Chapter 3.6

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"At the Derricks today. That was you."

Nick nodded slightly.

"Why were you disguised?" Ward said.

"I'm a criminal."

"What'd you do?"

"Many things."

"Like what?"

"I never killed anyone, Ward."

"I never said you did."

"But you were thinking it."

Ward said nothing. He had been thinking it.

Nick went on. "There are many reasons the Brotherhood want me, but the main reason is that I escaped execution."

"How?"

"That's a long story."

"Have many people done that?"

"Only two. Myself and another man, a long time ago. His name was David Nassar. The story goes that a flock of birds carried him away. He was a sorcerer by all reports. But I'm just a common criminal."

Ward wondered if he could trust this man. He felt that he could. He was not sure why. "Snapper told me that – well that Corvus was going to -"

"Corvus?"

"I thought he was going to send me to the mines at first, but Snapper told me he would hand me over to the Brothers."

Nick leaned forward, the lit cigarette dangling between his fingers. Smoke rose in tendrils past his eyes and vanished into the rafters. "Tell me how you met Corvus," he said.

Ward leaned in towards Nick until the cigarette smoke started to burn his eyes. "He came to the island where I grew up. He bought me."

"Your own parents sold you to Corvus?"

"They're dead. They died when I was a baby."

Nick watched the tabletop in silence for a while. He seemed to be making up his mind about something. "Abdal Corvus is a dangerous man. He's particularly dangerous because he seems harmless."

"What do you think he would've done?"

"It's as likely he would have sent you to the mines as turn you over to the Brotherhood," Nick said carefully. "But why would the Brotherhood be so interested in you in the first place?"

He knows, Ward thought. He knows all about my foot.

"Well it's enough that you escaped," Nick went on. "Fooling Abdal Corvus is no small thing."

"Snapper helped -"

"But you came up with the plan, right?"

Yes, it had been his idea to hide in the sea chest and roll the barrel overboard in the storm, now that he thought about it.

"What I'm getting at," Nick said, "is that I may be able to offer you employment. You have certain qualities I look for."

Ward looked up. "Work – for you?"

"That's why Snapper introduced us."

"But I don't know how to do any -"

"It requires nothing but basic aptitude and a willingness to learn."

Nick then began to describe his profession. His words were like a spell, for nobody believed in the legitimacy and honour of his trade as did Saint Nicolas Faust, and nobody was more passionate about it. Had Ward not been alone and penniless in that great city he probably would have fallen under the spell just the same.

So it came about that, as the sun set like molten ore over the city, the man and the boy left the Slough and Bellows and vanished into the labyrinthine streets of Bareheep.


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