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Chapter 11

Tras Preetror was both disappointed and intrigued. "For what that soap cost me," he said, "I could have got a dozen stories from that wizard. From you it's all hints at something bigger."

Whandall had not spoken of the map. He had to keep something back. He asked, "Wizard, Tras?"

"Morth of Atlantis. You must know him."

"Yes." Whandall didn't say that it was Morth of Atlantis he had seen at Lord Samorty's dinner.

"You have to go back, you know," Tras said.

Whandall felt his buttocks. He wasn't hurt this time. The leathers hadn't been interesting enough to attract attention from the Bull Fizzles, so he'd gotten home safely with the shells Lord Samorty had given him. Would woodsman's leathers help him win a fight or only hamper his swordplay?

But he remembered the sound of that sword hitting him. It was sharp, and if it hadn't been turned to hit him flat, he'd have lost a leg. Whandall was sure that even the flat would hurt dreadfully without the leathers. "No."

"Think of the stories," Tras said.

"They know me. They won't let me in."

"The tree-"

"They know about the tree, Tras," Whandall said.

"There has to be a way," Tras said. "Nobody talks about the Lords-

hills. Not the Lords, nut the people who live there. There have to be stories."

"Morth has been to Lordshills, and he knows things he's never told the Lords. He brought water to Tep's Town," Whandall said. Maybe he could interest Tras in Morth and then he'd leave Whandall alone.

Whandall had forgotten Pelzed.

Ten days later he was summoned to the Serpent's Walk meetinghouse.

Pelzed was all smiles. He poured from a teapot and slid hot hemp tea over to Whandall. His eyes commanded. Whandall drank.

They drank hemp tea at Serpent's Walk meetings, but it was never as strong as this. Whandall was sweating and hungry before he drank half of it. His head-he heard things, pleasant sounds.

"The teller says you won't go back to Lord's Town," Pelzed said.

"Lord? You talk to Tras Preetror?"

"That's not your business."

"Did he tell you I got caught?" Whandall demanded.

"No. You look all right. Any broken bones?"

"No, Lord, b-"

Pelzed waved it away. "What did you see?"

"Redwoods," Whandall said. "The inside of a Lord's house, a big room where he calls people and gives orders." And a map. If he told Pelzed about maps he'd have to draw them for him. "A big Lordsman with a sword beat me and told me never to come back. So I won't, Lord." They would beat him, but worse, they would send him away again. Whandall had tried to forget Lordshills and the Gift of the King.

"Tras says he will pay for a new roof on the meetinghouse," Pelzed said.

"Tras is generous."

"If you take him to Lord's Town. Have some more tea."

"I can't go there!"

"Sure you can. Tell them I sent you," Pelzed said. "Tell them you have a message from Lord Pelzed of Serpent's Walk. They know me!" he said proudly.

A Lordkin should have guile. "They won't believe me," Whandall said. "You're important, but I'm just a boy they already threw out." Inspiration. "Why don't you go instead, Lord?"

Pelzed grinned. "No. But they'll believe Tras Preetror," he said. "He'll tell them. Have some more tea."

They'd told him never to come back. Maybe this way would work,

Whandall thought. His head buzzed pleasantly. This time he would watch, do nothing, learn the rules and customs.

The gardener's clothing wasn't fine enough for an emissary of Lord Pelzed. Pelzed sent gatherers to inspect the kinless shops. When they found something Tras Preetror thought might do, Serpent's Walk built a bonfire at the street corner nearest the shop. Others began making torches. Then Pelzed offered a trade: new clothes, and there wouldn't be a burning. The kinless were happy to accept.

Tras hired a wagon to take them to the Lord's Town gate. The kinless driver was astonished but willing so long as he didn't have to go further into Tep's Town than Ominous Hill.

Whandall took the opportunity to examine the ponies that pulled the wagon. The beasts tolerated Whandall's gaze but shied from his touch. Bony points protruded from the centers of their foreheads.

They passed the Black Pit. "You want to be a teller, you have to look for stories," Tras said. "There must be stories about the Black Pit."

Whandall gaped as if he'd never noticed the place before.

"Fire," the kinless wagoneer said. "Used to be fire pits, my grandfather said." His voice took on the disbelieving tone kinless used. "Fires and ghost monsters, until Yangin-Atep took the fires away. Now the Lords've put up a fence."

The guards watched with interest as they came up the hill. A quarter of the way up, the ponies slowed. The driver let them go on a few more paces, then stopped. "Far as I go."

"Why?" Tras Preetror asked.

"Bad on the ponies. Can't you see? Look at their foreheads."

Horns as long as a finger joint had shrunk to mere thorns. The beasts actually seemed to have shrunk.

Tras said, "But the hill's not that steep."

"Just the way it is here," the driver said.

"I saw horses go in the gate!" Whandall said. But they hadn't borne these bony nubs.

"Lord's horses. Bigger than my ponies." The driver shrugged. "Lord's horses can go up that hill. Mine can't."

"You were paid to take us to the gate!" Tras said.

The driver shrugged again.

"We'll have to walk, then," Tras said. "Not so dignified. Here, Whandall, stand straight. Look proud."

They walked the rest of the way up. "Let me do the talking," Tras said. He walked up to the guard. "We're emissaries from Serpent's Walk. That's

Whandall, nephew to Lord Pelzed of Serpent's Walk. We'd like to speak to Lord Samorty."

"Would you now?" the guard asked. "Daggett, I think you'd better go get the officer."

Tras began another speech. "Don't do you no good to talk to me," the guard said. "I sent for the officer. Save it for him. But you do talk pretty."

Whandall recognized the officer as Lord Qirinty. Peacevoice Waterman was with him.

"You, lad," Waterman said. "Didn't we tell you to stay away from here?" He turned to Qirinty and spoke rapidly, too low for Whandall to hear. Qirinty's eyes narrowed.

"We are emissaries from Lord Pelzed of Serpent's Walk, to talk about the new aqueduct," Tras said.

"And what would Lord Pelzed of Serpent's Walk have to do with the new aqueduct?" Qirinty asked. His voice was pleasant enough, but there was more curiosity than friendliness in it.

"He can get you some workers-"

Qirinty laughed. "Sure he can. Peacevoice, I don't think we need any more of this."

Waterman's badge of office was a large stick. He smiled pleasantly as he walked over to Tras Preetror and eyed his head expertly.

"Your superiors won't like-"

Waterman whacked Tras just over the right ear, and Tras dropped like a stone. Waterman nodded in satisfaction. "Mister Daggett, this one's for you," he said. "Sort of a bonus, like." He turned to Qirinty. "Now, about this lad-"

"Well, he doesn't learn very well, does he?" Qirinty asked. "He's done us no harm, and I believe you said Samorty's daughter likes him?"

"Yes, sir, I expect Miss Shanda won't like it a bit when we feed him to the crabs."

"That may be a bit drastic," Qirinty said. "But do see that he understands this time."

"Yes, sir."

This time Whandall wasn't offered a choice of hard or easy. Waterman swung the stick. When Whandall put his hands up to protect his head, the stick swung in an arc to his legs, hitting him just behind the knee. Whandall yelled in pain as he fell to the ground. He doubled over to protect himself.

The other guard kicked him in the back, just above the waist. Nothing that had ever happened to him hurt that bad.

"Now, now, Wergy," Waterman said to the guard. "He's going lo need them kidneys to pee with."

"They didn't give me a choice!" Most of that came out as a scream as the stick descended, this time on Whandall's upper left arm, then swung instantly to hit his buttocks from behind. "They didn't. I had to come!" Another blow to his left arm. After that Whandall didn't notice who hit him or where. He just knew it went on for a long time.

Chapter 10 | The Burning City | chapter 12