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Chapter no 18

Six of Crows

It took two days after she emerged from the surgeon’s cabin for Kaz to make himself approach Inej. She was sitting by herself, legs crossed, back to the hull of the ship, sipping a cup of tea.

Kaz limped over to her. “I want to show you something.”

“I’m well, thank you for asking,” she said, looking up at him. “How are you?”

He felt his lips twist. “Splendid.” Awkwardly, he lowered himself down beside her and set aside his cane.

“Is your leg bad?”

“It’s fine. Here.” He spread Wylan’s drawing of the prison sector between them. Most of Wylan’s plans showed the Ice Court from above, but the prison elevation was a side view, a cross-section showing the building’s floors stacked on top of one another.

“I’ve seen it,” Inej said. She ran her finger from the basement up to the roof in a straight line. “Six storeys up a chimney.”

“Can you do it?”

Her dark brows rose. “Is there another option?” “No.”

“So if I say I can’t make that climb, will you tell Specht to turn the boat around and take us back to Ketterdam?”

“I’ll find another option,” said Kaz. “I don’t know what, but I’m not giving up that haul.”

“You know I can do it, Kaz, and you know I’m not going to refuse. So why ask?”

Because I’ve been looking for an excuse to talk to you for two days.

“I want to make sure you know what you’ll be dealing with and that you’re studying the plans.”

“Will there be a test?”

“Yes,” said Kaz. “If you fail, we’ll all end up stuck inside a Fjerdan prison.”

“Mmm,” she said and took a sip of her tea. “And I’ll end up dead.” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the hull. “I’m worried about the escape route to the harbour. I don’t like that there’s only one way out.”

Kaz settled back against the hull, too. “Me neither,” he conceded, stretching out his bad leg. “But that’s why the Fjerdans built it that way.”

“Do you trust Specht?”

Kaz cast her a sideways glance. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t?” “Not at all, but if the Ferolind isn’t waiting for us in the harbour …” “I trust him enough.”

“He owes you?”

Kaz nodded. He glanced around then said, “The navy threw him out for insubordination, and refused him his pension. He has a sister to support near Belendt. I got him his money.”

“That was good of you.”

Kaz narrowed his eyes. “I’m not some character out of a children’s story who plays harmless pranks and steals from the rich to give to the poor. There was money to be made and information to be had. Specht knows the navy’s routes like the back of his hand.”

“Never something for nothing, Kaz,” she said, her gaze steady. “I know. Still, if the Ferolind is intercepted, we’ll have no way out of Djerholm.”

“I’ll get us out. You know that.”

Tell me you know that. He needed her to say it. This job wasn’t like anything he’d attempted before. Every doubt she’d raised was a legitimate one, and only echoed the fears in his own head. He’d snapped at her before they’d left Ketterdam, told her he’d get a new spider for the job if she didn’t think he could pull it off. He needed to know that she believed he could do this, that he could take them into the Ice Court and

bring them out feeling whole and righteous the way he’d done with other crews on other jobs. He needed to know she believed in him.

But all she said was, “I hear Pekka Rollins was the one gunning for us in the harbour.”

Kaz felt a surge of disappointment. “So?”

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way you go after him, Kaz.” “He’s just another boss, one more Barrel thug.”

“No, he isn’t. When you go after the other gangs, it’s business. But with Pekka Rollins it’s personal.”

Later, he wasn’t sure why he said it. He’d never told anyone, never spoken the words aloud. But now Kaz kept his eyes on the sails above them and said, “Pekka Rollins killed my brother.”

He didn’t have to see Inej’s face to sense her shock. “You had a brother?”

“I had a lot of things,” he muttered. “I’m sorry.”

Had he wanted her sympathy? Was that why he’d told her?

“Kaz—” She hesitated. What would she do now? Try to lay a comforting hand on his arm? Tell him she understood?

“I’ll pray for him,” Inej said. “For peace in the next world if not in this one.”

He turned his head. They were sitting close together, their shoulders nearly touching. Her eyes were so brown they were almost black, and for once her hair was down. She always wore it tied back in a ruthlessly tight coil. Even the idea of being this near someone should have set his skin crawling. Instead he thought, What happens if I move closer?

“I don’t want your prayers,” he said. “What do you want, then?”

The old answers came easily to mind. Money. Vengeance. Jordie’s voice in my head silenced forever. But a different reply roared to life inside him, loud, insistent, and unwelcome. You, Inej. You.

He shrugged and turned away. “To die buried under the weight of my own gold.”

Inej sighed. “Then I’ll pray you get all you ask for.”

“More prayers,” he asked. “And what do you want, Wraith?” he asked.

“To turn my back on Ketterdam and never hear that name again.”

Good. He’d need to find a new spider, but he’d be rid of this distraction.

“Your share of thirty million kruge can grant that wish.” He pushed to his feet. “So save your prayers for good weather and stupid guards. Just leave me out of it.”

 

 

Kaz limped to the bow, annoyed with himself and angry with Inej. Why had he sought her out? Why had he told her about Jordie? He’d been irritable and unfocused for days. He was used to having his Wraith around – feeding the crows outside his window, sharpening her knives while he worked at his desk, chastising him with her Suli proverbs. He didn’t want Inej. He just wanted their routine back.

Kaz leaned against the ship’s railing. He wished he hadn’t said anything about his brother. Even those few words raised the memories, clamouring for attention. What had he said to Geels at the Exchange? I’m the kind of bastard they only manufacture in the Barrel. One more lie, one more piece of the myth he’d built for himself.

After their father died, crushed beneath a plough with his insides strewn across a field like a trail of damp red blossoms, Jordie had sold the farm. Not for much. The debts and liens had seen to that. But it was enough to see them safe to Ketterdam and to keep them in modest comfort for a good while.

Kaz had been nine, still missing Da and frightened of travelling from the only home he’d ever known. He’d held tight to his big brother’s hand as they journeyed through miles of sweet, rolling countryside, until they reached one of the major waterways and hopped a bogboat that carried produce to Ketterdam.

“What will happen when we get there?” he’d asked Jordie.

“I’ll get a job as a runner at the Exchange, then a clerk. I’ll become a stockholder and then a proper merchant, and then I’ll make my fortune.”

“What about me?” “You will go to school.”

“Why won’t you go to school?”

Jordie had scoffed. “I’m too old for school. Too smart, too.”

The first few days in the city were all Jordie had promised. They’d walked along the great curve of the harbours known as the Lid, then

down East Stave to see all the gambling palaces. They didn’t venture too far south, where they’d been warned the streets grew dangerous. They let rooms in a tidy little boarding house not far from the Exchange and tried every new food they saw, stuffing themselves sick on quince candy. Kaz liked the little omelette stands where you could choose what you liked to put in them.

Each morning, Jordie went to the Exchange to look for work and told Kaz to stay in his room. Ketterdam wasn’t safe for children on their own. There were thieves and pickpockets and even men who would snap up little boys and sell them to the highest bidder. So Kaz stayed inside. He pushed a chair up to the basin and climbed on it so he could see himself in the mirror as he tried to make coins disappear, just as he’d seen a magician do, performing in front of one of the gambling halls. Kaz could have watched him for hours, but eventually Jordie had dragged him away. The card tricks had been good, but the disappearing coin kept him up at night. How had the magician done it? It had been there one moment, gone the next.

The disaster began with a wind-up dog.

Jordie had come home hungry and irritable, frustrated after another wasted day. “They say they have no jobs, but they mean they have no jobs for a boy like me. Everyone there is someone’s cousin or brother or best friend’s son.”

Kaz hadn’t been in a mood to try to cheer him up. He was grouchy after so many hours indoors with nothing but coins and cards to keep him company. He wanted to go down to East Stave to find the magician.

In the years after, Kaz would always wonder what might have happened if Jordie hadn’t indulged him, if they’d gone to the harbour to look at boats instead, or if they’d simply been walking on the other side of the canal. He wanted to believe that might have made the difference, but the older he got, the more he doubted it would have mattered at all.

They’d passed the green riot of the Emerald Palace, and right next door, in front of the Gold Strike, there’d been a boy selling little mechanical dogs. The toys wound up with a bronze key and waddled on stiff legs, tin ears flapping. Kaz had crouched down, turning all the keys, trying to get all the dogs waddling at the same time, and the boy selling them had struck up a conversation with Jordie. As it turned out, he was from Lij, not two towns over from where Kaz and Jordie had been raised, and he knew a man with jobs open for runners – not at the

Exchange, but at an office just down the street. Jordie should come by the next morning, he said, and they could go chat with him together. He’d been hoping to land a job as a runner, too.

On the way home, Jordie had bought them each a hot chocolate, not just one to share.

“Our luck is changing,” he’d said as they curled their hands around the steaming cups, feet dangling over a little bridge, the lights of the Stave playing over the water. Kaz had looked down at their reflections on the bright surface of the canal and thought, I feel lucky now.

The boy who sold the mechanical dogs was named Filip and the man he knew was Jakob Hertzoon, a minor mercher who owned a small coffeehouse near the Exchange, where he arranged for low-level investors to split stakes in trade voyages passing through Kerch.

“You should see this place,” Jordie had crowed to Kaz upon arriving home late that night. “There are people there at every hour, talking and trading news, buying and selling shares and futures, ordinary people –butchers and bakers and dockworkers. Mister Hertzoon says any man can become rich. All he needs is luck and the right friends.”

The next week was like a happy dream. Jordie and Filip worked for Mister Hertzoon as runners, carrying messages to and from the dock and occasionally placing orders for him at the Exchange or other trading offices. While they were working, Kaz was allowed to stay at the coffeehouse. The man who filled drink orders from behind the bar would let him sit up on the counter and practise his magic tricks, and gave Kaz all the hot chocolate he could drink.

They were invited to the Hertzoon home for dinner, a grand house on the Zelverstraat with a blue front door and white lace curtains in the windows. Mister Hertzoon was a big man with a ruddy, friendly face and tufty grey sideburns. His wife, Margit, pinched Kaz’s cheeks and fed him hutspot made with smoked sausage, and he’d played in the kitchen with their daughter, Saskia. She was ten years old, and Kaz thought she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. He and Jordie stayed late into the night singing songs while Margit played the piano, their big silver dog thumping its tail in hapless rhythm. It was the best Kaz had felt since his father died. Mister Hertzoon even let Jordie put tiny sums down on company stocks. Jordie wanted to invest more, but Mister Hertzoon always advised caution. “Small steps, lad. Small steps.”

Things got even better when Mister Hertzoon’s friend returned from Novyi Zem. He was the captain of a Kerch trader, and it seemed he had crossed paths with a sugar farmer in a Zemeni port. The farmer had been in his cups, moaning about how his and his neighbours’ cane fields had been flooded. Right now sugar prices were low, but when people found out how hard it would be to get sugar in the coming months, prices would soar. Mister Hertzoon’s friend intended to buy up all the sugar he could before the news reached Ketterdam.

“That seems like cheating,” Kaz had whispered to Jordie.

“It isn’t cheating,” Jordie had snorted. “It’s just good business. And how are ordinary people supposed to move up in the world without a little extra help?”

Mister Hertzoon had Jordie and Filip place the orders with three separate offices to make sure such a large purchase didn’t garner unwanted attention. News of the failed crop came in, and sitting in the coffeehouse, the boys had watched the prices on the chalkboard rise, trying to contain their glee.

When Mister Hertzoon thought the shares had gone as high as they could go, he sent Jordie and Filip to sell out and collect. They’d returned to the coffeehouse, and Mister Hertzoon had handed both of them their profits straight from his safe.

“What did I tell you?” Jordie said to Kaz as they headed out into the Ketterdam night. “Luck and good friends!”

Only a few days later, Mister Hertzoon told them of another tip he’d received from his friend the captain, who’d had similar word on the next crop of jurda. “The rains are hitting everyone hard this year,” Mister Hertzoon said. “But this time, not only the fields were destroyed, but the warehouses down by the docks in Eames. This is going to be big money, and I intend to go in heavy.”

“Then we should, too,” said Filip.

Mister Hertzoon had frowned. “I’m afraid this isn’t a deal for you, boys. The minimum investment is far too high for either of you. But there will be more trades to come!”

Filip had been furious. He’d yelled at Mister Hertzoon, told him it wasn’t fair. He said Mister Hertzoon was just like the merchants at the Exchange, hoarding all the riches for himself, and called Mister Hertzoon names that had made Kaz cringe. When he’d stormed out,

everyone at the coffeehouse had stared at Mister Hertzoon’s red, embarrassed face.

He’d gone back to his office and slouched down in his chair. “I … I can’t help the way business is done. The men running the trade want only big investors, people who can support the risk.”

Jordie and Kaz had stood there, unsure of what to do. “Are you angry with me, too?” asked Mister Hertzoon.

Of course not, they assured him. Filip was the one who was being unfair.

“I understand why he’s angry,” said Mister Hertzoon. “Opportunities like this one don’t come along often, but there’s nothing to be done.”

“I have money,” said Jordie.

Mister Hertzoon had smiled indulgently. “Jordie, you’re a good lad, and some day I have no doubt you’ll be a king of the Exchange, but you don’t have the kind of funds these investors require.”

Jordie’s chin had gone up. “I do. From the sale of my father’s farm.” “And I expect it’s all you and Kaz have to live on. That’s not

something to be risked on a trade, no matter how certain the outcome. A child your age has no business—”

“I’m not a child. If it’s a good opportunity, I want to take it.”

Kaz would always remember that moment, when he’d seen greed take hold of his brother, an invisible hand guiding him onward, the lever at work.

Mister Hertzoon had taken a lot of convincing. They’d all gone back to the Zelverstraat house and discussed it well into the night. Kaz had fallen asleep with his head on the silver dog’s side and Saskia’s red ribbon clutched in his hand.

When Jordie finally roused him, the candles had burned low, and it was already morning. Mister Hertzoon had asked his business partner to come over and draw up a contract for a loan from Jordie. Because of his age, Jordie would loan Mister Hertzoon the money, and Mister Hertzoon would place the trade. Margit gave them milk tea and warm pancakes with sour cream and jam. Then they’d all walked to the bank that held the funds from the sale of the farm and Jordie signed them over.

Mister Hertzoon insisted on escorting them back to their boarding house, and he’d hugged them at the door. He handed the loan agreement to Jordie and warned him to keep it safe. “Now, Jordie,” he said. “There is only a small chance that this trade will go bad, but there is always a

chance. If it does, I’m relying on you not to use that document to call in your loan. We both must take the risk together. I am trusting you.”

Jordie had beamed. “The deal is the deal,” he said.

“The deal is the deal,” said Mister Hertzoon proudly, and they shook hands like proper merchants. Mister Hertzoon handed Jordie a thick roll of kruge. “For a fine dinner to celebrate. Come back to the coffeehouse a week from today, and we’ll watch the prices rise together.”

That week they’d played ridderspel and spijker at the arcades on the Lid. They’d bought Jordie a fine new coat and Kaz a new pair of soft leather boots. They’d eaten waffles and fried potatoes, and Jordie had purchased every novel he craved at a bookshop on Wijnstraat. When the week was over, they’d walked hand in hand to the coffeehouse.

It was empty. The front door was locked and bolted. When they pressed their faces to the dark windows, they saw that everything was gone – the tables and chairs and big copper urns, the chalkboard where the figures for the day’s trades had been posted.

“Do we have the wrong corner?” asked Kaz.

But they knew they didn’t. In nervous silence, they walked to the house on Zelverstraat. No one answered their knock on the bright blue door.

“They’ve just gone out for a while,” said Jordie. They waited on the steps for hours, until the sun began to set. No one came or went. No candles were lit in the windows.

Finally, Jordie worked up the courage to knock on a neighbour’s door. “Yes?” said the maid who answered in her little white cap.

“Do you know where the family next door has gone? The Hertzoons?”

The maid’s brow furrowed. “I think they were just visiting for a time from Zierfoort.”

“No,” Jordie said. “They’ve lived here for years. They—”

The maid shook her head. “That house stood empty for nearly a year after the last family moved away. It was only rented a few weeks ago.”

“But—”

She’d closed the door in his face.

Kaz and Jordie said nothing to each other, not on the walk home or as they climbed the stairs to their little room in the boarding house. They sat in the growing gloom for a long time. Voices floated back to them from the canal below as people went about their evening business.

“Something happened to them,” Jordie said at last. “There was an accident or an emergency. He’ll write soon. He’ll send for us.”

That night, Kaz took Saskia’s red ribbon from beneath his pillow. He rolled it into a neat spiral and clutched it in his palm. He lay in bed and tried to pray, but all he could think about was the magician’s coin: there and then gone.

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