Chapter 13.3

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She led them down a crazy staircase strewn with bricks and into a dark corridor. It was uncomfortably close inside. The ceiling seemed ready to fall in at any moment. She pushed aside an old door that lay in a corner, revealing a ladder that vanished down a shaft. They climbed in one by one.

Waiting for them at the bottom, holding a lanthorn, was a sentry Ward recognised as an Argie, though he couldn't recall his name.

"Who're they?" the Argie said to Mildew.

"Mind your own business Whelk."

"It is my business. Something's up. I've been arksed to be double suspicious."

"By who?"

"The Spectaculum."

Mildew snorted. "These two've got a-portant information for the Kidsman. He'll have your hide if he hears you didn't let em in."

"Kidsman ent here anyhow."

"Where's he gone?"

"None of my business is it?" He held up the lanthorn and peered at each of them in turn. "Something up," he said again, as if that clarified everything.

"We'll wait for the Kidsman below then," Mildew said, pushing past Whelk and into the passage beyond. "Don't worry, I won't tell him you tried to stop us."

Ward apologised to the flustered Argie as he passed.

"They gotta put stouter coves on sentry duty," Mildew said as they moved down the lamp-lit tunnel.

Carmen hung back with Slops and Ward.

"They've taken Mere and Pere to Bedlam," she whispered.

Slops's face drained of colour.

"Where were you?" Ward said.

"Around. Mildew came and found me." His face coloured and he quickly changed the subject. "What about Grandmere?"

"Oh," Carmen said. Clearly she had forgotten all about Grandmere.

Mildew turned to them. "We'll send someone to tell your folks. The Kidsman'll know what to do." Then she turned back.

"Mere and Pere'll look after Grandmere," Slops said.

"Slops, what are we going to do?"

"Speak to Corvus."

"Corvus? I don't know. How did Tamerlane know so much? Except for us, Corvus and Nick were the only ones who knew about the Oliphant, and I don't see Nick going to Tamerlane, do you? No. We can't trust Corvus. We've got to get the Oliphant back and give it to Tamerlane."

"Where is it?" Slops said.

"Mildew knows," Ward said.

For a moment Mildew showed no sign of having heard, but then she turned on Ward: "Well you obversely know so why don't you tell em?" Then she climbed down into a new shaft and vanished from sight.

Ward hesitated before the questioning looks of Carmen and Slops, then followed Mildew down the shaft.

She was waiting for them at the bottom, at some distance from the shaft, in the darkness. "I just figured Nick'd want it," she said. "When I left his office I went and found Lightie."

"Lightie?" Carmen said.

"Lightfinger," Ward explained.

"The boy who can't speak?" Carmen said. "But how did he get it out of my bag?"

Mildew laughed. "He could've taken the hair off your head if I arksed him to." She looked away down the tunnel. "I'm sure you don't want – I better go." She moved off into another tunnel.

"Do you remember what we made that oath on?" Carmen said into the darkness.

Silence from the tunnel.

"On Saint Nick himself," Carmen continued. "So how can you've broken it when you were just following his orders?"

"But he didn't order -"

"Let's just say he did," Ward said.

"Don't go," Slops said.

There was a long silence, then Mildew's footsteps echoed away into the distance.


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