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Beka Cooper 1 - Terrier

Tamora Pierce


  Beka Cooper 01


  Tamora Pierce

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2006 by Tamora Pierce

  Jacket art copyright © 2006 by Jonathan Barkat

  Published in the United States by Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  RANDOM HOUSE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at



  With thanks to Mallory Loehr, my Random House editrix, who suggested first person and the journal format, and to Bruce Coville, my reading partner in crime, who worked extra hard with me on the dynamics of first-person writing and on Beka's very real voice: if the shape of this book is unique and works, it's due to both of you.

  To Lisa Findlay and Sara Alan, who also gave me much-needed editorial advice on a very tough book.

  To Christine M. Cowan at Undiscovered Treasures, source of my first fire opal in matrix (and many other glorious stones and crystals).

  To the posters of SheroesCentral, who didn't know (as I didn't) that they were teaching me to write journal entries!

  To the pigeons of Riverside Park, including Gloucester, Gimpy, Cloak, Hart Crane, Tex, Footloose, Bandit, Pinky – What? You thought I made them up?

  To Jack Olsen, a gentleman and a crime writer, with a good word to spare for someone with an unpopular opinion.

  To Tim

  This one's all yours. It's time. And you deserve this and more, for putting all that effort into us.



  March 18, 406 [H.E.: the Human Era]

  In all those lessons for which I was made to memorize chants and prayers I never used, couldn't our temple priestesses have taught one – just one! – lesson on what to do with a boy who is too smart for his own good?

  I am at my wit's end! My George was taken up for stealing and I had to go to the Jane Street Guard station.

  I thought I might die of the shame. I know it is this place and the friends he makes here. Even the families who do not teach their children the secrets of theft look the other way because it puts food on the table. And I am too newly come. I cannot tell them, "Keep your children away from my son. Do not let them teach him to steal."

  I want him to rise in the world. We are poor now, but I pray we will not always be so. And I cannot afford a better place to live. My family will not have me back, not after our last meeting. So I am left here, trying to raise a lad who sees and hears and thinks too much, in the city's worst slum.

  At the station there my scapegrace was, seated on a bench with the Guard who'd caught him. "It was but a handful of coins left on a counter, Mistress Cooper," the Guard said. "And I recovered them all. It's his first time, and I owe you for makin' my wife's labor so easy." He looked at George. "Next time it's the cages for you, and maybe a work farm," he warned. "Don't go makin' your good mother weep."

  I grabbed George's arm and towed him out of there. We'd no sooner passed through the gate into the street when he tells me, "Up till a hundred year ago they was called Dogs, Ma." He was talking broad Lower City slang, knowing it made me furious. "Ye know why they changed it? They thought folk mightn't respect 'em if they went about callin' them after curs like they done for three hundred – "

  I boxed his ear. "I'll have no history lessons from you, Master Scamp!" I cried, tried beyond my sense of dignity. "You'll keep your tongue between your teeth!" Everyone we passed was smirking at us. They knew our tale, knew I'd been dismissed from the temple. They believed I thought myself better than they were, because I kept my home and my child as clean as may be and taught him his letters. Let them think it. We will not always live in the Cesspool. My George is meant for better things.

  Thieving is not among them, I swear it.

  When I got him to our rooms, I let him go. He stared at me with his hazel eyes, so like mine. The beaky nose and square chin were his father's, a temple worshiper I saw but for one night. George would be the kind of man women would think was so homely he was handsome, if he lived. I had to make certain he would live.

  "The shame of it!" I told him. "George Cooper, how am I to face folk? Stealing! My son, stealing!"

  He looked me boldly in the face. "We're gettin' no richer from your healin' and magickin', Ma. I hate bein' hungry all the time."

  That cut me. I knew he was hungry. Did I not divide my share so he had more, and it still wasn't enough? So he would not see me in tears, and because he needed it, I sat on our chair and turned my rascal over my knee. I gave him the spanking of his young life.

  I stood him on his feet again. His chin trembled, but he refused to cry. The problem is, my lad and I are too much alike.

  "There's more important things than wealth," I said, trying to make him listen. "There's our family name. Us above all, George, we don't take to thieving." I had thought to wait until he was old enough to understand to tell him about Rebakah Cooper, but I believe the Goddess's voice in me was saying it was time. He needed to hear this. I took down the shrine from the wardrobe top, where I kept it safe from small boys. I opened the front to show him the tiny figures of the ancestors.

  "See how many of your great-grandfathers wore the uniform of the Provost's Guard? What would our famous ancestress say if she knew one of her descendants was a common thief?"

  "We've got a famous ancestress?" George asked, rubbing his behind.

  I picked up Rebakah's small, worn statue. I took it out often when I was a girl, because she was a woman, of all the ancestors who wore the black tunic and breeches of the Guard. There was the cat at her feet, the purple dots of paint that were its eyes worn away just as the pale blue paint for her eyes was worn away. The shrine was old, given to me by my great-aunt when I was dedicated to Temple Service.

  I showed him the figure. "Rebakah Cooper," I said. "Your six-times-great-grandmother. Famed in her day for her service as a Provost's Guard. She was fierce and law-abiding and loyal, my son. All that I want for you. And she was doom on lawbreakers, particularly thieves. Steal, and you shame her."

  "Yes, Ma," George said quietly.

  "Remember her," I told him, giving his shoulder a little shake. "Respect her. Respect me."

  He put his arms around my waist. "I love you, Mother," he said. Now he talked perfectly, as he'd been taught. He helped me to clean up from the medicine making and to make supper.

  It is only in writing about this day that I realize he never said anything about thieving.

  No, he will obey me. He is a good boy. And I will make an offering to my Goddess to guide him on Rebakah Cooper's path.


  Novembur 13, 240

  My hart is the betur for this day. When my Beka told me the pijins talked to her I feerd she was mad. I feerd my lady wood lok her up as my lady dos not lyk Beka. Beka mayks my lord lyk being a komun Dog to much.

  I thot to take Beka to my husbands mother. Granny Fern wood no if ther was madnes in his blud. So I tuk Beka ther today and left the littel ones with Mya.

  Beka had bred in her pokets and fed pijins all the way t
o Klover Lane. She says the birds say wher they was killd. I feerd somwon ov Provosts Hows wood see the bred and say she stole it.

  Wen I told Granny Fern why we come Granny laffd.

  She is no mor mad than me, she says. Beka has the magikal Gift. Tho som say its not the Gift exakly. Its not biddebel. You hav it or you dont. Bekas father had it and his sister and unkl befor him.

  I sayd a prayr to the Godess. My girl is not mad. Gifted is not good but its beter than mad.

  Granny Fern mayd Beka churn her buttr. Beka thumpd the churn so hard! Granny Fern told her, You can tickl the magik a bit. You need to, girl. Elswys the ghosts that ryd the birds will dryv you mad with tawk you onli heer part way. Pijins cary the dead. Them as died suden, them as had biznis to do.

  Them as got merderd, Beka says.

  Pijins ar the Blak Gods mesingers, Granny says. They gathr souls to tayk to the Peesful Relms, but som wont go. They hold to the bird until they see whats becom ov them. And they talk. Som ov what they say is useful, Beka. Thats why you must lern how to heer theyr voyses. Hav you herd othr voyses, Beka? On street corners mayhap?

  I dont no, says Beka.

  Lets go see, says Granny.

  We finishd the buttr ferst bekaus it dont wait. Then Granny took us to a street corner but to bloks frum her house. A dust spyner was ther, spyning leevs and dirt arond and abowt lyk a smal wirlwind.

  Yore fathr namd it Hasfush, Granny says. Or told us his name is Hasfush. Hes one ov the dust spynrs that nevur goes away. Step in and lissen, Beka.

  Beka nevr argus with Granny Fern. Onli with me. Into the spynr she wakd.

  What if she choaks? I askd.

  She wont, says Granny. She haz the Ayr Gift.

  The dust spynr got smal. Beka cam owt a mess.

  I hav to wash her, I says. My ladee will hav a fit.

  Beka lookd at Granny. Hasfush is alive. He told me evrything he hurd. Then he got happi.

  Next tyme bring him dirt frum othr parts ov the citee, Granny says. Yer fathr sayd he lyked that. Ilony, send her to me in the afturnoon. I wil teech Beka how to heer the ghoasts and the dust spynrs. Its writ down in a book ov the famlee.

  She can taym it. The listning. She isnt mad.

  I was so afeerd for my Beka. I no I wil dy frum this rot in my chest. My childrun must mayk theyr own way then. Beka wil hav the hardist tyme. She was in the Lowur Cytee for to long. Magik wil help. Evun frends that ar birds and street wind and durt wil help.


  November 13, 244

  Tonight my lord Gershom took Clary and me to supper at Naxen's Fancy. It was his way of thanking us for bringing down Bloody Jock. (I would have done more than hobble him and bring him for a court to sentence. The scummer would rob a couple, killing the man and kissing the woman while her man was lying there.)

  It was our third supper at Naxen's Fancy. Me and Clary could never afford the place on our own, but when we wind up big cases, we get a fine dinner there with my lord. So the wine was flowing well, and there was brandy after supper. We were all feeling good, and Clary asks the thing we both always wanted to know: how did my lord manage to hobble the Bold Brass gang six years back? Seemed for a year they roamed Prettybone, Highfields, and Unicorn Districts, helping themselves to the treasures of folk who pay the Rogue not to be burgled. There was even talk that His Majesty was looking for a new Lord Provost. Then suddenly there was the whole gang in chains, my lord with new estates awarded by the King, and the Vice Provost transferred to a command on the Scanran border.

  "What stories did you hear?" my lord asks with that little smile, like he knows a very good joke.

  We tell the ones we heard most. One of Bold Brass's women caught her man with someone else. A palace mage lowered himself to Dog work to get revenge on the gang for robbing him. The gang had killed a horse some duke loved and he paid for the mages himself.

  My lord starts a-laughing. "None of those are right," he says. "It was a little girl, only eight years old."

  I look at my glass of brandy. "This stuff is better than the swill I'm used to," I say. "I could've swore you said the Bold Brass gang got took down by an eight-year-old."

  My lord nodded and says, "She took against one of them. He was living with her mama. When he found out her mama had lung rot, he beat her up and took all she had of value. The girl Dogged him. Dogged him like you two would do it, kept out of his sight. If she lost him, she just found him later at his favorite places."

  "How'd she know he'd be worth all that work?" Clary wants to know. "Why not just stick a knife in him?"

  My lord says, "The piece of pig turd gave her mama jewelry he couldn't have come by honest, then took it back when he left."

  "Yeah," Clary says, "she's got to be from the Cesspool. Those Cesspool little ones know what kind of baubles belong down there and what don't."

  My lord goes on. "So Beka – that's her name, Rebakah Cooper – finally Dogs him all the way back to where he met up with his mates. She spies on them and knows she has the den of the Bold Brass gang. Then she goes to her nearest Dog, only this Dog don't believe her."

  Clary mutters, "Probably Day Watch." My partner thinks the only Dogs worth bothering with work the Evening Watch like us.

  My lord says, "So Beka goes to her kennel, but they laugh at her. She even tries to tell my Vice Provost. He has her tossed in the street. He thought she was trying to witch him. Beka's no mage, but she has these light blue-gray eyes. When she's angry, it's like looking into a well of ice. She was angry by then. It's unnerving in a little girl, but she can't help her eyes. So one day I'm riding through the Daymarket and this mite of a child grabs my Oso by the bridle. You know Oso – he doesn't like surprises. I almost drew steel on her before I saw she was a child and how Oso calmed down when she talked to him. She was telling me if I wanted the Bold Brass gang, I'd best listen to her. My Vice Provost's ready to take a whip to the girl. Meantime, I feel like I'm looking into the eyes of a thousand-year-old ghost. Unlike my Vice Provost, I'm not spooked. I listen to her. And she does it. She gives me the Bold Brass gang. Then she thinks she can disappear, but I know a trick or two of my own. I find her home and her family. The Coopers are living in my household now."

  "Meaning no disrespect, my lord, but why?" I ask. "A handful of gold shows you're grateful."

  He shakes his head. "A mother with lung rot, and my healers say she can't be helped. It's too far along. Five bright, promising little ones – Beka is the oldest. All in some Mutt Piddle Lane midden. The mother's an herbalist on her good days, but those are going to run out. I'd an idea Beka was already learning to steal. His Majesty was about to find a new Provost. I owed that ice-eyed mite. Beka Cooper saved me from disgrace. I think she'll make a good Dog when she's old enough. Her brothers and sisters will do well in the world, given a chance. And her mother will die in comfort. I believe in thanking the gods for saving my position." My lord raises his glass. "I love being Lord Provost."

  We raise ours. "We're glad to have you," Clary says. "Who else takes notice of the Dogs who do the work?"

  Now I can't get that story out of my head. Dogging a cove like that when she was only eight. I hope if she does go for the Provost's Guard that she doesn't think she knows all there is to what we do. She'll quit soon enough if she does. I hope my lord doesn't build her up that way. She'll die of boredom and wash out before she's been in the work for a month. Or she'll think because she did it once, and did it young, that she knows it all. Then she'll just get herself killed, and maybe any other Dogs who are with her, too.


  Wednesday, April 1, 246

  Written on the morning of my first day of duty.

  I have this journal that I mean to use as a record of my days in the Provost's Guard. Should I survive my first year as a Puppy, it will give me good practice for writing reports when I am a proper Dog
. By setting down as much as I can remember word by word, especially in talk with folk about the city, I will keep my memory exercises sharp. Our trainers told us we must always try to memorize as much as we can exactly as we can. Your memory is your record when your hands are too busy. That is one of our training sayings.

  For my own details, to make a proper start, I own to five feet and eight inches in height. I have good shoulders, though I am a bit on the slender side. My build is muscled for a mot. I have worked curst hard to make it so, in the training yard and on my own. My peaches are well enough. Doubtless they would be larger if I put on more pounds, but as I have no sweetheart and am not wishful of one for now, my peaches are fine as they are.

  I am told I am pretty in my face, though my sister Diona says when my fine nose and cheekbones have been broken flat several times that will no longer be so. (My sisters do not want me to be a Dog.) My eyes are light blue-gray in color. Some like them. Others hold them to be unsettling. I like them, because they work for me. My teeth are good. My hair is a dark blond. Folk can see my brows and lashes without my troubling to darken them, not that I would. I wear my hair long as my one vanity. I know it offers an opponent a grip, but I have learned to tight-braid it from the crown of my head. I also have a spiked strap to braid into it, so that any who seize my braid will regret it.

  I am so eager for five o'clock and my first watch to begin that my writing on this page is shaky, not neat as I have been taught. It is hard to think quietly. I must be sure to write every bit of this first week of my first year above all. For eight long year I have waited for this time to come. Now it has. I want a record of my first seeking, my training Dogs, my every bit of work. I will be made a Dog sooner than any Puppy has ever been. I will prove I know more than any Puppy my very first week.