…the starling stares intently at the crew of the Skylark. Ana summons the power of The Lady of the Forest, which proves unnecessary when the Starling’s beak opens and a message tumbles out loud enough for all to hear – an ultimatum from Hexing Jenny, the hag queen. Ana swiftly scribbles her response – a counter ultimatum – and ties it to the bird’s leg, but the starling is plucked out of the sky by a sparrowhawk a few minutes later.
That afternoon, Captain Steadiship grows sick – the same illness that has fevered Eliza – and the following morning, Eliza is found dead in the cabin, choked on her own vomit. Searching Eliza’s messenger bag turns up a bundle of letters – only one of note, from Cairnwood, to Senator Oppenheimer in Worldsend, concerning his sister, who is sick with plague. Anders uses the spell-jar to speak with Ancylometes, who says that she will research a cure; but that it is nothing she has heard of before. She recommends washing; and the travellers immerse themselves in the river.
The following morning, Beggars Point. Clarence departs in haste, attempting (and failing) to steal the packet of the sticky, sweet smelling substance that he confirms to be Black Lotus – a powerful narcotic known colloquially as Sticky Black. Genevive and Ana head to the Fenchurch Inn – Nicklaus’ last known whereabouts – where they discover that he has out-stepped them again; after filling the cellar with rats; Nicklaus fought on the bridge with an aging trapper, before being run out of town – the trapper, an old man known as ‘Senator’ Talaken, left town that very night, headed west – strange behaviour for a man who had spent each night at the same bar for 15 years.
Back at the boats, Anders has a tense standoff with two members of the Aleph family – Lady Aleph and her watery-eyed grandson, Dalmond, who arrive to collect their cargo from the Steady Ship – 20 crates of a sticky black substance with a pungent smell – it seems that the party have been party to a delivery of Black Lotus to Beggars Point. Anders, keen to be rid of the stuff, but also not wanting the dock hands on board a plague-boat, unloads the crates on to the docks himself.
Genevive and Ana have found a doctor – the estimable Dr. Quatro, who they lure to the ship under false pretences. Before he has a chance to properly examine Steadiship and the corpse of Eliza, the tension on the docks comes to a head; and they take off.
Quatro, despite the deception, remains on ship, keen to see his medical oath upheld. He examines Captain Steadiship and points out the dark inguinal buboes under his arms and thighs. He pronounces that there is little he can do except make the captain comfortable, and that he does not expect the old man to last long.
A few miles upriver, still pursuing Niklaus, they stop to burn Eliza’s corpse. Dr. Quatro talks of the great love that he gave up to study medicine and Ana speaks of how impressed she is with the good Doctor:
“You could have left when you discovered we were exposed to plague. Instead you remained. You are more of a hero than I ever could be – you should carry The Lady instead of me…”