They searched the docks the next day, all of them, even Niko and Frostpine. No one could find a trace of Briar, or the men who had been asking after him.
"It was a week ago," Lark said, in an attempt to comfort them all as they rode back to Cheeseman Street on the cart. "That ship might be long gone by now."
"And Briar with them," Evvy said angrily. "How are we ever going to find him if they've sailed off with him somewhere?"
Tris said nothing. She had that far-off look on her face that meant she was listening or seeing on the winds. Daja knew better than to press her when she was scrying.
The cart dropped the three girls off and continued on to Winding Circle.
Tris, Daja and Sandry sat around the table in the kitchen, eating in silence. Daja tried not to think while she ate. She had already imagined enough terrible things over the last few days, the images of Briar being kidnapped and sailed across the sea to some unknown destination was one she didn't need added to her inner album of dread.
She looked up, thinking someone had spoken, but Tris was muttering to herself, stabbing her fork into her food without bringing it to her mouth. Daja was about to protest when Sandry shook her head.
She's thinking, the blonde girl explained.
Can't she do it privately? Daja replied grumpily. Some of us are hungry.
Sandry didn't bother to reply. They were all irritable and high strung.
Tris was still muttering and stabbing when Sandry and Daja had finished eating. The Trader girl got up and carried the plates to the sink while Sandry dusted crumbs. Then they sat down again, and waited.
"All right," Tris said, after what seemed like a long time. "Here's what we know - or what I think. Briar's alive. But he's been cut off from us, somehow. Some men came here asking for him, but now they're gone. There are only a few ships that have left port without returning since he went missing, four of those went to Namorn, the rest spread out over the south. It's possible that Briar's on one of them, or he could still be somewhere in Emelan."
"But nowhere with plants," Daja interrupted. "Or Rosethorn -"
"Wait!" Tris had stopped dead, her head cocked to one side as she listened. "I heard something."
Quiet, Daja, Sandry said earnestly. Hardly breathing, they both watched Tris as she turned her head.
"I can't see them," Tris said quietly after a moment. "But I can hear. There's two men talking. One of them said something about a Green Mage." She waved a hand, bending a coil of air around them so that they could hear what she heard.
"…tired of waiting." The voice was as clear as if the man had been standing right beside them. None of the girls moved, but listened intently. "When can we leave this place?"
"When the opportunity presents itself, and not before. There's no real rush."
"No rush? What if he gets out again?"
"That won't happen as long as you aren't so idiotic as to leave the door wide open, brother. Anyway, there's no where for him to go, as he discovered last time. What exactly is making you so nervous?"
"Something… I'm not sure. There's something about him, Raymus. He said… he said Danya was his mother."
"I know what he said. I told you, it's nonsense. Danya died years ago. I told you."
"It can't be a coincidence! What is it you aren't telling me?"
The second man let out a long, low sigh."You're beginning to ask too many questions, brother. I think its time you slept for a while."
And then, silence.
"I bet that was them," Sandry said furiously. "He said brother. A temple, maybe?"
"Did you get a fix on it?" Sandry asked Tris, breathless. "Could we follow it?"
"Maybe," Tris said. She stood up. "I'll follow. I'll call you when I've got there."
"Wait!" Daja stood up quickly. "Why can't we go together?"
Tris smiled. "I'll be faster." She went to the door, hoiking her skirts up about her knees to step over the threshold. She made for the stables, and Sandry and Daja hurried after her.
"What are you going to do?" Sandry demanded.
Tris turned back to her, hands on her hips in her most stubborn pose. "I'm going to do some magic," she said flatly. "And not weather magic. You'd best scoot back."
"Is it dangerous?"
"Not to you." Tris went deeper into the stable, where she couldn't be seen from the street. The cart mare whinnied nervously.
"Tris, no." Daja reached out and put a hand on Tris' shoulder. The girl pulled back, startled. "Whatever you're going to do, it's not worth it right now. You heard the man. He said there was no rush. We've time to get there on horseback."
Tris looked as though she might be about to argue, but Sandry was already installing her horse. "Let's go," she said, beckoning.
Sumac, sweet woodruff, tarragon, turmeric, vanilla… hang on. I missed one. Tarragon… thyme. Thyme! How could I forget thyme? Rosethorn'd give me one around the ear. Thyme, turmeric, vanilla, voatsiperfery, wintergreen…
Something downstairs banged, jerking him out of synch with his brain. When he came back, he'd completely lost track of where he was up to. If only there was something to do up here except recite herbs and spices! He'd done the alphabet forwards, backwards, side-to-side, with detailed descriptions, culinary and medical uses...
Someone was shouting. He ignored it. Someone was always shouting. His stomach rumbled. That was a little harder to ignore. What little food he had been given had only taken the barest edge off the hunger. He turned over on the mattress and tried to shut out the rest of the world.
It was quiet then for a long time. He had almost drifted off to sleep again when the door clicked gently open. For a boy who had grown up on the street and lived through a war, it might as well have been slammed. He lay still, wide awake now, listening to the grind of the door, stone on stone, and the thud as it closed again, and then the sound of footsteps coming across the floor.
Euan. He could tell from the obvious way the man breathed. The brother was a great deal stealthier. Unfortunately he wasn't moving close enough that Briar could get the jump on him, so he must have learned something from their last encounter, at least. "Boy," the man whispered.
"I have a name," Briar said, without opening his eyes.
"I want to talk to you."
"Do you? That's nice."
"Would you look at me?"
"Or what? You'll threaten me to death?" Briar sighed and sat up. Clearly the man wasn't going away at any immediate juncture.
Euan was sweating, standing nervously near the door as if he might have to make a quick getaway. "I want to talk about Danya. Your… mother."
Briar felt his heart do a little jump. "Danya." He repeated the name, but it didn't mean anything to him, didn't ring any gongs. To him she had always just been Ma.
"You're from Sotat." It wasn't a question.
Briar nodded. "That's so."
"How did you come here, then?"
Briar raised an eyebrow. "You don't know that story? You must be one of the few left in Emelan who hasn't." Euan's blank stare said all he needed to know. "Niklaren Goldeye found me. I was all stitched up, branded twice a thief and bound to the rest of my short life in the docks, or the mines. But Niko said I had magic, and he brought me to Winding Circle."
"A thief?" the man looked almost disappointed. His lips curled with silent but obvious disapproval.
Briar stared back, resolutely. "I stole what I had to to survive. Not everyone gets brought up sucking eggs from a silver spoon."
"But Danya -"
"Died when I was four or so," Briar said flatly.
The man flinched. "Your father -"
"Never knew him. Never cared to either, if he left her alone to die bleeding in an alley. I have a new family now, thank you very much." He stretched his arms over his head, listening the bones in his fingers crack. "Is there a reason for this trip down memory lane?"
Euan swallowed. "I… I knew Danya."
"I worked that much out for myself."
Euan didn't seem to even hear him. His eyes wandered around the room, from the increasingly ripe mattress to the cold stone walls, to Briar in only his breeches. "This isn't right," he muttered. "It's not right at all."
"I wouldn't argue against a little decoration," Briar admitted, outwardly displaying the kind of nonchalance you really had to work on to be convincing, while inwardly allowing himself to feel the tiniest spark of hope.
"My brother put a spell on me," Euan muttered. "I slept for an hour, still standing, and when I woke he was gone. Magic." He spat. Briar was a little taken aback.
"He can do that? I thought dream mages could only affect… well, dreams." But that wasn't true, he realised even as he said it. He had been awake when he had seen the monster in the field. And he had been awake when Raymus had taken his magic away. Awake, and terrified. "Fear," he said quietly to himself. "A fear mage? Is that even possible?" He supposed if a mage that dealt in non-magic could exist, then anything was possible.
Euan was staring over at him with a pained look on his face. Briar waited as long as he could stand, but he had never been a particularly patient person. "You look like you're itching to say something."
The man flinched and scratched his neck. "Do you know much… how much do you know about magic? How it works?"
Briar shrugged. "A little. My sister Tris is the one you really need to ask, though."
Euan shuddered and turned away, starting to pace between the far wall and the door. "Tell me," he said. "Your best guess. Would it be easier… safer… to take someone else's magic… if you were related to them by blood?"
Briar had to think a moment. "It shouldn't really be possible at all," he said. "I mean, unless you're linked… like my sisters and me… or if you're just borrowing the power, channelling it while it's still dormant in them. But I suppose… blood, yes, maybe. What does this have to do with -"
"Danya," Euan said sharply.
"Raymus is… related to my mother?" Briar guessed, putting the absurdity of this to the back of his mind while he concentrated on getting to the point.
"No - yes - I don't know…" the man made a dismissive gesture with his hand. He stopped pacing and stared Briar straight in the face. "You're only half Sotaten," he said. Another confusing statement. Briar blinked. "Half Olarten. Right? That's what he said. That's what led us to you."
Briar shook his head. "I don't know. I told you, I never knew - I've never even been to Olart. Well, maybe once, but just for a day or -"
"We're Olarten. We haven't been there since we were children, but…" He took three steps forward, staring straight into Briar's eyes. Briar could have reached out and strangled the man, made a run for it, but he wanted to know where all this was going.
"I loved Danya Katat," Euan said, low and hoarse. "She was… I wanted to stay with her… marry her, help her… but Raymus said it was foolish. Said I was lowering myself, falling in love with a street whore. I argued, but he got his way. He always gets his way. That picture is all I have left of her." His face twisted as though set upon by a stab of painful emotion. "We went back," he continued, "Ten, eleven years later, but she was gone. Raymus spoke to the man she used to work for, he told him she died, long ago. No one said anything about a child."
Briar's eyes widened as his stomach turned completely over. "Are you telling me you're my - "
"I'm telling you I don't know," Euan snapped. Sweat was running down his forehead and into his eyes and staining his clothes. He stank of it. He seemed to struggle inwardly with something for a moment before making a decision. "We have to go," he said, fast and low. "Now."
Thanks for your patience everyone. I estimate only a few more chapters left of this story!