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6th Day of Wort Moon, 1043 K.F.

Dinner at 6 Cheeseman Street, Daja thought to herself, was a rather unpredictable affair. In the few weeks since their return from Namorn, dinner had become a time the four of them spent together as often as they could. She and Tris were nearly always home, and Sandry did her best to make it to dinner most nights, although business at the Duke’s Citadel frequently made it impossible. Briar usually ate with them, if he wasn’t off with some new girl.

With the four of them together dinners were never dull. Tris always wanted to argue about magical theory, which frequently devolved into to demonstrations, Sandry amused them with tales from the citadel, and Briar always had the latest Winding Circle gossip. Lately Daja had been experimenting with living metal again, and she often brought her current project to show the others and ask their input.

Tonight it was Sandry who started the conversation, as they all sat sipping a cup of Briar’s best calming tea after the dishes were cleared away.

“Would any of you ever want to change your name?” she wanted to know. “You know, pick a mage name.”

“It’s our right,” Tris agreed, “since we wear the medallion.” They all considered for a moment.

“I don’t know,” Daja said finally. “I like having a piece of my family in mine.” She glanced in the corner where her staff was propped against a wall. She had accepted the fact that her life as a lugsha was not one her parents would have chosen, but it was important to her that she was still a trader. Anyone who saw her staff, or heard the name Kisubo, would know that. It wasn’t something she would want to give up.

“No,” she repeated. “I wouldn’t want to change my name. What about you?”

“I’m a fa Toren,” Sandry said simply. There was no more to say. Unlike the other three, Sandry would never be simply a mage. Her power was an undeniable part of her, and a part of how others saw her, but she was first and foremost Lady Sandreline fa Toren, niece of Duke Vedris, and one his Grace’s top advisors.

“Well I already picked this name,” Briar said.  “It suits me just fine.”

“Aren’t you afraid people won’t respect you with a name like Master Moss?” Daja teased. Briar was Rosethorn’s boy; he had no trouble commanding respect when he wanted it.

“I’m just a humble gardener,” Briar told her. “I’ve no need to be impressing great folks.”

“And if they don’t respect him, they’ll learn their mistake soon enough,” Tris muttered to Sandry. Sandry grinned.

“A least my name says something about my power,” Briar retorted. “Even if I didn’t know it at the time. What about you, Coppercurls? Don’t you want to change your name to Stormkiller?”

Tris made a face at him. “You know full well I wouldn’t do anything so foolish as try to destroy a storm!”

“Stormtamer, then” Briar offered, grinning.

“Trisana Stormtamer?” Daja said, trying it out. “I don’t know…”

“Anyways,” Tris said, cutting them off, “I’m not exactly looking to attract more attention, if you haven’t noticed. The whole point of going to Lightsbridge is so I can blend in. I don’t think choosing a mage name is the best way to do that.”

Daja exchanged significant glances with Sandry and Briar. They’d avoided brining up the subject of Lightsbidge in the weeks since their return home, though they’d discussed it often enough when Tris wasn’t around. Sandry was of the opinion that Tris had given the plan up as foolish. It was easy enough to plan to leave while they were all off in Namorn, but Sandry was certain that once she was back in Winding Circle, Tris would come to her senses.

Daja wasn’t so sure. Tris was stubborn, and wouldn’t give up an idea just because her brothers and sisters didn’t like it. She hadn’t been away long enough for that to change.

“Tris,” Sandry began, in her calmest, let's-be-reasonable voice,” “about Lightsbridge…”

“No,” snapped Tris, “I know what you’re going to say, and I don’t want to hear it.”

“If you’d just listen for a minute—”

“Listen to what?  Listen to you lecture me on how you want me to live my life? Forget it, I’m not interested.”

“Tris, can’t we just talk—”

“No, we can’t!” Tris shouted, braids beginning to sparkle. “I am going to Lightsbridge, and that’s final! If you three don’t understand, it’s your problem, not mine. I’ve made up my mind, and maybe you should work on trying to accept it, instead of trying to convince me because it’s not going to work.

Daja, Briar and Sandry sat in silence as Tris stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

“So that went well,” Briar said finally. None of the three was new to Tris’s temper, but that didn’t make it enjoyable to be on the receiving end when she got into one of her rages. He looked at the other two. “Want me to go talk to her?”

“Give her time to calm down,” Sandry said tiredly, sitting back in her chair.

“We’ll just have to try another time,”

“No, I’ll talk to her,” Daja said. If Sandry and Briar were surprised at the offer, neither of them said anything. “Maybe she’ll be more reasonable if she doesn’t feel like we’re ganging up on her.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Sandy sighed.

“Mind you don’t get singed,” Briar grinned.

“I’ve handled forest fires; I think I can take a bit of lightning!”

 

Daja didn’t need to bother to feel for Tris’s magic. When Tris was upset she wanted the highest, windiest place. At home, that meant the roof. Sure enough, Tris was there, braids whipping wildly in a breeze she’d summoned, lightning dancing along her body, casting her silhouette into a weird relief against the darkening sky.

“I don’t know how you manage all those stairs on such a regular basis,” Daja remarked casually. “I thought you hated stairs.”

“I don’t usually bother climbing them,” Tris muttered, without turning around. “And if storming out of the kitchen wasn’t clear enough, I want be left alone.

Daja shrugged. “I spend all day in the forge. Three flights of stairs don’t intimidate me.”

Tris turned her head to glare at Daja. “Just because you were willing to climb up here doesn’t mean I’m willing to talk to you.”

“Fine by me,” Daja said comfortably, sitting down on the step by the door.

“Fine!” Tris snapped, turning back to the view, skirts rustling as her breezes swirled around her.

Daja sat quietly, watching. Tris glasses were on the ground near her feet, presumably knocked to the ground in the gusts Tris had summoned when Daja had intruded. As Tris grew calmer the winds began to settle, though lightning still ran along her arms and hands. She stood entirely still, breathing evenly, looking out into the night. Meditating, perhaps, Daja thought. Or maybe scrying on the winds. It was hard to see the difference with her back turned.

Daja wasn’t sure how much time passed as she sat there. Sandry would have pushed Tris to talk, which probably wouldn’t have worked.  Briar would have tried a joke, which might have. She just waited.

When Tris finally spoke, her voice was calmer and the lightning had faded. “The first thing I ever saw on the wind was a ship,” she said quietly. “One of the things I love about this spot is how often I see them up here. The wind brings them up from the harbor. It reminds me of that feeling I used to have, when I learned a new way to use my power. It was like I could do anything.”

“Well, we were kids,” Daja pointed out. “Maybe we were a little naïve?”

“I know that magic can’t solve everything. But I used to feel like there were endless opportunities. Now sometimes it feels like all I see is…limitations.”

Daja thought for a moment. It seemed to her that Tris’s power was closer to limitless than anyone else she’d ever met—although of course it wasn’t. But that wasn’t what Tris meant. She might have the power to call winds and banish storms, but weather magic just wasn’t a steady line of work.

“We’ve all been called on to use our magic to avert disasters,” Tris said.

“Or cause them,” Daja added. She caught the flicker of a smile on her sister’s face.

“But at the end of the day, you’re a smith, Briar’s a gardener, and Sandry is a weaver.  I’m just an odd girl who reads a lot and plays with lightning.”  

“And that’s not enough?” Daja joked.

“I don’t think there’s a way to make a living reading. If there were, I’d have found it.”

“Maybe not. But Lightsbridge?”

“I know what you’re thinking. They’re so narrow-minded! They’ll try to put me into some small box and then I won’t fit, because I’m plump, and my hair is far too frizzy, and it will all be a mess, and I’ll end up getting frustrated and frying everyone and coming home in despair. Right?”

Daja smiled. “Well, maybe that was a bit more dramatic than what I was going to say, but basically…yeah.”

“I know that Lightsbridge is different than Winding Circle,” Tris agreed, stooping to pick up her glasses.  Daja scooted over to make room on the step, and Tris came and sat down next to her. “And I know we’ve spent our whole lives hearing how limited their views on ambient magic are. But don't you think it’s possible that the mages at Winding Circle are a little biased when talking about their primary rival in magical learning? I mean, just look at Rosethorn and Crane.”

“But Niko says…”

“Niko says he may not be entirely convinced, but he respects my judgment and supports my decision. Which is a lot more than I can say for you three.”

Daja grimaced. “You’re right, I’m sorry.  It’s your life and of course you should do whatever you think is best. It’s just, are you sure you are doing it for the right reasons?”

“What do you mean?”

Daja wasn’t sure how to explain, exactly.  Tris had a tendency to distance herself from others, as most people were either afraid of her magic or awed by her ability.  She had gotten a lot more trusting in their years together as children, but had encountered too much hostility in her travels. Her solution had always been to retreat to her magic and her books, and Daja wondered if this was similar, a kind of escape.

“At first I thought you wanted to go to Lightsbridge to get away from us, because we were fighting so much,” Daja said slowly. “I know that’s not true, but are you sure you’re not just telling yourself you don’t fit in, even though you do?”

“It’s not that I don’t fit in,” Tris explained. “I know I have our circle and our teachers, and a life here. But I need to learn new skills that I can’t learn here. I want to be able to support myself. I want to be able to make spells and peddle charms, and do all the normal, mundane, un-flashy magics that academic mages can do. And to do that I have to go to Lightsbridge.”

Daja paused, knowing what Sandry’s reaction would be if she actually agreed with Tris. Some job I've done at convincing her to stay, she thought, amused. But if she’s right, she’s right. And I think she might be right.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay? As in, okay forget it, this argument isn’t worth it, or as in, okay you think it’s a good idea?”

“I think it’s a good idea. I think you’re right that you need something else, and you may even be right that you can find it at Lightsbridge. It’s certainly worth a shot.”

“Thanks,” Tris said, letting out a huge breath of air. “I wasn’t looking forward to fending off all three of you when you attempted to forcibly hold me here.”

Daja laughed. “Well, I promise not to help them. I’ll even try to talk Briar and Sandry around for you, if you’d like.”

“That might be a good idea,” Tris agreed. “I’m not sure I can get through the conversation without exploding, which isn’t likely to convince anyone.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Daja promised. “So you want to come in? Or would you prefer to continue sulking under the stars?”

“I wasn’t sulking, I was scrying,” Tris said with dignity, rising to her feet. “But let’s go in, it’s getting a bit chilly.” The two moved around the roof, righting the various potted plants that had been toppled in the wake of Tris’s anger.

“Don’t tell Briar I knocked his plants over again,” Tris muttered, scooping soil back into a potted ivy. “He warned me not to meditate up here if I couldn’t control the winds.”

Daja gave her an amused look. “Do you really think he won’t notice? He should be used to it by now. I’m thinking of starting a tally board down in the kitchen: Number of Days Since Hurricane Tris Last Destroyed Our Mutual Property.”

Tris shoved her, grinning, and they both heading back into the house.

 

14th Day of Wort Moon, 1043 K.F.

“I need your help,” Tris announced to Daja as the two were setting the table for dinner about a week later.

"What is it?” Daja asked, wary. “If it involves running around in a storm, or waking up in the middle of the night to watch the stars, or adopting another stray animal, or ...”

“When was the last time I asked you to run around in a storm?” Tris asked, cutting off the litany.

“The last summer we were all home, three weeks before Frostpine and I left for Namorn,” Daja replied, immediately. “And you wanted to go stargazing just last week.”

“But it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a comet that close—” Tris began, then stopped at the amused expression on Daja's face. “You know what? Forget it. From now on I will avoid all opportunities to share the wonders of nature. You can remain in your forge all day, oblivious to the beauty around you. Would you like that?”

“Yes please.”

“Fine. Your loss.  Anyways, it’s not for me, it’s for Briar.”

“What about him?” Daja asked. “He's seemed relatively stable lately.”

Tris wasn't so sure. With the three of them settled at Daja's place, Briar did seem better than he had been on the road. He only woke the others with his nightmares once a week, although Tris suspected it was because he'd gotten better at keeping the girls out, rather than a real improvement. He was still jumpy, and Tris thought he actually avoided going near the Winding Circle temples because of what he'd seen, though he'd never admit it.

“That's just it,” Tris agreed. "He's relatively stable, but he's not back to his normal self. The only time I really see the old, peaceful Briar, is when he's been with his shakkan.”

“You know, you're right.” Daja said.

“It does happen occasionally,” Tris said dryly.

“But what do you want to do about it?”

“He needs to see a mind healer," Tris said. "And I don't feel like waiting around to realize it on his own. We'll be here for a long time."

"So you want me to help you...pursuade him?" Daja asked, grinning.

"If that's what it takes. We can try talking first, but I doubt it will work."

“Use these, then” Daja suggested, handing Tris a set of copper bowls. “I just finished them. It’s good to have a few negotiating chips, and Briar does hate to miss a meal.”

When Briar walked in a few minutes later Tris was ladling stew into the new bowls. “Stew smells great,” he said approvingly. “And I like the bowls, Daj.’”

“Enjoy,” she said, placing a bowl in front of him. She nodded at Tris, and they both sat down opposite Briar, identical expressions of determination on their faces. Briar glanced at them warily, his mouth too full of stew, for the moment, to preemptively change the subject.

“You need to go to a mind-healer,” Tris said flatly, without preamble. “Not next week, not next month. Now. Don’t give me that story about being fine, or too tough, or it not being a big deal. You need it, and you know it, so just get over yourself and go.”

“Can’t a man eat his dinner in peace?” Briar growled. “I’m fine, and I’m not going.”

“Yes, you are!” Tris snapped, her eyes flashing.

“No, I ain’t!” Briar retorted. “And I don’t wanna talk about it, so I’ll thank you to keep your neb out of my business. This conversation is over.” He pointedly picked up his spoon, ignoring Tris’ glare.

I’ve got it, Daja told her through their bond. She gestured, and Briar’s copper bowl danced out of his reach and flew across the table.

“Are you prepared to listen, or do we have to do this the hard way?” she asked her brother pleasantly.

Tris grinned. Daja was unflappable; it was won of her most infuriating and most endearing traits. She’d known she’d likely lose her temper at Briar—he got her worked up faster than anyone else she knew—which was why she’d enlisted Daja’s help.

“Hey! Gimme my food!’ Briar yelped. There was enough of the street rat in the young man to make the prospect of a missed meal alarming. The table—wooden, of course—creaked as it lifted a side in response to his distress, shifting Briar’s food back towards his outreached hand.

“Allow me,” Tris offered, catching the bowl as it slid and placing a spark of lightning in it. “I do so love copper,” she told the outraged Briar conversationally. “It holds lightning for hours. I used to use this trick to keep Glakki’s sitters honest.”

Briar growled in frustration and shoved his chair back from the table so hard it fell over.

“I’m eating elsewhere,” he snapped, heading for the door.

Tris didn’t need to look at Daja to feel her gesture to the iron rail that sat on the second floor banister. Before Briar thought to turn around, it had pinned him to the wall.

Wards, perhaps? Daja suggested to Tris, as Briar struggled. Or else the plants will be trying to get in.

Good idea. Tris drew a little of the power stored in one of her braids, placing a line of lightning around the house.

All set, she replied. Nothing should be able to get in.

“Now are you ready to listen?” Tris asked Briar.

Just then the door opened and Sandry walked in, shedding bits of twigs and leaves as her clothes hastily shook themselves out.

“What in Mila’s name is going on in here?” she asked, blue eyes wide. “The plants outside are going crazy.” She looked around, and Daja saw her eyebrows rise as she took in Briar, pinned against the wall.

How’d she get in? Daja asked Tris through their magic, careful to keep Briar out. I thought you’d warded the house.

She’s got too much of my magic, Tris responded. My wards don’t even try to stop her.

Why doesn’t that work on Briar’s plants, then?

“It probably could, if he put his mind to it,” Tris murmured, out loud. “Let’s not give him enough time to think of that.”

“I think Sandry’s got that covered,” Daja told her, covering a smile with one hand.   

“I’ve been ambushed,” Briar was saying indignantly to Sandry. “The plants are going crazy because these two bleaters have lost it!”

“I’m sure they had a reason,” Sandry told him, propping her hands on her hips. “What have you been up to now?”

“Nothing!” Briar told her sulkily.

“That’s the problem,” Tris said drily.

“He promised Tris in Namorn that he’d see a mind-healer when he got back,” Daja explained. “He hasn’t done it, and didn’t seem to want to talk.” She shrugged. “We tried being nice. It’s time he listened.”

“Girls!” cried Briar in exasperation, “Always trying to interfere. Can’t you leave well enough alone?”

"Obviously you’re not ‘well enough’ the way things are,” Sandry said briskly.  “I agree; its time you dealt with this.  If you don’t go to see a mind healer tomorrow, I will make you very sorry.”

"What are you going to do?” Briar asked, uncertainty in his voice for the first time. Daja smiled to herself. Sandry was a force to be reckoned with. She could make Briar’s life miserable if she put her mind to it, and wouldn’t hesitate to do so.

Sandry smiled. “You know, I noticed you talking to Lady Jayda the last time you were at the Citadel. I’ll just have a quick word with your clothes, and the next time you two are together, well, some of the threads might not be so anxious to hold the fabric together. I understand it can be a bit awkward trying to seduce a lady when your breaches start falling to pieces.”

Briar glared at Sandry. She glared right back at him. No one was surprised when Briar dropped his eyes first.

“Fine!” he snapped. I’ll go tomorrow? Are you happy?”

“Yes,” all three girls chorused.

Daja released her hold on the iron rail, which flew back up to its proper place on the second floor banister. Tris smiled to herself. That had been much easier than she’d anticipated. She needed to remember that Sandry really knew how to talk to him.

Briar glared at them all. “You three are the most annoying, interfering, argumentative set of, of…”

“Sisters?” Sandry offered brightly.

Instead of responding, Briar stalked to the door. “I’m leaving!” he said with great dignity, yanking open the door. “Don’t expect me back tonight!”

Briar closes the door firmly behind him, and Sandry turned to Tris with a smile. “Is there any of whatever you had for dinner?” she asked, with an appreciative sniff. “Something smells amazing.”

 

15th Day of Wort Moon, 1043 K.F.

Tris looked around the empty kitchen. It was hard to tell who would be around for dinner these days. Luckily, it was easy enough to check.

Sandry? Tris thought. Are you coming for dinner?

Yes, Sandy answered. I’ll be there soon.

How soon is soon? Tris wanted to know. Because sometimes you say soon and it means two hours.

“Soon,” Sandry answered, walking through the door into the kitchen, eyes dancing.

“Very funny,” Tris said dryly, as Sandry flopped exhaustedly into a chair.

“I though it was,” she said absently, massaging her temples. “Do you have any of Briar’s—”

“Headache tea,” Tris finished for her, handing her a cup. It seemed that Sandry came home from the citadel with a headache more often than not. Sometimes Tris wondered why Sandry put up with it all, but she knew better than to ask. She’d only get an earful about duty, and responsibility, and all that. Or about protecting his Grace from overworking himself. Besides, Tris rather suspected Sandy enjoyed all the work of governance. Which was probably a good thing, she mused, adding some seasoning to the soup, since anyone could see that Duke Vedris was going to make Sandry his heir. Well, anyone other than Sandry, of course.

To each her own, Tris thought. If I want her to be supportive about Lightsbridge, I suppose I could try to show a little more interest in what she’s chosen. It probably won’t kill me.

“Long day?” she asked her sister, in what she thought might pass for a sympathetic tone.

Sandry sighed. “I spent the day negotiating with Tharian silk merchants over trade terms. They do lovely work and their terms aren’t that unreasonable, but they take forever to say anything.

“You should let me run the negotiations.  I’d keep everything short and to the point.”

“Yes, because everyone in Tharios is still scared of you!” Sandry giggled.

“Who’s scared of Tris now?” Daja said, walking into the kitchen.

“Just entire countries, nothing new,” Sandry told her. “Where have you been? You don’t look like you’re coming from the forge.”

"Discipline,” Daja responded, taking a seat next to her. “Tris made me go see Lark.”

“I just suggested it,” Tris shook her head. “I thought it would be a good idea.”

Why? Sandry asked her, privately.

She’s still heartbroken over Rizu. Last night was the third night in a row that I found her crying herself to sleep. I thought it might help to talk to Lark.

You mean, because she’s a nisamohi?

No, because she’s Lark, Tris told her. I’d tell Briar the same thing, if I thought he’d listen.

That was very sweet of you, Tris, Sandry teased. You’re going soft in your old age.

Maybe I just didn’t want to deal with her myself anymore, did you think of that?

“It was a good idea,” Daja said, unaware of the silent exchange between the others. "And you’ll never guess what Lark told me.”

“It’s okay to be sad; you got your heart broken but it will get better?” Tris guessed, handing the others bowls of soup.

“Well yes—but somehow Lark made it much more helpful than that. But that’s not it. Moonstream is stepping down.”

“Oh my goodness,” Sandry said, her hand to her mouth. “But she’s been head of Winding Circle for years.”

“Twenty years, according to Lark. And everyone says she’s done a wonderful job.” The other two nodded. They hadn’t had a great deal of contact with Moonstream individually, but she had been in the background throughout most of their childhoods, keeping eye on them and their magical development.  Tris knew she had been directly involved in many of the decisions to limit or allow their magical freedom. Niko had once implied, though he was too discrete to say it outright, that it was Moonstream who had gone to the Joint Mage Council of Winding Circle and Lightsbridge and argued that the four should be given their medallions at an unprecedented early age. Tris supposed that Moonstream had a level of objective distance that their teachers couldn’t have claimed, but she also had a great deal of sway with the council.

“It’ll be strange to have someone new,” Sandry said. “Did Lark have any idea who might take over?”

“Yeah,” said Daja, with an odd look, “her.”

“Lark?”

“Yes. Apparently Moonstream asked her personally to consider the position. She hasn’t accepted yet—the offer only came today. That’s why you haven’t heard yet,” she added apologetically to Sandry.

“As if I’d care about a thing like that! But what do you think she’s going to do? Is she going to accept?”

“She’d be good,” Tris offered. “Lark can talk to anybody, and everyone likes her.”

“Of course she’d be good,” Sandry said, as if it was silly to have even mentioned it. “But what about Discipline, and young mages? What about Rosethorn?”

“Lark says they’re talking about it,” Daja told her. “Of course they love Discipline, but there are other people who could do that.”

“Us?” Tris joked.

“Maybe someday,” Daja answered seriously. Tris suddenly had a vision of the two of them, living at Discipline again, raising young mages who’d lost their homes and families.  Sandry would come and mother the children whenever she could escape from the citadel. She’d probably have children of her own, for that matter; Sandry was born to be a mother. Briar would stop by daily to tend Rosethorn’s garden (it would always, Tris thought wryly, be Rosethorn’s garden, even if she and Lark were to move out and decades should pass), but he probably wouldn’t want to be rooted to the cottage in the way that she could easily see Daja, and even herself, happily doing. What was it that Rosethorn had said about Niko all those years ago? ‘He’s no dedicate—that would mean he’d have to stay in one place. He’s a mage—as rootless as a dandelion seed, drifting in the wind.’ That was Briar. He liked new experiences, meeting new people, seeing new plants. Briar was going to spend his life traveling around the pebbled sea, tending to the gardens of the high and low. Like Niko, he’d be the first to stay home when a student needed him, but Tris was willing to bet he’d never take vows.

Daja, though…she could see that easily. Daja more than any of them could settle happily in Winding Circle with a forge and some students and never need to leave. She didn’t want to make that commitment now, and tie herself to Winding Circle at such a young age. But in a few years, it might not seem so bad. The only things Daja really loved above all else were smithing, her family, and the sea. She could have all three of them here and Winding Circle; certainly the vows of poverty wouldn’t bother her. And Tris imagined Daja would be good with children, given how patient she was.

As for her herself, well. Tris shook her head. She couldn’t see a future where she could support herself without doing war magic. She supposed that taking vows would be one answer to that question, but, like Daja, she felt she was too young to limit herself in that way. That’s why she wanted to go to Lightsbridge, to expand her options rather than narrow them. But in a hazy ‘someday’ she might enjoy settling down for good at Discipline. She’d genuinely enjoyed teaching Glakki, before she’d turned her over to Lark and Rosethorn, though she doubted all children would be so easy going and affectionate as Glakki had been.

I certainly wouldn’t have the patience to deal with the handful the four of us must have been! Tris thought, amused. And I bet plenty of young mages would be just as bad. I’d end up threatening to hang them in the well if they meddled with my things, and Daja would have to smooth over my prickliness.

“At any rate,” Daja said, breaking into Tris’s reverie, “it’s harder to find someone who can run the whole circle.”

“But what about Rosethorn?” Sandry repeated. “She’d hate that.”

“She’d hate it,” Briar said from the doorway. “But if Moonstream asked it of Lark, Rosethorn will want her to do it.”

“Lark didn’t put it quite that way, but that was the impression I got,” Daja agreed, as Briar walked in, serving himself some soup before joining the others at the table. “Lark is going to take a while to think it over. Moonstream hasn’t made the announcement official, because she’d like to announce her successor at the same time. So I’d imagine Lark won’t be too long deciding. Word is bound to get out soon, but Lark asked if we’d keep this among ourselves for now.”

Tris, and Sandry rolled their eyes at one another.  “As if we’d tell,” Sandry said.

I’m gonna. Briar said to Sandry and Tris. I’m gonna tell everyone I know, and then blame you two.

Thanks ever so, Tris told him. You’re just the absolute sweetest.

Well I owe you one for last night, he replied. Don’t think I haven’t forgotten you kept me from my dinner. Speaking of which…

Briar reached on the counter and grabbed a bag Tris hadn’t noticed him bring in.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Peace offering,” he said, smirking. “In recognition that I possibly deserved what I got last night, and—” he drew away the wrapping to reveal a set of wooden bowls “in the hopes of ensuring that I am never again placed in the position that you two can keep me from my dinner.”

Sandry laughed.

“Peace offering accepted,” Daja said, grinning. “Does this mean you actually went? Or does Sandry have to make good on her threat?”

“I went, I went!” Briar said hastily. “I went to see Dedicate Windflower in the Water temple. She’s the best mind-healer at Winding Circle. We had our first session today.”

And? Tris asked, afraid to ask even the simple question out loud.

And you were right, he answered so all three girls could hear. I’m not planning on admitting that again, but you were. I need to go, and I was avoiding it.

Do you want to talk about it? Daja asked.

“Not really,” he said, tearing off a piece of bread. “How was your day, Sandry?”

“Overwhelming,” she responded. ‘I was going over the list of things that have to happen before Uncle and I begin entertaining this fall, and the number of things that need to be addressed is quite extensive.

“Like what?” Tris asked, remembering her resolution to be more interested.

“Like the gardens,” Sandry said, glancing at Briar.

Briar snorted. “What about them? The fact that nobody has cared for the most of them since the head gardener died years ago?”

"We still have gardeners, Briar. They just don’t have very much…initiative. I don’t think it’s ever been a high priority for Uncle.  And although I’ve been aware of it for years—yes, I listen to you!—there’s never been anyone we trusted for the position.” She paused suggestively, looking hopefully at him.

Briar chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “Yeah, okay.”

“Really?” Sandry said, eyes bright. “You’ll do it?”

“I’ll help you get the gardens back in shape,” Briar cautioned. “I do enjoy a challenge, and they have so much potential. But I’m not promising to stick around long-term. You’ll need to find someone else to be your head gardener.”

“Oh, I never thought you’d want to spend forever on it,” Sandry assured him. “Although I’m certain Uncle would be happy to make you head gardener without expecting you to stay around all the time. You could find a deputy you trust and check in often or as little as you like.”

“Well, it’s very kind of your uncle to make the offer,” Briar grinned, tugging one of Sandry’s braids as if they were still kids. “Tell him I’ll consider it.”

Sandry swatted him away with an ease born of many years of practice. “Thank you! That’s one less thing on my mind, then. I know the gardens will be famed around the Pebbled Sea if you oversee them.”

“It’s true,” Briar said solemnly. “Even if I don’t stay long, I’ll find you someone good to replace me. How ‘bout you, Coppercurls? I’ll train you up all autumn, and by winter you’ll be ready to take over. What do you think?”

“I think I’ll be Lightsbridge this fall,” Tris said, annoyed.  Did they think that if they ignored it, she wasn't going to go? “But I am not going to have this discussion again. Talk to Daja. I’m going to see Niko.”

***

Daja watched as Tris stalked out of the kitchen. She knew she hadn’t had a chance to talk to Briar and Sandry since her conversation with Tris, but she should have realized it would result in another fight. She only hoped she’d be able to convince Briar and Sandry, so they could stop having the same argument every time they were together.

“So I take it your discussion went well,” Briar said conversationally.

“Actually, it did.” Daja said. “I think she should go to Lightsbridge.”

Briar shook his head. “Traitor! What convinced you? Besides our dear sister’s very forceful personality?”

“How would you feel,” Daja asked, serious despite Briar’s flippant tone, “if all you could do was thorns and crushing vines, without gardening to balance it?”

Briar silently for a time, his eyes shadowed. Daja wondered if he was thinking of Yanjing. After a moment, he shook his head, as if to clear it.

“All right,” he said to Daja.

“All right?” Sandry repeated, outraged. “Just like that? There’s more to Tris than battle magic. She does enormous good incredibly easily. What about the wall she strengthened at Landreg, or all the storms she moves to save crops? Do you two even want her to stay home at all?”

“Of course we do,” Daja told her. “Don’t be ridiculous, Sandry."

"Ridiculous? I'm being ridiculous?"  

"I’m not saying Tris can only destroy things. But even building a wall or moving a storm is temporary, not to mention incredibly conspicuous. Doing such occasional, flashy magic is not a stable way to make a living, or to live your life.”

“But she can’t go to Lightsbridge,” Sandry wailed, but with less conviction. “They’ll turn her into some kind of academic—automaton.”

Daja rolled her eyes at Briar, who raised his eyebrows. “It’s Tris,” he pointed out. “They’re certainly welcome to try. I doubt they’ll succeed.”

Sandry managed a feeble smile. “I suppose not,” she sniffed. "But we've only just gotten home, she shouldn't rush off again. Once she settles in, she might change her mind."

"It's Tris," Briar said again.

“Alright, so she probably won't change her mind. And she’s my sister; I should support this if it’s what she wants to do. I just wish she didn’t want to go so far away, again.”

“Lightsbridge isn’t so far away,” Briar pointed out.  “At least we can visit.”

“It’s too far to mind-speak, though,” Sandry sighed.

A sudden thought struck Daja. “Maybe we can do something about that…”

 

23rd day of Wort Moon, 1043 K.F.

It was a pleasant evening to be out, Tris thought as she made her way home from the market. Few of the soaking-wet shoppers she passed would have agreed, but Tris had always enjoyed rainstorms. Tonight she didn’t bother pushing the rain away. By her estimation this was the last storm they’d be getting for almost two weeks; she’d better enjoy it while it lasted.

She was going to have to find Daja a new housekeeper when she left, she realized as she walked home. None of the others would want to take the time to do the household chores Tris had taken on when she’d moved in. And she certainly didn’t trust Daja or Briar to find someone competent on their own. Sandry might be some help in looking, if she could ever get her sister to accept that she was going to Lightsbridge. Tris wasn’t sure that was ever going to happen, though. She thought Daja might have a chance with Briar, but Sandry was a stubborn as a mule when she wanted to be.

Tris was nicely drenched by the time she arrived home. Opening the front door, she placed her basket on the ground as she rung out her damp braids. The dress, one of Sandry’s, remained as dry as if she’d taken a stroll through the desert.  Too bad Sandry can’t do boots, Tris thought, as she struggled out of hers.

To her surprise, the hallway smelled pleasantly of herbs . “Did someone else cook?”

“Tris, you’re getting water everywhere!” Sandry scolded, coming into the entryway and taking the dripping basket. “What kind of weather mage are you?

“One who likes weather,” Tris replied mildly. “And I’m hardly dripping at all. I wore one of your rainy-day dresses on purpose, so stop fussing. Who cooked?”

“Your braids are smoking,” Sandry said, leading the way into the kitchen. “Just in case you wanted to know. And we all helped with dinner.”

They entered the kitchen, and Tris saw that the table was filled with all of her favorites. There was also a small pile of gifts at her seat.

“What is this?” she asked, bemused. “What’s going on?”

“We wanted to prove that we’d be alright when you go off to Lightsbridge.” Briar told her. “Turns out, if I handle the greens, Daj handles the fire, and Sandry bosses everyone around—” he grinned as Sandry stuck out her tongue at him—“apparently we can cook alright.”

“That yet remains to be seen,” Daja pointed out. “Let’s eat.”

Tris looked at them all in confusion. “So—is this your way of trying to tell me…”

“That we’re sorry we gave you such a hard time about Lightsbridge?” Briar supplied. “Yes. You know, you’re supposed to be the smart one, Coppercurls. Are you sure you’re really up for Lightsbridge?”

“Perfectly sure, thank you,” Tris informed him haughtily. “It just seems like an abrupt change, is all.”

“Well, Daja talked us around, and we realized we were being idiots.” Sandry explained.

“Big idiots,” Tris muttered, somewhat appeased.

“Listen, do you want your presents or not?” Briar demanded. “Because I’m sure these would fetch a nice sum—”

“She wants them, Briar,” Daja said, rolling her eyes. Sandry shoved Tris towards her seat.

“Which should I open first?” she asked.

“Mine,” Sandry decreed, handing Tris the largest parcel. Tris quickly undid the string. After years with Sandry, she knew better than to linger over the wrapping, or Sandry would do it for her with a glance.

The wrapping fell away to reveal a set of skirts and shawls in dark blues, greens, and grays. Tris didn’t need to see Sandry’s proud beam to recognize her work. Picking up a shawl, she inspected it with a tendril of her power.

“What does it do?” she asked. “I can recognize your power, but it doesn’t seem like the rainy-day gowns.”

“No, this is something new,” Sandry said enthusiastically. “I wove in a spell of misdirection. Its nothing so drastic as a disguise, but it should discourage people from recognizing you, or connecting you to anything they may of heard of your power.”

“It was my idea,” Briar told her. Tris wasn’t surprised; it was like Briar to consider the details of deception. She hadn’t really thought beyond enrolling under a false name.

“I’m going to make you a full wardrobe, of course,” Sandry said briskly. “But this was as much as I had time to do in the past few days.”

“Mine next,” Briar said, reaching under the table and bringing up a small potted tree.

“Briar! One of your shakkans?” Tris asked, incredibly touched. She knew how attached he was to every one of them. He didn’t part with them lightly.

“It’s a cedar,” he said softly, stroking the trunk. “It’s spelled for protection. I figure you’ll need all you can get without us around to protect you.”  Tris gave him a scornful look, and Daja laughed. They all knew Tris didn’t need help defending herself.

Briar scowled. “Alright, it’s so you can keep me in mind while you’re away.”

Tris surprised herself by kissing him on the cheek. “Thanks Briar, that’s very sweet. Maybe I’ll leave you a bit of lightning to keep, so you can remember me!”

Briar shuddered. “No thank you!”

Tris turned to the last parcel lying on the table. “This one from you, Daja?”

“Well it’s really from all of us,” Daja told her. “But it was my idea.”

“And she did almost all of the work,” Sandry added. “Open it!”

Tris opened the package to reveal three small silver barrettes. She looked at them, mystified.

“I know you don’t wear barrettes, but I think I’ve managed to make some that will actually stay in that mage-kit you call hair,” Daja teased. “They’re a way to—to stay connected over the distance to Lightsbridge. We each put a little of our magic into it, and I’ve fashioned it so that we should be able to mind-speak as if we were still comfortably within range, whenever you wear them.  We won’t know for sure until you go to Lightsbridge, of course, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t. Trader knows I’ve made enough with living metal to have a sense of how it works by now.”

“We can’t change the distance,” Sandry said softly, “but we wanted to make you feel you wouldn’t be so far from home.”

Tris looked at her siblings. “Thank you all so much,” she told them. “I’m not leaving because I want to, you know.” She stopped, wanting to avoid a scene, but afraid she might cry.

“We know,” Daja responded her softly, aware of Tris’s dislike of emotional displays. “And these gifts don’t mean we’re glad you’re leaving. So why don’t we leave it at that?”

Tris nodded, not quite trusting her voice. Thank you, she told her sister silently. For all of this.

Of course, Daja said simply. Tris gave her a small smile.

“Alright then.” Daja said briskly. “Who’s ready for some dinner?”