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Chapter 76



At dawn the next morning a half dozen kinless came to Peacegiven Square and began work on the ruins of an adobe house at one corner. Whandall remembered the house as belonging to a Bull Pizzle Lordkin. Or was it Flower Market? But the big Lordkin who came with the kinless wore a serpent from left eye to left hand.

In an hour they had cleared out the front yard and set up a cook fire. In another they had set out tables and chairs and hung up a sign painted with a cup and roasted bird's leg. A tea shop, at Peacegiven Square. Another sign went up: a serpent, but this was set at the edge of the lot, right at the corner. The sign in front of the shop bore a palmetto fan to indicate peace, all welcome.

Pelzed had dreamed of taking another side of Peacegiven Square, but he had never dared. Of course now it wasn't worth as much... .

Whandall went over to inspect. Sandry-Younglord Sandry-followed. The kinless waitress was in her thirties, well dressed, elaborately polite. "Yes, Lords. Welcome."

Whandall lifted his hand in greeting. It was a useful gesture, a way to be polite without losing status. The big Serpent's Walk Lordkin came out of the house. He was young and hadn't had the tattoo long. "Lagdret," he said. "You'll be Whandall. Welcome." He pointed to the back of the house. "I'll be living here until the Bakers here get the house next door fitted up. Lord Wanshig says if you need me, call." He went back into the shop without waiting to be introduced to Sandry.

"Polite," Whandall said.

Sundry looked the question.

"He hasn't anything to say to you, and lie won't lake up your time. He came out here to tell me only because Wanshig asked him to. His job-never say job; it's just what he's agreed to do-is It) protect this place. What he gets out of it is a new house kept up by the kinless he protects." Whandall smiled thinly. "Probably his first house; now he can attract a woman of his own."

"I should learn more about Lordkin," Sandry said.

Whandall smiled. "Our custom, it is, to swap information and stories."

"Ah."

"I never knew much about Lords," Whandall said. "No more than I could learn watching from a distance."

"Sometimes you were closer," Sandry said. "What do you want to know?"

"There are bandits on the Hemp Road. Sometimes enough of them get together to set up a town and collect tolls. Now, all towns collect tolls, one way or another, but most of them give something back. Keep the roads up, provide dinners, drive away gatherers, keep a good market square open. Bandit towns just take. When that happens, all the wagon trains get together and go burn them out.

"Sandry, your Aunt Shanda wants us to bring wagon trade into Tep's Town."

"We all do."

"So tell me about the Toronexti."

Sandry looked surprised. "I distinctly remember Lord Quintana telling Waterman to talk to you about the Toronexti."

"Maybe he didn't tell me enough."

"They have a charter," Sandry said. "Promises made over the years. Some of them were bad promises, stupid promises, but they've kept the decrees, every one of them, and if we try to do anything about them they can produce a promise, signed and sealed, saying we can't do that."

"Lords are big on keeping promises?"

"Formal, written, signed, and sealed? Of course."

"Did you promise to help them?"

"Against all outside enemies," Sandry said.

"Not against Lordkin?"

"No! They'd never ask. At least they never have, and if they did now, well, it would take three full meetings of all the Lords even to consider extending the Toronexti charter. But it wouldn't happen. The charter says they protect us against revolt."

Whandall sipped tea. It was good, root tea, not hemp. The shop wanted three shells a cup, a high price, but prices always went up when the wagon train was in town. "Sandry, are you afraid of Master Peacevoice Waterman?"

"Wouldn't you be?"

"Well, maybe, but by that light I should be afraid of Greathand the blacksmith," Whandall said. "But Waterman's a Lordsman and you're a Lord."

"Younglord," Sandry corrected. "Apprentice, if you like to think of it that way. Waterman would take my orders, if I were dumb enough to talk back to him. Then it would get back to my father. Wagonmaster, you tell your blacksmith what to make, but you don't tell him how to make it."

"I wouldn't know how."

"And I wouldn't know how to train men."

"Or get them to fight," Whandall said.

"That part's easy. It's called leadership," Sandry said, and blushed a little. "Getting them to fight together, to do things all of them at once, not one at a time, that's hard."

Like learning knife fighting, Whandall thought. But if you learn one thing at a time, you can put it all together. He thought about battles they'd had with bandits. Kettle Belly had taught him to get as many men together as you can, make them stay together and fight together. Twenty on three always won, and usually with none of the twenty getting hurt.

And the Lords knew all that, and the Lordkin didn't, and-

"So what shall we do today?" Sandry asked.

"I'll send you with Morth, but hold up a breath or two." Whandall considered. "You can't tell me how to fight the Toronexti." He got a confirming nod. "But what can you tell me about dealing with the Wolverines under Granite Knob?"

Sandry smiled. "I asked about that after last night. Fights between Lordkin are not my concern. I won't help you fight them, but I can tell you anything you want to know about Wolverines."

And Whandall was sure, now. The Toronexti were the Wolverines. But what good did it do to know that?

It was known that he intended to take a few people out of Serpent's Walk, out of Tep's Town. Some were willing to help him choose.

Several Lordkin tried to extract promises from him. Take my nephew, he doesn't fit in... my daughter, she's sleeping with the wrong men... my son, he's murdered someone powerful... my brother, he keeps getting beaten up. Whandall didn't promise. Nobody can force you to buy without actually drawing knife... and that happened only once.

Fubgire was one of Wanshig's guards, in his late twenties, brawny and agile. Whandall retreated from the room where Fubgire confronted him, into the courtyard, and there he turned it into a knife fighting lesson.

Kinless and Lordkin came to him, driven by distaste for the ways of the

Burning City. He would make an offer to a few of these. He set some of the kinless to working on maps.

Yesterday the courtyard had been covered with maps sketched in sawdust. Today Morth and Wanshig and a few visitors from other turf were making maps inside.

Lured by the fight with Fubgire or by Wanshig's wonderful new knife or by rumor and curiosity, nearly forty men waited at dawn to be trained in knife fighting by Whandall Placehold. Too many by far, of course. One was Fubgire, older than most of these, but bandaged and determined to learn from his mistakes. Try him on maps too?

Whandall began to teach. More drifted up, until there were sixty in the Placehold courtyard.

Many felt that they already knew how to fight, that no outsider had anything to teach them. They spoke this truth, or it showed in their sneers. They began to drift away.

Some stuck to it. Some stayed to laugh at the rest, and they had a point. That was why he had practiced in secret, because it did look funny. When Wanshig finally emerged around noon, the numbers were down to thirty.

The essence of knife training, as Whandall taught it, was to practice each of several moves separately until the mind turned to jelly. Whandall looked for those who could stick to it for an hour, perfecting one move, and move on to the next, and end the day without screaming in anyone's face.

To them, and to those who could work with maps and still not scream in anyone's face, he would make an offer.

There were too many. He had no confidence in most of them. The cursed trouble was that you could not set tests for a Lordkin, because he wouldn't put up with it. You learned what a Lordkin was made of by watching him, sometimes for years.

Whandall didn't have years.

His bed was waiting, but so was Morth. The wizard asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Worn out. I've been training Lordkin in knife fighting. How would you feel? Want some tea?"

"Yes, please. Whandall, do these Lordkin make you angry? You've been away a long time."

"Embarrassed. I used to be them. I kept my temper all day."

"I expected you to lose your temper with the Toronexti."

"Morth, it's a dance. They're clumsy at bargaining. That bottle trick was fun."

"Has anything made you angry lately?"

"Is this about anger, Morth?"

"Yes."

Whandall considered. "Not angry. Shocked. This... wilderness was Peacegiven Square. It wasn't just the place where our mothers gathered what our families needed to live. It was... order. Order where we lived, like the houses in the Lordshills."

"You're shocked but not angry."

"Well, I-"

"I wasn't asking. Whandall, Yangin-Atep hasn't even looked at you these three days, not a flicker, I can tell, and that's why. You don't get angry. If I threw a calming spell at you, I'd have to tell you about it later. But can you keep it up?"

"Merchants don't get angry, Morth. Good merchants don't even fake it."

"Then ... it could work. Here's what I need."

Whandall listened. Presently he asked, "Why?"

And presently he asked, "Why should I?"

"Oh, make up your own cursed motives. What has a water elemental ever done for you?"

"It gave me water to drink when I was a boy."

"I thought that was me, but all right. Yangin-Atep?"

"Burned... burned my family. Yes, I see. Morth, this is the craziest idea I've ever heard, even from you, but I... I think I see how to use this. I mean, for the caravan. For my family. For Feathersnake. If you'll do it my way."

"Yes?" And Morth listened.

The next day's mapmaking went on in the dining hall behind locked doors. Whandall spent some time in the courtyard supervising knife fighters at their practice, and some time with the map.

The Gulls at Sea Cliffs hadn't seen Morth dancing on the cliff above them. They knew only that a tremendous wave stood up and smashed four houses before it washed against the cliff. Three housed kinless, but in the biggest house three or four Lordkin lived in every room. Two were killed. Nine were homeless.

Now came word from Wanshig of Serpent's Walk. Their people were

drowned, their stronghold smashed and washed away, by a water demon.

Wanshig's runners told the Gulls what had hurt them, and who could kill it, and what was needed.

The sprite's route inland would begin there.

"So we hold Sea Cliffs, and they brought in those that hold Dead Seal Flats. Now, you want to put people all along here," Wanshig said. "If you

don't want them attacked, nobody had better know what you're giving them, and we still need truce for (he whole length. This is Ogre turf here. They're crazy. We can't get truce and we couldn't trust it. Why not go around?"

"We'd never get a moving wave up here. Too high."

"Lord Wanshig?" That was Artcher, one of Wanshig's entourage, likely a nephew. He'd shown some skill with maps. Now he asked, "What if we ran the line along here? It's Long Avenue. The road runs this way because deer followed the low route, and it's Weasel turf from here all the way to here. They keep their truce too."

"They take cursed big gifts to make truce!"

"I think I hear my secret name," Whandall said. An ornate knife, some glass jewelry, honey candy, and half their route was secured right there.

As they nailed down the route, Wanshig sent out runners. The blades Whandall had brought for Lords were all going to Lordkin, but that was all right. The Lords wanted him much more than he had expected.

"That's a nice low run. Dark Man's Cup?"

"Bull Fizzles," Wanshig said.

"Don't tell me that!"

"Freethspat was good, little brother, but he didn't keep other people's promises. It's a garbage dump again too. Look, Dark Man's Cup is perfect if those Fizzles will trust me not to snatch it back."

"Offer to scour it clean for two coils of hemp. Say we've got a wizard. If they've heard the rumors, they'll know it's true. Say they can pay on delivery."

Runners began flowing in with answers. Long Avenue was under truce. Bull Fizzles would deal if Serpent's Walk would wait half a year for the hemp. Now send a credible messenger to get the kinless out of Dark Man's Cup. No details could be given, as they might leak, but get out!

Dirty Birds were easy, still allies after all these years.

Silly Rabbits would not make truce. They had to have that stretch. Send another offer, but count on sending guards to protect Whandall's chosen.

That evening Whandall gathered his chosen in the banquet room, now map room. He spoke briefly, and he passed out bottles.

"Anyone who wants to leave Tep's Town: here is a cold iron-glazed bottle. Don't open it tonight!"

Knife training and mapmaking gave him men who could keep their temper. Millers and Ropewalkers he gave special consideration. This woman could read. This one cooked a stew from random gatherings. Green Stone watched children pulling weeds on the Placehold roof garden, and chose three. Freethspat's boy, Whandall's last half brother aged thirty, was worth a look. He'd rejected the maps and the knife practice, but he got a bottle.

Any of his chosen might take a mate when they left. None were told what would be done. Yangin-Atep might take anyone's mind.

Back in Peacegiven Square, Whandall went to Morth's quarters to choose his running gear. "Pick something colorful, something distinctive. Don't you have anything that isn't gray or black, Morth?"

"I've seen your motley crew. None of them dress like any other! Those Flower Market Lordkin make Seshmarls look diffident! And you want distinctive?"

Whandall sighed. "Sandry, doesn't your cousin Roni know a seamstress?"

"Likely enough, sir."

"Green Stone, write. 'Roni, Morth must have a wizard's robe by tomorrow night. Something anyone can see from a mountaintop on a cloudy day. Please carry my word to your seamstress. This is her price.' " Whandall chose a swath of the finest cloth in the caravan, lavender with highlights in it, then sheets of bright green and bright gold. "And this for Morth."









Chapter 75 | The Burning City | Chapter 77



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