Kalan Hawksword had discovered a great deal about herself in the past few days. And a great deal about her friends and family, people she thought she knew almost as well as herself. She’d learned her Uncle Mahkas had a capacity for cruelty that defied reason and that her brother, Damin, wasn’t nearly as asinine as she’d feared. She had learned her cousin Leila was capable of taking her own life out of despair, and that the coolest head in a crisis that she had ever encountered was Tejay Lionsclaw. She had learned Rorin Mariner’s healing power had severe limits and that if you asked the gods for help, you’d better be prepared for the consequences if they said yes.
But mostly, she’d learned nothing was ever as simple or straightforward as it seemed.
Kalan glanced furtively along the narrow, crooked street before knocking on the door of the safe house. She wore a plain cloak over her silken gown to hide its obvious quality, but she suspected it meant little down here where the very air smelled of watchful suspicion. Although she’d left her horse with its silver-trimmed tack and imported Medalonian saddle back at the stables of the Pickpocket’s Retreat and walked the few streets to the safe house, strangers were noticed down here in the back streets of the Beggar’s Quarter. The locals might not know who she was, but they were certain she didn’t belong here.
Fyora opened the door for her. Wiping her muddy feet on the coir mat, Kalan slipped into the small, unremarkable house as Fee closed and locked the door behind her. The court’esa’s face was grim as she pushed past Kalan and the narrow staircase into the dim main room with its barely adequate fire. Two narrow benches were lined up at right angles to the hearth and a rough wooden table with three stools was shoved against the wall on her right, but there was no sign of Starros. For a moment Kalan feared the worst. Before she could say anything, however, she heard something breaking in the other room and raised voices. Turning to Fyora, she raised her brow with a questioning look.
“He’s not happy,” Fee remarked unnecessarily.
“Would you be happy waking up to find the woman you love is dead and your friends have sold your soul to the God of Thieves?”
Fee shrugged. “In Starros’s place, I’m not sure what I’d be feeling right now.”
Fyora didn’t seem all that interested in discussing it further. She left Kalan standing in the small front room, disappearing through another door near the staircase. The smell of something delicious cooking wafted in from the kitchen when she pushed open the door, and then faded again as it swung shut behind her. A few seconds later the door to the other room flew open and slammed against the wall, making the whole house shake. Starros stalked toward the front door, clearly planning to leave the house, but he stopped when he saw Kalan.
“Come to check on your handiwork, I suppose?” he asked, his voice heavy with scorn. “Take a good look, Kalan. You must be feeling very proud of yourself. See! Not a mark! Of course, I don’t seem to own a soul any longer, but what the hell? Who needs a soul, anyway?”
He was right about his remarkable recovery. Three days ago they’d brought him here on a stretcher on the very brink of death—broken, bloodied and barely recognisable. The young man standing before her now was whole and unmarked, showing no sign of Mahkas’s days of torture and beatings. But the cost had been prohibitive. It was obvious Starros was just beginning to understand that.
Wrayan emerged from the other room behind him and stopped in the doorway, leaning against the frame, his arms crossed. He looked weary. “There’s no point getting angry at Kalan,” he said. “It’s not her fault.”
“You told Leila I was dead!” Starros accused. “She was your friend. How could you do that to her? To us?”
“I’m so sorry, Starros,” Kalan replied, tears welling in her eyes. She didn’t need Starros to remind her how much of the blame she carried for Leila’s suicide. “Mahkas made me . . .”
“You should have let me die, too!” he declared.
“Why not? Because I’m so damned important to the royal house of Wolfblade? Or because none of you wanted the guilt of two innocent deaths on your hands?”
“If I’d realised bringing you back from the brink of death was going to turn you into an ungrateful halfwit,” Wrayan remarked, still leaning against the door, “I would’ve left well enough alone.”
“Nobody asked you to bring me back, Wrayan!” Starros pointed out furiously, turning on the thief.
“Actually, Damin Wolfblade asked me to bring you back,” Wrayan corrected. “You remember him, don’t you? Big blond chap with the power of life and death over you, me and everyone else in the province? Oh, that’s right . . . he’s your best friend, too, as I recall.”
“A friend would never have sold my soul to a god!”
“Maybe that’s something you should take up with Damin,” Wrayan suggested. “In the meantime, lay off Kalan. She’s on your side, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“Where is my friend, then?” Starros demanded. “Where is Damin?”
“He left the city yesterday,” Kalan explained. “Heading for Elasapine.”
Kalan shook her head, wondering how long Starros could sustain his rage. She’d never seen him like this before. “Hablet of Fardohnya is reportedly massing his troops behind the Sunrise Mountains for an invasion. Damin left with Adham and Rorin and Almodavar and two and a half thousand Raiders. They’re heading to Byamor first, to collect Narvell and all the Elasapine troops Grandpa Charel will let him have, so they can hold Hablet off until Wrayan and I can get to Greenharbour to warn my mother.”
Starros took a deep breath, as if his rage needed fuel to sustain it and it was being starved because nobody would fight with him. “So I was what? Just a passing aside? A footnote?” He turned to Wrayan again. “Did he ask you to put me back together again because he didn’t have time to deal with me?”
“That’s surprisingly close to how it happened,” Wrayan agreed.
Starros’s shoulders sagged suddenly. He sat down on the bench near the fire, putting his head in his hands for a time, and then looked up at them, his eyes filled with despair. “Does he know what he’s done to me?”
Wrayan shrugged. “Probably not.”
“Does he care?”
“Why did you do it?” Starros asked Wrayan. He sounded more curious than angry now. “And don’t give me any of that he is my prince nonsense. You’re a Harshini sorcerer and the head of your own guild. You don’t have to take orders from anybody.”
“Two reasons,” Wrayan replied, pushing off the doorframe. He crossed the room and took a seat opposite Starros on the other wooden bench. “The first was simple patriotism.”
“Damin might be arrogant at times and rather arbitrary when he decides to throw his weight around, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right, occasionally. He has a war to fight and it needs his undivided attention. His best friend on the brink of death is a distraction he didn’t need. Now you’re all better and Damin doesn’t have to worry about you.”
“I never picked you for a raving patriot, Wrayan.”
“Which just shows how little you know me.”
“What was the other reason?”
Wrayan smiled. “I’ve been offering you a job in the Thieves’ Guild since you were fifteen, Starros. You’re bright, well-educated and have a good head for politics and organisation. You kept knocking me back. Now you don’t have a choice.”
Starros looked at him, shaking his head in bewilderment. “You sold my soul to Dacendaran so you could recruit me into the Thieves’ Guild?”
“Not the most orthodox way of going about it, I’ll admit. But it is effective.”
“What if I don’t want to be a thief?”
Wrayan shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. You’re a thief now, whether you want to be or not.”
“And what of my former life? You know . . . the one I had a few days ago?”
“Your former life ceased the minute Mahkas found you and Leila together,” Kalan reminded him gently. She sat beside him and put her hand on his shoulder, hoping to convey her sympathy. “Even if she wasn’t dead, there’d be no going back. Not now.”
“What happened to Mahkas?”
She hesitated for a moment, and then decided the only thing to do was tell him the truth. “Damin tried to ventilate his windpipe with a battle gauntlet. Did a rather impressive job of it, too. Rorin healed what he could, but Mahkas is still bedridden and likely to be for a while yet. He can’t speak in much more than a hoarse whisper. Xanda’s taken over running the province while he’s ill, but I’m not sure what will happen when he recovers.”
“Why didn’t Damin kill him?”
“Because he’s not that stupid,” Wrayan replied heartlessly.
Starros glared at him. “You think taking vengeance for Leila’s death is stupid?”
“Taking vengeance for anything is stupid, Starros, when that vengeance is liable to do you as much harm as your enemy.”
“So Mahkas is going to be allowed to get away with everything he’s done?” Starros asked bitterly. “Is that what you’re saying? And that I should just accept it?”
“I’m suggesting nothing of the kind.”
“Then what are you suggesting?”
“I’m suggesting, Starros, that you are now a thief. Your soul belongs to Dacendaran. If you’re planning to get even with Mahkas Damaran, do it in such a way that you hurt Mahkas and honour your god.”
“You think I should steal something from him?”
“No, Starros, I think you should steal everything from him.”
Starros looked at Wrayan, a little baffled by what the thief was telling him, but before he had a chance to question him further, Fee came in from the kitchen carrying a large pot. She dumped it on the small table and, after eyeing the three of them curiously, announced that lunch was ready.
Kalan took Starros’s hand and squeezed it, smiling at her foster-brother, hoping to let him know how much she empathised with his pain, but at that moment Starros wasn’t thinking about pain, she suspected. The pain was too raw, his grief too overwhelming, for Starros to be thinking of anything other than revenge.
Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Fallon. All rights reserved.