Maris climbed the spiral staircase to the highest spire of the Loftus Observatory. She had a barkscroll on old sky ships tucked under her arm, but it was such a beautiful day that she doubted that she would read it. The windows that blossomed periodically on the walls cast angular patches of glowing sunlight on the smooth white stones of the staircase. A flock of ratbirds flapped past the window, stirring the glittering dust that had settled there after the Professors' last experiment.
She finally reached the summit, having wended her way up almost three hundred pristine steps. The chamber at the top was no larger than a meter and a half square, or round, I should say. The windowsills up here were more than several feet wide, and Maris used her sleeve to brush the glittering motes off the sill and into the sunlit air. She settled herself leaning against one wall of the window, propping her feet against the other. She opened the barkscroll.
"Skyship builders experimented with ironwood for the foreparts of hulls because of its cast iron-like properties and thus it's impenetrability against most weapons."
Maris fiddled with her braids, unleashing her long hair accidentally when she pulled on the dark strings tying them in place. Her dark brown, reddish locks tumbled against her shoulders, and stirred there like leaves in the wind, touched gently by the warm breeze that smelled of deep sky. She was having a hard time concentrating on the dry (in more ways than one) barkscroll, and so rolled it up, tied it with the strip of tilder-leather and placed it next to her. She gazed off into the sky, remembering all that had happened to her and Quint in the past few years – and how she slowly had come to think of him as more than a friend. There was the time when she had thought that her love went unrequited – but, with a shiver of recollection and delight, she remembered that day on the prow of the sky ship when she had kissed Quint for the first time. Then, she had known that he shared the deep affection she felt for him.
She was brought out of her sun and wind filled reverie by the sound of footsteps echoing up the stairs. They bounced around the small room like butterflies caged in a glass box. She hurried to gather up her hair – no one, not even Quint, had seen her with it out of the braids before. Suddenly, however, the breeze picked up and tore it out of her hands. Just then, Quint's spiky black head appeared in the doorway to the tiny tower room.
"I thought I might find you here", he said, smiling. "I often come here to read as well."
He crossed to her, sitting with his back braced against the opposite wall. One of the things she liked about Quint was how they were comfortable being silent together – many of the boys she knew on the great floating rock had trouble with silence.
Quint stared off into the distance, tugging on a lock of his unruly hair.
"You know", he said. "I've never seen you with your hair out. It's beautiful." He leaned over to finger the strands that lay tangled on her shoulders, glinting red in the bright sunlight. Maris reached up and twined her white, long fingered hands in his dark hair, pulling his face almost touching hers.
"Thank you", she whispered in his ear, her lips just brushing the gentle curve of it.
Quint unbuttoned her high-necked shirt just enough to kiss the hollow of her collarbone. "You are beautiful", he breathed into her neck, weaving his hands, so like Maris's, into her long hair. It smelled of flowers, and the wind, and everything on the Edge that Quint loved. It was the smell of Maris.
He kissed the place where her ear met the curve of her chin. Maris shivered at his touch. His hand snaked under her gown to the back of her knee. Maris gasped. Quint hesitated, but she brought his indigo eyes to hers, and then kissed him full on the mouth. His lips were warm, and tasted of some unknown berry. "I love you", she whispered, pulling just shy of his mouth.
His hand crept up her leg, finding the smooth skin where her legs joined her torso. He stroked that hidden crease as she kissed him harder, darting her tongue into his mouth like a timid lizard peeking from under a log. He moaned, his other hand pulling her tunic out of her skirt, fingers dancing up her spine, cupping the normally hidden curve of her hip in his hand, rubbing his thumb on the gently protruding hipbone.
Their legs tangled, and both of Quint's hands found Maris's bare back now, pulling her pleasantly hard into his chest, made strong by years of training as a Librarian Knight. They nestled into each other, each trying to get as close to the other as possible. Maris lay on the sparkling windowsill, feeling Quint's strong, lean, warm body next to her, his hands resting gently, one on her neck and the other on the curve of her bare back, and knew that she would never be cold or lonely again.