Her problems faded out of sight in the rear-view mirror and she relished the roar of the highway wind. In a few minutes, maybe, she would turn on the radio, twist the volume up until it rumbled in her floorboards, her seat, her lungs. Until it filled the car and pushed the horizon farther away. She usually did, just as part of ignition, listening to the engine turn over once before she drowned it out with drums and guitar.
A friend had told her once that there was a science to why music sounded better when it was cranked up loud. She didn’t need the excuse, but she used it just the same, turning the dial higher. Turning decent songs good, and good songs great. Forcing everything back.
The tooled leather was a beautiful piece of work. Cut straight. Molded into just enough of an arc to make it easy to wrap around a wrist. The twin fish stamped into the center, swirled around each other in dark, greased lines. The lines of their bodies were thick, their fins thin. Every curve managed a certain grace and bluntness, hinting at the preciousness of the object, and the repetition of having created thousands of them in a lifetime. The maker’s mark on the back was simple in comparison: three hash-marks wrapped in a ring with a line slashed through it all.
Marus flipped it over to examine the fish again. Somewhere in the lines of their fins was a mistake, an error registered with the local lord. Matched against the mark, it verified the authenticity of the wristband, though he couldn’t see it. It looked exactly the same as every wristband he had ever worn in his life.
As far as he could tell, a perfect forgery.
She should have returned to the main hall immediately. She should have stepped back inside, slid into her cot, and slept. She could have made herself, and shutting her eyes would have felt like following orders. Easy. But, she turned right from Jeyd’s office instead of left, and climbed to the top of the fortress wall. The breeze was stronger there, and she lifted her chin to let it drag over her.
She stared at the horizon, waiting until her eyes could sort out the difference between the black earth and the black sky, and counted stars until the numbers faded into their repeating patterns and the stars themselves were just scattered dust.
Her fingers numbed. Her cheeks felt stiff in the cold.
She told herself she would go inside soon. Then, she still didn’t move.
There were cut chunks of hair in front of the mirror. One was still stuck against the side of the water bowl, another had fallen to the floor and caught by one of the table legs. Rusty dye streaked the side of the tub.
The blanket on the bed had been thrown back. The sheet pulled at the corners, wrinkled across the middle. The dresser drawers were empty, each one not quite shut. The closet door was cracked open, one wooden hanger hanging deadly still.
Keddan turned back to look at Agne. She still leaned against the door frame, as if she hadn’t been able to push her way any farther inside.
“Well… She’s gone,” Keddan told her.
Agne glanced over the room behind him, and slowly nodded. When she met his eye, she didn’t look surprised, she just arched one eyebrow as if to ask if he was.
Wick knew three people who made better watchmen than him.
Two of them – his mother, and his grandfather – were long dead, more memories than flesh, with lists of valorous stands that might have been made longer and greater by the time that had passed. He suspected at times, that his mother hadn’t actually stood watch over a door for seven days and eight nights without sleep. He suspected his grandfather had never kept watch over a King’s window, even if it was just to make sure no competing thief took what his employer had an eye for. He suspected neither of them had gone two and three months without being seen at all while personally stacking unwanted guests in the alleys behind their watches for their friends to wake and put back together.
But they were his mother and his grandfather. And they were long dead. Wick had no intention of trying to wrestle any medals off their chests.
The third was a blind man who worked the west quarter behind the warehouses with a stick the breadth of Wick’s forearm. There was no accounting for a blind man.
Invisibility was a neat trick.
Curled into the corner of her hiding hole, Kessa kept dreaming about it. Sometimes, she snapped her fingers, and the air echoed the crack, breaking around her and the rushing back together with a hiss and she walked down the street without a single glance her way. Sometimes she swirled a cloak around her shoulders, and someone stared at her as she pulled the hood over her head, then stared at empty air while she stepped away. Sometimes she just sat down and faded out of sight.
When she woke, she couldn’t shake the feeling. She didn’t mean to move quietly, but her feet barely made a sound on the dirty floor of her hollowed out basement. The building above her was old and crumbling, and didn’t make much noise either. One of the rats might skitter on the floorboards. The wind might hum a little in the slats of the walls. In her corner, the wind couldn’t bend its long arm to reach her, and everything else stood dumbly still. Nothing saw her as she climbed out onto the abandoned street.
Nothing saw her as she crept down into the city. The cobblestones grew smoother under her feet where traffic had worm it down to the rolling feel of a riverbed. The buildings sat straighter, brighter, looking down on the colored canopies of the market and swirl of the crowd between them. People talked, pushing the silence away, and covering it over in a different quietness. Kessa stayed near the walls, tucked herself behind corners and took empty back alleys to skirt around to growing mob of people. No one looked her way.
“So, exactly how much trouble am I in?” Heydi asked.
Sitting with her back to the wall, arms wrapped around her knees, the wide barn door open at her shoulder, she looked tiny. Danneel tried to remember if they actually knew how old she was, or if they were only taking her word for it. Sometimes she seemed like she was only the six-year-old she claimed, when she smiled, when she’d purposefully planted two feet in every rain puddle between the woods and the barn even as the cold drops came down on her head, when she braided her hair in that crooked way. Sometimes, Danneel could convince herself that Heydi was even younger than that, especially standing right next to her with the little girl’s dark head barely coming up to her chest.