Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)
I should close his eyes, thought Kaz. But he knew if he climbed down the ladder and waded back into the sea, he would never find his way out again. He’d simply let himself drown, and that wasn’t possible anymore. He had to live. Someone had to pay.
* * *
In the prison wagon, Kaz woke to a sharp jab against his thigh. He was ice cold and in darkness. There were bodies all around him, pressing against his back, his sides. He was drowning in corpses.
“Kaz.” A whisper.
Another jab to his thigh.
“Kaz.” Inej’s voice. He managed a deep breath though his nose. He felt her pull away from him. Somehow, in the cramped confines of the wagon, she managed to give him space. His heart was pounding.
“Keep talking,” he rasped.
“Just keep talking.”
“We’re passing through the prison gate. We made it past the first two checkpoints.”
That brought him fully to his senses. They’d gone through two checkpoints. That meant they’d been counted. Someone had opened that door—not once but twice—maybe even laid hands on him, and he hadn’t woken. He could have been robbed, killed. He’d imagined his death a thousand ways, but never sleeping through it.
He forced himself to breathe deeply, despite the smell of bodies. He’d kept his gloves on, something the guards might have easily taken note of, and a frustrating concession to his weakness, but if he hadn’t, he felt fairly sure he’d have gone completely mad.
Behind him, he could hear the other prisoners murmuring to one another in different languages. Despite the fears the darkness woke in him, he gave thanks for it. He could only hope that the rest of his crew, hooded and burdened by their own anxiety, hadn’t noticed anything strange about his behavior. He’d been sluggish, slow to react when they’d ambushed the wagon, but that was all, and he could make up some excuse to account for it.
He hated that Inej had seen him this way, that anyone had, but on the heels of that thought came another: Better it should be her. In his bones, he knew that she would never speak of it to anyone, that she would never use this knowledge against him. She relied on his reputation. She wouldn’t want him to look weak. But there was more to it than that, wasn’t there? Inej would never betray him. He knew it. Kaz felt ill. Though he’d trusted her with his life countless times, it felt much more frightening to trust her with this shame.
The wagon came to a halt. The bolt slid back, and the doors flew open.
He heard Fjerdan being spoken, then scraping noises and a thunk. His collar was unlocked, and he was led from the wagon down some kind of ramp with the other prisoners. He heard what sounded like a gate creaking open, and they were herded forward, shuffling along in their shackles.
He squinted as his hood was suddenly yanked free. They were standing in a large courtyard. The massive gate set into the ringwall was already being lowered closed, and it struck the stones with an ominous series of clanks and groans. When Kaz looked up, he saw guards stationed all along the roof of the courtyard, rifles aimed down at the prisoners. The guards below were moving along the rows of shackled captives, trying to match them to the driver’s paperwork by name or description.