“Trisana! Have you doused the fires yet?”
“Yes, Aunt Uraelle.”
“What was that?” Tris’s aunt’s voice was still strident for all its age. “How many times must I tell you to speak clearly?”
“The fires are out, Aunt Uraelle,” said Tris, biting out each word as loudly as she dared.
“Then check them all again before we leave. I don’t want even one coal left burning, understand? When you have finished, meet me in the dining room.” Uraelle hobbled from the room without a backwards glance at Tris, the sound of her cane echoing reproach at the world in general and her unwanted great-niece in particular.
The sun had scarcely touched the horizon. Most families, Tris knew, would not put out their fires for hours yet, staving off the cold on this longest and darkest night of the year. Even the Living Circle temples waited to do so until an hour before midnight. But while Aunt Uraelle might begrudge every copper bit that polite society demanded she contribute to the temple, this particular brand of piety appealed directly to her frugal heart.
Tris climbed the stairs to check all the rooms again, despite knowing the task was pointless - she was positive that no fire remained in the house, although she could not be sure how she knew. She had learned last year, though, how pointless it was to argue with how Aunt Uraelle wanted things done. At least when she had finished, she could eat a cold supper, then take the carriage down to the Water Temple, which she knew from the previous year would remain warm for hours yet. She shivered as left the second floor parlor. The temperature was already dropping as the sun faded, and it would plummet as soon as the last of the light disappeared. Tris had no intention of remaining in the house that long. She picked up her pace.
An hour later, as she struggled into the carriage to sit across from her aunt - who had not, of course, hired a footman - she tried not to think that this was the first year since she was five that she had spent a second Longnight in a row in the same house.
If Roach strained, he could just hear the steady drone of prayer from inside the walls of the temple at his right. The street was pitch black all around him, as it had been for the last hour. He shifted on his bare feet, which were slowly going numb in the night air, and vigorously rubbed his arms and chest.
Most of Roach’s gang was down near the harbor, taking advantage of the night’s revelry to pick unwary pockets. Privately, Roach thought they were bleat-brained. Longnight might mean more drunken marks in the streets, but it also meant more guards and more torches burning through the night. Roach, near the front of a steadily-growing crowd in the temple district, had his eye on a much rarer prize.
Roach didn’t care much for gods. It seemed to him that the sun would likely come up the morning after Longnight just the same, whether these chanters prayed for it all night or not. But at this particular temple, when dawn did come, he knew that the priests would relight the candles, then carry the first fire of the new year to the temple kitchens. They would then serve a free meal, cooked on those same fires, all day until the food ran out. The year before last, Roach had managed two meals from this temple, by being one of the first to receive his breakfast, then running back to rejoin the line as soon as he had wolfed it down. He had every intention of doing the same today.
A full belly to start the new year: that, Roach could believe in.
The large fireplaces had all gone dark in the ballroom of the Hataran palace, doused ceremoniously at the king’s command as the bells tolled midnight, but the walls shone with the lights of so many candles that it might nearly have been day. Sandry was glad of it. This was her first visit to Hatar, and even after hours of food and dancing at tonight’s banquet - to say nothing of the two weeks she and her parents had spent at court so far - she still had not drank her fill of the beautiful Hataran court dresses. Her eyes feasted on the cut of a sleeve here, a daring neckline there.
Her attention was recaptured as her mother drew her forward, hand on her shoulder. “Sandry, my dear, meet Bidisa Liesa fa Pennan. You will remember how near her family is to ours in Namorn. We are practically neighbors!”
Sandry offered her a perfect curtsey. “It is a pleasure, Bidisa.”
“And where are your lovely daughters?” Sandry’s mother continued. “I know they would get along famously with my Sandrilene.”
“Oh, clehame, my apologies, but the girls are in the country this season,” simpered Bidisa fa Pennan. “Otherwise I am sure they would love to meet dear Sandrilene.” Sandry held on tight to her welcoming smile, keeping all traces of disappointment from dragging it downward. It isn’t as if this were a surprise, she told herself fiercely.
“How disappointing!” exclaimed her mother, sounding anything but. “Well, my darling, you’ll just have to make do. I’m sure you can manage to find something to amuse you tonight.” Her eyes sparkled as she smiled at her daughter.
Sandry’s smile firmed under her mother’s gaze. “Of course, Mother,” she said.
Just then her father swirled back towards them, carried by the eddies of the crowd. “Come, my dear,” he said, catching her mother up as she laughed. “The dancing awaits its most beautiful guest!”
“Please excuse me,” her mother called without looking back. In a moment, both of Sandry’s parents were swallowed up by the dancers.
Sandry turned to her mother’s companion and curtsied. “Bidisa, it was wonderful to meet you.”
“And you as well, of course.” All trace of interest had left the older woman’s voice. She nodded her head with the precise amount of courtesy required, then left Sandry alone.
Sandry sighed as she looked across the crowded room. She had found no one her own age to talk to, and while her parents were wealthy and influential, that wealth and influence had little real importance so far away from their home countries. Certainly it was not worth the time and trouble for any of the local nobles to entertain the foreign couple’s daughter.
We’ll be leaving soon, Sandry told herself. And tomorrow, I can walk down to the market, and talk to the wool merchant’s daughter again. I’m sure she’s warming up to me. Like most of the merchant children Sandry had met on her travels, the girl had been unwelcoming of a noble’s overtures of friendship, but Sandry was nothing if not persistent. Soon, she would wear Jaen Draper down.
Sandry smiled. That thought would keep her warm until the party ended at first light.
Daja stood with her brothers and sisters and watched as her mother lit the Longnight candles. Every other light in the room had already been extinguished. The soft candle flame illuminated her mother's dark eyes, turning them into stars.
“Trader Koma, Bookkeeper Oti,” her mother intoned. “Hear the accounting of our deeds, and the debts we have paid.”
As captain, Daja’s mother spoke for the fortunes of the entire ship, assuring the Trader gods that all debts accrued over the year were in repayment, and that the ship had stored up savings and warm memories against dark times. For once, Daja knew that in every house on the street the same candles were being lit, the same accounting made. Third Ship Kisubo had made the rare decision to winter in a Trader city, rather than in some country far to the south, as was her mother’s habit. Although no one had said so openly, everyone knew that her mother had made the decision in response to her sister Zayda’s death at the hands of pirates the previous year. The whole crew still wore scarlet in mourning for the captain of Fifth Ship Kisubo. No one wanted to be caught unaware by pirates, bold enough to sail even in winter in the far south.
When her mother had finished, it was time for each member of the crew to account for individual deeds, from the oldest grandparent to the youngest child. One by one, each member of Daja’s family stepped forward, their deeds written on tightly rolled yellow paper. They held the paper to the candle flame, praying silently as it burned to ashes and landed in the wide, shallow dish below.
When it was at last Daja’s turn, she clutched her scroll tightly, thinking of the words she had agonized over the day before. Writing of her deeds was simple - her contributions to the crew, her lessons in trade, the profit she had helped make. Her debts, however, had given her far more difficulty.
She knew, of course, that sneaking off to view lugsha at their craft was a shame to her family. Worse, that it kept her from working for the good of the ship, accruing a debt of time that could have been better spent in useful pursuits. She had repaid that debt with punishment, as was proper. But it had still been difficult to record her debt as paid, when despite all of her efforts, she could not convince herself that she would not do it again.
As the paper burned, she prayed that Trader Koma and Bookkeeper Oti would weigh her desire to be a good Trader more heavily than her persistent feeling that she wasn’t wrong to disobey.
Daja could feel Sandry’s approach long before the girl arrived at the house on Cheeseman Street, as every stitch in the clothing she wore - which was all of Sandry’s weaving - seemed to wriggle on her body at once. She yelped at the sensation. Usually it was Tris projecting lightning-storm emotion through their bond - from Sandry, it was nearly unprecedented.
He must have told her, she called to her other siblings.
What gave it away? Briar’s voice was dry as twigs within her mind. I thought I was going to lose my breeches.
I nearly dropped the dishcloth, Tris grumbled, but with no true spark behind her words.
Get ready, Daja said. Briar, you might lose your breeches yet.
Less than half an hour later, Sandry herself swept through the kitchen door in a whirl of cold wind. Her eyes blazed, her cheeks red from more than just the cold. Daja, who had joined Tris in the kitchen to share some tea, looked out the back window to see Sandry’s carriage and accompanying guard already driving away - hopefully to the nearest tavern, she thought. This is no night to be standing guard duty outside. Not that Sandry would order such a thing.
Sandry didn’t wait for Daja or Tris to speak. “Uncle has appointed me an official advisor to his council.”
Daja sipped at her mug of tea. “Welcome, Sandry. Happy Longnight to you as well. Would you like some tea?”
“Daja, this is serious !” Sandry tugged the veil from her hair and twisted it between her fingers.
“What’s serious?” said Briar, walking into the kitchen. “Did the Duke finally tell everyone what’s been true for four years already?”
Sandry stared at them all. “You don’t understand. He made me an advisor, but what he really wants…” She glanced down, saw that her veil was twisted nearly into knots, and glared it into shape again. “He told me tonight, after the Longnight celebration. He wants to give the court time to get used to me, to hearing my voice. By next year, or the year after that - he says he plans to name me his heir.”
Daja raised her eyebrows and exchanged glances with her siblings. Briar snorted and reached over to snag a hot bun from the basket Tris was filling. Tris slapped his hand away and scowled at both him and Sandry.
“You knew,” Sandry accused. “How did you know? Has Uncle discussed this with you?”
“He didn’t need to,” said Daja. “Hasn’t it been obvious?”
Tris tapped her ears meaningfully. “Half of Summersea thinks it’s happened already, and the Duke is keeping it a secret.”
As Sandry whipped her head around to stare at Tris, Briar said, “Face it - the only person in Emelan surprised about this is you.”
Sandry’s disbelieving eyes met each of her sibling’s faces in turn. Then she sank into a chair at the kitchen table. “Is there any more of that tea?”
Several mugs later, Sandry had calmed down enough to hold a conversation. “I just - I knew he valued my opinion, but I never thought he would disinherit Franzen.” Her eyes were troubled. “I don’t know that I want him to disinherit Franzen. It will cause a lot of trouble within the court, from those loyal to him, and for his family.”
“Duke Vedris is no slouch. You think he hasn’t got a plan for that?” said Briar.
“And you can’t honestly believe that Franzen would be a good Duke,” added Daja. “He doesn’t take any interest in affairs of state even now, except how they might help his purse.”
Seeing Sandry about to argue, Tris said with brutal honesty, “I thought we’d been through all this in Namorn. Do you want what is best for your people or not?”
“And this time, you won’t even have to give up any lands,” said Briar, as Sandry deflated.
She sat quietly for a moment, staring into her empty mug. “You really think I can do it?”
The three spoke almost at once. “As if you haven’t been in all but name already.”
“Got to be better than that bleater.”
“ Saati. Of course you can.” Daja reached out with her magic, feeling Tris and Briar do the same. While tinged with exasperation (Tris) and wry amusement (Briar), their bond to Sandry resonated only certainty.
When Sandry looked up, her eyes shone in the light. “Thank you for your faith in me.”
“All right, enough! Sisters,” Briar complained. “There’s no need to get all worked up about it. Are we going to get started or not?”
That set off a flurry of activity. Tris rescued the rest of the buns from Briar, placing them under a cover near a line of identical baskets. Daja went to fetch candles. Sandry surreptitiously wiped her eyes. By the time they were clear, all four had settled down at the table, a single yellow candle in the middle.
Are we ready? Tris asked. Agreement chimed through their bond. As one, Daja and Tris reached throughout the house, extinguishing all the fires that burned in every hearth. When they were finished, Daja produced a single flame, catching the candle on the table until it burned brightly.
“Trader Koma, Bookkeeper Oti,” she said, looking into the faces of her siblings. “Hear the accounting of our deeds, and the debts we have paid.”
One by one, Daja, Sandry, Tris, and Briar took yellow scrolls from their pockets and held them to the fire, murmuring a prayer to a favorite god. The candle would remain burning all night - magically protected from the rest of the house by Daja - lighting up the walls of the small room. In the morning, Tris would carry the candle to the kitchen hearth, and she and Briar would prepare their morning meal with the new year’s first flame. At their back door, a steady stream of furtive visitors would receive a mug of tea and a hot bun wrapped in a cloth that would keep it warm until they had finished it, then warm their pockets after.
All through the long night, the city prayed for the sun to rise.