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chapter 12


When he woke, it was dark. He felt a jolt and closed his eyes tightly, afraid he was being beaten again, but finally he opened them to see that he was in the back of the cart. They were just passing the Black Pit.

The kinless driver turned when he stirred. "You going to live?" he asked without much interest.

"Yes... thank you-"

"Had to come this way anyway," the driver said. "Here, have some water." He passed back a flask. Whandall's left arm wasn't working at all. He was surprised to find that his right would lift the flask to his lips. Every muscle of his body seemed to be throbbing in unison.

It was nearly dawn when they reached Peacegiven Square. The driver lifted him down from the wagon and left him lying by the fountain. His brothers found him just before noon.

It was late afternoon before Whandall remembered that Tras Preetror wasn't with him. He spent some hours wondering what might have happened to him. Maimed, flayed, impaled ... were there cannibals among the ships of the harbor, to whom Tras Preetror might have been sold? Such thoughts gave him some comfort.

His left arm was broken. Other agonies masked the pain, and nobody ever set it. He cradled it, held it straight as best he could, and finally Mother's Mother used a strip of cloth to bind it rigidly against his chest. It healed a little crooked.

While Whandall lay healing in his room, his mind roamed free of probability and logic. Mail dreams, mad schemes chased each other through his head. Rescue Shanda from her unparents. Kill Pelzed, take his place, increase his power until he was the equal of a Lord. Become a teller, roam the world ... which in his mind was a great foggy swirling wall of rainbow colors.

His mother had him moved to a room closer to hers, shared with her latest infant and three others. Mother's Mother brought him soup. It was all he was able to eat. Two days passed before he could get to a window to piss. A week before he could walk around Placehold.

A cousin and her man had gathered his room while he healed in the nursery.

He couldn't lift or gather. They set him to cleaning the kitchen and the public areas alongside much younger girls and boys.

Wess was with Vinspel, a dark man of Serpent's Walk who had been visiting Whandall's sister Ilyessa but found Wess more attractive. She avoided being caught talking to Whandall alone. When he ran her down, he saw a look in her eyes that made him wonder what he looked like. Crippled. Marred. He took to avoiding Wess. She didn't need more soap.

It was bad to be a weakling in Placehold, but the street would have killed him. When he could climb to the roof, they set him to working on the rooftop garden. It was less shameful than cleaning, and he couldn't be seen by anyone outside Placehold.

The Placehold had a large flat roof strong enough to support a foot of dirt and buckets of water. Rabbits couldn't get up there, and most insects didn't. Picking bugs off carrots was work for girls and young boys. Whandall resented having to do it, but there wasn't anything else for a one-armed boy who couldn't use a knife.

Like the plants of the forest, the crops fought back.

If they were attacked by rabbits or insects or pulled up when young, they developed poisons. You could pluck a young carrot or an ear of corn and cook it quickly and it wouldn't be deadly, but leave it a day and it would bring tumors and painful death. Traders sometimes bought Tep's Town root vegetables, and Whandall had once asked Tras Preetror what they did with them.

"Sell them to wizards," Tras had told him. "Most places, they'll kill even a wizard, but Tep's Town doesn't have so much magic. The plants still fight back, but not so hard. Wizards eat Tep's Town carrots to gain strength."

"Tras?"

"Anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Tras had said in the voice he used when quoting somebody dead. Now Whandall remembered and hoped it was true.

Mostly, garden workers protected crops from rabbits and insects until they were big and old and tough. Plants gone to seed didn't care whether they were eaten. These they pulled up for food. Old carrots, onions, and potatoes would keep a long time.

It was work for kinless, but no kinless could be allowed up on the Placehold roof. Whandall found it a pleasant way to pass time. The work wasn't hard, except for carrying buckets of water up the stairs, and that was done in an hour each day. The rest was only tedious. He had to crawl along the vegetable rows looking for insects to kill. The view from the roof was wonderful.

Whandall remembered the carving on Lord Samorty's table. A "map." From the roof Whandall could see all of Serpent's Walk and some of the other band territories and could see where people went on Mother's Day and afterward. He tried to draw the patterns.

A room opened up for him just when living with crying and crawling infants was about to drive him crazy. Shastern led him to a tiny room just below the roof. He'd have to do something about the unwashed smell... which suddenly struck him as familiar.

"Lenorba's room," he said.

"Was."

"Where is she?"

"Nobody knows. We needed an extra woman at the last Mother's Day. We took Lenorba. Of course we stopped at the border of Peacegiven Square and the women went on. Lenorba never came back. They got her."

Whandall nodded. It was thirteen years ago, and most people must have forgotten what Lenorba had done... yet he could feel no surprise.

His arm stopped hurting, and eventually he took off the swaddling strip Mother's Mother had used to bind it up. The arm was crooked, but he could use it. Hauling water up the stairs helped strengthen it. Picking insects off carrots gave him skill in small movements.

After Whandall's arm healed, he took his knife lessons seriously, although the instruction was haphazard. Whandall thought about each lesson and practiced on the roof. He wondered why you did things a certain way. Then he discovered that if he practiced foot movements with no knife, his arms just held out defensively, he could concentrate on getting the steps exactly right. Then he thought about the cloak over his left arm, moving that as a shield, and learned precisely where his arm should be to protect against a thrust or a slash. Then he learned knife movements, standing still and concentrating on his hand and arm. Each time he thought about getting one thing right.

His uncles and cousins had nearly given up in disgust, thinking Whandall slow and simple. "Must have got hit in the head," one of his uncles said, not bothering to lower his voice so Whandall wouldn't hear. Whandall went on practicing, one move at a time, concentrating on getting each one just right.


When Whandall thought he had learned all the moves they would teach him, he put them all together.

His uncles were astonished at the result. Suddenly he could best his cousins, younger and older, in mock duels with wooden knives. He was growing stronger, and now he was quick and deceptively fast, and he used his limbs effectively. One day he bested Resalet. The next, Resalet and his grandson working together. That was the day they pronounced him ready to go to the streets again and gave him a knife of his own. They said it had belonged to Pothefit. Whandall knew better, but the lie pleased him.

Even so, he was wary on the streets. Rumor said that Pelzed was most unhappy with him. His first foray was a walk with his brothers, a seeking for conversation... and he found he was treated with respect. He was Whandall of Serpent's Walk, and so long as he stayed in the Walk or allied territory, he was safe. He thought of asking for a face tattoo, but he put that off. He still had sores on his head, and a scar at his left eye. It was an angry red ring with a white center, painful to touch. His left arm was shorter than his right. In time the pain faded, but he grew slowly.










Chapter 11 | The Burning City | Chapter 13



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