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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

“Where are the others?” she asked, looking around the empty gully.

“In the road. Kaz said we should let you sleep.”

Inej rubbed her eyes. She supposed it was a concession to her injuries. Maybe she hadn’t hidden her exhaustion well at all. A sudden, crackling snap snap snap from the road had her on her feet with knives drawn in seconds.

“Easy,” Nina said. “It’s just Wylan.”

Jesper must have already raised the the signal. Inej took the cookie from Nina and hurried up to where Kaz and Matthias were watching Wylan fuss with something at the base of a thick red fir. Another series of pops sounded, and tiny puffs of white smoke burst from the tree’s trunk where it met the ground. For a moment it looked like nothing would happen, then the roots loosed themselves from the soil, curling and withering.

“What was that?” asked Inej.

“Salt concentrate,” said Nina.

Inej cocked her head to the side. “Is Matthias … praying?”

“Saying a blessing. Fjerdans do it whenever they cut down a tree.”

“Every time?”

“The blessings depend on how you intend to use the wood. One for houses, one for bridges.” She paused. “One for kindling.”

It took less than a minute for them to pull the tree down so that its trunk lay blocking the road. With the roots intact, it looked as if it had simply been felled by disease.

“Once the wagon stops, the tree will buy us about fifteen minutes and not much more,” Kaz said. “Move quickly. The prisoners should be hooded, but they’ll be able to hear, so not a word. We can’t afford to arouse suspicion. For all they know, this is a routine stop, and we want to keep it that way.”

As Inej waited in the gully with the others, she considered all the things that might go wrong. The prisoners might not be wearing hoods. The guards might have one of their own in the back of the wagon. And if their crew succeeded? Well, then they’d be captives on their way into the Ice Court. That didn’t seem like a particularly promising outcome, either.

Just when she started to wonder if Jesper had been wrong and sent up the flare too early, a prison wagon rumbled into view. It rolled past them, then came to a halt in front of the tree. She could hear the driver cursing to his companion.

They both slid down from the box seat and made their way over to the tree. For a long minute, they stood there staring at it. The larger guard took off his hat and scratched his belly.

“How lazy can they be?” Kaz muttered.

Finally, they seemed to accept that the tree wasn’t going to move on its own. They strolled back to the wagon to retrieve a heavy coil of rope and unhitched one of the horses to help drag the tree out of the road.

“Be ready,” Kaz said. He skittered over the top of the gully to the back end of the cart. He’d left his walking stick behind in the ditch, and whatever pain he might have been feeling, he disguised it well. He slipped his lockpicks from the lining of his coat and cradled the padlock gently, almost lovingly. In seconds, it sprang open, and he shoved the bolt to the side. He glanced around to where the men were tying ropes around the tree and then opened the door.