Chapter no 5 – Jase

Dance of Thieves

I felt a shove and my face slammed into the floor. “Wake up.”

I rolled over and saw the bench I had fallen from and Mason looming over me. I squinted against the bright light streaming in through the tavern windows and reached up to feel my skull, certain a cleaver was lodged in it.

I cursed Mason and reached for a hand up, then noticed my bare arm. “Where’s my shirt?”

“Anyone’s guess,” Mason answered as he hoisted me up. He looked as bad as I felt.

I’d bought drinks for half the city last night, and I was certain just as many had bought them for me. There were no grand coronations when a new Patrei was named, though at the moment it seemed a far better idea than the rites that had passed last night, and I didn’t remember half of them. Everyone wanted to be part of a ritual that only occurred once every few decades—if we were lucky. This one had come too soon. I spotted my shirt strewn across the bar and stumbled over to it, kicking the boots of Titus, Drake, and others sprawled on the floor as I went. “Get up.”

Gunner groaned and grabbed his head just as I had, then vomited across the floor. The smell made my own stomach lurch. Never again, I swore beneath my breath. Never.

“Up!” Mason yelled to them all, then said more quietly to me when I winced at the noise, “There’s visitors in town. Vendan soldiers—Rahtan—at

least that’s what one of the magistrates is saying. They’re asking questions.” “Son of a bitch,” I hissed, but not too loudly, still rubbing my temple. I grabbed a half-empty pitcher of water and splashed my face, then threw on

my shirt. “Let’s go.”

The avenues were crowded. The first harvest had come in, and farm workers swelled in the streets, spending the fruits of the season on everything Hell’s Mouth had to offer—and the Ballengers made sure no need was unmet. Traders from other kingdoms rolled in too. Everyone was welcome into Hell’s Mouth, except Vendan soldiers—especially not ones asking questions. Rahtan. The queen’s elite guard. Maybe I could turn this to our favor after all.

“There. Up ahead. That must be them,” Mason said, his eyes still bleary. Half of our crew still lay on the floor back at the tavern, but I put my hand out to stop Gunner, Titus, and Tiago, who followed behind us. I wanted to observe these Vendans first, see just what they were doing, and they didn’t seem to be asking questions. There were three of them outside the mercantile—women—and one of them was juggling. I blinked, thinking the magistrate had made a mistake. This was a girl I might have eagerly bought a drink for last night, but there was no mistaking she was outfitted for trouble, a sword hanging from one hip and two knives from the other. Her long black hair hung loosely over her shoulders, and she laughed and chatted with the store clerk as she continued to juggle, and then—

I jabbed Mason. “Did you see that?” “See what?”

“She just nicked an orange!” At least I thought she did. I rubbed my eyes, uncertain. Yes! She did it again.

“Let’s go,” I said, moving toward her. She spotted me, her eyes connecting with mine, slowly perusing me like I was a bug, then nodded to those with her and they walked away.

Like hell.

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