Chapter 9.2

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It was while she made her way home, Grim following her at a discrete distance, that Carmen spotted the boy.

Grim had been taciturn ever since she'd found him curled up on Corvus's armchair. She had crouched down beside the chair, hoping he would throw himself into her arms; instead he had slowly stretched, jumped down to the floor, and flicked contemptuously past her. She'd sent a thought to him

(I missed you)

but he'd ignored it.

The boy moved along the shadowy side of the street, stopping occasionally to consult something in his hand, heading east along Croakumshire Road, the houses of Parliament rising to the right and the Residential Quarter coming up on the left. There were few people out in this part of the city on a Saturnday afternoon, and Carmen stayed a block back so the boy wouldn't see her.

A block short of the city's edge he looked up at a street sign, then down at the thing in his hand. This was the poorest part of the Residential Quarter. Carmen knew this neighbourhood well. She lived here, after all. The buildings were newer than those to the west, but they had been built cheaply, and because the State was responsible for repairs they were already run down. The lamplighters either forgot these streets or went home early.

The area had one advantage. On a fine day Carmen could look out her bedroom window to where the fields dropped to the river Yar as it passed beneath the Wall of Nod and meandered away into the strange north. She could see Croakumshire Road vanishing dusty and straight to the east, over the old toll bridge, before rising into the foothills and vanishing into the mountains. She had spent afternoons gazing out of her first-floor window and dreaming of wild, faraway places.

The boy turned down her street, but passed her house without even glancing up at it. She had a moment to wonder if it had all just been a coincidence before he veered into the overgrown vacant lot next door.

She found him crouched in there, peering up through a gap in the bushes at the first floor window of her own bedroom. She was able to creep right up to him. Some spy, she thought. She had a clever comment prepared:

(most people knock on the door you know)

but before she could speak he whipped around with surprising speed and grabbed her wrist.

"Let go!"

He did, suddenly. "You crept up on me," he said, his face scarlet.

"I crept up on you?"

He glanced towards the street.

"Spose you're going to run off then?" she said.

"No."

"Who are you?"

"Ward."

"Is that all?"

"I don't have any other name."

"You're a liar."

"I'm NOT. I don't HAVE any other names." The boy's face was still red, but with anger now. Carmen didn't think he had any right to be angry.


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