“Then he forgot the manners his mother and I taught him.” She bent a gaze on me that made me duck my head like a scolded child. “Do you appreciate what he has done? To come so far, against the will of the mansa, is no light choice for him.”
“I appreciate his efforts to make sure Four Moons House doesn’t recapture us. But I can’t believe the mansa would do anything to harm such a powerful young cold mage.”
“I do not believe you comprehend what he risks for you. You think you know what it means to be born into clientage, to be bound by law and custom to serve another, but you do not know.”
“We in the Kena’ani are raised to serve our households,” I retorted, not nearly as belligerently as I might have. “As I did, when my aunt and uncle gave me to Four Moons House against my will. They would have given me to whatever cold mage came to collect me. It happened to be him.”
“Do you suppose that was chance? Your destiny was chosen before you were born.”
“I don’t believe that!”
“I don’t either,” said Bee stoutly, and loyally. “Although I do have to wonder why I was cursed with this gift of dreaming.”
“You’re no help,” I muttered with a grimace at Bee.
Fati gave me a look that made me feel small and petty. “He placed three strands of his hair behind the portrait in the locket, to help you find him. A thread ties you together, because of the binding the djeli wove over you, which is a chain that reaches between worlds. Seek him in your heart, and you will know where he is. But if you have no heart to seek him, then he is the one who will search in vain.”
“Cat didn’t ask to be married to him,” said Bee. “I am sure you cherish your grandson. I’m sure he is loyal to his family. But it isn’t fair to scold her as if she had asked for a pretty bauble and then tossed it carelessly away because it didn’t match her gown. She was betrayed by my mother and father, by our entire clan. She shouldn’t be taken to task for something she never asked for.”
“It’s all right, Bee,” I said, for I couldn’t bear to see his grandmother’s expression harden into disapproval. “My apologies for my sharp tongue, Grandmother. I can’t truly understand what it means for your village to have endured clientage for so many generations. We studied law at the academy, but…well…it was words in a book. I admit I feel a more personal concern now.”
“You can be sure,” said Fati, “that Four Moons House has bound you tightly to him. And he belongs to them, just as my village does. When they wish to make use of you, they will do so.”
“Unless I free myself.”
“Do you think it is so easy to free yourself??”
I glanced at Bee, and held my tongue.
Fati raised her eyebrows as if she knew we had secrets we weren’t sharing. “Anyway, girls, enough talking. We must seek a path or a warded place.” She rose, brushed off her skirts, and walked away from the river.
Bee and I exchanged a glance.
“I like her!” whispered Bee.
“The hunters will cross at Imbolc,” Fati called over her shoulder. “My grandson plans to be with them.”
“How romantical!” said Bee as we hurried after her. “I wish some man would rescue me!”
“Isn’t that what Legate Amadou Barry was trying to do? During the riot? Rescue you?”
“He was trying to capture and cage me,” she snapped.
And wasn’t that what Andevai would end up doing, if he brought me back to Four Moons House? Uneasiness rose in my heart, like a chain being reeled in. The world seemed made of cages. Walking gave me something to do instead of think about chained marriages and forbidding mage Houses and a voice commanding me to come now. We strode through a grassy landscape, skirting thickets of flowering bushes. Tiny translucent unicorns flitted between the blooms, wings flashing like thinnest glass.
Bee ventured closer. “How pretty!”
They coalesced into a swarm and stung at her. Stumbling away, she batted at the cloud as a haze of scintillant wings engulfed her. I swept my sword back and forth through them until they scattered to settle on the bushes, snorting, with teeth bared.
“Ah!” she said, pressing a hand to her face. “They attacked me!”
Fati said, “Let me see your chin.”
After a pause, Bee lowered her hand. Several bumps swelled redly, but otherwise she appeared unharmed. “Nasty creatures!”
A few took to the air, and I brandished my sword, and they retreated.