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Chapter 18


On a later day Whandall returned to Morth of Atlantis. He lurked a bit before he went in. Tras Preetror seemed to be following him around, and he didn't like that. How could anyone lurk, hide, spy, gather, with a teller hovering at his elbow? But Tras wasn't about, and Whandall - Seshmarl went in and bought an acne cure for fourteen (not thirty) shells. It was an evil-smelling cream altered by gestures. It hurt when he rubbed it in, but three days later the ring-shaped inflammation was fading from his eye, and his pimples were smaller too. In a week his skin was clear except for the ringworm, and that was smaller. Morth gave value for money.

He came again and asked about love potions. Morth wouldn't sell those. He considered it wrong to tamper with another's mind. Whandall nodded and pretended to find that sensible, and wondered who the man thought he was befooling.

"I could have used a love potion a time or two," the wizard said. "Can you guess how lonely it's been for the last Atlantis wizard in a town of no magic?"

"You're talking to a Lordkin. That's lonely."

"Yes. Come any time, Seshmarl, even if you can't afford to buy. Wait now, I can do tattoos," Morth said suddenly. "You're Serpent's Walk'.' Would you like a serpent tattoo?" He waved at an elaborate golden- feathered serpent, somewhat faded, displayed on one wall.

"Beautiful." He'd never find money for that! "I have a tattoo," Whandall said, and gave Morth a glimpse of the tiny serpent in the web of his thumb. "I haven't asked for another yet."

Month looked down at Whandall's hand. His brows furrowed ... hut he only looked up alter a moment and leaned close into Whandall's face. "A tattoo would be painful over ringworm and look odd too. But I see my cure is working."

"Yes." Whandall pointed at the feathered serpent and asked anyway. "How much for that? Where the ringworm was?"

Morth laughed. "I'd ask enough to put a new room on my house, normally. Here... where would I find a client? Seshmarl-no, wait." Morth took Whandall's right hand, the knife hand, in both his hands. Bad manners. He spread the fingers wide. Morth wasn't just staring at Whandall's hand now; he was pulling it toward the oil lamp above them. Astonished, Whandall let him do that.

Light fell on his hand. Morth had an open face, not used to hiding things, but now Whandall couldn't tell what he was thinking. He said, "You're going to leave Tep's Town."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"Can't tell. Maybe you don't want to. Will you take a word from me?" Morth was still studying... reading Whandall's hand. "Never go near rivers or the ocean. If you depart by land, it's likely your own idea. But you might visit the docks and travel the rest of the world as an oarsman with a bump on his head or be carried in the bellies of a school of fish."

Whandall had to clear his throat to speak. "We can't go to the docks anyway. Water Devils don't like people from outside. Morth, do you know your future?"

"No."

"What can I give you to put that tattoo on my face?"

"... Yes. Seshmarl, I have some errands for you. And one day, when you are fully healed and your, um, bandlord has given permission, come to me. The tattoo will be my gift."

There were days he came with no excuse but the whim to talk. He would watch Morth and his customers discuss their needs. Then Morth would hand them something from under the counter; or step to a shelf and mumble and wave, or only stand watching for several seconds before snatching up some box or tiny flask, as if avoiding invisible teeth, and give it to the customer with elaborate instructions.

One could ask.

Medicines for pain? Yes, Morth had those (but his hands stayed still and his eyes didn't move from Seshmarl's). For wheezing, shortness of breath? Morth sold a lot of that, especially after the Burning. He bought herbs from loggers.

Philosopher's stone? Unicorn's horn? Boy, you've got to be joking! Magical cold torch? Spell of glamour? Invisibility? Levitation? Those didn't work here cither. "1 had a cook pot once that would cook without fire. Never knew what to do with it. Didn't use it because 1 would wear it out. I couldn't sell it because it wouldn't work very long. Finally it was stolen, not that it will have done the thieves any good. Magic is weak in the Valley of Smokes."

"Well, it would still be a pot," Seshmarl said.

"True."

"Is it that way everywhere?"

"Less so some places." Morth's eyes went dreamy.

"Why here?"

Morth shrugged. "Yangin-Atep. Magic is the life of a god. It's like you can't keep honey where there are ants. Atlantis had no god."

"Can you do prophecy?"

"Seshmarl, to know the future is to change it, so that time wriggles like a many-headed snake. What you see is false because you've seen it. Even if there were magic enough, how could I read the lines in my own hand? We student wizards couldn't even read each other's lines; our fates were bound up together, tangled." Morth shrugged as if great weight sat on his shoulders. "I read part of your fate because you might leave. See, time spreads ahead of us like this..." He reached above his head. "This fan. Your most likely future leads to places where magic still holds power. Traces of manna flow back through time to weave meaning into the lines on your hand."

"I'm going to leave?"

Morth took his hand again and spread it in the lamp glow. "Do you see? It's the pattern the lines make with the ambient magic, anywhere in the world but here. Yes, you still have the chance to leave, and you should still stay clear of water, except for bathing."

Bathing? Whandall saw only his hand. He asked, "Morth, why would a magician live where there's no magic?"

Morth smiled. "Seshmarl, that's not something I'd tell anyone."

Morth had said that Whandall would leave Tep's Town. In his present state that seemed desirable. Had he healed enough? Did he know enough'?

He tried to beg money from Resalet. "Just suppose, now, suppose Morth sells me a potion of easy breathing for Mother's Mother. I might see where he takes it from. If it's where the pimple salve came from, then that's the medicines, and if he's lying about unicorn's horn, which is supposed to be priceless-"

"Stay out of that magician's shop." Resalet's finger stabbed Whandall's chest. "You don't know what he can do. Read minds? Make you die in a month? He's the man who killed your father."

"I know that."

"But does he? Stay away from Morth of Atlantis!"

If he couldn't buy from Morth, was there anything Morth might want from Seshmarl?

He asked. Morth said, "I want to know more about the forest."

"You buy your herbs from loggers. Ask them."

"That is a very strange situation," Morth said. "Lords tell the loggers where they can cut down trees. I mean, exactly where and which. They don't log themselves-"

Whandall suggested, "Maybe they're hiding something in the forest."

"Yes, and maybe they just like telling people how to live their lives!" Morth took dried leaves from a jar. "Here, smell this. Do you know it? Does it grow there?"

"Wait... yes. Sage. Grows where the trees open out. It doesn't kill, and it smells great when you walk through it. Hey, they use this for cooking at Samorty's house!"

"Yes, it's good for that and other things. What about this one?"

Whandall took the sheet of pale bark-rubbed it, sniffed it, held it to daylight in the doorway. "I don't think so."

Morth smiled. "Willow bark. I didn't think it grew around here. What about this?"

Long leaves. "Yes. Foxglove," Whandall said.

"It can be valuable. Do you know of poppies?" He showed a faded flower.

"I know where there are whole fields of them," Whandall said. "The loggers say they are dangerous." He didn't add that he had been to the poppy fields and nothing happened.

They whiled away an afternoon. Morth was dubious: he didn't want Whandall-Seshmarl-picking plants that were not quite what he wanted. That was dangerous. "Bring me the whole plant or a whole branch when you can, so I'll know what I have."

Morth sent him to where there were no loggers. Whandall didn't want to meet loggers anyway: he was no child, and he'd be on their turf. Kinless or not, they had axes and severs. He sought Morth's plants in the old growth and found them rarely.

On his second foray he approached the Lordshills from the forest side.

There was the blank wall back of Lord Samorty's house. The tree had been cut back, and there were marks on the top of the wall where it had been repaired. Whandall watched the hill for a time. No guards ... and if

they chased him into the wood he would outrun them or lead them into lordkiss. He hall" ran, half crawled within range of the wall, then hurled what he was carrying. He was in shadow when he heard the splash. He didn't wait for more.

But a pine cone had splashed into the laundry pond, and Shanda would know of it. She would know he was alive.










Chapter 17 | The Burning City | Chapter 19



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