secret smiles

When she came to see the plans, she had not stayed long. Guards hovered uneasily by the broad panes of glass. The schedule for the Duchess of Emelan had enough give in it for Crane to pour tea and for Sandry to drink it, papers rayed out about them.

The letter was tucked inside one of the floorplans, falling at the Dedicate's feet as he filed them away.

Dear Crane,

I am sorry I could not stay long. Of course, I have not actually arrived yet—I'm writing this over breakfast, forgive any tea stains—but I am sure it won't be for as long as either of us would like. I am looking forward to this immensely. I hope that, by the time you read this, we have had a lovely afternoon and I know a great deal more about the glass monstrosity you gave your heart to. Rosethorn's words—not mine!

With love, and a tumbled sort of thanks,

S.

Sandrilene.

If I didn't have a considerable body of evidence to prove me wrong, I would say you were quite mad. Doesn't your position merit some little…solemnity, if not decorum? Saturate your sentences with any more feeling and you could see through them—or possibly sell them as copper bit romances.

As it happens, I did find your visit most convivial.

Regards,

Crane.

My Dear Crosspatch.

I am, of course, a rather too well bred and far too busy to read copper bit romances, though Tris would tell me that every book is worth reading at least once, so that one might have an opinion on it. As for the rest of it: I am sometimes decorous, but never solemn. You know that, surely, Crane? Sad, sometimes, and maybe a little grave—but solemn never fits. I haven't the nose for it.

With feeling,

Sandrilene.

Dear S.

I'm never sure what is the more dismaying: when you laugh at yourself, or you laugh at me. Your Ducal Dignity was easily seen through at tonight's meeting—at least by me, and very probably Lark. Though you did handle those idiots from the Fire Temple very well. I am sure, however, that you do not need me to tell you that.

C.

Dear Crane,

No, I did not, but I enjoy it all the same.

S.

S.

Was that even worth the paper it was written on?

C.

Dear Crane,

I was practicing being pithy! Also, I will admit to writer's cramp. Even with Erdogun's help, dealing with winter food storage requires all my attention to detail for the day. Perhaps, one day, when I am old and wise, it shall be easier.

Affectionately yours, Sandry.

S.

If.

C.

Crane.

Excuse me? I'm afraid, dear Dedicate, you have me baffled. And not just because it's two in the morning.

Sleepily, S.

Sandriene

"If"—not "when". I was being allusive!

Referencing a correspondence between the two key defenders of the Kurchal Empire. When I am grown, Admanteus is said to have written, I shall come waste no words. I shall take your lands. Dimitus, showing concision, merely responded with, If. And proceeded to unite the two lands, Admanteus be-damned, within the following year. I had no idea your education was so remiss in the histories. As one of your former teachers, I cannot help but blush.

Crane.

Dear Crane

Surely I can give you better cause for blushing than that. I shall work on it immediately. I'm still…not entirely sure what you were talking about—perhaps the point you were trying to make doesn't translate well? I'll ask Tris.

Still, seeing you all spiky in your distaste makes me miss the cottage; miss Lark, and Rosie, and the four of us kids all together. It makes me miss Little Bear and all of Tris's stray birds and Rosie's sharp words. It makes me miss you. You know, I was always a little jealous that Briar and Tris had particular lessons with you, while I did not.

With love, S.

Sandry, are you well?

I…I do not know how to ask this, as the clumsy use of punctuation and tortured sentences might hint. But you did not speak so—speak of missing, I mean—even after your uncle's death. I'm trying to ask you as a friend—not as a spiky old Dedicate who is generally uncomfortable with outpourings. Though I am undeniably that, as well.

I am always happy to receive your letters. But this has gone on so long now that I am not only able to hear your voice, as I read them. Sometimes, I catch its colours, as well, and I can't help but try to see you as you were, writing your words. I hope the picture your previous letter gave me was wrong.

I am not making sense, and so I shall sensibly bid you goodnight.

Crane.

Crane.

I was weeping like a very foolish creature when I wrote the second half of my last letter. If that was your picture of me, I'm afraid it was right. I'm going to give you a cue, now: I'm smiling, wishing I could reach beyond these words and take your hands. Because, strange as your own writing can be, I know you meant what you said, and you are dear to me. You always have been. You carried me after I wove a net to kill another mage, and you didn't flinch or care. You just reminded me of a great, hard work I had done, and let me sleep. Lark loves you. And, despite appearances, she does not love everyone. You write to me, and you don't write for anything. No one else does that.

I was sad, when I wrote that letter—and you could see it, a little, because I do feel safe, these times when I write to you.

Love,

Sandry.

Dear Sandry.

You say I don't write for anything. I cannot, in good conscience, continue to deceive you that way. No one is unmotivated, my dear. You know that. And I write to you—and find myself hoping your reply in those moments I am left alone, even when it's simply the time between wakefulness and falling asleep—because you are vivid, and sweet, and I love your company. In an epistolary sense.

C.

Crane!

I had made it my goal to make you blush, and then you write me that? Crosspatch, I concede! (In the epistolary sense, of course).

Love, Sandry.

6. Uncomfortable questions.

"Crane. I have no idea what your latest project is, but I'm getting an impression that it can't be legal."

Rosethorn, only groaning a little, knelt beside Crane in the dirt, one hand scuffing the neat sign of protection he had sketched by the nasturtiums. Sighing, he turned to look at her. She shrugged.

"Nasty little buggers," she said, nodding to the seedlings. "They'll thrive without your magery. You know that."

"And you know it's unpardonably rude to disrupt anyone's work. That spell could have been anything! Are you a novice?"

"It wasn't." Rosethorn grinned. "And you've never pardoned me in my life. Please don't start now." Bending forward to examine the path of a ladybird, she tucked her hair behind her ears, adjusting her hat with fingers that were thin and slightly stained in the afternoon light. "I just want to know what has you grinning all the time."

"Grinning?"

The stocky woman shrugged. "Grinning. Smiling secretly, with a bit of a blush… Same thing, in your case."

"The worst thing about you, Rosethorn," said Crane, aiming for a loftiness he didn't quite feel, "Is your self-satisfaction."

"So the cat said to the canary."

Dear Sandry.

Apparently, I now "grin." I suspect this is a side-effect of our correspondence. Perhaps it would be best to stop. We do, after all, live a brisk walk from one another. Any crucial news can be relayed that way.

Yours, Crane.

Dear C.

Ah, but we don't write to each other for crucial news. We merely write when it is crucial. I'll stop making you smile if you stop distracting me in temple meetings. You, sir, use your knowledge of me to awful advantage. And I can't even kiss you for it.

Love, S.

Dear, infuriating S.

Perhaps you should.

Once again, you have completely waylaid any point I try to make. If you had been dedicated, you'd have ended up in the Water Temple. Mark my words.

C.

Dear Crane,

You do realise that Water Temple insults only work on yourself? Possibly Rosethorn? They're very nice, really. I am much more interested in what you scratched out.

Love,

Sandry.

S.

No, your Grace. You are not nice, at all. I think you need no "cues" to imagine how I am at this moment.

Crane.

Dear Crane.

(I can't believe I'm about to write this…)

What if I want some?

Sandry.