“A man who wants to beat a dog will always find a stick. The trick is to be sure all the sticks are hard to find, and take the dog away before he gets back.”

Sir Corbin Manyfeathers

 

By the time Talinn and his son had lifted Ishibas back into the cart, an hour had passed. The rain had soaked the garden and stopped, but the sky was black and the world dark with the shadow of an oncoming lightning storm. If Sarea didn’t get home before the storm hit, she’d spend a night here, and Mistress Junker would stretch one night to two, then three.

And by the third night I’d be living here, Sarea thought.

She couldn’t take that. The very thought of it made the walls close in around her, tight as Mistress Junker’s love. There was no way she could persuade the woman she was doing more than cope, being that close to her, and the very last thing she needed was someone treating her like she was about to break.

She wanted space to breathe.

Sat at the kitchen table again, she watched Ionas and the good Mistress chatter over boiling fruits and rolling pastry. How they’d managed to bond over pie making, she wasn’t quite sure.

Sarea cleared her throat.

Ionas spun around, wielding his rolling pin against clear air. He paused then relaxed. “What is it?” he said.

“I’ll be going,” she said. “Things to do.”

“Oh. Ah.” He raised his hands, covered in flour. “Give me a moment?”

“It’s going to storm tonight,” Mistress Junker said, laying the pastry over a tin. “Are you sure?”

“The cottage stays warm enough, Mistress,” Sarea said, watching Ionas pad over to the washing bowl. She was certain he’d find a way to keep himself warm, in the end, and sincehe hadn’t talked about having magic, it wasn’t right to give it away.

“It’ll take days for firewood to dry out.”

“I store mine in a shelter, Mistress. You know that.”

“I meant here,” Mistress Junker sighed, and turned. “Is it so bad to stay near people that love you, my dear?”

Sarea inclined her head. “You know I prefer independence, Mistress.”

“Will you ever use my name?” The older woman put her hands on her hips. “You’ll take the rest of that pie back.”

“Oh, delicious,” Ionas said. “Many thanks.”

“Drop by before you go, I’ll have some blueberry done,” Mistress Junker said, swatting his arm. “And if you happen to come back near the winter festival…”

Ionas stiffened. Sarea saw it, but Mistress Junker didn’t react. “I’ll be sure to see you,” he said, smiling stiffly. “Ah – I’ll get our coats, Sarea?”

He wasn’t coming back. He was never going to come back.

She stood in the quiet, wondering why that mattered to her.

“Sarea Sahar Durasoona,” Mistress Junker said, smiling sadly. “I worry for you.”

Sarea looked back to her.

“The young ones wouldn’t dream of hurting you,” Mistress Junker said. “Boys like Talinn’s Quen would worship the ground you walk on if they could. You insist on that air of mystery, child. But men like Ishibas would tear you apart if they could. Men are the threat in this world, and I – I worry for you.”

I know, she thought. Wanted to say I can look after myself and your door isn’t any thicker than mine andthis is my life, I have nowhere else to go. Instead she opened her mouth and said –

“Here,” Ionas said cheerfully, coats on his arm. “But I don’t think we’ll need them on the way, it’s warm.”

“That’s how you know it’s a lightning storm, Mister Pachin,” Mistress Junker said, all the worry gone from her face. “It’s the wall storms that are cold. Well, be off! And don’t be a stranger, Sarea dear!”

“Never,” Sarea said quietly, and followed Ionas out the kitchen door.

“Wall storms?” Ionas said to her, out of hearing range of the house.

“Windy cloud fronts that come on you in an arc out of a clear sky,” Sarea said. “What do they call them where you come from?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” he said, and fell silent for the rest of the way.

 

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