Chapter no 21 – JASE

Vow of Thieves (Dance of Thieves, #2)

Jurga, Eridine, and Hélder hovered over me, watching while Caemus brushed another line across my forehead.

“A little more over there,” Jurga said, pointing to my temple.

It was a group effort, making sure he closely followed the sketch I had made for him. Kbaaki designs were very specific, and a lot of people in these parts were familiar with them. It had to be believable. It covered half of my face.

“I still think it’s too early for you to go,” Caemus grumbled as he dabbed more dye on my face.

“I can walk. I can ride. It’s time,” I answered. And if I could get to it, I had at least one weapon and a bag of ammunition waiting for me. That would get Paxton’s attention. And if I could reach that one weapon, I could get more.

“Turn your head,” Caemus ordered.

Since I was probably the most recognizable man in Hell’s Mouth, it was necessary that my appearance be dramatically changed. The heavy furred cloak, boots, and hat would do a fair job. The thick muffler that would cover the lower half of my face would help more, but if it was removed, I still had to look like someone else. Kbaaki designs were striking. It was hard to even see a face when looking at the swirl that circled an eye.

“That’s it,” Hélder said, nodding in approval, comparing Caemus’s work with my sketch. His wife, Eridine, concurred.

“And now the ring,” I said. Caemus winced.

“You sure?” Eridine asked.

I was going to be crossing hillsides that were probably crawling with the soldiers of this so-called army. Kbaaki almost always wore decorative jewels in their left brows as a defense against hostile spirits. Jurga had a

tiny earring that would do the job. It was another detail to convince anyone I might see—and a distraction to keep them from looking too closely at me. “I’ll do it,” Jurga volunteered, taking the needle away from Caemus. She didn’t give me any warning. She just pinched my brow and jammed the needle through. A rumble rolled through my chest as she fished the earring through behind it. I had already learned there was a lot of iron behind Jurga’s meek façade—and now I knew there wasn’t an ounce of

squeamishness to go with it.

Eridine dabbed at the blood. “That should do it,” she said. “I doubt even your own mother would know you now. Just be sure to keep that chest covered.”

With the frigid weather, there wasn’t much chance of me going shirtless, but her point was made. The tattoo on my chest was a dead Ballenger giveaway. She also instructed me to avoid washing my face or the dye would fade faster. If I was lucky, it would last for two weeks. Hopefully I wouldn’t need it that long.

Jurga held up a small mirror. Half of my face swirled with dark black- blue ink, the other half broken by a single swirl around my eye. I barely recognized myself. I practiced my halting Kbaaki accent. “Gets out of my ways, you lowlanders. Gives me rooms to breathe.”

Eridine and Hélder chuckled.

“It might work,” Caemus conceded.

I was about to try out another line when the door of the shed flew open. Kerry slammed it behind him and leaned over, gasping for breath. “Riders!” he croaked. “Hurry!”

I may have had some of my disguise in place, but finding a Kbaaki hunter in a Vendan settlement would be suspicious, not to mention that my chest, with the Ballenger crest, was exposed. I jumped up from the bench, and Hélder hurried to slide aside the plank that led to the root cellar. Before I could reach it, the door flew open again, crashing back against the wall. I turned and stared at the armed intruders. They looked as shocked to see me as I was to see them.

“You lying devil! What the hell have you done? Where is she?”

Wren flew at me, slamming me up against the wall, her ziethe circling my neck. “I told you to watch her back or I’d come after yours!”

“Give him a chance to speak, Wren!” Synové reasoned, then looked at me, her blue eyes blazing. “Talk, you snake, and make it good!”

“I don’t know where she is,” I said. “We were attacked. I’m going after her, so either kill me or get out of my way.”

By now everyone was talking, trying to calm Wren and Synové down. They had come across the ruin in the forest where Mije and Tigone were hidden. They saw the blood staining Mije’s saddle and assumed it was Kazi’s.

“They were ambushed, girl! Put your weapon down!” Caemus ordered. Wren’s eyes glistened, glaring into mine. Her hand shook with the strain.

She finally lowered her ziethe and turned away.

Synové burst into tears. “I know where she is. She’s chained in a cell.” And then, between sobs, she told us about her dream.

Hold on to to each other because that is what will save you.

Out of many you are one now. You are family.

I look at our put-together family.

None want to be here any more than I do.

We are all different. We argue. We wave our fists. But we hold each other too.

We grow together, strong like the circle of trees in the valley.

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