The Rogue Knight Page 30

Declan was in hiding far away. Telling the truth shouldn’t cause the Grand Shaper of Sambria any trouble. Cole swallowed. Maybe Ansel would show him some mercy if he was honest.

“I got it from Declan,” Cole said. “One of the Grand Shapers.”

This earned a wry chuckle from Ansel. “If you’re going to tell a whopper, might as well be a doozy.”

Cole gritted his teeth. Being honest wouldn’t help much if Ansel didn’t believe it. “Do you know a lot of other people who can turn a slavemark into a freemark without a trace?”

Ansel rubbed his chin, studying him. “Okay, Scarecrow, tell me how a runaway slave happened to meet the exiled Grand Shaper of Sambria.”

“I escaped Skyport in a skycraft,” Cole said. “Adam Jones knew about it. I flew into the Eastern Cloudwall and found Declan back there. He helped me. He’s not there anymore. The legionnaires chasing me flushed him out.”

Ham slammed a meaty hand down on the tabletop. “Enough! I’ll not hear another lie out of you. Come clean to the boss, or I’ll make you speak true.”

The outburst made Cole flinch and close his eyes. When he peeked, he saw Ansel holding out a staying hand to Ham. “Boy may not be lying.”

Ham’s eyes bulged with disbelief, but he made no reply.

“I’m not saying his tale sounds credible,” Ansel clarified. “I’m just saying it might be true. Go fetch Secha.”

Ham rose, crossed the room, and went out the door. Cole saw dim, grimy stairs through the doorway. Nothing else. Cole wondered if he would ever climb those stairs. The chances didn’t seem good. If he did, it would be as a one-handed slave. He had to stay calm. After the door closed, Ansel gave Cole a long stare.

“Who are you traveling with?” the slaver asked.

“Some other slaves from Skyport,” Cole said. “We escaped together. A man we met is helping us.”

Ansel nodded slowly. “A girl and two boys. And a member of the Unseen.”

Cole was surprised he knew so much.

“I’ve been asking about you,” Ansel said, responding to Cole’s expression. “Others are looking for a group that fled from Skyport. Easy math.”

“How’d you find me?” Cole asked.

“Don’t forget who’s asking the questions,” Ansel said. “People want the girl. Very important people. Who is she?”

“You don’t want to get mixed up with her,” Cole said.

Ansel’s face went blank. “I’ll be the judge of that. Who is she?”

“I don’t know,” Cole said.

Ansel stood up and grimly shook his head. “Now you’re lying.” He hefted his sickle, the cruel blade sinister in his grasp. Veins stood out on the back of his hand.

Cole stared in silence. Mira had trusted him with her secret. Ansel had kidnapped Cole from the same inn where she was staying—there could still be people watching the place, ready to snatch her on command. Cole couldn’t reveal her true value. “She’s a strong shaper.”

“That might be part of it,” Ansel said. “You don’t have to leave this room alive, Scarecrow.”

“I know.”

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“Or in one piece,” Ansel added menacingly. “I’ve heard talk of a slave who ran away from the High King. A slave he desperately wants back.”

It was the story the legionnaires had given when they came for Mira at Skyport. It wasn’t true, but if Ansel thought she was a runaway slave, he might decide he was just the slaver to bring her in.

“She’s no slave,” Cole said.

“I expect she has a freemark,” Ansel said. “I’m sure it’s precisely as genuine as yours. The High King is my number one customer.”

The door opened and Secha entered, the swarthy woman who had given Cole his slavemark. Ham followed her in and closed the door.

The woman shuffled over to Cole. “The Grand Shaper undid my mark?”

“Yeah,” Cole said.

Secha bent over the mark, eyeing it closely. She rubbed it and sniffed it. She murmured soft words.

“What do you think?” Ansel asked.

“Could be the Grand Shaper’s work,” Secha said. “I have no better explanation. It’s as if my mark never happened. A transformation this perfect should not be possible.”

“Leave us,” Ansel said. “The boy and I have matters to discuss.”

Suddenly, the door burst open, and Joe entered, bow drawn. Jace stepped through the doorway behind him, golden rope in hand.

Cole’s heart surged—they had found him!

Ham charged them, and the rope lashed out, wrapped around his torso, and heaved him upward, snapping his neck sickeningly against the ceiling. His bulky body flopped to the floor.

“Stand down!” Joe yelled, an arrow ready to fly.

Ansel, his expression dark but guarded, slowly set down his sickle and raised his hands. “You heard the man, Secha,” he said.

Hands up, Secha sidled toward Ansel.

“That’s far enough,” Joe ordered. “On the floor, facedown, both of you.”

They obeyed without resistance.

Twitch and Mira entered behind Joe and Jace. Cole could hardly believe they were all here! When he woke up tied to the chair, he had known that at best he would lose a hand and end up a slave. At worst he would be tortured and killed. He hadn’t dared to imagine the possibility of a rescue.

Mira hurried to him and used her Jumping Sword to cut his bindings. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“I’m okay,” Cole said, stunned that the statement was true. “I thought I was toast. How’d you find me?”

“Twitch,” Jace said. “He got away through the window when they came for you. He tailed them here, then came and got us. To make it easy, they brought you to West Carthage.” Jace wiggled his golden rope to emphasize his point.

Cole stood up, rubbing his arms where the ropes had limited his circulation. Now he understood why Mira no longer looked like a middle-aged woman. No longer in Elloweer, her seeming had dissolved. Ansel glared up from the floor.

“Watch out for Ansel,” Cole said. “He’s dangerous. And he knows we’re the people everyone is looking for.”

“How much does he know?” Joe inquired.

“That we escaped from Skyport,” Cole said. “That you’re helping us. He heard that one of us is a slave who escaped from the High King.”

“You’re outlaws,” Ansel rasped. “I took Cole as a slave legally. He changed his mark.”

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