The Lies of Locke Lamora
The Lies of Locke Lamora
In this stunning debut, author Scott Lynch delivers the wonderfully thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his band of confidence tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part “Robin Hood,” one part Ocean's Eleven, and entirely enthralling…
An orphan's life is harsh – and often short – in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains – a man who is neither blind nor a priest. A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans – a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.
Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld's most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful – and more ambitious – than Locke has yet imagined.
Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi's most trusted men – and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr's underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game – or die trying…
The Lies of Locke Lamora
The first book in the Gentleman Bastard series, 2006
For Jenny, this little world that was blessed to have you peeking over my shoulder while it took shape-
PROLOGUE. THE BOY WHO STOLE TOO MUCH
AT THE HEIGHT of the long wet summer of the Seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.
“Have I got a deal for you!” the Thiefmaker began, perhaps inauspiciously.
“Another deal like Calo and Galdo, maybe?” said the Eyeless Priest.
“I’ve still got my hands full training those giggling idiots out of every bad habit they picked up from you and replacing them with the bad habits I need.”
“Now, Chains.” The Thiefmaker shrugged. “I told you they were shit-flinging little monkeys when we made the deal, and it was good enough for you at the-”
“Or maybe another deal like Sabetha?” The priest’s richer, deeper voice chased the Thiefmaker’s objection right back down his throat. “I’m sure you recall charging me everything but my dead mother’s kneecaps for her. I should’ve paid you in copper and watched you spring a rupture trying to haul it all away.”
“Ahhhhhh, but she was special, and this boy, he’s special, too,” said the Thiefmaker. “Everything you asked me to look for after I sold you Calo and Galdo. Everything you liked so much about Sabetha! He’s Camorri, but a mongrel. Therin and Vadran blood with neither dominant. He’s got larceny in his heart, sure as the sea’s full of fish piss. And I can even let you have him at a…a discount.”
The Eyeless Priest spent a long moment mulling this. “You’ll pardon me,” he finally said, “if the suggestion that the minuscule black turnip you call a heart is suddenly overflowing with generosity toward me leaves me wanting to arm myself and put my back against a wall.”
The Thiefmaker tried to let a vaguely sincere expression scurry onto his face, where it froze in evident discomfort. His shrug was theatrically casual. “There are, ah, problems with the boy, yes. But the problems are unique to his situation in my care. Were he under yours, I’m sure they would, ahhhh, vanish.”
“Oh. You have a magic boy. Why didn’t you say so?” The priest scratched his forehead beneath the white silk blindfold that covered his eyes. “Magnificent. I’ll plant him in the fucking ground and grow a vine to an enchanted land beyond the clouds.”
“Ahhhhh! I’ve tasted that flavor of sarcasm before, Chains.” The Thiefmaker gave an arthritic mock bow. “That’s the sort you spit out as a bargaining posture. Is it really so hard to say that you’re interested?”
The Eyeless Priest shrugged. “Suppose Calo, Galdo, and Sabetha might be able to use a new playmate, or at least a new punching bag. Suppose I’m willing to spend about three coppers and a bowl of piss for a mystery boy. But you’ll still need to convince me that you deserve the bowl of piss. What’s the boy’s problem?”
“His problem,” said the Thiefmaker, “is that if I can’t sell him to you, I’m going to have to slit his throat and throw him in the bay. And I’m going to have to do it tonight.”
ON THE night the Lamora boy had come to live under the Thiefmaker’s care, the old graveyard on Shades’ Hill had been full of children, standing at silent attention and waiting for their new brothers and sisters to be led down into the mausoleums.
The Thiefmaker’s wards all carried candles; their cold blue light shone through the silver curtains of river mist as streetlamps might glimmer through a smoke-grimed window. A chain of ghostlight wound its way down from the hilltop, through the stone markers and ceremonial paths, down to the wide glass bridge over the Coalsmoke Canal, half-visible in the blood-warm fog that seeps up from Camorr’s wet bones on summer nights.
“Come now, my loves, my jewels, my newlyfounds, keep the pace,” whispered the Thiefmaker as he nudged the last of the thirty or so Catchfire orphans over the Coalsmoke Bridge. “These lights are just your new friends, come to guide your way up my hill. Move now, my treasures. There’s darkness wasting, and we have so much to talk about.”
In rare moments of vain reflection, the Thiefmaker thought of himself as an artist. A sculptor, to be precise, with orphans as his clay and the old graveyard on Shades’ Hill as his studio.
Eighty-eight thousand souls generated a certain steady volume of waste; this waste included a constant trickle of lost, useless, and abandoned children. Slavers took some of them, hauling them off to Tal Verrar or the Jeremite Islands. Slavery was technically illegal in Camorr, of course, but the act of enslavement itself was winked at, if there was no one left to speak for the victim.
So, slavers got some, and plain stupidity took a few more. Starvation and the diseases it brought were also common ways to go, for those who lacked the courage or the skill to pluck a living from the city around them. And then, of course, those with courage but no skill often wound up swinging from the Black Bridge in front of the Palace of Patience. The duke’s magistrates disposed of little thieves with the same rope they used on bigger ones, though they did see to it that the little ones went over the side of the bridge with weights tied to their ankles to help them hang properly.
Any orphans left after dicing with all of those colorful possibilities were swept up by the Thiefmaker’s own crew, one at a time or in small, frightened groups. Soon enough they would learn what sort of life awaited them beneath the graveyard that was the heart of his realm, where seven score of cast-off children bent the knee to a single bent old man.
“Quick-step, my lovelies, my new sons and daughters; follow the line of lights and step to the top. We’re almost home, almost fed, almost washed up and bedded down. Out of the rain and the mist and the stinking heat.”
Plagues were a time of special opportunity for the Thiefmaker, and the Catchfire orphans had crawled away from his very favorite sort: Black Whisper. It fell on the
By the fifth day of the quarantine, there were no more screams and no more attempted canal crossings, so Catchfire evaded the namesake fate that had befallen it so many times before in years of pestilence. By the eleventh day, when the quarantine was lifted and the duke’s Ghouls went in to survey the mess, perhaps one in eight of the four hundred children previously living there had survived the wait. They had already formed gangs for mutual protection, and had learned certain cruel necessities of life without adults.
The Thiefmaker was waiting as they were corralled and led out from the sinister silence of their old neighborhood.
He paid good silver for the best thirty, and even more good silver for the silence of the Ghouls and constables he relieved of the children. Then he led them, dazed and hollow-cheeked and smelling like hell, into the dark steambath mists of the Camorri night, toward the old graveyard on Shades’ Hill.
The Lamora boy was the youngest and smallest of the lot, five or six years old, nothing but jutting bones under skin rich with dirt and hollow angles. The Thiefmaker hadn’t even chosen him; the boy had simply crept away with the others as though he belonged. The Thiefmaker was not unaware of this, but he’d lived the sort of life in which even a single free plague orphan was a windfall not to be overlooked.
It was the summer of the Seventy-seventh Year of Gandolo, Father of Opportunities, Lord of Coin and Commerce. The Thiefmaker padded through the shrouded night, shepherding his ragged line of children.
In just two years he would be all but begging Father Chains, the Eyeless Priest, to take the Lamora boy off his hands-and sharpening his knives in case the priest refused.
THE EYELESS Priest scratched his gray-stubbled throat. “No shit?”
“None whatsoever.” The Thiefmaker reached down the front of a doublet that was several years past merely shabby and pulled out a leather pouch on a fine leather cord; the pouch was dyed the rust red of dried blood. “Already went to the big man and got permission. I’ll do the boy ear to ear and send him for teeth lessons.”
“Gods. It’s a sob story after all.” For an Eyeless Priest, the fingers he jabbed into the Thiefmaker’s sternum struck swift and sure. “Find some other lackwit to shackle with the chains of your conscience.”
“Conscience can go piss up a chimney, Chains. I’m talking avarice, yours and mine. I can’t keep the boy, and I’m offering you a unique opportunity. A genuine bargain.”
“If the boy’s too unruly to keep, why can’t you just pound some wisdom into him and let him ripen to a proper age of sale?”
“Out of the question, Chains. Limited options. I can’t just slap him around, because I can’t let any of the other little shits know what he’s, ahhh, done. If any of them had the slightest inclination to pull what he’s pulled…gods! I’d never be able to control them again. I can either kill him quick, or sell him quicker. No profit versus a paltry sum. So guess which one I prefer?”
“The boy’s done something you can’t even mention in front of the others?” Chains massaged his forehead above the blindfold and sighed. “Shit. This sounds like something I might actually be interested in hearing.”
AN OLD Camorri proverb has it that the only constant in the soul of man is inconstancy; anything and everything else can pass out of fashion-even something as utilitarian as a hill stuffed full of corpses.
Shades’ Hill was the first graveyard of quality in Camorr’s history, ideally situated to keep the bones of the formerly well-fed above the salty grasp of the Iron Sea. Yet over time, the balance of power shifted in the families of vault-carvers and morticians and professional pallbearers; fewer and fewer of the quality were interred on Shades’ Hill, as the nearby Hill of Whispers offered more room for larger and gaudier monuments with commensurately higher commissions. Wars, plagues, and intrigues ensured that the number of living families with monuments to tend on Shades’Hill dropped steadily over the decades. Eventually, the only regular visitors were the priests and priestesses of Aza Guilla, who sleep in tombs during their apprenticeships, and the homeless orphans who squatted in the dust and darkness of the ill-tended burial vaults.
The Thiefmaker (though of course he wasn’t known as such just yet) had wound up sharing one of these vaults at the low point of his life, when he was nothing but a miserable curiosity-a pickpocket with nine broken fingers.
At first, his relationship with the Shades’ Hill orphans was half-bullying and half-pleading; some vestigial need for an authority figure kept them from killing him in his sleep. For his part, he grudgingly began to explain to them some of the tricks of his trade.
As his fingers slowly mended (after a fashion, for most of them would forever resemble twice-broken twigs), he began to impart more and more of his crooked wisdom onto the dirty children who dodged the rain and the city watch with him. Their numbers increased, as did their income, and they began to make more room for themselves in the wet stone chambers of the old graveyard.
In time, the brittle-boned pickpocket became the Thiefmaker, and Shades’ Hill became his kingdom.
The Lamora boy and his fellow Catchfire orphans entered this kingdom some twenty years after its founding. What they saw that night was a graveyard no deeper than the dirt piled above the old tombs. A great network of tunnels and galleries had been dug between the major vaults, their hard-packed walls threaded with supports like the ribs of long-dead wooden dragons. The previous occupants had all been quietly disinterred and dropped into the bay. Shades’ Hill was now an ant-mound of orphan thieves.
Down the black mouth of the topmost mausoleum the Catchfire orphans went, down the wood-ribbed tunnel lit by the flickering silver fire of cool alchemical globes, with greasy tendrils of mist chasing at their ankles. Shades’ Hill orphans watched them from every nook and warren, their eyes cold but curious. The thick tunnel air was saturated with the smells of night soil and stale bodies-an odor the Catchfire orphans soon multiplied with their own presence.
“In! In,” cried the Thiefmaker, rubbing his hands together. “My home, your home, and welcome to it! Here we all have one thing in common-no mothers and no fathers. Alas for that, but now you’ll have as many sisters and brothers as you can need, and dry earth over your head. A place…a family.”
A train of Shades’ Hill orphans swept down the tunnel in his wake, snuffing their eerie blue candles as they went, until only the silver radiance of the wall-globes remained to light the way.
At the heart of the Thiefmaker’s realm was a vast, warm hollow with a packed dirt floor, perhaps twice the height of a tall man, thirty yards wide and long. A single high-backed chair of oiled black witchwood stood against the far wall; the Thiefmaker eased himself into this with a grateful sigh.
Dozens of grotty blankets were set out on the floor, covered with food: bowls of bony chicken marinated in cheap almond wine, soft thresher-fish tails wrapped in bacon and soaked in vinegar, and brown bread flavored with sausage grease. There were also salted peas and lentils as well as bowls of past-ripe tomatoes and pears. Poor stuff, in truth, but in a quantity and variety most of the Catchfire orphans had never seen before. Their attack on the meal was immediate and uncoordinated; the Thiefmaker smiled indulgently.
“I’m not stupid enough to get between you and a decent meal, my dears. So eat your fill; eat more than your fill. Make up for lost time. We’ll talk after.”
As the Catchfire orphans stuffed their faces, the Shades’ Hill orphans crowded in around them, watching and saying nothing. Soon the chamber was packed and the air grew staler
“Business!” he cried. “Three items of business. You’re here because I paid for you. I paid extra to get to you before anyone else could. I can assure you that every single one of your little friends that I didn’t pay for has gone to the slavers. There’s nothing else to be done with orphans. No place to keep you, nobody to take you in. The watch sells your sort for wine money, my dears; watch-sergeants neglect to mention you in their reports, and watch-captains neglect to give a shit.
“And,” he continued, “now that the Catchfire quarantine’s lifted, every slaver and would-be slaver in Camorr is going to be very excited and very alert. You’re free to get up and leave this hill any time you see fit-with my confident assurance that you’ll soon be sucking cocks or chained to an oar for the rest of your life.
“Which leads me to my second point. All of my friends you see around you”-he gestured to the Shades’Hill orphans lined up against the walls-“can leave whenever they please, and mostly go wherever they please, because they are under my protection. I know,” he said with a long and solemn face, “that I am nothing especially formidable when considered as an individual, but do not be misled. I have powerful friends, my dears. What I offer is security by virtue of those friends. Should anyone-a slaver, for example-dare to set a hand on one of my Shades’ Hill boys or girls, well…the consequences would be immediate, and gratifyingly, ahhh, merciless.”