Blood Ties

Free Blood Ties by Pamela Freeman

Book: Blood Ties by Pamela Freeman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Pamela Freeman
times for a Traveler when it would be good to know how to fight.”
    His father stared at him. “If you fight, they kill you.”
    “Worse things than death,” his mother replied.
    His father smiled at that, the wide, wondering smile he kept for her. “They should have named you Hawk instead of Swallow,” he said, and kissed her.
    The next morning, early, they’d gone to Doronit’s house, halfway up the thoroughfare leading to the most exclusive street in the city, a brick building painted pale yellow to mimic the golden stones of the rich. They had been impressed. But Ash knew now that she hungered to live at the very top, in one of the solid stone mansions.
    She’d come to the door to answer their knock herself, dressed as most women in the city dressed: wide trousers tucked into boots, with a soft three-quarter skirt over the top, a wool shawl around her shoulders over a simple shirt. Her clothes had combined different hues of the same green. It was a modest, sensible, reassuring outfit. It should have made him feel that he was applying to work in a respectable, comforting, solid enterprise.
    But he had been nineteen so he’d looked straight through the clothes to the body beneath, which was curved and full and promising; he’d looked at the face, with red mouth, even teeth, long, dark lashes and something about the sapphire eyes that was neither respectable nor comforting. Their eyes met and he saw hers widen, but he’d been overtaken by breathlessness and he still wasn’t sure if it had been simple desire or something else, something like the pressure he felt when he knelt at the gods’ altars. He had coughed with embarrassment and turned aside a little, shuffling his feet, and he’d seen out of the corner of his eye that she was smiling at him in amusement. That he had made a fool of himself. He’d flushed. Had thought that she’d never take him on. He’d suddenly burned to work for her, to prove himself to her, to wipe out this first impression of gaucheness and adolescent stupidity. He had been following his parents around for days trying to find a job because he needed to eat; because he had to leave them; because there was no place for him on the Road. He hadn’t cared where he ended up if he couldn’t make music. But he’d desperately wanted a place with Doronit.
    His father had explained that they’d been looking to apprentice Ash. Ash had again been aware of her assessing stare and then a smile. But this time the smile had been fixed with pleasure, not amusement.
    “Come in,” Doronit had said, her voice as beguiling as a tenor flute. “I would be happy to take this young man.”
    From that moment he had dedicated himself to pleasing her.
    Doronit owned a complicated business, the simplest part of which was the hire of safeguarders to other merchants. From protecting people who had been threatened, to guarding valuable shipments going from one town to another, to just standing around menacingly when large sums of money were being exchanged, safeguarders were as central to the merchants’ business as their own staff. But unlike their own staff, merchants didn’t need them every day, yet didn’t like hiring them off the streets or out of the taverns. So Doronit had seen an opportunity, a service that supplied safeguarders only when they were needed. She had a core staff of six and could call on another twenty or so at need. Of them all, only Ash was boarded in her house. That was part of the articles of apprenticeship, of course, and nothing to be proud of, but it still gave him a small satisfaction every time the others went home and he turned indoors with her.
    By the time Ash reached the yard again, panting and sweating, the other six had arrived. Aylmer was sandy-haired and blue-eyed with broad shoulders and slightly long arms. He had taught Ash to stand absolutely still: he was the stillest person Ash had ever met. He was quick when he needed to move, but when he came to a stop — he

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