Ethan blinked, taken aback by her question, which sounded more like an accusation. “No! That has nothing . . . I’m simply not inclined . . .” He paused, took a breath. “Let me just say that you’re being a young woman, as opposed to a man . . .”
He trailed off, all of his protests withering in the face of her laughter.
“I think I’ve found your weakness, Mister Kaille.”
He scowled. “Ask your questions, Miss Everhart.”
“Very well. Why must you cut yourself before you . . . ?” She glanced about and when she continued it was in a lower voice. “Before you cast your spells?” She wrinkled her nose. “It’s disgusting.”
Ethan laughed. “That’s the way my conjuring works,” he said in a whisper. “I need something to fuel my spells. I can use leaves or tree bark. I’ve heard of some using bone — anything that comes from a living thing. Blood is easiest.”
“But doesn’t it hurt?”
“Not very much. I’ve grown used to it.” He leaned forward, resting his hands on the table between them. “To my mind, the greater question is how can you cast without any such source for your power.”
She lifted a shoulder. “I’m a witch,” she said. “An Everhart.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard. What does that mean, though? Who are the Everharts?”
“I don’t know, exactly. I never knew my father, which is why my mother gave me her surname. And when she died I was still quite young and hadn’t yet come into my power. My aunt hasn’t told me much, though to be fair, that may be because I have been reluctant to confide in her about my spell craft.”
“Perhaps it’s time you did.”
She nodded. “Perhaps.” She paused, regarding him. “Why do you limp?”
“These aren’t the sort of questions I had in mind, Hannah. I thought you wished to learn about thieftaking.”
“I do. Were you wounded while searching for a thief?” A sly smile crossed her lips. “Or in a fight with Miss Pryce? Is that why you walk as you do?”
He considered telling her that this was none of her affair, that some questions were not hers to ask. But after a moment’s thought, he decided that in this case the truth might have the desired effect on the young woman.
“I spent fourteen years as a convict, laboring on a sugar plantation in Barbados. While I was there one of my fellow convicts hit my foot with a cane knife — a stray blow, quite by accident. The wound grew infected, and in order to save my life, the overseers had their surgeon remove part of my foot. That is why I walk with a limp.”
She swallowed, her cheeks ashen. But to her credit, her gaze did not waver. “What did you do?”
“About my foot?”
She shook her head. “I mean . . . What crime did you commit?”
He should have anticipated the question. Indeed, it occurred to him that he should have kept his mouth shut when he had the chance. With some reluctance, he said, “I took part in a mutiny aboard a privateering ship called The Ruby Blade. It was one of the most foolish things I’ve ever done.” He forced a smile. “And that is saying something.” He reached for the tankard resting on the table before him, and sipped his ale, watching her over the rim of the vessel.
Hannah’s eyes had dropped to her hands, which she held folded on the table.
“Do you still wish to work with me?”
“Yes. Does my aunt know about your past?”
“We haven’t discussed it. But the Ruby Blade mutiny cased quite a stir, and many in this town still remember many of the details. She may well recall hearing me named a mutineer. You’re welcome to ask her, if you’d like. It’s not exactly a secret.”
Hannah shook her head. “I think I won’t. If she does remember, and doesn’t care, I see no need to discuss the matter. And if she’s forgotten, I’m better off avoiding the subject entirely.” She shifted in her chair, straightened once more. “How much does one pay an apprentice thieftaker?”
Ethan suppressed a grin. Their previous encounters had left him with a healthy respect for the young woman’s courage and spirit. He realized now that he liked her as well. He glanced toward the bar, only to find that Kannice watched them both, a smile on her lips. She winked at him now and stepped into the kitchen.
“I don’t know,” he said, facing Hannah once more. “I’ve not had an apprentice before. But I’m paid when I find stolen items and return them to their rightful owners. So I suppose you’ll be paid a percentage of my fee, as you help me in my work. Say, ten percent.”
“I should think fifteen would be more appropriate.”
He couldn’t help but laugh. “Rather than helping me with my inquiries, you might be more suited to negotiating with potential clients on my behalf.”
She nodded, unfazed. “I might at that. First though I’ll need to know more about what it is you do. And I think I’ll have that Madeira now, if you please.”
He laughed again, shaking his head. But he waved to the barkeep, and reached for his coin purse.
David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, which will be released on July 21. With Faith Hunter, he is the author of “Water Witch,” a novelette that crosses over between the Thieftaker universe and the world of Faith’s Jane Yellowrock books. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, comes out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.