t night, Perry sat at the high table, awed by the food passed before him. Ham served with raisins as gold as the sunrise. Walnut bread with warm goat cheese. Carrots cooked in honey and butter. Strawberries. Cherries. A platter with six kinds of cheeses. Wine or Luster, for those who wanted it. The aromas filled the cookhouse. Tomorrow the tribe would return to rations, but tonight they feasted.
He ate until his hunger cramps became the aches of a stuffed stomach. Every bite reminded him of the sacrifice Liv had made for the Tides. When he finished, he sat back and watched the people around him. Marron buttered a piece of bread with the same precision with which he did everything. Bear attacked the mountain of food before him, while Molly bounced River on her knee. Hyde and Gren vied for Brooke’s attention, Twig barely getting in a word between them.
Only hours earlier, he’d been in the same place, listening to them lash at him in anger.
Across the table, Willow elbowed Cinder. “Look. There’s not a single piece of fish anywhere. ”
“Thank the skies,” Cinder said. “I thought I was going to grow gills. ”
Willow laughed. Then Perry laughed, seeing Cinder’s ears turn red beneath his cap.
At the far end of the hall, Kirra ate with her group. They were a raucous bunch, big in their gestures. Every one of them seemed to have an explosive laugh. Perry’s eyes kept returning to Kirra. He’d set up a meeting with her later to learn of news from the other territories. Coming from the Horns, she might also know something about the Still Blue.
When they finished eating, Kirra’s group pushed aside a few tables, clearing space. Then the music began, guitars and drums playing lively tunes. Their good cheer caught like wildfire. The Tides joined in eagerly, and soon the hall filled with song and dancing.
“Did Cinder tell you about his birthday?” Willow asked.
Cinder shook his head. “Willow, no. I was joking about that. ”
“I wasn’t,” Willow said. “Cinder doesn’t know when his birthday is, so it could actually be any day. And since it can be any day, then why not today? We’re already celebrating. ”
Perry crossed his arms and tried not to laugh. “Today seems like the perfect day to me. ”
“Maybe you could say something, you know, to make it official?”
“I can do that. ” He looked at Cinder. “How old do you want to be?”
Cinder’s eyes went wide. “I don’t know. ”
“How about thirteen?” Perry suggested.
“All right. ” Cinder shrugged, but his temper warmed with emotion. This meant more to him than he was letting on, and how couldn’t it? He deserved to know his own age. To have a day to measure his life by. Perry was only sorry he hadn’t thought to do something like this sooner.
“As Lord of the Tides, I name this day your birthday. Congratulations. ”
A grin spread over Cinder’s face. “Thanks. ”
“Now you have to dance,” Willow said. She pulled him up, ignoring his halfhearted objections, and towed him into the crowd.
Perry sat back and scratched Flea under his muzzle, watching everything, relishing the lightness in his heart. Kirra hadn’t just brought food. She’d brought a reminder of better times. This was the hall as it should be. The Tides as he always wanted to see them.
It was late when the tribe disbanded for their homes. No one had wanted the night to end. Reef pulled Perry aside in the darkened clearing. Lamps were lit around them, swinging gently in a cool ocean breeze.
“Twenty-seven men and eleven women,” he said. “Ten Seers and five Auds among them, and you know about Kirra. Every one of them can handle a weapon, as far as I can tell. ”
Perry had suspected the same thing. “You worried?”
Reef shook his head. “No. But just the same, I’ll stay back tonight. ”
Perry nodded, trusting Reef to keep an eye on the newcomers. He almost ran Molly over as he turned to go. Marron had fallen ill, she told him. Nothing more than indigestion, but he’d be resting for the night. With Reef and Marron out, he’d be meeting with Kirra alone. Perry crossed the clearing to his house, not sure why that made him nervous.
A short while later, she knocked on his door and stepped inside. Perry rose from the chair by the fire. Kirra froze and scanned the empty room. She seemed surprised that no one else was there. “I gave my people the night to themselves. It’s been a long journey. ”