Dance of Thieves (Dance of Thieves 1) - Page 82

“I have a decent knot. I’m lucky the little demon didn’t crack my kneecap.”

“I guess he’s the lucky one, getting off with digging fence posts.”

“It’ll be good for him. We’ll feed everyone first. They can’t dig on empty stomachs.” He reached around behind him and began rummaging through his pack. “I almost forgot. I meant to give this to you earlier.” He handed me a small lidded basket. “Go ahead. Open it.”

I pulled the lid off and gawked at the small square. “Is this what I think…” I put my nose close to take a deep whiff.

“Sage cake,” Jase confirmed.

“You remembered!” I broke off a corner and shoved it in my mouth. I moaned with pleasure. It was every bit as heavenly as I recalled. I licked the crumbs from my fingers. “Here,” I said, leaning over and popping a piece into his mouth. He nodded approval, swallowing, but clearly not loving it as much as I did. “How?” I asked. “Did Dolise—”

“No. I hired a new cook. You can thank her yourself when we get back to Tor’s Watch.”

* * *

We entered a wide, gentle valley. Low, forest-covered hills were on one side, a meandering river on the other, and dark lush grass not yet brown with summer waved beneath us. When I spotted the supply wagons in the distance, I knew this was the site. By now Caemus was riding at our sides, and we all paused, taking it in. It was breathtaking. Caemus got down from his horse and grabbed a spade from a wagon. He shoved it into the earth and turned it over, revealing a chunk of dark, rich, loamy soil. It crumbled easily as he passed the spade over it. I remembered him hoeing the hard clay ground at the other site.

He looked up at Jase, his expression stern. “Good soil.”

“I know,” Jase answered.

The rest of the Vendans poured out of the wagons, walking the rest of the way. I watched them stoop, feeling the ground, running their hands over the grass. The scent here was fresh and full of promise.

I got down from my horse too and walked in circles, taking in every view. A nearby forest for hunting and wood. A close abundant water source. Good soil and level land. Some stately oaks in the center to provide shade. I looked back at Jase, still in his saddle, my throat swelling. Caemus and I had both doubted him.

“It’s perfect, Jase. Perfect.”

“Not perfect. But they’ll get better production. And it’s a tucked-away valley. They won’t be bothered here.”

Like they were at the last site. I believed Jase, and I think maybe Caemus did too. It wasn’t the Ballengers who had attacked the settlers. But whoever did wanted it to look like them.

I watched the Vendans continuing to walk down the valley. I saw the wonder in their footsteps, and a different kind of wonder crept into me. This site was far superior to the last one. Was the Eislandian king really so inept and uninformed about the northern reaches that he randomly chose the old site? Was it only coincidence that it happened to be close to Tor’s Watch and in clear view of the Ballenger rock memorial? Or was it a deliberate choice, meant to stir trouble? To be a burr in the saddle of the family? Was that his revenge for not getting the full bounty of the taxes the Ballengers collected?

Jase surveyed the valley, calculations already spinning behind his eyes. He was far more invested in this than he would admit. The emotion that had swelled in my throat now crept to my chest.

What is this?

The answer was never as close to my lips as it was now.

“We should catch up,” he said. “There’s only a few good hours of daylight left, and I want to get some of the settlement layout established with Caemus. I have some ideas where the barn should go. And I promised you a fence post. I want to dig that much before I leave in the morning.”

“You have Kerry to help you now too.”

He rubbed his knee and his mouth twisted with a malevolent grin. “Yes, I’ll keep the little urchin busy.”



The last time we were there I had barely glanced at the settlement. When we’d rounded up the shorthorn in an outer pasture, my father had yelled, “We already warned you—our land, our air, our water. You trespass; you pay! We’ll be back for more if you stay.” We didn’t go back, and if we had, we would have taken only one more shorthorn. But someone did go back and took more. They took everything.

“Who did it? Find out!” I growled to Mason. He was the one who supervised the magistrates. One of them had to have seen or heard something.

The Ballengers were being attacked from all angles. Even if I disliked the Vendans, this was not their battle. They didn’t even know what they were being used for.

We had been struck silent when we first saw the destruction, but then rage had taken hold. As we walked up the hill to the rock monument, out of range of others who might hear us, everyone threw out possibilities of who had ravaged the settlement.

“Rybart and Truko,” Mason said. “They’d steal socks off a baby. This has their hands all over it.”

Tags: Mary E. Pearson Dance of Thieves Fantasy
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