Horatio said: “I hear they’re burning bodies over in Thraben.”
Dix froze with his shovel mid-shovel.
“No,” he said.
Horatio just nodded.
“They can’t,” Dix said.
“They can and are.”
“But they can’t!”
“Angel’s truth,” Horatio said, and signed himself. “No internments or burials, until further notice. All bodies to be cremated, in the name of public safety.” He scratched behind his ear. “I hear they even posted a guard outside the cemetery.”
Dix lowered his shovel. He felt unsteady, and had to lean against it.
“They can’t,” he said again.
But Horatio just nodded.
“Can and are,” he said. “Thalia’s orders, until further notice.” He sighed. “You know me daughter’s a cathar. Got it straight from her.”
Dix looked down at the piles of freshly-turned dirt. For a moment, he just stared. Then he shook his head.
“You know what that is?” he said. “It’s a damn waste, is what it is.” He shook his head again. “Between the cathars burning corpses, and the ‘mancers raising ‘em back up again, it’s getting so that a man can’t do an honest day’s work around here.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Horatio said, and nodded. “I been robbing graves since I was old enough to hold a shovel. Me Da robbed graves. His Da robbed graves. His Da’s Da robbed graves. Me Mum robbed a grave the day she had me.” He worked as he spoke, throwing dirt over his shoulder. “And now? Me daughter’s a cathar.”
Horatio’s shovel hit wood, and he climbed down after it.
Dix – still leaning against his shovel – just shook his head.
“There’s no respect for the trades these days,” he said.
Horatio – who was down on all fours, now, prying the lid open – nodded his agreement.
“You know what’ll happen, I suppose?” Dix said, without waiting for Horatio to answer. “If the stitchers can’t get the parts they need from the dead, they’ll start takin’ ‘em from the living.” He shook his head. “Folk’ll start disappearing, you mark my words. They’ll start turning up, dead – no eyes, no teeth, no hearts, mind you.” He shook his head again. “It’ll get so that decent people can’t go out at night.”
“And all in the name of public safety,” Horatio said. A wooden groan came from the grave as he forced the coffin open.
“Public safety,” Dix said, and spat. “Angels help us.”
“Angels help us,” Horatio said, and signed himself again. He scratched behind his ear, then leaned down for a closer look. “Now, remind me, what did she order again? You’ve got the list.”
Dix – who also had the lantern, with the charcoal glass – held it up to consult the receipt. “Breastbone?” he said.
From inside the grave, there was a loud snap.
“Check,” Horatio said.
“Marrow from two ribs?”
Horatio uttered a mild oath.
“No fingers,” he said. “Something’s chewed ‘em clean off.”
Dix sighed, then thought for a minute.
“Toes, maybe?” he said. “If they’re long enough?” He consulted the list. “D’ya think she’d take toes?”
Horatio’s head appeared above the dirt.
“She might,” he said. “If they’re long enough – and if we gave her a discount.” He did the sums in his head. “Say, twenty percent?”
“Make it ten,” Dix said. “Way things are these days, like as not, we’ll need the coin.”
“And that’s the truth,” Horatio said. “Just last week, Bella tells me she needs a new gambeson.”
“Damn cathars,” Dix said.
“One she’s got now’s perfectly fine,” Horatio said, before snapping off five or six longish toes. He tried to climb out of the grave, but ran into a little difficulty from the loose dirt, until Dix lent him a hand.
“It’s getting so that a man can’t find honest work these days,” Dix said, as he pulled Horatio out of the grave.
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