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"What's It All About?" For
Song of the Lioness quartet
The Immortals quartet
Protector of the Small quartet
Beka Cooper series
The Circle of Magic quartet
The Circle Opens quartet
THE WILL OF THE EMPRESS novel
MELTING STONES original audiobook and novel
Anthologies, Short Stories, Collections and Articles:
Young Warriors: Stories of Strength anthology, edited by Tamora Pierce & Josepha Sherman
Daine's Dealings With Camels - Deleted From the Final Draft of THE EMPEROR MAGE
Note to the reader: This material was part of a direction for THE EMPEROR MAGE I chose not to follow. It is presented here at the request of the gang on the AOL Tamora Pierce fan boards, who wanted to know why I thanked a man for help with camel diseases in that book when there were no camels in evidence.... - TP
7. Menagerie Visit
He left her at the gate briefly. When he returned, he bore a huge ring of keys. Sorting through them, he read the cryptically marked tags by the light he called into being around them.
"What kind of Gift do you have?" she asked. "I heard you aren't powerful, but nobody ever said what you can do."
"Not much." He chose a key and fitted it in the lock. "Call light, move things a short distance, call fire." The gate swung open. "What I do best is grow things. Trees, flowers, food. I like to garden. The plants Lindhall has for his creatures, I grew those." He closed the gate behind them.
"I think that's wonderful," Daine replied, feeling the captives' misery beat down on her. "Do those keys open the cages, too? I want to go inside."
"You want to--" he started to cry, then remembered where they were and finished in a rough whisper, "--what? Go in? Out of the question. Absolutely out--"
"If you don't let me in proper, I'll ask Kitten to do it, and maybe she'll melt the locks off."
Kaddar looked at the first cage, which held a pair of lions. "You can go in there safely?"
"Yes, of course," she said impatiently. "They need me, all right? That male lion has sores that need tending. I can heal them, or at least I can if I'm in there, not out here."
Shaking his head, Kaddar went to a door set into the wall that held the cages. As he did, Zek asked, These keys things--do they always open cages? Do they always open doors?
"One of them is just called a key. They open cages and doors they're made for," Daine said, watching Kaddar search through the heavy ring again. "Us two-leggers build locks to keep doors shut unless you have a key. It keeps folk from stealing what's ours. It also helps us keep prisoners."
Then a key is magic, Zek said. It frees captives. If I had keys, I could have freed my family.
Next time, I will have a key.
Daine cuddled him. "No one's ever going to cage you again, Zek, I promise."
Kaddar unlocked the door. Open, it led to a small, dank hallway behind the cages on this side. Kitten followed her in, but Kaddar hesitated. "Maybe Zek would rather stay with me," he offered.
Daine lifted the marmoset from her shoulder. "Would you?" Zek nodded, a trick he'd learned from her and Kitten. The girl gave to Kaddar. "Will I need keys for these doors?" she asked.
"No. All these are held with bolts. They aren't locked."
May I see his keys? asked Zek. When Daine translated, the prince smiled and held the ring up for the marmoset to examine.
Daine took a breath, and opened the lions' cage. They stared dully at her and Kitten as they climbed in, then got to their feet as they sensed who she was. "It's all right," she whispered, trying not to cry as she held her hands out for them to smell. "I've come to help."
She used the copper fire of her magic to mend their sores first. Then, with their permission, she entered their minds. With their memories she built a waking dream: a hot land with bounty from winter rains, the air filled with the scent of dry grass, zebra dung, and fresh blood, and the sounds of herds of fat and slow prey. Now, when the lions shut their eyes, they were home and free.
She could not turn them loose. Even if she could, they would be hunted down. This way, at least, they could bear their prison, drinking in freedom whenever they wished.
On she went, down the line of cages. For each captive she spun the illusion of home. It wasn't physically hard, unlike the healing she gave them for sores, scratches and parasites, but it was time- consuming. Kitten grew bored, and joined Kaddar and Zek. The prince, to his credit, never uttered a word of complaint about how long it took.
Her last stop was the spotted hyena enclosure. So you're the one that hungry man was showing around, remarked their leader, the female. I am Teeu. Meet my boys--Aranh is the one with the nicked ear. Iry has more spots than he can use.
Daine smiled. Running her hands over powerful shoulders, exploring the muscle under the hyenas' rough and wiry fur, she asked, "What hungry man?"
The hungry man, said Teeu, sniffing Daine from top to toe. The one who wants to eat the world. He's afraid of us, but he can't stay away.
"How do you know he's afraid?"
We smell it. Iry's voice was a murmur in Daine's mind. We can smell him quite well.
"May I?" Daine asked Teeu. The female let her into her mind, to see, hear and smell as they did. They thought a bit like a wolf-pack, but their sense of smell was ten times better than a wolf's. They could map their world with scent as a bat would map it with sound. She breathed with Teeu, and learned. The wind brought a rich bouquet of odor to her, one the hyena sorted through and identified instantly. She smelled Kaddar first: lavender from his clothes, his own unique personal smell, each food he'd consumed that night, even pear wine on his breath. Kitten's scent was completely alien, even to one who lived on the other side of the wall from the immortals' menagerie. Teeu savored it, making sure it would stay in memory, before she turned to Zek. His odor was musky and lit with scents of the fruit he loved, but mixed with fear stemming from the hyenas' smell in his nostrils.
Daine left Teeu's mind and comforted Zek. When he was calm, she told the hyenas, "Your hungry man is Ozorne, the pack boss here. Kaddar? Why is his imperiousness afraid of the hyenas?"
The prince came to the wall that separated trench and cage from the walk. "Who said he's afraid? No one knows about that."
Daine rested a hand on Teeu's sloping shoulders. "They do. They smell it on him. Kaddar, I swear these creatures can smell anything."
Kaddar fingered his eardrop. "Kitten, is there a listening-spell on us?" The dragon whistled. It produced flares from Kaddar's gems and Daine's charm, nothing else. "Thank you. Whenever you wish, you may live with me." Lowering his voice, he told Daine, "When Uncle took the throne, he went to the temple of the Graveyard Hag for a prophecy. The priestess said that if he managed to offend all the gods, the hunters on his trail would be led by hyenas. If she hadn't reminded him that hyenas are sacred to the Graveyard Hag, he would have killed every one in the Empire. Instead, he isolated these and started making offerings to every god in the Empire, no matter how small."
Daine was impressed. With so many gods of crossroads, wells, and homes, Ozorne must put a great deal of income by for offerings. "Where does he find the time?"
"He doesn't, now that he's so powerful. Now he comes and looks at the hyenas, trying to get over the fear, instead of visiting temples." He lifted his head. "What was that?"
She gave her ears bat-shape and listened. "There are humans in the immortals' menagerie."
"No one can go there without my uncle's leave." Kaddar examined the keys. "I should check."
"Can't we leave it be?"
"No. Do you know the magic that can be done with griffin's blood, or spidren wool? Phoenix feathers? If you want to wait, fine."
Daine filled the hyenas with the dream she had given the other captives as Kaddar tried quietly to fit keys into the special menagerie's lock. When she joined the prince, he was scowling at the lock.
"Now what?" he asked. "The guards have a way in, at the back of the immortals' enclosure. I'd hoped I'd find a normal lock here, for the cleaning slaves, but it seems not. This lock is magical, and my Gift won't open it. I don't know if the underground tunnels come out this far, either."
She heard voices on the far side of the gate. "Are you sure this is needful?"
"A drop of saliva from a flesh-eating unicorn, in a man's food, will kill him after three days of intense pain. It's undetectable as a poison unless you know exactly what to look for."
Daine sighed. "I suppose that means 'yes.' Kitten? Don't melt it, just open it."
The dragon sniffed the keyhole. Backing up a few steps, she gave a demanding whistle, and the gate swung open. Kaddar strode past Daine. Zek, on his shoulder, leaped into the girl's arms, and she and Kitten followed.
The humans were in the courtyard between the cages. Some were the Banjiku she'd met, as well as several tiny black men and women who could only be their kin. The others all had the shaved heads of slaves. Before each cage lay fruits, flowers or smoking incense. In the case of the roc, the peaceful winged horses, and the peaceful centaurs, these things were inside the cages.
No one spoke. At last the Stormwing queen unfurled great steel wings, metal flashing in the light of torches set around the courtyard. "So, girl who slew Zhaneh Bitterclaws." Her voice was dry and stern. "Do you come to taunt my consort and me?" The humans went to their knees, bowing to Kaddar until their foreheads touched stone flags.
"Does every one of you know what I look like?" Daine asked the Stormwing.
"Your face is in our minds," was the icy reply. "It is rare that we are bested by one so--small, and unGifted." The queen turned dark eyes on the prince. "Have you come to see what you will inherit, mortal? Do you think to master us? You mean nothing. These others at least are slaves, and give me fear because they know nothing else."
Her mate shifted on his perch, sidling to and fro, never taking his eyes from Daine and Kaddar. Rikash had said she was Barzha Razorwing, Daine remembered, and he was named Hebakh.
"I'm not that different from these slaves," Kaddar said politely. "Perhaps all I know is fear. It seems that way, often enough."
"A pretty reply." The queen spat on the floor of her cage. "That is what I think of it."
"Stormwings," Daine muttered. "Anything they do, they have to be disgusting first."
"How else may they act, young mortal?" demanded a white-haired, white-bearded centaur. "Stormwing nature is what it is. Immutability is the very hallmark of the immortal."
"Mortal? No, no!" The protest came from the Banjiku who did most of the talking when Daine first met him and his people. "She is a god, or the daughter of a god whose name she does not know. She is no mortal."
"Nonsense," scoffed Barzha.
"Forgive, forgive," said the old man, "but how can Banjiku be wrong about god-things? Our tribe was birthed by Lushagui, sister to Kidunka, the world-snake, the all-wise. To us it is given, to bind men to beast-people, to know gods, and to be slaves."
They must thank their gods every day for that last, Daine thought to Zek, who nodded.
"Nonsense," Barzha repeated. "Look at her. She is a scrawny, underfed, unattractive spawn of mortal get, a killer of Stormwings."
The centaur frowned thoughtfully. "There is evidence of the Banjiku gifts. I am not personally acquainted with Lushagui or her brother, but my aunt twice removed lives near their jungle--"
"Girl. You know Rikash Moonsword?" The sharp, tense voice was Hebakh's. He had crossed the cage to a perch near the bars, where he had a better view of Daine. "You told him we are here."
"Yessir," Daine replied.
"Why? Why tell Rikash anything?" demanded Hebakh. "You hate Stormwings."
Suddenly the griffin gave a shuddering, screaming roar, unfurling her wings as far as the confines of her cage would permit. She took a breath, then roared again, and again.
"You all must go," the centaur called. "The guards will come any moment to silence her."
"Follow us," the older Banjiku told Daine and Kaddar, pointing to an open trap door. "There are tunnels, for slaves to work here. We will guide you away, and no one will be the wiser."
"So there are tunnels here," Kaddar muttered.
Daine hesitated, wanting to help the griffin. Reaching with her magic to ask the great creature to be quiet, she felt what was in her mind. The griffin was half-crazy from imprisonment. Helping her would take precious time, and in the distance she could hear raised human voices.
"Daine, come on!" hissed Kaddar. Human voices came from behind the door at the rear of the courtyard, the guards' entrance he'd mentioned.
Daine, Kitten and the prince raced to the opening and down the ladder that led from it. Last came the oldest Banjiku, who drew the door shut and threw the bolt. A gnarled finger to his lips, he grabbed a lantern on the floor. Already the others had vanished down a long, winding corridor.
They followed their guide for nearly sixty feet, where the corridor branched in three different directions. Each one was marked with pictures in softly glowing paint: a bucket on one, a trio of brooms on another, and a horse's head on the third. That was the one chosen by their guide.
"What were you doing?" Kaddar demanded softly. "You know you aren't supposed to be in that area unless you work there, and even then only during the day."
The old Banjiku replied, "We worship captive gods."
"Worship--" sputtered the prince.
The black man stopped, and looked up at the tall young man. "Worship," he said firmly. "Someday they will no longer be caged, young master. When they are free, will not their anger be terrible? Better to make offerings now, so the great ones will remember not all men are jailers."
Daine shivered. His words had sounded much like a prophecy.
"They aren't gods," argued the prince. Now they passed other stairs out of the tunnel, each marked with a picture. "They can be killed. That means they're not gods."
"No more is your master a god, Nobility," the old man said cheerfully, "but he wants offerings from all. When Black God claims us, who will be punished for giving worship and power to a false god- -the prince? or Banjiku? Here." He stopped by a ladder marked by an image of a flower and a fountain. "Go up here, and you will be in garden of guests, where lady stays." He bowed to Daine.
"I'm not a lady," she said, offering her hand. "Just Daine. And I don't know your name."
He took her hand in his callused ones. "I am Tano."
Kaddar had gone ahead and was holding the trap door open. "There's no one here. Come on."
Impulsively, she leaned down and kissed the little man on the cheek. "Be happy, Tano," she whispered, and followed Kaddar.
They came up between two hedges, with the guest quarters shimmering whitely in the dark nearby. Kaddar closed the trap door behind them. Once it was down, it looked like part of the gravel walk. There was a small birdbath next to it; Daine suspected it was there so the gardeners might find the door again. "Are there tunnels just under the gardens?" she asked.
"There are tunnels everywhere under the palace," he replied. "Mostly they're used by slaves, but others find them handy as well. Aren't those Banjiku strange, though?"
"No more than anyone else I've meet here, and a good deal nicer than some." Kitten whistled agreement, nodding vigorously. "I like them. I just wish I had more chance to talk with them."
They fell silent, enjoying the coolness of the early evening. Kaddar moved first, stretching his arms. "It was strange, watching you and the animals. I've seen them with the handlers, and slaves-- they're savage beasts, but they acted like you were one of them. I felt--peculiar, watching."
"I can't help how I was born."
"The hyenas were the worst. Maybe I have some of Uncle's hatred for them, but seeing you with your arms around them like that . . . No wonder the Banjiku think your father was a god."
"I don't know who he was," she replied, scratching Zek's tiny muzzle, thinking to herself, I've an idea who he is, but Kaddar doesn't need to know all my secrets.
"Well, shall I see you to your rooms?"
"Please. What's on the schedule for tomorrow?" she asked as he took her arm and led her along the paths. Kitten followed, talking to herself.
"You said you would like to buy trinkets for your friends at home. I thought it would be a good time to show you a bit of the city." They had come to the entrance of the guest quarters.
"That sounds wonderful. Um--Kaddar? No insult to Spice, or Westwind, but can we ride something different tomorrow?"
"I've been here five days, and the only camels I've seen are at a distance. I want to ride one."
"You want to--ride--a camel."
"Daine, they aren't nice, quiet little mounts."
He sighed. "I'll make arrangements for you. I will be riding Westwind."
"Oh, thank you!" She stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "Thank you! G'night, Kaddar!"
He walked back toward the lake, shaking his head.
Even the slave who brought her camel tried to talk her out of it. "Nobility, they are not ladies' mounts," he said, as Kaddar smirked. "With patience and firmness they are taught to bear men and loads, but they are not pleasant animals. You would be happier on a horse."
Daine approached the great creature with an apple on her palm. The camel already had a mouthful of something green which it chewed thoughtfully as it watched her through huge, long-lashed eyes. "I'm Daine," she told the camel. "Perhaps you've heard the People talk about me."
The camel did not reply.
Kaddar, mounted on Westwind with Kitten in a saddlebag and Zek on his shoulder, remarked, "Those who follow Jihuk, the god of desert winds and demons, claim that men know threescore names by which Jihuk may be summoned. The camel, it is said, knows threescore and one."
"What's that supposed to mean?" the girl demanded. "Does he have a name?" she asked the slave holding the camel.
"Honey," the man replied, looking glum.
"Honey?" She tried to keep from laughing. "I'm sorry. It's a lovely name."
"It is a name meant to reproach him, Nobility."
She was now close enough to touch the camel, though she took no such liberty. She offered the apple instead.
With no warning whatever, Honey spat his cud onto her shirt. His head lashed, and the apple vanished from her palm as she stared at the mess on her chest. The slave fidgeted, obviously wanting to wipe the cud off a Nobility, but very much aware of the delicate location of the lump of ground hay, grass and saliva.
At last Daine looked up at Honey. "That wasn't very friendly," she told him calmly.
Camels do not have friends, was the cold reply. We have trail-mates, feeders, loaders, and cows. As far as I can tell, you are none of those. You ought to be happy I did not bite you, to learn if you were a rogue male in disguise.
"Bite me and you will gum your cud all your days."
Honey blinked once. I do not think so.
The girl brushed the mess from her clothes and rinsed her fingers in a nearby bucket of water. Kaddar offered her a handkerchief to dry with. "Shall I send for Spice, now?" he asked, eyes dancing.
"I am going to ride this creature," she said grimly, and thrust the handkerchief into her pocket when he declined to take it back. She considered changing into a clean shirt, and saw Honey watched her from the corner of one eye. He wanted her to go back and change. "Let's try this again," she muttered, and went to him. "Either you will lie down and let me get into the saddle, or I am going to have a number of things to say to you, and none of them will be 'Goddess bless.'"
I have been sworn at by experts, replied Honey, cameldrivers and muleskinners. What could you say to me that would be better?
He had her there. "Then I'll put my will on you."
Ah. Is that the secret to your "friendships"? You bully the People into submission and make them fawn on you so you can say you are a friend? Go find a horse or something, human. I will not soil my back with you.
Daine gritted her teeth. For twelve years she had raised and trained mountain ponies, supposedly the most cross-grained creatures on earth, without knowing of or using her magic. If I could do that, I can do this, she told herself, and approached Honey. Unfortunately, while she had gotten her temper under control, the camel had maneuvered innocently, until she was in dangerous proximity to his tail. She noticed just in time, and leaped out of the way of falling dung.
"That's it," she said, and advanced to the attack. Honey retaliated with another cud, produced from deep within, on the back of her shirt this time. Within minutes her shirt was untucked, pulled out by the camel's nimble mouth. She had been stepped on once, and lost a chunk of hair to Honey's teeth. At last she made it into the saddle and Honey lurched to his feet, battled to a standstill.
Guessing what the final outcome would be, Kaddar had provided for the victor. As she clutched the saddle horn, Daine noticed a slave was offering her a neatly folded white cloth. "What's that?"
"A burnoose," Kaddar said. "Given, um, your appearance . . ." It occurred to him that anything he might say about that might have unpleasant results. "Do you know how they're worn? They--"
"Yes, I know how it's worn," snapped Daine, shaking it out. "I've been among the Bazhir, and they showed me." She arranged it properly, and thanked the slave as he handed up the cords that bound the garment in place on her hair. "Thank you, also," she told Kaddar as she draped the cloth to cover her shirt as well. "This was a good idea."
"Well, you looked demented," explained the prince, chuckling.
"I feel demented."
The slave now mounted a small donkey, and motioned for Daine to hand the leading-rein to him. She considered a protest, and decided against it. If she were not to use her will on this impossible animal, she might fare better with someone who was used to camels as a watchdog.
Kaddar clucked to Westwind, and the slave shouted at Honey in a language the girl did not know. All together, Daine clutching the unfamiliar saddle horn as the motion of the camel's stride rocked her to and fro, they rode out of the palace, on their way to the city.
On the ferry Daine saw Honey was given a wide berth by other passengers. "Is this a personal thing, or do they treat all camels like this?" she asked him.
They know camels better than you, it seems, he replied, gnawing on a fresh wad of cud as he watched the approaching shore.
"Just get me through today, and I will never again try to improve my knowledge," she said grimly, and hung on as they disembarked.
The city streets were choked with people talking in a hundred languages, riding, walking or carried in chairs and litters, selling goods from baskets and carts. Children and slaves ran everywhere, and animals lent their voices to the din. She had been on city streets in Tortall, and saw much that was the same. There also were differences. Corus, the capital, had beggars, but not in the numbers she saw here, where nearly every doorway framed a ragged figure with hand or bowl extended. Some were ill; others were crippled or lame. Many had but one hand, the penalty, Kaddar said, for theft. He said no to all their pleas for money. They seemed to expect no other reply.
In the alleys, she saw makeshift tents. Men, women and children lived here as scrawny dogs rooted in garbage piles nearby. With the day promising to be warm, stench was rising from those piles. After ten blocks of this, she began to feel ill. "Kaddar, how far to the market?"
He looked back at her. "We'll have to leave the animals in another five blocks, and foot it from there. No mounts allowed in the market lanes themselves."
"How will I be able to stand being parted from you?" she asked Honey.
You are a sore loser, he replied.
"I'm on your back. Does that sound like I lost to you?"
If you did not lose, why are you so cross?
"I wish Jihuk luck with you. You prob'ly know his extra name because you're family."
The buildings halted: a great square stretched before them. Three-quarters of it was separated into tents and awnings over tables of goods, the biggest open-air market Daine had ever seen. To their left, riding-animals were hitched to rows of posts, waiting for their masters to return and claim them. Slaves came to hold Westwind as Kaddar dismounted; others got Honey to kneel so Daine could climb down. Instinct warned her; she skipped out of range as the camel struck at her burnoose.
"Too slow," she taunted, and accepted Zek from Kaddar. "I may be human, but I am not stupid." The prince lifted Kitten onto his hip like a country woman with a baby, and led the way into the market. Looking back, Daine saw Honey bellow a challenge to the other camels, then fold his legs under him as they did. Kept apart from the horses, ponies, mules and donkeys, the camels sat in small groups, heads together as they chewed cuds and gossiped. Occasionally one would roar a challenge or insult as Honey had done. The other camels never seemed much impressed.
"It's nice to see they have as high an opinion of each other as they do of us," she told Kaddar.
He grinned at her. "They're camels. They're rude, nasty and cross-grained, but gods, can they work! They almost never get sick, and in the desert they go for days without water. In the Southern Lands we know we can't live with them, but neither can we live without them."
"Can I ask you something?" she asked as they worked their way past stalls that sold brass ornaments, jars and bottles.
"Anything," Kaddar said, pausing so Kitten could eye a pretty windchime swinging from a post.
"Why are there so many beggars, and poor folk? We don't have near this many in Corus--at least, I don't think we do."
The next group of stalls specialized in tombstones and grave ornaments. "You don't. We didn't always have this many. It's the famine in the south, that's lasted over five years. Drought brought it on, and locusts. A lot of poorer folk have lost their farms, so they come to the cities for work, but there isn't any. Food is so costly that smaller merchants and craftsmen have to let workers go. Those people can't find jobs, either."
"I knew you had a drought, but--I guess I never thought it would mean more beggars, or people out of work. And Varice seems to have enough food for her banquets."
Kaddar drew close. "There's always food at the palace. No one cares about these people. What infuriates me is that my uncle could end it." He noticed her worried look. "Don't worry--even if he had a listening spell on us, he's heard my opinions before. But as to the famine, he could take the mages who deal in warfare and weapons magic and put them to work on the drought. It would be hard--not all of them are suited to it--but it makes more sense than trying to conquer new realms. I could help with the plants, and put my Gift to real use. Instead my uncle starts new wars, to keep that immense army of his busy and out of trouble. He doesn't care about the drought--about the land." Kaddar flashed her a small, tight smile. "I must sound unmanly--"
"What's unmanly about caring for your land and people?" Daine wanted to know. "The best men are growers and tenders. Them that create and build. You have to be strong, and patient."
He leaned against a wooden pillar. "I wish you'd stay. We don't always agree, and we fight, but you act like I'm worthwhile. I don't feel hopeless, even when we argue."
"You are worthwhile, Kaddar." She stopped to examine trays of small, carved figures, but looked up when she heard the shouts and curses of angry humans. Honey, tether trailing behind him, was forcing a passage down the aisle, careless of the toes and garments he stepped on.
There you are, he called to Daine. I was looking for you. Since you are here, you may as well make yourself useful. Come with me.
Daine braced her fists on her hips. "What d'you mean, 'make myself useful'?"
"How is he loose?" Kaddar demanded as the man who had led the camel arrived, trembling with fear. "Where is Westwind, and your donkey? What were you doing, gaming with the other slaves?"
"Don't bully him," Daine said. "Honey goes where he wants. Haven't you had enough fun yet today?" she asked the camel.
Honey gripped Daine's wrist gently in his jaws. A female is sick. The city camels told me of her. You will make her better. We need every female we have.
She stopped fighting him. "Fine. Let's go."
Still holding her wrist, Honey walked her out of the market and steered her into a nearby street.
"Where are you going?" yelled Kaddar. "Daine, make him let go!"
She half-turned. "We're going to see a sick camel. We'll be back."
The prince swore fluently; Daine ignored him. Kitten trotted beside her, large dragon eyes taking in their surroundings with interest. Zek had retreated into the curls on her neck, under the now-cockeyed burnoose, where he shivered. That market--is it the one where you were separated from your mate? the girl asked.
No, he said weakly. It was like this one, but that market is by the sea. They will be gone now. It was moons ago. Angrily he added, If I'd had keys, I could have freed them!
But you hadn't met me then, Daine reminded him as she skipped over a noxious-looking pool of water. You didn't understand about keys.
That is true, Zek said mournfully. I have learned a great deal from you.
Kaddar rode up, the slave on his donkey behind him. The girl suddenly realized Kaddar wore a sword for the first time during their rides. Drawn, it glittered ominously in his hand. "This is ridiculous. It's dangerous to come to this quarter. Make that camel release you!"
She glared at him. "Maybe you are in the way of forcing your friends to obey you. I'm not, unless it's life and death. If you're afraid, go back to the palace. I'll return as soon as I can."
"You know I'm not permitted to leave you. Even if I were, I would stay. There are men in this part of Carthak who would cut your throat for your burnoose."
"My friends will protect me. Please don't argue any more, because I won't listen."
Honey led them down narrow, dirty streets, following the city camels' directions. They were near the river: she could smell it. Here, wedged together like cats in a sack, warehouses were the main buildings, most in varying stages of decay. All around her Daine could hear the conversations of rats. Humans on these streets were either healthy, strong merchants, laborers and sailors, traveling in groups, or ragged, dirty people too worn out from hunger even to ask for money.
Honey plodded into a new district, where houses stood on piles to keep them off soupy ground. Children played in the muck along with scrawny chickens, scrawnier pigs, and the ever-present dogs and cats. At the end of one long street, Honey stopped before a ramshackle house built from odds and ends of wood. She is here. Go fix her, he ordered, and released Daine's arm.
She gave Zek to Kaddar. There was no telling what kind of diseases he might catch in there. With Kitten at her heels, the girl climbed the short ramp to the door and knocked, hard.
"Go away!" someone yelled. "We ain't done nothin' wrong!"
"I'm told you have a sick camel," she replied. "I've come to help."
She heard voices inside arguing frantically. "Who told you?" the speaker demanded at last.
"You wouldn't believe me. Open up!"
More arguing. "We don't want help! We don't want anything! Go away!"
Kaddar, impatient, came to hammer the door with his sword-hilt. "Open in the emperor's name!"
The door swung back. The woman who held it, a gaunt creature in veils and a loose over-robe, backed away slowly, eyes never leaving the prince. Against the wall five dirty children in short kilts stared at them wide-eyed. A slightly older girl in robe and veil stood over the younger ones, trembling as she faced the invaders. A man stood next to a firebox set in the floor, a length of wood held club-like in his hands. He too wore only a short kilt and a coating of dirt.
On the left side of the one-room shack, a camel lay dying on a bed of straw. She was gaunt and dry, taking each breath with difficulty. Death would be in two days, if that long.
Kaddar spoke to the humans. Daine knelt beside her patient as the big creature stared at her with rheumy eyes. "I'm Daine," she said, patting the camel's side. "A visitor here. Your friends told the camel I'm riding that you were sick, and he brought me to help you, if you'll allow it."
Have I a choice? The camel's voice was a whisper in Daine's mind. It's you or death, isn't it? But I'll owe you nothing, mind. The effort to keep her thoughts clear and direct enough to speak to Daine had exhausted her. She slumped back, eyes sliding shut.
"You don't owe me a thing." Daine released her magic and went to work. Somehow the camel had eaten something small and sharp. It had cut her insides badly, making her bleed internally and allowing poisons in her intestines to spread through body. Daine worked carefully to mend each cut and scrape. When she found sharp fragments she enclosed them in her magic, and drew them out of the camel, mending the wounds they made instantly.
When she finished, the sun had moved an hour's worth. She could hear Kaddar outside. The children and the man were gone. Only the woman and the veiled girl remained. Daine rocked back on her heels, and winced: her legs had gone stiff.
"Could I trouble you for some water?" she asked politely, rubbing her calves.
You might think of me, too, complained the camel, her voice much stronger.
Daine smiled at the women. "And your camel--I'm sorry, what's your name?" she asked.
Prickle, the camel replied.
"Prickle would like water, too." The girl scrambled outside as Daine looked her patient over. The camel was still gaunt, but her eyes were clear and alert, and her breath came easily.
When the girl returned with a bucket of water, her mother dipped a cup full and offered it to Daine, while the rest was given to Prickle. Looking at the grimy cup, Daine winced. She was grateful that Numair had made her drink a number of extremely unpleasant potions to ensure against her catching any Carthaki diseases.
"Thank you," she said politely, and sipped. Prickle, she was glad to see, drank thirstily. Watching her, Daine saw bowls near the camel's forequarters, and examined their contents. One held corn meal mush and honey, another barley porridge.
They thought I was starving, Prickle said. They gave me their food, the grain stuff with sweet.
"What did they eat?" The woman and girl backed up to the wall, frightened by Daine's concentration and the fact that she appeared to be talking with something invisible.
They kept a little back, for the small ones. That and meat. They offered meat to me, but I cannot eat that stuff.
"What did you eat, that cut you up inside?"
They keep in a yard in back for the night, and the girl watches so no one will steal me. She went to sleep, and a man came with good food. It cut my mouth, but I ate it all anyway.
Daine looked at her hosts. "Did you know somebody fed Prickle sharp stuff deliberately?"
The woman nodded, wringing her hands. "The man who owns the houses on this street wanted us out, so he could rent the house for more. Under imperial law no one may lose their home so long as they paid the rent agreed on. When we said we would not move, the owner paid someone to hurt the camel. He knew we cannot survive without Prickle."
Daine stared at the humans. "And so you brought her in here--you fed her your food. Why?"
The woman wrung her hands. "We had no money for a healer. We hoped the food, and bringing her in--we had to try to nurse her. If she dies, we have nothing. We cannot buy another. With her, my man earns wages, bringing wood into the city, or working caravans." She dropped to her knees, the girl following. They touched their heads to the ground. "Thank you, Nobility! You saved her! You have given us hope! We cannot repay you--"
The girl tugged her mother's sleeve and whispered. The woman looked at Daine. She was crying. "My daughter says, she knows how to weave and sew. She will be your slave, Nobility--"
"No!" Daine cried. "You don't understand. I--" Her throat worked, but the words were stuck. They had brought a sick animal under their roof, had gone hungry to feed her. Moreover, this was not a pretty animal or a treasured pet, but a nasty, cross-grained, cantankerous beast who would as soon bite as look at them. What could she say to such devotion, or to such desperation and poverty?
Fumbling, she undid her belt-pouch and pressed it into the woman's hands. "It isn't much, but it's mine, and I can bestow it where I want. Buy your family some decent meals. I wish it was more. You--you did really well, caring for her." Unable to bear it any longer, she scrambled to her feet and staggered outside.
Standing in the open air, she took deep breaths, trying not to cry. The prince was talking to the man of the house, who knelt at his feet. "You have too many mouths to feed. Sell two of your youngest children. Clean them up first, of course. The noble houses purchase youngsters, so they can be reared properly, before they develop bad habits. In fact, go to the house of the Princess Pazia Iliniat, and show her this ring. She is my mother. She will purchase your two most likely-looking children, and see they are trained and cared for."
Appalled, Daine listened to this, clenching her hands. She had been wrong. She had thought he was human under his gems and paint, but he was just a another slave-holder, another cage-keeper.
Kitten, forgotten at her side, whistled a query. "I'm all right," she said, but she wasn't. She felt unreal, and brittle.
Carefully she went down the ramp and put Kitten in the mare's saddlebag, then walked over to Honey. "I'm ready to go," she said loudly, not caring if Kaddar heard or not.
Honey lay on the road, legs folded under him. She swung into the saddle before he could object. The slave, crouched next to his donkey, stood as Kaddar mounted Westwind. "Remember what I said," he told Prickle's owner.
Daine told Honey, Let's go. And don't argue with me.
The camel moaned and stood. The slave leaped into the donkey's saddle, and they set off.
Kaddar and Westwind drew level with Daine. "Is something wrong?"
"Everything's wrong," she snapped, trembling. "You are wrong."
Kaddar rolled his eyes and sighed. "Now what did I do?"
"What did you do?" she shouted. In some corner of her mind she was dismayed: shouting was not something she did in anger. "You told him sell his children! Like unwanted puppies, or extra pumpkins! Anyone tell your ma to sell a daughter or two, since she has so many?"
"Don't use that tone on me!"
"I am a free woman, from a free country. I'll use any tone I like! You have money in your pocket--gold and silver, more than you need. Why didn't you give him some, rather than tell him--tell him what you did?"
"You don't understand these things. You can't give people like that money. They spend it on drink or drugs or finery, and their children starve all the same."
"Do they? They took a camel into their house and fed it their food to keep it well! Do they sound like they'd commit some folly? But all you could see was that they're poor and if an owner gets their little ones young enough they won't have bad habits." She drew a breath, half-sobbing, and fought to get herself under control. "I thought you were better than them around you," she said bitterly. "But you're just the same. You say you want to make things better, but Mithros forbid you should do anything sudden, or useful, at all!"
"That shows how much you know!" he told her. "If you knew what I risk--"
She laughed angrily. "You? Risk anything? You wouldn't know a risk if it stepped on your foot! You'll be just like your uncle when you come to the throne, grabbing and keeping all that is good about this Empire and holding it for only a few, and letting the rest of your subjects starve."
"I don't expect to live to succeed my uncle!" snapped Kaddar.
"Nonsense. You're afraid to do anything to really offend him, and you won't do the things that would make the Carthakis prefer you to him--like feeding them, or getting rid of slavery."
"I have no power here!"
"Good. You'd only abuse it."
After that, they rode in silence, Kaddar fuming, Daine fighting tears. Zek groomed her hair, trying to calm her, as Kitten crouched in her saddlebag and kept quiet. Even Honey decided that silence was wise. When those waiting at the ferry moved so Kaddar and his companions could board, Daine sneered at Kaddar, whose dark face turned an ugly shade of brown and beet.
At the guests' courtyard he remained seated while the girl dismounted from Honey. Kitten wriggled out of the saddlebag and jumped to the ground, trotting over to Daine with a worried chirp.
Daine looked up at Kaddar. "I have a headache. I won't come to the banquet tonight or tomorrow, so you won't have to act as if you are listening to a commoner. And I feel a sniffle coming on, so we needn't ride in the morning. I go the next day, so you'll be done with me, and I with you." She turned on her heel and strode into the palace. Once the door of her room closed behind her, she gave way to a storm of exhausted weeping, while Kitten and Zek tried to console her. At last she slept, dreaming of small children being auctioned by camels.
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