I was a wicked boy. And my loving uncle was going to cure me of wickedness. That’s what he told me after we left Henri—right before Yesler took a whip to my back. It’s worse when Yesler gives them. Three lashes feel like thirty.
But I didn’t make a sound.
And I knew the lashes weren’t for stealing food. They were for climbing the tower with Pike five years ago. Every punishment went back to that. I often went back to that moment. He hit the ground first; me, a fraction of a second later. I often thought back to that moment; all the thousands of little things that caused us to fall just the way we did. Marcus taught me about science. Physics. How little changes can add up to the difference between life and death.
A soft breeze. The turning of the earth. The way our bodies moved and how we changed our paths through the air without even knowing it. The result was a 4 foot distance between where we landed.
I hit a thick straw roof and went straight through into a shed filled with hay, breaking 12 bones. My leg never healed properly.
Pike wasn’t so lucky.
He hit the cobblestone pavement just outside the hut I landed on. Marcus said that a body could bounce up to six feet into the air after a fall like that. He also said it’s a painless way to die. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know it’s not painless for the ones who survive. Especially when I know that it was me who killed Pike. Even if I could forget that, my uncle Mazol was going to remind me.
That’s what the lashes were really for.
Yesler wanted to leave me in the hall where they whipped me, make me walk back to the caldroen myself. But Ballard must have known I wouldn’t make it. With one arm around me, he helped me limp through the castle. Ballard was like that. He might hold you down under Yesler’s whip in the morning and sneak you a sip of stolen beer in the afternoon.
Under his other arm, Ballard carried one of the small chests that the roslings were found in. I don’t know where the stuff inside those chests came from or where it went when we were done. We might have been producing reams of cheap linen, doilies of spun gold or refined cow dung for all I knew. No one really cared. If, on the other hand, we discovered the clankers turned out cherry tarts, fresh bread—even moldy bread—now that would be something.
I imaged Ballard carrying a chest of cherry tarts as we walked, smiling at the absurdity of it. My ragged shirt, tucked in my pants, lapped against my bad leg with every step; it would be a while before I could put it on again. I could hear the blood dripping off my back onto the stone floor as we walked.
We were moving too slow for my uncle and Yesler, so they went ahead to keep an eye on the roslings. Not long after they were out of sight, Ballard gestured to a bench. He seemed to sense how badly I needed to sit down, which was ironic given his role in my suffering.
“Don’t run off,” he said with a crooked smile and a growl, then set the chest down next to me and disappeared around a corner. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny or not, but when you have blood running down your back and your best friend is being punished for something you did, it’s difficult to find anything funny.
I sat on the bench, careful not to touch my back to the wall. For a moment, I thought about trying to open the chest next to me, just to see what was inside. But it was impossible to open without the key. Instead, I stared blankly through a huge window into the courtyard.
Daemanhur sat on a cliff’s edge, high above the Leschi sea, which filled the northern horizon. A 40 foot wall circled the courtyard, running close to the castle by the tower on the uphill side and stretching for nearly a mile down the slopes toward the harbor where a small trade-town was built a few more miles down the road.
A creek ran under the wall on the uphill side of the courtyard and kept a large lake full year round. There were fish in the lake, but most were to bony and small to eat, not that bones stopped us from trying when we had the time to fish. Another larger river joined the creek just above the town and ran into a harbor where ships docked from time to time.
I sometimes watched the ships come into the harbor while I was working the clankers, just to give me something to think about besides work. Men from the town traded with the ships, and sold some of the goods to Mazol. Those who dared to travel through the jungle only did during the daylight and always with armored carriages and trained guards. They also kept moving no matter what. They didn’t stop for anything, not even if one of their passengers fell out of the carriage.
I heard once that traveling guards, runners they were called, the kind who protected deliveries through the jungle earned more money than the town’s mayor. Even for that much money, I wouldn’t take the job. Runners usually didn’t live past thirty. To be a good runner you had to be strong, ruthless and talented with a spear. Intelligence, on the other hand, was not required.
When the warts ordered goods, the runners would come to the gates on the uphill side of the courtyard just outside the window I was looking through. There was a fortified sort of room that was open to the outside where the delivery men could wait in relative safety for someone to come open the gates. The runners would pull a chain which ran over the courtyard and was connected to a bronze bell in the caldroen; the bell was in the caldroen because that’s where the roslings worked and someone would always hear it in there.