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Chapter 10


Of course Whandall asked Tras Preetror about Lords. Strangely, Tras wanted him to find out more. "Tras, we saw you with them on the wagon. You spoke to them," Whandall said.

"We see them when they want to be seen," Tras said. "A show for tellers. But you've seen Lords when they didn't know. Whandall, everyone is curious about your Lords. Who are they? Where do they come from? How do they get their power?"

"Don't other people have Lords?"

"Lords, Kings, and a hundred other ways to keep chaos imprisoned," Tras said. "But Tep's Town is different. You burn down your city, the kin-less rebuild, and everyone thinks it won't happen without the Lords. Maybe everyone's right. I want to know. Whandall, don't you want to go back?"

Whandall was learning how to survive in the streets of Serpent's Walk. In the "benighted sections" he had enemies but also friends and guides. He was actually getting good at it. In the Lordshills were dangers he didn't understand. No, he didn't really want to go back; not now. Not until he understood better what he might do there.

He had no place in Lordshills. Or in Lord's Town nearby, where kinless and Lordkin lived together and hung clothes out to dry. But he might learn, in time. The kinless in the pony cart had spoken of moving his relatives to Lord's Town. And there were gardeners, and Lordsmen living inside the walls of Lordshills, They had to come from somewhere. He had to learn those things. Hut where? doing to Lordshills without knowing more could he dangerous.

There was his promise to Shanda. But he'd told her it might take time.

He tried avoiding the teller. It made life less interesting, and Tras sought him out anyway. Whandall began to wonder: what would the teller do to persuade him?

Whandall hadn't looked at the clothes Shanda had given him in a third of a year. When he saw their condition, he put a kilt and shirt on under his Serpent's Walk gear and took them to show the teller.

They were torn. They stank. "It's all like this," he told Tras.

"Dry rot. And how did they get ripped?"

"Bull Fizzles caught me. And afterward I couldn't hang them up to dry without somebody gathering them."

Tras offered to get him some soap.

Whandall explained that soap was unheard-of treasure. His family would gather it from him, if he could get it that far. Unless...

Tras grumbled at the price, but he paid.

Whandall went home by hidden ways, concealing a whole bag of soap. Guile and a brisk breeze hid him through Dirty Bird to Serpent's Walk, and from there a cake of soap bought him an escort back to the Placehold.

He could think of only one way to hide so much soap. He started giving it away.

His mother praised him extravagantly. Brothers took a few cakes to give to their women. He spoke to Wess, a girl two years older than Whandall, the daughter of his aunt's new lover. For the luck that was in his words or because she liked him or for the soap she knew he had, she lay with him and took his virginity.

Now Placehold reeked of soap, and Whandall could safely use the rest. He cleaned the clothes Shanda had given him. Pants and two shirts had rotted too badly; they came apart. He found he could still assemble a full outfit.

He went back to Wess and begged her to sew up the rips. They didn't have to hold long, or to stand up to more than a second glance. When Wess agreed, he gave her another cake of soap.

It would not do to trade with a Lordkin, man or woman. But a gift would persuade Wess not to forget her promise or keep it badly. He could see himself in the Lordshills, trying to get into pants that had been sewn shut at the cuffs!

His clothes must have been good enough, because the guards paid no attention to him at all. This time he knew the way to Samorty's house.

Dinner in Serana's kitchen was as good as he remembered. There was always more than enough food in a Lord's house. Whandall thought that must be the best thing about living here. You could never be hungry.

Shanda had new clothes for him.

"When did you get these?" Whandall asked.

"Just after the carnival," she said. "When you didn't come back, I thought about giving them to the gardeners, but you said it might be a long time."

Whandall was impressed: not that she had saved them for him, though that was nice, but that she could keep things a long time. No one gathered from her room. He'd seen clothes hung to dry, unguarded.

The Lords had gone to someone else's house, so there was nothing to do. Whandall slept in the empty room next to Shanda's.

In the morning they went over the wall with a lunch Serana had packed. Whandall inspected Shanda in her leathers before he let her go further. He was no less careful with his own.

The hills near the Lords' wall were ablaze with flowers. It was glorious, but Whandall had never seen the chaparral like this. All the patterns and paths he remembered were gone.

The chaparral seemed well behaved this near the Lords' wall. Whandall tried to urge caution, but Shanda was entranced by the beauty. The farther they went, the more vicious it all became. Yet the hills still flared in every conceivable color! Every bouquet of swords had a great scarlet flower at the tip. Touch-me displayed tiny white berries and pale green flowers with red streaks. Hemp plants grew taller than Whandall. They looked inviting, but Whandall wouldn't touch them.

"I've never seen the woods like this," he confessed. "Don't pick anything, okay? Please?"

There were few paths, and animals had made those. At least Shanda seemed to be taking the plants seriously. The whips and morningstars were visibly dangerous, and she'd seen what touch-me did to her stepmother. \ le watched her weave her way through a patch of creepy-julia, very cautious, very graceful, very pretty among the black-edged lavender flowers. But she kept stopping to look.

He wove a path through touch-me and bouquets of swords to an apple tree. She followed carefully in his footsteps. They ate a dozen tiny apples and, in a field of high yellow grass, threw the cores at each other.

It was well past noon and they were ravenous again before they reached the redwoods. They were a thousand paces outside Lord's Town.

These trees seemed different. They were not taller or larger, but none of

them had ever been cut. Perhaps the Lords protected their view of the for-

est from the woodsmen. >

At Shanda's urging he kepi moving until the city couldn't be seen at all. All was shadows and wilderness and the huge and ancient pillars.

"This won't hurl you," he said. "Watch your feel!" He walked a crooked path to a twisted trunk that was half bark, half glossy red wood.

"Freaky."

"Yeah. Firewand. This's all right too." A pine tree loomed huge next to children, but tiny beneath the redwoods. Whandall plucked a pine cone and gave it to her. "You can eat parts of this." And he showed her.

Pelzed had been impressed with his knowledge of the forest. Would Shanda's father?

Serana's packed lunch was clearly superior, but Shanda picked another pine cone to keep.

They were late starting home. Whandall didn't worry at first. He only gradually saw that as shadows grew long, the world lost detail. The sun was still up there somewhere, but not for them. You couldn't quite tell where anything was: paths, morningstars, touch-me, a sudden drop.

He found them a patch of clear ground while he still could.

There was a bit of lunch left over. No water. The leathers had been too hot during the day, but they were glad of them now. He and Shanda still had to curl up together for warmth.

He felt stirrings, remembering the clumsy coupling with Wess. Wess was older. He'd thought she would know more than he did. He might have been her first-she wouldn't say-and he still didn't really know how.

The plants were very close-the thought of getting touch-me between his legs made him shudder-and Shanda wasn't at all interested. Instead they lay looking at stars. A meteor flashed overhead.

"Lord Qirinty keeps hoping one of those will fall where he can find it," Shanda said. "But they never do."

Deep into the black night, when he felt her uncoiling from him, he made her piss right next to him where he knew it was safe. He held his own water until the first moments of daylight.

They could take off the masks when they got closer to the wall, but it wasn't safe to remove the leathers.

When they came in over the wall, Miss Bertrana was waiting by the rope. She took Shanda's hand. Whandall tried to run away, but two gardeners grabbed him. They didn't hurt him, but he couldn't get away. They followed Miss Bertrana and Shanda into the house.

Lord Samorty was sitting at a table talking to two guardsmen. Miss Bertrana brought Shanda to the table. Samorty eyed Shanda's leather leggings. "Where did you sleep?" he asked.

"In a clearing."

"Do you itch?"

"No, sir."

He turned to Whandall. "So you know the chaparral." He got up to inspect Whandall's earlobes. "Interesting. Who did you learn from?" "Woodsmen."

"They taught you?" Disbelieving. "No, Lord; we lurked."

Samorty nodded. "I've seen you before. Sit down. Miss Bertrana, I'll thank you to take Miss Shanda to your rooms and discover her condition."

"Sir?"

"You know very well what I mean."

"Oh. Yes sir," Miss Bertrana said.

Shanda started to protest. "Father-"

" Just go," Samorty said. He sounded weary and resigned to problems, and his voice was enough to cut Shanda's next protest off before it began.

She followed Miss Bertrana out.

"Where have I seen you, boy?" Samorty demanded. He didn't seem angry, just annoyed by the distractions, and very weary.

Whandall didn't know what to say, so he stared at the table and said

nothing. There was something carved into the table, lines, some curved, a big square shape with smaller square shapes in it...

"You like maps?" Samorty asked.

"I don't know," Whandall said.

"No, I guess you wouldn't," Samorty said. "Look. Think of this as a picture of the way the city would look if you were high above it. This is the Lord's Town wall." He indicated the square. "This is this house, and right here is where you two went over the wall."

Whandall's terror warred with curiosity. He bent over the carving to study it. "Is it magic, Lord?"

"Not now."

Whandall stared again. "Then-that's the sea?" he asked. "Right. Now, how far from the wall before the chaparral gets really nasty?"

"Two hundred paces?" Whandall said. "Two hundred and it will hurt you. Five hundred and it kills."

"How far did you take my daughter?"

Whandall's voice caught in his throat.

"We know it was a long way because we saw you coming back," Samorty said. "And you were a lot more than five hundred paces out. Far enough that nobody would go out after you. Where did you take her? Show me on this map."

"We had to go around a lot of... bail places," Whandall said. "So I'm not sure. Are these the trees?"

"Yes."

He put his finger into the forest. "About that far."

Samorty looked at him with new respect. "Is there hemp out there?"

"Yes, Lord, but it's dangerous."

"How?"

Kreeg Miller had told him a tale. "We heard the woodsmen say that once they found four men dead with smiles on their faces. They'd let one of the hemp plants catch them. They went to sleep and it strangled them."

Miss Bertrana came in without Shanda. "She's fine," she said.

"You're certain."

"Oh, yes sir, intact-no question about it. And there's no rash either."

"Good. Thank you. You may go."

"Yes, sir." Miss Bertrana escaped happily.

"Let me see your hands," Samorty said. He recoiled from the dirt and clapped his hands. "Washbasin," he said to the kinless who came in answer. "Now. Wash up," he told Whandall. His voice was almost friendly now.

Whandall washed his hands carefully. Whatever Miss Bertrana had said seemed to have calmed Samorty and given him some new energy, as if one of his problems didn't matter anymore. When Whandall was done washing, Samorty inspected his tattoo.

"Serpent's Walk," he said almost to himself. "I remember you. You brought Pelzed to see me."

"Yes, sir-"

"For which I thank you. What's your name?"

Whandall was too afraid to lie. "Whandall Placehold."

"Well, Whandall Placehold, there's no harm done here. You want those leathers? Keep them. And here." He went to a box on a table in the corner, and came back with a dozen shells. "Take these."

"Thank you, sir-"

"Now don't come back," Samorty said.

Whandall had never had a dream ripped out of him. It hurt more than he thought anything could.

Samorty clapped his hands and told the kinless servant, "Bring me Peacevoice Waterman. He should be just outside."

Peacevoice Waterman was big and almost certainly Lordkin.

"Peacevoice, this is Whandall Placehold. Take Whandall Placehold to the gate. Show him to the watch, and tell them he's not welcome here any longer."

"Sir."

"Tell him too," Samorty said.

When they reached the gate. Waterman took out his sword. "Easy or hard way, boy?" he demanded.

"I don't know what you mean-"

"Don't you? It's simple. Bend over, or I'll bend you over."

Whandall bent. Waterman raised the sword ...

The flat of the sword made a loud whack as it hit Whandall's buttocks, but he was still wearing the leathers and it didn't really hurt at all. Not compared to the loss he felt. Waterman hit him five times more.

"All right. Get," Waterman said. "Go gather somewhere else."

"This was all given to me!"

"Good thing too," Waterman said. "Boy, you don't know how lucky you are. Now get out of here. Don't come back."







Chapter 9 | The Burning City | Chapter 11



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