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Chapter 7

Performance was a way of telling a story. Several people acted out lives that weren't theirs, on a platform with moveable furniture. A man with a booming voice spoke as storyteller. Whandall had never seen anything like it.

The performance was long, and Whandall didn't understand a lot of the words. Jispomnos had beaten his woman, had tracked her down after she lied from him, had killed her and the man he found with her. Whandall understood that well enough. Whandall's uncle Napthefit had killed Aunt Ralloop when he found her with a Water Devil. He'd tried to kill the man too, but the Water Devil had run to his kin.

But Jispomnos's woman was kinless!

The killing wasn't shown.

Guards took Jispomnos away. He walked away when they turned their backs. The guards chased Jispomnos around and around the stage in excruciating slow motion and all sang in a harmony that Whandall found beautiful, but they sang so slowly!-in time to somnolent music that ran on forever....

Shanda pulled his ear to wake him. "You were snoring."

"What's going on now?"


He watched for a time. "I don't understand anything at all! What's the trial about?"

She looked at him with wide eyes. "There was a murder," she rebuked him. "It's about whether he did it or not."

"Jispomnos is a Lordkin, isn't he?" Or was the actor a Lordkin playing Jispomnos?

But Shanda only looked at him strangely.

Whandall swallowed what he was about to say. Shanda wasn't Lordkin. Instead he pointed and said, "The kinless woman and the two men, who are they? They're doing all the talking."

"The men, they speak for Jispomnos. Clarata speaks for the court."

"Jispomnos won't speak for himself?" Cowardice or pride? "Why two men?"

"I don't know. I'll be back," she whispered.

Whandall nodded. It had been a long performance.

He watched. It was difficult to untangle. The kinless woman Clarata told of the killing, questioned any who had been nearby, showed bloody clothing. Of the men who spoke for Jispomnos, the little kinless man demanded that Clarata produce Jispomnos's knife. Whandall nodded: no Lordkin would throw away his knife. He argued that the clothing wasn't his, didn't fit. Jispomnos was elsewhere during the killing-in the Eastern Arc, in the woods, in a dockside winery with Water Devils to vouch for him, and on a boat bound for Condigeo- until the audience roared with laughter, covering Whandall's own giggles.

But the Lordkin advocate spoke of Jispomnos's prowess as a fighter, his standing in the bands .. .

Shanda came back. "What did I miss?"

"I think I get it."


"They're not talking to the same people. The little kinless, he's funny, but two of the judges are kinless, so he's talking to them. He tells them Jispomnos didn't do it. But Jispomnos took a kinless as his woman. He lives like a kinless. What the Lordkin judges want to know is, did Jispomnos make himself kinless? The Lordkin advocate, he's telling them that Jispomnos is still a Lordkin. He had the right to track his woman down and kill her."

"The right?" Her eyes bugged. "Why?"

He had no way to tell her that. It just was.

So he lied. "I don't understand that either."

Shanda whispered, "I don't think anyone does. It's based on something that really happened in Maze Walkers. A Condigeo teller wrote this opera. The grownups like it."

The trial was still going on when part one ended and everyone applauded.

The lords and ladies drifted apart. Samorty and Qirinty walked under the balcony. Samorty was saying, "And that's the best part. Greatest argument for getting rid of that arts committee I ever saw."

"Let me run the arts committee. Or you. Or Chondor. At least we'll

have shows that satisfy someone." Qirinty stopped in his tracks. "That's what we need! A show! Not for us. For the Lordkin!"

"Not Jispomnos!" Samorty said. "You'd start the next Burning!"

"No, no, I mean, give them a parade," Qirinty said. "Get their attention and tell them about the aqueduct. Tell them we'll have it done... before (he rains?" He went back to his couch, looked up at the night sky. "It's the season. Why doesn't it rain?"

"Not a bad idea," Jerreff said. "While all the Lordkin are off at the parade, Samorty here can meet with the kinless association council, Explain what we're really doing with their taxes."

"Find out if they're ready to join the Guard," Siresee said.

Quintana said, "Lordkin hear you're meeting with kinless and not them, there'll be trouble."

Jerreff waved it off. "We'll meet with some Lordkin too."

"Who?" Qirinty asked.

"Who cares? Get the word out, we're meeting their leaders. Somebody will show up."

"Now that's disrespectful," Samorty said. "And the Lordkin want respect."

"No, they don't. They demand it." Siresee's words were meant to cut.

"Well, they say they want it, and they certainly demand it," Samorty said placidly. "I agree, Jerreff, it doesn't matter a lot which Lordkin we talk to. They don't keep their own promises, and none of them can make promises for Yangin-Atep. But we have to talk to them."

"Why?" Siresee asked.

"Time you children went to bed."

Behind him! Whandall jumped, but it was only Serana the cook. "Before Miss Bertrana catches you up so late," she said.

Morning was cloudy, and just after breakfast Miss Bertrana came into the kitchen and took Shanda by the hand. "Your father wants you," she said. "In your pink dress. There are visitors."

Shanda looked pained. She turned to Whandall. "I'm sorry .. ." "That's all right," Whandall said. "I'd better go home." "Yes, but have some of my corn cake," Serana said. "I like to see a boy with a good appetite."

"Where did you say you lived?" Miss Bertrana asked.

Whandall pointed vaguely to the west. "Over near the wall, ma'am ..."

"Well. Miss Shanda will be busy all day. Tomorrow too."

"Yes, ma'am. Too bad, Shanda."

"Are they showing me off?" the little girl asked.

"I wouldn't put it that way, but it's Lord Wyona's family." Miss Bertrana said the name reverently. "Come on; you'll have to change."

Shanda hesitated a moment. "You'll come back?"

Serana was at the stove rattling pans. "It takes two days each way," Whandall whispered.


"I'll be back," he said. "Really. I just don't know when."

"Next time we'll get to the forest." Shanda lowered her voice. "I'll leave some things for you in my room, in the chest. You can have all the boys' clothes there."

The chest was nearly full, and Whandall couldn't tell the boys' clothes from the girls. Most of the things were too small anyway. Shoes: fancy, not sturdy. They wouldn't last a week in Serpent's Walk. There was far more stuff here than he could carry, and even if he could carry it, what then? He'd look like a gatherer. If the Lordsmen didn't catch him, his own people would.

There were boys in the yard playing a complicated game. Hide and run, track and pounce. Imitation Lordkin. Pitiful. Whandall watched them while he thought.

He'd need an outfit, a way to blend in here when he returned. But anything that would blend in here would stand out in Serpent's Walk.

A Lordkin had to be crafty.

It came to him that he could wear his own clothes underneath, then two more layers of Lord's clothing topped by the loose jacket, and still not look too odd. Those boys were all bulkier than he was. They ate better- and more often.

When he was dressed, he felt bulky. He left Shanda's room carefully, with a twinge of regret for all the stuff he was leaving behind, too much to gather. He left by going over the wall. Guards might notice how much he was wearing.

No one paid any attention to him while he was in the area near the Lordshills. There were people and carts on the road. No one offered him a ride, but no one stopped him either. At the top of the ridge he stopped and looked back at the Lordshills and their wall. Then went on. He knew where he could sleep safely.

The Pit was beginning to seem a friendly place. The moon was still near full. The light picked up the shadows of predators coming to greet him while he made himself comfortable. Through the ghosts' restless pockets in the fog he watched some larger shadow. He couldn't see it move, but every time he dozed and woke, it was nearer yet.

Then he saw something swing above it-a limb-and he knew its shape.

It was twice the size of one of the giant cats, with a rounded body, and it was upside down. It was hanging from an imaginary cylinder, perhaps

the branch of a tree eons dead, by its four inward-curving hands. Its head hung, possibly watching Whandall himself. One of the tremendous cats Maidenly discovered it, turned, and sprang, and then the horde of beasts was tearing it into wisps. The creature fought back, and birds and giant wolves too became drifting shreds of fog.

In the morning he put on everything he had, with his old clothes on top of it all. He looked bulky and he couldn't run, but he might get through...

Chapter 6 | The Burning City | Chapter 8