Two moons passed, and harvest time came, and the fields in Seat were said to be sparse, but ample enough for the winter and for trade. The fields in Dosille were barren from the harvest before the snow came. Naltu studied in his cabin, took direction from Iuju to tend the land, and sipped nightshade alone. Two more moons waxed and waned, and the snows of winter filled the streets.
Perry worried and came to Naltu's cabin and brought Derin. They went to the tavern near the Academy, called the Scribe's Lament, and found a table in the furthest corner. The snow fell outside. They ordered hot pies made from carrots and fowl and filled their bellies with flagons of hearty ale. Naltu told stories of his brother and the south. Derin spoke of the grimkin and the fire. Perry laughed of the Jade Palace and Criest. Derin remembered Seat while Naltu sang of hunting the bandits.
Perry stood and went out the doors to the water closet and relieved herself. Returning, she stopped, recognizing a face and short-cropped black hair. She placed her hands on the woman's shoulders, and knew Metta was as far into her cups as she. Metta turned and though she was seated, she was taller than Perry, and her nose was red and wet.
"You came back?"
Metta turned. "Oh. I didn't think to be seen here."
The girl's lips were cracked and her skin was dry. She wore none of the face paint, and she smelled of the earth.
Perry laughed and bowed. "You didn't mean to be seen at the tavern nearest the Academy? We have a table in the corner."
Perry nodded and grabbed the girl's hand.
"No!" Metta protested. "I'm not ready! Just let me go to my room... please!"
"Would you like for me to tell Naltu that you are in the same tavern as us, and you did not visit?"
"Girl, I'm going to box your ears if you don't follow me."
Metta sulked and took her cup and her purses and walked after Perry. They wove through the crowded bodies and past the tables until Perry returned to her pie.
Naltu stood and his teeth hung open. Derin laughed, and Naltu realized what a fool he looked. He smiled and pulled a chair for her opposite him. Metta wore an ivory-colored linen gown under a leather coat that fell to her knees. The leather coat was covered in fine ashen hairs. Perry inspected the cloth and knew that the coat had been made by a hunter and not a seamstress. Metta wore a wide knife tied to her hip, and boots made for the forest with stiff leather and tight knots around her ankles and thighs. She sat and sulked for a moment, but could not remain silent.
"I'm sorry I left like that. I shouldn't have. At the time, I couldn't see any other choice."
Naltu sighed. "I understood."
"He did," Perry confirmed. "I didn't."
"I have this dialogue planned out. Maybe tomorrow night we could talk?"
"Maybe now," Perry grumbled between bites, pointing an assertive finger.
Metta glowered, but she continued. "Have you ever seen the city flood? Or heard the tales?"
"No," Naltu said, and Derin nodded.
Metta looked around the table. "Forgive me, then, and know that I never lied to any of you." Her eyes lingered on Naltu for a moment.
"Sometimes the summer rains come for days. This is called monsoon. Dosille is built into a mountain, and the aqueducts are filled from a lake above. When the rains come, the lake floods the field, and when the fields are soaked and the rains do not let up, the city is under water and the people scramble to the roofs."
She sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. She leaned in to the table. Her words were soft and honest. She spoke with a half-smile, facing only her cup. "In the Jade Palace, I felt love and joy and pleasure. I knew of the other things in the dark places of my mind, but I could not feel in a way that others could know. Leredith had done this when he ordered me to please his patrons. I met you, and the monsoon came, and you freed me, and the rains did not let up. You taught me sorrow again, after I had left that in the streets.
I thought of all the nights you had me in the Palace, and how you first said you loved me only when I was nearly gone. I remembered how Leredith laughed when he told me you did not want my letter when you brought the silks. You gave me a gift that... I would have been more satisfied, perhaps, if you had only bought me and asked me to scrub your linens. I waited a moon hating you for all these things I thought were behind me. I prefer my freedom, but I have not been glad."
Metta slipped two gold coins from her purse onto the table. She kept her fingers over the coins, guarding them, but showing enough that Naltu knew. "I stole a great deal of money from you when I left. I wanted to make sure I could eat. I spent most of my time alone. I needed that."
Naltu touched her hand. She flinched away. He took the coins. "Nothing was stolen."
Perry smiled and ordered more pie, and breads covered in honey and the last of the autumn's cream. She gave a small silver in payment and praise so that the food came quickly. Perry gave Derin a stare, telling the boy to tolerate this. She prodded Metta to eat, hoping to soak up the spirit in the girl's stomach. Metta did, and her trembling calmed.
Metta reached into the purse at her side and produced a small book bound in black leather. "My parents are gone. They left for Spheria four years ago. I lived with my aunt for a time. She received a strange letter. They had passed it around the farms, not knowing who should have it. You know, my family never knew me as Metta. That was a name I gave first to Leredith. I didn't want to humiliate my parents and sister. My mother gave me the name Andreja, after my father. I wanted to come to you tonight, Naltu, but I didn't know if I was welcome. Why's your stupid smile so warm?"
Naltu turned to Perry. "Did you know she would be here?"
Perry laughed and touched her lips. "No. I promise. Providence, tribesman. Synchronicity is a consequence of our art."
"Naltu, there's something else. I have a gift for you that I've been working since we first met. It's this that brought me back now, and this that let me know my wholeness. Like yours, it's a gift that isn't."
The trembling began again and Perry worried. Metta opened the small book to a particular page and placed the paper side down on the table and pushed it to Naltu. He took the book and read a poem aloud in Spherian. Derin's face turned red and Perry giggled. He smiled, finished.
"You sang this to me last winter. You said you wrote it for me."
"I did," Metta blushed, and looked to Derin. "Perhaps that was not polite for tavern company."
"I think it was, actually," Derin laughed, and turned to slurping his sweet ale.
"I'm not the same woman who left," Metta whispered sadly. "I'm her, but more. All that's been added is darkness." She tugged at her jacket. "Five years ago, I couldn't have imagined killing a doe and wearing the skin. This last harvest, my uncle taught me, when the deer were harassing his fields."
Perry took the book from Naltu and turned to the first page. The leather binding was covered with ivory silk on the interior. She sucked in a breath at the elaborate signature hand-drawn in red pigment, and traced over with fine copper thread.
Metta glanced at Perry. "It wasn't supposed to be out yet, but the printing press was only available for hire during harvest season. From the Jade Palace I wrote letters to my aunt. She put the pages together. This will be in the market in Dosille when the snow melts. They pressed a thousand copies and paid me for all! I have my own gold, now, for the first time in my life."
Perry shifted in her seat, fondling the book. "Oh, Metta, you're a marvel. Or should we call you Andreja? Or?"
Derin stood, uncomfortable. "I'm intruding. Friends, the snow gathers outside, and the Academy is far enough."
Metta touched the boy's breeches. "Wait. I want you to be here for this, Derin. Sit. Naltu, are you angry with me?"
"No. It is as a waking dream to see your face, and my promise to you holds."
"Mistress d'Oncil, turn to the song on the last page. Please."
Perry did, and she spoke strange words in the rhyming language of the Ghislail and the Uhwrail, the Tlictal and the Radatil. Naltu heard his own name hidden in the syllables, though Perry faltered with the pronunciation.
"Who wrote this? You?" Naltu asked.
She stood and came to his side. "You know I did. I finished the writing in Seat, just before the books were bound. I had to mark all the front pages so that they could put the last one in. Does this offend you?"
"Do you know what these words mean?"
"I... hope I do," she simpered. "If not, few others would know my mistake. I found a book written by a tribesman named Riyadh and I learned enough of your language and your traditional ways to make my attempt. If you're offended, it's just a song."
Perry handed the book to Naltu, and he read the words again. He lay the book flat on the table. The tight binding pulled the pages together, and the pages fell to the side. He saw the red letters on the interior of the cover. Water glistened in the tribesman's eye.
Perry whispered low and glanced at Derin. "What's happening?"
Naltu looked at her. "We do not have a Jade Palace in the frozen isle. When a man goes with a woman, even just once, she may claim him for hers, and they are as family. We are careful with our seed, to plant only where it could grow."
Metta stuttered, hesitant and drunk. "Do you accept?"
"There is no accepting, Sidhe. You have laid your claim before the whole world. None could challenge this. You are home." He struggled to hide his pleasure, and failed.
Metta laughed and clapped and cried. "Before the whole world? That is the way of the women of the north!"
Derin's face flushed. "What just happened?"
Metta winked at the young man. "Half his wealth belongs to me, now."
Naltu's finger traced the red letters of a single word, feeling the texture of the silk and copper. His heart raced and he could not find words but for the name under his fingertip.
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