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Later that night, she pointed Mac out to Lucius. "Over there," she said, as she pa.s.sed out rolls. She kept her gaze light, impersonal, moving. It was not done to stare. "Third table. Next to that tall one."
"Which tall one?"
"Twig, I think. I can't quite see from here."
Lucius glanced over. "Green hat?"
"No, the third table."
"Sorry. Oh, I see. The fair boy." He kept up the slow and steady rhythm of stew, ladle, bowl. To stew again. "But where are his sheep?"
Kess snorted back a laugh.
Lucius was her absolute favorite Brother. Oh, the Brothers of Bel were all kind, and courteous, and helpful. And grave. Only Lucius made her laugh. Only he seemed to understand that it was more than just important to laugh, here. It was absolutely vital.
"He's new," she said, risking another glance. "He's smart. He doesn't belong here."
"My dear, no one belongs in the Darks. Not him, not you, not any of us."
"And yet," she said, "Here we are."
"Yes." All the bowls were filled now. They glanced around the room, watching over the eaters. Then Lucius asked, "Do you ever wonder why?"
The north door opened before she could answer. Two men came through, calm and quiet, the way lightning patiently awaits its moment in the heart of the storm. One was Yil, the Silesian refugee who was the Cane's Second. The other, of course, was Ash.
A current eddied through the room at his entrance. Words began to rise as mouths remembered how to make room for more than food. Yil, slim, handsome, beginning to develop the smoky hair of his race, took his bowl with a sly smile. "Did you meet our new friend, then?"
She nodded. "He's over there. Sitting with Twig, I think."
"Not Twig." Yil lost his grin. "Twig's gone."
Kess' heart stuttered. "What happened?"
"He was taken for theft two days ago."
She exhaled. "Can I bail him out?"
"No." Tattoos circled Ash's eyes, a dark and twisting pattern on his dark skin. They curled, like shadows, teasing the eye, hiding his expression most effectively. "The Council declared him Penitent. His ship sailed this morning. We will not see him again."
He took the bowl from her hands, and went with Yil to a table, where a place was hurriedly made for them.
Lucius tactfully withdrew to supervise the Canes, ensuring that cups, bowls and spoons were returned with alacrity, if not grace. Kess went into the kitchens. She dragged the first empty cauldron into the dish room, scoured it out with savage strokes. Then, calmer, she stirred the second lot of stew. And said a prayer for Twig, on a cramped ship, headed for Bel knew where. His salvation, the Council would say. Quite possibly, his death.
When she returned, she brought the stew with her. Ash's arrival had shivered new life into the Canes. They were all but gone, trailing out the south door in his wake, a banner of living energy.
She helped Lucius gather the last of the dishes. Then, into the quiet, she said, "I know why I'm here."
He looked up.
"Because I want to save someone."
He gave her a gentle smile. "That's why we're all here."
"No. I used to want to save all of them. Now, I'd settle for one. Just one." She turned, abruptly, headed to the north door. "I'll let the Haps in."
The Haps entered in a flood, a shoal of blue darting into every corner. They equaled the Canes in number, and in hunger. She and Lucius ladled stew, handed out rolls, kept light and easy eyes on the room. A flurry at the entrance, a wave of chatter heralded the arrival of big Johns, leader of the Haps.
He was stevedore sized, bluff and blond. Kess handed him a bowl containing no more, or less, than any other. And said as he took it, in barely a whisper, "Twig's gone. This morning. Penitent ship."
Where Ash was smoke and shadow, Johns was a wall. A cliff. An impenetrable blank. He moved off with his stew, a mountain in the midst of the sea of Hap blue. Kess stayed behind the counter, a lone island in a sea of bobbing bowls.
It seemed, sometimes, that the Canes and Haps were just the prelude to the large, unwieldy chorus that was the rest of the Darks At least it seemed that way tonight. There were families here, ragged remains of what might have been. Elderly men and women so brittle and numb they could have been made of ice. Stunned survivors all, searching for a little light, a little food, a voice that was not their own.
Bee came in, behind a small group of raddled women. Kess who was immovably fair in her division of food, gave Bee the largest roll she could find.
"Hey," said Lucius. "I recognize him."
Kess didn't bother to correct the p.r.o.noun. "That's Bee."
"The one who cleans up for you? Figures. I'm fairly certain he cleans up at Meet, too. Right from the t.i.the bowl."
She struggled not to grin. "Bee steals from the t.i.the?"
Lucius shrugged. "You can't say he's not efficient. It's all coming out here anyway. And he doesn't seem to take much, so I've never pursued the issue."
Efficient. At theft. That was so... Bee. She let the smile come, and went back to work.
Midnight was gone, and the last of the hungry. For tonight, anyway; for now. All the dirty dishes were stacked in the dish room, awaiting Bee's arrival and the flurry of activity that would begin again tomorrow afternoon. Graver even than usual, five Brothers came to collect Lucius, which seemed excessive. The Brothers were rarely bothered in the Darks: they were too ready to give to be worth any trouble.
Kess doused the lanterns, banked the fires. She went, by and by, to a cupboard that contained mostly linen, but also a bottle of a surprising Silesian vintage. In the flickering candlelight she waited.
The south door opened. Johns came in. She poured a gla.s.s. Before he reached it, a thread wound into the room, a pulse. A man.
"Ash." Johns stood. Sunlight met shadow, clasped its shoulders. "I'm sorry. Kess told me about Twig. d.a.m.n. I'm sorry."
Ash bowed his head, for the briefest of moments. "Yes." He squeezed the big man's arm, more to give comfort than to take it. Then he let go.
Kess set a gla.s.s in front of Ash. She lifted her own. "To Twig. May he find fair winds and friendly sh.o.r.es."
They drank. Ash looked at the bottle. "You honor us. You honor Twig." He savored a sip. "Not that Twig would recognize a wine like this."
"Not from lack of trying," she murmured.
That caused Ash's mouth to curve, which had been her intention. Then he drained the last of his wine and it was time to put aside grief for survival. As usual. "There is another problem."
"There's always another problem," said Johns.
"Mmm. This involves an... incursion. Into Cane territory."
"Not Hap," said Johns, firmly.
Ash shook his head. "Of course not. This is something else. A small group, older than most of ours. Twig," and there was the barest hint of a sigh around the name, "was watching them for me. They're organized. Down from the Western mines, apparently."
"Dangerous?" asked Johns.
"Very. Knives, cudgels, mining issue razor wire. Last night they attacked Brother Erikus."
"Oh-" Kess let out a breath. "I wondered why so many Brothers came to collect Lucius tonight. Will Erikus live?"
"He has so far."
"A good sign," said Johns. "Where did it happen?"
"Down Old King's Lane, after midnight."
Johns raised his brows. "Is that Cane territory, then? Since when?"
Ash lifted a shoulder. "Since last night. Who do you have working that way?"
"My littlest mites. It's good training. I'll move them uptown tomorrow."
"Good. Don't let your Haps go out alone. Threes or fours for safety. Who are your best?"
"Jack, Bren, Trellis. And Sean, of course."
"Send them out in pairs. If they see anything, anything, they're to watch from a distance and report. Under no circ.u.mstances do they offer any provocation."
"I'll make certain they understand."
"Good. That leaves," Ash turned, "only you, Kessily."
He only ever used her full name for dramatic effect. She refused to let him know it always worked. "Leaves me where, exactly?"
"It leaves you nowhere, alone. You're getting a shadow."
But Johns nodded. "Someone we can trust. Older, stronger. Big. That Bee's a good kid, but he wouldn't be much help."
She let the 'he' slide, though she'd have thought Johns would know better.
"Who? All the oldest ones are either Cane or Hap, and I won't have anyone recognizable. Bel's eyes, can you imagine? We'd have a war on our hands.'
"You need someone new," Ash said. "Unknown. But careful, and loyal, with a responsible heart."
"Ah," she said. I knew Ash had sent him here on purpose. "You're giving me Mac."
"Mac," said Johns. "He's the new one, right? Looks like that wild G.o.dling. The one with all the sheep."
Ash considered that, and his lips curved. "An apt image, but one I trust you won't mention to him. I will send him to you tomorrow. When he's ready, if he's ready, tell him."
She tried to see past the shadows on his face. Failed. "Everything?"
"Everything you deem wise." He stood, and Johns stood with him. "I'll send him over at noon. He will stay during the daylight hours. Canes and Haps will take turns on midnight walkabout. Canes tonight, Haps tomorrow. Tell them we have a midnight truce, for the duration, you know the trick."
Johns hugged Kess, grinned. "That's good. That's very good."
She checked the door, saw them through. For a blond giant, Johns melted into the dark like one born to it. Ash remained behind a moment. "Strange. I'd expected an argument from you about your need for a shadow. You are perhaps ill?"
"I am, as usual, all admiration for your manipulative gnius." She let him smirk, just for a moment. "And I want Mac. I want him."
"Ah, young Mac." Ash's eyes quirked. "He just might be the one. Your one lost soul, brought safely home..."
"Maybe." She watched him. "Will you stay?"
He took a breath. "I think... not."
She nodded. "If you go down to King's Lane-I know you will-for pity's sake, be careful. And if you go to the harbor, as I think you might, bring this." She handed him a bright silver coin.
He twisted the coin in his fingers. "For Twig's sake?"
"And for mine. Throw it into the tide and make a wish for all of us."
"Ever the angel." His hand was light on her hair. Then it was gone. And so was Ash.
She locked the door, gathered the wine, the gla.s.ses. She hid the first, washed the second, and took herself up to bed.
Her room was high above the kitchen and dining hall. There were several routes out, but only one way in: a narrow ladder that could be pulled up with ease. Small windows faced east and west, open even now to let in the night breeze. She lit a candle, pulled the curtains, and curled into a bed that was too large without Ash in it.
Ash. Who, more than Mac, more even than Bee, was her one. The one lost soul she wanted to save. Needed to.
He wouldn't thank her for it.
As if that's ever stopped me before. She blew out her candle and let the day go.
"We're finished," said Mac.
"Already?" Kess wiped her hands, then followed Mac into the dish room. The sparkling, spotless dish room. "Wow. Even faster than yesterday. It's not a race, you know."
Mac snorted. "Tell Bee."