Dvrov buried his nose in Armas’ hair, still a little damp from the bath, holding him from behind, thumbs hooked in his belt, fingers tracing the embroidery of his formal tunic. The room was warm and drowsy and made him wish that they had nowhere to go in the cold, no reason to leave the little stone and wood cell. Kienviory was hardly luxurious, compared to the other five pillars, but there was something to be said for the homely simplicity of the novice’s chambers, for the high arched windows and soft wool blankets. It was the library he had come for, those many years ago, and he still hadn’t finished working his way through the oldest archives, even after so long. Armas threaded a silver hoop through his earlobe, leaning easily against Dvrov, his pulsebeat as quick and nervous as a startled bird.
“Worried?” Dvrov leaned forward and kissed Armas’ temple gently.
“I’m not worried.” Armas tensed in his arms, tugging his hair back from his forehead irritably. “I just don’t like this, Orlaveta passing me off to the new Charodeytsa.” His voice had taken on the monotone huskiness of anxious abstraction, the way it did when he was retreating into his mind and turning something over and over until it began to wear away and wound him.
“Ah, It’s not like that. It’s a favor, a gesture of goodwill to Zenaida and the house of Igaveni. Raudkvi hasn’t exactly been one of the great spiritual centers of the world.”
“You’re not helping.”
“This will make it easier.” Dvrov circled around to stand in front of him and dip his fingertip into a pot of kohl powder on the table. He held Armas’ chin lightly and smoothed the pigment over his eyelids softly, with a kiss to the forehead. He looked the part of a senior novice now, the shadows around his eyes a screen over the last traces of boyhood in his face. “She doesn’t know you, hasn’t trained you. She’ll be impressed with your abilities.”
“I think we’re meant to be more impressed with hers. She’s run the ranks damned fast for someone from a backwater like Kamenna.” Armas kissed him on the cheek, his eyes far away, burnished like polished walnut as he redid the laces at his cuffs.
“Allying with the Veidrodis and the Resviyu has been to her advantage.”
“Speaking of whom—Selya gives me a feeling in the pit of my gut like I swallowed a stone.” He watched Armas dig through an untidy box of gold and copper torques and rings, some of them crude and heavy, more showing signs of competent and then exquisite craftwork, inscribed with flowing trees and vines, temple hounds rampant against twisting dragons among small jewels. A messy record of his sister’s work, wrapped in rabbit fur and stuck in a rough birch box. He slipped a beautiful cuff of gold and elk teeth over his sleeve, and fixed a copper band around his throat. It was so like them, Dvrov thought, to keep small pieces of each other in unkempt bundles and boxes, careful in their carelessness.
“You’ve only just met them, give it time.”
“To get worse?” Armas eyed the room biliously, his nervousness tapped out in a toe heel rhythm as he watched the snow fall through the lead crystal of the window.
“Ah, just think. Zenaida will be too distracted with thoughts of her Serebryany’s arrival to care overmuch about us. I’ve heard only fine things about him, Tura excepted.” Dvrov leaned against Armas, heavily enough to force him to focus, to come back out of the tangled deerpaths of his mind. “And that he’s beautiful enough to make the gods envy.”
“Do not add jealousy to my list of woes,” Armas flashed a grin that started in his eyes and worked its way down to a quick kiss, “and thank you for not mentioning the pretty bit in front of her.”
“Let’s go pray for your success while there’s still time.”
“My success,” Armas rolled his eyes and sighed, “should not lie in the talons of a bunch of inbred, politic soaked temple hounds. My only hope lies in divine intervention, doesn’t it?”
“I’m not sure I shouldn’t take those comments personally, given that one marriage between first cousins last year.”
Armas smiled up at him in earnest, and winked. “Ah, love, you’re like a great curious cat, who likes to drape himself all over warm things. You only get sharp-eyed for dusty old books.” They walked arm in arm out of the room, feet in practiced rhythm, years worth of knowing the sway of each other’s hips and the set of each other’s shoulders.
“I have my ambitions.”
“Writing the definitive historiography of every family in the Empire is hardly a political ambition.”
Dvrov padded beside him through the warm wood and stone halls of the inner chamber, watching the light glint off Armas’ hair, and fall on the black and gold brocade he wore, the garnets in the leather of the belt around his narrow waist.
“You’d be surprised.”
“You’ve got that thing in your voice, Dvrov.”
“That Tura thing. She’d twist money out of the Troika themselves for the sheer pleasure of it, and drag you into it.”
“Killjoy. But the highest council is a bit much. Have to start small.”
“Or don’t. Don’t would be best.”