Yes, I thought, I understand about promises. Mine are important too.
As we walked back through the arbor, she paused, lightly touching my arm. “I was wondering, by any chance is Kazi short for Kazimyrah?”
I stared at her, her simple question squeezing the air from my lungs. I tried to figure out how she knew. Did she suspect something about how I signed the letter? “You’ve heard the name before?”
“Yes. In Candora. It’s not an uncommon name up there among fletchers, especially for first daughters. In their old tongue it means ‘sweet arrow,’ which is the…”
She continued to explain, but I already knew what the sweet arrow was, that rare arrow among a dozen quivers that flies truer and farther than the rest, the one in which a fletcher’s craft is elevated by something as intangible as the spirit within the wood.
“No,” I answered. “My name is just Kazi.”
But as we walked back to the front gate, my mind whirled with this new knowledge that even my own mother hadn’t known. Had my father been a fletcher from Candora? Had he named me? Old wounds split open again, every answer that should have been mine stolen like it was only a cheap trinket to be traded away at market. Thousands of years of history were revered by the Ballengers. My own brief history had been ripped from my grasp. There were a hundred questions I would never be able to ask my mother.
When we got back to the front gate, everyone was waiting for us, the army of Ballengers, straza, and other hands, ready to head into Hell’s Mouth.
Everyone but Jase.
All eyes fell on me. I might have been on the inside of the gate, but I was still a foreign object, a stone caught in a horse’s shoe and dragged into their inner sanctum. Priya smirked. She had seen me scanning the group.
“Don’t worry. He’s coming,” she said, as if to let me know nothing slipped by her.
“Come ride by me!” Nash called.
“Not just yet, Nash. I’m going to ride with Kazi first.” Heat raced between my ribs. I turned to see Jase approaching from another path, guiding two horses. One was coal black—mine. I ran to him, checking his tack, all in place but now dust free and freshly oiled. His coat gleamed, and his mane was carefully groomed and braided.
The others headed out through the gate, leaving Jase and me alone.
I nuzzled my horse’s neck and scratched his forelock. “Mije, gutra hezo, Mije,” I whispered, and he blew out a robust snort of appreciative air, his expression of excitement, and a signal that he was ready for a gallop through open fields. He was high energy and meant for speed, a venerable breed of Vendan stock specifically bred for Rahtan and not used to the long confines of a stable.
“His name is Mije?” Jase asked.
My focus remained fixed on Mije’s neck and I nodded, unable to look at Jase, caught off guard by the sudden tightness in my throat. Stupid horse, I thought, don’t do this to me, but I couldn’t hide that I was glad to see him.
“The mane was Jalaine’s idea. I hope you don’t mind. She kind of fell in love with him.”
“It’s a bit fancy for him, but I don’t think he minds. He’ll probably expect extra treats from me now too.” I looked up. Jase’s eyes were trained on me.
“Tiago found him at the livery when they were searching for you and the other Rahtan.” He straightened, his shoulders stiff and uncomfortable, and he frowned. “We don’t have the others, Kazi. We never did. I want you to know.”
This wasn’t about horses. He was talking about Wren and Synové.
“Why tell me now?”
“Because of last night. I saw the look in your face. The fear. I don’t want you to think of me that way. I would never harm them. You know that, don’t you?”
I thought about my reaction. I had been afraid. I had felt death in the room. It had rushed over my skin, like a stampeding army of ghosts, and then I saw Jase. He had killed someone—I had known it—and dread had gripped me. My first thoughts had jumped to Wren and Synové, and I realized that what I knew about Jase and what I knew about the Patrei were two different things. The Patrei ruled a different world than the one where Jase and I had roamed. I was still getting to know this other person.
“Why did you lie and say you had them?”
“They had disappeared, and we’ve had trouble in town. I have to consider all possibilities.”
“And if I believed that you had them in custody you thought I might confess something. They became leverage.”
A crease formed between his brows. “Yes.”
“Jase, I had vanished into thin air—just like you. Maybe they feared they were next. Did it ever occur to you they might have disappeared because they were trying to keep their own necks safe?”
“It occurred to me. But where are they now? Everyone knows you’re here and safe.”