He must have seen something in my expression. “She loves you too, brother. Don’t worry. I’m sure of it. No one puts on an act that good.”
I thought so too, but tonight I had seen hatred in her eyes. Even through tears, it was as pure and hot as molten glass. She and I never said the word love. It was a strange agreement between us and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it had started out in the wilderness. Everything about it was so temporary. But I had felt it growing then. What is this, Kazi? Because even then it felt like more, something lasting and sure. I know she felt it too. But there had been the secrets between us. I had lied about the settlement. She had lied to me about—
No one puts on an act that good. I looked back at Mason. “You didn’t trust her when you first met her. What about now?”
He put his last forkful of cake into his mouth and washed it down with the rest of his milk. “It’s hard not to trust someone when they’ve put their life on the line for you. They all did.”
He stood, gathering his dishes and taking them to the sink. “Maybe tonight was off because Kazi was rattled by seeing the Previzi, and Synové and Wren were trying to fill all the gaps with talk. When Synové gets anxious, that’s what she does. They’re a close crew.”
He was right. They were. And tonight, when I couldn’t find Kazi, I couldn’t find them either. I had gone to their rooms, trying to find her.
I stood and grabbed my dishes. “Go on to bed. I’ll wash these. We’ll talk more in the morning about Zane.”
Mason left and I turned the tap, hot water splashing into the sink. Hot running water was a feature my grandfather had added to Tor’s Watch. I had never thought much about it before. I had no heat. No hot baths. I saw everything through her eyes now. I had known Venda was poor, and Garvin had said Brightmist was the poorest quarter, and I had known her upbringing had been difficult but even my imagination hadn’t plumbed the lonely depths she had to scrabble through. No one cared if I lived or died.
Maybe that was what was off. Me. Because every word she had said ate through me like a worm. I retraced our steps in the wilderness, seeing it differently, her feverish focus as we walked across an open plain, her dizzy steps when she looked up into a star-filled sky.
If Zane was responsible for this, he would pay.
After I put the dishes away, I paused, looking at the storage room just off the kitchen where the medicines were kept. I unlocked it and went inside. Vials and flasks, pouches and dried herbs were neatly ordered along the shelves. With so many at Tor’s Watch—both family and workers—we kept a lot of remedies on hand. I found the canister labeled Birchwings—the one Wren had asked about. It was full. Enough to knock out half of Hell’s Mouth. I thought about Mason’s question again, Why would she want that much? My reply to him, that she wanted to take it back to Venda, seemed like a reasonable one. We had unusual merchandise from all over the continent here. There were probably a lot of wonders in Hell’s Mouth that they would like to take back with them. Birchwings was only one of them.
When I left, I checked the lock on the door. It would be an easy five minutes for a common thief.
And less than that for an uncommon one.
It was late morning, and fresh, sweet hay perfumed the air. The groom whistled as he went about his work, and swallows darted through the rafters with morning meals for noisy hatchlings, a morning that at first glance was deceptively brushed with the perfect colors of a painting. But looking closer, I saw the frayed halter hanging from a nail, the rotten post on the first stall, the tail of a rat in the woodpile. I wondered if there were always things we didn’t see, only because we chose not to look too closely. I had replayed yesterday over and over again in my mind.
The staggering lies.
Jase’s angry face when he called me Ten.
But something else woke me from my sleep last night. The laughter. I heard the captain and the rest of them, laug
hing. The clink of their glasses. It needled through me, but I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was just the shock of seeing them altogether—seeing far more than what I bargained for.
When the groom finished pitching hay into the stall, I ambled over, sizing up the wagon. It was a small hay wagon, which was an advantage. It would still hold six men but it would be easier to maneuver around the back side of Tor’s Watch over to the Greyson Tunnel trail. That path would draw the least attention. We couldn’t traipse through town, and on the back trail the cover of night would swallow us up. We could only count on a few hours’ lead time.
But hitching up a team of horses would be noisy. I looked at the groom’s cottage at the far end of the stables. His supper would have to come via Eben too. It would be laced with birchwings, the same as with the keeper for the dog kennels. If he was passed out, no dogs would be loosed. The birchwings would also keep our quarry of six quiet on the trail.
I had slipped into the storage room in the kitchen during the middle of the night. The lock had been child’s play. The small vial of birchwings that Wren had gotten for me still had two doses in it, which would take care of the groom and keeper, but I was going to need more. The full canister of birchwings was the solution but it was important that my theft wasn’t noticed, at least not until long after we were gone, so I had poured the birchwings into a pouch and put salt in its place. No one would notice the difference immediately, though the salt wouldn’t do much for a headache.
Wren and Synové rode in, dismounting and leading their horses into stalls. They’d been in town getting supplies together—spools of cording, more water skins, and dried food—presumably for our trip home in case anyone noticed. Though Synové was more than able to supply us with fresh game, it wouldn’t be safe to build a campfire for a while—at least not until we met up with Griz and the troops.
“Have you spoken with Jase?” Wren asked.
I shook my head. Last night I had stayed awake for hours waiting for a tap at my door, a creak outside it, a sense that he leaned against it, but nothing came. I opened it twice, imagining he was there. He wasn’t. He never did come. I had a dozen excuses to turn him away if he did, but I didn’t need any of them.
“Are you going to be all right?” Synové’s brows pulled low. There was concern in her voice but dogged anger also simmered in her eyes. Now that she knew Bahr was among the fugitives, this mission had become personal. Wren’s promise that the ride back would be torture seemed to be a goal that calmed her.
“Of course she’s all right,” Wren answered, then looked at me, waiting for me to confirm it.
“Yes,” I answered. And I was. I wasn’t sure if it was a relief or not, but when Jase said there were no drivers like the one I had described to him, I at least knew I wouldn’t turn a corner and run into him face-to-face. Not in the middle of all this, where I might jeopardize everything. I didn’t want to come undone the way Synové had last night when Wren and I had to hold her back. Too much was at stake. Knowing he wasn’t here allowed me to push thoughts of returning to the Previzi warehouse out of my mind and concentrate on what needed to be done.