Chapter no 31 – JASE

Vow of Thieves (Dance of Thieves, #2)

We huddled in a corner of the stable just outside Mije’s stall, keeping our voices low so the sleeping stable boy in the livery office wouldn’t waken. I couldn’t stay angry at Aleski, especially after the bone-crunching embrace I received from his older sister, Imara. She had all the brawn that Aleski did not. His lean physique served him well as a post messenger, and her tall, muscular stature served her equally well as a farrier.

“You took a chance coming here,” I said.

“Not me,” Imara answered, patting her bag of tools beside her. “No one thinks twice about seeing me walk into a livery.”

Wren was busy admiring the gifts Imara had snuck in her bag—two dozen tiny but very sharp, well-weighted throwing knives that could be easily concealed.

Aleski said they hadn’t arrived together but converged after first stopping at a local pub.

“They still allow us to drink,” Lothar fumed. “They want us to spend money.”

“I think the ruse of the festival is already working,” Aleski said. “More citizens were out tonight.” He thought that seeing the cheerful garlands and the citizens relaxing made the guards’ tight grip ease too. He saw two of them joking on a corner with the cooper, which they had never done before. “There was even a party going on tonight,” Imara added. “I hope the

whole bloody lot drink themselves into oblivion.”

My mind went back to the party. Was she there, or did they keep her locked up when they didn’t need her? What was Montegue’s hold on her? The questions ate away at me like buzzards picking my bones.

For the first time, we heard the full course of events that led to the takeover, not overheard pieces of the story shared by Caemus, or grudging bits shared by traitors.

They told us it began with a two-week bombardment of raids on caravans and fires that besieged the town. Every day a new place was hit. Gunner was torn in every direction, and it kept every Ballenger employee scrambling. The town had ceased to sleep. Mason had added patrols in town and on incoming roads. Gunner and Titus had just as many watching the arena and caravans. Then for several days everything went calm. They thought it was over.

“And then the king’s army rolled in with weapons,” Lothar said. “There was complete chaos. Building after building was reduced to rubble. No one knew what was happening.” Lothar said when the dust settled, Banques claimed they had confiscated the weapons from a Ballenger warehouse—an enormous stockpile the family had gained through illegal means. Banques also claimed that the Ballengers had been blackmailing businesses for more protection money to finance their unlawful activities instead of keeping the town safe from Rybart’s league—who he claimed had engineered the attacks.

“We knew none of it was true, and not a single family or business backed up his wild claim, but what we believed didn’t matter. He had all the power and used it to quash any dissent. He—”

“Who is this Banques?” I asked. “Where did he come from?”

“He’s first in command after the king,” Imara answered. “He’s a general, and it seems he has the training to go with it. He’s commanding a formidable army, but a few who have been to Parsuss are certain he was the king’s local magistrate before all this happened.”

The magistrate in Parsuss? The one who had written us saying he had never heard anything about “this Beaufort fellow” when my father had inquired about him? They’d been thick as thieves all along. It all started to fall into place. The king had used us to finance his weapons, working in lockstep with Beaufort. He used us in even a worse way than Beaufort had. And then he enlisted Paxton and Truko to keep the arena running—the sweetest deal ever proposed to them. Aleski spit when he mentioned Paxton’s name. Somehow his complicity was worse than Truko’s.

“A day after he roared into town, the king announced that Rybart was killed during the takeover.” Lothar recounted. “Then he ordered his

captured crew to be hanged. They all denied it with their last breaths. The next day in the forest, they caught Drake in one of their snares like he was nothing but an animal, and a few days later, they hanged him from—” Lothar shook his head, unable to continue.

My temper had steadily risen with every word. “The king’s an invader and murderer. Why hasn’t someone just taken him down?” I hissed, trying to keep my voice low. “There’s plenty of skilled archers in town—those who crewed our skywalks! Surely someone’s had an opportunity for a shot at him. Doesn’t he ever walk the streets? Ride his horse?”

Imara, Aleski, and Lothar all looked at me blankly.

“You don’t know?” Imara finally asked, so quietly I thought she had lost her voice.

A cold sweat sprang to my face. “Know what?”

She looked at Aleski, and he answered. “He has Lydia and Nash. Everyone would love to see him dead, but they’re afraid to make a move. He claims he’s protecting them, but we know why he really has them. For his own protection. His implied threat is obvious.”

I didn’t realize I had stood until I suddenly had five sets of hands digging into my arms and chest, holding me against the stable wall. He has my baby brother and sister? Using them for protection? That’s what is keeping Kazi there. That’s why she won’t leave.

Wren’s hands pressed against my chest. “Don’t go getting crazy on us now, Patrei.

I shook my head, indicating it was safe to let me go. I had no intention of getting crazy. My only intention was getting revenge.

We began formulating plans for our own army. Weapons. That was all I could think of now, and what I would do to get them.

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