After midnight, Tashel lost some of his stillness. His gaze, usually so steady a thing that Jule could balance her earth on it, drifted toward the floor or flicked to the ceiling in the middle of a thought. As broad and muscled as he was in daylight, he suddenly leaned his elbows against tabletops, and chair backs, and his knees. Then, in some silences that seemed to wrap him tighter than the others, he would walk a coin across his knuckles – roll it, tumble it – showing quick fingers that he would never display otherwise.
Jule watched the flash of metal out of the corner of her eye, holding her own quiet.
She was never sure what she was watching until he caught her eye sharply, hands suddenly still again, pinning her with the knowledge that she had struck one of his secrets.
The baby was coming soon. Not in the next few hours, but Chaela knew it was no longer a matter of weeks, but days. A handful of days and she would hear him for the first time, instead of just feeling him and all the sharp corners of his elbows and knees.
She put her hand on her stomach, fingers spread wide to cover as much of the baby as possible, and tried to remind herself to breathe. It had been nine full months, but just a few days more was still too soon.
Chaela had felt the baby’s company for a long time now. He liked to kick. He nudged her and moved with her, woke her and seemed always curious about the exact number of ribs she owned. She knew him already, had named him so long ago. She wasn’t ready to let any of this go.
And the last time…
Chaela stopped that thought as soon as she found it. She had had it too many times before, and another repetition would solve nothing, support nothing.
The baby kicked. Chaela winced, and then she smiled.
The sheath relinquished the sword with a soft click like a key turned in a lock. Jennika paused with her hand wrapped around the hilt, and tried to decide if that was a bad sound echoing in her clever little silence.
Going still, she cocked her head, and listened just to make sure that her silence was still clever, and not the thing that fell when heads suddenly came up and breaths were held to hear what was not there.
Below her, the first floor of the house laid as quietly as before. Before she came, there had been a light hum through a cracked window, but she’d shut that up tight before it could wake anyone who might be willing to get out of bed to investigate. The second floor ached and cracked with its usual nighttime shufflings. A man snored. A sideboard creaked in the breeze outside. Some timber in the wall decided to shrink in the cold and groan about it. But none of them were loud enough to break the silence that Jennika had brought with her through the second floor window she’d shimmied into.
She slid the sword a little farther out.
Brance once told Ineli that it didn’t matter how large a ship was, it was always too small to keep secrets. The masts might have stood far apart, but the lines and canvas tied them neatly together and the decks were stacked neatly together, with just enough space to walk between them. The open sky seemed wide, but the water stayed close to the hull, better walls to echo words back than anything man had built. Her brother smiled down at her as he spoke, rustled her hair, lying in his usual friendly.
There were more doors than Ineli cared to count onboard The Wave Crest, and they had a habit of swinging shut when she walked by.
Ineli paused, sliding her gaze along the straight panels of the Captain’s door. Her father had been locked inside the cabin for hours now. That wasn’t usual, but she would have to have been deaf and blind not to notice the flurry of people that came and went on his orders, and the quick way they open and shut the door.
“Are you ready?” Donnemey asked. He touched her elbow, gently retaking her attention, then let his hand drop. He was almost a foot taller than her, and she rocked back a step to put the sun behind his head so she could meet his eye. His hair was combed back from his face, cheeks freshly shaven. The high collar of his sleeveless keimon’s coat was buttoned tight, while his shirt cuffs had been loosened and rolled back from his hands. Clearly, he was ready to go.
Ineli rubbed her thumb across her palm, slow. “I don’t know how I could be,” she murmured.
The boy walked in, uniform jacket carelessly open, curly blonde hair probably finger-combed that morning and forgotten where it settled across his forehead. He was barely past twenty, but tall, and there were Captain’s stripes at his collar, almost hidden in the casual hang of the fabric. Two men stepped in behind him and stayed close behind his shoulders when he paused in the doorway. They didn’t wear uniforms, though the taller one’s breeches might have belonged to a set, and the shorter graying man’s pressed shirt looked like it belonged under something other than his homespun coat, but they moved when the boy moved, and answered to the smallest turn of his head.
Padraic flicked one look at them, and returned to shaping the gunwales standing on the floor of his workshop. He leaned into it with both hands, scraping them down to the proper angles, and ignored them. As a rule, He didn’t have any care to give for little lordlings.
“Hello,” the boy said, stepping up to the work floor. The men behind him held back a step, giving him what was probably meant to be called privacy. They were still only six feet away.
Padraic glanced at them first. Then he glanced at the boy. Then he looked back to his work and dragged the shaver down hard into the curve of the planking.
There was a small pause while the boy’s smile stretched a little. Squaring his feet on the floor, resettling his shoulders, he looked at Padraic and tried again. “I need some help.”
Mel walked away, looking back over her shoulder. She looked like she might have left her usual grin in Anie’s pockets, and she would have liked to run and steal it back.
She kept walking. Turning the corner back onto the main street, Anie lost sight of her.
“Can she still Show?” Anie asked. She looped her arm through Thea’s, bunching cold fingers in the fabric of her older sister’s sleeve.
“I don’t think so,” Thea murmured. She turned them toward the back of the alley, aiming for a side street that would take them around the back of the market. It was a straighter route toward home, and one that took them away from the crowds. Thea took those roads more and more often this winter.
“She’s only fifteen,” Anie pointed out.
“Momma was ten,” Thea said gently. “I was eleven. You’re ten.” Anie held back a smile at the teasing way Thea said her new age out loud. Thea put an arm around Anie’s shoulders and squeezed her against her side. She kissed the top of her head as they walked. “It would be awfully late for Mel…”
“Do you think it would help?” Anie asked.
Thea looked at her, surprised and immediately refusing the idea. Then she faced forward.