Chapter Four–Pauper’s Field

Kara watched from the rooftop across the street as Djaren, Eljiah, and Tallis knocked at the door of the somber little building on Stableway that doubled as an undertaker’s shop and the headquarters of the Mourners. This seemed a sensible enough combination to Kara—if one had to deal with dead bodies, why not make money off them twice over, once for the burying and once for the official weeping and parading about in black?

And maybe a third time for selling the corpses. But that was for Djaren and the talkers to figure out. Kara waited until a woman with a black hat and veil had answered the door and invited them inside, and then made her way across the rooftops, two streets over to the tall, somber grey wall that was Pauper’s Field.

She didn’t like leaving Djaren inside a strange building, but she wasn’t going to be any help with the talking, and it would take a worse situation than this before she’d set foot willingly inside a corpse shop. A graveyard, on the other hand . . . It’s not that far off from tomb robbing, she reassured herself. Only the subjects mostly hadn’t been dead for hundreds of years. And she wasn’t planning to rob any of them, anyway. Robbing from the dead, she’d heard, was a worse offense with stricter penalties than making off with the bodies of the dead. Careful body snatchers left everything but the body behind. It was more proof that the country of Arien was bizarre and entirely backward.

The walled graveyard had a single wrought iron gate, with a padlock but no guard. A quick pass and a tap at the lock told Kara that it would be easy to pick, or break. Cheap work, typical of this part of town. But no need to leave such an obvious sign of her presence, when the gate itself would be simple enough to climb. The sun wasn’t low enough yet, though, to hide her from sight, and this particular street was well-travelled.

Kara eyed the factories at the other end of the street, and the dirty pubs directly across from Pauper’s Field. People would be coming and going past this gate well into the night, and even the early morning. If a bodysnatching ring’s pulling from this field, they have another way in. She went looking for it, casually circling the wall.

In a narrow street that she guessed, from the smell, led to some tanneries, she found what she was looking for. On the inside of the cemetery a few sad trees, blackened by the factory smoke, rose above the encircling wall, and at its base their roots had cracked and shifted the stones. There was a small gap, just big enough for someone Kara-sized to squeeze through. She did so, and found foot-marks and various tool-marks in the softer earth inside the graveyard, and on a sturdy branch overhead, the place where a frequently-tied rope had rubbed the bark bare.

The boy squeezes in, shins the tree, and lowers a rope for the rest of them to climb the wall. It was a typical sort of strategy for a theft. They probably had a pulley device for raising and lowering the bodies.

Kara climbed the tree herself, to scan around the cemetery and make sure she was alone here. Too early for resurrection men, really, but it never hurt to be sure.

She could see why this place was a favorite harvesting ground. Only the tallest of the surrounding buildings—the top floors of the boys’ school, one of the factories, and the turret of a church—offered any sort of view inside. The graves themselves weren’t the big stone mausoleums that were popular in more well-to-do cemeteries, just simple earthen graves with small stone markers. Easy to dig into. A single stone angel at the center watched over the graves, its face toward the gate, not toward Kara.

Only two graves looked freshly dug. One was, unfortunately, right next to the gate. The other, covered over with a cage of metal bars, was, conveniently, in a back corner. Kara slipped down and went to investigate. The not-quite-long-enough-yet state of the shadows didn’t bother her much, but she slipped along near the wall, regardless.

Kara read the inscription on the headstone. She made a habit, these days, of reading everything with writing on it, signs or building cornerstones or posted flyers. As long as they weren’t too long. “Elmira Huddlestone,” the marker said. “Geldanus grant her eternal peace.” Kara subtracted the years and discovered that Elmira had been twenty-three. And someone had cared enough, evidently, to buy her a personalized line on the marker and an attempt at protection from corpse thieves.

Kara shrugged her coat up further around her shoulders, though it wasn’t at all cold. She wondered how Djaren was doing in his investigations. The bright hum that ticked at the edge of her mind when she considered him these days was buzzing along merrily. Pushing past the hum, she knew would tell her more, give her the pulses of his emotions, and the murmurs of thoughts.  It would also let him know she was looking, and draw the full inquisitive focus of his mind. Kara didn’t think she liked being looked at that way. How did you keep secrets when you couldn’t hide your expressions properly?  She wasn’t sure he could tell anything properly anyway, since he seemed to see something he thought wonderful every time he spoke to her. He was clearly confused, and confusing himself. If he was making fun, somehow, or teasing, she’d punch him. But she didn’t think he was, and that was annoying for reasons she couldn’t name.

She pulled herself together and got to work on the job of checking around the edges of the grave cage. No immediate signs of breaking and entering, and the earth over the grave didn’t look disturbed. She checked further out, scouring the long grass in an ever-widening circle and eventually found, about two cart-lengths behind the headstone, a suspicious-looking bit of ground. A sizable square of sod had been cut out and then replaced. Nice neat work, too, but as Kara ran her hand down in the seam she could feel that the earth had been freshly disturbed, down as far as she could reach. No tunnel now, but I’ll bet there was one just a few nights ago.

No sign of trampled-down grass or stray bits of the earth that must have been pulled out of the tunnel. But then, it had rained two days ago. Nice timing. Kara’s estimation of these grave robbers went up several notches.

A scraping sound came from the direction of the tree where she’d entered, and she instantly dodged behind the largest nearby grave marker and flattened herself into the long grass. Lucky, that nobody bothered to trim in here. She peered out between green stalks, willing her nose not to itch.

It was just as she’d suspected. A small, ragged figure came squirming through the same spot she’d used to squeeze in, and before long the boy had climbed the tree and lowered a rope for a good half dozen other men. Kara refrained from cursing, even under her breath. That was a lot of them, and they were blocking her way out. Of course she could always dash for the gate, though that would be a good way to get spotted.

Or maybe not. The shadows had lengthened still further while she investigated, and while she could still see as well as ever, these grave robbers didn’t have her eyes. They didn’t light any lanterns yet, though, but instead stood huddled in the dark, talking. Kara held her breath and listened.

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