Today's Reading

"Is that her?" asked the merchant, tugging at Hark's sleeve. "Is that the Hidden Lady?"

"No," said Hark. "I mean . . . yes. A piece of her. Two of her legs." Spider-crab legs the length of a schooner. It was a great find, but there was a tight, disappointed feeling in his chest. What had he been hoping for?

"I thought she was one of the more human-looking ones?" asked the merchant.

"She was," said Hark.

Now she was godware, and godware meant opportunities. The investors would have their cargo jealously guarded as it was hauled up by cranes and dragged to the waiting warehouse. They wouldn't relax until every last ounce had been carved up, weighed, scraped, sold, or boiled for glue. In the meantime, hundreds of other eyes were watching for chances. A shard of shell, a smear of ichor, a spoonful of pulp could sell for more than a month's wages. When he was younger, Hark might have been one of those squeezed among the crowds, hoping to snatch at some tiny dropped fragment . . .

Now he was older and wiser, he knew that there were ways to make money from the Hidden Lady without braving the harpoons. He threw a brief, assessing glance at the merchant, who was still watching through his spyglass, entranced.

"The menders are lucky folks," he lied conversationally. "The ones who clean out and fix the big nets afterward. It's a difficult job, because of the thick cables, but one of my friends does it. He says he always finds a bit of godware or two caught in the net. He's allowed to keep them as payment."

"Really?" The merchant lowered his spyglass and stared at Hark. He looked incredulous, but not incredulous enough. Hark had chosen well.

"It's not quite as good as it sounds." Hark shrugged ruefully. "He has to sell it at the Appraisal auction, which means the governor's taxman gets a big cut."

He looked away, as if losing interest in the subject. He had left a baited hook trailing in the merchant's mind. Oh, come on and bite, you fat fish . . .

"Do all sales have to go through the Appraisal?" The merchant hesitated, and cleared his throat. "Does your friend ever sell his little bits of godware . . . privately?"

Hark let himself look surprised, then thoughtful. He gave a furtive glance around, then leaned toward the merchant.

"Well, the law says all sales should go through the Appraisal. If anybody ever found out about a private sale there would be trouble . . . but . . . do you want me to talk to my friend?"

"If you wouldn't mind," said the merchant, his eyes bright.

Got you.

Hark knew people who could make him what he needed. A piece of lobster shell, coated in glass to make it look special, with some blackened limpets glued on. The merchant would probably be three islands further along his journey before he suspected his souvenir wasn't godware. And would he want to believe it even then? Why not hold the faith so that he could tell his friends: You see this? It's part of the Hidden Lady. I was there when they dragged it up from the deep. Why give up a perfectly good story?

"Hark!"

The call came from the base of the tower and made Hark jump. It was the voice he knew best in the world, and it filled him with relief. Jelt was alive and well. Of course he was.

A moment later, the wave of relief receded, and a weight settled on his heart. He felt an odd temptation to pretend not to hear, just for a few moments more.

"Oi, Hark!" The tower shook as somebody below slammed his fist into it twice.

Hark turned and looked.
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