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Chapter 75



Two hours after daybreak, seven chariots clattered into Peacegiven Square and drew up in a line in front of the Lordsman camp. An earnest young driver in Lordsman armor stood beside each one. One was Sandry, no longer wearing a clerk's cap. The horses were big grays, matched pairs at each chariot. They were well groomed and well fed. The chariots would hold two adults. In each chariot was a leather sheath holding a long thrusting spear and two shorter throwing spears ready to hand between driver and passenger.

They were smaller than Whandall remembered. He'd imagined Lords' chariots big enough to hold half a dozen men. They looked that big coming at you, but of course that was silly. Not even the big Lord's horses could pull such a load.

Master Peacevoice Waterman walked up and down the line examining each horse and driver. He muttered something and one of the drivers flicked dust off his gleaming armor. Another tightened the harness of his horse. When Waterman was satisfied, he strode briskly to Whandall's tent. "Chariots and drivers waiting inspection, sir!"

Morth and Whandall crossed the square to the waiting line. Whandall moved closer to Waterman. "I'm not used to chariots," he confided.

"Not surprised at that," Waterman said. "Trick is to spread your feet out, brace one against the sidework. There's a brace built into the floor to wedge your other foot against. Bend your knees so there's some spring in

them; otherwise, you'll bounce right out when you hit a bump. Chariots arc last, but they tire the horses last too."

"Are these horses tired?" Morth asked.

"Not too bad, sir; they led these in at first light, no load. The horses that pulled the chariots here from Lord's Town are resting up. They'll all be fresh come tomorrow morning."

"Good. Who's the best driver?"

"For what purpose, sir?"

Morth considered.

Finding the right questions wasn't easy here. "Speed. Distance," Whandall said. "We might have to cross most of the city. Maybe fighting."

"Best fighting driver would be young Heroul there."

Whandall regarded the charioteer. Young, clear eyed. Armor polished. He stood impatiently. "Is he reliable?"

"Depends on what for," Waterman said. "He'll take orders just fine. And he's got the fastest horses in the corps."

"Who for just speed and distance and a passenger who can't fight?"

"That's not Heroul. He likes to win," Waterman said. "You can depend on young Sandry there. Lord Samorty's grandson, he is, and best officer cadet in the corps."

"Lord Rabblie's son?"

Waterman looked at him oddly. "Reckon they called Lord Rabilard something like that when he was a lad. Yes, sir, that's his father."

And the Lords still talk about family to strangers. Brag, even. Not like Lordkin. Like us.

"He'll be steady, then?"

"I'd trust him," Waterman said. "You needn't tell him I said that. Cadet's head doesn't need more swelling."

"Thanks. You won't need to introduce us."

"Reckon I won't, sir," Waterman said.

"Morth, you take Sandry, then-"

"No, I want speed," Morth said. "You said that one is fastest?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'll take Heroul. And put some handhold lashings in that chariot. If you don't know how, I do. I had one of these in Atlantis."

Whandall stood uncertainly in Sandry's chariot. It was hard enough keeping his footing on streets. The potholes rattled him around inside this bucket on wheels. It would be a lot harder going across country. If Sandry noticed Whandall having difficulty keeping his footing, he didn't say anything about it.

"Can you carry an old man in one of these?" Whandall asked.

Sundry nodded. He needed all his attention to avoid a young Lordkin who had darted into the street. Then he answered. "Yes, Wagon master. We can strap a chair where you're standing, strap a man into the chair. But you're doing fine." For a beginner, he didn't add.

"Not me," Whandall said. "Morth."

"He didn't seem that old."

"He can get older fast."

"Oh. Aunt Shanda says she's known you a long time," Sandry said.

"Yes, more than thirty years." He looked at Sandry and made a decision. "Did you ever know of a servant girl named Dream-Lotus? Kinless, from the Ropewalk area."

"No, but I can ask," Sandry said. "Is it important?"

"Not very. I'd just like to know. Turn right just ahead there."

The streets were in worse repair, and there were more burned buildings than Whandall remembered. "Now left." Ahead lay the Serpent's Walk meetinghouse. Curse, it had a roof now! And a new fence. Oversize cactus plants grew against the fence. Two kinless were raking the yard, although it didn't appear to need raking. Neat, Whandall thought. Wanshig always was neat after he came back from the sea.

The Placehold looked neat too. In Whandall's time there was a half-ruined house down the block. That was gone, its lot planted with what looked like cabbages tended by kinless, and a small cottage stood behind the cabbage patch.

Whandall pointed to the front door of the Placehold. "Stop just there and wait for me. You won't be allowed inside."

Sandry nodded. He looked glad of the armor he wore. "Sure you'll be welcome?"

"No," Whandall said.

"What's the best way out of here?" Sandry asked.

Whandall chuckled. "Straight ahead, left at the end of the block. And stay in the middle of the street."

"You know it."

Boys lounged at the doorway. That hadn't changed. "Tell Lord Wanshig that Whandall wishes to speak with him." He lowered his voice so that Sandry wouldn't be able to hear. "Whandall Placehold."

Two of the boys ran inside. Another stayed in the door staring at Whandall's tattoo.

The doorway stood invitingly open. Whandall grinned to himself. At least one, probably several armed Lordkin adults would be in there, one behind the door waiting for anyone to come in uninvited-

A girl about fifteen came to the door. She wore a bright dress, too fancy for housework. "Be welcome, Whandall," she said, loud enough that everyone near would hear.

"Thank you-"

"I'm Firegift, Uncle Whandall. My mother is Wess."

And calling me Uncle says I'm accepted as one of the men of the Place-hold, not that she's Wanshig 's daughter, Whandall thought. She could be, but she won't claim that. Just her mother. The Lordkin ways were coming back to him, but as a half-remembered dream.

"Lord Wanshig is waiting upstairs."

Wanshig sat at one end of the big meeting hall. It seemed full of people, none Whandall could recognize. Except Wess. She stood in the doorway of the corner room. The room that was his, with her, for a while, when Whandall Placehold was the eldest man in the Placehold. A lifetime ago.

She was still pretty. Not as pretty as Willow, but to Whandall no woman ever had been. But Wess was a fine woman still! Firegift went to stand by her mother. They looked more alike, side by side, than they had when they were apart.

"Hail, brother," Wanshig said.

"Lord Wanshig."

Wanshig laughed hard. Then he got up and came to Whandall, slapped hands, hugged him in a wiry embrace that showed Wanshig hadn't lost his strength. Neither had Whandall, and they stood half embracing and half testing for a minute.

"Been a long time," Wanshig said.

"That it has. You've come up in the world."

Wanshig looked at the ornate knife Whandall wore. "So have you."

"That's nothing," Whandall said. He took off the knife and sheath, revealing a plainer and more functional blade underneath. "A present," Whandall said, and held out the ornately decorated knife. "Among others. I'm rich, brother."

"That's nice-"

"I can make the Placehold rich," Whandall said. "I'll need help doing it. Actually, I'll need Placehold and Serpent's Walk together."

"After lunch you'll tell me," Wanshig said. He gestured, dismissing the men and women who had crowded around. "You'll all meet Whandall later," he said. "Give me time to talk with my brother."

Brother. We had the same mother. Not necessarily the same father, and in our case certainly not the same. Lordkin!

The others went away or settled in corners of the big room.

"We'll eat in here," Wanshig said. He led Whandall into the big corner

room. A table had been set up, and Firegift was bringing food and tea. "You'll remember Wess. She's my lady now. First lady of the Placehold," Wanshig said.

Whandall didn't say anything.

"What? Ah. That's right; you'll remember Elriss," Wanshig said.

"And Mother."

Wanshig nodded. "Dead, brother. Dead together, with Shastern. Fifteen years ago-"

"Sixteen," Wess said. "Firegift is fifteen."

"Sixteen years ago. The Burning started by Tarnisos."

"Tarnisos killed our family?"

"No, he started the Burning. It was a Mother's Day; the women had gone to Peacegiven Square. The Lords still gave Mother's Day presents there. You remember?"

"Yes."

"Shastern went with them. They had collected the gifts, were coming back, when the Burning started." Wanshig shook his head. "We went looking for them. Found them dead, two Bull Fizzles dead with them. Everything they had was gathered, of course. Later Pelzed and Freethspat went looking for Pizzles to settle the score, but the Fizzles claimed their people were killed helping Shastern. Could have been, even. Could have been."

"Who did they say?" Whandall demanded.

Wanshig's expression was bleak. "You think you'll get even, now, after sixteen years when you weren't here, little brother? You think I haven't tried?"

"Sorry. Of course you did."

Wanshig nodded grimly.

"What happened to Freethspat?"

"He tried too. Mother was his woman; he was really close to her. Closer than I was to Elriss by then, I think. He went looking one day. Never came back."

"And Wanshig became eldest in the Placehold," Wess said. And didn't say that Firegift was born a few months later, but that was clear enough.

"So. How can we help you, little brother?" Wanshig asked.

"Two ways, if you can work with me," Whandall said.

"It's possible," Wanshig admitted. "What two ways?"

"First, burn out the Wolverines."

"That's hard, little brother. Hard. You know who they are?"

"I hope I do. I've got no quarrel with the Wolverines. But Alferth says they're the Toronexti. I have reasons to think he's right."

"So do I," Wanshig said. "And the Toronexti work for the Lords." He looked thoughtful. "And you? You have u chariot and a Lordsman driver. Have the Lords told you can burn out the Toronexti?"

"Pretty close," Whandall said. "They won't help, but if it happens they'll be happy enough to take credit. There won't be a blood war. If there's a blood price, I can give it back to you."

"I need to think on this. What's your other task?"

"Morth of Atlantis needs help. We'll explain later. But it needs reliable

people. He needs a truce with Sea Cliffs, at least to take a chariot there.

And Wanshig, I can use some help outside, out of Tep's Town, if there's

anyone who wants to go."

Wanshig stared at him. "Out?"

"There's a whole world out there."

"Twenty years ago I'd have come with you," he said. "Not now, and I need all the men I have, in Placehold and in Serpent's Walk. These are hard times, little brother."

"We like it here," Wess said possessively. "But I have a son, Shastern." She nodded at Whandall's look. "Named for your younger brother. He's a wild boy. I don't think he'll live long here. Take him with you."

"How old?"

"Ten," Wess said.

"He can come. But Wess, if he comes with us, he won't be a Lordkin anymore. He'll learn different ways. I doubt he can ever come back."

"You did," Wess said.

"Whandall, there are some who'd like adventure," Wanshig said. He sighed. "And I'm still Lordkin, and they'll never let me go to sea again. Unless you own ships, little brother?"

"That's not the route I took. Let me show you, big brother. Did you learn maps while you were sailing?"

"Maps? We knew about maps. Never saw them. They were locked up in the captain's cabin."

"The idea is to make a picture of where you are and where you want to be and things you see on the way. Landmarks." Whandall began drawing on the table. Tep's Town as a little black blotch, Firewoods in dried chili seeds, the Hemp Road in charcoal. Wess watched the mess being made, looked at Wanshig, and decided not to interfere.

"This is where we went, me and a wagon with children hidden like wine. Wildest battle of my life, here. My tattoo lights up when I kill, out there where there's still magic." By First Pines, he'd run out of room. "I have to draw it smaller."

"So that's how it works."

"May I teach this? In the courtyard? It would he something to give back," Whandall said. Anyone who worked the caravans would have to learn maps eventually. Who could he take? Best find out who had the knack! Best find out-

"Big brother, do you remember when I tried to teach you about knives?"

Wanshig grimaced. "Yes."

"May I try again? Teach them all? Tomorrow. Maps today."

Wanshig looked into his face.

"You're older and smarter. I'm a better teacher. Line up your best knife fighters. Watch me. Watch them. This time you'll get it."

"You meant it."

Whandall made no answer.

"Yes. I want to watch that," Wanshig said. "We'll listen to your wizard and I'll send a gift to Sea Cliffs. Give me a day or so to get the word out- Whandall of Serpent's Walk is back and is welcome at the Placehold. Your woman too, of course."

"She's not here." Whandall thought of Willow coming into a Lordkin castle. "She's outside."

They returned to Peacegiven Square to find Morth raving.

"He's a madman!" Morth shouted. He pointed to Heroul, who stood grinning on his chariot. It looked odd with no horse hitched to it. Then Morth turned jubilant. "But it's there!"

"The wave."

"Heroul drove me out to Sea Cliffs. The wave stood up and came at us, way too low, of course. Hit the cliff hard enough to shake our shoes! Then this maniac drove us right down into the lowlands!"

"Heroul, are you all right?" Sandry asked.

The young charioteer's grin was wide. "It was wonderful!" he burbled. "The water just humped itself and came right at us! Real magic! Nothing like Qirinty's dancing cups-"

"And this madman toyed with it!" Morth said. "He stayed just ahead of it, all the way-"

"-along Dead Seal Flats. It slowed when it started up the ridge," Heroul said. "I could see it was slowing, and I didn't want to founder the horses! So / slowed, and it came on almost to the top. Then it slumped and ran back down toward the ocean. Ran like water, I mean, not fled."

"You were teasing it!"

"Maybe a little, sir. And we still exhausted the horses." Heroul waved to indicate two chariot horses being groomed by some of Waterman's men. "I'll get new ones for tomorrow, let these rest up a day."

"Not for me, you won't, you maniac!" Morth said.

Whandall grinned. "Younglord Heroul can drive me tomorrow," he said. "Sundry, if you please, shepherd this ancient wizard around the city."

"Certainly, sir."

Morth gave them a sour look. "That water sprite has chased me half my life, and today was as close as it ever came to catching me."

"But it didn't," Heroul said. "Sir."















Chapter 74 | The Burning City | Chapter 76



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