Roar’s smile widened. “I know. You missed me. ”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s barely been three weeks since I saw you. ”
“Miserable stretch of time,” he said. “So, food?”
Aria glanced at the door. She couldn’t hide if she wanted the Tides to accept her. She had to face them directly. She nodded. “Lead the way. ”
“Her skin’s too smooth—like an eel. ”
The voice, dripping with malice, carried to Aria’s ears.
The tribe had begun to gossip about her before she’d even taken a seat with Roar at one of the tables. She picked up the heavy spoon and stirred the bowl of stew in front of her, trying to focus on other things.
The cookhouse was a rough-hewn structure, part medieval hall, part hunting lodge. It was packed with long trestle tables and candles. Two massive fireplaces roared on either side. Children chased each other around the perimeter, their voices mixing with the gurgle of boiling water and the crackle of the fires. With the clanking of spoons and the slurps of people talking, eating, drinking. A belch. Laughter. The bark of a dog. All of it amplified by thick stone walls. Despite the racket, she couldn’t help isolating the cruel whispering voices.
Two young women carried on a conversation the next table over. One was a pretty blonde with bright blue eyes. The same girl who’d been watching Aria as she’d entered Perry’s house. That had to be Brooke. Her younger sister, Clara, was in Reverie, too. Vale had sold her off like Talon, in exchange for food for the Tides.
“I thought Dwellers died when they breathed outside air,” Brooke whispered, her gaze on Aria.
“They do,” said the other girl, “but I heard she’s only half Mole. ”
“Someone actually bred with a Dweller?”
Aria’s grip tightened around the spoon. They were slandering her mother, who was dead, and her father, who was a mystery. Then it hit her. The Tides would say the same things about her and Perry, if they knew the truth. They’d talk about them breeding.
“Perry said she’s going to be Marked. ”
“A Mole with a Sense,” Brooke said. “Unbeliev
able. What is she?”
“An Aud, I think. ”
“That means she can hear us. ”
Aria gritted her teeth at the sound. Roar, who’d been sitting quietly by her side, leaned toward her.
“Listen closely,” he whispered into her ear. “This is the most important thing you need to know while you’re here. ” She stared at the bowl of stew in front of her, her heart slamming into her ribs.
“Do not eat the haddock. They’ve been overcooking it terribly. ”
She jabbed her elbow into his ribs. “Roar. ”
“I’m serious. It’s as tough as leather. ” Roar looked across the table. “Isn’t it true, Old Will?” he said to a grizzled man with a shockingly white beard.
Though Aria had been on the outside for months, she still marveled at wrinkles and scars and signs of age. She’d thought them disgusting once. Now the man’s leathery face almost made her smile. Bodies on the outside wore experiences like souvenirs.
Willow, the girl Aria had met earlier, sat beside him. Aria felt a weight settle on her boot and looked down to see Flea.
“Grandpa, Roar asked you something,” Willow said.
The older man cocked his ear toward Roar. “What was that, pretty?”
Roar raised his voice in answer. “I was telling Aria here not to eat the haddock. ”
Old Will studied her, his lips pursed in a sour expression. Aria’s cheeks warmed as she waited for his reaction. It was one thing to hear whispers, but another to be shunned to her face.