As the seventh son of a seventh son, I had to make do a lot as a kid. Mum had taught all us boys the art of cookery, as she'd had no daughters to chain to the hearth. She'd taught us how to stretch the bread and water the soup so there was something for all the little bellies. I'd resented being tied to my mum's apron-strings when I was a snot-nosed little goblin-turd, wanting always to be at the forge with Pa. Besides, I was going to get a wife who would take care of all the woman's work for me, wasn't I?

But when I followed Kintyre Turn out into the world—him still a narcissistic lordling fleeing his responsibilities with an enchanted sword he'd just found and didn't yet understand—I was happy for the cooking lessons. And the sewing, too, turns out. 'Cause I've done my share of repairing battle-rent clothes and stitching torn skin out in the wilds of Hain.

Kin's always harassing me to add a tome of roadside recipes to my legacy of adventure scrolls, but the idea is even less appealing these days than it usually is. Mostly because I've been failing pretty spectacularly as a cook since Kintyre Turn became my lover. I have burnt, over-seasoned, and boiled-dry more of our meals in the last three months than I ever did in the first year of our adventures. And every single incident was Kintyre's fault. Because the rat-bastard keeps doing things like this.

He keeps on chopping, long after there's enough wood piled up by the fire, long after I've got the grub on the go. Because I'm watching. Right, fine then—I was going to wait until after we'd eaten, but if he's keen for our usual post-battle celebration now, who am I to deny the Lord of Lysse his whims?

I snort at my own fanciful thinking.

This time, at least, I have enough blood in my brain to take the potatoes out of the embers and cover the stew pot before I go chasing down my shirtless, sweaty ruffian. And, hells, it feels good to be able to. To not have to second-guess myself or try to gauge how my advances will be received, or to wonder if I will be forever ruining our friendship. It's easy.

It's so good, and it's so easy.

A little while later, the sun has set and I'm filled with a dusky kind of glow all my own. Sweat cools on my skin, and I feel the pleasant soreness of exertion well-earned, the burn of an over-extended stretch. Kintyre is finishing the last of the stew right out of the pot, intent on his spoon, starved in a way that only fighting, followed by a good bout of bedplay, can make him.

I've eaten, and have something else to preoccupy me. Firelight dances over the planes and elevations of the Shadow's Mask. I turn it over in my hands again, and again, and again, silently reciting the Word Forssy whispered in my ear with each turn.

That's it. Just one Word, one gesture, one moment, and . . . and I could be the most powerful man in Hain. Forget the king; I'd know all of his secrets, too. I know most of them anyway, but with the mask, with Dauntless, with the cloak, and with . . . well, Forsyth took Smoke into that strange place that is the home of the Writer, but I'm sure I can commission a replacement. One with a bit more heft to it, something a man can really swing. And once I have that, once I have all the trappings, I'd be the Shadow Hand of Hain.

Me. Scrappy, sassy, small little Bevel Dom, who's never had a thing to call his own that couldn't fit in a saddlebag before, and never minded a bit, besides.

It's bloody terrifying.

I've stared down dragons, and kraken, and fought off flesh-eating sirens, and Iridium-mad Night Elves. At sixteen, I ran away from home to chase after a boy I'd fallen in love with at first sight, though I didn't realize it until ten years later. I've abandoned my sleepy town, my sure place at my Pa's side and in his forge, to travel the world and shiver in the open and cold, to never know where my next meal is coming from, to face starvation, and dehydration, and hypothermia, and dying of exposure, or infected wounds, or poison from politicos whose schemes I've thwarted. I've looked Kintyre Turn in the face and told him (my voice and hands shaking, my face burning with shame and hope) that Lucy Piper was right, that I did desire him, that I do love him, all the while bracing for the punch in the mouth and the shouted vow that Kintyre renounced our friendship and never wanted to see me again. A punch and a vow and a shout that, thank the bloody Writer, never came. (What had come instead was fists in my collar, and chapped lips on mine, and a kiss that was desperate, and wonderful, and just right, and terrifying in its desperate wonderful just-right-ness).

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