The days that followed comprised a small lifetime for Sifani, made all the worse for the fact that she had nothing to do. Jatan had forbidden her from the epheria, and for once, Sifani wasn’t inclined to disagree with his decision. The aging man spent his time with Antian, exploring Antian’s notes here and there, though with a languor that suggested he was biding his time almost as uncomfortably as Sifani.
Namiss contented herself with the activities she always did – roaming the streets, securing food and supplies for the band, and engaging in petty thievery she convinced herself Sifani knew nothing about.
Lorin, of course, went on being Lorin. This time, that was a relief. Sifani had to calm her nerves more frequently than she wanted to admit, reminding herself that Lorin might be many things, but he was no liar.
It had been…difficult to recount any of her history to him. The past was called “past” for a reason. It had always seemed foolish to her, that people would drag their background with them into the future like a ball and chain. But what do you do if the ball and chain starts dragging you?
That thought played about in the back of Sifani’s mind as she descended the tower stairwell one morning. She moved slowly, stifling a yawn, counting the steps as she went. 20. 21. 22… She needed a breath of fresh air after all the nothing she was working on. By Donis, waiting by doing nothing felt a lot like spending the night blindfolded in a circle of cavefoxes, hoping that one wouldn’t get hungry and decide to take a nip out of her…
Stretching her arms, Sifani emerged from the tower into the narrow street that fronted it. She was surprised to find Lorin leaning against the outside wall, idly tossing a stone in his hand.
“What are you doing up?” Sifani asked as she approached him. It was early – the sunlight on the tops of the buildings still had the bright look of youth to it.
Lorin straightened and smiled at the sight of her. “I have a surprise for you,” he announced in a sing-song voice. Pushing that tangle of black curls from his face, he glanced over his shoulder and whistled shrilly through his teeth.
Sifani perked up at the whinny that followed, and almost jumped when a familiar mount – a smooth, glossy brown mare with a long scar down her left flank – cantered around the corner toward them.
“Len’s here!” she shouted, and broke into a run before she thought better of it.
Ileniel was facing his horse’s empty stall, scowling, when Sifani threw her arms around his neck from behind. She still missed his tail of hair, but he’d grow it back eventually.
“Aagh!” Ileniel’s eyes popped as she accosted him, and he pushed and swatted her arms away from him like he might a cuddly – yet possibly rabid – animal. “Get off me, madwoman! What in the name of the Golden Council do you think you’re doing?”
Despite herself, Sifani began to laugh. “Oh, Len, don’t pretend you don’t love me. How was your journey from the bird farm?”
“Whatever you say, Len.” Immediately, Sifani was seized by the impulse to put her father’s old friend to the question, right then and there. She warded it off – it took more willpower than she expected. “Has Jatan seen you, yet?”
Ileniel wagged his dark head irritably, sparing a sidelong glare for Lorin. “No. This brute decided to waylay me before I could even dismount Rush – the heavens alone know why.”
Lorin met Sifani’s eyes significantly. She raised her brows, suddenly understanding. He wanted to give me the chance to talk to Ileniel before anyone else got to him! A warm smile overtook her expression of surprise. Deities bless you, Lorin!
Lorin, abruptly seeming embarrassed, took Rush’s reins in hand and let the mare nuzzle him as he walked her back to the stable. “Whatever my reasons for ‘waylaying’ you,” he told Ileniel, “the moment I saw you I remembered you weren’t worth the trouble. You’re free to go.” Becoming sincere, he added, “I’m sure the others will give you a warm reception.”
Ileniel sniffed, glancing between Lorin and Sifani, and tugged hard on his stiff tunic. “Yes, I’ll go up and greet them, then. Hum.” He paused awkwardly. “I’m…glad to see you both still have your fool heads on your fool shoulders.” The man’s tone was gruff as always, but Lorin and Sifani grinned at each other as he withdrew to the tower.
“He likes us,” Lorin stated.
“After all the trouble we’ve made for him, I wonder at the fact he still does.” Sifani’s own voice was laced with grudging affection.
“Are you going to speak with him in front of the others?”
“I thought about it. Keep the others updated on the situation and all that. But if I did that, Lorin, this could become a comedy – with myself as the fool in the center – when it turns out that what happened has nothing to do with my parents after all.”
“Always trying to protect your pride, huh, Sifani?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Speak for yourself!” A friendly jab, perhaps, but a jab nonetheless. “I hold on to what I can.” She paused, and felt mischief touch her tight smile. “Besides, not telling the others means that I can test the waters with Len. Testing the waters means I get to make him squirm. And making him squirm…that means I get answers.”