Authors: Scott Lynch
“Bug,” Locke whispered. “His real name was Bertilion Gadek. My apprentice. My brother. And my friend.”
His strength failed, and he slid down atop the Gray King’s corpse.
But the man beneath him said nothing, and Locke was acutely aware of the stillness of the chest beneath his ears; of the heart that should have been beating against his cheek, and he began to cry—long wild sobs that racked his entire body, drawing new threads of agony from his tortured nerves and muscles. Mad with grief and triumph and the red haze of pain and a hundred other feelings he couldn’t name, he lay atop the corpse of his greatest enemy and bawled like a baby, adding saltwater to the warm blood that covered the body of the Gray King.
He lay there shaking in the light of the red lamps, in a silent hall, alone with his triumph, unable to move and bleeding to death.
JEAN FOUND him there just a minute or two later; the big man turned Locke over and slid him off the Gray King’s corpse, eliciting a sincere howl of pain from his half-conscious friend.
“Oh, gods,” Jean cried. “Oh, gods, you fucking idiot, you miserable fucking
.” He pressed his hands against Locke’s chest and neck as though he could simply will the blood back into his body. “Why couldn’t you wait? Why couldn’t you wait for me?”
Locke stared drunkenly up at Jean, his mouth a little O of concern.
“Jean,” Locke whispered gravely, “you have…been running. You were in…no condition to fight. Gray King…so accommodating. Could not refuse.”
Jean snorted despite himself. “Gods damn you, Locke Lamora. I sent him a message. I thought it might keep him around a while.”
“Bless your heart. I did…get him, though. I got him and I burnt his ship.”
“So that’s what happened,” Jean said, very gently. “I saw. I was watching the fire from the other side of the Wooden Waste; I saw you walk into the Floating Grave like you owned the place, and I came running as fast as I could. But you didn’t even need me.”
“Oh no.” Locke swallowed, grimacing at the taste of his own blood. “I made excellent use…of your reputation.”
At this Jean said nothing, and the forlorn light of his eyes chilled Locke more than anything yet.
“So this is revenge,” Locke mumbled.
“It is,” whispered Jean.
After a few seconds, new tears welled up in Locke’s eyes and he closed them, shaking his head. “It’s a shit business.”
“You have to leave me here.”
At this, Jean rocked back on his knees as though he’d been slapped. “What?”
“Leave me, Jean. I’ll be dead…just a few minutes. They won’t get anything from me. You can still get away. Please…leave me.”
Jean’s face turned bright red—a red that showed even by the light of the alchemical globes—and his eyebrows arched, and every line in his face drew so taut that Locke found the energy to be alarmed. Jean’s jaw clenched; his teeth ground together, and the planes of his cheeks stood out like mountain ridges under his gilding of fat.
“That is a
of a thing for you to say to me,” he finally hissed in the flattest, deadliest voice Locke had ever heard.
“I made a mistake, Jean!” Locke croaked in desperation. “I couldn’t really fight him. He did for me before I could cheat my way out of it. Just promise…promise me that if you ever find Sabetha, you’ll—”
“You can find her yourself, half-wit, after we both get the hell out of here!”
“Jean!” Locke clutched weakly at the lapels of Jean’s coat with his good hand. “I’m sorry, I fucked up. Please don’t stay here and get caught; the blackjackets will be coming, soon. I couldn’t bear to have you taken. Please just leave me. I can’t walk.”
“Idiot,” Jean whispered, brushing away hot tears with his good hand. “You won’t have to.”
Working awkwardly but rapidly, Jean took up the Gray King’s cloak and tied it around his own neck, creating a makeshift sling for his right arm. This he slid beneath Locke’s knees, and straining mightily, he was able to pick the smaller man up and cradle him in front of his chest. Locke moaned.
“Quit sobbing, you damn baby,” Jean hissed as he began to lope back along the dock. “You must have at least a half beer glass of blood left somewhere in there.” But Locke was now well and truly unconscious, whether from pain or blood loss Jean couldn’t tell, and his skin was so pale that it almost looked like glass. His eyes were open but unseeing, and his mouth hung open, trailing blood and spittle.
Panting and shuddering, ignoring the wrenching pains of his own wounds, Jean turned and began to run as fast as he could.
The body of the Gray King lay forgotten on the deck behind him, and the red light shone on in the empty hall.
A Minor Prophecy
FATHER CHAINS SAT on the roof of the House of Perelandro, staring down at the astonishingly arrogant fourteen-year-old that had grown out of the little orphan he’d purchased so many years before from the Thiefmaker of Shades’ Hill.
“Someday, Locke Lamora,” he said, “someday, you’re going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so
that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope I’m still around to see it.”
“Oh, please,” said Locke. “It’ll never happen.”
THE EIGHTEENTH OF Parthis in the Seventy-eighth Year of Aza Guilla; wet Camorri summer. The whole city had a hangover and the sky did, too.
Warm rain was falling in sheets, spattering and steaming in the glow of Falselight. The water caught the Falselight glimmer like layers of shifting, translucent mirrors and formed split-second works of art in the air, but men cursed it anyway, because it made their heads wet.
“Watch-sergeant! Watch-sergeant Vidrik!”
The man yelling outside Vidrik’s station at the south end of the Narrows was another watchman; Vidrik stuck his lean, weathered face out through the window beside the shack’s door and was rewarded with a stream of runoff on his forehead. Thunder boomed overhead. “What is it, son?”
The watchman approached out of the rain; it was Constanzo, the new lad just shifted in from the North Corner. He was leading a Gentled donkey; behind the donkey was an open-topped cart, with two more yellow-jacketed watchmen at its rear. They huddled in their oilcloaks and looked miserable, which meant they were sensible men.
“Found something, Sergeant,” said Constanzo. “Something pretty fucked.”
Teams of yellowjackets and blackjackets had been combing the south of Camorr since the previous night; rumors were swirling of some sort of assassination attempt at Raven’s Reach. Gods only knew what the Spider thought his boys should be doing turning over stones in the Dregs and the Ashfall districts, but Vidrik was used to never hearing the whys and the wherefores.
“Define ‘pretty fucked,’” he yelled as he slipped into his own oilcloak and threw up the hood. He stepped out into the rain and crossed to the donkey-cart, waving to the two men standing behind it. One of them owed him two barons from the previous week’s dicing.
“Have a look,” said Constanzo, sweeping back the wet blanket that covered the donkey-cart’s cargo. Beneath it was a man, youngish and very pale, balding, with a fuzz of stubble on his cheeks. He was fairly well dressed, in a gray coat with red cuffs. It happened to be spattered with blood.
The man was alive, but he lay in the cart with his fingerless hands pressed against his cheeks, and he stared up at Vidrik without a speck of sane comprehension in his eyes. “Mahhhhhh,” he moaned as the rain fell on his head, “mwaaaaaaaaah!”
His tongue had been cut out; a dark scar covered the stump at the bottom of his mouth, oozing blood.
“Sweet fucking Perelandro,” said Vidrik, “tell me I don’t see what I see on his wrists.”
“It’s a bondsmage, Sergeant,” said Constanzo. “It is—or it was.”
He threw the soaked blanket back over the man’s face and reached inside his oilcloak. “There’s more. Show it to you inside?”
Vidrik led Constanzo back into his shack; the two men swept their hoods back but didn’t bother taking their cloaks off. Constanzo pulled out a piece of folded parchment.
“We found this fellow tied to a floor over in Ashfall,” he said. “Pretty gods-damned weird. This parchment was on his chest.”
Vidrik took it and unfolded it to read:
PERSONAL ATTENTION OF THE DUKE’S SPIDER
FOR RETURN TO KARTHAIN
“Gods,” he said. “A real Karthani bondsmage. Looks like he won’t be recommending Camorr to his friends.”
“What do we do with him, Sergeant?”
Vidrik sighed, folded the letter, and passed it back to Constanzo.
“We pass the coin, lad,” he said. “We pass this fucking coin right up the chain of command and we forget we ever saw it. Haul him to the Palace of Patience and let someone else give it a ponder.”
FALSELIGHT GLIMMERED on the rain-rippled water of Camorr Bay as Doña Angiavesta Vorchenza, dowager countess of Amberglass, stood on the dock, huddled in a fur-lined oilcloak, while teams of men with wooden poles prowled through a barge full of rain-sodden shit beneath her. The smell was attention-grabbing.
“I’m sorry, my lady,” said the watch-sergeant at her left hand. “We’re positive there’s nothing on the other two barges, and we’ve been at this one for six hours. I sincerely doubt that anything will turn up. We will, of course, continue our efforts.”
Doña Vorchenza sighed deeply and turned to look at the carriage that stood on the dock behind her, drawn by four black stallions and framed with alchemical running lights in the Vorchenza colors. The door was open; Don and Doña Salvara sat inside peering out at her, along with Captain Reynart. She beckoned to them.
Reynart was the first to reach her side; as usual he wore no oilcloak and he bore the heavy rain with stiff-necked stoicism. The Salvaras were sensibly covered up against the downpour; Lorenzo held up a silk parasol to shield his wife even further.
“Let me guess,” said Reynart. “They’re full of shit.”
“I’m afraid so,” said Doña Vorchenza. “Thank you for your time, Watch-sergeant; you are dismissed. You may call your men out of the barge, as well. I don’t believe we’ll be needing them anymore.”
As the greatly relieved yellowjackets filed away down the dock, wooden poles held very carefully on their shoulders, Doña Vorchenza seemed to shudder and gasp. She put her hands to her face and bent forward.
“Doña Vorchenza,” cried Sofia, rushing forward to grab her by the shoulders. As they all bent close around her, she suddenly straightened up and cackled, gasping in air between bursts of dry-sounding laughter. She shook with it; her tiny fists punched the air before her.
“Oh, gods,” she gasped. “This is too much.”
“What? Doña Vorchenza, what’s the matter?” Reynart grabbed her by the arm and peered at her.
“The money, Stephen.” She chuckled. “The money was never anywhere near this place. The little bastard had us digging through shit-barges purely for his own amusement. The money was on board the
“How do you figure that?”
“Isn’t it plain? It’s all striking me from so many directions at once. Capa Raza assisted with the charitable contributions to the plague ship, yes?”
“Not from any sense of charitable duty. But because he needed a means to move his fortune out to the frigate!”
“Out to a plague ship?” said Doña Sofia. “That wouldn’t do him any good.”
“It would if there was no plague,” said Doña Vorchenza. “The plague was a lie.”
“But,” said Don Lorenzo, “why was Lukas so adamant about sinking that ship? Was it simple pique? If he couldn’t have it, no one could?”
“His name was Callas, Lorenzo dear—Tavrin Callas.”
“Whichever, darling,” said Lorenzo. “Forty-five thousand crowns, plus whatever Barsavi’s fortune came to. That’s a great deal of money to put out of
“Yes,” said Doña Vorchenza. “And he told us why he was doing it while he stood there. Damn me for a fool.”
“I fear,” said Doña Sofia, “I speak for the rest of us when I say we don’t follow.”
“The Thorn said he was a priest of the Thirteenth,” she said. “The heresy of the Nameless Thirteenth, the Crooked Warden, the god of thieves and malefactors. ‘For
sake,’ he said. ‘For
sake.’ He said that on purpose.”
She laughed again, biting down on her knuckles to contain herself.
“Oh, gods. Anatolius killed three of his friends. So don’t you see? There was no danger on that ship; he didn’t want it sunk to save Camorr. It was a death-offering, Stephen, a
Reynart slapped one hand against his forehead; water flew.
“Yes,” said Doña Vorchenza. “And I sank it for him, in sixty fathoms of shark-infested water, neat as you please.”
“So…,” said Don Lorenzo, “all of our money is three hundred and sixty feet down on the bottom of Old Harbor?”
“I’m afraid so,” said Doña Vorchenza.
“Ah…what do we do now?”
Doña Vorchenza sighed and meditated for a few moments. “First,” she said when she looked back up at the Salvaras, “all the truths behind this affair will be declared state secrets of the Duchy of Camorr; I bind you all to silence concerning them. The Thorn of Camorr is a myth; the money he allegedly stole never existed; the duke’s Spider never took any formal interest in the matter.”
“But,” said Doña Sofia, “they
Lorenzo that’s how the Thorn guarantees his own secrecy! When they stole into our house dressed as Midnighters!”
“Yes,” said her husband, “one of the false Midnighters specifically told me that the Thorn relied on the embarrassment of his victims to keep his thefts secret from other potential victims, and I don’t think that part was a lie.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t,” said Doña Vorchenza. “But nonetheless, that’s just what we’re going to do. In time, you’ll come to understand that a state like ours cannot afford to offer up a show of weakness for honesty’s sake; Duke Nicovante charges me with vouchsafing his security, not his conscience.”