The canyons stretched for miles in the city of Tagerden. Towering stone buildings lined the winding streets, creating shadows burned away only by the height of the day. The crowds of the city disappeared during that time, taking shelter from the blistering heat of On. Zonneshin. The merchants closed their stalls and removed themselves to sup and rest before facing the customers who would shop long into the evening. Down on the docks, men cursed the sun and loaded the cargo onto the ships set to leave on a tide that cared nothing for the heat. Elsewhere, others whose duties kept them under the sky sweated and prayed for Zonneshin to hurry along his way.

            By the western gates, the city guards huddled in the shade under the arch, warily watching the scattered traffic passing in and out of the city. A lone merchant’s wagon trundled by, its oxen hurrying to reach the water trough within. A fat groundling snuffled the ground behind them, cleaning up the mess they left in their wake. Imperial soldiers in their gold masks rode in the other direction, as oblivious to the stifling air as to the inferior city guards they brushed past.

            Pushing a small cart, Celeres approached the guards at the gate. The distinctive chimes on his cart drew their attention, pulling them from the shade to gather around the gray-skinned young man. Celeres laughed and joked with the soldiers, handing out meat patties and wine in exchange for copper coins. Still, for all his joviality, he only gave his customers half of his attention. His eyes were as much on Sanura as his work.

            She was standing near the back, letting her workmates that were more interested in lunch go first. Celeres thought she looked stunning in her armor, the yellow in her tabard playing against the green of her skin. Her hair was short and brown and smelled – Celeres knew – of jasmine and steel. A bronze bracelet on her left wrist matched the one on his own.

            After Celeres served the others, Sanura came up to him. He smiled. “Hello, brave. How did the morning go?”

            Sanura returned the smile. “Good. No real hassles this morning. The first moon melons of the seasons rolled in today.”

            “I know. I saw them in the market. In fact, Ma fixed a little something extra for you.” Celeres pulled a cloth off the corner of his cart, revealing a bowl filled with white cubes and orange figs.

            Delighted, Sanura reached for the bowl. “Your mother’s too good to me, beautiful.”

            Celeres’ grin widened. “She likes you for some reason,” he said.

            “How’s your sister?”

            “Didri had her egg! Early this morning. Seven pounds and speckled white. She was napping when I left. Ma’s looking after the egg.”

            “That’s wonderful! So, what is its name going to be?” Sanura asked, popping a fig into her mouth.

            “Mogen. It was our grandfather’s egg name.”

            “So, what’s our egg’s name going to be?”

            “Have to have one first. Actually, we should maybe practice for that, huh?”

            “Heh. Three more months till the fire falls. Then my baker-man can stay home and raise my eggs.”

            “While you go out and carouse with your no good soldier friends? If you think that, you’ve got another thing coming, missy.”

            Sanura chuckled and kissed him. “Have you heard the latest about the theft at Gawlchmai’s temple?”

            “Just that they took a crystal. What was it called?”

            “The Isole. The Emperor’s Cheldeans say that the wards weren’t broken. However they took it, they did it through the proxies.”

            “That’s bizarre.”

            “I know. We’ve had Cheldeans crawling around the outer walls searching for traces of it all morning. Haven’t found anything yet.”

            “That can’t be good. I mean, it’s not like Gawlchmai collected anything safe. I wonder what it does.”

            “I don’t know. I’ve heard it was a shard container or a green gryphon seed or even the soul of an Ai. Gawlchmai’s collection was assembled so long ago, I doubt if anyone knows. I heard the Emperor has assigned Prince Emhyr to find the thief.”

            “That should keep him busy,” Celeres grunted. “Prince Emhyr is too much like his uncle. Last thing we need is another coup attempt.”

            “Thank Zonneshin for the blood knights.”

            “That’s for sure. Prince Dokusai wasn’t too fond of gray skins. Would have been tough on my family if he was in charge.”

            “And our children,” Sanura said with a gentle smile.

            Celeres grinned back. “Soon enough.”

            Regretfully, Celeres turned to look at the sun. “I need to get back and help Dad prepare for the evening crowd.”

            “I know,” Sanura said, taking Celeres’ hand. “I need to get back to the gate.”

            A long moment passed with their fingers entwined and their eyes lingering on one another.

            “I’ll see you tonight,” Celeres said.


            Reluctantly, they released each other. Celeres turned his cart and trundled back the way he came. Sanura returned to her post, casting brief glances after him until he was out of sight.

* * *

            It was not the quiet or the dark that roused Celeres, although he was pleased to wake to both. The creak of wood from the balcony had stirred him from slumber, as it did every night when the sky was clear.

            Quietly, he slid out of bed and pulled on a shirt. On bare feet, he padded over to the balcony and unlatched the doors. Once outside, the cool night air washed over him. Walking to the edge and looking up, Celeres was amused to see a foot disappearing over the third balcony above him. Smiling, he closed the doors and looped a cord around their handles to keep a breeze from pushing them open. A quick check below showed the street to be empty. Then he stepped onto the rails of his balcony, which creaked a bit under his weight.

            Taking a small hop, Celeres caught the edge of the balcony above. With sure movements and strength gained by long practice, he pulled himself up to grab its rail and then again to stand on the lip. Bracing himself on the frame, he brought his feet up, then stood on that rail in order to reach the next balcony.

            At the uppermost balcony, he paused for a moment to catch his breath. Behind the slats of the door, the young man could hear the sounds of snuffling and the clatter of nails. It was Pulga again, fierce guardian of its owner’s apartment. Long used to the nightly climbs of his neighbors, he noted their scent without barking. With a grin, Celeres fed the dog a scrap of meat left from that night’s business.

            One final leap and Celeres pulled himself onto the roof. Sanura’s supine form was on blanket gazing up at the stars. She turned to look at him as he crawled up.

            “Heya, beautiful,” she said with a quiet smile.

            “Heya, brave.” Celeres crossed over and kissed her sweetly.

            “Our star has almost joined the glow,” she said and pointed. Celeres followed her finger to the horizon, where a green star was beginning to fade into the nightglow at the edge of the sky.

            “Two years, four months, twenty-six days since it was overhead. What did your mother have to say about that?” Celeres asked.

            “Well, green is the color of the gryphon, so health and fertility mark the relationship. Which is good. She wants lots of little egglings.”

            Celeres reached over to toy with a strand of her hair. “And do you?” he asked.

            “With you? One or two, maybe.

            “Now, the time it has taken to cross the sky tells us that it’ll be a steady relationship. Nothing tragic or catastrophic to damage it,” Sanura continued.

            “A lifetime, eh?”

            “Until the end of the universe,” she said and kissed him deeply.

            They lay for a while, exploring each other under the light of the stars, their delight undiminished by familiarity. Afterward, they cuddled and watched the stars.

            “What do you think it sounds like?” Sanura asked.


            “The music. The music that pushes the stars around the sky.”

            “Don’t know,” Celeres said sleepily.

            “Aren’t you curious?”

            “Am I ever going to get a chance to hear it?”

            There was a long paused while she considered it. “Probably not,” she said.

            “Then why worry about it? I’d rather enjoy what I have here,” he said, pushing the hair from her face.

            “There’s so much out there. The Treffens that come to Tagerden always talk about how provincial most of Zonne is. Even within the Empire, no one goes to the north-out arm. The whole area is wild and ruined from the Shard War. It would be fun to go up there and just explore it.”

            “You should have been a Cheldean.”

            “My family are soldiers, not scholars.”

            “Now see, I don’t want to go anywhere. Doing that sort of thing changes things. It changes them in ways impossible to anticipate. I’m enjoying now and later, here, with you. Especially now. I wish I could hold this moment forever.”


            “To stay here, I’d keep the sun from rising.”

            Sanura smiled and caressed his cheek. “Do you think it will come up tomorrow?”

            “I don’t know,” Celeres said, pulling her near.

            They lay close together until the light of the dawn overwhelmed the nightglow on the eastern horizon.