The house was cool. Shanda led him through corridors to a room that smelled of cooking. A fat woman with ears like a Lordkin's stood at a counter stirring a kettle. The kettle frothed with boiling liquid. Whandall stared. The smells went straight to his hunger.
The counter she stood over was a big clay box. The top was an iron grill, and flames licked up through it, under a copper pot.
A fire, indoors, that didn't go out. Squinting, he approached the yellow-white glare and lifted his hands to it. Hot. Yes, fire.
Shanda gave him the funniest look.
The fat woman looked at them with an expression that might have been menacing but wasn't. "Miss Shanda, I got no time just now. Your daddy is having visitors. There's a wizard coming to dinner, and we have to get ready."
A wizard! But Shanda didn't act surprised or excited. She said, "Serana, this is Whandall, and he's hungry."
The fat woman smiled. "Sure he's hungry. He's a boy, isn't he? A boy's nothing but an appetite and trouble," she said, but she was still smiling. "Sit over there. I'll get you something in a minute. Where do you live?"
Whandall pointed vaguely west. "Over there ... ma'am."
Serana nodded to herself and went back to the stove, but then she brought out a bowl and a spoon. "Have some of my pudding," she said. "Bet your cook can't make pudding like that."
Whandall tasted the pudding. It was smooth and creamy. "No, ma'am," Whandall said.
Serana beamed. "Miss Shanda, this is a nice boy." she said. "Now scoot when you get done. I've got my work to do."
Alter he finished the pudding, he followed Shanda down another corridor. The house was built around an interior courtyard, and they went upstairs to a long outside balcony over the atrium. There was a small fountain in the center of the courtyard.
There were half a dozen doors along the balcony. Shanda led him to one of them. "This is my room." She looked up at the sun. "It won't be long until dark. Can you get home before night?"
"I don't think so," Whandall said.
"Where will you stay?"
"I can stay out in the chaparral."
"In the thorns?' She sounded impressed. "You know how to go into those?"
"Yes." He grinned slightly. "But I don't know how to get out of here. Will the guards stop me?"
"Why should they?" she asked. "But if you don't come home tonight, won't someone worry about you?"
"Your nurse ... oh. Well, come on in."
The room was neat. There was a closet with a door, and there were more clothes hung up in it than any of Whandall's sisters had. There was a chest against one wall, and the bed had a wool blanket on it. Another blanket with pictures woven into it hung above the bed. There was a window that faced out on the balcony, and another on the opposite wall. That looked out on a smaller interior courtyard crisscrossed with clotheslines and drying clothes, more rope than Whandall had ever seen in one place. He eyed the clothesline with satisfaction. It looked strong, and there was so much they might not miss one piece. It would get him up to the tree branch. If he could take it home, it would make Resalet happy. They always needed rope at the Placehold. But he didn't know the rules here.
"Could you really sleep in the thorns?" she asked. "How?"
"Without leathers you can't go far into the chaparral," Whandall said. "There's a lot worse than thorn. You have to know what plants are safe. Most aren't."
"What are leathers? Where do you get them?"
"You need a leather mask and leggings, at least. Some kinless have them, and the foresters use sleeves and vests. I don't know where my uncles got them. They must have gathered them."
"But you don't have any with you. There's nobody in the room next to this. You can sleep there tonight."
They ate in the kitchen at a small table in the corner. Serana put food in front of them, then went hack to her stove. Other servants came in and Serana gave them instructions on what to do. Everyone seemed to he in a hurry, hut there was no shouting, and no one was frantic.
There were more kinds of food than Whandall had ever seen for one meal. Serana arranged trays of food, eyed them critically, sometimes changed the arrangements. When she was satisfied, the servants came and took the trays out to another room where the adults ate. It was like... the gardens here, and the neat little fence around the Black Pit... it was orderly. Serana was making patterns with her cooking.
Whandall couldn't take his eyes off the stove.
Once during dinner a tall woman with serious eyes and dark clothing looked into the kitchen. She nodded in satisfaction when she saw Shanda. "Did you study your lessons?" she demanded.
"Yes, ma'am," Shanda said.
She fixed Whandall with a critical eye. "Neighbor boy?" she asked.
"From down the road," Shanda said quickly.
"You behave yourself," the woman said. She turned to the cook. "Did she get a good dinner?"
"I always make a good dinner for Miss Shanda, even when I've got guests to cook for," Serana said huffily. "Don't you worry about that."
"All right. Good night."
After she left, Shanda giggled. "Miss Batty's not happy," she said. "She wants to eat with the family, but they didn't invite her tonight."
"That's as it may be," Serana said. "Miss Bertrana's all right. Not like that other nurse you had. You be nice to her."
Miss Batty was kinless. Whandall was certain of it. He wasn't quite as certain that Serana was Lordkin. And neither seemed to care much.
A servant came carrying a tray of dirty dishes. Some were piled high with uneaten food.
After dinner they went back to the balcony. The adults came out to the atrium to finish their own dinner. Whandall and Shanda lay on the balcony outside her room and listened to them.
The courtyard was lit by a central fire and by candles in vellum cylinders. There were four men and three women in the courtyard. Lazy wisps of steam curled up from the cups they were holding. One of the men said, "I thought that wizard was coming to dinner."
"He was invited, Qirinty. I don't know what happened to him."
"Stood you up, did he, Samorty?"
Samorty had a deep and resonant voice, and his chuckle was loud. "Maybe. I'd be surprised, but maybe."
When Placehold men talked in the evenings, there were usually fights. These men smiled, and if anyone was angry, it was well hidden. Whandall came to believe that he was watching a dance. They were dancing with the rhythm of speech and gestures.
It was a thing he could learn. A Lordkin should have guile.
Qirinty's voice was feeble; Whandall had to listen hard. "We need a wizard. The reservoir's getting low again. If it doesn't rain pretty soon we could be in trouble, Samorty."
Samorty nodded sagely. "What do you propose we do?"
"It's more your problem than mine, Samorty," the other man said. He picked up two cups, interchanged them, tossed them lightly in the air. The cups were chasing each other in a loop, and now he'd added a third cup.
"Lord Qirinty has such wonderful hands!" Shanda said.
It enchanted Whandall that Shanda already knew how to lurk. He asked, "Are those Lords?"
Shanda giggled. "Yes. The big man there at the end is Lord Samorty. He's my stepfather."
"Is that your mother with him?"
"Rawanda's not my mother! Stepmother," Shanda said. "My mother's dead too. She died when Rabblie was born."
"My little brother. There. With her. He's five. She doesn't like him any more than she likes me, but he gets to eat with them because he's the heir. If she ever has a boy, he's dead meat, but I don't think she can have children. She had one, my sister, and that took a week. It was almost two years ago-"
Whandall tapped her arm to shut her up, because Lord Samorty was talking: "... Wizard. Can he do it again?"
"Would you want him to?" one of the others asked. "The iceberg damn near wiped out the city!"
The women shouted with laughter. The man with the clever hands said, "It did not, Chanthor! It crossed your farm."
Samorty chuckled. "Well, and mine too, and left nothing but a plowed line three hundred paces wide and longer than any man has traveled. That cost me, I admit, but it didn't cross much of the city, and it sure solved the water problem."
Qirinty snatched his cup and added it to the dance.
Samorty said, "A mountain of ice from the farthest end of the Earth. Don't you sometimes wish you could do that?"
"That, or any real magic. But he said he could do it only once," Lord Qirinty said.
"He said that after we paid him. Did you believe him? I'd say he wants a better price."
Qirinty set the cups down without spilling a drop. "I don't know if I believed him or not."
One of the servants came in. "Morth of Atlantis," he announced.
Morth ? Whandall knew that name ...
He stood tall and straight, but Morth was older than any of the Lords, fragile and perhaps blind. His face was all wrinkles; his hair was long and straight and thick but pure white. He tottered very carefully into the circle of firelight. "My Lords," he said formally. "You will have to forgive me. It has been twenty years since I was last here."
"I would think Lordshills is easy enough to find," Samorty said. "Even if you had never been here before."
"Yes, yes, of course," Morth said. "To find, yes. To get to, perhaps not so easy for one in my profession. I came by the back roads. The ponies I hired could not climb your hill, and as I walked up, this change came on me. But you must know all this."
"Perhaps we know less than you think. A dozen years ago a Condigeano wizard offered us a spell that would let cook fires burn indoors," Samorty said. "Cheap too. He didn't have to cast it himself. Sent an apprentice up to do it. It worked, but since then the only horses that can get up the hill are our big ones. The Lordkin ponies can't make it. We don't know why."
Morth nodded. He was amused without making a point of it. "But surely this-spell-has not lasted a dozen years?"
"No, he sends an apprentice to renew it. He's done that twice since. We've discussed having him cast it for other areas, but we decided not to."
"Oh, good," Morth said. "Very wise. May I be seated?"
"Yes, yes, of course. Dinner's finished, but would you like tea and dessert?" Samorty's wife said.
"Thank you, yes, my lady."
Rawanda waved to a servant as Morth sat with an effort.
The fourth Lord was older than the rest. The others had come out with women, but he reclined alone on his couch. The servants treated him with as much respect as they treated Samorty. He had been quiet, but now he spoke. "Tell us, Sage, why is it wise not to cast this spell in the other parts of the city? Why not in Tep's Town?"
"Side effects," Qirinty said. "The Lordkin need their ponies."
"Yes, that and the fires, Lord Jerreff," Morth said. His voice had
changed slightly. There was less quaver.
"Could you cast such a spell if we asked you to?"
Morth cut off a laugh. "No. Lord. No wizard could do that. Only apprentices cast that spell, and I'll wager that it's never the same apprentice twice, either."
"You'd win that wager," Samorty said. "Is this spell dangerous?"
"Confined to a small area, no," Morth said. "Cast throughout Tep's Town? I am certain you would regret it."
"Fires," Lord Jerreff said. "There would be fires inside houses, anytime, not just during a Burning. That's what our Condigeano wizard told us. He wouldn't tell us what the spell was. Just that it would keep Yangin-Atep at a distance. Sage, I don't suppose you will tell us either?"
Morth solemnly shook his head. "No, Lord, I cannot."
"But you do know what the spell is."
"Yes, Lord, I know," Morth said. "And frankly I am concerned that a hedge wizard from Condigeo would know about-about that spell. I am also surprised that you would employ powerful magic you do not understand."
"Oh, we know what it does," Qirinty said. "It uses up the power in magic, the manna. Gods can't live where there's no manna."
"I didn't know that," Lord Chanthor said. "Did you know, Samorty?"
Lord Samorty shook his head. "All I bargained for was a way to let the cooks work inside. Does that mean the fountains aren't magic?"
"Just good plumbing, Samorty," Lord Qirinty said. "But there is magic in running water-I suppose that's why our Sage looks better now. He found some manna in the fountains."
"Astute, Lord. But very little, I fear." He chuckled mirthlessly. "I do not believe you need pay to renew the spell this year."
"Is that why the wizards can't bring rain?" Samorty demanded. "No manna?"
"Yes," Morth said. "The manna is dying all over the world, but especially here in Tep's Town. The void you have created here isn't helping."
"Where can we find more manna?" Chanthor asked.
"The water comes from the mountains," Qirinty said. "Look there, if we can find the way."
"There are maps," Chanthor said. "I recall my father telling me of an expedition to the mountains. They brought back manna-"
"Gold. Wild manna. Unpredictable," Samorty said. "Some of the effects were damned odd."
"Yes, Samorty, and anyway, they got all they could find," Chanthor said. "We wouldn't do better. But there was water. Can we get water from the mountains?"
"We can't. Maybe nobody can."
"We did once."
"Yes, Jerreff, and long ago the kinless were warriors," Chanthor said.
"Do you believe that?" Samorty asked.
"Oh, it's true," Jerreff said.
"My Lords, we are neglecting our guest," Samorty said. He turned to Morth. The wizard was quietly sipping tea. He looked less ill than when he had come to the table.
"Sage, if we don't have water, there'll be a Burning, sure as anything. How can we stop it?" Qirinty asked. "Can you bring more water?"
Morth shook his head. He spoke solemnly. "No, my Lords. There is not enough manna to bring rain. As for the gold in the mountains, you don't want it."
"Isn't it magic?"
"Wild magic. I've heard some very funny stories about gold's effect on men and magicians, but in any case, I would not survive the rigors of the Hip."
"There are other mountains," Jerreff said. "The Barbar Mountains remain. Too far to go by land, but we could take ship."
Morth smiled thinly. "I fear I must decline that as well," he said.
"The ice. Can you bring more ice?" Qirinty demanded. "We will pay well. Very well, won't we, Samorty?"
"We would pay to have the reservoirs filled again, yes," Samorty said. "You would not find us ungenerous."
"Alas, as I told you then, I could do that only once. Loan me a charioteer and I could fill your reservoirs, but I do not believe you would care for salt water."
"Salt water?" Samorty demanded. "What would we want with reservoirs full of salt water?"
"I can't imagine," Morth said. "But it is the only kind I control just at the moment." His smile was thin and there was a tiny edge to his voice. "It would be difficult but not impossible to drown the city and even parts of the Lordshills, but the water would be sea water."
"Are you threatening to do that?" Samorty demanded.
"Oh no, Lord. I have worked for many years to prevent that," Morth said. Mother's Mother's humor sometimes matched this old man's: they laughed at things nobody else understood. "But do not be deceived, it could happen. For example, if you were to use in Tep's Town the spell that that idiot Condigeano used here, you might well find the sea walking across the city. May I have some more tea?"
"Certainly, but it is a long way back, Sage, and I perceive you are not comfortable here," Samorty said. "With your permission I will arrange transportation for our horses, and an escort of guards."
"Your generosity is appreciated," Morth said.
Morth. "He's too old," Whandall murmured.
The girl asked, "Too old for what?"
"He's not who I thought." Too old to be the Morth who killed my father and put my uncle to flight. But wasn't that also Morth of drowned Atlantis? Mother's Mother had told another tale. "The wizard who wouldn't bless a ship?"
"Yes, that's him," Shanda said.
Samorty clapped his hands for a servant. "Have the cooks prepare a traveler's meal for the wizard. We will need a team and wagon from the stables, and two guardsmen to accompany Morth of Atlantis to the city."
"At once, Lord," the servant said.
"He will see to your needs, Sage," Samorty said. "It has been our honor."
"My thanks, Lords." Morth followed the servant out. He leaned heavily on his staff as he walked. They watched in silence until he was gone.
This powerless wizard couldn't be the Morth who had killed Pothefit. Was it a common name in Atlantis?
"Well, he wasn't any use," Chanthor said.
"Perhaps. I want to think about what he didn't say," Jerreff said.
"What I learned is that he can't get us any water. So what do we do now?" Samorty demanded.
"The usual. Give out more. Increase the Mother's Day presents," Chanthor said.
Whandall's ears twitched. More Mother's Day presents was good news for the Placehold, for Serpent's Walk, for everyone! But Lord Qirinty said, "The warehouses are getting empty. We need rain!"
"There's a ship due with some sea dragon bones," Chanthor said. "Magic to make rain, if Morth is as good as he says he is."
"It won't happen," Jerreff said, "and you know it. Do you remember the last time you bought dragon bones? Ebony box, lined with velvet, wrapped in silk, and nothing but rocks inside."
"Well, yes, but that merchant is crab dung now," Chanthor said, "and I keep my hemp gum in that box. This time the promise comes from a more reputable ship captain."
"He'll have a good excuse for not having any dragon bones in stock," Jerreff said. "Chanthor, Morth wasn't revealing secrets; he was speaking common magicians' gossip. Magic fades everywhere, but here.... Why would anyone send objects of power here? What can we pay compared to the Incas? Or Torov? Even Condigeo could pay more than we can!"
"All true," Qirinty said. "Which brings us to the question, why does Morth of Atlantis stay here? We all saw him move a mountain of ice!"
'Forget Morth. He has no power," Samorty said.
"It is a puzzle worth contemplation, even so," Jerreff said. "Here he is weak. He would be more powerful in a land better blessed with magic. An Atlantis wizard could command respect anywhere."
"They're rare, all right," Lady Rawanda said. "And there won't be any more."
A ripple of response ran around the table. Horror brushed its hand along Whandall's hair. Tellers even in Tep's Town spoke of the sinking of Atlantis.
Chanthor said, "Ship captains are still telling stories about the waves. Wiped out whole cities. Do you suppose that's what Morth is talking about? Salt water. Can he raise big waves? That might be useful, if anyone attacked us from the sea."
"Who'd attack us?" Qirinty asked.
"We've been raided a few times," Chanthor said. "The last one was interesting, wasn't it, Samorty?"
Lord Samorty nodded. "Nine dead, though."
"Nine dead, we sold six more to Condigeo, and we got a ship out of it," Chanthor said.
"Oh, what happened?" Rawanda asked.
"Ship's captain ran out of luck," Chanthor said. "Lost his cargo; talked the crew into raiding in our harbor for their pay. Water Devils saw them coming. Happened to be my watch. I took Waterman and his ready squad down. All over in an hour. As Samorty said, nine dead, four of them Water Devils. No Lordsmen hurt, and we made a pretty good profit selling the survivors even after we paid off the Water Devils."
"What about the captain?" Jerreff asked.
"He owes us," Samorty said. "I let him recruit crew from unemployed kinless. Seems to be working well. The kinless bring money back for their relatives to spend here, and we have a merchant ship-not that I've thought of any use for it. It can't bring us rain."
"We're due for rain, though," Chanthor said.
"If Yangin-Atep doesn't chase it away," Qirinty's wife said.
"There's no predicting that," Qirinty said. "But, you know, I think he's less powerful when it rains. Fire god, after all: why not?"
Yangin-Atep. The Lords knew of Yangin-Atep. And they had fires indoors. Yangin-Atep never permitted fires indoors. And they'd hosted Morth of Atlantis, who had killed Pothefit, but he seemed too trail to defend himself at all.
They talked so fast, and it was all hard to remember, but that was part of a Lordkin's training. Whandall listened.
"We need a small Burning," Jerreff said. "If we stop the Burnings altogether, the lookers won't come here anymore, and we'll all die of boredom. A little Burning, just enough to get it out of their system."
"You're a cynic, Jerreff," Samorty said.
"No, just practical."
"If we don't get some rain soon, there'll be more kinless wanting to move out of the city and into our town," Chanthor said sourly.
"Can't blame them. But we have no place to put them," Qirinty said. "No jobs, either. I've got more servants and gardeners than I need, and without water there won't be enough crops to feed the people we have, Samorty."
"Tell me the last time you didn't see a real problem coming," Rawanda said.
Qirinty shrugged and produced a dagger from thin air. "Someone has to worry about the future."
"And you do it well. Just as Jerreff worries about the past. I'm grateful to you both." Samorty stood. "Now, I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me. I'm on watch tonight." He raised his voice. "Antonio, bring my armor, please."
"Yes, Lord," someone called from the house. A moment later two men came out struggling under a load. They dressed Samorty in a bronze back-and-breastplate. They hung a sword longer than two Lordkin knives on a strap over one shoulder and handed him a helmet.
"Is the watch ready?" Samorty asked.
"Yes, Lord; they're waiting at the gate."
"Armor all polished?"
"Fine." To his guests, he said, "Enjoy yourselves. If there's anything you need, just ask. Rawanda, I'll be late tonight. I have a double watch."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," the lady said.
"She's not sorry," Shanda whispered. "She doesn't even like him."
"Do you?" Whandall asked.
"Samorty's not so bad," Shanda said. "He was very nice to my mother after my father was killed in the Burning."
There was so much to learn! The Lords who controlled Mother's Day knew supplies were running out. They needed water. Whandall had never thought about water before. There were the wells, and sometimes rivers, and the fountain at Peacegiven Square, and sometimes those were nearly dry. Water was important, but Whandall didn't know anyone who could control water.
But this wizard had brought water once, and he was welcome here now. Because he was a wizard, or because he brought water? And how did you become a Lord in the first place?
"Was your father a Lord, Shanda?"
"Yes. Lord Horthomew. He was a politician and an officer of the watch, like Samorty."
"How was he killed?"
"I don't know," she said.