A Dance of Cloaks (Shadowdance) Page 0,1

fire, but already he felt the tingle of the toxin beginning to fade. When finished, he accepted some strips of cloth from his son and tied them tight around the wound.

“Where is Aaron?” Thren asked when the pain subsided. “If you won’t fetch the mage, at least he will.”

“Lurking as always,” Randith said. “Reading too. I tell him mercenaries may soon storm in with orders to eradicate all thief guilds, and he looks at me like I’m a lowly fishmonger mumbling about the weather.”

Thren held in a grimace.

“You’re too impatient with him,” he said. “Aaron understands more than you think.”

“He’s soft, and a coward. This life will never suit him.”

Thren reached out with his good hand, grabbed Randith by the front of his shirt, and yanked him close so they might stare face-to-face.

“Listen well,” he said. “Aaron is my son, as are you. Whatever contempt you have, you swallow it down. Even the wealthiest king is still dirt in my eyes compared to my own flesh and blood, and I expect the same respect from you.”

He shoved Randith away, then called out farther into the hideout.

“Aaron! Your family needs you, now come in here.”

A short child of eight stepped into the room, clutching a worn book to his chest. His features were soft and curved, and he would no doubt grow up to be a comely man. He had his father’s hair, though, a soft blond that curled around his ears and hung low to his deep blue eyes. He fell to one knee and bowed his head without saying a word, all while still holding the book.

“Do you know where Cregon is?” Thren asked, referring to the mage in their employ. Aaron nodded. “Good. Where?”

Aaron said nothing. Thren, tired and wounded, had no time for his younger son’s nonsense. While other children grew up babbling nonstop, a good day for Aaron involved nine words, and rarely would they be used in one sentence.

“Tell me where he is, or you’ll taste blood on your tongue,” Randith said, sensing his father’s exasperation.

“He went away,” Aaron said, his voice barely above a whisper. “He’s a fool.”

“A fool or not, he’s my fool, and damn good at keeping us alive,” Thren said. “Go bring him here. If he argues, slash your finger across your neck. He’ll understand.”

Aaron bowed and did as he was told.

“I wonder if he’s practicing for a vow of silence,” Randith said as he watched his brother leave without any hurry.

“Did he lock the outer door?” Thren asked.

“Shut and latched,” Randith said after checking.

“Then he’s smarter than you.”

Randith smirked.

“If you say so. But right now, I think we have bigger concerns. The Gemcrofts firing at my men, Leon setting up a trap … this means war, doesn’t it?”

Thren swallowed hard, then nodded.

“The Trifect have turned their backs on peace. They want blood, our blood, and unless we act fast they are going to get it.”

“Perhaps if we offer even more in bribes?” Randith suggested.

Thren shook his head.

“They’ve tired of the game. We rob them until they are red with rage, then pay bribes with their own wealth. You’ve seen how much they’ve invested in mercenaries over the past few months. Their minds are set. They want us exterminated.”

“That’s ludicrous,” Randith insisted. “You’ve united nearly every guild in the city. Between our assassins, our spies, our thugs … what makes them think they can withstand all-out war?”

Thren frowned as Randith’s fingers drummed the hilt of his rapier.

“Give me a few of our best men,” his son said. “When Leon Connington bleeds out in his giant bed, the rest will learn that accepting our bribes is far better than accepting our mercy.”

“You are still a young man,” Thren said. “You are not ready for what Leon has prepared.”

“I am seventeen,” Randith said. “A man grown, and I have more kills to my name than years.”

“And I’ve more than you’ve drawn breaths,” Thren said, a hard edge entering his voice. “But even I will not return to that mansion. They are eager for this, can’t you see that? Entire guilds will be wiped out in days. Those who survive will inherit this city, and I will not have my heir run off and die in the opening hours.”

Thren placed one of his short swords on the table with his uninjured hand. Holding it there, he met Randith’s gaze, challenging him, looking to see just what sort of man his son truly was.

“I’ll leave the mansion be, as you suggest,” Randith said. “But I