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Chapter no 51 – JASE

Vow of Thieves (Dance of Thieves, #2)

I tugged on my gloves and squeezed my fingers. They needed to be warm, ready.

We had been waiting all night for dawn to come.

Besides my own, I had replayed everyone’s role in my head at least a dozen times, though it was too late to change anything now.

It would begin with Mason, Synové, and the icehouse that was three avenues away from the plaza, behind the cooperage. The roar of the crowd would be their signal.

Most of the icehouse was belowground. That’s where the munitions would be. All Mason had to do was blow the roof off of it. Synové would follow with a volley of fire arrows.

And that would lead to my turn.

The crowds were already thick, nearly all of them in gray and black cloaks. Soldiers with shields arrived, lining the stairs to the platform. Zane arrived. Garvin arrived. Garvin with the eyes of a hawk. But like the soldiers on the roofs, he would be looking down.

I had never seen Banques. I kept looking to Paxton to see if he had arrived. That would mean the execution was imminent. Paxton shook his head. Not yet.

I couldn’t see Priya, Wren, or Titus. They had taken positions in other trees that gave them clear shots of plaza rooftops. I could barely see Gunner or Paxton, who stood on the same limb as me, their dark cloaks turned inside out with the dawn, now part of the shifting tembris canopy.

My chest pounded with the waiting, and then Paxton nudged me. There.

A man had emerged from a carriage. He wore a black uniform, and a wide gold braid swept across his chest. He walked briskly up the stairs, his cape rippling behind him. His thick black hair was slicked back and

glimmered almost as much as his gold chest braid. A magistrate turned general. He was younger than I expected.

He took a place on the platform. There was still no sign of Kazi or Montegue. Were they both still in the carriage? Paxton held his hand out in a calming sign. Wait.

Banques addressed the crowd and began reading the crimes against Kazi. Theft. Attempted regicide. Spy for the Kingdom of Venda. “And maybe worst of all, an attack on innocent children. Lydia and Nash Ballenger are recovering from the assault, thanks to the king’s quick action to protect them.” A murmur ran through the crowd, and Banques nodded approval. There was still no sign of Kazi. Where was she? Why were they waiting to bring her out? I looked at Paxton. He shook his head. This was not normal. “For her crimes against Eislandia she is sentenced to hang by the neck until dead before these witnesses today. Let it be known to all the kingdoms that Eislandia will not tolerate interference by foreign nations, nor attacks on its citizens. The king is committed to protecting his subjects by any and all means.”

He lifted a hand to the guards still standing by the carriage. They opened the door, and the king stepped out. Montegue. A hush ran through the crowd. Even from high in the tembris I could see the long slash across his face. The evidence of attempted regicide. But what I noticed more than his scar was another kind of transformation, all the way down to the way he walked. He was taller, stronger—even his shoulders seemed wider. His chest puffed out with power. This was not the incompetent farmer I had known. He ascended the stairs with confidence, looking older than he had just a few months ago. He raised his hand to the waiting crowd, and there was a shower of cheers. He paused midway on the stairs and seemed to take it in, his head turning as he skimmed the crowd. For a spare minute, he was wide out in the open, an easy shot for Synové, maybe even for Priya, but we still didn’t know where Kazi was. I swallowed the burning temptation to sweep down and kill him now.

He stepped up beside Banques, guards with shields taking positions all

around them. Sweat trickled down the side of my face. Just bring her out. I need to see her.

Gunner reached out and put a hand on my arm. I nodded. I was all right.

Montegue repeated some of the charges and piled on more, not giving any more details than Banques had, but then added, “The prisoner was given the opportunity to confess her treachery and receive the king’s mercy, but she refused, and for that this soldier and spy has sealed her fate.” He signaled guards standing by an enclosed cart. “Bring the prisoner forward. Let her meet justice.”

They opened the small door, and one soldier crawled halfway inside. It looked like he was struggling. Was Kazi resisting? And then he pulled her out. I got my first glimpse of my wife in weeks, and I knew immediately something was wrong.

She stumbled forward, and the guard caught her arm to keep her from falling.

Her hands weren’t tied. A Rahtan soldier being led to execution without being bound?

Guards on either side of her helped her up the steps. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see her face well, but she didn’t appear to be injured, though she was thin. Her cheekbones were more prominent. Had they been starving her? I looked at Paxton and Gunner. They nodded, ready.

Montegue stepped close to Kazi, whispering something, and then he lifted her face roughly. I couldn’t tell if her lips were moving or not, but Montegue jerked away angrily and ordered the two guards to take her across the skywalk to where the noose waited.

One of the guards centered her on the platform while the other reached over the rail and pulled a guideline to draw the noose near. It was time.

“Hang!” A voice called from the crowd, which served to make everyone in the plaza cheer in chorus. “Hang!” It echoed through the plaza and beyond—to at least three streets away, where Mason and Synové waited.

I readied myself, my boot firmly in the loop of the rope.

A blast sounded. There was no mistaking it was a launcher.

The king and Banques ducked low, soldiers covering them with their shields, while the soldiers on rooftops edged closer with their launchers raised, searching the streets. Soldiers on the streets turned, looking in all directions, and then right on the heels of the blast, before they could

regroup or make sense of what was happening, an ear-shattering explosion shook the ground. Buildings rattled, and an enormous black plume spiraled into the sky just past the plaza. Debris rained down. There were screams and pandemonium. Citizens ran, and soldiers sprinted everywhere. An attack seemed imminent, and Kazi was temporarily forgotten.

And that was when I jumped.

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