By the time they reached Eyrie, Kisea knew she was going to miss Kian's company the way she missed Shon's—though nothing quite matched missing Matt's.

It was her own fault. She'd woken up rested but feeling deeply lonely, probably because they'd been talking about Matt and Shon. Sex was always the best way to drive off the human-side longing for a home and a family and re-assert her siren side's need for autonomy and independence. Kian's only protest had been that he expected nothing of her, and once assured that she knew that, he'd been delightfully responsive.

The loss of a mouthful of blood was an inevitable result of sex with alasir, one out of their control, and she sometimes her thought her body must be so accustomed to it that it expected it. The twinned marks on her throat from his blood-teeth breaking skin didn't bother her, since they neither itched nor hurt; those teeth being fine and sharp and retracted to keep them that way meant the marks themselves were very small and closed quickly.

As for the red-enameled gold rearing horse necklace, normally invisible under his clothes... that had made the feeling of loss both better and worse at once.

Sex wasn't in itself a problem. In human society, a woman's value was often linked to her sexual activity; the overlapped crossbreed and road cultures were typically far more flexible. However, it meant waking up cuddled against him with his arm over her protectively, which felt wonderful, especially after her recent near-miss; it meant little affectionate gestures that went beyond mere courtesy, of which she was guilty too, and she'd always found a kind of intimacy in the moment an alasir lover both climaxed inside her and fed from her, and well...

Well, she was actually sorry they'd slept only three times before reaching Eyrie.

Which didn't matter. It was far too dangerous to stay in his company.

So how had she been talked into sharing his bed in his friends' house, instead of getting herself a place at the inn?

Admittedly, her available coin needed to go towards food, but the mixed settlements were usually willing to trade a few hours of labour for a bed. That was nearly always in a common dormitory with four or more beds, and it was going to take more than a few days to stop being jumpy, but she could have endured it. This was, after all, the second mixed settlement, with multiple inns, and she knew the larger ones all had segregated dormitories for men and women. Of course, the larger ones were less likely to barter...

“Do you know of anyone who might be interested in buying woven trim?” Kisea asked her hostess Aivynne over breakfast, after the first night.

“Very likely,” the woman, an alasir-human mix of some degree, said with interest. “May I see?”

While Aivynne's husband and Kian talked about a common acquaintance and his most recent ambitious plans, Kisea unrolled on the table the rectangle of threadbare wool she'd wrapped her finished work in before coming downstairs.

“Oh, those are lovely!” Her hostess picked up a length that was woven with red and blue and yellow flowers on a green background, and held it so she could see it better. “I'm sure someone will buy them. Probably not one of the seamstresses, there isn't enough of any one design for their needs, but there are at least two places in the market that sell mixed pretties for those of us who do a lot ourselves. Something like this would be beautiful on a festival blouse or to brighten up a plain woollen bodice.”

“Keep it,” Kisea said.

“I can't. You can sell this.”

“Keep it,” Kisea repeated. “As a guest-gift, if you like. Or just because it will make me happy.”

Aivynne acquiesced, rolled the bright ribbon neatly and tucked it into a pocket of her skirt. “Thank you. Do you know Eyrie well?”

Kisea shook her head. “I've been here a few times, but not for long, and not recently.”

“Kian?” She waited until she had his attention. “Do you remember where the old fletcher's stall used to be, near the west edge of the market square?”

Kian nodded.

“Three, no, four stalls south from there, there's a stall that sells embroidery thread and fine yarns and small sorts of tools, along with some finished embroidery and decorative woven goods. That, I think, is the place Kisea will find the best price. If she isn't interested, or offers too little, there's another across the way and farther south, near the end. There are others, but they would pay little.”

Kian nodded again. “I've a few things to see to in the market myself.”

Which meant that, somehow, she still hadn't left, and they walked to the market together.

He brought neither staff nor bow, weapons larger than a knife being discouraged on the streets of any mixed settlement, but she had to admit she felt safer having him beside her. He left, as well, his armour, and had switched to a tunic not unlike hers but shorter and with laces at the throat, dyed an unremarkable soft warm ochre, but the colour was strong and even and she had no doubts about the quality of the weave.

Kian stopped at one stall they passed to buy feathers for arrow fletchings, since apparently several of his needed to be repaired; very clearly, the fletcher recognized him, and they spent a moment on what Kisea could only call shop talk.

He did find her the recommended stall, though. The proprietor had set an embroidery frame aside on a table that held thread of breathtaking colours, while she dealt with a customer. Possibly full human unless she had some trace of one of the less common races, though it was harder to tell with her hair almost entirely iron-grey, her full curves quite visible in chemise and bodice and a skirt that involved much less fabric than the traditional full-circle-or-more, all of it with gaily embroidered hems as contrast to the simple neutral base colours.

The goods she offered, Kisea thought, were all high quality, out of her own price range.

The proprietor, having finished a sale and bid her customer a cheery farewell, gave Kisea a questioning look.

“Are you buying as well as selling?” Kisea asked.

“Could be. What do you have?”

Kisea unrolled the length of wool, with care that the woven ribbons stay draped over her arm.

“Hm.” The proprietor pursed her lips thoughtfully. “May I?”

“Of course.”

The inspection was swift, but went through every piece she had.

“They're very pretty. Materials are medium-grade, but you've done a lot with them. The patterns and colours are nice, bright enough and detailed enough to be eye-catching without being so flashy they'd overwhelm everything else one is wearing.” She considered for a moment, then named a price.

It was, of course, a lower price than she really expected Kisea to accept. After all, haggling was all part of the game.

When the proprietor's offer shifted to include less ready coin but she began to drop hanks of fine yarn dyed in gorgeous colours into a small basket as part of the deal, Kisea hesitated, then threw caution to the winds, tempted beyond endurance.

“Come by next time you're in Eyrie and have more to sell,” the proprietor said in satisfaction, as coin, basket, and ribbons changed hands.

“I'll do that.” She looked around for Kian, found him waiting patiently. “So, where in Eyrie can I get decently-priced travel food? I think it's very likely you know somewhere.”

“I do,” he agreed. “But are you leaving today or tomorrow, then?”

“I....” She started to say that she should, but stopped. How could she explain that? Without making it sound outright like she was trying to be rid of him? He deserved better than that. “I don't want to keep imposing on you or your friends.”

He chuckled. “Aivynne is so happy with what you gave her you'd be welcome there for a nineday. You are not imposing. I like your company.”

“Then no, not today or tomorrow. So I suppose it can wait.”

They wandered around the market, and each made an occasional small purchase; Kian paused once to eye a men's tunic of a deep pine-needle green, but only briefly.

“My mother would be furious, were I to pay full price for such in Eyrie, when she can not only do it herself, but quite likely of better quality and made to my size.”

“Which only makes sense. Why pay more to get less?”

“I know.”

She made a point of offering her help to Aivynne for chores around the house or in the kitchen, though she confessed to being a less-than-adept cook; Aivynne gratefully put her to work shaking out the bedding and hanging it outside to air out, and then chopping vegetables for supper. Since she had the chance, she really should borrow the combined wash-house/bath-house at the back to wash all her clothing the next morning; maybe she could borrow something to wear so she could make sure absolutely everything was thoroughly clean. That would be a bit of an undertaking, but once she had hot water, she could offer to do Kian's as well, and probably there'd still be water left if Aivynne had anything to be done...

* * *

Kisea, in her own second-best chemise and an old skirt of Aivynne's, braced her back against the couch Kian was lounging on, the other end of her weaving hooked around one foot. Anywhere but a mixed settlement, she'd have been shockingly indecent, barefoot and without her bodice on, but for a quiet evening with Kian and Aivynne and her quarter-siren husband, it didn't matter. The lamp on the table at the end of the couch cast just the right light for her to see what she was doing, her hands following the familiar rhythm with only half her mind behind it, while she listened to the conversation above her with the other half. She knew little about farming, trader prices, or any of the people named, but she really didn't mind; if it occurred to her to ask something, someone would explain, but the warm peaceful camaraderie mattered more. That, and the soft yarns in their wonderful colours, more subtle shades than the strong basic ones she usually had available, which deserved her attention so she could put them to the best use.

A knock at the front door jolted her out of her semi-trance; Aivynne handed her a fringed shawl to cover herself, as her husband went to the door. After a brief exchange, he looked back. “Kian?” He beckoned the visitor inside.

Kian rose and went to greet the visitor; from the tone of his voice and the surface impression Kisea got from his mind, it was someone he'd met but didn't particularly know. Alasir-blood, hair going grey at the temples, well-dressed with subtle flashes of jewellery, but his job was active enough that he hadn't begun to gain visible weight. No, there were purplish-red glints in the dark hair, softening it from true black to blackberry. Alasir and siren both, possibly with human as well.

“I won't keep you long,” the visitor said. “My brother's wife's sister, in Malachite, is going to take my oldest daughter as an apprentice. Pottery, of course, it being Malachite. We need to get her there safely, though. The last three possibilities that had personal recommendations from friends were all-male pairs or trios. I know my wife and daughter both would feel safer with a woman as well. Are you and your lady interested in the job?”

“Kisea?” Kian said, turning to her. “By the most direct route, Malachite is roughly a nineday from here, to the southeast. On the coast.”

“You may have friends vouching for Kian, but none of them know me,” Kisea pointed out.

“I think my word will do,” Kian said, giving the visitor a questioning look; he nodded promptly.

She'd pretty much expected that. Everyone in the mixed-blood communities knew the Jordans could be trusted absolutely, and with Kian verified as a Jordan, it went without saying he wouldn't accept a job based on Kisea's company unless he personally trusted her implicitly. And with a siren-blood daughter, who might be coming to an age when it would be tempting to try out new interests and abilities on a single male companion, having an adult female siren present would be all the more desirable.

Damn it, Kian, why do you keep trusting me so much? You don't know me! You're going on a few days and Shon's stories, and that's insane!

Malachite was, though, a sizable town, the pottery hub as Equals Village was for weaving and Eyrie for wine and wood. She could go off on her own from there just as well, and the coin from the trip would go a long way...

And Malachite was farther from Equals Village and the Jordan province, as well. Nowhere near anywhere Matt was likely to be.

“All right.”

Their visitor's smile was nothing to the relief she could sense from him. “That's wonderful. Day or night's fine, she has enough of a mix from my wife and I to be comfortable with either.”

“That road cuts close to alasir territory,” Kian said. “Better to travel by day and camp overnight well off the road, and avoid encounters.”

“I wouldn't suggest tomorrow even if I thought my wife wouldn't want a day to make sure all's ready ten times over. The morning after, then?”

“Is there anything else you need to do in Eyrie?” Kian asked Kisea.

She shook her head. “It's been a lovely break, but we've been here long enough for me to run out of things to do, other than buying travel food.” Several days, in fact, much longer than she'd intended.

It was a substantial trip but not excessively long and there was no reason to expect complications, so haggling over pay was brief, almost perfunctory. Less typical was that their new employer did not add a condition that some significant percentage of it would be waiting once they'd delivered his daughter safely: that Jordan reputation, again.

Their visitor drew a small pouch that clinked heavily from under his tunic and handed it to Kian. “For expenses. I'll have the rest ready day after tomorrow.”

Kian nodded as he accepted it. “Thank you. We'll be there around sunup.”

All appropriate polite farewells were said, and their new employer left.

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