A New Beginning
I have paper again, and there is still a lot of ink in the little bottle. Besides, the man who owns the shop would give me more ink if I asked for it, I feel certain. Strange how much a quire of writing paper can mean to a man who has made such quantities of it.
This town is walled. I have never seen a whole town with a wall before. It is not a big wall; I have seen others much higher; but it goes all the way around, except where the river comes in and goes out.
I do not think this is the same river we had in the south. This one flows fast but silently. Or perhaps it is simply that the noises of the town keep me from hearing the river. Its water is dark. It seems angry.
Our lazy southern river always smiled, and sometimes laughed aloud, showing a froth of white lace underskirt where it tumbled over rocks. There were crocodiles in it, or at least what we called crocodiles, sleek and shining emerald lizards with eight legs and jaws like traps. They seemed indolent as Nadi herself when they basked on the banks in the sunlight, but their doubly forked blue tongues flicked in and out like flames. I do not think they are really the same as the crocodiles on the Whorl, although it may be that every animal of the kind is entitled to the name, like “bird.”
Which reminds me that I ought to write that Oreb is with me still, perching on my shoulder or the head of my staff, which he likes even better.
I washed my clothes in this river before we reached the town. I saw a few fish, but no crocodiles of either sort.
A woodcutter cut my staff for me. I still remember his name, which was Cugino. I don’t believe I ever met a better-intentioned man, or found a stranger more friendly. He was the first human being I had seen in days, so I was very glad to see him. I helped him load his donkey, and asked to borrow his axe long enough to cut myself a staff. (I had already tried using the azoth, although I did not tell him so; it shattered the wood to kindling.)
He would not hear of it. He, Cugino, was the ultimate authority when it came to staffs, and to sticks of every kind. Everybody in the village came to him—and to him alone—whenever they wanted a staff. He would cut me a staff himself. He, personally, would select the wood and trim it in the right way.
“Everything for you! The wood, how high, where you hold it. Everything! You stand up straight for me.”
He measured me with his eyes, with his hands, and at last with his axe, so that I know now that I am twice the height of Cugino’s axe, and an axe-head over.
“Tall! Tall!” (Although I am not, or at least I am not unusually tall.) He stood with his head to the left, the tip of one big, callused forefinger at the corner of his mouth. I feel certain that my friend in the south never looked a tenth so impressive when he was planning a battle.
“I got it!” He clapped his hands, the sound of a plank slapped against another.
We tied his donkey (still loaded, poor beast) and walked some distance into the forest, to a huge tree embraced by a vine thicker than my wrist. Two mighty blows from the axe severed its stem twice, and a third a thick branch at the top of the severed portion.
“Big vine,” Cugino told me with as much pride as if he had planted it. “Strong like me.” He displayed the muscle in his arm, which was indeed impressive. “Not stiff.”
He tore the section that he had cut off the tree (which must have been thanking him with all its heartwood) and tried to snap it over his knee, muscles bulging. “He’s a bender, see? He’s a unbreakable.”
I ventured that it looked awfully big.
“I’m not through.” His powerful fingers ripped away the corky bark, and in something less than half a minute I had a staff whose right-angled top came to my chin, a staff that was nearly straight and as smooth as glass.
I still have it. The staff itself belongs to me, but its angled top is Oreb’s, who chides me now. “Fish heads? Fish heads?”
Pointing to the river, I tell him to fish for himself, as I know he can. I would not object to eating, but I can eat after shadelow, assuming that I can find food. This sunlight is nicely slanted for writing, which is to say that the sun is halfway down the sky. Here beside the river, the air is cool and moves not quite enough to be called a breeze. Not enough to stir a sail, in other words, but enough to dry my ink. What could be better?
Before I forget, I ought to say that what my very good friend Cugino called a vine was what we called a liana on Green. Green is a whorl made for trees, and Green’s trees have solved every problem but that one.
One might almost call it a whorl made by trees, which cover every part of it except the bare rock of its mountaintops and cliffs, and its poles (or whatever the regions of ice should be called). And the trees are working on them.
In the Whorl, we had the East Pole and the West Pole, pylons with the Long Sun stretched between them. Thus we speak here (and on Green too) of a fictional West Pole to which the Short Sun travels, and an equally fictitious East Pole where it is imagined to originate. From a lander, one sees that none of this is true. There are no such places. Instead of being cylindrical, as we like to think of them, the colored whorls are spherical; and each might be said to have an equally imaginary “pole” at the top and bottom. That is to say that if some scholar were to build models to illustrate them, he would find it necessary to run little axles up through them so that they would turn properly, and if these axles were permitted to protrude at the top as well as at the bottom they would have the appearance of poles to the people whose whorls they held up.
* * *
A man named Inclito sat down next to me while I was writing that last. We fell to talking, as two men will who have nothing better to do than sun themselves like crocodiles of a sunny autumn afternoon, our tongues flicking in our mouths fast enough, if not quite so spectacularly.
He began our conversation, naturally enough, by asking what I was writing; and I confessed that it was foolishness, which this certainly is.
“Wisdom,” he corrected me. “You are a wise man. Everyone sees it. Such a wise man would not write foolishness.”
“Would a wise man write at all?” I asked him. To tell the truth, I simply wanted to ask him an inoffensive question to keep him talking, and hit upon that one.
Without batting an eye, he returned it to me. “Would one, Master?”
I had not expected to be addressed in such a fashion, but it seems to be the custom here. At home it usually meant a teacher such as Master Xiphias, the owner of a dog, or the leader of a band of musicians. I said, “A wise man might write, but he wouldn’t write as I do. That is to say, he wouldn’t record the events of his life. He would consider that they might be read by some innocent person who would laugh himself into fits. A wise man never harms another unless he intends to harm.”
“That is well said.” Inclito drew himself up. “I am an old trooper myself.”
I told him respectfully that it was a most honorable occupation, but had never been mine.
“You have a wound.”
I glanced down, afraid that the wound in my side was bleeding again and staining my robe.
“There too? I meant your eye.” (I must get a rag to wear over that, as Pig did.) Seeing my expression, Inclito continued, “I’m sorry. It’s not good to be reminded.”
His own wide, square face is disfigured too, but by some skin disorder. It is not the sort of face that appeals to women; but courage, honesty, strength, and intelligence show in it very plainly. As I sit here waiting for him to take me to dinner, I know very little about him; but from what I saw and heard I think it likely that he is a man who has borne heavy responsibilities for a long time, and has driven himself harder than he drives others.
We talked for an hour or more, each of us trying to draw the other out. I doubt that there is any point in giving all of that here. I said as little as possible about myself because I did not want him to know what a hash I have made of my task. Inclito was at least as reticent, I would guess because he has a horror of boasting.
“As long as you’re here,” he told me smiling, “you got to think about me when you pass water. Our sewers? They’re mine.”
“You designed them?”
“I made some sketches. We built them, but they didn’t work.” He chuckled. “So we tore up my sketches and did them over.”
He seems to have been a military officer as well.
“You walked here.” (I had told him that I had.) “Where you going to have dinner tonight?”
“I doubt that I will—Oreb, be quiet!—I certainly hadn’t planned on eating anywhere.”
“You think I want you to eat in my sewers.” He chuckled again. “In my house. All right? Seven. You can come at seven?”
I said that I would come at seven gladly, if he would tell me where it was.
“It’s a long way. I bring you myself. Where you staying?”
Staying was vague enough for me to stretch its meaning a trifle, and I told him that I was “staying” at the shop where I was given this paper, and supplied the name of the little street.
“I know the place. Atteno, he’s putting you up?”
“I hope, at least, that he won’t drive me away.”
Inclito laughed; he has a good, loud, booming laugh. “I show you my sewers if he does. One I got never gets wet. Would make a good place to sleep. I pick you up at six, all right? Where you’re staying.”
So here I am. It is not six yet; but I have nothing better to do, and the shopkeeper, who is very obliging, lets me sit in his window and scribble away. I suppose I am a sort of living advertisement. I have swept his floors again, as I did for my quire of paper, dusted off everything, and rearranged a few little items on his shelves that were in some disorder—the tasks of my boyhood. I would like to tie his bundles of quills for him, as I did for my father; but he has already tied them all himself.
I wish I could charge as much for our paper as he charges for his. Nettle and I would be rich.
* * *
What Inclito said about his sewers here reminded me most unpleasantly of the great sewer on Green, underneath the City of the Inhumi. If I am going to chronicle my misadventures (which is what I seem to have been doing) I ought to include that one, the most horrible.
Sinew and the rest were asleep. I was sitting up and thinking over Krait’s brief visit when the Neighbor came. He opened the door and left it standing open behind him, and I was so busy wondering whether I should wake the others and urge them to escape while they could that I found it hard to answer him sensibly.
“You are a friend of ours?” He smiled and pointed to Seawrack’s ring. His voice was thrilling in a way I cannot describe: no matter what he said, it was as though he were telling me that all the bad things that had ever befallen me had been tricks.
“Yes,” I said. “I mean, I would like to be.”
He smiled again. Although his face was shadowed by the brim of his hat, I could see his teeth flash. “Then will you open a sewer for us? We ask your help.”
With every fiber of my being I wanted to say that I would, that I would gladly toil in his sewer for the remainder of my life if that was what he wanted. What I said instead was “I can’t. We’re prisoners here.” Since I could see the open door beyond (and to some extent, through) him, it was an extraordinarily stupid remark.
He glanced at it. “It is true that your captors may be angry with you.”
“I hope…Well, it really doesn’t matter, but I don’t like leaving my friends here. Can we take them with us?”
He shook his head.
“I didn’t think so. My son?”
By that time we were out the door, which he slammed noisily behind us. “That will wake them up,” I muttered. Privately, I was afraid that it would bring an inhumu.
He said, “We want to wake all of you up.”
“To our danger, you mean? It’s much too late for that. We know it now.” I explained to him how we had taken the lander, and how the inhumi had recaptured us when we landed.
“To your safety,” he said when I had finished. Now that I understand Krait’s secret, I understand his remark as well; but at the time I had no notion of what he meant.
We went out a narrow door into an empty courtyard, and from the courtyard into the street. There were two luminous bodies in the night sky that were too large for stars; they seemed to engender shadows (vague and diffuse for the most part but occasionally deep) without actually giving light. I mean, of course, that they conveyed that impression.
“Are you afraid of enclosed places, or of underground places? Many of you are.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been in one for a long time.” As soon as I spoke I recalled the pit from which Krait had saved me; and I said, “Except for one, and I was afraid of that one because I couldn’t get out of it.”
He looked at me thoughtfully. Written down as I have just now written it, it sounds silly; I could not see his face well enough to read its expression. I should say only that he turned his face toward me, and appeared to study me for several seconds. “You can get out of this sewer,” he told me, “provided you do not drown.”
“If you are frightened, there will be nothing to prevent you from leaving before the sewer is open again. Will you do that?”
“I suppose I might. I’ll try not to. Aren’t you coming with me?”
“No,” he told me.
After that we walked in silence for a long time, a time in which we passed several streets—four or five at least. This was in the City of the Inhumi, and although it was late at night, it is at night that they are most active, on Green as here. It seemed strange to me then that we did not see more of them, and that they did not see us; but I know now that those who were active were seeking blood, and expected to find none in their city.
“I could go with you,” the Neighbor told me. “I could open the sewer myself, without your help. It is only fair that I tell you that.”
I said, “In that case, I’m doubly grateful to you for freeing me.”
“If I were to help you, it would become clogged again.”
He was waiting for me to speak, so I nodded.
“So it seems to me, though I may be mistaken. It will almost certainly become clogged again, even if you do as we ask. That is the most probable outcome, unfortunately.”
“But not for years, perhaps,” I suggested.
“That is correct, and does not matter. What does matter is that it may never be clogged again if you open it.”
I believe I smiled, and I am afraid I smiled bitterly. “Do you think I’ve got miraculous powers?”
“If you do not know,” he told me solemnly, “I do not know.”
We turned in to a building even less whole than most of the buildings in that ruinous city, a roofless shell whose floors were littered everywhere with broken stones, and I asked whether we could get into the sewer from there.
“No. We could have entered the sewer from the underground room in which you were confined, and the point at which you will enter it is a long way from here. Would you object if I were to touch your face? I consider it advisable.” I consented, and he anointed both sides of it with a sweet-smelling oil whose perfume seemed to me to come from a whorl more distant than the three I knew of. It suggested strange thoughts, thoughts so overpowering at the time as to be waking dreams. That may have been its purpose.
* * *
I have been talking with the stationer. His name is Atteno, as Inclito said. I asked whether it would be all right for me to sleep here in his shop tonight, and promised I would take nothing without his permission. He says he will make up a little bed for me, by which I assume he means he will loan me blankets. Quite a change! Still, I am not sorry that I left our blankets with the girl from Han, although I have been sleeping in my robe ever since. I tore it in two places going through the forest, but that good woman mended it for me.
Atteno says that Inclito is a very important man. He was terribly impressed when I told him that Inclito was coming for me. He asked whether I could “do things.” I was not sure what he meant by it, and told him I could do a few, at which he looked wise and went away. “Good man!” says Oreb.
* * *
Here I feel the way that the Neighbors must feel around us. We are ready to believe that they are practically minor gods—that they know everything and possess all manner of mysterious powers; but they must seem perfectly ordinary to themselves. The one I have been writing about (he never told me his name) said to me at one point, “You think that I know everything about you and your son.”
I denied it. “I thought the Neighbors I spoke with on Blue might have told you about me, that’s all.”
“You seemed the most likely,” he said, and did not say what it was I was most likely to do or to be.
When the bronze tablet opened and I saw the swords, I hesitated to touch them.
“Will you choose,” he asked me, “or should I choose for you?”
I said that it would better for him to choose, since I did not know who or what I was going to fight.
“I hope you won’t have to fight at all. I don’t think that you will. Do you want me to choose for you anyway?”
“I’m sure you must know more about these than I do.”
He nodded and selected one. It would be easy to sketch, but I do not believe it will prove easy to describe. Let me try.
The blade was black, I suppose with age. I do not think the designs on it were writing, but I cannot guess what they were. It was widest toward the point, and sharply pointed. It narrowed toward the hilt in a concave curve, which gave it something of the appearance of a sickle in spite of its straight back.
But I have described it as I saw it when I drew it. I ought to have written first that it was in a black sheath of some hard, warm material I did not recognize, to which was attached a sword belt of many thin straps.
“Do you like it?”
I had unsheathed it before he spoke and was looking at the blade. I said, “It feels like a piece of my arm.”
* * *
The sun is up, and I should look for another place to sleep. I slept very little last night, Inclito having brought me back here very late, and I having eaten too much of his good dinner. It was the first meal I have eaten since the soup in Cugino’s village, I believe, and so I told myself that I would have to be careful, and found that I had not been careful enough when it was too late to do anything about it. Silk told us once that experience is a wonderful teacher, but one whose lessons come too late. I have found that true all my life.
* * *
Inclito drove up in a carriage, as I should say, and I got into it with him as soon as I had written arm, still waving the sheet to dry the ink. “You have the bird,” Inclito said. He sounded pleased.
I said something about not being able to escape him, to which Oreb himself contributed, “Bird stay!”
“When I saw you at the river you had the bird, but it flew away. I thought I was wrong. It was not your bird.”
“I’m his, if anything,” I told Inclito, which is the simple truth.
“The people here,” he laughed self-consciously, “they think you’re a witch. It’s because of your bird. They believe these things.”
I said that they had been very kind to me, and that although I had been among them only two days I was already very fond of them. “People here enjoy their lives,” I explained to Inclito, not particularly clearly, “and people who do are always good people, even when they’re bad people.”
“They like you too, but your clothes frighten them. The black color.”
“This?” I was about to tell him it was an augur’s robe, but there seemed little point in saying so.
“They think it means you hurt people if you want to. Your bird’s black, too. Red like blood.”
Inclito smiled. “That’s what they hope. A good bird. Witches got pet animals. Cats mostly only not all the time. Familiares. You know?”
He looked at me inquiringly, and I shook my head.
“It means the animal’s in the witch’s family. Sometimes it’s really his father or his mother. Something like that. You think it’s funny. So do I. I got a pet too. A horse. Not one of those. He’s not my father, just my horse.”
I repeated that Oreb wasn’t mine.
“You got that white hair, so they think sometimes you hurt people maybe, but bad people.” He laughed. “Even if they’re good.”
I told him that I was too weak and sick to hurt anyone, and that I had no weapons in any case; it was a lie, of course, but the truth was and is that I have no intention of using Hyacinth’s azoth.
By that time we had reached the town gate, I believe. It was closed and barred, as he tells me it always is after shadelow, but the guards saluted him and opened it as soon as he reined up.
As we clattered through, he said very positively, “I asked you to dinner because I like you.”
Oreb muttered, “Good man?”
I nodded, having no doubts about that.
“You’re here. You want to eat? I want to feed you. But there’s more.”
I said, “I was afraid of that.”
“You got no reason. I want our people to see you with me. Then they think you’re on our side. So they don’t hurt you. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” I told him. “In fact, it’s very kind of you. I understand the open carriage now, and your driving so that both of us are seated up here.”
He laughed again, such a loud and booming laugh that I half expected it to be echoed by the dark fields around us. “I always drive myself. I got a coachman to do the work, but I drive. I like it. I like the open air. I like the sun, the wind.”
“So do I, in fine weather like this. May I ask who’s on the other side?”
“Soldo and a couple others.” Inclito waved them away as beneath his contempt. “We fight like brothers. You know how that is?”
“I’ve had some experience of it.”
“Most towns, they’re the only one from wherever they came from up there.” He pointed with the whip. “Where the sun goes clear across the sky.”
“The Long Sun Whorl.”
“That’s right. Where you come from, they got any other towns down here?”
“Not on Blue.”
“That’s right,” he repeated. “With us it’s different, a lot come. Different landers. The leaders, they’re different too. All of us from Grandecitta, though. It’s a real big place.”
“I suppose it must be.”
“Too many for one town anyway. So four. Ours is Blanko. You say you like it. So do I. What I like most, the people run it. No duko. We get together, talk things over, and we decide. There’s some people nobody listens to, though. Know how that is?”
“And some who are heard with respect.”
“You’re a wise man. I know that already. In Saldo they got a duko, Duko Rigoglio. He wants to tell us what to do. We don’t like it. He’s got a lot of troopers and he’s trying to get more. Give them land, huh? Silver. Horses. Whatever they want. He’s got a lot. Trouble is, there’s not too many for him to hire. You know Silk?” This last was said with an intonation I did not entirely understand.
“I knew him once.”
“I see.” Neglecting his horses for a moment he turned his head to look at me. “I’m not going to ask you your name.”
Thinking of Pig, I asked him to suggest a good one.
“You want me to?”
“Why not?” I said. “You must know a great many.”
“Incanto. You like it? Make people like you.”
I nodded. “Then my name is Incanto. Did you hear that, Oreb? Pay attention.”
“I hope so.”
Inclito said, “You want to fight me?”
“No,” I told him. “Of course not.”
“I don’t want to fight you either.” He dropped his whip into its mounting, took the reins in his left hand, and offered me his right, which I accepted.
“Then I tell you,” he said. “I had a brother with that name. He’s dead. He’s just a little baby when he dies. My mother, she remembers and maybe she likes you for it. I don’t remember. I’m not born then. Only his stone.”
“That’s right. We come. The dead, they stay. Maybe not always, though. We read about Silk here, there’s a book.”
“We think probably he’s dead. Then bang!” He cracked his whip over the horses’ backs. “This Silk, he’s in some town way down south. Mountain town they call Gaon. He’s hiring men to fight for him. Troopers. So there’s nobody for Duko Rigoglio.”
Inclito laughed again, this time softly. “I tell my family, I say, Silk’s here, he’s come to help us. I don’t know how he knows about us, Incanto.”
“I doubt that he does.”
“You’re hurt. Not your eye, newer, under your clothes. Maybe a dog bite, huh?”
I told him it was not.
“Could be a needler.”
I shook my head.
“Or a slug, maybe.” When I said nothing, Inclito added, “You’re a lucky man. Man that’s hit by a slug, usually he dies. Silk’s like you. That’s what his book says. He’s not a trooper, but he fights too. He’s got a needler, sometimes. Or with his stick.” He tapped mine with the shaft of his whip.
“I’m not Silk, whatever you may think. I don’t want to lie to you.”
“I don’t make you, Incanto. You’re my brother, but we don’t fight.” He launched into an account of his military career, which had been extensive.
When we had driven half a league or more, he said, “I want your advice here, Incanto. Your help. Maybe you don’t know why I do that.”
“I could offer several guesses.”
“You don’t have to. I’ll tell you. I give everybody in Blanko advice. How to train. How to fight. We have the meetings, I told you. It’s called the Corpo, when we all come together. They want to know. I reach into my head and I tell them.” He gestured, pretending to pull something from his ear. “Now I got no more. It’s empty up there. So I ask you.”
“Wise man,” Oreb muttered, and took wing, soaring over pasture and wood.
I said, “Then my first piece of advice is that you resist the temptation to ask the advice of those less familiar with the situation than yourself.”
“Good advice.” Inclito clucked to his horses and made a little show of looking thoughtful. “I can’t ask your advice about the war in the south? You don’t know nothing about that?”
“Much less than you do, I’m sure.” Nearly a week had passed since I had heard any news.
“If I was to tell you what worries me…” He paused as the carriage jolted along a particularly bad stretch. “If I was to tell you, maybe I could think better. It’s this Silk. Not in the book, a real man.”
“He’s been hiring troopers to help fight. I said that? He has.”
“I knew there was a word. You know something about them, I can see that. He’ll win, this real man they call Silk. His town’ll win. These mercenaries he hires will have to look for somebody new to collect from. Will he let them keep the slug guns he gives them? He does this in the book, Incanto. You think maybe he’ll do it again?”
I said, “I would imagine that most of them have slug guns already. As for those who don’t and may be given them, I simply have no idea.” It would be Hari Mau’s decision.
“They’re risky either way, these mercenaries,” Inclito mused, “whether they got slug guns or not. You’ll say hire them yourself, but they’re risky to the one that hires them, too, and we can’t. We’re not rich.”
“Is Duko Rigoglio?”
“Pretty rich.” Inclito cracked his whip. “He gets it from his people.”
I recalled Councilor Loris’s scheme, although I said nothing about it then. “If you can’t hire is service, time will be on your side. You said he had enlisted the help of other towns against yours?”
“Novella Citta and Olmo. They’re farther than Soldo, and they got dukos or something too. That’s one reason.”
I nodded to show I understood. “What do they stand to gain if Duko Rigoglio wins?”
“He leaves them alone, maybe. I think they’re afraid of him.” Inclito pointed with the whip. “You see that hill?”
The night was clear and Green shown bright overhead; there is always something ghostly about an open, rolling landscape by Greenlight, and I believe I have never been more conscious of it than I was last night.
“We can see my place from there. We’re going to pull up there awhile and you can look at it.”
“Is that the only purpose? To look at your house?”
“I guess I got to tell you.” He cracked his whip again, urging the horses to a faster trot, then dropped it across his lap and slapped his forehead. “I’m a fool.”
I said, “I have manifold reasons to doubt it.”
“A fool thinking I got to tell what you already know. I’m afraid I got a spy in my house. Yes, I am.”
Inclito shook his head. “He’s a stupid one, so I don’t think so.” He shrugged and cracked his whip again over the sweating horses. “Maybe he’s stupid enough to take the Duko’s cards, huh?”
“Maybe he is. Since I’m going to have dinner with you and your family—thank you again for your invitation—it might be well for you to tell me who’s in your house and whom you suspect.”
“All right.” We had reached the top of the hill, and Inclito reined up. “In a minute I’m going to let them walk. It’s better for them to walk a little when they’re hot like this, not just stand around.”
“I got no wife. It’s better I tell you that first, so you understand. When we leave Grandecitta, she came with me. The lander you come on, some women died?”
“Yes. Quite a few women, and some men as well. And more children than all of the men and women combined. Please accept my very sincere condolences, however belated, upon the death of your wife.”
Inclito was silent for a moment; then he inquired, “Where’s your bird?”
“I have no idea. Scouting out the countryside, I imagine. He’ll return when and if it suits him.”
“It’s better, maybe, that he’s gone. That way my mother won’t think you’re a strego. That’s a witch, it’s what she calls them.” Inclito smiled as he spoke, teeth flashing in his dark face; but I sensed that what he said was to be taken seriously.
“Your mother lives with you?”
He nodded. “I was going to tell who’s in the house and who I can trust. So right off, my mother and my daughter. Maybe there’s a spy, huh? But if there is, he’s not them. You see my house?”
“If I’m looking at the correct one.” It was not a single house, but a clutter of low, whitewashed buildings, half screened by a colonnade of graceful trees.
“I got good land when we come.” Inclito’s broad shoulders rose and fell. “They feel sorry for me because my Zitta dies. Then I help out everybody whenever I can. I help the town in a war, and after a while the corpo votes me some more. I can’t use it, it’s too far, so I trade with my neighbor. Two for one. He gets twice as much as he gives me.” Inclito grinned for a moment. “Not a good bargain I make, huh? Always I’m a easy one when I do these things.”
Feeling that I understood, I said, “Was it good land that you got from him?”
“Sure. Just like mine. Over there.” He pointed. “What I give, it’s not so good. A long way from Blanko, too, so I don’t like it.”
I said nothing, listening to the stillness of the night and waiting for him to continue.
“Back in Grandecitta we got a wise saying. You must know a lot of them.”
“A few, perhaps.”
“Maybe this is one. We say, if work’s a good thing, why don’t the rich take it? But I’m a rich man now, and I do. As much as I can, huh?” Inclito rattled the reins and the horses ambled forward. “You still want to know who’s in my house? Who do I trust?”
“Yes, if you’ll tell me.”
“The family is me, my mother, and my daughter. I said that.”
“You didn’t say that was everyone.”
“It is. Everybody that’s related to me. There’s a friend of Mora’s that’s staying with us for now. Her father’s away.”
“Mora is your daughter?”
“That’s right. Her friend is Fava. She’ll be at the table with us. Seems like a nice girl.”
“Yet you suspect her?”
Inclito raised both hands, still grasping the reins. “I got to suspect somebody. But maybe there’s nobody. You want the rest? All the names?”
“Just tell me who they are, for the present. I’ll learn their names later as I require them.”
“All right. I got three men to help. One’s the coachman we been talking about. He’s the oldest. Affito. He’s only a coachman when I want him to drive this for me. It’s for my mother, mostly. She wants to go, or Mora, he gets cleaned up and takes her. He’s not a smart man, but he’s good with the horses. Like now. You see these horses, how wet?”
“I drive too hard, too fast. Affito goes a little slower, he’s got more left at the end. The other two is his nephews, Affito’s brother’s sprats. They’re born out here, not like you and me.”
I nodded again.
“Like I got the three men, my mother’s got three women that help her, only she’s really got five, because Mora and Fava help sometimes.”
I asked what the three women servants did.
“A woman to cook and two girls to help around the house. One helps in the kitchen, mostly. That’s Onorifica. The other one washes floors and make up the beds, huh?”
“I believe I understand. Where do the three men sleep?”
“Where do they sleep?”
“Yes. It’s no great secret is it? Do they sleep in the house?”
Inclito shook his head, more in wonder, it seemed to me, than in denial. “In back, in the big barn. They got a place like a little house in there that’s just for them. I’ll show you if you want to look.”
“After dinner, perhaps. We’ll see. What about the three women? Where do they sleep?”
“Not in there. That what you’re thinking?”
“I’m not thinking at all,” I told him. “I simply want to know.”
“The cook in the kitchen. That’s her bedroom, too, so I got to knock on the door if I want something late at night. Sometimes one of the girls sleeps in there with her. Or sometimes one will sleep with my mother. If she’s afraid she’ll maybe be sick or need something, one will sleep in her room on a little bed we got in there. Or my daughter will, or even Fava.”
I said, “Suppose that your daughter is to sleep with your mother, and that the cook doesn’t require company in the kitchen. Where would the other three sleep then?”
Laying aside his whip, Inclito wiped the sweat from his big, smoothly curved head with one large hand; he is almost totally bald, as I should have said much earlier. “You wl placed each of these three women is to overhear your talk, to read your letters, and so forth,” I explained. “Your coachman might overhear you talk with some friend, while he drove you, for example. But—”
“Exactly. Though he might conceivably hear your mother tell a friend of hers something you had told her, so we can’t rule him out altogether. The other two men seem even less likely thus far. You believe that I may be Patera Silk. May I tell you something the real Silk once said?”
Inclito nodded. “That’s a big thing, huh? I’d like to hear it.”
“It’s in the book you mentioned. Since you’ve read it, you presumably read this in it. Councilor Potto said that he loved mysteries, and Patera Silk said that he did not, that he tried to put an end to them whenever he could. I’ve tried to be like him all my life. Also, you say you want my advice concerning the war you fear is about to start.”
Inclito nodded silently.
“I’ll give you some right now. Find out who the spy is, if there is one. Do that as fast as you possibly can. Then turn that spy, if it’s feasible to do so. Use that spy to get false information to the Duko.”
“All right, we’ll try, Incanto. You and me. You got questions? Ask me anything?”
“You indicated that there would be five of us at dinner, if I heard you right—you, your mother, your daughter, your daughter’s friend Fava, and me. Who will serve it? Bring out our food?”
“Onorifica and Torda?”
“Uh huh. Sometimes Decina will bring out the roast, if it’s a special one. Sometimes my mother will come help her if she’s feeling good.”
Decina was the cook. But by that time we were almost at his door, and I really must sleep.
Copyright © 2000 by Gene Wolfe