“Aha, there you are,” Kallima said, striding into the dining room, a large sun-bright room with rich tapestries and paintings on the walls and a long polished table surrounded by chairs. Kisea and all three alasir-blood were finishing what was, for them, more dinner than the breakfast the rest of the Manor had recently enjoyed. “You know, the kitchen makes a lot more of those meat pastries when you lot are around, they almost never do when you aren't. My current theory is that pastries are a meat-heavy food they can easily keep warm until whatever odd hours you remember to eat.”
“Since they're very good, and the contents even vary enough to not be monotonous, I see no problem,” Shon said.
“Only an observation.” She dropped into the empty chair beside Shon, and helped herself to a piece of gravy-smeared pastry left on his plate. “I imagine you're going to bed soon, but Kisea, I'd like to borrow you, first, for a riding lesson. I won't keep you long, but it's a horse I trained and I know her better than anyone, and I'd like to make sure you both get off on the right foot.”
“I'm probably going to be a terrible student,” Kisea warned her.
“I'm a very patient teacher,” Kallima said cheerfully. “I found you something to wear, since you can't ride in a skirt. It's in my rooms. Mama and I have people working on collecting the rest of what you'll need, including more clothes. The workmen are clearing the wreckage at the ferry, and Papa sent as many as possible who aren't busy with the harvesting so it's going quickly, and Joanna's helping. She's the Manor sorceress. All the water is gone, which I'm sure they appreciate.”
“There was nothing to keep it there once I stopped holding barriers,” Matt said.
“Joanna's impressed, but she says she's used to being impressed by you doing things in unconventional ways.”
“Did they manage to confirm that the other telepath is dead?”
“Yes. They asked me to identify him, which wasn't very nice.”
“I could have,” Kisea said. “And I'm used to not nice.”
“Yes, but you were unavailable in Matt's room and, well, the quicker the better, and I'm not as fragile as I might look. In a way, it's good to see for myself. Now I know for sure that everyone involved is either in a cell or dead. That's sort of comforting. Anyway. It's fairly clear who all the expensive clothes and such belong to. Honestly, why they would keep dressing like that under conditions like that is beyond me. At least change to something sensible for a few days. Mama's trying to decide whether to rip them up for cleaning rags or donate them to the temple. Under that they found some things I think are probably yours. It's all spread out in one of the gardens to dry, but I asked Joanna to make sure that your boots and your bodice—and that is beautiful work, who did it? I can get away with leather when I run off to the Village and I think I want one—that they dried properly immediately with no damage.”
“Oh, really?” Kisea smiled in pure delighted relief. “That would be wonderful! They aren't just things, or necessary things, or very-well-made necessary things. Some of it was given to me as thanks-gifts by people that I helped or people very close to them. The boots, the bodice, my coat... most of the things I was reluctant to just discard, actually.”
“Everything got extremely wet, but I don't think there's much that's damaged beyond repair.” Kallima looked pleased by her reaction.
Matt smiled, too. “I'm glad you didn't lose them. There are too many stories there. The bodice, by the way, came from Hope-of-Luck, I believe.”
“We'll take you there to talk to him once we have time,” Shon agreed.
“You know just too much about what I've been doing,” Kisea told Matt.
He just grinned at her, unabashed. “What I've been doing is more or less public knowledge. Fair's fair.”
“All done?” Kallima asked. “I'm sure the boys can keep themselves out of trouble for a little while.”
“You are?” Kisea muttered. “I'm not.” Still, she went with Kallima, who was in very practical wool trousers of plain grey and a grey-and-yellowish-green bodice, her hair in a single neat braid, though that bleached linen blouse was a giveaway.
Kallima presented her with equally sensible trousers of a yellowish-brown and her own well-broken-in boots with knit socks of unbleached wool tucked inside. “If you want to, you can use my bedroom, but don't for my sake.”
Kisea shimmied out of the skirt and slippers, switched with some relief to the trousers and perched on a chair to lace her boots. “She did a wonderful job with these.”
“She's very good.”
Kisea looked up, met Kallima's eyes. “Thank you.”
Kallima blinked, looked puzzled. “For what?”
“For being very patient and understanding while I'm feeling like a fish tossed into a tree, at a time when you've just had a bad fright yourself. For not being afraid of me. For everything you're doing to help.”
“Papa told me once that there are some sorts of thoughts that do more harm than good and you just chase your own tail around and around until you exhaust yourself, and that the best way to stop those sorts of thoughts is to do things that will help other people. I think he's right. But also, how could I be afraid of you? Or not be patient? The Manor is huge and complicated, I know that. Why do you think I love running off to the Village so much, other than having to leave my horses?” She laughed. “And you're my cousin now, remember? So, let's go introduce you to Honey. Which isn't just her colour, it's also her personality and how smooth her gaits are.” She held out a hand to urge Kisea to her feet. “Papa and I decided together to breed her parents, and I trained her myself, mostly, with the horsemaster's advice. Her line are chosen mainly for being smart and calm, but she'll be able to keep up with Rose and Butterfly under any remotely normal circumstances. Mostly they go to healers and to people who are otherwise often house-bound for various reasons, but also to mages who need to know that their mount won't bolt the first time they’re distracted.”
“She sounds like maybe I can stay on her,” Kisea said wryly.
They went down to a back door, and past an herb garden and across a grassy area to a corral made of split rails, the gate open.
Tied to one rail was a patiently-waiting horse.
Not as tall as Rose and Butterfly, her coat gleamed like brass in the sun, and her mane and tail were a few shades paler. An irregular thin white stripe ran down her face, broken in the middle, and she had three mismatched white feet, in one case the white not touching the hoof at all; she wasn't sure markings like that were normally considered a good thing in fancy horses, but to Kisea, they were charmingly distinctive. She was already wearing tack much the same as Butterfly and Rose's.
“Come say hello,” Kallima urged, as she untied the rope from the rail and fastened it to a ring on the saddle. The younger woman crooned to the mare, rubbing around her forelock and under the bridle affectionately.
Kisea approached a bit more cautiously, let the golden mare nuzzle her hand inquisitively. “Hello, beautiful. I hope we can be friends.”
“That's the whole point of this lesson,” Kallima said. “For the moment, it's probably easier to let Shon deal with getting her tack on and off, but I'll teach you that later if he doesn't first. The most important thing now is for you and her to be able to cooperate on a long ride. You aren't used to riding, so you're going to be sore.”
“I'll survive, I suppose.”
“Muscles you don't know you have are going to hurt. I'll make sure you have something for that and just in case there's any chafing. Neither of those happen much once you're used to riding. They happen less on a saddle like this that's designed to make everything as easy as possible for you and Honey both.”
Lessons started with mounting, progressed to how to sit—which was certainly not just passively in the saddle—and finally to Kallima turning them loose in the corral.
A red-tailed hawk fluttered down to perch on the railing beside Kallima and watch; Honey snorted at her but otherwise ignored her.
Trotting was harder than walking, but once Kallima showed her the trick of moving in time with Honey so they weren't bobbing up and down in opposite directions and meeting uncomfortably in the middle, it was much better.
“I'll make a proper rider of you yet,” Kallima laughed, steadying her as she swung off.
“Anything is possible, I suppose. Thank you. That helps.”
“Since it looks like you and Honey are going to be friends, she's yours.”
“What? I can't,” Kisea protested. “I don't know anything about looking after a horse, and she must be worth...”
“She's worth less than my life, I'd like to think,” Kallima said. “Consider her a thanks-gift, a wedding gift, or whatever will let you accept her. Papa knows and approves, if that's any part of what worries you. I'd really like you to have her.”
But I don't know if I can keep her.
Kisea swallowed the words, made a mental note to ask Shon and Kian to make sure that if worst came to worst Honey came back to Kallima, and surrendered. “Thank you. She's gorgeous. I seem to be thanking you a lot.”
“I'm trying not to thank you about every third thought for taking a big risk to save me. So let's just not worry about it, all right? I'm going to look after Honey and make sure she'll get a good rest before tonight. Come on back to the stable, and I'll find someone to show you the way. Unless you want to just look and I'll show you.”
“I can't,” Kisea confessed, falling in step beside her towards the nearest building. “The telepath I was fighting didn't do any damage that I can find, but I did over-extend myself. Right now, even Matt touching my mind hurts.”
“It will heal in a few days. I don't much like feeling defenceless, but I'm not likely to be in much immediate danger.” Nothing I can defend against.
“Not with Matt and Kian and Shon all being protective.”
“It would have been worse if you hadn't hit him. See, you saved me, too.”
In a broad aisle between large boxes, each home to a horse, Kallima tied Honey's rope to a very short horizontal bar and moved around to her side. “Maybe we can just call it even.” As she began to loosen Honey's saddle, she gave Kisea a conspiratorial grin over her shoulder. “Speaking of the boys being protective, though, have you seen Shon with a sword? Especially his new one? I know the ultimate point is to fight, but it's like watching one of the barn cats hunting, or Jori flying, or one of the courier horses running just for the love of running. It's, um, really fascinating to watch.”
“Not recently,” Kisea said, amused. She rather suspected that fascinating might not be precisely the right word, given the hint of a blush she saw, and that fit with other subtle hints she'd picked up. By Kallima's age, she'd already had more lovers than she could quickly count; life was very different here, and it was quite possible Kallima had never had even one, but it sounded like the interest was there, both generally and specifically. “But I do remember from before, when he had his old sword.”
“You were the mindhealer he met that sent him to the Village?”
“Yes. Although I didn't know at the time who he's related to.”
“I'm glad you helped him. It's hard to imagine what it was like without him. He is so patient. He makes time a lot to come on rides with me when he's not away with Matt, and he's wonderful company.” She heaved the saddle and blanket off Honey and onto a nearby beam, and took a coarse rag from a nail just above it, which she ran over Honey's back where the saddle had been. “My sister is positively infatuated with him, and she's just recently started to get interested in flirting and she keeps trying it out on him. He just treats her like a great lady, all high courtesy, and the rest of the time is more like another brother. My brother really looks up to him, and Shon takes time to talk to him about anything from swordplay to politics to history, and anything Tobin doesn't know he explains without making a fuss about it. Like Tobin's an equal. They almost were, I suppose, but the stupid part is that before Shon was disinherited, we were supposedly enemies, or at least not friends, just over him being alasir and us being human.”
“How do your parents feel about how your sister and brother act?” And how will they feel about the way you see him? And how does Shon see you? Though, remembering some of what she'd picked up from Shon on the way to rescue Kallima, she suspected she had an answer to that last already.
“They like Shon, and they trust him. What happened to him wasn't fair, and I'm sorry he went through it, but I think he's reasonably happy here, and I know a lot of people are glad he's here.”
“I think he's happy, too. This is a much more natural environment for him than on the road. If I'm a fish tossed into a tree, Shon out on the road alone is more like an owl splashing around in a lake!”
Kallima laughed. “Which would make Kian, what, an otter because he can go back and forth? What would Matt be, then?”
“Probably some odd hybrid thing that is spectacularly successful despite all logic, like a bird with scales.”
Nearly all the meaningful relationships in my life longer than a day or so have been with men, except Fala. It might be really wonderful to be able to have a woman for a friend again.
If I live through this, and can ever actually come back here.
Suddenly tired, she said, “You mentioned finding someone to show me the way back? I'm sorry, I'm just...”
“No, you're right. You need to sleep. I'll...”
“I'll take you.”
Kisea blinked in surprise at Jori as the stormhawk, in human form, strolled up to pet Honey.
“Jori? Oh... is Matt looking for me?”
Jori grinned at her. “Matt would be happy if he had you directly where he could see you every instant, after this long trying to find you. He doesn't think you'll run away or anything, but possibly at moments he thinks he's dreaming or hallucinating.” She patted the side of Honey's neck. “She's nice, Kalli. I can carry two, but it's harder, and Matt has to work harder too. Rose and Butterfly will like her.”
“I hope so,” Kallima said. “I imagine they, and you, will be spending a lot of time together. Sleep well, Kisea. Mama and I will have everything ready for you by the time you leave. And no more saying thank you, remember?”
Jori was clearly not inclined to talk, but did show Kisea how to get back to Matt's room. Which, she supposed, was now technically hers as well, but that was an idea it would take time to get used to. Just being married was an idea that would take time to get used to.
He glanced back as she opened the door, and greeted her with a warm smile; he was at the table, with a considerable amount of paper arranged in piles, or being arranged into piles at least. “How'd your riding lesson go?”
“I'm never going to be a great rider,” she said, “but with lessons like that, and the sweet horse Kalli decided to give me, I think I'll be able to keep up.”
“It just takes practice.” He abandoned the table, came to her for a hug and a kiss.
“Most things do. No, I smell like horse...”
“So?” He gave her another loving kiss, but let her go and turned back to the table. “We should get some sleep.”
“What's all the paper?”
“Everything I've managed to collect about you and about possible other controllers.” He gathered it all up and dropped it in a rectangular box with symbols carved into it. “I was just sorting it out and making sure it's all there. The box is spelled to destroy the contents if anyone tries to force it open, but any time you like, I'll open it and you can read it.” He fitted the lid back on and laid his fingertips against the box for a couple of heartbeats.
“Thus losing you several years of research.”
“Oh, there's another copy. I gave it to Jori and asked her to hide it somewhere that no one else could possibly reach it but she could retrieve it if anything happens to this one. I haven't the faintest idea where she put it, and no one can get the information from her or make her get it.” He tucked the box into a flat leather satchel, and added a much smaller box, no wider than her palm and perhaps twice that long and quite thin. “That's the one that paper marked with that glyph appears in, before you ask. It only opens for me.” He left the satchel on one of the chairs, and went to the window to close the curtains, leaving the room in twilight for them to both shed clothes and nestle into bed.
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