Sandry loves to watch Daja at her forge. She never used to do it that often; forges are dirty places to spin. When they lived at Discipline, she’d sometimes worked in the garden while Briar weeded, and Tris would occasionally visit Daja and play around with fire; but Sandry finds, now that Daja lives at Number Six Cheeseman Street and Sandry lives in the Duke’s palace, that she spends more and more time with her saati in the forge.
Often Daja doesn’t even notice she’s there, her hammer clanging against the anvil too loudly, her concentration too complete. Daja always looks perfectly whole and calm at her forge, muscles flexing in her arms as she heaves sword blanks or lumps of gold and lead from fire to anvil to one of the barrels that sits to the side, full of water or seawater or oil. Her face is perfectly smooth, her brow unwrinkled, but not with the careful calm that Daja always projects so deliberately; at her forge she is simply peaceful, uncalculated and easy.
Sandry is completely absorbed by Daja, can sit for an hour and watch before Daja looks up and smiles, wiping the sweat off her face with her forearm and asking Sandry in for a cup of tea. Sandry watches Daja take off her apron, strip to her breastband and wash in the barrel kept by the back door, and feels a hot flicker in her belly that makes her flush with nerves. Then Chime comes chittering out and demands attention, or Tris and Briar come bickering in from the alley, and Sandry feels immediately at home with her brother and sister. She’s not sure why she also feels a little disappointed.
After some months puzzling and prodding at her feelings, and visiting Daja more and more often, Sandry is startled to discover exactly what she wants when Daja casually mentions the young herbwoman she’s been seeing from time to time and a hot jealousy wells up in her chest.
“I didn’t know you’d been seeing anyone,” she says, pressing her napkin to her lips and trying to conceal her own shock.
“Really?” says Briar, backing out of the cupboard he’d been head-first in holding a tin of spice cookies. “Because it’s all she’s been talking about.”
“Better than going on about my string of conquests like you do,” Daja says pointedly. “When are you going to settle down with someone, Briar?”
“When Coppercurls says she’ll have me, of course,” Briar says immediately, and drops to his knees in front of Tris as she enters. “Say you will, Mistress Chandler!”
Tris looks down her nose at him. “You do look silly on the floor, brother dear,” and Sandry laughs along, but wonders, quietly, if the idea is so ridiculous. Of one part of the circle loving another part. She takes an unladylike gulp of her tea and wonders what on earth she’s thinking.
After a couple of days of dithering, Sandry gives up and goes to Lark. They’re sitting and spinning in Discipline – Comas has gone to visit his mother; the idea of Comas travelling is astounding to Sandry – when Lark, pinching wool out of her rolag and feeding it into the thread with the ease of a woman who’s been spinning for half her life, says, “Out with it, then.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” says Sandry awkwardly. She’s embarrassed at herself; she sounds as graceless as Tris.
Lark smiles. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy your visits, Sandry, but I can tell when you’re here to see me and when you’re here to ask my advice.”
Sandry blushes. “I’m sorry – it’s not that I don’t want to see you –“
“I know that!” Lark says. “It’s nice, in a way, to know that there are still things you come to your old foster mother about.”
It’s Sandry’s turn to smile. “You’re not old, Lark.” Then her smile wavers. “Well, then –“ and she stumbles and drops the thread she’s spinning, tangling it up at the top of the wheel. “Oh, cat dirt,” she says.
“Now I know you’re really upset. You haven’t done that for years.”
Sandry sighs. “Well – it’s about Daja.”
Lark frowns. “What’s wrong with Daja? Isn’t she well?”
“No – well – no,” says Sandry. Her nerve fails her again and then she bites her lip: Sandrilene fa Toren is not afraid of very much. She certainly isn’t afraid of her own self. So she asks, in a rush: “Is it possible I could be a nisamohi and not know it?”
Lark raises both her eyebrows. “And Daja is involved because ...” Sandry goes crimson. “Oh, I see.” Lark purses her lips. “Sandry ... I’m going to talk about myself for a little bit, because I am the best reference I have. I can’t give you direct advice about this because no-one knows the answer to the question you’re asking except you. Understand?”
“Well, then,” says Lark. “I was a little older than you when I first met Rosethorn. All my lovers before her had been men, but I had never particularly cared for any of them – perhaps you know how it can be with someone who you like, but don’t care for in that way.”
Sandry remembers Jak from her time in Namorn, and a few young men in Emelan she’s kissed, but never tumbled; she remembers the difference between the way Shan had kissed, before it was clear what a naliz he was, and the way the other boys had kissed. She tries to nod and shrug and shake her head, all at once, and Lark smiles.
“Perhaps not – I know it’s different for noble girls. Although you know Rosethorn and I and Niko and probably your uncle would all support you no matter what. Anyway. When I met Rosethorn, I knew straight away that she was for me.” Lark smiles thoughtfully. “Which was something of a feat – if you think she’s prickly now, you should have met her when she was younger. She chose her name so well.
“But my point is that Rosethorn had a lover when we met – it was – well, that doesn’t matter.”
“Someone I know?” says Sandry. “I didn’t think Rosethorn had many old friends at Winding Circle but you and Dedicate Crane.”
“That’s right,” agrees Lark hastily. “But her lover was a man – Rosethorn had had a few lovers at that point, men and women. She was always interested in both – she’s seen this man since, as well.”
“Don’t you mind?” says Sandry, surprised. She tries to conceal her shock at this idea – of course she knows that some couples enjoy sharing each other, but the idea of one of her foster-mothers ... well, she can’t quite get it in her head.
Lark laughs. “No – but that would require more explanation than is important right now. What I’m trying to say, perhaps not very well, Sandry, is that instead of looking for one word to describe what you’re feeling about Daja – it is just Daja?”
“Yes.” Sandry is still turning over in her head the idea of Rosethorn liking men and women, and prodding at her own feelings.
“It might be that you prefer men, but you’ve been spending so much time with Daja lately, with Tris at Lightsbridge and Briar away so often – and I know you’ve been busy with your uncle; it seems to me that Daja is the person who understands you best at the moment.”
“My sister-saati,” says Sandry, looking at her hands and feeling her stomach flip a little.
“Exactly,” says Lark. “I’m not one to give advice, but I think if I were going to give some to you, it would be to do what seems right to you, and to your heart: but do it thoughtfully. I know you would never hurt Daja intentionally, but think carefully about what she might feel if you were to approach her.”
“I’m frightened of losing her,” admits Sandry, still not looking at Lark.
“You should listen to that feeling. But you should also listen to how you feel when you’re around her.”
“Happy,” says Sandry. “Safe. Secure. But I feel those things with Briar and Tris too. There’s something else with Daja at the moment – I feel so understood, so close to her. And – she’s beautiful,” she says hurriedly, “I didn’t know that before.”
Lark looks at Sandry fondly. “I wish I could tell you the right thing to do – but only you know what that is. I hope I’ve helped you anyway.”
“You have,” says Sandry, and stands up and flings herself at Lark in a hug. Lark wraps both her arms around her and they stand there until a piece of wool tickles Sandry’s nose and she sneezes. They both laugh. Sandry pulls back. “I think I’d better go now,” she says.
“What are you going to do?” inquires Lark.
“I’m going to go and see Daja,” Sandry replies. “Not to – well – not to do anything. I think I’ll just ... let things unfold. But I’m going to be with Daja while they do.”
When she gets arrives at Cheeseman Street, Daja is in the forge, as usual, and Sandry slips in quietly. This time Daja looks up almost straight away, smiling.
"What brings the lady here?" she teases, and Sandry just laughs.
"Oh, you know," she says, "Tris' cookies," and smiles at Daja. "And I like to watch you work."
Daja puts up one eyebrow at her, but Sandry can tell she's blushing a little. "Now," she goes on, "Tell me about this herbwoman of yours," and Daja does.