Little Knife (The Grisha 2.60) - Page 2

He sent the colonel away and when Semyon knocked on the palace door, the Duke welcomed him with much ceremony. He sat Semyon in a place of honor and had the servants wash his hands with perfumed water, then gave him sugared almonds, plum brandy, bowls of lamb dumplings resting in nests of musk mallow. Semyon had never eaten so well, and he’d certainly never been treated as a beloved guest. When at last he sat back, his belly ached and his eyes were bleary with wine and flattery.

The Duke said, “Semyon, we are both honest men and so can speak freely with one another. You are a clever fellow, but how can you hope to care for one such as Yeva? You have no work, no home, no prospects.”

“I have love,” said Semyon, nearly toppling his glass, “and Little Knife.”

The Duke didn’t know what knives had to do with anything, but he said, “One cannot live on love or cutlery, and Yeva has had an easy life. She knows nothing of struggle or hardship. Would you be the one to teach her suffering?”

“No!” cried Semyon. “Never!”

“Then we must make a plan, you and I. Tomorrow I will set a final task and if you accomplish it, then you will have Yeva’s hand and all the riches you could ever want.”

Semyon thought the Duke might try to cheat him once more, but he liked the sound of this bargain and resolved to be on his guard.

“Very well,” he said, and offered the Duke his hand.

The Duke shook it, hiding his distaste, then said, “Come to the square tomorrow morning and listen closely.”

Word of the new task spread and the next day, the square was packed with even more suitors, including the Prince, who stood with his tired horses, his boots glittering with tiny shards of the mirror he had smashed in his frustration.

“There is an ancient coin forged by a great sorcerer and buried somewhere beneath Ravka,” the Duke declared. “Each time you spend it, it returns to you twofold, so your pockets will always be full. Bring back this coin so that Yeva will never want for anything and you will have her as your bride.”

The crowd raced off in all directions to gather shovels and pickaxes.

When the Duke stepped back from the balcony, Yeva said, “Papa, forgive me, but what way is this to find a husband? Soon I will be very rich, but will I have a good man?”

This time, the Duke looked on his daughter with pity. “When the coffers are empty and their bellies growl, even good men turn bad. Whoever may win this contest, the magic coin will be ours. We will dance in marble halls and drink from cups of frozen amber, and if you do not like your husband, we will drown him in a sea of gold, then send a silver ship to find you a new one. What do you think of that?”

Yeva sighed, weary of asking questions that went unanswered. She kissed her father’s cheek and went to say her prayers.

The Prince called all his advisors together. The Royal Engineer brought him a machine that required fifty men to turn the crank. Once it was spinning, it could drill for miles beneath the earth. But the Engineer did not know how to stop it, and the machine and the fifty men were never heard from again. The Minister of the Interior claimed he could train an army of moles if he only had more time, and the King’s spymaster swore that he had heard stories of a magic spoon that could dig through solid rock.

Meanwhile, Semyon returned to the river. “Little Knife,” he called. “I need you. If I do not find the coin, then another man will have Yeva and I will have nothing.”

The river splashed, its surface rippling in consternation. It sloshed against its banks, returning again and again to break upon the dam that bound the millpond. It took many minutes, but soon Semyon understood: the river was divided, too weak to dig beneath the ground.

He snatched up the ivory-handled axe he had taken from the woods when the Prince had cast it away, and hacked at the dam with all his might. The clang of Grisha steel against stone echoed through the forest, until finally, with a creaking sigh, the dam burst. The river roiled and frothed in its newfound strength, whole once more.

“Now slice through the ground and fetch me the coin, Little Knife, or what good are you to me?”

The river dove through the earth, moving with strength and purpose, leaving caverns and caves and tunnels in its wake. It crossed the length of Ravka, from border to border and back, as the rock tore at its current and the soil drank from its sides. The deeper the river plunged, the weaker it became, but on it went, and when it was at its most frail, little more than a breath of fog in a clump of earth, it felt the coin, small and hard. Whatever face the metal bore had been long worn away by time.

The river clutched the coin and hurtled to the surface, gathering its strength, growing dense with mud and rainwater, swelling as it reclaimed each rivulet and tiny stream. It erupted through the millpond, a gout of mist that glittered with rainbows, bouncing the coin this way and that.

Semyon bounded into the water to seize it, but the river swirled around him, making worried murmurs. Semyon paused and he wondered, What if I bring the coin to the Duke and he sets yet another task? What if he takes it and murders me where I sit?

“I am no fool,” said Semyon to the river. “Keep the coin in the shallows until I return.”

Once more Semyon combed his hair and shined his boots and made the walk to the Duke’s home. There he pounded on the door and announced that he had found the final prize. “Call the priest!” he demanded. “Let Yeva be dressed in her finery. We will say our vows by the river, and then I will give you your magic coin.”

So Yeva was attired in a dress of gold and a thick veil to hide her miraculous face. The blind nursemaid cried softly as she hugged Yeva one last time, and helped to secure a jeweled kokoshnik in her hair. Then Yeva was led down to the river with her father and the priest, trailing all the townspeople and the grumbling Prince behind them.

They found Semyon by the shattered dam, the river spilling its banks.

“What has happened here?” asked the Duke.

Semyon still wore his threadbare rags, but now he spoke with pride. “I have your coin,” he said. “Give me my bride.”

The Duke held out his hand in expectation.

“Show them, Little Knife,” said Semyon to the seething waters.

Yeva frowned. “What is little about the river?” she asked. But no one heard her question.

The coin shot from the river’s depths to skip and dance on its surface.

“It’s true!” exclaimed the Duke. “By all the Saints, he’s found it!”

The Duke, Semyon, and the Prince all reached for the coin—and the river roared. It seemed to hunch its back like a beast preparing to charge, a wild, pulsing swell that crested over the crowd.

“Stop this!” demanded Semyon.

But the river did not stop. It twisted and turned, forming a mighty column that churned with reeds and broken rocks, rising high above the forest floor as the onlookers cowered in fear. What did they see in its waters? Some would later say a demon, others the pale and bloated bodies of a hundred drowned men, but most said they saw a woman with arms like breaking waves, with hair like storm-cloud lightning, and breasts of white foam.

Tags: Leigh Bardugo The Grisha Fantasy
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