The Burning Shadow

Free The Burning Shadow by Michelle Paver

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Authors: Michelle Paver
pools and sat on boulders, unslinging their food pouches and easing their shoulders. Pirra watched hungrily as they drew out leather wine flasks and mouthwatering slabs of dried tuna.
    A gang of boys was filling waterskins. They were painfully thin and covered in red dust, with the cropped hair of slaves. Pirra guessed they were from the mines.
    Hekabi told her to go and fill the waterskins, but she refused; she wasn’t going near the warriors, or those slaves. Hekabi leaned closer. “Shall I tell them who you are?”
    Pirra glared at her. Snatching the skins, she stalked off.
    To her relief, the warriors were too hungry to notice her, and she found a spot some distance from them and the slaves.
    As she knelt by the shallows, she saw one of the boys edging toward the warriors. When the nearest man opened his food pouch, the boy sidled closer. When the man glanced up, the boy stopped and tended to his waterskins.
    Now the warrior was sharpening his knife on a whetstone.
    What happened next was so fast that Pirra didn’t even see it. One moment there was a chunk of tuna jutting from the man’s pouch; the next, it was gone, the sack’s contents were deftly rearranged so that he wouldn’t notice, and the boy had shot under the willows and was gobbling his prize with the ferocity of a wild beast savaging its kill.
    Pirra froze.
    The boy was Hylas.

11
    H e seemed to sense her staring, and lifted his head.
    For one astonished heartbeat, his tawny eyes widened. Then he went back to demolishing his fish. He was pretending he hadn’t recognized her, but he had.
    Squatting with her waterskin, Pirra sidled closer. “Hylas, it’s me!”
    â€œShut
up
!” he hissed.
    She remembered that the Crows knew his name; he’d be using a false one. “Sorry. I—”
    â€œI thought you were safe in Keftiu! How’d they get you too?”
    â€œWhat? Oh—no, I’m not a slave, I just look like one. I escaped from Keftiu. I thought I’d ended up here by chance—but not anymore . . .” She was gabbling. But it was so incredibly good to see him.
    On the other side of the pool, an older boy with a hook nose and a scowl shouted at someone called Flea to hurry up. Hylas shouted back that he was coming.
    â€œDid you find your sister?” whispered Pirra.
    â€œDoes it look like it?”
    â€œWhat happened to your earlobe?”
    â€œI got a man to cut it off.”
    She winced. “Was that so they wouldn’t know you’re an Outsider?”
    â€œ
Sh!
” He cast about him. “Shouldn’t have bothered,” he added. “Nobody’d recognize me like this.”
    He was right. He’d been skinny before, but now his shoulder blades jutted like knives, and she could see every one of his ribs. He was caked in red filth, and his back was covered in weals. Only the way he moved had alerted her, and his straight nose that made an unbroken line with his brow.
    â€œStop staring,” he muttered.
    She bristled. “You must be a bit glad to see me. And thank you, yes,” she added tartly, “I did manage to escape from the House of the Goddess, and it was actually quite hard.”
    He snorted a laugh, and was suddenly much more like himself. “So how’d you do it, then?”
    â€œI bribed a wisewoman. That’s her over there. She said we were going to the White Mountains, but she lied.” She gulped. “I’m
so
glad to see you.”
    He frowned, but she could tell he was pleased. “What,” he said, “stinking like a dung heap and crawling with lice?”
    â€œWell, I bet I don’t look much better.”
    He flashed her a grin. “You’re right about that. Bit of a change from gold spangles and Keftian purple.”
    She laughed, and smoothed her tunic over her knees. “I got it from a peasant. Do I look like a boy?”
    â€œNo. You haven’t got a hope of looking

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