Sometimes you had to have someone else look at something before you really saw it for what it was, and this was exactly what happened when Njal had pushed the door open for Malus.
Lapis, of course, had never said anything. Njal suspected that, like her, he had slept in worse places.
But Malus, well…Njal doubted that Malus had ever had to sleep anywhere worse than his hut during his reign on whatever tropical island he had been king of. So when she had peeked into her apartment with him she had noticed, suddenly, exactly where it was she lived on her measly wages from the Bucket.
Rent was cheap because Goody used part of the room for storage: a great teetering stack of crates in various states of decay took up all of one wall and part of another. Her own things were put in relatively tidy piles wherever there was a flat space to set them. Her only real piece of furniture was the heavy trunk she kept her clothes in. A piece of board balanced across a pair of crates served as her workbench, her tools scattered around the model she was working on at the moment. A few sketches were tacked to the walls, already drooping and browning from the moisture that seemed inescapable in a city that never saw a clear blue sky and seemed always beset by heavy rain and fog. The wallpaper must have once been some color, but now it was a droopy black, stained by the leaking roof and a tiny woodstove that seemed to smoke more than any woodstove Njal had ever met. Her bed was a pile of cushions with a few heavy blankets thrown over it. The only thing that looked new about the room were the boards she had nailed over the rat’s holes to keep them out while she slept.
It was, Njal realized, not all that different from the first place she and her brother had been forced to squat in after her father died. The only significant difference between the two was that this room at least had a dingy window that opened out onto a fire escape. That place had been a dirty unfinished basement room under a building at the very edge of the moreaux slums. Her and her brother would baracade themselves in and then she would stay awake all night listening for any sound that might indicate danger. At the time the Purists had taken to setting fires in the slums in an attempt to cleanse the city of what they called the “moreaux plague,” and she had lived in terror that she wouldn’t hear the fire until it was too late, or worse, that they would be waiting just outside the doors, as they did sometimes, to slaughter anyone who attempted to escape the inferno. It seemed she hadn’t really needed to worry about it: an elderly Rabbit had evidently noticed their coming and going and, on a night when a fire had started in the building, had dashed down to the basement and made sure they both made it out.
Eventually she had found a little work and they had managed to find a place where the worse she had to stay awake for were the fat rats that seemed to like nothing more than to nibble human flesh. Those she had dispatched with a hammer any time they got too close to their bed.
Now here she was again, fighting off rats and living in a slum.
There was a deep ache in her heart for the clean white rooms she had had in her benefactor’s house, with their wide windows to catch the cool ocean breeze in the evening and the tall feather bed. But even standing in her smoky room in Babbage she couldn’t help but wonder if the price of that comfort hadn’t been too high.
She backed out of her room and closed the door on it and took to the streets to find Dominic so he could soothe the wound Malus had left with his sudden departure and feeling all the more conscious of the envelope in her pocket.