“There must be a few well-to-do families. She said her father’s a governor and her mother a general.”
He shrugged doubtfully. “It’s possible, I guess.”
I asked why a ten-year-old among thousands would stand out for him. He shook his head. “Don’t know. But I’ll place her eventually. Faces are what I’m good at—even if she was just a kid at the time.”
“Seven years, seven inches, and”—Priya gestured toward her chest—“plenty of new curves tend to transform a girl.”
Garvin nodded in agreement. “But the eyes—those don’t change. Something about hers sticks. The fire in them. That girl has burned people.” He pushed his chair back from the table. “I’ll see you tonight. Maybe it will come to me by then.” He tipped his hat and left.
Priya circled her finger in the air to the barkeep for another round of ale then leaned forward with a warning glare at Mason, clapping her hand over the spoon he kept spinning to keep him quiet. She looked back at me. “Up until her little disappearance, she did well today. We were following in your trail, and everyone we talked to mentioned her. Apparently she pulled a coin out of the ear of the baker’s daughter? They were both impressed.”
I laughed. “Yes, so was I. The girl tripped and was crying over a scraped knee, but Kazi was able to captivate her with a shiny coin she magically found hiding in her ear. The tears were forgotten.” I thought about how Kazi didn’t hesitate, how she shed her tough exterior, and knelt down to eye level with the girl. Kindness was a default for Kazi, even if she wouldn’t admit it, especially when it came to children.
“Well, Nash and Lydia both think she’s better than a holiday trifle. All I heard this morning was Kazi this and Kazi that. When we popped in to the tailor today, she juggled brass thimbles for them and gave them a lesson on how to do it too. Get ready for some broken dishes at home.” Her eyes suddenly widened. “And speaking of dishes, you hired a cook? What were you thinking? Aunt Dolise was grumbling around this morning. That’s her domain, you know?”
“The Patrei can’t hire a cook? We needed another one. She’s always grumbling about that too. There are a lot of people to feed at Tor’s Watch, not just the family. I happened to be there just as the guards at the gate were turning a cook away this morning—a vagabond woman looking for work, along with her husband. They’ll start tomorrow at Riverbend. Aunt Dolise will still have her kitchen, but some extra help too, when she needs it.” What I didn’t tell Priya was that I asked the woman if she knew how to make sage cakes—the vagabond food that Kazi had said could bring her to her knees. When the woman said it was her specialty, I hired her on the spot. Her husband too. She said he was handy with a knife in the kitchen.
“Well, you should have run it by Aunt Dolise first,” Priya complained. “Being Patrei doesn’t win you any kind of points with her, and there are two kinds of people you don’t want on your bad side—those who guard your back, and those who fill your stomach”
“I’ll smooth it over with her.”
Priya shot me a smirk. “Sure you will.” Priya knew Aunt Dolise turned to a pat of butter when any of us boys wandered into the kitchen looking for something to eat.
“The dressmaker was impressed with Kazi too,” she said. “Good job on whatever you did today to keep her in line. It worked.”
I frowned. “She’s not a trained dog, Priya. She doesn’t jump at my bidding.”
“Everyone in this town jumps at your bidding now, Jase. Get used to it. The important thing is, after seeing her walk so compliantly beside you, everyone we passed thinks we’ve now achieved the upper hand with Venda.”
“Maybe not everyone,” I said.
“You saw Rybart and Truko?” Mason asked.
I nodded. “And I didn’t like that they were walking together.”
“I saw them talking to Paxton too,” Priya said. “When did they all get so cozy?”
It was a question that didn’t need answering. We knew. They became cozy the day our father died. They might all hate each other in the end, but for now they’d use whomever they could to oust the Ballengers.
“I don’t like that they’re still here,” Priya added. “Paying respects is one thing. Don’t they have businesses to run?”
“I think that’s exactly what they’re doing,” I answered. “Attending to a new kind of business. Getting rid of us.”
“At least we have the Rahtan in custody. We don’t have to worry about them anymore,” Mason said.
“Technically, we don’t have them in custody,” I reminded him. “They’re guests. Remember that.”
Mason raised a dubious brow. I had him place guards in the tembris skywalks above the inn. They weren’t exactly tails, but they were watching for suspicious activity. As long as Wren and Synové did nothing suspicious, we had no problems.
“What did you think of them?” I asked. Mason had escorted and questioned them along the way to the inn.
Mason snorted. “They’re a strange pair. Wren, the skinny one, didn’t have much to say, but Samuel and Aram were way too preoccupied with her scowls. We need to get those boys out more often. And the other one—” Mason shook his head. “She never stops talking, but not a word she said amounted to anything important, even when I asked her questions.” He leaned forward, a mystified expression on his face. “She talked about my shirt. She knew everything about how the fabric was woven and where the buttons were made—and then she played a game guessing my height the whole way there. I think she was trying to make me smile. I didn’t like any of it. Like I said, an odd pair of soldiers, but I doubt they had anything to do with the fires. I’m guessing they were just hiding out because Kazi disappeared. And now of course, they’re eager to hang around and see the settlement rebuilt. They mentioned that several times too.”
Priya huffed out a disapproving sigh. “Are you really going to do that?”
“We gave our word,” I said. “And I’ve already ordered the supplies.”