Lysos,” Maia gasped, throwing off the covers. “Leie really did it!”

Sudden shivers drew a second realization. Her sister had also left the window open! Zephyrs off Stern Glacier blew the tiny room’s dun curtains, driving dust balls across the plank floor to fetch against her bulging duffel. Rushing to slam the shutters, Maia glimpsed ruddy sunrise coloring the slate-roofs of Port Sanger’s castlelike clan houses. The breeze carried warbling gull cries and scents of distant icebergs, but appreciating mornings was one vice she had never shared with her early-rising twin.

“Ugh.” Maia put a hand to her head. “Was it really my idea to work last night?”

It had seemed logical at the time. “We’ll want the latest news before heading out,” Maia had urged, signing them both for one last stint waiting tables in the clan guesthouse. “We might overhear something useful, and an extra coin or two won’t hurt.”

The men of the timber ship, Gallant Tern, had been full of gossip all right, and sweet Lamatian wine. But the sailors had no eye for two adolescent summerlings—two variant brats—when there were plump winter Lamais about, all attractively identical, well-dressed and well-mannered. Spoiling and flattering the officers, the young Lamais had snapped their fingers till past midnight, sending Maia and Leie to fetch more pitchers of heady ale.

The open window must have been Leie’s way of getting even.

Oh, well, Maia thought defensively. She’s had her share of bad ideas, too. What mattered was that they had a plan, the two of them, worked out year after patient year in this attic room. All their lives, they had known this day would come. No telling how many dreary jobs we’ll have to put our backs to, before we find our niche.

Just as Maia was thinking about slipping back between the covers, the North Tower bell clanged, rattling this shabby corner of the sprawling Lamai compound. In higher-class precincts, winter folk would not stir for another hour, but summer kids got used to rising in bitter cold—such was the irony of their name. Maia sighed, and began slipping into her new traveling clothes. Black tights of stretchy web-cloth, a white blouse and halter, plus boots and a jacket of strong, oiled leather. The outfit was more than many clans provided their departing var-daughters, as the mothers diligently pointed out. Maia tried hard to feel fortunate.

While dressing, she pondered the severed braid. It was longer than an outstretched arm, glossy, yet lacking those rich highlights each full-blooded Lamai wore as a birthright. It looked so out of place, Maia felt a brief chill, as if she were regarding Leie’s detached hand, or head. She caught herself making a hand-sign to avert ill luck, and laughed nervously at the bad habit. Country superstitions would betray her as a bumpkin in the big cities of Landing Continent.

Leie hadn’t even laced her braid very well, given the occasion. At this moment, in other rooms nearby, Mirri, Kirstin, and the other summer fivers would be fixing their tresses for today’s Parting Ceremony. The twins had argued over whether to attend, but now Leie had typically and impulsively acted on her own. Leie probably thinks this gives her seniority as an adult, even though Granny Modine says I was first out of our birth- momma’s womb.

Fully dressed, Maia turned to encompass the attic room where they had grown up through five long Stratoin years—fifteen by the old calendar—summer children spinning dreams of winter glory, whispering a scheme so long forming, neither recalled who had thought it first. Now… today… the ship Grim Bird would take them away toward far western lands where opportunities were said to lay just waiting for bright youths like them.

That was also the direction their father-ship had last been seen, some years ago. “It can’t hurt to keep our eyes open,” Leie had proposed, though Maia had wondered, skeptical, If we ever did meet our gene- father, what would there be to talk about?

Tepid water still flowed from the corner tap, which Maia took as a friendly omen. Breakfast is included, too, she thought while washing her face. If I make it to kitchen before the winter smugs arrive.

Facing the tiny table mirror—a piece of clan property she would miss terribly—Maia wove the over-and- between braid pattern of Lamatia Family, obstinately doing a neater job than Leie had. Top and bottom ends she tied off with blue ribbons, purchased out of her pocket. At one point, her own brown eyes looked back at her, faintly shaded by distinctly un-Lamai brows, gifts of her unknown male parent. Regarding those dark irises, Maia was taken aback to find what she wanted least to see—a moist glitter of fear. A constriction. Awareness of a wide world, awaiting her beyond this familiar bay. A world both enticing and yet notoriously pitiless to solitary young vars short on either wit or luck. Crossing her arms over her breast, Maia fought a quaver of protest.

How can I leave this room? How can they make me go?

Abrupt panic closed in like encasing ice, locking her limbs, her breath. Only Maia’s racing heart seemed capable of movement, rocking her chest, accelerating helplessly… until she broke the spell with one serrated thought:

What if Leie comes back and finds me like this?

A fate worse than anything the mere world had to offer! Maia laughed tremulously, shattering the rigor, and lifted a hand to wipe her eyes. Anyway, it’s not like I’ll be completely alone out there. Lysos help me, I’ll always have Leie.

At last she contemplated the gleaming scissors, embedded in the tabletop. Leie had left them as a challenge. Would Maia kneel meekly before the clan matriarchs, be given sonorous advice, a Kiss of Blessing, and a formal shearing? Or would she take leave boldly, without asking or accepting a hypocritical farewell?

What gave her pause, ironically, was a consideration of pure practicality.

With the braid off, there’ll be no breakfast in the kitchen.

She had to use both hands, rocking the shears to win them free of the pitted wood. Maia turned the twin blades in a shaft of dawn light streaming through the shutters.

She laughed aloud and decided.

* * *

Even winter kids were seldom perfectly identical. Rare summer doubles like Maia and Leie could be told apart by a discerning eye. For one thing, they were mirror twins. Where Maia had a tiny mole on her right cheek, Leie’s was on the left. Their hair parted on opposite sides, and while Maia was right- handed, her sibling claimed left-handedness was a sure sign of destined greatness. Still, the town priestess had scanned them. They had the same genes.

Early on, an idea had occurred to them—to try using this fact to their advantage.

There were limits to their scheme. They could hardly put it over on a savant, or among the lordly merchant houses of Landing Continent, where rich clans still used the data-wizardry of the Old Network. So Maia and Leie had decided to stay at sea awhile, with the sailors and drifter-folk, until they found some rustic town where local mothers were gullible, and male visitors more taciturn than the gossipy, bearded cretins who sailed the Parthenia Sea.

Lysos make it so. Maia tugged an earlobe for luck and resumed hauling her gear down the twisty back stairs of Lamatia’s Summer Creche, worn smooth by the passage of generations. At each slit window, a chill breeze stroked the newly bare nape of her neck, eliciting a creepy feeling that she was being followed. The duffel was heavy, and Maia nursed a dark suspicion that her sister might have slipped in something extra while her back was turned. If they had kept their braids for another hour, the mothers might have assigned a lugar to carry their effects to the docks. But Leie said it made you soft, counting on lugars, and on that she was probably right. There would be no docile giants to ease their work at sea.

The Summer Courtyard belied its name, permanently shadowed by the towers where winterlings dwelled behind banks of glass windows with silk curtains. The dim quad was deserted save a single bent figure, pushing a broom under dour, stone effigies of early Lamai clan mothers, all carved with uniform expressions of purse-lipped disdain. Maia paused to watch Coot Bennett sweep autumn demi-leaves, his gray beard waving in quiet tempo. Not legally a man, but a “retiree,” Bennett had been taken in when his sailing guild could no longer care for him—a tradition long abandoned by other matriarchies, but proudly maintained by Lamatia.

On first taking residence, a touch of fire had remained in Bennett’s eyes, his cracking voice. All physical

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