Chatting seemed to interest everybody more than speed while traveling to the Thievesmeet. Because the mercenaries were on foot, Amar, Huan, and Smart Grab walked and led their horses. Heading north through hills and forests uncut by plows or parceled by fences, Amar listened to their conversations. Rakir and his fighters recounted many battles, especially from the notorious Temulanka-Sabar’Uto War that had ended six years ago after a decade of conflict. The mercenaries mixed their exploits from that big war with episodes from tiny interfamily and intertribal squabbles.
Amar remembered hearing about the Temulanka-Sabar’Uto war. Although distance had shielded the Lin Tohs from the violence, the scale of the conflict had been well known and the terrible stories of sacking, burning, raping, killing, abducting, and mutilating had been carried to all hearths in Gyhwen. Even as an adolescent, Amar, or rather Gendahl, had been sometimes shocked by the cruelty reportedly exchanged between the large tribal kingdoms. In retrospect, he should have become wary of such tactics instead of shocked. The brutality of the war had evidently given Ginjor Rib inspiration for cleansing one of his borders of inhabitants.
Huan shared many tales from his criminal history. Amar suspected that Huan often exaggerated the grandiose amounts of gold and silver he had stolen. By Huan’s accounts, he should be a wealthy lord by now, and Amar could not imagine that one man could have spent it all on whores and strong drink.
The mercenaries accepted Huan’s stories without criticism. Whether they believed him or not, Rakir and his fighters enjoyed the telling of the tales, which Huan had a skill for enlivening by changing his voice to perform the complaints of his victims and gesturing broadly to demonstrate his bold struggles.
Like Amar, Smart Grab was mainly quiet. Amar suspected that Smart Grab’s stories would be unfit to share with even this rough lot.
On the sixth day of travel, they swung east into a rough piney forest and entered the foothills of the Tymelo Mountains.
The Rysamand, Amar reminded himself.
Great granite boulders dotted the land, like the discarded blocks of child gods. Buttes of gray and pink granite and hard facades of blue stone that matched the great mountains broke the landscape and created a giant shattered stairway on the threshold of the mountains. On secret trails that ascended through the broken places in the buttes, the men hiked until they came upon a wide wall of cliffs that jutted above the forest.
Amar smelled cooking fires. His stomach rumbled for something fresh and savory to eat. As they headed toward the cliffs, the land dipped and they emerged from the trees on the shore of a narrow lake below the cliffs. Many tents, people, and horses were clustered on the far shore, and the music of pipes, strings, and drums crossed the open water. The festive sound startled Amar’s spirit that staggered in gloom.
A clear wide path circled the shore and many fresh footprints were pressed into the moist soil. As they walked around the lake, they encountered men and some boys. Some wore tattered clothes, but others were better dressed in newer clothes dyed red, blue, and yellow, and others had a more military appearance like Rakir and his mercenaries. All of them, even the younger ones, had watchful predatory eyes, but their faces bore smiles and they called out to Amar and his companions words of welcome in a variety of dialects.
Some campers recognized Rakir or Huan. Amar watched the reunions closely, marking those who called themselves friends of Rakir or Daso or Utuh or M’hen or Huan. No one rushed out to greet Smart Grab, which did not surprise Amar nor seem to bother Smart Grab.
Amar and his companions hastily claimed a little area for a camp, unpacked their few possessions, and staked the horses to graze on meadows beyond the reedy shallows of the lake shore. When Amar was reluctant to leave his things, the others laughed and insisted he had no need to fear for his possessions at the Thievesmeet. Although doubtful, Amar allowed himself to be ushered away.
When they entered the main camp, everyone shouted to the new arrivals. Drums beat out the message that more men had come. Within the camp, Amar noted the presence of women as well, some young, some old. Their heads were uncovered and knives jutted from their sashes. Several women rushed forth to greet the newcomers with horns of drink. A white-haired and toothless woman shoved a polished cow horn rimmed in copper into Amar’s hand. She cackled happily, squeezed his cheek, and spoke to him in a language he did not know.
“Drink!” Smart Grab commanded and thumped Amar on the back in an unexpected burst of camaraderie. Smart Grab lifted his horn and drank deeply.
Amar nodded in thanks to the old woman, who trotted off to her campfire. When Amar looked at his horn of light brown liquid, he noted the snake and daisy design in the copper lip. The design was Temulanka.
Stolen, he thought and raised the horn to his lips. The drink was strong, burned his throat and warmed his chest. On the second sip, the sensation was more pleasant, and Amar was suddenly tempted by the sweet sanctuary of intoxication. But the desire was fleeting. Drink could not compare to the relieving embrace of Onja’s magic, and Amar suspected that he would do best to keep his wits active in this throng of scoundrels.
Smart Grab drained his horn and traded it for another proffered by a dark woman. He grabbed her breasts as she handed him the horn, but she smacked him off with a scolding laugh. She whirled away and danced into the growing crowd.
Again Smart Grab told Amar to drink but he did not wait to see if his companion complied. With his horn lifted and chin dribbling, he stomped off.
Cautiously Amar nursed another sip and moved aside from the parading traffic. Rakir bumped up against him and encouraged Amar to have fun. “You are among friends here,” he said.
An extraordinarily tall and burly man with shaggy black hair stood at the opening of a large tent of skins. He bellowed to Rakir, who yelled back and quickly rushed to greet his friend. The big man grabbed Rakir and pounded him on the back in an embrace that seemed more an attack than a greeting. Amar veered away from the tent and caught up to Huan, who was talking to an elderly man clutching a gnarled staff with both hands.
Huan greeted him happily. “Good thinking to stay close to me, Amar. A man can get pulled into many directions at his first Thievesmeet. You don’t want to end up sharing furs with a murderess or sorceress, do you?” Huan asked playfully.
“No,” Amar said with a wary glance at the drink-toting women in the crowd.
“That how I get this nasty son,” the old man announced with a thick accent.
“Amar, meet my father, Gadoh,” Huan introduced.
“Of the Kelsur Tribe,” Gadoh added with a regal nod.
“I am pleased to meet you, Gadoh,” Amar said, and the courtesy seemed to amuse the old man.
“Is this Kelsur territory?” Amar asked. He had heard of the Kelsur, a wild nomadic people whose exact numbers were unknown. Where and how far they ranged beyond the borders of the civilized tribal kingdoms he knew not.
“Any territory can be Kelsur territory,” Gadoh said matter-of-factly.
More practically, Huan explained that the Kelsurs attended the Thievesmeet to trade goods, stories, and news.
“And women,” Gadoh said. He smacked his son on the chest and added, “And boys dreaming of cities and foolish riches.”
“And I have had both, Father,” Huan responded.
Gadoh sighed. “I come every year to see if my son is ready to return to the free lands and be a proper Kelsur.”
“He has been a proper friend to me,” Amar said, groping for something polite to say.
“Hah! You must have nothing to steal then,” Gadoh said.
“No, I have nothing to steal,” Amar agreed.
“Except that nice sword,” Huan noted with a greedy glance.
Amar placed his hand on the handle of his lord’s sword and commented only with a reproachful look.
Huan tossed an arm around Amar, who could not help but tense a little. He had ridden for some time now with Huan but this closeness surprised him. The atmosphere of goodwill and fun at the Thievesmeet would be difficult to get used to, and Amar considered that he should not be too trusting of the friendliness all around him.
“We need to show Amar around,” Huan said.
“I stay here,” Gadoh said. “Trade minerals and balms.”
“Trading,” Huan huffed as if his father were hopelessly old fashioned.
Huan tugged Amar through the crowded camp toward the looming cliffs. Amar shrugged out of Huan’s brotherly arm.
“I can drink with two hands if I must,” Huan said and reached for a horn and cup carried by passing women.
One of the women stopped and offered a full horn of drink to Amar. She had a triangular face made more severe because her black hair was pulled back so tightly. She was thin, except for the round swell of pregnancy pushing at her dress, and her wiry brown arms showed through the slits in her sleeves. Amar declined the drink, and she moved on after giving him a puzzled look.
“I would eat if I could,” Amar mentioned to Huan.
Wiping his chin after sloshing the horn to his mouth, Huan nodded and assured his friend that there was feasting to be had. Gesturing vaguely toward the cliffs, he led Amar across the camp.
Tiny waterfalls trickled down the cliff in many places. The water collected in small pools and then spilled in streams toward the lake. At the base of the cliff, Amar saw the wide mouths of deep caves overhung with ivy and dripping water. At the threshold of the caves, hunters had hung dozens of deer from trees and were cleaning and skinning the animals. Fires and roasting spits were being set up, and boys were scurrying to unload the wood that they had gathered.
“See, much food to come,” Huan said.
Amar nodded approvingly and lifted his horn to actually take a drink, but a commotion of shouting behind him distracted him. Even as he turned to see what was happening, Huan pushed on his chest, spilling a little of his drink onto his armor and moving him aside.
The crowd of revelers was parting for a group of three dozen warriors that marched toward the largest cave entrance with ominous confidence. Their steps never slowed as they pressed forward because they knew that everyone would get out of their way. The sides of their heads were shaved, but the hair on top of their heads was long and sometimes braided into thick coils. Feathers stuck out from some of the braids, and bronze helmets bound with black leather cording hung down their backs from loosened straps. They carried warhammers and spears, and each man had at least two daggers sheathed at his waist along with a sword.
From the cave emerged a tall muscular man. His bare chest was sweaty in the heat, and he wore leather pants, dyed a deep red, with fringes of leather down the sides of the legs. As he came out of the shade of the cliffs and the sun hit him, jewels twinkled on his many necklaces and bracelets and his bare head gleamed from a fresh shaving. Black makeup surrounded his eyes, giving him a pantherish gaze. He awaited the approaching warriors.
Amar leaned close to Huan and asked if the man from the cave was a chieftain of some kind.
“Oh, yes,” Huan answered. “He is Lax Ar Fu. Overlord of the Kez.”
“The Kez,” Amar repeated, startled. He knew the Kez were the elite among outlaws, ostensibly priests to Vu, the God of Contests. They were often hired to serve as guards at tribal negotiations because they would be loyal to neither tribe in a dispute. When tribes decided to meet in parley between battles, they both contributed to the pay of Kez to provide security at such meetings. The Kez fought as dreaded mercenaries too. They had made much profit during the Temulanka-Sabar’Uto war. Amar had not expected to see them here, and he said so.
Huan chuckled at his ignorance. “They are kings among rogues. They fight for the highest bidder, they steal, they meddle in the affairs of lords. They make trouble to amuse themselves. They will do anything. Even us thieves are cautious of them. They come here to hear news, rumors. They have an eye open for talent too. Be careful of them, Amar. That’s the best advice I’ll ever give you,” Huan said.
Amar eyed Lax Ar Fu thoughtfully. “They will do anything,” Huan had said, and the statement spawned possibilities in Amar’s thoughts — ambitions that he had not expected to feel.
Amar then took a deep drink that he hoped would help him dodge the dark cravings of his splintered soul.
The Kez warriors reached the black-eyed Lax Ar Fu, who raised his arms in a symbolic embrace of the warriors. The men thumped their chests with their right hands and then held out open palms to Lax Ar Fu to salute him.
Lax Ar Fu welcomed his Kez warriors. They shouted his name and the warriors dispersed into the crowd, except for two warriors who ascended the rocky threshold of the cave and joined Lax Ar Fu. Amar watched the three men go into the cave. He sipped from his horn and realized he disliked watching leaders from a distance, like a field mouse observing a coven of cats.
Losing everything had been horrible, and being nothing tore open stubborn wounds.
Huan pulled Amar away from his brooding. They wandered the festive sprawling camp. There were jugglers and singers and magic-workers, all of whom entertained Huan thoroughly. He picked up a woman on each arm and shook his head every time Amar declined the advance of female company.
Amar traded his drinking horn for a plate of crispy fried fish, fresh from the lake, delicious and spicy with an herb he did not recognize.
At summer’s leisurely pace, the day dawdled into dusk. The setting sun blazed on the west-facing cliffs as it sank farther into a forested landscape vast and dotted by distant mesas. The heat diminished and a breeze off the lake carried a fresh coolness into the camp.
Huan was staggering drunk at this point and he shook off his female companions and took Amar by the arm. Without knowing what else to do, Amar guided his friend back to his father’s campsite. Gadoh was sitting cross-legged with another man going over several small piles of colorful powders displayed on a skin. The elderly man rolled his eyes when he saw the condition of his son.
“Put him in my tent,” Gadoh said.
The man with whom he was meeting took a pinch of orange powder from one of the piles, rubbed it between his thumb and finger, and sniffed at it.
Huan leaned heavily on Amar, who tried to slip past Gadoh and his customer, but Huan managed to trip over his father’s staff and knock the stick into the displayed powders, smearing three piles into each other.
Gadoh barked in his own language, presumably cursing at his son. Amar rushed his companion toward the open tent flap and rolled him inside. He hurried back to pick up the staff and try to set things right, but Gadoh snatched the staff and shooed him away.
Amar decided to check on his horse. As he rushed away, he overheard Gadoh’s customer dickering for a lower price on the contaminated samples.
To Amar’s genuine surprise, his horse was staked where he had left it. Amar led the horse to the lake to drink and then staked it out in a fresh area to graze through the night.
Beyond the cliffs, the stars were coming, twinkling over the peaks of the Rysamand that looked tall even next to the heavens. Only a turquoise glow remained of the sun in the west. Music and laughter rumbled from the Thievesmeet. Amar paused to appreciate the stillness of his separation from the gathering. He patted the neck of his horse and hoped that the animal would be there in the morning.
I could always steal another, Amar thought, wondering why he bothered to worry. He lived free now. Anything that he could take could be his.
Mosquitoes that had been gathering over the lake were moving onto land, and Amar hurried back to the camp where the smoky commotion would help keep back the whining biters. While still on the lake shore path, he spotted hundreds of blazing orange torches atop the cliffs. Many blasting horn notes spilled over the cliffs onto the Thievesmeet.
Amar rushed back to Gadoh. The old man’s customer was gone and his powders were put away. Huan’s snores rattled from the small tent. Gadoh stirred a pot of broth on his fire, and he greeted Amar with a smile. His teeth were good for an old man.
Amar apologized for his sloppy delivery of Huan earlier.
“Not your fault,” Gadoh said.
Another bombast of horns sang from the cliffs, and Amar peered at the fluttering torches high in the night sky. There were at least a thousand now.
“Who are they?” Amar asked.
“The Kelsur,” Gadoh answered with considerable pride.
Amar asked if the whole of Gadoh’s tribe had come, but Gadoh only chuckled.
“How will they get down?” Amar wondered. The torches were clustering along the edge, lighting the landscape with a line of fire as if a giant floating field was being burned of chaff and stubble.
Gadoh hauled himself to his feet with his staff. He cleared his throat and said, “Only one way to get down a cliff alive, young man.”
People were rushing to the base of the cliffs and coming out of the caves as well. Fresh fuel was thrown onto campfires and braziers, illuminating the lower cliffs with a milling mix of human shadows.
Dark lines streaked the cliffs, uncoiling and dangling like snakes held by their tails. Soon many ropes draped the cliffs, and Amar watched people swing off the edge onto the ropes even as the lines were falling. People poured over the cliff, rappelling rapidly with breathtaking confidence. Some even had torches stuck through their backpacks with the flames burning just above their heads as they descended.
Kelsurs scuttled down the cliff like hatching spiders, but the mass of torches atop the cliffs did not diminish. The Thievesmeet swelled from the arrival of several hundred people. Kelsurs spread through the camp like flooding waters, and Amar watched them walking by. Five of them, four men and a young woman, joined Gadoh, who promptly dug five bowls out of his pack and gave them to his guests and gestured to the hot broth. Amar watched them dip out the modest meal and sip from the bowls. They varied in appearance. Some taller than the others. Some with slender faces. Others had round broad faces. Four of the guests had black hair, but one of the men had lighter hair that was reddish brown. Amar had not seen hair that color before. They wore leathers and furs, and the woman was dressed much as the men were in breeches and a tightly laced vest trimmed with polished stones.
None of them gave Amar more than a passing glance. Gadoh chattered to them pleasantly in the Kelsur language, and after one of the men gestured toward the incapacitated Huan, they all shared a laugh.
Amar looked back to the cliff. Many thousands of Kelsurs still remained above, and he imagined their grand camp up there under the stars.
A deep long note sounded from yet another horn and the raucous Thievesmeet grew quiet. The five guests at Gadoh’s fire set down their bowls and stood.
Gadoh came over to Amar and was excited to explain what was happening. “She is here. Loxane, our Shamaness,” Gadoh said. He herded Amar forward with his staff. “Come. See her close. Make a path for an old man. You must see her, Amar. Your civilization blindfolds you. Hides many wonders, and Loxane is one of the greatest.”
Willingly, Amar shouldered his way through the crowd, with Gadoh eagerly steering from behind. They made their way to the front of the crowd gathered at the threshold of Lax Ar Fu’s cave.
Another horn note sounded, hanging in the air meaningfully before fading away. Torches were thrown down onto the threshold of the cave. They landed in a semi-circle, forcing the crowd back.
People started to cheer and Amar looked up and spotted three figures coming down on ropes. Two men rappelled alongside the third figure that was draped in a voluminous hooded cape. Torches burned on the backs of the men, and the firelight rippled on their well-muscled arms as they came down the ropes.
When they reached the top of the cave entrance, they had no more rock to rappel from and they climbed the rest of the way down with their hands and feet on the ropes. The men alighted on the smooth rock before the cave, and they drew their torches off their backs like they were drawing swords. More slowly, the cloaked figure came down the rope and touched the ground between the two men. Wrapped tightly in the cloak, the third person advanced with the two men into the semi-circle of torches. The crowd became hushed, and Amar found himself sharing in the excitement. The sensation of awe and anticipation surprised him, and he thought nothing of his sorrows for more than one heartbeat.
When the Shamaness Loxane threw off her cape, people cried out with reverence and joy. She was naked and her wonderful body, both strong and soft, glistened in the torchlight. Tattoos of green and blue adorned her body, bright upon her exceptionally light skin. Her hair was long and curly and the most amazing color that Amar had ever seen. Red it was, like copper made soft and inviting. The enticing locks flowed over her shoulders but did not cover her full breasts that displayed her femininity unabashedly.
A sunburst tattoo encircled her navel and tattooed eagles adorned her thighs and perched on her knees. Snake tattoos coiled around her arms and their heads were drawn onto the backs of her hands with forked tongues going down her middle fingers. When she turned, Amar saw an elk tattoo on her back. Its great rack of antlers spread over her shoulder blades and its snout reached to the small of her back. The animal had starbursts in place of eyes, and when Loxane began to sway her body, the elk looked to be shaking its head.
Loxane began to move more of her body, limb by limb. Her hands rotated and then her arms lifted and her shoulders circled. Her torso circled with ever-increasing exaggeration of movement and her pelvis gyrated. Her buttocks lifted and squatted, glorious in their curvaceous smoothness.
The Shamaness Loxane danced naked in front of the gathered rogues and lawless wanderers, and she had no shame. Amar watched every move of her body, only blinking when he consciously thought to do it. Never had he seen, nor imagined, a woman making such a display of herself. And never had he imagined that a woman could be so beautiful, so powerful, but so wicked.
People were playing drums for her. First one drummer, and then three, and then dozens pounded a beat that was all life and no judgment. Their rhythms guided her and coaxed her to move faster. Her body joined with the beating of the drums, until the drummers seemed to respond to her movement as much as she responded to them.
Loxane moved to the edge of the semi-circle of torches and began to dance around the edge. People reached out to her but did not touch. She arched and swayed just beneath the fingertips of her admirers.
The crowd pressed hard against Amar and Gadoh as Loxane came closer to their position. Like all the others, Amar had no intention of giving up his spot. He turned sideways so that two more men could squeeze in next to him. Behind him, Gadoh giggled.
Closer she came to Amar, and his breath quickened and his eyes widened. The absolute scandal of her brazen nudity and erotic dancing pounded against all that his culture had ingrained in him about the modesty of women. Far back in his mind, his sensibilities railed against her outrageousness. She was the worst of the worst, criminal beyond the most wanton whore, but Amar paid less attention to the dogma of his upbringing the closer she danced to him. Indeed, as Gadoh had said, Loxane was among the greatest of wonders.
Although enthralled by her provocative display, Amar did not reach out to her when she danced before him. The fellows alongside him spread out their hands toward her, just barely missing her skin, but Amar only looked. His eyes went up and down her body, and he was truly awed by her lovely strength that went past simple maddening sexuality. His eyes traveled up her naked body, pausing at her breasts that glistened with the sweat of her dance, and then he looked at her face. Loxane’s eyes were half rolled back. The trance of her dance was deep upon her. Her lips hung open as if she would cry out with ecstasy at any moment.
Amar envied the oblivion on her face, doubting he could ever experience such inner peace.
Loxane’s eyes snapped into focus. The men reaching for her withdrew their hands, each gasping as if the snakes on her arms had come to life with venomous anger. She stopped dancing and lowered her arms. Her chest heaved with hard breathing and she stared intently at Amar.
He looked into her eyes that were shockingly blue.
In the background, the drums continued to beat, loud and hard like the heartbeat thudding in Amar’s ears. Just when the drums started to slow, she began to dance again, but this time with her eyes firmly on Amar. She took her gaze from him only when her dancing steps spun her around. She studied him and then step by step moved away. Amar watched her go. He could not have described his feelings. Desire, curiosity, perhaps even wariness confused him as he realized that she had shown him special attention.
Loxane finished her circuit and danced back toward the cave. Lax Ar Fu waited for her at the cave entrance.
She went to him. As if in a meeting of equals, they bowed to each other. They exchanged words but the drums covered what they said.
The crowd loosened around Amar as people started to dance. Loxane had enflamed their passions and people swayed, kissed, caressed, and invited pleasure into their bodies. At the heart of the thumping mass of dancers, Lax Ar Fu extended a hand to Loxane, and he took half a step toward the cave, apparently to guide her inside. She reached slowly for his hand, but then withdrew it and looked over her shoulder at Amar who had not moved from his place.
When Loxane stalked toward Amar, Gadoh cringed and clutched his staff close. The other people still near Amar moved back, leaving him exposed. Gadoh began to do the same, but Loxane speared him with her striking eyes and commanded him in the Kelsur language to stay.
Gadoh dipped his head respectfully to the Shamaness. “How may I serve she who dances with spirits?” he asked in the Kelsur language.
“I would speak with this stranger. He does not know our tongue, does he?” Loxane said.
“No. What would you say to him?” Gadoh asked.
Loxane made her statement and Gadoh pondered his interpretation.
When Gadoh turned to Amar, the old man looked at him in an entirely new light.
“What does she say of me?” Amar demanded.
“She says you spirit-touched,” Gadoh said.
Amar frowned and looked at Loxane suspiciously. Onja, he realized. She knows that magic has touched my body.
He nodded. “Ask her if she has been to the Rysamand?” he told Gadoh.
“What?” Gadoh said.
“The Rysamand,” Amar said louder, directly to Loxane.
She did not need the interpretation. She recognized the word.
“Have you been there?” Amar asked, but when Gadoh relayed the question, Loxane shook her head. She began speaking, and Amar awaited the translation impatiently.
Gadoh finally told him that Loxane said that her ancestors had come from a land beyond the mountains. She was of a special lineage, the blood of the sun it was called. Other Kelsurs did not possess the knowledge that was her heritage.
“What do you know of rys?” Amar said.
Loxane looked down wistfully and spoke in a tone of ripened sorrow. She explained that her grandmother had taught her about rys when she was a small girl. Her grandmother had been into the mountains, in the Valley of Powers as she called it, and she had encountered the rys and learned what she could of them.
By now, Gadoh had warmed to his role as interpreter because of the fascinating topic. He said, “Loxane asks where you saw rys?”
Amar withdrew physically from the question. The growing intimacy that had been quickly forming between him and Loxane receded, and he noticed again her wild nakedness. Her brazen body distracted him and added to the threat he felt at her question. Even though she had freely told him about herself, he had no desire to speak of his experience. His time with Onja was his, and not to be spoken of loosely.
“I have not seen these creatures,” he replied, but looked at the dirt as he said it.
Loxane sneered at his lie.
“Elder Kelsur,” Loxane said to Gadoh. “Tell this man born under a roof that rys command the powers of Nature. They perhaps even dip into the well of creation, but their hearts remain the hearts of animals. In their thoughts and deeds they are no better than man or woman. Beware them.”
When Amar heard the translation, he spurned the warning of Loxane. He knew more of rys than her little girl bedtime stories that she sold as wisdom. Who is this woman who would call Onja an animal? he thought with much disdain. Onja’s power is true. Not some trick from a shameless savage Shamaness who confuses sex with power.
Amar crossed his arms and indulged in one long good look up and down her truly luscious body. “Loxane of the Kelsur, you were kind to speak with me,” Amar said with cool courtesy.
After Gadoh told her what he had said, words hesitated on Loxane’s full lips until she decided to say nothing. She gave Amar one more quizzical look and then spun around. Her red hair, glinting in the torchlight, flipped off her shoulders and bounced and swished as she trotted toward the cave.
Amar watched her go until he noted the dark piercing eyes of Lax Ar Fu that were trained on him. Male jealousy seethed on the face of the Kez leader, but Amar did not flinch from the hostility. With neither fear nor anger, Amar met the look of Lax Ar Fu.
It was Lax Ar Fu who disengaged eye contact first when Loxane took his hand and they walked into the cave and were swallowed by the dark gash in the cliff. For the first time since his new and rotten life had begun, Amar felt alive. Fate had more plans for him than tramping about with Huan and Smart Grab. The cold twinkle in Lax Ar Fu’s eyes had shown him as much.