Sunfire falls silenced the world around with its continual roar. It was impossible to draw near and not have other concerns hushed or driven away.
Ean had searched the entire palace for his sister well before dawn had begun, and had only found her here when his great-grandfather Henlan reminded him of where she had always escaped to since she was young. He hadn’t expected her to be in hiding, but perhaps he should have known better. And perhaps he had been hoping that the atmosphere at home wouldn’t be quite that harsh.
Trin turned as he approached, her boots steady on the icy rock of the clifftops just before the concrete and cut stone of the dam began. His own footwear slipped and slid, urging him to keep his hands on the sturdy kren-wood railing that ran along the edge of the precipice. She gave him a wry smile from under the fur-lined hood covering her head.
“Now I’m the one feeling compelled to pray,” she called.
Ean made his way to her side before responding.
“About anything in particular?”
“Anything and everything. Father almost threw me out a window when I told him what we’d done.”
Trin raised an eyebrow at him. Ean felt stupid.
“No, of course not. I did think he was going to blow a vein in his forehead, though.”
Ean didn’t find the image funny, and from her look neither did his sister.
“Well, it is a thoroughly offensive tactic we went with,” he said.
“And it thoroughly offended everyone,” Trin said. “Tan-tan might forgive us, if she likes your betrothed.”
Ean winced. He got the sense he was going to become thoroughly sick of hearing that. Yet it was true for now.
“Please don’t call her that. I don’t intend to marry her and she certainly doesn’t intend to marry me. And what about Tan-tan?”
The mention of his great-great-grandmother Bethania, wife of his father’s, father’s, father’s father, pulled his attention. Along with her husband she practically ran the family behind the scenes. Tan-tan was what all her grandchildren called her.
“I promised her first visit with Danya.”
“Oh sweet Kai! Is she up for that?” Bethania could be… Bethania. There was really no describing her apart from meeting her.
“Tan-tan won’t kill her.”
“You hope.” Ean felt a ghost of actual worry as he said it.
“She won’t. She’ll just make Danya wish she had.”
Trin flashed him a very toothy smile.
“And if she likes her, she’ll see that no one else does a complete runaround on our little plan,” she said.
“You went to her first and begged,” Ean said.
Ean stared at her. He could see exactly how it would have gone.
“Well, maybe,” she said. “But I’m also her favorite.”
“I got the boots. You got ordered to get a wife.”
Ean glared at her. Trin smiled even wider.
“At least you’re good at following orders, brother.”
Ean shook his index finger at her, seeing the joke and not finding it at all funny.
“You’re the one who told me this was a good idea when I came up with it!”
“And it is! Father can’t do anything until the council has its say. That gives us time to talk people around to letting your Garagran stay. It also gives Tan-tan time to civilize her and maybe convince the rest of the family not to lobby for your disinheritance. Just be warned. She’s either going to call your bluff or have her revenge some other way.”
“Have her revenge? Oh.” Ean saw. And what he saw was somewhat horrifying.
“Yes. Don’t be surprised if you DO end up married to Danya. Somehow. Or someone else, as your apology.”
Ean pulled his own hood down and let the cold air shock his face and ears. He turned to look out over the city below, possibly even less visible than when he had first come out now that the growing light was bouncing off all the falling snow. Somewhere far down on a street below he picked out a maintenance worker driving a fireless snowplow along one of the trolley tracks. The boxy machine with its fat insulated tank and wide angled blade advanced steadily, clearing a path for the faster machines that would soon begin ferrying citizens back and forth from their jobs. The man who controlled it had all of one handbrake and one throttle to worry about.
Maybe Ean could trade places with him.
Trin stepped next to him and spotted what he was looking at.
“Hmmm. The simple life. Indeed.”
Ean elbowed her in the side and she hit him right back.
“Don’t make me pull your hair,” he said.
“Don’t start a fight. I always win,” she shot back.
“So who am I going to end up with, do you think?”
“Giving up already? I’d say go for Danya. At least you’ll have excitement.”
“No. Not even an option.”
“I don’t make those calls.”
Tala? Ean turned to look at her, surprised.
Trin barked a laugh.
“You don’t know? Are you really that oblivious? If this whole mess hadn’t come up, Tan-tan would have called both of you in for an interview some time this week.”
Ean quickly pulled up all of his recent memories of his distant cousin, sifting them for clues. Yes, Tala was attractive–very attractive, now that he thought about it–but he hadn’t…
“Was that what all those consults were about? I just thought she needed my help with the thunderbolt project.”
“And all the times she stopped in to check on your projects? And the way she’s been at the breakfast table at five AM every day for the past two months? And across from you ninety percent of the time at dinner?”
Ean rested his elbows on the railing, buried his face in his hands and groaned.
“The twins weren’t kidding.”
“You’re the only one who didn’t see it, Ean. Most of the family thinks it’s a good match.”
“I think Tala’s going to hate you when you tell her you won’t even look at her until you know that Danya is safe here on a permanent basis.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I like Tala. I probably would have said yes to a courtship.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t really expecting a needy Garagran to drop in on our country.”
Ahttah… why are you making my life so complicated? Did I do something to make you mad at me? More than I usually do?
“But I will tell you that now is not the time to worry about that. People are going to fight us. I said that before, and it’s already starting. Watch out when you talk to Kaim.”
Ean snapped his head around.
“Who do you think convinced father to order Danya out of the country?”
Ean cursed. Then winced. He never cursed.
Nevermind. He didn’t care.
Trin nodded, her expression dead serious.
“What did he say?”
“Ask father. You have to talk to him this morning anyway.”
Ean groaned. Trin was right. Talking to his father was the first order of business. Talking to Trin was just the necessary briefing before that. But Kaim…
“Focus on father. You can sound out your armsman later. I’ll make sure Danya makes it to Tan-tan and put back together whatever’s left of her after.”
Ean let out a small laugh, but there was little amusement in it.
This was just the beginning of a very rough day.