A Dance of Cloaks - By Dalglish, David Page 0,1

the priests have him. We will need their good graces whispering in the ears of the king. He must be nine, for whatever superstitious reason of theirs. It won’t be long now.”

He turned his head and raised his voice.

“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.

A shame Marion never saw him grown, Thren thought. He is her son, not mine.

Aaron’s 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 reddish 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 holding the book.

“Do you know where Cregon is?” Thren asked. Aaron nodded.

“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 is practicing for a vow of silence,” Randith said as he watched his brother leave without any sense of hurry.

“Was he smart enough to shut the hidden door?” Thren asked. Randith checked.

“Shut and latched,” he said. “At least he can do that much.”

“We have bigger concerns,” Thren said. “If Gemcroft is firing at our men, that means he knew what would happen tonight at Connington’s. 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 up our offer?” 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. They want us exterminated. No bribe, no offer, and no threat will change that. Their minds are set.”

“Give me a few of your best men,” Randith said as his fingers touched the hilt of his rapier. “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 Connington 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. 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 shortswords on the table with his uninjured hand. Although old for a guildmaster, he was still full of strength and vitality, a fact proven by Aaron’s birth so late in his marriage to Marion. He dared his son to meet his eyes and challenge him. For once, he was wrong about his elder son.

“I may leave the mansion be,” Randith said. “But I 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 careful,” Thren said.

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

Then he was gone. Thren struck the table and swore. He thought of all the hours invested in Randith, all the training, teaching, and lecturing in an attempt to cultivate a worthy heir. Wasted, he 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

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