Authors: Scott Lynch
“Hardly.” Locke coughed and smiled shyly. “Evante takes all the more interesting laws and regulations of your state, and reduces them to plain Therin. He was my salvation on several previous ventures. I seem to have a talent for finding snares in Camorr, and a talent for finding good Camorri to slip me out of them.”
“Few clients would describe what I do in such generous terms. But what’s this mud, and these bruises? You said something of a fight?”
“Yes. Your city has some very, ah, enterprising thieves. Don Salvara and his man have just driven a pair of them off. I fear Graumann and I were getting the worst of the affair.”
Galdo stepped over to Jean and gave him a friendly pat on the back; Jean’s wince was fantastic theater. “My compliments, m’lord Salvara! Lukas is what you might call a good vintage, even if he’s not wise enough to take off those silly winter wools. I’m most deeply obligated to you for what you’ve done, and I’m at—”
“Hardly, sir, hardly.” Don Salvara held up one hand and hitched the other in his sword-belt. “I did what my position demanded, no more. And I have too many promises of obligation being thrown at me already this afternoon.”
Don Lorenzo and “Master Eccari” fenced pleasantries for a few moments thereafter; Galdo eventually let himself be skewered with the politest possible version of “Thanks, but piss off.”
“Well,” he said at last, “this has been a wonderful surprise, but I’m afraid I have a client waiting, and clearly, m’lord Salvara, you and Lukas have business that I shouldn’t intrude upon. With your permission…?”
“Of course, of course. A pleasure, Master Eccari.”
“Entirely mine, I assure you, m’lord. Lukas, if you get a spare hour, you know where to find me. And should my poor skills be of any use to your affairs, you know I’ll come running….”
“Of course, Evante.” Locke grasped Galdo’s right hand in both of his and shook enthusiastically. “I suspect we may have need of you sooner rather than later.” He laid a finger alongside his nose; Galdo nodded, and then there was a general exchange of bows and handshakes and the other courtesies of disentanglement. As Galdo hurried away, he left a few hand signals in his wake, disguised as adjustments to his hat:
I know nothing about Bug. Going to look around.
Don Salvara stared after him thoughtfully for a few seconds, then turned back to Locke as their small party resumed its journey toward the Tumblehome. They made small talk for a while. Locke had little trouble, as Fehrwight, letting his pleasure at seeing “Eccari” slip. Soon he was projecting a very real downcast mood, which he claimed to be an incipient headache from the attempted strangling. Don Salvara and Conté left the two Gentlemen Bastards in front of the Tumblehome’s street-side citrus gardens, with admonitions to rest soundly that night and let all business wait for the morrow.
No sooner were Locke and Jean safely alone in their suite (the harness full of “precious” goods thrown back over Jean’s shoulders) than they were exploding out of their muddy finery and donning new disguises so they could hurry off to their own rendezvous points to wait for word of Bug, if any was forthcoming.
This time, the swift dark shape that flitted silently from rooftop to rooftop in their wake went entirely unnoticed.
FADING FALSELIGHT. The Hangman’s Wind and the swampwater mist glued clothes to skin and rapidly congealed Calo and Galdo’s tobacco smoke around them, half cloaking them in a cataract of grayness. The twins sat, hooded and sweating, in the locked doorway of a fairly well-kept pawnshop on the northern tip of the Old Citadel district. The shop was shuttered and barred for the evening; the keeper’s family was obviously drinking something with a merry kick two floors above them.
“It was a good first touch,” said Calo.
“It was, wasn’t it?”
“Our best yet. Hard to work all those disguises, what with us being the handsome ones.”
“I confess that I wasn’t aware we shared that complication.”
“Now, now, don’t be hard on yourself. Physically, you’re quite my match. It’s my scholarly gifts you lack. And my easy fearlessness. And my gift for women.”
“If you mean the ease with which you drop coins when you’re off a-cunting, you’re right. You’re a one-man charity ball for the whores of Camorr.”
“Now that,” said Calo, “was genuinely unkind.”
“You’re right.” The twins smoked in silence for a few seconds. “I’m sorry. Some of the savor’s out of it tonight. The little bastard has my stomach twisted in knots. You saw—”
“Extra foot patrols. Pissed off. Yeah, heard the whistles. I’m real curious about what he did and why he did it.”
“He must’ve had his reasons. If it really
a good first touch, he gave it to us. I hope he’s well enough for us to beat the piss out of him.”
Stray shapes hurried past in the backlit mist; there was very little Elderglass on the Old Citadel island, so most of the dying glow poured through from a distance. The sound of a horse’s hooves on cobbles was coming from the south, and getting louder.
At that moment, Locke was no doubt skulking near the Palace of Patience, eyeballing the patrols coming and going across the Black Bridge, making sure that they carried no small, familiar prisoners. Or small, familiar bodies. Jean would be off at another rendezvous point, pacing and cracking his knuckles. Bug would never return straight to the Temple of Perelandro, nor would he go near the Tumblehome. The older Gentlemen Bastards would sit their vigils for him out in the city and the steam.
Wooden wheels clattered and an annoyed animal whinnied; the sound of the horse-drawn cart came to a creaking halt not twenty feet from the Sanza brothers, shrouded in the mist. “Avendando?” A loud but uncertain voice spoke the name. Calo and Galdo leapt to their feet as one—“Avendando” was their private recognition signal for an unplanned rendezvous.
“Here!” Calo cried, dropping his thin cigarette and forgetting to step on it. A man materialized out of the mist, bald and bearded, with the heavy arms of a working artisan and the rounded middle of moderate prosperity.
“I dunno exactly how this works,” the man said, “but if one of you is Avendando, I was told I’d have ten solons for delivering this here cask to this, ah, doorway.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, toward the cart.
“Cask. Indeed.” Galdo fumbled with a coin purse, heart racing. “What’s, ahhh, in this cask?”
“Ain’t wine,” said the stranger. “Ain’t a very polite lad, neither. But ten silvers is what he promised.”
“Of course.” Galdo counted rapidly, slapping bright silver disks down into the man’s open palm. “Ten for the cask. One more for forgetting all about this, hmmm?”
“Holy hell, my memory must be cacked out, because I can’t remember what you’re paying me for.”
“Good man.” Galdo slipped his purse back under his nightcloak and ran to help Calo, who had mounted the cart and was standing over a wooden cask of moderate size. The cork stopper that would ordinarily be set into the top of the barrel was gone, leaving a small dark air-hole. Calo rapped sharply on the cask three times; three faint taps came right back. With grins on their faces, the Sanza twins muscled the cask down off the cart and nodded farewell to the driver. The man remounted his cart and soon vanished into the night, whistling, his pockets jingling with more than twenty times the value of the empty cask.
“Well,” Calo said when they’d rolled the cask back to the shelter of their doorway, “this vintage is probably a little young and rough for decanting.”
“Put it in the cellar for fifty or sixty years?”
“I was thinking we might just pour it in the river.”
“Really?” Galdo drummed his fingers on the cask. “What’s the river ever done to deserve that?”
There was a series of noises from inside the cask that sounded vaguely like some sort of protest. Calo and Galdo leaned down by the air-hole together.
“Now, Bug,” Calo began, “I’m sure you have a perfectly good explanation for why you’re in there, and why we’re out here worrying ourselves sick over you.”
“It’s a magnificent explanation, really.” Bug’s voice was hoarse and echoed faintly. “You’re going to love it. But first tell me how the game went!”
“It was a thing of beauty,” said Galdo.
“Three weeks, tops, and we’re going to own this don down to his wife’s last set of silk smallclothes,” added Calo.
The boy groaned with obvious relief. “Great. Well, what happened was, there was this pack of yellowjackets heading right for you. What I did to distract them pissed them off pretty fierce, so, um, I ran for this cooper’s that I know in Old Citadel. He does business with some of the wine places upriver, so he’s got this yard of barrels just sitting around. Well, I just sort of invited myself in, jumped in one, and told him that if I could stay there until he delivered me here after Falselight, there’d be eight solons in it for him.”
“Eight?” Calo scratched his chin. “The cheeky bastard just asked for ten, and got eleven.”
“Yeah, well, that’s okay.” Bug coughed. “I got bored sitting around the cask-yard so I lifted his purse. Had about two solons worth of copper in it. So we got some back.”
“I was going to say something sympathetic about you lying around inside a cask for half the day,” said Galdo, “but that was a
silly thing to do.”
“Oh, come on!” Bug sounded genuinely stung. “He thought I was in the cask the whole time, so why would he suspect me? And you just gave him a load of money, so why would he suspect you? It’s perfect! Locke would appreciate it.”
“Bug,” Calo said, “Locke is like a brother to us, and our love for him has no bounds. But the four most fatal words in the Therin language are ‘Locke would appreciate it.’”
“Rivaled only by ‘Locke taught me a new trick,’” added Galdo.
“The only person who gets away with Locke Lamora games—”
“—is Locke Lamora—”
“—because we think the gods are saving him up for a really big death. Something with knives and hot irons—”
“—and fifty thousand cheering spectators.”
The brothers cleared their throats in unison.
“Well,” Bug said finally, “I did it and I got away with it. Can we go home now?”
“Home,” Calo mused. “Sure. Locke and Jean are going to sob over you like grandmothers when they find out you’re alive, so let’s not keep them waiting.”
“No need to get out; your legs are probably cramped up,” said Galdo.
“They are!” Bug squeaked. “But you two really don’t need to carry me all that way….”
“You’ve never been more right about anything in your entire life, Bug!” Galdo took up position at one side of the cask and nodded at Calo. Whistling in unison, the two brothers began rolling the cask along the cobbles, steering for the Temple District, not necessarily by the fastest or smoothest route available.
“It was an accident,” Locke said at last. “They were both accidents.”
“Excuse me? I must not have heard you.” Father Chains’ eyes narrowed in the faint red glow of Locke’s tiny ceramic lamp. “I could have sworn you just said, ‘Toss me over the parapet. I’m a useless little cuss and I’m ready to die at this very moment.’”
Chains had moved their conversation up to the roof of the temple, where they sat comfortably beneath high parapets meant to be threaded with decorative plants. The long-lost hanging gardens of the House of Perelandro were a small but important aspect of the sacrificial tragedy of the Eyeless Priest; one more bit of stage-setting to draw sympathy, measured in coins.
The clouds had roiled in overhead, palely reflecting the particolored glimmers of night-lit Camorr, obscuring the moons and the stars. The Hangman’s Wind was little more than a damp pressure that nudged the sluggish air around Chains and Locke as the boy struggled to clarify himself.
“No! I meant to hurt them, but that’s all. I didn’t know…I didn’t know those things would happen.”
“Well, that I can
believe.” Chains tapped the index finger of his right hand against his left palm, the Camorri marketplace gesture for
on with it
. “So take me all the way. That ‘almost’ is a major problem for you. Make me understand, starting with the first boy.”
“Veslin,” Locke whispered. “And Gregor, but Veslin first.”
“Veslin indeed,” Chains said. “Poor soul, got a superfluous orifice carved into his neck by none other than your old master. He had to go buy one of those lovely shark’s teeth from the Capa, and that one got
“In the hill, some of the older boys and girls stopped going out to work.” Locke wove his fingers tightly together and stared down at them as though they might sprout answers. “They would just take things when we came back each day. Shake us down. Make our reports to the master for us, leave things out sometimes.”
Chains nodded. “Privileges of age, size, and ass-kissing. If you survive this conversation, you’ll find that it’s just the same in most of the big gangs.
“And there was one boy. Veslin. He’d do more. He’d kick us, punch us, take our clothes. Make us do things. Lots of times he’d
to the master about what we’d brought in. He’d give some of our things to the older girls in Windows, and all of us in Streets would get less food—especially the teasers.” Locke’s small hands pulled apart and curled slowly into fists as he spoke. “And if we tried to tell the master, he just laughed, like he knew about it and thought it was funny! And after we told, Veslin would…Veslin would just get worse.”
Chains nodded, then tapped his index finger against his palm once more.
“I thought about it. I thought about it a
. None of us could fight him. He was too big. None of us had any big friends in the hill. And if we ganged up on Veslin, his big friends would all come after us.
“Veslin went out each day with some of his friends. We saw them while we were working; they wouldn’t mess with our jobs, but they would watch us, you know? And Veslin would say things.” Locke’s thin-lipped scowl would have been comical on a less dirty, less emaciated, less hollow-eyed boy; as it was, he looked like a slender wall-gargoyle, working himself up for a pounce. “Say things when we came back. About how we were clumsy, or lazy, and not taking enough. And he would push us more, and hit us more, and cheat us more. I thought and I thought and I
about what to do.”