Authors: Scott Lynch
“Oh, thank the Marrows,” choked out the black-clad man as he uncoiled the rope from his neck and flung it to the ground. Don Salvara could now see that his clothes were very fine, despite their spattering of muck and their unseasonable weight—excellently cut, form-tailored, and ornamented with expensive subtlety rather than opulent flash. “Thank the Salt and thank the Sweet. Thank the Hands Beneath the Waters those bastards attacked us right beside this place of power, where the currents brought you to our aid.”
The man’s Therin was precise, though heavily accented, and his voice was unsurprisingly hoarse. He massaged his abraded throat, blinked, and began to pat the muck around him with his free hand, as though looking for something.
“I believe I can help you again,” said Don Salvara in his best Vadran, which was as precise—and as heavily accented—as the stranger’s Therin. Salvara picked a pair of pearl-rimmed optics out of the muck (noting their light weight and sturdy construction—a superior and very expensive pair indeed) and wiped them off on the sleeve of his own loose scarlet coat before handing them to the man.
“And you speak Vadran!” The stranger spoke in that tongue now, with the clipped, excitable diction of Emberlain. He slid the optics back over his eyes and blinked up at his rescuer. “A complete miracle now, far more than I have any right to pray for. Oh! Graumann!”
The black-clad Vadran scrambled unsteadily to his feet and stumbled over to his companion. Conté had managed to roll the portly stranger over in the slime; he now lay on his back with his great muck-slick chest rising and falling steadily.
“He lives, obviously.” Conté slid his hands along the poor fellow’s rib cage and stomach. “I don’t believe he has anything broken or ruptured, though he’ll likely be green with bruises for weeks. Green as pondwater, then black as night, or I don’t know shit from custard tarts.”
The slender, well-dressed Vadran let out a long sigh of relief. “Custard tarts. Indeed. The Marrows are most generous. Graumann is my attendant, my secretary, my diligent right hand. Alas, he has no skill at arms, but then I am myself plainly embarrassed in that regard.” The stranger now spoke Therin again, and he turned to stare at Don Salvara with wide eyes. “Just as plainly I do you discourtesy, for you must be one of the dons of Camorr.” He bowed low—lower even than etiquette would require of a landed foreigner greeting a peer of the Serene Duchy of Camorr, almost until he was in danger of pitching forward on his chin.
“I am Lukas Fehrwight, servant to the House of bel Auster, of the Canton of Emberlain and the Kingdom of the Seven Marrows. I am entirely at your service and grateful beyond words for what you have done for me today.”
“I am Lorenzo, Don Salvara, and this is my man Conté, and it is we who are entirely at your service, without obligation.” The don bowed at exactly the correct angle, with his right hand held out as an invitation to shake. “I am in a sense responsible for Camorr’s hospitality, and what befell you here was not hospitality. It was upon my honor to come to your aid.”
Fehrwight grasped the don’s proffered arm just above the wrist and shook. If Fehrwight’s grasp was weak, the don was willing to charitably ascribe it to his near strangling. Fehrwight then lowered his own forehead until it gently touched the back of the don’s hand, and their physical courtesies were settled. “I beg to differ; you have here a sworn man, quite competent by his looks. You could have satisfied honor by sending him to our aid, yet you came yourself, ready to fight. From where I stood, it seemed he ran to keep up with you. And I assure you, my viewpoint for this affair was uncomfortable but excellent.”
The don waved his hand gently as though words could be swatted out of the air. “I’m just sorry they got away, Master Fehrwight. It is unlikely that I can give you true justice. For that, Camorr again apologizes.”
Fehrwight knelt down beside Graumann and brushed the big man’s sweat-slick dark hair back from his forehead. “Justice? I am lucky to be alive. I was blessed with a safe journey here and with your aid. I am alive to continue my mission, and that is justice enough.” The slender man looked up at Salvara again. “Are you not Don Salvara of the Nacozza Vineyards? Is not the Doña Sofia, the famous botanical alchemist, your wife?”
“I have that honor, and I have that pleasure,” said the don. “And do you not serve
House of bel Auster? Do you not deal with the, ah…”
“Yes, oh yes, I serve
House of bel Auster; my business
the sale and transport of the substance you’re thinking of. It is curious, so very curious. The Marrows toy with me; the Hands Beneath must wish me to drop dead of sheer wonder. That you should save my life here, that you should speak Vadran, that we should share a common business interest…It is uncanny.”
“I, too, find it extraordinary, but hardly displeasing.” Don Salvara gazed around the alley thoughtfully. “My mother was Vadran, which is why I speak the language enthusiastically, if poorly. Were you followed here? That rope over the wall bespeaks preparation, and the Temple District…Well, it’s usually as safe as the duke’s own reading room.”
“We arrived this morning,” said Fehrwight. “After we secured our rooms—at the Inn of the Tumblehome, you know of it, I’m sure—we came straight here to give thanks and drown the offerings for our safe passage from Emberlain. I did not see where those men came from.” Fehrwight mused for a moment. “Though I believe that one of them threw that rope over the wall after knocking Graumann down. They were cautious, but not waiting in ambush for us.”
Salvara grunted, and turned his attention to the blank stare of the Gentled horse. “Curious. Do you always bring horses and goods to the temple to make your offerings? If those packs are as full as they look, I can see why thugs might have been tempted.”
“Ordinarily, such things would be under lock and key at our inn.” Fehrwight gave Graumann two friendly pats on the shoulder and rose again. “But for this cargo, and for this mission, I must keep them with me at all times. And I fear that must have made us a tempting target. It is a conundrum.” Fehrwight scratched his chin slowly, several times. “I am in your debt already, Don Lorenzo, and hesitant to ask aid of you once again. Yet this relates to the mission I am charged with, for my time in Camorr. As you are a don, do you know of a certain Don Jacobo?”
Don Salvara’s eyes fixed firmly on Fehrwight; one corner of his mouth turned infinitesimally downward. “Yes,” he said, and nothing more, after the silence had stretched a few moments.
“This Don Jacobo…It is said that he is a man of wealth. Extreme wealth, even for a don.”
“It is said that he is adventurous. Bold, even. That he has—how do you say it?—an eye for strange opportunities. A toleration of risk.”
“That is one way of describing his character, perhaps.”
Fehrwight licked his lips. “Don Lorenzo…it is important…if these things are true—would you, could you, through your status as a peer of Camorr…assist me in securing an appointment with Don Jacobo? I am ashamed to ask, but I would be more ashamed to forswear my mission for the House of bel Auster.”
Don Salvara smiled without the slightest hint of humor, and turned his head for several seconds, as though to gaze down at Graumann, lying quietly in the muck. Conté had stood up and was staring directly at his don, eyes wide.
“Master Fehrwight,” said the don at last, “are you not aware that Paleri Jacobo is perhaps my greatest living enemy? That the two of us have fought to the blood, twice, and only on the orders of Duke Nicovante himself do we not settle our affair for all time?”
“Oh,” said Fehrwight, with the tone and facial expression of a man who has just dropped a torch in a hogshead cask of lamp oil. “How awkward. How stupid of me. I have done business in Camorr several times, but I did not…I have insulted you. I have asked too much.”
“Hardly.” Salvara’s tone grew warm again; he began to drum the fingers of his right hand against the hilt of his rapier. “But you’re here on a mission for the House of bel Auster. You carry a cargo that you refuse to let out of your sight. You clearly have your plan fixed upon Don Jacobo in some fashion…though you still need to gain a formal audience with him. So, to be clear, he doesn’t know you’re here, or that you plan on seeking him out, does he?”
“I…that is…I fear to say too much of my business….”
“Yet your business here is plain,” said Don Salvara, now positively cheerful, “and have you not repeatedly stated that you are indebted to me, Master Fehrwight? Despite my assurances to the contrary, have you not refused those assurances? Do you withdraw your promise of obligation
“I…with the best will in the world, my lord…damn.” Fehrwight sighed and clenched his fists. “I am ashamed, Don Lorenzo. I must now either forswear my obligation to the man who saved my life or forswear my promise to the House of bel Auster to keep its business as private as possible.”
“You must do neither,” said the Don. “And perhaps I can
you directly in the pursuit of your master’s business. Do you not see? If Don Jacobo does not know of your presence here, what obligation do you have to him? Clearly, you are set here upon business. A plan, a scheme, a proposal of some sort. You’re here to
something, or else you’d have your connections already in place. Don’t be angry with yourself; this is all plain logic. Is it not true?”
Fehrwight looked down and nodded reluctantly.
“Then here it is! Although I am not as wealthy as Don Jacobo, I am a man of substantial means; and we are in complementary lines of business, are we not? Attend me tomorrow, on my barge, at the Shifting Revel. Make your proposal to
; let us discuss it thoroughly.” There was a wicked gleam in Don Salvara’s eyes; it could be seen despite the brightness of the sun overhead. “As you are indebted to me, repay this obligation by agreeing only to attend. Then, free of obligation, let us discuss business to our mutual advantage. Do you not see that I have a vested interest in taking whatever opportunity you present away from Jacobo, even if he never learns of it?
if he never learns of it! And am I not bold enough for your tastes? I swear your face grows longer as though by sorcery. What’s wrong?”
“It is not you, Don Lorenzo. It is merely that the Hands Beneath are suddenly too generous once more. We have a saying—that undeserved good fortune always conceals a snare.”
“Don’t worry, Master Fehrwight. If it’s really business that you want to discuss, never doubt that there will be hard work and bitter troubles enough waiting for us down the road. Are we in agreement, then? Will you dine with me tomorrow morning, take in the Shifting Revel, and discuss your proposal with me?”
Fehrwight swallowed, looked Don Salvara in the eyes, and nodded firmly. “There is great sense in what you propose. And perhaps great opportunity for both of us. I will accept your hospitality, and I will tell you everything. Tomorrow, as you say. It cannot come soon enough for me.”
“It has been my pleasure to make your acquaintance, Master Fehrwight.” Don Salvara inclined his head. “May we help your friend up out of the muck, and see you to your inn to ensure you have no further difficulties?”
“Your company would be most pleasing, if only you would wait and look after poor Graumann and our cargo long enough for me to finish my offering within the temple.” Locke removed a small leather pack from the horse’s jumble of goods and containers. “The offering will be more substantial than I had planned. But then, my masters understand that prayers of thanks are an unavoidable expense in our line of business.”
THE JOURNEY back to the Tumblehome was slow, with Jean putting on an excellent show of misery, grogginess, and confusion. If the sight of two mud-splattered, overdressed outlanders and three horses escorted by a don struck anyone as unusual, they kept their comments to themselves and reserved their stares for Don Salvara’s back. Along the way, they passed Calo, now walking about casually in the plain garb of a laborer. He flashed rapid and subtle hand signals; with no sign of Bug, he would take up position at one of their prearranged rendezvous sites. And he would pray.
“Lukas! Surely it can’t be. I say, Lukas Fehrwight!”
As Calo vanished into the crowd, Galdo appeared just as suddenly, dressed in the bright silks and cottons of a prosperous Camorri merchant; his slashed and ruffled coat alone was probably worth as much as the barge the Gentlemen Bastards had poled up the river that morning. There was nothing now about him to remind the don or his man of the alley cutthroats; unmasked, with his hair slicked back under a small round cap, Galdo was the very picture of physical and fiscal respectability. He twirled a little lacquered cane and stepped toward Don Lorenzo’s odd little party, smiling broadly.
“Why—Evante!” Locke-as-Fehrwight stopped and stared in mock astonishment, then held out a hand for a vigorous shake from the newcomer. “What a pleasant surprise!”
“Quite, Lukas, quite—but what the hell’s happened to you? And to you, Graumann? You look as though you just lost a fight!”
“Ah, we did.” Locke looked down and rubbed his eyes. “Evante, it has been a very peculiar morning. Grau and I might not even be alive if not for our rather extraordinary guide, here.” Pulling Galdo toward him, Locke held a hand out toward the don. “My Lord Salvara, may I introduce to you Evante Eccari, a solicitor of your Razona district? Evante, this is Don Lorenzo Salvara. Of the Nacozza Vineyards, if you still pay attention to those properties.”
“Twelve gods!” Galdo swept his hat off and bowed deeply at the waist. “A don. I should have recognized you immediately, m’lord. A thousand pardons. Evante Eccari, entirely at your service.”
“A pleasure, Master Eccari.” Don Salvara bowed correctly but casually, then stepped forward to shake the newcomer’s hand; this signaled his permission to deduct any superfluous bowing and scraping from the conversation. “You, ah, you know Master Fehrwight, then?”
“Lukas and I go well back, m’lord.” Without turning his back on Don Salvara, he fussily brushed a bit of dried muck from the shoulders of Locke’s black coat. “I work out of Meraggio’s, mostly, handling customs and license work for our friends in the north. Lukas is one of bel Auster’s best and brightest.”