Chapter no 34 – Kazi

Dance of Thieves

“Hurry up, Synové!”

She was still scrubbing her face and hair in the river. She’d had an unfortunate incident with horse dung. She’d fallen face-first into a large warm pile, and everyone in camp heard her screams. While we were sympathetic, Wren and I were ready to go, and an unwritten rule of the Rahtan was to be on time. Always. Eben and Natiya had made us pay for it dearly when we were late for drills. We were supposed to leave at dawn with the others. I felt like Griz, impatiently shuffling from foot to foot.

“Next time keep your eyes on where you’re going, not on the artwork,” Wren said. We didn’t know for sure what had distracted her—she refused to say—but we had a good idea.

She stomped out of the river, dripping with water, indignation, and utter nakedness, far beyond caring who gazed upon her beautiful curves. She jerked on her clothes, the fabric sticking to her wet skin, and then proceeded to comb and tightly braid her long hair, checking it often, making sure no trace of horse dung was left.

When we were finally on the trail, a good half-hour behind Jase and the others, we talked about the surprising progress made at the settlement.

“Caemus told me Jase was sending a teacher,” Wren said. “He already gave him the money for it. A big bag of gold coins, but there was blood on them. Caemus wondered—”

Synové wrinkled her nose. “Blood?”

“Jase nicked his thumb this morning,” I said. “Maybe he was still bleeding when he counted out the coins.”

Of all the unexpected things the Ballengers had done—the root cellar, the extra homes, the supplies—the teacher probably filled us with the most wonder. Our schooling had started late, not until we came to the Sanctum. We were eleven. Before that none of us could read a single word. Most Vendans couldn’t. In six years of training, we had learned to read and write in two languages—Vendan and Morrighese. It was grueling, as much of our time spent with a pen and a book as with a sword. At times, we had railed against it. Pauline and the Royal Scholar were demanding teachers, but it was the queen who made fluency a requirement of the Rahtan—and Rahtan was something we were all determined to be. I had struggled with the studies, my frustration often bubbling over. Until I learned to appreciate the quiet, puzzling world of words, I couldn’t see the point, but never did I see the point more than when I composed the letter to the queen, carefully molding the words Gunner had already written into ones that would send a different message to the queen: Ignore this letter.

I know you’ve been busy with travel.

The queen hadn’t traveled in months. She was unable to travel and knew I didn’t expect her to.

Bring golden thannis as a gift of goodwill.

We only gave the bitter purple thannis as gifts. The sweet golden thannis was deadly. It had nearly killed her father.

Our kind hosts deserve this honor.

Confirmation that they were not to be trusted.

We’re settled in at Tor’s Watch, taking in every aspect.

We’ve made it inside and have begun our search.

Your ever faithful servant, Kazi

The queen only called me by my full name, Kazimyrah. Signing off with

Kazi would clang like a warning bell in a graveyard.

She was not coming as I knew she wouldn’t. Whatever letter she had sent would have its own hidden message just for me. All Gunner saw were the words she wanted him to see.

“Look there,” Wren said. “Straight ahead. We caught up sooner than we thought.”

In the distance, a dust cloud churned up behind a wagon.

“Maybe I can get Mason to teach me how to drive a team of horses someday,” Synové mused. “If we come back.”

Wren shook her head. “One—first you need to get Mason to talk to you at all, and two—I don’t think we’ll be welcomed back.”

Synové shrugged. “Depends. Kazi’s searched the grounds, and we haven’t seen any sign of the captain. If he’s not here after all, we’ll be leaving under friendlier terms.”

Friendlier terms? Synové was weaving a scenario I hadn’t considered. “It’s possible the coward’s gone already,” Wren agreed. “He deserted a

battlefield. He’s run before. Running is what he’s good at.”

Yes, he was a coward in some ways, but he wasn’t afraid to kill on a grand scale. I saw the worry in Wren’s face, the way she chewed on the corner of her lip. It weighed on us all. Wherever the Watch Captain was, he was a danger. It was like having a poisonous snake loose in a dark room. Anywhere you stepped could be deadly. The queen’s lead had been at least a little bit of light shed on the corner where he lurked.

Synové blew out a dramatic sigh and batted her lashes. “But if he should turn up at Tor’s Watch, we’ll have our monster … and I suppose poor Mason will just have to learn to live without me.”

Wren chuckled. “Kind of the way Eben does?”

Synové shot her a frown, then studied me. “What about you, Kazi? Is it going to be hard for you to leave?”

I knew she would dig in this direction eventually. “In some ways,” I admitted, trying to tiptoe around the obvious, foolishly hoping she would drop it. “I’m entranced with every square inch of Hell’s Mouth. I’ve never seen a town like it. The tembris and skywalks are—”

“You know what I’m talking about,” Synové said. “That other item you’re entranced with.”

I was silent for a long while. “No,” I finally answered. “It won’t be hard for me to leave.” Staying was never an option.

* * *

I watched the wagons ahead of us, the dust billowing to the side, when something else caught my eye. “What’s that? Way over there?” My stomach squeezed with dread.

“Riders,” Wren confirmed.

A lot of them—and my instincts told me they weren’t friendly. “They’re stalking the wagons,” Synové said.

“Like wolves,” Wren added.

I didn’t need to say a word to Mije. The nudge of my knee and my weight lifting in my stirrups were all he needed to send him flying, and together we became a dark wind racing across the landscape.

My thoughts galloped as fast as Mije, and somewhere in my head I heard desperate words that couldn’t be mine. I do want tomorrows with you, Jase. I want a lifetime of tomorrows.

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