Tom sat back in his Pony chair and looked sidelong at the tall man slumped on the bench beside him. ”She made her bed,” Tom said quietly. ”You gave her the choice. She chose.”
Barry raised his head from his folded arms. ”It’s so stupid. This is so stupid. He’s just going to step out on her again. Shit, I think she knows it. Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s him.” He spoke the last word with loathing, but his voice gentled as he went on. ”I would have treated her right. I did treat her right.”
“You did,” Tom said. He kept his tone light. ”You could again, after he stomps on her heart again. If you’d even want her after.”
Barry let out a rough laugh. ”Maybe she’s to me what that idiot is to her. Can’t stop thinking about her.”
Tom patted Barry on the shoulder. ”Look. He’s bedding half of Bree-town, rumor says. That’s going to get back to her. And he won’t stop. That’ll get back to her too.”
Barry turned his head to give Tom a bleary stare. ”I don’t want to be anyone’s pity man. Even hers.” To that, Tom had no reply. He ordered another round.
There. Perfect. Nidhil trailed her fingertips over perfectly aligned ledgers and perfectly sorted stacks of papers for Sir Arrowheart to review and sign. Even with all the distractions the hall’s administration required, everything was finally organized. Finally. She looked down at herself. No ink marred her white skirts. With Fury back at the Bree-town house, those same skirts were free of fur and paw-prints. Perfect.
She drew a cobalt blue shawl around her shoulders. Spring was coming; she could smell it in the air even when frost still tipped the grass. Spring would bring flowers, flowers would bring perfume. For once, her typical rose oil palled. She’d try something more delicate this year, something more…in a word, Breeish.
She glanced toward the window. The morning sun limned the rippled glass and cast prisms on the opposite wall. On impulse, she walked over and slipped the casement’s latch free. Fresh air. The room could use some fresh air, and the sun was strong. Perhaps -
As the window opened slightly, wind caught it and grabbed as rudely as a rival at market. The frame leapt from her hands; a gust whipped the shawl half-off Nidhil’s shoulders and blustered into the room. She gasped at the sudden chill and leaned far out to fumble for the clasp. Finally she set the window to rights again, after a breathless fight against the wind.
A dark patch on her skirts caught her attention. She glanced down to see a dark streak of dirt crossing her belly where she leaned across the window-sill. ”Bother,” she said aloud. A lock of glossy black hair fell free of its careful braid and flopped across her face. As she pinned it back into place, a dreadful thought hit her.
If she never turned around, she wouldn’t have to see the mess made with the careful stacks of papers. She imagined an overturned inkwell spilling over her beautifully sanded desk. Her tea…where had she left her tea?
She turned slowly. The word that left her mouth was one she’d only ever heard Gaelyn say, and only then after Fury attempted to remove a chunk from his ankle. Stupid spring. Stupid wind. Stupid Bree.
Gisala kissed the top of Solstan’s head. ”Go on, go run around with Ciri. Gif’s got to talk to rocks.” She bowed her back slightly as she watched the little boy head off toward his aunt. Everything hurt today, back and belly and breasts, everything. Wouldn’t matter soon enough.
Her long legs carried her to her favorite tree in Ravenhold’s broad yard. Her cloak made a decent seat; the tree offered her a knobby, welcome seat-back. Her breath slowed. As her eyelids drifted shut, she let her awareness drift throughout her, into skin and toes and fingers and scalp. When it all tingled, when every part of her seemed to join her heart in its slow and steady beat, she took a deep breath, exhaled, and let go.
Earth accepted her into its heavy embrace. Her spirit swam among its layers. She could never explain to Oendir how warm it all felt, like drawing a perfect downy blanket up to her chin on a cool day. Her body basked in the solidity of it all. She reveled.
Not alone, an earth-spirit said. A vein of sparkling, dense mineral almost seemed to glow in her stone-speaker’s sense. Its spirits were playful and small. Not alone, they said as they danced around her. I know, she responded, with the spark of spirit that meant laughter. She floated along the streaky vein as if it was a river. A spirit drifted over her, through her, and tugged her attention inward. Not alone, the spirit said. See.
A light sparked. Not mineral, not stone. Not earthen. A little light, barely flickering, barely real. Not alone, the earth-spirits said. Inside. The spirits moved close to see and marvel. Gisala drifted in earth’s embrace, her spirit bright with joy and bearing that tiny light within her.