Dance of Thieves (Dance of Thieves 1) - Page 28

“Yes,” he answered emphatically. I wasn’t sure if he was annoyed that it was the second time I had asked or simply unhappy that we’d be walking into the Casswell settlement—and Vendan territory—whether he liked it or not.

He continued to tell me more stories about Tor’s Watch that I had to admit fascinated me. I looked forward to them. This morning, he’d told me about Breda’s Tears, a series of seven cascading waterfalls in the Moro mountains. They were named for the goddess Breda who had come to earth and fallen in love with the mere mortal Aris. Their love was so great that new flowers sprang up in their footsteps, flowers more beautiful than any that the gods had ever created, and the gods became jealous. They forbade Breda from returning to earth, and when she disobeyed, they struck Aris dead. Her grief was so overwhelming that rivers of tears fell from the heavens, rushing down the mountains where they once walked, creating waterfalls that still flow to this day.

“And there are flowers that grow at the base of those waterfalls, that grow nowhere else on the mountain.”

“So it must be true,” I said.

He smiled. “Must be. I’ll show you one day.”

A clumsy silence fell. We both knew he would never show me, but his words had slipped out easily before he could stop them, as if he were talking to a friend.

There were more awkward moments.

Yesterday morning, I awoke to his arm slung over me, his chest nesting close to my back. He was unaware, probably seeking some warmth in his sleep. I lay there, not moving away, thinking about the weight of his arm, how it felt, the soft sound of his breaths, the heat of his skin. It was a reckless, indulgent minute, wondering what he dreamed of, and then sense flooded back in, and I carefully nudged his arm away before he woke up. I’d made a conscious effort not to touch him. I think he had done the same, but sleep had become its own thief, stealing away our intentions.

As we walked, I plied him with questions, sprinkled carefully so they would seem offhand and casual, mostly about Tor’s Watch. I learned it was a sprawling complex of homes and buildings that housed the offices of the Ballenger business empire. Their income came from multiple sources, but he didn’t tell me what they all were. When I thought he sensed I was digging, I changed the topic to something else, but I did learn that a hefty portion of their revenue came from the trading arena, a large exchange where buyers and sellers from all over the continent came to trade goods. It began with the grain grown in Eislandia, but with more trade opening up between the kingdoms since the new treaties, the arena had tripled in size every year since.

“Am I hearing this right?” I asked, laying on my thickest mocking tone. “You’re saying you have benefited from the new treaties?”

“In some ways. But not so much that we’re willing to give up who we are.”

He rubbed his bare finger just below the knuckle where his signet ring had once been. It was another tic I had noticed. He did it frequently when he talked of home. I imagined the struggle that had ensued when the hunter tried to take it from him. I was certain Jase hadn’t given it up easily. I supposed he was lucky he still had his finger at all.

I pushed my hand into the bottom of my pocket and fingered the warm circle of metal and wondered if I should give it to him, but it seemed too late now. He would wonder why I had taken it in the first place, and especially why it took me so long to hand it over. The keys I had taken for survival. The ring was for an entirely different reason.

In the year before the queen came, more of my stealing had become punitive. It was an angry tax I collected for answers I never received, and a retribution for all the fingertips of children taken by quarterlords and then fed to the swine. Most of the punitive thefts were for items that held no value. They could not fill a belly, but they filled me in other ways.

The smallest, most useless thing I ever stole was a shiny brass button that made the Tomac quarterlord so very proud. It protruded from his belly among a long line of shiny buttons on his jacket, a rare treasure he had bought from a Previzi driver. To me, they looked like fat golden rivets holding his belly in place. Stealing the middle button had ruined the entire showy effect. I had stalked him for a week, knowing just when he would pass down one small, crowded alley, throngs shoving against him, and I was there, my cap pulled low, my small curved blade in the palm of my hand. He didn’t know it was gone until he reached the end of the alley, and I heard his bellowing screech. I had smiled at the sweet sound. It was all the supper I needed.

Jase’s ring was just as useless to me as that button had been, and I had stolen it for the same reason. It was a symbol of power, a legacy they revered, and in one quiet move I had relegated it to the bottom of my dark, dirty pocket.



She had an intense curiosity, and I was happy to feed it with stories about Tor’s Watch, but when it came to her own life her words became reserved and calculated. Being chained to someone hour after hour, day after day, gives every pause a hidden weight. I dwelled on the details she wouldn’t share.

What had her life been like in Venda? Or maybe, more precisely, what had they done to her? She was not the result of happy, content parents. It was like she’d been held prisoner in a cellar her whole life. She flinched at sun and an open sky. As soon as we hit the Heethe plateau, she kept her eyes straight ahead on some distant point, her focus like steel, her shoulders rigid, like she carried a heavy pack on her back. When I pointed out an eagle soaring above us, she barely gave it a glance.

I turned the conversation back to something that she seemed confident about—being a soldier. She told me about the various weapons that were forged for the Rahtan, the knives, ziethes, swords, rope darts, crossbows, and more. The fortre

ss Keep assessed what best suited their strengths. Her sword and knives were presented to her by the queen when she became Rahtan.

“Have you ever used them?”

She raised a brow. “You mean, have I ever killed anyone? Yes. Only two so far. I try to avoid it if I can.”

If I can. She said it so casually, unruffled, the same girl who I had to coax riddles from each night so she could sleep under an open sky.

“Who did you kill?” I asked.

“Raiders,” she answered. A frown pulled at the corner of her mouth as if she was still disgusted by the encounter. “We were rear guard on a supply train. They didn’t see us hanging back. That was the point. But we saw them. What about you? Have you ever killed anyone?”

I nodded. Far more than three, but I didn’t tell her how many and I was glad she didn’t ask.

More than once, she caught me studying her. I tried to focus on the landscape, but my eyes drifted back to her again and again. She fascinated me, her contradictions, her secrets, and the girl that sometimes surfaced from beneath her tough soldier exterior, like when she spotted the wish stalks on the bank. The girl who forgot who I was and pressed a wish stalk to my ankle. In another world, another circumstance, I think we might have been friends. Or more.

I knew that I spent more time wondering about her than I should.

Tags: Mary E. Pearson Dance of Thieves Fantasy
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