Kadie has a scar now. A straight line, cutting one eyebrow short on the outside and skipping over her eye. It’s darkest over her cheekbone before it fades to nothing above her jaw. A fine line, nearly invisible, except that the best-trained and best-paid physicks couldn’t make it actually invisible. So it stands out.
It was not so simple a thing anymore, to leave Kadelyn in her mother’s care. Once, Haldard would have followed the girl into her mother’s receiving room, sunk to his proper place, standing guard at the door, and just waited. In the closed familiarity of the room, Kadelyn would have forgotten he was there. Then he could slip out the door and she would only look up in happy surprise when he returned.
But she had gotten sharper in the last few months, learning – perhaps from her parents – to pay attention to where her bodyguard stood. She saw when he shifted toward the door now, and she pinned him in place with her quiet gaze.
“Are you going to find Brance?” she asked.
Haldard glanced at Kadelyn’s mother, sitting across from her on another padded couch with their afternoon drinks and sweets spread between them. Her mother shifted her cup of tea into both hands, and didn’t look at him. She had kindly been ignoring the fact that Haldard was meant to have both the twins with him, and that Brance kept slipping out of his hold. He never imagined that she would hold her silence when Kadelyn pointed out so baldly that the boy was somewhere wandering on his own, but he thanked her silently.
“That was my intent, my lady,” Haldard told Kadelyn quietly.
They gave her a suite of rooms, all her own, large, elegantly furnished, and with a guard stationed outside the door. She did not own the guard. She did not pay him or command him, but if she held his eye long enough as she passed in and out, he would bow his head, unsure.
The suite was a long sprawl of rooms: an outer parlor for receiving, a wide, private lounge for the business of her days, and a bedroom that was peacefully dark at night and blessedly bright in the mornings. It seemed small when she first stepped into it, used to the expanse of her own rooms. After a week, it seemed over-large with just her rattling inside it. After a month, they seemed perfectly proportioned, as she could count the hours she had spent outside them.
And she waited.
While the days turned over, one to the next, she forced herself to sleep in long hours if she couldn’t keep them restful. Waking, she dressed in fresh clothing, brushed her hair and braided it as if she expected extended hours of company. If she braided it too tightly at first, looked too small and uneasy, she learned to let the knots loosen just enough to hold in their elegance.
She read the books in the lounge, sitting upright as if she were still in her lessons with her tutors across from her, and paid just as much attention to the meaning in the words. She convinced the maids to sit a while when they came in to stoke the fires or change the bed. She spoke with them, smiling and easy, and she listened carefully, calmly. She invited others to eat with her when they brought up trays from the kitchen. When they grew comfortable enough, they brought extra plates, both for themselves and for her, bringing in the things they knew she liked.
Cerestine’s kitchen was too large for just her. Standing in front of one of the long work tables, she rolled dough into a thin sheet, flour spread in a wide circle around her while three feet of table on either end were still shining clean. Her brown hair was swept back and knotted elegantly at the back of her head. The streaks of silver at her temples ornamented either side of her head and threaded through the twists like ribbons. Her apron covered her dark, embroidered skirt, while she left her bleached white shirt bare. The fine flour didn’t even show against it, though it coated her hands from fingertip to wrist and halfway up her arms. The oven behind her spread heat down the length of the room, the pit large enough to house a dozen large loaves, but she worked alone, rolling only one.
The whole house was too large for her. Fifty rooms spread through three floors, and her every step echoed inside them, alone.
Loris wavered on the doorstep, unsure if the older woman knew she was there, or how she should properly announce herself if she didn’t. Cerestine was cutting her flattened dough into strips, still connected at one end. Her head was bent, and when she was finished with the knife, she threw it carelessly to one side, and didn’t look up as she began to braid the pieces together.
“My lady?” Loris began, hesitantly, sure that Cerestine would look up in shock no matter how gently she spoke.
The hall was wide enough for two fat carriages with drunken drivers to dance past each other comfortably, but the crowd had still slowed to a sluggish crawl as they turned down it. Kadelyn slowed as she arrived behind the knot of people. Her bodyguard, Noach brushed her hand, by accident for once, as he tried to match her pace, and they both came to an uncertain stop. Kadelyn blinked at the backs of the man and woman in front of her, then turned and gave Noach her questioning look as well.
She had never been stopped in this hall before. She considered for a moment, if she had ever walked through this hall for any reason other than to get somewhere else as quickly as possible, and determined that she had not. It was bare stone, windowless, and wide, and no one had even bothered to hang paintings on the walls. It was a thoroughfare, and that was all.
“What is going on?” she murmured, eyebrows high.
Noach shrugged helplessly.
“I need to talk to you.”
Delanie looked over her shoulder. Her hands kept moving, snapping against the long laces of her boots to pull them tight. Looking back down, she tied a tight knot in three quick pulls. “Do you?” she asked, trying to keep her voice light.
“Yes,” Vant said. His tone stayed heavy, his eyebrows bent together as he nodded seriously.
Slowly, Delanie straightened, watching his expression, and begging for it to shift. He held her eye as if there was nothing in existence outside the officers cabins. Shore leave still held, and she thought he might be right. It was possible, from the unhindered creaking beams, and the quiet echo that followed the two of them around the cabin, that they were the only two on the deck. The docks, a few yards away would be rolling with crowds, and maybe there was a fisher or ten somewhere closer, but none of them were close enough to say that they weren’t blessedly alone. So, Delanie looked down, dropped her foot off the chair she’d been propping it on and took a long step away.
“No,” she said. “You don’t.”