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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

His thoughts were interrupted by the blaze of light and activity down by the boathouse that faced the canal. Across the water he could see other fine mercher houses, tall and slender, the tidy gables of their rooftops making a dark silhouette against the night sky, their gardens and boathouses lit by glowing lanterns.

A few weeks before, Joost had been told that Hoede’s boathouse would be undergoing improvements and to strike it from his rounds. But when he and Rutger entered, he saw no paint or scaffolding. The gondels and oars had been pushed up against the walls. The other house guards were there in their sea-green livery, and Joost recognized two stadwatch guards in purple. But most of the interior was taken up by a huge box—a kind of freestanding cell that looked like it was made from reinforced steel, its seams thick with rivets, a huge window embedded in one of its walls. The glass had a wavy bent, and through it, Joost could see a girl seated at a table, clutching her red silks tight around her. Behind her, a stadwatch guard stood at attention.

Anya, Joost realized with a start. Her brown eyes were wide and frightened, her skin pale. The little boy sitting across from her looked doubly terrified. His hair was sleep-mussed, and his legs dangled from the chair, kicking nervously at the air.

“Why all the guards?” asked Joost. There had to be more than ten of them crowded into the boathouse. Councilman Hoede was there, too, along with a merchant Joost didn’t know, both of them dressed in mercher black. Joost stood up straighter when he saw they were talking to the captain of the stadwatch. He hoped he’d gotten all the garden mud off of his uniform. “What is this?”

Rutger shrugged. “Who cares? It’s a break in the routine.”

Joost looked back through the glass. Anya was staring out at him, her gaze unfocused. The day he’d arrived at Hoede house, she’d healed a bruise on his cheek. It had been nothing, the yellow-green remnants of a crack he’d taken to the face during a training exercise, but apparently Hoede had caught sight of it and didn’t like his guards looking like thugs. Joost had been sent to the Grisha workshop, and Anya had sat him down in a bright square of late winter sunlight. Her cool fingers had passed over his skin, and though the itch had been terrible, bare seconds later it was as if the bruise had never been.

When Joost thanked her, Anya smiled and Joost was lost. He knew his cause was hopeless. Even if she’d had any interest in him, he could never afford to buy her indenture from Hoede, and she would never marry unless Hoede decreed it. But it hadn’t stopped him from dropping by to say hello or to bring her little gifts. She’d liked the map of Kerch best, a whimsical drawing of their island nation, surrounded by mermaids swimming in the True Sea and ships blown along by winds depicted as fat-cheeked men. It was a cheap souvenir, the kind tourists bought along East Stave, but it had seemed to please her.