Chapter no 45

Six of Crows

The deal is the deal, Van Eck,” Kaz said over the sounds of the growing storm. “If the Merchant Council fails to honour its end of this bargain, no one from the Barrel will ever traffic with any of you again. Your word will be meaningless.”

“That would be a problem, Mister Brekker, if the Council knew anything about this deal.”

Understanding came in a terrible flash. “They were never involved,” Kaz said. Why had he believed Van Eck had the blessing of the Merchant Council? Because he was a rich, upstanding mercher? Because he’d dressed his own servants and soldiers in the purple uniforms of the stadwatch? Kaz had met with Van Eck in a quarantined mercher’s house, not a government building, but he’d been taken in by a little set dressing. It was Hertzoon and his coffeehouse all over again, only now Kaz was old enough to know better.

“You wanted Yul-Bayur. You wanted the formula for parem.”

Van Eck conceded the truth with an easy nod. “Neutrality is a luxury Kerch has too long enjoyed. The members of the Council think that their wealth protects them, that they can sit back and count their money while the world squabbles.”

“And you know better?”

“Indeed, I do. Jurda parem is not a secret that can be kept or quashed or stashed in a cabin on the Zemeni frontier.”

“So all your talk of trade lines and markets collapsing—”

“Oh, it will all happen just as I predicted, Mister Brekker. I’m counting on it. As soon as the Council received Bo Yul-Bayur’s message, I began buying up jurda fields in Novyi Zem. When parem is unleashed on the world, every country, every government will be clamouring for a ready supply of it to use on their Grisha.”

“Chaos,” said Matthias.

“Yes,” said Van Eck. “Chaos will come, and I will be its master. Its very wealthy master.”

“You will be ensuring slavery and death for Grisha everywhere,” Inej said.

Van Eck raised a brow. “How old are you, girl? Sixteen? Seventeen? Nations rise and fall. Markets are made and unmade. When power shifts, someone always suffers.”

“When profit shifts,” Jesper shot back.

Van Eck’s expression was bemused. “Aren’t they one and the same?” “When the Council finds out—” Inej began.

“The Council will never hear of this,” Van Eck said. “Why do you think I chose scum from the Barrel as my champions? Oh, you are resourceful and far more clever than any mercenaries, I give you that. But more important, you will not be missed.”

Van Eck lifted his hand. The Tidemakers spun their arms. Kaz heard a yell and turned to see a coil of water looming over Rotty. It slammed down on the longboat, smashing it to bits as he dove for cover.

“None of you will leave this island, Mister Brekker. All of you will vanish, and nobody will care.” He raised his hand again, and the Tidemakers responded. A massive wave roared towards the Ferolind.

“No!” cried Jesper.

“Van Eck!” shouted Kaz. “Your son is on that ship.”

Van Eck’s gaze snapped to Kaz. He blew his whistle. The Tidemakers froze, awaiting instruction. Reluctantly, Van Eck dropped his hand. They let the wave fall harmlessly, the displaced sea sloshing against the side of the Ferolind.

“My son?” Van Eck said. “Wylan Van Eck.”

“Mister Brekker, surely you must know that I sent my son packing months ago.”

“I know you’ve written to Wylan every week since he left your household, begging him to return. Those are not the actions of a man who doesn’t care for his only son and heir.”

Van Eck began to laugh – a warm, almost jovial chuckle, but its edges were jagged and bitter.

“Let me tell you about my son.” He spat the word as if it were poison on his lips. “He was meant to be heir to one of the greatest fortunes in all of Kerch, an empire with shipping lines that reach all over the globe, one built by my father, and my father’s father. But my son, the boy meant to rule this grand empire, cannot do what a child of seven years can. He can solve an equation. He can paint and play the flute most prettily. What my son cannot do, Mister Brekker, is read. He cannot write. I have hired the best tutors from every corner of the world. I’ve tried specialists, tonics, beatings, hypnotism. But he refused to be taught. I finally had to accept that Ghezen saw fit to curse me with a moron for a child. Wylan is a boy who will never grow to be a man. He is a disgrace to my house.”

“The letters …” said Jesper, and Kaz could see the anger in his face. “You weren’t pleading with him to come back. You were mocking him.”

Jesper was right. If you’re reading this, then you know how much I wish to have you home. Every letter had been a slap in the face to Wylan, a kind of cruel joke.

“He’s your son,” Jesper said.

“No, he is a mistake. One soon to be corrected. My lovely young wife is carrying a child, and be it boy or girl or creature with horns, that child will be my heir, not some soft-pated idiot who cannot read a hymnal, let alone a ledger, not some fool who would make the Van Eck name a laughingstock.”

“You’re the fool,” Jesper snarled. “He’s smarter than most of us put together, and he deserves a better father than you.”

“Deserved,” amended Van Eck. He blew the whistle twice.

The Tidemakers didn’t hesitate. Before anyone could draw breath to protest, two huge walls of water rose and shot towards the Ferolind. They crushed the ship between them with a resonant boom, sending debris flying.

Jesper screamed in rage and raised his guns. “Jesper!” Kaz commanded. “Stand down!”

“He killed them,” Jesper said, face contorted. “He killed Wylan and Nina!”

Matthias laid a hand on his arm. “Jesper,” he said calmly. “Be still.”

Jesper looked back at the rocking waves, at the broken bits of mast and torn sail where a ship had been only seconds before. “I don’t … I don’t understand.”

“I confess to being a bit shocked, too, Mister Brekker,” said Van Eck. “No tears? No righteous protests for your lost crew? They raise you cold in the Barrel.”

“Cold and cautious,” said Kaz.

“Not cautious enough, it seems. At least you won’t live to regret your mistakes.”

“Tell me, Van Eck. Will you do penance? Ghezen frowns on broken contracts.”

Van Eck’s nostrils flared. “What have you given to the world, Mister Brekker? Have you created wealth? Prosperity? No. You take from honest men and women and serve only yourself. Ghezen shows his favour to those who are deserving, to those who build cities, not the rats who eat away at their foundations. He has blessed me and my dealings. You will perish, and I will prosper. That is Ghezen’s will.”

“There’s just one problem, Van Eck. You’ll need Kuwei Yul-Bo to do it.”

“And how will you take him from me? You are outgunned and surrounded.”

“I don’t need to take him from you. You never had him. That’s not Kuwei Yul-Bo.”

“A sorry bluff at best.”

“I’m not big on bluffing, am I, Inej?” “Not as a rule.”

Van Eck’s lip curled. “And why is that?”

“Because he’d rather cheat,” said the boy who was not Kuwei Yul-Bo in perfect, unaccented Kerch.

Van Eck startled at the sound of his voice, and Jesper flinched. The Shu boy held out a hand. “Pay up, Kaz.”

Kaz sighed. “I do hate to lose a wager. You see, Van Eck, Wylan bet me that you would have no qualms about ending his life. Call me sentimental, but I didn’t believe a father could be so callous.”

Van Eck stared at Kuwei Yul-Bo – or the boy he’d believed to be Kuwei Yul-Bo. Kaz watched him wrestle with the reality of Wylan’s

voice coming from Kuwei’s mouth. Jesper looked just as incredulous. He’d get his explanation after Kaz got his money.

“It’s not possible,” said Van Eck.

It shouldn’t have been. Nina had been a passable Tailor at best – but under the influence of jurda parem, well, as Van Eck had once said, Things become possible that simply shouldn’t be. A nearly perfect replica of Kuwei Yul-Bo stood before them, but he had Wylan’s voice, his mannerisms, and – though Kaz could see the fear and hurt in his golden eyes – Wylan’s surprising courage, too.

After the battle in the Djerholm harbour, the merchling had come to Kaz to warn him that he couldn’t be used as leverage against his father. Wylan had been red-faced, barely able to speak the words of his supposed ‘affliction’. Kaz had only shrugged. Some men were poets. Some were farmers. Some were rich merchers. Wylan could draw a perfect elevation. He’d made a drill that could cut through Grisha glass from parts of a gate and scavenged bits of jewellery. So what if he couldn’t read?

Kaz had expected the boy to balk at the idea of being tailored to look like Kuwei. A transformation that extreme was beyond the power of any Grisha not using parem. “It may be permanent,” Kaz had warned him.

Wylan hadn’t cared. “I need to know. Once and for all, I need to know what my father really thinks of me.”

And now he did.

Van Eck goggled at Wylan, searching for some sign of his son’s features. “It can’t be.”

Wylan walked to Kaz’s side. “Maybe you can pray to Ghezen for understanding, Father.”

Wylan was a bit taller than Kuwei, his face a bit rounder. But Kaz had seen them side by side, and the likeness was extraordinary. Nina’s work, performed on the ship before that first extraordinary high had begun to wane, was nearly flawless.

Fury lashed across Van Eck’s features. “Worthless,” he hissed at Wylan. “I knew you were a fool, but a traitor as well?”

“A fool would have been waiting to be smashed to bits on that ship. And as for ‘traitor’, you’ve called me worse in the last few minutes alone.”

“Just think,” Kaz said to Van Eck. “What if the real Kuwei Yul-Bo had been on the ship you just turned into toothpicks?”

Van Eck’s voice was calm, but an angry flush had crept up his neck. “Where is Kuwei Yul-Bo?

“Let us safely off this island with our payment, and I’ll gladly tell you.”

“You have no way out of this, Brekker. Your little crew is no match for my Grisha.”

Kaz shrugged. “Kill us, and you’ll never find Kuwei.”

Van Eck appeared to consider this. Then he stepped back. “Guards to me!” he shouted. “Kill everyone but Brekker!”

Kaz knew the instant he made his mistake. They’d all known it might come to this. He should have trusted his crew. His eyes should have stayed trained on Van Eck. Instead, in that moment of threat, when he should have thought only of the fight, he looked at Inej.

And Van Eck saw it. He blew on his whistle. “Leave the others! Get the money and the girl.”

Hold your ground, Kaz’s instincts said. Van Eck has the money. He is the key. Inej can fend for herself. She’s a pawn, not the prize. But he was already turning, already sprinting to get to her as the Grisha attacked.

The Tidemakers reached her first, vanishing into mist, then reappearing at her side. But only a fool would to try to take Inej in close combat. The Tidemakers were fast – vanishing and reappearing, grabbing at her. But she was the Wraith, and her knives found heart, throat, spleen. Blood spilled over the sand as the Tidemakers collapsed in two very solid heaps.

Kaz caught movement from the corner of his eye – a Squaller hurtling toward Inej.

“Jesper!” he shouted.

Jesper fired, and the Squaller plummeted to the earth.

The next Squaller was smarter. He came in low, gliding over the ruins. Jesper and Matthias opened fire, but they had to face the sun to shoot and not even Jesper could aim blind. The Squaller barrelled into Inej and sped upwards with her into the sky.

Stay still, Kaz urged her silently, his pistol drawn. But she didn’t. Her body spun, and she slashed out. The Squaller’s scream was distant. He released her. Inej fell, plunging towards the sand. Kaz ran towards her without logic or plan.

A blur cut through his vision. A third Squaller swooped down, snatching her up seconds before impact and dealing her a vicious blow to

the skull. Kaz saw Inej’s body go limp. “Bring him down!” roared Matthias.

“No!” shouted Kaz. “Shoot him and she falls, too!”

The Grisha dodged up and out of range, Inej clutched in his arms.

There was nothing they could do but stand there like fools and watch her shape get smaller in the sky – a distant moon, a fading star, then gone.

Van Eck’s guards and Grisha closed in, sweeping the mercher and the trunk of kruge through the air, onto the waiting brigantine. Vengeance for Jordie, all Kaz had worked for, was slipping away. He didn’t care.

“You have one week to bring me the real Kuwei,” Van Eck shouted. “Or they’ll hear that girl’s screams all the way back in Fjerda. And if that still doesn’t move you, I’ll let it be known that you’re harbouring the most valuable hostage in the world. Every gang, government, smuggler, and spy will be after you and the Dregs. You’ll have nowhere to hide.”

“Kaz, I can make the shot,” said Jesper, rifle to his shoulder. “Van Eck is still in range.”

And all would be lost – Inej, the money, everything. “No,” Kaz said. “Let them go.”

The sea was flat; no breeze blew, but Van Eck’s remaining Squallers filled the ship’s sails with a driving wind.

Kaz watched the brigantine surge across the water towards Ketterdam, to safety, to a fortress built on Van Eck’s impeccable mercher reputation. He felt as he had looking into the darkened windows of the house on Zelverstraat. Helpless once more. He’d prayed to the wrong god.

Slowly, Jesper lowered his rifle.

“Van Eck will send soldiers and Grisha to search for Kuwei,” said Matthias.

“He won’t find him. Or Nina.” Not in the Slat or any other part of the Barrel. Nowhere in Ketterdam. The previous night, Kaz had ordered Specht to take Kuwei and Nina from the Ferolind in the second longboat – the one he’d told Jesper was being repaired. They were safely stashed in the abandoned cages below the old prison tower at Hellgate. Kaz had made a few inquiries when he’d visited the harbour to contact Van Eck. After the disaster at the Hellshow, the cages had been flooded to purge them of beasts and bodies; they’d been empty ever since. Matthias had hated the idea of letting Nina go anywhere without him, especially in her

state, but Kaz had convinced him that keeping her and Kuwei aboard the

Ferolind would leave them exposed.

Kaz marvelled at his own stupidity. Dumber than a pigeon fresh off the boat and looking to make a fortune on East Stave. His greatest vulnerability had been right beside him. And now she was gone.

Jesper was staring at Wylan, his eyes roving over the black hair, the golden eyes. “Why?” he said at last. “Why would you do this?”

Wylan shrugged. “We needed leverage.” “That’s Kaz’s voice talking.”

“I couldn’t let you all walk into a hostage exchange thinking I was some kind of insurance.”

“Nina tailored you?”

“The night we left Djerholm.”

“That’s why you disappeared during the journey,” said Jesper. “You weren’t helping Matthias care for Nina. You were hiding.”

“I didn’t hide.”

“You … how many times was it you standing beside me on the deck at night when I thought it was Kuwei?”

“Every time.”

“Nina might not be able to put you back, you know. Not without another dose of parem. You could be stuck like this.”

“Why does it matter?”

“I don’t know!” Jesper said angrily. “Maybe I liked your stupid face.” He turned to Matthias. “You knew. Wylan knew. Inej knew. Everyone but me.”

“Ask me why, Jesper,” Kaz said, his patience at an end. Jesper shifted uneasily on his feet. “Why?”

You were the one who sold us out to Pekka Rollins.” He thrust an accusatory finger at Jesper. “You’re the reason we were ambushed when we tried to leave Ketterdam. You almost got us all killed.”

“I didn’t tell Pekka Rollins anything. I never—”

“You told one of the Dime Lions you were leaving Kerch, but that you’d be coming into big money, didn’t you?”

Jesper swallowed. “I had to. They were leaning on me hard. My father’s farm—”

“I told you not to tell anyone you were leaving the country. I warned you to keep your mouth shut.”

“I didn’t have a choice! You had me locked up in the Crow Club before we left. If you’d let me—”

Kaz turned on him. “Let you what? Play a few hands of Three Man Bramble? Dig yourself deeper in with every boss in the Barrel stupid enough to extend you credit? You told a member of Pekka’s gang you were about to be flush.”

“I didn’t know he’d go to Pekka. Or that Pekka knew about parem. I was just trying to buy myself some time.”

“Saints, Jesper, you really haven’t learned anything in the Dregs, have you? You’re still the same dumb farm boy who stepped off the boat.”

Jesper lunged for him, and Kaz felt a surge of giddy violence. Finally, a fight he could win. But Matthias stepped between them, holding them each back with a massive hand. “Stop. Stop this.”

Kaz didn’t want to stop. He wanted to beat them all bloody and then brawl his way through the Barrel.

“Matthias is right,” said Wylan. “We need to think about what’s next.” “There is no next,” Kaz snarled. Van Eck would see to that. They couldn’t go back to the Slat or get help from Per Haskell and the other Dregs. Van Eck would be watching, waiting to pounce. He’d turn the

Barrel, Kaz’s home, his little kingdom, into hostile territory.

“Jesper made a mistake,” said Wylan. “A stupid mistake, but he didn’t set out to betray anyone.”

Kaz stalked away, trying to clear his head. He knew Jesper hadn’t realised what he was setting in motion, but he also knew he could never really trust Jesper again. And maybe he’d kept him in the dark about Wylan because he wanted to punish him a little.

In a few hours, when they’d failed to make contact, Specht would row out for them in the longboat. For now, there was nothing but the flat grey of the sky and the dead rock of this miserable excuse for an island. And Inej’s absence. Kaz wanted to hit someone. He wanted someone to hit him.

He surveyed what remained of his crew. Rotty still hovered by the wreckage of the longboat. Jesper sat with elbows on knees, head in hands, Wylan beside him wearing the face of a near-stranger; Matthias stood gazing across the water in the direction of Hellgate like a stone sentinel. If Kaz was their leader, then Inej had been their lodestone, pulling them together when they seemed most likely to drift apart.

Nina had disguised Kaz’s crow-and-cup tattoo before they’d entered the Ice Court, but he hadn’t let her near the on his bicep. Now he touched his gloved fingers to where the sleeve of his coat covered that mark. Without meaning to, he’d let Kaz Rietveld return. He didn’t know if it had begun with Inej’s injury or that hideous ride in the prison wagon, but somehow he’d let it happen and it had cost him dearly.

That didn’t mean he was going to let himself be bested by some thieving merch.

Kaz looked south towards Ketterdam’s harbours. The beginnings of an idea scratched at the back of his skull, an itch, the barest inkling. It wasn’t a plan, but it might be the start of one. He could see the shape it would take – impossible, absurd, and requiring a serious chunk of cash.

“Scheming face,” murmured Jesper. “Definitely,” agreed Wylan.

Matthias folded his arms. “Digging in your bag of tricks, demjin?” Kaz flexed his fingers in his gloves. How did you survive the Barrel?

When they took everything from you, you found a way to make something from nothing.

“I’m going to invent a new trick,” Kaz said. “One Van Eck will never forget.” He turned to the others. If he could have gone after Inej alone, he would have, but not even he could pull that off. “I’ll need the right crew.”

Wylan got to his feet. “For the Wraith.”

Jesper followed, still not meeting Kaz’s eyes. “For Inej,” he said quietly.

Matthias gave a single sharp nod.

Inej had wanted Kaz to become someone else, a better person, a gentler thief. But that boy had no place here. That boy ended up starving in an alley. He ended up dead. That boy couldn’t get her back.

I’m going to get my money, Kaz vowed. And I’m going to get my girl. Inej could never be his, not really, but he would find a way to give her the freedom he’d promised her so long ago.

Dirtyhands had come to see the rough work done.

You'll Also Like