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Chapter 15


Pelzed listened carefully to Whandall's account. "No one important living there," he said. "None of the people who chased you live there. You're sure?"

"Yes, Lord." Whandall hesitated. "Lord, may I ask-" Pelzed's eyes narrowed. "Thinking of taking my place?" "No, Lord. I couldn't do it," Whandall said.

Pelzed considered that. "I think you're smart enough to believe that," he said. "Whandall, what I'm looking for is territory we can claim." "But it's not worth claiming!" Whandall exclaimed. Pelzed smiled. "Glad you think so. If you think it's worthless, Wulltid of Bull Fizzle will be sure of it."

Pelzed and Wulltid met in Peacegiven Square under the watchful eye of the patrolling Lordsmen. They had agreed to bring only four men each. Wulltid brought four great hulking bodyguards. Pelzed had two of his regular guards, but he also brought Whandall and Shastern.

"You raided my territory," Wulltid began abruptly.

"Calm," Pelzed said. "Have some tea." He poured from a stone jug wrapped in straw to keep it hot. The cups had been kept warm the same way. Pelzed lifted his cup, sipped, and nodded. "So. Greetings, Chief Wulltid."

Wulltid stared sourly at Pelzed, lifted his cup, and drank. "That's pretty good," he admitted. "Greetings, Lord Pelzed. But you still raided my territory."

Pelzed swept his hand to indicate Whandall and Shastern. "I sent these

two boys to see what you've made of Dark Man's Cup," Pelzed said. "Which is nothing at all. Two hoys, to a street you don't care about. Now how's that a raid?"

"Still my territory," Wulltid said.

"Let's talk about that. What will you take for it? Hemp? How much hemp? Maybe some tar?"

"Hemp? Tar?" Wulltid glared at Whandall. "Boy, what did you find there? Gold?"

"Trash. It's a trash heap, Chief Wulltid," Whandall said. He turned to Pelzed and repeated, "A trash heap, Lord!"

"So why does your boss want that place?" Wulltid demanded.

Whandall's perplexity was genuine.

"It's simple enough," Pelzed said. "I've got some relatives who need homes, and some kinless who'll build for them. Need a place. Dark Man's Cup won't be too bad once all the trash is thrown in the gully."

"That's what I thought," Wulltid said. "But the kinless I put in there wouldn't stay. Yours won't either."

"That's my problem," Pelzed said. "Now just what do you want for the Cup? It's not like it's worth much."

"What if I said I don't believe you?" Wulltid said pleasantly. "There's more to this."

"They're not close kin... ." Pelzed smiled. "Lord Samorty asked me. The Lords want that area cleaned up."

"Why?"

"Who knows why Lords want things? But they asked me."

"What did they offer?"

Pelzed sighed. "Five bales of hemp."

"Five! They only gave me three!"

"You took it? But you didn't get it clean," Pelzed said.

Wulltid scratched his head. "I tried. I could have kept that place clear for two years. Three, even. But that Gemwright wanted five years! I had to promise five! Gemwright-he's one crazy kinless."

"You didn't even give him two years," Pelzed said cheerfully. "Bull Fizzles were gathering in the Cup a year after the kinless moved in."

Wulltid sipped tea without comment.

"So the work stopped. You couldn't keep your people from gathering, the kinless moved out, and now you're stuck protecting a place that nobody worth anything will live in! Chief, I'm doing you a favor taking that slum off your hands. But I'll give you half a bale."

"You're getting five bales," Wulltid said. "I want two for Dark Man's Cup."

"One," Pelzed said. "You have three already."

"Two."

"All right. Two," Pelzed said. "But we get a Lord's Witness to this deal."

Wulltid shrugged. "You'll pay him, then. I won't."

The Lord's Witness was accompanied by two Lordsmen guards and a kinless clerk no more than Whandall's age. The clerk dressed like servants Whandall had seen in Lordshills. The Witness wore a tight-fitting cap that completely covered his ears, and dark robes of office.

The clerk spoke in a high-pitched voice. "You wish the attention of a Lord's Witness? That will be ten shells in advance."

Pelzed laid them in a row, one smooth motion, ten shells marked by a Lord's Clerk. The clerk swept them into a leather pouch. He turned to the Witness. "They have paid, Honorable."

The Witness sat down to listen.

"An agreement between Lord Pelzed of Serpent's Walk and Chief Wulltid of Bull Pizzle," the clerk said. "Speak, Wulltid of Bull Fizzle."

"We give the street known as Dark Man's Cup to Serpent's Walk," Wulltid said. "Serpent's Walk will complete what's left of the work Bull Pizzle was paid to do. We will remove all Bull Pizzle people within two days and never return. Serpent's Walk has to repaint all the signs; we won't do that."

The clerk wrote on what looked like a sheet of thin white leather. When Pelzed tried to speak, the clerk held up a hand until he had finished writing. "Now. Speak, Pelzed of Serpent's Walk."

"We will complete the work offered by Lord Samorty's clerk. The Lords will pay us five bales of hemp and two buckets of tar. We will pay two bales of hemp to Bull Pizzle.

"In return, all trash will be removed from the street and yards, five houses of kinless will be established, and no one will gather in Dark Man's Cup for five years."

The clerk wrote again. "Do both of you accept this?" he demanded. "Then mark this vellum. Thank you. That will be twenty more shells."

Afterward, Pelzed was talkative and amused. "It was easy!" he crowed. "Wulltid never suspected a thing!"

Whandall didn't ask, but he looked. Pelzed laughed. "We had no way to expand in that area because of the gully," he said. "I've always wanted something on the other side. The gully may be worth something. Clean it up and a kinless could grow hemp there, I think."

Whandall remembered the hidden kinless camp.

"So I wanted it," Pelzed said. "I could have bought it, maybe, but this way is better. Look, Whandall-now the Lords know Bull Pizzle took their three bales, and two more of mine, and did nothing for it. Five hales for nothing. I'm gelling the three Hull Pizzle got, and I'll get it cleaned up."

Whandall waited a respectful moment. "How, Lord?"

"My kinless believe me when I tell them they'll have five years with no gathering," Pelzed said. "Do you believe me, Whandall?"

Whandall didn't answer instantly. Pelzed asked, "You know Fawlith?"

"The beggar who babbles all the time?"

"That's him. We caught him and his brother gathering on a street where I promised the kinless we'd leave them alone."

"I didn't know he had a brother."

Pelzed just grinned. "Want to live in a house of your own?" he asked. "I'll need two Lordkin families in the Cup. To watch over the kinless there. Ready to start a family?"

Whandall thought about it for a moment. "Thank you, no, Lord, I have a home." He shrugged. "I don't have a woman."

"Fine house will get you a woman," Pelzed said. "Even with that eye. But you're young. Ask me when you're ready. I owe you for this."

"Three of them," Shastern said, much later. "And you held them off until I scared them away. Tell me how to do that."

Whandall tried to explain. He told Shastern how he'd practiced each move, thinking about that and nothing else, and how it had taken months.

Shastern didn't believe him. There had to be a secret that Whandall wasn't telling him. Shastern left in disgust, leaving Whandall more alone than ever.











Chapter 14 | The Burning City | Chapter 16



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