He had reached Bull Fizzle territory when he heard shouts. Sanvin Street was supposed to be safe, outside the jurisdiction of any band, but five older boys were coming toward him. Whandall began to run. They chased him down and tackled him.
"Hoo!" one of them shouted. "Look what all he's got!"
"Where?" another demanded. "Where'd you gather stuff like this?" When Whandall didn't answer, he hit him on the head with his fist. "Where?"
"Lordshills," Whandall said.
"Yeah, sure. Now where?" They hit him some more and sat on his head.
"Leave me alone!" Whandall shouted. He wanted to scream for help, but it wouldn't do any good. They'd just call him a coward and crybaby. But he could shout defiance ...
"Serpents!" He heard the cry from down the street. "Serpent's Walk!" A dozen older boys, led by his brother Wanshig, were coming.
"Bull Fizzle!" his tormentor shouted. Then the others were there. Whandall felt the weight lift from his head. There were the sounds of blows.
"You all right?" Wanshig asked. "Come on, let's get out of here."
When they were back at Placehold, Wanshig thanked the others. "Somebody'd better tell Lord Pelzed," Wanshig said. "We may have trouble with Bull Fizzle."
"I never left Sanvin Street," Whandall protested.
Wanshig shrugged. "So what happened? Get anything good?"
"Just some clothes, and look, they tore them, and they gathered my
jacket and shoes." Whandall felt hitter disappointment. Nothing had gone right this time. "This stuff is too small for them anyway-"
"Nice, though." Wanshig fingered the shirt Whandall was inspecting. "Nice. You just need a way to get stuff back to Placehold. Take one of us next time."
Even his own family lusted for what the Lords threw away!
"It wouldn't work," Whandall said. "It was ... sort of an accident that I got in and made friends inside." They'd never believe him if he said that Shanda had given him all those things. Or they'd want to know why. "Nobody notices me. But the Lordsmen wouldn't let a bunch of us in."
"How many Lordsmen?"
"Lots," Whandall said. "Two at the gate, but there are others just inside."
"Yeah, we heard that," Wanshig said. "And they have magic too. Did you see any magic?"
"Maybe a little."
"Ten, twenty years ago, before I was born, three bands got together and went to the Lordshills to gather. None of them ever came back," Wanshig said. "None."
Maybe magic, Whandall thought. And maybe it was only guards with armor and spears fighting together with the Lords to tell them what to do, and a ship to carry the losers away. But he could never explain that to Wanshig.
He said, "Wan, there's going to be a big show. The Lords will have a show in the park, and give away some presents, maybe do some magic."
"Five days, I think," Whandall said. He counted on his fingers. "Five days counting today."
Wanshig smiled. "Good. Don't tell anyone. Anyone. We'll keep this for the family."
"What will you do?"
"I'll have every Placeholder who can pick a pocket ready for them. We'll have first pick of the crowd." Wanshig nibbled his lip, considering. "We can't keep Bull Fizzle out of the park. Can we make them go somewhere else? Something to get them to the other side of town .. ."
Whandall watched his brother think.
Wanshig grinned. "Did they go through your pockets?"
"You got there first."
Wanshig's grin got bigger. "So they don't know you weren't carrying gold. Whandall, Iscunie has been seeing a Bull Fizzle boy. She can tell him you gathered some gold in the harbor town and ten of us are going back for more. We'll be coming back the morning of the parade, on the south side. That'll get every Bull Fizzle down there, and we'll have the park to ourselves."
There were drums and Mules, and live wagons. Thirty Lordsmen in shiny bronze armor marched with spears and shields, and when they got to the park they did a complicated thing of marching in a circle. Then more Lordsmen came and filled in between them so that the circle was protected, and the wagons came in.
A family of kinless strung a rope between two thick trees, as high as a man could reach and so taut that it hung almost straight. A kinless boy younger than Whandall walked from one tree to the other along the rope, turned and walked back, perfectly balanced, while kinless and a few Lord-kin whistled and applauded. Whandall realized that these must be the Ropewalker family, who sold rope near the Black Pit.
The Lordsmen were still at work. A portable stage unfolded out of one of the wagons. Another wagon was covered by a tent. When the stage was up a man came out costumed in feathers like an eagle.
The kinless gathered around the wagons. More Lordsmen walked through the crowds. Flutes played, and drums, and someone passed out little cookies to the children. There was a little round platform that turned, with wooden dragons on it for children to ride.
At first it was turned by kinless running around it. When the Lordkin pushed all the kinless children off and took their places, the kinless drifted away into the crowd. A couple of Lordkin fathers tried to get older boys to push it, but nobody would, so after a while it sat there unused while people watched the show.
Most Lordkin kept to themselves in one corner of the park, but Place-hold pickpockets moved among kinless and Lordkin alike. One was caught. The kinless man shouted curses at him, but when Lordkin men moved toward him, he let him go with more curses.
A troupe of acrobats came out onto the stage. They flew for short distances with the aid of a seesaw. Another climbed a long pole and hung by his teeth. A man and a woman, both Lordkin, ate fire, and a burly kinless man swallowed a long thin sword. The Ropewalkers danced on their tightrope, this time the boy and a younger girl, who did a backward somersault while an older man stood under her as if to catch her if she fell. She was very steady and he wasn't needed.
Whandall moved closer to where they were passing out cookies. One of the girls ...
"Shanda," he said.
She looked startled. "Oh. I didn't recognize you."
Whandall saw her look nervously up at her stepfather on the platform, where he was about to make a speech. Whandall took a cookie. "Are they still looking for Lordkin to talk to?"
"I think so, hut they haven't," she said.
Lord Samorty began his speech about the new aqueduct and how it would bring fresh water from the mountains. The kinless cheered in places.
"Will you take me to the redwoods?" Shanda asked. "Not for a while. We'll be doing this show in other parts of town."
"I'll try. Before the rain if I can. Rain makes everything grow and it's harder."
Something bright appeared on the stage, then vanished. "An evil wizard is keeping the rain for himself," Samorty was saying. "We'll beat him. There'll be rain!"
Kinless and Lordkin alike cheered.
"But now there's a water shortage, and it's very hard on the horses and oxen," Samorty was saying. "Delivery is difficult. So next Mother's Day will be special. There'll be nine weeks' rations and some other extras."
The Lordkin cheered.
"And that will have to last for two Mother's Days," Samorty was saying. "And you'll all have to come to Peacegiven Square to get it, because we won't be able to bring everything to the usual distribution places."
Crowd noises were drowning out Samorty. He waved, and three magicians came on the stage. They made things appear and disappear. One called Shanda up on the stage and put her in a box, and when it was opened, she was gone. Whandall looked for her, but he couldn't see her.
Wanshig came up behind him. "Lord Pelzed isn't happy," he said, but there was a laugh in his voice. "He's got all of Serpent's Walk out picking pockets now, but we got the best. Good work."
The magicians made a vine grow.
"I know how to make Pelzed happy," Whandall said.
"He can meet the Lords."
"You don't know any Lords."
"I know who they are," Whandall said. "That was Lord Samorty who made the speech-"
"Everybody knows that."
"And the man over there talking to the magicians is Lord Qirinty. He's a magician himself, or at least a pickpocket, and the fat one in armor with the Lordsmen, that's Lord Quintana. The pretty lady serving soup is his wife."
"So you know who they are."
Whandall hadn't heard Pelzed come up behind them. "What else do you know?" Pelzed demanded. "Wanshig, you didn't share. We'll have to talk about that."
Wanshig looked worried. -
"Lord Pelzed. I heard the Lords wanted a Lordkin leader to talk to," Whandall said.
Pelzed looked crafty. "Say more."
"They want the most powerful leader in this part of the city," Whandall said. "But I don't know what they want from him."
"That's me," Pelzed said. "Go tell them."
Whandall hadn't thought this out far enough. "Uh..."
"Do this for me and we'll forget what happened this morning," Pelzed said. He pointed up on the stage. "See that guy?"
"Foreigner," Wanshig said. "I've seen him before - "
"He's a teller," Pelzed said. "If I meet the Lords he'll tell everyone else. Whandall, how sure are you about their wanting to talk to us?"
Whandall thought about it. They hadn't wanted to talk to the Lordkin, but they thought they'd have to, only Whandall didn't dare tell Pelzed that. "I heard them plan it out over dinner," Whandall said.
"Whandall's a great sneak," Wanshig said.
"I remember," Pelzed said. "Well, go tell them I'm here."
"No, you come with me, Lord Pelzed," Whandall said. "Shig, you come too." He led them back behind the tent. As he'd hoped, Shanda was there. Whandall bowed as he'd seen kinless do. "Lady, this is Pelzed, the leader of Serpent's Walk."
The little girl looked surprised, then smiled. For a moment Whandall was afraid she'd wink or grin, but she just said, "Pleased to meet you. I'll go tell my father you're here."
She came back with Samorty, who invited Pelzed past the guards. No one invited Whandall and Wanshig, so they went back to watch the show. When Pelzed came out, he had a new burning glass and was very proud. He showed it to everyone. Then he found Whandall.
"You called me Pelzed. Not Lord Pelzed," he said.
Whandall had thought that through. "I thought the Lords might not like hearing you called Lord. They can make you disappear, Lord Pelzed," he said.
"You really have been in Lords' houses."
Whandall nodded. He already regretted letting them know.
"What did they want?" Wanshig asked.
Pelzed waved his hands. "It was important. Labor peace. How to organize for the new distribution on Mother's Day. They're going to let more female hemp plants grow in some of the fields. Important stuff I can't talk about. There'll be a meeting tonight. Be there, Wanshig... Whandall. Be there."
The meetinghouse had stone walls but no roof. There had been a roof, but it hadn't been strong enough. One night the men of Serpent's Walk had
climbed onto the roof; no one remembered why. The beams broke. The kinless family who had once lived in the house couldn't be found, so Serpent's Walk couldn't meet there when it rained. It didn't rain much anyway.
Whandall and Wanshig had to tell everyone how Lord Pelzed was summoned to meet with the Lords, while no one from Bull Fizzle or any other band had been called. Only Pelzed.
They spoke of the new Mother's Day. Everyone would be in one place. They'd need all the women to collect and carry, and all the men to protect the women and their gifts.
"It'll be safe in the square," Pelzed's advisors said. "Lordsmen will see to that. But outside-"
"We need two bands," Pelzed said. "One to protect our stuff. Another to see what we can gather from Bull Pizzle."
Bull Pizzle will be doing the same thing, Whandall thought.
Pelzed appointed leaders. Wanshig would be one of them. Whandall thought he'd be in Wanshig's band, but he wasn't. He couldn't fight yet, so he was afraid he'd be assigned to help the women carry. That would be shameful. But the meeting was over before anyone told him what to do.
When everyone else was leaving, Pelzed made Whandall and Wanshig stay behind. Pelzed sat at the head of the table, with guards standing behind him. "Sit down," he invited. "We'll have some tea."
Everyone knew about Pelzed's tea. It was made with hemp leaves, and enough of it left you babbling. Pelzed sipped at the hot brew. Wanshig gulped his. Whandall sipped, just keeping up with Pelzed. It made his head spin, just a little.
"So. You have been to Lord's Town."
"Yes, Lord," Whandall admitted.
"And you brought back fine clothes. What else is there that we can gather?"
"Everything," Whandall said. "But you'll die of it. They have magic. Lord Pelzed, they have stoves inside their houses! The fires don't go out. Yangin-Atep .. ." He didn't want to say it, not here where Yangin-Atep ruled.
"I saw the Lordsmen in their armor," Whandall said. "And big swords, and spears. Every night a Lord puts on armor like that, and so do the Lordsmen, and they go on watch."
"Where do they go?" Pelzed demanded.
"Everywhere. They call it the watch, because they watch for gatherers. Not just in the Lordshills. There's a village outside the walls, and they watch there too. And they have magicians." How much could he tell Pelzed? Whandall was trapped between loyalties. He owed Pelzed, he belonged to the Placehold, but the future he longed for might be with the Lords.
"We saw the magic," Miracos said. He was the advisor who stood at Pelzed's right. Sometimes he spoke aloud and sometimes he whispered in Pelzed's ear. "Vines growing. Fireballs."
"And I saw the Black Pit," Whandall said.
Everyone wanted to know about the Pit. Whandall told them as much as he dared. No one believed him.
"There's a wall around Lordshills," Miracos said. "But there's no wall around those big kinless houses? Lord's Town?"
"There is in back." Whandall tried to explain about the little squares, tables and plants in the middle, houses around them, walls behind the houses. "And the watch is there."
"This watch," Pelzed asked. "Swords. Armor. Kinless?"
"I think so. It's hard to tell with those helmets."
"Kinless with armor. Weapons," Miracos said. "Bad."
"They never come here," Pelzed said. "Lords do what Lords do." He made it sound profound. "But tell us more about those kinless homes. What's there? What can we gather?"
Whandall described some of what he had seen, shops with pots and beads and cloth, clothing hung on lines, people sitting in the squares drinking from cups and talking.
"No Lordkin there," Miracos said. "Maybe we could go live there."
"Lords won't let us," Pelzed said.
"Lords always telling us what to do," one of the guards said. "Like to show them my knife. Right up them."
"Lords make the kinless work," Pelzed said. "If you could do that, if I could, we'd have a roof! Whandall, go back. Take someone with you. Wanshig. Take Wanshig; bring me back something. Go learn the way."
"I heard three bands went to the Lordshills together to gather," Wanshig said. "Three together, and none of them ever came back. Dirty Bird was powerful before that happened."
"You scared to go with Whandall?" Pelzed demanded.
"Yes, Lord. Anybody would be scared. Whandall's the only one I ever met who went into Lord's Town and came out. Only one I ever heard of doing it."
"Not talking about inside the walls," Pelzed said. "Lords are Lords. Leave Lords alone. But those kinless houses out there, that's different. Go look, Whandall. When everyone's carrying stuff, the way will be clear; you can bring things back. Go see what you can find. I'd like me a shirt like yours ..."
Whandall was glad of being small. His shirt wouldn't fit Pelzed. But if a little Lord's girl could keep what was hers, maybe a Lordsman could too.