Perry had dressed in traveling clothes. Her hair was long and blonde, and she tied it in a bun. Her eyes were gray, and her face was small and pointed, with an upturned nose. Her smile was as kind and unassuming as the blue mask was fearsome.
She wrapped her robes in burlap and cord and tied them to her pack.
"What are you going to do now?"
Naltu shrugged. "I do not know."
She shrugged her shirt low and showed him the top of her spine. A small brand wove across the skin, symmetrical and crystalline, like an embroidered snowflake. "Have you ever seen anything like this?"
Naltu remembered the strange writing on the wall of the hut during the dream given to him by the Stones. "I have seen this in a vision."
"But you don't have anything like this on you?"
"No," Naltu answered. "What does it mean?"
"It's a mark. I don't know how it is on the frozen isle, but you shouldn't practice Scientia in the south without being able to show one. It's against the law. The military will hunt you down."
"I'm outside of law? For saving you?" Naltu asked.
Perry laughed. "Only if you get caught."
"It is like brand of slaves. I will not be a slave."
"No, not a slave. It's from the Academy. That's where I'm going now. You should come with me if you want to learn more. How old are you?"
"How old? Naltu is too old. Soon his bones will ache in cold."
"Usually adept children are found by the time they are ten. Are there many like you in the frozen isle?"
"Many? A few. I am the youngest. Will you tell military of me?"
"The military? Not me, but Naltu, we have rules. I have to tell the Academy. It's best if you come with me. We can hire a carriage. I won't tell the military, but someone else might. The Academy can protect you."
"I need protection? You are a powerful warrior from the Academy. You could not protect me."
Perry grinned. "I'm not a warrior. Not at all. I thought I had learned enough to talk to those goblins. Obviously, I was wrong. Come with me, let me help you find a home."
"My home is the forest and the river and the tundra. It is unkind to call the green men goblin. That is a word in their own tongue."
Naltu packed his things. "I am curious about this Academy. Are all there Magisters?"
"Most of the people there are normal folks. Scholars and craftsmen. There are only a few Magisters. Nineteen of us live there, but the Academy of Dosille is not the only one. There are many Magisters across the sea further north."
"There is a sea further north?"
Perry laughed. "Far wider than the one you crossed. We're at the far south of the world."
"I thought I was near the edge. I spent a moon on a ship getting here. I have heard of Libbon and other places, but I did not know..."
"You could spend a year on a ship getting to the deep north. It's cold too, but no one lives there. So will you come with me to Dosille? I'll pay your way."
Naltu patted his pouch. "I pay my own way. How far is Dosille?"
"We'll take horses. Maybe a week if traveling is good. I want to get home before the fall rains begin."
"Fall rains? This soon?"
Perry smiled. "Yes. It is very wet here come harvest time."
Naltu nodded. They walked east for a day until they found a dirt road, and then another day until they came to a traveling house. Perry bartered for two small horses and tack, paying too much. She harassed Naltu with questions about his childhood and homeland until he told her to stop. She hired the only room and they retired, splitting a roast chicken over the light of a foul tallow candle.
"I don't know what the Academy will want of you," she said.
"Why would they want anything?"
"Normally, children are taken and trained. Scientia is very powerful and the folk fear us. That's why I wear those robes and mask, so people don't know who I am. Some folk think we are horribly disfigured under the mask. That's not true, of course, but we tolerate the lie. In the past, Magisters have done bad things with the power of Scientia."
"I thought you were an old hag."
"What? How rude!"
Naltu shrugged. "The mask. They said you were witch. I thought ugly hag. In the south, only warriors and slaves have brands."
"Well, I'm no slave. I'm not a warrior, either."
"No. Tempkin could have branded you. That was within his rights."
"The green men enslave people?"
"Warriors do not brand themselves. They are marked by foes when they fall honorably. Strong warriors have brands. They are tested often."
"I see. That sounds barbaric. I'm not a hag, am I?"
Naltu shrugged, made a bed from his pelts and his blanket, and turned away. Perry took the wooden pallet covered in fresh straw, though she searched the soft bed for insects. She grumbled for a moment.
"You can't call someone a hag."
"I did not say you are hag."
"How old are you?"
Naltu turned and frowned at her. "You think?"
Naltu laughed. "Wrong. Not thirty."
"It's hard to tell. Older or younger?"
"You think I am more than thirty?"
"I can't tell! You're bald! Oh, I'm sorry. I'm going to sleep now."
Perry wondered how he had managed to insult her and then convince her to apologize. They slept and woke and mounted the horses and rode four days to Dosille, with the mountains to the south and a forest to the north. The sky grew dark but the rain did not fall. Naltu felt a chill though the wind was warm enough, and he longed for his furs against the thin northern leather. He knew he was growing soft under the bright sun, but did not say anything, and did not assemble his coats.
Dosille was built into the face of a mountain and fronted by a high wall, curved outwards and made of stacked stones. The stones were uneven, cobbled together with mud and braced by logs inside and out. The gates were made of iron, low, narrow holes in the wall. Perry and Naltu led the horses along the stone streets of the city. The streets were flat, carved by some technique that the Magisters had forgotten.
Naltu was impressed by the huts - houses - inside the city. They, like the walls, were made of black stone. The streets were clean, but the horse hooves clattered on them, and manure and refuse lay in piles outside the houses. Overhead, tall arches carried narrow rivers to the city and outside to the fields.
Perry explained that the aqueducts would keep the city from flooding during the great rains that came during spring and autumn. The water was plumbed to the houses with copper tubes and flowed from the side of the mountain. Most of the water, flowing even during times of drought, continued past the city walls into the fields, though few farmers tilled the soil.
A tower marked the center of the city, a tall structure made of black stone. There were many openings, and a duct ran through the tower, and Perry told him of the clock. Water powered a mechanism hopping about like a massive insect that could be heard when standing nearby. The clock would chime at intervals, and the people would set schedules around the ringing of the bells.
She led Naltu to a tavern. She explained that the place was called the Scribe's Lament, and was frequented by the Academy and the aristocrats inclined to somber silence. The receiving area was large, with heavy wooden tables and benches. Wooden beams supported the roof, and provided some measure of privacy. The central area bordered a series of rooms on two sides. Perry found the tavern-keeper, and hired a room.
He set his things aside. She brought him to the back where he found another small room, a bath. Fires heated iron-wrapped copper lines. The keep turned a knob and filled a short barrel so that Naltu could clean himself. Perry left for the Academy. Naltu soaked in the water scented with oil and soap. She warned him not to wander, but he did not heed her. He was hungry and the tavern-keeper's kitchen fires were cold, so he left.
Naltu asked about trading and was told of the shops in the western part of the city. He wandered through the whole morning, lost. The guardsmen dressed in hardy leather were kind, though, and guided him, and he followed his nose to a shop that sold bread and hot meat and steaming black liquid. Naltu purchased portions of all of this and found a table.
Others stared at him. They were dressed in linens and silks, and did not carry machetes and carbines as he did. Naltu rested and ate his food and sipped the coffee. He searched through his pack and found the small black book that Molly the farmer's wife had given him. He flipped through the pages. A woman watched and giggled at him, and he smiled at her.
He remembered Gayl's words and held her voice in his mind as he stared at the letters. He remembered her fingers tracing across the page and tried to remember the sounds that she told him each meant.
"Can I sit with you?" the laughing girl asked, towering over him as he sat.
Her hair was black and short, curled tightly against her face, hiding the ears. Paint darkened her eyes, though the color was smudged as if she had tried to wash it away. Her face could not hide a smile. She was pretty enough, Naltu thought. She wore blue linens wrapped tightly around the curves of her body. Her sleeves were long and clean, but the hem of her skirt was low and dirty and ragged from age. Her legs were long, like the women of the south, and her hips were wide. She held herself with pride, with her shoulders back and a hand on her waist.
"If you wish."
She did, and placed a plate with just a meal of bread filled with fragrant white paste in front of her. She sipped her own coffee and watched him as he puzzled through the words. Her scent distracted him, the remnants of something that had once been apple-spirit. He found himself staring, for her eyes were unusual. He was reminded of the dragon in the south, and her eyes were the same, wide with a web of veins, brown and green, reflecting the sunlight, and a narrow vertical slit for the pupil.
"What's your name?"
"Naltu," he responded, and set the book aside.
She sniffed at him, then backed away quickly with a smirk.
"I smell bad?"
"Let's see. You've got a carbine, you're dressed like a hunter, you smell like lavender, and you're reading love poems. And is that blood on your boots? Forgive my rudeness, but you're not from Dosille, are you?"
Her voice was throaty, like the women he knew in the tribes. He did not like the forced lilt of northern voices.
"No," Naltu agreed, looking up with a smile. "Are you teasing me?"
"Never. I've heard of the men from the frozen isle. Is that what you are?"
"I come from the Ghislail of Ghidiun, and the land is cold, even in summer."
"Is it true you have trees that touch the clouds?"
"Trees that reach to the sun. So tall that the roots are covered in ice while one can warm resting at the peak. I have climbed them and plucked the flowers from the heights."
She sighed with a smile and ate her food.
"Wow. Why did you come to Dosille?"
"I am wandering. I have not seen eyes like yours."
She nodded. "That's why you're staring? Woven eyes are rare enough, I suppose, but not that uncommon. My Spherian heritage, and a trait that is strong in the blood. If you shall continue to wander, well," she laughed, "keep this secret."
The girl handed him a small purple disk. "My name's Metta. If you can figure out what to do with that, come find the flowers of Dosille."
She winked at Naltu and bit her lip in a way that made him blush. The red of his face elicited more laughter, and she swirled away.
Naltu left the shop and wandered until he found the tall tents made of billowing linen. He walked inside and was fascinated by the wares. Merchants hawked all manner of things. Bolts of fine linen were sold for silver, and gems were traded for gold. He saw crates of rusted weapons being carted in, and polished weapons forged from the finest steel, finished with rare wood, hung on padded hooks. Men shouted so that Naltu could not hear but by leaning close.
Books littered the tables. The air smelled of sweet grass and Naltu found the source. Merchants sold dried gourds for smoking, and also clay pipes inlaid with stones and metal. Water bubbled through a tall glass vase, and a merchant put a man's face to the top of the vase. The man came away glassy-eyed with a fool's smile.
"The Opal, best luxury you can't afford," the merchant shouted to Naltu.
"I have tasted the Opal flower," Naltu responded. "Not again."
The merchant laughed. "Brother, I understand."
In a distant area devoid of fancy-filled tables, Naltu found a crimson-haired trader with a hooked nose, hawking ten carts of mushrooms. The trader spoke to Naltu and offered the food for silver, but refused when Naltu could not produce a Guild Token. Naltu politely bowed and left the trading floor. He returned to the Scribe.
Perry was there, her face red and angry. Naltu smiled at her and touched her shoulder. The other patrons watched him, but he was familiar with the stares.
She grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the tavern.
"I told you not to wander."
"Naltu grew restless. What has happened?"
"You had an appointment with Baso, Master of the Academy. An hour ago. We don't have time to get you changed and cleaned up." She sniffed him. "At least you bathed. Come on. Leave your weapons here. You can't bring that to the Academy. Hurry!"
Naltu walked back inside and deposited his weapons in his room. He thought about keeping his knife, but the blade was long enough for fighting, and so he left that as well. Perry was outside, turning in place and fuming.
He produced the purple disk. "What is this?"
"Oh Naltu, where did you get that?"
"A girl gave it to me."
"Really. So that's what you were doing while you were making me look like a fool?"
"I don't understand. I tried to buy mushrooms for the green men near Criest. I was rebuked. I need a Guild Token. I'd rather trade than see this Master."
"Ugh. Well, you have to go see Baso now. If you're very nice and do what he says, we'll use my token so you can buy those mushrooms. Hurry!"
They raced down the streets, past shops and vendors, and through a residential area where the houses were made of wood. Naltu was astonished that the city of Dosille contained a small forest, and Perry led him through it until they arrived at the gates of the Academy.
The building was squat and brown, made of crumbling stone, narrow as the Scribe, and quite long. Scorch-marks and soot decorated the entire length of one long side. Perry pushed open a door and slinked inside. The door closed behind her, and Naltu waited outside for a moment. She reappeared and pulled him in.
She waited in the lobby for a moment, smoothing her clothes, inspecting him. The lobby was small and comfortable, with padded seats and a single narrow door at the far end. A tall device sat along one wall, ticking and clicking, with a heavy metal rod swinging to and fro inside a glass pane, a miniature version of the clock tower.
She led him through the door and down a narrow hallway to a room at the end. The wooden floor creaked, and Naltu suspected that more of the Academy lay below. She knocked on the door. A man's voice coughed and bid her enter.[ <= Previous | Up | Next => ]