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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

They slept beneath a set of stairs in an alley behind a tavern, tucked between a discarded stove and bags of kitchen refuse. No one bothered them that night, but the next they were discovered by a gang of boys who told them they were in Razorgull territory. They gave Jordie a thrashing and knocked Kaz into the canal, but not before they took his boots.

Jordie fished Kaz out of the water and gave him his dry coat.

“I’m hungry,” Kaz said.

“I’m not,” Jordie replied. And for some reason that had struck Kaz as funny, and they’d both started laughing. Jordie wrapped his arms around Kaz and said, “The city is winning so far. But you’ll see who wins in the end.”

The next morning, Jordie woke with a fever.

In years to come people would call the outbreak of firepox that struck Ketterdam the Queen’s Lady Plague, after the ship believed to have brought the contagion to the city. It hit the crowded slums of the Barrel hardest. Bodies piled up in the streets, and sickboats moved through the canals, using long shovels and hooks to tumble corpses onto their platforms and haul them out to the Reaper’s Barge for burning.

Kaz’s fever came on two days after Jordie’s. They had no money for medicine or a medik, so they huddled together in a pile of broken-up wooden boxes that they dubbed the Nest.

No one came to roust them. The gangs had all been laid low by disease.

When the fever reached full fire, Kaz dreamed he had returned to the farm, and when he knocked on the door, he saw Dream Jordie and Dream Kaz already there, sitting at the kitchen table. They peered at him through the window, but they wouldn’t let him in, so he wandered through the meadow, afraid to lie down in the tall grass.

When he woke, he couldn’t smell hay or clover or apples, only coal smoke, and the spongy rotting vegetable stink of garbage. Jordie was lying next to him, staring at the sky. “Don’t leave me,” Kaz wanted to say, but he was too tired. So he laid his head on Jordie’s chest. It felt wrong already, cold and hard.

He thought he was dreaming when the body men rolled him onto the sickboat. He felt himself falling, and then he was caught in a tangle of bodies. He tried to scream, but he was too weak. They were everywhere, legs and arms and stiff bellies, rotting limbs and blue-lipped faces covered in firepox sores. He floated in and out of consciousness, unsure of what was real or fever dream as the flatboat moved out to sea. When they tumbled him into the shallows of the Reaper’s Barge, he somehow found the strength to cry out.

“I’m alive,” he shouted, as loud as he could. But he was so small, and the boat was already drifting back to harbor.

Kaz tried to pull Jordie from the water. His body was covered in the little blooming sores that gave the firepox its name, his skin white and bruised. Kaz thought of the little wind-up dog, of drinking hot chocolate on the bridge. He thought that heaven would look like the kitchen of the house on Zelverstraat and smell like hutspot cooking in the Hertzoons’ oven. He still had Saskia’s red ribbon. He could give it back to her. They would make candies out of quince paste. Margit would play the piano, and he could fall asleep by the fire. He closed his eyes and waited to die.