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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

 

 

 

2

INEJ

Kaz Brekker didn’t need a reason. Those were the words whispered on the streets of Ketterdam, in the taverns and coffeehouses, in the dark and bleeding alleys of the pleasure district known as the Barrel. The boy they called Dirtyhands didn’t need a reason any more than he needed permission—to break a leg, sever an alliance, or change a man’s fortunes with the turn of a card.

Of course they were wrong, Inej considered as she crossed the bridge over the black waters of the Beurskanal to the deserted main square that fronted the Exchange. Every act of violence was deliberate, and every favor came with enough strings attached to stage a puppet show. Kaz always had his reasons. Inej could just never be sure they were good ones. Especially tonight.

Inej checked her knives, silently reciting their names as she always did when she thought there might be trouble. It was a practical habit, but a comfort, too. The blades were her companions. She liked knowing they were ready for whatever the night might bring.

She saw Kaz and the others gathered near the great stone arch that marked the eastern entrance to the Exchange. Three words had been carved into the rock above them: Enjent, Voorhent, Almhent. Industry, Integrity, Prosperity.

She kept close to the shuttered storefronts that lined the square, avoiding the pockets of flickering gaslight cast by the streetlamps. As she moved, she inventoried the crew Kaz had brought with him: Dirix, Rotty, Muzzen and Keeg, Anika and Pim, and his chosen seconds for tonight’s parley, Jesper and Big Bolliger. They jostled and bumped one another, laughing, stamping their feet against the cold snap that had surprised the city this week, the last gasp of winter before spring began in earnest. They were all bruisers and brawlers, culled from the younger members of the Dregs, the people Kaz trusted most. Inej noted the glint of knives tucked into their belts, lead pipes, weighted chains, axe handles studded with rusty nails, and here and there, the oily gleam of a gun barrel. She slipped silently into their ranks, scanning the shadows near the Exchange for signs of Black Tip spies.

“Three ships!” Jesper was saying. “The Shu sent them. They were just sitting in First Harbor, cannons out, red flags flying, stuffed to the sails with gold.”

Big Bolliger gave a low whistle. “Would have liked to see that.”

“Would have liked to steal that,” replied Jesper. “Half the Merchant Council was down there flapping and squawking, trying to figure out what to do.”

“Don’t they want the Shu paying their debts?” Big Bolliger asked.

Kaz shook his head, dark hair glinting in the lamplight. He was a collection of hard lines and tailored edges—sharp jaw, lean build, wool coat snug across his shoulders. “Yes and no,” he said in his rock salt rasp. “It’s always good to have a country in debt to you. Makes for friendlier negotiations.”

“Maybe the Shu are done being friendly,” said Jesper. “They didn’t have to send all that treasure at once. You think they stuck that trade ambassador?”