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Chapter 80

Sandry and Burning Tower clattered up, horses lathered. Heroul was just behind him with Green Stone. "Father!" Burning Tower shouted.

"I'm all right."

His children began to inspect him. They looked to be caught between horror and laughter. Whandall said, "It's Morth who needs help. Sandry, can you get him to the sea?"

"He doesn't look strong enough to ride in a chariot," Sandry said.

"I'll get a wagon," Heroul said. "Coming?" he asked Green Stone.

"See to it," Whandall said. "Get Morth into the water."

"I will," Heroul shouted. He wheeled away and lashed the horses, dashing across the uneven ground.

"We'll stay with you," Whandall said.

Burning Tower knelt beside the aged wizard.

"Stay there," Morth said. "Some say there's magic in a young girl's smile. Whandall! We did it!"

Heroul was back with a kinless in Quintana colors driving a four-horse wagon. Whandall and Green Stone lifted the wizard into the wagon and laid him on the blankets that filled it.

Whandall demanded, "Morth, how long?"

Morth smiled with no teeth. "Get me into the sea," Morth said distinctly. "The sea is magical everywhere. Quick enough, I might live."

The wagon moved away with Heroul's chariot as escort. "Shouldn't we go with him?" Burning Tower asked. "He's in good hands," Whandall said. "I'm more worried about the caravan now. Sandry, can this thing carry three?" "If one is as light as she is," he said. "I can ride the wagon tongue," Burning Tower said. "See!" "Blazes-Burning Tower, that isn't safe," Sandry said. "Safer than a tightrope. You just drive."

It was the final-day sale for the caravan. Pitchmen were shouting it. "Last day. Everything goes! Never be lower prices."

Burning Tower leaped from the chariot before it stopped. She raced to the sign outside Whandall Feathersnake's market pitch, snatched up a charcoal from the fire, and began to scrawl huge black letters across the neatly scribed sign. Nothing Was Seen came out of the nest to stare as if he could read.

"Lurk, are you all right?"

The bandit boy looked nearly healed but still swollen in spots. "Feather-snake, they're working me like a kinless." He must have learned that from a customer. See, I speak your language! "You look half fried, and where's the wizard? Tell me a story!"

"Later. Back to work." Sandry was half strangling on his own laughter. Whandall had never seen him do that. He demanded, "What does it say?"

Sandry looked at Whandall. It was clear what he was seeing: a tattooed man with every hair of his body singed off, burn spots and blisters on his arms and hands and on one cheek. Sandry struggled with laughter and lost. "Sir, it says fire sale."

"I should never have let her mother teach her to read," Whandall growled. "I want a new shirt. Then let's see if I can sell something."

The sale was a roaring success, kinless and Lordkin alike come to see what the traders from Outside had brought, what they could buy.

Heroul and Green Stone returned in late afternoon. Whandall was selling a carpet out of his own travel nest. He'd run out of stock early. Two Lordsmen were paying a manweight of tar and some jewelry; the Lord waited silent behind them. Whandall asked, "Is the wizard dead?"

"Morth is well," Green Stone said.

Whandall looked around. "You left him alone?" Abandoning an ally was much different from leaving one's dead.

"He's not alone." Though il was hull' killing them, they both waited for Whandall to complete the sale. Then Green Stone babbled, "We ran straight to Good Hand Harbor. Some Water Devil gatherers would have stopped a wagon, but not Heroul's chariot. They followed us. There's a boat bigger than all the boats we saw at Lion's, and there were seamen all about. But there's a beach. We didn't want to move him, so we ran the wagon right down into the water. I got in and held Morth's head up.

"There were seamen and Water Devils all wanting our story. They saw the same thing we did. Morth lay there looking drowned, grinning with no teeth and bragging in a guttural whisper about what we'd done. He's got deep burns, meat burns, but some blisters healed while we watched. He grew some hair, just stubble in patches where he was burned least, but it's red stubble. He grew teeth. He started to laugh."

Heroul said, "Last I saw him, he was up to his neck in sea water asking the crew for food. Said he could pay. Wants to know if the ship needs a wizard. A crewman was going for the captain."

"A wizard in his element," Whandall mused. "Did he say when he was coming back?"

"Father, he won't even try to stand up," Green Stone said. "He said he can't leave the sea, not for weeks."

"We can't stay weeks!"

"Father, he's done his part!" Green Stone said.

"You look worried," Burning Tower said.

"Oh, Stones is right, Blazes, but now we have to fight our way out past the Toronexti without a wizard!"

"Oh. But we've got Sandry."

"We'll escort you out," Sandry said.

Burning Tower caught his tone. "Sandry? You won't fight?"

"We can defend ourselves if they attack us. Maybe they're that stupid."

"And maybe that will be enough," Whandall said.

Green Stone was looking out at the crowd. "Good business," he said.

"Yes, but Stones, none of them seem to know," Burning Tower said* "Yangin-Atep's gone mythical and they don't know!"

"Morth said it would take a while," Green Stone said. "Manna is low, and there aren't any wizards. They've been gone for centuries. How will anyone know magic works here?" He rubbed his hands together. "Father. We get out. We join up with Saber Tooth and come back with Clever Squirrel and every shaman we can hire! Think what they'll pay here just for rain! We'll clean up."

"You're thinking like Saber Tooth," Burning Tower told her brother.

"About time," Whandall said.

Peacegiven Square buzzed like a hive, and trade was brisk. A few Lordkin were to be expected, and Whandall had counted twenty or so. They were looking, not gathering much. The merchants must have educated them early... but Whandall was keeping his eye on a cluster of Lordkin, seeing them as trouble, wondering when they'd split up and begin gathering.

Serpent's Walk would have filtered in, not come in a bunch. Others had noticed. Merchants and customers were all beginning to bristle.

Whandall wondered if it might make sense to pay off the Toronexti. Get out, then return in two weeks with weapons and magic... and plant poison rubbed on sever blades...

No. Too late in the year. After the tax men stripped them, they wouldn't have wealth to show outside. They wouldn't get enough fighting men to bring back, and winning a few battles wouldn't help if they had to stay the winter. No.

The knot of a dozen Lordkin he'd been watching had crossed the square to Hammer Miller's wagon. They began gathering goods. When Hammer came out to collect, one backhanded him with a laugh.

"Hey, harpy!"

The whole square glittered for a moment. The cry of "Hey, harpy!" rose in a chorus. Whandall jumped the counter, knife in hand.

He was surprised to see Sandry and Heroul wheel their chariots around and leave the fight, rolling at top speed toward the Lordsmen camp. But the rest of the action was familiar.

Kinless took cover.

Most of the Lordkin decided it wasn't their business and took cover too. A few, enraged at having their fun interrupted, readied to fight. But the harpies were behaving like Wolverines: clustered back to back in the open square, giving themselves room to fight, allowing nobody near.

Caravaners armed themselves and moved toward the gatherers at a trot. The flurry of slingshot missiles surprised the harpies. They didn't notice what else was going on among the Lordsmen. Whandall barely saw it himself, but, running to test his knifework against Tep's Town harpies, he slowed.

Waterman had been watching. As the two chariots neared the camp, they were joined by three more.

"Riders mount up!" Waterman shouted.

Men ran from their tents to take places beside the charioteers. "Go get 'em! Sir!" Waterman shouted.

Sandry waved toward the knot of harpies. "At a walk! At a trot!"

He took the long spear in his right hand. The other drivers were doing the same. The riders held short spears at the ready.


Five chariots in line hurtled across the square. "Throw!" Five short spears arched out, and four of the intruding Lordkin fell. The others ran, dropping their loot, dropping everything else they carried. Only one turned to raise his Lordkin knife in defiance. He got Heroul's spear dead in his chest for his effort. The charioteers came to a halt.

Across the square Waterman was still forming up his infantry troops, but there was no need. Heroul set his foot on a corpse and wrenched his spear loose. Three of the gatherers were dead. Two others probably wouldn't live, not if that was the care they were getting.

Whandall went to a dead harpy and turned him over with a foot.

A stylized long-nosed animal was tattooed on the upper arm. The style had changed in twenty-two years, but-"Wolverines," Whandall said.

"Glad that's over," Burning Tower said. She stood half fascinated by the dead men, every now and then glancing up toward Sandry. Sandry looked both pleased with himself and astonished that all his training had paid off-it worked just the way his teachers had said it would... .

"It's not over," Whandall said. He pointed.

Lagdret of Serpent's Walk lay dead in front of the Miller tea shop. The pretty waitress behind him was bleeding from a knife wound to her shoulder.

Wanshig arrived half an hour later. He sent two of his Lordkin to wrap Lagdret's body. "Carry him home," he said.

Wanshig inspected the dead Wolverine. "These?"

Whandall said, "These, or the ones that got away. Wolverines, anyway."

"Doesn't matter."

"No?" Whandall was astonished at his brother's cold voice.

"Doesn't matter," Wanshig said again. "Wolverines killed my man. Killed a Placeholder on neutral ground. Never make half a war. Whandall, is it true? We've put Yangin-Atep to sleep?"


"I had to try it. I took a torch indoors. Of course that would work..." Wanshig looked around him; Lordkin and kinless were coming out from cover, watching each other warily. Wanshig said softly, "... during the Burning."

"Ten thousand years, Morth said."

"But a torch burns indoors, and the Wolverines don't know it," Wanshig said. "Well, they'll know it soon enough. By noon tomorrow every damn one of them will know it."

"Do you have enough men to attack the Wolverines?" Whandall asked. "They're strong."

"So are we," Wanshig said. "Whandall, I've done my best to stay out of wars. Build alliances. Do favors. Now I'm calling in every favor I have coming. Flower Market and Bull Fizzle won't want to send anyone, but they can't keep me from asking, from spreading the word that we're going to gather in rich territory, got room for anyone who wants some loot.

"Can I tell them the Lordsmen fought Wolverines when I talk about gathering?"

"They fought here, yes, but they may not carry it farther. Don't promise anything. We'll be leaving in the morning," Whandall said. "The Toronexti are sure to be watching. We can't get to their gatehouse before noon."

"They'll want a lot of their strength there," Wanshig said. "You'd be rich pickings. Like nothing they've seen in their lifetimes! And they won't expect me to be looking for them right away. They sent a man to offer blood money."

Whandall looked at his brother.

Wanshig grinned. "Never found me. Can't find me. He went to the Serpent's Walk clubhouse. At the clubhouse, they said I was gone back to the Placehold; Placehold will send him to Pelzed's old place. He's always just missed me. Curse, you did bring some excitement, Whandall! I never quite found the right time to take back Dark Man's Cup. But I contracted to clean it, right? It's as clean as a river bottom! And the Bull Pizzles don't want to pay."

"So when will you go into Wolverine territory?" Whandall asked.

"Was planning on first thing in the morning, but it's even better at noon. About the time they see you, their turf will be burning." Wanshig laughed. "Never fight half a war. I taught my people-"

"I taught mine."

"Whandall, Wess will bring her boy over in the morning. You take care of him."

"I will. Wanshig? The gold is still down there, you know, under the water, all along the Long Avenue."

"Ah." Wanshig stood. "It's been instructive, Dall. And maybe I'll see you again, maybe not."

"You too, Shig. I'll be back."

"I think you will. Maybe I'll be here too."

Chapter 79 | The Burning City | Chapter 81