Chapter no 41 – Kazi

Dance of Thieves

My blood still raced with exhilaration. Stealing from a king was a first for me, especially with a contingent of guards and straza standing nearby, though the prize turned out to be less exciting than what I had anticipated, merely a piece of paper with a name scribbled on it—Devereux 72— perhaps the trader who had promised a better deal on pig iron? Or maybe Paxton had slipped the king the name of his new hawker who would meet the deal? I didn’t know exactly what compelled me to go after it. Maybe it was the sly glance the king tossed over his shoulder, his eyes suddenly sharp, a hint that something more pressing was on his mind than bidding on Suri.

Or maybe it was just seeing him walk beside Paxton. Everything about Jase’s cousin was suspect—and his arrogant warning words, Tread carefully, didn’t help to instill trust.

“Enjoying yourself?”

Another arena patron fell into step beside me, but this one was welcome. “Immensely,” I answered. “It’s been two hours. I’ve toured every floor, eaten at least a dozen oranges, and I’ve had my eye on a very clever and

handsome llama.”

“I have competition?” Jase asked. “Must be that long neck of his.” I laughed. “And his soulful eyes. Be worried. What delayed you?” “My meetings ran long. So you met the king?”

I stopped and faced him. “How did you know?”

He shrugged deviously. “I told you, I have tricks too.” But then he glanced up at the towers. “Every one of those is manned with my men and each has a spyglass. It helps keep trouble to a minimum.”

So, they were watching me? How much did they see? But there was no hint of suspicion in Jase’s tone or expression.

“What kind of trouble?” I asked.

“Pickpockets, petty thieves. Or sometimes a squabble breaks out and fists are involved.”

“Then I suppose everyone must feel very safe here.”

“That’s the goal. When people relax, they spend money. What did you think of the king?” he asked.

“A buffoon just as you said. And not much of a farmer. His hands look like they’ve never wrestled anything more dangerous than a teacup. Did you know he’d be here?”

Jase nodded. “Gunner told me he was spotted coming in early this morning. Something about Suri breeding stock this time. It’s always something new. The man doesn’t know how to manage his own farm, much less an entire kingdom.”

“Maybe he just needs more practice. How long has he been king?” “Three or four years. That should be enough time to figure it out.” He

explained that Montegue became king at twenty when his father was crushed against a wall by a draft horse. “What about Paxton? What’d he want?” Every time Jase uttered Paxton’s name there was a lethal edge to it.

“He wanted to be my friend,” I answered. “And to warn me not to get mixed up with certain people. I wonder who he could mean?”

A vein twitched in Jase’s neck. “If he comes near you again—” “Then I will handle him again, pretty boy. Relax.”

I’ll handle him, Kazi,” Jase said firmly. “I’ve had my fill of his snide innuendo. Next time, he’ll be swallowing a mouthful of teeth.”

I wove my fingers into his, feeling his calluses, remembering him swinging axes and digging cellars, and I was grateful for the roughness of his hands. “Enough about Paxton. Show me the rest of your arena.”

We headed toward the rear tunnel exit that led to the sprawling warehouses and stable grounds behind the arena—and to a livery. It was where Fertig used to work, and Jase wanted to ask a few questions. As we walked, Jase’s mood lightened. Merchants greeted him with smiles and

lighthearted humor, much of it directed at the lovely jewel gracing his very plain arm. Jase was pleased to see that Gunner had everything running smoothly in his absence—which eased my mind as well. I didn’t want him to regret his time rebuilding the settlement. As we walked, I saw the relief and maybe even the pride in his face. There were hundreds of years of Ballenger history here, a legacy to keep secure, and it had all fallen on his shoulders so very recently. He was eager to point out every detail, drawing me deeper into another part of his world, and I happily fell into it.

We were halfway through the tunnel exit when a chill brushed my arms. It wasn’t a breeze. I felt it circle. Cool fingers grazed my shoulders. My neck tingled. Then a quiet voice, Go back. A faint cold warning and then more followed in a rush. Stop. Go back. Glints of light spread in a line across the end of the tunnel, linked hands blocking our passage. Do not pass this way.

“What’s wrong?” Jase asked. I hadn’t realized I had stopped. People walked around us, continuing on through the tunnel.

A breeze lifted my hair. Not this way.


I felt for my dagger at my side, though the voices had now fallen silent. There were centuries of history here. I was bound to hear some of it. Death had passed this way many times. “Nothing, “I said, and we continued forward.

We emerged into a large square, the sun warming my skin again, the scent of pine easing my mood, everything in order and as calm as a bustling arena can be. Tall trees cut striped shadows across a plaza that was bordered by large warehouses and barns. I saw the livery ahead, but as we walked toward it I spotted something else tucked back in a dark shady corner. Wagons inside another warehouse were being loaded and covered with tarps. Something about them—

I stopped. “What is that, Jase?”

He hardly gave it a glance. “Just another warehouse,” he answered, grabbing my elbow to urge me forward.

I pulled free. “What kind of warehouse?” I didn’t wait for his answer. I was already walking toward it. I stopped just inside the gaping entrance. It was dark. Cool. My stomach hovered near my heart, everything inside of me light and airless, something taking hold of me, my steps moving all out

of order. I was numb, part of me soaring above it all, watching. Three wagons were being loaded. Rope was woven over the tarps—tarps with black stripes. It was the stripes that stopped me. They were sharp nails dragging across my throat.

“Previzi,” Jase said, coming up alongside me. “They operate out of this warehouse.”

An enormous warehouse. I could see rows of other empty wagons stored along the side, waiting to be loaded. By now, several of the workers had noticed us standing at the entrance. I scanned their faces, none the one I searched for.

My skin. My eyes. Floating. Not part of me. My voice, barely mine, sounding like someone I didn’t know. Young, fragile, breakable. A girl too afraid to run.

“But Previzi are illegal,” I said. “They’ve been illegal for years. They’re not allowed in the kingdoms.” My voice still soft. Lost.

Jase hovered in a different world, strong, confident. “Maybe officially, but trust me, merchants in every kingdom eagerly buy from them. They provide—”

I spun, my voice stronger. “Provide what? Stolen merchandise?” “Sometimes there’s merchandise that—it doesn’t quite—” “What did you mean by ‘operate’?” I asked.

He looked at me, confused, finally understanding that something was very wrong. “This is their base,” he answered.

Base? “For how long? How long have they been based here?” “Kazi, what difference—”

How long?” My voice was loud now, a scream. The air shattered in fragments, every sound sharp in my ears.

“I’m not really sure.”

“Eleven years, Jase? Have they been here for eleven years?”

He nodded. “At least.”

Everything that had been weightless inside me was now molten, rushing in my head, burning my skin. “They’re thieves! You’re harboring thieves! They sell nothing but—”

“Kazi, lower your voice,” Jase ordered between gritted teeth. Workers had stopped loading wagons and were listening. A crowd gathered just outside the door, watching. Jase leaned close. “The Previzi drivers are—”

“Predators!” I yelled. “Scum! And I will not lower my voice! How can you just look the other way—”

“Stop!” Jase ordered. He grabbed my arm and began pulling me away. I twisted free and my other arm swung, hitting him in the jaw. He stumbled back, incredulous, his eyes locked on mine, and then I ran. I was a girl running through the jehendra, through stalls, through shadows and mud and nightmares, a girl running with nowhere to go.

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