To Best the Boys(9)

“Oh, it’s quite necessary if my father wishes it. Just like you do everything your father desires of you, Beryll.” Seleni’s previous mood dissolves as she flashes gratitude my way, and despite her father never having said any such thing, I feel confident he would’ve. I smirk as she lifts her chin. “I shall very much enjoy getting to know them better.”

A loud shout shuts down whatever Beryll’s daft reply is, and a crowd converges along the inclining street ahead of us. A commotion has kicked up between a couple of fancy-dressed financiers and a group of stubble-faced fishermen who’ve just finished unloading their cargo. By the sound of their voices, neither side is happy.

I quicken my step, but by the time we reach the men, their voices have hushed to murmurs. “No need to upset the town with unproven news,” someone says.

“This is a Port matter,” another mutters.

“This is rumor is what it is.”

I frown and glance back at Seleni and Beryll. Is it more of the disease?

“I’ll tell you what, though,” one of the fishermen growls. “If it’s true? I’ll kill them.”


I press against two women to get us nearer as the words float up and over me from the red-faced men whose hair and heavy coats smell of salt and seaweed. The tidbits being talked about are muted so quick I can’t catch their context, other than there’s no mention of the disease. Whatever it is, it has to do with the wharf.

“See how their families like having to support their kids on so little,” the larger of the fishermen says.

I peer around for Lute. Maybe this is what his mood was about earlier.

“There she is!” someone shouts. “Eh, Rhen!”

Will and Sam Finch rattle the air behind us with their boisterous voices. I spin to find them striding up in tight tunics above breeches that are a bit too saggy for propriety and wide-mouthed smiles that promise they’ve already been up to no good. I snort. Someone in the Upper sector will probably find their cattle tipped over by tomorrow morning.

“We heard there was a ruckus at a certain undertaker’s place.” Will grins at Seleni and me. His brown hair looks like a peacock fan at the back of his head. “Somethin’ about the ghost of bloody King Henry himself explodin’ a body and then settin’ off the bell—which is when I says to Sam here, ‘Sam, that sounds a lot like a certain individual. Why don’t we go investigate?’ To which Sam here agreed, because he is the agreeable sort. So what, pray tell, have you been up to, and why weren’t we invited?”

“Isn’t it obvious, William?” Sam indicates Beryll. “They tried to murder someone who threw up on them. Look at the fancy guy.”

“In that case, all the better question of why we wasn’t invited.”

I smile at the two of them who, barely a year apart, might as well be twins, and lower my tone. “If Beryll or I had anything to do with a body or bell, it would’ve been an accident. And I think we’ve already established neither of you can handle a splinter, let alone the sight of blood.”

Sam ignores me and adjusts his too-tight tunic. “So you’re saying you did, in fact, commit a murder? Because while it’s true Will here would’ve definitely passed out, you know I would’ve been beneficial.” He yanks a fishing blade from who knows where in his loose trousers and wields it deftly with his fingers, as if he’s some sort of knife magician. Then winks at Seleni. “Ever seen a blade fight?”

She rolls her eyes and Beryll chokes, but I’ve moved on to gesturing at the fishermen who are growing more agitated. The crowd is getting bigger and the voices louder. “Either of you know what’s going on here?”

Sam wrinkles his forehead and looks around as if suddenly aware there’s even a commotion at all. “No idea. Why?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Seleni interjects. “Because we don’t have time, right, Rhen? We’ve already had enough trouble for one day and don’t want to get caught in the middle of whatever this is.”

I shake my head. She may not want to get caught in the middle of this, but I do. I want to stay and listen and find out why these faces of men I know are etched with concern and fear.

As if reading my mind, Seleni grabs my hand and whispers, “Rhen, I’m serious. We have to go.”

Sam eyes her, then tilts the tip of his knife toward me. “Come find us later and we’ll tell you what’s what here. Also, we’ll tell you what we saw on the east side an hour ago. Seems that crippling death thing has made its way there.”

I falter as Seleni keeps tugging. “Wait. You saw evidence of the disease?”

“Stop by tonight, Rhen.” Will nods. “We’ll talk, and in return, we’re gonna need all the explosion details about your latest victim. Also, you can wish Sam and me good luck before we go sacrifice our godlike bodies to the Labyrinth contest tomorrow.”

“Rhen would love to, but she has a party this evening.” Seleni moves her fingers to clench my shoulder. “But maybe afterward. Now if you’ll excuse us.” She tries to turn me toward home, but Sam’s gaze has focused in on something behind us, and when I follow it, Lute is standing there, fifteen paces away.

“Hey, Wilkes, what’s the skinny?” Sam calls to him. “Why the uproar?”

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