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Chapter no 54 – JASE

Vow of Thieves (Dance of Thieves, #2)

I burst in, Kazi limp in my arms, and I called for the healer, rushing through one room to the next. Everyone pointed in different directions, uncertain where she was.

“That way.”

“She’s in the sickroom.” “Over there?”

“Maybe in the kitchen.” “Let me carry her for you.”

“No!” I stumbled into the kitchen. Everyone had stood by now, already hearing the commotion as I ran through the vault, and when they spotted Kazi in my arms, the center table was swept clean. I laid Kazi across it, and my mother and the healer rushed over.

“She’s been bitten by ashti! She needs the antidote! Do you have it?” “Someone get my bag from the sickroom!” Rhea ordered, then pushed

me away to examine Kazi. She shook her head as she looked at the wounds and discoloring on Kazi’s arms, legs, and chest, then felt her wrist for a pulse. “Her heart is racing like a rabbit’s. How long ago did this happen?”

“I don’t know. Maybe days ago.”

She looked at my mother. I recognized that look. It was the same one she had given my mother when my father was on his deathbed.

“No!” I said. “She’ll make it!”

“No one said she wouldn’t,” Rhea replied. “We’ll do what we can. Now let me work.”

The antidote had to be coaxed down Kazi’s throat, drop by drop. Some spilled out from the corner of her mouth and had to be spooned back in. Long minutes passed just trying to get the three thimblefuls of medicine into her. Rhea gently rubbed Kazi’s throat, trying to encourage her muscles

to swallow. She was dehydrated too, and water was given in the same manner, one slow drop at a time.

“Give us a little privacy now,” Rhea said to everyone in the room. “I need to clean the wounds.”

Everyone left but me and my mother. My mother brought warm water from the hearth, and she and Rhea began carefully washing and searching Kazi’s whole body for bites, even the bottoms of her feet. But the one thing we noticed right away were the bruises everywhere. Her whole left side was a dozen shades of blue and purple. Paxton had told me she’d fallen down a rocky canyon wall and then had been on the run for days before she was recaptured. After cleaning the wounds on her arm and thigh, Rhea said, “They’re deep, but they won’t need stitching. And this one here…” She pressed on the one-inch scar on Kazi’s abdomen. “This is from something else. A knife, I suspect.” She shook her head as she covered her back up. “What this girl has been through.”

“Let’s move her to my pallet. It’s more private there. She can rest,” my mother suggested, then looked at me. I saw the terror in her eyes, the questions she had just had time to consider. I had come back alone.

“I don’t know where the others are,” I said. “We had to split up. They’ll be here, though.” It was all I could give her for now. I scooped Kazi into my arms and carried her to the small room off the kitchen.

We’ll do what we can. How long ago did this happen?

I lay on the pallet beside her. Holding her. Keeping her warm. Talking to her. Doing everything I could to keep her in this world.

I stared at her face. Her lashes. Ran my thumb over a bruise on her cheek.

I kissed her lips. “Wake up, Ambassador Brightmist. We still have work to do.”

She didn’t stir.

 

 

Four hours. Six hours. Eight hours passed. The vault was stifling with the tension of waiting. Waiting for Kazi to wake. Waiting for the others to return. There was no word from anyone. What had become of Priya,

Paxton, Wren, and Gunner? Four against ten. For all the time Priya spent alone in an office with numbers, she could be fierce, but I wasn’t sure how adept Paxton was at anything, though long ago he had flipped me into a well without much effort. I never thought I would find that comforting.

Finally, just after dark, there was banging on the cave wall. We all ran to the door. It was Wren and Gunner. They were both covered with blood.

“Not ours,” Wren said as she marched in. “Where’s Kazi?”

Gunner was right behind her, holding his arm. “Mostly not ours,” he added. He had a gash on his upper arm.

I took Wren to see Kazi and explained what the healer had said. Wren knelt beside her and rested her head on Kazi’s chest. “Tantay mior, ra mézhan,” she said softly.

I knew one of the words.

Kazi had taught me the Vendan words for wife and husband. Shana and

tazerem.

She taught me the other words for family too.

Ra mézhan. My sister.

 

 

Gunner and Wren had washed up and changed at Judith’s urging. The blood frightened the children and probably everyone else too. Wren’s hair dripped, and her face was nearly scrubbed clean of the Kbaaki stain, but some of the blue dye still circled her eye. Jurga had said the dye wouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks, especially if we washed. They sat at the kitchen table now, eating soup and telling the rest of us seated around them what had happened, while Rhea demanded that Gunner hold still so she could properly clean and stitch his arm.

“We split up as planned,” Gunner said. Five had come after them, and they assumed the other five went after Priya and Paxton. They managed to stay ahead of the soldiers for a few miles. Gunner knew the forest better than they did and finally reached a rock formation he had been heading for.

“We circled around and ambushed them from behind,” Wren said.

Gunner winced as Rhea scrubbed his wound. “She took down four. I took one.”

“Four?” Tiago asked.

“Imara gave us some fine throwing knives,” Wren explained. “And I put them to good use.”

My mother came back from checking on Kazi. “But no sign of Priya or Paxton?”

“Priya knows the forest as well as I do,” Gunner answered. “They’ll be fine.” But his reply was too fast, like the worry was forefront in his mind too.

We all knew it was about more than just knowing the forest. It was the odds too—and who was fighting them. Gunner had Wren on his side. Priya had Paxton.

I went back to check on Kazi and get a few more drops of water into her. I talked to her, told her the riddle she had asked me to repeat so often, and then told her Wren was here, “In case you didn’t hear her come in.” I brushed the hair from her face. “Hamir, ra shana. Please.”

As I laid her back on her pallet, there was loud banging on the cave wall.

In code.

My mother and I got to the door first. I spun the wheel and threw it open. It was Paxton, and he was alone.

My mother sucked in a broken breath. “Where’s Priya?” I asked.

“She’s coming. Unsaddling the horses. She lost the bet.” “Bet?” I said.

“Who would take down the first soldier.” “You had time for bets?” my mother snapped.

He walked past us and into the kitchen, collapsing into a chair. His face was streaked with dirt, and his whole left side was soaked with blood. “Just a flesh wound,” he said. “I think.”

“He was showing off,” Priya interjected, coming in just behind him. “Tried to take on two at the same time.”

We all stared at her. Her hair was wild and tangled around her shoulders, her face as grimy and blood-spattered as Paxton’s. She shrugged. “Okay, so he’s lousy at knots, but he knows his way around a sword. Up on the table, genius. You’re going to need sewing up. Where’s Rhea?”

Rhea appeared in the doorway. First she sighed and then she cursed. She was weary of patching people back together.

 

 

Late in the night, the next crew rolled in. I thought it would be the last, but it was only Titus, Samuel, Aram, and Hawthorne—along with some unexpected extras—Aleski, Imara, and their mother, Beata. Aleski had been spotted by soldiers grabbing a launcher so they all had to run. Mason and Synové were notably absent from the group. Titus said they had never shown up at the ruin. He suggested that maybe they had a hard time getting out of town. Or they’ve been caught. He didn’t say it but I knew we all thought it. My mother held her swollen belly. In one day, how many sons and daughters would she have to fear for?

I led her to a chair. “Sit,” I said. “Please. You can hear everything from there.”

They dumped their haul onto the table, and we looked it over. As Priya, Titus, and Wren had been shooting soldiers from roofs, the rest had been waiting below to gather up the launchers that had fallen with them. They had managed to hide eight launchers beneath their cloaks. But five of them had no ammo.

“Jackasses,” Hawthorne hissed.

My small bag of ammo would be stretched thin.

But at least Rhea didn’t have anyone to stitch this time. At least not until Mason and Synové showed up. If they showed up.

And finally, late the next morning, they did.

Like everyone else, as soon as they came in, they asked about Kazi. Synové dropped a bag she was carrying and ran to her. Mason dropped his launcher and followed.

Gunner walked over to the bag Synové dropped and looked inside. His brows shot up. “Ammo,” he said. “A lot of it. It looks like at least twenty loads.”

When Mason and Synové returned, the questions started. “Where have you been?” Priya demanded first.

Mason glanced at Synové, then back at Priya. “We had to lie low for a while.”

“We found a ruin to hunker down in. There were soldiers everywhere, you know? Luckily it was nice and cozy while we waited them out.”

Nice and cozy? I eyed Mason. “What about the loads? Where’d you get them?”

Mason rubbed his head. “She had this crazy idea that we could get some out of the icehouse before we blew it up. She wouldn’t let up.”

Synové’s brows pulled down defensively. “When opportunity knocks, you don’t go punching it in the face.”

They told us that they had been hiding in position for hours waiting for the hanging to begin. They could hear the crowds gathering a few streets away, but everything where they were was quiet as a graveyard. The soldier guarding the icehouse from the roof with a launcher ambled over to the other side, they guessed so he could catch a glimpse of the hanging.

“And those soldiers on the ground around the icehouse?” Synové said. “Pffft! All they had were a few measly swords and halberds.”

Mason’s mouth pulled in a smirk. “Turns out her aim with knives is as good as it is with arrows.”

Wren’s hands slapped the table. “Imara’s knives!”

“Yes!” Synové answered, and the two began excitedly chattering about their qualities, forgetting about the rest of us. They drew Imara into their conversation.

Mason looked at me, bits of straw stuck in the thick ropes of his hair— maybe from lying low in the ruin. “I know it wasn’t in the plan, but—”

“When opportunity knocks, you get nice and cozy with it, right?” Mason grimaced. “It’s not what you think—”

“Come on, brother,” I said and put my hand on his shoulder. “Sit down. What you did was smart. Well, I assume most if it was, anyway. We need every—”

Patrei?” It was Judith. She stood in the doorway. “It’s Kazi. She’s stirring. Talking in her sleep. I think she’s coming to.”

It didn’t matter that Judith had only come for me. Everyone followed me through the door.

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