Something had changed, once Solange came out of her coat. It started with Flare asking a few pointed questions about the eel. They were sharp, like Flare’s questions usually were, but they weren’t all sharp.
“And their aggression?” Flare asked.
“Oh, as long as you keep them well-fed and clean it’s fine. I checked,” Solange said.
And Flare hummed and the conversation moved on, but I let my thoughts wander around it for a moment more. There was something in Flare’s tone, or just under it. There was something in Solange’s reply, mixed in with the smiles. The way Flare just accepted Solange’s answer. The way Flare seemed not curious but concerned. The way Flare didn’t seem to be so otherworldly, here.
Solange had asked about me, a little, but Flare’s answers about me had been short, and succinct. I was an apprentice. I was to become a witch. That was all. There was no reason she gave, though it seemed like Solange wanted one. I certainly wanted to know the reason Flare had been willing to bring me along. The conversation had simply left me behind, though. Flare and Solange became totally wrapped up talking to one another and I got the chance to just watch.
Flare had gained an expressive quality, as well. Flare had always been in control of her hands, but now they began to open and shut to punctuate her remarks. Flare had always been terse, but suddenly she was making little nothing noises in response to things Solange said. Flare had always been in charge, and now she was just here with us.
Solange, in turn, demonstrated an incredible range of happinesses and cheerfulnesses. She never seemed to lose those underlying bubbles, but they would change as the conversation did. They would mix into an effervescent blend of curiosity and enthusiasm when she began to talk at length about her eels. They would leave a nostalgic aftertaste when she began to talk about a friend of hers who was still back in Liar’s Mint. They would fizz and pop in a concoction of frenzied collection when she began to describe a strain of river-rock she’d found a little ways to the north.
I got up and started to wander about the cave some more, leaving them to talk. Neither one of them noticed as I got up.
Hung on the wall near the paintings were a collection of odd metal knots. They were each made up of a couple separate pieces, all tangled up together in a confusing mess of iron. I looked over at Solange. She didn’t seem to be looking over at me. She would probably have said if they were somehow dangerous.
I picked one up and turned it over in my hands. One of the loops of metal seemed loose, so I began to tug at it. When I got it disentangled from everything else, it freed another loop up just enough to twist free. It wasn’t long before my hands were full of loose loops of metal.
I couldn’t remember how to put it back together.
I looked back at where Solange and Flare were talking, and Solange’s attention turned to me. She got up, and said, “Hey, you like loop puzzles too?” Flare settled back into her char. I sheepishly placed the metal loops I had remaining on a flat stone slab in front of me. Then I yawned.
Solange plucked another knot off the wall. “Here,” she said, “Try this one, it took me a long time to get it apart. Me and Flare are probably going to talk far a bit longer. Bedroom’s right back through there.” Solange pointed at the forest of coats hanging in the cave. I nodded. Solange sat back down with Flare.
There was a simple bed with a big pile of fur blankets in the back. The muffled sounds of continued conversation came through the coats, but I couldn’t make out the words anymore. I looked at the beed. Solange would probably still want it. I put down my pack and got out my bedroll, laying it out on the floor. More polite to leave it to Solange. Or Flare, possibly. I wasn’t sure who exactly would take it.
At some point, toying with the metal knot led to sleep.
In the morning, I got up, yawned, stretched, and then noticed something worrying. The bed in here was untouched. Flare and Solange had never come in last night. I wasn’t entirely sure what could have caused that, but given the amount of oddities in the cave one of them was bound to be dangerous.
My fingertips tingled as I brought a charm to the forefront of my mind. The jumping charm had proven useful in Crownsbreak, and I was willing to trust it here. Whatever had happened, it hadn’t come into the bedroom. Meaning, hopefully, I could just jump back into the bedroom to collect my thoughts if it was particularly bad.
I didn’t see Flare and Solange immediately. The coat hadn’t moved from where Solange had discarded it, and the eel appeared to still be inside, but there was no sign of Solange. The odds and ends lying around were undisturbed. The crystal centerpiece of the room was unbroken.
I crept around the crystal, and found them. Flare was sitting in a large chair, asleep on a cushion of animal furs. Solange was curled up in her lap, her head tucked under Flare’s chin, also fast asleep. There was a blanket which had half fallen off the two of them as they slept.
The magic went out of my fingers. I crept back to the bedroom, to toy with the metal knot some more. Nothing had happened. No lives were at stake. No monsters had attacked. Flare and Solange had just fallen asleep together.
A piece came off the metal knot. I hadn’t even known if Flare had any acquaintances, let alone someone like Solange. This confirmed it. She returned to places, sometimes. It was something she did. It was even possible that we’d go back to Scorched Rock someday. I didn’t know a Solange there, but that was fine. I didn’t really need a Solange in my life. It just wasn’t an issue.
I let Flare sleep.