Varajas met Ruan back at the church—one of three in Whitecliff. The great cathedral at the center of the city was more for display than anything, and the smaller building overlooking the ocean was as much hospital as place of worship, but the isolated structure just outside the city boundaries was a monastery, and thus, welcomed and traveling priests who needed a place to stay.

Ruan was in their room, pacing back and forth as well as he could in the cramped space. That much restless energy meant Ruan was on to something. “You find something?”

Talking quickly, Ruan filled Varajas in on his encounter with the Sword wizard. Both her cryptic hints and her unspoken warnings.

It made Varajas tired. Wizards and their games. “It would be nice if just once someone could give us a straight answer about something.”

“She said we weren’t the first Blades to look into this. I asked around. Carefully. There were a half dozen of us actually based here until a year ago, when Brother Eldred came up here and sent them all down south.”

Brother Eldred again. “Sidaine—the wizard I spoke with—she mentioned Eldred specifically. Pretty sure she was threatening me.”

“With what?” Ruan asked impatiently.

“Telling on us. You do remember, right, that we’re here without permission?”

Ruan rolled his eyes and went back to pacing.

Varajas sat down on one of the cots. They were the only furniture in the room. “Would you stop, please? You’re making me dizzy.”

Ruan did stop, but he stood there tense and practically vibrating with restrained energy and that was almost as bad. Varajas realized he was being cranky, but everything about this business was pushing him to be that way.

“Come here,” he said to Ruan, who hesitated for a moment—that reflexive rebellion—before coming over to Varajas, dropping to his knees between Varajas’s legs and bowing his head to rest it against Varajas’s chest. Ruan’s presence, his touch, was enough to drain some of the tension from Varajas. He lifted a hand, stroked his fingers gently, idly, through Ruan’s silky hair. Traced lightly down Ruan’s scalp, the back of his neck. Felt Ruan arch into the touch, like a cat.

“We should go back to the marketplace,” he said finally.

Ruan might have relaxed under Varajas’s touch, but his voice was still fractious. “I spent all day in the marketplace.”

“I know. But that wizard we saw—he came from somewhere. We’ve been looking all through town, but what if that’s the wrong direction?”

Ruan looked up, his beautiful, liquid eyes pulled tight with thought. “What else is there? The ocean? The cliffs?”

Ruan had answered his own question. He put his hands on Varajas’s knees to lever himself up. Varajas would have stayed as they were for a little while longer, but Ruan’s restless energy was a constant and Varajas took what moments he could get.

For now, it was time to get back to their job.

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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