Authors: Jaida Jones
ALSO BY JAIDA JONES AND DANIELLE BENNETT
To my dad, who still wants to visit New Zealand
To Grandma Marjorie and Taid, for spoiling me rotten and fighting to stay awake when I wanted “just one more story”
thousand thank-yous to our amazing editor at Spectra, Anne Groell, and our tireless agent, Tamar Rydzinski. Without either of these two fine ladies there would be no book. We are also eternally grateful to our sharp-eyed copy editor, Sara Schwager, and our assistant editor at Spectra, David Pomerico. As always, we owe just about everything to ruthless Mom—whose ruthlessness is next to godliness. And who could forget the efforts of the province of British Columbia, so rainy that we are forced to stay in and write all the time? Special thanks to all the members of our families who make allowances for our weird hours and who don’t make fun of us for not changing out of our pajamas all day; to Dr. Schmirer (he knows why); to Jean Lerner (she also knows why); to Mylanta, down-to-the-wire beverage of champions; and, once more, to everyone at the livejournal community Thremedon. You guys are incredible and we are incredibly grateful.
On the day Rook became my brother again, I turned into a liar.
Balfour was the first to ask, once we started up a correspondence, whether or not I had any memories of my older brother. Our time together had been so distant, and to fondly remember a brother only to be confronted years later with the reality of
was bound to be a nasty shock.
The question surprised me, but I’d found myself writing an answer nonetheless.
Of course I remember John
, I’d said, clutching at the few specifics that I knew to be true. They were enough to make these memories convincing to others and—after a time—I too became convinced.
After that, it was too late. When others asked me whether or not I remembered my older brother, I always said “Of course,” as though it was a foolish question, and didn’t bear thinking about. I’d always prided myself on my honesty—a rare virtue, since it was always the first thing a Mollyrat cast aside—and that I’d stifled it so quickly was a notion that troubled me.
“So you two are brothers?” the innkeeper asked. He was a short, provincial man, with one of those recognizably provincial accents: blurring his
’s and his
’s together, and rounding off his
’s, as though
his tongue couldn’t quite shape them in time to get them out. I wondered if I could ascertain his place of birth and whether or not he had been raised there. To me, it seemed clear that he had been born in Hacian, just on the border between New Volstov land and the Old Ramanthe, but I never offered a theory on birthplaces unless I was a hundred percent sure. You never knew whom you’d offend, and among this man’s properties I noted a certain strength of arm, if not of character, that I myself did not possess.
I would let the matter go, though I would make note of it in my travel log.
We were far enough into the countryside that no one knew Rook by sight. We were anonymous travelers, with the mystery of the open road before us—though when I’d shared this sentiment with Rook he’d threatened to take my logbook and stick it somewhere where I need make no further entries. There was nothing to intimate that my brother was one of the greatest heroes of our time—the famed pilot of the dragon Havemercy, who had saved this country.
Not single-handedly, but for some reason Rook had a way of sticking in people’s minds like an irritating burr.
“Yes,” I told the innkeeper. “We are brothers.”
“Don’t look anything alike,” said the innkeeper’s daughter. She wasn’t looking at me. She was staring straight at the window, out toward whatever place Rook had disappeared to earlier. The excuse was that he intended to stretch his legs, but we’d been walking for half the day, and personally I would have found it more relaxing to take a hot bath, have a hot meal, and compile notes about what we’d seen.
“Ah,” I agreed, not trying to offend her either way. Searching for some other topic, I happened upon the only matter on which I was an expert. “I notice that you have an accent of peculiarly—”
“I’d best be seeing to the horses,” she said, hurriedly fixing a strand of her hair before disappearing out the door.
“Now, you listen here,” the innkeeper said, reaching across the desk and grabbing me by the collar. “I don’t want any funny business in my establishment.”
“She’s just gone to see—”
“The horses?” the innkeeper said. “Horses my left nut. She doesn’t need to fix herself up for any horses. You find that brother of yours and you make sure nothing happens.”
“I will do my utmost,” I promised. It was the liar in me reasserting himself—though it wasn’t a true lie, since I did intend to try my hardest.
I just wasn’t particularly optimistic about our chances—mine or the innkeeper’s.
But what was most shocking to me was that anyone seemed to think that
have any influence on the situation. Despite what had changed since the time of our meeting in Thremedon—a time I preferred to examine in private, like poking at a bad tooth—it was fair to say that I still had very little influence upon what my brother chose to say and do.
To his credit, thus far Rook had managed to avoid any behavior that would have gotten us thrown out of a night’s accommodation, but this was hardly the first time I’d been threatened in this manner. And it seemed that all the innkeepers we’d encountered were under the misapprehension that I had some control over my brother.
This was far from the truth, but I found myself marching off to avert disaster as best I could—a lone sandbag against the coming flood.
The horses were liable to grow spoiled, with three people heading out to see to their needs. Except that it was only Rook who’d set out to look—myself and the innkeeper’s daughter were there for another beast entirely, and one that didn’t go about on all fours.
I had barely reached the stables before I heard his voice. Whether he’d lost the best of his hearing during his time with the Dragon Corps, or whether he just didn’t care who heard him, I had never been able to ascertain, but Rook was loud and it carried. He had no reason to quiet himself since, for Rook, reason was akin to desire. If he didn’t desire something, he found it completely unreasonable.
“We can do this easy or you can be difficult about it, but it’s
happen, so you might as well be a good girl and keep your mouth shut, all right?”
A sinking feeling settled into my stomach. Visions of being thrown bodily from the establishment, of sleeping on the hard ground in the cold with no respite for either my tired muscles or my grumbling stomach, flitted through my mind. I hoped the innkeeper was still inside, or at least tending to matters that would keep him there for a while, for I was in no mood to consider giving up the bath I’d been fantasizing about all day. I picked up the pace.
Fortunately, it was a short enough distance across the courtyard that I didn’t have time to call up anything too lurid in my mind. Perhaps it was because the circumstances under which I’d been reunited with my brother had been so particular, but I found myself consistently expecting the worst.
As Rook had kindly suggested, offering his opinion on my “nerves,” I was a grim little fucker when I set my mind to it.
When I reached the stables, he was bent double, digging a stone out of one of the horses’ hooves with his pocketknife. The innkeeper’s daughter was standing as close as she could without chancing a stray kick. She held her hands clasped nervously in front of her. It was as innocent a scene as I could have hoped, and I couldn’t help feeling some perverse disappointment, as though I’d somehow been tricked.
“Picked up a stone, did he?” the innkeeper’s daughter asked.
“She,” Rook grunted, his attention on the horse, who didn’t seem bothered in the slightest, though I knew that if I’d attempted the same trick, I’d have received a good kick to the chest for my efforts. Rook’s hands had that effect on animals—and women too, I sometimes thought in my less charitable moments, but I prized myself on being too much of a gentleman to voice the comparison. “Not her fault.
people have a hard time followin’ the trail.”