“Are we done dying yet? Please tell me we’re done and dead.”
Mayr snorted at Aeley Dahe’s question as she crossed the study and threw herself into the chair behind her desk. She yanked a thick red and yellow striped blanket over herself and hid beneath it, dark blonde hair and all. Only her elbow peeked out from beneath to lean against the arm of her chair, the deep brown and green fabric of her tunic sombre compared to the bright blanket and dark red walls of the study. The rest of her black and brown travel attire was strewn across the golden brown rugs that covered the floor, haphazard piles of soggy fabric abandoned between him and the fire in the hearth.
“If I say yes, does that mean you’ll spend the rest of this afterlife nattering my ear off? Or can I get a nap first?” Mayr retorted before he launched into a fit of sneezes. Rogue strands of his long black hair caught on the bronze clasps of his heavy black cloak. Drops of melted snow fell around him, adding to the mess on the already slick floor. Somehow he managed to unlace his cloak and toss it into the chair beside the stained glass window to his right. He fumbled as he unbuckled the belt strapped across his chest, happy to have the weight of his sword off his back. His hands were painfully numb and red as he laid his sword over his cloak. “Next time, when you think it’s a great idea to visit a prison, don’t go when it’s snowing.”
“And don’t take you,” Aeley added, turning her head. Even with her face covered, he knew she was making a face at him, tongue out, eyes crossed. If only the weather had frozen that. She may have been Tract Steward, but he would pay handsomely to see her stuck like that for a day. As her best friend and head of her family guard, it was only fair.
“Yeah, take Pellon,” he said, flexing his fingers. “He likes freezing his balls. He loves warming them up afterwards even more.”
Aeley snorted a laugh, followed by a groan. “Why didn’t we bring blankets?” She whimpered and dropped her head back.
“Don’t look at me. I don’t do weather.”
“No, you just do your guy. Hard.” Aeley peeled back the corner of the blanket to reveal one of her brown eyes. “You’ll break his back one of these days, you and your hips of thrusting greatness.”
Mayr tore off his black scarf and tossed it at her, hissing as his fingers tingled and protested. The scarf landed on the floor in front of her desk in a limp pile. She had to remind him of Tash right then. Just when I’d forgotten about what I promised…
He wanted to be back out in the cold, cramped inside a freezing carriage. Or at Footshred prison, interrogating prisoners and rubbing their faces in the freedom they would never have. Or wasting time with Severn, the one Councilman on High Council who hated him most in all the republic and wanted his head for a paperweight.
Anywhere else but home.
No, anywhere else but near Tash, the one person Mayr wanted to press up against and lose himself in for the rest of the day, wrapped up in warmth and desire and need.
And he has so much need.
“So are you going to tell him?”
Mayr blinked at the question, the words lost to him.
“Let’s try that again,” Aeley said slowly, flicking back the blanket until it settled in her lap. “Are you going to tell Tash everything about today?” She tugged up the sleeves of her tunic and lifted her legs onto the desk before crossing them at the ankles. Her muddy brown boots hung over the corner as she folded her arms and leaned back. “After all, it’s the two of you I have to thank for these lovely talks with a gang family and chatting up Severn for crime numbers.”
“We had help,” Mayr mumbled. He stared at the fire, chewing on the inside of his cheek as unwelcome memories crashed through his unthawed thoughts.
“Mm, I remember. All the more reason to tell him everything. Him, Ress, Adren—they know how nasty the Shar-denn is. They’re going to be running from it for the rest of their lives, I imagine.”
“Yeah, I know.” Mayr sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. His headache was back. Then again, anything to do with the Shar-denn brought on any number of headaches, particularly when he considered the events that had led them to this point.
One event stood out from the rest, its three-week-old images on a continual loop inside his mind: a fight he should have seen coming, sprawled out inside Ress’s house in Araveena Ford, the town where Tash and Ress had grown up as best friends and family. More than that, they had also been brothers in the Shar-denn, a brutal gang that continued to plague their republic of Kattal from one generation to the next. A gang they had both betrayed in their own ways.
Adren had planned to kill Ress on behalf of the Shar-denn, determined to punish him for his part in the arrest of Adren’s family, but nothing had played out as expected. Although Adren started with the intention to avenge cir family, ce changed cir mind. After that, everything fell apart: Adren and Ress forged a romantic connection and decided to run from the gang, inspired by Tash’s successful defection. When Ress called upon Tash to help them leave, Tash agreed and asked Mayr to do the same.
Their agreement came with a price: a brawl with members of the Shar-denn that injured not only Ress, but Tash, Mayr, and the others they had enlisted to help.
Just when Mayr had hoped the Shar-denn would never harm Tash again, they charged in with a wallop.
And now I hate myself because of what we have to do—what he has to do. If he’s ever going to stand a chance at protecting Adren from whatever comes for cir, he’s going to have to fight back. Him, a priest, a speaker of peace, a soother of soul-sucking ailments—and I have to train him. Today. Now.
He wanted to hide in Aeley’s study forever.
As if she read his mind, she stared at him and wagged her finger at the door. Mayr let out a defeated sigh. They both had things to do.
“Sorry,” Aeley said, swinging down her legs. “I’m sure you’d love to sit here and watch me read, but I need to concentrate.” She smiled and tossed her long hair over her shoulder. “I’ll see you at dinner, though.”
“Of course.” Mayr spun on his heel and crossed the room to the door. “If I see your wife, I’ll let her know you’re stealing her job and assaulting another quill.”
Aeley laughed and waved him from the study. He obeyed without another word, knowing how much work she had, as if it ever ended. Although it was true: her work never would end as long as she was Tract Steward of Gailarin, their sizeable region in the republic for which she was responsible. Under the High Council’s watchful authority, she managed everything that pertained specifically to Gailarin, from its citizens and finances to its resources and political games. There were always documents, always meetings, always someone in need of something. Gailarin did not run itself.