The child ran through bright desert sunlight and dusty streets, dodging traders, wagons, animals of the only busy quarter left in Aedlin. Past somnolent and distracted guards she scuttled into Merchant Street, a walled community of offices and homes of Aedlin’s privileged barons and the amusements still left to them. The waif skirted tree lines of imported ornamental plants with leaves browning and curling at the tips. She ducked into an alley in the shadow of the Palace itself, silent as the Mausoleums being buried in the dunes to the east outside the city wall. Giving a glance up and down the empty alley, she tossed a rock at some shutters in the wall above. She waited. Checked the alley again and threw a second rock. The shutters opened then and a rope of knotted cloths trailed down to her. Using it she scaled the wall and entered the window.
It was utterly dark. “Arya inneer?”
“Where else would I be?”
“Aincha gotta light?”
“It simply does not occur to me to light one. Yah must have took my sense when He took my sight.”
“Oh, yeah, guessyadon need one, dooya?”
“Not as much as I used to,” Ch’Byartha said as he lit the lamp for the child. “I find it saves me a small fortune in oil however. So there’s that.” He smiled in her general direction and then went back to scrubbing pots with sand and steel wool. She watched him for a bit as he finished one, set it perfectly onto a teetering tower of pots on his left and took a dirty silver plate from his right and began scrubbing. She went over to the stack on his left and examined one. It was spotless.
“Ifyer blind, owyoo tell winner clean?”
“Easy,” he said and dragged his tongue up the length of the pot he was scrubbing. Tasted it theatrically, “Nope, still dirty.” He scrubbed vigorously for a second time, licked it again. “Ah, perfect!” He set that plate on his clean side and took another plate.
“Mind me nevva eat here,” she giggled. He smiled again.
“Are you hungry?”
He produced a fruit from his pocket. “The choicest morsel of my breakfast today. Not too many mushy spots on this one. Didn’t even lick it.” He tossed it right to her.
She ate the whole thing, core, seeds and all.
“Fraid that’s all there is till tomorrow. We’ll have to feast on the only food left to the poor, honest companionship. So liven an old beggar’s dark hours of dreary labor with tales of the sights and scenes of the world in the Sun. Let us dine on our gossip. What did you see today in your travels, young empress of the orphans of Aedlin?”
“Enh, nah much. Nuffin shiny. Sum mo soljah.”
“We’ve been getting a lot of Legion guests lately, haven’t we.”
“De camp is swole. Guard gettin antsy. Dey tinkin dere moren ‘em dan Guard.”
“Ever talk to any of the Legionnaires?”
“Naw, but I hears’em. Dey don care bout Aedlin. Dey don care bout Guard. Dey all lookin’ East. Like dey speck sommin commin outta Sea.”
“A Beast perhaps, with seven heads and ten horns.”
“Whereyoo get dat idea?”
“An old friend talked about it once.”
“It means that some day soon, I think, we’d best take a schooner heading West.”
“Yoo take me wifoo?”
“My conscience would nary let me do otherwise.”
“Something I only recently developed. Nuisance thing, you don’t want one, trust me. What else did you see today?”
“Enh, nuffin. Coupla boats. Sum lady wiffa buncha camels.” Ch’Byartha dropped a dish. “She hadda soljah mashine, like a donkey, only made a metal. She walk outta sea. No ship. No boat. Just walk, her anna camel. Weird huh?”
“Very. Where is she now?”