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The Cold Northern Wind

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Of the three of them, Kara is the last one anyone expects to leave. Ishak has always been eager for newness, and Kourrem is like a rolling storm, unstoppable in her might and untamable with it, but Kara has always been the nice one, the dutiful one, the one who dreamed only of being a proper Bazhir woman of the tribe of her forefathers.

Kara is not sure at all what has changed. News of the deaths of the northern king and his queen have reached the Bloody Hawk, and rumors of momentous things in places so far east they seem like a dream have also reached them. None of that really matters to a proper Bazhir, except that she is not quite a proper Bazhir after all; her beloved elder sister is a northerner, and is exactly the kind of person who would get tangled up in momentous things.

"You're worried about her," Ishak says, blunt as is his nature. "We all are. We haven't heard anything at all from Alanna since she stopped communing with the Voice this time last year."

Kara bites her lip. It is worry, a large amount of worry, that turns her thoughts northward, yes, but there is more to it than that.

"And besides," Ishak says, dark eyes sharp. "You'll never be really happy until you really know our new family." He claps her on the shoulder; Ishak has taken to their new familial familiarity like a bird to the air.

Kourrem emerges from their tent and drops a pack at Kara's feet. "Stop fretting and just go," the younger girl advises. "You can always come back." Kourrem gives her a mischievous grin that is poorly hidden by her veil. "I promise not to let Ishak blow up the tent."

"Hey!" Ishak yelps, leaping to his feet; they chase each other like children half their age.

Kara regards the laden pack for a long time, then sighs. "I wish I had your boldness," she says to her siblings, when she knows they can no longer hear her.

She shoulders the pack anyway, and goes to speak to the headman.

***

Kara's first stop is Persopolis. It is the Bazhir's only city, and it is a city also of northerners, and it is thus the only logical place to start.

Kara has never been to Persopolis before. Just the sight of the solid stone walls puts a nervous flutter in her belly. She presses her lips together, adjusts her veil, and soldiers on. It's a bit late to change her mind now, anyway.

When she enters the gate, the first thing Kara glimpses is a heart-stoppingly familiar shade of red. She turns to look, then blushes and turns away, grateful not for the first time that her veils make her face unreadable. It is not Alanna she has spotted, just a strange man.

The man spots her, stares intently for a moment, and then trots to catch up to her. Kara would flee, but he has gotten close enough that she can make out the color of his eyes; they are Alanna's purple.

"You must be Kara," the man says, at the same time that Kara says, "I think I know your sister."

They regard each other, and the man grins. He sweeps her a northern bow. "You do. My name is Thom of Trebond," he says, "and if you're Alanna's sister you're mine, too."

Something about Thom reminds Kara alarmingly of Ishak. She smiles to herself, slips off her horse, and lets him lead her to an inn.

***

"So, what brings you north?" Thom asks later, over dinner.

Kara blushes and methodically shreds her roll. She doesn't, still, know the answer to that. "I am a bit worried about Alanna," she says finally; a half-truth is better than none at all.

Thom grins crookedly. "Alanna lives to make people worry," he says. "And that's not the whole truth."

Kara contemplates her shredded bread for a long, long moment.

"I just wanted to, I guess," she says finally.

Thom tips his head back and regards her through hooded eyes. "That's more than enough reason, you know."

"It doesn't feel like it," Kara says sadly.

***

"How did you know to come looking for me?" Kara asks Thom the next morning.

They are on the balcony outside Kara's room; Thom has deliberately rented rooms in a middling large merchants' inn, somewhat off the beaten path, with space up high that lets them both survey the bustling city in solitude. Kara is grateful for it, though she suspects he didn't do it entirely for her.

Thom doesn't answer. Instead, he stares fixedly down at the cup of water in his hands.

"Thom?"

"How long were you planning to stay in Persopolis?" he asks.

Kara frowns at the non sequitur. "I have no set plans. Why?"

Thom turns only his head, to look at her. His eyes are staring off into the middle distance, right through Kara. "Alanna's coming back within a month. D'you want to go meet her when she disembarks?" His mouth slides into his usual sharp grin, and his eyes focus properly on her. "Does that answer your other question also?"

Kara shivers. "Yes," she says, to both questions.

***

The Alanna Kara meets in Port Caynn is a different Alanna.

For one thing, she's clearly been seasick. Kara can't really blame her; the thought of actually getting in one of those boats is making her queasy.

For another, she looks older. Older than two years' absence can account for. There is a gravity about her, a weight to her steps that Kara can't make mesh with the memory of the bright spirit that blew into the Bloody Hawk all those months ago.

Alanna notices her waiting, and a brief flash of surprise lights her eyes. A warm grin crosses Alanna's face, and she steps around the burly redhead walking with her to greet Kara with open arms.

A nervousness Kara didn't even know was there evaporates, and she steps into the embrace. "I didn't expect to see you here!" Alanna says into her hair.

"I wanted to see my sister," Kara replies.

Alanna releases her, only to latch onto her wrist and drag her over to the three people standing nearby, watching.

"Come and meet my friends," Alanna says, laughing, and just like that all of the world-weariness burns off of the older woman, and she is the sister Kara remembers.

***

Kara learns many things in Corus. She learns that her newest-met brother is an utter lunatic, and thinks that if Thom and Ishak ever meet, they will either hate each other or get along brilliantly. Either way, the camp would be leveled.

Kara resolves to make sure they meet only in Persopolis, or, for preference, the empty desert.

She learns that northerners have really appalling architectural sense. Kara supposes they can't help it, on account of being northerners. Something about all the trees must addle the brain.

She learns that northern women are kind of scary. They remind her, distantly, of something she can't quite remember, something hazy with the distance of time, and they remind her also of some of the elder women of the tribe, who also wield great power.

The northern women are more than willing to wield that power openly, in front of all the world, however, which is the major difference. Maybe it comes from having nothing to hide behind. Either way, Kara thinks, Alanna is not so strange after all.

Kara has also learned how to drug crowds, which is probably not something she should ever admit to either Kourrem or Ishak, because they'd probably take it as a dare.

Later, when she and Buri are slumped together, laughing hysterically (and somewhat guiltily, in Kara's case anyway), in a secluded nook near the Hall of Crowns, Kara realizes she has also learned how to make friends.

***

Roxanne looks Kara up and down. "Ready to go home yet?"

From anyone else, that would be a veiled slur. From Roxanne, it's genuine interest. "I am home," Kara points out. Roxanne grins (which doesn't make her any prettier, Kara thinks, but rather delightfully real) and concedes the point.

"You still need to find a place to settle, though," the older woman points out. "Unless you plan to wander rootless like Alanna." She gives Kara a piercing look. "You don't seem the type."

"I'm not," Kara agrees. "Thayet's helping me set up a school in Persopolis, for educating other Bazhir like my siblings and me. I'll be going down when the purchase of the building is final."

"And your siblings? Are they going to join you?"

Kara shrugs. "I don't know. Kourrem might. If Ishak does, it will only be because he wants to see the city. Alanna will probably drop by now and then - but you're right, she's too rootless to stay - and I'm not sure having Thom within city limits is ever a good idea."

Roxanne is uncharacteristically silent, for a long, considering moment. "If it's not too much of a burden…" She trails off.

Kara glances at her curiously. The older woman is almost blushing. "I'd welcome help," Kara says softly. "I'm not really old enough to be a teacher."

"I think you'll do better than you think," Roxanne retorts. "But I'm coming with you anyway."

Kara smiles.