A/N This takes place after Will of the Empress, and was written TPE: Writing Challenges' August 2010 challenge (I fail, seriously... how did it take me two years to get this up here?). The idea was to take two characters from the books who were completely unrelated and write them in a pairing fic that was as realistic as possible... The submissions included Gorse/Berenene (Wish for a Full Moon by icecreamlova), Pasco/Osprey (Violet Sparks by Timballisto), and Neal/Joren (The Game that Could Not be Won by Ace Ryn Knight)... but I decided to write about Jory - Daja's student from Cold Fire - and Comas, who is first introduced as Lark's new student in Magic Steps. Enjoy!
Jorality Bancanor flopped onto her bed, exhausted. "Never again," she told herself, one arm pressed against her eyes, "never again am I going to take the advice of Olennika, who obviously belongs in that hospital, not running it. 'Go visit your friend,' she said. 'Get out of Namorn and see the world before marriage. Study with another great cook-mage; you'll be better for it.' And instead I haven't even met Gorse and that assistant is a monster and if I thought cooking for a hospital was hard, a temple is even worse and it's boring and I hardly got to do more than wash dishes and I smell—"
"It is only your first week," replied the empty room. Jory jumped, whacking her knuckles off the wooden bed frame and nearly toppling off her mattress in her fright before she realized that the steady, amused voice answering her complaints was that of her friend Daja Kisubo.
"You are blasted quiet," Jory replied in accented Common, making the Trader woman grin. "And weren't you ever told it's rude to enter without knocking?"
"Weren't you ever told it's unwise to complain about your luck – and your host – aloud, with the door open? I could have been that monster assistant and you'd be lucky to see a spice for the rest of the summer."
"I'll be lucky to see one anyway!" Jory said, flopping back onto her bed dramatically. It was difficult to stay in a huff with Daja around, even for the mercurial Jory. Daja's steadiness was an impossible force to be silly around. The Trader was steady and unflappable, both in stature and temperament – like the iron she worked with – where sixteen-year-old Jory was wisp-thin with creamy brown skin, gold-brown hair and a flighty temperament that she had almost grown out of.
"You've only been here one week, and a week without Gorse, which was just bad luck," Daja reminded her. "You'll learn magic when Gorse returns. Use the time to get used to the kitchen and make friends with the kitchen staff. Even the monsters."
Jory groaned, but her heart wasn't in it and after having Daja as her teacher she knew better than to argue just to maintain her bad mood.
"In the meantime, though," Daja continued, "it's time for you to come meet my family."
"What?" Jory sat up, her grumblings forgotten. She had heard about Daja's foster family during the winter Daja and Frostpine had spent in her family's home in Kugisko, but she had not yet met them in person, even after a week in Summersea. Her arrival had, unfortunately, come at a bad time for the two siblings in the city as well as the great cook-mage she was sent to study with. Sandrilene had been tied up at the Citadel, where she lived and worked with the Duke of Emelan, her uncle. Briar had traveled a day or so north with Rosethorn to look in on some orchards with a blight. Even Frostpine had been too busy with an order from the Silversmiths Guild to do more than smile and give her a wave from the haze of smoke in his forge.
"Briar and Rosethorn are back, so he and I are here for dinner at Discipline and Sandry is riding in from the Citadel as well. Frostpine's coming, and so are Briar's and Lark's and Sandry's students."
"And I'm going to meet them all? What should I wear? Are we going now? Do you cook or get the food from the kitchens because we could go early and I could help cook something..."
Daja laughed as she warded off Jory's questions and led her from her guest room, towards Discipline.
They had all already arrived when Jory and Daja walked up to the small cottage offset from the winding path. The door had been left open to take advantage of the evening breeze, so the young women could hear the voices and laughter long before they opened the small gate and crossed the yard (trying to keep from being taken down by the Bear as they did so).
Jory stopped for a moment on the threshold of the cottage, taking in the sight of so many mages, so many different people, that filled the small main room. A dedicate, a beautiful young woman, and a young man around Jory's age sat at the table listening to a Yanjing novice who was telling a story – too quickly for Jory to understand with her limited Common – making the others cackle, giggle and laugh aloud respectively. A young man turned away from the counter where he and another dedicate were preparing the food and he added a comment to the story, making everyone laugh again. There was another young man sitting on the stairs in the white robe of a novice, and Jory saw Frostpine lounging against the far wall.
"Getting out of helping out?" she asked cheekily, causing her parents' friend to grin.
"I would just burn it all if I tried to work my way in there. I belong in a forge, not a kitchen!" he said.
"That is very true," Daja said as she shut the cottage door. "I nearly ran home the first night he cooked our meals while traveling together. It tasted like coal."
"And we were a month away from Summersea at that point, so you know how serious she is about that."
Daja grinned at Frostpine and introduced Jory around the room. There was Briar, grinning from the kitchen's counter where he and Daja's foster-mother Lark were preparing the last of the night's meal. The other dedicate was Rosethorn who sat with Sandry and her student, Pasco, and the Yanjing girl with the mischievous grin, Evvy. Jory knew she would have to make friends with that girl, and soon. The boy on the stairs was introduced as Comas and when Jory looked over to greet him with a smile he looked down at his lap, his light hair blocking his face from her gaze.
Amidst much bumping and laughing, they seated themselves at the long table that had been brought into the cottage, passing around dishes of food as they talked.
"And you dance in the city?" Jory asked Pasco as she tore a small piece of her sweet bun. Pasco nodded, his mouth full of the sliced beef.
"He's a student of Yasmin Hebet," Sandry said from the seat beside him. "And she's yet to teach him dinner manners, apparently." Jory and Sandry both laughed as he waved away the comment while trying to finish his bite with dignity.
"And you're here to study with Gorse?" Pasco asked.
"Lucky," Briar said, leaning away from his conversation with Frostpine.
"Briar has never quite gotten over his obsession with eating everything in sight," Rosethorn said, her slurred voice dry. Briar grinned and popped another bite of vegetables in his mouth.
"You'd think he'd be fatter," Evvy said from Jory's side. "But he's vain, too."
Everyone laughed as Briar tried to defend himself around a mouthful of vegetables, spraying Frostpine with carrots in the process. The conversation went over Jory's head after that, with everyone talking over everyone until the Common ran together and Jory was lucky to catch a word in three, but she didn't mind. There was something about this group of people that reminded her of cold nights at home, when her parents and siblings would gather in their sitting room, around the fire. There was that feeling of home, of family, that made her instantly comfortable and she leaned over and whispered in Evvy's ear, making the novice giggle as Daja calmly shot down Briar's attempts at redeeming himself in the conversation.
Jory didn't even notice that Comas shot a desperate look at Lark, who nodded towards the staircase. The young man had hurried up the stairs to his room, without taking any of the food for himself. Lark watched him leave, and the empty staircase after he had disappeared from sight, for a long moment.
The next day, Gorse did return to Winding Circle and life took on a routine for Jory. At Olennika's, she was used to long days with little rest, but she wasn't sure if Gorse even needed sleep, and she tried to match his routines as closely as possible. She was up before dawn, splashing water from her little basin onto her face before she hurried to the kitchens in the grey-pink light of early morning. Gorse would already be there with his morning staff and he always knew when she entered his realm; he would turn and smile and offer her a warm bun or fresh fruit and they would begin.
He had magic she had never seen before, collected from all over the world, and Jory struggled to remember everything while still getting the dough the right consistency and warming that oven just right, and checking the packs of fruit for bruises. There was a comfort in the heat and the noise and the creation that Jory had felt since she was small, but Gorse made it fun, too. They spent time in the slow hours after dinner pitting peaches or kneading dough for the morning's bread discussing theory and laughing until well after sunset. She would stumble back to the guest quarters in the dark, cleaning her teeth and changing into her nightclothes with her eyes shut before collapsing on her bed, only to wake up before dawn the next day.
After dinner on Watersday, Gorse announced that he was banning her from his kitchen. "You need to sleep and you need some fresh air. Make some friends, see the city, think about something other than food! You're young, you're in a new place... time to have some fun, yes? Now go sleep before you collapse and bruise all of the tomatoes. Take your Sunsday and return to me rested, yes? We will work on something new next week."
Jory didn't have many friends in Summersea, let alone Winding Circle. Most of the guest mages in her quarters were university students or novices soon to take their vows at other temples and were two or three years older than her. She wasn't sure if she could find Cheeseman Street on her own, so after a little thought on Sunsday morning, she brushed her curls, slipped on her Namornese under gown and tunic and took the path to Winding Circle to find Evvy.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said, smiling, as she pushed her way through the heavy doors of the guest hall and nearly knocked into a young man. Smiling, she straightened the books he was holding and held the door for him. He gave her a long look over his shoulder, sending her down the path in the slight bit of early summer mornings with a grin.
She was proud of herself when she had negotiated the winding paths of the temple, and even used a few shortcuts, to find herself in front of Discipline. Unlatching the gate, Jory didn't notice until she had already knocked on the door that the yard was empty and the cottage quiet.
Jory cursed lightly in Namornese. If Evvy wasn't home, Jory would have absolutely nothing to do with her day. She had just turned to walk back down the path, shoulders slumped and her lip puckered into a pout, when the door opened a crack behind her.
Jory spun around and smiled brightly at the young man –Comas – who she had seen briefly at dinner the night before.
"Hi! I'm so glad someone is home! It's me, Jory, from dinner?" Comas nodded quickly. "Is Evvy in?"
"Oh, shoot. Only I have so few friends here in Emelan and I was hoping someone would spend the day with me, you know? Do you know where Evvy went?"
"The cliffs, I think. W-with Luvo."
"Will you take me?"
The silence that stretched between them seemed to go on forever for both of them. Jory, hovering anxiously, nearly whooped when the young man agreed to be her guide.
"Thank you!" she said, jumping up to the door to kiss Comas on the cheek.
Jory chattered as they walked down the path, watching Comas out of the corner of her eye as she had a conversation that must have seemed, to anyone looking in, remarkably one-sided. Except Jory's twin was shy (Little Shadow, their mother had called her) and Nia was practically a part of Jory, they were so connected. That meant that part of Jory understood what it was like, this shyness. It snuck up on a person, sometimes, making everything so much harder. It was difficult to explain to someone how the twisting feeling crept into your stomach, or how your brain went so slow when you are trying to make a sentence come out right, and then how everything you say runs through your head over and over, making you re-guess every word. Harder still to explain this when the person you were talking to made you feel that way in the first place.
Jory, understanding this, asked nothing of Comas other than to listen as she rambled about Gorse and his kitchens, her family, Daja and Frostpine, and her magic. She paid attention to his body, the way his shoulders lost some of their tension as he walked with her, how he stopped covering his mouth when she made him smile, how he slowly edged over on the path so they weren't walking two feet away from each other.
"What is your magic, Comas?" she asked, and he was soothed into answering without a stutter.
"I'm a thread mage, like Lark."
Jory ran with this for a while, chatting about Sandrilene and Lark.
"She's from Namorn, too," Comas said, quietly. "Lady Sandrilene, I mean. The cliffs are this way."
"Thanks again for showing me the way," Jory said, huffing a little as they clamoured along the cliff-side path. "I really appreciate it, Comas."
The young man blushed and waved his hand, embarrassed.
"Comas! Jory! Over here!" Jory looked up to see Evvy, perilously close to the cliff's edge, waving at them. There was a small ledge they had to climb up onto the get to where the novice was standing. Comas climbed up first and then reached down and help pulled Jory up onto the ledge. He hadn't left enough room for her to stand, so there was an awkward moment where they were scrambling for space on the ledge, pressed together, but Jory looked up at Comas and laughed. He looked down at her, startled and his face red from embarrassment.
He's cute, Jory thought. You can't tell, when he's looking down and his face is all hidden by his hair.
Comas stammered as he backed away from her, and Jory smiled.
They sat together on the cliffs and Jory met Luvo, who seemed amused that there was a human more hyperactive than his charge. Evvy and Jory chatted and laughed, with Luvo and Comas sitting quietly beside them, all their legs (except Luvo's) dangling over the cliff-face.
The sun rose to its noon-time position in the sky and the girls quieted down. Jory – in typical Namornese fashion – laid back with her arms outstretched to catch as much sun as possible and listened, half snoozing, to Evvy and Comas.
"But you want to get out of these novice robes, don't you? You can't just stay at Discipline forever, you know. What do you want to do? That's all I'm asking."
"Oh, leave him be," Jory said without opening her eyes. "He'll tell you if he wants to, Evvy. What do you want to do when you're not a novice?"
"I am not sure that Evumeimei will ever get out of the white robes if she does not, first, learn patience," Luvo said.
"Oh, Luvo. I'm a human, not a rock. We're not supposed to have a mountain's patience," Evvy said, unconcerned by his criticism. "I want to stay here, like Lark and Rosethorn. They get to travel around, and that would be nice, but they have their home and all their family around them and they get to help kids. I like that. What about you?"
"I'll be in Kugisko," Jory said. "I'll be married and I want to do work like my teacher is now, serving food to people who actually need it."
"There's already someone my family has negotiated with," Jory said, yawning. "He's nice."
"Ew," Evvy said. "I would hate to have it chosen for me."
"Oh, they let me and Nia pick."
"I would like to travel, I think," Comas said. "See all the other temples' thread-mages."
"I never knew that," Evvy said.
"That is because you do not have Jorality's patience to listen," Luvo said. "We should return to the temple. You have lessons with Orecleft in exactly three minutes."
Evvy sat up quickly, shouting a curse (something that Jory was sure would get her ear twisted by Rosethorn) and making Comas jump, and then the three teenagers hurried down the path towards the temple.
The next week Jory learned about roasts – which sat in massive ovens drenched in vegetable broths, for an entire day – and different types of bread used in the summer midnight services, and the light soups and cold drinks everyone needed in the blasted Emelan heat.
On Sunsday, Jory ran to Discipline. Comas opened the door wide when he saw who was waiting at the door.
"Hi, Comas! Is Evvy in?"
Evvy wasn't in; she was in Summersea's Mire with Rosethorn and Briar. Comas agreed to lead Jory into the city and it was only twenty minutes later, when they finally reached the gate on the Temple, that Jory realized he had agreed but was too shy to tell her how difficult it would be to walk into the city.
"Well, this won't work," Jory said, looking around. She noticed Comas duck his head, biting his lip. "Don't worry, Comas. Let's just think..." Jory smiled as she saw a cart coming up the path. "Hi, there!" she called.
"Hello," the dedicate said, drawing back on the reins.
"We're going into the city to help Rosethorn," Jory said, grinning. "Could you help us?"
"Wouldn't want to hold you back from Rosethorn," the dedicate said, laughing. "Jump up, you two."
Jory clambered into the back of the cart, holding her hand out to Comas when he joined her. "See?" she asked as he took her hand. "Isn't it nice having me around?"
"Yes," Comas whispered. He looked away, blushing fiercely, when Jory looked at him, to gauge his expression.
Comas went to the guest dorms the Sunsday after Midsummer. It was nearly noon and Jory hadn't yet come to Discipline's door, as she always did. He raised his hand to knock on her door, but shook his head, backed away. She didn't come by because she didn't want to, he thought. Yes, okay, she seemed like she had fun, but she probably has fun with everyone. That's what she's like, after all. So, we spent time together for a few weeks. It was fun, but she has other friends now and I should just go before I embarrass myself and –
The door opened and Jory walked out into the hallway, nearly running straight into Comas. She stared at him, surprised.
"Is Evvy in?" he asked, impulsively. He regretted the joke until Jory threw her head back and laughed.
It was easily the most beautiful thing Comas had ever heard.
The summer was a series of picture perfect moments, all of them featuring Jory. They spent every Sunsday together, and Comas – who had lived in the temple for five years now – was constantly surprised by what Jory was able to find to do. There was a festival in Summersea, she found a way up one of the towers to look out over the sea, they watched Pasco dance in a street show, and she scoured the markets for food she hadn't tried or ingredients which were rare in Namorn.
In all of it, Comas followed behind her, or her and Evvy, when the other novice was able to join them, and watched how effortlessly she moved through the world. Most of the time it was frustrating or discouraging to watch people do something so easily that sent him in fits of panic. Jory, though, would send him a smile at exactly the right time or would just sit and let him collect his thoughts enough to say what he meant. The only other person who did it was Lark and it was different with Lark because she was patient with everything, and Jory wasn't. She always had to be moving, always had to have something to do. She could be downright infuriating when she was bored, but with Comas, she had all the time in the world.
It made him slightly uncomfortable to realize just how much he would miss her, when she went home.
They were walking along the beach in one of their quietest times. It was nearing the end of summer, and neither of them wanted to talk about how she would be leaving Emelan in only a few weeks. In silence, they looked out over the water as they clamoured over rocks and around debris the waves had brought in.
"Let's not go back," Jory said, looking out over the water. Comas looked over at her, confused. She didn't see, as she was looking out at the waves. "It's the last night I'm going to be able to enjoy this sort of night here. Will you stay with me?"
Comas could only nod.
Evvy kept a small stash of things in the cave up on the cliff; some dried fruit, a blanket, a water flask, paper and ink, a comb. Comas fetched the blanket after an hour of sitting in silence and brought it back down to the beach, self-consciously handing it to Jory. Instead of wrapping it around herself (even the Emelan nights were chilly this late in the summer), she laid it down and sat on it, gesturing for Comas to join her. She looked back at the water while he hesitated, wringing his hands a moment before he sat down, gingerly on the edge furthest from her.
"Sitting near the Syth is not as relaxing as this," she said. "I'll miss it. I'll miss so many things about Emelan! I didn't think I'd love it this much in just a summer, but now I hardly want to leave. But, at the same time, my family and Nia and my work at the hospital and everything in Kugisko..." she laughed, a little. "How is it possible to feel so very torn?"
Comas shrugged a little. "I think that's what life is, sometimes. And you're supposed to appreciate that the good things happened, and hold onto the memories instead of feeling sad that it is over." She looked over and he could see that she was nodding, but he didn't look over at her right away. He took a deep breath, for courage. "But I'm sad it's over. I'll miss you."
He looked over at her and she was smiling. Sliding over to his side of the blanket, she tucked her arm into his and put her head on his shoulder. "I'll miss you too, Comas."
Evvy and Lark were sitting at the kitchen table when he came in the next morning. If they exchanged startled glances, if Lark shook her head furiously to end the question Evvy was going to ask, if both of them laughed softly – partly in surprise and partly because they were happy for him – well, he kept his head down and hurried up to his room and didn't see.
"Well then," Evvy said though a chuckle.
"Oh, stop!" Lark chided her, but she was smiling too.
The next week passed in a flurry of goodbyes. Comas thought he and Jory had managed to recreate their entire summer in that short week; they visited every one of their favourite spots. The only difference was that Jory would tuck her hand into his as they watched one of Pasco's performances, or kiss him lightly when they met at Discipline's door, or sit close enough to him at the shore that he could put his arm around her, when he was daring enough.
And, often, he was daring enough. He told her that it was something he learned from her. She told him it had been there all along.
They didn't linger on their goodbye as Jory was seen off on her travels by all of the friends she had made. Their goodbye had been their one night on the beach, but she pressed a kiss to his cheek and he hugged her tight for a long moment. She had to brush a tear from her cheek when she pulled away, but it made her laugh.
"Good bye, Comas."
"Good bye, Jory."
It's rare that someone can look back at something good and not regret its ending - and they both did, sometimes - but most often, as their lives changed, they would think about their times together and smile because they had been there, had met each other, had that one night, that one week, those few months.
It had been one perfect summer.