The Lies of Locke Lamora (4 page)

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When the tavern had cleared of everyone but a few moaning (or motionless) Gazers, Locke’s companions stole in behind him: a dozen of the fastest teasers and clutchers in Streets, specially invited by Lamora for this expedition. They spread out among the fallen tables and behind the battered bar, plucking wildly at anything valuable. Here a handful of discarded coins; there a good knife; here a set of whalebone dice with tiny garnet chips for markers. From the pantry, baskets of coarse but serviceable bread, salted butter in grease-paper, and a dozen bottles of wine. Half a minute was all Locke allowed them, counting in his head while he rubbed his makeup from his face. By the end of the count, he motioned his associates back out into the night.

Riot drums were already beating to summon the watch, and above their rhythm could be heard the first faint flutings of pipes, the bone-chilling sound that called out the duke’s Ghouls—the Quarantine Guard.

The participants in Locke’s smash-and-grab adventure threaded their way through the growing crowds of confused and panicked Narrows dwellers, and scuttled home indirectly through the Mara Camorrazza or the Coalsmoke district.

They returned with the largest haul of goods and food in the memory of the Shades’ Hill orphans, and a larger pile of copper half-barons than Locke had hoped for. He hadn’t known that men who played at dice or cards kept money out in plain view, for in Shades’ Hill such games were the exclusive domain of the oldest and most popular orphans, and he was neither.

For a few hours, the Thiefmaker was merely bemused.

But that night, panicked drunks set fire to the Elderglass Vine, and hundreds tried to flee the Narrows when the city watch was unable to locate the boy who’d first triggered the panic. Riot drums beat until dawn, bridges were blocked, and Duke Nicovante’s archers took to the canals around the Narrows in flat-bottomed boats, with arrows to last all night and then some.

The next morning found the Thiefmaker once again in private conversation with his littlest plague orphan.

“The problem with you, Locke
fucking
Lamora, is that you are not
circumspect
. Do you know what
circumspect
means?”

Locke shook his head.

“Let me put it like this. That tavern had an owner. That owner worked for Capa Barsavi, the big man himself, just like I do. Now, that tavern owner paid the Capa, just like I do, to avoid
accidents
. Thanks to you, he’s had one hell of an
accident
—even though he was paying his money and didn’t have an
accident
forthcoming. So, if you follow me, inciting a pack of drunk fucking animals to burn that place to the ground with a fake plague scare was the opposite of a
circumspect
means of operation. So now can you venture a guess as to what the word means?”

Locke knew a good time to nod vigorously when he heard it.

“Unlike the last time you tried to send me to an early grave, this one I can’t buy my way out of, and thank the gods I don’t need to, because the mess is huge. The yellowjackets clubbed down two hundred people last night before they all figured out that nobody had the Whisper. The duke called out his fucking regulars and was about to give the Narrows a good scrubbing with fire-oil. Now, the only reason—and I mean the
only
reason—that you’re not floating in a shark’s stomach with a very surprised expression on your face is that the Elderglass Vine is just a pile of ashes; nobody knows anything was stolen from it
before
it became that pile of ashes. Nobody except us.

“So, we’re
all
going to agree that nobody in this hill knows anything about what happened, and
you
are going to relearn some of that reticence I talked about when you first arrived here. You remember reticence, right?”

Locke nodded.

“I just want nice, neat little jobs from you, Lamora. I want a purse here, a sausage there. I want you to swallow your ambition, shit it out like a bad meal, and be a
circumspect
little teaser for about the next thousand years. Can you do that for me? Don’t rob any more yellowjackets. Don’t burn any more taverns. Don’t start any more fucking riots. Just pretend to be a coarse-witted little cutpurse like your brothers and sisters. Clear?”

Again, Locke nodded, doing his best to look rueful.

“Good. And now,” the Thiefmaker said as he produced his nearly full flask of ginger oil, “we’re going to engage in some
reinforcement
of my admonishments.”

And, for a time (once Locke recovered his powers of speech and unlabored breathing), everything was serene.

But the Seventy-seventh Year of Morgante became the Seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, and though Locke succeeded in hiding his actions from the Thiefmaker for a time, on one more specific occasion he again failed spectacularly to be circumspect.

When the Thiefmaker realized what the boy had done, he went to see the Capa of Camorr and secured permission for one little death. Only as an afterthought did he go to see the Eyeless Priest, intent not on mercy but on one last chance for a slim profit.

7

THE SKY was a fading red, and nothing remained of the day save for a line of molten gold slowly lowering on the western horizon. Locke Lamora trailed in the long shadow of the Thiefmaker, who was leading him to the Temple of Perelandro to be sold. At long last, Locke had discovered where the older children had been disappearing to.

A great glass arch led from the northwest base of Shades’ Hill to the eastern edge of the long, vast Temple District. At the apex of this bridge the Thiefmaker paused and stared north, across the lightless houses of the Quiet, across the mist-wreathed waters of the rushing Angevine, to the shaded manors and tree-lined white stone boulevards of the four Alcegrante islands, laid out in opulence beneath the impossible height of the Five Towers.

The Five were the most prominent Elderglass structures in a city thick with the arcane substance. The smallest and least magnificent, Dawncatcher, was merely eighty feet wide and four hundred feet tall. The true color of each smooth tower was mingled now with the sinking furnace-light of sunset, and the weblike net of cables and cargo baskets that threaded the tower tops was barely visible against the carmine sky.

“We’ll wait here a moment, boy,” said the Thiefmaker with uncharacteristic wistfulness in his voice. “Here on my bridge. So few come to Shades’ Hill this way, it might as well be mine.”

The Duke’s Wind that blew in from the Iron Sea by day had turned; the night, as always, would be ruled by the muggy Hangman’s Wind that blew from land to sea, thick with the scents of farm fields and rotting marshes.

“I’m getting rid of you, you know,” the Thiefmaker added after a moment. “Not, ahhh, fooling. Good-bye forever. It’s a pity you’re missing something. Common sense, perhaps.”

Locke said nothing, instead staring up at the vast glass towers as the sky behind them drained of color. The blue-white stars brightened, and the last rays of the sun vanished in the west like a great eye closing.

As the first hint of true darkness seemed to fall over the city, a new light rose faint and glimmering to push it back. This light gleamed from within the Elderglass of the Five Towers themselves, and within the translucent glass of the bridge on which they were standing. It waxed with every passing breath, gaining strength until it bathed the city with the fey half-light of an overcast day.

The hour of Falselight had come.

From the heights of the Five Towers to the obsidian smoothness of the vast glass breakwaters, to the artificial reefs beneath the slate-colored waves, Falselight radiated from every surface and every shard of Elderglass in Camorr, from every speck of the alien material left so long before by the creatures that had first shaped the city. Every night, as the west finally swallowed the sun, the glass bridges would become threads of firefly light; the glass towers and glass avenues and the strange glass sculpture-gardens would shimmer wanly with violet and azure and orange and pearl white, and the moons and stars would fade to gray.

This was what passed for twilight in Camorr—the end of work for the last daylight laborers, the calling of the night watches and the sealing of the landward gates. An hour of supernatural radiance that would soon enough give way to true night.

“Let’s be about our business,” the Thiefmaker said, and the two of them headed down into the Temple District, walking on soft alien light.

8

FALSELIGHT WAS the last hour during which the temples of Camorr traditionally remained open, and the Eyeless Priest at the House of Perelandro was wasting none of the time still left to fill the copper money-kettle sitting before him on the steps of his decrepit temple.

“Orphans!” he bellowed in a voice that would have been at home on a battlefield. “Are we not all orphaned, sooner or later? Alas for those torn from the mother’s bosom, barely past infancy!”

A pair of slender young boys, presumably orphans, were seated on either side of the money-kettle, wearing hooded white robes. The eldritch glow of Falselight seemed to inflame the hollow blackness of their staring eyes as they watched men and women hurrying about their business on the squares and avenues of the gods.

“Alas,” the priest continued, “for those cast out by cruel fate to a wicked world that has no place for them, a world that has no use for them.
Slaves
is what it makes of them! Slaves, or worse—
playthings
for the lusts of the wicked and the ungodly, forcing them into half-lives of unspeakable degeneracy, beside which mere slavery would be a
blessing
!”

Locke marveled, for he had never seen a stage performance or heard a trained orator.
Here
was scorn that could boil standing water from stone;
here
was remonstrance that made his pulse race with excited shame, though he was himself an orphan. He wanted to hear the big-voiced man yell at him some more.

So great was the fame of Father Chains, the Eyeless Priest, that even Locke Lamora had heard of him; a man of late middle years with a chest as broad as a scrivener’s desk and a beard that clung to his craggy face like a pad of scrubbing wool. A thick white blindfold covered his forehead and his eyes, a white cotton vestment hung to his bare ankles, and a pair of black iron manacles encircled his wrists. Heavy steel chains led from these manacles back up the steps of the temple, and through the open doors to the interior. Locke could see that as Father Chains gestured to his listeners, these chains were almost taut. He was nearly at the very limit of his freedom.

For thirteen years, popular lore had it, Father Chains had never set foot beyond the steps of his temple. As a measure of his devotion to Perelandro, Father of Mercies, Lord of the Overlooked, he had chained himself to the walls of his inner sanctuary with iron manacles that had neither locks nor keys, and had paid a physiker to pluck out his eyes while a crowd watched.

“The Lord of the Overlooked keeps vigil on every son and daughter of the dead, on that point I can assure you! Blessed in his eyes are those, unbound by the duties of blood, who render aid and comfort to the motherless and the fatherless….”

Though he was known to be blind as well as blindfolded, Locke could have sworn that Father Chains’ head turned toward himself and the Thiefmaker as they approached across the square.

“Out of the undoubted goodness of their hearts, they nourish and protect the children of Camorr—
not
with cold-souled avarice, but with selfless kindness! Truly blessed,” he hissed with fervor, “are the
protectors
of Camorr’s
gentle, needful
orphans.”

As the Thiefmaker reached the steps of the temple and started up, he was careful to slap his heels against the stones to announce his presence.

“Someone approaches,” Father Chains said. “Two someones, or so say my ears!”

“I’ve brought you the boy we discussed, Father,” the Thiefmaker announced loudly enough for several passersby to hear him, should they be listening. “I’ve prepared him as well as I could for the, ahhhh, tests of apprenticeship and initiation.”

The priest took a step toward Locke, dragging his clattering chains behind him. The hooded boys guarding the money-kettle spared Locke a brief glance, but said nothing.

“Have you, then?” Father Chains’ hand shot out with alarming accuracy, and his calloused fingers spidered themselves over Locke’s forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. “A small boy, it seems. A very small boy. Though not without a certain measure of character, I venture, in the malnourished curves of his sad orphan’s face.”

“His name,” said the Thiefmaker, “is Locke Lamora, and I wager the Order of Perelandro will find many uses for his, ahhhh, unusual degree of personal initiative.”

“Better still,” the priest rumbled, “that he were sincere, penitent, honest, and inclined to discipline. But I have no doubt that his time in
your
affectionate care has instilled those qualities in him by example.” He clapped his hands together three times. “My boys, our day’s business is done; gather the offerings of the good people of Camorr, and let’s show our prospective initiate into the temple.”

The Thiefmaker gave Locke a brief squeeze on the shoulder, then pushed him quite enthusiastically up the steps toward the Eyeless Priest. As the white-robed boys carried the jangling copper bowl past him, the Thiefmaker tossed a small leather purse into it, spread his arms wide, and bowed with his characteristic serpentine theatricality. The last Locke saw of him, he was moving rapidly across the Temple District with his crooked arms and bony shoulders rolling gaily: the strut of a man set free.

9

THE SANCTUARY of the Temple of Perelandro was a musty stone chamber with several puddles of standing water; the mold-eaten tapestries on the walls were rapidly devolving into their component threads. It was lit only by the pastel glare of Falselight and the halfhearted efforts of a frosted white alchemical globe perched precariously in a fixture just above the steel plate that chained the Eyeless Priest to the sanctuary wall. Locke saw a curtained doorway on the back wall, and nothing else.

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