Tamora Pierce owns the stories and characters that created this. I own several exorbitantly priced textbooks.
She hated summertime.
The humid, muggy days that persuaded her hair to frizz were bad enough, but the nights were worse. Closing her window wasn't worth the comfort it could bring to one sense. Summers were bad enough, even when Sandry had woven her a nightdress of airy material that could cover wrists and ankles without making the wearer feel like a roasting potato. She sat in a chair by her bed, book lying forgotten in her lap as she stared out her window.
She could call a breeze to cool herself, of course. Trisana Chandler was nothing if not practical. "Sensible Tris," Briar had dubbed her that very afternoon when she had been the one to remember lunch. Of course she had remembered lunch- it was expected of her, it was past time, and she had been hungry. She scowled at the muggy air in her room. She could call a breeze, but she could scry on the wind. She could be the sensible girl who cooled her room- but she already had routed breezes for her friends.
Sandry had made her most modest friend a nightdress. Daja had created new spectacle frames that wouldn't pinch her nose, in her favorite colors. Briar had found that her favorite flowers were lilacs, but even his coaxing couldn't coax them to linger too long. Everything had a season, he said, and the plants couldn't last forever in bloom- but he had made her a perfume of the flowers, and had let a day go by without his usual blush-inducing commentary when she coaxed a nightly breeze with hints of her power.
They all did small favors for each other, still growing closer after that time they spent apart. Now, they finally were a group again. Tris could guess when Daja could use a breeze stiff with saltwater, when Briar's project needed a little water, or when Sandry could use someone relentlessly blunt to scare off some politician-and-suitor. Their magics were different, special. It would be less effort than fanning herself, to call in a breeze.
She already had aborted her attempt to fold paper into a fan. Daja and Sandry were far more clever with making things. Buying a fan in the market would draw some comment. She was a weather mage. Why would she need a fan? She could call lightning, when she felt the need.
She tugged at the sleeve of her dressing gown, trying to cover a scar on her hand. It was a small mark, paler than even her complexion. She was paler than a fish-belly, as Daja had teased last week. That hadn't mattered, but she didn't need Briar to agree and propose with mock severity that she should spend more time in the sunlight. Just because her other friends didn't break out in pink or freckles… They all knew of her sunburns. It was just another mark to why she was the only person in the group who didn't know a single thing about kissing besides that it happened quite a bit in books, along with things that made her turn pinker than sunburn.
The other three were thin without effort. Just the night before, Sandry had enjoyed just the same amount of the custard desert a new chef had prepared- but Sandry still was elegant and almost exasperated enough to beat away her many suitors with a stick. Sandry loved to tease those who would court her, and had confused an entire court of men who would gain an empress's favor in wooing her. She claimed to not like compliments, but still would take a few. Sandry had a few stories to share with Tris and Daja about who she currently had her eye on.
Tris frowned, still unsure what to think about Daja. Her upbringing as a Chandler was strict, and Daja was everything that a good Chandler should frown on, but Daja was a close friend. The Chandler family had frowned on Tris, but that seemed completely apart from the point. Her frown only settled more firmly remembering Briar's commentary about her family's careful traditions. It should be simple. Daja was happy, even after leaving someone behind, but Tris still wanted to be a Chandler, sometimes.
She put her spectacles back on. She had been cleaning them automatically, rubbing them on the skirt of her nightdress. The Chandler family was not interested in her. She should be past that dull hurt, especially after cousin Emry, but she wasn't. Someday, maybe they would wish that they had understood her, but money still was most important.
Her reflection in the mirror glared at her until she could finally put together the pieces she had been fussing with for weeks. Daja was her friend, and accepted Tris just as she was. It was past time Tris could do the same. There. Problem solved, one sleepless night put to good use... and she still had more on her mind.
It was too hot to sleep. In wintertime, it was easier. She could close her window and door, put more wood on the fire, and wrap herself in blankets. She could make snide comments about her built-in insulation, make snow perfect for sledding, and have fewer occasions to walk outside in breezes. Summertime brought picnics and outings and trips to the beach where she was not about to pull at her skirts to wade ankle-deep in the water. She was awkward enough before falling into the ocean. Instead, she would read and hope that there wouldn't be too many visions in the wind to distract her from the story.
Summertime brought the stifling nights where closing a window just might draw her friends' attention. Then, they would know that she had found some image that she had not wished to see, and Daja and Sandry would make it clear that Tris could talk to them any time. Briar would offer to listen, and make the usual comment that it was better to share such memories. Just because he saw a war, he was the perfect choice to advise Tris on every matter- and she couldn't tell him. She wouldn't tell Daja or Sandry, because they would try to do something about it. She couldn't tell Briar, unless she wanted to die of embarrassment.
Dreams were not the problem, no matter how odd some were becoming. It was what she would see that was no product of her imagination. She finally had an imagination, one provoked by Sandry and Daja's influence after years of thinking only in picturing what books told her. Books couldn't do everything. In stories, the family would always realize that it had erred and would lovingly accept the heroine (or hero) with humble apologies, or the heroine or hero would find some way to replace that unfilled space. Her problem was entirely too real.
It was silly. She couldn't let it control her life, or ruin their group-of-four friendship. If anyone had ever become a pair, she would have thought it would have been someone else. Not her. She drew more fearful looks than anything. She shoved the mirror away. She ran her finger down a braid, an old habit, reassuring herself that all the braids were neat and not beginning to frizz. There was power in the style, and even more likelihood to draw curious looks until people knew just what she could do.
She wasn't just-Tris anymore. She was something more terrifying; she was that-weather mage-Tris. It almost sounded easier to just go back to being the child no one wanted anymore. At least then she didn't have her temper under control. Now, she was Trisana Chandler- one of those mages. Some people knew she could scry on the wind, but she kept that fact quiet. She could not choose what to see and when to see it, as if she were picking up a book. She could direct from the area she wished to see, but wind currents were capricious and never an exact science.
Maybe it would work without drawing in the scenes that she knew would be happening. If it did, she did know how to make scenes in the wind fade. It was more work to erase the visions than to call them, but she could use the mental exercise. She crossly whipped beads of sweat from her forehead. It was too hot to let such things stay between her and the obvious course of action- the sensible thing to do. Forget all the silly delusions that made the wind something to not be welcomed.
She stood at her window, nightdress clinging to her sweat-damp legs. She closed her eyes, knowing that so flimsy a barrier as eyelids wouldn't stop the visions. She raised her arms, from no need of magic, but so that she could feel the wind. She didn't have to use any force. Instead, she released the invisible barricade tangling the winds outside her window and let them move past her, touching her and toying with the few strands of unbraided hair as they cooled her skin and brought her pictures from the night.
On the docks, a sailor came home and his wife ran to him, with a babe in her arms-
A man looked out his window and blew a ring of smoke-
A baker started work for the next day, humming a folk song-
Two men waited in a dark alley, knives held in large hands, and watched for a likely passerby-
The forge-fires glowed bright, and the anvil clanked through yet another late-night project-
An alley cat rancid with refuse snarled at a passerby-
A midwife called for help as a delivery went wrong-
A thief tripped while running from police-
A little girl dropped her doll into a slum's overflowing sewer, and wailed when not allowed to retrieve the possession-
In the part of the city where respectable people tried not to be seen, a woman nearly marinated in ale approached a man who didn't know just how to approach her-
A girl wrapped herself in a sheet as she poured a drink from the pitcher of water in the room, and smiled at the man sleeping in the bed.
She didn't need to see the bronze skin, gleaming dark hair, or the half-open pale green eyes to know just who that man was. She recognized those sheets that she had just laundered (it had been her week), the curtains Sandry had woven, the elaborate metalwork of the shelves across the wall by the window, and that Briar had taken the girl (she should say lady, she knew) to dinner at one of his favorite restaurants earlier that night.
Even if that hadn't been enough, the shelves were covered in shakkans. Tris knew what they were, how much work was involved in maintaining so many, and just how fussy they could be about rainwater. It shouldn't matter. She was cool, now, and could sleep without feeling like a sweat-sticky mess.
She closed her book on her nightstand. There was no need to mark her place when she hadn't started to read. She set her glasses on the book with far more firmness than was required, then arranged herself on top of the covers. The possibility of ever sharing the bed seemed impossible, more distant than reading the future. Some things could not be learned in books, and some differences could never be neutralized.
She didn't know exactly when the troublesome new tangle of emotions had started, but it was most likely that first day that Briar was back after all that time of missing her only male friend. Niko didn't quite count, in her eyes. He was a teacher and a mentor, but she still wasn't sure if he was a friend as well. Tris had reacted as she always had to a friend who needed encouragement- except that she hadn't prepared a meal of favorite foods for Daja or Sandry. Briar's room had been given a current of air first, before she remembered just what she might see. When she had explained, red-faced, he had given her that horrible, horrible smile that made her knees not function correctly and told her that he trusted her- and that the air was worth it.
Daja had only commented that Tris could talk, anytime. Tris didn't want to take her up on that. A sympathetic ear was never bad, but speaking of what she felt would make it real. She had haltingly given that much of a reason before Daja had nodded and accepted that her offer was out in the open. Sandry, of course, was not that subtle. She was in yet another of her overly-noble noble moods (as Tris and Daja dubbed them, when no one could hear), convinced that she could make it right.
Tris had at least stopped her from open intervention. Sandry knew perfectly well what Trisana would rather not discuss, and Tris wouldn't mention it just so Sandry could stop pretending that she was waiting for a clue. Sandry was keeping her possible intervention to the occasional meaningful look or word, perhaps after Daja spoke with her. All Tris knew was that her secret was safe, for the moment.
She didn't know why she had such an illogical infatuation. It couldn't be love, not when she knew so little of anything. She couldn't decipher what she felt through a book. She just knew that she still was the wallflower at the balls Sandrilene fa Toren wrangled invitations to. Briar made a point to save three dances, every time. One for Daja, one for Sandry, one for Tris- and Tris made a point to try not looking completely out of place on the dance floor, with her braids and standing five inches shorter and the fashions that never did look quite as becoming on her. Sandry insisted that Tris was beautiful, not vapidly pretty like the ladies making their high society debut. Daja tried for the harder approach, promising vengeance if anyone made one more derogatory comment about her friend's looks, and she didn't care of the comment came from Tris.
Briar had a repertoire of four comments reserved for friends, two of them variations of a polite phrase involving the word "nice." Tris had forgotten to be nervous the night that Sandry had coaxed her into rich green fabric, when he had bowed just like any other rich gentleman and then, in his courtliest tones, pronounced her 'the most gorgeous bag I've seen tonight.' She remembered his thieves' cant for a rich person, and had smacked him (lightly) on the arm and pronounced him 'an unchanged kid,' using his cant. She had smiled and laughed and joked and felt, for once, completely at ease when she met his light green eyes.
Then, the dance had ended. He had bowed, she had curtsied. She considered asking for an unheard-of second dance when a tall, slender brunette with dark brown eyes had requested his hand. That lady had been wearing warm, warm amber in a shining finish. Briar hadn't paused- or if he had, it had just been Trisana's burgeoning imagination. Whatever it was, she was gone before he was on the dance floor again, fully aware that she was wearing his favorite shade of green and he had called her 'gorgeous,' even if it had been in play.
The breeze comforted her, lulling her closer to sleep. She would meet someone who fit better. Someone who wasn't nervous that she could scry the wind and learn secrets better left unknown (like Briar), who liked her fussy and with a mostly controlled temper (like Briar), and who wasn't known for loving the beautiful girls for just a time before moving on again (not like Briar, not at all).
Her emotions were under control. She could have cried, at how much it hurt to have a dream denied to her for so long- but she did not. That would prove that she wasn't meditating often enough, to find just how to keep such strong feelings under lock and key. If she were to break down and cry, she wouldn't be able to stop. She let her emotions out in bursts, to avoid too much pressure building.
The next morning, it would be better. Briar and the lady in amber had been involved for nearly three weeks, measured partly in a few nights when there was a guest for breakfast the next day. Soon, that brief affair would end. She would again attend parties without being courted, he would be flirting with a new lady by nightfall, and he and the lady in amber would dance again at the next ball, to prove there were no hard feelings.
For the time between a morning flight and nightfall- Tris would be there while Briar moped just a little, in ways that took a close friend to find. She would propose some new idea for his shakkans, or mention some vision on the wind that would make him laugh, all while making lunch and making sure that he wasn't going to do something daft. Then, he'd smile again, and everything would be alright, and there was another girl before the next morning.
That was all that she did. She was the girl who lived in the same house, who shared the same nightly breeze, who wanted nothing more than to scream and yell and let everyone know that she, Trisana Chandler, was the only woman who had kept Briar from ever having a fully bad day. She cared about him, and not as just someone handsome who would do as a companion for a night or twenty. She just might love him- so there, she had thought it. Tris might just love Briar, if he would ever pay attention to just what she offered.
When the news came in an afternoon that the brief dalliance was over, and it was too early for dinner and past lunch, she was the one to find fresh olives and draw him into talking while she kneaded what would be warm, fresh bread at dinner. Dinner would be roasted chicken stuffed with dried fruits, when he really needed something to cheer him. Lunch could be cheese pastries shaped like shakkan pots, a small twist on his old favorite. She would go to the market to buy leeks to cook with eggs, or the more exotic ingredients that went into his new favorite dishes. Helene (who had looked breathtaking in amber, to hear Briar tell it) wouldn't know that he could converse with the plants that lined his east wall, where the shakkans liked the sunrise best of all.
She slept, and didn't remember her dreams in the morning. She woke with trails of salt on her cheeks, quickly purged with a washrag and cool water. She arbitrarily chose one of the dresses she wore when she had nothing special to do, pretending not to notice that she had set the ones with green and brown in their patterns at the front. She adjusted the spectacles that fit her face, not caring that they fit perfectly and were the lightest pair she had ever owned. Was it a coincidence that Briar never had flirted with a girl in spectacles?
She made her way to the kitchen, with her best storm-face set. She didn't want to talk to anyone, and her housemates knew that when she did not wish to speak, she would make it known when the don't-talk time was over. One benefit of having difficult powers was that she could dictate just when she would be left alone. The only disadvantage was that sometimes she wasn't the only one to rise before the household staff. The housekeeper Daja hired had long ago resigned herself to Tris cooking, cleaning, and rising early. Tris was used to being alone, and not at all resigned to finding women she did not know in her kitchen.
Tris almost turned around and left, but Helene had already seen her. She wasn't about to change her routine now that the woman could notice. Instead of retreating, she did the next best thing. Helene obviously was looking through the kitchen. Tris didn't offer to help. Instead, she deftly filled her teapot with water from the recessed cupboard's pitcher, set it near the embers of the fire, found a cup, and counted a mix of tea leaves into her cup as the water heated. Helene still was looking for something when the water was just hot enough. Tris took a book from the small shelf in the kitchen, poured the hot water into her cup, and set the tea on the table to steep while she found the honey. She liked some sweet in her tea. It was no use to cut back in what she liked eating. Some people just wouldn't be stared at by every man in the room.
She hadn't even bothered to open her book. Instead, she sipped her tea and felt it burn her mouth, leaving raw places that would taste nothing. Without so much as glancing at Helene, she called a breeze to cool her tea. She didn't have to be afraid of images the wind could show her. How much more could it hurt? The air brought only a flurry of images with no one she knew, just scenes from a morning.
Briar knew she could scry the wind. Whatever she saw, she was not spying. She was seeing unavoidable glimpses of whatever he chose to do by night, and that was no problem of hers. She would not spend another uncomfortable night because she loved him and he was too dense or too logical or too smart to figure out just how that would change their friendship.
Helene still was in the kitchen. Like always, Trisana's surliness would not allow her to ignore a guest forever. She made her presence obvious, hands on her hips even as she looked a little friendlier. She would provide a drink, that was it. Then, Helene of the amber dress could get herself home while avoiding city gossips, and Tris could resume everyday business. "Would you like something to drink?" Tris asked politely in her iciest tone. She didn't like anyone who shared Briar's room. It was part of being petty, she assumed.
"Do you still have pomegranate juice?"
"We usually do. It's his favorite, when he's not making coffee that could dissolve metal." Tris found a pitcher the housekeeper had just put away yesterday, then set a cup beside it. "I wouldn't recommend bringing him any. At this time of the morning, you'd be lucky to get him to blink." A moment later, Tris realized that Helene would know that very well, and scowled before she could blush.
There wasn't even anything she could pick at in the simple statement. Tris disliked her just for making animosity unwarranted. She didn't reply. Instead, she went back to her tea and propped her book open to a page near the middle of the book. Maybe if she turned a few pages, Helene would get the message and leave.
"You were dancing with him, before I cut in," Helene said, and the look in her eyes was far too intent to make Tris comfortable with that line of conversation.
"I was." And she wasn't surprised that he hadn't waited a moment after their one token dance to go off with Helene in her shine-finished amber. Nobody that carried more than two ounces of fat could look good in that fabric. That led to several other similarly unhappy thoughts, but Tris still had an audience at their end. Obviously, Helene wasn't going to leave.
"He mentioned that you are one of his house-mates, but I didn't see him dancing with Ladies Daja or Sandry."
"You arrived late," Tris said in clipped tones. She had noticed the delayed entry- and was almost certain that Briar had, too, even if he had been polite enough to keep his eyes on his current dance partner. "He saves a dance for each of us. He is a gentleman." If Helene showed one ounce of pity, Tris would scare her off. Briar would forgive her eventually, and listening to pity was one of few things worse than having Briar disappointed in her.
"He looked after you several times, before you disappeared in the crowd."
Before she had left for a book. Tris didn't care that she had finished only half her tea. She didn't want to hear that from some stranger. She left the cup, saucer, and spoon in the sink. The housekeeper would be surprised, but no one would comment on it. Tris would make sure of it. Just a few angry winds, to show that she was close to losing control. She wouldn't damage anything, of course, but they would know that it was a day to leave her alone. She was prickly, just as bad as the few cacti Briar had started to keep. He said they had spines so that no one could get straight into the good parts inside, like water. In the desert, where they came from, that was more valuable than gold. She hadn't liked her self-chosen adjective nearly as much after that. She was temperamental, not on any list of court beauties, and had less patience than Chime.
She closed herself in her room, but of course that wasn't enough. Within two hours, she heard someone knock. The sound wasn't of flesh meeting wood, which meant there was just one candidate. Only one person Tris knew had metal covering a hand. "I'm trying to meditate, Daja," Tris snapped, not caring that it was a lie.
"And it's not working," Daja said, unperturbed. "You locked the door. If you would like your lock to function again, you might not want to let me at it."
"Since when are you counselor?" Tris demanded, angry when she hurt.
"Since you have been more withdrawn than usual since Briar started taking that twit in the tight shiny dress home," Daja said frankly. She was the only member of the circle who could be blunter than Tris, when needed, and she could be thick-skinned if she needed to. Tris would only strike out like that when really hurt.
Tris opened the door. She didn't care that her cheeks were blotchy, as they always were when she cried. Sandry could keep her complexion even, but Sandrilene was a noble. Nobilities probably learned those tricks from the cradle, and Tris was thoroughly merchant class.
Daja let herself in, then closed the door behind her. She locked it without any damage. There were advantages to being a smith-mage that still were in effect outside the forge. "Unless you haven't told us something, I can only think of one topic that would make you this sore for this long. Boys."
Tris nodded, a little. "It's about a boy, yes."
"We don't need to pick one," Daja said, even if she had a guess. That would just make Tris embarrassed. "All we need to do is decide just why you haven't spoken to this boy, if you let the thought of him bother you for as long as this Helene woman has been staying. This morning, the housekeeper found a cup of yours in the sink, unwashed, and debated for a solid hour before telling me. She's worried about you, and come to like working for a person who takes care of everyone else."
"It wouldn't work, Daja," Tris said. "You know how it goes- everything is right except just one crucial thing." She couldn't be any more specific. It didn't matter if she hurt, she didn't need to bring back old pains for Daja. "We don't fit."
Daja smiled, a touch wryly. "By whose standards? I think I'm an expert at not fulfilling the expected norm."
Tris would have smiled, but the sight of lilac perfume on her side table was enough to suppress that impulse. "I'll talk to you about him another day. I really could use the meditation."
"I'll meditate with you," Daja said easily. "We haven't done that in too long, not that we ever were the closest pair. Besides, when a merchant and a Trader can get along, you and your mystery beau have all the chances in the world."
Tris agreed, and finally had enough focus to concentrate on everything but Briar. She opened her eyes, after what could have been hours, and it was still morning.
She couldn't tell Briar. Sandry would just try to fix it. But maybe, just maybe... Daja knew about keeping confidences without pushing for results.
"Daja?" she asked shyly. "Would you like to hear about him?"
"Anything you'll tell me."
Tris took a deep breath. Trusting people was a first step. She would always have a temper, she would always be somewhat impatient. That didn't mean she always had to keep everything to herself- it never worked, in books.
"He- well, he lives here, actually."
Daja's jaw dropped before she could respond. "You- Tris, I thought it was that horrible merchant down the road with the bad hair! But you and Briar! I thought so, when we were with the empress, but couldn't tell."
"The greasy man with the bald spot?" Tris demanded. "Daja, we need to talk more often. It's Briar," she said, and saying it out loud made it seem just a little more real. Someday- and someday soon, if Daja made her usual suggestions that would stay just between them- maybe she would have enough courage to suggest that much to Briar. Until then, it was past time that she could say such a thing out loud.
She smiled, the first time in days. She might have a chance. The pretty delicate flowers came and went, Briar had said once. It was the stubborn weeds that stay, some stubborn and pretty enough that it wasn't worth it to do anything but enjoy them. Besides. Helene had said that he looked for her, after the dance. Maybe she should have stayed, but Helene had given her enough to hope.
"It's Briar." He loved the color green, and Sandry had promised her a new dress for the dance in two weeks in the dark, dark green shade that Tris had liked. It was summer, after all, and there was yet another garden party. If she took a seat near the garden, and Briar came to persuade her to join the party- maybe that would be something. In the warm air, she might need to find some convenient current that he just might want to share. She smiled again, and she and Daja began to plan and discuss the very likely possibility of conspiring with Sandry.
She loved summertime.