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Chapter 16


As the scars of Burning faded, the lookers dwindled. They never went away entirely. Though Tras Preetror was gone, other tellers remained.

A teller gave Shastern a handful of fruit to torch Carver's lumberyard. At a dead run and with a blood-curdling whoop, Shastern hurled paired torches past a heap of beam ends and into the work shed. The fires went out, of course. Shastern shared the fruit around afterward.

They never told the lookers what happened to fires outside the shed.

Whandall liked lookers. Like most kinless, they made little trouble when their things disappeared. A looker who made a fuss would be returned to the docks in bruised condition, and who would complain? Many - not just tellers - carried little flasks of wine as gifts in return for stories or guidance. Some carried preserved fruit for children. And, of course, they told stories.

In spring again, three years after the beating, Pelzed summoned Whandall to his roofless hall.

Tumbanton wasn't about. It came to Whandall that he hadn't seen Tumbanton or Geravim the last few times Pelzed summoned him. Tumbanton and his son might be avoiding Whandall, after leaving Whandall and Wan-shig to the mercy of the Bull Fizzles.

These days Whandall had the status of a man, even though he had not selected his tattoo. Tentatively he opened conversation with some of Pelzed's men and found them speaking openly, treating him as an equal.

Hut when ho asked alter 'I'umbanton, nobody wanted to hear that question. Whandall hid his amusement and, naively, asked allot Geravim too.

Talk died. Whandall meandered casually toward Pelzed's rooms. He'd best not name those names again until he knew more.

The Serpent's Walk Lord offered hemp tea, and waited until Whandall had sipped before he spoke. "Tras Preetror is back."

Whandall stared. "I thought they'd fed him to the crabs!"

"Seems not. He owes me a new roof. Anyway, I'd like to hear his story. Wouldn't you?"

Whandall had learned caution. He only nodded, Go on.

"I want to meet him, but I hadn't decided who to send. Anyone else, he might not pay attention. If I send you, he'll try to explain what went wrong. Bring him here, right?"

"Lord, I am your messenger and no more. He comes or he doesn't. Where would I find him?"

"Nobody knows." Pelzed smiled; the tea was making him mellow. "Not in the Lordshills, I think."

Tumbanton thought Pelzed owed him. Pelzed might be tired of hearing it.

Tumbanton had heard Pelzed's prohibitions but might think himself an exception.

Tumbanton and his son had explored Dark Man's Cup. It gave them a proprietary interest... .

Whandall couldn't ask around Pelzed. He couldn't ask in Dark Man's Cup: stray Lordkin dared not be seen there. But Pelzed had set two Lordkin families, Corles and Trazalac, to guard the Cup. When Stant Corles came to the Long Mile Market to shop, Whandall was there with a cold baked potato.

Stant only knew that four Lordkin had tried to gather from the kinless in the Corles family's charge. They'd moved into the house under cover of night and held the family as terrorized prisoners. When it was over, the kinless were freed and three Lordkin had been given to the Lords. No telling what would happen to them. But the fourth, the older man with all the scars .. .

"We strung him up and played with him. He lasted two days. Not my idea. Long as he could talk at all, he kept trying to tell us he was friends with Lord Pelzed. Old man Trazalac, he thought that was way too funny. He never said why, and you know, I'm not inclined to ask twice."

Tras Preetror was in the village near the harbor. That was already too close to the Lordshills for Whandall.

Peacegiven Square was neutral territory and was the closest place to the

hills and hemp fields separating the "benighted area"-most of Top's Town-from Lord's Town, the harbor, and Lordshills. The Lords had changed the way things were done. Before the carnival, carts and guards came to local parks once each month. This year they gave out more, but the women had to go farther to get it.

All the women had to travel to Peacegiven Square each eight weeks. Thence the Lordsmen guards and kinless wagoneers brought baskets of grain and jars of oil. Sometimes there were fruits, and twice a year there might be cheese. The kinless clerks were protected by big Lordsmen with helmets and spears.

There were things the women had to say. "I am a widow." "I have no home." "My children are hungry!" "No man protects me."

Any men must hang back at the edges of the square. The clerks would give only to single mothers and to women too old to have children. Many a woman must borrow a child.

The Lordsmen and their kinless clerks passed out the goods and the women carried them out of the square. Then the fights started.

Men gathered from unprotected women. All the Placehold men would make a circle around Mother and Mother's Mother and the aunts and sisters and cousins. Placehold had a cart pulled by the younger boys. Some goods went into the cart, but not all, because another band might gather the cart.

Placehold was large enough, with enough women, that it was better to protect what they had than to try to gather more. They'd learned that the first Mother's Day after the carnival. Others were learning too.

They had finished packing everything in carts or hanging it on poles for the women to carry when Whandall saw Tras Preetror.

He told Resalet, "Pelzed wants me to talk to him."

Resalet eyed the crowd, then nodded. "We can spare you this time. It's well to keep peace with Pelzed. Come home when you can."

Tras looked older, thinner, more wiry. The sight of Tras made Whandall's bones ache with memories. "They told me they'd fed you to the crabs," he said.

"They told me they'd done that with you," Tras said.

Peacegiven Square was clearing fast, with households and families and bands moving rapidly away, trying to get home safely before someone gathered everything from them. Tras selected an outdoor table at the street corner and ordered honey tea for both of them. He inspected Whandall as they sat.

"Clearly they didn't. You've grown. Got your knife too."

"I thought I was crippled for life," Whandall said. "Tras, you said you could persuade them, but you can't persuade people who don't listen! What did they do to you?"

"Sold me as a deckhand," Tras said. "I was two years working off the

price they got for me." He looked down at his callused hands. "Sea life is hard, but I'm in better shape than I've ever been. Got some good stories too."

"Lord Pelzed wants to hear them. He says you owe him a roof."

Tras Preetror laughed like a maniac.

Whandall found that irritating. He asked, "Been back to the Lordshills?"

The laugh caught in his throat. "You were right, of course. But they don't care what I do now. I saw that Peacevoice Waterman at the docks when my ship came in. He was surprised I was a passenger and not crew, but all he did was warn me to stay away from Lordshills. I didn't need that warning this time." Tras looked up at the olive tree sheltering them. "But, you know, maybe there's a way ..."

"Not with me, Tras," Whandall said.

"Next Burning?" Tras asked. "Get your friends, relatives, everyone you know, and take Yangin-Atep to the Lords. That'll teach them-"

"Teach somebody, maybe," Whandall said. "But it won't be me." For a moment Whandall thought of life without the Lords. It would be vastly different. Better? He couldn't know.

The tea was pleasant, different from the hemp tea that Pelzed served. Tras must have seen that Whandall liked it, because he ordered more. He sipped carefully. "Touch of hemp and sage," he pronounced. "The bees must go to the hemp fields."

Whandall looked puzzled.

Tras asked, "Don't you know where honey comes from?"

Whandall shook his head.

"I guess loggers don't have honey," Tras mused. "Bees make honey. Then beekeepers collect it."

Worlds opened when Tras spoke. Beekeepers would be kinless, wouldn't they? Where did they keep the honey they had gathered? Did the bees protect them? Whandall asked, and Tras Preetror knew....

"Other places, a beekeeper negotiates with the queen. He agrees to guard the hive, or maybe he grows them a garden. They like gold. Here the queen's magic won't protect the hive from animals and gatherers. I guess you can just take the honey, but so can anyone else. I'd guess some kinless has to guard the hives, drive off bears, hide the location from Lordkin... . Only ... I heard something. What was it?"

Whandall was thirsty for knowledge. He had not guessed how much he missed Tras Preetror. He watched Tras wrestle with his memory. .. .

"D-daggers. The Tep's Town gatherer bees have started growing poisoned daggers like little teeny black-and-yellow Lordkin," Tras said gleefully. "Right. Your turn."

Whandall had missed that too. He told how he had been returned to the

Placehold and tended in the Placehold nursery. How he had moved into the tiny room upstairs. "Lenorba's room. They finally got her, thirteen years late."

"Who?"

"I heard the tale when I was a little boy. You've seen Jispomnos played, Tras. You know that what a man does with his woman is nobody's business but theirs-"

"Even murder."

"Right. A woman who kills her man doesn't see much hassle either. Maybe he's slapped her around and everyone knows it, everyone sees the bruises. But it wasn't like that with Lenorba and Johon.

"Johon of Flower Market moved in with her because she was a little crazy, 'specially for sex. Then when he got tired of that, she didn't. She was with a lot of men. One of 'em beat Johon up. Johon went home and heat up Lenorba. Then they talked, and both said they were sorry, and they went to bed. She wore him out. He went to sleep beside her and she killed him in his sleep. Then she ran home to the Placehold.

"She really seemed to think that all she needed was a bruise to show. It's not like that. Flower Market let it be known that if they found Lenorba outside the walls they'd kill her. So she never left again.

"Wanshig told me the rest. There weren't enough women in the Place-hold to get us what we needed on Mother's Day, unless they took Lenorba. They gave her a baby to hold... gave her my little brother Trig. The men escorted the women to Peacegiven Square, but they had to stop at the border, and all the women went on. Afterward they found Trig sitting on the dais, right on stage, sucking on a plum. They never found Lenorba."

The square was nearly deserted now.

Wanshig came across the square to stand beside Whandall. He eyed Tras Preetror suspiciously. "We got the cart home safe," Wanshig said. "So I came back to look out for you. Last time you went with him, you were a year healing. More," he added, looking at the bright red circle of inflammation by Whandall's left eye.

Tras looked pained. "They let him come home," he said. "I was two years buying my way off that ship!"

Wanshig sat without being invited. "You were on a ship?"

"Yes."

"Where did you go? Condigeo?"

Tras laughed. "The long bloody way! When we got back to Condigeo I bought my way free. But first we went north."

"Where?" Wanshig asked

"Lordship Bay, first. They call it that because your Lords have kin there, or say they do. Then Woodworker Bay, then around the cape to

Sugar Rock. North of that is Great Hawk Buy. One day I may go hack there. Host fish restaurant anywhere, run by a burly merman called the Lion. Then we went south, but our wizard wasn't good enough; a storm drove us past Condigeo to Black Warrior Bay."

Whandall was surprised to see that Wanshig was listening in fascination. "I've never even seen the harbor up close," Wanshig said. "So you went to sea, and Whandall got his arm broken. I think you owe my brother."

"Pelzed says I owe him a roof."

"Pelzed knows you'll never pay," Wanshig said. "This is different. You owe Whandall."

Tras shrugged. "It may be, but how do I pay? It took nearly everything I had to buy myself away from the captain!"

"Why did you come here?" Whandall asked.

"Stories. It's a risk. If I stay away too long, I'll forget the Condigeano speech. You know how languages change. There'll be slang I don't know. What kind of teller would I be then? So I stayed in Condigeo long enough to learn, but I had to come back. It's time for a Burning, and I can't miss the next one. How long has it been, six years? Do you feel the Burning near?"

Wanshig said, "The next teller who asks that question dies."

Whandall asked, "Why is it so important?"

They were mixing Condigeano and common speech. Whandall was still the only Lordkin who could do that. Wanshig wasn't able to follow much of what they were saying. Tras said, "The fewer tellers watch the Burning, the better a story it makes. When the others go home, that's when it pays me to be here. But I wish your Yangin-Atep would stir himself."

"Alferth and Tarnisos started the last Burning," Whandall told him. "Shall I show them to you?"

"Man, those guys are weird," Wanshig, said. He shifted to an accent used mostly inside Placehold and spoke too rapidly for Tras to understand. "And you don't know where they are."

"I can find them," Whandall said.

"Sure." He looked at Tras, who was trying to understand what they were saying. "You're really not mad at him, are you?"

Whandall shook his head. "Not anymore."

"Well, they're over in Flower Market Square."

"How do you know that?"

"It's where they hang out now. There's a truce between Flower Market and Serpent's Walk." Wanshig changed to common speech. "You want to talk to the Lordkin who started the last Burning, give my brother five shells. You can afford that. Some other time we'll talk about more."

Alferth was a surly, burly man near thirty. There was a distorted look to his nose and ears. Whandall wasn't old enough to work out what had him so angry all the time, but he could imagine what Alferth's meaty hand would feel like, swung with that much weight behind it. He had no urge to talk to Alferth himself. But he stayed close after pointing Alferth out to Tras Preetror.

Tras sat down at Alferth's table at the end of a meal, set a flask between them, and asked, "What was it like to be possessed by Yangin-Atep?"

Alferth expanded under the looker's interest. "I felt an anger too big to hold back. Tarnisos screamed like a wyvern and charged into old Weaver's place, and I charged after him. We kicked him and his wife-I never saw his kids-we took everything we could, and then Tarnisos set the place afire. By then there were too many of us to count. I had an armful of skirts. For half a year I had a skirt for every woman who-"

"Why Weaver?"

"I think the old kinless refused Tarnisos credit once."

Tras asked, "Why would Yangin-Atep start with Weaver?"

Alferth's laughter was a bellow, a roar. Whandall left with a gaping sense of loss, a pain in the pit of his belly.











Chapter 15 | The Burning City | Chapter 17



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