Dance of Thieves (Dance of Thieves 1) - Page 21


At least there was some degree of honesty in him.

* * *

When we came upon a brook in the afternoon, we stopped to rest. The forest was thinning and there was little shade, the sun unforgiving. Jase said he thought we’d soon be out of the forest altogether and crossing the open plateau of Heethe. I looked up, judging the sun’s place in the sky. Only a few hours of daylight left. The cool of night would be welcome, but the prospect of an open plateau, a wide night sky, and sleeping without a tent was already a beast running a warning claw down my back. A tent. It was ludicrous to think of that now. Get a grip on yourself, Kazi, I thought, but it wasn’t that simple and never had been. It was not something I could just talk myself out of no matter how many times I tried.

“Maybe we should stop here for the night?” I suggested.

Jase squinted at the sun. “No. We can get a few more hours of walking in.”

I reluctantly nodded. I knew he was right—the sooner to the settlement, the sooner I got back to Hell’s Mouth so the others would know I was still alive and the whole mission wasn’t abandoned. He was eager to get there too. In spite of dragging a three-foot length of chain between us, his pace had never lagged until he noted my limp. Bu

t sleeping out there, utterly exposed … it would be hard enough to sleep under the cover of these skimpy trees as it was. A loose breath skittered through my lungs.

I dipped my hands into the brook, splashing my face, taking a drink and picturing myself a week from now, back in the middle of a crowded city. Jase knelt beside me, and fully dunked his head in the shallow water, scrubbing his face and neck. When he surfaced and smoothed back his hair, I saw the gash over his brow from when the hunters trapped him. The cut was small and the dried blood that had crusted his face was gone now, but it made me wonder why he had wanted me to follow him down that empty street in Hell’s Mouth. What had been his plan for me before he had been intercepted by the hunters? I didn’t think it was to share a cup of tea.

I rinsed my neck and arms with more cool water, wishing the brook was deep enough to take a whole bath, but then I caught the silver flash of something even better. “Minnows!” A few feet away, dozens of shiny minnows darted in a dark pool of water created by a cluster of rocks.

“Dinner?” Jase said, his tone hopeful. We hadn’t come across any berries or fungus or even a squirrel to spear with our walking sticks. Our only prospect for dinner had been water, so the fish, however small, lifted my spirits, and it seemed, his too. But catching the slippery angels was another matter.

“Take off your shirt,” I said. “We can each hold a side of the fabric and corral them. We’ll use it as a net.”

He eagerly pulled his shirt over his head, and my excitement for the minnows was replaced with discomfort, wondering if I should look away, but we were chained in close proximity and a strange curiosity took hold. He held his shirt in his hand and I watched the water dripping from his hair trickle down, traversing his chest, abdomen, and the muscles that defined them. I swallowed. It explained the force of his punch when he killed the hunter, and his grip when he pulled me into his arms in the river and held me against him. A winged tattoo fluttered over his right shoulder, across his chest and down his arm. My mouth suddenly felt dry. Synové would have plenty to say about this if she were here, but my thoughts and words stalled on my tongue. He caught me staring.

“It’s part of the Ballenger crest,” he said.

Now it was me who was flustered, and I felt my cheeks flush warm.

He lifted his hand to the corner of his mouth, trying to stifle a smile, which only made me squirm more. I snatched his shirt from his hand. “Let’s catch some dinner, shall we?”



It took several tries to catch the slimy bastards. They were clever and easily darted past our makeshift net, but together we eventually perfected our technique, sneaking forward in unison, allowing the fabric to billow so we could scoop them up. I hooted when we snagged our first catch of two, and with several more sweeps we had a few dozen of the skinny, four-inch fish piled on the bank. They weren’t much, but right now my stomach thought they looked like a juicy roasted pig.

“Cooked or raw?” she asked as she lifted one to her mouth.

I pushed her hand down before she could eat it. “Cooked,” I said firmly, not trying to hide my disgust. The last thing I’d had in my stomach was a barrel of ale, and squirming fish were not going to swim in it.

“Don’t look at me like I’m a savage,” she snapped.

“We simply have different eating tastes, and mine include dead game.” I worked on the fire while she began skewering the fish onto two sticks for roasting.

As the minnows sizzled over the fire, she looked at my chest again, this time leisurely, not looking away when I noticed. “Is that an eagle?” she asked.

“Part of one.”

“Tell me about the crest. What does it stand for?” she asked. “I didn’t know you even had one.”

Of course she didn’t. She knew nothing about us. “It’s hard to tell you about the crest without telling the whole Ballenger history, and I doubt you want to hear that considering your low opinion of us.”

“Try me. I like history.”

I shot her a skeptical glance. But she sat there attentive and waiting.

“It began with the first Ballenger, the leader of all the Ancients.”

Tags: Mary E. Pearson Dance of Thieves Fantasy
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