Taryn hesitated on the balls of his feet, wondering how there could be so much hazard in the cut of a smile. The man in red wasn’t even looking at him and Taryn watched in fascination as no one else noticed the warning. With an odd sort of double vision Taryn watched the man in red lean forward. Amicable. Deadly. His hand stilled on the hilt of his blade, at once calm reason and imminent threat. The dual nature invisible to the men he spoke to, and all too clear to Taryn.
In a blink, the curved knife slashed the closest sailor across the face from crown to chin, barely missing the eye, and the man in red smiled as his target swore. The group ebbed away from the man in red, lowly muttered epithets on their tongues as the smiling man flicked the blood from his blade. He asked them a question. The group paled, then vanished like smoke.
The man in red took out a black handkerchief and cleaned his knife before sheathing it and restarting the menacing tattoo of fingers on hilt.
Lazily, he glanced over at Taryn and leaned back against the wall of the building as if to say, What of it?
Taryn flushed, feeling like he’d been found wanting against the strangely weighted mechanics of the man’s eyes. But the hazard vanished from the smile the man in red shot his way as he walked over slowly. It would have been easy to run, but Taryn stayed. Slowly unfreezing from his initial shock.
“You’d be the poor mite then,” said the man in red.
It wasn’t the kind of greeting Taryn had grown to expect. This was better. “I am…”
The man laughed and his smile crinkled up at the corners. Taryn blinked. The odd double vision was back. There was no menace in his laugh, smile, or the creases on his face, but his hand was still tapping the hilt of his knife. Though in a slower cadence.
“Bloody proper manners all over, isn’t it?” He didn’t pause for an answer. “Most call me Blade, little otter. I don’t stand on ceremony.”
“Taryn.” He asked the questions before he thought about it. “Why are you here and why did you hurt those men?”
“I’m one of the Serpent’s dogs and Mercer wanted to wear red bad enough I thought it should go on his face the only way he would get it.” The man called Blade rocked back on his heels and swept his gaze desultorily from Taryn’s ankles to his face. “Red isn’t your color.”
“You’re wearing red,” Taryn said ducking his head a little, but not for long.
“I answer only to your grandfather.” Blade tilted his head. “The reds are his, the blue are his dragon’s, and the greens are you and yours.”
Taryn blinked then looked down at his clothes. “I’m not wearing green.”
Blade shook his head and started walking as he spoke. “Doesn’t mean you aren’t.”
Taryn hurried to keep up. He opened his mouth and Blade cut him off.
“I’m not a smart person to follow around, kid,” the hand not tapping a staccato on his knife waved dismissively to the side. “Too many flailing limbs, not enough…” he grinned, “thought.”
“But you don’t like them either,” Taryn bit his lip at the admission.
“Like?” Blade stopped in his tracks and looked at Taryn in utter bafflement. Taryn shrugged.
“The-the people who act like, like I’m,” he shrugged unable to put it into words, “you aren’t their friend.”
Blade leaned his head back and laughed. The startled laugh of true humor. “Taryn,” he said after a moment to catch his breath, “I don’t have friends.” He only tapped one finger against the knife in an almost absent gesture. “I love my ship. I listen to your grandfather. And I might like you.”
Taryn’s responding smile was surprisingly satisfied. “Then that’s a good reason to follow you around. Nobody else likes me, they’re all too busy plotting things.”
Blade considered a moment, then shrugged. “You look after your own head.” He started walking again. “And be respectful to my ship.” Taryn grinned and trotted after him.