Chapter no 33 – Jase

Dance of Thieves

Mije snorted. The braids Jalaine had woven into his mane were brushed out, and I think he and I both preferred it that way. He was a magnificent beast, muscled but balanced, with a gleaming black coat. The Vendans knew something about breeding. Kazi finished brushing him then slid his saddle blanket down his withers. I picked up his saddle.

“I can do that,” Kazi said, reaching for it. She was on edge. Maybe because we were going back to Tor’s Watch the unspoken words between us simmered closer to the surface.

I held it firm. “Please, let me help, Kazi. Besides, I think he likes me.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s because you feed him treats. Don’t think that I don’t see.”

I shrugged and lifted the saddle onto him. “Only a few snap peas.” “And parsnips.”

The traitorous Mije nudged my arm, exposing me.

“See? You’ve spoiled him.” She patted his side. “And he’s getting thick around the middle.”

He wasn’t, and I knew she didn’t really mind. She reached down and tightened his cinch. “We’ll catch up soon,” she said.

“Our horses won’t be moving fast,” I said, rubbing Mije’s neck. “Take your time.”

She spotted where I had nicked my thumb this morning. “What happened?”

The cut was business between me and the gods. Blood vows weren’t only made in temples, but sometimes in meadows. “Nothing,” I answered. “Just a scratch.” I turned back to the wagon I’d be driving, double-checking the hitch and then the tack on my horses.

Mason, Samuel, and I were each driving teams of horses back to the arena. Tiago would go with us. The long timber wagons that had brought in supplies were specially equipped for heavy loads, and they’d be needed soon back at the lumber camps. They were empty now except for a few rocks loaded on the back to keep them from bouncing. The drivers who had brought them in would stay and help with the work.

I’d only intended to stay one night. I had a lot of work to take care of back home, but wagons had come each morning with more supplies—and with reports that all was well at home and at the arena. Gunner had everything under control. With the momentum here, it seemed important to keep the progress rolling. The animal pens were done, and we had raised the barn in one day. But now, for the next several days, most of the work was left to the stonemasons, bricking up the root cellar, finishing up the ovens, and laying the stones for the foundation lines before walls went up on the homes. Maybe there were other reasons I wanted to stay too. Things were different between Kazi and me out here. In some ways, I never wanted to go back.

Kazi finished strapping on her saddlebag and turned to face me. “I’ve been wondering, what will the king do if he finds out you moved them?”

“He’ll never find out, and if he does, he won’t care. This world up here means nothing to him. One piece of land is the same as the next as far as he’s concerned.”

“Are you sure, Jase? What if he deliberately chose the other site to aggravate you—a site that was in clear view of your memorial?”

“He’d have no idea about that. It’s just a pile of rocks to him and the rest of the world—not to mention, he’s never been there. He left it to scouts to find a suitable site.”

“What about his tax money you keep? Could he be angry about that?” “We only keep half. Who do you think pays the magistrates, the patrols,

the teachers? Repairs the cisterns and skywalks? It takes a lot to keep a town running. There was never a single coin of his tax money put into this town until we started holding back. The Ballengers made a big mistake

when we sold it for a round of drinks. It doesn’t mean everyone in Hell’s Mouth has to pay the price. The one percent we keep doesn’t begin to cover the expenses. He knows that. We cover the rest. He’s getting a deal—and even he isn’t stupid enough to walk away from it.”

She nodded, as if still not convinced, then her attention was drawn away to the children playing beneath the oak. We’d strung a fresh rope because the old one was frayed.

“Caemus says you’re sending a teacher. They can’t afford that, Jase.

They barely—”

“You ordered reparations with interest. This is the interest. The teacher will be on the Ballenger tab. Maybe that way Kerry will have other things to interest him besides bashing in my kneecaps the next time I come.”

“Next time?”

“When we come back out to see the finished work. It could be as early as another week. It’s moving along fast.”

“So you’ve decided not to drag it out after all?”

“I’m not going to play games with you, Kazi. You know how I feel. You know what I want. But sometimes we don’t get what we want.”

“What happens to us when we get back?”

“I guess once the settlement is finished, and the queen leaves, that will be up to you.”

* * *

The trail was wide and we rode in a staggered line to avoid eating each other’s dust. Driving alone gave my mind time to wander back to the settlement. I was still pondering something I’d seen last night. It was late and I was walking through the oak grove to meet Kazi, trying not to make noise. A sliver of moon shone through the boughs, and I spotted Mason leaning forward against a tree. I thought he was sick. I heard moans. But then I saw there was something between him and the tree.


She had spotted me and silently waved me on. More like a scat, get out of here.

And I did, as fast and as quietly as I could.

Mason and Synové? After all his protests?

I guessed he had either succumbed to her advances or had been charmed by them all along but didn’t want to admit it to me. He was the one, after all, who told me Kazi couldn’t be trusted. I wondered if he still felt that way.

The pace was slow and as we plodded along I made a mental list of more supplies the settlement would need. Sheep, I thought. Send some sheep too. One of the women said she used to spin wool back in Venda. What they didn’t use for themselves they could sell. Yarn was always in demand. They needed more lanterns too. Oil. Paper. Writing tools.

Fruit trees.

Fruit would grow well in the valley. Kerry had given me the idea.

I had worked with him each day, either digging a hole, shoring up the sluice, or showing him how to sharpen the edge of an ax. He did his best not to smile through any of it, but one day he spotted Kazi walking by and he grinned. I thought maybe I had competition.

“What’s the smile for?” I asked. “I like her better than I like you.”

I couldn’t blame him. “Why’s that?” I asked.

“She’s the one who snuck oranges into our sack. We didn’t even know they were there till we got home.”

I had turned then and watched as Kazi helped a Vendan woman lift a tub of water. I thought back to the first time I had ever seen her.

I paid for those oranges. You and your bunch of thugs were too drunk to see beyond your own inebriated noses.

Maybe she did pay for them. Maybe she didn’t. She was right; I’d been too fuzzy-headed to be sure of what I saw. But I’d never stopped to wonder what happened to those oranges.

Orange trees would grow well in the valley too.

For when the Dragon strikes, It is without mercy,

And his teeth sink in, With hungry delight.

3ong of Venda

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