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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 © 2009 by Tamora Pierce

  Published in the United States

  by Random House Children's Books,

  a division of Random House, Inc.,

  New York.

  Random House and the colophon

  are registered trademarks of

  Random House, Inc.

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  eISBN: 978-0-375-89252-3

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  Table of Contents



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  The Provost's Guard

  Cast Of Characters


  About The Author


  Many of you will have noticed I have taken an uncommonly long time between the first and second book of this series. For that I beg forgiveness. I also want to thank the people who got me through this saga of moving from Manhattan to Syracuse, an auto accident, physical therapy, foot and eye surgeries, and my fear that counterfeiting just wasn't that exciting: Bruce Coville, my reading buddy and all-around pal, who gave me plenty of useful feedback before I let anyone else see it; Mallory Loehr, my wonderful editor, who gave me all the time I needed to recover from everything, and then kept me slap up to the mark so I would finally finish the durn thing; Lisa Findlay, who heroically edited the manuscript almost literally between contractions and cheered me through uncharacteristic "Is it really okays?;" my beloved agent, Craig Tenney, who never once freaked over how long this was taking and eased my way elsewhere; my husband, Tim, who stood fast while I swayed in the wind and nursed me through all those ailments; and the fans on, who remember the things I forget!

  I want to dedicate this long-delayed second volume of

  Beka's adventures to my assistants,

  Sara Alan and Cara Coville.

  I think that without them

  I might well have gone just plain nuts.

  I would also like to dedicate this book to

  Joel Sweifach, my first accountant.

  Joel, you kept my ship afloat!

  Thursday, September 6, 247 H.E.

  I should have known tonight's watch would kiss the mule's bum when Sergeant Ahuda stopped me after baton training. "A private word, Cooper," she told me, and pulled me into a quiet corner of the yard. Her dark eyes were sharp on my face. We'd gotten on well since I'd finished my Puppy year and in my five months' work as a Dog. I couldn't think what I might have done to vex her.

  "Your reports have gotten sloppy." That was Ahuda, never one to soften her words. "You leave out detail, you skip what's said. You used to write the best reports of any Puppy or first-year Dog, but not of late. Have you slacked on the memory exercises?"

  I gazed at the ground. Of course I've been slacking. What's the use, with partners like I've had? Ahuda put her brown fist under my chin and thrust my head up so I'd look her in the eye. "Shall I send you back to Puppy training for a refreshing in memory study?"

  "Sarge, please don't." The plea left my mouth before I could stop the words. Goddess, not Puppy training again, not even one class! I'd never hear the end of it!

  Ahuda took her fist away and propped it on one of her sturdy hips. "Then however you kept your memory quick before, start doing it again. Steel yourself, wench! You're not the only first-year Dog with partners who are less than gold. Work with it!"

  She marched back to the kennel. I went to wash and put on my uniform. We had the Happy Bag to collect tonight, me and my partner Silsbee. Our route took us along Fortunetellers' Walk, where I'd be sure to find a shop that sold journal books. I'd thought I wouldn't need to keep one after my Puppy year, but if Ahuda was complaining of my reports, it was time to start again.

  I didn't even have Pounce to make me feel better as we mustered for the Evening Watch. The cat had stopped coming with us three days after I'd been partnered with Silsbee. I'd begged him to come. It was Pounce's remarks about folk, and about Silsbee himself, that made it easier for me to walk patrol with the man, but Pounce would have none of it.

  He bores me, and he only lets you do boring things, too, my annoying constellation cat said. I see no reason why both of us should be bored.

  And so I went out to collect our Happy Bag's worth of bribes with Silsbee and no one else, listening to him jabber about the meal his wife had prepared before he came on watch. Those huge meals are one reason that when we reached our patrol route, I visited all the shopkeepers with businesses upstairs. On Fortunetellers' Walk they went up three and four stories, each room with a crystal reader, or a palm reader, or any other kind of reader. Silsbee stood below and blabbered with the ground-floor shopkeepers. They brought him drinks and cakes, stupid loobies. Did they think he'd run after the Rat that stole their goods? I did all the climbing in the miserable heat, just as I would run down their Rats when they came.

  We gathered the Happy Bag and finished our watch. Ersken invited me to supper with him, his partner Birch, and some of the others, but I was in no mood for it. I just don't feel like I earn that extra bit from the Happy Bag with Silsbee dragging at me all the time. It makes me feel low.

  I was walking through the kennel courtyard when I noticed that Silsbee waited by the gate. He crooked a finger at me. "A word with ye, Cooper," he said.

  My temples banged. The last thing I wanted was any kind of speech with that sheep biter when I was off duty, but he was my senior partner. I went to him.

  "I'll speak with Sergeant Ahuda, but ye've the right to know first. I'm requestin' a new partner." He dug at his teeth with a wooden pick. "Ye really deserve that name they give ye, Terrier. Y' are a Terrier. Ye make me nervous, with yer hands and feet twitchin' and yer teeth grindin', allus wantin' t' chase after every wee noise and squeak. Even in this weather! If I was younger – but I ain't. It's best we say we're not suited before we get fond."

  "You're cutting me loose." I said it slow, just to be sure I had it right. It hurt, to hear the nickname I was so proud of turned against me.

  "Ye give me fidgets." He shrugged and held out his hands as if to say, "What am I to do?"

  "You – " I said, trying not to show my fury. "Do you know how many Rats I could have caught and hobbled, had you not held me back?"

  "Now, Cooper, don't make me write ye up for sauce." He waved that disgusting toothpick at me. There was a chunk of something on its end.

  "You want to hear sauce?" Two weeks of working with the louse boiled over and out of my mouth. "You walk a bit, and you stop for a jack of ale.
Then you stroll a block or three, till you need 'a wee tidbit,' as would feed a family of five. A cove gets his pocket picked? 'We'll have Day Watch pick that Rat up,' you say. 'There's folk with children to feed on Day Watch as can use the bribes.' Someone cries murder a street over? 'Plenty of folk hereabouts put up a shout because they like to make me run. I ain't a-fallin' for that trick again.' Once we get there, any Rats are gone – it's enough to make a mot scream."

  "I'm beginnin' t' see why ye're not well favored when it comes to partners, Cooper," he said. "Ye say nothin' for days, then ye talk sewer muck."

  He strolled into the kennel, as smug as a tax man with soldiers at his back. I stood there, shaking, my hands clenched so tight around my new-bought journal that they cramped.

  When I came home, Pounce was waiting for me outside Mistress Trout's lodgings. They'll give you back to Goodwin and Tunstall, he said, without me even telling him what had happened. You know you'll be better with them. I will, too. I've been bored.

  "I want my own partner," I told him, stomping inside. "Goodwin and Tunstall are a pair. I don't want to be a third forever. I want a good partner, like Ersken has in Birch."

  Your time will come, Pounce told me.

  "When!" I cried. I had no fear of being shushed by my neighbors. My fellow lodgers are Rats, in attendance on the King of Thieves at night. "When! You're the god, aren't you? Tell me!"

  I am not a god. I am a constellation. It isn't the same thing. Pounce jumped up on my shoulder and began to purr as I unlocked my door. His side was warm against my cheek.

  "Stop that," I said. "It won't do any good." But of course it did. It always does. As he kneaded my shoulder muscles, I sighed and sat upon my bed. Pounce's black fur was like the softest velvet under my fingers. The knots in my temples and jaw loosened. By the time he jumped to my pillow, I was able to change into my nightdress, make myself a soothing tea, eat some bread and cheese, and open this journal. I thought that writing what took place with Silsbee would ease me further, but I have finished, and I am still too angry to sleep. I may as well put down a bit of what has taken place since I finished my last journal, while I was still in training.

  I am seventeen years old now, a full member of the Provost's Guard. I have been so for five months. In that time I have had four partners, including Silsbee. My luck in this area has not been good. Between partners I go back to my training Dogs, Goodwin and Tunstall. I remain with the Jane Street kennel of the Lower City watch district, which is yet under the command of Acton of Fenrigh. Kebibi Ahuda is my Watch Sergeant and trainer in baton work.

  I live in Mistress Trout's lodgings on Nipcopper Close. My fellow lodgers are Aniki Forfrysning, Koramin Ingensra, and Rosto the Piper, as well as Mistress Trout. Rosto, the Rogue and king of the city's thieves, tried to buy the house and turn it into an inn where his court might gather, but Mistress Trout refused to sell. Instead she persuaded him to buy houses across the street that are also hers. He's had the builders there ever since, turning them into a spacious inn. The work is near enough to done that we've been taking our regular breakfasts on the second floor. Rosto is naming the place after his dead mother. He tells us she was once a beautiful Player called the Dancing Dove.

  Rosto still makes it plain he wants me. I yet say no, though nights like this one come when I wonder why I refuse him. Still, a cove as makes a living by violence will live all his life by it, that's my fear. It's no help that Rosto's the Rogue and I'm a Dog.

  Curse him for being all tight muscle, with ivory skin and a mouth as soft as rose petals. Curse him for having hair as fair as the sun, and eyes as black as night. Curse him for having the grace of a cat and deft, cool hands.

  And now I am having the same argument on paper that I have in my own head, or with Pounce, on too many nights. I know my choice is sensible, but it isn't my common sense I think with, those times Rosto's stolen a kiss from me.

  Pounce says I am to stop feeling sorry for myself and get to bed, or he will ruin another good page with his inky paws. I must sleep sometime. But when I do, tomorrow comes, and I deal again with being partnerless.

  Curse that cat! I'm off to bed, now that my new journal is started. No thanks to Pounce!

  Friday, September 7, 247


  I knew I had to tell my friends straight off. Ersken Westover would hear of my dismissal when we went on watch, if our thief friends hadn't already caught wind of it, so Pounce and I went across the street to breakfast at the Dancing Dove, Pounce more eagerly than me. Most of our regular group was there – Rosto, Aniki, Kora, Ersken, and Phelan. All but Tansy, and I chose not to wait for her. With a baby, a husband, and a business, she doesn't always come. I wanted to get the telling over with.

  "Silsbee tossed me back last night," I said as Kora passed the turnovers.

  For a moment they all did naught but stare.

  Then Ersken snorted, pox rot him. Dogs ought to show a united front! Kora put up her hands to cover her mouth. Mages are always discreet. Aniki cackled. Soon they all made merry at my expense, save Rosto.

  He didn't laugh. He only raised an eyebrow and said, "That's four partners, then."

  I glared at him. I can do that, seeing as how he's got a sweet spot for me. "So?" I asked. "It's not always a good fit, right off. I've said it afore. Even Ersken had two partners."

  "I got lucky the second go-round." Finally Ersken remembered whose side he was on. "It was pure chance that Vinehall was transferred and I got Birch. And it wasn't Beka's fault that her first partner didn't work. He died of the red flux. Half the Lower City got it this summer, even you, Rosto. It's not like she gave it to him."

  "She arrested the second cove herself," Aniki said. "She arrested her own partner!"

  "He took a bribe to ignore murder," I said, still angry. "That's just wrong."

  "You told the third one you'd lop his hands off if he put them on you again." Kora could barely say it for giggling. "He thought you'd really do it, too!"

  "She would!" Rosto, Aniki, and Ersken said at the same time.

  "So what was it with this one?" asked Phelan. He was offering ham to my cat. Pounce, the traitor, tended to that, not to helping me.

  "Silsbee." I was tired to death of the subject already and the day scarce begun. "He says I give him the twitches. And he's a lazy, jabbernob, pudding-livered scut." I'd said little to them before. I had been trying to make the best of things, but there was no reason to now. "He eats, he gossips, and he wouldn't chase a Rat if it was a feeble filcher under his own poxy nose!"

  They only laughed all the more. I wondered where Tansy was. My oldest friend would surely stand up for me. Why, today of all days, was she not here?

  "I'd say you have curst bad luck," Aniki told me, "but the god's truth is, Beka, you want to bag every Rat in the Lower City, and Silsbee is a known slug. The odds were down to fifty to one that it would last another week."

  "I'd've stuck it out!" I cried.

  "You won plenty of folk some coin when he didn't resign after one night of you," Rosto said idly. "Even more coin when you didn't quit the Dogs by the third day. But no one would wager a copper on it going a whole month."

  I had wagered on me making it to a month. That only means I'm a looby. I tried not to argue with Silsbee when he'd refused to let me give chase. I hadn't questioned his orders, though my tongue was sore from biting it. I hadn't wanted to lose yet another partner.

  "Doubtless he thought you were surly, as shy as you are with them that don't know you." Rosto said it like he was my wise old grandfather. "I'd've thought Goodwin and Tunstall would have made you more sociable with the other Dogs."

  "I talked to him," I snapped. "For all the good it did me."

  "Goodwin and Tunstall didn't make her that sociable," Ersken said. He was trying to feed Kora's cat, Fuzzball, without bleeding for it. Fuzzball could be greedy at times, and his claws were sharp. "Why should they? They're happy when Beka gets kicked back to them, even though my Lord Provost told Ahuda the other d
ay that he wants two good pairs, not one great team of three."

  I hid my face in my hands. I don't want my lord to be unhappy with me. It's not just that he's my sponsor, or the head of the Provost's Guards. I want to repay him for taking my family out of the Lower City and giving us a decent life. "When did you hear this?" I asked.

  "Three days back," Ersken said. I heard wickedness in his voice as he added, "When he noticed that Silsbee rolled his eyes as you came within his view."

  Pounce jumped onto my shoulder as I moaned.

  Why are you groaning? he asked me. My lord would see you commit murder before he'd stop liking you.

  My friends looked curious. This time they heard Pounce only speaking in cat, not in human speech as I did, or they would have laughed. Half the time he lets them know what he is saying, and half the time he does not. He likes to tease, does Pounce.

  Feet clattered up the stair. Tansy had forgotten to take off the wooden pattens she wore to lift her feet clear of the street muck. She flung the breakfast room door wide. Her rain hat was askew, her gold curls tumbling from their pins. She threw her rain cape on the floor and banged a basket of rolls on the table before us. Her cheeks were red, her eyes sparkling with anger.

  "I have never been so humiliated!" she said, panting from her run up from the common room floor.

  "You tracked mud in here. The wood's not stained yet," Rosto told her. He is as picky as a cat about this inn he's building.

  Tansy glared at him. "Mud scrubs off," she said tartly. "It's not dignified for the Rogue to worrit himself about housekeeping." She was vexed, sure enough. Her Upmarket speech was slipping into the Lower City cant of our childhood. Bending, she slipped off her pattens, setting them outside the room's door.

  Aniki poured Tansy a cup of hot tea. "Your day off to a bad start?" she asked as Tansy put on a pair of the slippers kept by the door for us.

  "Baker Garnett tested the coin I gave him – and it was false! A silver cole, a thin coating over brass!" Tansy sat next to me and ripped a roll in two. "He had guards in the shop. One of them grabbed me. I gave him the knee in the cod, the scut. Then my dozy footman got into it. A flea I put in my cove's ear, not stopping the plaguey bastard before handling a citywoman like me!" She took a gulp of the tea and winced. It was too hot.