The High Hearth was not happy, and this wasn’t going to tickle ‘em none. I wasn’t laughing much either – Gods alone knew what my reputation was worth now. My currency was results, and I hain’t earned enough to buy a damned smirk. Fortunately, I’d caught the one man who was givin’ ’em away.
Even tied up and beaten, a cunt’s hair from being bled like suckling pig, Thonius laughed in my face. “I haven’t a clue where Miraz and Aelia are, you thick tongued twit,” he spat snidely. His hands twisted in the ropes behind the wooden chair, but the planted soles of his feet told me he knew he wasn’t going to break free. Gods, he was bloody brave… or hale and stupid. Either way, the bark was thick on this one.
“Your story don’t add up,” I warned him. “Brutus killed in pursuit, you flee days after – then Miraz and Aelia pack up a week before I arrive?” I watched his eyes, still adjusting to the light, still slave to instinct. I searched for deception as hard as I’d searched for him, pruning Anahearth for the entire past year.
My torch flared and threw Thonius’s poxy face against the wall, and his shadow began the laugh at me too. “By the Pit, man! Didn’t you search me?” he taunted. “I came back to find them. I thought they were here.”
“Don’t ya dare fuckin’ lie to me,” I growled. But it had no bite, I knew. The tone and timbre of his voice had gotten stronger, deeper, more confident. I heard the honesty in the low sounds under his high voice. The note in my pocket was just further proof I was grasping at straws… but I had pulled a fistful of short ones. I was close to snapping. “If you’d had the bloody bark to finish Sylvestus off, neither of us would be here now.”
Thonius scowled at that. His eyes were narrowed, showing me that he felt threatened and did not like what he was seeing. Then his movements stilled, and his chin dropped. I watched his feet. They pointed together. Even if only for a second, it looked like he had nothing to say.
“I fucked up,” he admitted.
I backhanded him. It weren’t no bitchslap, I threw the whole of pivot of my body into it. It snapped his head sideways with a crack. This guy couldn’t lie for grubs, and for once it was a gods’ damned weed in my garden. “I believe ya,” I said calmly.
Thonius hocked up a bloody wad of spit and sent it shooting between his teeth. He grinned at me, teeth bloody, hands wiggling at his ropes. “Whatever happened to High Hearth’s famous hospitality?”
“It’s extended to guests, not prisoners,” I retorted, and pulled the burlap sack back over his head. “Just be glad I h’ain’t cuttin’ pieces off you.” I turned my back to him, and closed the cell door. The mute boy was waiting outside. He looked up me expectantly.
Thirteen moons I had spent (and twice that in Hollow House gold) fishing for him and his lot. Black River emissaries, streetsweepers, every contact I had – even sent that floodchasin’ Bishop after him – and turned up nothing but minnows and empty hooks. Now I land the king fish and find out I’ve been baiting the wrong blackened pond?
“Give the man some water,” I grumbled. “He don’t know a Gods’ damned thing about what Brutus stole.”
Oh yes, I saw this one in my dreams. Pretty fountain – many coins, many wishes, many souls seeking salvation by sowing silver in the waters. Stupid souls; the Gods are sleeping, the Gods are gone. There is no salvation.
I wash my face, yes, the water is clean, clean as the Scionage, no plague in this one, no. Not like the others. The sky is grey and there are many clouds in the sky. The clouds are brains. Look at them, they even look like brains. What will the River-Wind do without her brains? Stupid Gods, always leave their rains behind. Raining on me…
My eyes are raining. I see my reflection in the cloud clean water. She swallows my salt and she cries. “Weak weak weak!” I shout. “You’re weak!” She was old too, older than me, older than she should be. Old hag, old witch, bleeding from the face and hollow in her bones.
“I’m not weak,” she sniffles, snorting water. “You’re crazy, Sybil. You’ve lost it.”
“Didn’t lose it, nope, didn’t lose it at all,” I snort. “Know exactly where it is, yup, exactly where it is.” Just can’t get it back. Stupid Gods.
The cobblestones click at me, click click click tap tap tap, I look down. Her beady black eyes peering curiously up at me. “Hello bald-squirrel,” I say politely. Polite is good, you never know when you might meet a Bald Squirrel Queen.
“I am not a squirrel!” the squirrel squeaks. “I’m a rat, a true rat: Rattus rattus, from an ancient line of royal rodents!”
Feh, times are strange when rats look down on you. “Sure, sure,” I grumble. I splash water at her. “Go find your own fountain,” I threaten, “or I’ll turn you into Rattus drownicus, end of a long line of pesky pests.”
“This is my fountain, you old witch!” she cries, and runs up my leg. Oooooh, that tickles, tickles like a feather, if a feather had legs and feet with nails. She jumps onto my shoulder and sniffs my ear. “By the Den, you smell awful!” she yells. “My friend is coming here soon, and you better wash up!”
“Mebbe if no rats went round interrupting folk trying to bathe…” I grumble. I thrust my head into the fountain, I hear the rat squeak as she falls in. Ha-hahaha, now we both both wash. I throw my head back, watch the water run pink and grey off my chin onto the cracked marble, old marble. I feel my scabs get soft, get itchy. “Ha-hahaha,” I laugh, as the rat climbs out dripping. “Now we both both wash!”
I eye her carefully. She’s ignoring me now, ignoring me, like she’s better than me. Ohhhh, I can take the high road too. “M’not a witch, m’lady rat,” I curtsy, “M’name is Sybil, yes, Sybil Secret-Keeper. But that’s not my real name.” I pause for a moment. “Your name is Rosemary.”
She turns her head, yesss, she turns it at me, turns it to me. I hold out my hand (all clean now) and she steps all genteel onto my palm, Rhadamanthys the Dreamer. I touch her paw with my thumb and forefinger, my favourite fingers, Hyacinth the Wanderer and Talamur’s Spear. “Pleasure,” I whisper to her, bringing her up to my face, crossing my eyes down the street of my nose to stare at hers.
“Charmed, I’m sure!” she cheers. Her head twitches sideways, and I follow her gaze.
The biggest rat the Gods saw fit to breed stands at at the edge of the cobblestone square. Oh, she’s a biggun, tall as a man, if she didn’t slouch like a hunchback. Someone’s shaved the poor thing, and glued all the fur to her head, all ragged and riptorn. Ohhhh, the Gods played a cruel joke on this one. Like when Censun dueled with Hyacinth, and Hyacinth chose diplomacy as his weapon; or when the Songbird sang so sweetly Nalini trapped her beneath Five Finger Mountain. The Gods play jokes on us all.
“Rosemary?” the rat queen chirped nervously. Rude. Interrupted my stories. Remembering all those stories is hard. Knowing all of them is harder. Could drive a person mad. Heh.
The Rat Queen asks if this is the Elmer Street Fountain. What other fountain would it be? She steps lightly around and on the cobblestones like the Fountain is a grave, and Soraurya the River-Wind pushes her brains from the sky, letting the Rat Queen remember. I see this one clearly now, the big-rat-Gods’-joke. She has the smell of the Gods on her. I rush to her side, stealing the trace particles from her, breaking her valences, like magic. Yessss, there it is. The touch of the Gods. Nasty touch, at that.
Rosemary introduces us, all formal like. Heheheheh. The Gods made this one interesting. Queens commands their subjects, but this one talks, converses, is chastised and worried by the Rattus rattus. I like her! She asks questions, I give answers. I give answers, but the answers come out strange, like meat through a mincer, the shape is wrong; it’s clearer in my head: the fire, the brickblood, the lanterns, the father… the house with the red door…
“Yes yes yes yes,” I reply hastily, “I know where it is.”
The rat queen twitches her nose, swishes her bald tail, her whiskers quivering. “Could you take me there?”
I sniffed the air. Soraurya, may your cold wind rise and guide me. Talamur, place your sharp spear in my hand. Hyacinth grant me wisdom, my dimmest roads let reason light; Nalini, leave me be, let me pay my debt another night . Rhadamanthys, king of kings; sleeper, weeper, keeper of hearts; lord of love and dreams – strike me so I may love and dream again.
The breeze stops, and I cackle. “Yes yes yes,” I laugh, o laughter is sweet that is Eternity sent. I skip down the road, and the rats scurry behind me. as I pipe and sing the song of secrets. The Gods are laughing, oh yes, but that means they are watching, too.
It was three hours past noon in the third week of Mourning, and sunlight came through the windows in shafts. Walkyn and Remy nursed their drinks at the bar, while brothers of the High Hearth were scattered amongst the few tables of the Spiked Eel.
“Absolutely not,” I said firmly. I kept my voice low behind the bar. Dennonyn rolled the barrel next to me and hoisted it back upright. He stood up and towered over me; he was fifteen years my junior and his beard was thicker than my hair. But he was young. It was obvious.
“Half the Glorious residences are empty for Mourning,” he insisted, “and me and Tyryn already marked the families that are taking the air in Landrend.” He pulled the iron spout out from under the bar. “We can take everything they’d got and fence it before the next River Moon.” Only a brief whisper of air released as he tapped the barrel, I notice. His hands were deft. His eyes were bright. But he was young. It was not easy to forget.
I put away the last of the wooden cups and laid out the silk polishing cloths for the doxie glass. “I will forget what you said about marking residences and remind you this,” I said calmly. I held the doxie glass up and looked for spots in a shaft of light. “While I pay you and your brother, in silver, soup and roof, you do no hunting.” I shelved the glass and began polishing the next. “Orders from Grammyn, but my word should be law enough.”
Dennonyn scowled, but I grasped his shoulder before he could stalk away. My thick fingers curled into his shoulder, clenching tightly. “You are not hale and stupid, Denno,” I grumble. “You knew you would have to be patient. A place by the Hearth must be earned.” I released him, and watched him stalk away, as he did.
Walkyn stirred on his stool. “Get him to bring me another bottle,” he slurred. “The Sidian stuff, not the Edian. Miraz was Sidian…” He hiccuped. “Gotta drink like one, to think like one…”
“You’ve had enough, Bishop,” I said sternly. “And you won’t find Thonius or Miraz at the bottom of a bottle you can’t afford.” He was already sleeping. I sighed. Walkyn had a long tab, but the debt the Spiked Eel owed him was greater. The man was a hero, coloured with honor, with bark so thick he needed no armor. Where the Spiked Eel stood, there would be only a hyacinth garden, a den of cin, had Walkyn not paid Moskar’s debts and given us the protection of the Hearth.
Even then, I was uneasy around him now. I could not call him friend. The man murdered his teacher, his guardian, his father. I remembered when he walked into the bar, with Hybrassil’s rusty blood on his blade and paraded the kill, as if there was any honor in it. There wasn’t, and now there was none in him. If it had been any other man, I would have gored him. Yes, it pained me, to see the Bishop brought so low, and it is a poor customer who is penniless. But there were better reasons to wish he drank somewhere else.
The bell rang, and two strangers walked in. I narrowed my eyes, and conversation went silent in the Eel. The Scion sat down at the table, oblivious to how obvious he was. The wilder came to me. He was young, and no Hearthmyn. No honor colored his skin, and although he looked a warrior, he was no sancster, either.
“I’m looking for a friend, who might have come here,” he said. Standing at the bar, talking to me, with spear, sword and shield on his person. It was past impolite. It was idiotic. I was ready to gather Remy and Denno to throw him and his masked dog out the door, but asked him who he was meeting, just in case Grammyn was working his plots again.
The wilder hesitated. “His name is Thonius,” he said slowly.
Remy dropped his glass, and it shattered on the floor. The others stiffened, eying their spears at the door, but knives were loosened from boots and belts. I laughed. Full, deep, hearty. I tried not to look at Walkyn, asleep and dead to the only lead he was likely to find, almost literally under his nose. The wilder looked at me, confused, and I howled even louder. Tears dribbled from my eyes. “Boys – ahem, ha, hrmph – he’s looking for Thonius!” I called out.
“Dennonyn! Thonius drop by yet?”
“No, boss. I haven’t seen him.”
“Remy, you seen him?”
“Nah, Two-Boar, he ain’t been around.”
I called out the bar, and the brothers stood as they answered me. The wilder – backwoods stagmyn, most-like; real deep Pecora Fallows type – inched his hand towards his sword. I put two fingers on the table and looked him in the eye. “Thonius been missing for a year now, and every brother in this bar would slit your throat to even sniff at something that might smell like a cold trail,” I stated matter-of-factly.
“That’s enough, Two-Boar,” Grammyn called out. I turned to the “basement” door. There he stood, the anathema, burned hands tucked tactfully behind his back. I saw the masked Glorium dog looking at Gram. “Take their weapons, too,” Gram reminded us.
The young wilder drew his spear and I slammed my fist into the bar. “Put your Gods’ damned weapon away, boy, or are you so stupid you can’t count?” The brothers of the hearth still stood, itching for a shot at the money Gram had staked for Thonius. Gram gestured for everyone to sit. So they did. He spoke with the strangers, in his gruff slur, and in the end, they put their weapons up on the bar and followed Gram downstairs into the safehouse.
Thirteen moons ago, Two-Boar was running errands, so I had manned the bar. Gram had walked in, sat down and ordered Sangrail. Three things I noticed immediately:
One: He was an Anathema. His hands were burned, which meant his loyalty was false, and that he had no Sanct for a master. As far as they go, Anathema are generally hated, feared, or both.
Two: Sangrail was the drink of the Kings, in small supply even antediluvian. The Tyrants of Ressex gave bottles to their greatest heroes; the Wild Hunt drank it by the thimbleful; the Glorium Emperors and Empresses could only ever dream of tasting it.
Three: We did not serve Sangrail. It was code, short and succinct; a cold command from the Sacrosanct of Hollow House itself – “This man is your master. Obey him.”
He sat at Two-Boar’s bar alone for half a moon, and no one ever sat next to him. Anathema have that effect on people – they are masterless, honorless, and worst of all, mysterious. No honorifica to advertise their history and soul. No adherence to rank. No consequences for their actions, save death. Anathema are hated, looked down on, never pitied. Those who live long enough become feared.
It seemed to me it was a poor master who did nothing except drink water, but Two-Boar was never one to break protocol. But after those two weeks, he began to sit with the men. I heard some of those conversations as I was grabbing empty cups and dishes, but there were rumors too. I remember – being only seventeen – I thought, what a poor Wilder that carries only a sap.
Grammyn’s true weapon was truth. Sharp truths, flashed out at unexpecting tables; soft truths, shaped like gold falling into greedy hands. His eyes could see right through you, no lie survived his stare and no deed went unsurfaced under his hand.
He did not rule Anahearth, though he had the authority. He did not even ever unsheathe Cedar Hollow’s token, though I know he had one. He sat with the men and coerced, bribed, extorted, blackmailed and convinced every brother of the Hearth to do his bidding. From Chaplain to Abbot, it took him seventeen days.
From there, he had restructured our shipping patterns against the Glorium crackdown, splintered the High Hearth command across the safehouses of Anahearth, and delayed the inexorable push of the Glorium to displace us and occupy the city. The man was fighting an Empire.
He wasn’t winning – but it was damned impressive. Ressex had fallen to the Glorium, what could one man do? Even if that one man had a mind like a sowing scythe. The only black spot was the Brutus mystery. That had remained out of Gram’s reach… until now.
From the supply room, I watched Two-Boar’s muscular hulk limp gracefully from the kitchen and brought the roast sandwiches to Gram’s table, where sat Thonius, the wilder Kragyn, and the masked Glorium dog they called Martin. They spoke in such quiet conspiracy, I knew that Gram had won three more soldiers to his side. I shook my head. Anahearth had changed very much, in very little time.
I shake the Rat Queen like a doll. Rhadamanthys preserve, he was taking her eyes. The sleeping king rolls her pupils up into her head, and I see only the white stuff left behind. I can see her more clearly now, more clearly – she isn’t a rat, not even a small one. She is a girl, a little girl, sad and unsure, sad and unsure, sad and unsure. It breaks my withered black heart. I was a little girl once. It was long ago, yes, very long ago.
“What’s happening!” Rosemary shrieks, and leaps onto my head.
“Oh ho ho ho,” I mutter. “She’s seeing it, she’s watching them…” I turn her onto her back, and lay her arms at her sides. Give her a brick pillow, yes, raise the head, let the memories flow down from the head to the heart.
“It what? Them who?” Rosemary cries frantically.
“The Gods…” I whisper. “What they did to her, doing to her, did to her, s’terrible…” I rub my raining eyes. “Poor little girl.”
“She’s thirty-four!” Rosemary squeaked.
I let out an exasperated breath. “You’re crazy,” I sigh.
”I’m crazy?!” she shouts.
The Rat Queen opens her eyes, white as bone veined with blood, with a pool of wooden brown. I look in there, fell in there, swimming in her. Ahhhhh, this spot, this spot was where the Gods struck her, a backhand to the soul, spilling blood onto brick, lanterns into darkness.
“Oh,” I murmur. “You see it, yes, you see them now…” Rhadamanthys, barrow-king, let her dream of something else… Let her dream of angels in place of of death.
The Rat Queen gets up, shakily. I hold her, sniffing her. She has the eyes, she has the heart. She has the madness. She turns her head to the side, and sees a red door that is painted black. She doesn’t look at me, but marches – shakily – up the steps to knock. I watch, I watch. I watch from far away as the door creaks open. The Mother knows me of old. It would not help the Rat Queen… The Mother thinks the Gods are dead… Stupid. It’s only true because she believes it.
The door slams. There is more knocking now, and I scurry up the steps to the Rat Queen’s side. Oh yes, a free ride is a free ride. The Rat Queen has a key inside, oh yes, in her million hearts. A creak of the door. The Mother returns, and they talk to each other, but the smell of the Wanderer’s blackened body fills me. I’m dizzy, ohhh, dizzy. The door slams. More knocking. Another creak as the door opens again in exasperation.
The Rat Queen has the strength of ten thousand rats, and the heart of a million, and all of them pure. Talamur gives strength to her shoulder, aye, and the door tears off its rusted hinges when she charges it, coming down on the Mother. Heh heh heh. The Rat Queen runs in like a plague; inevitable. She disappears down the halls.
“Sybil Secret-Keeper,” Hyacinth says from below me, in his creaky voice.
“That’s me, lord,” I reply, and get down on my hands and knees, searching for him.
“Over here,” he calls, and he sounds amused. Glad I amuse you, lord. I pick him up. Shaped like a leather pouch, wrapped around organs of rocks and crystal and powder. “Have you been well, Sybil?” he asks, flapping the lips of the mouth of the pouch. He spits into my outstretched hand. I look at the small rock, shiny white, veined with something metallic. It raises an eyebrow at me.
“No, lord,” I murmur, and put him under my tongue. “I have been poor, sick, maltreated.” I crawl over the door, it seesaws over the Mother’s body and I hear her grunting beneath me. Hands and knees, hands and knees… Worried men shout from below me.
I crawl through to the basement door and halfway down the stairs and peer through the railing, watching the the Rat Queen squeal at the Mother’s two sons, her Scion sons. One of them holds a mousetrap in her arms, pointing at at the Rat Queen. The mouse trap snaps, a quarrel flies through the air and strikes glass. Aheh heh heh heh. A hissing sound fills the air.
“Why are you in my house?” a tiny voice says, a tiny little girl’s voice.
I turn back around, and at the top of the stairs I see a young child, staring at me with bright brown eyes. From the crook of her arm dangles a stuffed animal, that looks like a bear, or a dog, or a rat. She looks around, searching for her father, before bringing the black furred toy to her chest, protecting her. His button eyes blink at me. “Here is your moment, Sybil. Speak your piece here,” Hyacinth says, through the furry mouth of a bear, or a dog, or a rat.
I could give her wisdom, like the Wanderer wants. I could give her love, or dreams, and that would shield her from the worst of what is to come. I could give her the spear, that would protect her (and wound her) and make her strong with scar and muscle. I could give her the night, so that she does not suffer…
“When it happens, child, it’ll happen fast,” I speak quickly. “You must run, into the trees, down the Acker Road. Do you remember where you and Nero saw the body?”
I reach up, touch her feet, my knees on the creaky wood steps. “There you must run, and then even deeper. Two nights deeper.” When I see the stitched black-thread eyebrows of cotton filled Hyacinth begin to frown. I bow my head. “If you become lost, follow the cold wind, or running water. It will keep you safe,” I say, my eyes lowered.
There is a cockroach on the steps, antenna twitching, six legs striding in small steps across the stair. It no longer looks amused. “Was that wise?” he asks, but he asks it truly and ponderingly. His wings flash out and the bug flits up the stairs – now empty – and I follow, leaving the hissing sound behind.
“Sometimes, lord, the weight of the world cannot be lightened,” I say, as I crawl out the den of cin. “It can only be borne.” I turn around to wait for the Rat Queen.
“Hmm,” the house says, and blinks his windows. The broken door licks around the frame of his mouth and the steps of his beard wriggle. He coughs, and hacks up two young Scions that continue running down the street with their mother. He clears his staircase throat.
“Don’t you think it would have helped her to have something that would have let her remember? Or something that would keep her on the other side of sanity?” he mused.
I shrugged. “Sometimes all us mortals can do is survive,” I say slyly.
He smiled at that. “Soraurya will do what she can, but I think you overestimate her. The child, as well,” he said, then began coughing again. With a great snort, he hocks back with a disgusting wet sound, and spits the Rat Queen arcing towards me, her eyes wide as she flies over the steps.
“But what do I know?” said the house, his eyes glittering, then bulging with building fire. “I’m already dead.”
Then he exploded.
I had to know if he was still trained before I unleashed him. He barked plenty, and whimpered not at all, but a dog that bites his master must be put down. I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. “Swear, Gods damn it! Say the words!” I growled.
Thonius glanced at his Kragyn and Martin, then sighed. “I swear, by the Pit and the Tilling that filled it,” he repeated, “I swear by the Ember Sun and the Shattered Moon, by great Eternity on the other side of the sky.” He spoke monotonously, trying to convey reluctance, but he took breaths in even cadences, and his blood was slowing as he said the words. I let go of him. He spoke the vow honestly.
“May the Pilgrims never return if I speak falsely,” he continued, “may I never know Eternity if I break faith. On my honor, my blade, my name – I, Thonius, will serve Grammyn in one task until its inarguable conclusion.”
I loosed his bindings. “Good ‘nuff,” I said. “Welcome back to Anahearth, Chaplain.”
“I think it’s time you filled us in on what’s happening,” Kragyn said seriously. I grinned at him. Real genteel sancster, for someone trained by that pervert Aldus. I’d look into that, soon enough.
We got back up top, to the tavern, sat ‘em all down. Two-Boar served some of the Nana’s excellent vittles and as they ate like pigs at a trough, I filled Thonius’ two friends in. “One year ago, Brutus, a great friend of Thonius and a brother of the High Hearth, was killed while bein’ chased by Sylvestus,” I started. “Brutus stole somethin’. Somethin’ the High Hearth ain’t sanctioned to be stolen, somethin’ the Glorium wanted back real bad.
“Bad ‘nuff that Sylvestus caught the sumbitch, tortured him, clear violatin’ of the Anahearth Accord. The Cavalier is a real stickler for rules, so t’ain’t like him to do that ’less he was ordered. Whoe’er his boss is, gaffer’s either real scared or real powerful to pull a stunt like that.
“So Thonius, with the wisdom of Hyacinth, hunted Sylvestus down. Tied him up. Cut on him. Cut off him,” I continued.
Thonius’ mouth was full of roast beef and gravy. Bit of rare meat flew onto the table when he spoke. “Bloody gaffer shaved Brute’s limbs down his torso,” he said angrily. Color rose to his cheeks, like the blooming of some vengeful flower. I saw Kragyn looking strangely at Thonius too, as if some new light had been cast on him. “Wish I’d finished the job!” he finished lamely. He swallowed.
I smirked. “Yeah, you an’ everyone else in Anahearth.” I turned to Kragyn and Martin. “Y’see, Thonius here was caught up real good in his revenge, that he didn’t even notice the Gods’ damned cavalry knocking down the warehouse gates!”
“I noticed,” Thonius muttered in protest.
“Nothing is worse for business,” I continued, “than an honest man, ‘cept an honest man with an iron hand… and a grudge," I added.
“What does this have to do with Miraz and Aelia?” Martin asked.
“Now there’s a sharp’un that carries no knife,” I said to him slyly. I clapped, and Helgana came by the clear the empty dishes. I placed one finger on the table. “Orders from the Sacrosanct are to get Sylvestus out of the way.” I saw Thonius’ eyes brighten. “But I’m Gods’ damned Grammyn, and I look at the big picture. Sylvestus ain’t shit. A pawn, a bloody knight, but Miraz is a player,” I said. “And right after ya went up in smoke, Thonius, your friends used that as cover to quietly pack up and disappear.
“They know somethin’ ‘bout why Brutus died, and I bet ya they know more’n that. So we find them, we find answers, and then we ain’t chasin’ rats in the dark.” I sat back.
Thonius shoved his chair back, standing tall, full of bravado. “Give me pick of your armory, and a thousand silver, and you shall have your answers, my good man!” he declared. Kragyn put his hand to his face.
I smiled. “Ya jes’ swore up’n down by every great power on Éun to do my bidding. Y’ain’t owed shit.” I shrugged. “But there might be somethin’ real shiny for ya when you come back with ‘em.”
“Do you know where they would have gone?” Martin asked. I eyed him. Harder to read, with the mask on, but folk always seem to think faces are the only window into truth. Martin don’t pay no attention to the slump of his shoulders, the placement of his hands. He didn’t give a fat man’s log ‘bout Thonius or my mission… but he knew Miraz. By the Pit, the echo of his breath in that mask at Miraz’s mention might as well been written, dated and signed.
“Hard to say fer sure,” I answered honestly. “Ain’t got a read on neither of them. But the Black River can’t find shit on ‘em, so they can’t have gone through the Wilderness. Maybe stuck in a safehouse at one of the westerly Hollows. Maybe they went to Landrend, caught a ship and sailed down the New Sea to the Hales, passed the Wilderness that way.” I shrugged.
Thonius leaned over onto the table, finger in my face. “My man, Gram, how exactly do you expect us to perform this epic duty without cashflow?” He was painting a picture of indignant, but I saw what it was: greed. The way his tongue clicked every time he said “cash” or “coin” or “money”, or how he kept tapping the toe of the leg where his coin was pocketed. “We just walked from some backwoods Sanct, you know. We’re practically penniless!”
I considered it. Did I dare?
I smiled. “How about this, then,” and leaned forward. “I’ll pay you a thousand silver each,” I began, and saw Thonius’ eyes sparkle. “…if you get rid of Sylvestus…” Martin and Kragyn glanced at each other, and Thonius lit up even brighter. “…alive.” His face darkened.
“Alive?!” Thonius cried. “Bloody Pit, man!”
“How long will he need to be out of the Anahearth?” Martin asked, intrigued.
“Indefinitely is preferred. A full moon nets you full price,” I reply. “Anything less, and it’s up for renegotiation.”
“What if no one ever finds the body?” Thonius asks meekly.
“No,” I answer firmly.
Martin stands up, toweringly tall. He wants to cut a dramatic figure before he asks me a favor. “We’ll need arms and armor, and other items,” he said.
“Aye,” I said, smiling.
“Do you know of any fences?”
That was surprising. I rattle off a few, covering the spectrum. Choices are harder now that Miraz wasn’t around, I heard. I was curious about what these folk might be selling, though… but I’d find out later. They left, and soon I was almost alone in the bar. I looked over at the Bishop, maudlin as a capuchin in spring, mumblin’ in his sleep. What a waste of coin that one was. I gave Two-Boar a message to pass onto him, and returned to the safehouse beneath the bar.
Now, the Sacrosanct had given very, very sharp orders to keep Sylvestus alive. That didn’t tickle me none. He was better off dead and that was common sense, I’d tell you that for free. Anything else was hale and stupid. But my reputation kept me alive, and I h’ain’t got any hands left to burn. Killing Sylvestus would cost more than my life was worth. Fortunately, I met the one man who was givin’ it away…
Thonius was branded, an outlaw in a nation of outlaws. He weren’t trusted by Sanct nor Sacrosanct. He was runnin’ with a hick, and a gaffer dog. He hated Sylvestus. He wants to finish the job he started, name him Sylvestus Irongrave, heh. The chaplain was slow, stupid, quick to anger. An’ I was the only one who knew he weren’t involved at all in Brutus’ heist, save the mute boy, and the dead told more tales than him.
If he and his ilk moved Sylvestus out, the Sacrosanct pays me, my rep gets stronger, and I move forward with my plans.
If Thonius happened to let things go wrong, then… that’s on him, ain’t it? And Anahearth prospers, the Sacrosanct plays its hand, and I get a peek at the bigger picture.
Now, that’s what I love ’bout bein’ Anathema. Have no master but yerself.