Chapter no 36 – Kazi

Dance of Thieves

This time, I thought.

This time I am going to die.

My knife was gone, lost in the tumble from the wagon.

His weight had crushed me, his hands crazed steel rings around my neck. My nails scratched at flesh, face, arms. Sound blurred. I had no more air, the deckled edges of the world ruffled away, disappearing, my fingers doing a last desperate dance.

I saw Death standing behind him, smiling. You are next.

My fingers pulled, searched.

Make a wish, Kazi, make a wish for tomorrow.

No breaths.

Make a wish for the next day, and the next.

No air.

One will always come true.

And then my hand knocked against something hard. His knife. His knife was still sheathed at his side.

* * *

I sat on the wagon seat beside Jase, his arm around me, and everything about it seemed right and easy and blessedly calm. My clothes were still drenched in blood, and his knuckles were bruised and swollen. Mije followed behind, tethered to the back. The raiders’ horses were tethered

behind other wagons. I leaned into Jase, sometimes closing my eyes. Sometimes dreaming. Sometimes feeling his lips brush my temple.


The next day and the next.

The ghosts, they never go away. They call to you in unexpected moments.

Because if I could believe in tomorrow or the next day, maybe that would give the magic time to come true.

There was a time when I wondered if it was all a dream. A nightmare. That she had never existed at all. That I was sprung from a fevered sleep and had always been a hungry shadow on the street. Her face faded, her touch faded, the same way a dream does no matter how hard you try to hold on to all its parts. But her voice remained clear as if she had never left me. The memory was bittersweet, saving me, when she couldn’t save herself.

You must find the magic, my chiadrah.

I nestled closer to Jase. Maybe I had.

Maybe there could be tomorrows.

It didn’t seem like such a dangerous thought anymore.

* * *

The main house exploded with activity. We had rolled in the back way through Greyson Tunnel so we wouldn’t parade our injuries and bloodstained clothes through town and create a panic. The news raced through the tunnel, and by the time we reached the front steps of the main house, Vairlyn was already out there shouting orders. Fetch the healer! Call Gunner and Jalaine home! More bandages from the stockroom! Set out supplies in the dining room! Buckets of ice from the icehouse! She walked from Tiago to Samuel to Wren, examining them for injuries, grabbing chins and turning heads from side to side. Go to the dining room! Inside! Though Synové tried to flinch away, she couldn’t escape Vairlyn’s clutches, and Vairlyn examined her bloody, bandaged head. More orders were shouted. Draw baths! Prepare guest rooms! It was clear she had done this before. Maybe too many times.

At the bottom of the steps, Jase pulled me aside before she made her way down to us.

His fingers gently skimmed the bruises on my neck, and he shook his head. “I don’t want to say you shouldn’t have come, but if you hadn’t—”

“No thanks necessary, Jase Ballenger. I did it for an entirely selfish reason.”

His brows lifted. “Which is?”

“You still owe me a riddle. A good one. You’re not getting out of it that easy.”

He smiled. “I always make good on my word, Kazi of Brightmist. You’ll get your riddle.” He bent to kiss me, but a hand suddenly pushed him away. “Time for that later,” Vairlyn said. She looked at my neck. “Dear gods, I hope the animal who did this is dead.” She touched the welts gently. “We’ll

ice it. Inside.”

She looked at Jase’s cut cheekbone first, then grabbed his hand and looked at his knuckles. “Broken.”

Jase pulled his hand free. “They’re not broken—”

“I know broken when I see it! Go to the dining room with the others.” “Not now,” Jase said firmly, his tone changed in an instant. “I have to

talk to Jalaine first. Send her to the study as soon as she gets here.”

Vairlyn slowed, her eyes studying him, a wordless exchange between them, and she nodded. “Come when you’re finished.” And then I understood. This was not her son. This was the Patrei.

* * *

Sounds of healing—bandages being cut, hot water being wrung from rags, winces and moans as scrapes, cuts, and wounds were cleaned—filled the dining room. Tiago had the stature of a bull but was the most vocal as Vairlyn tweezed splinters from his arm. He mewed like a forlorn cat.

At the other end of the long dining table, Oleez applied a tincture to Wren’s elbow, scraped and bloody from a roll, and then she washed and examined my neck. She gave me a bag of ice to apply to the bruises. While Priya dabbed Mason’s cut lip with ointment, he watched Synové squirm as the healer examined the cut on her scalp. It had stopped bleeding, but her

hair was caked with blood. The healer gave her a balm and new bandage to apply once she had bathed. Then we were free to leave.

Wren glanced back at Samuel as we left. His arm was tensed, the muscles and veins bulging and his eyes were squeezed shut while the healer stitched his palm. He didn’t say a word, but his chest rose in careful measured breaths. “He’ll have a scar,” Wren said. “Now I won’t be the only one who can tell him apart from Aram.”

We had almost reached our rooms, all of us eager to bathe and change, when a breathless servant hurried after us. She held out a plate that was topped with a delicate napkin. “From the new cook,” she said. “She wanted you to have this.”

I took the dish from her and she hurried away again, the house still busy with new chores. Before I even lifted the napkin, the aromatic smell bloomed around us. Sage. Synové snatched the cloth away. Three small sage cakes lay snug together in the middle of the plate. A message was tucked to the side.

The Patrei informed me about your love of sage cake. I have other vagabond specialties if you’d like to come sample them in the kitchen. I’ll be there throughout the evening as the regular cook has taken ill. I even have a bit of thannis tea you might enjoy.

“Thannis?” Synové squeaked.

“Holy demons,” Wren whispered, “do you think…” But she didn’t dare say the thought aloud.

We walked back down the stairs, nibbling our cakes, nodding at servants, straza, no one concerned about our passing anymore. We had fought side-by-side with the Patrei and his brothers. We were bandaged and bruised, and our stained clothes bore the evidence of our battle. We were above suspicion.

When we turned a corner, we were hit with more glorious scents wafting from the kitchen. Vagabond scents. While Aunt Dolise was an excellent cook, these smells were familiar—garlic, dill, rosemary, thyme, and, of course, sage.

“You here to see the cook?” a servant asked as she walked out the swinging door with a stack of plates. “She thought you’d come. She has treats set out for you. She and her husband are inside.”

Our casual steps vanished, and we all squeezed through the door at once, stumbling to the center of the room. The cook turned away from a steaming pot on the stove, her face stern, her hands wedged on her hips. Her partner walked out of the pantry, and she motioned to the door. He nudged it open a crack. “All clear.”

I knew she wouldn’t hug us. Neither would he. But her rigid stone face that tried to hold back emotion failed miserably, and relief shone in Natiya’s eyes. Maybe Eben’s too.

“Cooks?” I said. “You got in as cooks?”

“You doubt my skills?” Natiya wiped her hands on her apron. “Cooking is still in my blood, you know? But I think we only got in because the Patrei wanted to please you. Something about sage cakes?” She lifted a condemning brow. “Explain that.”

I gave her the short version, a brief account of our being chained to each other and the aftermath. She listened quietly, her eyes registering amusement when I told her about blackmailing the Ballengers.

“Well done,” she said. “What about our rabbit? Any signs of him yet?”

I shook my head. “I’ve searched everywhere except for the stables and a few outbuildings. Nothing.”

“We haven’t seen anything but the inside of a kitchen,” Eben muttered. “They’re a suspicious bunch,” Natiya explained. “They watch our every


“But then, we can’t disappear like the Shadowmaker,” Eben said, still keeping watch at the door.

Which had done me little good so far. The secret places of Tor’s Watch hadn’t produced anything.

“He has to be here somewhere. What about the arena?” Natiya asked. “Have you checked there?”

From what Jase had told me, the arena bustled with people. It didn’t seem a likely place for someone to hide out, but it was worth looking into. “Jase is going to the arena tomorrow. I’ll ask to go along—”

“Incoming!” Eben whispered.

Natiya pointed to the counter, and we all quickly grabbed a delicacy laid out on the plates, chattering with delight as the servant came through the door. She gathered pewter mugs from a cabinet.

“Heavenly!” Synové said. “Try this one, Kazi.”

“Exquisite!” “Delicious!”

“May I have another?”

Natiya beamed on cue, but as soon as the servant left again, her smile vanished and we returned to less tasty questions.

“And how did all…” She waved her hand at our bloodstained clothes. “This come about? No permanent damage?” she asked, peeking under Synové’s bandage.

“We’re fine,” I answered. “There are other troubles here that have nothing to do with us. With Jase becoming the new Patrei, we’re caught in the middle of a power war.”

“So I heard. I also heard they got a letter from the queen. They really believe she’s coming?”

“They do. It was part of our agreement—in return for the settlement reparations that are already under way.”

“Good job, kadravés,” Eben said, but his eyes landed on me and he nodded. He understood the compromise, the things you finally had to let go.

“What about Dolise?” I asked. “What did you two do to her?”

Natiya wrinkled her nose. “Just a little coralweed. She’ll be sticking close to her chamber pot for a few days.”

“We had to get over to the main house kitchen to talk to you somehow,” Eben added as he slivered open the door again.

“Just a good cleansing, as Aunt Reena used to call it,” Natiya said and held out a dish of treats to us. “Now go. Clean up. Rest. We’ll see you tonight at dinner.”

“What if he’s not at the arena either?” Wren asked.

Natiya frowned, unhappy with this possibility. “If we have to, then we move on. We search elsewhere until we find him.”

Move on.

That wasn’t the queen’s directive. We were only to come here, then home. It was impossible to search an entire continent for one person without a clue. I already knew that intimately. Maybe it was more of a desperate hope Natiya held on to—that the man who helped orchestrate the deaths of so many would be found before he killed again.

I took the dish from her. “The sage cakes are perfection, by the way.” “Even better than her aunt’s,” Eben replied.

Natiya grinned. “You better never say that in front of her.”

Eben smiled. “I’m not stupid.” His gaze lingered on Natiya as if he forgot for a moment that we were all there.

We gathered up another plate of the vagabond delicacies to take back to our rooms, and Eben and Natiya returned to their work. They still had to continue their charade as cooks and prepare the evening meal. As we walked to the door to leave, Synové turned. “Just so we know we have the story straight, you two are posing as husband and wife?”

Eben set down the pot of water he had just filled, and Natiya paused from mincing scallions, the silence long and full.

“No,” Eben answered. “We’re not posing.” And then he went back to his work.

You'll Also Like