The first thing that she ever said to him was, “It’s a shame about your face.”
Zain had received worse, as far as greetings went. She hadn’t sworn, she hadn’t included an exacting right hook, and there was something about her tilted smile that slid it more toward sincerity than insult.
So, Zain smiled back.
“Thanks,” he said. He leaned his side against the bar, set his elbow on top, and kicked one foot lazily behind the other. “It was a bad day for me when they outlawed looking this good.” He had to hold his smile back from stretching into a grin when she laughed in surprise.
“Oh?” she said. She finished wiping out a mug and set it on the lower shelf on the other side of the bar. “So, that shiner was just a good friend of yours helping you stay out of jail?”
The palace relaxed between the outer walls. Every line was effortlessly straight, as if the square corners and level stones were just the easiest way to sit against the manicured grounds. The buildings face was a gentle bronze, like it had gotten a gentle tan from the sun, while the brim of its tiled roof kept the heat away. Jaera stood outside the wall, watching it through the iron lines of the half-open gate. The morning crowd slid around, interrupting her view from time to time. She glanced at the guards stationed at the base of the wall, their heavy blue overshirts barely covering their chainmail.
Slowly, Jaera left the crowd, stepping toward the gate. She hesitated just before she passed through, eyes cutting to the soldier closest to her. He stopped her halfway into her next step.