7 Nevrine (continued)
Jeddan and I looked at each other, and he shrugged, which I took to mean “let’s try to avoid trouble, but we can overcome him if we have to.” We walked over to the guard, trying to look innocent, though if the man was as suspicious as he sounded, he probably thought Jeddan was a threat because of his size. Jeddan no doubt felt the same way, because he trailed behind me a bit so I could do the talking.
“What’s your business in Debressken?” he said. He wore a fur-lined cap and a heavy coat, and his nose was red and dripped. I could see smears on his gloves where he’d swiped the back of his hand across it. Lots of smears. It made me feel like my own nose needed wiping, though it really didn’t.
“None,” I said, going for politeness. “We’re on our way to Hasskian. Just passing through.”
“Fine,” he said. “We’ll give you an escort.”
“Why do we need an escort?” I said.
“We aren’t taking any chances, not after we been attacked,” he said. “You could be foreigners in disguise.”
“Do you think foreigners could possibly speak Balaenic this well?” I said.
He shrugged, and said, “Not taking any chances.”
“Looks like you took care of the foreigners well enough,” Jeddan said. “If that was their village we saw a ways back.”
The guard looked as if he wanted to find something suspicious in this statement, but couldn’t. “Brought it on themselves, trying to attack us,” he said. “Lord Governor sent out the troops and took them all away.”
“It’s not a small town,” I said. “Where did they take them? Far enough away to keep them from attacking honest Balaenic folk like you.”
He grinned. It wasn’t a nice grin. “Put them in a camp northeast of Hasskian,” he said. “Nobody’s sure what to do with them. Can’t let them attack us, but we won’t kill women and children no matter if they’re foreigners. Lord Governor’s still thinking about it. He’s a good ruler, even if he is touched.”
“Touched?” I said, because I’d never heard anything to suggest Endolessar wasn’t mentally stable.
“Touched by the magic,” the guard said. “One of those who rose up after the calamity to work magic. Lord Governor Endolessar can move things without touching them.”
“I’m surprised he wasn’t lynched,” Jeddan said.
“We’re not small-minded people,” the guard said, and I had to pretend I was coughing to cover my laughter. “Nothing wrong with magic if you use it for good. We had a bunch of people changed like that, all of them swearing to use their magic to benefit their city. I almost wish it was me.” He looked more closely at my face. “You’ve got the eyes,” he said. “Are you…” Despite his words, he looked afraid. A reasonable fear, since he’d been harassing us.
“We are,” I said, and on a whim did the water-summoning pouvra almost in his face. I’m most comfortable with fire, but I didn’t want to scare him further—that’s not true, I did want to scare him, but it was an ignoble desire that would have done nothing but satisfy me. Jeddan, for his part, passed his immaterial hand through the man’s arm, making him look as if he were going to be sick. I know Jeddan did that because it’s the only overt pouvra he has, but I’m sure he got as much satisfaction out of doing it to the man as I would have from fire.
“I’m sorry,” the guard said, “I didn’t—I wouldn’t—but you’re not going to Venetry, then?”
“After Hasskian,” I said, puzzled. If we’d (I was going to write “if we’d asked him more questions, we might not have gone to Hasskian at all” but that’s not true, we still would have needed to warn Endolessar even if we’d known about the king’s summons.)
“Well, safe journey, then,” the guard said. “If you stop at the sentry post just inside the Hasskian city gate, and tell them you’re magickers, they’ll take care of you. Sorry about the misunderstanding.”
“That’s…all right,” I said, and we went on down the road. Off to the left, another guard was turning away a traveler who presumably didn’t have a good reason to be there, and there was a line forming at the city gate.
Debressken grew up around us, made of stone hauled from the quarries to the west, cheaper than timber in this place, and the people were surprisingly friendly. Or maybe it wasn’t surprising, if they knew their guards were turning away “undesirables” before they could get this far. The snow was falling more heavily now, still tiny specks, but they drove into my eyes and nose, and I turned up my collar and pulled my hat down over my eyes.
“They took them northeast,” Jeddan said. “What’s northeast?”
“Nothing that I know of,” I said. “Nothing special, anyway, unless the convergence changed the terrain. More plains, more towns. A forest, not a big one. Maybe that’s why it’s special—they can round up hundreds of people and there’s no one to make a fuss about it.”
“What can we do?” he said.
“Us? Nothing. What do you think? We can’t walk into Venetry trailing a village’s worth of Castavirans and their cattle.” I wiped my nose with the back of my hand, then thought better of doing it again.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” he said, but he fell silent and we walked the rest of the way to Hasskian without saying anything. Not much point, when we were both thinking the same thing and neither of us had a solution to it.
For the last mile or so we shared the road with a dozen other travelers, all mounted, who came up from behind and then passed us. Apparently they met the stringent Debresskian code of acceptability. We watched as, one by one, they were stopped at the gate, a big iron-barred door a good ten feet tall that had a rusty portcullis drawn up above it.
Hasskian is a good distance from the Fensadderian border, and it’s been almost seventy years since Balaen came under attack from the west, but the last time, the enemy did get this far, and Hasskian held the defense for fifteen days before the army could arrive to repulse the invaders. So its gate, and the black stone walls circling it, are there for a reason.
I’m sure they don’t realize the irregularity of the stones make the walls easy for a determined person to scale, and the spacing of the three gates means there are places where said determined person can get inside the city without anyone noticing. I’ve been to Hasskian half a dozen times over the years, even though it’s been a while, but this was the first time I’ve gone in via the gate.
When it was our turn, the guard, who was better armed and armored than the Debresskian and had the hard look of a man accustomed to hurting people, said, “Name and business?”
“Rokyar Axe,” Jeddan said—I didn’t know the name of his village until that minute, and it was nice to see my surmise about his occupation proved correct.
“Thalessi Scales,” I said, “and we have been touched by magic and would like to see the Lord Governor on a private matter.”
“All magickers are to see the Lord Governor upon entry,” he said. “Follow me.”
That was easier than I’d expected. We went through the gate and into a tiny round room at the base of one of the towers flanking the portcullis. Most of it was taken up by a table on which lay a stack of official-looking papers, a shallow dish of ink, and a wooden stamp stained dark with use. The guard scribbled our names on two of the papers, stamped them, and handed them to Jeddan and me. “You know where the Citadel is?” he said. I nodded. He didn’t need to know how well I knew the Citadel, at least certain very well guarded rooms of it. “Show these to the majordomo. He’ll make sure you see the Lord Governor.”
to be continued…