Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)

Written By: Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo




PART 1

SHADOW BUSINESS



Joost had two problems: the moon and his moustache.

He was supposed to be making his rounds at the Hoede house, but for the last fifteen minutes, he’d been hovering around the south-east wall of the gardens, trying to think of something clever and romantic to say to Anya.

If only Anya’s eyes were blue like the sea or green like an emerald. Instead, her eyes were brown –

lovely, dreamy … melted chocolate brown? Rabbit fur brown?

“Just tell her she’s got skin like moonlight,” his friend Pieter had said. “Girls love that.”

A perfect solution, but the Ketterdam weather was not cooperating. There’d been no breeze off the harbour that day, and a grey milk fog had wreathed the city’s canals and crooked alleys in damp. Even here among the mansions of the Geldstraat, the air hung thick with the smell of fish and bilge water, and smoke from the refineries on the city’s outer islands had smeared the night sky in a briny haze.

The full moon looked less like a jewel than a yellowy blister in need of lancing.

Maybe he could compliment Anya’s laugh? Except he’d never heard her laugh. He wasn’t very good with jokes.

Joost glanced at his reflection in one of the glass panels set into the double doors that led from the house to the side garden. His mother was right. Even in his new uniform, he still looked like a baby.

Gently, he brushed his finger along his upper lip. If only his moustache would come in. It definitely felt thicker than yesterday.

He’d been a guard in the stadwatch less than six weeks, and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as he’d hoped. He thought he’d be running down thieves in the Barrel or patrolling the harbours, getting first look at cargo coming in on the docks. But ever since the assassination of that ambassador at the town hall, the Merchant Council had been grumbling about security, so where was he? Stuck walking in circles at some lucky mercher ’s house. Not just any mercher, though. Councilman Hoede was about as high placed in Ketterdam government as a man could be. The kind of man who could make a career.

Joost adjusted the set of his coat and rifle, then patted the weighted baton at his hip. Maybe Hoede would take a liking to him. Sharp eyed and quick with the cudgel, Hoede would say. That fellow deserves a promotion.

“Sergeant JoostVan Poel,” he whispered, savouring the sound of the words. “Captain JoostVan Poel.”

“Stop gawking at yourself.”

Joost whirled, cheeks going hot as Henk and Rutger strode into the side garden. They were both older, bigger, and broader of shoulder than Joost, and they were house guards, private servants of Councilman Hoede. That meant they wore his pale green livery, carried fancy rifles from Novyi Zem, and never let Joost forget he was a lowly grunt from the city watch.

“Petting that bit of fuzz isn’t going to make it grow any faster,” Rutger said with a loud laugh.

Joost tried to summon some dignity. “I need to finish my rounds.”

Rutger elbowed Henk. “That means he’s going to go stick his head in the Grisha workshop to get a look at his girl.”

“Oh, Anya, won’t you use your Grisha magic to make my moustache grow? ” Henk mocked.

Joost turned on his heel, cheeks burning, and strode down the eastern side of the house. They’d been teasing him ever since he’d arrived. If it hadn’t been for Anya, he probably would have pleaded with his captain for a reassignment. He and Anya only ever exchanged a few words on his rounds, but she was always the best part of his night.

And he had to admit, he liked Hoede’s house, too, the few peeks he’d managed through the windows. Hoede had one of the grandest mansions on the Geldstraat – floors set with gleaming squares of black and white stone, shining dark wood walls lit by blown-glass chandeliers that floated like jellyfish near the coffered ceilings. Sometimes Joost liked to pretend that it was his house, that he was a rich mercher just out for a stroll through his fine garden.

Before he rounded the corner, Joost took a deep breath. Anya, your eyes are brown like … tree bark?  He’d think of something. He was better off being spontaneous anyway.

He was surprised to see the glass-panelled doors to the Grisha workshop open. More than the hand-painted blue tiles in the kitchen or the mantels laden with potted tulips, this workshop was a testimony to Hoede’s wealth. Grisha indentures didn’t come cheap, and Hoede had three of them.

But Yuri wasn’t seated at the long worktable, and Anya was nowhere to be seen. Only Retvenko was there, sprawled out on a chair in dark blue robes, eyes shut, a book open on his chest.

Joost hovered in the doorway, then cleared his throat. “These doors should be shut and locked at night.”

“House is like furnace,” Retvenko drawled without opening his eyes, his Ravkan accent thick and rolling. “Tell Hoede I stop sweating, I close doors.”

Retvenko was a Squaller, older than the other Grisha indentures, his hair shot through with silver.

There were rumours he’d fought for the losing side in Ravka’s civil war and had fled to Kerch after the fighting.

“I’d be happy to present your complaints to Councilman Hoede,” Joost lied. The house was always overheated, as if Hoede were under obligation to burn coal, but Joost wasn’t going to be the one to mention it. “Until then—”