Elida knew every creak in the expansive apartments. She had watched Ness invent them eight months before when they moved in.
It had been pure entertainment, watching him on his hands and knees, teasing floorboards and stair railings and cupboard hinges into making their little noises. He tested them and he memorized the distinctions at the same time. Each was a little warning bell when anyone moved inside his apartment. When Elida stepped forward to help him, he gave her a look the equivalent of slapping her hands away, and laughed at himself after. He trusted her. But he trusted himself more.
So, she just watched him engineer squeaks and groans and creaks out of polished elegance. She hadn’t purposefully memorized them, too, but she liked the look on his face when she arrived in all her usual silence even while he rattled in the spaces he created.
Creeping down the stairs now, Elida had no need to see his surprise. She wished it very far away. Keeping her hands off the railing, she skipped the last step, and slid immediately to the right. A brush of air instead of a body, she imagined. A ghost. A thing already moved on.
The most dangerous place in Jaon was the open stone court where the philosophers claimed their favorite seats between the pillars.
Fallon thought that it had once been outside the city limits from the way the streets twisted and knotted to avoid the court. A long time ago, maybe, it had been quiet and inviting for anyone who wanted the space to throw ideas around with hitting passersby. Now, it fought for elbow space with the morning market, while tall buildings leaned as close as they dared from either side. Men and women used the wide, flat paving stones as shortcuts and they were the only things in the city that seemed unaware that this was a place better left alone.
Jasen took a single step into his kitchen and stopped. He had not expected to find Jennika standing by his small square table, but seeing her there, he couldn’t muster any surprise to see her pocketing something off the sideboard. He wasn’t sure what it was, wasn’t even entirely sure that she had picked it up or flicked her fingers into the fold of her jacket. Still, he thought he saw her, so he knew she’d done something.
“If you take that, I will hunt you down,” he said.
She looked at him steadily, blinked once, and let her eyebrows drift upward.
“I will hunt you down,” Jasen repeated. He took another step into the room. “With horses, or hounds, or mountain lions, or crocodiles, or whatever it takes to track a little slithering weasel like you.”
She cocked her head to one side, very careful not to move otherwise. “Do crocodiles have a good sense of smell?”
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.”
Sitting on top of the elephant, Senka’s pointed toes didn’t even reach its shoulders. It was too big. From the ground, it had looked tall enough, large enough, gargantuan enough. Trying to hold the width of its back between her heels, she finally understood why someone had known words like colossal, and enormous, and immense, and still felt the need to invent elephantine.
Senka had thought riding an elephant would be climbing on a horse: fright in the pit of her stomach when she looked down, but really just an adjustment in the roll of her hips to a four point tempo instead of her own walking two. Instead it was like riding a timid rowboat which sometimes hesitated at the base of a wave, and sometimes threw itself into it just to get things over with. Senka leaned forward, hands on the rough grey skin at the elephant’s neck. She pushed her knees forward for better balance. While she was there, she glared at the back of the elephant’s head.