Rien’s Rebellion 36 – 29 Storis 1138 Bran

Bran

29 Storis, 1138

“Bran.” The voice came out of the dark and between my ears, though both were muddy and vague. At first, I thought my mind was playing tricks, too much brandy and brooding.

Bran.” 

No, it’s real, I decided, and shot upright. In the blackness of the storm, there was a shape just beyond the garden wall. Tall and thin, swathed in a pale coat.

“Rien?” I asked and went out from under the canopy. I expected her in an hour or so, but not here, outside.

She stood just outside the wall, shivering violently, under a fall of water from the canopy. “I need your help,” she said. “And I need you to not ask questions.”

“What are you doing?” I demanded. Why would she be here, this way? She’d be soaked to the skin soon if she stayed there. I reached across the wall and pulled her out of the water. “What sort of help?”

“Will you help me?” she said, her voice low and quiet. “It’s ten minutes… and I’m sorry — “

“Sorry for what?”

“Don’t ask.”

“Where’s Avah?” I asked. In the faint light from inside, I saw her face crumple and she shook her head. It dislodged her hood, and a trickle of something ran down her face, mostly water. I stepped aside so the light fell more strongly on her. Since yesterday, she’d been cut, badly, and Healed. A silver scar ran down her face. “What happened to you? Where is Avah? What’s going on?”

“I — She’s… He — ” The words didn’t sound intentional, as if she bit back what would follow if this conversation in any way approached normal. “Please — “

“What do you need?” I asked. Something here was very wrong, and it couldn’t be made better by a mad conversation in the dark in the midst of an ice storm. Also, she looked bone-chilled — blue lips, too pale. I may be wiry, but I an’t weak, and a good puff of wind would blow her away. I set my hands on her waist and dragged her over the wall, then pulled her inside, into dry warmth.

I’d left only a single vapor light burning, but it shed enough light to show me that trickle on her face. Not water, but pink, almost red. Blood. I shoved her hood back and saw blood-matted hair and bruises. “What happened?” I whispered urgently.

She visibly got control, though what it cost her, I couldn’t fathom. “Someone attacked us. At our office. Avah’s dead… and I’m disappearing. Just let me use your door — I need to get past Telia’s guards. I need a quarter-hour. It took me longer to walk here than I thought. Please. Don’t ask, and when I’m gone, just believe that I was never here. Please.”

“Dead? Disappearing? Why not go to the Guards?”

“I haven’t time to explain,” she said as a shudder passed through her, so violent it rattled her teeth. “This is the only way. If you do this, I owe you, and I promise, someday I will make good. Please.”

It took me all of a second to make the decision. I was already late getting home, more wouldn’t make it worse. Ice storm, Quin. What did you expect me to do, freeze my prong off and die? In fact, if Ced was right, this woman owed me nothing and I owed her a great deal, and not just for the favor her father’s companion had shown me and my friends. First, and worst, she looked about to keel over with shock and cold. Despite the ice, I pulled her into my arms and held her tightly until I felt her start to breathe properly. “My lady, all will be well,” I murmured into her ear, keeping my voice soft and gentle. “You’ll be fine. Three deep breaths. Good. Now another. One more. Good, good. Is anyone following you?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Good. Are you hurt?”

“No — nothing that won’t mend,” she said.

“What do you need?”

She pulled away and brought a square of paper wrapped around something from her pocket. “This. I don’t know how I’m going to carry… “

I unfolded the paper and I saw two of the keys Daval had designed for Telia. Only the Belleview used these punched pattern keys, and most guest rooms only had one key. Corridor keys were for staff and family. Interesting, that Avah and Rien even lived here, but more interesting that they had a corridor key. “You’re in the family quarters?”

“I don’t — thirty-seven west,” she said.

“Ayuh, you are. Huh.” I scanned the list. “This is pretty complete.” I looked her over, at the blood and her color. I could get what she wanted in about ten minutes, barring complications, but she needed both more time and more assets if she was going to disappear. More importantly, her body and part of her mind might be here and talking to me, but most of her… well, she wasn’t at her cleverest. Gods forgive me for this, but it’s the kindest thing I can do. “While I’m gone, you should use my bathry,” I said gently, pulling her towards it. As we passed the sideboard, I snagged a glass and the bottle of honey brandy. I herded her into the tiled cubicle, poured a generous slug, and held the drink to her lips.

I think, had she been thinking, she wouldn’t have drank, but she did and sputtered. Not a drinker, Advocate Peregath. I poured more than was good for her into her too fast, but I didn’t have the valerian tablets my apothecary sister made for shock. Brandy would have to do. Then I opened the tap and dumped in soap. She looked blankly at me.

“You’re here, you might as well use it,” I said. “I’ll be back before you’re done.” I swiftly unfastened her waterproof coat, undressing her like a child until she pushed me away.

“Thank you, I can’t say how much.”

I did not want to leave her — but if she was right and had little time, then so did I. I backed out and closed the door, then committed the act for which I’d begged forgiveness. I jammed a chair under the doorknob. She was locked in and couldn’t leave. Only for a few minutes, true, but I’ve been captured, and even a few minutes is terrifying if you don’t know why you’re being held. I hoped she’d just use the bath and not notice.

I locked my room doors, too. If she was smart, she wouldn’t set up a howl. Still, I hurried, because right now, she might not be smart, and whatever she was running from wasn’t good. Not if Avah was gone. I’d noticed that the first time I saw those women move. They both looked like Curia ladies, but somebody taught them to move like warriors. If somebody got past Avah, I suspected that somebody was dead. And if Rien Peregath was who Cedri suspected — which would explain why someone attacked — and something happened to her, it would wreck the woman who had been my patron. Pols had seen Lady Ethene on his last trip out, and he said she was fragile after losing the Razin; losing the woman she considered a daughter would destroy her, and now that woman was probably in my hands. I won’t have a death on my conscience. Simple rule — if I’ve a say, it won’t happen. World has enough suffering, and without somebody beside her, Rien might end up on the far side of a pyre.

I recognized the dead look in her eyes. I’d seen it enough times, in my own reflection and on Daval’s face just after we found him, and in Fanik’s now after one of his trips south. I still see it in Quin and sometimes in Ced. Deep guilt, blackest despair, exhaustion and a bleeding heart. Priests have it easy — they forgive others. The hard part is forgiving yourself.

Practical matters first. She’d need sturdy, warm clothing, and the stuff on her list. Also, to not look like herself. The bruises building on her jaw and that new scar would help, but bloodless blondes like her aren’t thick on the ground in the Uplands. That’s a Curia look, and mostly artificial. Not many freeborn have time to sit bleaching their hair in the sun with mineral paste on their skin. But she was about my height, wiry, and in masculine clothes, she might pass. Not to someone like me, necessarily, but to somebody on the street.

Making her not look like herself wouldn’t be as hard as it sounds, thanks to the weather, and the fact that most of Galantier never saw her. The few engravings of her I’d ever seen were vague enough to be almost anyone. Mostly, we’d have to cover the fact of man and woman, because we’d have to pass a night in Reva. People would certainly remember if I showed up with a woman in tow, unless I wanted to try to pass off a sudden marriage. I’d have to make Rien one of the lads — new, but male.

What am I thinking? Taking her home? Just get her things, give her a bath, and let her go. But she’ll be dead before dawn if I do that. A millia in that wet chilled her. Another will kill her. If she dies that way, it’s my fault. Which won’t matter, because Quin will murder me for bringing her home.

I questioned that, though, as I let myself into Telia and Pols’ quarters. I was pretty certain at this time of night, Telia would still be downstairs tending her guests, and I didn’t expect Pols until midnight. The only real question would be Katia and Pelin, Telia’s children and my gods-children. They were just home from school, but they’re young. Telia shelters them from the Belleview’s more disreputable side with early bedtimes and a minder during the day, but their girl lived in town and didn’t sleep over. I paused outside their dark door and listened. Pelin had a cold and snored. Katia, who worried me more, would be reading if awake, and the light would show. But, were she awake, she would be grousing at the snores and Pel, irritated at being wakened, would be yelling back.

My heart pounded so hard in my chest I feared for my ribs and my every nerve was singing, high and urgent, in my ears. Here I was, stealing — minor stuff, but stealing — from valued friends. I could ask Telia for sienna paste, vinegar and umber wax sticks, but she’d wonder why I wanted them, and I knew, just knew, I couldn’t involve her in this. The first time I tried to disappear myself, I trusted someone who trusted someone else, and it got me caught. I wouldn’t betray Rien that way.

Will Quin object if I bring home another stray? He’ll be irritated for not getting everyone’s agreement first, but he understood when I brought Daval. This an’t much different. We need more hands. Hers aren’t exactly those I’d pick, but Daval knew nothing about forestry when I brought him home, and look at him now. It’s not like we’ll keep her long, anyway. She’s got work to do. All she needs is a haven.

Telia’s dressing table held everything I wanted, and thank the gods she doesn’t keep a maid, just uses the ones she already employs. She’s smart that way, is Telia. I crept out almost before I’d been there long enough to be caught. Everything fit in my pockets.

Raiding Rien’s rooms would be a different barrel of beer. I’m welcome in Telia and Pols’ rooms, but they’d be right peeved at me if they caught me in a guest room, even if that guest room was in the family quarters for some reason. That almost confirmed my suspicion that I had the Prazia Ascendara — no, she’s my Razia, that’s what His Majesty wanted, damn the Prava — in my bathry.  Lady Ethene is Telia’s silent partner and Pols’ patron. If the daughter of her heart was in Celestan, Lady Ethene would make damned sure that her most trusted retainers had the care of her. Just how many pots does that woman have her fingers in?

I slotted the key into the lock and it gave easily. I let myself into the dark room and paused. I daren’t show a light in here, and I’d never been here before. I guessed that this was probably a three room suite like Pols used; it wouldn’t have his instruments and furniture, so I wouldn’t blunder into a clavier or a dulcimer. If I could just cross the room without barking into something, I could close the drapes and risk the vapor lights.

Sweat dripped off me and if the entire town couldn’t hear me breathing, that’s only because they weren’t paying attention. My muscles were starting to knot with tension and I knew if I didn’t finish soon, all the strain would mount up and I’d get careless and stupid. How do professional thieves do this? It must be a relief when they get caught. Twenty five slow, cautious steps later, I touched the drapes… and found them closed. I almost groaned. I could have tried the light. I retraced my steps, only half-bumping up against some chair, and yanked the chain until the vapor light flared and settled into a golden glow. I kept it turned low nonetheless; no need to hire a crier about my burglary.

Those three rooms were painfully tidy, not the hallyer’s doing. Telia’s hallyers are good, but this was… order for the sake of control. My mother used to clean when my grandmother or my aunts rankled her. That’s inevitable, in a household of four generations of brothers and all their wives and children. At least she’ll fit in with us, even if I’m bosky to be taking her home — if she’ll let me. No let about it. I have to convince her. Where would she’d be safer than in the middle of nowhere, where nobody knows anybody is?

Rien said her room was on the left, and everything I’d seen her wear had been formal. She’d need sturdy layers that I doubted she owned. Fine worsted skirts and breeches wouldn’t do her much good with us. And sleeves, certainly — her skin would badly burn before it tanned.

She surprised me. An empty pack lay neatly folded on a shelf in the wardrobe, and stacked amongst the plain, sober finery — mourning, right, it’s been less than a year — I found both linen and wool riding breeches, all with pockets down the sides. I picked her softest linen and silk sleeved shirts, not because they’d survive many thorns — they wouldn’t — but because under a heavier shirt, they’d keep her warm. I took more than would strictly fit in her pack; first, I had some room in mine and second, she’d be wearing most of it when we left here. There aren’t many people as skinny as her. Her small clothes drawer yielded heavy stockings, delicate knitted drawers and her breastbands, as well as the sponges with ribbon loops she’d certainly need if she was with us for more than three tendays. There aren’t many advantages to growing up in a household of fifty people, but squeamishness gets knocked right out.

She’d need waistcoats — three, all wool in shades of grey — and coats. The black formal coat she’d worn here looked all right — not visibly bloody, anyway — but I’d have to check it. At least she can move in these; if she were fashionable, they’d be fitted like a corset. I laid three, a light grey, a dark grey and a black, over my arm. No help for it; her pack was already half-full and she had other things she wanted.

The lock box was hardest; she hadn’t given me the key and it was nailed to the wardrobe’s back wall. Fortunately, it was nailed, not pegged and glued, and the nails were light. I wedged my knife under the box and pried at each corner until the box wobbled, then came free.  Any moment, somebody will come banging through the door. Not perfect security on that box if I could get it off so easily, and anyone looking would see the holes I left, but that couldn’t be helped.

I didn’t understand why she wanted the books stacked on the work table. Every ounce would matter — packs only get heavier. But she asked, and she had a reason, even if she wasn’t thinking quite straight. I stuffed all nine atop her clothing, added her pencase, ink and her spectacles case. I hadn’t seen her wear them, but if she had them, she probably needed them.

I detoured back to the wardrobe — her boots were soaked, and probably with more than water. I could wash them here and stuff them in the bottom of my pack; we’d recondition them later, but for now, she’d want sturdy and comfortable. I studied all four pair lined up, and took the better pair of each of the tall laced and low buttoned.

Now, the pack was getting truly heavy, but she wanted Avah’s two black books. I didn’t extinguish the vapor light because there was a bit of stage setting I wanted to do, but I dropped the pack and coats on a chair in the center room.

The books, on the bed table, turned out to be an Archilian catechism, stuffed with notes, dried flowers, miniature drawings, ribbons and scraps cut from broadsheets. My heart ached to see that; nobody would take such a thing unless the owner was gone, and nobody would want it unless she truly loved the owner. The other was equally stuffed, but handwritten. A journal. “You poor girls,” I whispered. “Who could do this to you?”

I closed the pack — difficult — and took a pair of Avah’s boots back to Rien’s room, along with a few books. That left three pairs of boots in each wardrobe, and a stack of work on Rien’s desk. Now, it looked like they’d just left for the day. I hadn’t made much of a dent in her closet, but whoever came to investigate after these women vanished would find everything normal, save for the holes in the back of the wardrobe… and those might have come from someone before. The nails rested in my pocket.

With the lights off, I listened at the door. This would be the riskiest part — getting into the corridor and down three flights of stairs with an assortment of stuff clearly not mine. I hoped that the early hour — for Belleview guests — meant most everybody would still be in the card room, salon, or bar. My real worry was the servitors. This floor would be all right, but I might run into one on the stairs.

I’m balancing this theft with kindness and compassion to someone in need, Teander, I prayed. Please show your deviant son mercy. Please let my generosity to others outweigh my disobedience to your will.

I opened the door a crack and listened. The passage remained silent, save for the low din from the center hall. I didn’t run — too noisy — but I hurried to the stairwell. There, I listened again.

Footsteps, below me. Coming closer.

I had nowhere to hide this load. Please, please, have rooms on the second floor. Please do not be the night hallyer. Do not be Telia. Please….

I held my breath, waiting, hoping, trying to work out a story — taking my washing to the desk? No, I’d just call a hallyer. These are family quarters anyway… no guest rooms, or so I’d thought, up here.

A corridor door thumped and I sagged for a moment against the stair-door, then unlocked it and pulled it shut behind me. Now, I did run, two flights, my heart thumping like it wanted to burst.

My room lay at the far end of the ground-floor corridor, almost beside the stairs. Five long steps, a second with my key and I was safe. Relatively so. I still had a probable Prazia in my bathry.

I let myself breathe hard — gods, why do I do this? I can’t pass a stray kitten without wanting to take it home, though I don’t, because they’d just become something’s prey. What is wrong with me? My mother used to say I never learned to mind my own interests. But I just can’t… if I do I’m a little responsible for whatever bad follows. Maybe I’m trying to balance my sins. Even if I’m not sure they are sins…

I wanted to repack her bags and mine anyway, so I dumped it on the bed and picked out a sleeping shift and drawers. She would want her warmest clothes when she left, but that wasn’t now. Then I unwedged the door and knocked. “Rien?”

“You locked me in,” she said through the door.

“Ayuh. Safer for you. I’ve your things. May I come in?”

I heard a splash, then she said, “Yes.”

She was sunk in milky water up to her neck, but her hair was clean and her color better. I kept my eyes averted. Not for myself — skin is just skin, male or female — but for her sake. “Sorry about that. You any better?”

In the corner of my eye, she nodded and sighed. “Yes, thank you. You’re amazing. I hope somebody knows that. Was the bag that heavy? I’m sorry.”

I glanced at the mirror. I was flushed and my hair was damp with sweat around my ears and forehead. “No… yes, actually, but I’m not much of a housebreaker.”

“You weren’t stealing anything,” she said. “I gave you permission and my keys.”

Maybe legally, but if you’re running… My knees wouldn’t hold me anymore. I sank onto the bench with my back to her. “I assumed you wouldn’t want anyone to know I was there. What happened?”

“What you don’t know can’t be forced from you.”

I hesitated, then said my piece, all at once. “If you don’t tell me, and don’t let me help you, I’ll fetch the Guards. I’d rather not — “

The timbre of the entire inn changed then as bells started ringing. First distant, from town, then louder as the Belleview’s emergency bells started. I’m not in Celestan enough to know all their patterns, but every Galantieran knows the signal for fire.

She sighed, but she sounded relieved, not sympathetic. “It worked.”

“What worked?” I asked. “What’s that signal?”

“The volunteer code,” she said. “They need a bucket brigade, which means they’re trying to preserve the Treasury office and the grain factor. If they thought they could extinguish my office, they’d be ringing the all hands.”

“So I needn’t go?” I asked. Telia and Pols know that we regularly fight forest fires, and it would look strange if I didn’t respond to an all hands.

“No,” she said. “They’ll let the office burn out. They probably believe nobody’s inside, and they’re mostly right. But — ” I heard her sit up and her voice turned urgent. “I can’t be here when the Guard calls for me — “

“Why would you be here?” I asked the wall, then checked my pocket clock. “In my room? You’d be in your rooms, or the salon or tavern, right? We’re supposed to have supper, but that’s still an hour away. They won’t search for you — will they?”

She hesitated. “It depends when the fire was noticed.”

“You set the fire,” I said.

She was silent for a long moment. I hated the tension in the room. It crackled, like sparks in a cat’s fur. I didn’t even realize I was singing almost under my breath to calm myself until she said, “I always liked that one.”

I heard myself, and yes, it was the piece, the one that had finally captured her attention during that last concert. In every performance, there’s always somebody you want to reach, especially when you play for so few. The only people in the room I could have caught that night were the two young women — Avah and Rien — so I’d played to them. Whatever happened that day was bad, and while their bodies were present, their minds were far away. It took two hours and new blisters, but I think I made that bad day a little better. If possible, I needed to do it again now.

“I hoped their music would spread,” she said, half to herself.

“Are you a musician?” I asked hopefully. We’d be together for a while.

“No, I can’t carry a tune if you wrap it in ribbons, but I love… some music. New music. I’ve heard enough galliards and pavins to sicken anyone.”

“I don’t disagree. Too many know half a dozen old tunes and wander around with half-tuned instruments rivaling a wolf-pack baying at the moon.”

She half-chuckled. “You’re very good to listen to.”

She was like an orphaned rabbit, ready to bolt at anything, but that sound was worth being careful. Another song had caught her attention that night, I recalled, and I segued into it, whistling now. It worked again. She calmed, focused. “I liked that one, too. That group must have done well. I only heard them once, but… “

I kept whistling, tapping the beat softly against the tile sink. I thought about it while it worked on her, and the tension in the room slowly evaporated. Pols wrote that lullaby for Katia, and she wasn’t even creeping yet. I sighed mentally. Yes, it would have spoken to Rien… and does now. I finished the viol bridge and brought it around to conclude. “They didn’t do well at all. They lost a founding member and the troupe fell apart.”

“No,” she said. “That’s unfortunate. I hoped to — “

I turned and she sank into the water.  I finished her sentence. “Be our patron? Not possible. My parents dragged me home.”

She stared at me. For one long second, I thought she would attack me with the bath brush. She inhaled hard. “You played viol. Ethene’s protégé.”

“That’s me,” I said. “Bran Darlamand, Your Ascendency.”

“No, no — ” she said. “Holy fire, how long have you known?”

“One second,” I said. “I thought maybe, but… Do you see why you can trust me? I’d rather kill you myself than let something harm you, for my Lady’s sake.”

“But… ” She flushed. “Would you mind? Everyone else in Galantier may be used to communal baths, but I’m not.”

I faced the door while she emerged, dried and dressed. Though the bathry was the safest place in my room for her, both of us sitting in here all night would be foolish. Nobody would look for her here.

The brandy seemed to have hardly hit her at all; under strain she was probably burning through it. Fondal would keep her awake, and the seeds of a plan were starting to push through the turf in the back of my mind. She’d be safer asleep. She took my desk chair while I took the bottle back to the sideboard, poured hot water into a pot and added dried red roselle, a gentle calmative. While it brewed, I said, “I’d be kinder to kill you myself than let you walk away, ma’am. Your end will be the same. You don’t know cold.”

“You never lived in the Karsai,” she muttered darkly.

“That’s not like this,” I warned. “You’ll get soaked and you’ll be dead. A millia more and you wouldn’t have made it here, and there is no safe haven for you within walking distance if you want to remain anonymous. Everybody in Celestan knows Advocate Perigath by sight and there’s nowhere you can reach by dawn where you won’t be known.” I brought her the tea and pulled the stuffed chair around so I faced her.

She watched me carefully, still terribly wary, but once I sipped my tea, she did, too, and eventually, nodded. “You’re not wrong… I’d better turn myself over to the guard. I didn’t think this through, did I?”

“That’s not true, either,” I said. “It’ll be a couple hours before anybody in town realizes you’re not where you should be — and that would be here, right?”

She nodded. “Or Archilavast. It’ll take the Guard at least two hours to reach there, and get back.”

“That means we need to go soon, not now, and honestly, we can’t go now.”

“We?” she said.

“I’m taking you home with me. It’s the safest place I can think of, and I guarantee my friends won’t betray you.”

She started to shake her head, then paused. “Who is Quin Byssus to you?”

A spark of intuition flared in my head and I looked back at her. “He’s one of my partners… you might say the founding partner. We’ve been together for seven years now.”

“You trust him?” she asked.

“Absolutely. He’s my best friend.” More than that — brother. I couldn’t imagine a world without him.

“Was he born with that name?” she asked carefully, fully alert now, entirely present.

“No,” I said. “He’s the Optimus’ son, though disinherited, and he’s glad for it. You met him once.”

“You’re absolutely certain he doesn’t communicate with his father?” she asked.

“Quin?” I had to laugh. “As certain as I am that water is wet.”

“And the rest of your friends?”

“We all got reasons to keep our tongues between our teeth,” I said. All five of us had disappeared ourselves for some reason or other, different ways, but we’d done it, and if we betrayed someone else who needed the same, that would weigh on our souls. Perhaps enough that Teander demanded balancing and took our good fortune away. “You have a plan?”

She wobbled her head. “Working on it. I’ve had little time to think, as you might imagine.”

I had to laugh at that. “No, you haven’t. I’ve only two questions. How bad was that fire you set?”

“About two hundred gallons of fuel oil, half a room full of crumpled paper… and a long fuse.”

I whistled through my teeth. “They’ll be lucky if the whole street doesn’t catch. You wanted to make sure that building burned.”

She nodded. “It’s the only pyre I could give Avah.”

This was the hard question. “You didn’t kill her?”

“Holy fire, no,” she said. Then she described a little of what had happened, though I didn’t hear the full tale for several days. Just that brief excerpt was bad enough.

I took her hand for a long moment. Lord of Balance and Lady of Wisdom, look kindly on Avah, and we still on this side of her pyre. Our lives are darker and crueler without her soul. When she pulled her hand free, I looked up. Her face was wet. “Will you let me help you?”

“Why do you care?” she asked. “You’ve already gone above the favor a congenial client might — “

“I know,” I said. The tension was falling out of my nerves and the tea was doing its job, too. I’d be fine in a bit, but for now, I was exhausted, and she didn’t look much better. “Because if I don’t, I don’t think I’ll ever get a night’s sleep again. Self-preservation. Fair enough?”

She nodded and her gaze darted towards the bed. Stress does that — uses up everything inside, until your body has to die for a little while. I stood and offered my hand. “You look like you’re about to fall over.” I pulled the sienna, vinegar and starch from my pockets. “Easiest way to get you where we gotta go is to make you not look like you. Nobody’ll associate a pair of ginger men with a single blonde woman, true?”

She thought about that. “I make a decent boy,” she said slowly, “but boy… not man. I can’t grow a beard.”

“That would be a trick, my lady,” I said. “Lucky you, the men in my family can’t grow beards worth a damn, either.” I’d left a glass of water by my bed earlier; now I dipped my fingers in it and flicked droplets at her. “You’re now named Andren Darlamand.” Which would offend the real Andren, but he’ll never know. “Welcome to the family, brother.” I held up the sienna. “Can you manage this, or do I have to recall how it works?”

She shrugged. “I’ve seen it done. I think I’ll manage. It washes out?”

“Eventually,” I said. “Get that muck on your head, then get some rest. I’ll lock you in, and nobody’s going to open this door. Since I’m supposed to be meeting you in the dining room soon, I’ll go hear what I can.”

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