Danis woke up in the middle of the night and lay with her heart pounding, trying to convince herself she had only imagined the sound that had woken her. She had waited for that sound for five years, prepared for it day after day, dreamed of it night after night. Yet now that it had come she didn’t know what to do. A part of her wanted just to close her eyes and drift back into sleep. She would never know, then, whether she had really heard it or not...
...and never feel the knife sliding between her ribs if she had.
With a twist of her body, Danis was out of her hammock and onto the floor, her bare feet light on the cold stone. In the corner, her sister Esta twisted and grunted in her sleep. Her other two sisters lay still as stones in their hammocks near the wall. Danis’s day clothes were all the way on their side of the room; after a moment’s hesitation, she turned toward the door. Whether she was right or wrong about the sound, she would need no more covering than the short tunic she wore to sleep. She fingered the rat-tooth necklace that hung around her neck, then swallowed hard and forced her feet to move.
Out in the hall, all seemed still. To her right, a cacophony of snores emanated from the room her brothers slept in. To her left, her parents’ room was equally still...but her parents worked hard and slept soundly, and it took a lot to wake them. Danis listened for a moment and heard nothing — but then, the priests’ assassins weren’t called the Silent Blades for nothing. Not bothering to tiptoe, she walked into her parents’ room.
It felt odd and wrong to see them asleep — two lumps in a bed rather than the authoritative rule - givers she knew. Behind the bed, a dark figure was just straightening. He looked at her, his expression hidden by the darkness.
“Hello, Dani,” he said, his voice completely calm.
“Hello, Renn,” Danis said to her oldest brother.
Renn smiled — even in the darkness, she could see his teeth flash white. “I’m glad you’re here. Were you the one who put that bag of pebbles in the tree?”
“Yes,” Danis said.
“How did you know I would climb it?”
“I used to spy on you,” Danis said. “You would climb in that way when you didn’t want Ma and Da to know you were out.”
Her eyes had adjusted to the light, and she could see now how he had changed. Not very much ...his shoulders were broader, his chiseled face a bit more filled-out. He looked just like the brother she had worshipped for the first eight years of her life. She had thought his eyes would have changed, but they were the same, direct and merry and ever-so-slightly wild.
Right now there was nothing in those eyes but grudging admiration, and she felt some tension drain out of her body despite herself. “I know what you did when you snuck out, too,” she said, even though there was no real reason to. “I even saw your knives.”
Renn grimaced slightly. “I underestimated you, didn’t I?”
Did he mean then, or now? Danis tensed again. “Ma always forbade you to take lessons from that man. She would never say why.”
Renn made a face. “Oh, she said why. She gave a million reasons. It took time from my chores and studies. She was afraid I would get hurt. On and on. None of them was the real reason, of course.”
She wouldn’t have dared say the real reason. It was supposed to be an honor to have a child chosen to be a Silent Blade, killing at the gods’ command. It guaranteed you a high rebirth, especially after he...
Danis raised her head suddenly and said, “It almost killed her when you disappeared.”
Something flickered in Renn’s eyes. Sensing her advantage, Danis added, “You were her favorite. She was always afraid the slavers would take you because you were so handsome.”
He didn’t react at all, and that clinched it. Danis felt her heart sink. Renn’s one fault, even in his adoring younger sister’s eyes, had always been his vanity. He had been as proud of his chiseled looks as a peacock was of its feathers. But judging from the expression on his face, his good looks meant nothing to him now. They were irrelevant...valueless.
During the initiation, after their final tests, the Silent Blades were said to scar their faces horribly.
“It wasn’t slavers who took you, though, was it?” Danis said.
Her brother just looked at her for a moment, then walked around the bed and came toward her. He moved differently — smooth, graceful, his feet making no sound at all. He had never been able to manage that before. In their secret midnight escapades he had always been the clumsy one, stepping on branches, knocking over chairs. Usually the noise hadn’t been enough to get them caught, but she would see the look on his face and begin to giggle, and then they would both laugh hard enough to wake up even their parents.
Renn came to a stop in front of her. He was wearing -- [End of Preview.]