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Authors: Lian Tanner

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BOOK: Museum of Thieves
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Standing still then was one of the hardest things she had ever done. She was shaking from head to toe. Favour’s eyes were wide with shock, but she said nothing.

Goldie leaned back so that her head rested on Pa’s broad chest. ‘I love you, Pa,’ she whispered. There was so much noise that he probably couldn’t hear her. Still, he put up his hand and stroked her hair.

Goldie kissed Ma on the cheek. ‘I love you too, Ma. Don’t worry about me.’

‘What?’ said Ma, putting her hand to her ear. ‘Say that again, sweeting?’

Goldie could feel the tears starting up at the back of her eyes. She shook them away. She opened and closed the scissors three times inside her pocket to make sure she knew how to use them.

She glanced at the audience. Her eyes slid across a patch of air. She forced them back, and there was the man in the black coatee, watching her . . .

It was too late to care. The little voice in the back of her mind was shouting,
Go! Go!

Goldie whipped the scissors out of her pocket and cut through the white silk ribbon with one snip. Then, before anyone could stop her, she ran off the stage and out the back door of the Great Hall.

.

he Protector limped down the gangplank of the official waterbus. The corns on her feet ached, and she was tired and heartsick. It had been a terrible day.

She had originally planned to leave the Great Hall straight after the Separation ceremony, and make a tour of the levees that protected Jewel from the sea. According to the Levee Master they were in urgent need of repair.

Instead, she had called up the militia to search for whoever had set off the bomb. She had gone to the Fugleman’s shattered office and spoken to witnesses. She had visited the dead child’s parents, and the children who had survived the explosion.

And now there was this wretched business of the runaway girl – and the Resident Guardians.

She wiped the sweat out of her eyes and shook her head. A runaway! Coming so soon after news of the bomb! The whole city was reeling with shock.

She was shocked too, but for a different reason. She was sorry now that she had left the Hall when she did. She should have guessed that the Fugleman would take any opportunity to stir up the people.

More Blessed Guardians indeed! The Protector wanted to
reduce
the stranglehold that they had on the city, not
increase
it. She’d been planning to cut their numbers by half, once the new Age of Separation was properly in place.

She grimaced. Well, that plan was dead, and it’d be a long time before she could resurrect it.

Slowly she hobbled up the stone steps of the dock and onto the Bridge of Beasts. It was the oldest bridge in Jewel, and its iron sides were wrought in the shapes of quignogs, idlecats, slotters, slommerkins, brizzlehounds and slaughterbirds. As she passed, their muscles seemed to strain and bunch, as if they might leap into life at any moment.

Despite her tiredness, the Protector stopped in the middle of the bridge. When her ancestors had first arrived here from Merne, these strange creatures had roamed all over the peninsula. They were gone now, of course, extinct for so long that most people thought they had never existed. But they had been real enough, back in the early days of Dunt. The Protector knew that without a doubt.

In fact there were quite a few things that the Protector knew . . .

Which reminded her. There was something she must tell the Fugleman. Something important.

It was only a short walk from the Bridge of Beasts to the Protectorate. The lieutenant marshal of militia was waiting at the top of the steps. He hurried to open the door for her, his face strained with guilt.

‘Your Grace,’ he said. ‘The scissors, Your Grace. How can I apologise?’

The Protector’s aching corns made her more short-tempered than usual. ‘A child has been lost because of your carelessness,’ she snapped.

‘I’m sorry, Your Grace. I’ll do anything to make up for it. If I could join the search party—’

‘Absolutely not.’

‘Please, Your Grace—’

‘Be quiet! You’re lucky you’re still in the militia. Whether you
stay
there is another matter altogether. Now, I have a message for the Fugleman. I trust you can deliver it without endangering the lives of any
more
children?’

‘But the Fugleman’s here, Your Grace! He’s been waiting for half an hour or more.’

The lieutenant marshal darted in front of the Protector and pushed her office door open – and there indeed was the Fugleman, sitting in one of the visitors chairs. He had changed his clothes and washed away the ash and dust. Now he was as immaculate as ever, apart from the bandage around his forehead.

‘Your Grace,’ he said, climbing stiffly to his feet and bowing. ‘Blessings upon you.’

The Protector dismissed the lieutenant marshal. Then she closed the door and leaned against it. She forced a smile. ‘Well, little brother,’ she said.

There were barely half a dozen people in Jewel who knew that His Honour the Fugleman and Her Grace the Protector were brother and sister. It suited both of them to keep it that way. They had never liked each other, even as children.

The Protector limped around the desk to her chair. ‘Any news of the girl?’

‘None,’ said her brother, settling back with a grunt. ‘But we’ll find her. My Guardians are trained for moments such as this. Unlike your so-called
militia
, who don’t seem to be trained for anything. You know that she was standing right next to one of them? Took the scissors from his pocket? Unbelievable! If he was mine I’d have him court-martialled.’

The Fugleman was skilled at the ancient art of swordsmanship, and the Protector often felt as if her conversations with him were a running duel. But today she was determined to ignore his jabs. ‘Why on earth did the child run away?’ she asked. ‘She must be the first in more than fifty years.’

Something flickered across the Fugleman’s face. ‘Ah . . . the second.’


What
?’

‘A boy, last year. He disappeared overnight. His parents thought he’d been taken by slavers, but then they found a note. He’d run away.’

The Protector could hardly believe what she was hearing. She knew of several children who had gone missing
after
Separation. But
before
? ‘Wasn’t he guardchained?’

‘His parents
said
he was. They claimed that he must have picked the lock somehow. But we were quite sure they had left him unchained. It happens sometimes, but we usually catch it before disaster strikes.’

‘Why didn’t I hear about this at the time?’


No
one heard about it. Imagine if word got around that there were children left unchained at night. The slavers would be upon us like wolves. For that reason we kept it quiet.’

‘But still,
I
should have been told!’

‘Do you think so, sister?’ The Fugleman ran his hand over his chin. ‘It was obviously a case of Abomination. I saw no need to inform you. After all,
you
wouldn’t inform
me
if the Treasury accounts didn’t balance . . .’

The Protector tried to ignore the anger that was rising inside her. ‘Did you search for the boy?’

‘Of course. We searched everywhere, day and night for a week. But there was no sign of him. He’s long dead by now. Probably drowned.’

‘And his family?’

‘There was a younger child, a girl. We took her into Care, and the Court of the Seven Blessings sentenced the parents to three years in the House of Repentance and the confiscation of all their possessions.’

‘You mean
you
sentenced them.’

‘It’s true that the Court chooses to speak through me,’ said the Fugleman smoothly. ‘And I am
greatly
honoured by it.’

‘Three years imprisonment, their possessions gone, their daughter taken into Care. A harsh punishment for people who’ve just lost their son!’

‘They broke the law.’

‘I
don’t
think—’ began the Protector. But then she stopped. She really didn’t want to fight openly with her brother, especially not today. ‘Why are you here?’

The Fugleman took a sheaf of papers from inside his jacket and laid them on the desk. ‘I have a few unimportant documents that need your signature.’

The Protector pushed her eyeglasses into place, picked up the topmost paper and frowned. ‘Unimportant? This is to approve the new Resident Guardians. You’ve been very quick to draw up the agreement!’

The Fugleman shrugged. ‘The people were
most
insistent—’

‘Don’t take me for a fool, brother. You were always able to sway a crowd.’

‘You flatter me, sister. But you can’t deny that these are desperate times. And the people are fright-ened.’

The Protector hesitated. For once her brother was right. These
were
desperate times. More desperate than she had realised. And the people
were
frightened.

With a sigh, she dipped her pen in the inkwell, signed the top paper and turned to the next one. She blinked in surprise, and read it twice in case she was mistaken. ‘According to this,’ she said slowly, ‘these Resident Guardians of yours will be in place by tonight! I thought it would take a month at least!’

‘There are dangerous criminals loose in the city.
They
will not wait a month.’ The Fugleman rubbed his hand across his bandaged forehead, as if his wound was hurting him. ‘Besides, the new Guardians can help search for the girl. She’ll probably try to hide in some building or other when night falls. This way, we’ll be waiting for her.’

‘But what about their training?’

‘Perhaps
you
are happy to wait for an emergency before you train new militia, sister. But I cannot afford to be so complacent. There are new Guardians in training at all times, just in case. Your signature, if you will.’

The Protector tapped her pen against her cheek. She
would
sign. But there was something she had to tell her brother first. What was it?

Ah, yes. ‘The Museum of Dunt,’ she said. ‘You know it?’

The Fugleman’s handsome brow creased. ‘I’ve heard of it. A small building of no particular importance. I believe it’s further up Old Arsenal Hill from my office. What of it?’

‘They won’t be needing a Resident Guardian. They’re exempt.’

‘But—’


Not
the Museum of Dunt.’

At that, something in the Fugleman’s face seemed to change, and for a split second he looked as sharp and dangerous as a straight-edge razor. Then he bowed his head and the dangerous look was gone so completely that the Protector thought she had imagined it.

‘I’m sure you have excellent reasons for such an exemption, sister. Might I ask what they are?’

The Protector hesitated. Apart from her, the only people who knew the truth about the Museum of Dunt were the museum’s keepers. There was no actual law that prevented her from telling the Fugleman. But it was not the sort of knowledge that she would trust him with.

So she merely shrugged and said, ‘It’s customary to leave the museum to its own devices.’

‘And this custom, how did it begin?’

The Protector waved her hand in the direction of her bookcases, which were crammed with documents from the early days of Dunt. ‘I really can’t remember. I’m sure there’s an explanation there somewhere.’

BOOK: Museum of Thieves
2.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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