“A third night in a row that I work, of all four of you coming to the Peacock,” Lysandra laughed, while Mirren tugged on the rope next to the front door to alert Hermia. “I’m going to start to suspect you’re enjoying yourselves.”
“Watching you dance?” Tyrel said. “Thoroughly. I can’t remember the last time we had a job that included…” he hesitated for a heartbeat, which she thought was searching for an unfamiliar word, “a bonus like that.”
“It’s Kieran’s bad luck that staying out of sight means he has to miss it,” Madoc agreed. “It’s even worth being out and moving in this insane heat.”
Lysandra remained unsure whether they were telling the truth or being gallant—though she was leaning towards the former, having seen them watching her. Either way, they played along, and that was good enough. She smiled teasingly. “Maybe I’ll give him a private show,” she said flirtatiously.
And given that in his human form, the amarog was not only intelligent and courteous, but tall and nicely muscled, if a little exotic with those slightly unusual features and the dark hair that was frosted at the very ends… well, there was something to be said for animal charisma…
Hermia opening the door interrupted her moment of fantasy.
“When it’s hot like this,” Narcissa said, “many people sleep on the roof, to get whatever breeze there is. There are normally enough couches up there to allow the whole household to do so, if they wish, but unless we’re missing more than Pherusa and Megaira we’re currently a few short unless we move enough from the courtyard.”
“Everyone else is already up there,” Hermia admitted, bolting the door behind them and testing that it was secure. “We helped Phaidra a lot and she didn’t hurt herself. We brought a pot up so no one should have to come all the way back down, and we already moved more couches, we thought you wouldn’t mind, and Pherusa left lots of mint water and lemon water and fresh fruit.”
“That sounds lovely,” Narcissa said. “Thank you for coming down to wait for us. Let’s all go join them, shall we?”
In this sort of weather, few people really expected women to wear a full proper mantle. Dancer costume being questionably decent, with so much abdominal skin showing, Lysandra did have a gauzy shorter version wound around to cover her torso, at least. She unwrapped it with relief once they were inside, and left it with her basket of props in the courtyard before they retired to the roof. Male clothes were, she had to admit, more physically comfortable publicly in this sort of weather. At least in private it was possible to strip down to lightweight tunics.
The moons were high, with Talir only a waning crescent, Meyar a scarcely larger one, but Sanur waxing and half full already beginning to descend towards the west. Sahen and Lirit, with Sanur, offered most of the light that washed the rooftops, each not far from half but Sahen waxing and Lirit waning. Lysandra had never paid much attention to the phases of the moons before, beyond the practicality of brighter or darker nights on average, but the phases of three were now directly relevant to the household and it was hard to watch only those and ignore the other two.
Late as it was, the heat made it hard to sleep. The couches and a few chairs and stools were arranged chaotically, allowing the tunic-clad household to indulge in various low-energy pastimes. Phaidra, stretched on a couch to keep her injured leg supported, with Iole on a stool in front of her, played at dice on a table with housekeeper Acantha, whose large powerful frame was barely accommodated by her couch. Kieran, perched on another stool, wore only a length of fabric wrapped and tied into a kilt of sorts, the sort of thing some of the western islanders wore, which left the rest of him open to the breeze—and to Lysandra’s fancies; he was teaching an unfamiliar game played with a liberal collection of grape seeds and a series of string-outlined circles to Clytie and Thaleia, who found sitting up in a chair easier on her shoulder and the arm bound across her chest. Melanippe was relaxing near a Hounds and Hares board, with a seat on the other side that might have been Hermia’s before she left to wait by the door, but she seemed perfectly content to watch the stars, lost in her own thoughts and occasionally inserting remarks into the conversations over either game.
Tyrel and Madoc and Mirren had already foregone their preferred costume for local tunics tonight; Kaveri stripped off her tunic, down to her preferred next-to-nothing. Weapon belts were unbuckled and left near at hand, like Melanippe’s, and now that Hermia was no longer guarding the door, hers followed. Narcissa joined them a little behind the rest, having paused to change from her dress to a tunic woven from Lirit’s light, to judge by the colour and plainness of it.
It might be an oddly mixed group, but all were trying, and it made for a pleasantly informal and friendly impromptu gathering. The gaming clusters shifted to absorb the newcomers, and the appearance of a board divided into alternating squares and the box of playing pieces of two colours added another option. Lysandra danced for them; the breeze helped, and her current pale rose costume was the most lightweight she had, not much worse than a tunic and far more comfortable on other levels. Narcissa, laughing, got up to join her. Trained together, they could match each other, though with some effort; Lysandra being the better dancer, she usually let Narcissa improvise as she wished and followed her lead.
Both sank down on couches before long, though. “This is not the time of year for this,” Narcissa said. “Is there any mint water left?”
“I think we finished it,” Acantha said.
“I’ll go get more,” Clytie said, heading for the stairs.
Lysandra stretched out languorously on the couch on her side. Though the heat was unpleasant, and clearly more so for most of the foreigners, there was at this particular moment little else she could complain about.
A shadow flickered between them and the moons; Lysandra, like most of the others, looked up, but she saw nothing except starry sky.
It wasn’t enough warning to help.
A huge bird, Lysandra had no idea what kind or how big it really was but it seemed absolutely enormous, stooped. Narcissa, with reflexes Lysandra hadn’t known she had even after all the self-defence lessons, rolled off her couch onto her hands and knees, and the bird struck only cushions. With a harsh shriek, it lumbered back into the air and disappeared.
“Under the roof,” Tyrel shouted, snatching up the belts beside his couch as he scrambled to his feet, the rest of the guards doing likewise. Kieran, despite Talir being only something like three days before dark, changed to his amarog form, growling with hackles erect. “It can’t attack from above there!”
Narcissa pulled Thaleia to her feet, using her good hand, since getting up cost the injured guard some effort. “Go! Lysandra, you too! Iole, Phaidra, Acantha, I want no one hurt this time!”
Iole hesitated, unwilling to leave Phaidra; Acantha, who was accustomed to heaving around tubs of wet laundry and great sacks of grain and head-high amphorae, scooped up Phaidra, who was tall and rather lanky and currently couldn’t move well with her broken ankle.
Sudden noise, the jangling of metal and the presence of entirely too many people, boiling up the stairs and spilling out into sight.
Lysandra gathered her skirts and fled after her sister and their household.
The four armed foreigners, with Hermia and Melanippe, dropped into a sort of arc, watching the sky and staying between the stairs and the non-combatants. Once they were all under shelter, Thaleia urged everyone back by the wall and as far from the open side and ends as possible.
“There has to be at least twelve,” Narcissa whispered. “We’re outnumbered. And Clytie was downstairs…” She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, and just for a moment, Lysandra thought she might break down weeping. Then practicality took over. “Acantha, put her down here so she can lean against the wall. No, Phaidra, not on your feet.” Iole crouched down, helping her lover get settled in a way that didn’t hurt.
“I wish we had something longer than belt knives,” Thaleia muttered, drawing hers. Not everyone even had that much, since some lacked a belt at all and others had had knives out to cut fruit.
“Agreed,” Narcissa said. “We have excellent guardians, but…”
… but they had odds of something like two to one against them, and the disadvantage of trying to keep the attackers from getting past them to the vulnerable. The attackers were, as near as Lysandra could tell by moonlight, all men in ordinary tunics, armed with swords of varying design that were all short enough to have been carried within the city, in a basket or sack or the like, without drawing the attention of the patrol. Presumably they’d expected surprise and numbers to give them a rapid victory.
Kieran lunged at the nearest of the attacking men, adroitly dodging a reflexive jab with his short sword, and bore him to the ground with his full weight. Lysandra saw pale yellow blood, but he paid no more attention than he had when fighting the bear, and this time, she thought his wounds were healing as rapidly as they were inflicted.
One of Tyrel’s throwing knives found the throat of one of the men attacking them; Kaveri, who had very good aim, bounced a shallow pottery bowl off the temple of another. Both dropped, and the bowl clattered to the roof nearly under the feet of a third, who had to dance back quickly to avoid stumbling over it. In that instant off-balance, Kaveri followed the bowl with a cup to his head. The cup, unlike the bowl, shattered into sharp-edged shards and drew blood on her target’s face and exposed upper arm, but other than a curse, he ignored it.
The blood was greengold in the moonlight. And that oozing around Tyrel’s knife was silver-blue. And the blood around and on Kieran was greengold as much as yellow.
Yet the attackers continued to bleed without healing, and the dazed one stayed down, alive enough to keep hold of his short sword but moving little.
(chapter continued next post!)