Authors: Scott Lynch
In just a few lengths of Bug’s poling, they passed a family of trinket dealers in ill-kept brown cockleshells, a spice merchant with his wares on a triangular rack in the middle of an awkward circular raft of the sort called a
, and a Canal Tree bobbing and swaying on the leather-bladder pontoon raft that supported its roots. These roots trailed in the water, drinking up the piss and effluvia of the busy city; the canopy of rustling emerald leaves cast thousands of punctuated shadows down on the Gentlemen Bastards as they passed, along with the perfume of citrus. The tree (an alchemical hybrid that grew both limes and lemons) was tended by a middle-aged woman and three small children, who scuttled around in the branches throwing down fruit in response to orders from passing boats.
Above the watercraft of the Shifting Market rose a field of flags and pennants and billowing silk standards, all competing through gaudy colors and symbols to impress their messages on watchful buyers. There were flags adorned with the crude outlines of fish or fowl or both; flags adorned with ale mugs and wine bottles and loaves of bread, boots and trousers and threaded tailors’ needles, fruits and kitchen instruments and carpenters’ tools and a hundred other goods and services. Here and there, small clusters of chicken-flagged boats or shoe-flagged rafts were locked in close combat, their owners loudly proclaiming the superiority of their respective goods or inferring the bastardy of one another’s children, while the watch-boats stood off at a mindful distance, in case anyone should sink or commence a boarding action.
“It’s a pain sometimes, this pretending to be poor.” Locke gazed around in reverie, the sort Bug would have been indulging in if the boy hadn’t been concentrating on avoiding collision. A barge packed with dozens of yowling housecats in wooden slat cages cut their wake, flagged with a blue pennant on which an artfully rendered dead mouse bled rich scarlet threads through a gaping hole in its throat. “There’s just something about this place. I could almost convince myself that I really did have a pressing need for a pound of fish, some bowstrings, old shoes, and a new shovel.”
“Fortunately for our credibility,” said Jean, “we’re coming up on the next major landmark on our way to a fat pile of Don Salvara’s money.” He pointed past the northeastern breakwater of the market, beyond which a row of prosperous-looking waterfront inns and taverns stood between the market and the Temple District.
“Right as always, Jean. Greed before imagination. Keep us on track.” Locke added an enthusiastic but superfluous finger to the direction Jean was already pointing. “Bug! Get us out onto the river, then veer right. One of the twins is going to be waiting for us at the Tumblehome, third inn down on the south bank.”
Bug pushed them north, straining to reach the bottom of the market’s basin—which was easily half again as deep as the surrounding canals—with each thrust. They evaded overzealous purveyors of grapefruits and sausage rolls and alchemical light-sticks, and Locke and Jean amused themselves with a favorite game, trying to spot the little pickpockets among the crowds on the breakwaters. The inattention of Camorr’s busy thousands still managed to feed the doddering old Thiefmaker in his dank warren under Shades’ Hill, nearly twenty years since Locke or Jean had last set foot inside the place.
Once they escaped from the market and onto the river itself, Bug and Jean wordlessly switched places. The fast waters of the Angevine would be better matched against Jean’s muscle, and Bug would need to rest his arms for his part in the game to come. As Bug collapsed in Jean’s former place at the bow, Locke produced a cinnamon-lemon apparently from thin air and tossed it to the boy. Bug ate it in six bites, dry skin and all, masticating the reddish yellow pulp as grotesquely as possible between his bright, crooked teeth. He grinned.
“They don’t make fish poison from those things, right?”
“No,” Locke said. “They only make fish poison from things that Jean eats.”
Jean harrumphed. “A little fish poison puts hair on your chest. Excepting if you’re a fish.”
Jean kept them nearly against the southern bank of the Angevine, clear of the depths where the pole couldn’t reach. Shafts of hot, pearl-white light flashed down on them as Eldgerglass bridges passed directly between their barge and the still-rising sun. The river was two hundred yards wide, sweating its wetness up into the air along with the smell of fish and silt.
To the north, rippling under the heat-haze, were the orderly slopes of the Alcegrante islands, home to the city’s greater commoners and minor nobles. It was a place of walled gardens, elaborate water sculptures, and white stone villas, well off-limits to anyone dressed as Locke and Jean and Bug were. With the sun approaching its zenith, the vast shadows of the Five Towers had withdrawn into the Upper City and were currently nothing more than a rosy stained-glass glow that spilled just over the northern edges of the Alcegrante.
“Gods, I love this place,” Locke said, drumming his fingers against his thighs. “Sometimes I think this whole city was put here simply because the gods must adore crime. Pickpockets rob the common folk, merchants rob anyone they can dupe, Capa Barsavi robs the robbers
the common folk, the lesser nobles rob nearly everyone, and Duke Nicovante occasionally runs off with his army and robs the shit out of Tal Verrar or Jerem,
not to mention
what he does to his own nobles and his common folk.”
“So that makes us robbers of robbers,” said Bug, “who pretend to be robbers working for a robber of other robbers.”
“Yes, we do sort of screw the pretty picture up, don’t we?” Locke thought for a few seconds, clicking his tongue against the insides of his cheeks. “Think of what we do as, ah, a sort of secret tax on nobles with more money than prudence. Hey! Here we are.”
Beneath the Tumblehome Inn was a wide and well-kept quay with half a dozen mooring posts, none of them currently occupied. The smooth gray embankment was about ten feet high here; broad stone steps led up to street level, as did a cobbled ramp for cargo and horses. Calo Sanza was waiting for them at the edge of the quay, dressed only slightly better than his fellows, with a Gentled horse standing placidly behind him. Locke waved.
“What’s the news?” Locke cried. Jean’s poling was skilled and graceful; the quay was twenty yards away, then ten, and then they were sliding up alongside it with a gentle scraping noise.
“Galdo got all the stuff packed into the room—it’s the Bowsprit Suite on the first floor,” Calo whispered in response, bending down to Locke and Bug as he picked up the barge’s mooring rope.
Calo had dark liquor-colored skin and hair like an inky slice of night; the tautness of the flesh around his dark eyes was broken only by a fine network of laugh-lines (though anyone who knew the Sanza twins would more readily describe them as smirk-lines). An improbably sharp and hooked nose preceded his good looks like a dagger held at guard position.
Once he had made the barge fast to a mooring post, Calo tossed to Locke a heavy iron key attached to a long tassel of braided red and black silk. At a quality rooming house like the Tumblehome, each private suite’s door was guarded by a clockwork lockbox (removable only by some cunning means known to the owners) that could be swapped out from a niche in the door. Each rented room received a random new box and its attendant key. With hundreds of such identical-looking boxes stored behind the polished counter in the reception hall, the inn could pretty much guarantee that copying keys for later break-ins was a practical waste of a thief’s time.
This courtesy would also give Locke and Jean guaranteed privacy for the rapid transformation that was about to take place.
“Wonderful!” Locke leaped up onto the quay as spryly as he had entered the boat; Jean passed the steering pole back to Bug, then made the barge shudder with his own leap. “Let’s go on in and fetch out our guests from Emberlain.”
As Locke and Jean padded up the steps toward the Tumblehome, Calo motioned for Bug to give him a hand with the horse. The white-eyed creature was utterly without fear or personal initiative, but that same lack of self-preservation instincts might lead it to damage the barge very easily. After a few minutes of careful pushing and pulling, they had it positioned in the center of the barge, as calm as a statue that just happened to have lungs.
“Lovely creature,” said Calo. “I’ve named him Impediment. You could use him as a table. Or a flying buttress.”
“Gentled animals give me the bloody creeps.”
“Whereas,” said Calo, “they give me the
creeps. But tenderfoots and softies prefer Gentled packhorses, and that’s our master merchant of Emberlain in a nutshell.”
Several more minutes passed, and Calo and Bug stood in amiable silence under the punishing sun, looking the part of an unremarkable barge crew waiting to receive a passenger of consequence from the bosom of the Tumblehome Inn. Soon enough, that passenger descended the stairs and coughed twice to get their attention.
It was Locke, of course, but changed. His hair was slicked back with rose oil, the bones of his face seemed to shadow slightly deeper hollows in his cheeks, and his eyes were half concealed behind a pair of optics rimmed with black pearl and flashing silver in the sun.
He was now dressed in a tightly buttoned black coat in the Emberlain style, almost form-fitted from his shoulders down to his ribs, then flaring out widely at the waist. Two black leather belts with polished silver buckles circled his stomach; three ruffled layers of black silk cravats poured out of his collar and fluttered in the hot breeze. He wore embroidered gray hose over thick-heeled sharkskin shoes with black ribbon tongues that sprang somewhat ludicrously outward and hung over his feet with the drooping curl of hothouse flowers. Sweat was already beading on his forehead like little diamonds—Camorr’s summer did not reward the intrusion of fashions from a more northerly climate.
“My name,” said Locke Lamora, “is
.” The voice was clipped and precise, scrubbed of Locke’s natural inflections. He layered the hint of a harsh Vadran accent atop a slight mangling of his native Camorri dialect like a barkeep mixing liquors. “I am wearing clothes that will be full of sweat in several minutes. I am dumb enough to walk around Camorr without a blade of any sort. Also,” he said with a hint of ponderous regret, “I am entirely
“I’m very sorry to hear that, Master Fehrwight,” said Calo, “but at least we’ve got your boat and your horse ready for your grand excursion.”
Locke stepped carefully down toward the edge of the barge, swaying at the hips like a man newly off a ship and not yet used to surfaces that didn’t tilt beneath his feet. His spine was arrow-straight, his movements nearly prissy. He wore the mannerisms of Lukas Fehrwight like a set of invisible clothes.
“My attendant will be along any moment,” Locke/Fehrwight said as he/they stepped aboard the barge. “His name is
, and he too suffers from a slight case of being imaginary.”
“Merciful gods,” said Calo, “it must be catching.”
Down the cobbled ramp came Jean, treading heavily under the weight of one hundred and twenty pounds of creaking horse’s harness, the embroidered leather packs crammed full of goods and strapped tightly shut. Jean now wore a white silk shirt, straining tight against his belly and already translucent in places with sweat, under an open black vest and a white neckerchief. His hair was parted in the middle and held in stasis by some thick black oil; never picturesque, it now resembled two pads of wool arched over his forehead like a tenement roof.
“We’re behind schedule, Graumann.” Locke clasped his hands behind his back. “Do hurry up and let the poor horse do its job.”
Jean heaved his mess over the Gentled horse’s back, to no visible reaction from the animal. He then bent down and fastened the harness securely under the horse’s stomach. Bug passed the steering pole to Calo, then slipped the barge’s rope from the mooring post, and they were off once again.
“Wouldn’t it be damned amusing,” said Calo, “if Don Salvara picked today to dodge out on his little ritual?”
“Don’t worry,” said Locke, briefly dropping the voice if not the posture of Lukas Fehrwight. “He’s quite devoted to his mother’s memory. A conscience can be as good as a water-clock, when it comes to keeping some appointments.”
“From your lips to the gods’ ears.” Calo worked the pole with cheerful ease. “And no skin off my balls if you’re wrong. You’re the one wearing a ten-pound black felt coat in the middle of Parthis.”
They made headway up the Angevine and came abreast with the western edge of the Temple District on their right, passing beneath a wide glass arch as they did so. Standing atop the middle of this bridge was a lean, dark-haired man with looks and a nose to match Calo’s.
As Calo poled the barge underneath the arch some fifty feet below, Galdo Sanza casually let a half-eaten red apple fall from his hands. The fruit hit the water with a quiet little splash just a yard or two behind his brother.
“Salvara’s at the temple!” Bug said.
“Sublime.” Locke spread his hands and grinned. “Didn’t I tell you he suffered from an impeccable sense of maternal devotion?”
“I’m so pleased that you only choose victims of the highest moral quality,” said Calo. “The wrong sort might set a bad example for Bug.”
At a public dock jutting from the northwestern shore of the Temple District, just under the heights of the city’s vast new House of Iono (Father of Storms, Lord of the Grasping Waters), Jean tied them up in record time and led Impediment—looking every bit the part of a wealthy merchant’s packhorse—up off the barge.
Locke followed with Fehrwight’s nervous dignity on full display; all the banter was now banked down like coals under a cookfire. Bug darted off into the crowds, eager to take up his watch position over the alley junction where Don Salvara’s ambitions would soon be sorely tempted. Calo spotted Galdo just stepping off the glass bridge, and casually moved toward him. Both twins were unconsciously fingering the weapons concealed beneath their baggy shirts.