“Can I ask you something Talon?”

I looked up from the papers strewn across the crate. Our quarters were too small for tables so I’d… acquired… an empty wooden crate from the airship’s hold. I smiled when I saw Briar standing in the doorway. She’d been a bit quiet after her talk with Caelynn – which I had stumbled into – and I had guessed that something had been on her mind. I hadn’t pressed it though.

“Sure,” I said, “Come on in.”

Briar entered and sat down on the hammock, pulling her legs up and underneath her as she gently rocked back and forth. She was silent for a few moments. I waited patiently.

“Do you… do you remember your parents?” Briar asked suddenly, her voice loud in the silence.

Truth be told, I’d been kind of expecting this question. When she told me back in Hawk’s Nest about not being able to remember her family, as well as everything else that had happened there, as well as talking to Caelynn, I’d guessed it would be pressing on her mind.

“I’m not sure. I don’t remember much.” I replied. Briar leaned forward to listen as I continued. “I remember faces, images, nothing definite. My mother and father disappeared when I was very young. I was told they had been travelling in some distant land. I was raised by a friend of my father’s and his family, but they never really saw me as one of them.”

I paused for a deep breath before continuing. “When I ran away and met… Zhayne and Astrid… they became my family. They were like the brother and sister I never had. When I…” I stopped, took another breath, and ploughed on. “When I found out I had killed Astrid, I couldn’t face Zhayne. I couldn’t face Sundabar. I ran away. Zhayne was right about that.”

“Is that why you didn’t kill him?” Briar asked.

I nodded. “We were together for five years. He was my brother. And now, he’s the only family I have left.”

“That’s not true!” Briar shouted, startling me. She jumped off the hammock and started pacing up and down the little cabin. “You’ve got family right here! You’ve got Fenthwick and… and Caelynn and Lunar and Jaghol and…” she stopped and looked at me, tears in her eyes. “You’ve got me. I can be your family,” she whispered.

“Briar…” I said, not sure how to react.

She leapt forward and wrapped her arms around me. “I said if I’d had a brother, it would feel like you.” She turned her face up to me. “I want to be your sister Talon. I want you to be my big brother.”

I didn’t know what to say. I just put my arms around her and hugged her as tears fell down her face. I felt my own eyes well up as well.

We stayed like that for a few minutes, then Briar pulled back and wiped her face with her hand. She looked at the papers piled messily in the room. “What are you doing anyway?”

I smiled again. “I’m working on something that may help us in future. It involves writing a lot of letters.”

Briar’s eyes lit up. “Can I see? I know I’m not very good, but Fenthwick’s told me how to read a few words.”

“Sure, help yourself,” I said. Briar immediately picked up the top letter. Her brow furrowed and she moved her mouth as though saying the words to herself. After a few minutes, she threw it down.

“It’s no good! I can understand the words, but they don’t make any sense like that! Maybe I’m not a good reader yet!”

I chuckled. “It’s not you. This is supposed to look like gibberish. See, thieves and criminals – people like me – we have a special language. Like a code. If you know the keywords and phrases to look for, you can hide secret messages in plain sight that no one else can read.”

Briar’s eyes widened as I said this and she snatched up the letter again, peering at it, willing it to tell her what was hidden in the text. I took it out of her hands gently.

“Do you want me to teach you?” I said.

“Would you? Please?” Briar’s eyes lit up again, brighter than before.

I sat down in front of the crate and Briar squeezed in next to me. For the next few hours, I taught her the Thieves’ Cant, just as Zhayne had taught it to me many years ago.

Some hours later I put my pen down. Briar was sleeping snuggled up against my arm. I’d managed to complete my work without disturbing her.

There was a sound of someone quietly clearing her throat at the door. I looked up to see Lunar standing there. She must have come looking for Briar. I nodded to Briar’s sleeping form and moved my finger in front of my lips. Lunar nodded and went away.

I looked down at the sleeping girl. Her chest heaved, and she gave a little cough.

“I’ll find a way to save you, Briar. I promise.” I whispered although she didn’t hear me. Aside from her gentle breathing, the only response was silence.

After all, that’s what big brothers do.

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