Somber, engrossed in the story he was reading, ignored the voice.
"Would you talk to me?"
He stopped, rolled the book up, and returned it to its case. He was seated on a bench in the garden, well back along a little-used path. The girl standing in front of him was small, but after a moment he decided that she was older than his height suggested -- close to his own age, in fact. She stood easily, graceful in the plain gray robes that everybody wore here, and she was studying him intently. "You can speak, can't you?" she asked cautiously.
He nodded, realized he still hadn't spoken, and added: "I can." She drew breath to speak again, but he spoke first: "I don't, much."
Somber considered that. Because I don't need to. Because sometimes the words stick in my throat. Because sometimes I can't find the right words. "I just don't."
He twisted so that he was sitting properly, taking his feet off the far end of the bench and placing them on the ground below instead. The girl -- woman, really -- took that as her cue to sit on the other side of the bench. Since there was still room for a third person between them, Somber didn't mind.
"I'm--" she began, and then shook her head. "They're calling me Frost, now."
He could see why. Her hair and skin were as light as his were dark: hair like a snowfall, skin like snow-covered fields. Her eyes were gray as the winter sky, too. "They've always called me Somber."
He waited while she thought about that. "What sort of place is this?" she asked at last.
Somber shrugged. "I like it."
"You do?" Then, sounding a little less surprised, she asked: "But you grew up here?"
Somber nodded. "My parents were members of the order. They left a few months ago." He was still upset about that, but then he hadn't really wanted to leave, either. Still, it was good that the words came out calm, sounded matter-of-fact.
"And they left you here?" She sounded curious, now. Interested.
Somber shrugged, a slight twitch of his left shoulder. "They said I was old enough to remain here on my own."
"My parents delivered me this morning," said Frost. "They said I'd be hidden here, safe, but they wouldn't say why." She looked away, then looked back at him.
Somber kept his eyes on the gnarled shape of the tree that covered this clearing, tracing patterns in the bark: faces sometimes, or animals, or just the random play of light and darkness. He didn't know what to say. What he wanted was to get up and walk away, but he was pretty sure that would hurt her feelings. "It should be safe here," he offered cautiously, "whatever it is."
"I'm sorry," said Frost. "I know I'm bothering you. It's just you're the only person I've seen so far who's my age, and I kind of need of a friend."
Somber considered that for a long moment. "All right."
"All right?" She was too restrained to sound relieved, or anything more than cautiously hopeful, and Somber found that he appreciated that. He stood, and Frost stood up as well.
"Come on," said Somber. "I'll show you around. The gardens are a good place when you want some time alone, but they aren't where everything happens."