(chapter continued from previous post)
“There’s time before Lirit sets,” Kaveri said, in their own language. She didn’t need to watch for it: every part of her knew exactly where Lirit was, always. Absently, she began to weave violet moonlight into a simple cloak, since it was at least the light of the right moon. “I hope Evander chooses. There’s a very deep connection there and I’m going to feel terrible if we’re responsible for damaging that.”
“It was an accident,” Madoc said. “There’s really no way to figure out what could’ve happened differently, because we’re never going to know. And it’s up to him. Maybe there’s someone he’s madly in love with and he’s going to be torn between a future with her—or him, whatever—and staying with his cousin. Maybe it’s religious. Most things in Enodia seem to be. Maybe he’s particularly looking forward to getting older and being treated with respect as a wise elder, or has the best job ever lined up after this, or has secret plans to stage a coup and claim the throne. Who the hell knows?”
“Narcissa estimated a year or a year and a half to make sure this hospital is firmly established with all the main problems hammered out,” Tyrel said. “Maybe two if she’s setting things up for someone else to take over from her. We could even push that as far as maybe, what, five at the outside before anyone starts to notice anything, if we’re extremely careful and if not too many rumours get started. The moonladies only know how long it’s going to take for us to figure out what’s going on with them being here, but we probably won’t get far until Kieran’s back. There’s plenty of time for both of them to get used to us and us to get used to them.”
“There won’t be if we mess up and she gets killed,” Mirren said grimly. “Even if no one sees it happen, her absence would be awfully hard to cover. I really like this hospital idea, I think it will do a lot of good, and it won’t happen if she dies.”
“Then we’ll keep her alive at all costs,” Madoc said. “Full weapons at all times. Staying alert, and not leaving her alone even in her own office outside of here.” He gestured to the courtyard. “We need a net over that, otherwise we might as well leave the door open. A few lessons in emergency self-defence for both of them. I’m not sure whether it’s worth looking at invisible armour, with those insane bow things around, but maybe just something light to reduce odds of a quick-kill shot with a knife or something. What’s her name, Hermia, might have ideas on that.”
Kaveri handed the hastily-woven cloak to Mirren to hold, and started rapidly on a simple tunic, willing it to turn white as she worked.
“And we make sure any attack hits us first,” Tyrel agreed. “That’s done all the harm it can do, except to Evander. We should probably talk to them about being ready with an explanation in case of a public quick kill, though. I doubt anyone’s going to connect two foreigner couples renting rooms with the strangers who were involved in the whole dramatic rescue, at least. ‘Veri, I did make you one, just in case we ran out of time. Evander helped us get the details right, but you can skip the lacing for now and do it right tomorrow, apparently.”
“Good, because I don’t think I have time for anything elaborate, and, well,” she shrugged and didn’t bother to finish. They all preferred their own work, or at least made from the light of their own moon. “This will be extremely basic.” Draped neck, so long, so wide—she knew her own proportions very well. Add very short sleeves, and she held it up to look. “Good enough.”
“Sanur’s down,” Mirren said. “Not much longer, and she may take a little longer than normal.”
“I’ll go,” Kaveri said, trading Mirren tunic for cloak and folding the latter over one arm. She walked quickly back towards the cousins.
“Sorry,” she said gently, “but Sanur has set, and if you don’t change back soon, you’ll be a hare all day. It’s exactly the same as before: look at Lirit and ask.”
Narcissa, with some help, untangled herself and hopped a couple of lengths from Evander. She sat up on her hind legs, nose sniffing at the air, her raised ears swivelling. Kaveri figured those wide-spaced eyes must offer a nearly full-circle view of her surroundings, though she wasn’t sure how acute it might be; from childhood attempts at stalking wild hares and more recent experiences, she was certain that both hearing and smell must be giving Narcissa a completely new perception of the world.
The hare looked at the violet moon, and a moment later, was human Narcissa, entirely naked, her long hair tumbled loose around her.
Kaveri tossed the newly-made cloak around her, and smiled. She’d have to be blind to miss the pure radiant joy in Narcissa’s wide eyes and parted lips. She thought, from Evander’s thoughtful expression, that he saw it too.
“Lirit wants me to trust you,” the princess said. “It did occur to me that it might be a trick, but she says I should trust you, and your family, but not those others. And I don’t think Lirit would lie.”
“That’s uncommonly direct,” Kaveri said, startled. “Although rather useful, since the consequences otherwise could be drastic. She’s obviously not pleased at all with the other ones.” She looked at Evander. “We all need at least a little rest, and you’ve had no sleep…”
He smiled wryly. “You think this is the first late night I’ve ever had? Under the circumstances, if we’re a little late to the hospital in the morning, most will understand.”
“We need to do something,” Madoc said, joining them. “The courtyard is wide open to any spirit-creature that can fly or climb. We can make a net to put across it that will slow down anything, but there’s nothing to anchor it to.”
Evander considered the edges of the courtyard. “Wooden beams, secured on top of the edge all the way around, with hooks or rings or something driven into them?”
“That would do it.”
“I’ll get workmen in as soon as possible to take care of it. Quite likely we can get someone in tomorrow, to at least determine what can be done and what will be needed.”
“Later,” Narcissa said firmly, stooping to gather her shed dress and the pile of hairpins and earrings. “To bed, all. It’s been a trying day and an exciting night, but we all need to be ready to face a new day.”
Evander stayed with Narcissa to her room, and, in fact, came inside and closed the door.
“I’m all right,” Narcissa said mildly. “You could use the time better by sleeping.”
“Life has just turned very strange and unpredictable, in a number of ways,” Evander said dryly, sinking down on one of the padded benches that were also storage boxes. “So you’ll have to put up with it if I’m rather concerned about you.”
Narcissa let the soft violet cloak slide off her shoulders and puddle on the floor, spreading her hands to either side wordlessly. The site of the deep and messy puncture wound no longer showed the faintest trace of injury.
“Physically,” he conceded. “But even you don’t adapt that quickly and smoothly to having your entire future re-written. And earlier today, someone tried to kill us. There was a point when assassination attempts were something Diamantians compared over breakfast, but personally? I’m scared and I’m angry and there are a lot of other things going on I haven’t identified yet. And I didn’t even get hurt.”
She sat down next to him on the bench with a sigh and twined a hand into his. “I’m trying to stay positive about this and not think about how frightened I am. This is not a good time to let myself curl up in a corner and cry. I will not let whoever tried to kill us win, and that means trying to keep everything as normal as possible, at any cost. To whatever extent we can, with Phaidra and Thaleia as the first patients of the hospital and our new guards.”
“I’m not entirely certain I trust them. We only have their word for it that they’re different from the bear and the eagle instead of working with them. Maybe none of this was meant to kill. Maybe the whole idea was to work through you.”
“They aren’t the same. Truly. I can’t explain how Lirit told me, but she did, and she was extremely emphatic about it. If the moon who apparently now rules my life would lie to me or mislead me, then we’ve stepped into one of those dreadful old tragedies where everyone dies or wishes desperately to do so. Even without that, I’d much rather have them where I can see them, hm? We’ll only find out for sure with time.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “It looks like they’re going to be an unavoidably central part of my future, so getting to know them is going to be important for many reasons. And really, what would be the point of trying to use me, when I’ll only have a short time before someone begins to notice that I’m not aging? I do believe them about that. None of them are as young as they look.”
“Agreed.” He sighed, freed his hand so he could slide his arm around her; she leaned against him. “I’m scared for your sake, I’m scared of losing you… I think I’m scared of more different things right now than I have been in a long time. I like our life. Something important to do publicly, making things a bit better for everyone, and privately just the two of us on our own with friends at the Peacock.”
“And you having to hide.”
“Less than most like me.”
“Away from here, no one would know you. No one would ever have to meet Evander, only Lysandra.”
“I thought of that. But it also means being out there without a home or any security at all. And it means possibly the length of multiple human lifetimes. That’s not such a blessing, if you have to spend it in the wrong body.”
“I wish I had answers. Right now, what I know is this: without our new friends, one or both of us would be dead, and there’d be no hospitals, and everyone from the Peacock and the others would be looking for a place to hide before the violence starts. With our new friends, life is already changing and it’s going to change more, but that path is at least more acceptable than the other. I know that, at any cost, we can’t let this have a visible impact on what we’re doing. We have to stay at least publicly absolutely unaffected, and that will be much harder to do if I let myself really think too much about the future. All I can do is try to focus on getting through this moment and then the next and then the one after that without letting myself give in to the fear. And I know that you’re my sister and I love you and you are never going to lose me if I have any say in it at all. If you won’t go sleep in your own bed, will you lie down here with me until we have to get up? I depend too much on you to be able to get through the day if you’re exhausted.”
Kaveri lay next to Tyrel in what was, for the time being, their bed in their room. The bed was more comfortable than the ones in the rooms they’d rented above a bath-house: fine soft linen over multiple thick plushy sheepskins, laid over tightly-stretched mesh of leather straps anchored to the strong inlaid wooden frame, and more linen over them, with blankets of soft wool available but currently completely unnecessary.
So much to do. So much they were going to have to try to learn quickly, and more to puzzle out somehow. So much that could go wrong, with possible consequences for a whole country.
“Go to sleep,” Tyrel murmured. “You still need a couple of hours. And we need you alert.”
“Sorry. Trying to wind down.” She rolled onto her side and wriggled herself backwards, into the familiar curve of his body; he obligingly slid an arm over her to hold her.
“Mmhmm. We have a lot to deal with. We’ve never run into them before, and we don’t know what they want or why they want it, and I hope we haven’t completely ruined Narcissa’s and Evander’s lives. And we’re doing it without Kieran for the next few days. I don’t like it either. But we’ll manage.”
Kaveri hugged his arm against her. “I’m glad the one thing you failed at was getting yourself killed in the first couple of years after we left Dunnval.”
“Me too.” He kissed her bare shoulder. “Sleep. Just think. Tomorrow you get to dress as one of Narcissa’s bodyguards. No long skirt and mantle.”