Mistress Trout’s Lodgings
Nipcopper Close, Corus
Ten of the evening.
We buried Holborn today.
The burying ground has no trees in it, no shade for us Lower City Dogs. Because most of us work in the dark, we want our bodies to lie in the sun. Stones decorate the graves, stones placed there for remembrance. Some graves are piled waist-high with them, signs that the Dogs who lie beneath were loved by family and guards both.
There were plenty of folk for Holborn. Rosto, Kora, Aniki, and Phelan had come from the Court of the Rogue. Even Rosto had learned to like Holborn this last year, for all that he was green jealous that Holborn was my betrothed. Kora and Aniki wept for me. My eyes were as dry as the ground of the boneyard. Everyone believed I’d wept so hard I had no tears left.
Holborn’s family came. The men left my shoulders damp with tears, my belly filled with razors of guilt because I had none to shed with them. They told me how sorrowed they were that I’d never become their daughter, their sister. They also tried to keep his mother back. Only when they turned to go did she break from them to come at me.
I saw her slap coming, but I did naught to stop it. Only when she went for a second blow did I grab her wrist.
“You cold, Cesspit trull!” she screamed. “My poor lad was forever trying to impress you. He wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been trying to prove himself as good as you, and you led him to his death!”
“She was there,” Holborn’s mother cried.
“She was not.” My sergeant, Goodwin, had come over. “Had she been there, she would have stopped him from running into a nest of slave guards all on his own. Your son got himself killed.”
The men of the family were all Dogs and knew that Tunstall and Goodwin were right. “Forgive her,” Holborn’s father whispered in my ear while his sons drew their mother out of the boneyard. “It is her grief talking.” He looked shamefaced as he followed his family.
Other Dogs were present, to stand for Holborn and for me. Holborn was a leather badge, a five-year Dog who’d transferred to Jane Street last year. His old friends and partner from Flash District attended, as well as the Jane Street folk. Goodwin, her man, Tunstall, and his lady, Sabine, were there, as well as my Jane Street friends. Standing with the cityfolk were my brothers, sisters, grandmother, as well as my merchant friend Tansy and her family. Beside them was my foster family from the days when I had lived at Provost’s House.
My informants among the city’s pigeons attended, to my surprise. None landed on the grave. Holborn’s ghost wasn’t riding among them, waiting to say farewell to me. Many a soul that’s been murdered rode a pigeon until he, or she, could settle old business, but not Holborn. In his last hours he’d only given my hand one more squeeze before he left me for the Peaceful Realms of the Black God of Death.
I listened to the folk murmur to each other as they waited for the priest and Lord Gershom to arrive. One mot was telling those around her that Holborn had saved her oldest lad when a game of dice went bad. The Dogs from his old district shared the tale that Holborn was known to jump on tables and stand on his hands when he’d had one cup too many. A dancer whose full purse he’d saved from rushers was there. It was she who set a cube of incense by the headstone.
A priest of the Black God said some words once Holborn went into the ground. So did Lord Gershom, before he gave Holborn’s medal to his father. Then came the placing of the stones, as all who chose to leave a token did so. Most of them who’d come went on to the Jane Street Guardhouse after that. There Holborn’s Day Watch fellows had laid out a funeral feast. Those closest to me stayed for a while. Eventually they came to tell me goodbye. I stood by the headstone as they approached.
My oldest friend, Tansy, clung to me and wept on my uniform, and left three chunks of crystal by the headstone. That done, her man Herun took her and the babies home. Then my lord Gershom and my district commander, Sir Acton of Fenrigh, said their farewells. I collected myself to bow to them. Others followed. Granny Fern, clinging to my youngest brother’s arm, my other brother, and my sisters all looked more broken than me. They had loved Holborn, who had wheedled until I was on good terms with my sister Dorine again. My foster aunt Mya, my foster uncle, and my other family from Provost’s House left with them. The hardest Dogs of Jane Street kennel, who had gone through so many street battles with me, trickled away, two and three at a time. I embraced my fellow Dogs, knowing they would not think me weak for doing so at a time like this.
Now and then Pounce, my cat, would rub up against my boots, or my hound, Achoo, would lick my hand. I’d give them a scratch to reassure them, until they settled again.
My remaining human friends took counsel of each other as we remained in the sun. Finally Aniki said, “She’ll come when she’s ready.” Most of them went on their way. They never would have left me entirely alone, not with the enemies I’ve made since I was a Puppy. I didn’t care. I was listening to the winds, in case they carried a scrap of Holborn’s voice, and to the talk of the pigeons, for the sheer comfort of their coos and chuckles. More and more birds assembled on the rooftops and the fence.
The shadows got longer. The warm early-summer air turned cool. Far off I heard a distant roll of thunder. If I meant to pay respects to Kaasa, the dust spinner by the gate, I would have to do so now, before she went wherever they go when rain falls.
Kaasa had already picked up speed as the storm breezes poured into her. She had risen to the height of my head, spinning graveyard dust, twigs, bits of flowers from offerings, and who knew what else. I took out the packet of dirt I’d brought her special for this day, gathered from the Temple District and the great temple of the Black God, who claims us all, and poured it into Kaasa’s twirling body. As she accepted it, I stepped into her heart.
The first bit of talk she released into my ears was familiar enough. “—embrace you and guide you—” It was a mot’s voice, reciting the Mithran prayer for the dead. I ignored her. Usually I heard everyday talk gleaned from the district around us.
“Why do they put down rocks?” That was a little one. Hard to tell if they were lad or gixie at that age. “Are they too poor for flowers?”
“Dogs are different, sweet,” came a mot’s reply. “You’ll understand—”
“—ever stop nagging?” That cove’s voice was a knife in my heart, not the kindly voice I’d hoped for from his ghost. “You’re such an old woman, Beka! Stiff and strict—I feel like a nursling when we’re together!” We’d had this quarrel weeks ago, after the burial of his old training master.
“You act like a nursling!” That tight whisper was me, may the god save me. I’d been shamed beyond bearing because he was shouting at me. “Can we have this talk at home?”
Kaasa lost the rest, but I knew Holborn’s reply. “It’s not a home, it’s a cage!” I had gone to my rooms alone that day. That night he’d come back with me after watch, as cheerful as if we’d never fought. And he’d teased me about being so grim.
Kaasa and I said our farewells. I stepped out of her hold and looked up to see a fork of lightning in a sky that had gone gray-black. The pigeons took off all at once, headed for their night’s shelter. Storm winds whipped my clothes and hair about. It was time to leave. Pounce and Achoo deserved better than a soaking.
Long, scarred hands put a shawl around me. “I was starting to think I’d have to sling you over my shoulder and carry you home,” Rosto the Piper told me. “Our folk went to the Dove for supper if you’d like to come.”
I tried a smile on Rosto and shook my head. I wasn’t up to seeing people. I clutched the ends of the shawl as the wind blew harder and colder.
“Thought so,” Rosto said as he put his arm around me. I leaned against him. I didn’t mind taking a bit of comfort. Rosto knew that it was just comfort, nothing more. He had better manners in some ways than the fine nobles I saw at my lord Gershom’s house when I was growing up. “We had supper laid out in your rooms, Beka. I’m staying to make sure you eat it. Don’t think you can throw it out the window.”
I turned my face into the first scattered raindrops that blew our way. It was the end to a hot, dry week of misery. I’d spent the last three days as half a ghost myself. With the cold rain driving into our faces, I felt like I was rousing from sleep.
It’s about time, Pounce said, walking between us. I almost asked you if you wanted us to bury you with him.
Rosto looked down. “I know you’re a cat, but you don’t have to be cruel,” he said. “It’s easy if you’re a god, I suppose. You don’t ever lose people.”
I am a constellation, not a god, Pounce said in correction, for perhaps the hundredth time that I knew of. I have lost people I loved, and mourned them. Turning into a gravestone yourself does very little good. Holborn was driving Beka mad.
“That time together was still worth some grief,” Rosto said. “And the guilt is still heavy, even if your love has turned to hate or dislike.”
His words sounded true in my heart. I was not surprised. Rosto had plenty of experience at burying former friends, clawing his way up to the throne of the city’s Rats. He had been the first of my circle to notice things weren’t right with Holborn and me, and to get me to talk about it.
Pounce looked away from the blond Rogue. Beka, Achoo has found a puddle to roll in.
That brought me around. Achoo, who weighs more than forty pounds, has a thick coat of curling white fur and is a disaster when she finds a mud puddle. Rosto and I fetched her out and washed her with fountain and rainwater. Once we reached home, I ordered her to stay on the ground-floor landing until we could dry her off. Then we dried Pounce, to his disgust. I loaned Rosto some of Holborn’s clothes, but I did not stay to see him put them on. I had not slept in the rooms I’d shared with Holborn, rooms that once had been Rosto’s, since Holborn’s death. Kora, who still lived across the hall, had offered me her place, and moved upstairs with Aniki for the time being. I called Achoo up to me when I unlocked Kora’s door.
Rosto found me staring out the open shutters at the pouring rain. The promised supper was in covered bowls on the table. I hadn’t lit the fire on the hearth or more than two of the lamps. I was remembering that fight trapped in the dust spinner, and others. Holborn and I had so many, these last three months.
Rosto lit a spill from one lamp and used it to set the rest to burning. He laid a fire in the hearth and got that going, a small one, enough to heat water for tea and take the sudden chill off the room. He had to step over and around Achoo to do it. At the first sight of the flame my hound had curled up before the hearth.
Seeing Rosto in Holborn’s clothes wasn’t the shock I expected. Unlike the men I usually preferred, Holborn had been stocky, solid across his chest and belly. His shirt draped like a robe on Rosto. My friend had been forced to tie a scarf around his waist to hold the breeches in place, though at least their length was right.
I smiled to see proud, fair-haired Rosto dressed so badly. Then I swallowed it. The smile was another thing to make me feel guilty. Shame on me for smiling when Holborn was dead.
“Stop it,” ordered Rosto. “You’re alive—enjoy that. You’re alive and you have friends and family who love you. And you were smart enough not to follow Holborn into a room without backup.”
“Of course you didn’t,” said Rosto flatly. “He was trying to best you and gather more glory for himself by going alone, straight into half a dozen slave guards. It was a Puppy’s trick, and he paid the last price.”
We were quiet after that because I didn’t want to admit Holborn was jealous of my standing among Dogs. Instead we ate. I don’t recall what I had, only that I was hungry and devoured all that he set before me. He enjoyed his fair share, too. There was even chopped meat for Achoo and Pounce.
Once we cleaned up, out of habit we gave our blades a check, in case they needed a smith’s work. I had a spare sharp-stone, so we honed our daggers to the Smith God’s standard. The thunder rolled off while we were still working. Rosto talked a bit about the doings of the Court of the Rogue. He’d had a serious rebellion two winters back, after the bad harvest of 247, but these days few cityfolk balked at his rule. Most of his problems now came from hard coves who entered Corus thinking to challenge its Rogue.
“I’ll have to start making examples, Beka, you watch,” he told me after an account of several duels. “I don’t have the time to sort out every new Tom that comes swaggering into the Dancing Dove.” He looked at me. “You’re tired. Think you’ll sleep tonight?”
I finished yawning. “Aniki told you.” Aniki and Kora had switched off nights, watching over me.
“Did you think they wouldn’t?” He tucked his last dagger into a hidden sheath at the back of his waist and collected the basket where he’d placed the dishes. “I’ll return the clothes—”
I shook my head. “Give them to someone that needs them. I’ll send the rest to the Goddess’s temple.” When I can face the chore, I thought. It was one thing to see Holborn’s clothes draped and bunched on Rosto, another to fold them, breathe their scent, and tuck them into a basket to give them away.
“All right, then,” he said. “Aniki will be in later. You get her if you need anything.” His black eyes were fierce as he looked at me. “I mean it, Beka.”
I went to him and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Rosto. You’re a good friend.”
He left me then. I finished cleaning up. I took it in mind to write in this journal afterward. It seems to be one of those things I should do to prove to myself that I did not crawl into the grave with Holborn today.