When charging into dangerous situations you can either be fast and silent or fast and prepared. It was a simple truth, with a single, large exception which Jasen wasn’t sure why he had never noticed before: if you caused the dangerous situation, you had the foreknowledge to be all three.
He didn’t figure it out until he felt the cool line of a knife leaned against his spine and angled against the muscle of his neck while his sword was still padded in his sheath. He had moved quiet and quick into his hiding place in the far corner of the dim warehouse, but she had been ready for him.
“We told you to stay home,” she murmured, leaning close behind him with one hand firmly on his shoulder so that she could speak into his ear. She didn’t lose the angle on her knife, placed perfectly to slide in and twist so that nothing below his chin ever answered his mind again. It was chilling, even knowing who the voice belonged to.
The line of recruits held straight, shoulder-to-shoulder as Hemmark passed in front of them. It wasn’t particularly hard, with their heels backed against their packs behind them, and their packs touching the barracks wall behind that. They looked directly ahead and didn’t waver, but that wasn’t hard either when turning would have meant looking into the sun that was threatening a too-bright day in the middle of the gray dawn. Hemmark, coming to a stop at the end of the line, pretended to be impressed with his handful of men and tangle of fresh sixteen-year-old boys.
“Welcome to the City Watch,” he said. He tipped his voice into a pitch that he knew would carry clearly down the courtyard, but did not raise his tone into anything that could be called a shout. Some of the boys glanced at him sideways, blinking into the light behind him, as if he might have snuck up just beside them. Meeting his eye, they immediately snapped their heads forward again and straightened like he’d kicked them. He reserved a smile for later.
“We will give you a bed. We will feed you. We will hand you uniforms and weapons and pay you besides. We will train you into the sort of men that this city will respect and sometimes fear. We’ll make you into the sort of man that the man next to you can trust. And in return, you will protect this city, from now until the day you are dismissed. You will follow orders. You will put yourself on the line. You will fight when we tell you fight, stand down when we tell you stand down, wake we tell you wake, and keep to your feet when we need you.”
Hemmark glanced down the line for the inevitable shifting that always arrived when he gave his speech. Feet shuffled. Shoulders rolled a little forward or squared defiantly. It was always half and half in these recruits, between those who relaxed into the idea of taking orders and those who disliked the idea entirely. But there was no more shuffling than usual and he nodded them toward the barracks.
Jasen took a single step into his kitchen and stopped. He had not expected to find Jennika standing by his small square table, but seeing her there, he couldn’t muster any surprise to see her pocketing something off the sideboard. He wasn’t sure what it was, wasn’t even entirely sure that she had picked it up or flicked her fingers into the fold of her jacket. Still, he thought he saw her, so he knew she’d done something.
“If you take that, I will hunt you down,” he said.
She looked at him steadily, blinked once, and let her eyebrows drift upward.
“I will hunt you down,” Jasen repeated. He took another step into the room. “With horses, or hounds, or mountain lions, or crocodiles, or whatever it takes to track a little slithering weasel like you.”
She cocked her head to one side, very careful not to move otherwise. “Do crocodiles have a good sense of smell?”
In the warm light of the open taproom, Jenny leaned forward over the table, arms crossed, shoulders hunched forward to protect the smile twisting her lips. Across from her, Jasen leaned as far back as he could, shoulder blades pressed into his chair back, but his long legs were kicked lazily under the table.
“You can’t,” he said flatly.
Jenny’s smile twisted higher. “Sure, I can,” she said.
“You can’t,” he repeated, quick, as if he were playing the last seconds over, giving her the chance to take back her ridiculous argument.
Between them, Bess rested her elbows gently on the edge of the table, and held a full cider mug under her chin. She glanced at Jenny as Jasen spoke, then quick to Jasen to catch his reaction to her response, back and forth, back and forth. She didn’t laugh, because it would have ruined the flow of it, but she wanted to. At the glint in Jenny’s eye. At the smile that was creeping onto Jasen’s face despite the helpless and disbelieving look that was growing in his eyes.
The knock on the cabin door was both polite and forcible. Jenny pulled her face out of her pillow, eyes flashing open. She hadn’t heard a knock quite that interesting in a long time. Bess must have something fun to go along with breakfast. Swinging down from her hammock, she ran barefoot across the decking and pulled her cabin door open.
Bess wasn’t there. There was no one in the long room, though sunlight was already lancing through the windows at the rear of the ship. Blinking against it, Jenny moved toward the outer door a little more slowly.
The knock came again, three hard knocks that made the door rattle in its frame. Jenny looked for a shadow under the door, but the morning light laid in the wrong direction, and the shifting line of light and dark under the door could have been anything.
“Come on,” Jasen called through the door, just as Jenny pulled on the handle. “I know someone’s home.”
She slammed the door shut again at the sharp sound of his voice, whirled, and put her back to the door.
Jasen answered the door at the fourth knock. Seeing who it was, he stepped back and pulled the door as far as it would go, gesturing the two women inside. “You’re late,” he said.
Bess stepped inside, shooting him a glance that might have scratched the skin from his face, except that it didn’t seem to be aimed at him. Her red hair was tied back in a sloppy tail, the way it usually was when she was tired, or busy, or both. Jasen watched her for a half second longer, trying to sort out if there was trouble on her tail. Her shoulders were relaxed, her hands easily slung along the strap of the travel sack tied across her chest. She was annoyed, but not in any rush, so he let himself relax as well.
Jenny came in on Bess’ heels, grinning like a bobcat. Her dark hair curled around her face, coming loose from the scarf tied around her head. “The Duke was late,” she explained. Then she shrugged, like there was nothing to be done about dukes.
It is the dearest wish of my heart that this letter reach you in time. I have every intention of setting sail within the week, making for Port Andin with all haste. Upon arrival, it will be my pleasure to seek out Mr. Daleman, and speak with him on one of two subjects: his immediate restitution for heinous acts against my person and the persons of others dear to me, or his immediate cessation of breath.
Under the assumption that he will prefer the latter, and knowing the depth and intensity of such a discussion, I would very much like to have your company.