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Chapter 17

When Whandall was an infant, Morth of Atlantis had brought water to the Lords. He must have been paid well. Now he kept a shop in what the Lords called the benighted section, far from the docks and the Lordshills.

It was not right to be stalking the man who had killed Pothefit during a gathering. Never remember a killing after the Burning. But Morth was a knot of enigmas. ...

Why would a wizard of power live in the benighted areas?

Why would a Lordkin of fourteen years' age visit a magic shop? Whandall had better have an answer ready for that.

He blocked the path of a dumpy woman in Straight Street. The kinless looked at him differently now he was near grown-no longer cute, not yet menacing while his knife was hidden-but still she fished in her purse and gave him money. Probably not enough. It didn't have to be.

He watched until the shop was empty of customers before he went in.

Morth of Atlantis was younger than he remembered from that night in Lordshills. Against all reason, Whandall had somehow expected that. It didn't even startle him that sparse hair white as salt was now sandy red. But he was still an old man of dubious humanity, tall and straight, with dry brown skin and a flat belly and an open, innocent face with a million wrinkles. A little silly, a little scary.

Whandall asked, "Can you cure pimples?"

The magician peered close. One quick straight thrust could have cut his

throat, but what spells protected him? "You've got worse than pimples." lie touched the inflammation by Whandall's eye. His hands were surprising: fingers widest at the tips! "That's ringworm. It'll never go away by itself. Thirty shells."

Whandall cursed mildly and showed the five the woman had given him. "Maybe later."

"As you wish."

A kinless would have bargained. Lordkin didn't, and maybe magicians didn't. Whandall asked, "You're from Atlantis?"

The man's face closed down.

"I'm Seshmarl of Serpent's Walk." Whandall knew better than to give his true name to a magician. "Savant, our younger street-brothers wonder about you. If you don't want to be asked over and over how you escaped Atlantis, tell it only once. I'm a good teller. I'll tell them."

"Are you?" Morth smiled at him. How could an old man have so many teeth? "Tell me a story."

Whandall hadn't expected this, but without a stammer he said, "Yangin-Atep was the god who brought the knowledge of fire to the world. But Zoosh beat him in a knife fight, so men began to serve Zoosh instead of tending fires for Yangin-Atep. Lifetimes later, only the Lordkin still serve Yangin-Atep. When we came south from the ice, Yangin-Atep traveled with us. Have you heard the tale?"

"Not from your view." .

"We weren't finding enough wood until the Lords showed us the way to the forest. There we hunted during the day and built big fires at night. In the forest Yangin-Atep grew strong. We cut and burned our way through, and that was how we found Tep's Town. The kinless called it something else, of course."

"Valley of Smokes," the magician said.

Whandall was taken aback. "Kinless called it that?"

"Have you seen how red the sunsets are here? Or how hard it is to breathe after the Burning? Something about the shape of the land or the pattern of winds keeps fog and smoke from blowing away. It isn't your fire god. Something older. A kinless god, maybe."

During the Burning and after, Mother's Mother's breath rasped as if she were dying. Whandall nodded.

"But the harbor is Good Hand, for the look of curled fingers." Morth saw Whandall's unspoken Huh? and added, "You have to see it from the air."

Oh, right, from the air. The magician had him totally off balance. Story, he was in the middle of a story-

"The kinless couldn't fight us, because Yangin-Atep was strong again. So the kinless came to serve us. They still wear the noose, as we still hold

their lives." Just its Mother's Mother had told the title to her grandchildren, with no mention of alliance with the Lords.

"I never would have taken that for a noose," Morth said. "A strip of colored cloth around the neck? Hangs down the chest?"

"That's it."

"I've walked along the woods many times. Where is this wide path your folk burned their way through?"

"North from here, but it's been lifetimes... six lifetimes, anyway. Maybe the trees grew back?"

The magician nodded. "That's Lordkin and kinless. What of the Lords?"

"We met them before we found the forest. They showed us how to gather wood, taught us about Yangin-Atep and Zoosh-"

"Why would they know about Yangin-Atep and Zoosh?"

"I don't know. The Lords have not always been with us, but they were with us when we took this land. They spoke to the kinless. They keep the kinless working."

"But you are Lordkin. Are you kin to the Lords?"

Whandall shook his head. "I've asked that. No one says different, but no one says so either."

The magician smiled thinly. "I see. So now you take what you want from the kinless, and the Lords gather from you."

"No, the Lords gather from the kinless, seldom from us. They have their own lands, and the harbor. And . .. ?"

The magician nodded. "All right. You know the story of Atlantis?"

"The land that sank. A long way from here."

"Right on both. A very large land mass a very long way from here, and it sank because the swordsmen came."

Whandall just looked at him.

"I was wizard to the fishing folk, human and mer. I was blessing a new ship at the docks. Attic warships came into sight, east of us. Hundreds. The captain decided I could finish my spells while we sailed for safety. I could have stayed and fought alongside the priests, but... it was too late."

"Did you know Atlantis was going to sink?"

"Yes and no. Something was coming sometime; everyone knew that. A thousand years ago, priests of Atlantis were already making spells to keep the land quiet. The quakes were long postponed. We didn't know they would come that day. The Attic soldiers must have reached the priests during the Lifting of Stone ceremony.

"After sunset we saw waves like black mountains marching toward us. Our ship floated above the water, but the waves below and the wind they took with them tossed our ship like a child's toy."

"And you brought water to Tep's Town?"

"Wh-? Yes. Yes, that was me. It's a girl story. I'll tell you another time."

Nobody but Tras Preetror did that: traded information for information.

Whandall smiled. A mountain of ice had come from the end of the Earth at Morth 's bidding, scouring across lands belonging to the Lords. Whandall would know if Morth told the story right, and Morth had no way to know that Whandall knew.

A long city block away, Tras Preetror stepped out of a shadow to intercept him. He wanted to talk about Morth of Atlantis. Did Lordkin deal much with magicians? with barbarians? with magic, other than their own peculiar fire magic? What was Whandall doing in Morth's shop, anyway?

What was Tras doing waiting for him here? Whandall didn't ask that. He said, "Morth is funny. He trades what he knows for what you know, like kinless trade shells for goods. Tras, what's it like to sail on a trader?"

Tras offered strips of jerked meat. "I expect all magicians do that. Information is what they sell, in a way. What did you trade with him?"

Whandall ate. "Yes, Tras, but what's it like to sail on a trader?"

"I prefer not to be reminded of my experience ..."

Whandall waved and turned away.

"All right." Tras Preetror looked at him hard. "It's no fun as a deckhand. It's different as a passenger, as a teller. Tellers do a lot of traveling. We get over being seasick quick, or we quit, or travel on land instead."

"What's seasick?"

How to survive seasickness, and how to survive a storm, and what you ate at sea-it was different for passengers and crew-and what you'd better eat on land to get healthy again. Weather magic and how it could kill you. Tras was skilled at telling. "You never know how strong the magic is when you're on the ocean. The manna-you understand manna?"

Whandall shook his head. He'd heard that word. Where? On Shanda's balcony!

"Boy, you're going to owe me. Manna is the power behind magic. Manna can be used up. The man who learned that ranks with the woman who learned what makes babies. At sea there are currents, and manna moves with those. A spell to summon wind might do nothing at all, or raise a tempest to tear your ship apart. There are water elementals and merfolk."

"Does Morth know about this?"

"Have you ever seen an old Atlantis ship?" Whandall shook his head, and Tras said, "The bottom has windows and hatches. It floats above the water."

"Above the water. Above land too?"

"The most powerful did. No longer, I think. And the ships they built in this last hundred years, before Atlantis sank, they're ship shaped. If some ocean current swirls away the manna, down conies the ship, splash, and then you don't want windows breaking below the water.

"Sure, Morth knows about manna. Likely he thinks it's his most secret secret. So, Whandall, are you thinking of taking up sailing?"

"Tras, we never see the docks. The Water Devils don't want anyone else there."

"That's all that's stopping you?"

Whandall had seen ships, but only from the top of Wheezing Hill. He'd be guessing. Well... "I can't see why a ship's captain would let a Lordkin on. Wouldn't it be dangerous? What if a sail disappeared, or that tube they look through, or that big board at the back-"

Tras was laughing. "Rudder. Damn right it would. Whandall, you couldn't buy or beg your way aboard a boat, and kinless can't either, because most barbarians can't tell kinless from Lordkin. You'll never learn enough to steal a ship, and the dockside Lordkin won't help you do that because they'd lose the trade, such as it is."

"Do you think I could become a teller?"

Again Whandall was subjected to intense scrutiny. "Whandall, I think you could. You've got the knack already, trading information with me like a kinless sweets merchant. But anyplace these boats go, they know about Lordkin, and you have the look. You'd never be welcome-anywhere."

Whandall nodded, trying to swallow his disappointment. He said, "Morth was blessing a new ship at the Atlantis docks when ..."

Chapter 16 | The Burning City | Chapter 18