Ruan saw Varajas emerge from Lysander’s tent. Saw Varajas turn towards the edge of the camp and work his way past sleeping figures. Even in the dark, even from a distance, he knew the man. Knew the shape of him, the way he moved, the space he filled.
Oh what a lie Ruan had told the High Father. But as with all good deceptions, he’d larded it deep with the truth. Sheluna’s wizard was traveling with the prince. They were going to Ulek. It was worth the church’s attention—the Brotherhood’s attention. And to that end, Ruan would be doing exactly what Father Donatien had sent him to do.
But Varajas. That was Ruan’s secret. And he still hadn’t decided what he planned to do with it.
That Varajas was still alive had been a shock. Ruan had caught no more than a glance of him as he’d first come home to Triome. A view so fleeting he might have questioned it, if it hadn’t been Varajas. Of him, Ruan was always sure.
But he’d kept that news to himself. He’d ghosted through the city, asking careful questions, watching and listening. He’d found informants in bars, in markets, and in the palace itself. And thus he’d learned how long Varajas had been in the city and when Varajas was planning to leave.
What he still didn’t know was why. Or how.
Had Varajas escaped on his own? Was he one lone survivor? Perhaps turning against the knights in the end, fighting back or running to avoid their fate?
Or were there more? Had the razing of Ulek not been as thorough as Father Donatien believed?
And why—why was Varajas going back?
This was why Ruan had to come alone. Any other Blade would have confronted Varajas, grabbed him and dragged him back. Would have subjected him to questions, torture. Would have tried to break him.
Any other Blade would have been wrong.
Varajas would die before he answered questions. He’d die before giving in to whatever persuasions or tortures the High Father devised. Which meant if Ruan wanted answers, he would need to be clever. He would need to be careful.
He’d disguised himself as a Ritalle soldier, one man among a hundred. He wore a chafiyeh, which obscured his features, something he hadn’t done since he’d joined the Brotherhood, but Lysander’s retinue was a cosmopolitan group. He wasn’t the only person here who traced his background to the eastern desert, so the clothing passed without comment.
His twin swords he kept hidden, in a wrapped bundle beneath his cloak. Too hot, but he didn’t trust them away from his person. The prophet’s cross he could wear openly. There were plenty of devout among the soldiers. It didn’t draw attention.
Varajas still wore a cross. Not openly, but Ruan had seen the braided leather cord, and seen the shape resting beneath Varajas’s shirt. The sight had sparked a bitter, betrayed anger in Ruan that had kept him from sleeping much that first night.
He had to do better. He couldn’t make this personal.
Even if it was.
Eight years gone and Ruan still couldn’t let it go. He couldn’t forgive. It was an angry pit in his stomach, a fire that sometimes died down to a smolder, but burned bright and hot at the slightest reminder.
He’d learned to hide it—from his commander, from the High Father, from the rest of the Brotherhood. He’d built a mask of ice and worn it for eight years now. But that didn’t keep it from gnawing away at his insides. It didn’t help him sleep. It didn’t bring him peace.
Ruan was angry with the Brotherhood, with the church. He was still angry with the High Father, and the choices Donatien had made. He was angry with the world. He was angry with himself.
Most of all, he was angry with Varajas and the choices he had made and the corner he’d forced Ruan into. Which gave Ruan some small sliver of hope that if he could…deal with Varajas, somehow, and douse that spark of fury that lived at the center of the rest, everything else would fade. He could be whole again. He could be the man he’d once believed himself to be.
So Ruan would wait and Ruan would watch until the opportunity presented itself. And then he’d face Varajas one more time. One way or another, he’d put an end to this.