PRAISE FOR DARKWALKER
Books by E. L. Tettensor
Drem lurched through the mist, putting one foot resolutely in front of the other, his boots slurping in time with the throbbing of his head. Cold, wet droplets soaked his brow. How much of it was weather, and how much sweat, he couldn’t tell. He raised a hand to his forehead and found what he expected: warm, even through the damp. It’s fever, all right, he thought. Isn’t that just perfect? All he wanted was to lie down, to curl up in a corner of his shack and sleep, but if he didn’t put in his time at the clinic, he wouldn’t eat today. Just a little farther, he told himself. Maybe Sister Rhea will let you rest a bit before she puts you to work. The nun was a kindly sort—you’d have to be, running a clinic in a slum—and she wasn’t likely to be too demanding once she saw the state Drem was in.
The mist turned to drizzle as he slogged on. Drem started to shiver. The fog swept in, a foul gauze clinging to the cankers that passed for dwellings, the seeping gouges that served as roads. The main avenue, already quiet, began to clear as the slum’s residents fled the weather. A trio of ragged Adali children gathered their pebbles up out of the mud and scattered, bounding away like startled deer. On the other side of the road, a woman selling bread cursed a salty streak as she tried to hustle her wares inside before they were ruined. Summer in the Camp, Drem thought wryly. God, he hated this place.
He could hear coughing from several of the shacks he passed. Women and children, old men and young, they all sounded the same—gusty, crackling whoops that made Drem’s chest tighten in sympathy. Half the Camp seemed to have it. It’s that damn cough that’s doing it, he thought. Has to be. Nothing but plague could account for so many deaths in such a short span of time. It didn’t explain why no one had come to claim the bodies, but maybe that wasn’t so strange. This was the Camp, after all; a bigger collection of indigent, anonymous wretches had never been. Wretches like you, Drem Eldren. If the cough got him too, would anyone care? Sister Rhea, maybe. Then again, maybe not. The nun had seen so much of death, especially these past few days. Most likely, the sight of Drem’s corpse wouldn’t inspire much more than the usual sigh and shake of her head. Another of God’s children called home, she’d say, as though life were nothing more than the brief distractions of a child, a game of pebbles in the street.
Up ahead, a shape appeared in the fog: a blood-colored hand reaching, disembodied, through the veil. At last. With the clinic in sight, Drem managed to liven his gait a little. The healer’s flag rolled gently as the rain picked up, the crimson hand seeming to wave him inside.
The stench hit him as soon as he pushed through the tent flap: sweat and bedpans, herbs and potions, pestilence and decay. Drem should have been used to it by now, but in his fevered state, it was almost too much for him; he had to fight down a wave of nausea.
“Ah, good.” Sister Rhea glanced up from whatever medicine she was preparing, her warm eyes crinkling at the fringes. “I was beginning to think I wouldn’t see you this morning.”
Drem scanned the small vestibule, but saw only bloody rags and brown medicine bottles. “Just me today, Sister?”
“Not quite, but we’re definitely shorthanded. It’s the weather, I think.” The nun meted out a few drops of dark liquid into a glass of water. Her shadow, grotesquely elongated in the lamplight, mimicked the gesture against the stained sheet separating the vestibule from the patient beds.
“Didn’t see the wheelbarrow outside,” Drem said. He hoped that meant one of the other volunteers had taken it. Let someone else collect the corpses for once.
“No, thank the Lord, it’s still out back. We’ve not had any reports this morning. It’s a blessed relief, after the last few days. I was beginning to think we had an epidemic on our hands. So many dead . . .” As she spoke, a tattered cough sounded from the other side of the partition, as if warning the nun not to count her blessings just yet.
“It’s that cough, I reckon,” Drem said. “Killing ’em left and right.”
The nun hummed thoughtfully. “I don’t think so. More like the flux, from the condition of the bodies, though that’s not quite right either. The flux doesn’t cause that kind of bruising, and it certainly doesn’t do that to the eyes.”
Drem shuddered. He’d almost managed to forget the eyes. He had no fear of dead bodies—could hardly work in a clinic if he did—but the ones he’d been collecting lately were different. Those corpses haunted his nightmares. The purple welts, the distended bellies—those were bad enough. But the eyes . . . He couldn’t begin to guess what caused a man’s eyes to bleed like that. He supposed he didn’t want to know.
Someone moaned from the patient beds, calling for water. Sister Rhea scarcely seemed to notice; she was too busy looking at Drem. Her expression was pinched, unsettling. “Are you all right? You’re white as a sheet.”
Instinctively, Drem touched his forehead again. Even warmer. “I’m fine, Sister. Thank you.” He needed to put in at least a little work today, or he wouldn’t feel right taking the food. If he’d wanted outright charity, he wouldn’t have volunteered at the clinic in the first place.
“You don’t look fine.” The nun set the glass of water down on her medicine table. “You’re sweating, and . . . Is your nose bleeding?”
Drem’s fingers brushed his nostrils and came away smeared with blood. He grunted in surprise. “Looks like. I didn’t know.” He accepted a handkerchief. “Thank you, Sister.”
“Sit down, please.” The nun gestured at her own chair. “Have you been coughing?”
“Pain in your chest? Shortness of breath?”
“No, Sister. Just woke up with a headache, is all, and now this fever. The nosebleed . . . that’s new.”
“Take a deep breath, please.” The nun pressed an empty glass between Drem’s shoulder blades and bent her ear to it. Embarrassed, Drem did as he was told, breathing in and out, in and out, until Sister Rhea was satisfied. “Your lungs sound fine.”
I could’ve told you that. “I do feel a bit light-headed, though.” Even as he said the words, tiny specks of light swarmed in his vision. He felt something warm and sticky on his upper lip.
“Tip your head back!” Sister Rhea grabbed the handkerchief and clamped his nose with it. Moments later, Drem tasted blood at the back of his throat. Now he did cough, and once he started, he couldn’t seem to stop. He hacked until his eyes watered, until he could hardly breathe. Droplets of red spattered the sheet wall in front of him, spreading like tiny ink stains. When at last the spasm subsided, he found himself doubled over and gasping for breath, clutching his nose and wondering how in the below a grown man came down with a gushing nosebleed.
He was going to ask Sister Rhea, but when he raised his head, the look on the nun’s face made his heart stutter. “What is it, Sister?”
“Your eyes.” The nun hesitated. “They’re . . . well, I’m afraid they’re bleeding.”
The shot almost took him.
If Lenoir had been wearing a hat, it would have been blown clean off. As it was, he felt his hair move as the bricks above his head exploded into dust, sending a shower of debris down the inside of his collar. Cursing, Lenoir ducked back around the corner of the building, fumbling for his own gun. Fool. You should have guessed he would be armed. Civilians rarely carried pistols, but this was no small-time thief. He had killed before, and left the auctioneer unconscious. Slow down, Lenoir. Think before you act. He would be damned if he got himself killed over a painting—and a crude, tacky, Braelish painting at that.
Cocking the hammer of his flintlock, Lenoir peered cautiously around the corner, but his quarry was nowhere to be seen. He stepped out from the cover of the wall, his gaze raking every trash heap, every doorway, every shadowed corner. The alley stretched on, empty, for another fifty feet before hitting Warrick Avenue. Lenoir hesitated, puzzled. He cannot have run that fast. Where could he . . . ?
A sound drew his eyes upward, and he caught a glimpse of movement. The thief was scrambling hand over hand up a drainpipe. Lenoir aimed his gun and fired, but he missed by a wide margin, earning himself a second dust shower. The thief did not so much as flinch, and within moments he was over the parapet and out of sight. Lenoir swore. He could not possibly follow; his body was thoroughly unequal to the task. His mind, though, might do better. He imagined himself standing on the roof, scanning his surroundings.
Warrick Avenue was too wide to cross from the rooftops. The thief would have to climb down first, and that would take too much time. He had not leapt across the alley, or Lenoir would have seen him. That left south toward Ayslington Street, or west toward Bridgeway. An athletic man might make the jump across Bridgeway—and the thief was obviously athletic, having made short work of the drainpipe. But it would be risky, and Lenoir doubted his man was any more eager than he to get himself killed over a painting, no matter how inexplicably valuable it might be. Ayslington would be the easier jump, for the streets were narrower than the avenues. South, then, he concluded, and sprinted back up the alley.
He banked onto Bridgeway and nearly collided with a fruit stand. Avoiding it landed him right in the thick of the foot traffic, and he had to put his shoulder into it, bowling a path for himself and ignoring the outraged cries that followed in his wake. He glanced up at the eaves as he ran, but there was no sign of the thief. No matter. His course is clear.
Just as he reached Ayslington Street, someone blasted into him from the side, throwing him into the path of an oncoming carriage. Lenoir might have met his end right there had he not been wrestled aside by a pair of meaty arms. The carriage rumbled past, so close that the hoofbeats seemed to ricochet inside Lenoir’s skull, drowning out even the cursing of the startled driver.
“Sorry, Inspector.” Sergeant Kody brushed at Lenoir’s coat in a feeble attempt to right it. “Didn’t see you coming.”
“Clearly.” Lenoir twisted out of the sergeant’s grasp. He was not sure what irritated him more: that Kody had stumbled onto the thief’s trail through sheer luck, or that he was not even winded from the chase. Lenoir, for his part, had to brace his hands against his thighs to catch his breath. His eyes scoured the rooftops. Nothing. “Damn! We missed him!”
“I heard a shot, but I wasn’t sure . . .” Kody trailed off as he followed Lenoir’s gaze. “He’s up there?”
Lenoir ignored the question. He squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating. Once again, he mapped out the block in his mind. Bridgeway to his right, Warrick to his left . . . They had reached the boundaries of Old Town, and Bridgeway would soon curve off to the west, leaving a narrow alley to continue on straight, like a tributary of a much larger river. He could make that jump and head west, but . . . Lenoir shook his head. “There is nowhere for him to go.”
“How do you figure that?” Kody gestured at the rooftops across Ayslington Street. “The end of that block hits the water. He could jump in the river and just swim away.”
“With a four thousand–crown painting in his pack? I think not.”
“West, then. He could jump the alley where Bridgeway curves off.”
“Old Town,” Lenoir snapped. “Peaked roofs.” Then it dawned on him. He turned and bolted back the way he had come, leaving Kody to follow. He could only hope the thief had lost time to indecision, or they might be too late. “Get your crossbow ready, Sergeant!”
By the time they got back to the alley, Lenoir was fit to collapse, but somehow he managed to calm his breathing as he trained his pistol on the narrow track of sky above his head, cocking the hammer of the second barrel. “Be ready.”
The sergeant frowned down the sight of his crossbow. “How will we know where—”
They had only a fraction of a moment to react. The crescendo of footfalls, the scrape of roof tiles, the faintest grunt of exertion—then the fluttering black cloak appeared overhead. Lenoir fired. He knew he had missed the moment he squeezed the trigger, but as always, Bran Kody found his mark. The thief did not scream, but Lenoir knew the bolt had taken him, for the man missed his jump and slammed onto the edge of the roof. He scrabbled at the tiles, but it was a lost cause; he plucked them loose like so many feathers, sending them spinning to the cobbles below, and soon after he followed them. Now he did scream.
He was still screaming when Kody flipped him over and wrenched his arms behind his back. The feathered end of a bolt protruded from his thigh. Lenoir procured the iron cuffs, but he could not get the man to stop writhing for long enough to get them on; after a cursory attempt, he left the business to Kody.
“No offense, Inspector,” Kody said, “but I’m not sure why you find these so difficult. They’re simple enough. See?” He demonstrated, as if he were teaching a child how to tie his shoes.
“No, Sergeant, I’m afraid I do not see. These Braelish devices are needlessly complicated. Give me a T-chain, and I am content. One does not need to weigh two hundred pounds to subdue the perpetrator while one fumbles with one’s keys. A simple twist will do the job.”
Kody looked at him askance. “Sure will, and crush his wrists in the bargain. Kind of barbaric, don’t you think?” With a final crank, he locked the second cuff and shoved the thief onto his belly.
“I was not aware the objective was to make the criminal comfortable.”
“What if the guy’s innocent?”
Lenoir stooped to retrieve the thief’s fallen pack. “If he is innocent, you should not have him in restraints.” He jammed his hand inside the pack, only to hiss and withdraw it again. A bead of blood appeared on his thumb.
“What is it?” Kody asked.
Lenoir drew out a ragged shiver of wood with a bit of canvas drooping from it. Slowly, forlornly, the rest of the painting followed, clinging to its shattered frame like a furled sail. “Garden By Evening, it would appear. What is left of it.”
Kody winced. “Lord Einhorn won’t be happy about that. Neither will the chief.”
“Lord Einhorn’s love affair with this monstrosity is obviously over, or he would not have put it up for auction. As for the chief . . . It is not our job to protect works of so-called art. We are policemen, not museum curators.”
Kody did not look convinced, and he gave the thief a shove with his boot. The man moaned something about his legs. “Broken, most likely,” Kody said. “Want me to carry him, Inspector?”
Lenoir did not doubt for a moment that the burly sergeant was strong enough, but the question still struck him as bizarre. “You are a sergeant, Kody, not some newly whelped street hound. Leave the heavy lifting to the watchmen.”
“I’ll go find one,” Kody said, and he loped off toward Warrick Avenue.
Absently, Lenoir flattened the bedraggled painting against the wall. He scrutinized its bold colors, its harsh, clipped strokes, its muddy texture. A garden only a Braelishman could love. “I shall ask the magistrate to be lenient, my friend,” he muttered to the thief, “for you have surely done a public service.”
* * *
“Destroyed,” said Chief Lendon Reck. “As in, destroyed.”
Lenoir shrugged. “Perhaps that is too strong. I’m sure it can be restored, though why anyone would wish to, I cannot imagine.”
The chief gave him a wry look. “You’re an art critic now?”
“I am Arrènais, Chief. We are all art critics.”
Reck snorted. “Not to mention food critics, fashion critics, theater critics . . .”
“Criticism builds character.”
“I guess that explains why you lot are such a humble people.”
Lenoir’s lip quirked just short of a smile. “Undoubtedly.”
The repartee was short-lived. The chief’s countenance clouded over again, his thick gray eyebrows gathering beneath the deep lines of his forehead. “You want to tell me what in the below my best inspector is doing running down a thief? That’s his job.” He jabbed a finger at Kody.
The irony of this lecture was not lost on Lenoir. Small wonder Kody acts like a watchman, when you act like a sergeant. “I was not precisely running the man down,” he said, a little defensively. “I did not expect to meet the thief, merely to discover his hideout.”
Reck spread his hands, inviting Lenoir to continue.
“The painting was stolen yesterday, from the auction house. His Lordship wished to recover it, and he asked for me personally. I intended to discover the thief’s hideout and assemble some watchmen to bring him in.”
“Didn’t quite go to plan, though,” Kody put in, helpfully.
“So you end up chasing him all over Evenside.” Reck shook his head. “I don’t know what’s got into you, Lenoir. A few months ago, I could hardly get you to take an interest in a murder investigation. Now you’re putting your life on the line for a stolen painting. You have a recent brush with death or something?”
This time, Lenoir chose to ignore the irony. “I thought you would want me to take the case, Chief. Lord Einhorn is a particular benefactor of the Metropolitan Police.”
“Don’t I know it! And now I have to explain to His Lordship how a valuable piece of art came to be destroyed!”
“I can explain it to him, if you wish.”
The wry look returned. “No, thank you. I’d like to make it sound like we regret ruining his painting.”
Lenoir shrugged. “As you like. And now if you will excuse me, I have a report to file. . . .” More accurately, Kody had a report to file, but Lenoir saw no point in bothering the chief with extraneous details.
“Later,” Reck said, rising and grabbing his coat from the rack. “You’re coming with me, Lenoir. We have business with the lord mayor.”
Lenoir made only the barest effort to conceal his dismay. “We, Chief? I cannot imagine what His Honor could possibly—”
“Save it. I know how you feel about the man, but fortunately for you, it’s not mutual. His Honor has a crisis on his hands, and he wants our best. That means you. Now let’s go.” Turning to Kody, he added, “I’ll want that report when I get back.”
Lenoir trailed the chief down the stairs and into the kennel, bracing himself for the throng. The shift was just changing over, and watchmen teemed in every direction, choking the narrow avenues between work spaces. Sergeants tucked themselves more tightly behind their desks, and scribes pressed up against walls and collected in corners, clutching their ledgers and ink bottles and waiting out the tide. The chief made no such accommodation, nor did he need to; as soon as his boots hit the floor, the pack of hounds parted as if by some collective instinct, standing aside to let their alpha through. Lenoir followed closely in Reck’s wake, feeling the pack close up behind him.
The chief’s carriage waited for them in the street, a pair of watchmen serving as driver and footman. Reck waved the latter off as he climbed in, and he was still scowling when Lenoir took the seat across from him. “If you hate the carriage so much, why do you take it?” Lenoir asked, amused.
“For the dignity of the Kennian Metropolitan Police,” Reck said dryly. “If I showed up at the lord mayor’s mansion on horseback, I’d never hear the end of it.” He rapped his knuckles on the wall behind him, and the carriage started up.
The chief said nothing for the first several blocks, preferring to stare out the window, lost in the cares of his office. Ordinarily, silence suited Lenoir perfectly well, but he did not wish to arrive at the lord mayor’s without any notion of why he had been summoned. “There is a body, I presume?” he prompted.
“If only it were just the one.” Reck’s reflection in the carriage window was weary. Lines crisscrossed his pale face, each one a journey, tread and retread, like game trails in the snow. He had been strong once, Lenoir judged, a heavy like Kody, but in the ten years Lenoir had known him, he had always seemed . . . used. Not for the first time, Lenoir wondered why the man did not simply retire. He had earned his rest many times over. And if there was no one around capable of taking his place . . . well, that was not going to change anytime soon. The Kennian Metropolitan Police had a few stray threads of competence, but they were tightly woven into a fabric of mediocrity. Unless the chief planned to cling to his post until he died, he was going to have to accept the fact that his successor, whoever he was, was most likely not going to measure up.
In the meantime, Reck had more than one body on his hands. A serial killer, or a massacre? Sadly, the City of Kennian was no stranger to either. “How many dead?” Lenoir asked.
“Over a thousand, at last count.”
Just like that. A hard blow to the stomach.
Lenoir stared. “I don’t understand. There cannot have been a thousand murders in the entire history of the Metropolitan Police.”
“Who said anything about murders?”
Lenoir frowned. “It’s not like you to be coy, Chief.”
Reck scowled back at him. “I’m not the one being coy. All I know is what His Honor’s letter said, and that wasn’t much. There’s some kind of epidemic at the Camp, and he’s afraid it’s getting out of hand.”
“I have heard the rumors, of course, but . . . what has it to do with us? It is unfortunate, but hardly unusual. Disease is the wildfire of the slums. You can count upon it razing the ground every now and then. It is not a matter for the police.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Lendon Reck, like Nicolas Lenoir, was not a man inclined to sentimentality. “Look, there’s no point grousing about it. The lord mayor calls; we come running.” The chief’s tone left little doubt about his own lack of enthusiasm for this endeavor, and Lenoir decided it was pointless to press the matter further. He would have his answers soon enough.
The walls outside the carriage window soon gave way to sloping lawns and manicured hedges, signaling their arrival at the mayoral mansion. Lenoir could not suppress a sour turn of his mouth. Emmory Lyle Hearstings had been lord mayor of Kennian for three years, and in that time, he had thoroughly distinguished himself as one of the most fatuous creatures on hind legs. Lenoir had never been endowed with a great store of patience, but few taxed his meager reserves more thoroughly than His Honor. The sole stroke of good fortune was that Hearstings was generally too thick to notice. Still, Reck was taking no chances: as the carriage shuddered to a halt, he leveled a finger at Lenoir and said, “On your best behavior, Inspector, or I’ll have you patrolling with the pups.”
Lenoir might have declared such an activity to be preferable to the current enterprise, but he had no wish to antagonize the chief further, so he merely nodded.
They were shown to a frilly parlor and offered tea. They both declined. The chamberlain invited them to sit, indicating a delicate-looking sofa upholstered with elaborately embroidered silk. Reck frowned at it dubiously, as though he had been invited to sit on a poodle. He opted for a more functional-looking chair instead. Lenoir perched on the proffered sofa, if a little gingerly.
“A fine piece, newly commissioned,” the chamberlain said, his pride evidently piqued by the chief’s rebuff.
“It’s . . . nice,” Reck said, a peace offering. “Goes with the style of the room.”
“Arrènais,” the chamberlain said, and Lenoir succumbed to a fit of coughing.
His Honor kept them waiting, as was his wont. It would not do for him to seem too available. Reck folded his arms and scowled at the carpet. Lenoir drummed his fingers on his trousers (the only genuinely Arrènais fabric in the room, or he was a fishwife). The clock on the mantel measured out the passage of time with prim precision. The chamberlain reappeared now and then to update them on His Honor’s unavailability, and to offer tea. Eventually, he was obliged to draw the curtains against the increasingly intrusive slant of the afternoon sun.
By the time Hearstings graced them with his presence, even Reck had had enough; he sprang to his feet like a scalded cat. “Your Honor.”
“Chief Reck.” The lord mayor’s improbable mustaches perked up as he smiled. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long. And Inspector! I trust you are par rinn . . . er, par renne—”
“Very well. Thank you,” Lenoir said before further violence could be done to his mother tongue.
“Yes, well. Very good. Please, gentlemen, take a seat.” Hearstings lowered his own ponderous girth into an armchair. Even as he sat, he reached inside his jacket and consulted his pocket watch in a gesture contrived enough to grace a portrait, or perhaps even hard currency. “How are things at the station?”
“Fine, thank you, Your Honor,” Reck said.
“A lovely graduation ceremony last week. You must so enjoy welcoming the new lads.”
“One of the privileges of the job.”
“Excellent food too. We must be allocating too much coin to the Metropolitan Police!” His Honor barked out a laugh.
A vein swelled in the chief’s forehead, a sign every hound knew and dreaded.
Hearstings was oblivious. “By the way, Reck, are you looking into that business of Einhorn’s?”
“Oh, good. I heard there was quite an incident at the auctioneer’s. Why, did you know—”
“Excuse me, Your Honor, I thought you wanted to discuss the Camp?”
“Ah, indeed.” The lord mayor assumed a solemn look, running his thumb and forefinger along his mustaches. “I’ll come straight to the point.”
Somehow, the chief managed to nod without a hint of irony.
“We have an epidemic in the Camp,” Hearstings said. “Horrid disease, from what I hear. Men bleeding to death from the inside out.”
Reck grimaced. “Sounds ugly.”
“That’s an understatement. Have you ever heard of anything like it?”
The chief shook his head. “You, Lenoir?”
“No, Chief, I have not.”
“Neither has my physician,” said Hearstings. “So far, it’s confined to the Camp, thank God, but it’s making a damn mess of the place. If it gets out of hand, I’ll have panic on my hands.”
Lenoir did not doubt that was true, but he still failed to see where the police came into it. So did Reck, apparently, for he asked, “What exactly do you need from us?”
Hearstings fluttered his hand, as though shooing a fly. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but I promised Lideman I’d send for you. Head out there first thing in the morning. Talk to him. Hear him out, let me know if you think there’s anything in it, that’s all.”
Lenoir and Reck exchanged a blank look. “Lideman? And he is . . . ?”
“From the College of Physicians. Head of Medical Sciences. He’s been out at the Camp the past few days looking into this. He has . . . theories.”
“About what, exactly?”
“Why, about the disease, of course. About where it came from.”
“No doubt that is a fascinating puzzle for a physician,” Lenoir said, “but it is not the concern of the Metropolitan Police.”
Reck shot him a warning look. “What Lenoir means, Your Honor, is that my hounds are hardly qualified—”
“You misunderstand,” the lord mayor said. “I’m not asking you to solve a medical mystery. I’m asking you to look into a potential crime. You see, Lideman doesn’t think the disease reached the Camp on its own. He believes it was planted.”
For a moment, Lenoir was not sure he had heard right. “Planted. Meaning, deliberately.”
Reck leaned forward, his chair creaking beneath him. “You think someone started a plague on purpose?”
“It sounds outlandish, I know, but Lideman is absolutely convinced. If he’s right, it means someone is trying to commit mass murder.”
More than a thousand bodies, the chief had said. And that was just the beginning. “If he is right,” Lenoir said, “someone is succeeding.”
“I don’t get it,” said Kody.
If he had all day, Lenoir could not possibly enumerate all the ways in which that was true. “Could you be more specific, Sergeant?”
“It just seems kind of far-fetched. I mean, why would anybody want to start an epidemic?”
Lenoir guided his horse toward the stone archway that marked the Stag’s Gate, nodding at the guard as he neared. It had always struck him as a quaint anachronism—putting guards on a gate that no longer held any significance, the old walls having long since been outstripped by the growth of the city—but he played along. It was still theoretically possible for the guards to refuse someone passage, and in Lenoir’s experience, minor authorities enjoyed nothing better than flexing their muscle. It was best not to tempt them. Instead, he held his horse patiently while the guard made a great show of inspecting a handcart before waving it through, as though the old woman wheeling it were passing from the countryside into the city, instead of from Houndsrow to Whitmarch.
“And if you did want to start an epidemic,” Kody went on, “why do it in the Camp? Why not somewhere more central, like Greenmire or Stonesgully?”
The sergeant had a point. If the goal was to spread the disease as rapidly as possible, it would make more sense to plant it somewhere within the city walls, where conditions were ripest. The population density, the location—the inner city slums made ideal breeding grounds for disease. The Camp outdid them all for sheer squalor, but it was far enough on the outskirts of the city that some did not even consider it part of Kennian proper.
“Those are the right questions,” Lenoir said, “but this is not the right time to ask them. It is far too early to guess at motives. We do not even know if this Lideman’s theory is correct, and the disease was planted deliberately.”
“I wonder if he’s the real thing. Most of these so-called physicians are charlatans, if you ask me. Although, I suppose if he’s Head of Medical Sciences at the college, he must have some credentials. . . .”
The sergeant continued to prattle on, but Lenoir had stopped listening. In moments like these, he pined for the good old days, when Bran Kody had despised him too much to indulge in idle chatter. Like a plant that wants nothing but air to survive, Lenoir had been content for his relationship with Kody to subsist entirely on cold silences. Alas, those days were gone.
“Speculation is fruitless, Sergeant,” he interrupted. “We have not a shred of evidence to go on. For the moment, we must content ourselves with observation.” Silent observation, God willing.
Kody took the hint and subsided.
As they drew farther away from the old walls, the scene around them grew ever more disorganized. Where the inner city was a complex warren of narrow, twisting alleys, and the more distinguished suburbs of Morningside an ordered procession of genteel houses, the streets of Houndsrow seemed almost to exist by accident. Eight-story tenements vied for space with ancient stone farmhouses capped with thatch, the latter looking for all the world as if they had sprouted up between the gaps like furry little mushrooms after a rain. The tenements were topped with timber jetties that slanted out over the streets, giving the buildings a precarious lean, as if they had suffered a paralytic stroke. Every inch of space was accounted for, yet few of them well. Every now and then, Lenoir and Kody would pass a cobbled square with a fountain, or an ancient church, or some other remnant of a village that had long since been swallowed by Kennian’s voracious appetite for expansion. Mostly, though, the Evenside suburbs were a place of semipermanence, a haphazard landscape sketched in rough, hasty lines. Lenoir and Kody wended their way through the jumble until they reached Addleman’s Bridge, a narrow path of stone arching over the slow, moody waters of the River Sherrin. The river marked the edge of the city proper. On the near bank stood the modest suburb of Fishering; on the far bank, the Camp. In between, Addleman’s Bridge marked the last bastion of civilization.
Kody sighed. “Here we are.”
Lenoir shared the sergeant’s lack of enthusiasm. The last time he had been here, it was in the company of a supernatural creature who wanted him dead. Somehow, he had survived that night, and even found an ally in the vengeful spirit who had once hunted him. But that did not mean he was eager for a reminder of the experience. It made the scar on his right forearm squirm a little, as though maggots wriggled just under the skin.
“Let us be as quick as we can about it,” Lenoir said, and he spurred his horse.
He could see the pestilence houses from the bridge, their pale peaks looming over the hovels like a range of snowcapped mountains. They could not have been there long, judging from the crisp white color of the canvas, but there were already at least two rows of them. There will be more, Lenoir thought, before this thing is done.
As they neared the foot of the bridge, he felt increasingly uneasy. The cold clatter of their hooves intruded upon an eerie hush, as though they were barging uninvited into a funeral. Mercifully, the sound died away as the horses passed from stone onto earth, their hooves beating out a dull, irregular rhythm, like the stutter of a terrified heart. The street was nearly deserted. A few people stirred here and there—carrying water, or firewood, or sacks of flour—but they went about their business in hurried silence. No children played in the street. No idle youths loitered about. Even the stray dogs sat subdued as the horses plodded past.
Kody threw Lenoir a grim look, but he did not speak. Disturbing the silence seemed disrespectful somehow.
The pestilence houses had been erected a short distance from the river, for ease of access to the water. The ranks of white tents looked like the camp of some invading army. Both sights were familiar to Lenoir, and they often coincided, as they had during the revolution in his home country. Lenoir’s beloved city of Serles had suffered greatly under the twin scourges of violence and disease; his adolescence had been a study of death in every possible shade.
More delightful memories. The Camp seemed to be full of them.
They found Lideman in the largest of the tents, where the procedures were performed. A row of cots lined the space on either side, each one occupied by a patient. Lenoir spotted the physician immediately: he strolled between the rows, hands folded behind his back, as though he were taking a leisurely walk in the public gardens. Behind him trailed a younger man, furiously scribbling notes in a ledger. They had not yet noticed the visitors, and Lenoir could not prevent his gaze from roaming over the patient beds in morbid curiosity.
He immediately wished he had not.
Men, women, and children of every shape and size occupied the cots, about fifty in all. Their pale flesh gleamed with sweat, and their hair clung to their scalps in matted clumps. Some seemed to suffer only from fever, but others presented ghastlier symptoms, looking almost as if they had been beaten half to death. Their arms and chests were covered with massive purple welts, and their limbs appeared swollen. Dark blood trickled out of nostrils, from the corners of mouths. Bloody tears streaked faces white as death. The smell of rotting flesh hung in the air, like a butcher’s on a hot day. Lenoir threw his arm up over his nose and mouth to prevent himself from retching. Kody did the same, backing away instinctively until he bumped against a table and was forced to grab it to steady himself. Instruments rattled, and Kody cursed quietly.
Lideman and his young assistant turned at the sound. Both men wore scarves tied around their faces. “Gentlemen, you should not be here!” the physician called. “It is not safe!”
“We are with the Metropolitan Police,” said Lenoir through his sleeve. “We have been sent by the lord mayor.”
Lideman grunted. “Good. But it is still not safe. Wait outside, and I will be with you directly.” Turning to his assistant, he said, “Ten more minutes of draining, and not a moment more. These people have little enough blood to spare.”
Draining? Lenoir looked again at the nearest cot, and he realized that some of what he had taken for bruises were actually leeches. Of course. Braelish physicians and their leeches.
Kody’s nose wrinkled behind his sleeve, and he glanced at Lenoir. See? the look seemed to say. Charlatans.
They quit the tent without any further encouragement, waiting for Lideman to join them. In spite of what they had just seen, neither man spoke; the strange hush had descended over them again. They watched mutely as a steady procession of nuns moved between the tents, carrying bloody rags, pails of dark liquid, and assorted other items Lenoir did not care to scrutinize. A pair of young men, presumably medical students, appeared at the mouth of one of the tents, bearing a litter with a sheet draped over it. A child, judging by the length of the body.
“Where do you bury them?” Lenoir asked, breaking the silence as Lideman joined them.
The physician tugged the scarf down, revealing a kind face lined with care. “A trench near the edge of the woods. We don’t have time for individual graves anymore.” He held out a hand. When Lenoir hesitated, he smiled. “You are wise to be cautious, but you needn’t worry. I touch nothing with my bare hands.”
Even as he spoke, Lenoir noticed the leather gloves stuffed into the physician’s coat pocket. The coat itself appeared to have been treated with some kind of wax, and the hem was unusually long, reaching almost to the ground. The physician was taking no chances. “Inspector Nicolas Lenoir,” he said as he shook, “and this is Sergeant Kody.”
“Horst Lideman, from the College of Physicians. But I suppose you already knew that.” He gestured at a small green tent set apart from the others. “This way, please, Inspector. It’s not much safer out here than it is in the treatment tent.”
They followed Lideman into the green tent, which appeared to be a makeshift office. A desk laden with books and ledgers crowded the space, leaving only enough room for a few extra chairs. A soft globe of light from a pair of lanterns was all that illuminated the space. A gloomy place for gloomy work, Lenoir thought, taking one of the proffered chairs.
“I’m glad His Honor sent you,” Lideman said as he sat behind the desk. “I wasn’t sure he would. He didn’t seem to put much stock in our theory.” There was no bitterness in the words; it was simply a statement of fact.
“Our theory?” Lenoir arched an eyebrow.
“The college is of one mind on this. The disease was definitely planted.”
“And what leads you to this conclusion?”
“It is quite straightforward, once you know the characteristics of the disease.”
Lenoir was not eager to know the details, but he was obliged to ask. “How so?”
“There are three factors,” Lideman said, holding up as many fingers. He assumed a professorial tone. “First, we have never seen this disease in Braeland before, though we have heard rumors of it appearing much farther north, beyond Adaliland. I have written to my colleagues all over Humenor, but I am virtually certain they will confirm that the disease is unknown to their shores as well.”
“Kennian is a port city,” Lenoir pointed out. “Exotic diseases are often brought in by ship. That is how the pox reached Arrènes thirty years ago.”
“That brings me to the second factor, Inspector. This disease is exceptionally virulent. It kills more than three quarters of those it infects, and it does so with remarkable speed. For the first day or two, the symptoms appear remarkably like influenza. But after that, the patients deteriorate rapidly. Vomiting. Diarrhea. Bleeding from various orifices. After the lesions appear, it is more or less a lost cause. Death typically follows in less than twenty-four hours.”
“Those people in the tent . . .” Kody said.
Lideman shook his head. “We’re doing what we can, but I’m not hopeful. Some of them will survive, but those with the bruising . . . I haven’t seen a single patient come back from that.”
“How long does it take for the patient to fall ill?” Lenoir asked.
“It’s difficult to be sure, but what we’ve seen so far suggests that symptoms begin appearing three to four days after infection. Perhaps five, if the patient is especially hale.”
“Approximately a week between infection and death,” Lenoir summarized.
“In most cases, less.”
“Which means that whoever carried it into Kennian cannot have come from a very great distance, even by ship. He would not have survived the journey.”
“He might, if he was very lucky, but not without infecting others, two thirds of whom would have perished.”
“But he must have come from a long way,” Kody said, “and fast, or we would have heard about this disease before now.”
“Precisely.” The physician bestowed an approving nod, as though on a particularly bright pupil. “The only thing that spreads faster than an epidemic is word of it. Kennian is a port city, as you have pointed out, full of the comings and goings of foreigners. If a disease this devastating was headed our way, we would have heard about it.”
“Could a person be infected without showing signs?” Lenoir asked.
“Unlikely, and even if it were possible, I do not believe such a person would be contagious. The college has been here for over a week, and what we have seen in that time suggests that patients are not contagious until after they have presented with symptoms.”
“And for how long do they remain contagious?”
Lideman smiled. “Excellent question, Inspector, and that is the third factor. Patients are contagious for as long as they display symptoms, and they grow steadily more contagious as the disease progresses. So a patient in the early stages with flu-like symptoms is not terribly infectious, whereas someone with the lesions is dangerously so. As soon as they recover, however, they cease to be a danger. The battle is won, whether by the grace of God or modern medicine, and they have driven the enemy off the field. When they perish, however, they remain quite infectious, for the disease invades completely. It continues to feed on their dead flesh.”
Lenoir was beginning to understand. “It came to us through a corpse.”
“Or corpses,” Lideman said, with an arch of his eyebrow.
“In that case, Doctor, I am inclined to agree with your assessment. It seems very likely that this epidemic was started deliberately.”
“Sorry, Inspector, but . . .” Kody had the awkward, self-conscious look of a man who suspects he is about to ask a stupid question. “Are we sure about that? Maybe someone died on a sea voyage, and whoever unloaded the body didn’t realize it was infectious.”
“You have obviously never been on a ship, Sergeant,” Lenoir said with a thin smile. “Sailors are not known for their sentimentality. If a shipmate dies, he is tossed overboard, not transported lovingly into port. Especially if the crew fears that whatever killed him is contagious.”
“Besides,” Lideman said, “the disease seems to have cropped up in several places more or less simultaneously, suggesting multiple sources of infection.”
A rustle at the tent flap distracted them. The young assistant Lenoir had seen earlier poked his head through. “Excuse me, Doctor, but I’ve brought the nun you wanted to see.”
“Ah.” Lideman rose, smiling. “Excellent timing. Show her in.” A small, birdlike woman in white robes slipped into the tent, nodding gravely at each of them. “Sister Rhea,” Lideman said, indicating the last remaining chair, “thank you for coming back so soon. These men are from the Metropolitan Police.” Lenoir introduced himself and Kody. “I wonder if you could repeat for them what you told me yesterday, regarding the bodies you found.”
“I’m happy to tell what little I know,” the nun said. She was probably in her early thirties, but just now, she looked much older. Dark circles sagged under her eyes, and when she went to rub them, her hand revealed a slight tremor. She has not slept in days, Lenoir judged. “I didn’t find the bodies, exactly. They were reported to the clinic by local residents. I sent my volunteers out to collect them and bury them, after I had blessed them.”
“Volunteers?” Lenoir echoed, curious in spite of himself.
“Those who are willing to volunteer at the clinic receive a hot meal for every day they work,” the nun explained. “It gives them a sense of dignity to earn their keep.”
“Collecting corpses is a tough way to earn a meal,” Kody said.
The nun sighed. “And dangerous, apparently. It wasn’t a common activity until about a month ago. Usually, when someone dies in the Camp, his friends and relations bury him, or at least bring him to the clinic for us to take care of. When a body turns up in the street, it’s usually because the victim had no connections to speak of.”
“Plenty of people like that in the slums, I reckon,” Kody said.
“You would be surprised, Sergeant.” The nun’s tone was gently admonishing. “Life is hard here, it’s true, but these people look out for each other. Even if a man has no family or friends, his neighbors generally wouldn’t leave him lying in the street.”
“These bodies your volunteers collected,” Lenoir said, “did anyone recognize them?”
“Not that I know of, and no one came looking for them, the way relations do when their loved ones have gone missing.”
“Did you notice anything else unusual about the bodies?”
“You mean besides their condition?” The nun paused, considering. “Well, I suppose it’s a little strange that none of them was Adali.”
Lideman gave a thoughtful grunt. “The Camp must be twenty percent Adali, at least. Considering how many bodies you picked up, one would expect to find at least one Adal among the dead. Yet more evidence that these corpses came from elsewhere.”
“How many were there?” Kody asked, stealing the question from his superior’s lips. Lenoir shot him an irritated look, and was rewarded with a slight flush. The sergeant’s discipline had taken an unfortunate turn since the incident with the necromancers. Quite on his own, Kody had come close to cracking the case, and the success seemed to have gone to his head. Lenoir hoped he would not have to remind the sergeant of his place.
“There were eleven in all,” the nun said, “if I only count that first wave, the ones who were never identified.”
Lenoir drummed his fingers on his arm, thinking. “This first wave, as you call it—you found them over what period of time?”
“Four days. Perhaps five.”
“No two in the same place,” Lideman said. “All over the Camp, in fact.”
“Like sowing seeds in a field,” Lenoir murmured.
“Precisely,” said Lideman. “So you see, Inspector, it is quite obvious. Even if we presume the highly unlikely scenario of infected corpses somehow arriving in Kennian by accident, the odds of all of them turning up in the Camp, yet no two in the same place, are so minuscule as to defy belief. This epidemic was started deliberately, and whoever is behind it, he was thorough.”
Kody’s mouth tightened into a thin, angry line. Even he could not doubt it now.
“Exactly how infectious is this disease?”
Later, it would seem to Lenoir that his question had somehow tempted fate.
Before the physician could answer, a crack of sunlight appeared, signaling the return of the young assistant. He hesitated at the tent flap, looking afraid. “Doctor, you had better come. There are some men outside. They brought a warrant.”
“A warrant?” Lideman rose, looking bewildered. “A warrant for what?”
“You’d better come.”
Lenoir had to shield his eyes against the glare as he trailed Lideman out of the tent, Kody and the nun following. Two men stood arguing with one of the nuns. Lenoir studied them closely. Pressed slacks, laced shoes, buttoned coats. The raiment of the urban professional, but of modest make—too modest for bankers or lawyers. Officials of some kind, then. They could have been hounds, but Lenoir would have recognized them. From the City, he concluded, but before he had time to reflect on that, he realized they were not alone: Sergeants Innes and Izar stood at a discreet remove, their expressions grim.
The chief expects trouble. It was obvious from his choice of sergeants. Izar was a towering Adal with a permanently serious expression, and Innes looked like he had been hewn from the side of a mountain. Each of them was intimidating in his own right. Most people would think twice about crossing one of them, let alone both. In pairing them, Lendon Reck was sending a signal to anyone with eyes.
“Sergeants!” Lenoir called, startling them. They had not seen him emerge from the tent.
Izar and Innes came over, while Lideman hurried to join the nun arguing with the officials. “What are you two doing here?” Kody asked as his colleagues drew near.
“Chief sent us,” Innes rumbled. “Said we might find you here.”
Lenoir swallowed his irritation at this nonanswer. Innes was a capable enough sergeant, but that was mostly owing to his immense strength and ability to follow orders. His mental faculties were decidedly less remarkable. Lenoir addressed Izar instead. “These men—they are city officials?”
The Adal nodded. “They are here with a writ,” he said in a low voice, “from the lord mayor. The chief already got word, and he sent us to keep an eye on things, to see that they don’t get out of hand. There are watchmen on the way too, and lots of them.”
Lenoir had a sinking feeling. “The lord mayor is afraid the disease will spread.” Izar nodded again, gazing down at Lenoir with solemn golden eyes.
“Chief’s snarling mad,” Innes added. “Says he should have been told this was in the works when you all went to see His Honor yesterday. Says he doesn’t have the manpower to do it.”
“To do what?” Kody asked, looking between Izar and Innes in confusion.
Lenoir swore quietly in Arrènais. The sinking feeling had become a great hollow pit. “How much of it is he sealing off?”
“All of it, Inspector,” Izar said. “As of now, the Camp is under quarantine.”
“Hearstings is a fool,” Lenoir growled, watching as the city officials conferred with Lideman over the arrangements. The physician looked grave, but determined. Most likely he approved of the decision.
He was not the only one. “Maybe it’s for the best,” Kody said, “if this thing is really as bad as they say.”
Lenoir clucked his tongue impatiently. “Closing off the Camp may be prudent, but he could have waited a few hours at least, until we finished a first round of interviews. Instead he has torched our investigation.”
Kody gave him a skeptical look, as if he thought his superior was being dramatic.
Nettled, Lenoir said, “What do you suppose the residents of the Camp will make of the quarantine, Sergeant?”
“I don’t suppose they’ll like it.”
“And whom do you think they will blame?” To aid Kody’s thinking, he gestured at the watchmen swarming the foot of the bridge into town.
Kody’s brow smoothed as the situation dawned on him.
“That’s right, Sergeant. They will blame the hounds preventing them from fleeing this death trap. They will blame us.”
Kody sighed. “They won’t tell us a bloody thing.”
“Except, perhaps, to join the ranks of the damned. So we had better hurry and get what we can, because in a few hours, we will be about as welcome as this plague.”
“Where do we start?”
“I have no idea.” Lenoir scratched his jaw. Two days’ worth of stubble answered irritably, but gave him no inspiration. Then he spotted the nun lingering near the green tent. “Sister Rhea,” he called, heading over.
The nun seemed not to hear. Her eyes followed the officials as they pointed at the riverbank, gesturing along its length.
“Sister,” Lenoir said again.
Rhea did not turn. “They’re condemning these people to death,” she said, as if to herself. “We might have got it under control, but now . . . if people can’t leave, they will get sick. And they will die.”
Better the slums than the whole city. The thought hovered, unspoken, in the air.
“The volunteers who collected the bodies,” Lenoir said. “I presume they fell sick also?”
Rhea turned at last. Her eyes were dull and gray, like clouds burdened with unshed rain. “There was just the one, actually. An exceptionally hard worker. Drem.” She shook her head. “He started showing symptoms a few days after the first body turned up. That would be about four weeks ago now.”
“I’m sorry,” Kody said. He knew better than to wait for Lenoir to say it.
“Did he mention anything before he died that might be helpful?” Lenoir asked, sticking to the practical. “Something he saw, perhaps, or something he heard?”
To his surprise, the nun smiled, albeit wanly. “Oh, he didn’t die. Drem is exceptional in that way too. He’s one of the few survivors. He’s still very ill, but he will recover.”
Every man appreciates random strokes of luck, but to an inspector, they are diamonds in the dirt. Lenoir permitted himself a rare smile. “In that case, Sister, I should very much like to speak with him.”
“If he’s strong enough,” Kody added, but that was pure theater. He knew perfectly well that Lenoir would conduct the interview regardless.
“That should be possible,” Sister Rhea said. “Follow me.”
* * *
The red hand of healing was visible from a long way off, waving gently in the breeze. Lenoir could not suppress a shudder at the sight. Aside from the general queasiness he experienced in any encounter with Braelish “medicine,” he found the crimson hand to be a singularly macabre image. Was it meant to represent the stained hand of the barber? The lifeblood of the dying man? The frantic wave of someone signaling for help? The universal symbol of healing should be a source of comfort and solace. Instead, it was a vivid reminder of blood, of death and violence—or so it seemed to Lenoir.
The inside of the clinic was scarcely more reassuring. Flickering candlelight picked out the angles of a cramped space littered with the trappings of human suffering. Scalpels, scissors, and stained bandages lay scattered across one table; brown medicine bottles crowded another. Bedpans leaned in a precarious stack next to a washbasin. A familiar, funereal silence stifled the place.
“Most of the patients have gone,” Sister Rhea said, speaking softly. “Those afflicted with the plague were sent to the pestilence houses, and those with the cough have mostly fled. They would rather die of consumption than catch the plague, and I can’t say I blame them.”
“So there’s no plague in here?” Kody asked, visibly relieved.
“No longer. We have converted the clinic into a convalescent house.” Rhea sighed. “Which is why it’s nearly empty.”
“But you did treat plague patients initially?” Lenoir asked.
“I tried to. About two dozen patients came through here before the pestilence houses went up. I lost all but Drem.”
“That is to be expected, from what Lideman told us. In fact, it is fortunate that you yourself did not fall ill. How do you account for it?”
Her answer was predictable. “By God’s grace. He obviously has plans for me yet. This way, please, Officers.” She brushed aside the thin sheet separating the vestibule from the patient beds.
The clinic had a similar layout to the treatment tent presided over by Lideman, albeit on a much smaller scale. Two rows of cots lined either side of the tent, the passage between them barely wide enough to permit a man to pass. Most of the cots appeared to be empty, though it was difficult to be sure in the dim light. A single figure moved at the back of the tent; a nun, judging by the silhouette.
“Sister Ann,” Rhea called quietly, “would you excuse us a moment?”
“Of course.” They stood aside to let her pass, and she vanished without another word.
Rhea led them to a bed near the back of the tent, where they found a thin figure huddled under a blanket. Pale, translucent skin stretched tightly over cheekbones, hung loosely beneath sunken eyes. Ashen lips moved wordlessly, as though in prayer. This man is near death, Lenoir thought. And he was one of the lucky ones.
“Drem.” The nun rested a hand against his shoulder. At first, the only reaction was the scuttling of eyeballs beneath bluish lids. After a moment, the waif called Drem opened his eyes, his pupils coming slowly into focus.
“Sister.” The voice scraped out, barely audible. “I’m so cold.”
“I’ll bring you some tea. In the meantime, do you think you can manage a brief chat? This is Inspector Lenoir of the Metropolitan Police, and he wants to ask you a few questions.”
“It will not take long,” Lenoir added, feeling a stab of pity for the man, despite himself.
Drem’s watery gaze darted to Lenoir. “Police?”
“We are trying to learn about the disease,” Lenoir said. He did not elaborate, having already decided not to discuss the criminal aspect of the case openly. Rumors would spread quickly, and that could result in conspiracy theories, accusations, and worse. People instinctively wanted someone to blame for tragedy, and when they found that someone, real or imagined, retribution was usually swift. Word would get out eventually, but Lenoir had no desire to add fuel to the fire. He made a mental note to speak to Lideman and Rhea about the need for discretion.
Fortunately, Kody did not need to be told. “We think if we can trace it, maybe we can learn something that might help us treat it.” The sergeant had good instincts, Lenoir had to admit. He was already competent; if he learned to challenge his mind a little more, he might even be more than that one day.
Drem struggled to sit. Rhea helped prop him up with a pillow before heading off to procure the promised tea. “Don’t know what I can tell you,” Drem said.
Neither do I, Lenoir thought, but he had to try. “The first body you found—do you remember exactly where it was?”