An outgrown pair of Kellan’s boots solved the problem of shoes, though it was three days before Damaris’ sore and swollen feet would fit into anything at all. The wrought iron bench in Aunt Elspeth’s garden was cushioned with pillows for her the first day, but then the weather turned rainy and she and her cousins spent the time in Uncle Russell’s study, building towns and fortresses and palaces with his books and the boys’ set of wooden blocks that Nevin and Kellan resurrected from an abandoned toy chest to amuse their cousin – and themselves, if they would have admitted it.
Nevin was a little too grown to lose himself in the game, though he was the best at structuring books into improbable towers; and twice he was called away to manor work with his father, a reminder that he was growing into other duties. But Kellan willingly let loose what dignity his fourteen years might have had. When Damaris protested – because the edge of the study carpet was the shore, the bare stone floor the gray sea – “You can’t put a secret passage there. It’ll be under the harbor. They’ll drown,” Kellan easily answered, “They won’t. The tunnel is stone, beautifully mortared and sealed with magic against the sea coming in.”
“But you can’t build under the water.”
“They drained the harbor, built the secret passage, and let the water back in.”
“You can’t drain a harbor! There’s a whole ocean outside of it!”
Kellan brooded over his creation briefly, then answered cheerfully, “They drain acres and acres of ocean out of Holland all the time. It was like that. Only here they let the water come back in. To hide the tunnel.”
He always had an answer that made sense, if she insisted on it, and their game went on, through the rise and fall of kingdoms and natural disasters – earthquakes were particularly satisfying, bringing all the book-built towers down in tumbled chaos – but on the fourth day after her first adventuring out beyond the safety of Thornoak’s walls, both the weather and Damaris’ feet were well, freeing her to go out into the plans her cousins had for her, and under the dark edge of her parents’ deaths, the summer turned to gold for her. Never once did Aunt Elspeth protest at her coming home torn or muddied or tired after hours of roaming with her cousins on foot and even more often on horseback, because Uncle Russell gave her a horse of her own, a pretty bay mare named Fansome, and gave her her first lessons in riding. (more…)