By the time Azriel returned to the camp, the fire had been banked, the embers glowing redly in their bed of ashes. Even through the intervening space he could feel the welcome warmth through the ragged layers of his clothing. He didn't glimpse Caliah at first, nor the telltale gleam of her pale hair, but the faint, smoky fragrance of cloves drew him to her as inexorably as an invisible lead.
She was seated on a low-lying branch of a tree upon the perimeter of the camp, leaning against the trunk with the deliberate indifference that always masked her deeper turns of mood. She gave no sign of having noticed - or deigned to notice - his approach, her eyes dark in the shadows beyond the immediate circle of the fire, reflecting light in a faint, veiled gleam from beneath her hood.
Caliah had run out of cigarillos three days ago, and had taken to smoking a slender pipe instead; as he watched she slipped it into her mouth, and took a long, luxurious draw, exhaling with a sound very much like a sigh.
The scent of pipesmoke was somehow comforting, as if by it he could be assured of her presence; of late, he felt that there was very little he could measure his life against, or stake its worth upon. It was something unusual and remarkable to Azriel that he never felt as safe as he was with her close by, even if she hadn't gone to any great lengths to make him feel welcome. He became even more aware of this when she continued to ignore him, exhaling smoke gently into the enveloping darkness, her breaths long and easy.
"In Ispenthe, women smoke opium rather than Mezzarine leaf," he said after a long while, after he'd recognised her silence as one of acceptance rather than rejection of his being there. Even then, he almost felt as if his own voice were an unwelcome intruder.
She laughed almost inaudibly, a bare whisper of sound. "You shouldn't think of me as a woman."
( Clothing, appearance - they're merely layers. They don't make the person, nor define what they are. You use them as tools to accomplish what you desire, I recognise that. But...Collapse )
I have to remember this is a formerly advanced-regressing-into-the-medievalist
Although, this (thanks to redplasticglass's link) applies to Cal very much; she's always deliberate when it comes to acts of violence, but rarely afraid once she's committed. Though her dicing around, leadership and politicking is pretty male at that. People will inevitably ask, "Why don't you just make her a guy?" I can't, because it would rob the character of what makes her so unusual, and in essence, as Azriel remarks later, she plays the role of the guide among the main characters. You can figure out what that has to do with those with gender issues, I'm sure.