“How is it you wander the open desert in the day?” the man asked, licking his cracked lips.“You have no incense.”
“A man came this way,” Jack said. “His name is Moribrand.” He said it with little inflection. His
words flowed out evenly, not too fast, not too slow.
Recognition flickered across the man’s pinched features, then anger. “Yes. I met him. The pig
faced piece of dung robbed me.”
“Swindled,” the wife sai
d under her breath.
The husband flinched. “Quiet, woman!” She turned away to stifle a sob, and he glared at heruntil she hushed, and then said to Jack, “What do you want with him? He claimed he was a wizard.”
The husband grew braver in his anger. He took
a step closer, jaw clenched, head thrust forward. “Ishe a friend of yours?”
“I’m going to kill him,” Jack said, and he shifted his cloak, revealing the grip of a sword that
hung from his back.
“Kill him?” The man halted. He eyed the sword, a wary frown dragging his face down. “Kill a
wizard? But . .
The children were whispering to each other, but Jack could hear them.
“He’s only a boy,” the girl said.
“No he’s not,” her brother said. “Now be quiet for once.”
Their mother shushed them again, her breath hissing.
Their father eased back and nodded. “He wanted to buy my pack horse. I refused, of course.I’m a trader. I need the horse to carry my goods. But he offered two sacks full of gold.” He shook the two bags he held. “He showed me the gold. It was real!” He glared at his wife, daring her tocontradict him. “But now it’s turned to dust with the setting sun. Dust!”
The man upended one bag, and a column of sand poured out. “What will I do now? I dumped
everything I own into the desert and gave him my horse. What will I do now, with only a donkey to
carry my children, and a pile of dirt, tell me that, eh?”
Jack stared down the length of the glass road, now a deep purple in the fading light, andpictured Moribrand riding for his life, reins lashing from side to side. The wizard would widen thegap between them significantly, at least until he killed the animal. He might even make it out of thedesert before Jack could catch up.He let his gaze return to the children and tried to think what might happen to them. Withouthis goods, their father would arrive at the city of Spiral as a beggar instead of a merchant.
Jack had never been to Spiral, but if it was anything like he’d heard, they were doomed. It wouldn’t be long before a slaver clamped chains around their
Not that it mattered to Jack. They were just strangers passing on the road, weren’t they? Atleast, that’s what his mistress, the Lady of Twilight, would say. She would mock him for even
considering their situation for more than a heartbeat. If they were in trouble, it was their own faultfor trusting a man like Moribrand. A wizard. So let them perish. Even now, seeing the fear on their
faces, imagining them in shackles or dead in the sand, he couldn’t feel the slightest twinge of
he had made a rule hadn’t he? Rule number one was
Obey the Lady
. That was
rule. It was the only rule she had, but Jack had made his own secret addition. Obey the Lady, but
like the Lady
was rule number two. He had to. Otherwise, it was too easy to be cruel.
Jack opened a satchel at his side and plucked out a rough gemstone. “Take this to the market inSpiral. I think it might be worth more than the horse you lost.”
The man’s eyes widened at the uncut opal, a slice of tangerine against white
palm, but he
refused to touch Jack’s hand. After a moment, Jack flipped his hand over, letting the stone fall intothe dirt, and walked away, following the tracks of Moribrand’s new horse.