Authors: Scott Lynch
“And the idea,” said Chains, “the fateful idea. It was all yours?”
“Yes.” The boy nodded vigorously. “All mine. I was alone when I had the idea. I saw some yellowjackets on patrol, and I thought…I thought about their sticks, and their swords. And I thought, what if
beat up Veslin? What if
had some reason not to like him?”
Locke paused for breath. “And I thought more, but I couldn’t work it. I didn’t know how. But then I thought, what if they weren’t angry with Veslin? What if I used them as an excuse to make the
angry with Veslin?”
Chains nodded sagely. “And where did you get the white iron coin?”
Locke sighed. “Streets. All of us who didn’t like Veslin stole extra. We watched and we clutched and we worked hard. It took weeks. It took
! I wanted white iron. I finally got one from a fat man dressed all in black wool. Funny coats and ties.”
“A Vadran.” Chains seemed bemused. “Probably a merchant come down to do some business. Too proud to dress for the weather at first, and sometimes too cheap to see a tailor in town. So, you got a white iron coin. A full crown.”
“Everyone wanted to see it. Everyone wanted to touch it. I let them; then I made them be quiet. I made them promise not to talk about it. I told them it was how we were going to get Veslin.”
“So what did you do with your coin?”
“Put it in a purse, a little leather purse. The kind we clutched all the time. And hid it out in the city so it wouldn’t get taken from us. A place we knew about, where nobody big could get to. And I made sure that Veslin and his friends were out of the hill, and I got the coin, and I went back in early one day. I gave up coppers and bread to the older girls on the door, but the coin was in my shoe.” Here Locke paused and fiddled with his little lamp, making the red glow waver on his face.
“I put it in Veslin’s room. The one where he and Gregor slept—one of the nice dry tombs. Center of the hill. I found a loose stone and hid the purse there, and when I was sure nobody had seen me, I asked to see the master. I said that some of us had seen Veslin at one of the yellowjacket stations. That he’d taken money from them. That he’d shown it to us, and said that if we told on him he’d sell us to the yellowjackets.”
“Amazing.” Chains scratched his beard. “You know you don’t mumble and stutter quite so much when you’re explaining how you fucked someone over?”
Locke blinked, then turned his chin up and stared hard at Chains. The older man laughed. “Wasn’t a criticism, son, and I didn’t mean to dam the flow. Keep the story coming. How did you know your old master would take offense at this? Did the yellowjackets ever offer you or your friends money?”
“No,” Locke said. “No, but I knew the master gave
money. For favors; for information. We saw him putting coins in purses, sometimes. So I figured, maybe I could work it the other way.”
“Ah.” Chains reached within the folds of his robe and withdrew a flat leather wallet, the color of baked bricks in the light of Locke’s lamp. From this he withdrew a scrap of paper, onto which he shook a dark powder from another corner of the wallet. This object he rapidly folded end over end until it was a tight cylinder, and with courtly grace he lit one end by holding it in the lamp’s flame. Soon he was sending ghostly gray swirls of smoke up to join the ghostly gray clouds; the stuff smelled like burning pine tar.
“Forgive me,” Chains said, shifting his bulk to his right so his direct exhalations would miss the boy by a few feet. “Two smokes a night is all I let myself have; the rough stuff before dinner, and the smooth stuff after. Makes everything taste better.”
“So I’m staying for dinner?”
“Oh-ho, my cheeky little opportunist. Let’s say the situation remains fluid. You go ahead and finish your story. You tipped your old master that Veslin was working as an auxiliary member of the famed Camorr constabulary. He must have thrown quite a fit.”
“He said he’d kill me if I was lying.” Locke scuttled to his own right, even farther from the smoke. “But I said he’d hid the coin in his room. His and Gregor’s. So…he tore it apart. I hid the coin real well, but he found it. He was supposed to.”
“Mmmm. What did you expect to happen then?”
“I didn’t know they’d get killed!” Chains couldn’t hear any real grief in that soft and passionate little voice, but there seemed to be real puzzlement, real aggravation. “I wanted him to beat Veslin. I thought maybe he’d do him up in front of all of us. We ate together, most nights. The whole hill. Fuck-ups had to do tricks, or serve and clean everything, sometimes get held down for caning. Drink ginger oil. I thought he’d get those things. Maybe all those things.”
“Well.” Chains held an inhalation of smoke for a particularly long moment, as though the tobacco could fill him with insight, and looked away from Locke. When he finally exhaled, he did so in little puffs, forming wobbly crescents that fluttered a few feet and faded into the general haze. He harrumphed and turned back to the boy. “Well, you certainly learned the value of good intentions, didn’t you? Caning. Cleaning and serving. Heh. Poor Veslin got cleaned and served, all right. How did your old master do it?”
“He was gone for a few hours, and when he came back, he waited. In Veslin’s room. When Veslin and Gregor came back that night, there were older boys nearby. So they couldn’t go anywhere. And then…the master just killed them. Both. Cut Veslin’s throat, and…some of the others said he looked at Gregor for a while, and he didn’t say anything, and then he just…” Locke made the same sort of jabbing motion with two fingers that Chains had made at him earlier. “He did Gregor, too.”
“Of course he did! Poor Gregor. Gregor Foss, wasn’t it? One of those lucky little orphans old enough to remember his last name, not unlike yourself. Of
your old master did him, too. He and Veslin were best friends, right? Two draughts from the same bottle. It was an elementary assumption that one would know that the other was hiding a fortune under a rock.” Chains sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Elementary. So, now that you’ve told your part, would you like me to point out where you fucked everything up? And to let you know why most of your little friends in Streets that helped you pluck that white iron coin are going to be dead before morning?”
Second Touch at the Teeth Show
IDLER’S DAY, THE eleventh hour of the morning, at the Shifting Revel. The sun was once again the baleful white of a diamond in a fire, burning an arc across the empty sky and pouring down heat that could be felt against the skin. Locke stood beneath the silk awning atop Don Salvara’s pleasure barge, dressed in the clothes and mannerisms of Lukas Fehrwight, and stared out at the gathering Revel.
There was a troupe of rope dancers perched atop a platform boat to his left; four of them, standing in a diamond pattern about fifteen feet apart. Great lengths of brightly colored silk rope stretched amongst the dancers, around their arms and chests and necks. It seemed that each dancer was working four or five strands simultaneously. These strands formed an ever-shifting cat’s cradle between the dancers, and suspended in this web by clever hitches were all manner of small objects: swords, knives, overcoats, boots, glass statuettes, sparkling knickknacks. All these objects were slowly but gradually moving in various directions as the dancers twirled arms and shifted hips, slipping old knots loose and forming newer, tighter ones with impossibly smooth gestures.
It was a minor wonder on a busy river of wonders, not the least of which was Don and Doña Salvara’s barge. While many nobles hauled trees to and from their orchards on the water, Locke’s hosts were the first to go one step further. Their pleasure barge was a permanent floating orchard in miniature. Perhaps fifty paces long and twenty wide, it was a double-hulled wooden rectangle stuffed with soil to support a dozen oak and olive trees. Their trunks were a uniform night-black, and their rustling cascades of leaves were unnatural emerald, bright as lacquer—an outward testimony to the subtle science of alchemical botany.
Wide circular stairs crisscrossed with patches of leafy shade wound up several of these trees, leading to the don’s silk-topped observation box, comfortably perched within the branches to give the occupants an unobstructed forward view. On each side of this supremely ostentatious sliver of floating forest were twenty hired rowers, seated on outrigger-like structures that kept the top-heavy central portion of the yacht from plunging sideways.
The box could easily hold twenty; this morning it held only Locke and Jean, the don and the doña, and the ever-watchful Conté, currently tending a liquor cabinet so elaborate it might have been mistaken for an apothecary’s lab. Locke returned his gaze to the rope dancers, feeling a strange kinship with them. They weren’t the only ones with ample opportunity to screw up a delicate public act this morning.
“Master Fehrwight, your
!” Doña Sofia Salvara shared the forward rail of the observation box with him, her hands scant inches from his. “You would look so very fine in one of your Emberlain winters, but why must you suffer them in our summer? You shall sweat yourself as red as a rose! Might you not take something off?”
“I…my lady, I am, I assure you…most comfortable.” Thirteen gods, she was actually
with him. And the little smile that crept on and off her husband’s face told Locke that the Salvaras had planned this in advance. A little close feminine attention to fluster the awkward master merchant; perfectly staged and perfectly common. A game before the game, so to speak. “I find that whatever discomfort these clothes bring me in your…very interesting climate only serves to, to goad me. Into concentrating. Keeps me alert, you see. A better, ah, man of business.”
Jean, standing a few paces behind the two of them, bit his tongue. Throwing blondes at Locke Lamora was not unlike throwing lettuce at sharks, and the Doña Sofia was
blonde; one of those gorgeous Therin rarities with skin like burnt amber and hair the color of almond butter. Her eyes were deep and steady, her curves artfully not concealed by a dark orange summer dress with a cream-white underskirt barely showing at the hem. Well, it was just the Salvaras’ luck to run up against a thief with the most peculiar damned taste in women. Jean could admire the doña for them both; his limited role today (and his “injuries”) would give him little else to do.
“Our Master Fehrwight is made of unusually stern stuff, my dear.” Don Lorenzo lounged in a far corner of the forward rail, dressed in loose white silks and an orange vest matching his wife’s dress. His white neckerchiefs hung rakishly loose, and only the bottom clasp of his vest was fastened. “Yesterday he took the beating of a lifetime; today he wears enough wool for five men and dares the sun to do its worst. I must say, I’m more and more pleased with myself that I’ve kept you out of Jacobo’s grasp, Lukas.”
Locke acknowledged the smiling don with a slight bow and an agreeably awkward smile of his own.
“Do at least have something to drink, Master Fehrwight.” Doña Sofia’s hand briefly settled over Locke’s, long enough for him to feel the assorted calluses and chemical burns no manicure could conceal. She was a
alchemical botanist, then; this barge was her direct handiwork as well as her general design. A formidable talent—by implication, a calculating woman. Lorenzo was obviously the more impulsive one, and if he was wise he’d weigh his wife’s opinion before agreeing to any of Lukas Fehrwight’s proposals. Locke therefore favored her with a shy smile and an awkward cough. Let her think she was getting to him.
“A drink would be very pleasing,” he said. “But, ah, I fear that you shall have no reassurance for my condition, kind Doña Sofia. I have done much business in your city; I know how drinking is done here, when men and women speak of business.”
“‘Morning’s for sweat, and night’s for regret,’” Don Salvara said as he stepped from the rail and gestured to his servant. “Conté, I do believe Master Fehrwight has just requested nothing less than a ginger scald.”
Conté moved adroitly to fill this request, first selecting a tall crystal wine flute, into which he poured two fingers of purest Camorri ginger oil, the color of scorched cinnamon. To this he added a sizable splash of milky pear brandy, followed by a transparent heavy liquor called
, which was actually a cooking wine flavored with radishes. When this cocktail was mixed, Conté wrapped a wet towel around the fingers of his left hand and reached for a covered brazier smoldering to the side of the liquor cabinet. He withdrew a slender metal rod, glowing orange-red at the tip, and plunged it into the cocktail; there was an audible hiss and a small puff of spicy steam. Once the rod was stanched, Conté stirred the drink briskly and precisely three times, then presented it to Locke on a thin silver plate.
Locke had practiced this ritual many times over the years, but when the cold burn of the ginger scald hit his lips (limning every tiny crack with stinging heat, and outlining every crevice between teeth and gums in exquisite pain—even before it went to work on tongue and throat), he was never able to fully hold back the memories of Shades’ Hill and of the Thiefmaker’s admonishments; of a liquid fire that seemed to creep up his sinuses and burn behind his eyes until he wanted to tear them out. Expressing discomfort at his first sip of the drink was much easier than feigning interest in the doña.
“Incomparable.” He coughed, and then, with quick jerky motions, he loosened his black neck-cloths just the slightest bit; the Salvaras smirked charmingly together. “I’m reminded again why I have such success selling gentler liquors to you people.”
ONCE PER month, there was no trading done in the Shifting Market. Every fourth Idler’s Day, the merchants stayed clear of the great sheltered circle abutting the Angevine River; instead, they drifted or anchored nearby while half the city came out to see the Shifting Revel.
Camorr had never possessed a great stone or Elderglass amphitheater, and had fallen instead into the curious custom of rebuilding its spectator circle anew at each Revel. Huge multistoried observation barges were towed out and anchored firmly against the stone breakwaters surrounding the Shifting Market, like floating slices cut from the heart of great stadiums. Each barge was operated by a rival family or merchant combine and decked in unique livery; they competed fiercely with one another to fill their seats, and intervessel brawls between the habitual customers of particularly beloved barges were not unknown.