Marus tried to remember the exact moment they had realized they were lost, and could not. It had been a slow thing, he knew, a staging of one tree after another that had turned out not to be that tree. They pointed at one tree, then a second, then a third and fourth, which did not deliver them back to the road after the correct number of strides between precise turns toward the sun. Somewhere in between Marus had suspected. By the end he had been sure, but it felt as if he had been sure for a long time.
But he tried to recall, because for a little while – for hours really – being lost had not been a bad thing. It had been a joke, and then an adventure, and then just one of those things that happened and was easy to shrug off. Now, it was horrible, and it would have been nice to know the time limit on good-humored dislocation.
Wandering between the trees, tired of picking directions, he shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Have we gone this way before?” Kieda asked behind him. The question narrowly avoided being an accusation, and Marus decided to ignore it.
The door was unlocked in the morning. Anie heard the latch click just after sunrise and she sat up straight. Most of the others were still asleep, but Cidra shifted at the sound too, and Nessim was out of bed before Anie could throw back her blankets to join him.
Cidra sat up after a moment. Anie met her eye as she crossed the room, but Cidra just crossed her arms over her knees and didn’t move. Nessim glanced sideways when Anie stopped beside him in front of the door. The hall on the other side was getting noisier as they waited. Boots padded back and forth, echoing in the large space, while murmurs hummed dully through the wall. Occasionally something clapped, and it sounded like someone was stacking dishes at the far end.
Nessim swallowed, Anie took a deep breath, and they pushed the door open.
Caled liked Heydi, the same way he liked any of the kids that turned up under his roof. She was young, maybe six and short for that, but she’d already lost the uncertain weight that most kids carried in their hands and feet. Her hair was dark, her skin was a sun-turned bronze, and she looked as if she had been shaved out of a shadow.
Jerdan brought her in, took her straight into Caled’s office. Her head stopped a little higher than the boy’s elbow, and she stayed behind him, not to hide, just following him smoothly, turning when he turned, stopping when he stopped.
Jerdan glanced back at her, nodding when he found her waiting just inside the door. Looking to Caled behind the desk, he met his eye questioningly. The fact that she was with him was the most eloquent recommendation Jerdan could offer. He knew he couldn’t say anything more.
“What is she?” Caled asked.
Jerdan shrugged. “Nothing. Yet.” His mouth tilted into a smile. “But she could be a sneak.”
There were worse places to be stuck. Off the top of her head, Agata could list five other prisons, a few run-down homes where she had spent a night or two, and at least six of the circles of hell…
As prisons went, it was clean. Either they had few enough prisoners that any old dirt had faded to dust a long time ago, or they actually bothered to scrub them out. The walls were stone, not wood, and the cell was divided from the hall by a series of sturdy iron bars that bit into both floor and ceiling. Windows spilled yellow-white light across everything but a few corners. The stones gleamed gray-blue in contrast, worn to a shine in twisting pathways where too many people had walked over the years. The bars kept the air sweeping in and out, and the whole thing smelled hollow as an open field, instead of wet and close as a sewer.
It was a little too cold – and Agata couldn’t help feeling the restriction of the locks and steel – but it was actually quite nice. She was moving up in the world.
If it wasn’t haunted, she might actually enjoy her two weeks off in the quiet little room.
“Die, cookie!” the baker said, sharp enough for most of the kitchen to hear. The cooks and assistants and scrub boys around her continued as if her murderous intent was natural. They kept their heads bent to their various tasks at the long tables scattered around the room. The stove fires were banked high, and they paid more attention to the sweat on their foreheads than to the baker as she continued to stab at the half-mixed dough. Only Brance paused, looking at her out of the corner of his eye, keeping still to keep himself out of danger.
“What?” he asked eloquently.
Iddi rolled over, pulling the blankets closer to her chin. Her toes poked out the other side. For a long moment, she argued with the cold morning air. It wasn’t really that cold. It wasn’t really morning. If she dragged her knees to her chest, and cuddled harder into the mattress, she could sleep another hour. She didn’t want to wake up enough to move, even that much. She denied she was awake enough to be having the argument.
There was someone downstairs, moving slow and almost silent, maybe not really awake themselves. She could smell them cooking on the stove, hear the house creak with the heat, though she couldn’t feel it yet.
Iddi opened her eyes in a flash. The stove. Someone had put wood in the stove. She jumped off the bed, keeping her blanket around her shoulders, and dashed down the stairs. At the bottom, she swung around the end of the railing, rushing into the warmth rolling out the iron pot-belly.
In Jenny’s experience, rooftop thieves were single-handedly responsible for the average citizen’s faith in good things falling out of a clear blue sky. Fat drawstring purses did not bloom out of cobblestones, though she’d seen quite a few men pluck them up as if they had. Pearl necklaces did not vine their way around a branch on the tree beside your front door, though she’s seen quite a few women fall for that. Bread did not bake golden brown on the window ledge, but Jenny guessed you’d never know it just from biting into the sun-warmed crust.
Sighing, Jenny laid out flat on the roof, arms crossed over the edge with her chin on her wrists. She eyed the sack on the ground, half-open from the fall with an apple still rolling lazily away from it. She glanced to either side of her at the sheer faces of the buildings, trying to decide the best way to climb down and retrieve it. Glancing at the front doors, she tried to calculate how long it would be before someone tripped over it and the apples and cheese and delicious cherry tart wasn’t hers anymore.