Chapter no 7

Sword Catcher

Lin made her way through the dusty streets of the Fountain Quarter, her hood pulled up to shield her face from the late-afternoon sunlight. It was

one of those days when the hot winds had come boiling over the Arradin mountains to the south, pressing the city beneath it like a butterfly under glass. Pedestrians moved sluggishly, their heads down; women clustered together under broad parasols. Even the ships in the harbor seemed to bob up and down more slowly, as if mired in boiled honey.

Reaching Petrov’s house, she ducked into the welcome cool of the stairwell, and took the steps two at a time to the second floor. She knocked loudly and waited; they did not have a scheduled appointment. She had merely hoped to catch him at home, since he rarely went out. “Dom


No response.

She crouched, trying to peer through the keyhole, but could see nothing but darkness. “Dom Petrov—it’s Lin. Lin Caster. I need to see you.”

She had been leaning against the door. It shifted now, under her weight, swinging open a crack. Lin rose to her feet in surprise. It was certainly not at all like Petrov to leave his door unlocked.

She bit her thumbnail worriedly. What if he was ill? What if he had collapsed, weak from his blood disorder, and could not rise to come to the door? The image decided her. She pushed down on the latch and the door swung open.

She caught her breath as she stepped inside. The small flat was utterly empty, every bit of furniture vanished. Lin turned in a slow circle. Gone

were the books, the bronze samovar, even the plants on the windowsill. And on the floor—the plush rug was gone. In its place, a spatter of dark-brown stains.

Dried blood.

Horror made Lin’s blood fizz like wine. She was suddenly terribly aware of the stone in her pocket, weighing it down. The floorboard that had concealed Petrov’s treasures had been wrenched up, showing an empty black space beneath.

“What are you doing here?”

Lin bolted to her feet. Domna Albertine, Petrov’s landlady, loomed in the open door. She was glowering, her dark-gray curls escaping from beneath an incongruously frilly pink velvet cap. Her dress was stained, the material worn and yellowed beneath her arms.

“Well?” she demanded, brandishing her trusty broom, the terror of geese everywhere. She squinted. “Wait, you’re that physician, that Ashkari girl.”

Lin stood her ground. “Where is he? Where’s Petrov?”

“Does it matter? Some friends of his came looking for him the other day. At least they said they were his friends.” Domna Albertine spat sideways. “I heard some noise, but I like to leave my tenants to their business.”

Lin, who knew this was not true, glared.

“I came the next day to collect the rent—Petrov’s gone. Blood all over the floor. I mopped it up, but as you see, it stains.” She shook her head. “I had to sell his furniture to pay off the cleaning. And his back rent. Filh de puta.

Ignoring the obscenity, Lin said, “I see you pried up the floorboards.”

Albertine narrowed her eyes. “They were like that when I got here.” She smiled, but it was an unpleasant smile, full of cold contempt. “I know why you’re here, feojh,” she said. It was a nasty epithet for Ashkar, and it made Lin’s blood freeze in her body. “You want his books—nasty little magic books, full of illegal spells. I could have reported him to the Vigilants, at any time, but he was an old man and I felt sorry for him. But you, prancing all around the city with your dirty little talismans.” Her mouth worked, and whitish spittle gathered at the corners. “They ought to get rid of all of you. Burn out the Sault, like they did in Malgasi. Cleanse it.”

Lin clenched her hands at her sides. “We do no harm,” she said, her voice shaking. “You know nothing—”

“I know enough.” The landlady’s tone was venomous. “Magic is a curse.

Your people carry it, like a sickness. Like a plague.”

Lin swallowed bile. “I could make a talisman that would make every

bone in your body ache,” she said, in a low voice. “You would never sleep a

peaceful night again.”

Albertine recoiled. “You wouldn’t dare.

“Just tell me what you did with Petrov’s books,” said Lin, “and I’ll leave.”

Domna Albertine’s hand tightened on her broom handle. But there was fear in her eyes, a sickly sort of fear that was worse than anger. “I sold them to a dealer in the Maze. One of those that buys old junk. Now get out.”

Lin caught up her satchel and ran. She could hear Domna Albertine shouting obscenities after her as she sprinted down the stairs and out into the Fountain Quarter.

She was some distance away when she slowed to a walk, her mind whirling. What had happened to Petrov? Who were those men who’d claimed to be his friends, and what had they done to him? She felt hot and sick all over, thinking of the blood on the floor, the amount of it. One could not survive losing that quantity of blood.

Petrov had known those men were coming. He might well have known they planned to kill him. And yet his first thought had not been to run. His first thought had been to preserve the stone.

She began to make her way toward the Sault, a bitter rage still pulsing inside her heart. She wished she could have flown at Domna Albertine,

smacked her across the face. But the woman would only have called for the Vigilants, and they would have sided with the Castellani woman, not the Ashkari girl.

Lin slipped her hand into her pocket, touching the stone’s cool surface. Calm flowed into her from the point of contact. She wished she could take it out and look at it, but she dared not do so on the public street. It was hers now, and she felt a responsibility to protect it—for Petrov’s sake indeed, but also, puzzlingly, for the sake of the stone itself.

Castellane at sunset. Kel walked through the streets; he had borrowed Conor’s black cloak, the one that allowed him to enter the city incognito. Its hood was pulled up, his talisman safely stowed in his pocket. It was good to be no one: nameless, faceless, a figure in the crowd.

And it was a crowd. He had come down the Hill through the East Gate, down the path that led into a tangled maze of outer streets, and finally to the

Ruta Magna, the city’s main thoroughfare.

During the day, the Ruta Magna was an elegant shopping street, where the wealthy purchased their goods: fine furniture, bolts of silks, embroidered gloves from Hanse, rugs from Hind and Marakand. At night, the shops bolted their doors, hiding their glass windows behind painted wooden screens, and the Broken Market appeared.

The Broken Market wove its way down the Ruta Magna, eventually disappearing into the shadows of the Maze. While the weekly market in Fleshmarket Square was heavily regulated by the Council, the Broken Market was a lawless event. It had been born as a place to off-load broken or imperfect pieces of merchandise. Chipped cups of Shenzan porcelain, edged in gold; chunks of shattered glass with the edges sanded down, transformed into bracelets and dangling pendants; clock parts and unrepaired doorknobs; ripped lace gloves and torn curtains whose fabric could still be repurposed into dresses and coats.

A place for unwanted things to find new homes, Kel thought, ducking under the sagging awning of a stall selling three-legged chairs and tipsy tables. And, if one grew bored with shopping, there were performers—

jugglers and musicians, and the itinerant Story-Spinners who could always be found on a different street corner, recounting the most recent installment of their tales. The most popular tellers gathered large and adoring crowds, desperate for the newest update of stories that sometimes carried on for years.

Having bought a bag of sweet calison, a sugary-almond paste beloved by Castellani sailors, Kel made his way northeast, toward the Scholars’ Quarter. He passed the gray walls of the Sault as he went; atop their ramparts, he could see the lines of silent Ashkari watchmen, the Shomrim, standing guard. They were motionless as statues, gazing down on the

crowds below. Two more Shomrim guarded the metal gates set into the walls through which the Ashkar could pass between the hours of sunrise and sundown.

Kel had known those gates all his life. Into them were etched words in the language of the Ashkar—a language he could not read. As far as he

knew, it was not spoken by any outside the Ashkari community. Around the words were carved leaves, fruits, flowers, and small animals. The gates

were things of beauty, though they existed to keep the world out—and the Ashkar inside.

As the market receded, Poet’s Hill rose above Kel, with the Academie and the Student Quarter clustered around its base. The night was cloudless, the moon bright as a beacon. Hadn’t Fausten said something about an

eclipse? Or perhaps it had been a politic lie; perhaps he had been equally frantic to get the King out of the Dial Chamber.

I do not find them very talkative, myself.

Kel had seen Conor’s flinch, almost imperceptible, and wanted to kick Montfaucon. The King’s withdrawal from Palace life had happened so gradually, and so long ago, but that did not mean it had been forgotten. Kel and Conor had still been boys when Markus had begun to spend more and more time in the Star Tower, with Fausten. More time talking about the

stars and the secrets they held, about the meaning of destiny and fate and whether the Gods spoke to men through what was written in the heavens.

At first, no one thought this was odd. A man must work his mind like his sword arm, Jolivet often said, and to have a philosopher-king could be a point of honor for Castellane. Had not King Maël designed the Tully gallows, a far more humane method of executing prisoners than the

previous practice of tossing them to the crocodiles? And had not King Theodor’s knowledge of science helped end the Scarlet Plague?

The Gods smiled down upon kings and made them wise, Jolivet had said, as Conor, with Kel beside him, had stood watching as the instruments of Markus’s study were carried into the Star Tower: the gold orrery, the

massive brass sextant, the telescope from Hanse and its boxes of accompanying lenses.

What was odd was that the King had followed his things into the tower, and emerged afterward but rarely. The strong, commanding man who had taught Conor to ride a horse and Kel to speak Sarthian had vanished, and

this distant, dreamy-eyed ghost, with Fausten always at his side, had taken his place.

The winding streets of the Scholars’ Quarter swallowed Kel; the stars above gleamed faintly, washed with moonlight. The same stars the King studies from his tower, Kel thought, turning onto Jibarian Way, though he himself had never managed to see any real shape in them. They always

seemed to him a scatter of gleaming sand, cast across the sky by a careless

hand. No meaning, no design, any more than there was meaning or design in the cracked cobblestones underfoot.

The street slanted up, toward the Academie. Taking advantage of the bright moonlight, students sat out on their balconies, some reading, some drinking in groups, some playing cards or smoking patoun, a mix of dried herbs and leaves, which filled the air with a sweet incense. Tea shops and pubs were open and doing a roaring business.

He had reached Chancellor Street. It curved upward, curling around the

base of Poet’s Hill. The sign for the Lafont Bookshop, gilt painted on wood, swung overhead. Across the street was a tall, narrow building, paint peeling off the sides. Balconies of wrought iron held a medley of weather-worn

tables and chairs, while potted plants balanced on sills trailed green fringe down the building’s façade. A sign in an upper window depicted a stylized quill pen, the symbol of the Academie. Definitely a student lodging house, then.

Kel dashed across the street and tried the front door. It swung open with a light touch, giving onto a tiny entryway and a perilously steep staircase, very nearly a ladder. The place smelled of stew and of something Kel

recognized—a sharp, green scent, like the one that had hovered on Merren’s clothes at the Caravel.

Kel took the stairs two at a time, past several small landings, before arriving at a lopsided door. Here, the scent of freshly cut plants was stronger than ever.

Kel elbowed the door open. The lock was weak and broke immediately, nearly spilling him into the flat beyond. It was a small space: a single main room divided up into various areas by their use—a corner with a washbasin and curved, claw-foot bathtub; another with a small brick-and-tile oven and a collection of cooking pots hanging on the wall. Flowers and leaves were scattered across a table whose paint had largely peeled off; beside them sat a large glass phial, carefully stoppered, full of pale-blue liquid.

Wooden shutters gave onto a wrought-iron balcony, where an impressive collection of various plants grew in clay pots balanced precariously on the metal railing. A mattress on the floor was the only bed, its colorful velvet blanket the sole concession to luxury or comfort.

At first glance, Merren Asper seemed nowhere to be found. But the room was warm, almost hot—Kel glanced at the oven, in which a fire burned

merrily. A copper pot balanced on top of the stove held a dreadful-looking soup of cut greens and water, which gave off the aromatic steam that scented the place.

Aha. Kel kicked the front door shut behind him. “Merren Asper!” he called. “I know you’re here. Show yourself, or I’ll start throwing your furniture out the window.”

A blond head peeked around a bookcase. Merren Asper opened his blue eyes wide and said, “Er. Hello?”

Kel began to advance on him menacingly. And he had been taught menace by Jolivet, who was a master of the form.

Merren backed away, and Kel followed him. It was not much of a distance. Merren’s back hit the far wall, and he glanced around as if seeking a means of escape. There wasn’t one, so he tried for insouciance. “Well, anyway,” Merren said, waving a hand airily, “how did you, ah, find me?

Not that I mind . . .

Insouciance did not impress Kel. It was Conor’s go-to when Jolivet or Mayesh was angry with him, and generally meant he knew he was in the wrong.

Kel glared. “You told me where you lived, idiot,” he said. “I thought of going to the Caravel to ask your sister how I could find you, then I remembered that I asked you your address and you’d given it, and it was unlikely you’d lied since we’d both drunk the same truth serum. Probably something you should have thought about, no?”

“Probably,” Merren said glumly. His eyes darted past Kel, toward the phial of blue liquid on the peeling table. He glanced away quickly, but Kel had already noted the gesture. “I thought you wouldn’t trust the wine if I didn’t drink it too, but I suppose I didn’t consider the consequences. I’m not very good at that sort of thing.” He waved a hand again, his fingers marked with old chemical burns. “You know: lying. Deceit.” He looked at Kel earnestly. “It wasn’t at all personal. Andreyen—that’s the Ragpicker King

—said you wouldn’t come to any harm. That he just wanted to offer you a job. And I thought you’d like working with him.”

Andreyen. It had never occurred to Kel that the Ragpicker King had a name. “So you were doing me a favor?”

“Yes!” Merren looked relieved. “I’m glad you understand.”

“I’ve been told I’m very understanding.” Kel picked up the glass vessel from the table. He held it up, examining the sky-blue liquid inside. “Not by anyone who knows me well, however.”

Merren darted forward to reach for the vessel. “Don’t drop that. It’s very important—”

“Oh, I plan to drop it,” Kel said, “unless you tell me what I want to know.

And I don’t advise lying. As we’ve covered, I know where you live.”

Merren looked indignant. “I don’t see how threats are ethically better than drugging someone with truth serum.”

“Perhaps not,” Kel said. “But I really don’t care that much about retaining the moral high ground.”

He strode over to the balcony, holding the vessel in his right hand.

Merren yelped like an injured puppy as Kel held it out over the drop to the street below.

“You can’t,” Merren said breathlessly. He had rushed toward the balcony, then stopped, as if uncertain whether approaching Kel would make him

more likely to drop the phial or not. “It’s for a client. He already paid for the ingredients. My reputation—”

“A poisoner’s reputation,” Kel said mockingly. “A great concern to me, to be sure.” He wiggled the phial, and Merren groaned. “Just tell me—did Alys know when she arranged the meeting between us that it was a sham? That you were planning to sell me out to the Ragpicker King?”

“No! Of course not. She would never have agreed to anything like that.

She’d be so upset with me if she did know—” Merren bit his lip. He was an odd combination, Kel thought. Wise about his chosen field of study, and desperately naïve about everything else. “It was just an interview. There

was no plan to harm you, I swear it. I’m a kind person. I don’t even eat meat.”

Kel glared. “And what about Hadja? She said one of the courtesans had passed her a message, but that wasn’t true, was it?”

“She thought it was true,” Merren said. “Ji-An passed her a false message. Hadja would never keep anything secret from Alys, and Alys would never lie to you.” He looked miserable. A small pulse beat at the

base of his throat, where the loose collar of his shirt revealed the notch of his collarbone. “Please don’t tell your friends to stop going to the Caravel. My sister depends on their business. It would break her heart.”

It would empty her coffers, you mean, Kel thought, but he didn’t say it.

There was something about Merren that made it difficult to be cross with him. There was no malice behind those dark-blue eyes. They were the color of Antonetta’s eyes, and in his own way, Merren seemed just as innocent.

More innocent, even. Antonetta had grown up on the Hill; she had learned to recognize machinations and backstabbing, even if she did not partake in them herself. Merren seemed as if he would not recognize venality or

selfishness if they appeared before him and performed a puppet show.

Kel sighed. “I won’t tell them anything. Just—give me the rest of the

cantarella antidote. And some of the poison, too,” he added. “I assume you have it.”

Merren nodded.

Kel lowered the vessel to his side. He watched as Merren went over to

the bookcase and knelt, pushing some of the tattered volumes aside. When he returned to Kel, he was carrying four phials: two containing a gray powder, and two containing white.

“The gray is the poison, the white the antidote,” said Merren. “Both are tasteless. Give a full phial of antidote to anyone who’s ingested cantarella; it doesn’t matter how much.” He handed over the phials, which Kel tucked into his jacket, and proceeded to remain where he was, his hand outstretched. It took a moment for Kel to realize what he wanted. Kel handed over the vessel of blue liquid with a mild pang; he would always, he suspected, wonder what it had been.

He’d half expected Merren to seize the vessel and bolt, but he didn’t. He took it gingerly and went to set it on a nearby shelf, between a distressingly human-looking skull and a bottle that looked as if it had washed up in the harbor, its label faded and torn. Meanwhile, Kel set a five-crown coin down on the table between them. He saw Merren glance at it when he turned back around, but he didn’t reach for the money, only left it lying there.

“Is the Ragpicker King going to continue to bother me,” Kel said, “now that I’ve turned him down? I didn’t think one became a well-known crime lord by taking no for an answer.”

“He won’t bother you again,” Merren said. “He needs someone to report on the Aurelians and doings on the Hill, but if it’s not you, he’ll find

someone else. Though no one else has your access.” Kel raised his eyebrows. “Because?”

“Because you’re the Sword Catcher,” Merren said plainly, and Kel felt his stomach lurch. Of course he knows, he thought savagely. Merren was clearly in the Ragpicker King’s confidence. But Kel had lived more than

half his life jealously guarding the secret of who he really was. He could not help the feeling that things were spinning out of control, the world tilting sickeningly on its axis.

“How many people know?” he snapped. “How many of those who work for the Ragpicker King? Does your sister know that there is no Kel


Merren shook his head, his eyes worried. “No. Only myself, Andreyen, and Ji-An. And it will stay that way. It does Andreyen no good for you to be exposed.”

“Because he still hopes I’ll spy for him.”

“You should,” Merren said, with an unexpected intensity. “He’ll treat you fairly.”

“The Aurelians treat me fairly.”

“I don’t know you that well. At all, really. But I can tell that you deserve better than them,” Merren said. “No matter how safe you may feel now, the nobles and the royal family will turn on you in the end.”

“That the nobles of the Hill are untrustworthy is hardly news to me.” “But you trust the Prince—”

“Of course I trust him.” Kel could hear the dangerous note in his own voice, but Merren seemed unaware of it. He plunged on.

“My father was a guildmaster. He was always loyal to the crown. To the Charter Families. But when he needed the Aurelians, they abandoned him.”

“Your father?” Kel felt dazed; the conversation had taken a turn he did not expect. “Who was your father?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Merren said stiffly. “He’s dead now.”

He walked away from Kel, toward the table, and leaned on it with both hands. Kel half wondered if he should simply leave; their business was concluded, after all. He had the answers he wanted, and the antidote he’d aimed to get.

Yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Something kept him where he was

—not reaching out to Merren, but not leaving, either. He glanced around the flat again. It was true that the space was small and cluttered, but it was also rather cozy. Soft night air spilled through the balcony shutters. Kel could

imagine curling up on the mattress under the eaves and reading a book. When it rained, the sound would be close, as if one slept among the storm clouds.

I have never had my own room, Kel thought in that moment. At the Orfelinat, he had slept in a dormitory. At the Palace, his rooms were Conor’s. In that moment, Merren’s tiny flat seemed like something from a dream.

It still felt like a dream when he crossed the creaking floorboards and put a hand on Merren’s shoulder. Merren twisted around to look up at him, clearly surprised. Whatever he had expected from Kel, it was clearly not kindness.

“I won’t say the Ragpicker King doesn’t lie,” Merren said, in a low voice. “But if he says he’ll do something, he’ll do it. That’s a sort of honor that those on the Hill don’t have.”

I do, Kel wanted to say, but was it true? He kept his promises to Conor, but he would break a promise to anyone else for Conor’s sake, in a heartbeat.

Merren was still looking up at him. The firelight burnished his hair to gold, outlined the curves of his mouth, his collarbone. In that moment, Kel knew he could kiss Merren, and Merren would let him. He’d kissed both

boys and girls before, though never anyone whose time he hadn’t paid for. He could still find oblivion in it, he guessed, and perhaps even a new sort of oblivion: For the first time in his life, he would be kissing someone without Conor’s knowledge, in a place Conor did not know he had gone.

And yet.

“I should leave,” Kel said abruptly, and half flung himself away from Merren and toward the door. He heard Merren call after him, but he was already out of the flat, racing down the stairs into the darkness of the unlit street. He glanced back as he turned the corner, but could see nothing, only a square of light where Merren’s balcony was.

What the hell was I thinking? Kel wondered. His encounter with Merren had not gone at all as he had planned it. He had meant to blast him with

righteous indignation, but instead he had felt a painful longing—for Merren’s flat, his life, his surprising lack of guile.

Perhaps it was because he had spent the afternoon in the Dial Chamber with a group of people who delighted in tricking each other and the world,

who traded vast sums of money they could never spend back and forth to burnish their own self-importance, who discussed Conor’s future as if the only thing about it that could possibly matter was its impact on them.

Not a one of them, save perhaps Falconet, had ever treated Kel as if he were a person in his own right. Not a one of them had ever given him as much thought as Merren Asper had when he had told Kel he deserved better.

Kel soon found he had wandered down near the harbor, where the air carried the heavy scent of smoke, brine, and damp wood. He stood on the Key, looking out at the deep roll of the sea, blue-black and shimmering: the same view that had been his in the first years of his life, gazing out from the Orfelinat. The rough hush of the waters was his cradle song, instinctively comforting, like a voice calling his name. Whose voice, he did not know. It had been so long.

The tide was low, revealing the island of Tyndaris, partway between the harbor and the mouth of the sea. Once it had been a spit of land at the mouth of the harbor. A city had grown up there: Tyndaris, small sister of Castellane. Then came the Sundering War, scorching earth and sky with searing bolts of magic. One plunged into the Castellane Sea, which roared like a lion and gathered itself into a massive wave. The people who could fled to the hills, but Tyndaris had no hills, no mountains. It floated at the level of the sea and so the sea reclaimed it. Shattered by the tremor, drowned by the ocean, Castellane’s sister sank beneath the waves. Now only its highest points were revealed at low tide: the jagged tops of the

tallest towers and the hill on which rested a temple of Aigon, now called the Church of a Thousand Doors.

The temple remained a pilgrimage site, and boats set out from the harbor daily, ferrying the devout. At night, when the crocodiles hunted beneath the black gloss of the waves, deserted Tyndaris seemed to glow upon the ocean’s surface, its Sunderglass towers reflecting the light of the moon.

A ghost city, Kel thought. For cities could die. Even Castellane herself would not last forever.

Enough morbid thoughts, Kel told himself. He was done with all this. He would return to Marivent and the life he was used to. He would forget about the Ragpicker King and everything that came with him.

He started back along the Key, where open tavern doors cast patches of light on the cobblestones. Groups of drunken sailors walked arm in arm, singing. As he passed a closed warehouse, its ground-floor windows painted black to block the view of the goods stored inside, Kel felt a stir of unease.

He glanced around. This part of the Key was less crowded; he was surrounded by warehouses and customs offices. Down a narrow alley between a sailcloth-makers and a rope factory, he saw a flicker of movement. He backpedaled immediately, but it was already too late. He was seized, a hand clamping itself over his mouth as he was dragged into the alley.

Jolivet’s training kicked in. Kel bent double, twisted, and kicked out. He heard a gasp and a curse. The grip on him loosened. He yanked himself free and darted toward the mouth of the alley, but a figure dropped from above, blocking his way—and then another, and another, like spiders shaken free from a web.

Kel looked up. At least half a dozen more dark figures—all in black, save for strange white gloves—clung to the brick wall of the warehouse.


“That’s right.” Someone grabbed him by the front of his jacket, spun him, and slammed him up against the wall. Kel stared at the figure in front of him: medium height, dressed in a rusty black military jacket. It had to be a century since Castellani soldiers had worn black. This jacket had brass

buttons down the front and a hood, pulled up to hide the face beneath. The voice coming from under the hood was a man’s, gravelly with the accent of the Maze. “No point running.”

Kel took quick stock of the situation. More of the Crawlers surrounded him on either side; there must have been a dozen of them. Their clothes

were dark and ragged. Their hands were powdered with a chalky substance, no doubt to make climbing easier. They had rubbed black greasepaint along the tops of their cheekbones, along their noses and chins. The intent was to make them less visible in the moonlight. It also made their faces look like a child’s drawing of a skull.

“What do you want?” Kel demanded.

“Oh, come now.” The Crawler who had slammed Kel against the wall shook his head. Silver flashed in the shadows; the left upper quarter of his

face was covered by a metal mask. His skin was pale, his brown hair cut short. “Did you think we wouldn’t recognize you, Monseigneur? You wear this cloak every time you come into the city, thinking it disguises you. A foolish consistency.” He flicked the edge of Conor’s cloak with his finger. “We know exactly who you are.”


They thought he was Conor.

“Just because I am alone,” Kel said, in his haughtiest tone, “does not mean you can freely lay hands upon me. Not unless you want to die in the Trick.”

There was a quick, uneasy murmur, swiftly covered by a bark of laughter from the silver-masked Crawler. “Prosper Beck sent us, Monseigneur. And I’d guess you know why.”

Prosper Beck? Kel held himself still, hiding any reaction, but his mind was racing. What business did a minor criminal like Beck have with the Crown Prince of Castellane?

“Beck owns you now, Aurelian,” the Crawler continued. “He sent you a message at the Caravel, gave you a chance to pay your debt back last night. But you hid up in that Palace on the Hill, like nothing down here matters at all—”

Last night. Kel couldn’t help but think of Conor, smashing his hand through the window, the blood. But it was not enough to fill in the puzzle; only enough for him to know that a puzzle was beginning to emerge.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said tightly. It was true enough.

“He’s disrespecting us, Jerrod,” said one of the other Crawlers—a girl with fair hair and a black cloth mask. “He’s pretending like he don’t know.”

It was impossible to see Jerrod’s expression. The alley was too dark, and the metal mask too disconcerting. But his voice held a gloating tone. “He knows, Lola.”

A big man with a pockmarked face barked a laugh. “No one’s likely to forget they owe Prosper Beck ten thousand crowns.”

Ten thousand crowns?” The words were startled out of Kel. It was a massive sum. One might buy a fleet with such money.

There was ugly laughter among the crowd, but Jerrod didn’t laugh. The mask made it difficult to read his expression, but he seemed to be looking

hard at Kel, a realization dawning in his eyes. He caught hold of Kel’s chin, forcing him to look up. “You’re not him,” he exhaled. “You’re not the


“What?” Something silver flashed in Lola’s hand; she sprang forward,

the moonlight glancing off a long, ragged-edged knife. “Then who in gray hell is he?”

“Let me go.” Kel tried to yank himself free of Jerrod’s grip, but the other man was stronger than he looked. He could sweep Jerrod’s feet, he thought, topple him and kick in his ribs, but that would only bring the rest of his

crew down on Kel like a wave. “I’m not who you thought I was, so let me go.”

“Can’t do that,” said the man with the pockmarked face. He had drawn a long razor from his pocket. All through the group weapons began to flash, like stars coming out. It was an oddly beautiful effect for something so dangerous.

“Kaspar’s right,” said Lola. “We can’t let him go. Even if he’s just an anonymous mouse, a mouse can still squeak.”

She started toward Kel, Kaspar and the others following. Kel flexed his hands at his sides, preparing to fight. Jerrod, to his surprise, hadn’t moved. He was still holding on to the front of Kel’s jacket.

“Back off, Lola,” he said. “And the rest of you. Listen to me—”

Kel heard the sound of a high whine, like an insect buzzing past his ear. Lola screamed.

Jerrod’s head whipped to the side, though he was still holding Kel against the wall. Lola, the blond Crawler, was sprawled in the alley, an arrow protruding from her chest. Blood was already pooling under her, running among the dirty cobblestones.

Kel stared, utterly stunned. Where had that come from? Jerrod pushed Kel back harder against the wall, his eyes narrowed behind his mask. “What the fuck?” he snapped. “There was no one following you—we would have


Jerrod!” Another Crawler, a young man with gold earrings, reeled back, an arrow through his throat. He clutched at it, sinking to his knees, a red foam on his lips.

Jerrod’s mouth worked silently; no words came out. This time Kel took advantage. He lunged, slamming his head into Jerrod’s. The edge of the

metal mask cut his forehead, but the pain was blunted by adrenaline. Jerrod staggered and Kel twisted away, breaking his hold.

Kel ran for the mouth of the alley. Only a fool picked a fight while outnumbered, and besides, he had no reason to believe the anonymous archer was on his side.

Kaspar, snarling, blocked his way. Without slowing down, Kel hit him, a clean uppercut that sent him spinning back into a stack of wooden boxes.

An arrow flew past and struck one of the boxes, sending the stack tumbling.

The Crawlers had begun to panic, swarming up the walls like fleeing ants. Kaspar shoved past Kel, striking him two hard blows to the torso. Kel reeled back, the breath knocked out of him, as Kaspar flung himself at the wall and started to scramble up. Jerrod was kneeling over Lola’s body, his shoulders hunched.

Kel began to back toward the mouth of the alley, but something was wrong. His legs weren’t obeying him properly. There was a hot, needling pain in his chest. He put his hand to it. It came away red.

Kaspar hadn’t just struck him as he’d gone by, at least not with an empty hand. He’d stabbed him. Kel pressed his hand against the wound, trying to keep the blood in. If he could just make it to the Key, he thought, but the alley seemed to be elongating, stretching out before him to the horizon. He could never walk such a distance, and soon enough it did not matter. His

legs had given out under him.

He sank to the ground. It was filthy and hard, and stank of fish and garbage. He would have liked very much not to be lying where he was, but his body was not cooperating.

He pressed his hand against his chest. His shirt was as wet as if he’d spilled water on it. The pain was a screw, turning and tightening, pinning him to the earth. He could hear his own breath, rough and hoarse. Brick walls rose above him, between them a thin strip of stars.

And then, blotting out the stars for a moment, the shimmer of a metal mask. Jerrod was crouched over him.

“You might not be the Prince,” Jerrod said, his voice strained. “But you’re wearing his cloak. I wasn’t wrong about that. Who are you?

Kel shook his head, or tried to. I can’t tell you, he thought, but it is my job to die for Conor, and now I suppose it is happening. I just didn’t think it would be in quite such a stupid way.

“My apologies,” Jerrod said. And he sounded as if he meant it. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”

Kel almost laughed. It was too ridiculous. But it would have hurt too much to laugh, and his vision was starting to blur. The shadows bled together, and Jerrod was gone. The stars were all Kel could see. He imagined himself on his boat again, far out past the harbor, where the sea and sky were the same color. He could smell salt and hear the lash of the waves. If this was death, perhaps it would not be so bad.

He thought of Jolivet then, shaking his head. He thought of Antonetta, pale with grief—surely she would grieve if he died?—comforting Conor perhaps, her hand on his. And lastly, he thought of Conor, wearing his crown of wings, of what he would say when he found out Kel was dead.

Something clever and cutting, no doubt. He thought of Mayesh, saying, We will do our best to keep you alive, and he saw a blur of violet, the color of foxgloves. Something flashed, bright, at the corner of his vision. Then he seemed to sink below the surface of the air as if it were water, until

darkness was all he could see.



Aram was a kingdom ruled by a young Sorcerer-Queen, Adassa. Her father, King Avihal, had been a clever diplomat, negotiating peace with the other sorcerous Kings and Queens that his land might be spared the ravages of battle. When King Avihal died, he gave his daughter the Source-Stone that had been his, but

she was a gentle soul and not a seeker of power. Even her own people feared she might not have the strength for queenship. Her one great ally was the captain of

her guard, the loyal Judah Makabi. He stood by her side, advising and counseling, as she struggled to learn the ways of the throne. She will be a great Queen, Makabi assured the people. Only wait. She will bring us to greatness.

There was one other who saw the ascension of the young Queen as an opportunity—the Sorcerer-King Suleman.

Tales of the Sorcerer-Kings, Laocantus Aurus Iovit III

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