When Ava walkedinto Sari’s house, the energy of the place almost knocked her over. Her exhaustion fled immediately, even before Astrid led her to the dining hall.
Far from institutional, the dining hall in the house was attached to the kitchen. So while some of the women cooked, others sat at the table, some chatting and keeping company with the cooks, others working on their own projects. Ava saw one black-haired woman working on a laptop and slugging coffee back, seemingly oblivious to the chaos around her. Another was knitting an intricate scarf. Still another was playing a guitar in one corner while two others listened. The whole mess created a lively hum over Ava’s skin that echoed the sudden jolt of power in her blood.
And sitting at the end of the table, braiding the hair of a girl no older than twelve, was Sari. Her long blond hair fell almost to her waist, and her face was softer than the first time Ava had seen her. The girl tilted her head back and Sari kissed her forehead before she shooed her away. She wore a soft blue sweater that brought out the color of her eyes. She noticed Astrid and Ava, and her eyes narrowed a bit as she waved them over.
Sitting down on the bench to her left, Astrid motioned to the chair across from her that backed up to one of the stoves.
“Sit there,” she said. “It’s the warmest spot.”
“Sari, this is Ava. She’s not a dumb human.” Astrid waved her hands between the two. “And Ava, this is Sari. She’s as mean as she looks, but she won’t bite unless she has to.”
“Ha ha,” Sari said, rolling her eyes at the woman who was obviously a close friend. Then she turned to Ava. “Damien told Astrid that you’ve traveled to Norway before?”
“You’re a photographer?”
“Welcome to my country. And to my home.”
The woman looked amused at Ava’s terse answers. “Have I offended you in some way?”
Ava decided that Sari would respect the direct approach. “I showed up and you tried to bash in the head of the guy who’s been protecting me. Even though he’s your mate. What do you think?”
The room fell almost silent around them, but Ava never let her eyes leave Sari’s. Sari said nothing, but the smile never left her lips.
“And how is this your business, Ava Sakarya? Did I attack you?”
Ava supposed she had a point. It wasn’t her business. Not really. So why was she so resentful of the woman? “No, you didn’t attack me. I just think… you’re lucky to have him,” Ava said in a low voice, her eyes flicking to Astrid. “Not all of us do.”
Was it her imagination, or did a hint of guilt cross Sari’s face?
“I suppose you’re right. Then again, he’s quite lucky to have me, as well.”
“I’m sure he’d say the same thing.”
Sari’s eyes gleamed. “I know he would.”
There was a pause, then attention shifted away from Sari and Ava as the voices in the room resumed their quiet hum.
Sari stretched her arms up. She was an immensely tall woman. Her body and presence both made Ava feel like a child. Her muscles were hardened and lean. In the human world, people would assume she was a serious athlete. To Ava, she simply looked lethal.
“Are you comfortable here?” Sari asked.
“And how are you sleeping?”
Astrid barked something in a language Ava didn’t understand, then exchanged a few sharp words with Sari.
But Sari only smiled at her. “Astrid tells me that this is none of my business, and that she is the healer. I disagree. You’re in Sarih?fn—which was named for my great-grandmother, by the way, not me—so that makes your sleep part of my business.”
“My sleep? What does sleep—”
“Sleeping. Dreaming,” Sari said. “For us, these are not the same as for humans. Sleep is when our souls reach out. We can perform magic in dreams if we’re not careful. Didn’t they explain that to you?”
“No. There was a lot the scribes never explained.”
Sari sighed. “Well, that is… sadly typical. They do love their mysteries and cryptic puzzles.”
“There also wasn’t much time.”
Astrid said, “Sari, move on. I’ll talk to her about sleeping. I think she’s fine.”
“Very well,” Sari said. “Astrid tells me you are a mystery. Were you truly raised among humans?”