Vasher found her practicing again.
He hovered outside the window, lowered down from the roof via an Awak ened rope which gripped him about the waist. Inside, Vivenna repeatedly
Awakened a strip of cloth, unaware of Vasher. She Commanded the cloth to wiggle across the room, wrap around a cup, then bring that cup back without spilling.
She’s learning so quickly, he thought. The Commands themselves were simple to say, but providing the right mental impulse was difficult. It was like learning to control a second body. Vivenna was quick. Yes, she had a lot of Breath. That made it easier, but true Instinctive Awakening—the ability to Awaken objects without training or practice—was a gift granted only by the Sixth Heightening. That was one step beyond even what Returned had, with their single deific Breath. Vivenna was far from that stage. She learned faster than she should have, even if he knew she was frustrated by how often she got things wrong.
Even as he watched, she made a mistake. The cloth wiggled across the room, but climbed into the cup instead of wrapping around it. It shook, making the cup fall over, then the cloth finally returned, leaving a soggy trail. Vivenna cursed and walked over to refill the cup. She never noticed Vasher hanging just outside. He wasn’t surprised—he was currently a Drab, his excess Breath stored in his shirt.
She replaced the cup, and he pulled himself up as she walked back. Of course, the mechanics of how he moved about with the ropes were far more complicated than they seemed. His Command incorporated making the rope respond to taps of his finger along its length. Awakening was different from creating a Lifeless—Lifeless had brains and could interpret Commands and requests. The rope had none of that; it could only act on its original instructions.
With a few taps, he lowered himself again, Vivenna faced away from him as she picked up another colored swatch to use as fuel when she Awakened her cup-fetching ribbon.
I like her, Nightblood said. I’m glad we didn’t kill her.
Vasher didn’t respond.
She’s very pretty, don’t you think? Nightblood asked.
You can’t tell, Vasher replied.
I can tell, Nightblood said. I’ve decided that I can.
Vasher shook his head. Pretty or not, the woman should never have come to Hallandren. She’d given Denth a perfect tool. Of course, he admitted wryly, Denth probably didn’t need that tool. Hallandren and Idris were close to snapping. Vasher had stayed away too long. He knew that. He also knew that there was no way he would have come back earlier.
Inside the room, Vivenna successfully managed to get the cloth to bring her cup, and she drank from it with a satisfied look that Vasher could just barely see from the side. He had the rope lower him to the ground. He ordered it to let go up above, then—once it had twisted down around his arm—he recovered his Breath and climbed the external steps to the room.
Vivenna turned as Vasher entered. She set down the cup, hurriedly stuffing the cloth in her pocket. What does it matter if he sees me practicing? she thought, flushing. It’s not like I have anything to hide. But practicing before him was embarrassing. He was so stern, so unforgiving of faults. She didn’t like him to see her fail.
“Well?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Both the house you were using and the safe house in the slums are empty,” he said. “Denth is too clever to get caught like that. He must have figured that you would reveal his location.”
Vivenna ground her teeth in frustration, settling back against the wall. Like the other rooms they had stayed in, this one was utterly simple. Their only possessions were a pair of bedrolls and their changes of clothing, all of which Vasher carried about in his duffel.
Denth lived far more luxuriously. He could afford to—he now held all of Lemex’s money. Clever bit, that, she thought. Giving me the money, making me feel like I was in charge. He knew all along that the gold was never out of his hands, just as I never was.
“I was hoping we’d be able to watch him,” she said. “Maybe get a jump on what he’s planning next.”
Vasher shrugged. “Didn’t work. No use crying about it. Come on. I think I can get us in to meet with some of the Idrian workers at one of the orchards, assuming we arrive during the lunch break.”
Vivenna frowned as he turned to go. “Vasher,” she said. “We can’t keep doing this.”
“When I was with Denth, we met with crime lords and politicians. You and I are meeting with peasants on corners and in fields.”
“They’re good people!”
“I know they are,” Vivenna said quickly. “But, do you really think we’re making a difference? Compared to what Denth is probably doing, I mean?”
He frowned, but instead of arguing with her, he just pounded his fist against the side of the wall. “I know,” he said. “I’ve tried other leads, but most everything I do seems a step behind Denth. I can kill his gangs of thieves, but he has more of them than I can find. I’ve tried to figure out who is behind the war—even followed leads in the Court of Gods itself—but everyone is growing more and more tight-lipped. They assume the war to be inevitable, now, and don’t want to be seen as being on the losing side of the argument.”
“What about priests?” Vivenna said. “Aren’t they the ones who bring things to the attention of the gods? If we can get more of them to argue against the war, then maybe we can stop it.”
“Priests are fickle,” Vasher said with a shake of his head. “Most of those who argued against the war have caved in. Even Nanrovah switched sides on me.”
“High priest of Stillmark,” Vasher said. “I thought he was solid—he even met with me a few times to talk about his opposition of the war. Now he refuses to see me anymore and has switched sides. Colorless liar.”
Vivenna frowned. Nanrovah . . . “Vasher,” she said. “We did something to him.”
“Denth and his team,” Vivenna said. “We helped a gang of thieves rob from a salt peddler. We used a couple of distractions to cover the burglary. We set a fire in a nearby building and overturned a carriage that was passing through the garden. The carriage belonged to a high priest. I think his name was Nanrovah.”
Vasher cursed quietly.
“You think it might be connected?” she asked.
“Maybe. You know which thieves were actually doing the robbery?”
She shook her head.
“I’ll be back,” he said. “Wait here.”
So she did. She waited for hours. She tried practicing her Awakening, but she’d already spent most of the day working on that. She was mentally exhausted and found it difficult to concentrate. Eventually, she found herself staring out the window in annoyance. Denth had always let her go along on his information gathering forays.
That was just because he wanted to keep me close, she thought. Now that she looked back, there were obviously lots of things Denth had been hiding from her. Vasher just didn’t care to placate her.
He wasn’t stingy with information, though, when she asked. His answers were grumpy, but he did usually answer. She still mulled over their conversation about Awakening. Less because of what he’d said. More because of the way he’d said it.
She’d been wrong about him. She was almost certain of that now. She had to stop judging people. But was that possible? Wasn’t interaction based, in part, on judgments? A person’s background and attitudes influenced how she responded to them.
The answer, then, wasn’t to stop judging. It was to hold those judgments as mutable. She’d judged Denth to be a friend, but she shouldn’t have ignored the way he talked about mercenaries having no friends.
The door slammed open. Vivenna jumped, putting a hand to her chest.
Vasher walked in. “Start reaching for that sword when you’re startled,” he said. “There’s little reason to grab your shirt, unless you’re planning to rip it off.”
Vivenna flushed, hair twinging red. The sword he had bought her lay on the side of the room; they hadn’t had much opportunity to practice, and she still barely even knew how to hold the thing properly. “Well?” she asked as he closed the door. It was already dark outside, and the city was beginning to sparkle with lights.
“The robbery was a cover,” Vasher said. “The real hit was that carriage. Denth promised the thieves something valuable if they committed a robbery and started a fire, both as distractions to get at the carriage.”
“Why?” Vivenna asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“Coins?” Vivenna asked. “When Clod hit the horse, it knocked a chest off the top. It was filled with gold.”
“What happened then?” Vasher asked.
“I left with some others. I thought the carriage itself was the distraction, and once it went down, I was supposed to pull out.”
“He wasn’t there, come to think of it,” Vivenna said. “The others told me he was working with the thieves.”
Vasher nodded, walking over to his pack. He threw aside the bedrolls, then took out several articles of clothing. He pulled off his shirt, exposing a well-muscled—and rather hairy—torso. Vivenna blinked in surprise, then blushed. She probably should have turned aside, but the curious part of her was too strong. What was he doing?
He didn’t remove his trousers, thankfully, but instead threw on a different shirt. The sleeves of this one were cut into long ribbons near the wrists.
“Upon call,” he said, “become my fingers and grip that which I must.”
The cuff tassels wiggled.
“Wait,” Vivenna said. “What was that? A Command?”
“Too complicated for you,” he said, kneeling and undoing the cuff of his trousers. She could see that here, too, there were extra lengths of cloth. “Become as my legs and give them strength,” he Commanded.
The leg-tassels crossed under his feet, growing tight. Vivenna didn’t argue with his insistence that the Commands were “too complicated.” She just memorized them anyway.
Finally, Vasher threw on his tattered cloak, which was ripped in places. “Protect me,” he Commanded, and she could see a lot of his remaining Breath drain into the cloak. He wrapped his rope belt around his waist—it was thin, for a rope, but strong, and she knew its purpose was not to keep his trousers up.
Finally, he picked up Nightblood. “You coming?”
“We’re going to go capture a few of those thieves. Ask them exactly what Denth wanted with that carriage.”
Vivenna felt a stab of fear. “Why invite me? Won’t I just make it harder for you?”
“Depends,” he said. “If we get into a fight, and you get in the way, then it will be more difficult. If we get into a fight and half of them attack you instead of me, it will make things easier.”
“Assuming you don’t defend me.”
“That’s a good assumption,” he said, looking into her eyes. “If you want to come, come. But don’t expect me to protect you, and—whatever you do—don’t try and follow on your own.”
“I wouldn’t do such a thing,” she said.
He shrugged. “I thought I’d make the offer. You’re no prisoner here, Princess. You can do whatever you want. Just don’t get in my way when you do it, understand?”
“I understand,” she said, feeling a chill as she made her decision. “And I’m coming.”
He didn’t try to dissuade her. He simply pointed at her sword. “Keep that on.”
She nodded, tying it on.
“Draw it,” he said.
She did so, and he corrected her grip.
“What good will holding it properly do?” she asked. “I still don’t know how to use it.”
“Look threatening and it might make someone attacking you pause. Make them hesitate for a couple seconds in a fight, and that could mean a lot.”
She nodded nervously, sliding the weapon back in its sheath. Then she grabbed several lengths of rope. “Hold when thrown,” she said to the smaller one, then stuffed it into her pocket.
Vasher eyed her.
“Better to lose the Breath than get killed,” she said.
“Few Awakeners agree with you,” he noted. “To most of them, the thought of losing Breath is far more frightening than the prospect of death.”
“Well, I’m not like most Awakeners,” she said. “Half of me still finds the process blasphemous.”
He nodded. “Put the rest of your Breath somewhere else,” he said, opening the door. “We can’t afford to draw attention.”
She grimaced, then did as told, putting her Breath into her shirt with a basic, and non-active, Command. It was actually the same as giving a half-spoken Command, or one that was mumbled. Those would draw out the Breath, but leave the item unable to act.
As soon as she placed the Breath, the dullness returned. Everything seemed dead around her.
“Let’s go,” Vasher said, moving out into the darkness.
Night in T’Telir was very different from her homeland. There, it had been possible to see so many stars overhead that it looked like a bucket of white sand had been dashed into the air. Here, there were street lamps, taverns, restaurants, and houses of entertainment. The result was a city full of lights—a little like the stars themselves had come down to inspect grand T’Telir. And yet, Vivenna was still saddened by how few real stars she saw in the sky.
None of that meant that the places they were going were by any means bright. Vasher led her through the streets, and he quickly became little more than a hulking shadow. They left behind places with street lights, and even lit windows, moving into an unfamiliar slum. This was one of those she’d been afraid to enter, even when she lived on the streets. The night seemed to grow even darker as they entered and walked down one of the twisting, dark alleys that passed for streets in such places. They remained silent. Vivenna knew not to speak and draw attention.
Eventually, Vasher pulled to a stop. He pointed toward a building: single-story, flat-topped, and wide. It sat alone, in a depression, shanties built from refuse covering the low hill behind it. Vasher waved for her to stay back, then quietly put the rest of his Breath into his rope and crept forward up the hill.
Vivenna waited, nervous, kneeling beside a decaying shanty that appeared to have been built from half-crumbling bricks. Why did I come? she thought. He didn’t tell me to—he simply said that I could. I could just as easily have stayed behind.
But she was tired of things happening to her. She had been the one to point out that maybe there was a connection between the priest and Denth’s plan. She wanted to see this to the end. Do something.
That had been easy to think back in the lit room. It didn’t help her nerves that, looming to the left side of the shanty was one of the D’Denir statues. There had been some of them in the Highland slums as well, though most of those had been defaced or broken.
She couldn’t feel anything with her life sense. She felt almost as if she’d been blinded. The Breath’s absence brought memories of nights sleeping in the mud of a cold alleyway. Beatings administered by urchins half her size but with twice her competence. Hunger. Terrible, omnipresent, depressing, and draining hunger.
A footstep cracked and a shadow loomed. She nearly gasped in shock, but managed to keep it in as she recognized Nightblood in the figure’s hand.
“Two guards,” Vasher said. “Both silenced.”
“Will they do for answering our questions?”
Vasher shook a silhouetted head. “Practically kids. We need someone more important. We’ll have to go in. Either that, or sit and watch for a few days to determine who is in charge, then grab him when he’s alone.”
“That would take too long,” Vivenna whispered.
“I agree,” he said. “I can’t use the sword, though. When Nightblood is done with a group, there’s never anyone to question.”
“Come on,” he whispered. She followed as quietly as she could, moving for the front door. Vasher grabbed her arm and shook his head. She followed him around to the side, barely noticing the two lumps of unconscious bodies rolled into a ditch. At the back of the building, Vasher began to feel around on the ground. After a few moments without success, he cursed quietly and pulled something from his pocket. A handful of straw.
In just a few seconds, he had constructed three little men from the straw and some thread, then used Breath reclaimed from his cloak to animate them. He gave each one the same command: “Find tunnels.”
Vivenna watched with fascination. That’s far more abstract a Command than he led me to believe was possible, she thought as the little men scuttled around on the ground. Vasher himself returned to his searching. Apparently experience—and ability to use mental images—is the most important aspect of Awakening.
He’s been doing this a long time, and the way he spoke before—like a scholar—indicates he’s studied Awakening very seriously.
One of the straw men began to jump up and down. The other two rushed over to it and then they began to bounce as well. Vasher joined them, as did Vivenna, and she watched as he uncovered a trapdoor hidden beneath a thick layer of dirt. He raised it a tad, then reached underneath. His hand came back out with several small bells, which had apparently been rigged there to ring if the door were opened all the way.
“No group like this has a hideout without bolt-holes,” Vasher said. “Usually a couple of them. Always trapped.”
Vivenna watched as he recovered the Breath from the straw men, quietly thanking each one. She frowned at the curious words. They were just piles of straw. Why thank them?
He put the Breath back into his cloak with a protection Command, then led the way down through the trapdoor. Vivenna followed, stepping softly, skipping a particular step when Vasher indicated. The bottom was a roughly cut tunnel—or, so she got from feeling along the sides of the lightless earthen chamber.
Vasher moved forward; she could only tell because of the quiet rustling of his clothing. She followed and was curious to see light ahead. She could also hear voices. Men talking, and laughing.
Soon she could see Vasher’s silhouette; she moved up next to him, peeking out of their tunnel and into an earthen room. There was a fire burning at the center, the smoke twisting up through a hole in the ceiling. The upper chamber—the building itself—was probably just a front, for the chamber down here looked very lived-in. There were piles of cloth, bed rolls, pots and pans. All of it as dirty as the men who sat around the fire, laughing.
Vasher gestured to the side. There was another tunnel a few feet to the side of the one they were hiding in. Vivenna’s heart jumped in shock as Vasher crept into the room and toward the second tunnel. She glanced at the fire. The men were very focused on their drinking, and were blinded by the light. They didn’t seem to notice Vasher.
She took a deep breath, then followed into the shadows of the large room, feeling exposed with the firelight to her back. Vasher didn’t go far, however, before stopping. Vivenna nearly collided with him. He stood there for a few moments; finally, Vivenna poked him in the back, trying to get him to move so that she could see what he was doing. He shuffled aside, letting her see what was before him.
This tunnel ended abruptly—apparently, it wasn’t so much a tunnel as a nook. Nestled against the back of the nook was a cage, about as high as Vivenna’s waist. Inside the cage was a child.
Vivenna gasped softly, pushing past Vasher and kneeling down beside the cage. The valuable thing in the carriage, she thought, making the connection. It wasn’t the coins. It was the priest’s daughter. The perfect bargaining chip if you wanted to blackmail someone into changing their position at court.
As Vivenna knelt, the girl pulled back in the cage, sniffling quietly and quivering. The cage stank of human waste, and the child was covered in grime—all except for lines on her cheeks, which had been streaked clean by tears.
Vivenna looked up at Vasher. His eyes were shadowed, his back to the fire, but she could see him gritting his teeth. She could see tension in his muscles. He turned his head to the side, half-illuminating his face with the light of the red fire.
In that single lit eye, Vivenna saw fury.
“Hey!” one of the thieves called.
“Get the child out,” Vasher said in a harsh whisper.
“How did you get here!” another man yelled.
Vasher met her eyes with his single illuminated one, and she felt herself shrink before him. She nodded, and Vasher turned away from her, one hand clenching into a fist, the other grabbing Nightblood in a hard-knuckled grip. He stepped slowly, deliberately, as he approached the men, his cloak rustling. Vivenna intended to do as asked, but she found it hard too look away from him.
The men drew blades. Vasher moved suddenly.
Nightblood, still sheathed, took one man in the chest, and Vivenna heard bones snap. Another man attacked, and Vasher spun, whipping out a hand. The tassels on his sleeve moved on their own, wrapping around the blade of the thief’s sword, catching it. Vasher’s momentum ripped the blade free, and he tossed it aside, the tassels releasing it.
The sword hit the dirt of the cellar floor; Vasher’s hand snapped up, grabbing the thief’s face. The tassels wrapped around the man’s head like a squid’s tentacles. Vasher slammed the man backward and down into the ground—kneeling as he did to add momentum—even as he rammed the sheathed Nightblood into another man’s legs, dropping him. A third tried to cut Vasher from behind, and Vivenna cried a warning. Vasher’s cloak, however, suddenly whipped out—moving on its own—and grabbed the surprised man by the arms.
Vasher turned, anger in his face, and swung Nightblood toward the entangled man. Vivenna cringed at the sound of the cracking bones, and she turned away from the fight as the screaming continued. With shaking fingers, she tried to open the cage.
It was locked, of course. She drew out some Breath from a rope, then tried to Awaken the lock, but nothing happened.
Metal, she thought. Of course. It hasn’t been alive, so it can’t be Awakened.
Instead she pulled a thread free from her shirt, trying to ignore the cries of pain from behind. Vasher began to bellow as he fought, losing any semblance of being a cold, professional killer. This was a man enraged.
She raised the thread.
“Unlock things,” she Commanded.
The thread wiggled a bit, but when she stuck it into the lock, nothing happened.
She withdrew the Breath, took a few calming breaths of her own, then closed her eyes.
Have to get the intention right. Need it to go inside, twist the tumbler free.
“Twist things,” she said, feeling the Breath leave her. She stuck the thread into the lock. It spun about, and she heard a click. The door opened. The sounds of fighting from behind stopped, though men continued to moan.
Vivenna recovered her Breath, then reached into the cage. The girl cringed, crying out and hiding her face.
“I’m a friend,” Vivenna said soothingly. “Please, I’m here to help you.” But the girl wiggled, screaming when touched. Frustrated, Vivenna turned back toward Vasher.
He stood beside the fire, head bowed, bodies strewn around him. He held Nightblood in one hand, sheathed tip resting back against the dirty floor. And, for some reason, he seemed larger than he had a few moments ago. Taller. Broader of shoulders. More threatening.
Vasher’s other hand was on Nightblood’s hilt. The sheath clasp was undone, and black smoke crept out, off of the blade, some pouring toward the ground, some floating up toward the ceiling. As if it couldn’t decide.
Vasher’s arm was quivering.
Draw . . . me . . . a distant voice seemed to say in Vivenna’s head. Kill them . . .
Many of the men still twitched on the ground. Vasher began to slide the blade free. It was dark black, and it seemed to suck in the firelight.
This isn’t good, she thought. “Vasher!” she yelled. “Vasher, the girl won’t come to me!”
He froze, then glanced at her, eyes glazed over.
“You defeated them, Vasher. No need to draw the sword.”
Yes . . . yes there is . . .
He blinked, then saw her. He snapped Nightblood back into place, shaking his head and rushing toward her. He kicked a body as he passed, earning a grunt.
“Colorless monsters,” he whispered, looking into the cage. He no longer seemed larger, and she decided that what she’d seen must have just been a trick of the light. He reached into the cage, holding out his hands. And, oddly, the child immediately went to him, grabbing his chest and weeping. Vivenna watched with shock. Vasher picked the child up, tears in his own eyes.
“You know her?” Vivenna asked.
He shook his head. “I’ve met Nanrovah, and knew he had young children, but I never met any of them.”
“Then how? Why did she come to you?”
He didn’t answer. “Come on,” he said. “I attacked the ones who came running down when they heard screams. But more might return.”
He looked like he almost wished that would happen. He turned toward the exit tunnel, and Vivenna followed.
They immediately moved toward one of the rich neighborhoods of T’Telir. Vasher didn’t say much as they walked, and the girl was even more unresponsive. Vivenna worried for the child’s mind. She had obviously had a rough couple of months.
They passed from shanties, to tenements, to decent homes on tree-lined streets with burning lanterns. As they reached the mansions, Vasher paused on the street, setting the girl down. “Child,” he said. “I’m going to say some words to you. I want you to repeat them. Repeat them, and mean them.”
The girl regarded him absently, nodding slightly.
He glanced at Vivenna. “Back away.”
She opened her mouth to object, but thought better of it. She stepped back out of earshot. Fortunately, Vasher was near a lit streetlamp, so she could see him well. He spoke to the little girl, and she spoke back to him.
After opening the cage, Vivenna had taken the Breath back from the thread. She hadn’t stowed it somewhere else. And, with the extra awareness she had, she thought she saw something. The girl’s BioChromatic aura—the normal one that all people had—flickered just slightly.
It was faint. Yet with the First Heightening, Vivenna could have sworn she saw it.
But Denth told me it was all or nothing, she thought. You have to give away all the Breath you hold. And you certainly can’t give away part of a breath.
Denth, it had been proven in other instances, was also a liar.
Vasher stood, the girl climbing back into his arms. Vivenna walked up and was surprised to hear the girl talking. “Where’s Daddy?” she asked.
Vasher didn’t reply.
“I’m dirty,” the girl said, looking down. “Mommy doesn’t like it when I get dirty. The dress is dirty too.”
Vasher began walking. Vivenna hurriedly caught up.
“Are we going home?” the girl asked. “Where have we been? It’s late, and I shouldn’t be out. Who’s that woman?”
She doesn’t remember, Vivenna realized. Doesn’t remember where she’s been . . . probably doesn’t remember anything of the entire experience.
Vivenna looked again at Vasher, walking with his ragged beard, eyes forward, child in one arm, Nightblood in the other. He walked right up to a mansion’s gates, then kicked them open. He moved onto the mansion grounds, Vivenna following more nervously.
A pair of guard dogs began barking. They howled and growled, getting closer. Vivenna cringed. Yet, as soon as they saw Vasher, they grew quiet, then trailed along happily, one hopping up and trying to lick his hands.
What in the name of the Colors is going on?
Some people were gathering at the front of the mansion, holding lanterns, trying to see what had caused the barking. One saw Vasher, said something to the others, then disappeared back inside. By the time Vivenna and Vasher had reached the front patio, a man had appeared at the front doors. He wore a white nightgown and was guarded by a couple of soldiers. They stepped forward to block Vasher, but the man in the nightgown rushed between them, crying out. He wept as he took the child from Vasher’s arms.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you.”
Vivenna stood quietly, staying back. The dogs continued to lick Vasher’s hands, though they noticeably avoided Nightblood.
The man clutched his child before finally surrendering her to a woman who had just arrived—the child’s mother, Vivenna assumed. The woman exclaimed in joy, taking the girl.
“Why have you returned her?” the man said, looking at Vasher.
“Those who took her have been punished,” Vasher said in his quiet, gruff voice. “That’s all that should matter to you right now.”
The man squinted. “Do I know you, stranger?”
“We’ve met,” Vasher said. “I asked you to argue against the war.”
“That’s right!” the man said. “You didn’t need to encourage me. But when they took Misel away from me . . . I had to stay quiet about what had happened, had to change my arguments, or they said they’d kill her.”
Vasher turned away, moving to walk back down the path. “Take your child, keep her safe.” He paused, turning back. “And make certain this kingdom doesn’t use its Lifeless for a slaughter.”
The man nodded, still weeping. “Yes, yes. Of course. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Vasher continued walking. Vivenna rushed after him, eyeing the dogs. “How did you make them stop barking?”
He didn’t respond.
She glanced back at the mansion.
“You have redeemed yourself,” he said quietly, passing the dark gates.
“Kidnapping that girl is something Denth would have done, even if you hadn’t come to T’Telir,” Vasher said. “I would never have found her. Denth worked with too many different groups of thieves, and I thought that burglary was simply intended to disrupt supplies. Like everyone else, I ignored the carriage.”
He stopped then looked at Vivenna in the darkness. “You saved that girl’s life.”
“By happenstance,” she said. She couldn’t see her hair in the dark, but she could feel it going red.
Vivenna smiled, the compliment affecting her—for some reason—far more than it should have. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry I lost my temper,” he said. “Back in that lair. A warrior is supposed to be calm. When you duel or fight, you can’t let anger control you. That’s why I’ve never been that good a duelist.”
“You did the job,” she said, “and Denth has lost another pawn.” They moved out onto the street. “Though,” she added, “I wish I hadn’t seen that lavish mansion. Doesn’t raise my opinion of the Hallandren priests.”
Vasher shook his head. “Nanrovah’s father was one of the wealthiest merchants in the city. The son dedicated himself to serving the gods out of gratitude for their blessings. He takes no pay for his ser vice.”
Vivenna paused. “Oh.”
Vasher shrugged in the darkness. “Priests are always easy to blame. They make convenient scapegoats—after all, anyone with a strong faith different from your own must either be a crazy zealot or a lying manipulator.”
Vivenna flushed yet again.
Vasher stopped in the street, then turned to her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to say it that way.” He cursed, turning and walking again. “I told you I’m no good at this.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “I’m getting used to it.”
He nodded in the darkness, seeming distracted.
He is a good man, she thought. Or, at least, an earnest man trying to be good. A part of her felt foolish for making yet another judgment.
Yet she knew she couldn’t live—couldn’t interact—without making some judgments. So she judged Vasher. Not as she’d judged Denth, who had said amusing things and given her what she’d expected to see. She judged Vasher by what she had seen him do. Cry when he saw a child being held captive. Return that child to her father, his only reward an opportunity to make a rough plea for peace. Living with barely any money, dedicating himself to preventing a war.
He was rough. He was brutal. He had a terrible temper. But he was a good man. And, walking beside him, she felt safe for the first time in weeks.