TABLE OF CONTENTS
Prologue: The Boy Who Stole Too Much
Chapter One: The Don Salvara Game
Interlude: Locke Explains
Chapter Two: Second Touch at the Teeth Show
Interlude: Locke Stays for Dinner
Chapter Three: Imaginary Men
Interlude: The Last Mistake
Chapter Four: At The Court of Capa Barsavi
Interlude: The Boy Who Cried for a Corpse
Chapter Five: The Gray King
Interlude: Jean Tannen
Chapter Six: Limitations
Interlude: Brat Masterpieces
Chapter Seven: Out the Window
Interlude: Up the River
Chapter Eight: The Funeral Cask
Interlude: The Half-Crown War
Chapter Nine: A Curious Tale for Countess Amberglass
Interlude: The Schoolmaster of Roses
Chapter Ten: Teeth Lessons
Interlude: The Tale of the Old Handball Players
Chapter Eleven: At the Court of Capa Raza
Interlude: The Lady of the Long Silence
IV: Desperate Improvisation
Chapter Twelve: The Fat Priest From Tal Verrar
Interlude: The White Iron Conjurers
Chapter Thirteen: Orchids and Assassins
Chapter Fourteen: Three Invitations
Interlude: The Daughters of Camorr
Chapter Fifteen: Spiderbite
Interlude: The Throne in Ashes
Chapter Sixteen: Justice Is Red
Interlude: A Minor Prophecy
For Jenny, this little world that was blessed to have you peeking over my shoulder while it took shape—
THE BOY WHO STOLE TOO MUCH
1 AT THE HEIGHT of the long wet summer of the Seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy. “Have I got a deal for you!” the Thiefmaker began, perhaps inauspiciously.
“Another deal like Calo and Galdo, maybe?” said the Eyeless Priest.
“I've still got my hands full training those giggling idiots out of every bad habit they picked up from you and replacing them with the bad habits I need.”
“Now, Chains.” The Thiefmaker shrugged. “I told you they were shit-flinging little monkeys when we made the deal, and it was good enough for you at the—”
“Or maybe another deal like Sabetha?” The priest's richer, deeper voice chased the Thiefmaker's objection right back down his throat. “I'm sure you recall charging me everything but my dead mother's kneecaps for her. I should've paid you in copper and watched you spring a rupture trying to haul it all away.”
“Ahhhhhh, but she was special, and this boy, he's special, too,” said the Thiefmaker. “Everything you asked me to look for after I sold you Calo and Galdo. Everything you liked so much about Sabetha! He's Camorri, but a mongrel. Therin and Vadran blood with neither dominant. He's got larceny in his heart, sure as the sea's full of fish piss. And I can even let you have him at a… a discount.”
The Eyeless Priest spent a long moment mulling this. “You'll pardon me,” he finally said, “if the suggestion that the minuscule black turnip you
call a heart is suddenly overflowing with generosity toward me leaves me wanting to arm myself and put my back against a wall.”
The Thiefmaker tried to let a vaguely sincere expression scurry onto his face, where it froze in evident discomfort. His shrug was theatrically casual.
“There are, ah, problems with the boy, yes. But the problems are unique to his situation in my care. Were he under yours, I'm sure they would, ahhhh, vanish.”
“Oh. You have a magic boy. Why didn't you say so?” The priest scratched his forehead beneath the white silk blindfold that covered his eyes. “Magnificent. I'll plant him in the fucking ground and grow a vine to an enchanted land beyond the clouds.”
“Ahhhhh! I've tasted that flavor of sarcasm before, Chains.” The Thiefmaker gave an arthritic mock bow. “That's the sort you spit out as a bargaining posture. Is it really so hard to say that you're interested?”
The Eyeless Priest shrugged. “Suppose Calo, Galdo, and Sabetha might be able to use a new playmate, or at least a new punching bag. Suppose I'm willing to spend about three coppers and a bowl of piss for a mystery boy.
But you'll still need to convince me that you deserve the bowl of piss.
What's the boy's problem?”
“His problem,” said the Thiefmaker, “is that if I can't sell him to you, I'm going to have to slit his throat and throw him in the bay. And I'm going to have to do it tonight.”
2 ON THE night the Lamora boy had come to live under the Thiefmaker's care, the old graveyard on Shades' Hill had been full of children, standing at silent attention and waiting for their new brothers and sisters to be led down into the mausoleums. The Thiefmaker's wards all carried candles; their cold blue light shone through the silver curtains of river mist as streetlamps might glimmer through a smoke-grimed window. A chain of ghostlight wound its way down from the hilltop, through the stone markers and ceremonial paths,
down to the wide glass bridge over the Coalsmoke Canal, half-visible in the blood-warm fog that seeps up from Camorr's wet bones on summer nights.
“Come now, my loves, my jewels, my newlyfounds, keep the pace,”
whispered the Thiefmaker as he nudged the last of the thirty or so Catchfire orphans over the Coalsmoke Bridge. “These lights are just your new friends, come to guide your way up my hill. Move now, my treasures.
There's darkness wasting, and we have so much to talk about.”
In rare moments of vain reflection, the Thiefmaker thought of himself as an artist. A sculptor, to be precise, with orphans as his clay and the old graveyard on Shades' Hill as his studio.
Eighty-eight thousand souls generated a certain steady volume of waste; this waste included a constant trickle of lost, useless, and abandoned children. Slavers took some of them, hauling them off to Tal Verrar or the Jeremite Islands. Slavery was technically illegal in Camorr, of course, but the act of enslavement itself was winked at, if there was no one left to speak for the victim.
So, slavers got some, and plain stupidity took a few more. Starvation and the diseases it brought were also common ways to go, for those who lacked the courage or the skill to pluck a living from the city around them.
And then, of course, those with courage but no skill often wound up swinging from the Black Bridge in front of the Palace of Patience. The duke's magistrates disposed of little thieves with the same rope they used on bigger ones, though they did see to it that the little ones went over the side of the bridge with weights tied to their ankles to help them hang properly.
Any orphans left after dicing with all of those colorful possibilities were swept up by the Thiefmaker's own crew, one at a time or in small, frightened groups. Soon enough they would learn what sort of life awaited them beneath the graveyard that was the heart of his realm, where seven score of cast-off children bent the knee to a single bent old man.
“Quick-step, my lovelies, my new sons and daughters; follow the line of lights and step to the top. We're almost home, almost fed, almost washed up and bedded down. Out of the rain and the mist and the stinking heat.”
Plagues were a time of special opportunity for the Thiefmaker, and the Catchfire orphans had crawled away from his very favorite sort: Black Whisper. It fell on the Catchfire district from points unknown, and the quarantine had gone up (death by clothyard shaft for anyone trying to cross a canal or escape on a boat) in time to save the rest of the city from everything but unease and paranoia. Black Whisper meant a miserable death for anyone over the age of eleven or twelve (as near as physikers could figure, for the plague was not content to reap by overly firm rules) and a few days of harmless swollen eyes and red cheeks for anyone younger.
By the fifth day of the quarantine, there were no more screams and no more attempted canal crossings, so Catchfire evaded the namesake fate that had befallen it so many times before in years of pestilence. By the eleventh day, when the quarantine was lifted and the duke's Ghouls went in to survey the mess, perhaps one in eight of the four hundred children previously living there had survived the wait. They had already formed gangs for mutual protection, and had learned certain cruel necessities of life without adults.
The Thiefmaker was waiting as they were corralled and led out from the sinister silence of their old neighborhood.
He paid good silver for the best thirty, and even more good silver for the silence of the Ghouls and constables he relieved of the children. Then he led them, dazed and hollow-cheeked and smelling like hell, into the dark steambath mists of the Camorri night, toward the old graveyard on Shades'
The Lamora boy was the youngest and smallest of the lot, five or six years old, nothing but jutting bones under skin rich with dirt and hollow angles. The Thiefmaker hadn't even chosen him; the boy had simply crept away with the others as though he belonged. The Thiefmaker was not unaware of this, but he'd lived the sort of life in which even a single free plague orphan was a windfall not to be overlooked.
It was the summer of the Seventy-seventh Year of Gandolo, Father of Opportunities, Lord of Coin and Commerce. The Thiefmaker padded
through the shrouded night, shepherding his ragged line of children.
In just two years he would be all but begging Father Chains, the Eyeless Priest, to take the Lamora boy off his hands—and sharpening his knives in case the priest refused.
3 THE EYELESS Priest scratched his gray-stubbled throat. “No shit?”
“None whatsoever.” The Thiefmaker reached down the front of a doublet that was several years past merely shabby and pulled out a leather pouch on a fine leather cord; the pouch was dyed the rust red of dried blood. “Already went to the big man and got permission. I'll do the boy ear to ear and send him for teeth lessons.”
“Gods. It's a sob story after all.” For an Eyeless Priest, the fingers he jabbed into the Thiefmaker's sternum struck swift and sure. “Find some other lackwit to shackle with the chains of your conscience.”
“Conscience can go piss up a chimney, Chains. I'm talking avarice, yours and mine. I can't keep the boy, and I'm offering you a unique opportunity. A genuine bargain.”
“If the boy's too unruly to keep, why can't you just pound some wisdom into him and let him ripen to a proper age of sale?”
“Out of the question, Chains. Limited options. I can't just slap him around, because I can't let any of the other little shits know what he's, ahhh, done. If any of them had the slightest inclination to pull what he's pulled…
gods! I'd never be able to control them again. I can either kill him quick, or sell him quicker. No profit versus a paltry sum. So guess which one I prefer?”
“The boy's done something you can't even mention in front of the others?” Chains massaged his forehead above the blindfold and sighed.
“Shit. This sounds like something I might actually be interested in hearing.”
4 AN OLD Camorri proverb has it that the only constant in the soul of man is inconstancy; anything and everything else can pass out of fashion—even something as utilitarian as a hill stuffed full of corpses. Shades' Hill was the first graveyard of quality in Camorr's history, ideally situated to keep the bones of the formerly well-fed above the salty grasp of the Iron Sea.