This the second installment in our Heroes series, written by our own Robert Rhodes. The art is courtesy of Yoni Danziger.
It is not the first night he has waited on a rain-slick roof in the Lily Quarter, his chest braced on the knobby spine of a gargoyle, between whose curving horns he watches another mansion’s diamond-paned windows. It is cheap entertainment — after days when his long fingers have lightened purses or pockets, or evenings when the theaters offer nothing he does not know by rote — to espy Cassant’s lords in their paneled studies, its ladies in their curtained boudoirs, and to dream.
Dreaming is also comfort on damp nights such as this, when hunger cramps his belly and the truth — that he has neither family nor friends — grips his throat like a noose. He wishes, he wishes every night, that Nana were still alive. But it is enough — he reminds himself it is enough — that she led him by the hand from a rat-haunted orphanage nine years past. Nursed him through fevers and the bloody pox, whose pitted scars make him thankful for nightfall. Taught him to comprehend the voices of the distant or dead — and explained it so, that he might always marvel at his power to read.
It matters not that they lived hand to mouth near the Beggars’ Font, that he woke last month to find her cold, or that he sold her precious books — all but one — to buy a gravestone with her name. It matters not that he can no longer hear her voice. And yet, on nights such as this, her memory keeps him from the roof’s edge and a world-cursing dive. It holds him, above the city, in dreams.
* * *
It is the first night he has seen her. Of this he is certain as she slips, black-clad, from an octagonal attic window of the closest mansion. She is slim and graceful as any lord’s favored daughter; and yet, if both were standing on the roof, they would differ as starkly as a butter-knife and dagger.
Breathing no more than the gargoyle, he watches her as the wind gusts. It gusts again, and she is a marble-faced shadow in the sudden moonlight — until she pulls away a veil of black fabric and shakes free her gold-silver hair.
His mouth opens like the gargoyle’s; his fingers tighten on its folded wings. A Northerner! And no downtrodden ice-maiden, the lowest of Cassant’s servants — slaves with less freedom than their ladies’ lapdogs — but this. A woman, few years older than he, with the skill to have robbed the Lily Quarter and the gods-forged guts to risk being blinded, drawn and quartered for it.
He stares at her, a newfound heart of the moon-silvered city, until his body grows so warm and light it seems the gargoyle anchors him from drifting into the sky. He blinks twice before he notices she has leapt onto a stone balcony, descending to the lamplit street.
He shakes his head and scrambles toward the nearest drainpipe. He has no doubt following her will demand all his knowledge of the city and his quickness, and likely even more, but he would rather twist his ankles or plow into a patrol of red-cloaked gendarmes than fail to try. And even if he succeeds, what should he say?
His vision is a blur of shadows, his mind a torrent of words, as his worn boots hit the cobbles. His hunger is forgotten. He runs through the darkened streets, chasing ghostly footfalls and a flash of gold-silver hair, and dreams of a day — however distant — when, because of him, she smiles.
Well done Robert. Vivid, engaging, and once again leaving me wanting to learn more about the characters.
I particularly like the use of the gargoyle.
So, is that Siltanen that Remy saw, then? These are so good. :) Can’t wait to see what the next one holds for us.
Very nice. How long do we have to wait for that novel?
A few years, depending on when our younger son decides to sleep through the night. I wish it were sooner, but everything has a season. This is apparently the season of insomnia … :zzzz: