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Snippet: How Many Moons
"How many moons tonight?" her grandfather would always ask after he had climbed the stairs to the rooftop. He carried for himself a whiskey and tea, and did the same for her once she was older - before then, though, it had been warm milk with a dash of cardamom. He would settle into a chair beside her, his old amber eyes taking in the vast ocean as it ebbed and flowed for miles before them.

"One," she would tell him. Or three. Or ten. Or sometimes none, on those rare occasions when the orbits left the night sky without a watcher. And he would check her counting, nod approvingly, and repeat the number himself.

"That's a good number for tonight," was always his final response, and then they would talk of the events of the day until they fell into a comfortable silence.

When she was young, she would fall asleep first, watching the wind and the waves, and in the morning she would awake with blankets lovingly tucked around her. As time went on, her grandfather would find that right moment in their stillness to kiss her on the head and head back down to find his own bed. Lately... he would be the one to fall asleep. She probably could have carried him off to bed - he was losing weight quickly, and all her training had sculpted her into an impressive specimen of strength. But she couldn't bear to disturb him, his wizened face soft and at peace. So she would wrap the blankets around him in his chair, kiss him on his head, and settled down for the night.

They had missed maybe five nights in all their time together - when he had been needed at important council affairs, or she had been away with the trade mission. And more were on the horizon, as she continued to grow into her new role as a scout for the tribe. Some of the others would tease her about still sleeping in her childhood bed, in the rooftop garden of her parents house. But she wasn't like the others, desperate to be out and away from the yokes of their families, exploring the lands about them. She craved the support and strength of the familiar walls.

One night, her grandfather wandered up to the rooftop, two mugs of steaming tea and whiskey in his hands. "How many moons tonight?" he asked her, like he always asked, knowing the answer before she said it.

"Two," she said, standing against the railing of the rooftop, body tense and a cold knot of fear in her stomach. There were two moons in the sky, although there was only supposed to be one, and none of the moons should be that color.

"Oh," her grandfather said, sidling up next to her and pressing her mug into her hands. "Well, that's not a very good number for tonight at all." And he took a deep sip from his mug while they both pondered the strange, silver moon rising over the ocean.
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