The yard behind the atrium was empty of harem children and their carers. Less than half the parakeet cages swung outside, empty of birds. The only noise between the evening gusts was metal hooks, clicking and creaking on strung lines. A single white-robed woman stood in the yard’s center, standing on a block to pull the cages down.
Umi scraped his footsteps to warn her. He waited until she had collected the cage and stepped down to call to her.
She took him in through the gap in the golden row. “Warrior,” she returned cautiously.
Umi hesitated. He had somehow expected his sister to be the tumbleweed girl who’d squabbled with him on the right way to tie their robes up. But Safrawa had never worn a hood, then, and this woman’s entire head was bound in a twist of white fabric. Only the black-haired and the particularly pious did that. Safrawa did have black hair, but had never been particularly pious. Still, who else would be left in the yard?
She lowered the cage to the dirt and studied him peculiarly. “Yes,” she said. “And you are?”
“Umi,” he said. “Siskin.”
The handle clattered to the bars. “Umi?”
The woman stood straight as a reed and marched over to him, examining him severely. She put his face, coat buttons, sword belt, and boots to scrutiny, and even turned Umi around to peer at his rigid back and tied-back hair.
“Certainly sloppy enough to be,” she muttered. “By the stars. Still can’t tie a damned knot.”
A laugh ripped out of Umi’s chest, despite the pressure Khurshid’s admission had left there.
“Oh, sister,” he sighed. “We are all still children.”
-The Stars Went Out
Safrawa clawed her way in here as a recurring character after a throwaway mention in an early chapter. I liked her enough to use her as the Important Plot Character for Main Character returning to their Childhood Home. Gotta be thrifty with named players in this story–it’s all about personal conflicts, man.