Chapter no 42 – Jase

Dance of Thieves

I took a few steps, watching her run away, then tasted the blood in my mouth. I touched my hand to my jaw.

“Should we go after her?” Titus asked. He and Gunner had been nearby when the shouting broke out.

I shook my head. “No, let her go.” I already knew they’d never find her if she didn’t want to be found. I was still trying to understand what had happened. I looked at the people who had stopped to watch. All the people who saw the Patrei get smacked in the chops by a Vendan soldier half his size.

And then a voice from behind me. The wrong voice.

Clucking. Sighing. “Oh dear. A lover’s quarrel? Affection is so fleeting, isn’t it?”

When I turned, Paxton took a step back, his straza a step forward, maybe seeing something in my face.

It didn’t do them any good. My fist shot out, sending Paxton flying to the ground.

* * *

“If they weren’t broken before, they are now,” Mason said. I winced as he pulled on my fingers and rewrapped my knuckles.

Gunner had brought some ice for my jaw. The inside of my mouth was raw where my teeth had sliced into it.

“She’s got a helluva swing,” Titus mused with admiration, ignoring that it was my mouth that was her target.

“What’s going on?” Priya asked, walking through the foyer of the apartment.

“Apparently, Jase’s favorite Vendan soldier doesn’t approve of Previzi,” Mason answered. “She gave him a stinging lecture about them in front of everyone.”

“And she hit you?”

“She wasn’t herself,” I answered. But who was she? I didn’t think she heard half of the things I said to her. She was transformed the minute she saw the Previzi warehouse. Their goods were sometimes questionable—but dammit, every kingdom dealt with them. Yes, we looked the other way. So did everyone else. They had merchandise people wanted. And they bought plenty of goods to trade here at the arena at a fair price too.

Priya’s brows rose. “So Vendans are sticklers for the letter of the law?”

No. Kazi skirted too many edges to be a stickler. Something else bothered her. She had acted strange from the minute she stepped into the tunnel. Her eyes had been glazed.

“We’ll go do damage control out in the arena,” Priya said. “Say you two are cozy again and having a good laugh about it. Just a lover’s spat. Enough saw you two all kissy and hand in hand today that they’ll buy it.” She paused, her hands on her hips. “And it’s true, Jase, isn’t it? Just a spat?”

I nodded. Maybe. I was still retracing all our steps and words.

“Well?” Gunner grumbled as he, Priya, and Titus walked out the door. “Go find her and actually get cozy again. We’ve got a queen on her way.”

Mason stayed behind. He tied off the bandage and eyed the door waiting for it to shut. “I didn’t want to bring this up in front of the others, but I thought I should mention it. Something a little peculiar.”

I slid my tongue along the swollen flesh in my mouth. “Say it.”

He told me the apothecary in town had approached him today and asked when we would be getting another shipment of birchwings in. He was out of stock and had a request from a patron.

“You know how often we get it, Mason. Once a year, twice if we’re lucky.” It was made from a fungus that grew like wings on birch limbs in

the north. The Kbaaki brought it along with other potions they concocted. I didn’t care about fungus right now. “He’ll get it when he—”

“It’s not about the birchwings. It’s about who asked for it. Wren. And she asked for enough to knock out half the town.”

“Maybe she just doesn’t understand dosage.”

He shook his head. “I gave her a small vial from the storeroom on the night of the party. She said she had a headache. I told her it was four doses’ worth.”

I remembered seeing the half-empty vial when I rummaged through Kazi’s wardrobe for a shirt.

“Why do you suppose she’d want so much?” Mason asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe to take back to Venda with them. They may not have medicine like that there.” I stood. I had to go find Kazi. She was probably back at Tor’s Watch by now. “Just keep an eye on our stockroom. Make sure it stays locked.”

I was just stepping out the door when I ran into Garvin. I waved him off, saying we’d have to talk later. “I think you’ll want to hear this now. It’s about that girl from Brightmist.”

My pulse raced a little faster. “Go ahead.”

“I finally figured it out. I was in the tower, keeping an eye on her in the arena when it came to me. I saw her stumble into the king—deliberately. I think she nicked him.”

“She stole from the king?”

“I can’t be sure,” he answered. “Not from way up in the tower. She was smooth. But she meant to run into him, I know that much. I watched her run between the stalls, circling around right into his path—and then her hands were all over him.”

I ran my fingers through my hair, blowing out a frustrated breath. She didn’t mention taking anything from the king. I looked back at Garvin. “You said you figured something out?”

“Her name. Ten. She was a petty thief in Venda. Probably the best.”

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