Chapter no 39 – Jase

Dance of Thieves

Today was every hell my father had ever described. I stumbled from one fire to the next. A raid. A betrayal. Kazi pinned beneath the body of a raider, soaked in a pool of blood. The memory punched me again and again. And I still had more business to address.

There will be times you won’t sleep, Jase. Times you won’t eat.

Times you’ll have a hundred decisions to make and not enough time to make just one. Times a choice will make you feel like your flesh is being peeled from your bones. Times you’ll be hated for the decisions you’ve made. Times you will hate yourself.

You’ll be torn a hundred ways. You’ll doubt your decisions and whom you trust, but above it all, you must always remember that you have a family, a history, and a town to protect. It is both your legacy and your duty. If the job of Patrei were easy, I would have given it to someone else.

Now I understood my father’s anguish as he lay on his deathbed passing his duties on to me. It was as much a burden as it was an honor.

I burst into Cave’s End, and Beaufort jumped up from the divan to welcome me, a full goblet in one hand and a bottle in the other.

“What the hell did you think you were doing?” I said.

“Well, this wasn’t the greeting I expected. Especially not when—”

“We had an agreement that you’d stay out of sight. One of the Rahtan soldiers staying with us spotted you going into Darkcottage. I had to make

up a story about you being a groundsman.”

Beaufort sneered. “Why are they still here? I feel like a caged animal! I thought I told you to get rid of them!”

I looked at him. Looked through an arched doorway at the rest of them sprawled around the “cage” as he called it, stocked with fine wines, tobaccos, ridiculous amounts of imported Gitos olives and Gastineux fish eggs, and he was giving the Patrei orders now? I already saw myself throwing the whole lot of them out the gates of Tor’s Watch in the middle of the night, weapons be damned.

He realized his mistake. “PatreiPatrei, I’m forgetting myself. Forgive me. Come in. Can I pour you a drink?”

He explained that with so many of us away and Tor’s Watch so quiet, he had thought it was safe to go to Raehouse and speak to Priya about more supplies, but then our caravan rolled into Greyson Tunnel, creating a flurry of activity. He waited until dusk when things quieted to return to Cave’s End.

More supplies? “We just filled a large order for you.”

“There’s a lot of waste with experimentation I’m afraid, but now with the formula and craft perfected, we’re ready to go into production.”

I couldn’t deny I was happy to finally hear this news. Whoever was behind Fertig and his gang would crawl back to their hole and never bother Hell’s Mouth again.

“And the fever cure?”

He shrugged. “Getting closer.”

The same answer. Three children in Hell’s Mouth had died last winter with fever. Three children too many. Beaufort had shown me the scholars’ stacks of notes and the strange flasks and dishes that they experimented with, but the calculations meant nothing to me.

“Find it,” I said. “Before winter comes.”

“Of course,” Beaufort answered. “I’m sure we’ll have it by then.”

He set his goblet down and yelled toward the other room. “Sarva! Kardos! Bahr! All of you! Get out here and help me show the Patrei what his money has bought!” He put his arm over my shoulder, the rest of his sordid crew following after us, including the scholars, Torback and Phineas. “This way,” he said. “Let’s look at the final product.”

We stood in the shelter of the sky cap, the part of the cave that extended over the house and a good portion of the grounds, but the winds were fierce and we were still pelted with rain. At least the storm and thunder would disguise the sound.

“Like this?” I said, holding the launcher to my shoulder the way Kardos had shown me. He, Bahr, and Sarva were former soldiers. Sarva had once been a metalsmith, and he fashioned the launcher based on the scholars’ designs.

“Keep it snug,” Bahr warned. “The mount will absorb a lot, but be prepared for kickback. Eye your target as if you were shooting an arrow. Now keep it steady while you pull the lever back.”

A loud crack sounded and a flash lit up the end of the launcher, punching it into my shoulder and sending me back a step, but the noise was nothing compared to the explosion when it hit the target two hundred yards away. The surrounding mountains reverberated with the concussion.

There were cheers all around.

“That going to take care of your problems?” Bahr asked.

“Yes,” I answered. “And then some.” I couldn’t wait to see the Candoran ambassador’s reaction to it. He wouldn’t be yammering about development anymore, and no one would be touching arena caravans again.

“You can get four shots out of each load,” Sarva said. “Though I doubt you’ll have anything to shoot at after the first.”

“You have all the specs written down?” I asked. “Carefully documented?”

“Of course we do,” Beaufort answered.

“What about storage?” I asked. “Any dangers there? We’re close to the family homes.”

“None,” Kardos said. “Though I wouldn’t throw the loads into the kitchen oven.” They laughed like they were schooling a boy on the basics of safety.

“You don’t need to worry about those details now,” Sarva said. “We’ll go over it all when we deliver your first shipment.”

I smiled, like shipment was the only word he needed to utter to send me on my way. “In two weeks?”

Beaufort nodded. “That’s right.”

“Good,” I said. I turned the weapon over in my hands, examining it again. “I’ll take this one in the meantime.” I slung the launcher strap over my shoulder.

“Hold on,” Sarva ordered. “You can’t take that.” He reached out for me to hand it over.

I stared at him. I had almost been expecting his response but was still surprised. “Why not, Sarva? It’s mine, remember? I paid for it. For almost a year, I’ve been paying for it. And you have all the specs written down to make more.”

He and Kardos exchanged glances, uncertain what to do.

Beaufort stepped forward, smiling, a forced chuckle in his throat, trying to tamp down the tension. “Yes, of course we do, but—”

“Then there’s no problem here. I want to start training some of my men up in the lumber camps to work as caravan escorts. They always need the winter work.” I reached over and swept the stacks of loads from the table into a canvas bag. “And I’ll take these too.”

Sarva’s mouth hung open as I turned away. There was still plenty more he wanted to say. As I left, Zane strolled out of the main drawing room into the foyer, eating a chicken leg. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “It’s late for a delivery.”

He hissed out a frustrated breath and shook his head. “I know. I came up the back way to drop off goods.” He rolled his eyes. “More wine and olives. The storm hit and now I’m stuck.”

“We can put you up at Riverbend if you’d rather?”

“That’s all right. I’ve already got my stuff stowed. Hopefully, the storm will pass by morning.”

He eyed the launcher on my shoulder. “You taking that with you?” “That’s right.”

He shrugged. “Want me to deliver it somewhere for you? As long as I’m here? I can—” He reached out to take it from me.

“No,” I said, walking away, “I’ve got this one.”

* * *

My hand rested on the door, just as it had several nights ago, debating whether to knock. I was soaked through, and my hair dripped onto the floor.

Kazi. I still wasn’t sure how this happened. When we were alone, when the world wasn’t looking over our shoulders, everything was easy. All I wanted was to be with her, hold her, listen to her voice, listen to her laugh, You don’t even know half of my tricks yet. I wanted to know them all. She might not commit to tomorrows, but I knew she wanted them as much as I did. It was late, probably too late—

The door swung open as if she had sensed I was out there.

“Look at you! You’re drenched,” she said and grabbed my hand, pulling me inside. “You need a dry shirt and—”

“I only need you, Kazi, that’s all I need.”

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