“Kill me, and your sister is dead, too, rogue,” whispered Gaenlon.
Micah spun his left-handed dagger into the air, caught it by the spine of the blade, and placed it back in his heart-side sheath. A tiny of drop poison perched on Gaenlon’s neck, like a blackbird on a branch, deciding which way to fly. It soared down his neck, landed on his clavicle, and nested on his chest.
“I have no intention of spilling your blue-blood, paladin. I only wanted your attention. You have something I need: your skills. It churns my stomach and makes me want to shit the words instead of speak them, but you have the truth of it. Spelling things out is something I am not used to, but I forgot I was dealing with less complicated folk.”
Gaenlon sat up: the rogue’s dagger to jugular vein shook him up more than he wanted Micah to see. His exhaustion had made him precipitously careless.
“Who is this girl? She seems…superfluous,” Micah asked.
“Her name is Daci. She is, first of all, no concern of yours, and second of all, can help us both. It will take all three of us to bring your sister out of there alive. You were ambitious to think I could do this with only you as my joker in the deck.”
Daci began to stir out of the sap; the smell of her bruised scalp was almost detectable. Her worg pup had been off chasing night voles and rousting rabbits out of their dens. He now squirmed next to Daci, agitated, nudging her awake. He could smell the wound. A rogue’s sapping not only bruises the skull, but also casts a deep burn inside one’s brain, lingering like a cheating hangover, the pain without the pleasure beforehand.
“Joker? Go to hell, paladin. This is serious, and we need to move forward. I didn’t count on extra baggage, but if you say she stays, she stays.” Gaenlon was surprised by Micah’s seemingly genuine admonishment, his brief vulnerability. The moment felt oily and thick.
In Daci’s swirling stupor, she dreamed. She was small again, and there was the boy. His face contorted in mocking cruelty. He called her Ugly, Stupid, Worthless. Ugly, Stupid, Worthless. Ugly, Stupid, Worthless. Again, she picked up a mud clot, and instead of breaking on impact, it was a rock. But this time, instead of leaving a knot on his forehead, it shattered his grotesque mask of a face. She woke on impact. The image of fear on his skull sprinted by, as quickly as a wink. Fear behind the mask.
Dacianna stood to her full height. The effects of the sap wore off. She unwrapped her cloak, and shook it out like a rug, not caring if most of the dust blew into Gaenlon’s and Micah’s eyes. She casually put on her cloak, and walked up to Micah, gently brushing back his hair, and accusingly touched the small knot on his forehead with the end of her pointer finger.
“We’re even, little boy. You still have your scar tissue, and you have taken a bit from my noggin, too. Guess neither one of us is going home crying to our mommas, are we?”
Micah stared at Daci. In the hour beyond the moon’s reach, in the dark, he realized who she was. His night vision was excellent, but her dark skin and hair made her features difficult to discern at first, even for him. The smoldering campfire offered little illumination. But her words lit up his memory. This was the little girl who stood up to him, who threw the rock that flattened him out. There had been so many girls and women who had hit, slapped, and cursed him—but her rock and true aim—that one left a bump.
“Mudpebble?” ventured Micah. “Is that you? All grown up now, eh?”
“My name is Dacianna, and I am a paladin, same as my colleague here. I understand you need our assistance,” she said in her most formal manner. “I’ll kindly ask you once not to use any of your rogue tricks on me again. They will not kill me, but you know as well as I, power lies with the righteous. I knocked you down once, and I can do it again.” With that, she pointed toward his head, but didn’t touch him.
The three knew the path. The three knew the way. But that didn’t mean the three knew what lie ahead.
And in a room, lined with silk and satin, Micah’s sister cried. Her tears made the ink on her face shine like patent leather. The tattoo on her face, a permanent marking of banditry and honor among thieves, both signified her willingness to mar her natural beauty, and announce her unsavory affiliations with lesser gangs and thugs in the kingdom. Survival for her had meant staying loyal to her brother, even if that loyalty meant making difficult promises. Promises to stay away from love, promises to think for herself and her brother only, and broker no allegiances to her own hearth, home, or heart. She knew Micah was only trying to protect her. If she knew how to pick-pocket, if she knew how to fight, and she knew just how worthless love and marriage were, that they were about as valuable as the spit of a grub, (lessons from their father), she would be among the survivors in their tribe of two. She didn’t realize what she had sacrificed for Micah’s sorrow.
The girl stopped crying.