Category Archives: 2.02
The boy couldn’t stop scrubbing his eyes, even as he devoured the old man’s porridge. It made an odd sight, with one hand pressing the chipped bowl into his face while the other rubbed away furiously.
“You were out for a whole fucking week,” said Loom, watching with a kind of horrified fascination. “I guess that’s what seven days of barely eating will do to you.”
The boy shook his head, still blinking his eyes furiously. Everything seemed to have a reddish tint for some reason. “That’s what four years of barely eating does to me, yeah?”
Behind him, Vhajja wheezed out a laugh from his bed, and even Loom cracked a smile, although she tried to hide it. The boy grinned, bits of oatmeal sticking out between his teeth, and attacked the bowl again. It was delicious and wholesome, full of honey and little sweet nuts that Loom called almonds.
“Where’s the big guy? Is the big guy eating this good?”
“Well,” said Vhajja, before Loom could speak. “Eating this well.”
The boy wiped some porridge off of his chin with the back of his hand. “Well,” he repeated. The old man had a curious way of saying things, but the boy liked him nonetheless. With his books and his candles and his speech with all its clandestine rules, he was like a wizard.
“The freak horse is out back,” said Loom. “I bet it’s the best fucking hay he’s eaten in his life.”
That made the boy paused. He raised an eyebrow. “Hay like Shira Hay?”
“No, like, er…straw.”
“Hay like straw…” The boy stroked his chin, thinking. “Straw like the stuff the dirty people sleep on, yeah?”
“Well…yeah,” admitted Loom.
The boy laughed, clapping his hands together. Loom gave him a curious look. “Big guy doesn’t need anything but hay,” said the boy, grinning from ear to ear as he ate more. “He lazy. Just give him the straw hay for sleeping and eating, yeah?”
“You’re certainly energetic,” remarked Loom. “For someone who’s been sick for so long.”
“I sleep for seven days,” said the boy, sticking out his skinny chest. He prodded it with a thumb. “This guy’s fine now.”
“This guy should also tell me what the fuck he’s still doing here. I got you to the city, now it’s time you leave me the fuck alone.” Evidently, Loom was in one of her grumpy moods. The boy suspected it would pass before lunch.
He was about to speak, but Vhajja cut him off.
“Loom, don’t swear. Boy, use the appropriate tense. The third person when referring to oneself is crass and signifies ignorance.”
Loom glowered, but said nothing. The boy was just confused. He counted three people (five if he added in the big guy and Deppash in the stable in the back), but he was unsure which one was supposed to be the third.
“You promise me more than just getting to the city,” said the boy, licking the rest of the bowl clean. He crunched on the last almond and spoke around a full mouth. “You promise a tour.”
“You don’t even know what a tour is.”
“No,” the boy admitted. “But I would like to see it now.”
Loom looked up, and the boy twisted around just in time to see Vhajja give a small nod. “Yeah. OK. Let’s show you that tour.” She pushed her chair out and stood.
“Get some food while you’re at it,” said Vhajja. “I’m certainly not going to walk to the market. I paid the neighbors to fetch meals for me while you were gone, with furniture and cutlery.” He eyed the boy’s chipped bowl. “I’m glad that you’re back.”
“Hrmph,” grunted Loom, as she walked to the window. “Rubbish old man.”
“Feh,” was Vhajja’s only response.
The boy put the bowl down and followed, hopping through the opening after her. “Bye, Vhajja!” he shouted, as he left, and he heard the old man chuckling.
“Come back soon, boy.”
As he slipped out of the old house, the boy grinned. Even though the shade was appreciated, the boy didn’t like the feeling of being boxed in. The alley was still far too cramped and squeezed for his liking, but at least here he could see the sun. “Hey, what’s that big square of wood for?” he asked, looking at it. There was a shiny bauble thing sticking out it. He wondered if he could keep it.
“It’s called a door,” said Loom, as they walked down the narrow alley. “And it’s for eating.”
The boy looked back at it. “Really?”
“No, it’s actually for sleeping,” deadpanned Loom.
“Oh, alright,” said the boy. He wondered what it would be like to sleep on that thing. It was probably a poor person’s alternative to straw. “Hey, will I have to sleep on it?”
“No, you’ll have to eat it.”
“But you said-.”
“Just- just ignore the door for now, kid,” said Loom. She massaged the bridge of her nose. “You’ll see how they’re supposed to be used in a minute.”
“Are there lots of doors in Shira Hay?”
Loom looked at him. The boy stared innocently back. She sighed, as they emerged into the open plaza. “Tons. Look, there’s one right there.”
The boy cocked his head. The flat slab of wood had been flung open as a group of bespectacled men wearing long, red and gold scarves came tumbling out. They grappled on the stones until the burlier one managed to straddle the other and land a loud blow on his face.
“What’s going on?” the boy asked, squinting.
“Well, it seems the electors are having a little debate. Whenever they have disagreements-.”
“No, I understand that,” said the boy, shaking his head. “But why’s the door swinging? Is it supposed to do that?”
Loom sighed. “Dumb fucking kid.” She beckoned for him to keep walking as they crossed the plaza. “Are you sure you don’t want me to tell you about the electors? They’re a pretty interesting bunch.”
“I see people fighting before. No need for you to explain, yeah?”
For some reason, Loom laughed. “Yeah, fine. I can respect that. Now, this right here is a fountain. It’s not working right now but when it does it shoots water in the air all day long, and it pools up in this basin here.”
The boy ran over to the fountain’s edge, hands brushing the dusty interior. He looked up at the statue, and jumped. For a moment, he had thought a real person was standing there, petrified in the stone. He looked closer. She- it- looked like a woman, her robes caught in mid-ripple around her, as if there was a high wind. Her features were dainty, her hands slim and graceful. They were outstretched, gesturing towards the sky.
He tried to mimic her posture. Maybe if he got it right, water would shoot out of his head, too.
Loom leaned on the fountain, smirking as she watched the boy try to imitate the delicate curve of the woman’s wrists. “Who is she? Is she one of your Ladies?” asked the boy.
“No, this dinky little place would never get a fountain like that,” said Loom. “That’s duarch Fra Henn. She lived in the first era, during the Traitor’s War. She was…a strong woman. Came from the wild, learned to read and write herself, yelled at the arbiters until they let her into the Twin Libraries. Took over the Seat of the King for a year or two with duarch Lejja, before the mad lord of Mont Don burned it all to the ground.”
The boy stared at the statue of the woman, and then at Loom. “How do you know all that?”
“First book I ever read,” said Loom. “Vhajja made me read it line by line until I was damn near sick of the whole thing.”
The boy wrinkled his nose. “If you read about it in a book, how do you know it’s true?”
“I guess I fucking don’t, kid.” Loom shoved his head, and the boy nearly slipped and fell from the rim of the fountain. “But that’s the thing about books. You got to trust the stranger that wrote ‘em.”
The boy stared at the bottom of the dry fountain, thinking. “Are the duarchs now like Fra Henn?”
Loom glared at the sky. “The duarchs now are a pair of fat old sods that spend their time drinking in their towers and pissing into the river. They haven’t done a fucking thing for this city in years.”
“Were there any duarchs like her?”
Loom’s brow furrowed. “Nissa. Dess, although she doesn’t really count, she was only supposed to be duarch for a few weeks. But there haven’t been any her duarchs for centuries now, not since the fourth era. Women are banned from every position in the Twin Libraries except as slave knowledge keepers.”
The boy stared at the fountain again, taking it in. Then he asked, “How does the water get into the fountain?”
“What?” Loom seemed surprised by that question. “Fuck if I know. It uses magic.”
“You think I can learn some fountain magic? It’d be real nice if the big guy and I could use some fountain magic. I mean, the big guy’s got a neck so big I bet he-.” The boy froze. “The big guy!” He jumped off the edge of the fountain, flat out sprinting back towards the alley (although he had absolutely no idea which street he was supposed to go back down), until Loom caught him by the collar of his shirt.
“I told you, he’s in the back lot with Deppash, he’s fine.”
“No, no, I stay with him,” said the boy, trying to shake his way free. “We friends, we have to stay together.”
Loom rolled her eyes. “You can’t just lug an animal like that around the city, he won’t fit.”
“I stay with him,” repeated the boy, and he stuck his face into Loom’s.
She relented. “Fine, but if you get in trouble, I don’t know you, OK? Hey, hey, hey, don’t start running off, now, I got a better way.” She flicked his belt. “Take out his tabula. And for the sake of the Lady Summer, put your tabula somewhere safer, any common pickpocket could take it if he wanted to.”
The boy did as he was told, putting the big guy’s tabula in one hand while trying to find somewhere else to put his other two. He settled for wrapping the tabula around his forehead with his belt. The hard disks felt odd on his head, but at least no one would take them without him noticing. Loom smiled, although the boy couldn’t tell if she approved or if she was just making fun of him.
“Alright, you got it? Hold it with two hands, it makes the first time easier.” Loom paused. “You feeling good, kid? I mean, you just woke up and all, and you’ve been just fucking bursting with energy, but I don’t want to push you too far, so if you don’t-.”
The boy put a reassuring hand on hers. “I’m fine, yeah?”
Loom nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, of course you’re fine. What the hell was I even worrying about? You’re dumb but tough, kid.”
He grinned. That seemed like a compliment, coming from Loom.
“Sit down, here,” said Loom, patting the edge of the fountain again. “You don’t want to be standing if it’s too much for you.” She laughed. “Ah, what am I saying? You spent a whole week holding onto that bitch’s tabula, you’ve got the stamina for this.”
The boy had the feeling that bitch was a bad word, but he forgave Loom for that just this once.
“Alright, you got it? Hold tight now. Concentrate. You did it once with that freak horse, you can do it again.”
Thumbs pressed tight against the big guy’s tabula, the boy nodded. “It’s accident when I bring the big guy the first time,” he said, sheepishly.
“Ah, relax. It’s like saying show me, you only have to change it a little.”
“How’s it different?”
“When you show, you think of the thing bound to the tabula, right? You think of their face, their appearance, their looks?”
The boy nodded.
“When you summon, you think of the place instead. Look around you. Take it all in.”
His eyes scanned the plaza around him. The hot sun overhead, the buildings of wood and clay, the pods of talking electors, the cluttered streets that seemed to open in every direction. He closed his eyes, and held the image in his head. It was like holding onto a memory.
“Put him here. Think of him in this place, put your energy in…”
The tabula began to vibrate in the boy’s hands. The boy felt a clenching in his stomach, a pang like he had just disturbed a sore muscle.
All in all, though, it wasn’t so bad. The boy smirked. He was going to show Loom just how easy it was.
And then he felt a violent, visceral tug at his core. He tumbled forward, hurtling through the darkness, the world shrinking around him. The boy bit his lip. Focus, focus. He imagined the plaza again. The cobblestones, the circular design, the hagglers shouting in distant streets and the wandering nomads coming through with wagons full of merchandise.
The tabula stopped shaking so suddenly that the boy lurched. He opened his eyes slowly, prepared to pick himself up off his knees from his little fall.
Except, he found, he hadn’t moved a single inch.
“…and the tabula should just take it from there.” Loom finished saying. She looked up and clapped her hands together in surprise. She glanced over her shoulder, at the electors at the bar. Their squabble had stopped. “Ha, the looks on their faces.”
The camelopard bellowed, blinking his eyes rapidly as he tried no doubt to adjust to the bright sunlight.
“Hey, big guy!” The boy jumped to his feet and wrapped the camelopard in as big a hug as he could manage. “Impressive, yeah? I do all the fancy disk tricks now.”
Suddenly, the boy felt hands around his waist. He yelped and looked back in surprise as Loom lifted him up onto the camelopard’s back, before she clambered on herself. “Come on, kid, we got to get moving. The scarves are staring.”
The boy looked up. All the electors who had been talking so animatedly before were now wide-eyed, shocked perhaps by the big guy’s sudden appearance. “Are we in trouble?” he asked, adjusting his makeshift tabula bandana nervously, wrapping his hands around the big guy’s neck. “Are they going to get rid of him?”
“Get rid of him? Oh, no. They’re going to try and research him. Get moving, kid, come on, before they pull themselves together!” Loom cackled, and gave the big guy a sharp slap to egg him on. “Come on, you lazy old brute, let’s get moving!”
The big guy reared and screamed, unused and unsuspecting of Loom’s riding style, and before the boy could calm him down the camelopard was galloping down the nearest street, practically plowing through crowds of scattering Shira Hay residents.
“Good thing it’s so early, eh? The crowds aren’t so big- whoa!” Loom ducked as the big guy barreled past a merchant and promptly vaulted over his stall. “By the Lady Summer and Fall, kid, watch where you’re going!”
“I don’t steer him, I just hold on!” shouted the boy, in total terror. This was a small crowd? His introduction into the city had been gentle: just Vhajja, a passerby or two, and that group of electors. But this was more people than the boy had ever dreamed possible. “What do we do if we hit someone?”
“Go big, big guy!” The boy laughed, almost involuntarily, as pedestrians in the street shouted and screamed at him. He really shouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. They looked angry. Absently, the boy wondered if they were going to try and kill him.
“Down that way, come on!” Loom pointed towards a narrow street diverging from the main road, and screaming the boy wrenched the camelopard in that direction. He doubted his exertions made any difference, but the big guy managed to turn, skidding into an unfortunate elector before tumbling into the dark alley.
The boy bounced, rolling painfully on the stones before his landing stopped on something soft that squelched. “Think anyone is going to follow us?” gasped the boy, poking his head out of the mushy pile he had landed in. It smelled like old fruit peels, among other things.
“No idea,” said Loom, not looking, although from her tone she sounded positively delighted. Perhaps, the boy wondered, being civilized was what made Loom so grumpy all the time. “If they come at us, it’s a narrow entrance. I can fight them one by one.”
“That’s why you made us run in here?” The boy clambered to his feet. He looked around, both panicked and exhilarated. His hands felt the closed walls, and his eyes looked up at the tiny sliver of blue visible between the looming buildings. The big guy moaned as he tried to untangle his legs. “There’s no way out! We can’t run from here!”
“Sometimes you have to stop running and start fighting, kid,” said Loom, peering out of the alley. “But…but I don’t think anyone’s after us.” And all of a sudden, she started laughing.
The boy watched, bemused, as Loom practically doubled over, laughing at their narrow escape- escape from what, the boy did not know, but he felt quite sure that they had been escaping from something. Perhaps it was civilization.
“Hey, Loom?” the boy said.
“You a crazy bitch.”
“Ha, and you’re a dumbass kid,” said Loom, wiping a tear from her eye. “And don’t say that word.”
“The bitch word or the dumbass word?”
“Both of them.”
The boy tried to help the big guy up with muddy hands (odd, that there was mud in such dry heat). “You too big, big guy,” the boy muttered, as he slipped arms under the big guy’s torso and did his best to haul upwards. Camelopards evidently did not appreciate the city life.
“Ah, fuck, you stink, kid,” groaned Loom. “The fuck did you fall into?”
The boy pointed. “I’m stinky but not shitty, right?” he asked, wiping his hands on the edge of his new shirt as the big guy found his feet.
Loom looked at him. She looked at the trash mound where he had fallen. She looked back at him. A couple of gnatflies buzzed around his head.
“Let’s just get you to the river,” muttered Loom, not answering his question. She kept his distance from him as they emerged into the main thoroughfare on the other side of the alley, as did just about everyone else. The boy sniffed. Perhaps living with one shirt for several years had desensitized his nostrils, but he couldn’t smell a thing.
The boy looked around, wary. Besides the odd glare, no one made any comment about their rapid flight through the streets. Granted, it had been on the other side of the buildings, but these people were close, weren’t they? The boy had noticed everything that had happened around him in the plains.
The sheer number of things happening in the city at once threatened to overwhelm the boy. People haggled, people talked, people argued. No wonder they hadn’t noticed the boy and Loom running past; it was a nightmare for the boy just to keep track of the people who might try to kill him.
A smell distracted him. In a world of dizzying new sensations, he latched onto the familiar smell to anchor himself, and what a smell.
“There’s onions!” he shouted. “Loom, Loom, Loom, there’s onions!”
“Kid, I don’t need you stinking anymore, let’s just keep going to the river-.”
“You said we were going to get food,” said the boy, edging closer to see. A group of four men sat on a woven reed mat, around a bubbling pot. There was no way he could sneak up on them with his scent, but maybe if the big guy distracted them while he ran in and out…
He felt something grab his tangled hair. “What are you doing?” hissed Loom, her voice lowered to a whisper. “Were you going to steal it?”
“We were going to get food, yeah?” repeated the boy.
Loom rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to steal it anymore, kid. They’ve got whole crates of them, anyway. We’ll come back later, no one’s going to trade with you when you’re covered in shit like that.”
“So I am shitty!”
“There’s the river: get in it.”
They forged a way onward to the tall towers standing in the distance; as the streets got narrower, people began to push the boy away in disgust rather than edge around him. Eventually, he gave up trying to keep track of them all, and stopped mentally adding them to his list. If he treated the crowds like grass, they suddenly became much easier to deal with.
“So this trading,” said the boy. “You steal something from them and they steal something from you?”
“It’s not stealing if you agree on it,” said Loom, with a heavy sigh. “But essentially, yes. My trade is carpets and fabrics, so I’d set up shop and get some goods, and then I’d swap with some of the nomads for bread and meat. They don’t do as much trading near the city limits, it’s mostly just hunters and gatherers out there.”
“The city limits?”
“Oh, right, you were asleep when we came in.” Loom looked back and smirked. “That’s the next part of the tour, then, after we cook up something for Vhajja to eat.”
Even as the buildings melted away, the crowds grew no less dense. They flocked to the riverfront, running and talking and eating and fighting and doing no end of things that the boy had never seen before.
He walked forward, wide-eyed, just trying to keep track of it all.
Without warning, someone dived in front of him: a tall, skinny man, with bandages wrapped around his hands and feet. He landed lightly before leaping forward, more jumping than walking, and seconds later another man came shooting after him, this time from the boy’s back. Trying to keep out of their way, the boy was knocked off-balance, and found himself tumbling headfirst into the shallows of the river Gammon.
“Well, that’s one way to do it,” snorted Loom, as the big guy charged into the waters. Fellow bathers made a hasty retreat as the camelopard sank into the muddy shallows, his head still a good few body-lengths higher than the rest of them.
Spluttering, the boy floundered his way out. He was definitely wet now; how he was doing on the stinky and shitty front, he had no idea. He looked questioningly at Loom, arms outstretched.
“Kennya Noni fighters,” said Loom, mistaking his indignant stance. “I told you, you see them for a second and then they’re gone.” When the boy still did not move, she crossed her arms. “Well? Wash up quick, we’ve got to get moving.”
The boy splashed himself with water haphazardly, his movements slowed by his sodden clothes. As he tried to get the worst of the muck off himself, he found his gaze drawn to the great stone bridge to his right.
The stones were worn near the shore but seemed brighter and cleaner the closer they got to the center. From his vantage point below, the boy could just see the heads and necks of the electors crossing the bridge, their red and gold scarves flickering in the wind. His gaze stayed on the bridge for a long time.
It was formed from a long row of stone columns, arches forming in-between them. The entire bridge was reflected in the water, an eerie mirror image that the boy felt he could just dive into and come out on the other side. Both ends of the bridge, too, reflected each other, as did the tall buildings on either side. Reflection inside reflections.
How had they built that?
“Magic,” he muttered, under his breath.
The magic of city folk wasn’t over yet. He nearly leaped out of the river when he saw the great, wooden monstrosity approaching. It floated on the river, as people in rich blue silks walked across it. The boy squinted. Some stood in a line, wearing collars around their necks, although their clothing varied from rags like he had worn to finer, thin gowns, fluttering revealingly as the ship passed.
“Slave auction,” said Loom, following his gaze. “Slavers give them to the auctioneers for goods, the auctioneers bring out the rich bastards on barges for a nice little shopping cruise. See the one they’re looking at now? Her clothes mean she’s educated, she’ll sell for more.” Loom paused. “Are you finished yet?”
The boy shook his head. He hadn’t realized how still he had gotten in the waters, just letting them soak around him.
“Let’s go, yeah?” he said, slogging his way out of the shores. The water dripped in dark spots on the stones, but already the sun was beginning to dry him off.
Loom nodded, and as she walked away the boy whistled for the big guy to follow. He adjusted his headband, and traced the rim of the tabula. He wished the girl could see this.
As the camelopard made his slow way out of the river, the boy found himself thinking. He had been doing that a lot more since they had come to the city; there were so many new things to think about.
The carpet merchant looked back, eyebrows raised. “Hmm?”
“You said you have to trade for the food, yeah?”
“What, do you need me to explain it again?”
“No, I just…I just remember you saying that all of your stuff wasn’t worth anything anymore, and I was just wondering…” The boy trailed off. “How are you going to get your money back?”
Loom looked at him for a long time. She sighed. “I got some notion,” she said, and lead the boy away.