Dance of Thieves (Dance of Thieves 1) - Page 80

An exit? I had imagined something far more sinister on the other side of the door, like a large dark room with Illarion sitting in the center of it hiding from the world. I thought back to the ambassador I had mistakenly stabbed, and the face I had searched for over and over again that never materialized. I wondered if the captain could be an elusive ghost too, not hiding behind any doors, as far from this world as the face that haunted me.

The thin line of light I saw could have been from sunlight shining behind it. And I had felt a draft coming from beneath it. Maybe it added up. Maybe it was a simple portal, guarded by dogs just as the front gates were.

“When we get back, I’ll show you. There isn’t time now.”

I nodded. Pushing the point would reveal I had been searching for something and not just lost, and since he was open to showing me, it didn’t appear that he was hiding anything.

But when we reached the main tunnel, I noticed there was a guard stationed at the entrance who hadn’t been there before.

“A new guard?” I asked.

“There’s always been a guard posted here. He must have just stepped away when you passed by yesterday.”

* * *

With every mile we traveled, the tension grew thicker. Jase rode ahead with his brothers. More followed behind us—straza and drivers with empty wagons to haul Vendans and their belongings to the new site. Jalaine and Priya had wanted to come too, but Jase said he needed their muscle keeping an eye on the books and trades at the arena more than he needed them stringing together chicken coops or digging fence posts.

Even Aram and Samuel, who were by far the most convivial of the boys, were stiff-backed and mostly silent. They had only looked back at Wren once. It was clear now that what Jase wanted me to understand this morning was that though the Ballengers would fulfill their end of the agreement, they weren’t going to pretend to be happy about it.

“It should be quite a jolly time when we dish up dinner tonight,” Synové quipped. Jase had insisted Wren and Synové come too, as additional buffers between the Ballengers and settlers.

It was difficult for the three of us to talk freely as we rode. A brisk wind at our backs carried our words forward.

“Looks like you’ve lost some admirers,” I whispered.

Wren snorted like she didn’t care.

“Did you ever figure out who was who?” I asked.

“Easy,” Wren answered. “Samuel has longer lashes than Aram. From the back, it’s all about hair curl.” She motioned to the boys riding on either side of Mason. “Samuel on right. Aram on left.”

Both of them had straight hair.

Synové and I looked at each other, mystified, then laughed.

As disgruntled as the Ballenger boys were about the day, Synové was ebullient. She didn’t worry about her voice being carried, and in fact, that was sometimes entirely her point. She talked about the extreme foolishness of keeping poisonous dogs, the superiority of Vendan steel, and how perfectly well her dress fit last night, as smooth as butter. Most of her taunts were aimed at Mason. He completely ignored her, but his reactions could still be seen in the tilt of his head, as if he was working to get a kink out of his neck. She talked about his finesse as a dancer, that he would be good if it wasn’t for his four feet. They were quite large and always getting in the way.

“And look at that,” Synové said loudly. “I wish someone would make him stop. He can’t keep his eyes off me!”

Mason predictably shook his head in frustration, certainly counting the miles until we reached the settlement. We all silently giggled.

As we neared the Vendan settlement midmorning, Jase galloped back to where I rode. It was agreed that he should approach the settlement with me at his side, while his brothers and the rest hung back—including his straza—so we didn’t look like a hostile army descending upon them.

“It’s time. We’re getting close,” he said, and I rode forward with him.

His jaw was clenched. This went against everything he believed. He saw it as rewarding people who had trespassed.

“Remember, Jase. It’s not officially your land. It’s part of the Cam Lanteux and was granted to them by the King of Eislandia. They have a reason to be angry too.”

I knew it was a sore spot for him, but it had to be said. Just as he had wanted me to understand the mindset of his family this morning, I needed him to understand the mindset of Caemus and the others. He was not going to be greeted with open arms or gratitude.

He was silent and his eyes remained fixed on the rolling hills, waiting for the settlement to emerge from behind one of them.

“How’s your ankle?” he finally asked.

“Better than your jaw.”

He turned and looked at me. “What?”

Tags: Mary E. Pearson Dance of Thieves Fantasy
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