Merripen was silent, his face averted as he finished fastening the last of his waistcoat buttons.
Cam found himself thinking it was a good thing the rom baro was already dead. Because he was feeling a powerful urge to hunt the bastard down and kill him. And Cam didn't like Shuri's criticism of Merripen. Not that Merripen had ever been a model of charm… but after he had been raised in such a merciless environment, it was a bloody miracle that he was able to live like a normal man.
The Hathaways had done more than save Merripen's life. They had saved his soul as well.
"Why did your husband bear Merripen such hatred?" Cam asked softly.
"The rom baro hated all things gadjo. He used to say that if any of the tribe ever went with one of the gadje, he would kill them."
Merripen looked at her sharply. "But I'm Romany."
"You're poshram, Kev. Half gadjo." She smiled at his open astonishment. "You never suspected? You have the look of a gadjo, you know. That narrow nose. The shape of your jaw."
Merripen shook his head, speechless at the revelation.
"Holy hell," Cam whispered.
"Your mother married a gadjo, Kev," Shuri continued. "The tattoo you bear is the mark of his family. But your father left her, as gadjos tend to do. And after we thought you died, the rom baro said, 'Now there's only one.'"
"Only one what?" Cam managed to ask.
"Brother." Shuri moved to stir the contents of the fire pan, sending a brighter glow through the tent. "Kev had a younger brother."
Emotion flooded Cam. He felt a dazzling change in all his awareness, a new inflection in every thought. After he had spent all his life believing himself to be alone, here was someone who shared his blood. A true brother. Cam stared at Merripen, watching the realization dawn in the coffee-dark eyes. Cam didn't think the news would be as welcome to Merripen as it was to him, but he didn't give a damn.
"The grandmother took care of both children for a while," Shuri continued. "But then the grandmother had cause to think the gadjos might come and take them. Perhaps even kill them. So she kept one boy, while Kev was sent to our tribe into the care of his Uncle Pov, the rom baro. I'm sure the grandmother didn't suspect how the rom baro would abuse him, or she never would have done it."
Shuri glanced at Merripen. "She probably thought that since Pov was a strong man, he would do a good job of protecting you. But he thought of you as an abomination, being half-" She stopped with a gasp as Cam shoved up his coat and shirtsleeve, and showed his forearm to her. The pooka tattoo stood out in dark, inky relief against his skin.
"I'm his brother," Cam said, his voice slightly hoarse.
Shuri's gaze moved from one man's face to the other. "Yes, I see," she eventually murmured. "Not a close likeness, but it is there." A curious smile touched her lips. "Devlesa avilan. It is God who brought you together."
Whatever Merripen's opinion was of who or what had brought them together, he didn't share it. Instead he asked tersely, "Do you know our father's name?"
Shuri looked regretful. "The rom baro never mentioned it. I'm sorry."
"No, you've helped quite a lot," Cam said. "Do you know anything about why the gadjos might have wanted to-"
"Mami," came the boy's voice from outside. "Chorodies are coming."
"They want the horses," Merripen said, rising swiftly to his feet. He pressed a few coins into Shuri's hand. "Luck and good health," he said.
"Kushti bok," she replied, returning the sentiment.
Cam and Merripen hurried outside the tent. Three Chorodies were approaching. With their matted hair, filthy complexions, rotted mouths, and a stench that preceded them well before their arrival, they seemed more like animals than men. A few curious Roma watched from a safe distance. It was clear there would be no help from that quarter.
"Well," Cam said beneath his breath, "this should be entertaining."
"Chorodies like knives," Merripen said. "But they don't know how to use them. Leave this to me."
"Go right ahead," Cam said agreeably.
One of the Chorodies spoke in a dialect Cam couldn't understand. But he gestured to Cam 's horse, Pooka, who eyed them nervously and shuffled his feet.
"Like hell," Cam muttered.
Merripen replied to the man with a handful of equally incomprehensible words. As he had predicted, the Chorodie reached behind his back and produced a jagged knife. Merripen appeared relaxed, but his fingers flexed, and Cam saw the way his posture altered in subtle readiness for attack.
The Chorodie lunged forward with a harsh cry, aiming for the mid-to-lower torso. But Merripen turned in a nimble sidestep. With impressive speed and dexterity, he grabbed the attacking arm. He jerked the Chorodie off-balance, using his own momentum against him. Before another heartbeat had passed, Merripen had flipped his opponent to the ground, twisting the bastard's arm in the process. An audible fracture caused all of them, even Cam, to flinch. The Chorodie howled in agony. Prying the knife from the man's limp hand, Merripen tossed it to Cam, who caught it reflexively.
Merripen glanced at the remaining two Chorodies. "Who's next?" he asked coldly.
Although the words were spoken in English, the creatures appeared to understand his meaning. They fled without a backward glance, leaving their injured companion to drag himself away with loud groans.