The Broken Kingdoms
Page 9

 N.K. Jemisin

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“Thank you, Shiny,” I said as he poured me a cup of tea. He paused for just a moment, then resumed pouring with the faintest of sighs at his new nickname. I stifled the urge to giggle at his annoyance, because that would’ve just been mean.
He sat down across from me, though he had to push a pile of beeswax sticks out of the way to do it, and watched me eat. That sobered me, because it meant I’d been painting long enough that he’d gone ahead and eaten. And that meant I was late for work.
Nothing to be done for it. I sighed and sipped tea, pleased to find that it was a new blend, slightly bitter and perfect for the salty fish.
“I’m debating whether I should even go to the Row today,” I said. He never seemed to mind my small talk, and I never minded that it was one-sided. “It will probably be a madhouse. Oh, that’s right—did you hear? Yesterday, near the Easha White Hall, one of the godlings was found dead. Role. I was the one who found her; she was actually, really dead.” I shuddered at the memory. “Unfortunately, that means her worshippers will come to pay respects, and the Keepers will be all over the place, and the gawkers will be as thick as ants at a picnic.” I sighed. “I hope they don’t decide to block off the whole Promenade; my savings are down to fumes as it is.”
I kept eating and did not at first realize Shiny’s silence had changed. Then I registered the shock in it. What had caught his attention—my worrying about money? He’d been homeless before; perhaps he feared I would turn him out. Somehow, though, that didn’t feel right.
I reached out, found his hand, and groped upward until I found his face. He was a hard man to read at the best of times, but now his face was absolute stone, jaw tight and brows drawn and skin taut near the ears. Concern, anger, or fear? I couldn’t tell.
I opened my mouth to say that I had no intention of evicting him, but before I could, he pushed his chair back and walked away, leaving my hand hovering in the air where his face had been.
I wasn’t sure what to think of this, so I finished eating, carried my plate upstairs to wash, and then got ready to head to the Row. Shiny met me at the door, putting my stick into my hands. He was going with me.
As I had expected, there was a small crowd filling the nearby street: weeping worshippers, curious onlookers, and very snappish Order-Keepers. I could also hear a small group off at the far end of the Promenade, singing. Their song was wordless, just the same melody over and over, soothing and vaguely eerie. These were the New Lights, one of the newer religions that had appeared in the city. They had probably come looking for recruits among the dead goddess’ bereft followers. Along with the Lights, I could smell the heavy, soporific incense of the Darkwalkers—worshippers of the Shadow Lord. There weren’t many of them, though; they tended not to be morning people.
In addition to these were the pilgrims, who worshipped the Gray Lady; the Daughters of the New Fire, who favored some godling I’d never heard of; the Tenth-Hellers; the Clockwork League; and half a dozen other groups. Amid this rabble I could hear street-children, probably picking pockets and playing pranks. Even they had a patron god these days, or so I’d heard.
Small wonder the Order-Keepers were snappish, with so many heretics crowding their own hall. Still, they had managed to cordon off the alley and were allowing mourners to approach it in small groups, letting them linger long enough for a prayer or two.
With Shiny beside me, I crouched to brush my hand over the piles of flowers and candles and offertory trinkets that had been placed at the mouth of the alley. I was surprised to find the flowers half wilted, which meant they had been there awhile. The godling who’d marked the alley must have suspended the self-cleaning magic for the time being, perhaps out of respect for Role.
“A shame,” I said to Shiny. “I never met this one, but I hear she was nice. Goddess of compassion or something like that. She worked as a bonebender down in South Root. Anyone who could pay had to give her an offering, but she never turned away those who couldn’t.” I sighed.
Shiny was a silent, brooding presence beside me, unmoving, barely breathing. Thinking this was grief, I stood and fumbled for his hand and was surprised to find it clenched tight at his side. I’d completely mistaken his mood; he was angry, not sad. Puzzled by this, I slid my hand up to his cheek. “Did you know her?”
He nodded, once.
“Was she… your goddess? Did you pray to her?”
He shook his head, cheek flexing beneath my fingers. What had that been, a smile? A bitter one.
“You cared for her, though.”