The orphans of raspay, p.9

The Orphans of Raspay, page 9

 part  #7 of  Penric and Desdemona (Chronological) Series

 

The Orphans of Raspay
 


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  Godino clutched his hair and vented a horrible huff of a laugh. “Oh, gods. You’re escaped slaves, aren’t you.”

  “Escaped I’ll grant you. Slaves, not yet.”

  “And so they all say. D’you think you’re the first to try this? There is no sanctuary to be had here from the Guild. They go where they want and do what they want, and when they come to drag you back out, I might be lucky to only get a beating for having seen you and not cried ‘ware at once.”

  “I don’t think it would go like that.” At first. Though if his enemies brought enough men, even a sorcerer would be overwhelmed, so that was a situation to avoid; he could agree with Godino there. “But the pirates believe we escaped on a ship last night. If you hid us, there would be no reason for them to come searching. We could evade notice for quite a long time.”

  “And then what?”

  “And then you could send a message for help by Temple courier, and someone would arrive to take us off your hands.”

  “Aye, whisking you off on a magic bird, no doubt, and leaving me here to take the brunt of the Guild’s anger? Setting aside there’s no courier here either. If you’re that much of a somebody, you can ransom yourself and leave me out of it.”

  “I”—Pen scratched his head—“may have peeved the pirates, a bit. I’d rather not count on ransom.”

  Godino stepped back and pointed at the door, his hand shaking. “Out!”

  Penric cleared his throat and said diffidently, “I, ah, hadn’t been going to mention this, but I also happen to be the court sorcerer of the Duke of Orbas.” Well, on occasion, but this did seem to be a moment to raise his repute. “I really do think you will find it in your best interests to help us.”

  Godino choked on a laugh. “Good one, Lodi fancy-boy. You’re no more a sorcerer than you are a divine. Out!”

  Des…?

  Oh yes.

  Pen held out his arm dramatically aimed at the plinth and snapped his fingers.

  A gout of flame whooshed up seven feet in the air, with a brief roar like an angry lioness.

  Godino leaped back uttering an oath. The girls scrambled onto the same mat and clutched each other in voiceless alarm, laced with bug-eyed fascination. The stagecraft was unnecessary for lighting the fire, except perhaps under Godino. With very little charcoal in the ashes to feed upon, the flames died down quickly, but Penric thought the point had been made.

  “I am a Temple scholar and learned divine,” Penric intoned, “graduate of great Rosehall and chosen of the white god, and I am here to relight your holy fire. One way or another. By sorcery if necessary.” He gathered himself and a memory of one of the more daunting sermons of his experience, and thundered, “Do you understand?”

  Penric thought Godino understood he’d been trapped between murderous pirates and a wrathful sorcerer, and the pirates might be more numerous but the sorcerer was right here.

  “Yes,” he squeaked, wide-eyed. His glance shifted toward the door.

  “And don’t try to flee, either,” said Penric. “You can’t outrun magic.” Well, he could, but Pen felt no obligation to explain how. He strolled forward, feeling something between gratified and mildly ill. Bullying a Temple servant was so much easier than bullying pirates. For real villains, mere threats would not suffice, and then things would grow ugly. Uglier. But he needed to get this man under control, and quickly, or their sole advantage left from last night’s debacle would be lost.

  “Hide us now,” said Pen persuasively. “You can always betray us later. …Or try to.”

  The edged smirk he sent with this made Godino flinch. Pen could see the moment the man gave in by the shrinking of his shoulders. Godino set his teeth on something that might have been a prayer or the reverse, and muttered, “Come this way, then. Keep quiet. The fewer who know of you here the better.”

  The girls had been following this only with their gazes, shifting anxiously from one terse speaker to the other. Pen urged them to their feet, repeating the order for quiet in Roknari. Meek mice, he thought, had not been that lively pair’s role at home before their world had caved in, but they had surely learned it in the past weeks. Lencia grasping Seuka’s hand, they practically tiptoed in Godino’s wake, wary of yet another untrusted stranger in an unrelenting parade.

  He led them up the gallery stairs and into what looked to be a disused temple guest room, containing two narrow beds, a washstand, an old chest, and tattered rugs. Some moth-eaten hangings were piled in one corner; a decent-enough commode chair with chamber pot was tucked in another. The thinness of the dust suggested months rather than years between cleanings, but it still made Lencia sneeze.

  Pen stepped around their guide to examine the high window secured with a carved wooden lattice. Wide enough for Pen and, if necessary, his charges to slip through, and overlooking the stable roof; an acceptable escape route, good. Any attempt to lock them in would also be futile, not that Pen was going to point this out. Though Pen suspected Godino would actually be glad for them to bolt, as promptly as possible.

  Godino closed the door softly before he spoke again. “You can stay here for the moment. People will be about soon, so don’t make noise. We have a funeral this morning.”

  “Oh? Who for?” Pen hoped he hadn’t left any corpses in his wake last night attributable to his magic.

  If there were, we’d have known it, said Des grimly.

  True.

  “Grandmother from down the street. There’ll be a lot of relatives.”

  Life, and death, Pen was reminded, went on quite aside from pirates. “Do you conduct it?”

  “Aye… I picked up how by watching Learned Bocali before me. The gods don’t seem to mind.” He regarded his visitor with new suspicion, as if he expected some sacramental critique.

  Given that Pen looked and smelled neither learned nor divine just now, Pen supposed it must be the convincing Lodi accent. He just said, “I expect not.” And added, “The children should have clean water first, though. Food when you can. Then we need to talk.”

  “Huh.” With this dubious monosyllable, the temple man retreated.

  He returned in a few minutes to tap almost inaudibly on the chamber door, wordlessly handing in a water jug. Pen murmured thanks, and turned back to take stock of his revised set of problems. Again.

  “Are we safe?” asked Seuka.

  Pen rubbed his tired face and answered honestly, “Not till we reach Vilnoc. But I don’t think we can do better right now.”

  The girls had only had a couple of hours of rest last night, and Penric none. When he’d watered them, had them wash up a bit, and tucked them into one cot, a yawning young head at each end and bare feet tangling, they quickly recaptured the sleep they had almost managed in the temple hall. Pen, lying down tensely on the other cot, envied them for that.

  Could they do better for a hiding place? On his own, Pen could probably have gone to ground in his choice of a dozen different holes, feigning any of a dozen different roles. As it was… maybe not. By training and habit, temples felt like refuge to Pen, though it was true that the gods were no more present at Their altars than they were everywhere else. Nor less, I suppose. Temples were for the convenience, and perhaps concentration of mind, of their human builders. Pen by his rank also usually had the silent backing of a formal Temple hierarchy that appeared to be lacking here; Godino seemed a very slim reed to lean upon.

  Despite his doubts, his exhausted body apparently decided this place was safe enough, because Pen couldn’t tell when he slipped into sleep.

  * * *

  He came awake abruptly when the door squeaked open, shooting up in his cot with a gasp, gathering Des the way some men might reach for a sword. Right here, Pen. But it was only Godino, returning with a basket on his arm. Alone, not shoved forward by some gang of murderous pirate rowdies. The room was dim, but the angle of the dusty sunbeams and bright patterns of light splashing on the rugs from the latticed window suggested it was a little past noon.

  “Foo
d,” said Godino gruffly, setting down the basket on the washstand. He stood back and stared at Pen as if afraid he might set something on fire again.

  “Thank you,” said Pen, sitting up on the edge of his bed as his heartbeat slowed. He investigated the contents, finding flat bread rounds, olives forever, cheese, some of those dried fish planks that people around here thought were food, and, blessedly, boiled eggs. The basket also harbored a jug of red wine and four clay beakers; the number was explained when Godino pulled up two stools, sat on one, and conscripted the other for a table. Maybe Pen wasn’t the only man who wanted to talk?

  Pen’s shaky reserves, drained by last night’s exertions, voted for eating first. He peeled an egg and popped it into his mouth while Godino watered wine for two. The temple man cast a glance at the still-sleeping girls and lowered his voice to a murmur.

  “There was gossip at the services about the escape of a ship named the Autumn’s Hand last night. Some say the crew was freed by a poisoner. Some said it was a magician, cloaking himself in smoke and light, casting terrible spells. Some think it wasn’t either, just the guards making excuses for themselves for being overpowered. Which given they’re bound to be punished, seemed pretty likely.” Godino regarded him steadily, and not for the first time Pen wished Des’s skills extended to mind-reading.

  “And which do you think?” mumbled Pen around a mouthful of bread and cheese.

  “If you hadn’t shown up here, I’d have guessed the last, too.”

  Pen cleared his voice with a swallow of watered wine. “Any suggestion the pirates are still looking for this magical smoky poisoner here on Lantihera?”

  “Not so far,” Godino admitted grudgingly.

  “How reliable is your gossip?”

  “Some in the neighborhood work for the Guild, one way or another. Lots of folks, really, all over Lanti Harbor, since the rovers are the ones with the money to hire. Not just as crew or rowdies, either, or taverners, but decent work like boat carpentry or ship chandlers.”

  “How did the pirates come to control this island?”

  Godino shrugged. “There were always a few put in here, to offload their goods or captives, and resupply. Smugglers as well. When Carpagamo kept a garrison here, they regulated them and collected the port fees. Rathnatta the same, whenever one of the princes held us.

  “Then about ten, fifteen years ago Carpagamo had one of its wars with Adria, and withdrew their men for work closer to home. Usually that’s a signal for Rathnatta to move in, but they were having their own war just then among three brother-princes for succession to their dead father’s seat. And that’s when the pirates ganged together and set up their own conclave.”

  “Did no one on the island resist this?”

  “Eh. Better the rovers should work in one crew than fight each other all over town and make a wreck of the place. And with no taxes being paid to either Carpagamo or Rathnatta, money was less tight, profits rose, and more pirates came. Before we knew it, the town belonged to them, either by coin or by the sword.” Godino sighed. “At some point I expect either Carpagamo or Rathnatta will remember us, and muscle back in. No one’s much looking forward to that, either.”

  “Hm…?”

  “When Carpagamo’s here, the Quadrenes suffer. When its Rathnatta, it’s us Quintarians. At least the Guild makes sure any preying on the local girls gets paid-for.” Godino frowned at the sleeping sisters. “And the pirates leave both temples alone, pretty much. Unless someone does something really stupid, like trying to hide runaway captives.” His mouth tightened.

  “You said this temple once had a divine. Was he under the rule of the archdivine of Carpagamo? Did he leave with the garrison?”

  “He wouldn’t. Later, I wish’t he had.” Godino stared at his sandals. “I started here as a boy groom, looking after the holy animals. We had some really nice ones, then. I rose to head groom pretty quickly. After the Guild moved in, some escaped captives came one night to beg sanctuary in the temple just like you did. Learned Bocali stood right there in the portico and told the Guildmen that if they wanted the supplicants, they’d have to go through him.

  “So they did. It was a short fight, since he had no weapon but a brass candlestick. Our acolyte was struck down trying to defend the altar treasures, which the rowdies said they were taking for a fine.”

  The current altar gear, candle- and incense-holders and oil lamps, had all been cheap pottery, Pen realized when he thought back.

  “Theirs were the first two funerals I ever conducted by myself, next day, for lack of anyone else. And then I just… kept on. Since people didn’t stop being born or needing ease or dying. Carpagamo Temple never came back for us, never sent anyone else out”—he looked briefly as though he wanted to spit—“and Rathnatta, well, I sure don’t wish for them.”

  Pen massaged the back of his neck, which was tight and aching. “I see.” Godino might be an unlettered man, Pen thought, but he was neither stupid nor unobservant. Nor unfaithful. Just… vastly overmatched. It sounded as though he’d been eyewitness to the bloody murders, too, which clearly had left a deep impression.

  Pen’s glance at the other cot discovered both girls with their eyes open, listening worriedly to the baffling Adriac. He told them in Roknari, “Brother Godino has brought us some food. It’s after noon, so time to get up. Try not to thump too much.”

  There followed a few minutes of Pen’s increasingly practiced overseeing of their morning wash-up, and getting them properly fed. He was able to foist off all the fish planks on them, since apparently people ate something similar in seaside Raspay, thus acquiring an unearned air of generosity whilst snitching most of the boiled eggs. Godino sat in watchful silence. Pen thought he followed the gist of the murmured Roknari.

  Pen supplied him with a brief synopsis of the sisters’ misadventures, leaving out his own theological speculations or mention of his magic. “Helping smuggle us aboard some ship bound for Vilnoc or even Lodi would get us out of your temple about as quickly as anything,” Pen finished, invitingly.

  Godino’s “Mm,” in reply was unenthusiastic, but not at once negative. With a last injunction to stay quiet, he took himself off to his further temple duties.

  More exploration of the harbor town and its other possibilities must wait till dark, Pen conceded, however anxious he was to do something, because this island wasn’t going to sail itself to Vilnoc. Soft-voiced language lessons in Cedonian filled some time, till his captive pupils grew mulish.

  Then he hit upon letting Des tell stories in Roknari. Not only had six of her ten human riders once been mothers, even Pen hadn’t heard all of her two-century stock of memories despite thirteen years of bearing her. Gloomy Umelan in particular was cheered to be called-upon. Her clever efforts even won some halting wonder-tales from Jokona in return, which Pen happily stored up. This served much better, as the sun-splashes crept across the floor.

  For all of you children, I think, Des murmured fondly.

  Pen couldn’t muster reproof.

  * * *

  After three days trapped in this gentler prison, Pen was growing quietly frantic. A few covert visits to the temple’s tiny library provided scant diversion. Library was a grandiose description to start with, as it consisted of two scantly filled bookcases sagging against the wall in the old divine’s study. When the pirates had ransacked the place, they had carried off anything with fine leather or gilded bindings that might be sold for a high price, leaving only ratty codices protected by thin planks or waxed cloth sewn together with twine, and some tattered scrolls.

  Shabby coverings did not necessarily mean that no rare treasure lay hidden within, as Pen was reminded by the example of Jedula Corva, so as he waited for Godino to find help he leafed through every one of them. Despite his diligence he unearthed no sign of his perpetually sought prize of some lost work on sorcery that would teach him more about his craft than he and Des already knew.

  Aye, that would be rare indeed, mused Des.

 
; It could not possibly be the case that he was—they were—already the most knowledgeable sorcerer-demon pair alive in the world today.

  Someone must be, Des pointed out logically.

  It can’t be me. I still have so many questions!

  At least he was able to carry back a couple of simple books written for children in Adriac, and a pair in Cedonian and Roknari, to his young chamber-mates. The well-worn copies were left over from the time when the previous acolyte had taught neighborhood children in the lecture hall, Pen guessed, being religious tales and saints’ legends. Some should be lively enough to divert the girls, he hoped, and give point to the language lessons with which, for want of better entertainment, he filled their waking time.

  They were probably starting to wonder if he really was a dull scribe, and the alarming sorcerer part a self-serving lie like Pozeni’s claim to be a divine. He’d so far resisted their urgings to show them some magic, apart from lighting the night-candle, too convenient a skill to forgo. Well, and demonstrating how he’d supplied them with water in the hold, which rendered them gratifyingly wide-eyed. Especially when he followed it up by producing little hailstones, which they held and marveled at and, inevitably, sucked into their mouths and crunched on, grinning.

  Benign little tricks, not scary at all. If you don’t think them through. He could as easily induce an ice ball to form inside a lung, or a testicle. Or, more helpfully, in a tumor, true. But not in a brain, because that would kill at once, laying Des open to repossession by her god. Thus the subtleties of his skills.

  Godino’s temple kept a cache of donated used garments to be redonated to those in need; Pen supposed he and the girls qualified. It did allow him to cover everyone and then sneak out to the fountain square at night to wash their reeking clothes, a task made easier by a few of Des’s surprisingly large stock of small domestic magics. Well, really, Pen. Ten women. How do you imagine we would not think of these possibilities? Once he’d learned to access them, he’d found her aids had made his Order’s choice of white robes for their learned divines much more manageable. He was starting to miss those robes, and everything that went with them.

 
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