Deet listened. Then knocked. Then listened again.
"What are you doing?" Rian asked, looking up at her. She had pushed some of the sitting room furniture against the wall and had climbed up on it, knocking and pausing every few seconds.
It looked dangerous, but he knew better than to tell her the obvious.
"I'm looking for tunnels," she said, her ear pressed against the coral.
Rian lifted Ashona off the blanket he'd laid on the floor and sat her on his lap.
Deet didn't pause. "What do you mean why?"
"Well, where do you think the tunnel you're looking for goes?"
She shrugged. "I don't know."
"Then what's the point?"
Deet stopped and looked at him. "Because it's fun."
Rian considered and pulled himself to his feet, slinging the baby onto his back in one motion and tightening the knot.
"Fair enough," he said. "But don't you think we should go to the Citadel today?"
She looked down at him. "Today is supposed to be a normal day, Rian."
He smiled. They had agreed to that. "Searching for tunnels in the sitting room isn't exactly what I had in mind."
Deet paused, then slid down to the floor in front of him.
"Were you not aware I'm Grottan?" she teased.
"What?" he deadpanned in fake surprise, running a finger down one of her braids.
She smiled and laid her hands on his chest. "Back home, I loved to explore after feeding the nurloc," she said.
"What would you find?" He asked. They had talked about everything, or so he thought, but he hadn't heard much about her explorations.
"Oh, all sorts of things," she said. Hidden passages. Wonderful ancient drawings on the cave walls. One time, I found an ancient wine jug that had been used in rituals before the Grottan went to live in the caves. At least, that's what Maudra Argot said it was."
"No reason not to believe her," he said. He paused in thought. "Sometimes I would get curious about all the things that must have been in the Castle." He paused. "Before I knew."
Deet nodded and kissed him lightly, as if to kiss away the pain that had reached his lips.
Ashona chirped and kicked him in the side, making his slight smile broaden.
"No one's forgetting about you," he said over his shoulder.
"Remember when we used to play songs together at the cottage?" Deet asked. "You would come back with cold water and sweet Alfen and we would sit by the fire and make up songs on the firca flute?"
"Mm," he said. "That was nice."
She nodded. "I still have it. The flute."
"Maybe we could do something like that for a normal day," she said. "Go down to the square -*
"I don't know, Deet," he said. "Everyone treats us so strangely down there."
"They're just being nice," she said.
"They think you're the new maudra."
Deet shrugged. "Well," she said, "I saw someone down there trading lutes."
"I remember you saying you used to have one in Stone-in-the-Wood."
"I did," he said, surprised that she'd remembered. He mulled it over. His own father had played music for him when he was a baby, and taught him from a young age. It was one thing from home he could pass on to Ashona.
"I think that sounds lovely, actually."
Dovra and Tavra were in the corner, Dovra on the floor sitting within a pile of pillows she'd made over the years, Tavra curled into her lap, her silver hair getting the last few braids in an intricate pattern on her little head. She looked up from Dovra's knee as Onica entered through the tapestry.
"Momma," she said, but she didn't sit up or reach out for her.
"Are you feeling OK, little one?" Onica asked, pulling up a pillow and settling in.
Onica smiled at her, drinking in her daughter's face, her hair, her long fingers. It struck her that even if Tavra had felt ill, she didn't have to worry that she might die.
Not yet, anyway.
She noticed Dovra looking at her curiously.
"Are you OK, is the question."
Onica nodded. "I've just been thinking about the future."
"You've been listening to the Dousan shaman, you mean," Dovra said.
"He's wise, Dovra," Onica said. "The Dousan can see things we haven't."
Dovra shifted. "Like what?"
Onica glanced down at Tavra. "Why don't you go play, little one?"
Tavra shook her head, clinging to Dovra. "I don't want to," she said.
"We've been out playing all morning," Dovra said. "She's had her bath. She's tired."
Onica sighed and nodded. As she stood up, Dovra caught her eye and kept her stare fixed on her.
"What things, Onica?"
Trudging down the tunnel toward the square, Rian started to see how a secret private tunnel could be useful. They'd been stopped twice already on the way down to the square by admirers, who increasingly seemed to think that Deet, in particular, was going to change things, even help them return to Thra proper.
"These Gelfling gossip more than Castle guards," he said to Deet when they were finally alone.
Deet looked at him inquisitively.
"That's a lot," he said.
They walked in silence as they neared the end of the tunnel, the sounds of laughter and music growing louder with every step.
"I think that we should try and fit in," Deet said.
"I know you do."
"It's like," she stopped walking and grasped his arm, "we're… fancy? In a different world? Do you know what I mean?"
Rian nodded. A class system was one of the things Deet struggled with, as it hadn't really existed in Grot. Even Maudra Argot has lived in the same kind of home as the rest of the Grottans, ate the same food - if the Grottan went hungry or cold, Argot did, too.
It was strange for her to live above others in a larger dwelling, never having to worry about food. Not to mention, their closest friends essentially governed the community, or the fact that they had been identified through prophecy as being somehow more special than everyone else.
"I don't think fitting in is going to be easy," he said. "They bow to you, Deet. They've even bowed to me."
"When I first came topside, and Hup and I went to Stone-in-the-Wood, everyone was so rude to us," she said.
Rian cringed at the thought.
"And now, everyone is too nice. I just want to be -"
"I don't think you'll ever be 'normal,' Deet," he said.
Her face fell.
"But that's what I love about you."
She looked out into the square.
"Will you love me less if I try to be?"
He laughed. "Of course not."
She looked at him. "OK, then, let's try."
Rian looked out into the square. "I guess we'll follow the music?"
Deet beamed, nodded and grasped his arm. The square looked as it always did, deep below the surface where no sunlight indicated time of day. It was comforting for her, even as it remained strange and foreign. It was a bit like Domrak, but with many more Gelfling with a range of different cultures.
Her eyes scanned the small groups, some talking, some drinking, some trading.
When she saw a familiar face, she gasped excitedly.
"Dor?" She waved at the woman who, in her mind, had become her friend the day they'd met at the market and Deet had given her the sack of food.
Dor froze in her tracks and looked behind herself, clearly surprised to be addressed by Deet so casually.
Deet let go of Rian's arm and approached her.
"It's so good to see you!"
Dor nodded and smiled, still looking somewhat stunned.
"It's wonderful to see you, Deethra. How is your little one?"
"Oh, she's right -" Deet turned, expecting Rian and Ashona to be beside her, but Rian had already wandered over toward a pair of nearby musicians.
"Nevermind," Deet said. "She's amazing! And yours?"
Rian approached the musicians casually, hoping to get some advice on getting his hands on a lute. He couldn't help but notice that one of the musicians, a Spriton with dark brown skin and his hair pulled back in a knot, held one of the most beautiful lutes he had ever seen.
Before he got to them, they stopped, abruptly, and stared at him.
"Dammit," Rian whispered under his breath.
"It's him," said one, a fiery-haired Sifa with a band of fabric tied around his forehead.
Rian took a deep breath.
He immediately cringed internally.
"You're him," the Spriton said, in a thick accent that reminded him of Kylen.
"I'm Rian. Of… or… Once Stonewood."
"The one who saw the first Gelfling drained?" The Spriton asked.
Rian blinked, jolted momentarily. Usually when he was recognized, it was for the prophecy. For the future. No one other than Deet had asked him about the past in a long time.
He felt a lump in his throat.
"The same," he said.
"That's terrible," the Spriton said, laying his lute on the table.
"Can we see it?" the Sifa asked, leaning forward.
Before Rian could answer, the Spriton gave him a whack across the side of his head.
"What kind of question is that? It's not some parlor trick!"
He turned to Rian. "My name is Ollin," he said. "This is Rerrit."
Rerrit nodded, rubbing the side of his head.
"That's a beautiful instrument," Rian said, motioning toward the lute. "I'm looking for one myself."
Ollin looked at the lute, clearly a prized possession, and lifted it gingerly. After a moment, he held it out to Rian.
Rian shook his head. "No," he said. "I don't want your lute, I meant I was looking to acquire a different one."
Ollin pulled the instrument back slowly, a look of consternation mixed with relief on his face.
"Why does everyone think we want to take their things?"
"Well, you are royalty," Rerrit said, as if it was an obvious explanation.
"I'm literally not," Rian said. "I was a member of the Guard."
"Your son is going to be a king," Rerrit said. "Everyone knows that."
"And your wife is the New Maudra," Ollin said.
"Well, not yet, Ollin, not yet," Rerrit said.
Rian looked from one to the other and shook his head. The square was exhausting.
"I just wanted to know if you knew of a craftsman," he said.
Rerrit and Ollin looked at each other and shrugged.
Rian turned and adjusted the wrap that held Ashona on his back. She squirmed and started to fuss. He didn't mind. It felt like she knew when he was frustrated and complained in solidarity.
He looked over at Deet, still chatting with Dor, looking completely at ease even as more Gelfling women came over to join the conversation.
"Let's see if we can find a craftsman," he said over his shoulder.
It was easy to tell what most of the shops were for - they clearly sold food or ale or clothing. A few were less obvious. One sold herbs grown in the forest up above. Another was a toymaker who proudly presented Rian with a small doll with shining wings, silver hair and green skin. His bestseller, he said, as he insisted Rian accept one for the baby. It was a beautiful doll, and Rian didn't resist. He thanked the toymaker and tucked it into his satchel.
The last shop in the row was tucked behind the weaver's den. The symbols on the door were cryptic, at least to Rian, but that only made him more curious.
Ashona kicked him in the side from her position low on his back, as if to goad him forward.
He pushed the door, expecting it not to budge, but it opened easily. He froze as it swung open to a room filled with parchments and papers and strange gadgets. The last thing he saw was a stern-looking Spriton with greying hair.
"What do you need?" the Gelfling asked, in that same familiar accent.
Rian swallowed. "I, uh…"
"I'm looking for a shop that sells instruments," Rian said.
"Musical instruments," Rian said.
The man huffed. "Does it look like I make musical instruments?"
Rian paused, his fingers gripping his childling's linen-wrapped foot lightly. It didn't look like he made instruments. He couldn't tell what in Thra he made.
"I'm sorry,' Rian said, turning to leave.
The man stomped his foot. "You interrupt me just to leave?"
Rian turned back to him slowly. "I'm sorry I interrupted you." He paused. "What do you do, if you don't mind my asking?"
The man sighed gruffly. "I am the mathematician." He stared at Rian for a few moments before his glare, barely discernably, softened.
"My name is Gorel."
Rian exhaled. "I'm Rian."
Gorel nodded slowly. "Do you have a problem?"
"Where to start?" Rian said.
"Ha!" Gorel chortled.
"So, you solve problems with math. And science."
"Well," Rian said, "It seems to me that the Gelfling rely on prophecy and superstition." He stepped forward and pushed the opened door shut. "Brea has seers and shaman working to save Thra, but no mathematicians."
Gorel nodded. "And what do you think a mathematician can do?"
"I don't know."
Olled paused. "I'll show you," he said.
Rian watched as the mathematician rooted through the piles of parchment until he came up with the scroll he was looking for.
"Ah!" Gorel unrolled the scroll and laid it on a table as he waved Rian over. "Have you heard the prophecy of the Great Conjunction?"
Rian nodded. "Yes."
"Do you believe it will happen?"
Rian blinked. "I… think so."
"You don't have to leave it to faith,' Olled said. "I know it will happen. Down to the minute."
Rian looked down at the scroll. It was covered in symbols, lines and circles that meant nothing to him but seemed to fill Olled with a great deal of pride. It reminded him of Mother Aughra's observatory. He had never thought of her explorations as science."
"You see? Proof!"
"So you can prove that the Crystal of Truth can be healed by a Gelfling when the suns align?"
Gorel looked up at him. "Oh, no no no," he said. "That's for prophets to see. Mathematics and science, prophesy, it all works together."
Rian nodded. "Then why is there no mathematician serving at the Citadel?"
Gorel smiled. "That's not a bad question."
"Could we learn even more?" Rian asked.
Gorel stood straight, looking Rian up and down. "It's possible "
"Could you teach me mathematics?"
Gorel scoffed. "You?"
Rian shrugged. "I'm a fast learner."
"With a sword, maybe," Gorel said. "You're much too old to learn mathematics."
Rian looked deflated. "But - how did you learn it?"
Gorel paused. "Well, I had a mentor who was mentored by a Mystic -"
"You could be my mentor," Rian said.
Gorel rolled up the scroll and shook his head.
"The Childling, maybe."
Rian looked back at Ashona, sound asleep.
"She's only a baby."
"Well, in a few trine."
"I don't have a few trine," Rian said. "We don't have a few trine."
Gorel looked resigned. "We have 35 trine."
"I don't know that we'll be here in 35 trine. My son -" Rian caught himself, a catch in his throat. He'd never said the phrase "my son" before. He turned away and looked at the door. Deet would be wondering where he had gotten to.
As he reached for the door, Gorel called to him, motioning at Ashona. "As I said, I will teach your son."
"My son isn't born yet. This is my daughter," Rian said, pulling the door open and disappearing into the square.
Gorel watched him go. With Rian long out of earshot, he responded.
"I will teach your daughter, then."