A hand locked around Heydi’s wrist, really locked, with the fingers hooked over her narrow wrist bones and thumb perfectly set in the groove between her hand and her arm. It hurt a little, but the first thing she did was stare at it.
She was very sure that the guards had not seen her, and very sure that this was not any of the five women and four men that she had just robbed of their purses. She didn’t know who it was, or why they cared.
She started to tilt her head back – all the way back – to get a look at his face. Then she realized it didn’t matter who it was, or why he had grabbed her. It hurt, and no one friendly would hurt her.
Heydi let her feet drop out from under her, twisting her whole body around her arm, twisting herself toward his thumb. Jerdan had taught her to do it, to hang all her weight off her arm, and practiced with her until she knew the exact instant that the man’s hold would break. She was too small to break it any other way.
She felt the pop of his thumb losing its hold, and the sharp slide of the rest of his fingers coming free. The man swore. She was already catching herself on her toes and running in the other direction.
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.
Caled liked Heydi, the same way he liked any of the kids that turned up under his roof. She was young, maybe six and short for that, but she’d already lost the uncertain weight that most kids carried in their hands and feet. Her hair was dark, her skin was a sun-turned bronze, and she looked as if she had been shaved out of a shadow.
Jerdan brought her in, took her straight into Caled’s office. Her head stopped a little higher than the boy’s elbow, and she stayed behind him, not to hide, just following him smoothly, turning when he turned, stopping when he stopped.
Jerdan glanced back at her, nodding when he found her waiting just inside the door. Looking to Caled behind the desk, he met his eye questioningly. The fact that she was with him was the most eloquent recommendation Jerdan could offer. He knew he couldn’t say anything more.
“What is she?” Caled asked.
Jerdan shrugged. “Nothing. Yet.” His mouth tilted into a smile. “But she could be a sneak.”
“Here,” Terius said and dropped a book into Jaera’s lap.
Jaera looked at him out of the corner of her eye as he leaned against the rail beside her. She was curled up on a crate, back to the rail, out of the way while she watched the crew change tack. The ocean spray was kicking up hard behind her as the ship angled into its turn and she had to put a hand on the crate to keep her balance against the swells. Glancing down at the book, then back to him, she eyed both warily.
“Begging your pardon?” she said haltingly.
He watched her for a minute, mouth curved into a dry smile she couldn’t quite read, arms crossed over his chest. “I will never understand how you can be so honestly polite in daylight, and still steal books out of my room in the middle of the night.”