Chapter 1

THERE WAS something wrong with Jack. He should be dead. Any other fifteen-year-old boy would be. Dead as the dunes he marched across. Dead as the bleach-white splinters of glass that cracked under his boots in the sand. But not Jack. Jack was only dead on the inside, a thought that made him take a deep breath to see if it was still true, expanding the hollow in his chest as far as he could and holding it. He listened . . . Nothing. Only his thought, echoing: dead, dead, dead. He exhaled and squinted at the horizon, tugging the hood of his cloak to shade his eyes from the baleful sun. Nothing showed yet in the distant blur except the rumor of foothills, so he slid down the face of the dune that had been his perch and trudged on. A sudden hot wind screamed across the wasteland and heaved against him. It grabbed his cloak and shook it out like a war banner. He threw his arm up in front of his eyes until the gust expired, then broke into a steady run. He ran alongside a road made of flashing glass and quartz that had been etched into existence long ago by a firestorm that crossed the entire desert in one day, dividing it in two, east from west. He was careful to avoid stepping on it, hopping over any stray chunks larger than his fist. Heat shimmered above the road, ghosting into the air. During the day, the surface could melt a horse’s hooves into glue, but at night it snaked across the desert, glittering white in the moonlight, guiding travelers who had the courage to cross the waste. He ran until nightfall. The sun sagged beneath the world, slung itself around, and lurched into the air again. Still, he never stopped to eat or drink, or to answer the needs of a normal boy’s body. At dusk the next day he spotted a man and a woman arguing beside the road. They paced, dark shapes against a livid sky. The woman made sharp chopping gestures with her hand, and Jack could tell by her shaking voice that she was weeping. He slowed so as not to frighten them. When the woman saw him, she drew a veil over her mouth and nose and grasped the reins of her donkey tighter. The man stared. Two sacks the size of wine bottles hung from his fists. As Jack drew closer he could see the man’s body tense, read the questions forming in his wind-scarred face. “I thought you were a sandwight,” the man said. Jack didn’t respond. It was the same wherever he went. It wasn’t just that he walked through the desert, alone. It was the way he looked, especially in the vague dimness of twilight. How is that boy’s skin so pale? What’s wrong with his eyes? He had heard all of these things before, and even if they didn’t speak the words, he knew they were thinking them. “Accursed,” someone whispered. A boy frowned at him from the donkey, a protective arm around his younger sister. Their mother shushed them. Jack let his eyes linger on the siblings. The way the brother glared, ready to defend his sister despite the fear on his face, brought to mind the way Jack had tried to protect his own sister. For a moment, he could almost see her face, her smile—but he smashed down the thought, tearing his gaze away. He had to stay focused. Stay focused and keep moving, or the Lady would punish him. Around the family, boxes and saddlebags littered the sand as if they’d been dumped off in a hurry. An incense pole was spiked into the ground, issuing a pungent stench meant to keep sandwights away.

“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 said under her breath. The husband flinched. “Quiet, woman!” She turned away to stifle a sob, and he glared at her until 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. “Is he 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 to contradict 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, and pictured Moribrand riding for his life, reins lashing from side to side. The wizard would widen the gap between them significantly, at least until he killed the animal. He might even make it out of the desert before Jack could catch up. He let his gaze return to the children and tried to think what might happen to them. Without his 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 necks. Not that it mattered to Jack. They were just strangers passing on the road, weren’t they? At least, 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 fault for 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 sympathy. Except, he had made a rule hadn’t he? Rule number one was Obey the Lady. That was her rule. It was the only rule she had, but Jack had made his own secret addition. Obey the Lady, but Don’t think 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 in Spiral. 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 into the dirt, and walked away, following the tracks of Moribrand’s new horse.

THE SUN burned in the sky. This day marked the four hundred and fifty-second day of Jack’s hunt for the wizard Moribrand. He had chased him beneath the Mountains of Black Glass all the way through to the Fire Stairs, and before that he’d found him dreaming up schemes like a rat in the City of the Sword Worshipers. Moribrand always managed to slip away. But each time, Jack came closer to catching him. At every turn, he forced the wizard to alter his plans, pack up, and flee for his life. Now Jack stalked him in the Desert of Night Walking, where traders said the sun melted a person’s will long before he died of thirst. If he survived the heat, a wandering sandwight was sure to scour the flesh from a traveler’s bones and snatch his soul. Even if he carried incense to ward off the sandwights, he had to avoid the firestorms that screamed through the desert during the day and boiled the sand into glass. Warnings Jack mostly ignored. He found a brown heap on the side of the road the next morning. Vultures squabbled for position around the carcass, their shadows long and wild in the light of the dawning sun. He scattered the carrion birds with his passing and spared the dead beast a glance. Moribrand’s horse, run to death. Its flanks were caked with dried sweat and blood, lacerated with a crisscross of whip wounds. It seemed like an age since he had dreamed boyish dreams of fast horses. He would have wept for the creature back then. JACK RAN ON. Not long after passing the dead horse, he wondered if the waste would finish his work for him. There were signs—bladders squeezed dry of every drop of water, spare clothing tossed aside, and discarded books Jack couldn’t read—all forming a trail of debris leading to his quarry. A clutch of rocks punched up from the sand near the road. In the shade, he found the ashes of a fire the wizard had made by burning a set of robes. The blackened pile still issued wisps of smoke, which meant Moribrand couldn’t be far now. A tangle of scorched bones that probably belonged to a lizard sat next to the fire. On the flattest part of the rock face a vulgar image had been scrawled with chalk. It depicted a cloaked boy, abused and come to a cruel end. Jack imagined the wizard, sweating and wild eyed, scratching out a last insult against him. He squatted and plucked the remaining nub of chalk between his thumb and forefinger. He might have laughed at the wizard’s futile gesture, but the humor withered before it could reach him. Besides, it might be a spell of some kind. Jack flicked the chalk away and rejoined the glass road. Where it met the horizon, mountains bulged into view, edges blurred by the heat. Dunes and sandy plains gave way to foothills. Shabby low bushes clung to life in the shade of stones, rooted in deep cracks. He saw a wild hare. The creature stood to pound a warning into the hard-packed ground with its long foot and then bolted away. The tracks of other travelers multiplied alongside the road, so Jack figured he was nearing a settlement or an oasis. Cresting the next rise, he spotted a compound hunkered around the intersection of the glass road and a dirt road that coursed west along the edge of the foothills. A salmon-colored wall of rammed earth encircled the compound. Inside, clusters of large canvas tents billowed, reinforced with tall central poles. He thought it might be a mining camp of some sort. He’d heard how powerful Barons were willing to risk everything for the valuable resources they could plunder from the fringes of the desert, despite the dangers. In all likelihood, slaves toiled inside the walls, dredging up gems, bones, or salt from furnace-hot excavations. At the gates, soldiers with glinting helmets and spears, their faces half-veiled, watched the crossroads with suspicious eyes. More patrolled the walls. Incense poles spiked around the perimeter

released black greasy smoke into the sweltering air. He was sure Moribrand was inside. After slogging for days on end through the desert, halfstarved, the wizard would be unable to resist whatever comforts this settlement offered. Jack looked up. It was nearly midday, which meant he would soon be at his weakest. Already, he could feel his strength diminishing, pulling away from him like a slow tide. His senses would be their dullest, his limbs more leaden. Almost like a normal boy. Almost. It was also when his mind was most prone to wandering, which was the best reason he had for finding somewhere to hide until nightfall. Besides, no one walked the desert in the day, not without incense. The guards would spear him before he came within ten paces of the gate. Turning back, he abandoned the road and scrabbled over the rough boulders that littered the hills, searching for a niche to hide in. He found a narrow cleft in the ground with just enough space for his body and squeezed into the cool darkness. Jack remained dead still, watching the shadows creep across the ground, unconcerned with the scorpions and lizards that scratched over his skin in search of prey. Nor did he flinch at the rasping moan of a sandwight that swept past. Before long, it happened, as it usually did when he could do nothing but wait, when the influence of twilight was furthest from him. It was his encounter with the trader’s children that had started it this time. He noticed his hands shaking, then sweating. His breath quickened. Jack couldn’t stop his mind from drifting back to a time when he was another boy, when he played on emerald grass under the shade of a giant oak. The memories lurked, crouching within him until he became still, then crept out like priests in a boneyard, beckoning with gaunt hands and counterfeit smiles, onward, deeper, so they could crush him with an unbearable grief. An age ago, Jack would have cried out in despair, but instead he watched the memories as if they belonged to a stranger. Inside, he was numb. Inside, there was no reason for him to cry out, because the grief could not touch him. Because Jack had no heart.

Chapter 2
SHE IS BEAUTIFUL. Deep down he has to admit that, but he’ll never say it out loud because that’s not the kind of thing a brother says to his sister—compliments are only given grudgingly. His own features are reflected in her face, but on her, the sharp cheek bones and angled brows are smoothed out to gentle curves. She has the same black hair and black eyes, just like their mother. They could almost be twins, but at eight he’s two years her elder. A twisted crown of bluebonnets encircles her head like a string of sapphires. It is a crown because they are playing in her favorite place, and at her favorite game of pretend. She starts to speak—a gust of wind flicks a strand of hair into her open mouth. Startled, she half-spits, half-pushes it out with her tongue and drags it away to be tucked behind an ear. He snorts and giggles at her. “Shut up,” she says, eager to resume. “Okay—let’s pretend that I’m the queen of Argent, and you’re a prince—” He looks up at the sky, annoyed. “I don’t want to be a prince.” Looking back at her, he makes an exaggerated motion with his hand, closing it into a tight fist. “I want to be a warrior.” She sighs. “Fine . . . but a royal warrior.” He nods. Good enough. “Okay.” The tea party commences. They sit under the shade of a massive oak that has ruled the top of the grassy hill for several generations of their family. Most of their land is visible from it—the house, the other hills planted with rows of grapevines, the patch of trees that hides the creek. Their father made a swing for the tree, but it hangs broken now because Jack attacked it too often with sticks he imagined were swords, dodging and weaving as it swung wildly from his blows. A thick quilt covers the grass, and on it is spread a collection of crockery borrowed from their mother’s kitchen. His sister pours water from an earthenware pitcher into bowls that are supposed to be teacups of the palace’s finest porcelain. They sip. She starts ticking off the royal schedule for the day—a walk in the gardens, then they must check on the horses, and then of course they must attend their music lessons. Jack’s eyes wander up the branches of the old oak, bored. “Let’s pretend a giant comes now,” he says, interrupting. “Oh, all right,” she allows, frowning. “The tree can be the giant.” She stands from the quilt and moves to the tree. Jack gets up, excited. He pulls on the stick trapped by the rope belt at his waist. It snags—he tugs until it comes free. Armed, he narrates, “Okay, pretend the giant grabs you and I have to rescue you.” He crouches, ready to launch an attack against the tree. She steps back until her hands touch the trunk behind her. That’s when he spots the ant-hill like a small dunce’s cap, just to the side of her. A glimmer of an idea leaps into his mind. “No, not there . . . back a little more . . .” He directs her with his mock sword. A confused frown shows on her face, but she takes another step back, sliding her bare foot around the tree. “Here?” “A little more . . .”

She rolls her eyes. “Okay . . . here?” Her heel crushes the powdery ant-pile. He presses his lips together to keep from smiling. Ants—tiny flaming red ants—boil up from the flattened dirt, streaming up the side of her heel, between her toes, each one pinching the soft pale skin of her foot. He can tell she’s caught his furtive smile. Her mouth opens—it takes a second for the pain to ignite. Then she’s gasping, jerking her foot up, slapping frantically, screaming, pinching them off. He can’t contain his laughter, seeing her hop and slap at her feet. It bubbles up out of him. He bends over double, wheezing. “Jack, you—” she starts to scream at him but her cursing ends in another gasp of pain. More ants she missed on the inside of her heel. The crown of sapphires falls into the grass. He leans on his stick, laughter trailing off. Her face seemed pained, more than he expected. Hair hanging over her face, she limps around the tree, out of his sight. He hears her plop down in the grass and sniff. He lets out a long contented sigh. “That was funny . . .” No response from her. He saunters around the tree, smacking the stick on the trunk, a tentative smile on his face. She’s sitting, knees pulled up, arms crossed, face buried. Another sniff. His smile fades. He takes a breath, frowning a little. She’s crying, he knows it, but says, “What?” as if confused. Raising her head, she glares at him with watery eyes, blinking to keep the tears from falling. “It’s not funny,” she says. “Sorry.” Her lip trembles. Tears spill over. “It hurt. It still hurts.” Red painful bumps dot her foot. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, sullen. She pushes herself upright and runs down the hill toward the house. “I said I’m sorry!” he says after her. “THERE’S THE little sand bug!” Strong hands ripped Jack from the crevice he lay in, jerking him out by his cloak and throwing him to the ground. Sand grit stung his eyes; he tasted dust in his mouth. A hard boot crashed into his ribs and a club rang against the back of his skull. He felt his sword stripped from his back. He lay still on his belly, too stunned by the throbbing pain in his skull to move, wishing he hadn’t let himself slip into a daydream, but it wasn’t like he could help it. He should have known to hide himself better, though. Moribrand had arranged this ambush. Jack was sure of it. It was just like the wizard to squirm his way into the confidence of strangers and twist them around to serve his own needs. Who knew what story he’d sold them? Voices spoke in cautious tones around him. “Look at him.” “Him? More like it.” “Master said to be careful. He’s cursed.” “Looks like a little grubber to me.” A calloused thumb pulled up one of Jack’s eyelids. The sweating face of a soldier loomed over him, stained with dust and shadowed by a patchy beard, small eyes eager for violence. The soldier’s veil was pulled down below his chin. Sunlight glared off his helmet. Jack squinted. “Ain’t that right?” the soldier growled at him. “You’re just a pale stinking grub, aren’t you?” He gave Jack another vicious kick, and barked, “Chain ’im!” Jack said nothing while the men clapped manacles around his wrists and ankles. He still felt

sluggish and dazed from the blows. They worked fast, touching him as little as possible, then pulled him to his feet by his cloak. “Master Jacosta says you ain’t working the salt mines—lucky you. But I’m still going to keep watch over you, little grub, so don’t you step out of line or I’ll give you a clout.” The soldier in charge held up a broad hand, threatening to strike. “I’m Aigo, and I’m your father now.” He leaned closer, cocking his ear to listen. “What’s that?” “I didn’t say—” Aigo let his hand fly, buffeting Jack across the face and knocking him to the ground again. Aigo roared in his ear, “I didn’t say you could speak, little grub!” Jack didn’t cry out despite the throbbing sting from the blow. He merely probed the inside of his cheek with his tongue and stared at the ground. His father—his real father—had taught him that things in nature always sought a balance. But with people, things got unbalanced and only evened out when others made an effort. And Jack, he insisted, was to be the kind of person who made an effort. But that was beside the point now. He wasn’t with his father or his family anymore—he was an envoy of the Lady of Twilight. No man struck him. Not when he was on her official business. He was her representative. It was as if Aigo had struck the Lady herself. She would never leave such an insult unanswered, which meant Jack couldn’t either. He turned his face back to Aigo. For a moment, the man’s cruel smile faltered, as if he didn’t know what to make of the quiet stare. He looked to his men instead, his tone mocking, “Did I say he could speak?” They shook their heads and chuckled, eyes crinkling above mesh veils. Aigo let out a quick guffaw and then thrust the back of his hand in front of Jack’s face, leaning over him, “See this?” Jack held his tongue and nodded. “Good. You’re learning. This is the hand of discipline. My ire. You don’t do nothin’ without my permission, or you get my ire. Understand, grub?” Jack nodded. “Good,” he said, straightening and scrutinizing Jack, as if looking for some excuse to carry out further cruelty. When Jack offered none, he cleared his throat and spat. “All right, let’s get moving then.” The other men prodded him forward with the tips of their spears, marching him back to the road and toward the walled compound. INSIDE THE compound, gangs of slaves shuffled from work to work, backs bent over shovels or under heavy bags, miserable faces grimed with dust and filth. Some had skin bleached and wrinkled by constant contact with the brine of the salt mines. Guards with witchgrass whips kept watch. As Aigo led him through the compound, Jack noticed some of the slaves staring at him, but they cast their eyes down when Aigo looked their way. “You see, boy? Respect. I keep these mines running. Anyone botches things, and they have to answer to me.” He peered down at Jack. “Do you know why they respect me?” Jack, of course, refused to answer. Aigo held up his hand and chopped the air. “Because they’ve seen me break an entire stack of mud bricks with the edge of my hand. I went easy on you back there. Don’t forget it.” He looked down at Jack with a smug smile. Jack offered no reaction. He thought it was a fairly dumb boast, in fact. Obviously, Aigo meant to intimidate him. But it was all an act. He had met men like Aigo before —men who covered their own fear with cruelty and exaggeration, just to prove they weren’t afraid of a boy. Aigo frowned, dropping his hand. “Not impressed? Just wait then. You’ll fear Master Jacosta,

boy.” He leaned close. A whiff of tooth decay washed across Jack’s face as Aigo growled, “Everyone does.” JACOSTA DWELT in a brick and tile house set away from the main bustle of the mine. It was a much finer structure compared to the flimsy tents of the slaves and the barracks of his guardsmen. A garden decorated with desert blooms filled Jack’s senses with aromas of jasmine and anise. Two guards stood at a gated portico, straightening when they saw Jack and Aigo approaching. The guards unlatched the wrought-iron gate, and Aigo shoved Jack into the main house. Inside, orange floor tiles cooled the air. The smell of roasted meat floated through the house, mixing with the bitter incense that smoked from a small brass pot in one corner of the entryway. Jack could hear Moribrand’s brassy voice resounding from somewhere beyond the foyer. “Of course,” the wizard was saying, “the savages of the Glass Mountains were unaccustomed to dealing with one well trained in the arts if wizardry, such as I. It was a simple matter, really.” Aigo pulled Jack along by the arm into the antechamber of the dining room. A slave off to one side plucked at a stringed instrument resting in her lap. A small bangle on her finger shivered as she played, but the effort seemed half-hearted. The notes fell sullen. Other slaves waited against the walls with carafes, ready to refill bowls and cups. Moribrand reclined on one elbow atop a pile of silken cushions, near a table decked with bowls of dates, roasted fowl, and crystal decanters of wine. A greasy napkin flared out from beneath his flabby chins, and his eyes gleamed like black buttons punched into an over-stuffed pillow. Thinning dark curls covered his head, damp with sweat from the vigorous effort he put into eating and speaking. “The wine is superb, Master Jacosta,” he said between slurps. “Made from dates, you say?” Jacosta sat across the table from him, his opposite in every way, a face of hard edges and sharp angles. A trim beard followed the line of his jaw like an impassable black border. He kept his back straight and stiff, never hunching or reclining, as if the cushions presented an extravagant temptation to which he refused to succumb. The Salt Baron listened to Moribrand without interrupting, his lips fixed into an obligatory smile. A white eye patch cupped his right eye like an eggshell, held in place by straps that resembled thin scars etched into his skin. Jacosta’s other eye stared flatly, its glare suggesting a reservoir of venom. Jack thought Jacosta looked like a hawk watching a piglet eat, waiting for the right moment to dive down from the heights and crush it. “A fascinating tale,” Jacosta said with no hint of fascination, rising in one brisk motion from his cushions. The musician slave ran her hands underneath a set of chimes and quit playing. “Perhaps I can hear the rest later this evening. Look here, my man Aigo comes now with our quarry.” Moribrand dipped his fingers into a bowl of water and wiped his face and hands clean before rising. “Ah, at last!” the wizard said. He came forward to get a better look at Jack, but not too close. A satisfied smile spread across his face. “So,” Jacosta said, “this is the terrible creature you were telling me about?” “Indeed it is, Master Jacosta.” “He does have a strange look. You’re sure he’s not just a child? I saw a man with skin like his once, but it was only a disease.” “Oh, no, do not be deceived by his boyish appearance. He is a monster, I assure you. A creature from the Outer Courts, clothed in the flesh of a child. Do not step too close, Master Jacosta. I fear for your safety.” Some of Jacosta’s men shifted uneasily when they heard the wizard’s words.

“Not to worry, Master,” Aigo said, sneering at the other men’s cowardice, “I tendered him up a bit, just to be sure. You’ll get no trouble out of him.” Jacosta gave Aigo a sharp look. “Not too much,” Aigo said holding up his hands. “I know you want him for your collection. See, he’s still standing, no permanent damage. Like you said.” “And this?” Jacosta took Jack’s sword from Aigo, who had been carrying it until now. The Salt Baron turned the weapon over in his hands, inspecting every detail. The blade was monstrous, longer than his arm, single-edged and straight all the way to the end, where it widened and swept back, curving like the edge of the moon. Deep iron and rust-reds mottled the surface of the metal. The first time Jack had seen it, resting on the basalt shrine of a sword worshipper, he had imagined it was a dark flame frozen mid-dance into steel. A man would need both hands to wield the weapon, unless he was incredibly strong. He wished he had it in his hands now. “He had it with him, Master,” Aigo said. Jacosta arched an eyebrow over his good eye. “You know how to use this?” he asked. Jack did not speak. Instead, he was thinking about his task. Moribrand stood close enough that if Jack still had his sword, everything would have been over in a matter of seconds. He thought he could slip from Aigo’s grasp, but the manacles on his wrist made things difficult. On the other hand, he might be able to get the chains around Moribrand’s neck. Jacosta noted his silence with a grunt and continued, “Yes. Well, there is something about you. I can sense it.” “Excellent,” Moribrand said, clapping his hands once and clearing his throat. “If you are satisfied, may I suggest we conclude the terms of our agreement? I have pressing business in the north. I would not impose upon your hospitality any further.” “Bring in Minnow,” Jacosta said, still admiring the great sword in his hands. A guard obeyed, darting away. A minute later the guard returned with the largest man Jack had ever seen. The giant stooped his shaggy brown head so as not to scrape against the ceiling timbers. A heap of dense muscle covered his shoulders and arms. He glanced about the room with a face as flat as an anvil. His gaze rested on Jack for a moment, eyes glittering within deep hollows, and then looked to the floor. Despite his bulk and brutish features, the giant tried to make himself seem as small as possible. Moribrand stared up at the giant and waggled his fingers. “Are you . . . are you certain this one is safe?” Jacosta inclined his head. “I assure you, the giant is as docile as lamb. He is simpleminded. You will have no trouble with him as long as he is given clear instructions. He is my strongest slave, and I am giving him to you at a considerable discount.” “I see. Well, you have my thanks then.” “Your mule will be ready as well. And a week’s worth of food, water, and incense to see you on your way. All that remains now is the second half of the payment, as we discussed.” Moribrand, a broad smile on his lips, produced a sack stuffed with what seemed like clinking coins and gave it to Jacosta. Jack spoke up then. “It’s a trick.” Eyes snapping wide, Aigo surged forward and struck Jack with his brick-hard hand. Jack sprawled on the tiles. Aigo bent over him, ready to strike again, but Jacosta stopped him. “What did you say?” Jacosta asked, his one eye narrowing. “Say it again, boy.” “Lies, Master Jacosta!” Moribrand shouted before Jack could answer. “I recommend that when you are in his presence you stop your ears with wax and say a warding spell. He will cloud your mind with deceit. Do not heed him!”

“Still,” Jacosta replied, turning his sharp eye to Moribrand’s flushed face, “I would hear him. Since we are in the presence of a trained wizard, such as yourself, I would deem it safe to test the air with the creature’s words—don’t you think?” Moribrand licked his lips. He pawed at his robe, fondling something beneath the folds on his chest. “Yes . . . well—” “Good,” Jacosta said, cutting off Moribrand’s reply. Moribrand’s eyes darted about the room as if looking for some escape. “Now then,” the Salt Baron said to Jack, “What was it you said a moment ago?” Aigo gripped Jack’s face and squeezed his cheeks with one hand. “C’mon, spit it out.” Jacks words came out distorted. “It’s a trick. The coins will be dust at sunrise.” “Nonsense!” Moribrand cried. He had shifted a few steps closer to the entryway. “I can assure you, Master Jacosta, the coins are real enough. See for yourself. I simply will not stand here, a man of my position, and see credit given to the lies of that vile creature. It is the nature of such beings to poison the hearts of men to their own advantage.” Jacosta opened the bag and removed a single coin, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger. To Jack’s eyes, the Salt Baron examined a small clod of dirt. He dropped it back into the bag. His eye moved from Jack to Moribrand and back again. Moribrand’s head beaded with droplets of sweat. At last Jacosta said, “Nothing seems amiss with these coins. Forgive m e, Moribrand, for indulging my curiosity. You were right to caution me.” Moribrand would go free, Jack thought. He had come close this time, yet the wizard was weaseling away once again. He tried to think of what else he could say or do to delay him. He looked around, searching for some means of escape. The manacles felt tight and heavy on his wrists. The Lady would be angry. Moribrand exhaled and relaxed. He raised his chin, his dignity restored, waving away Jacosta’s apology. “Of course, it is no matter. Your safety was guaranteed all along. But, you must remember, that as a wizard, I am more experienced with such creatures, and when I say—” “However,” Jacosta said, interrupting him. “I would be remiss as a host if I let you leave now, when you have not yet rested adequately. Also, we have not yet finished our feast. After which you can sleep one more night in a comfortable bed before you begin your onerous journey.” Jack looked up. Moribrand’s face fell, followed by a nervous chuckle. “But. Surely. I . . . that is . . . there is no need to burden yourself further on my behalf. When I reach Argent, I shall give my colleagues good report of your hospitality.” “Argent?” Jacosta asked, surprised. “That is indeed a long way from here. Or so I’m told.” His face tightened. Jack had heard of it. Argent was a fabled city said to lie somewhere at the northern end of the world, situated in a vale of eternal summer. Another legend put it in the dead center of the world. It was said to be ruled by wizards in lofty towers plated in pure silver. A place of wonders. So it was said. But if it was ruled by wizards, and they were anything like Moribrand, Jack couldn’t picture it being wonderful at all. “All the more reason that I should depart immediately,” Moribrand said. Jacosta held up a hand. “There are many dangers in the foothills. I would be dishonored should news reach your colleagues in the north that in these lands, where I am master, you came to harm. No, you will wait until my men have had the opportunity to scout for trouble, come tomorrow evening.” “I can assure you I can handle whatever—” “I insist,” Jacosta said. He spoke in a low tone, but with such menace that Moribrand shrank.

“Aigo, take the boy to my trophy room. And have your men see our honored guest to our most secure quarters. Post a guard,” he said, giving Moribrand a humorless smile, “to ensure his safety in the night.” Aigo pulled Jack to his feet and dragged him away. The last thing Jack saw was the wizard glaring at him.