“Stop gawking at yourself.”
Joost whirled, cheeks going hot as Henk and Rutger strode into the side garden. They were both older, bigger, and broader of shoulder than Joost, and they were house guards, private servants of Councilman Hoede. That meant they wore his pale green livery, carried fancy rifles from Novyi Zem, and never let Joost forget he was a lowly grunt from the city watch.
“Petting that bit of fuzz isn’t going to make it grow any faster,” Rutger said with a loud laugh.
Joost tried to summon some dignity. “I need to finish my rounds.”
Rutger elbowed Henk. “That means he’s going to go stick his head in the Grisha workshop to get a look at his girl.”
“Oh, Anya, won’t you use your Grisha magic to make my mustache grow?” Henk mocked.
Joost turned on his heel, cheeks burning, and strode down the eastern side of the house. They’d been teasing him ever since he’d arrived. If it hadn’t been for Anya, he probably would have pleaded with his captain for a reassignment. He and Anya only ever exchanged a few words on his rounds, but she was always the best part of his night.
And he had to admit, he liked Hoede’s house, too, the few peeks he’d managed through the windows. Hoede had one of the grandest mansions on the Geldstraat—floors set with gleaming squares of black and white stone, shining dark wood walls lit by blown glass chandeliers that floated like jellyfish near the coffered ceilings. Sometimes Joost liked to pretend that it was his house, that he was a rich mercher just out for a stroll through his fine garden.
Before he rounded the corner, Joost took a deep breath. Anya, your eyes are brown like … tree bark? He’d think of something. He was better off being spontaneous anyway.
He was surprised to see the glass-paneled doors to the Grisha workshop open. More than the hand-painted blue tiles in the kitchen or the mantels laden with potted tulips, this workshop was a testimony to Hoede’s wealth. Grisha indentures didn’t come cheap, and Hoede had three of them.
But Yuri wasn’t seated at the long worktable, and Anya was nowhere to be seen. Only Retvenko was there, sprawled out on a chair in dark blue robes, eyes shut, a book open on his chest.
Joost hovered in the doorway, then cleared his throat. “These doors should be shut and locked at night.”
“House is like furnace,” Retvenko drawled without opening his eyes, his Ravkan accent thick and rolling. “Tell Hoede I stop sweating, I close doors.”
Retvenko was a Squaller, older than the other Grisha indentures, his hair shot through with silver. There were rumors he’d fought for the losing side in Ravka’s civil war and had fled to Kerch after the fighting.
“I’d be happy to present your complaints to Councilman Hoede,” Joost lied. The house was always overheated, as if Hoede were under obligation to burn coal, but Joost wasn’t going to be the one to mention it. “Until then—”
“You bring news of Yuri?” Retvenko interrupted, finally opening his heavily hooded eyes.
Joost glanced uneasily at the bowls of red grapes and heaps of burgundy velvet on the worktable. Yuri had been working on bleeding color from the fruit into curtains for Mistress Hoede, but he’d fallen badly ill a few days ago, and Joost hadn’t seen him since. Dust had begun to gather on the velvet, and the grapes were going bad.
“I haven’t heard anything.”
“Of course you hear nothing. Too busy strutting around in stupid purple uniform.”
What was wrong with his uniform? And why did Retvenko even have to be here? He was Hoede’s personal Squaller and often traveled with the merchant’s most precious cargos, guaranteeing favorable winds to bring the ships safely and quickly to harbor. Why couldn’t he be away at sea now?
“I think Yuri may be quarantined.”
“So helpful,” Retvenko said with a sneer. “You can stop craning neck like hopeful goose,” he added. “Anya is gone.”
Joost felt his face heat again. “Where is she?” he asked, trying to sound authoritative. “She should be in after dark.”
“One hour ago, Hoede takes her. Same as night he came for Yuri.”
“What do you mean ‘he came for Yuri’? Yuri fell ill.”
“Hoede comes for Yuri, Yuri comes back sick. Two days later, Yuri vanishes for good. Now Anya.”
“Maybe there was an emergency. If someone needed to be healed—”
“First Yuri, now Anya. I will be next, and no one will notice except poor little Officer Joost. Go now.”
“If Councilman Hoede—”
Retvenko raised an arm and a gust of air slammed Joost backward. Joost scrambled to keep his footing, grabbing for the doorframe.
“I said now.” Retvenko etched a circle in the air, and the door slammed shut. Joost let go just in time to avoid having his fingers smashed, and toppled into the side garden.