Excerpt from Steal Away

“I think we should get out of here,” said Failiu. She wiggled her toes carefully, examining the results as thoughtfully as an alchemist with an experiment.

“Why?” Karaghr glanced around the tiny room at the mould staining large areas of wall and the pile of rubble on the dirt floor where they hadn’t bothered to clear the collapsed section of ceiling. Absently treading on a scurrying cockroach, he looked back at Failiu’s naked form stretched out on the pile of rags they called their bed. That was much more to his liking. “It’s all we can afford.”

“That’s only because we’re not paying for it,” Failiu pointed out acidly. “We can’t

actually afford anything.” Flexing a leg, she scratched her foot thoughtfully. “Same as these fleas aren’t paying to live on me. That wasn’t what I meant, though, Kari. I meant we should get out of Errish.”

“What?” Karaghr was so startled that he momentarily forgot about the view Failiu’s contortions were giving him.

“Why in Taliqi’s name would we do that, Fai?”

Fai wrinkled her nose. “In Taliqi’s name? If it weren’t for what was done to us in his name, we’d be sleeping in nice comfortable beds.”

“But not together,” Kari pointed out. “We always had to do that in secret.”

“We’d have a whole library of books on the High Arts, instead of having to make it up.”

“And endure days at a time of doing nothing but chanting. Yuck.”

“We could be having baths,” said Fai wistfully.

“Washing’s over-rated,” said Kari airily. He’d rarely bathed in the first fifteen years of his life, and the couple of years he’d been in Errish hadn’t endeared him to the habit.

“I’m sure the fleas agree with you.” She sighed and stretched, distracting Kari from the conversation. “It makes sense, though,” she added after a moment.

“Uh? What?”

“Leaving Errish. Kari, can’t you ever think of more than one thing?”

“Of course.” He knelt beside her, giving the grin he knew she always found irresistible. “I can think of lots of things I could do with you.”

Fai giggled, and there was no more coherent conversation for some time. Eventually, though, Kari asked, “Where would we go?”

“Hm? Mmmm,” she commented, as he lazily traced shapes in the dirty sweat sheened all over her.

“If we left Errish, where would we go?”

She snuggled closer to him. “There’s the whole world.”

“But we’re in the greatest city in the world. I spent half my childhood dreaming about getting here one day. Anywhere else is going to be a disappointment after this.”

“Well, maybe, but at least other cities aren’t going to be besieged and sacked.”

He raised himself up on an elbow and stared at her. “It won’t come to that. People are just saying all kinds of thing, and…”

“And they’re right, Kari. Of course the Demon Queen’s going to take Errish back. You’ve studied the histories: in all the centuries she’s ruled her empire, how long has any rebellion against her ever lasted? She’s had a year to gather her forces, and they’ll be coming.”

“Well…” Deep down, he knew she was right, but he was reluctant to give up his dream that easily.

“We could make for Jalkiya,” she suggested. “Or go east, and try our luck in the Thaal kingdoms. Somewhere the fighting won’t reach.”

“Maybe.” A few years ago, as a village-boy dreaming of something finer, such a proposal would have been irresistible. After experiencing the wonders of Errish, he knew the alternatives would be drab and uninspiring.

“We’ve no money, though.”

“Oh.” She stretched. “We could make a living as itinerant sorcerers: there’s always a demand for that. We learnt enough before we got thrown out, and we can fake the rest. Good enough for villagers.”

Kari had to admit she was probably right. Their studies in the secret library of the Temple of Taliqi, as much a reason for their expulsion as the breaking of their celibacy vows, had yielded sufficient results to make them both competent sorcerers. Still, there was far more that they’d never managed to learn, and he sometimes dreamt of a chance to get more than that one brief glimpse of the blasphemous Kebrai Codex.

“Or…” She suddenly raised herself on her elbow, near-black eyes sparkling in the way that always meant she was about to get him into trouble. He didn’t mind: trouble with Fai was a hundred times more appealing than safety with anyone else.

“Or what?” he asked, since her dramatic pause seemed to demand it.

“Or we could get some money before we left.”