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The Republic of Thieves
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The Republic of Thieves

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Author: Scott Lynch
Publisher: Gollancz, 2013
Series: The Gentleman Bastard Sequence: Book 3

1. The Lies of Locke Lamora
2. Red Seas Under Red Skies
3. The Republic of Thieves

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Sword and Sorcery
Dark Fantasy
Urban Fantasy
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Synopsis

After their adventures on the high seas, Locke and Jean are brought back to earth with a thump. Jean is mourning the loss of his lover and Locke must live with the fallout of crossing the all-powerful magical assassins the Bonds Magi. It is a fall-out that will pit both men against Locke's own long lost love. Sabetha is Locke's childhood sweetheart, the love of Locke's life and now it is time for them to meet again. Employed on different sides of a vicious dispute between factions of the Bonds Sabetha has just one goal - to destroy Locke for ever.

The Gentleman Bastard sequence has become a literary sensation in fantasy circles and now, with the third book, Scott Lynch is set to seal that success.


Excerpt

Prologue

THE MINDER

1

Place ten dozen hungry orphan thieves in a dank burrow of vaults and tunnels beneath what used to be a graveyard, and put them under the supervision of a single somewhat crippled grown man, and you will soon find that governing them becomes a delicate business.

The Thiefmaker, that skulking eminence who ruled the orphan kingdom beneath Shades‘ Hill in old Camorr, was not yet so decrepit that any one of his grimy little wards could hope to stand alone against him. Nonetheless, he was well aware of the doom that lurked in the clutching hands, hungry bellies, and wolfish impulses of a mob-- a mob that he, through his training, was striving to make more predatory still with each passing day. The veneer of order that his life depended on was thin as damp parchment at the best of times.

His presence itself could enforce absolute obedience in a certain radius, of course. Wherever his voice could carry and his own eyes and ears seize upon any hint of misbehavior, his orphans were tame. But to keep his company of curs in line when he was drunk or asleep or hobbling around the city on business, it was essential that he make them eager partners in their own subjugation.

He carefully molded most of the biggest, oldest boys and girls in Shades‘ Hill into a sort of honor guard, granting them privileges and speaking to them almost as individuals rather than misplaced articles of furniture. And, in dealing with these children as individuals, he worked very hard to keep every single one of them in constant deadly terror of himself. No failure was ever met with anything but pain or the promise of pain, and no serious insubordination ever lasted longer than the time it took to run a blade across a slender young throat.

By this he ensured that his chosen few, steeped in fear, would vent all of their frustrations (and thus enforce equivalent fear) upon the next oldest and largest set of children. These in turn would oppress a still weaker class of victim, and so forth. Step by step the misery was shared out, and the Thiefmaker's authority would cascade like a geological pressure out to the very weakest and meekest edges of his orphan mass.

It was an admirable system, considered in itself, unless of course you happened to be part of that outer edge— the small, the eccentric, the friendless. In that case, life in Shades‘ Hill was more or less like a boot to the face at every hour of every day.

Locke Lamora was five or six or seven years old. Nobody knew for certain, or cared to know. He was unusually small, undeniably eccentric, and perpetually friendless. And so, even when he shuffled along inside a great smelly mass of orphans, one among dozens, he walked alone and he damn well knew it.

2

Meeting time. A bad time under the Hill. The shifting crowds of orphans were like an unfamiliar forest, concealing trouble everywhere.

The first rule to surviving in this state was to avoid attention. As the murmuring army of orphans headed toward the great vault at the center of Shades‘ Hill, where the Thiefmaker had called them, Locke flicked his eyes from left to right. The trick was to spot known bullies at a safe distance without making actual eye contact (nothing worse, the mistake of mistakes, trap of traps!), and then to casually, ever so casually, move to place neutral children between himself and each threat as it passed.

The second rule was to avoid responding when the first rule proved insufficient, as it inevitably did.

With a prey animal's perfect instinct for knowing when something dangerous was sizing him up for an immediate unkindness, Locke felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. The crowd parted behind him-- he had enough time to wince preemptively, and then came the blow, sharp and hard, right between his shoulder blades. Locke smacked into the tunnel wall and barely managed to keep his feet by clinging to it.

The laughter from just behind him was familiar— Gregor Foss, a few years older and two stone heavier, as far beyond Locke's powers of reprisal as the Duke of Camorr.

"Gods, Lamora, what a weak and clumsy little cuss you are." Gregor put a hand on the back of Locke's head and pushed him along, still in full contact with the moist dirt wall, until his forehead bounced painfully off one of the old wooden supports that kept the ceiling above their heads. "Got no strength to stay on your own feet. Hell, if you tried to bugger a cockroach, the roach'd spin you round and give it back to ya, right up the ass."

Everyone nearby laughed, a few from genuine amusement, the rest from fear of not laughing. Locke just kept stumbling forward, seething but silent, as though it were a perfectly natural state of affairs to have a face covered with dirt and a throbbing bump on the forehead. Gregor shoved him once more, but without vigor, then snorted and pushed ahead through the crowd.

Play dead. Pretend not to care. That was the way to prevent a few moments of humiliation from becoming hours or days of pain; to keep bruises from becoming broken bones or worse.

The river of orphans around Locke was flowing to a rare grand gathering, nearly all the Hill, and in the main vault the air was already heavier and staler than usual. The Thiefmaker sat in his high-backed chair, his head barely visible above the press of children, with his biggest and oldest orphans carving paths through the crowd to take their accustomed places near him. Locke, of course, moved to the farthest wall from them and pressed up against it, doing his best impression of a shadow, out of sight and mind to anyone looking for a plaything. There, with the welcome comfort of a guarded back, he pressed a hand to his forehead and indulged himself in a momentary pout. His fingers were slippery with blood when he took them away.

After a few moments, the influx of orphans trickled to a halt, and the Thiefmaker loudly cleared his throat.

It was a Penance Day in the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, a hanging day, and outside the dingy caves under Shades' Hill the Duke of Camorr's men were knotting nooses under a bright spring sky.

3

"It's an unfortunate business," said the Thiefmaker. "That's what it is. To have some of our own little brothers and sisters taken up into the unforgiving arms of the Duke's justice. And damned deplorable that they were slack-assed enough to get caught in the first place! But as I have always been at pains to remind you, loves, ours is a delicate trade, not at all appreciated by those we practice it upon."

Locke listened to the Thiefmaker speak as he slowly, carefully wiped the dirt from his face. It was likely that his tunic sleeve deposited more grime than it removed, but the act of putting himself in order was calming. He moved slowly, ever so slowly, seeking to draw no further attention to his distress. While he tended to himself the master of the Hill spoke on.

"A sad day, my loves, a proper tragedy. Yet some happy opportunity does spring out from all the melancholy. Oh yes, opportunity. For it's unseasonal fine hanging weather out there. That means crowds with spending purses, and we know exactly where their attention will be focused, don't we?"

With two crooked fingers (broken of old, and badly healed) he did a pantomime of a man stepping off an edge and plunging forward. At the end of the plunge the fingers kicked spasmodically and some of the older children giggled. Someone in the middle of the orphan army sobbed, but the Thiefmaker paid them no heed.

"You're all going out to watch the hangings," said the Thiefmaker. "In careful, respectful groups. And let this put fear into your hearts, loves! Indiscretion, clumsiness, want of confidence— today you'll see their only possible reward. To live the life the gods have given you, you must clutch wisely and then run like the hounds of hell on a sinner's scent. This is how we dodge the noose! Go out today, and have a long last look at some friends who could not.

"And before you return," he said, lowering his voice, "each of you is to do them one better. Fetch back a nice bit of coin or flash, at all hazards. Empty hands get empty bellies."

"Has we gots to?"

The voice was a desperate whine. Locke instantly identified the source as Tam, a fresh catch, a lowest-of-the-low teaser who'd barely begun to learn the tricks of the Shades' Hill life. He must have been the one sobbing, too.

"Tam, my lamb, you gots to do nothing," said the Thiefmaker in a voice like moldy velvet. He reached out and sifted through the crowd of orphans that surrounded him, parting them like underfed stalks of wheat until his hand rested on Tam's shaven scalp. "But then, neither do I if you don't work, right? By all means, remove yourself from this grand excursion of ours. A limitless supply of cold graveyard dirt awaits you for supper."

"But. . . can't I, like, do something else?"

"Why, you could polish my good silver tea service, if only I had one." The Thiefmaker knelt, vanishing briefly from Locke's sight. "Tam, this is the job I got, so it's the job you're gonna do, right? Good lad. Stout lad. Why the little rivers from the eyes, boy? Is it just ‘cause there's the hangings involved?"

"They— they was our friends."

"Which means only—"

"Tam, you little piss-rag, if you don't stuff your whining right up your ass—"

The Thiefmaker stood, whirled, and the new speaker received an open-handed slap to the side of his head. There was a brief ripple in the close-packed orphans as the unfortunate target stumbled backward and was returned to his feet by shoves from his tittering friends. Locke couldn't suppress a smile. It always warmed his heart to see a bullying oldster knocked around.

"Veslin," said the Thiefmaker with dangerous good cheer, "do you enjoy being interrupted?"

"N-no. . . no, sir."

"How pleased I am to find us in perfect agreement on the subject."

"Of. . . course. Apologies, sir."

The Thiefmaker's eyes returned to Tam, and his smile, which had evaporated like steam in sunlight a moment before, leapt back into place.

"As I was saying, about our friends, our lamented friends. It's a shame. But isn't it a grand show they're putting on for us even as they dangle? A ripe plum of a crowd they're summoning up? And what sort of friends would we be if we refused to work such an opportunity? Good ones? Bold ones?"

"No, sir," mumbled Tam.

"Indeed not. Neither good nor bold. So we're going to seize this chance, right? And we're going to do them the honor of not looking away when they drop, aren't we?"

"If. . . if you say so, sir."

"I do. Good lad. I do say so." The Thiefmaker gave Tam a perfunctory pat on the shoulder. "To the work, then. Drops start at high noon; the Masters of the Ropes are the only punctual creatures in this bloody city. Be late to your places and you'll have to work ten times as hard, I promise you. Minders! Call the names of your teasers and clutchers. Keep our fresher brothers and sisters on short leashes."

As the orphans began dispersing, some of the older children calling the names of their assigned partners and subordinates, the Thiefmaker reached out and dragged Veslin over to one of the enclosure's dirt walls, the nearest thing to privacy available.

Locke snickered, and wondered who he'd be partnered with for the day's adventure. Outside the Hill there were pockets to be picked, tricks to be played, bold larceny to be done. And though he realized his sheer enthusiasm for theft was part of what had made him a curiosity and an outcast, he had no more self-restraint in that regard than he had wings on his back.

This half-life of abuse beneath Shades' Hill was just something he had to endure between those few bright moments when he could be up above, heart pounding, running fast and hard for safety with someone else's valuables clutched in his hands. As far as his five or six or seven years had taught him, ripping people off was the greatest feeling in the whole world.

3

"Think you can improve upon my leadership now, boy?" For all that he lacked strength of grip the Thiefmaker still had the arms of a grown man, and he pinned Veslin against the dirt wall like a carpenter about to nail up a decoration. "Think I need your wit and wisdom when I'm talking out loud?"

"No, sir, no. Forgive me, your honor. Please."

"Veslin, jewel, don't I always?" With a falsely casual gesture, the Thiefmaker brushed aside one lapel of his threadbare coat and revealed the handle of the butcher's cleaver he kept hanging from his belt. The faintest hint of blade gleamed in the darkness behind it. "I forgive. I remind. Are you reminded, boy? Most thoroughly reminded?"

"Indeed, sir, yes. Please. . ."

"Marvelous." The Thiefmaker released him, and allowed his coat to fall over his weapon once again. "What a happy conclusion for us both, then."

"Thank you, sir. Sorry. It's just. . . Tam's been whining all gods-damned morning, sir. Proper wailing. He ain't never seen anyone get the rope poisoning."

"Once upon a time it was new to us all," sighed the Thiefmaker. "Let the boy cry, so long as he plucks a purse. If he won't, hunger's a marvelous instructor. Still, I'm putting him and one or two other problems into a group that requires special oversight."

"Problems?"

"Tam, for his delicacy. And No-Teeth."

"Gods," said Veslin.

"Yes, yes, the little unfortunate is so dim he couldn't find shit if you stitched his hands to his asshole. Him and Tam and one more."

The room had cleared out to the point that the Thiefmaker could cast a significant glance at a far corner, where a rather sullen little boy leaned with his arms folded tightly across his chest, watching the other orphans slowly forming their assigned packs for the day's pocket-picking spree.

"Lamora," whispered Veslin.

"Special oversight." The Thiefmaker chewed nervously at the nails of his left hand. "There's good money to be squeezed out of that one, if he's got someone keeping him sensible and discreet."

"He nearly burnt up half the bloody city, sir."

"Only the Narrows, which mightn't have been missed. And he took hard punishment for that without a flinch. I consider the matter closed. What he needs is a responsible sort to keep him in check."

Veslin was unable to conceal his expression of disgust, and the Thiefmaker smirked.

"Not you, lad. I need you and your little ape Gregor on distraction detail. Someone else gets made, you cover for ‘em if they can run. And get back to me straightaway with the news if anyone gets taken, you hear?"

"Grateful, sir, very grateful."

"You should be. Sobbing Tam. . . witless No-Teeth. . . and one of hell's own devils in knee-breeches. I need a bright candle to watch that crew, by the gods. Go and wake me up one of the Windows bunch."

"Oh." Veslin bit his cheek. The Windows crew, so-called because they specialized in traditional burglary, were a small elite among the orphans of Shades' Hill. They were spared most chores, habitually worked in darkness, and were allowed to sleep well past noon. "They won't like that."

"I don't give a damn what they like. They don't have a job this evening anyway. Get me a sharp one." The Thiefmaker spat out a gnawed crescent of dirty fingernail and wiped his spit-wet fingers on his coat. "Hell, fetch me Sabetha."

4

"Lamora!"

After several minutes the summons came at last, and from the Thiefmaker himself. Curious and wary, Locke padded across the dirt floor to where the master of the Hill sat whispering instructions to a taller child whose back was turned to Locke.

Waiting before the Thiefmaker were two other boys. One was Tam, and the other was No-Teeth, a hapless twit whose beatings at the hands of older boys and girls had eventually given him his nickname. A dim sense of foreboding began to settle in Locke's gut.

"Here we are, then," said the Thiefmaker, turning his head when Locke stepped up before him. "Three bold and likely lads. You'll be working together on a special detail, under special authority. Meet your minder for the day."

The taller child turned.

She was dirty, as they all were, and though it was hard to tell by the pale silver light of the vault's alchemical lanterns, she looked a little tired. She wore scuffed brown breeches, a long baggy tunic that at some distant remove had been white, and a leather flat cap over a tight kerchief, so that not a strand of her hair was visible.

Yet she was undeniably a she. For the very first time in Locke's life some unpracticed animal sense crept dimly to life to alert him to this fact. The Hill was full of girls, but never before had Locke dwelt on the thought of a girl. He sucked in a breath and realized that he could feel his pulse tingling at the tip of each of his fingers.

She had the advantage of at least a year and a good half-foot on him, and even tired she had that unfeigned natural poise which, in certain girls, makes young boys feel like something on the order of an insect beneath a heel. Locke had neither the eloquence nor the experience to grapple with the situation in anything resembling those terms. All he knew was that near her, her of all the girls he'd seen in Shades' Hill, he felt touched by something mysterious and much vaster than himself.

He felt like jumping up and down. He felt like throwing up.

Suddenly he resented the presence of Tam and No-Teeth, resented the implication of the word "minder," and yearned to be doing something, anything, to impress this girl. His cheeks burned at the thought of what the bump on his forehead must look like, and at being teamed up with two useless, sobbing clods.

"This is Beth," said the Thiefmaker. "She's got your keeping today, lads. So you take what she says as though it came from me. Steady hands, level heads. Show her every obedience. No slacking and no gods-damned capers." It was impossible to miss the icy glance the Thiefmaker spared for Locke as he uttered this last part, and Locke shuffled his feet as he recalled the brutality of his punishment the last time he'd truly gotten ambitious with his work.

"Thank you very much, sir," said Beth with nothing resembling actual gratitude. She pushed Tam and No-Teeth toward one of the vault exits. "You two, wait at the entrance. I need to have a private word with your friend here."

Locke was startled— a word with him? Had she guessed that he knew his way around clutching and teasing, that he was nothing like the other two? Beth glanced around quickly before she put her hands on his shoulders and knelt slightly. Some nervous animal in Locke's guts turned somersaults as her eyes came level with his. The old compunction about refusing eye contact was not merely set aside, but vaporized from his mind.

Two things happened then.

First, he fell in love, though it would be years before he realized what the feeling was called and how thoroughly it was going to complicate his life.

Second, she spoke directly to him for the very first time, and he would remember her words with a clarity that would jar his heart long after the other incidents of that time had faded to a haze of half-truths in his memory:

"You're the Lamora boy, right?"

He nodded eagerly.

"Well, look here, you little shit. I've heard all about you, so just shut your mouth and stay close. You and I both know the rules, but I swear to the gods, if you give me one hint of trouble, I will heave you off a bridge and it will look like a bloody accident."

5

It was an unwelcome thing, to suddenly feel about half an inch tall.

At a complete loss for words, Locke followed Beth, Tam, and No-Teeth out of the darkness of the Shades' Hill vaults and into the unfriendly late-morning sunshine. His eyes stung, and the daylight was only part of it. His mind whirled— what had he ever done (and who had told her about it?) to earn the scorn of the one person he now wanted to impress more than any other in the world?

Pondering, pondering, his thoughts wandered uneasily to his surroundings. Out here in the open there was so much to see, so much to hear, so much that was ever-changing. His survival instincts gradually took hold. The back of his mind was all for Beth, but he forced his eyes to the present situation.

Camorr today was bright and busy, making the most of its reprieve from the hard gray rains of spring. Window-shutters were thrown open. The crowds had molted, shedding their usual oilcloaks and cowls in favor of more summery dress. Men and women that would have been gaming and arguing indoors were now taking evident pleasure in cheating and yelling at one another with the sun on their faces.

As the four orphans crossed the canal bridge from Shades' Hill to the Narrows (it was a source of mingled pride and incredulity to Locke that the Thiefmaker was so convinced that one little scheme of his could have gotten this whole neighborhood burnt down), Locke could see at least three boats of corpse-fishers using hooks to pluck bloated bodies from under wharves and dock pilings. Those would sometimes go ignored for a week if the weather was cool and foul.

Beth carefully led the three boys through the Narrows, dodging up stone stairs and across rickety wooden foot-bridges, avoiding the most cramped and twisted alleys where drunks, stray dogs, and a dozen less obvious dangers were sure to lurk. Tam and Locke stayed right behind her, but No-Teeth was constantly veering off, slowing down, or speeding up. By the time they left the Narrows and crossed to the overgrown garden passages of the Mara Camorrazza, Beth was dragging No-Teeth by his collar.

"Damn your pimple of a brain," she said. "Stay at my heels and quit giving me trouble!"

"Not giving trouble," muttered No-Teeth.

"You want to cock this up and go without food tonight? You want to give some brute like Veslin an excuse to pry out any teeth he hasn't got to yet?"

"Nooooooo." No-Teeth stretched the word out with a bored yawn, looked around as though noticing the world for the first time, and then yanked free of Beth's grip, halting in his tracks. "I want to wear your hat," he said, pointing at her leather cap.

Locke swallowed nervously. He'd seen No-Teeth pitch these sudden, unreasonable fits before. There was something not quite right in the boy's head, and he frequently suffered for calling attention to himself inside the hill, where distinctiveness almost always led to pain.

"You can't," said Beth. "Mind yourself."

"I want to. I want to!" No-Teeth actually stamped one of his feet on the ground and balled his fists. "I promise I'll behave if you give me your hat!"

"You'll behave because I say so!"

No-Teeth's response was to lunge out with surprising speed and snatch the leather cap off Beth's head. He yanked it so hard that her kerchief came as well, and an untidy spray of reddish-brown curls tumbled to her shoulders. Locke's jaw fell.

There was something so undefinably lovely, so right, about seeing that hair free in the sunlight that he momentarily forgot that his enchantment was expressly one-way, and that this was anything but convenient for their task at hand. As Locke stared he noticed that only the lower potion of her hair was actually brown; from her ears to the top of her head it was all rusty red. She'd had it colored once, and it had grown out since then.

It turned out that Beth was just as fast as No-Teeth once her shock wore off, and before he could do anything with her cap it was back in her hands. She lashed out with it, landing a vicious slap across No-Teeth's face.

"Ow!"

Not placated, she hit him again and again, and he nearly tripped over his own feet as he cringed backward. Locke recovered his wits and assumed the vacant expression used inside the Hill by the uninvolved when someone nearby was getting thrashed.

"Stop! Stop!" No-Teeth sobbed.

"If you ever touch this cap again for any reason," Beth whispered, shaking him by his tunic collar, "I swear to Aza Guilla who numbers the dead that I will deliver you straight to her. You stupid little ass!"

"I won't! I won't!"

She released him with a scowl, and with just a few deft movements caused her red curls to vanish once again beneath the tightly-drawn kerchief. When the leather cap came down to seal them in for good, Locke felt a pang of disappointment.

"You're lucky nobody else saw," said Beth, giving No-Teeth a good shove forward. "Gods love you, you little slug, you're just lucky nobody else saw. Come quickly, now. At my heel, you two."

Locke and Tam followed her without a word, as close as nervous ducklings fixed on a mother's tail feathers.

Locke was almost shaking with excitement. . . he'd been horrified at the incompetence of his assigned partners, but now he began to wonder if their problems could do anything but make him look better in Beth's eyes. Oh yes. Let them whine, let them throw fits, let them go home with nothing in their hands. Hell, let them tip off the city watch and get chased through the streets to the sounds of whistles and baying dogs. She'd have to prefer anything to that, including him.

6

They emerged at last from the Mara Camorrazza into a whirl of noise and confusion.

It was indeed unseasonably fine hanging weather, and the normally dreary neighborhood around the Old Citadel, the Duke's seat of justice, was bustling with a spontaneous carnival. The common folk were thick on the cobblestones, while here and there the carriages of the wealthy rattled through the mess with human walls of hired guards trotting alongside passing out threats and shoves as they went. In some ways, Locke already knew, the world outside the Hill was much like the world within.

The four orphans formed a human chain to thread their way through the bustle. Locke held fast to Tam, who clung in turn to Beth, she being so unwilling to lose sight of No-Teeth that she thrust him before them all like a battering ram. From his perspective Locke glimpsed few adult faces; the world became an endless procession of belts, bellies, coat-tails and carriage wheels. They made their way by equal parts luck and perseverance west, toward the Via Justicaa, the canal that had been used for hangings for more than five hundred years.

At the foremost edge of the canal embankment a low stone wall prevented a direct plunge to the water seven or eight feet below. This barrier was dirty and crumbling but still solid enough for children to sit upon, and this they did, Beth never once loosening her grip on No-Teeth as she helped Locke and Tam up out of the press of the crowd. Locke scrambled to seat himself next to Beth but it was Tam that squeezed right up against her, leaving Locke no reasonable means to move him without causing a scene. He scowled, then tried to conceal it by adopting a purposeful expression and looking around.

From here, at least, Locke had a better view of the general affair. There were crowds on both sides of the canal, and vendors hawking bread, sausages, ale, and souvenirs from canal boats. They were using baskets attached to long poles to collect their coins and deliver their goods to those standing above.

Locke could now make out groups of small shapes dodging carefully through the forest of coats and legs-- fellow Shades' Hill children going about their expected business. And he could also see the dark yellow jackets of the city watch, out in force, moving through the crowd in squads with shields slung over their backs. Disaster might well result if either of these opposing elements should stumble into one another, but as yet there were no shouts, no watch-whistles, no signs of anything amiss.

Traffic had been stopped over the Black Bridge, as always. The lamps that dotted the looming stone arch were covered with black shrouds, and a small crowd of priests, prisoners, guards, and ducal officials could be seen standing just behind the wooden hanging platform that jutted from the bridge's side. Two long boats of yellowjackets had anchored in the middle of the canal about twenty yards south of the bridge, to keep the water beneath the dropping prisoners clear of vessels.

"Don't we has to do our business?" said No-Teeth. "Don't we has to bring back a purse each if we want to eat, or a ring, or something—"

Beth, who'd taken her hands off him for all of half a minute, now seized him again and looked him right in the face as she whispered harshly: "Keep your mouth shut about that outside the Hill, do you hear me? Mouth shut! We're going to sit here and be mindful. I want you to see what comes of being clumsy. After that, I'll put you to work, be sure."

Tam shuddered at these words, and suddenly looked more miserable than ever. Locke sighed, confused and a little impatient. It was sad that some of their Shades' Hill fellows had to hang, but then it was sad they'd been caught by the yellowjackets in the first place. People died everywhere in Camorr, in alleys and canals and public houses, in fires, in plagues that scythed down whole neighborhoods. Tam was an orphan too; hadn't he realized all this? Dying seemed nearly as normal to Locke as eating supper or making water, and while he never wanted it to happen to him he was unable to make himself feel sad that it was happening to others he'd barely known.

As for that, well, at least it now looked to be happening soon. A slow, steady drumbeat rose from the bridge, echoing off water and stones alike, and gradually the excited murmur of the crowds dropped off. Of all the public rituals routinely faced by Camorri not even divine services could make them so respectfully attentive as an execution. And, at any rate, with alert yellowjackets standing throughout the crowds anyone causing a disturbance would probably be knocked on the head.

"Loyal friends and citizens! Mark now the noon hour, seventeenth instant, in the month of Tirastim in our Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani." These words were shouted from atop the Black Bridge by a huge-bellied, richly-dressed herald. "These felons have been found guilty of capital crimes against the law and customs of Camorr. By the authority of his grace, Duke Nicovante of Camorr, and by the seals of the honorable Justices of his Red Chamber, they are brought here to receive sentence."

There was movement beside him on the bridge. Each prisoner, even the children, was bound at the hands and feet and carried forward by a pair of yellowjackets wearing scarlet hoods. Locke saw that Tam was biting his knuckles and shuddering. Beth's arm suddenly appeared around Tam's shoulder, and Locke ground his teeth together. He was doing his job, behaving, refusing to make a spectacle of himself, and Tam was the one that received Beth's tenderness?

"You get used to it, Tam" Beth said softly. "Honor them, now. Brace up."

On the hanging platform the Masters of the Ropes were tightening nooses around the necks of the condemned. The hanging ropes were about as long as each prisoner was tall, and connected to a ringbolt between each prisoner's feet. There were no clever mechanisms in the hanging platform. This wasn't Tal Verrar-- the prisoners would simply be heaved over the edge.

"Jerevin Tavasti," shouted the herald, closely scrutinizing a small parchment held in both of his hands. "Arson, conspiracy to receive stolen goods, assault upon an officer of the Duke's peace! Malina Contada, uttering counterfeit coin and attendant misuse of His Grace the Duke's name and image. Caio Vespasi, burglary of a house of rank! Malicious mummery, arson and horse theft! Lorio Vespasi, conspiracy to receive stolen goods."

By now all the adults were secured; the Masters of the Ropes had moved on to the three children. Tam sobbed, and Beth whispered, "Shhhh, now." Locke noted that Beth was coldly calm, and he tried to imitate her air of disinterest. Eyes just so, chin slightly up, mouth just shy of a frown. Surely, if she glanced at him during the ceremony, she'd notice and approve. . .

"Mariabella, no surname," yelled the herald. "Theft and wanton disobedience! Zilda, no surname. Theft and wanton disobedience."

The Masters were tying extra weights to the legs of this last trio of prisoners, since their own slight bodies might not provide for a swift enough conclusion at the end of their plunges.

"Lars, no surname. Theft and wanton disobedience."

"Zilda was kind to me," whispered Tam, his voice breaking.

"The gods will know it," said Beth. "Hush now."

"You are to be suspended above running water," continued the herald, "and hanged there by the neck until dead, your unquiet spirits to be carried forth upon the water to the Iron Sea, where they may do no further harm to any soul or habitation of the duke's domain. May it please the gods to receive you." The herald put his hands behind his back and faced the prisoners. "In the duke's name I give you justice."

There was a rapid roll of the drums. One of the Masters of the Ropes stepped forward with a sword and raised it over his head. Locke had seen a hanging once before, and he knew that in the event of trouble this man's job would be to force unruly prisoners off the edge with it.

Today there was no need. The drumroll stopped at the instant the sword swept down in a gleaming silver arc. Each pair of masked yellowjackets stepped forward and heaved their prisoner off the edge of the hanging platform.

Tam flinched away, as Locke thought he might, but even he was unprepared for No-Teeth's reaction when the seven ropes jerked taut with snapping noises that might have been hemp, or necks, or both.

"Ahhhhhhh! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

No-Teeth screamed, each utterance longer and louder than the last. Beth whirled, clamped a hand over his mouth, and struggled with him as he flailed and moaned. Out over the water, four large bodies and three smaller ones swung like pendulums in arcs that quickly grew smaller and smaller.

Locke's heart pounded. Everyone nearby in the crowd had to be staring at them— he could hear chuckling and a few disapproving comments. The more attention they drew to themselves, the more others remarked upon them, the harder it would be to go about their real business.

"Shhh," said Beth, straining to keep No-Teeth under control. "Quiet, damn you. Quiet!"

"What's the matter, girl?"

Locke was dismayed to see that a pair of yellowjackets had parted the crowd just behind them. Gods, that was worse than anything! What if they were prowling for Shades' Hill orphans? What if they asked hard questions? He curbed an impulse to leap for the water below and froze in place, eyes wide.

Beth kept an arm locked over No-Teeth's face yet managed to somehow squirm around and bow her head respectfully to the constables.

"My little brother," she gasped out, "he's never seen a hanging before. We don't mean to cause a fuss. I've shut him right up."

No-Teeth ceased his struggles, but he began to sob uncontrollably. The yellowjacket who'd spoken, a middle-aged man with a face full of scars, looked down at him with distaste.

"You four come here alone?"

"Mother sent us," said Beth. "Wanted the boys to see a hanging. See what becomes of idleness and mischief."

"A right-thinking woman. Nothing like a good hanging to put some iron in the blood." The man frowned. "Why ain't she here with you?"

"Oh, she loves a hanging, does mother," said Beth. Then, lowering her voice almost to a whisper: "But, um, she's got the flux. Bad. All day she's been sitting on her--"

"Ah. Well then." The yellowjacket coughed. "Gods send her good health. And you'd best not bring this one back to a Penance Day ceremony for a while."

"I agree, sir." Beth bowed again. "I'll tell mother. She'll give his hide a good scratching for this."

"On your way then, girl. Don't need any more of a scene."

"Of course, sir."

As the constables moved away into the crowd, which was itself coming back to life, Beth slid off the stone wall, rather gracelessly because No-Teeth and Tam came with her. The former was still held tightly, and the latter refused to let go of her other arm. He hadn't cried out like No-Teeth, but Locke saw that his eyes were brimming with tears and he was even more miserable and pale-looking than he had been. Locke gratefully ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth, which had gone astonishingly dry under the scrutiny of the yellowjackets.

"Come now," said Beth. "Away from here. We've seen what there is to see."

7

Another passage through the forest of coats, legs, and bellies. Locke, feeling excitement rise once again, gently took hold of the back of Beth's tunic to avoid losing her, and he was both pleased and a little disappointed when she didn't react at all. Beth led them all back into the Mara Camorrazza, the ancient and unkempt park where quiet solitude reigned not forty yards from a crowd of hundreds, and once they were safely ensconced in a concealed nook she pushed Tam and No-Teeth down onto the ground.

"What if another bunch from the Hill saw that? Gods!"

"Sorry," moaned No-Teeth. "But they. . . but they. . . they got kill--"

"People die when they get hanged. It's why they hang them!" Beth wrung the front of her tunic with both hands, then took a deep breath. "Recover yourselves. Quick now. Each of you must lift a purse, or something fine, before we return to the hill."

No-Teeth broke out into a new fit of sobs, rolled over on his side, and began chewing at his knuckles. Tam, sounding more weary than Locke would have imagined possible, said, "I can't, Beth. I just can't I'm sorry. I'll get caught. I can't."

"You'll go without supper tonight."

"Fine," said Tam. "Take me back, please."

"Damn it." Beth rubbed her eyes. "I need to bring you back with something to show for it or I'll be in just as much trouble as you, understand?"

"You're in Windows," muttered Tam. "You got no worries."

"If only," said Beth. "You two need to pull yourselves together—"

"I can't, I can't, I can't!"

Locke sensed a glorious opportunity. Beth had saved them from serious trouble on the embankment, and now here was an ideal moment for him to do the same. Smiling at the thought of how she'd react, he stood as tall as he could manage and cleared his throat.

"Tam, don't be a louse," said Beth, completely ignoring Locke. "You will clutch something before we go back, or work a tease so someone else can clutch. I'll not give you another choice--"

"Excuse me," said Locke, hesitantly.

"What do you want?"

"They can each have one of mine," said Locke.

"What?" Beth turned to him. "What are you talking about?"

From under his tunic, Locke produced two thin leather purses and a fine silk handkerchief, only mildly stained.

"Three pieces," he said. "Three of us. Just say we all clutched one and we can go home now."

"Where in all the hells did you—"

"In the crowd," said Locke. "You had No-Teeth. . . you were paying so much attention to him, you must not have seen. . . I just—"

"I didn't tell you to lift anything yet!"

"Well, you didn't tell me not to."

"But that's—"

"I can't put them back," said Locke, far more petulantly than he'd intended.

"Don't snap at me! Oh, for the gods' sake, don't sulk," said Beth. She knelt and put her hands on Locke's shoulders, and at her touch and close regard he found himself suddenly trembling uncontrollably. "What is it? What's the matter?"

"Nothing," said Locke. "Nothing."

"Gods, what a strange little boy you are." She stared at him, then glanced again at Tam and No-Teeth. "A pack of disasters, the three of you. Two that won't work. One that works without orders. I suppose we've got no choice."

Beth reached down and took the purses and the handkerchief from Locke. Her fingers brushed his, and despite an effort to control himself, he trembled again. Beth's eyes narrowed.

"Hit your head earlier?"

"Yes."

"Who pushed you?"

"I just fell."

"Of course you did.

"Honest!"

"Seems to be troubling you. Or maybe you're ill. You're shaking."

"I'm. . . I'm fine."

"Have it your way." Beth closed her eyes and massaged them with her fingertips. "I guess you've saved me a hell of a lot of trouble. Do you want me to. . . look, is there someone bothering you that you want to stop?"

Locke was startled. An older child, this older child, of all people, and a member of Windows, was offering him protection. Could she do that? Could she put Veslin and Gregor in their place?

No. Locke forced his eyes away from Beth's utterly fascinating face to bring himself back down to earth. There would always be other Veslins, other Gregors. And what if they resented him all the more for her interference? She was Windows, he was Streets. Their days and nights were reversed. He'd never seen her before today; what sort of protection could he possibly get from her? He would keep playing dead. Avoid calling attention to himself. Rule one, rule two. As always.

"I just fell," he said. "I'm fine."

"Well," she replied, a little coldly. "As you wish."

Locke opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying desperately to imagine something he might say to charm this alien creature, a girl. Too late, too late-- she turned away and heaved Tam and No-Teeth to their feet.

"I don't believe it myself," she said, "but you two idiots owe your supper to your little friend, the arsonist of the Narrows here. Do you understand, do you really understand, just how much hell we'll all catch if you ever breathe a word of this to anyone?"

"I do," said Tam.

"I'd be very put out to catch any at all," Beth continued. "Any at all! You hear me, No-Teeth?"

The poor wretch nodded, then began sucking on his knuckles again.

"Back to the Hill, then." Beth tugged at her kerchief and adjusted her cap. "I'll keep the things and pass them to the master myself. Not a word about this. To anyone."

She kept her now-customary grip on No-Teeth all the way back to the graveyard. Tam dogged her heels, looking exhausted but relieved. Locke followed at the rear, scheming to the fullest extent of his totally inadequate experience. What had he said or done wrong? What had he misjudged? Why wasn't she delighted with him for saving her so much trouble?

She said nothing to him for the rest of the trip home. Then, before he could find an excuse to speak to her again once there, she was gone, vanished into the tunnels that led to the private domain of the Windows crew, where he could not follow.

He sulked that night, eating little of the supper his nimble fingers had earned, fuming not at Beth but at himself for somehow driving her away.

8

Days passed, longer days than any Locke had ever known, now that he had something to preoccupy him beyond the brief excitement of daily crimes and the constant chores of survival.

Beth would not leave his thoughts. Several times he found himself dreaming of her, and how the hair that had spilled out from beneath her cap had caught the light filtering down through the interlaced greenery of the Mara Camorrazza. Strangely, in his dreams, that hair was purely red from edge to root, untouched by dye or disguise. The price for these visions was that he would wake to cold, hard disappointment and lay there in the dark, wrestling again with the mysterious emotions that had never troubled him before.

He would have to see her again. Somehow.

At first he nurtured a hope that his relegation to a crew of troublemakers might be permanent, that Beth might be assigned as their minder on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, the Thiefmaker seemed to have no such plans. Locke slowly realized that if he were ever going to get another chance to impress her, he'd have to stick his neck out and find her on his own.

It was hard to break the routines he'd established for himself, to say nothing of those that were expected of someone in his lowly position. But he began to wander more often throughout the vaults and tunnels of his home, hoping for a glimpse of Beth, exposing himself to abuse and ridicule from bored older children. He played dead. He didn't react. Rule one and rule two. It almost felt good somehow, earning bruises for a genuine purpose.

The lesser orphans of Streets (which was, to be honest, nearly all of them) slept en masse on the floor of crèche-like side vaults, several dozen to a room. When his dreams woke him up at night Locke would now try to stay awake, to strain his ears to hear past the murmuring and rustling of those around him, to detect the coming and going of the Windows crew on their secretive errands.

Before he'd always slept securely in the heart of his snoring fellows, or against a nice comforting wall. Now he began risking positions at the outer edge of the huddled mass, where he could hear better and even catch glimpses of people passing in the tunnels. Every shadow that passed and every step he heard might be hers, after all.

His successes were few. He saw her at evening meals several times, but she never spoke to him. Indeed, if she noticed him at all, she did a superb job of not showing it. And for Locke to try and speak to her on his own initiative, with her surrounded by her Windows friends, and they by the older bullies from Streets. . . no presumption could have been more fatal. So he did his feeble best to skulk and spy on her, relishing the fluttering of his stomach whenever he caught so much as a half-second glimpse. Those glimpses and those sensations paid for many days of frustrated longing.

More days, more weeks passed in the hazy forever now of childhood time. Those bright brief moments he'd spent in Beth's presence, actually speaking to her and being spoken to, were polished and re-polished in Locke's memory until his very life might have begun on that day.

At some point that spring, Tam died. Locke heard the mutterings. The boy had been caught in the act of trying to lift a purse, and his would-be victim had broken his skull on the spot with a leather cosh. This sort of thing happened from time to time. If the man had witnesses to the attempted theft he'd probably have a finger on the offending hand cut off with a heated sword. If nobody backed up his story, he'd hang. Camorr was civilized; there were proper and improper ways of killing children.

No-Teeth went soon after that, crushed under a wagon wheel in a stupid accident. Broad daylight. Locke wondered if it was all for the best. He and Tam had been miserable in the Hill, and maybe the gods could find something better to do with them. Death was a fact of life, of little concern to him. He had his own obsession to pursue.

A few days after No-Teeth got it, Locke came back to the Hill from a long, wet afternoon of work in the North Corner district, casing and robbing vendor stalls at the well-to-do markets there. He shook the rain from his makeshift cloak, which was the same awful-smelling scrap of leather than served him as a blanket each night. Then he went to meet the crowd of oldsters, led by Veslin and Gregor, that shook down the smaller children each day as they came in with their takings.

Usually they spent most of their energy taunting and threatening Locke's fellows, but today they were talking excitedly about something else. Locke caught snatches of the conversation as he waited his turn to be abused.

". . . right unhappy he is about it. . . one of the big earners."

"I know she was, and didn't she put on airs about it, too. . ."

"But that's all Windows for you, eh? Ain't they all like that? We'll here's something they won't like. Proves they's as mortal as we is. They fuck up just the same."

"Been a right messy month. That poor sod what got the busted head. . . that little shit we used to kick around all the time. . . now her."

Locke felt a sudden cold tension in his guts.

"Who?" he said.

Veslin paused in mid-sentence and stared at Locke, as though startled that the little creatures of Streets had the power of speech.

"Who what, you little ass-tickler?"

"Who are you talking about?"

"Wouldn't you like to fucking know."

"WHO?"

Locke's hands had formed themselves into fists of their own accord, and his heart pounded as he yelled again at the top of his lungs, "WHO?"

Veslin only had to kick him once to knock him down. Locke saw it coming, saw the bully's foot rising toward his face, growing impossibly in size, and still he couldn't avoid it. Floor and ceiling reversed themselves, and when Locke could see again, he was lying on his back with Veslin's heel on his chest. Warm coppery blood was trickling down the back of his throat.

"Where does he get off, talking to us like that?" said Veslin mildly.

"Dunno. Fuckin' sad, it is," said Gregor.

"Please," said Locke. "Tell me—"

"Tell you what? What right you got to know anything?" Veslin knelt on Locke's chest, rifled through his clothes, and came up with the things Locke had managed to clutch that day. Two purses, a silver necklace, a handkerchief, and some wooden tubes of Jereshti cosmetics. "Know what, Gregor? I don't think I remember Lamora here coming home with anything tonight."

"Nor me, Ves."

"Yeah. How's that for sad, you little piss-pants? I says you came home hands empty. Sorry about supper."

Locke was too used to the sort of laughter that now rose in the tunnel to pay any attention to it. He tried to push his way up and was kicked in the throat for his trouble.

"I just want to know," he gasped, "what happened. . ."

"This again? Why do you care?"

"Please. . . please. . ."

"Well, if you're gonna be like civil about it." Veslin dropped Locke's takings into a dirty cloth sack and cinched it tight. "Windows had a bad night last night."

"Cocked up proper, they did," said Gregor.

"Got pinched hitting a big house. Had to get away in a hurry. But not all of ‘em. Lost one in a canal. Drowned, she did."

"Who?"

"Beth."

"You're lying," whispered Locke. "YOU'RE LYING!"

Veslin kicked him in the side of his stomach, just beneath his ribs, and Locke writhed. "Who says. . . who says she's—"

"I fuckin' say."

"Who told you?"

"I got a letter from the Duke, you fuckin' half-wit. The master, that's who! Beth drowned last night. She ain't coming back to the Hill. You sweet on her or something? That's a laugh."

"Go to hell," whispered Locke. "You go to—"

Veslin cut him off with another hard kick to the exact same spot.

"Gregor," he said, "we got a real problem here. This one ain't right in the head. Clean forgot what he can and can't say to the likes of us."

"I know just how to fix that, Ves." Gregor stepped over and kicked Locke between the legs. Locke's mouth opened but nothing came out except a dry rattling hiss of agony.

"Give it to the little prick." Veslin grinned as he and Gregor began to work Locke over with hard kicks meant to hurt, aimed at the same places again and again. "You like that, Lamora? You like what you get, you raise your voice and put on airs with us?"

Only the Thiefmaker's forbiddance of outright murder among his orphans saved Locke's life. No doubt the boys would have pulped him if their own necks wouldn't have been the price of their amusement, and as it was they nearly went too far.

It was days before Locke could move well enough to safely prowl the streets again, and in that interval, lacking friends to tend him, he was tormented by hunger and thirst. But he took no satisfaction in his recovery, and no joy in his return to work.

He was back to playing dead, back to hiding in corners, back to rule one and rule two. He was alone in the Hill once again.

Copyright © 2013 by Scott Lynch


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The Republic of Thieves

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