Authors: Scott Lynch
“If I have learned anything about this city, Master Anatolius,” said Locke, “I have learned that it is quite full of surprises. A very good evening to you.”
“And to you,” said Raza, “merchant of Emberlain.”
He moved quickly away into the crowd; Locke watched him all the way. Raza turned once and their eyes locked yet again, and then the Capa was gone, up the stairs to the next level, gray coat fluttering in his wake.
“Lukas,” said Doña Sofia, “did I miss something?”
“Miss something?” Locke gave her another innocent Fehrwight smile. “I don’t believe so, my lady. It is just that that man greatly resembled someone I once knew.”
“A friend from Emberlain?”
“Oh no,” said Locke. “Not a friend. And the man in question is dead—he is very, very dead.” Aware that he was clenching his teeth, he let ease return to his countenance. “Shall we go find your Doña Vorchenza, my lady?”
“Why, yes,” said Sofia. “Yes, let’s be about it. Do follow me.”
She led him down the stairs Raza had come up, down to yet another gallery packed rim to rim with the quality: “blue bloods and gold bloods,” as Father Chains might have put it. Instead of a banquet table, this level held a bar—forty feet of polished witchwood staffed by two dozen men and women in the duke’s livery. Behind them, on tables and shelves, rose thousands upon thousands of glass bottles. Alchemical lamps had been placed behind them, and they bathed the gallery in cascading ribbons of color. Huge pyramids of wineglasses and beer glasses were set off to the sides of the bar, cordoned off behind velvet ropes; one unprofessional gesture would send hundreds of crowns worth of fine crystal crashing to the floor. Blackjackets stood at stiff attention beside the glass-pyramids, as an added assurance. And speaking of pyramids—another one of the lovely pyramid sculptures had been set out here, a few feet to the right of the bar, behind one of the velvet ropes.
Doña Sofia led him to the west, past the bar and the long line of nobles waiting to take in the liquid courage of their choice; some of them were already obviously impaired in the fine art of standing up straight. On the western wall of the gallery there was a heavy witchwood door bearing the silver seal of Duke Nicovante’s personal arms. Doña Sofia pushed this door open and led him into a curving hallway lit by the soft silver glow of alchemical lanterns. There were three doors in this hall, and Doña Sofia brought him to the one at the far end, near what Locke supposed was the northern wall of the tower.
“Now,” said Doña Sofia with a smirk, “it will either be Doña Vorchenza, or it will be a pair of young people doing something they should not….”
She slid the door open and peeked inside, and then tugged on Locke’s sleeve. “It’s quite all right,” she whispered. “It’s her.”
Locke and Sofia were looking into a nearly square chamber with a slightly curved outer wall; unlike the public galleries, the Elderglass surface in this part of the tower was opaque. A single window was on the northern wall, its wooden shade cracked open to let in the sunlight and the warm air of the late afternoon.
There was a single tall-backed wooden chair in the room, and it held a single hunchbacked old lady; she was bent over a pair of glittering needles, utterly fixated on the unidentifiable object that was flowing into her lap from her efforts. A few rolls of black wool yarn lay at her feet. She was eccentrically dressed, in a man’s black coat and a pair of dark purple pantaloons such as cavalry officers traditionally wore; her little black slippers curved up at the ends like something from a fairy story. Her eyes seemed to be clear behind her half-moon optics, but they didn’t look up from her knitting when Doña Sofia led Locke into the center of the room.
“Doña Vorchenza?” Sofia cleared her throat and raised her voice.
“Doña Vorchenza? It’s Sofia, my lady…. I’ve brought someone for you to meet.”
Snick-snick, went Doña Vorchenza’s needles, snick-snick. But those eyes did not look up.
“Doña Angiavesta Vorchenza,” said Sofia to Locke, “dowager countess of Amberglass. She, ah…she comes and goes.” Sofia sighed. “Might I beg you to stay here with her for just a moment? I’m going to the bar; she often takes white wine. Perhaps a glass of it will bring her back to us.”
“Of course, Doña Sofia,” said Locke cheerfully. “I would be very honored to wait on the countess. Fetch her whatever you feel proper.”
“Can I bring you anything, Lukas?”
“Oh, no, you are too kind, my lady. I shall have something later, perhaps.”
Sofia nodded and withdrew from the room, closing the door with a click behind her. Locke paced for a few moments, hands behind his back.
Snick-snick, went the needles, snick-snick. Locke raised an eyebrow. The object flowing forth from those needles remained a perfect mystery. Perhaps it wasn’t yet near completion. He sighed, paced a bit more, and turned to stare out the window.
The green-and-brown hills spread out to the curving horizon north of the city; Locke could see the brown lines of roads, and the particolored roofs of small buildings, and the gray-blue of the Angevine, all fading into heat-haze and distance. The sun suffused everything in hot white light; there wasn’t a cloud to be seen.
There was a sudden vicious stabbing pain at the back of his neck, on the left side.
Locke whirled and slapped a hand to the site of the pain; there was a bit of wetness beneath his fingers. Doña Angiavesta Vorchenza, dowager countess of Amberglass, stood before him, drawing back the knitting needle she had just plunged into the back of his neck. Now her eyes were lively behind those half-moon optics, and a smile broke out of the network of lines on her lean face.
!” He rubbed at the back of his neck and maintained his Vadran accent only with the greatest difficulty. “What the
“Grief-willow, Master Thorn,” said Doña Vorchenza. “The poison of the grief-willow tree, which I’m sure you’ve heard of. You have but a few minutes to live…and now I should very much like to spend them speaking to you.”
“Stabbed you in the neck. Yes, well, I must confess it gave me pleasure, dear boy. What can I say? You have led us on a
“But…but…Doña Vorchenza, I do not understand. How have I given offense?”
“You may abandon the Vadran accent. It’s excellent, but I’m afraid you won’t be able to smile and bluff your way out of this one, Master Thorn.”
Locke sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Doña Vorchenza, if that needle was really poisoned, why the
should I bother telling you anything?”
“Now that’s a sensible question.” She reached down the front of her tunic and drew out a little glass vial, capped with silver. “In exchange for your cooperation, I’m prepared to offer you the antidote. You will, of course, come peacefully with me. You’re hundreds of feet in the air, and every one of my Midnighters is currently here, dressed as staff. You’d be rather ignominiously treated if you tried to run so much as ten feet past that hallway.”
“Your…Midnighters…You mean—you must be fucking kidding.
“Yes,” she said, “and by the gods, it feels good to finally fling that in the face of someone who can appreciate it.”
“But,” said Locke, “the Spider is…or at least I thought the Spider was—”
“A man? You and all the rest of this city, Master Thorn. I have always found the presumptions of others to be the best possible disguise—haven’t you?”
“Hmmm.” Locke chuckled morosely. A tingling numbness was spreading around the wound; it definitely wasn’t just his imagination. “Hanged by my own rope, Doña Vorchenza.”
“You must be brilliant, Master Thorn,” said Doña Vorchenza. “I shall give you that; to do what you’ve done, to keep my people guessing these past few years…Gods, I wish I didn’t have to put you in a crow’s cage. Perhaps a deal could be arranged, once you’ve had a few years to think it over. It must be very new, and very odd, to finally have someone spring such a trap on
“Oh, no.” Locke sighed and put his face in his hands. “Oh, Doña Vorchenza, I’m so sorry to disappoint you, but the list of people that haven’t outsmarted me seems to be getting smaller all the fucking time.”
“Well,” said Doña Vorchenza, “that can’t be pleasant. But come, you must be feeling rather strange by now; you must be unsteady on your feet. Just say yes. Give me the location of the funds you’ve stolen, and perhaps those years in the Palace of Patience can be mitigated. Give me the names of your
, and I’m sure an accommodation can be reached.”
“Doña Vorchenza,” said Locke forcefully, “I have no accomplices, and even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t tell you who they were.”
“What about Graumann?”
“Graumann is a hireling,” said Locke. “He thinks I’m really a merchant of Emberlain.”
“And those so-called bandits in the alley beside the Temple of Fortunate Waters?”
“Hirelings, long since fled back to Talisham.”
“And the false Midnighters, the ones who visited the Salvaras?”
“Homunculi,” said Locke. “They crawl out of my ass every full moon; they’ve been a problem for years.”
“Oh, Master Thorn…grief-willow will still that tongue of yours rather permanently. You don’t have to speak your secrets now; just surrender so I can give you this vial, and we can continue this conversation in more
Locke stared at Doña Vorchenza for several long seconds; he locked his gaze with those ancient eyes of hers and saw the obvious satisfaction in them, and his right hand curled into a fist of its own accord. Perhaps Doña Vorchenza was so used to her aura of privilege she forgot their disparity in ages; perhaps she’d simply never conceived that a man of apparent refinement, even a criminal, could do what Locke did next.
He punched her square in the teeth, a whirling right that would have been comical had he thrown it against a younger, sturdier woman. But it snapped Doña Vorchenza’s head back; her eyes rolled up and she buckled at the knees. Locke caught her as she toppled, carefully plucking the vial from her fingers while he did so. He heaved her back into her chair, then uncapped the vial and poured its contents down his throat. The warm fluid tasted like citrus; he gulped it eagerly and threw the vial aside. Then, working with the utmost haste, he took off his coat and used it to tie Doña Vorchenza into her chair, knotting the sleeves several times behind her back.
Her head lolled forward and she groaned; Locke gave her a pat on the shoulder. On an impulse, he ran his hands quickly (and as politely as possible) through her waistcoat; he grunted in satisfaction when he turned up a little silk purse, jingling with coins. “Not what I was hoping for,” he said, “but we’ll call it fair payment for a gods-damned needle in the neck, hmmm?”
Locke stood up and paced for a few moments. He turned back to Doña Vorchenza, knelt before her, and said, “My lady, it wounds me to have to treat someone such as yourself so crudely; the truth is, I admire you very much and at any other time I’d be very curious to hear just where I fucked up and tipped you off. But you must admit, I’d have to be crazy to go with you; the Palace of Patience simply
suit. So thank you for the very interesting afternoon, and give my regards to Don and Doña Salvara.”
With that, he pushed the wooden shutter as wide as it would go and stepped out the window.
The exterior of Raven’s Reach, considered up close, was actually covered with irregularities, with little indentations and ledges, circling the tower at virtually every level. Locke slipped out onto a slender ledge about six inches wide; he pressed his stomach up against the warm glass of the tower and waited for the pounding of the blood within his temples to cease sounding like a pummeling from a heavy man’s fists. It didn’t, and he sighed.
“I am the king idiot,” he muttered, “of all the world’s fucking idiots.”
The warm wind pushed at his back as he inched to his right; the ledge grew wider a few moments later, and he found an indentation in which to place his hand. Confident that he was in no immediate danger of falling, Locke glanced downward over his shoulder, and immediately regretted it.
Seeing Camorr spread out behind glass offered a layer of insulation between the viewer and the vista; out here, it seemed as though the whole world fell away in a vast arc. He wasn’t six hundred feet in the air, he was a thousand, ten thousand, a million—some incomprehensible number of feet that only the gods were fit to dare. He squeezed his eyes shut and clutched at the glass wall as though he could pour himself into it, like mortar into stones. The pork and capon in his stomach made enthusiastic inquiries about coming up in a nauseous torrent; his throat seemed to be on the verge of granting the request.
I wonder if I’m on one of the transparent sections of the tower? I must look pretty fucking funny.
There was a creaking noise from overhead; he looked up and gasped.
One of the elevator cages was coming down toward him; it would be in line with him on the face of the tower, and it would pass by about three feet from the wall he was clinging to.
It was empty.
“Crooked Warden,” Locke whispered, “I’ll do this, but the only thing I ask, the
thing, is that when this is done,
you make me fucking forget
. Steal this memory out of my head. And I will never climb more than three feet off the ground as long as I draw breath. Praise be.”
The cage creaked down; it was ten feet above him, then five feet, and then its bottom was even with his eyes. Breathing in deep, ragged, panicky gasps, Locke turned himself around on the tower, so that his back was against the glass. The sky and the world beneath his feet both seemed too big to fit into his eyes; gods, he didn’t want to think about them. The cage was sliding past; its bars were right there, three feet away over fifty-some stories of empty air.
He screamed, and pushed himself off the glass wall of the tower. When he hit the blackened iron sidebars of the cage, he clung as desperately as any cat ever clung to a tree branch; the cage swayed back and forth, and Locke did his best to ignore the incredible things that did to the sky and the horizon. The cage door; he had to slip the cage door. They closed tight but didn’t have elaborate locks.