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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

Kaz’s eyes found Inej unerringly in the crowd. Ketterdam had been buzzing about the assassination of the ambassador for weeks. It had nearly destroyed Kerch-Zemeni relations and sent the Merchant Council into an uproar. The Zemeni blamed the Kerch. The Kerch suspected the Shu. Kaz didn’t care who was responsible; the murder fascinated him because he couldn’t figure out how it had been accomplished. In one of the busiest corridors of the Stadhall, in full view of more than a dozen government officials, the Zemeni trade ambassador had stepped into a washroom. No one else had entered or left, but when his aide knocked on the door a few minutes later, there had been no answer. When they’d broken down the door, they’d found the ambassador facedown on the white tiles, a knife in his back, the sink still running.

Kaz had sent Inej to investigate the premises after hours. The washroom had no other entrance, no windows or vents, and even Inej hadn’t mastered the art of squeezing herself through the plumbing. Yet the Zemeni ambassador was dead. Kaz hated a puzzle he couldn’t solve, and he and Inej had concocted a hundred theories to account for the murder—none of which satisfied. But they had more pressing problems tonight.

She saw him signal to Jesper and Big Bolliger to divest themselves of weapons. Street law dictated that for a parley of this kind each lieutenant be seconded by two of his foot soldiers and that they all be unarmed. Parley. The word felt like a deception—strangely prim, an antique. No matter what street law decreed, this night smelled like violence.

“Go on, give those guns over,” Dirix said to Jesper.

With a great sigh, Jesper removed the gun belts at his hips. She had to admit he looked less himself without them. The Zemeni sharpshooter was long-limbed, brown-skinned, constantly in motion. He pressed his lips to the pearl handles of his prized revolvers, bestowing each with a mournful kiss.

“Take good care of my babies,” Jesper said as he handed them over to Dirix. “If I see a single scratch or nick on those, I’ll spell forgive me on your chest in bullet holes.”

“You wouldn’t waste the ammo.”

“And he’d be dead halfway through forgive,” Big Bolliger said as he dropped a hatchet, a switchblade, and his preferred weapon—a thick chain weighted with a heavy padlock—into Rotty’s expectant hands.

Jesper rolled his eyes. “It’s about sending a message. What’s the point of a dead guy with forg written on his chest?”

“Compromise,” Kaz said. “I’m sorry does the trick and uses fewer bullets.”

Dirix laughed, but Inej noted that he cradled Jesper’s revolvers very gently.

“What about that?” Jesper asked, gesturing to Kaz’s walking stick.

Kaz’s laugh was low and humorless. “Who’d deny a poor cripple his cane?”

“If the cripple is you, then any man with sense.”

“Then it’s a good thing we’re meeting Geels.” Kaz drew a watch from his vest pocket. “It’s almost midnight.”

Inej turned her gaze to the Exchange. It was little more than a large rectangular courtyard surrounded by warehouses and shipping offices. But during the day, it was the heart of Ketterdam, bustling with wealthy merchers buying and selling shares in the trade voyages that passed through the city’s ports. Now it was nearly twelve bells, and the Exchange was deserted but for the guards who patrolled the perimeter and the rooftop. They’d been bribed to look the other way during tonight’s parley.