The wagon was small, and sometimes it felt more like a cage than a living space, a cage, and some awful test, the sort other people might have stressed about back in school.
Rozen had driven a wagon before, but he’d never gotten good at it; he had the Words to understand horses, but he’d never really practiced them. Kailani had taken a thoughtful look at him and said “here. You drive the first stretch. We’re taking this highway south, and we’re staying on the highway unless there’s an issue.”
“What if I don’t want to?” he’d grumbled, instead of “what if I don’t know how.”
She’d smiled placidly at him. “We all do things we don’t want to.”
He knew how to bully people, but he had no idea how to be Kept. Rozen had clucked to the horses and got them aimed with more trouble than he’d thought possible and, when they proved recalcitrant, muttered a Panida Working that spurred them on.
He felt like he was being spurred himself. Her orders were like thistles rubbing against his skin, goading him on, pushing him. Her calm, unflappable smile was weird and it made him twitchy. Kailani wasn’t calm. She wasn’t placid.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked, finally, an hour out of the town she’d been living in. “You don’t look like you anymore.”
She ran her fingers through her hair – red again, that was a relief, not the white it had been when he’d been deposited on her doorstep – and hrrm’d. “I feel like me.” She smiled, a little mischief there he didn’t remember either. “Are you certain it’s me and not you?”
Rozen twitched. “I haven’t changed.”
“I find that interesting, actually. It’s been decades. Our grandchildren are grown adults and the world – the world has changed considerably. And yet, if I ran into you in the hallways of Addergoole, instead of the Rozen you were then, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
He shrugged. He knew his smile was lazy and a bit sharp. “You’d be surprised. You were always surprised when we ran into each other.”
“Frightened, Rozen. The word is frightened.” He stole a glance at her, but she was smiling. “You were quite scary. It was your job.”
“Haven’t changed,” he drawled. He didn’t know what it meant when she only smirked wider.
The wagon moved on, the world – such as it was now – moved under their wheels, and the woman he’d once wanted to Keep hummed cheerfully while she watched the scenery.
“The world’s changed,” he offered after a bit. “It ended, I guess.”
“The world we knew ended.” She looked sad for a moment. Rozen stomped on the surge of guilt he felt. He had not made that sadness. This was not his fault. “And you kept going.”
She made it sound like a complaint somehow. Rozen looked at her sidelong, trying to figure her out.
“You’re still here, too.” And young again. Being Kept by Ancient Kailani had been weird.
She smiled sadly. “If you ran into me in the halls of Addergole, as I am now, as you were then, what would you do, Rozen?”
The same thing, he wanted to say, but he couldn’t lie to her. He stared wordlessly at her instead.
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