Oliana had barely stepped out of the tent before she was met by a barrage of questions from Keon.
“Now that you’ve got some answers, I’ve got some questions for you! I couldn’t quite hear what that teller was saying, but she did seem to think you were important. And you know, you’ve never really told me much about where you came from. Just some very odd things, like your wolf not knowing what he was. And then there’s that rare ring on your finger. So it’s time you told me. Everything.”
Oliana was taken aback. “Why the sudden curiosity?”
“I’m always curious, dear. It’s just that normally I like to learn things about people slowly and subtly. Stealth is my way. But when someone’s as peculiar as yourself, I must take more overt measures. So, I insist, tell me your life story,” his tone had a threatening quality. “You know, for an illiterate boy, I know quite a bit of history. It helps in my line of work to understand political tensions, and I’ve just become privy to something very fascinating indeed. I need your help to learn its history.”
“What’s going on? What did you see?”
“You answer first, dear.”
“Fine. I can tell you who I am and where I came from, but I certainly won’t do so out in the open. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the whole story, anyway.”
“I said everything. It doesn’t matter whether or not I believe it, dear, but it could be a matter of life and death.”
“What do you--”
“Tell me.” His eyes burned with an intensity Oliana had not seen before.
“Let’s go over there first,” she gestured to a small, empty courtyard with a tree planted near a simple stone bench. “You won’t mind if I speak in whispers, I hope?”
“Not at all, dear.”
They took a seat beside one another on the bench and Oliana let a deep gulp of chilled air invade her lungs. It was getting colder now that the sun had begun its disappearing act.
“You ought to know that much of what I’m about to tell you of my origins I did not know myself until quite recently,” she breathed. “My father… my father was the king’s twin brother.”
She looked at Keon and found his expression almost comical. Perhaps he had already discounted her entire tale.
“Eirethstead defeated the Dechi kingdom over two decades ago, and Gillireth took the Dechi princess as his wife, not knowing that they were a race of shifters. The whole kingdom was led to believe that the child had been stillborn, but he was alive, simply born in the form of a wolf. The king found out one day and tried to kill the child and his mother, but the child was mercifully saved by my father, unbeknownst to Gillireth. The child, of course, was Dechar.”
Keon’s eyes glinted as she proceeded to complete her story.
“Gillireth was so eager to blame everyone else for his misfortunes that he banished my father and his head mystic, along with an entire village that had helped them. That village became my clan, and the life I was born into was isolated. Dechar was made to never learn his true nature so that he would not endanger himself or the rest of us. And then, years later, Gillireth found himself another mystic, one who told him of his son’s survival and location.
“My mother died long ago, and my father passed just a few months ago, so I was chief of my clan, however briefly. Gillireth’s men forced me to surrender. They slew my little brother in the process,” her voice cracked. “Dechar and I were taken prisoner, but we both escaped through separate means. And then you found us. That’s everything. That’s why I care so much about Dechar. He’s the only family I have left.”
Keon’s mind had all but been made to go back on Orlo’s promise when he had heard that Dechar was a prince, but her last statement cut his heart to the quick. Family, he thought. “It seems we’ve all lost family to that bastard,” Keon said. “I’m sorry, Oliana. That’s all I needed to hear.”
“So tell me now why you asked,” she tried to rein in her voice with patience.
Keon took a crinkled sheet of paper from one of his sacks and laid it on her lap. She opened up the creases and gasped at the image of Dechar. The poster read, Wanted: Dangerous, man-eating greywolf to be brought to the king himself for slaying. The bounty listed at the bottom was valued at five million raeds.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell Orlo,” Keon said. “I’ve grown somewhat fond of you today, and I wouldn’t rob you of your last kin. Last kin besides Gillireth, that is,” his stomach churned.
“Did you see any other postings? We must take them all down!” Oliana insisted breathlessly, ripping the paper to shreds.
“That’s the only one I’ve come across, dear. And besides, all we need tell him is to shift and stay in his two-legged form for a while, right?”
“I hope so,” she replied, remembering with an ache that she must be split from Dechar shortly. Would he be in danger where he was going?
The cheer of a flute and accompanied singing broke through the icy air with a sudden fervor.
“The burning’s about to start,” Keon said. His excitement for the heist had largely waned with the rapidly fading light. Stars began to wink overhead. The two sat on the bench and watched as the multitude of merchants and buyers made their exodus to the rooftops near the opposing edge of the city. They were eager to see the massive, wooden wolf be set aflame after it had been wheeled up near one of the gates and to set their lantern kites in the blackened skies to caper with the stars.
When Keon gave the word that the stalls were empty, Oliana followed him into the darkness and took one of the sacks from him, the one which held her book. They raised their hoods and crept along the edge of the stalls quietly, picking up those items which they had already discussed lifting. All was running smoothly until Keon halted with abruptness. He’d heard something, and he could see the light of a torch coming closer, closer around a nearby corner. They needed to act quickly.
“Oliana,” he looked down at her straight in the eyes and whispered. “Please trust me that what I’m about to do is for our safety.” He dropped his sack and gripped his arms around her slender figure as his lips pressed against her own.