He had carried his own clothes in a bundle. Now he put them on over his new ones, so that he could get back to Placehold safely. It took all day. After noon, he ate the roll that Serana had given him. The waning moon was high when he got back home. Hungry, he checked out the tables and cookpot for leftovers. That got him nothing but sticky feet. He crept into the sleeping room and fell asleep at once.
In the morning his toes remembered the clean blond wood that floored Lord Samorty's kitchen as they squished across Placehold's sticky flagstones. In the roar of Placehold's shouts and laughter and curses he remembered the busy quiet around Serana.
He tore a piece of bread off what Wanshig had gathered. Wanshig jumped, then laughed. "Where did you gather the new clothes?"
His sisters and cousins all looked at him. "Pretty," Rotunda said. "Are there more?"
A Lordkin should have guile, even with his own kin. Whandall wanted to think about what he had seen before he talked about it. There was no way to explain that gathering was not a way of life to the Lords and those who worked with them.
So ... "Clothesline at a house off of Sanvin Street," Whandall said. "Kin-less house, nobody looking, but there wasn't anything else worth gathering."
"Too bad," Wanshig said. "Ready for knife lessons?"
They practiced with sticks. Whandall was still clumsy. He'd have been killed a do/.en times it they'd used real knives.
"Next year." The uncles who'd been watching the lessons were sure about it. "Next year."
The Lordsmen fought with spears and swords, not with the big Lordkin knives. Whandall thought about the Lordshills, where even the gardeners lived us well as Pelzed and Resalet did. The Lordsmen would live even better than gardeners. Fighters always did. His uncles would never be able to teach him to light the way Lordsmen did. But someone might. He knew he had to go back.
I le washed his new clothes, but he could think of no place to dry them where they would not be stolen. He carried them as a damp bundle when he took to the roads four days later. They smelled of damp.
His path ran through Flower Market. He kept to shadow when he could, and the windowless sides of buildings, and was still surprised to get through untouched.
Beyond Flower Market nobody lived, or so he'd been told. He saw occasional dwellings but was able to avoid them. When he reached the ridge it was nearly dark. He thought of staying in the chaparral, then laughed. He knew a better place.
The Black Pit was stench and mist and darkness, and a misty blur of a full moon overhead. The moon lit shadows that came bounding to greet him. Wolves as big as Whandall himself, all in a leaping pack. Birds big enough lo pluck him from the ground. Two cats bigger than Whandall's imagination. Hubbies in the fog, they merged in a frantic seething bubble, and Whandall laughed and tried to play with them, but he touched nothing but fog.
Rumor spoke that the Black Pit had swallowed people. He shied from going too deep into it. He didn't want any more of that alien stench, either. I le spread some marsh grass over a flat rock and lay down on that. With two layers of clothes around him, he wasn't even particularly cold.
Half asleep, he watched another shadow edging toward him several feet above the black swamp. It was rounded and almost featureless, and the ghosts already around him made shadows to interfere with what approached. It was even bigger than the cats. Sleepily he watched it come and tried to guess its shape, then fell asleep still wondering.
The gardener's boy's clothes were still damp when he put them on at dawn. His own Serpent's Walk garments were underneath. He wasn't cold, just sodden. He walked his clothes dry before he reached the broad wagon path that must be Sanvin Street.
When he got to the barren lands, a wagon came up behind him. The kinless driver looked at Whandall and stopped. "Need a ride?"
"Yes, thank you." He hesitated only a moment. "Sir."
"Climb on. I'm going to the harbor. Where are you headed?"
"To see... friends. At Lord Samorty's house."
"Inside, eh? Well, I'll let you off at the fork. Hup. Gettap." The two ponies drew the cart at a pace faster than Whandall would walk. The kinless driver whistled some nameless tune. He was a young man, not much over twenty.
The cart was filled with baskets with the lids tied on them. "What is that?" Whandall asked.
The driver eyed Whandall carefully. "Who did you say your friend was?"
"Stepdaughter," Whandall said. "Sir."
"Right. Your father work for Samorty?"
"Explains the shirt," the driver said.
Whandall widened his eyes and looked up at him.
The driver grinned. "If you was to look in one of those baskets you'd see cloth just like what you're wearing. My cousin Hallati has a loom in his basement. Weaves that cloth, he and his wives and daughters. We sold a stack of it to Samorty last month."
Halite. Whandall had never heard the name, but he would remember it. How many other kinless were hiding valuables?
"Hope we can move Halite out soon. I don't like this drought much. Gets dry and those Lordkin jackals get ugly. Almost got my cousin's place last time. Almost," the cart driver said, and pulled the animals to a stop. This was the road to the Lordshills. Whandall got out and waved a good-bye.
There were different guards when he got to the gate. They didn't pay much attention to Whandall as he came up the road.
"Don't remember you," one of the guards said. "Where do you live, boy?"
"Lord Samorty's house-"
"Oh. Gardening crew?"
The guard nodded. They didn't bother to raise the barrier, but it was easy to walk around it, and the guards were already talking about the weather by the time Whandall was inside.
There were big houses and wide streets. Palm trees grew at regular intervals, in patterns. The houses were grand. Something more, something weird. Thirty houses shouldn't be quite so similar, though no two were identical; but neither should they remind a boy of a stand of redwoods or a range of hills.
Like a redwood, like a granite hill, each house looked like it had been in place forever. Like... Whandall stepped back and looked around him, because he could feel how the shock changed his face. Anyone who saw him would know he was a stranger, staring as if he'd never seen a long street lined on both sides with houses, none of which had ever been burned and replaced. The flower beds-they were shaped and arranged to fit around the houses! Not one structure showed any sign of haste, of Get a roof on that before the rain starts! Or Use the beams from the Tanner house-they don't quite, but the Tanners won't need them anymore. Or Just do something to shelter us-don't bother me; can't you see I'm grieving?
It made him uneasy.
He didn't know what Lord Samorty's house would look like from the I rout, but it had to be near the wall. He worked his way eastward until he was sure there was only the one layer of houses between him and the wall, then north until he could see the big tree. After that it was no problem finding his way around the back of the house to the fountain. He washed his hands and face and feet without waiting to be told to.
"1 didn't really think you would come back," Shanda said.
"I said I would..."
"A Lordkin's promise." There was not much warmth in her smile, but then it brightened. "You promised to show me the redwoods."
He thought about that.
"I have leathers. For both of us." She showed him a box hidden under the bed in her room. "I got them from the gardeners. They don't use them anymore."
Whandall examined the gear.
"It's good, isn't it?" Shanda demanded.
"It's good enough," he admitted. "But we'd be out all night."
"That's all right; Miss Batty will think I'm visiting," Shanda said. "I'll tell her I'm staying with Lord Flascatti's daughter. Miss Batty will never check."
"And my stepmother wouldn't care if I never came back. We'll take lunch and dinner and-"
Whandall looked up at the sun, low in the west. "It's way too late-"
"Not today, silly. In the morning. Or next day. You don't have to get back today, do you?"
He shook his head. If he never came back, his mother would worry about him a little, but she wouldn't do anything, and no one else would care much. Not unless they thought he'd been killed by kinless.
"Did you try that stick?"
Shanda grinned. "That same night. On Rawanda's chair! Yes! It gave
her a little red rash, and it itched her for two days. I think it still does." Her face tell a bit. "Samorty must have got some on his arm, because he got a rash too. I guess he knew what made it, because he yelled at the gardeners about it, and the gardeners yelled back, and they all went out to look for a poison plant, but they didn't find any. I didn't want to hurt Samorty."
Good, Whandall thought. And better that she hadn't been caught, and no one knew where she had been. Or who she had been with...
A little red rash. Whandall had given leaves of that same plant to Lord Pelzed, and they'd used them on Bull Fizzle boys. No one died, but a dozen of them were useless for a week, and Pelzed and the Bull Fizzle Lord had made a treaty not to do that again. Pelzed had been pleased. But here it was just a little red rash. Plants lost power here.
"Let's get something to eat," Shanda was saying. "Serana doesn't think I eat enough. She'll be glad to see you."
The kitchen was warm and dry and smelled of foods Whandall could only guess at. Serana filled his bowl with soup and heaped bread on the table, then apologized for not having anything for him. "Will you be staying for dinner?"
"If that's all right," Whandall said. "Ma'am. This sure is good."
Serana smiled happily.
They watched the gardeners, but they avoided everyone else. Shanda showed him the carp pools, with bright colored fish. A pair of servants got too curious, and Whandall was frantically trying to find answers when Shanda laughed and ran away with Whandall following. She led him to another part of the yard.
There was a small, queer house, too small for Shanda and way too small for Whandall. There were rooms no bigger than a big man, and tiny passages they could crawl through, and open walls. The curious servants had followed. Whandall had to wriggle like an earthworm, but he followed Shanda deeper into the maze, into twists and shadows, until no eyes could reach them.
He felt a moment of panic then. If this place should burn! They'd be trapped, wriggling through flaming twists. But the gardeners were all kin-less, weren't they? And he wouldn't show the little girl his fear. He followed Shanda deeper yet.
There was a small room at the center, just big enough for both of them to sit up.
"Why is it so small?" Whandall asked.
"It's a playhouse. It was built for my little brother, but he doesn't like it much, so I get to play in it."
A playhouse. Whandall could understand the notion, but he would never have thought of it. An entire extra house, just for fun!
After dinner they lay on the balcony above the courtyard und listened to the Lords talk.
Four men and three women lolled on couches that would have looked really nice in the Placehold courtyard. No one said anything until an elderly kinless brought out a tray of steaming cups. Lady Rawanda passed them to the others.
Qirinty's wife sipped, then smiled. "Really, Rawanda, you must tell u& where you get such excellent tea root."
"Thank you, Cliella. It is good, isn't it?" Rawanda said. There was another silence.
"Quiet lately," Jerreff said. "I don't like it."
"Then you should be pleased," Samorty said. "We caught a sneaker last night."
"Any problems?" Jerreff asked.
"No, there was a Jollmic ship in port. We got a nice burning glass for him. Quintana, isn't it your watch tonight?"
"Traded with who?"
"He paid Peacevoice Waterman extra," Qirinty said. He produced a grapefruit from thin air and inspected it.
Samorty shook his head sadly. "Bad practice," he said.
Quintana laughed. He was round and pudgy and looked very contented on his couch. "What can it hurt? Samorty, you may like parading around all night in armor, but I don't! If there's need, I'll turn out-"
"If there's need, the watchmen will be taking orders from Waterman, not you," Samorty said.
"Not to mention that Waterman will get any loot they find," Jerreff said dryly.
"You worry too much, Samorty," Rawanda said. "You think the city will fall if you don't hold it up-"
Samorty laughed thinly. "It fell once. To us! But peace. It won't fall tonight. More wine?" He poured from a pitcher on the table.
Shanda stirred and whispered, "That's you they're talking about."
"No, the Lordkin!"
Whandall nodded. His family, street, city, in the hands of these dithering, bickering Lords... . Was he too young to be sold onto some foreign ship? For an instant the idea was indecently attractive...
"Yangin-Atep's still asleep," Quintana said. "Watchmen told me there were three fires over in the benighted areas."
"I didn't hear about any fires. Have trouble?"
"Just brush fires. The kinless must have put them out."
"I his time," Samorty muttered. "What I worry about is when the Lord-kin won't let the kinless put out the fires."
"Yangin-Atep protects houses," Quintana said.
"But not brush. Suppose all the chaparral burned at once?" Jerreff asked. "Would that wake Yangin-Atep? Half the city could burn if Yangin-Atep wakes while the hills are burning!"
"Now that would be something to worry about," Rowena said.
"Sure would. You're too young to remember the last time," Samorty said. "I was only ten or so myself."
"We don't know what wakes the god," Qirinty's wife said.
"Sure we do. Hot weather. No rain. That hot, dry wind from the east," Qirinty said.
"Sometimes." Samorty sounded doubtful. "I grant you that's usually what things are like when the Burning starts. But not always."
"Get us some rain and things will be all right." Qirinty toyed nervously with a salt shaker, then caused it to whirl about.
"Sure," Rowena said.
"If we can't get rain, maybe we ought to do something else," Qirinty said carefully. He put the salt shaker down.
"Finish the aqueduct. Get more water into the benighted areas-"
"Be real," Samorty said. "That's no easier than getting rain!"
"They have a new aqueduct in South Cape," Quintana said. "One of the ship captains told me."
"Sure, and they have wizards in South Cape," Qirinty said. "And dragon bones for manna. We don't. But we could still build the aqueduct-"
"There's no money," Samorty said.
"We just raised taxes," Jerreff said. "You can't squeeze the kinless much more."
"Borrow the money. We have to do something! If there's another Burning it will cost even more to rebuild and we'll still have to finish the aqueduct." At the word still, Qirinty made a dagger vanish. From his vantage above, Whandall saw how he did it. He might have learned it from a pickpocket. "Doesn't Nico owe us?"
"Sure he does, and maybe he can talk his masons into working with him as a favor, but it would still take two hundred laborers to finish that job. They'd all have to be fed."
"I suppose," Qirinty said sadly.
"Maybe we can talk the Lordkin into finishing the aqueduct." Rowena laughed sourly. "Alter all, they're the ones who need it."
"Yeah, sure," Quintana said. He poured himself another glass of wine. "But Qirinty's right. We should do something .. ."
Lord Quintana's wife was slim and long, with sculpted hair. She'd arranged herself on the couch so that everyone would see her legs and painted toenails, and she seldom spoke. "I don't see why everyone worries so much about the Lordkin," she said. "We don't need them. What do we care what they do?"
Quintana ignored her.
"No, I mean really," she said. There was a hard edge to her voice. "They need the aqueduct, but they won't work on it. The very idea that they might makes us laugh."
"And when Yangin-Atep wakes and they burn the city?" Samorty said gently. He liked Lady Siresee.
"Not easy," Qirinty laughed. "There are a lot of them, and after all they won last time."
"Squeeze the kinless much harder and you'll get another war," Jerreff said. "Some of them are getting desperate."
"Yes," Samorty said. "But they'd really be in bad shape after a Burning."
"There are stories," Jerreff said. "Whole city burned down. Even our town."
"Where did you hear that?" Samorty asked.
"At the Memory Guild. Yangin-Atep used to be more powerful," Jerreff said. "He could seize everyone, Lordkin and Lords too. Burnings were really bad in those days. Didn't your father tell you that, Samorty?"
"Yangin-Atep has no power in here." Samorty waved at the sculpted gardens and too-perfect houses. "And damned little in town."
"Sure, and you know why," Qirinty said. "We can fence him out, but we can't control him."
"Gods have gone mythical," Jerreff said.
"Don't be a fool," Samorty said. "You heard what Morth said. And suppose we could send Yangin-Atep into myth-what happens then?"
"No more Burnings," Jerreff said.
"At what cost?"
"I don't know," Qirinty said.
"Neither do I, and that's the point," Samorty said. "Right now we've got things under control-"
"Sort of," Jerreff said.
"Enough." Samorty clapped his hands. The kinless servants brought in new trays of mugs. "We have a performance tonight."
"Oh, what?" Qirinty's wife asked.
"No, no, that's long," Quintana said.
"Not all of it-scenes from part one," Rawanda said. "Nobody does the whole thing."
"Even so," Quintana said. "I'll be back.. ." He went off toward the small room under the stairs.