Chapter no 9

Six of Crows

We’re done here,” Kaz told the others. “I’ll send word to each of you after I find us a ship, but be ready to sail by tomorrow night.”

“So soon?” Inej asked.

“We don’t know what kind of weather we’ll hit, and there’s a long journey ahead of us. Hringkälla is our best shot at Bo Yul-Bayur. I’m not going to risk losing it.”

Kaz needed time to think through the plan that was forming in his mind. He could see the basics – where they would enter, how they would leave. But the plan he envisioned would mean that they wouldn’t be able to bring much with them. They’d be operating without their usual resources. That meant more variables and a lot more chances for things to go wrong.

Keeping Wylan Van Eck around meant he could at least make sure they got their reward. But it wasn’t going to be easy. They hadn’t even left Ketterdam, and Wylan already seemed completely out of his depth. He wasn’t much younger than Kaz, but somehow he looked like a child –smooth-skinned, wide-eyed, like a silk-eared puppy in a room full of fighting dogs.

“Keep Wylan out of trouble,” he told Jesper as he dismissed them. “Why me?”

“You’re unlucky enough to be in my line of sight, and I don’t want any sudden reconciliations between father and son before we set sail.”

“You don’t need to worry about that,” said Wylan.

“I worry about everything, merchling. That’s why I’m still alive. And you can keep an eye on Jesper, too.”

“On me?” Jesper said indignantly.

Kaz slid a blackwood panel aside and unlocked the safe hidden behind it. “Yes, you.” He counted out four slender stacks of kruge and handed one over to Jesper. “This is for bullets, not bets. Wylan, make sure his feet don’t mysteriously find their way into a gambling den on his way to buy ammunition, understood?”

“I don’t need a nursemaid,” Jesper snapped.

“More like a chaperone, but if you want him to wash your nappies and tuck you in at night, that’s your business.” He ignored Jesper’s stung expression and doled kruge out to Wylan for explosives and to Nina for whatever she’d need in her tailoring kit. “Stock up for the journey only,” he said. “If this works the way I think it will, we’re going to have to enter the Ice Court empty-handed.”

He saw a shadow pass over Inej’s face. She wouldn’t like being without her knives any more than he liked being without his cane.

“I’ll need you to get cold weather gear,” he told her. “There’s a shop on the Wijnstraat that supplies trappers – start there.”

“You think to approach from the north?” asked Helvar.

Kaz nodded. “The Djerholm harbour is crawling with customs agents, and I’m going to bet they’ll be tightening security during your big party.”

“It isn’t a party.”

“It sounds like a party,” said Jesper.

“It isn’t supposed to be a party,” Helvar amended sullenly.

“What are we going to do with him?” Nina asked, nodding at Matthias. Her voice was disinterested, but the performance was wasted on everyone except Helvar. They’d all seen her tears at Hellgate.

“For the moment, he stays here at the Crow Club. I want you dredging your memory for details, Helvar. Wylan and Jesper will join you later. We’ll keep this parlour closed. If anyone playing in the main hall asks, tell them there’s a private game going on.”

“We have to sleep here?” asked Jesper. “I have things I need to see to at the Slat.”

“You’ll manage,” Kaz said, though he knew asking Jesper to spend the night in a gambling den without placing a bet was a particular kind of cruelty. He turned to the rest of them. “Not a word to anyone. No one is

to know you’re leaving Kerch. You’re working with me on a job at a country house outside the city. That’s all.”

“Are you going to tell us anything else about your miraculous plan?” Nina asked.

“On the boat. The less you know, the less you can talk.” “And you’re leaving Helvar unshackled?”

“Can you behave?” Kaz asked the Fjerdan. His eyes looked murder, but he nodded.

“We’ll be locking this room up tight and posting a guard.” Inej considered the giant Fjerdan. “Maybe two.”

“Post Dirix and Rotty, but don’t give them too many details. They’ll sail out with us, and I can fill them in later. And Wylan, you and I are going to have a chat. I want to know everything about your father’s trading company.”

Wylan shrugged. “I don’t know anything about it. He doesn’t include me in those discussions.”

“You’re telling me you’ve never snooped around his office? Looked through his documents?”

“No,” Wylan said, his chin jutting out slightly. Kaz was surprised to find he actually believed him.

“What did I tell you?” Jesper said cheerfully as he headed through the door. “Useless.”

The others started to file out behind him, and Kaz shut the safe, giving the tumbler a spin.

“I’d like a word with you, Brekker,” Helvar said. “Alone.”

Inej cast Kaz a warning glance. Kaz ignored it. She didn’t think he could handle a lump of country muscle like Matthias Helvar? He slid the wall panel closed and gave his leg a shake. It was aching now – too many late nights and too much time with his weight on it.

“Go on, Wraith,” he said. “Shut the door behind you.”

As soon as the door clicked shut, Matthias lunged for him. Kaz let it happen. He’d been expecting it.

Matthias clamped one filthy hand over Kaz’s mouth. The sensation of skin on skin set off a riot of revulsion in Kaz’s head, but because he’d been anticipating the attack, he managed to control the sickness that overcame him. Matthias’ other hand rooted around in Kaz’s coat pockets, first one then the other.

Fer esje?” he grunted angrily in Fjerdan. Then, “Where is it?” in Kerch.

Kaz gave Helvar another moment of frenzied searching, then dropped his elbow and jabbed upwards, forcing Helvar to loosen his grip. Kaz slipped away easily. He smacked Helvar behind the right leg with his cane. The big Fjerdan collapsed. When he tried to shove up again, Kaz kicked him.

“Stay down, you pathetic skiv.”

Again, Helvar tried to rise. He was fast, and prison had made him strong. Kaz cracked him hard on the jaw, then gave the pressure points at Helvar’s huge shoulders two lightning-quick jabs with the tip of his cane. The Fjerdan grunted as his arms went limp and useless at his sides.

Kaz flipped the cane in his hand and pressed the carved crow’s head against Helvar’s throat. “Move again and I’ll smash your jaw so badly you’ll be drinking your meals for the rest of your life.”

The Fjerdan stilled, his blue eyes alight with hate.

“Where is the pardon?” Helvar growled. “I saw you put it in your pocket.”

Kaz crouched down beside him and produced the folded document from a pocket that had seemed empty just a moment before. “This?”

The Fjerdan flopped his useless arms, then released a low animal growl as Kaz made the pardon vanish in thin air. It reappeared between his fingers. He turned it once, flashing the text, then ran his hand over it, and showed Helvar the seemingly blank page.

Demjin,” muttered Helvar. Kaz didn’t speak Fjerdan, but that word he knew. Demon.

Hardly. He’d learned sleight of hand from the cardsharps and monte runners on East Stave, and spent hours practising it in front of a muddy mirror he’d bought with his first week’s pay.

Kaz knocked his cane gently against Helvar’s jaw. “For every trick you’ve seen, I know a thousand more. You think a year in Hellgate hardened you up? Taught you to fight? Hellgate would have been paradise to me as a child. You move like an ox – you’d last about two days on the streets where I grew up. This was your one free pass, Helvar. Don’t test me again. Nod so I know you understand.”

Helvar pressed his lips together and nodded once. “Good. I think we’ll shackle those feet tonight.”

Kaz rose, snatched his new hat from the desk where he’d left it, and gave the Fjerdan one last kick to the kidneys for good measure. Sometimes the big ones didn’t know when to stay down.

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