The basin of Aldret’s harbor was overflowing with fog, buried in the shifting weight of the seasons. Summer had faded. Heavy fall had stepped into its place, with all the threat and promise of heavier winter pressing in behind. The air was stiff even while the wind wasn’t bending bone, and the world seemed to have shrunk. The sharp tips of all three of the Catis‘ masts were cut off in a sky hung too low.
Tamra waited at the rail of the upper deck as the ship drifted into port. She had gone still, minutes or hours ago, hands relaxed, stance balanced against the roll of the deck. She measured a long breath in and a long breath out, dumb in an unreasoned belief that her steadiness mattered.
The water sighed. Every echo hid in the damp air. The timbers creaked. The Catis‘ canvas was bound up in silence and the hull eased through the water, heavy and careful.
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.
“I think we may be lost.”
Drea glanced at Colton as he stepped up beside her on the path. He didn’t look at her until after he’d spoken, and then he turned slowly, eyebrows raised, lips twisted in a contained smile. Drea twisted to look at the others, scattered behind her on the trail as they walked. He had his shoulders set away from them. They couldn’t see any of his expression, and his tone was low enough they couldn’t hear.
“I know where we are,” she said. She lengthened her next step, hoping that he would take the hint and fall back.
He shifted to her other side behind her, and kept up.
“Mornin’.” The man nodded to Lizza as she passed him in the hall on the way to the docks.
“Morning,” she returned.
And they both continued in their opposite directions, as if they’d actually passed polite greetings.
Sleep starved as Lizza was, her mind caught on the echo, and how ridiculous it was. The single word was not a greeting, or a good wish. It was simply an exchange of information that they both already had. It’s morning, he had told her, and she had graciously confirmed, yes, it is morning. Ridiculous. The sun was up. Of course it was morning.
It would be better, she decided, to at least give some information that the other person might not have.
“Nice tattoo,” Kloe said, falling into file behind Eli. His next haul on the lines went easier, with her weight added to the pull. Eli glanced over his shoulder at her, then faced forward waiting for the next command.
“Thanks,” he said.
The sun was almost directly overhead now, and coming down so hard, Eli could feel the weight of it on his skin. After working for hours, his shirt started to cling to his skin, and he had stripped it off, just to get rid of the few ounces of cloth. His tattoo, scrawled down the side of his ribs, was now perfectly visible, though he couldn’t remember the last time someone had commented on it.
“You can read it?” he asked.
Kloe laughed to herself. “Yeah,” she said. “I know a little Darin.”
“The job is simple,” Commander Joseth said. He strode across the paved yard, fast, moving in chain mail, leathers and heavy boots as if it was no more difficult than coming down for breakfast in his morning jacket. Thom tried to set his feet to the same rhythm, but always seemed to be half a step behind.
“You know how to stand?” Commander Joseth asked.
Thom looked at him to make sure it was a joke, but was already halfway into a laugh. “Yes, sir.”
“You know how to keep your eyes open?”
Thom smiled a little wider. “Yes, sir.”
“Good.” Joseth smiled, nodded, and kept on walking. “Because most of what you’ll do, is stand at a gate, and keep your eyes open. You can shout?”
Jace paused before he knocked on the heavy redwood door, deciding for the last and thousandth time that he wanted to knock, wanted to parade into this office, wanted to turn clipped thoughts into clipped syllables and see Master Durrell’s expression in response. Oh yes. He wanted to.
He knocked, firmly. Then he dropped his hand to his side, adjusted the fat papers in his other hand, and waited for the invitation to enter.
“Come in,” Durrell said, almost immediately.
Jace pushed the door open, shut it behind him, and stayed by it.
Master Durrell looked up without moving his head, bent over a large book on his desk.
Iddi rolled over, pulling the blankets closer to her chin. Her toes poked out the other side. For a long moment, she argued with the cold morning air. It wasn’t really that cold. It wasn’t really morning. If she dragged her knees to her chest, and cuddled harder into the mattress, she could sleep another hour. She didn’t want to wake up enough to move, even that much. She denied she was awake enough to be having the argument.
There was someone downstairs, moving slow and almost silent, maybe not really awake themselves. She could smell them cooking on the stove, hear the house creak with the heat, though she couldn’t feel it yet.
Iddi opened her eyes in a flash. The stove. Someone had put wood in the stove. She jumped off the bed, keeping her blanket around her shoulders, and dashed down the stairs. At the bottom, she swung around the end of the railing, rushing into the warmth rolling out the iron pot-belly.
“What is that?” Arda asked.
Hearing a voice from what should have been an empty room, was enough to make Jer jump and shove the bag behind him. Realizing what the three syllables added up to only glued him to the floor, with his hands still behind him.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Right,” Arda said. She crossed the room toward the hall, but stopped in the doorway, arms crossed. “You just hold your arms behind you like that, because it’s comfortable.”
Imali sat on the windowsill for an hour before Derrec noticed her.
It was a very high window, tucked just under the ceiling in the great warehouse room, and it was small. She rested her foot against one side, her spine against the other, and pinned her shoulder to the top. Outside, the air was very still and no breeze passed her to disturb the room. It was dark, and the city had gone to sleep hours ago, silent as a church. No sound drifted past her either.
Still, an hour was a long time to wait, balanced on a ledge, with one shoulder exposed to a cold, night sky.