A Dance of Cloaks (Shadowdance) Page 0,2

will not cower and hide. You are right, Father. These are the opening hours. Our actions here will decide the course of months of fighting. Let the merchants and nobles hide. We rule the night.”

He pulled his gray cloak over his head and turned to the hidden door. Thren watched him go, his hands shaking, but not from the toxin.

“Be wary,” Thren said, careful to keep his face a mask. “Everything you do has consequences.”

If Randith sensed the threat, he didn’t let it show.

“I’ll go get Senke,” said Randith. “He’ll watch over you until Aaron returns with the mage.”

Then he was gone. Thren struck the table with his palm and swore. He thought of the countless hours he’d invested in Randith, the training, the sparring, and the many lectures, all in an attempt to cultivate a worthy heir for the Spider Guild.

Wasted, Thren thought. Wasted.

He heard the click of the latch, and then the door creaked open. Thren expected the mage, or perhaps his son returning to smooth over his abrupt exit, but instead a short man with a black cloth wrapped around his face stepped inside.

“Don’t run,” the intruder said. Thren snapped up his short sword and blocked the first two blows from the man’s dagger. He tried to counter, but his vision was still blurred and his speed a pathetic remnant of his finely honed reflexes. A savage chop knocked the sword from his hand. Thren fell back, using his chair to force a stumble out of his pursuer. The best he could do was limp, though, and when a heel kicked his knee, he fell. He spun, refusing to die with a dagger in his back.

“Leon sends his greetings,” the man said, his dagger pulled back for a final, lethal blow.

He suddenly jerked forward, his eyes widening. The dagger fell from his limp hand as the would-be assassin collapsed. Behind him stood Aaron, holding a bloody short sword. Thren’s eyes widened as his younger son knelt. The flat edge rested on his palms, blood running down his wrists.

“Your sword,” Aaron said, presenting the blade.

“How … why did you return?” Thren asked.

“The man was hiding,” the boy said, his voice still quiet. He didn’t sound the least bit upset. “Waiting for us to go. So I waited for him.”

Thren felt the corners of his mouth twitch. He took the sword from a boy who spent his days reading underneath his bed and skulking within closets, often mocked by his older brother for being too soft. A boy who never threw a punch when forced into a fight, never dared raise his voice in anger.

A boy who had killed a man at the age of eight.

“I know you’re bright,” Thren said. “But the life we live is twisted, and we are forever surrounded by liars and betrayers. You must trust your instincts, and learn to listen to not just what is said, but what is not. Can you do this? Can you view men and women as if they are pieces to a game, and understand what must be done, my son?”

Aaron looked up at him. If he was bothered by the blood on him, it didn’t show.

“I can,” Aaron said.

“Good,” said Thren. “Wait with me. Randith will return soon.”

Ten minutes later the door crept open.

“Father?” Randith asked as he stepped inside. Senke, Thren’s right-hand man, was with him. He looked slightly older than Randith, with a trimmed blond beard and a thick mace held in hand. They both startled at the dead body lying on the floor, a gaping wound in its back.

“He waited until you left,” Thren said from his chair, which he’d positioned to face the entrance.

“Where?” Randith asked. He pointed to Aaron. “And why is he here?”

Thren shook his head.

“You don’t understand, Randith. You disobey me, not out of wisdom, but out of arrogance and pride. You treat our enemies with contempt instead of respect worthy of their danger. Worst of all, you put my life at risk.”

He looked to Aaron, back to Randith.

“Too many mistakes,” he said. “Far too many.”

Then he waited. And hoped.

Aaron stepped toward his older brother. His blue eyes were calm, unworried. In a single smooth motion, he yanked Randith’s dagger from his belt, flipped it around, and thrust it to the hilt in his brother’s chest. Senke stepped back, jaw hanging open, but he wisely held his tongue. Aaron withdrew the dagger, spun around, and presented it as a gift to his father.

Thren rose from his seat and placed a