Friday, August 24, 2007
Almost didn't get my material posted tonight. I am running way behind on work things, but I wanted to get this next piece of Paid in Gold and Blood up here, since people seem to be enjoying the story.
Oh and the other picture below this -- that was an accident. It should have gone in the Picture a Day blog. I didn't even notice until I came to see what I should do for the next snippet.
I hope you like this next bit.
(A little bit of explanation, I think, is in order. Katashan is staying at the fort, which is on the cliff above the sea. The city is below the fort on the cliffs. Cork is a guard assigned to help him out, and right now he's helping Katashan avoid the local Lord, who is not really happy. They've gone down through the halls of the fort to a lower level where he found a well and garden.)
Cork listened for a moment at the gate, and then carefully slipped out on to the walkway. The people outside laughed when he shooed the chickens back in, but didn't seem to take any other notice.
"Now, sir. Quick, and to the right."
Katashan obeyed, bowing his head, and moving as fast as he could though the gate and along the stone pathway. It seemed narrow, and then realized there would be no need for anything wider. No horses down here, Katashan realized. No wagons. Just people walking.
Sounds echoed oddly, and he could smell fish everywhere. He walked along, close to the stone wall on the right, which he took at first to be nothing more than the smooth surface of the cliff.
Then he saw the carved relief of waves and fish.
He looked up.
The sight stopped him, even now in the midst of danger that could take his life if he wasn't careful. He could do nothing but stare.
A city of red, beige and white stone rose all around him, the buildings carved out of a chasm in the cliff. To the left, buildings of only a story or two had been carved from the rock -- carved completely through in many places, because he could see to the sky and ocean through openings. To his right stood buildings so tall he had to crane his neck to see the tops. The locals had carved them into the cliff wall, and around the doorways stood pillars of multicolored stone, topped with gargoyles, eagles and dragons. Statues of men, gods and creatures seemed to grow from the building walls, carved from the world around them. He could not take it all in --
"No time for gawking, sir," Cork said, taking hold of his arm and hurrying him along.
"I have never -- I am -- words fail me."
"Yes, sir. I've heard that before. I admit, even for a local boy, it still takes the breath away -- but we haven't the time to play tourist. This way, sir."
"Get away from me."
"I don't think so," Cork answered with a bright smile. "We'll walk along like a couple old pals, heading for the tavern. You can look around to your heart's content, and I'll just steer us along."
Katashan stopped arguing because he did, truly, want to see, and with a glance around, he could tell no one seemed to pay them any attention. He ran his hand over the edge of one pediment covered in near perfect stone roses. "It's magnificent."
Cork looked at the wall, and then at the buildings to the left. He smiled. "Yes, it is, sir. People in the capital say this is a city built by the gods themselves. It might be that old. There's another level further down the cliff side, a single row mostly of suites and apartments. Up here are the markets, the shops, the taverns, and the temples. City government has buildings here, as well. That building there on the right -- the one with the two hawks carved over the door frame -- that's the Hall of Justice, where the city council meets and settles disputes and gives judgments in trials. The building goes far back into the cliff, a cubbyhole of offices and they say you can get lost in there. That people never come back."
"You live in a dangerous world, where people are forever disappearing into mountains, one way or another."
He laughed. "Yes, sir, you're right. I'd say it's safer to be a ship's man than work for the government -- soldier or clerk -- but, of course, we lose ships now and again as well. I've lost more relatives to the sea than to the mountains." He looked toward the ocean, visible through the windows of the stone-carved building to the left. Cork waved toward it. "That's the Salt House. Always a busy place there, so keep your head down and we'll hurry by. And the next door down, that's the Fish House. You go there if you want to arrange the hire of a ship for the sake of the catch. Always busy as well --"
"Magic," Katashan said and almost lifted his hand. He stopped before Cork did more than draw a quick, hissing breath. "There's magic everywhere."
"Of course there is, sir. How else could they keep a place like this dry and livable, so close to the sea? Do watch yourself, sir. Common people don't have magic here, so they don't take notice of it. But we have a priesthood, and they keep their eyes on such things, and every generation or so a true mage comes in and renews the spells, though that's not well known either. The locals, they just wouldn't understand, since they've no magic of their own and mistrust it."
"I understand. The common people at home don't have magic either --" He stopped himself with a silent curse.
Cork gave him a look that showed no surprise, but rather a little nod of confirmation of something he had obviously already considered.
Katashan quickly steered the conversation away from that dangerous ground, though. He wasn't ready to answer questions about himself and why he was not one of those common people.
"What is that building with the dolphins carved all over it?" he asked, pointing toward an area with dolphins carved around a wide opening. Two women were entering, laughter echoing back out from the cavernous interior.
"That's the baths, sir."
"Baths. Really? How delightful."
"Oh yes, sir. We're very nearly civilized here. There's a hot spring inside, and cool water from the same source as the wells. It's a lovely way to spend a free afternoon."
"Do you see any sea people here, Cork?"
"Once every ten years or so, they come in to trade, mostly bringing their lovely pearl work and trading for good nets and rope. Twenty or so will come in at once, and then swim out and another twenty will come in. We're the only city on the entire coast that they visit. The gods alone know why. If their visits were more often, or at least predictable, we'd be famous and rich for it."
"Is that what you want for this city? For it to be famous and rich and filled with people?"
Cork gave him another startled look. "When you put it like that -- no, I guess not. How odd. I always thought... well never mind."
Katashan nodded. "I've lived in cities famous for one reason or another. I'm looking for somewhere less hectic now. But looking around, I would think it must be hard to get a shop here," Katashan said, deliberately turning the conversation aside again. "Limited space, yes?"
"Yes. Many shopkeepers start up on the bluff, by the fortress, and apply for a cliff shop with the council. The list is long, but shops do close here every year for one reason or another. And some businesses join forces and share a space. Usually the wait's no more than three years."
That sounded like a frighteningly long time to Katashan, although he wasn't entirely certain why. Perhaps he only wanted to fit in here -- or somewhere -- and feel as though he had found a home. Maybe he was ready for the journey to end and to find peace again. He pushed that thought away, though, with the reminder of things going on here that didn't promise much peace in the near future.
"And there, at the branching, is the temple of Peralin, the patron god of Salbay."
Katashan looked up with a start and found the path parted before him with a narrow crevice to the right, a wider one to the left. In the center stood an ornate building that put the others to shame for the amount of detail carved into the surface. Stairs lead upward, narrow at the bottom, widening before two broad doors of silver.
Between the doors stood a statue. Not one carved of the local red and pale stone, but rather jet black: A man cloaked, sitting upon his horse with the animal's head high. Katashan felt his heart pound and his breath catch. He stopped and he stared, aware that Cork tried to urge him on. He could not, for the moment, move.
"What -- the statue --" he said, fighting for words in a language the man would understand.
"Ah, yes. No one knows how they got so large a statue down here, either. Myth says he rode in all by himself, and took sentry there. And that, on the day we see him riding elsewhere, we'll be in a damned lot of... damned... lot... oh hell, sir. No. Say it's not true."
"We shared a hay shed the night before I arrived. The horse is called Night."
"So it is, sir. Yes. It is. Gods all. What does it mean?"
"It means, I suppose, that we are all in a damn lot of trouble."