Dance of Thieves (Dance of Thieves 1) - Page 58

In a short time, as promised, I was delivered back to Jase and our tour of Hell’s Mouth continued. He walked closely beside me, his shoulder occasionally brushing mine, his hand sometimes at the small of my back, directing me down one avenue or another. His close proximity was orchestrated, a subtle signal to all who watched and a confirmation that the rumors were true. Everyone could plainly see that it was, after all, the Rahtan soldier from Venda who had ended up being arrested—by the charm of the Patrei.

I noticed Jase’s ease when he spoke with the townspeople, how he knew the details of their lives and they knew his, how an old shopkeeper pinched his chin because he was one of the untamable Ballenger boys she had chased or chastised multiple times.

“So you were trouble as a child too?” I said.

“Probably less trouble than you.”

I didn’t admit to him that he was probably right.

But even with the pinching of his chin, the playful wagging of a finger, or the ruffling of hair, which he was far too old for but endured with a strained smile, there was an undeniable regard for his position too. Patrei, good to see you. Patrei, taste my powdered srynka. Patrei, meet my new son, and a baby would be shoved into Jase’s arms. He was new to this part of his role, and he would awkwardly hold the squalling child, dutifully kiss its forehead, and hand it back. I learned it was a custom here for the Patrei to pledge to protect and care for every child in the city—the same way the first Ballenger leader had.

I had seen the merchants and citizens at Sanctum City nervously pander to the Komizar when he walked the narrow lanes of Venda. What I saw here wasn’t fear—except when they spoke of recent troubles. After mentioning the recent spate of fires, a store clerk said he had heard rumors of caravan raids and wondered about the flow of supplies to the city. Jase assured him they were only false reports and nothing more. All was well and under control.

I studied every avenue we passed out of habit. You never knew when one of them could become an escape route. I also scanned the shadows for Wren and Synové.

“You might try to smile once in a while,” Jase said, nodding back at someone we had just passed.

“Of course,” I answered. “But I’m afraid that will cost you, Jase Ballenger. Everything comes with a price, you know? The Vendan settlement could use a few more short horns. Or maybe a root cellar? Do you like to dig, Patrei?”

“I’m afraid that by the end of the day you will be costing me far more than a root cellar.”

I smiled, wide and deliberate. “You can count on it. Dig deep in your pockets. I have many more of these smiles to toss about.”

His hand slid around my waist, drawing me closer, and my pulse raced in an uneven beat when his lips brushed my ear. “Be careful,” he whispered, “I just might cost you something too.”

A breath skipped through my chest. You already have. More than you know.

The truth was, it was easy to smile, and it was more work not to. I drank in the smells, sights, and sounds of the city like I’d been offered a sweet nectar. If the brisk ride had made me feel alive and above this world, the streets here made me feel grounded. They were busy and familiar.

Jase told me the story of the tembris, the great trees that were like none I had ever seen. Legend said they sprouted from a shattered star that plummeted to the earth during the devastation. The stars carried magic from another world, which is why the trees reached back toward the heavens. It was a tall Ballenger story I could almost believe, and

I loved that the giant trees created a shadowy maze that made the city itself blink with magic. Every corner came alive, ever changing, exhilarating, and I memorized these details, too. Attention to detail was another sort of magic. It had helped me survive on the streets of Venda, and as I walked, I heard a familiar ghost tutoring me, watch, my chiadrah.

My beloved.

My everything.

Chiadrah, the crooning name she called me as often as she had Kazi. I had been her world. Watch and you will find the magic.

It had been her lesson to me after I heard other children talking about the great gift of the lady Venda. They said that her magical sight that helped the early Vendans was from a time past. They said that the gods had abandoned us and now magic was dead.

My mother shook her head furiously, denying it. There is magic in everything, only you must watch for it. It does not come from spells or potions or the sky, nor by special delivery of the gods. It is all around you.

She had taken my shivering hands and clasped them between hers.

You must find the magic that warms your skin in winter, the magic that perceives what cannot be seen, the magic that curls in your gut with fierce power and will not let you give up, no matter how long or cold the days.

She had taken me to the jehendra and told me to watch carefully.

Hear the language that isn’t spoken, Kazi, the breaths, the pauses, the fisted hands, the vacant stares, the twitches and tears, for everyone can hear spoken words, but only a few can hear the heart that beats behind them.

Like wish stalks, my mother would not let me stop believing in magic—the hope it held. She was the one who taught me to discern, in a glimpse, the danger or opportunity that was not just in my path, but well beyond it. It almost became a game. Where is the anger? Do you feel the air? Who is coming? Every day, she made me see in a deeper way, as if she knew one day she wouldn’t be there for me, as if she knew something as precious as her love for me would not go unnoticed by the gods, and they would snatch it away like a jealous merchant.

Make a wish, Kazi, one for tomorrow, for the next day, and the next. One will always come true.

Because if I could believe in tomorrow or the next day, maybe that would give the magic time to come true. Or better, maybe by then I wouldn’t need the magic at all.

“This way,” Jase said, guiding me down another avenue. I saw him eye some men at the far end of the street. His demeanor changed and his pace slowed. I asked who they were.

Tags: Mary E. Pearson Dance of Thieves Fantasy
Source: Copyright 2016 - 2023