When he was eleven years old, Whandall asked Wanshig, "Where can I find a Lord?" "You know where Pelzed lives-"
"A real Lord."
"Don't talk like that," Wanshig said, but he grinned. "Do you remember when those people came to the park? And made speeches? Last fall."
"Sure. You gathered some money in the crowd and bought meat for dinner."
"That was a Lord. I forgot his name."
"Which one? There were a lot of people-"
"Guards, mostly. And lookers, and storytellers. The one that stood on the wagon and talked about the new aqueduct they're building."
"The Lords live on the other side of the valley, in the Lordshills mostly. It's a long way. You can't go there."
"Do they have a band?"
"Sort of. They have guards, big Lordsmen. And there's a wall."
"I'd like to see one. Up close."
"Sometimes Lords go to the docks. But you don't want to go there alone," Wanshig said.
"It's Water Devils territory. The Lords say anyone can go there, and the Devils have to put up with that, but they don't like it. If they catch you
alone with no one to come back and tell what happened, they may throw you in the harbor."
"Hut Water Devils don't go into the Lordshills, do they?"
"I don't know. Never needed to find out."
I low do you know what you need to find out until you know it? Whandall wondered, but he didn't say anything. "Is there a safe way to the harbor?"
Wanshig nodded. "Stay on Sanvin Street until you get past those hills." lie pointed northwest. "After that there aren't any bands until you get to the harbor. Didn't used to be. Now, who knows?"
The forest had fingers: hilltop ridges covered with touch-me and lord-km's-kiss that ran from the sea back into the great trees with their deadly guards. There were canyons and gaps through the hills, but they were tilled with more poisonous plants that grew back faster than anyone could ail them. Only the hills above the harbor were cleared. Lords lived up there. When the winds blew hard so that the day was clear, Whandall could see their big houses. The adults called them palaces.
Whandall pointed toward the Lordshills. "Does anyone gather there during a Burning?"
Wanshig squinted. "Where? On Sanvin Street?"
"No, up there. The palaces."
"That's where the Lords live. You can't gather from Lords!"
"Yangin-Atep," Wanshig said. "Yangin-Atep protects them. People who go up there to gather just don't come back. Whandall, they're Lords. We're Lordkin. You just don't. There's no Burning up there either. Yangin-Atep takes care of them."
At dawn he snatched half a loaf from the Placehold kitchen and ate it as he ran. The energy boiling in him was half eagerness, half fear. When it laded, he walked. He had a long way to go.
Sanvin Street wound over the low hills that separated Tep's Town from the harbor. At first there were burned-out shells of houses, with some of the lots gone back to thorns and worse. The plants gradually closed in on the old road. When he reached the top of the hills, all was thorns and chaparral and touch-me, just sparse enough to permit passage. It was nearly dark when he reached a crest of a ridge. There were lights ahead, the distance enough that he didn't want to walk farther. He used the dying twilight to find a way into the chaparral.
He spent the night in chaparral, guarded by the malevolent plants he knew how to avoid. It was better than trying to find a safe place among people he didn't know.
The morning sun was bright, but there was a thin haze on the ground. Sanvin Street led down the ridge, then up across another. It look him half an hour to get to the lop of the second ridge When he reached it, he could see a highlight sun glare, the harbor, oil ahead and lo the left.
He had reached the top. He knew of no band who ruled here, and that was ominous enough. He crouched below the chaparral until he was sure no eyes were about.
He stood on a barren ridge, but the other side of the hill was-different. Sanvin Street led down the hills. Partway down, it divided into two parallel streets with olive trees growing in the grassy center strip, and to each side of the divided street there were houses, wood as well as stone.
He was watching from the chaparral when a wagon came up from the harbor. He had plenty of time to move, but close to the road the chaparral was too sparse to hide him, and farther in were the thorns. He stood in the sparse brush and watched the wagon come up the hill. As it passed him the kinless driver and his companion exchanged glances with Whandall and drove on. They seemed curious rather than angry, as if Whandall were no threat at all.
Couldn't they guess that he might bring fathers or older brothers?
He went back to the road and started down the hill, openly now, past the houses. He guessed this was Lord's Town, where Mother's Mother used to go when she was a girl.
Each set of houses was banded around a small square, and in the center of each square was a small stone cairn above a stone water basin, like Peacegiven Square but smaller. Water trickled down the cairn into the basin, and women, Lordkin and kinless alike, came to dip water into stone and clay jars. Down toward the harbor was a larger square, with a larger pool, and a grove of olive trees. Instead of houses, there were shops around the square. Kinless merchants sat in front of shops full of goods openly displayed, free for the gathering, it seemed. In the olive grove people sat in the shade at tables and talked or did mysterious things with small rock markers on the tables. Shells-and even bits of gold and silver-changed hands.
Were these Lords? They looked like no one he had ever seen. They were better dressed than the kinless of Serpent's Walk, better dressed than most Lordkin, but few had weapons. One armed man sat at a table honing a big Lordkin knife. No one seemed to notice him; then a merchant spoke to him. Whandall didn't hear what was said, but the merchant seemed friendly, and the armed Lordkin grinned. Whandall watched as a girl brought a tray of cups to a table. She looked like a Lordkin.
No one paid him any attention as he walked past. They would glance at him and look away, even if he stared at them. He wasn't dressed like they were, and that began to bother him. Back of the houses, he could sometimes
See clothes hanging on lines, but gathering those might be riskier than remaining as he was, and how could he know that he was wearing them right?
He went on to the bottom of the hills, nearer yet to the Lords' domain. Soon there was black, barren land in the distance to his right, with a gleam • 'I water and a stench of magic. It had to be magic; it was no natural smell, Breathing through his mouth seemed to help.
The place drew him like any mystery.
Whandall knew the Black Pit by repute. Scant and scrawny alien scrub grew along the edges of black water a quarter of a mile on a side, and nobody
lived there at all. He'd heard tales of shadowy monsters here. All he saw were pools that gleamed like water, darker than any water he'd ever seen.
A palisade fence surrounded the Pit, more a message than a barrier. A graveled wagon road led into it through a gate that Whandall was sure he could open. The fence was regular, flawless, too fine even for kinless work. Kinless working under the eyes of Lords might make such a thing.
Such offensive perfection made it a target. Whandall wondered why Lordkin hadn't torn it down. And why did Lords want people kept away? I le saw no monsters, but he sensed a malevolent power here.
The distant harbor drew him more powerfully yet. He saw a ship topped by a forest of masts. That was escape, that was the way to better places, if he could learn of a way past the Water Devils.
Ahead and to the right was a wall taller than any man. Houses two and three stories tall showed above the wall. Palaces! They were larger than he'd dreamed.
The street went past an open gate where two armed men stood guarding a barrier pole. They looked strange. Their clothing was good but drab and they were dressed nearly alike. They wore daggers with polished handles. Helmets hid their ears. Spears with dark shafts and gleaming bronze spearheads hung on brackets near where they stood. Were they armed kinless? But they might be Lordkin.
A wagon came up from the harbor and went to the gate. The horses seemed different, taller and more slender than the ponies he saw in Tep's Town. When it reached the gate, the guards spoke to the driver, then lifted the barrier to let the wagon in. Whandall couldn't hear what they said to each other.
If the guards were kinless, they wouldn't try to stop a Lordkin. Would they'.' He couldn't tell what they were. They acted relaxed. One drank from a stone jar and passed it to the other. They watched Whandall without much curiosity.
The gate was near a corner of the wall. Whandall became worried when he saw the guards were looking at him. There was a path that led along the wall and around the corner out of sight of the guards, and he went along
That, shuffling us boys do. The guards slopped watching him when he turned away from the gate, and soon he was out of sight around the corner.
The wall was too high to climb. The path wasn't much used, and Whandall had to he careful to avoid the weeds and thorns. He followed the path until it led between the wall and a big tree.
When he climbed into the tree he was glad he hadn't tried to get over the wall. There were sharp things, thorns and broken glass, embedded in its top. One bough of the tree not only grew over the wall but was low enough that it had scraped the top smooth. That must have taken a long time, and no one had bothered to fix it.
Mother's Mother had told him that kinless believed in a place they called Gift of the King, a place across the sea where they never had to work and no Lordkin could gather from them. The other side of the wall looked like that. There were gardens and big houses. Just over the wall was a pool of water. A big stone fish stood above the pool. Water poured from the fish's mouth into the pool and flowed out of the pool into a stream that fed a series of smaller pools. Green plants grew in those pools. There were both vegetable and flower gardens alongside the stream. They were arranged in neat little patterns, square for the vegetable gardens, complex curved shapes along curved paths for the flower beds. The house was nearly a hundred yards from the wall, two stories tall, square and low with thick adobe walls, as large as the Placehold. The Gift of the King, but this was no myth. The Lords lived better than Whandall could have imagined.
It was late afternoon, and the sun was hot. There was no one around.
Whandall had brought a dried crabapple to eat, but he didn't have any way
to carry water, and he was thirsty. The fountain and stream invited him. He
watched while his thirst grew. No one came out of the house. ,
He wondered what they would do to him if they caught him. He was only a thirsty boy; he hadn't gathered anything yet. The people outside the walls had glanced at him, then glanced away, as if they didn't want to see him. Would the people in here do the same? He didn't know, but his thirst grew greater.
He crawled along the tree branch until he was past the wall, then dropped into the grass. He crouched there waiting, but nothing happened, and he crept to the edge of the fountain.
The water was sweet and cool, and he drank for a long time.
"What's it like outside?"
Whandall jumped up, startled.
"They don't let me go outside. Where do you live?"
The girl was smaller than he was. She'd be eight years old or so, where Whandall was already eleven. She wore a skirt with embroidered borders, and her blouse was a shiny cloth that Whandall had seen only once, when
Pelzed's wife had dressed up for a party. No one in Whandall's family owned anything like that, or ever would.
"I was thirsty," Whandall said.
"I can see that. Where do you live?"
She was only a girl. "Out there," he said. He pointed east. "Beyond the hills."
Her eyes widened. She looked at his clothing, at his eyes and ears. "You're Lordkin. Can I see your tattoos?"
Whandall held out his hand to show the serpent on the web of his thumb.
She came closer. "Wash your hands," she said. "Not there; that's where we get drinking water. Down there." She pointed at the basin below the fountain pool. "Don't you have fountains where you live?"
"No. Wells." Whandall bent to wash his hands. "Rivers after it rains."
"Your face too," she said. "And your feet. You're all dusty."
It was true, but Whandall resented being told that. She was only a girl, smaller than he, and there was nothing to be afraid of, but she might call someone. He would have to run. There wasn't any way out of here. The branch was too high to reach without a rope. The water felt cool on his face and wonderful on his feet.
"You don't need to be afraid of me," she said. "Now let me see your tattoo."
He held out his hand. She turned it in both her hands and pulled his fingers apart to bare his serpent tattoo to the sun.
Then she looked closely at his eyes. "My stepfather says that wild Lordkin have tattoos on their faces," she said.
"My brothers do," Whandall said. "But they carry knives and can fight. I haven't learned yet. I don't know what you mean by 'wild.' We're not wild."
She shrugged. "I don't really know what he means either. My name is Shanda. My stepfather is Lord Samorty."
Whandall thought for a moment, then said, "My name is Whandall. What does a stepfather do?"
"My father's dead. Lord Samorty married my mother."
She'd spoken of her father to a stranger, without hesitation, without embarrassment. Whandall tasted words on his tongue: My father is dead; we have many stepfathers. But he didn't speak them.
"Do you want something to eat?"
"Come on." She led him toward the house. "Don't talk much," she said. "If anyone asks you where you live, point west, and say 'Over there, sir.' But no one will. Just don't show that tattoo. Oh, wait." She looked at him again. "You look like someone threw clothes at you in the dark."
"Miss Bally would say that," she said, leading him south around the house. "Here." Clothes were hanging on long lines above a vegetable patch. The lines were thin woven hemp, not tarred. "Here, take this, and this-"
"Shanda, who wears this stuff?"
"The chief gardener's boy. He's my friend, he won't mind. Put your stuff in that vat-"
"Is anyone going to see me who knows who we gathered it from?"
She considered. "Not inside. Maybe Miss Batty, but she never goes to the kitchen. Wouldn't eat with the staff if she was starving."
A band of men carrying shovels came around the house. One waved to Shanda. They began digging around the vegetables.
The gardeners were kinless, but they were better dressed than Lordkin. They had water bottles, and one had a box with bread and meat. A lot of meat, more than Whandall got for lunch except on Mother's Day, and often not then. If kinless lived this well, how did Lordkin live here?
A Lordkin should have guile. Watch and learn .. .
Shanda led him into the back of the house.