paved yard, hushed and muttered as soon as they hit the dirt floor of the stables. His brother, Eoin was last in line, bringing up the rear as he liked to do.
Tiernan smiled at him, crookedly. It was all he needed to start the old joke.
“When something horrible chases us down, you’re going to appreciate me riding at your back,” Eoin told him as he stepped into the shadow of the stable.
“You’re right,” Tiernan returned. “As far behind as you ride, it’ll break you first and give me time to get away.”
Eoin snorted, and didn’t bother continuing. They both knew what quips came next.
Lon’s attendants had a habit of stooping to talk to him. They leaned down beside his throne, and it only measured how low he sat as they bent and straightened. Walking beside him, they rounded their shoulders, dropped their heads, and pointed out that his head only came to their elbow.
Terius stood a foot and a half taller than the boy Lord, and refused to bend. Someone should speak to him as if they trusted his voice to carry all the way to their ears.
The room was quiet as Callix entered. His father, Zacarias sat, leaning against one heavy arm of his chair. His hand covered his gray beard and he watched the floor like there was something serious being written in the stone. Callix’s brother, Tiernan stood, one shoulder against the wall, curly brown hair roughed from running his fingers through it. He held his hands in his pockets now, and watched the door. He straightened up when Callix arrived and looked to Zacarias.
“Is everyone home?” Zacarias asked without looking up.
Callix nodded slowly. “Eoin was the last.”
“And our supplies?”
Callix settled over his feet, crossing his arms. “We have food and water for six months. The armory is stocked. We’ve bought and stockpiled as many necessities as we could. The merchants have sent their agreement: they’ll keep bring us supplies after this as long as we can keep the roads clear.”