“Lower your voice,” Kadelyn said. “I promise, Luck and Fate will still hear you, they just won’t have to cover their ears at the noise.”
Standing at the porch rail, Brance looked over his shoulder at her, slowly. His smile crept in, sneaking up on her, and maybe even on him, as he met her eye. He looked surprised at her sharpness. He looked pleased with her.
She tried not to be the one to drop his gaze.
At the end, his smile tilted up at one side, turned into something edged and honed. “I don’t have to,” he said, even as he dropped his voice to a murmur. He pushed off from the rail and took four easy strides toward the wall where she sat. With a lazy thud, he spun and leaned his shoulders back against it, hands shoved down into his pockets.
Then Kadelyn did look down, and she took a silent breath. She had won that time. She couldn’t help feeling that she didn’t know what sort of weapon she had just used on him. Or if she should have. Or if it would work the next time.
Brance arrived with a smile, coming down the garden path with his hands in his pockets. His jacket hung open in the warmth of the afternoon and his dark hair curled lazily where he had combed it back with his fingers. He took his steps slowly, as if the air and the greenery and the high sun had earned his calm. Turning, Kadelyn came to a stop to let him catch up, and she smiled back. Behind Kadelyn, Noach, her bodyguard shifted to take up his proper place a few feet away. Her younger sister, Ineli stopped too, with her bodyguard pulling to the same distance, as if both he and Noach were hung on the same tether.
“Hello,” Kadelyn said as Brance came within a few steps. “I’m glad you could join us…” She blinked and trailed off as Brance came closer and did not stop. He turned just to the side, passed them, held up a finger to promise he’d only be a minute, and kept on walking, all with his lazy smile pinned in place. He disappeared behind the next bend in the path and Kadelyn shut her eyes, holding her breath until she opened them again.
“Where is he going?” Ineli asked. She looked to Kadelyn.
Kadelyn shrugged and shook her head. “The south gate? The moon? They’re both equally likely.”
Aithan, Ineli’s guard cleared his throat quietly, and worked to straighten his smile.
“We don’t have time for this,” Toar said.
Alek glanced at his older brother over his shoulder, then continued down the overgrown path. He twisted sideways to brush past a long, leafy branch, then hit it with his palm to send it rustling behind him. “And yet, you keep following me,” Alek said.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do with madmen, to be sure they don’t hurt themselves,” Toar said. He hit the branch out of his way as well. “But we should go back.”
“Nothing’s stopping you,” Alek told him.
Toar stopped, looked behind them, considering. Alek didn’t pause, and Toar ran through three steps to catch up.
“You look pleased as punch,” Kadelyn said deliberately not looking at Brance as he dropped down on the steps at the foot of her chair. Her brother leaned on one elbow, one hand idly wrapped around the other wrist, one knee propped up, which should have looked absurd in his formal blue coat and marble-white shirt and breeches. As always though, he just looked comfortable. And likely to invent trouble.
Leaning his head back, he smiled at her. “You mean, you’d be pleased to punch me,” he returned.
Back straight, hands in her lap, Kadelyn shook her head and still refused to glance down. She would smile if she looked at him, and she didn’t want to. “No,” she said. “Not in front of so many people.”
Brance snorted, but looked over the ballroom noticing its attention as well. There were always a few heads turned their way, between spins in the dance, between bites at the long line of refreshments down the side, or just in the middle of a conversation. They were used to the attention, daughter and son of the Clan Lord, and he and Kadelyn were hard to miss: dark-haired, sharp-eyed, richly-clothed, sitting at the head of the room, with their bodyguards floating by the walls tethered to them like steel kites. It didn’t bother either of them.
They decided to bury the box in the yard, their two brown heads bent together as they dug their hole with hands and thick sticks. Every once in a while, one of the sticks broke, and one of them would jump up to find another, then jump back and continue digging. Remei leaned her head against the window frame, arms crossed over her chest and the cold seeping through, and watched.
Felip was ten. He pointed to the corners of the hole, showing his sister where to widen it. Then he picked up the box, sliding it into the ground to test the space. Lora was eight. She leaned back on her hands, body still made of straight lines and narrow bones. She waited for him to pull the box back out, then leaned forward and immediately started digging again.
They’d spent all morning poking around the house, picking up their favorite things and tucking them into that box: The carved bear, curled up to sleep, that Felip’s Da made for him. The lion he’d made for Lora with the long sleep body and bare teeth. The jar of crushed yellow flower petals she liked to stick her nose into every night before she went to sleep. The red leaves he’d painted in thick wax to save their brilliant color. His favorite scarf. Her favorite ribbons and the laces from her old boots that she’d tied around her wrist rather than let go. The ball they played with. The perfect skipping stones they’d collected off the beach the summer before. The sea shell with two many colors, that they’d sworn belonged to the Fish King, that they’d kept to make sure they could collect their wishes from him. A jar of the fennel and tarragon that they liked to chew on lazy afternoons. All their favorite things.
“What if we forget where it is?” Remei heard Lora ask. The girl didn’t raise her head until she noticed that her brother had stopped digging to look at her seriously.
“I think he’s waiting for you.” Looking out the window, Aymee leaned her head to one side to see around the lead lattice and catch Damion’s slow pace beside the green square. Rising behind him, the interlocking stairs and porches and porticos were sprinkled with lazy walkers. But they came and went, or relaxed in the benches around the square. He had stayed on his feet, and stayed in the square for the last half hour.
Leonne didn’t lift her head from the short stack of reports in front of her. “He can do what he likes,” she said. “We have other things that need our attention.”
Aymee looked back, to see her, eyebrows raised, nodding pointedly toward the chair opposite her. Sighing, and smiling, she set her back against the window ledge and crossed her arms. “You work too much,” she said.
“You work too much,” Leonne said, reflecting the smile right back to her. “I think this is all fun. I play too much.”
Aymee laughed at her.
Trent arrived to breakfast looking as if someone had thrown deep purple paint in his face, and he’d been too timid to scrub it out of the corner between his eye and his nose. And he’d missed a large bit hiding under his eyebrow.
It took his four older brothers one moment to realize some jackum had punched him in the face, one more to snap their eyebrows down into heavy glares, and another to shove their chairs back from the table.
She tended to just tune them out when they started speaking in different languages. It wasn’t that the words weren’t beautiful – musical and magical in that way a native tongue never could be – just that it was tiring, listening to syllables that meant something to her only after they clumsily collided with their meanings in the shaded corners of her mind. She always felt far away, listening behind airy miles. It was only natural that she would listen to the sound of it after a while, and forget the words.
“Kadelyn?” Ineli asked, long after Kadelyn’s thoughts had drifted to other things. She looked up from the floor, skirts gathered in a pile that hid her legs and left her toes poking out behind her. “Tina gnomen echeis?”
Kadelyn blinked, listening before she understood, and already smiling at the brightness in her younger sister’s expression. What do you think? she’d asked. Straightening in her chair, Kadelyn set the words on her tongue carefully: “Gnomen echo nun ten glossan archeian tu legeis beltion emoi.” I think now you speak the old language better than I do.
Callista leaned out over the railing, her eyes on her namesake, the stars of the constellation known as the Big Dipper or the Mother Bear. She thought it was fitting that the two names sounded like they were arguing between a great insult and a great compliment. Her whole life seemed to be wrapped like a poorly woven maypole in lines of idiocy and brilliance.
She was getting tired of it. Bone-deep weary from believing she was right and suddenly realizing she was an idiot. Exhausted even from thinking she’d been walking a line of stupidity and then looking up to find it had been brilliance. Callista wanted flat certainty.
But she wasn’t even sure she was looking up at the right stars.
Kadelyn paused in the hall as she neared her rooms, listening to an echo from behind her door that didn’t match her footsteps. Noach slowed behind her. She could feel him glance down at her, catch the look on her face and drop into immediate silence. The echoes continued, and the shuffling behind her door sounded clearly in the open hall.
Immediately, Noach stepped in front of her and put a hand to the sword on his hip. He glanced behind them, sighting down the empty hall for anything they might have missed as they walked past. Kadelyn listened closely, trying to still even her own breath. Whoever was inside was slowing as well, as if he’d heard them coming. Silence settled in heavily, like ice, echoing everything that didn’t belong.
Slowly, Noach turned back to the door. “Wait here,” he said, and gently pressed her toward the stone wall. She straightened her spine and pressed her hands to the stones, watching him slide his sword out of its sheath. Holding the blade between him and the door, he eased the latch open. Kadelyn watched his face as the light from the room slid across it. His eyes turned with the door, scanning the room the instant it was revealed. After a moment, he stepped inside.
“Good evening, Lord Brance,” he said evenly.