Daja had vaguely expected Tris to hang up her housekeeper's apron after the return from Namorn.
Daja had a lot to remember about Tris's stubbornness, apparently.
"You're never going to heal properly if you keep mucking about dusting."
Tris didn't even pause in her straightening up. "They always told me I'd get stuck making faces, and that never happened either."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Daja muttered.
Tris sent a puff of air Daja's way; just enough to make her rock back on her heels.
Couldn't there be some way for Tris to wind and weave air around the room, blowing away the dust as it went, so that she didn't have to do it herself? Daja had always wondered that, when they were kids splitting chores at Discipline. She never asked, assuming Tris knew her magic best and that it must not be possible. Now Daja wondered if Tris didn't just like doing the work by hand. It would be like Tris to pick the harder of two paths.
"You could at least wait until the duke's healer left." Sandry's uncle had sent over one of his finest healers to stay with them until Tris was completely recovered. This hadn't gone over terribly well with Tris, who reminded the man loudly that she'd survived the long trip from Namorn without incident, or Briar, who disliked sharing the house with strangers, or Sandry, who wanted the best healers to be around Vedris at all times, though she at least was far more genteel about hiding her displeasure.
"Do you know how much dust accumulated while we were gone?"
"I thought that's why we had servants."
Tris turned up her nose at that. Daja had been recovering a lot of her skills at translating her brother and sisters' codes lately, and if she was remembering correctly, this meant that Tris didn't have a good answer but didn't want to admit it. Or that she thought the answer was so obvious that only a kaq would miss it and there was no use explaining things to a kaq.
"We are going to have to learn to do without you as a housekeeper," Daja pointed out. "You may as well let the rest of the house have some practice."
"Things are getting along just fine except for you fussing."
"Well, then. If you're going to dust, you might as well start in the library. I don't think the maid opened the door once while we were gone."
Tris readjusted her spectacles in a threatening manner, though she had to put the duster down to do so, which was itself a minor victory. "Your tactics are obvious, Tsaw'ha."
Tris's hand hesitated for a second before picking the duster back up. "But you may have a point."
Daja didn't push it.
"I suppose I could at least check."
Daja watched Tris enter the library. Vedris had sent along a stack of books as well, which were piled high on the table inside. If Tris hadn't buried her long nose in one of those within a half-hour, household chores forgotten, Daja would concede defeat.
There had been little time in Namorn for proper smithcraft, though she'd managed to keep her hand in on the journey home. "Let me stop and visit this old smith friend of Frostpine's" was one of the excuses they had trotted out when they felt like Tris should take a break but didn't want to say so to her face. Which did little good – Tris saw through every last excuse, and probably would have even without their newly restored connections. But in some way, that was half the fun of it.
It felt good to be home, where things were laid out properly, where every tool was fitted to her purposes and every piece of metal sang out to her, a bellowing, cheery chorus begging her to shape them, make them useful, make them beautiful.
She started the forge fire and pumped the bellows evenly. On other days she would use a touch of magic to speed the process and warm the forge. Today she wanted to savor the feeling of all the possibilities in front of her.
Once the fire was hot enough, she chose the metal. Her hands reached out, slowly but never wavering, toward sturdy iron, heavy with the weight of years, solid. Dependable.
As she hammered, she thought of Tris; wise, haughty, stubborn, gruff. She found those qualities in the iron; sought out, too, a lightness that was not inherent either to Tris or to the iron, and tried to make it play nice. This is for your own good, she told the metal, and it agreed with her, singing out until she had two fine new candlesticks. Simply wrought, light enough to travel. Finely crafted, but nothing that would look out of place on a student's desk.
When they were ready, she brought them to the library, sure that Tris must have moved on by now, but the redhead was still sitting pouring over the heaviest book Daja had ever seen.
Daja placed the candles down without a word and, since the day was getting late, dug out two candles and lit them, placing the candlesticks where their light could fall on the book.
It didn't look like Tris's usual fare of nature, astrology, history, science – well, Tris read anything, but this book seemed to have an awful lot of columns of numbers. Daja didn't realize she was reading over Tris's shoulder until she heard a wry voice in her head ask There are a hundred other books here you could read instead.
"I was curious," Daja said.
"It's about economics," Tris answered. "Trade routes across the Pebbled Sea. And it's very interesting." She turned a page emphatically.
Only Tris could be annoyed at getting interrupted going over someone else's logbooks. "If you want to learn about trading, I know someone you could talk to."
"Trade routes from three hundred years ago," Tris clarified.
"I can see why it's utterly fascinating, then."
"I'm a student," Tris said. "Students read everything."
Daja raised an eyebrow. "Did you ever meet any students on those journeys of yours? Or did you travel everywhere in the world except universities?"
"Niko and I visited plenty of universities."
"And what did the students at those universities do, mostly?"
Tris scowled. "Mostly they drank and canoodled and gossiped about other people canoodling. But I hardly call those students."
Daja shook her head. "You are going to have a very interesting time at Lightsbridge."
"I'm not going because I want to be interested. I'm going because I have to."
"Uncle tells me you had a meeting with him," Sandry said.
"I did," Daja confirmed. "I'd have said hello, but you were talking to the Provost about self-defense classes in the Mire."
Anyone who hadn't lived with Sandry for years would have missed the tightness around her mouth, the very slight tap of her foot.
Sandry was a grown-up. If she was annoyed about something, she could ask.
"Anything I should know about?" Sandry asked.
"No," Daja answered.
"Hmph." Sandry collapsed into a chair, this time not bothering to hide the pout that always made her look like she was ten years old and telling off Esmelle ei Pragin again. "Secrets. Why would uncle even tell me if he was planning on keeping it a secret."
Daja wasn't going to laugh. She wasn't. "You can't really be worried."
"I don't like that Uncle is keeping secrets from me."
"He'll tell you," Daja said. "When it's time."
Sandry drummed her fingers.
"Since when are you this antsy?" Daja asked.
"Since I discovered I don't like people hiding things from me," Sandry declared, then shook her head and snorted at her own theatrics. "As if you and Uncle were cooking up a conspiracy."
"I do have some influential friends," Daja said, straight-faced. "And you may not be aware, but I am a powerful mage."
Sandry laughed outright. "You know, when I was little, I used to love surprises?" She shook her head. "Now I don't know how to feel about them."
Daja thought it would be hard not to like surprises as the only child of an extremely wealthy noble couple; surely the surprises were all good ones. Until they became very, very bad.
"Next time you're not sure about a surprise, ask one of us," Daja said. "But not for this one. Or you could see what your embroidery says."
Sandry stuck out her tongue – her attempts to scry through needlework had been a disaster that Discipline Cottage would never truly forget – and a moment later adopted the loftiest tone she could manage. "I could simply order you to tell me."
"You could," Daja agreed. "If you wanted me to disobey."
"Hmph," Sandry said. "I think I'll go bother Tris instead. You know she doesn't want to take any of the clothes I made her to Lightsbridge? Some nonsense about needing a completely neutral magic environment."
That sounded like an argument in the making, and as good a time as any to escape to her forge.
Daja had not, of course, been allowed to take the key with her, but Vedris had given her – a Trader, a commoner, an outsider – an unprecedented freedom to study it, measure it, inspect its lock.
Of course, it helped that the whole thing was a formality. No one really questioned Sandry's right to rule, and even if they did, a key was not going to be the thing that swayed their opinion. All the same, Daja felt slightly awed by the task she had been given. The Duke of Emelan trusted her with the key to the city.
More importantly, he trusted Sandry with it, and wanted the world to know, wanted everyone to see her being granted the same authority that he held. That part was not surprising, but it filled Daja with a warm proud glow.
Daja had felt mildly uncomfortable asking Vedris why he wanted her to fashion a new copy of the key, for all that she had plenty of experience now at questioning rulers and browbeating nobles. Vedris was a wise ruler and certainly knew his business better than Daja did. But Daja also felt the need to know, for such an important item, why she was making it.
"You already have one," she had pointed out. "And there are other copies," because ceremony was one thing, but Emelan's ruler could hardly be expected to personally lock and unlock the city gates, especially in case of emergency.
"This key has seen better days – which I'm sure you know better than I." Vedris had raised an eyebrow.
Daja shrugged. The key was worn, but solid and well-made. There was no reason for it not to last another hundred years or longer, especially given how rarely it was used.
"But since we are speaking in theatrics and symbols," Vedris continued. "I think there is some value to be placed on forging a new key. One that fulfills the original premise just as well, without the flaws of the original. And I do not want my niece to feel I am abandoning her to the city. I plan on being around for quite some time, and once I am gone, I do not want her to think she must rule alone. It is not a comfortable position."
So Daja accepted the commission – as though she could ever have turned away Sandry's uncle, even for a much lesser cause – and chose the finest quality bronze she could find.
As she prepared her forge, she thought of Sandry, who was afraid not of danger but only of being unable to see it coming. Who was firm in her beliefs but not immune to persuasion when shown the error of her ways. Who would be a fine ruler, one of the greatest, so long as people around her could remember to poke holes in her very worst noble attitudes.
She thought of keys that opened doors, and minds, and bitter scabbed-over hearts, and began to work.
"I'd be careful if I were you," Daja called out. "The Dedicate who lives here mauls trespassers."
"Ha, ha," Briar laughed humorlessly. "It's all threats and doom and 'not one finger' until she needs your help with weeding. I was just supposed to drop off a package for Lark from her noble-ness and leave. Then her even more noble-ness heard me. I think the plants ratted me out. That was – oh, two hours ago?"
"Are we sure Rosethorn isn't secretly a queen somewhere?" Daja asked, letting herself through the gate to Discipline.
"At least a countess," Briar agreed gloomily.
"You'll escape," Daja said. "At some point Tris will come looking for you to make you help her pack."
"No, that wouldn't work," Briar said. "I'm doomed to spend the rest of my days inside these walls."
Daja said simply, "You'd survive that."
Briar half-heartedly threw a nettle at Daja, which landed a few feet in front of her.
She carried the plant over to the compost heap while she waited for Briar to give her a proper answer.
He carried on weeding like he had no intention of speaking, so Daja folded up her legs and sat in a shady patch beside him. She could wait for days if she had to, and she wouldn't have to. Even years with his rock stubborn student hadn't made Briar any less fidgety.
"I'm fine, I don't need to talk," Briar said. "I've done nothing but talk all day. First that – that head doctor, and then Sandry cornered me and wanted to know all my feelings about the head doctor and I had to volunteer to bring Lark's package here to get away from her, and then Lark wanted to talk."
Daja thought that last one didn't sound too bad, but she could appreciate that it was too much on top of everything else. She'd been avoiding talking to Lark one-on-one lately, but she knew that soon she'd find herself having that talk and would feel the better for it. Not yet, though.
"Are you going to do something stupid?" Daja asked.
She counted off on her fingers. "Steal something, break something, get into a fight, flirt with someone you shouldn't – "
"It could hurt a guy's feelings, the way none of you trust me."
"I'm sorry, I thought you were just saying you don't have feelings."
"Not girl feelings," Briar said loftily. "Proper manly feelings."
"I'm bigger than you," Daja pointed out. "And the well is right there."
"Only Rosethorn gets to use the well to threaten me."
"I think she'd allow it, this time," Daja said. "Stop avoiding the question."
"I'm fine," Briar said again. "I'm probably going to do something stupid, but only because I know you ladies are counting on it, and I hate to disappoint."
"Just don't break anything you can't fix," Daja said, and got to work helping Briar pull weeds.
She couldn't build a proper greenhouse – not any time soon, anyway; her experience working with glass was limited, they didn't have the space for one, and she couldn't quite silence Rosethorn's biting voice telling her that it was unnatural and cruel to the plants, no matter how hard she shook her head. It wasn't as though she cared if plants were happy.
But they had space on the roof that hadn't already been claimed for Briar's more conventional garden or Tris's cloud watching, where Daja thought she could erect a small structure. It would never rival the empress's greenhouse, or Crane's back in Winding Circle, but it would give Briar some chance to play with all those exotic plants he'd chattered Tris's ears off about when she'd had no choice but to listen.
Tris was quite knowledgeable about glass these days, and Sandry had a merchant friend who could help with that part of the greenhouse. Most of Daja's work would be in crafting the shape of the structure.
She'd waited on this project because Briar was the hardest to reconcile with smith work. He was slippery, flexible, gone just as you thought you'd pinned him down; the very opposite of a solid, dependable piece of metal. She had too many memories of Briar's magic recoiling from fire, the green in him sizzling and burning, though she knew this was a tame forge and not a forest fire or a burning house. And, frankly, she didn't think Briar would ever understand the pleasure of smith's work. He loathed the heat, and the soot, and the hard repetition.
Not that he was afraid of hard work. Daja thought about endless hours he'd spent cajoling shakkan into new and better shapes, the ever-present dirt under his nails and on his knees, the many, many times he'd been chased out of some noble's gardens because he wanted to see their roses and couldn't wait for a proper invitation – or had insulted their gardening so strongly that his invitation had been revoked.
Briar was not the immutable strength of metal. But that suited him best, and would continue to do so, and with it, Daja could build a structure that would do everything in its power to make plants grow out of season. They might even be happy about it.
There was a jar of living bronze, ready to be worked, but Daja peeled strips off her own skin, the delight of malleable metal between her right fingers marred by the tug and tear of the skin on her left hand.
There was no need for a fire, for an anvil, for hammers. The metal was still warm from her body heat, as much a part of her as her eyes or her blood. It bent easily to the finest pair of pliers she owned, the ones she reserved for jewelry and detail work.
Still, the piece came together uncertainly. Delicate detail work was always more difficult for her, and this was the most delicate work she had undertaken in a long time. Working from memory, changing her mind, readjusting the minute, it seemed she could never quite fall upon a shape she was happy with.
An oval for the base. She nearly made it a heart before she chided herself on her foolishness. A chain of the smallest links imaginable – the living bronze was her ally here, joining itself into links far more easily than even forgiving gold would manage. And then the silhouette. She managed to capture the shape of the figure – the elegant nose, the dainty chin, hair just hinting at escaping from its bonds – as well as an impression of grace and wonder.
She worked without break, stopping when her body forced her to concede defeat. Were Daja the greatest artist in the world, she didn't think she could do the piece justice, and she was not the greatest artist in the world. This would have to be good enough.
She held the necklace up and examined it. She'd been hoping for – what? A sudden sense of peace? And exorcism of emotion? She shook her head at her own foolishness. What she felt most was an ache in her back and a longing for her dinner table, on top of the longings that had been with her since Namorn. And what would she do with a necklace, now that she had one? She could hardly sell the silhouette to a stranger, and she wasn't going to wear it herself.
There was time to decide, still. She had a safe in the workshop, used for touchy magical items that couldn't risk idle handling, or the occasional large commission. It could rest there, safe and out of sight and unforgotten, until Daja felt like taking it back out again and viewing it in the light of day.
It could wait. For now, she had her siblings to take care of - and that was going to be enough work for a lifetime.