We ate in silence, another of the lay druids bringing us bowls of winterberries and the yellow-gold apples originally grown in Darokin.
I nearly lost a finger carving one of the apples as a spike of anxiety tensed most of the muscles along my left arm, the fingertips stinging.
The two warriors gave Sera disapproving looks.
“You ruined the surprise,” Gilliam said, but his scowl was ruined as the corner of his mouth turned up.
A rustle of linens and wool, accented by a silvery jingle met my ears a moment before Demarra planted herself next to me on the reed mat. She reached over, bracelets rattling, and plucked the slice of apple from my hand, eating it in too suggestive a manner for so early in the morning.
“It is no fun sneaking up on you, my Karos, if you have eyes now always at your back.”
My fingers began to sting again, but it was more than anxiety gnawing and itching at the back of my skull.
“It is always a pleasure to see you, Demarra,” I said. Or tried to, since the Dara shoved the uneaten half of the apple slice in my mouth as I greeted her. It was crisp, sweet and a bit tart for a moment, before the taste bled away to ash. I tried to push my awareness of the weaver into a corner, but the apple still tasted too sour for its type.
Sera had set her half-finished bowl of fruit on he mat at her knees, her dark eyes looking straight through me to the woman to my right.
“You must introduce me to your friend,” Demarra purred.
“Dara Demarra of the Kaledresh, I introduce you to Seraphina.”
The Dara batted her lashes. “That is all?”
“Yes,” I said.
Demarra leaned to the left, the neckline of her linen blouse slipping over one shoulder. Several golden chains, decorated with golden disks, swayed from her neck. She reached across my lap, taking my left hand.
“And what is this?” she asked, running a finger over the bracelet. She sucked in a sharp breath, drawing her finger back as if shocked. I don’t think it was my imagination, but I saw a glimmer of blue-gold light from Zirchev’s mark on her wrist, glimmering between the many bracelets.
Steady warmth was building in my stomach. The ghost of feeling from Sera. Her eyes were still set on the Dara, but her gaze had gone slightly distant.
Demarra tensed, her whole demeanor changing. The movements were subtle, but sitting as close to me as she was, I could feel her balance shift slightly away. Her nearly-black eyes narrowed.
“Karos? What manner of gift has she given you?”
I held up my left hand, letting the silvery lead dangle from the bracelet.
The Dara’s eyes widened, ever so slightly. The heat of Sera’s power grew, ever so slightly, like an itch getting worse in that one spot just out of reach. Richly painted lips pursed, and then turned up in a smile. She flowed back, away from me clapping as she did, bracelets jangling.
“Ah, my Karos, at last you have taken a wife! We must drink!”
“What? No, that’s not—“
Ice tingled, shivering along my spine.
The feeling stopped, the glowing warmth snuffed the instant I gave the order.
Demarra kept smiling. “Such a useful tool for a husband.”
“Your Hierarch invited me,” the Dara said, anticipating my question. “Well, not me, precisely, but those of my clan.”
“You have a Soul Gem?”
Demarra plucked a winterberry from the bowl in my lap. “I might,” she said.
I snatched the berry from her fingers. “Either you do or you do not.”
She pouted, leaned past me to regard the weaver. “He became so serious when he took up his journeymanship. A pity you did not know him some few years ago, before he took up the staff and started making all those knots. We had such fun at the Festival of Lights. One year, after the Procession, we—“
I cleared my throat. Seraphina’s ire and curiosity buzzed about in the back of my head.
“No, please do go on,” Gilliam said. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “We are keenly interested.”
I held my hand out to Demarra. “If you have the gem, I will take it.”
She sighed. “I do not.”
She grinned as I closed my hand into a fist, laying her fingertips across the back of my hand. It tingled as Seraphina’s irritation began winning the duel of feelings leaking through the bracelet. Demarra traced a swirling pattern across my hand, and it burned from beneath the skin as if she dragged hot needles. It was only with intense concentration that I was able to dampen the sensations.
“I have given the stone to your Hierarch. I would not wish to interrupt your breakfast for such menial chores as fetching and delivering.”
I made to rise, but Demarra clasped my hand in both of hers. Her dark eyes bored into mine.
“One can be forgiven, for it was not your making.”
“I have not forgotten our promise,” I said. My hand strayed to the copper piece that lay against my chest.
Demarra’s hand moved up, towards my cheek. Her fingers shifted, and traced the line down the side of my neck. “How can you be her Greensinger when she has taken your song?”
I swallowed. The scarring suddenly felt tight.
“There are ways other than song,” I said.
“The Old Ways. I could just open your throat right here, right now. It would probably be less painful.”
Seraphina’s power bloomed before I could react, and I felt the edge of air harden as it whisked by my cheek. Demarra snatched her hand away, a bit of lace from the cuff of her sleeve fluttering to the ground, the threads shorn through, cleaner than any razor.
“You will do no harm to my— to Thorn,” the weaver said.
Demarra looked through the shimmering blade-like presence between her and Seraphina. She leaned forward, until her hair brushed against the plane.
“I am not the one you need worry about, my dear.”
I spent the remainder of the day in quiet meditation and contemplation of the various accounts of other Greensingers. Though I removed the odd silvery bracelet, I still had the vaguest of impressions of Seraphina. Was it possible to be aware of her presence because of her absence? I know no other way to explain it.
Just before sunset, I departed the groves, wandering the game trails and selecting the ingredients I would need for the ceremony with the next dawn. I was aware of Demarra’s presence, though she did not say anything to disturb me. Our eyes met, occasionally, as I worked, but she said nothing, only watched.