It’s been over a week since we returned from Dayshop Alley. The moment we were behind the compound’s walls, Shinytop requested to be left in the armoury. We were all still pretty fired up, so we didn’t have a problem dumping him down there. As the days went by, though, and our anger and frustration ebbed, I started to wonder how he was getting on.
I also started to wonder if we’d been unfair to him. It was his gold, his secret. Who were we to demand he use it for our benefit. Aisling thought the same. When I suggested we go and talk with him, she said only one should go so he wouldn’t feel intimidated.
I volunteered, but I as in no hurry. It was only when Ganhook asked if something was up, that I went, partly because I was afraid Ganhook would ask more questions, but mostly because I missed Shinytop.
I disliked the armoury. There were just too many sharp and pointy things down there for it to be a comfortable place. Add to that the odder weapons—the wooden rods, the nets, the chain balls, and countless other things I knew were armed with Lavun, and I was half-afraid to touch anything in case it came alive and attacked.
Ganhook wore chainmail protection whenever he went in there, said some of the older spell weapons were unpredictable. All I had was a leather jacket, leather gloves, and a cooking pot from the kitchen as a helmet.
We’d left Shinytop behind a rack of winged spears. He saw me coming, and said, ‘I’ll apologise if you apologise.’
A wave of relief flooded through me. This could go easier than I expected. Yet, though I wanted out of that room fast, I didn’t want to hurry things in case he thought I was weak. ‘We said bad things. Sorry.’
‘I’m sorry too. But maybe you were right. Maybe I could have provided gold.’
‘You gave us gold before. When we really needed it. Why not this time?’
‘I cannot explain because . . . I cannot bear to think about where the gold lies. There is one cache of treasure in the city. You shall have it for future emergencies. But only on one condition?’
I shivered with a mix of excitement and anxiety. He’d said ‘treasure’, not ‘gold’, which meant that there could be other fantastic things in his stash. ‘What condition?’
‘Stein Cat must never get his grubby paws on any of it.’
Three hours later we were back in the dockers’ quarter, standing outside a cottage that lay in the shadow of the City Guards’ docklands fortress. The only difference between this cottage and the others was that the door was iron and not timber, and the windows had metal security grilles attached. The door had no keyhole or handle and looked strong enough to withstand a battering ram.
I tried to peer inside. But a thick layer of grim coated the glass, making it impossible to see anything. The paint had long since peeled from the frame and the security grilles were orange with rust.
‘Lean me against the entrance,’ Shinytop said.
I placed him tight to the door and heard him whisper some rhythmic words. Something clicked. The door swung inwards, releasing a gust of stale air and dust straight into my face.
Coughing, I said, ‘Should have told us we’d need filter masks.’
Normally, Shinytop would have responded with a least an insult. He just sighed, and said, ‘Cover my face. I don’t want to see what’s inside.’
When Aisling pulled the sock cover over him, Shinytop said, ‘Take me to the kitchen. Just one of you.’
I handed him to Aisling because, suddenly, I was more interested in the everyday contents of the house that treasure. We passed through a hall into a reception room. Everything was covered in dust, turning the chairs, table, sofa, lanterns and all the other stuff an identical shade of grey.
While Aisling carried Shinytop into the back, I wandered around trying to take everything in.
Pictures had been removed from the walls and turned face down. Drawers and cupboards had been emptied. As if the owner was ready to leave, clothes were packed into crates stacked by the doors. A woman’s clothes. Dust swirled everywhere. A calendar by window hadn’t been changed for forty-seven years.
What was this place? Who’d owned it? Where had they gone, and how had Shinytop hidden gold here?
I examined one of the pictures. It was a sketch of a woman and a man holding hands, smiling at each other against a background of anchored ships and
Scribbled at the bottom was:
Cal and Mariella.
I shivered so violently the picture slipped from my fingers onto the floor.
Was Cal short for Calavan, Shinytop’s human name?
Then a crashing, splintering sound from the kitchen snapped me back to reality. Deciding this wasn’t the time or place to discuss the picture, I slipped it into my pocket. As the sounds continued, I resisted the temptation to go back there. Somehow it didn’t feel right to interfere.
And when they emerged from the back room, Aisling was dragging a trunk full of gold coins, bracelets, chains and lots and lots of rubies, emeralds and diamonds.
‘We’re rich,’ Aisling said. But judging by the sadness in her eyes she felt as uncomfortable being here as I was. ‘Hidden in the walls.
‘Let us leave,’ Shinytop said. ‘We have no place here.’
‘You okay?’ Aisling said to the stick.’
A long silence followed, before he said, ‘You are the first in many, many years to ask me that. And I appreciate it. I am not okay. I am imprisoned within a walking stick and it is partly because of that treasure that I suffer this fate.’
A lump formed in my throat. I’d never heard Shinytop talk like this before, and it bothered me in some deep, unfathomable way. He sounded almost alive and human again.
‘Perhaps the treasure can be put to good use,’ Aisling said. ‘And we can return the rest to its rightful owners.’
Shinytop sighed. ‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’
We hurried out of the house and headed back to Dayshop Alley. The wanderer was long gone. When we asked the boy watcher about the wanderer, he just stared at us, and said, ‘Who?’
We knew he’d never tell us about the wanderer. We also knew we’d never trace the men who’d bought the creature. All we could do was keep an eye out for it in the future.