Red Seas Under Red Skies – Read Along – Part 1
Welcome to the first week of our Red Seas Under Red Skies Read-Along.
What a week it was too! I honestly can’t think of many books which start as excitingly and with as much intrigue as Red Seas Under Red Skies does. Not only that, but there is such a huge variety of emotions you are led through as a reader that really add to the experience too.
Anyway, there’s not too much to talk to you guys about until we’ve gone through the chapters, is there? So, I’ll get right to it! Remember that at the bottom of the Read-Along there are five questions for you to answer… ENJOY!
Locke is on a pier with Jean in Tal Verrar. A boat is burning just behind them and two people stand opposite them – each points a crossbow at the one opposite – all four men are too close to miss. Locke’s opponent tells him to be reasonable and consider his position, but Locke replies that their position is pretty equal.
The men tell Locke that they have been instructed not to kill him, so he should drop his weapon and come with them. Locke laughs and says that that isn’t going to happen. Instead he offers them money, asking who they work for. Suddenly, Jean turns to Locke and says he knows who they work for and that Locke should hand his piece over to him. Locke asks what is going on and Jean tells him that an arrangement has been made with the men’s employer, but not a happy one for Locke. Jean tells both men to point their crossbows at Locke and once again tells Locke to drop his weapon. Locke is obviously panicked, his best friend in the world has just gone turncoat on him.
Tal Verrar is known as the ‘Rose of the Gods’ and is at the westernmost edge of civilised society. The fact Tal Verrar is formed of vast, dark islands gives the place its Rose-like nickname (they swirl outwards getting bigger and bigger like petals). These islands are not natural like the mainland, they are made of endless quantities of black elderglass.
Note: There is a map of Tal Verrar here.
Note: I seem to remember Scott Lynch saying Tal Verrar is about 2000 miles away from Camorr.
Locke and Jean are in a southern district of an island to the west of the city. It is called the Golden Steps, the capital of the Therin city states, a place made up of 6 levels where men and women can lose money on anything from gambling to brothels. There are six levels to the golden steps and with each level the quality of the establishments improves (as does the number of guards). At the top are about a dozen baroque mansions that are surrounded by gardens and miniature forests. For centuries nobles, bureaucrats, merchants, ships’ captains, legates and spies have come to wager both their personal and political fortunes at the establishments that surround them.
Note: There is a picture of the Golden Steps by artist Les Edwards here.
Even the mansions at the top of the Golden Steps, though, are not the finest establishments in Tal Verrar. That title is held by the Sinspire, a 150 foot tall elderglass tower with 9 levels, each circled with alchemical lanterns that light the sky with the colours of Tal Verrar. It is the most well-guarded building on the islands and is open sunset to sunrise for those wealthy enough to enter. Each floor is more luxurious than the next and you must earn access to the next level with good credit, impeccable play and amusing behaviour. Over the years solari upon solari has been spent by the wealthy trying to climb levels and gain the favour of the Sinspire’s Master. Anyone caught cheating will be put to death, whether it is on the steps of the building or quietly a few days later – an accidental fall or overdose, maybe – no one gets away with cheating at the Sinspire.
Note: There is a picture of the Sinspire by artist Les Edwards here.
Note: there is no false light on Tel Verrar because the Elderglass doesn’t reflect the setting sun like it does in Camorr.
Locke and Jean are on the 5th floor of the Sinspire losing a game card game called Carousel Hazard (the stakes are half their wealth). It has taken them two years to get themselves up to this floor and a completely new set of identities. Locke and Jean whisper about how badly they are doing before Jean asks if losing wasn’t part of the plan. Locke says it was, but he thought they’d be able to put up a better fight than they were. Locke and Jean reveal their hands and around them 60 or 70 of Tal Verrar’s wealthiest lean in to see just how embarrassing of a performance the two have put in. The answer is very embarrassing – they have now lost four of five hands against their two female opponents. However, we are told that Locke and Jean are cheating at that very moment and their plan is soon to unfold.
Note: Just one of the wooden chips that Locke is playing with – and which he has lost numerous piles of – is worth 5 solari (about 8 months work for a common laborer).
One of Locke’s opponents is Madam Durenna, a women of dark complexion who is in her late 30?s and the bearer of numerous scars on her neck and arms. Although she is playing and winning the game, she is obviously not trying as hard as she could because her confidence is growing with each win. It seems this woman is rather sure of herself and, despite Locke and Jean offering her compliments, mocks the boys’ losing streak and blows cigar smoke in their direction to frustrate them. Locke knows her history. She has only recently begun living the life of a city-bound merchant spectator. She’d previously been in command of bounty-privateers, hunting and sinking ships in Jerem (i.e. the scars). Locke considers that if she catches them cheating their death will be slow. Her partner, Izmila Corvaleur, is the same size as Jean, round in every way a woman can be round yet still has an attractiveness about her. She has the annoying habit of eating chocolates with her fingers and getting the cards sticky.
Note: Locke is going by the name Master Kosta and Jean by Master de Ferra.
Two teams of two play Carousel Hazard. At the end of each hand a device at the centre of the table is spun and the losers must drink the two vials that fall from its great store. These vials contain liquor of varying potency – the harshness of which is covered up with fruit juice and oils. The only way a team loses is when they are too drunk to continue. Theoretically, because the rules say that immediate default occurs if a player touches the carousel, it ‘should’ be impossible to cheat.
The two women offer Locke and Jean a break from the game, which is something rarely done because it allows the other team to sober up. Locke refuses, saying that he would like to continue. The sixth hand begins with 10 solari as the opening bid. Locke notices that everyone around them has stopped playing cards and has surrounded their table. Even better, a shadowy figure hangs at the back of the room watching them – Locke believes he has finally attracted the attention of Requin, the Master of the Sinspire and ruler of thieves in Tal Verrar.
Note: Requin is the equivalent of a Camorri Capa.
The 18th hand begins at 10 solari and Locke is really beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol (they have lost 11 of 17 games). Yet again, Locke has a terrible hand; at this point they’ve lost around 980 solari (a year of fine new clothes, a small ship, a large house, a lifetime’s earnings for a stone mason). Suddenly, though, Izmilla slumps forwards drunk and the dealer insists that she sits up and shows she is capable of continuing. Izmilla cannot and the dealer tells Locke and Jean that the two of them are entitled to everything on the table. They have won and the chips are now theirs. Madam Durenna is obviously not happy as her partner is taken away by the Sinspire’s men. She makes Jean and Locke promise her that they will play her again for honour’s sake. Before they leave Locke and Jean tip the dealer a 5 solari chip (worth half his annual salary), when the dealer gasps in surprise Locke chucks him another 12 (about 6 years’ worth of labour!). As Locke and Jean leave, the dealer tells them that those two women don’t lose very often.
Note: This tip could be part of a plan later in the book or it may just be Locke and Jean looking after those who aren’t fortunate enough to be rich. What do you think?
On their way out, Locke considers that much of the Sinspire’s allure is due to its exclusivity (its interior isn’t all that much grander than the homes of those who frequent it). When Locke reaches the ground floor he asks the attendant to add his winnings (his cut is equal to nearly 500 solari after the dealer’s tip) to his account. The man at the desk knows Master Kosta, Merchant-Spectator of Talisham, well. Most do. Suddenly, someone places a hand on Locke’s shoulder. It is Selendri (Requin’s major-domo), a woman who is dressed sublimely. Half her face is beautiful and the other is a brown leathery mask: as though she has been burnt. The hand she has placed on Locke’s shoulder isn’t real, it is a solid brass prosthetic. In her eerie voice she tells Locke that he would now be welcome on the sixth floor if he so wished.
Upon leaving the Sinspire, Locke asks how Jean ‘the pessimist’ feels about his plan now – evidently Jean is far more cautious following the events of book one. Jean admits that the fact they are rich, not dead, kind-of famous and welcome on the next floor up means he was wrong to call Locke’s scheme ‘silly’. Locke reveals he is actually surprised they managed to pull it off. It is revealed that Izmila Corvaleur eating chocolates with her fingers after touching the cards was the key to Locke’s scheme. The two of them had been dusting the playing cards with a colourless, tasteless powder known as ‘the night’s friend’. They’d expected the drug to take about 4 hands, but the big woman took far more (as we saw). Jean cautiously suggests that the two of them take a bit of time playing around on the fourth and fifth floors, but Locke wants to go straight for the sixth floor – tomorrow.
A voice calls out to Locke and Jean asking them to ‘hold it’. After a brief moment of panic, they realise there is a duel going on just in front of them. They have been halted to minimise the chances of either getting shot with a stray bolt or distracting one of the participants. Jean and Locke join the spectators and see two men preparing to battle. It appears that one of the men has offended the other and – even though the younger man is shaking nervously – neither will relent from the duel. The younger man is the first to turn and shoot, but misses. The older man stares at the younger for a moment before cursing him and letting the bolt fly into his chest. As the younger man falls, dying, the older man tells his men they need to leave if they are to make dinner. Locke voices his disapproval of this means of duelling and a young woman hears them. Jean tells her that he thinks steel rapiers is a better way to settle such disputes. The woman says she feels that bolts are more merciful. The crowd moves away except one woman who kneels before the young man and cries. Locke doesn’t feel what has happened is merciful at all.
Note: Locke seems traumatised by what he has just seen. Perhaps because it reminds him of how Bug died, but he puts it down to being older (he would be in his late 20?s by now – about 27/28).
Locke and Jean make their way from the Golden Steps to the Great Gallery, which is an Eldren structure which is covered by an Elderglass roof that slopes downward from its peak at the sixth tier across the district and plunges into the sea at the island’s base. The side that is open to the air is called ‘the open quarter’ and the winds often rearrange the place by blowing the merchants’ stalls and goods around. Deeper inside the gallery are where the more wealthy merchant shops are located. In all, over 1,000 merchants sell their wares beneath the Elderglass roof during the day. Locke and Jean spend much of their time in the Savrola, where those with money to waste hang out and where most of the nicest bars and inns are located. Jean and Locke are staying in one of these inns – it fits nicely with the identities they are currently using.
Locke and Jean head to the Night Market to get some food. From here they can see, at the heart of the city, three crescent islands of the Great Guilds (Alchemists, Artificers and Merchants) curled around the base of the high, rocky Castella that houses the Mon Magisteria – the fortress of the Archon. Tal Verrar is supposedly ruled by the Priori, but in reality the city’s Master of Arms (who lives in the fortress) holds a fair share of it. The position of Master of Arms was made following the early disgraces Tal Verrar suffered in the thousand year war against Camorr, but – as you’d expect – it has been hard to get rid of the military dictators following the war’s conclusion.
Note: The disagreements between the Priori and city’s Master of Arms keeps the city on edge.
A strange, one-armed merchant offers Locke and Jean shark eyes, but they politely decline. Next, a young woman offers fruit to them, and Locke barters for some pears. Once the deal is done, the woman says ‘a good evening to you, Master Lamora’. When Locke asks her what she said, she says that she said nothing more than ‘Good evening, worthy Master’. Locke thinks he must have been imagining it and Jean says he didn’t hear her say anything more than good evening either. A bearded man approaches them and offers them an alchemical lantern and then another bald headed man with the coffee-coloured skin of the Okanti islands offers them some scorpions too. This man explains that the sting of the scorpion offers the owner a dreamy fever – similar to opium (they are common in Tal Varrar). Upon refusal, the man says he understands because, ‘a scorpion-hawk was never to your liking, Master Lamora’. Locke is shocked and asks what the man said, but again it is denied he said anything more than good evening. This time, however, Jean heard it too and jumps to Locke’s side. The female fruit-selling merchant approaches them again as they go to leave and uses Locke and Jean’s names to ask whether they are going somewhere. Locke and Jean try to maintain their identities, but they are quickly surrounded by merchants who keep addressing them by their real names. The Night Gallery then becomes darker and Jean decides he needs to pull his hatchets. The people surrounding them begin chanting ‘Locke Lamora’ and when Locke threatens blood they say that ‘there has already been blood’, a creepy little girl with grey eyes walks towards them and says that ‘the falconer of Karthain sends his regards’.
Note: DAMN is this chapter good. Scott Lynch is a genius!
The little girl continues walking towards Locke. She says, ‘though he cannot speak for himself… he is mad’ and ‘his friends remember’. Locke and Jean demand that the Bondsmagi behind the puppet-like merchants reveal themselves and talk to them; they don’t want any innocent people hurt. The Bondsmagi use the merchants to reply that the two of them ‘must answer for the falconer’. When Locke and Jean tell the Bondsmagi that they took pains not to kill the Bondsmage, but still make him suffer for what he had done, the merchants reply that it was not for them to judge or to take Bondsmagi laws into their own hands. Locke tells the Bondsmagi that their business is over, but the Bondsmagi uses the creepy little girl to say that it isn’t and now it is personal. Locke is starting to get angry and demands they either kill them or disappear. He then tells them that if they do want to try to kill them they will fight back all the way to Karthain. The merchants tell Locke and Jean that they do not intend to kill them, that they intend to watch them, follow them and wait for the right time – which is whenever they choose, for they are always within their reach and always within their sight.
As the merchants begin returning to where they were before they were possessed, Locke and Jean are told that they will meet misfortune for what they did to the falconer. As Locke and Jean walk away they wonder if the Bondsmagi are really watching them and discuss whether to run or stay. Locke says he is beginning to understand how the Grey King felt, because if he could destroy Karthain he would. Jean stops Locke and tells him there is another problem and that he may have to leave Locke right away; the Bondsmagi know his real name – which they can use to make him their puppet. Locke tells Jean that he needs to stay and that they need to steal the fortune they’ve been planning to steal from the Sinspire.
Locke arrived in Vel Virazzo about two years earlier on a boat with Jean, feeling he’d be better off dead. As they get off, it is obvious that Jean is fed up with Locke who is depressed and has stopped taking care of himself (he is dirty and hasn’t bothered attending his wounds). When Locke asks for help getting off the boat Jean tells him that he will not help him, that Locke needs to exercise and do things for himself. Jean remarks that the Grey King’s corpse would have been better company to him than Locke and that getting off the ship away from him can’t come soon enough. They step out onto Vel Virrazzo, which is a port about 100 miles away from Tal Verrar and has a population of only about 8,000-9,000 people. It is a tributary of the Verrari, ruled by a governor appointed by the Archon.
A few days later Jean and Locke are tolerating each other a little better and Jean heads out to find some work. However, if Camorr’s underworld was a deep lake, Vel Virazzo’s is a stagnant pond. There is little organisation and so with a little bit of drinking in the local dives Jean knows who to contact. After kicking in the door of the biggest gang, he asks the numerous men staring angrily at him who the toughest member is. A big guy steps out and says that he is. Jean beats him up and lands a number of knees to his face before declaring that he is now the toughest person in the gang. A smaller boy says that Jean isn’t part of the gang and he encourages the remaining men to kill him. After Jean quickly decommissions him, he tells the rest of the men that they must now pay him taxes of 40% for everything they make. Jean grabs the first man to complain, spins him around and slams him against the wall before patting him down and taking his purse. Jean says that their base is now his base and that they should be honest with what they bring him because they won’t like the consequences if they are not. As one man walks towards Jean with his purse, he asks what his name is before suddenly lunging at him with a dagger. Jean dodges him and strikes him before announcing that he is Tavrin Callas. The remainder of the group hand over their 40% and Jean tells them that he will return tomorrow.
The next day, Jean returns with the city’s female Prefect (a constable) and her team. Jean explains to the men inside – who had armed themselves in anticipation of killing him and once again ruling themselves – that if anything happens to him the Prefect and her men will react, because he is paying her a good sum. When the Prefect leaves Jean tells the boys – who look disheartened – that they will soon begin to appreciate what he will do for them. His first example is how they now have the city watch under their thumb. Jean asks them to draw the weapons they intended to kill him with – he isn’t impressed at the mis-match of cheap steel and broken bottles. Jean tells the gang that despite all his threats, he is there to look out for them and that no one can mess with them without messing with him too. The next day one of the boys in Jean’s gang says that another gang, the Black Sleeves, have been causing them trouble. Jean heads to the inn they frequent, shuts the door and locks it behind him. He asks once again who the biggest and baddest gang member is before teaching them a lesson. The next day, when he returns to collect money from his own gang they seem almost happy to hand it over.
When Jean returns to Locke he finds him still feeling sorry for himself and not doing the exercises Jean asked him to do. He is drinking cheap, poor quality wine in vast quantities and Jean can’t stand the smell filling their shared room. Jean stomps off into the night numerous times over the next few days. Jean tries to get a Dog Leach to look at Locke and help him, but Locke goes as far as screaming at him to get him to go away.
Note: We are told the Dog Leach that Locke and Jean became friends with in the first book parted ways with the pair due to Locke’s bad attitude.
Jean is spending more time with his gang just to get away from Locke. He is becoming a well-known figure in the town as the weeks go by. Jean is teaching his members to fight and thieve and their grimy hangout has become a decent looking headquarters. Jean tells Locke about his success, but Locke is bitter and snides him for replacing the bastards. Jean is furious and tells Locke he didn’t save him to sit around in his room depressed, Locke says he should have left him to die, then. Locke says it is his fault that everyone is dead. This makes Jean even more angry, he tells Locke ‘don’t you dare use them as an excuse’. Jean leaves and locks the door behind him. Locke runs to the door and demands Jean opens it. Jean says he will not and that the Locke Lamora he used to know would easily manage to charm the door’s lock anyway. Despite his pain, Locke begins working on the lock. When he eventually opens it he finds that Jean has blocked it with barrels. Locke tells Jean that he will kill him when he gets out. Jean says he’ll have to climb out the window to do that – which should be easy for the man who killed the Grey King. After further anger Locke begins to ask Jean nicely to let him out, but Jean maintains that he won’t.
Locke fashions a rope from his sheets and eventually uses it to slide down the three floors to the ground. Jean is waiting for Locke at the bottom. Locke is angry, but when Jean tells him what he has been up to again Locke answers by telling him that he is the best thief for miles around. Jean says that maybe he was once, but not anymore. Then, a man walks by the two and accidentally bumps into Locke who apologises, but is still called a ‘bloody Camorri’. A few minutes later Locke reveals a purse he took from the man’s pocket and waves it at Jean. Jean just shrugs and says that is child’s play, that he isn’t what he was. Locke tells Jean to wait for him in their room for he will be back to show him that he can still be Locke Lamora when he wants to. When Locke returns he is covered in sweat, carrying a basket that has numerous purses, ear rings plucked from ears, lots of food and drink, as well as gold and silver items too. Locke reveals that his prize stolen piece was from the neck of the Governor’s Mistress, from within the Governor’s manor, in the Governor’s bed with the Governor sleeping next to her. Jean is shocked and then, in the distance, they hear sirens going off. Jean tells Locke that he has screwed up, because it won’t be long before people mention Jean as the only man in town likely to pull something like this off and come looking for him. Locke agrees and says that they will probably need to flee the city. Jean is angry, saying that he has spent weeks building a reputation and now all his work is ruined. Locke tells Jean that he isn’t a Capa and that he asked him to dance so he danced. It seems Jean has woken the old Locke back up because Locke suggests to Jean that they go after bigger prizes in a bigger city. Reluctantly, Jean says he will kill his character and organise a ship for a few day’s time. Locke laughs and says ‘this is us’ and that they don’t need a few days – they will use ‘the apple-mash trick’ tonight.
A few hours later Locke and Jean are dressed in tattered clothing and using apple-mash smeared over their skin to look like Slipskin victims – Slipskin is a painful, incurable disease and those who have it are tolerated less than lepers. All their belongings are stashed under their clothing in places a guard would never check on a Slipskin victim. They pass out of the city’s gates unquestioned and find themselves on a dirt track that was once the old Therin Throne Road. Jean asks where Locke wants to go and Locke asks if it isn’t obvious, he doesn’t want to stay in a tiny place like this collecting clipped coppers, he wants gold and white-iron, which means they are going to Tal Verrar.
It is the next day and Locke and Jean are in their inn getting ready to start their day. Until now, neither had been willing to bring up the Bondsmagi event at the Night Market and even at the breakfast table they say little more than that they wish they could afford to hire them all and have them lose themselves.
Question: Why do you think Locke and Jean decline to talk about the Bondsmagi? Fear, or a feeling of hopelessness?
Jean tells Locke that he wishes he could be there when he meets Requin and Selendri. Locke nervously and indirectly asks Jean if he will be waiting for him when he gets back (because of how he has treated him at points over the past few years). Jean says that he will. Locke tells Jean that the conversation with Requin won’t be that interesting, but Jean disagrees, telling Locke that whereas most people smirk when a con is over, Locke does so when his work is really about to begin and he can hear the smirk in his voice.
Later, in the Sinspire, Locke approaches Selendri and tells her straight that for the past two years he and Jean have been cheating in each and every game they’ve participated. Selendri asks if Locke knows what he is saying and what that would mean. Locke says that he does and would like to speak to her boss privately about the details. Selendri makes out that she doesn’t have a Master, but Locke insists that he knows she does. Selendri calls four of her men who grab Locke. She points upwards and they take Locke from the sixth floor to the eighth. There he is searched and stripped of his belongings before the men allow him up to the ninth floor – Requin’s office.
Note: On each of the floors from floor 6 there is, encased within an Elderglass case, a stylized sculpture of a part of Tal Verrar. They get more extravagant as you head up; the sixth floor is a waterfall with bronze coins falling instead of water, the seventh has a sculpture of volcanic islands with silver coins for the islands and gold for the sea and lava. On the eighth is a complete replica of Tal Verrar, again made of gold and silver coins. A marble statue stands looking over the city.
The walls of Requin’s office have twenty exceedingly expensive paintings hanging on the wall, all from artists who died centuries and centuries before. As Selendri arms herself with daggers a voice from behind Locke tells him that he has been told that Locke has expressed an interested in being killed. Locke says that that is not the case and that he merely said he has been cheating in nearly every game he’d played. Requin moves to stand in front of Locke and Locke recognises him as the true-life version of the marble carved figure that was standing over the model city of Tal Verrar. Requin says it is an impossibility that Locke has been cheating without him knowing about and that Locke must have a death wish. Locke says that he intends to prove to Requin that he is more useful alive. Requin asks how Locke has been cheating and Locke says mainly with fast-fingers. Requin asks to see Locke’s hands then grabs his right arm and traps it in a device built into the table. Locke is then shown a collection of hands in glass bottles and is told that it’s now time to answer some questions.
Requin tells Locke that his men are trained to spot cheats. Then, Locke reveals that he managed to sneak a pack of cards into Requin’s office, despite his men having searched him and supposedly removed all his belongings. He begins shuffling the deck with a single hand and asks Requin to choose a card but not to let him see it. He tells Requin to place it on top of the deck. After shuffling the cards for a while he reveals a card which Requin says isn’t his. He then pulls a second, third, fourth and fifth deck of cards from his clothing at numerous points asking whether cards within them are Requin’s, each time he says they are not. Then, Locke says he knows where it must be, reaches across the desk and pulls Requin’s card – the Ten of Sabres – from beneath a wine bottle.
Locke tells Requin he will tell him how he cheated if he frees his hand. Requin eventually does and Locke says he cheated by selecting games that were not simply down to chance, but games where players must play against one another. He says that although he cannot cheat the Sinspire or its apparatus, he can cheat people. Requin says that he has seen Locke play Carousel Hazard and that there is no way that a team could cheat on that game. Locke tells Requin about how he and Jean dusted the cards to knockout Izmila and, as Requin witnessed Izmila falling drunk on such a surprisingly small amount of liquor, he believes him. Locke then explains how he cheated in a number of other games and by the end of the conversation Requin is reluctantly convinced by Locke’s stories for Locke has indeed had too much fortune against high-quality opponents for it all to be by chance. Requin tells Locke that even if he can prove he cheated it doesn’t explain why he is telling the Sinspire’s Master he has done so. Locke tells him that he isn’t there to make a few thousand solari, he is there to break into the Sinspire’s vault and haul everything from it right under Requin’s nose.
Locke declines to continue until Requin makes him comfortable and it isn’t long before Locke is brought a nice chair to sit on and served some alchemical wine. Requin tells Locke that he must realise that his vault is one of the most well-guarded things in the city and that it is encased in a structure of pristine Elderglass. It is so safe, in fact, that many of the noble families of Tal Verrar have Requin store much of their wealth for them. Locke agrees that it is pretty good, but says the fact that it is mechanical and that these mechanical locks are worked by men means that they are unlockable. Requin is fed up of talking about his vault and moves back on to why Locke has decided to talk to him now. Locke says he and Jean were the point-men, they were actually only supposed to play the games and scope the place out. Cheating they’d just done to make things more interesting. When Requin asks who Locke’s employer is Locke tells him that he doesn’t know because he deals with them through a middle-man. However, Locke says that he is sick of working for his current employer and that he wishes to turn his coat and work for Requin. Again, Requin asks what he has to gain by keeping Locke around. Locke says that robbing the vault is only the start and that his employer has further plans for Requin. When Requin asks what’s in it for Locke, Locke says that he wants a new job because he likes it in Tal Verrar. Locke says he would be a perfect floor monitor, he knows how to cheat at every game and so could watch for others doing what he has been getting away with.
Locke says that together they can put themselves past the reach of Locke’s current employer. When Requin asks about Jean, Locke tells him that he is no longer his true friend. He says that recently they quarrelled and he wants to kill him, look into his eyes as he dies and let him know that he got the best of him before he goes.
Selendri isn’t convinced by Locke’s story and when Requin asks her for her opinion she suggests killing him. Locke says he understands why she would think that is the best course of action, but that it would be a mistake – he says that until he walked into the room they were sure that his men could spot a cheater. They were wrong about that so why couldn’t they be wrong about the vault? Requin is coming round to Locke’s way of thinking, but when Locke suggests he let him go whilst he makes up his mind, Requin says he should hold Locke until he has looked into his background. Locke says that by doing that he will show Locke’s employer that he has been compromised and that things will start to get really bad for the Sinspire then. Locke tells Requin that he needs to take a gamble and trust him, but Requin still isn’t sure about letting him go unpunished. Locke says that he needs to punish people not so much to teach them a lesson, but to show others why they shouldn’t cheat. No one knows Locke cheated and so letting him go wouldn’t harm his reputation. Requin relents and says Locke may go but that he’ll be watching him and should he do anything alarming he’ll drag him back and have molten-glass poured down his throat. Before he allows Locke to leave he informs him that his 3000 solari account is now a 1000 solari account, because no one cheats and gets away with it at the Sinspire. Requin says they will speak again once he has done some research into his background and Selendri – looking at Locke with distrust and hatred – shows him out.
Note: Essentially, Locke’s plan relies on Requin believing that there is an unknown third party who seeks to empty the Sinspire’s vault and/or take Requin’s life.
Locke meets Jean at a restaurant called The Cloyster, he tells Jean that he is now officially betrayed and that the first touch went about as well as could be expected (Requin’s hesitation is a good sign). Locke asks Jean what he was reading and at the title (it’s a romance) he smirks and tells Jean that he will turn to mush. Jean says that Locke shouldn’t make fun of him reading fiction because that is where they are heading. They will not be found in history books when they are gone, but in legends? Maybe.
It is just after midnight when Locke and Jean leave. A woman slides from the shadows and tells the two of them that she knows they are armed and if they try to draw their weapons they will find a bolt through their necks. There are at least two men on a roof pointing longbows at them and four more hiding in the shadows. The lady tells them that someone wants to talk to them and gives them directions to where Requin is waiting. As Locke and Jean walk into the nearby room they find numerous men pointing crossbows at them and the woman tells them to hand their weapons over slowly. Hoods are then placed over their heads. The two of them are told to be quiet as they are marched from the room.
Locke is struggling to re-master his one-handed shuffling skills. Jean is being more sympathetic now and tells him to give it time, he tells Locke that he has checked in with his sources about Requin. Nobody knows very much except that he is in his 40?s, a native Verarri and is a genius at Throne Therin. He collects art and has an obsession with painters and sculptors of times gone by. No one knows what he did prior to 20 years ago, apparently he won the Sinspire on a bet and threw the past owner from the window. He is tight with the Priori and, most importantly, has an estimated 50,000 solari plus the wealth and fortunes of many of Tal Verrar’s noble families (who he helps tax dodge) totalling around 300-350 thousand solari in his vault. Jean tells Locke that to get to the vault, which is deep within the Sinspire, he would need to get past 50 people (all of whom are hired for their brutal past – mercenaries, ex-military, gang members, etc). Jean says that bribery would be impossible and that the three doors in front of the vault are almost impenetrable – the first two doors and the final black steel door would take about a month to cut through… so that’s not likely. Requin only opens the doors a couple of times a day and he is always there to witness money coming in or leaving. The doors require special keys to open and behind the doors await guards that have enough food and drink to hold up under seige for weeks. In addition, there are traps that range from poisons to devices that will set you on fire. Jean says that he feels it is impossible for them to break into the vault and asks if perhaps they’d be better to choose a different target. Locke says there isn’t another worthwhile target. Jean tentatively says he is also a little apprehensive about Locke breaking down on him again. Locke says he won’t and that he is sorry, he let missing Calo, Galdo and Bug get the better of him and he knows it was selfish. Then, suddenly, Locke gets angry and says that he thought they’d moved past the events in Vel Virazzo, Jean said he had forgiven him and if he meant it he should stop bringing what happened up.
The two decide that they NEED a target, the two of them need something to work on as a team to stop the second-guessing and arguing. Jean says that the con they are planning could take a year or two to pull off. Locke says that they don’t have anything else to be doing. The two decide that when they arrive they will no longer be Camorri, they shall pretend to be Talishani Merchant Speculators. As they make their way into Tal Verrar, Locke suggests to Jean that once this con is over they should think about buying a property and some titles to settle down with.
Note: one of the most obvious things in the first book was that Locke and the Bastards never had an ‘end game’. It is interesting that Locke is now starting to plan for his retirement at only 26/27.
Locke and Jean have been sat in a room as hot as a sauna for an hour, maybe more. When they are finally removed, Locke and Jean are pushed in darkness onto a ship. Locke’s hood is eventually removed and he realises that he is being taken into a channel at the base of the Mon Magisteria (the fortress of the Archon where the city’s Master of Arms lives). The harbour they have found themselves in is surrounded by soldiers that wear creepy faceless masks and there are ceremonial barges docked there too. The woman’s voice (Selendri?) tells Locke and Jean that now they are here they will have a private place to talk. When Locke and Jean ask why they have been brought here, they are told it is not the woman’s job to know, it is her job to bring them here and perhaps forget she brought them here if they don’t come out.
Note: There is a picture of the fortress by artist Les Edwards here.
The Archon soldiers lead Locke and Jean up numerous flights of Elderglass stairs. The pair have to cross a drawbridge to get to the huge fortress. Locke admires the fortress, which is decorated with sculptures of mythical creatures and aqueducts that send water cascading down them. At its base is luscious green grass and a rushing waterfall that serves instead of a gate. An encased, mechanical elevator-like device comes from beyond the waterfall and once Jean and Locke enter it an attendant within pulls a chain and the box heads back through the waterfall into the fortress. They arrive in a huge entrance hall where alchemical lights shine white, silver and gold making it look like a huge treasure trove. They get out of the box and are led through the giant fortress. Finally they reach a little room with a steel door and are shoved inside. Jean asks Locke how on Earth they captured the attention of the Master of Arms and Locke says he doesn’t know. Suddenly, the room begins to get warmer and warmer until the room is finally opened and Locke and Jean, both suffering heat exhaustion, are told ‘there has been a terrible mistake’.
The two are taken from the room and Locke is taken further into the fortress and up flights and flights of stairs. He is so lightheaded that he is only half aware of what is going on. Finally, they reach an office and Maxilan Stragos, the Supreme Warlord of Tal Verrar, walks in and demands that Locke and Jean are offered every possible courtesy, ‘we are not Camorri after all’ he adds. Once again, Locke and Jean are told there has been a terrible mistake and are apologised to. The Warlord says he told his men to extend them every courtesy, not send them to a sweltering chamber. A servant brings drinks for the three and Locke and Jean down their pear ciders which Stragos serves to them himself. Stragos is approaching 60 and looks to be a man of balance with shrewd eyes. The walls of his room are covered with hundreds of cases of live moths and beetles of all colours, shapes and sizes. Stragos reveals that they are mechanical and that a mechanical device below the room pushes air up into the cases and makes them move in a way that appears real. He says that they are artificial just like Master Kosta and Master de Ferra are. He then addresses them as Master Lamora and Master Tannen.
Stragos has a file from a personal connection he has within the Bondsmagi – it is full of stories about Locke and Jean’s exploits in Camorr. Worse, it has details about Locke and Jean’s plans to rob Requin’s vault. However, Stragos doesn’t seem too worried about their current plans to rob Requin because he is in with the Priori. Then he reveals that the drink Locke and Jean just consumed contained ‘an excellent little poison’. Locke notices that Stragos’s character has changed and he tells the two of them to stay seated so that he can decide how best to put them to good use. Eventually, Stragos says he is going to let them go, but he is going to call upon them when he needs them. He says that the poison they have consumed sits latent within the body for months, even years, and that only he can provide them with an antidote. He tells them that he will provide them with the antidote in small quantities over time as long as they keep working for him and that the poison will not affect them as long as they take it. Locke says they’ve probably blown it with Requin now because of how they were marched away, but Stragos tells Locke that most of Requin’s men who saw them get taken away and even helped are under the employment of Stragos and will tell Requin that they were just hanging about like normal. Stragos tells Locke and Jean that the two of them are not just greedy, but that they are addicted to the excitement of trying to beat long odds.
Locke warns Stragos not to presume that he knows anything about them. He tells Stragos that he is sick of these kinds of games and he suggests that Stragos gives him whatever the antidote is so that he doesn’t have to use his own funds to hire an alchemist to make one for him. Locke says that they are already going to rob someone he has no love for, so he should just let him get on with it. Stragos laughs and says that if Locke doesn’t start quieting down he knows the partners’ weakness: he will make one suffer the sweltering room whilst the other sits outside in perfect comfort. Stragos tells Locke that he will do what Stragos wants, but tells him to remember that he offered to walk away. Stragos says that Locke seems to think very highly of himself and Locke says that he does. Stragos tells Locke that he shouldn’t think – as he seems to – that Karthain is afraid of him, but adds that although he (Stragos) uses them out of necessity he doesn’t actually like them and perhaps Locke working for him might come in useful to Locke. Stragos gets up and leaves the room and his men escort Locke and Jean back out of the fortress.
When back on the mainland, Locke curses the Bondsmagi. Jean says that they must have a weakness. Then Jean realises that certain details about their current plan weren’t picked up by the Bondsmagi, showing that they aren’t all-knowing. Also, the Bondsmagi may have told Stragos certain points about their past, but they missed out certain details – such as Chains – which shows they are good spies but they can’t actually read minds. Locke says they need to go and rest and then they can think about finding an antidote and then he wants to work on a plan to get back at Stragos – all he needs to work out is whether he does it before or after he breaks into Requin’s vault.
Locke and Jean have been in Tel Verrar for 6 months. Currently, Jean is on a boat heading into a harbour full of boats from all kinds of places. Their destination is the Artificers’ Crescent, home of those who turned clockwork mechanics into a vibrant industry. The city is obviously very different to Camorr. For starters, those who commit capital crimes are not hung or put in cages, rather they are just pushed, with the city’s rubbish, into the Midden Deep. Some say that they never stop falling, others say they may survive the fall and be stuck down there, others presume they simply go splat. Additionally, it is obvious that this place is more cultured and moving into the fallout of the industrial revolution. For example, Jean sees a boat carrying a printing press being attacked by scribes who see the printing press as a threat to their profession.
Jean heads into the Artificers’ Crescent. Jean admires the various stalls on the numerous tiers of the Crescent and takes note of a couple killer birds that are used as the equivalent of a guard dog. As he reaches the higher levels, he is surrounded by cogs, mechanisms and other mechanical parts. Then he moves past the Alchemists, whose arms and faces are mostly burnt from failed or less-controllable experiments.
Jean steps out onto the Elderglass bridge that leads to the house of Azura Gallardine, second mistress of the great guild of artificers and artisans. The walk across the bridge is not an easy one. The bridge is exposed on both sides and the glass is slippery. The house is very modern and even has a doorbell. Jean presses it and a heavyset woman nearing her 60?s with braided hair and tattoos answers. She drags Jean into the house and she tells him not to bother with a greeting. When Guild Mistress Gallardine asks Jean what he wants he begins by saying that he has heard she is the best person in the area that does what she does, but again Gallardine cuts him off and tells him not to bother with the flattery. Jean says he needs to extend her one courtesy, though – he passes her a white plum brandy that impresses her for it is worth a good 45 solari. When Gallardine asks what Jean wants he says nothing just yet, but he has questions about vaults. She asks what kind he wants built, but Jean implies that he doesn’t necessarily own the vault that he is locked out of. Gallardine asks who built the vault and Jean says that it was her, Azura Gallardine. Gallardine isn’t happy with Jean suggesting she may help him break into her own work and when Jean tells her that it is Requin’s vault he wants to break into she tells him he is mad.
Gallardine asks Jean how much he knows about Selendri. Jean says that he knows that she is the only person Requin keeps close to him. Gallardine says that there was a time when Requin would hold huge costume parties at the Sinspire and that Requin’s dress was always the finest. Then, one day, an assassin dusted the inside of Requin’s costume with some very dark alchemical powder that needed little more than sweat and warmth to bring it to life, but that day Selendri wore the costume. After half an hour Selendri started to scream and kept screaming until her voice broke. Only half the costume was dusted with the powder – a cruel joke – and on the half that was dusted her skin boiled like tar. No one but Requin had the courage to touch her – he did his best for her and even though his own hands were burnt doing so (why he wears gloves) he managed to save her. Requin offered 1,000 solari, no questions asked, to the man who could give him the name of the assassin. Requin wasn’t quite as feared then as he is now and so got no answer, for this assassin was not one to be messed with. The next day he offered 5,000 solari, but still no one came forward. The third night he offered 10,000, the fourth 20,000 and still no one spoke. The fifth night Requin lost patience and began killing a single member of the underworld by peeling their skin off on the left side. It is totally silent, totally professional and anyone could be next. When people beg Requin to stop he tells them to find the assassin and he will. No one does, though, and so he begins to kill two people a night and now begins to kill innocent family members too. The city gets worked up into a frenzy and everyone is after the assassin. When they finally find him, Requin puts the man in setting concrete, allowing only his left side to be covered by it. Once it sets, Requin puts the man down in his vault and feeds him nothing more than a little bit of food. The man is unable to move and dies slowly down in the vault.
So, Gallardine says, Jean will forgive her for not wanting any part of his plan. She then tells Jean about Requin cutting off people’s hands who cheat in the Sinspire and removing the kneecaps of the last person who drew blood there and filling the wounds with red ants. She says also that the Master of Arms won’t touch him for fear of the Priori and that the Priori find him useful. Since Selendri nearly died he has become the very picture of cruelty. Jean doesn’t relent, he tells Gallardine that he can come up with a way that minimises her involvement. Gallardine’s answer is to ask Jean if he knows anything about counterweights. He says he doesn’t and then suddenly Gallardine pulls a chain that opens a trapdoor in the floor and he falls through it onto a falling lift that goes right down to the ground. Gallardine then throws the bottle of plum whisky through the trap door after him. A merchant at the bottom laughs at Jean and says he presumes his offer to the Guild Mistress was not accepted. Jean says it wasn’t. The merchant sells Jean a drink and says that Gallardine does the trap door trick at least a few times a week – it is a big part of his business. The man offers Jean his commiserations for failing to secure a deal with her but Jean says he achieved what he set out to do.
Note: There is a picture of the house of Azura Gallardine by Les Edwards here.