Breakfast with the Blackfeathers was ridiculous. The table was ridiculous, long planks laid out over barrels, covered in table linen and bending under platters of food.
“Half the time I see you people, you’re eating,” Kara said. She stared at the table. “When you said breakfast, I didn’t think you meant enough for all day. Do you eat like this all the time?”
“Yes,” said Jon, half in apology, pulling out a chair for her.
“More sometimes, when there’s planting or harvest,” Tam offered.
“No wonder you’re big as a cow,” Kara said, then thought better of it, too late.
“And little wonder you’re not much bigger than Ellea, if you’ve not been eating,” Tam said. “Have some eggs.”
“You’re still shorter than me,” Djaren said, very cheerfully.
“Maybe just by an inch or two.” Tam looked her up and down. “You’re mostly the same size. Are those your clothes, Djaren?”
“Not anymore,” Djaren said, still weirdly happy.
A big young man dressed like some sort of stage-play barbarian sat near one end of the table, blinking stupidly at her. “I don’t understand, the little foreign boy was found in the ocean, and you know him?” His accent was so thick it needed thinking about.
“She,” Anna corrected, setting a completely unnecessary new plate of flat cakes on the already full table.
“Is this a new one of yours?” Kara asked her, nodding her head at the barbarian.
“No,” Anna glared. “Sit down before you fall over, and eat.”
Kara sat, because standing was difficult. After a brief dizzy moment at the change of height, she found that Djaren was sitting on one side of her and Jon on the other, both with those wide-eyed pleased-to-see-you faces. Across an expanse of odd food was the scarred Professor, with a more mild expression. Everyone else was taking places now, including Lady Blackfeather and the ridiculously tall Doctor. He looked different than other times she’d seen him. He didn’t flicker in and out of sight, there was no unseen wind around him, and he wasn’t wearing yards of flowing black robes. The sword of burning nothingness was nowhere to be seen. He seemed taller, more solid, and relaxed, despite the fiery green eyes that glowed even in the full sun. He wore clothes a little like the barbarian, but more up-to-date and somehow elegant, and his long hair was braided. Lady Blackfeather wore something warmly cream colored with cinnamon and caramel touches, midway between fairy tale and paper advertisement. How many frocks could one person own?
Kara gawked at her new companions and surroundings through the awkward quiet of some Shandorian prayer, and then found the enameled tin plate in front of her piled up with things Jon and Djaren insisted she should try.
“Easy now,” Lady Blackfeather said. “Start slow. Try drinking something. Most who survived what you did wouldn’t be up and running the next morning.”
“I heal fast,” Kara said, attacking a biscuit.
Doctor Blackfeather watched her with interest. “You do,” he said. “That’s quite a gift.” There was an emphasis on gift that made Kara uncomfortable.
“Not always,” she grumbled.
“That’s true,” he nodded. “Those who heal fastest are hurt most often, at least in tales.” He understood, and that terrified Kara. This one knew things. Did he know she was a monster too? He destroyed monsters. But he saved me. Maybe he thought she was like his own strange brilliant children. But they’re made of light, not darkness.
Kara drank a full glass of water and ate some eggs, defiantly. They’d toss her back over, maybe, if they worked it out like she had, but she’d eat their food first.
Doctor Blackfeather didn’t say more to her, though, his attention caught by some discussion about currents and travel times with the Professor and his wife. It wasn’t safe here. People kept looking at her, and there was nowhere to run, no exit but back into the sea, and that scared her worse than Doctor Blackfeather right now. He looked odd, smiling.
“Are you feeling ill?” Jon asked, worried.
“I was in a shipwreck and lost at sea for a few days I don’t remember so well,” Kara growled. “What do you think?”
He silently offered her a bowl of some kind of porridge with syrup, huge blue eyes sympathetic. Djaren, on her other side, was doing more watching her than eating.
“Want to hear about the adventure, yet?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Kara said, taking the porridge. “Go ahead.”
“You know firsthand about the wave, I take it?”
Kara gave him a look.
“Well, you’re really lucky,” Djaren said awkwardly. “We’re pretty sure now that the disaster hit two continents and a whole string of islands. It’s left a huge mess. Most of the nearby coastal communities where ships could typically re-supply, like Jaspertown and New Drakesport in the Maribelle Colonies, are half drowned. There’s a shortage of ships left with which to rescue any of the stranded or hurt. Finding you at all was a miracle.”
Kara shrugged, not wanting to explain Doctor Blackfeather’s cryptic rambling about what the sea said. “So we’re going to some half drowned islands.”
“No, we’re going to the ones that had the giant earthquake that caused the wave.”
“Even better.” Kara tried the tea.
Jon drew out a map from beside his chair, and got down to spread it on the deck. “We’re headed here, hundreds of miles out from Shandor, and a bit south.” He pointed at what looked like ink dots amid nothingness.
“That little speck there in the ocean is land?” Tam asked, craning his neck from one seat down.
“It’s four specks, and a dozen or so freckles,” Djaren amended.
“It’s probably been awful for them,” said Anna.
“That depends on the direction of the shockwaves,” Djaren said. “They may have just had the earthquake with no waves. Or maybe it’s worse, and their volcano went off.”
Most of the faces at the table looked deeply concerned at this last, particularly Jon and the barbarian. Djaren looked apologetic. “Or maybe not. Maybe all this will end the fighting.”
“I’m still not clear on who’s fighting there,” Jon said. “You mentioned other countries, but why are they fighting on four specks? I’d never heard of these islands before, except as being a funny name in the middle of the sea.”
Kara knew the name Tembelaka. It went with spices. Tembelakan nutmeg, Tembelakan curryfruit, Tembelakan spinepears.
“It’s a trade war that going on,” Djaren explained, “with a lot of sides. Traders and businesses from four different nations have holdings there, and there’s a civil war happening, too. The Cormurada who first claimed the island are pulling out and leaving the Levour, all the other trading countries, the formerly indentured Pao’ulu population they brought over in the bad old days, and the native islanders to fight things out.”
“They made that whole mess and they’re just leaving it?” Anna asked.
“Better if they’d let alone much sooner, I think,” Tam said. “No one wants a lot of foreigners butting in and trying to ruin one’s country.”
“It’s the curse of having rare resources,” Djaren said. “And of being on a trade route and having lots of convenient ports.”
“And so now they’re having earthquakes and tidal waves too? That’s hardly fair,” Anna said.
Kara knew a term for a country in that position. It was not appropriate to repeat at a meal, she decided. “Sounds like a mess. Why are you going there? Do they have sea monsters too, or fire demons in their volcano?”
“That would be a surprise,” Djaren reflected. “But no, this is a rescue. Professor Erna Hallowfield, the Shandorian naturalist, and her research team were on Tembelaka at the time of the earthquake that made that wave. We got the news because one of her assistants is a Speaker, and she’s been sending back messages of Doctor Erna’s to Dean Merrifelter at the Shandorian University, as well as, uh, other messages to Hirnar over there.”
“What’s a Speaker?”
“Someone who can communicate to other special minds via great distances,” Ellea said.
“And that lunk has a special mind?” Kara looked over at the barbarian critically.
“Not really,” said Ellea, “he’s just got bonded to the Speaker girl.”
“How does that happen?”
“The usual way,” Ellea said. “Really, if you aren’t old enough to understand, I’m not explaining it to you.”
Jon leaned forward earnestly. “If two people have a close enough connection, they can sense things about one another sometimes. Siblings can have it, or old friends, and people who know and love each other well. Sometimes if one person has a Speaking gift, they can talk to the person they like even if that person can’t hear anyone else.”
And really gifted people can talk to nearly anyone at all, Ellea’s voice announced primly in Kara’s mind.
Out, Kara thought firmly, and with vehemence.
Ellea blinked, looking surprised and a little offended. “Ouch,” she said, reproachful.
“Is something wrong, love?” Lady Blackfeather asked her.
“A wasp, maybe.” Ellea shrugged, looking at Kara now with a fascination like Doctor Blackfeather’s. He, however, was still talking to the scarred Professor.
“I’m going to go rest and things,” Kara said weakly, grabbing her plate and stumbling off with it back toward the cabin.
“You’re excused, dear,” Lady Blackfeather called after her. “I’ll stop by with some more water and tea for you in a little while, shall I?”
“Suit yourself,” Kara mumbled.