Once when he was young and just come into his power, Thaylan had been invited to attend a celebration: one of the Old Seatown families was throwing a feast to commemorate the coming-of-age of some poor bastard or the other, and somehow he had been included on the list. They were a shadow of their former selves, hardly worth the effort, but he was amused by the gesture and went anyway.
It was a boring affair for the most part, with woeful company and dull speeches. Its only saving grace was the food; that, and the dancing…
He’d never danced before. Surrounded by his Chosen he didn’t think he would ever have to, but a girl asked him all the same – a brave, bold girl with golden hair and green eyes – and he obliged. He enjoyed it, despite himself.
There was a problem though. He ended up deflowering that girl and destroying her family. He couldn’t for the life of him remember why – profit? Fun?
Whatever the reason, the result was the same:
When you dance a dance, he thought sourly, watching the House of Red Leaves being gutted by flame, more often than not someone gets screwed.
He and Merrick were dancing now, in their way. And the evling too, she was a part of it. And Dogheart…?
Dogheart was busy, cursing the First Lords with a vehemence that made others shy away, even his own guards. He was standing over his Valkarian, who was breathing blood and dying too slowly. Eventually, someone would put him out of his misery, but for now he was left to suffer.
Thaylan felt no pity. It was an alien thing to him, always had been. Like love. Compassion. Hope…
But anger, he knew that. And the desire for revenge.
The House would not die – there was too much rain, even now it worked to quench the flames. And the arbour, it would survive or it would regrow.
Nothing was over.
He turned away. Two men carried Azzar past him, the Helisian pale and weak-looking but alive. He still had his chain-whip coiled in one hand: only death would part him from it. Thaylan wondered idly whether he would die – certainly, a skilled healer might be able to patch the wound in his chest. And if he should avoid a fever…?
He decided he didn’t care. Nothing mattered now except Merrick, the evling-thing and stopping them both from getting away. Because if he let them get away – if he failed to enact his retribution – he would be weak, and in Seagrave, the weak died.
He’d said something to that effect to Merrick once, hadn’t he?
“Drecking bastard!” screamed Dogheart, appearing suddenly to crowd him. “You and that whoreson Merrick too – because of you, flesh-dealer, what belongs to me is gone! I’ll have that girl or I’ll have your heart on a plate!”
Thaylan sniffed in response, smelt sweat and shit and piss and other things besides wafting off the other man. And fear too. “Careful,” was all he said, not moving.
Dogheart held his gaze for a dozen heartbeats before stalking away, his remaining guards falling in behind. One of Thaylan’s own went and did the deed then, plunging a dagger into the Valkarian’s good eye.
The moment had passed: of danger, shock, indecision. It was time to go to work again. They all looked to him:
“Find them,” he said quietly. “Take them.”
One of his Chosen had the courage to ask, “How?”
He looked around. Ten men in all, and a handful of dogs roused from the kennels, barking madly in the rain and straining at the leash. But he could get more…
“Send word to Rennec at the Golden Hand, Joern at my manor and the Boy at Imperian Summer. And Geddon at the fighting pits – I want gladiators. Tell him he’ll profit from it.”
“How many what?”
The Chosen hesitated. “How many should I send for?”
Thaylan fixed him with a stare. “All of them, of course.”
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