Crogen’s greatest hall, supplied with trestles, was more than adequate to contain reunited friends, the castle’s garrison, and every other soul calling Crogen home, whether in the short run or the long. It was convenient, to tell their tale once for all. It was pleasant, to dine on hot food, sip wine, listen to bards and fiddles, to watch Kitri dance. To accept congratulations and catch up with old friends. The hall was a bustle of light and color, motion and music and chatter. It was all…
Too much. Too busy, too loud, too many questions, too many things warring for attention.
Halfway through the next ballad, Tristan slipped quietly out the door that lead to the kitchens. He collected a loaf of bread, a few sticks of firewood, a sack of apples—and a flagon of cider. He climbed the spiral stair up the tower he and Elisena had chosen for home.
The fire was lit already. Elisena had the kettle hanging over it, just beginning to sing a soft, silver sound.
“I wondered what happened to the magewood,” Tristan said, setting the kindling down out of the way. “I clean lost track of whose pack it was in.”
“Cup of tea?” Elisena asked.
“My plan was to come up here, light the fire, then fetch you away from the feast. Only you must have got tired of it as fast as I did.” He set the loaf of bread down, and the cider, then sat himself down on their bed.
“It was quiet, in Channadran,” Elisena said, putting the mug of tea into his hands. “Now everything seems…too much. It’s delightful, but—”
“I know.” He sipped, and sighed. “How did you know? All that feasting, and I was just longing for a cup of tea.”
She settled beside him with her own mug.
“I was thinking…after we send Polassar and Allaire home to Lassair, or throw them out, or convince them that they need to put Polassar’s castle to rights—I’d like to go to the cottage for a few days. Would you like that?”
Elisena’s eyes shone, silver as the teakettle. “Yes, please! You asked me to share it with you, but I’ve never stepped foot there.”
“Well, things…got in the way. Ending winter. Saving the world…”
The cottage door opened as they set foot on the threshold, and Elisena caught her breath. Every shelf, the mantel, the table, the edges of the hearth, all were covered with thousands of tiny white sea-pebbles, and each pebble was softly glowing. She looked sidelong at Tristan, who was watching her with what was surely anxiety. From outside the cottage, there had been no sign of the magic, only a single wax candle set in the window to welcome them in an ordinary way.
The stones began to twinkle, pulsing on and off in a rapid rhythm. A rhythm like a fast-beating heart. Elisena smiled. The blinking steadied as she caught Tristan’s hand…