Roar watched him from the top of the beach with a grin. “That was beautiful, Per. It was killing me, too. ”
Perry laughed, smacking him on the head as he jogged by. “Not everything’s meant for your ears. ”
He found Reef up the trail, stalling Bear and Wylan, who’d come in search of him. As they walked back to the compound, Bear spoke of the trouble he was having with a pair of farmers, Gray and Rowan. Wylan chimed in with petty complaints every dozen paces, his voice sharp and angry, as always. No matter what Perry did or said, it was never good enough for Wylan, who’d been one of Vale’s most devoted followers.
Perry listened with half a mind, doing all he could to keep himself from smiling.
An hour later, he sat on the roof of his house, alone for the first time in days. He dropped his arms over his knees and closed his eyes, relishing the cool mist on his skin. When the breeze died down and he breathed in deeply, he scented traces of Aria. She was in Vale’s room now, inside the house. Laughter drifted through the crack in the roof beside him. The Six were playing a game of dice. He could hear Twig and Gren’s usual banter. Auds both, they talked constantly, always arguing, competing over everything.
Lamps flickered around the compound and smoke drifted from chimneys, mingling with the salt air. This late in the night, only a few people were still about. Perry lay back, watching the Aether light sift down through the thinner patches in the clouds and listening to the volley of their voices across the clearing.
“How’s the baby’s fever?” Molly asked someone.
“Dropping, thank the sky,” came the answer. “He’s sleeping now. ”
“Good, let him rest. I’ll bring him down to the sea in the morning. It’ll open up his lungs. ”
Perry inhaled, letting the ocean air open his own lungs. He’d grown up under the care of many, much like the baby they spoke of. As a child, he’d crawled up into the nearest lap to sleep. When he’d had fever or a cut that needed stitches, Molly had nursed him back to health. The Tides were a small tribe, but they were also a big family.
Perry wondered where Cinder was but knew he’d come back on his own, just as Roar had said. When Perry saw him, he’d lay into Cinder for running off, and then he’d find out what happened in the cookhouse.
He sat up in time to catch a wadded blanket, tossed from below.
“Thanks, Molly. ”
“Don’t know why you’re up there, and they’re all warm in your house,” she said, and bustled away.
But Molly did know. There were few secrets in a tribe this small. Everyone knew about his nightmares. Up here, at least, he could pass the sleepless time by reading scents on the breeze and watching the play of light through the clouds. Such a strange spring, with a thick blanket of clouds always above. Much as he feared the Aether, part of him would have felt better if he could see it now.
Brooke fell in step with him as he left the compound at dawn, her bow and quiver over her shoulder. “Where you heading?”
“Same place you are,” he said. She was a Seer, and one of the best archers in the tribe, so Perry had given her the task of teaching everyone in the Tides how to shoot a bow. Her lessons were near the same field where he was meeting Bear.
Their walk was awkward and quiet. He noticed she still wore one of his arrowheads on a strip of leather around her neck, and he tried not to think of the day he gave it to her, or what it had meant to both of them. He cared about her, and that would never change. But it was over between them. He’d told her so over the winter, as gently as he could, and hoped soon she’d see it too.
As they reached the eastern field, he found an argument already nearing a boil: two farmers, Rowan and Gray, who wanted more help in the fields than Perry could give them. Bear stood between them, massive, yet gentle as a kitten.
“Look at this,” said Rowan, the young farmer whose child had had fever the night before. He lifted a boot sopping with mud. “I need a retaining wall. Something to stop the debris from coming down the hill. And I need more drainage. ”
Perry’s gaze moved to the hillside half a mile away. Aether storms had wiped the lower portion to nothing more than ash. When the spring rains started, waves of mud and debris flowed down the slope. The whole shape of the hill was changing without the trees there to hold the earth fast.
“This is nothing,” Gray said. He stood a full head shorter than Perry and Bear. “Half my land’s underwater. I need people. I need use of the ox. And I need them both more than he does. ”
Gray had a kind face and a mild manner, but Perry often scented wrath from him. Gray didn’t have a Sense—he was Unmarked, like most people—but he despised that. As a young man, he’d wanted to be a sentry or a guard, but those posts went to Auds and Seers, whose Senses gave them a clear advantage. His choices limited, Gray had been left to farming.
Perry had heard all this from Gray and Rowan before, but he needed the resources they wanted—manpower, horses, oxen—for more important tasks. Perry had ordered defense trenches constructed around the compound and a second well plumbed by the cookhouse. He was having the walls fortified and their cache of weapons bolstered. And he’d ordered every Tider—from six to sixty years old—to learn at least the basic use of both a bow and a knife.
At nineteen, Perry was young for a Blood Lord. He knew he’d be seen as inexperienced. An easy mark. He was sure the Tides would be raided in the spring by roving bands and tribes who’d lost their homes to the Aether.
As Gray’s and Rowan’s pleas continued, Perry arched his back, feeling his poor night of sleep. Had he become Blood Lord for this? To trudge through sopping fields so he could listen to bickering? Nearby, Brooke gave Gray’s boys, seven and nine years old, their archery lesson. Far more entertaining than listening to squabbling.
He had never wanted this part of being Blood Lord. He’d never thought about how to feed nearly four hundred people when the winter stores were gone, before the spring yield arrived. He’d never imagined warranting the marriage of a couple older than he was. Or having the eyes of a mother with a feverish child on him, searching for the answer. When Molly’s cures failed, they turned to him. They always turned to him when things went wrong.
Bear’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts. “What do you say, Perry?”
“You both need help. I know that. But you’re going to have to wait. ”