FelixMildmay was eating breakfast in the salon that joined our rooms when I woke up. He looked out of place, the rooms still showing signs of the previous tenant's preference for expensive, delicately wrought and horrifically ugly lace over everything. Our arrival hadn't given them time to clear out the rooms, but I made a note to see that worst offenses would be removed as soon as possible.
"They've got orange jam here," Mildmay said when I sat down. I blinked and waited for that to make sense-- I am rarely at my best in the mornings and I had slept badly last night, kept awake by unfamiliar sounds. "Like they had in Troia," he said. "'Cept they get it from Igryss here. Timo says they get the fruit in winter, but they got the jam all year round."
"Timo?" I said, reaching for the coffee. I knocked over a cup on the way and Mildmay took the jug out of my reach, filled a cup halfway and handed it back to me, visibly amused.
"One of the steward's boys," he said.
"Right." I drained my cup of coffee and held it out for a refill. "So you've been making friends while I was sleeping?"
Mildmay shrugged awkwardly and I realized my tone had been sharper than I intended. "He brought breakfast for us." I held out my hand for a plate of bread and hoped Mildmay would take it as an apology.
"Kay's asked me to go walking with him." Mildmay said, handing it over. "Knock on doors." It was a Lower City expression, collectors and heavies knocking on doors after a new boss took over an area to make sure everyone knew who to watch out for now and who would be collecting their tithe.
"Show them who their new protector is?" I said. "Is that..."
"Nothing I haven't done before," Mildmay said, shrugging. "Playing the heavy."
"I doubt Kay put it in quite those terms," I said. Though it may have been something very close. Kay had been a soldier, after all. "He didn't want to take Julian?"
"He's coming too, but Kay thinks he won't know what to look out for." Mildmay met my eyes again and his expression was mostly amused. "Sides, I don't think he'd make good muscle."
After breakfast, I took myself to the library. There is something pleasingly universal about the smell of books. There are differences, of course. In Troia, the libraries smelt vaguely of the cedar wood they used to make the shelves and in the Mirador, the libraries smelt of beeswax and the faint, accumulated smell of a thousand different experiments and rituals the books had been exposed to. But underneath all that, there was the smell of paper, of ink and leather bindings and of knowledge.
It was easy to immerse myself in it, easy to put to one side everything else and indulge my inner scholar.
Mildmay was in the adjoining room when I finally unearthed myself from the library. He was fixing up the fire when I came in and the light from it caught his hair where it had escaped from his braid. His coat was hanging over the back of the chair and I made a note to see if someone could find new clothes for him, something less threadbare. It occurred to me, not for the first time, just how familiar I was with his body, with the shape of it, it's surprising grace and painful awkwardness. I had had lovers I was with for years, that I didn't know so well.
I laced my hands together and waited until he judged the fire sufficiently alight to speak.
"How was your walk with Kay?" I asked.
"Most of them act like he's Sara She-Wolf knocking at their door," Mildmay said.
"Is that good or bad?"
He shrugged. "Better than the ones that think he's useless, maybe. How was your library?"
I laughed. "Oh, the library. It's enough to make any halfway decent scholar weep twice over," I said, sitting down in one of the chairs with a sigh.
"That good or that bad?" Mildmay said.
He gave me a look. I supposed that wasn't the most a helpful answer, so I shrugged and tried to explain. "There seems to be a profound flaw in the Corambian character," I said. "in that they seem to have a complete ignorance of even the vaguest notion of cataloguing. There are books and research notes on the shelves going back decades, and as far as I can tell, they were just put on the shelves in the order they were written. There's no order to them, no indices or references, no metastudy at all." Mildmay's expression was blank and really, this explanation was likely no clearer than the last. "It's like they don't even think of properly mapping their knowledge." I wondered if it was just an aspect of the straight line mentality of their school of magic-- as if each new piece of information replaced an outdated one, rather than accumulated.
The concept was almost alien to me, utterly foreign to my notions of the study of magic. The Mirador accumulated to a fault, keeping even those things which should have been lost. We-- they might have declared some knowledge anathema, might have refused it or ignored it, but we didn't blithely forget it.
Mildmay was looking at me with affection. "What?" I asked, somewhat defensively.
"Nothing. Just, you look like you're having fun."
Which, I wasn't saying anything, but I made my face go blank even though I kind of wanted to laugh because he sounded like a housewife that's come home to find her husband's moved all his workmates in. It was kind of comforting, because I knew that it cost him to move away from the university where he could actually talk to people about this stuff. Felix ain't no hermit scholar, no priest of Heth-Eskaladen to look himself in a library for years and only come out when he's read everything in there.
And powers and saints, it was a relief to see him having something to do here. It's not good for anyone, least of all Felix, when he's bored or feels useless.
It did make me a little sad too. That's maybe not the right word for it, only that on the way up here, it'd been just him and me and now it was him and his books and that wasn't a bad thing, but it did leave me feeling a bit useless. I couldn't help Felix with his books, not when I only sort of got what he was talking about. It was hocus stuff and scholar stuff, I ain't either. Walking with Kay and Julian had been alright, but it was pretty clear that they'd be busy as a bee in summer getting this place put to rights, and I didn't see how I could help with that, not really.
The thing was, Grimglass didn't seem like a bad place, but it made me think a little like being in the Mirador or Troia, because yeah, you could get lost for a while, but everyone you met already knew who you were and you couldn't get away from people by being with people. Me and Felix, we were pretty recognizable and Felix maybe wouldn't mind because he expects people to know who he is, but I wasn't half as happy with it.
It wasn't exactly the same as Troia, because people here were scared of me some, but only because of how I looked, not what I'd done, and they were a lot more scared of Kay. And even though they were scared of Kay, but they still looked more than a bit relieved. I knew that look. It was the same one I'd see a kept thief give a keeper or some whore give a potential protector, the one that said maybe he'd hurt you and maybe you should be careful around him, but at least he'd stop anyone else from doing the same.
I wasn't sure how to tell Kay that, even though he'd asked me to be there to watch their expressions. I didn't think I'd have to, though. He'd asked questions about Grimglass, about how things worked, and his expression said he wasn't impressed and when he got back, he went straight to Vanessa's quarters and it wasn't because they were newlyweds.
Before I could get into any of that with Felix, there was a knock on the door and Timo came in. He didn't stare at Felix, but it was plain he was pretty excited to get his first proper look at him and Felix did that flash as flash can be thing, waving him in in a way that made his rings catch the light. I didn't roll my eyes, but I came close. Timo wasn't a kid or anything, but he'd probably never left Grimglass estate and Felix didn't have to try to impress him. He could probably do that just by breathing.
"Sir, Virtuer Harrowgate?" he said, giving a little bow to me and then Felix. "The housekeeper has asked me to tell you that the baths have been opened for your use."
That was one of the things I'd picked up, on account of pretty much everyone here had mentioned it. It was a big deal and the people here were proud as cats of them. They weren't the little, tin baths they had for rent in Lily de Mer. They were more like the public baths in the Arcane. They lived in the basement of the building and on odd days, they were for men and even, for women, and one day a week they were just for the Warden.
Felix nodded and smiled and Timo blinked and smiled a little, because even if he wasn't molly, which I don't think he was, Felix is good at charming people. "Thank you, and please pass on our thanks to the housekeeper."
Timo backed out of the room and Felix looked sort of amused, though I couldn't tell why. "Do you know the way?" he asked me.
I did and we went down. The stairs weren't too bad, spiraling down wide and shallow. We met Kay and Julian halfway down. Kay must have heard us coming, but Felix called down to him when he was in sight.
"You're not going to the baths too?" Julian said, like he couldn't think of anything worse. He went red, like he realized how bad that came out. "I didn't mean--"
"Is enough, Julian." Kay said. He let go of Julian's shoulder, but kept his hand on the wall.
"Can take of myself," Kay said. "Or Mildmay and Felix can help me."
"Oh, are you sure? I should--"
"Should you not be at work with Vanessa?" Kay said.
Julian looked pretty relieved and raced back up the stairs like there was a fire behind him. Kay waited til he was out of hearing, then shook his head.
"Is possible I was never that young," he said. "Is hard to be modest on a battlefield."
"He's self-conscious?" Felix said, coming down to take Kay's hand.
Kay shrugged. "He grew up sheltered by Corambis's high society."
I thought it probably had more to do with Felix being-- well, looking like Felix does, and Julian not wanting to get caught looking, but I didn't say anything. We got down into the baths. The floors were tiled and the baths set low into them. We were too far down for windows, but there were a lot of candles and mirrors. I wasn't crazy about that, because the combination made me think of Keeper, but I could mostly ignore it.
"Is considered a specialty of the region," Kay said, sounding like he didn't quite agree. "The water comes out from the ground hot. Is said to be especially good for the aged and infirm." Dryly, because me and Kay both fit into that, but Felix touched his hair where the white was and looked kind of offended, like he'd been included.
Kay turned his back on us to get undressed and it was a bit more fuss than it should have been, because they have these white towel things to wrap around your waist when you take your clothes off. Didn't seem much point to me, but I guess they're more worried about modesty and stuff than in the public baths in Melusine.
Felix was sort of hesitating and it took me a second to see why.
"Felix." He looked up like I'd caught him by surprise. "You ain't gonna shock anyone if you take off your shirt," I said. Which was true, on account of I'd already seen it and Kay couldn't see it, which Felix would have realized if he'd been thinking, except he hadn't been. Just so used to covering it up, he did it without realizing it even when there was no point.
The moment I said that, he got it and went red, so he started taking off his clothes fast as a Pharohlight whore to cover it up.
I lent Kay my arm so he could get down into the pool without tripping into it, and he went in with the towel still on so I guessed that was the right thing for me to do, even though it didn't make one bit of sense to me to get in the baths with it, but you don't wear shoes in the seraphim's nest, so I got in as well.
The water smelled a bit funny. Not herbal, like they put in the flash baths back home, but a bit like some of the workrooms at the University. It was hot enough to almost hurt at first, so I had to make myself go in, but I could feel my leg losing some of that hard, knotted up feeling it got and I closed my eyes and leaned back. I could hear Felix get in, but I didn't bother looking.
The thing about my leg is that most days, I don't realize how bad it is. It hurts pretty much always, but I don't really remember that until it stops.
Felix and Kay were talking quietly, but I let it wash over me and concentrated on letting myself relax.
It wasn't a new thought and I was able to distract myself by talking to Kay. My frustration with the state of the library was mirrored by his frustration with the way Grimglass was run.
"Murtaugh said twas not a gift," he said. "Am starting to believe he spoke truly. Said also that we were friends, and that I may come to doubt."
As far as I knew, Kay knew nothing of the past connection between Murtaugh and myself. I didn't feel any need to enlighten him. Still, it was oddly pleasing to hear the ill-tempered affection in Kay's voice. I doubted either of them had enough in the way of friends.
"He struck me as someone happy to make good use of his resources," I said.
Kay made a brief, exasperated sound. "Good use! Is like all Corambins, to join their blessings with a curse," he said, but without bitterness. Kay looked sharp, focussed, and I was reminded again that he was built for purpose, that his nature was to do. Murtaugh, I thought, gave excellent gifts.
I glanced over at my brother. His eyes were still closed, his face relaxed out of its normal control. Open, in a way it rarely was. I was lucky, I knew, lucky beyond all possible justice that he had chosen to come with me here. Even that I had this place, that I was alive and whole in mind and body.
The mixture of gratitude and guilt sat uneasily in my stomach, a reminder both of how little I deserved him and how much it would cost me if I lost him. I fought the urge to disturb Mildmay from his ease so I wouldn't have to think about this.
"In Rothmarlin, we had a pool with run-off from the streams," Kay said. "We built a small hut with a large fire beside it, and couldst jump from one to the other." I startled, surprised out of my thoughts. it was rare for Kay to speak of his former lands.
"They ain't like this in Mélusine either." Mildmay's voice was slurred, sleep dragging it down. He opened his eyes and stretched like a cat on a windowsill. "They're have'em in Mélusine, but they're bigger, mostly, and they've got big boilers to keep the water warm. Only the flashies have ones to themselves. There're the big baths in the Arcane, and some public ones in most districts. Phi-Kethion's churches have them too, but you got to go to the church regularly if you want to use them." He blinked at me, still sleepy from the heat. "I should get out before my bones turn to wax," he said, yawning slightly.
"That, or trust Kay and me to carry you up," I said and was rewarded by a slight smile. He pushed himself out of the water and the mirrors caught his reflection at every angle. I distracted myself by running through the beliefs of the Toric philosophy, who used mirrors extensively in their workings, setting up dozens or even hundreds of mirrors at angles to capture the reflections of reflections in an unbroken chain. Another labyrinth, perhaps, another way of spindling manar.
I had another pang for the library in the Mirador and made a note to write to Hutchins and Corbie in the morning. Maybe they would be able to send some books up.
I spent a lot of time below stairs, which is what they called anyone that wasn't, you know, a flashie. Castlestaff, they called it too, even though Grimglass didn't really have a castle, just the main house with its tower, and it wasn't just the people that worked there, it was the people in Greyville, which was the little village on the road up here. I could walk it with Jashuki, or hitch a ride in one of the carts that brought food up. They were sort of like the bourgeoisie that used to hang around Alia's or the Red Door in Dragonteeth, except instead of having the Arcarne to visit when they wanted a taste of something different, they just had me and Felix and Kay. I ended up mostly staying in Grimglass proper with Felix or Kay, rather than face that every time I went out.
I went with Felix to the library sometimes, but a lot of the books were mostly written in handwriting I couldn't read, not nice and clear like they are when they're printed, and even when I could, it was still hocus stuff I couldn't understand. I had my own book to read, something Felix pulled out from the shelves and I'd try to go through it without having to ask for too much help.
"Mildmay, I take back everything I ever said about the priests of Heth-Eskaladen," Felix said, looking up from another of his lists of paper. "They are obviously criminally underrated and their great contribution to civilization utterly overlooked."
"I'll get Timo to get you some more paper," I said, getting up. Timo was the steward's boy that was meant to help us or keep an eye on us, but wasn't far off his third septad. He mostly sat just outside the library and waited till Felix said he needed some more paper or something, except I knew he'd started just taking the paper
"Paper, sir," Timo said, putting it besides Felix. Normally, he went straight out, but this time, he came over to me.
"Sir?" he said, very quietly, "Who is Heth-Eskeladen?"
I didn't answer him straight out, because the Corambins are funny about religion here, but I figured I could tell it like a story and they wouldn't get too mad. Plus, we got a lot of leeway, me and Felix, on account of being foreigners that don't know any better and were probably bugfuck nuts anyway. So I told Timo about Heth-Eskaladen, and about how he saw what the other gods didn't know wasn't there, and then I got a bit sidetracked and told him about the Trials, and then about how Heth-Eskaladen hired Kethe to steal the daydreams of Cade-Cholera because she wouldn't tell him what was in them and it was driving him crazy not to know.
The nuns and monks of Heth-Eskaladen aren't crazy about that story and they don't tell it themselves, but they don't stop you from telling it either, so I figure they figure it's probably true.
"Is that why Virtuer Harrowgate is so keen on cataloguing the library?" Timo asked. "As a religious duty?"
And that made me laugh because Felix, religious? And Timo kind of drew back and looked kinda hurt and kinda shocked and I know I ain't no pretty picture when I laugh, so I just said, "Nah, I just think it drives him crazy that there's stuff in there he doesn't know about. Hocuses don't like knowing when there's something they don't know."
Timo looked sort of shocked, but amused with it, like I'd told a dirty joke in a church, and then he leaned in and said, "You must have met a lot of Wizards." He said wizards like he was talking about something exotic. I knew what he meant. What he meant was, I must have met a lot of wizards like out of some story, not like the ones that kept the trains running and studied at the university.
I didn't know what to say to that, because the truth was, yeah, I had met a lot of hocuses, more than I ever wanted to, but I didn't exactly want to talk about it and didn't know where to start even if I did. Timo was giving me this look like a kid waiting for a story and for maybe the first time in my life, I didn't want to tell one, because to him, it'd just be a story and for me, it was Zephyr and Thamuris and Felix and Gideon. I wasn't ready to turn them into a story and even if I was, I didn't think it'd be one Timo'd want to hear. And maybe someday I would and someday, I'd even want to, but just not yet.
I told him one of the Merrow stories I'd heard on the Morskaikrov instead, about one of their weatherwitches named Natasja Sundottir. And that was okay, because it was all the same to Timo, so it didn't really matter if I talked about Marathat or Troia or the kingdom of Cade-Cholera, because it was all the same to him-- it was all some place that wasn't here.
I think he picked up that I was rattling around here like the last canary in a market-cage, because Timo offered to let me come with him when he went to Meria if I drove the cart, which was apparently the only other town worth speaking of around here. I wasn't sure why he'd asked me, but I didn't turn him down, because it was starting to bug me, the way everyone here noticed me, but only a couple of them saw me. I knew it'd die down when we stopped being so new, or once Felix had stopped spending all his time in the library and started making himself known, but till then they just had me and Kay and Julian to stare at, and Julian wasn't that interesting and Kay just worried them.
Meria turned out to be a fishing village that sloped down into the sea, squat little houses all slated with carved out grimglass tiles like they'd spilled of of the cliffs. Timo looked at me, kind of like he was waiting to pick a fight when we got in, like he was proud and embarrassed by it. "We're not one of the big fishing towns," Timo said, "but we get by."
Proud as a Poor Sister, I thought. "You can't bring the big boats in too close to the cliffs," Timo said, looking out at the sea and pointing. "Too many reefs and rocks and wreckage." I followed his finger and for a moment, it just looked like waves and then something moved and it was a shard of rock, sticking out of the sea. Once I'd seen one, I saw more-- or thought I did, but they blended in with the sea.
"Nasty," I said.
Timo nodded, a bit smugly. "That's why Grimglass has never had to worry about being attacked from the sea here. Nothing big can come to shore until Ranmouth or Tanque." He looked out a bit longer. "Nothing there at the moment," he added, sounding disappointed.
"You waiting for pirates?" I said.
He rolled his eyes, like was a septad instead of at least two and a half. "Trading ships or whalers or deep-sea fishers, people that want to restock some. We send out the kites, the little boats so they can restock enough to get down to Greenport or Ranmouth." He shrugged. "Some of the captains don't want to risk letting their men have a chance to run to shore before they can get the ship in proper, especially if there's a long trip ahead. Or they're short of fresh water or greens and redberries for scurvy."
For not being that far from Grimglass and Greyville, Meria was different in a lot of ways. For a start, they weren't impressed by my face any, 'cause some of them had worse on their own -Timo's mother, Ma Ellie who seemed to be the boss of the town, showed me a nasty one she'd got when she'd fallen bringing mussels. They were more used to foreigners, too, especially the old sailors, so they were interested in me, but they didn't have the same ideas in their head about what I must be like as Greyville.
I figured out pretty soon why Timo wanted to take me down, because they were just as worried about Kay and their new Warden as everybody else I'd met, but they didn't have a Steward to speak for them, or a Reeve-representative like the other places in Grimglass had started sending in. I didn't mind none, because they're weren't exactly hiding it when they picked me over about Kay and then Felix and then Melusine and they had a lot to say themselves. Most of them had been to sea or picked up something from one of the trade boats that went by, and one old woman had been collecting the stories they'd heard or told each other and been writing them down. I was interested in that and I thought Felix might be too, if we could get a copy for his library.
They wanted me to help, but mostly they wanted to know if they had to brace against another stupid, useless or worse Warden. "My Da went out with the stockers and the captain impressed him," Timo's Ma said. She gestured a whip. "Lost too many to Lady Discipline." She scowled at me like she was expecting me to argue. I didn't say anything, so she got back to punching the dough. "Anyway, then-Warden Everard Pallister brought his soldiers in by land and told us we had to station them. Said they were in case we were attacked from the sea, like we were too stupid to know they were there to make sure we didn't have any untithed trade."
I told them what I could about Kay, which was easy because Kay ain't stupid or useless, and I thought he might like these people more than the ones in Grimglass. They were hard, not cruel or mean, but hard like it's a virtue. I helped them load the cart with barrels of mussels and oysters, which was meant to be the reason we were down here, and was probably also Timo's way of making sure some money came in to Meria.
Ma Ellie came out with supper, which was clearly a show. I wouldn't have complained even if I'd wanted to, because I could tell she was as prideful as-- well, as Felix about bringing this out for me, like I was an envoy from the Warden and this was her court. It was pretty good, tea and bread and three kinds of the orange jam, which Ma Ellie brought out like they were the finest flashie food in the Mirador.
The clouds were starting to come in when we finished and we head back. Timo wasn't saying anything, but he looked at me sideways a lot until I said, "Powers and saints, I don't know what you think I can do."
"The Warden listens to you," Timo said, and for all he'd been looking at me until then, now he looked away. "And your brother too. And we don't want charity--" like that was the worst thing he could think of "--we can be fine on our own if we're left on our own, or we can be better if we have help, but we don't need--"
"Someone who can't smell sticking their nose in." I sighed. "Fuck, I dunno. I'll speak to Kay when I see him next, alright?"
Timo grinned like that actually meant something was going to happen. He was humming and looking out over the cliffs, which is why he saw something first. A woman, running towards us and yelling something. Timo jumped off the cart to meet her and she was trying to speak, grabbing at him like half-starved dog.
"Nora, my sister's girl, she's-- she went over the cliffs and--" She pointed back to where the land dropped down into nothing. "We've got to get a, a rope or something, we've got to-- I can see her, we'll still be able to--" She dropped hold of Timo and started rummaging through the back of the cart, looking for something.
We went over to the cliff face and looked down and Timo gave me this blank faced look, because she was down pretty far and I could see the water was going to come up further than the little bit of land where she was. The woman came back with a stretch of rope that wouldn't have gone a seventh of the way, leaning so far over that Timo grabbed her and held her back before she could go over too. He was talking to her, telling her how they'd have to go back and get a boat or something, and I could see he knew it was nonsense because even if a boat could get that close to the cliffs, it wouldn't get there in time. He had to say something, though, because she looked like she was going to pitch herself over if he didn't give her a reason not to.
I was cursing as I kicked off my boots because the hard soles were all wrong for this kind of climb. Which was a crying shame, because most of climbing is in your arms, yeah, but you still use your feet some and the sides of the quarry had sharp bits of stone sticking out of it, like someone had baked a loaf of bread with broken glass. The wind was picking up the water from the sea and spitting it at my back as I started down. I was out of practice and Keeper'd have my hide if she'd seen the way I was struggling.
But I got down okay, onto the ledge where the girl was. There wasn't much room so I had to sort of crouch over her and I hesitated a little, because no-one wants to wake up to see my face leaning over them and if she started panicking, we'd both go over. I kept my head shaded and pushed her awake.
She frowned at me, like she wasn't what she was seeing. "Are you a finman?" she said, pretty out of it.
I didn't have an answer to that so I just shook my head and said, clear as I could, that I was gonna carry her up. She nodded like she understood and I was able to get her to hang on around my neck. She weighed a lot less than Mavortian had that time, and it's always easier going up than down, but I was sweating blood by the time we got up there because it had started splattering, sharp, icy bits of rain, kind of weather where you don't want to be climbing a ladder, let alone a cliff, and on top of that, I wasn't sure she was going to be able to hold on to me much longer.
But we got to the top and felt someone pull us over, lifting her off my back the moment we were in reach and pulling me up by my shirt, then my arm. My hands were cold enough to go through hurting and out on the other side so I could tell they were pretty cut up, but I couldn't feel it much. Everything that didn't feel like ice felt like I'd been set on fire.
I pushed myself so I was seating upright and tried to get a look at my hands and what I'd done to myself.
And wouldn't you know it, that was when it started to rain.
And yet... there were hints between the lines. Olivia Sanan, one of the few women, had notes hinting at experiments using sympathetic magic through the walls of Grimglass to the cliffs. Oswald Smithson had left three books on hydromancy and a map of the currents offshore that reminded me of some of the spiraling labyrinths Ephreal Sand had drawn. And more, notebooks referencing other books that left me fighting the urge to write to the university and order them to send me a dozen students of reasonable intelligence and clear handwriting.
The door swung open and I looked up, expecting Mildmay or one of the staff.
"Is your bother," Kay said abruptly. "Has hurt himself rescuing a girl who'd fallen off a cliff."
I stood up, knocking the chair back and forced myself to stay calm. "Is he here?"
Kay nodded. "In your room."
"It's not bad," Julian said from behind Kay. "He cut his hands climbing up, I think."
Mildmay was sitting in the joining room over the fire and two people were with him. I recognized one as Timo, the page or equivalent for our rooms and the other was bent over one of his hands, cleaning it. Mildmay looked up when I came in and said, "It ain't as bad as it looks," before I could speak.
I did not find that a reassuring statement. "Let me see," I said, even though I could probably do nothing. Healing is not among my talents, but I do at least have some experience assessing damage. I took his hands and held them in my own, turning them to see the wounds.
The left was still covered in dirt and dark blood, gathering at the creases, but his fingers were still moving. The other was cleaner, enough so that I could easily see half a dozen long scratches and two deep ones, one at the base of the thumb and the other across the tops of his fingers and still bleeding.
"He went down the cliffs," Timo said. "Without-- he didn't have a rope or gloves and he's--" he bit his tongue and glanced at Mildmay's walking stick. Crippled, I suppose he was going to say. "And then he carried her back up, like she was nothing. People don't-- I don't know anyone that could do that, not just like that without anything to help them."
Mildmay snorted at that and I caught his eye. Embarrassed and thinking that Timo was exaggerating, I thought. I let the sound of Timo's explanation wash over me in the background and focused on my brother.
"Honestly, Mildmay," I said, keeping his gaze. "Do you have to be so overdramatic?"
He smiled, one of his rare, sincere ones that showed so clearly in his eyes, it amazed me that anyone ever missed them.
"Picked up some bad habits," he said.
"Probably been keeping the wrong sort of company." I tutted like a bourgeois housewife. I was still keeping his hands in mine, aware of their strength and grace and how easily they could have been damaged. I knew intimately how easy it s to break the numerous, delicate bones.
I would have to give them back to the nurse or whoever it was. I did so reluctantly, unwilling to break the moment. "Perhaps next time you're bored, you could find something useful to do here," I said, sitting down next to him. "I'm sure we can find many useful occupations for you than flinging yourself down cliffs."
He shrugged and I felt the movement against my shoulder. "Could be worth a try."