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Therefore he set over them masters of the works, to afflict them with burdens.

—Exodus 1:11


Shipyear 3830

"Well, well, well, look what we've caught. A little guppy."

Danil Fougere jumped and spun, taken by surprise. The gang leader was named Hatch. He was three or four years older than Danil, and a lot bigger. He advanced with a confident swagger, a subordinate boy close behind him. At the other end of the alley another pair of gangers appeared, blocking the exit. Danil stole a glance back the way he had come, saw another figure waiting there. He was trapped.

"What you got there?" The leader smirked and pointed at Danil's belt-bag. "Anything I might like?"

"Just an axe head," said Danil, backing away. "I found it."

"Really? Well, I just lost an axe head. Why don't you show me and we'll see if it's mine."

"It's mine." Danil put a hand protectively over his belt bag. The axe head was a prize, tradable to a smith for three or four days of food. Losing it would mean hunger, and Danil was already very hungry. "I found it where the Prophetsy crew works."

Hatch lunged and grabbed him by the shirt front. "Give it here, guppy." His voice was suddenly hard. He was done playing with his prey.

"Alright, alright." The other gang members had closed in, and Danil was surrounded. "Just let me get it untied."

"Do it fast, guppy." Hatch released Danil's shirt front, shoving him backwards at the same time. "You don't want me getting bored."

Danil fumbled with the leather laces that held the bag to his belt. When he had it undone he held it out to the bigger boy. Hatch reached to take it, but when he came close Danil swung the bag, catching him hard in the side of the face. The larger boy yelped in pain, and Danil darted for the far end of the alley. The boys who were blocking his path lunged to grab him but he swung the heavy bag again, smacking the larger one on the skull with an audible crack. His assailant went down. The second one snatched at the bag, but Danil drove his knee into his groin and the other collapsed to writhe in agony in the dirt.

Danil ran as shouts rose after him, desperate fear driving him to speed. He swerved into a side alley, caroming off the wall to make the corner. As he did so, he stole a glance back to see Hatch and two more boys chasing him. They were all bigger than he was, and if they caught him now they would do worse than steal his axe head. His breath came in gasps as he forced himself to run faster. He had an escape route, if he could get that far.

Fifty meters further on, he came to a narrow gap, an accidental feature formed where a stable yard and a fishmonger's shop didn't quite meet, not wide enough to be considered an alley, but big enough for him to squeeze in sideways. It was a shortcut he'd discovered, when he'd first come to Far Bay. The pursuing boys nearly caught him then, but they had to squeeze into the narrow space themselves and Danil recovered his lead. He moved as fast as he could, ignoring the small hurts inflicted when the building sideboards caught at his skin.

"You're not getting away, guppy," Hatch yelled.

Danil ignored him. If he was yelling it was because he was frustrated, and if he was frustrated it was because Danil was getting away. The confined space was more an obstacle for the older boys than it was for him. It dead-ended at a fence that surrounded a cut yard, and under the fence was a space just large enough him to slip through. Normally he looked carefully first, to make sure none of the yard hands were watching. This time he thrust his head and shoulders under the fence without so much as a glance. It was a tight squeeze, and he had a moment of panic when his belt caught against the fence boards. It took him precious seconds to wiggle free, and then he felt hands grabbing his ankle, pulling him back. He kicked desperately, felt one foot connect with something solid. There was a grunt of pain and the hands let go, and he pulled himself through to the other side.

He stood up and dusted himself off, breathing hard. While he recovered he watched to see if the gang would try to follow him, but they weren't stupid enough to wedge themselves into the narrow space while he was free to kick them in the head as they came through. Curses and threats came through the fence, but they weren't important. Danil found himself trembling. That was too close, too close by far. Coming to Far Bay had been an act of desperation, and the city had no welcome for a lone runaway. He had managed to survive so far on his wits, but the gangs were hard to evade, and every time he ran into one he made more enemies.

The voices on the other side of the fence faded. Danil turned to see if he'd been spotted, crouching behind a pile of timbers to see where the yard team was. Fortunately they were preoccupied, working the big two-man vertical crosscut in the center of the space and stacking the sawn boards in piles. The clean, fresh smell of cut timber filled the yard, somehow making him feel even dirtier in comparison. He crept to the next timber pile and then to the next, keeping them between himself and the hands. At the far end of the yard, a pile of stacked logs formed an impromptu staircase that would take him over the fence to the next street.

He was halfway to it when he spotted a worktable covered in rough hewn boards. It was unattended, with a buck saw and a big chisel lying on top of it. He paused, considering. Either would make a nice prize, both together would feed him for a week. He looked again to where the yard hands were working the crosscut. They were preoccupied, and looking the other way. It would be so easy . . . he pushed the temptation aside. It would be easy this time, but he needed the cut yard route. If tools started disappearing the yard hands would look to find the reason. Dock rats like Danil were already assumed to be thieves, and he would be beaten if he were caught in the yard. If he were caught stealing, he might get some bones broken, and that would leave him easy prey to the gangs.

He slipped over to the lumber pile, checked to make sure no one was looking, and scampered to the top. From there it was a short jump to the fence's top rail, and then he swung himself down to a narrow street of hard packed dirt. He checked left and right, just in case Hatch had anticipated his route, but the way was clear. He dodged around a fishmonger's cart, jumped up onto the rough-hewn boardwalk and ran along it to the bridge across the Silver River just before it emptied itself into the ocean. On the other side of the bridge, a brick and timber forge dipped a waterwheel into the lazy current, smoke pouring from the mud-plastered chimney. He heaved a sigh of relief. Era was there, and working. He ran across the bridge and into the open shop front. The broad-shouldered smith was at the furnace hearth, holding a work piece in the coals with a pair of steel tongs.

Danil watched in fascination. He loved to watch the shop's machinery moving. The waterwheel drove a tacklewheel that turned a beltrope to work the furnace bellows. Every blast of air made the furnace roar, and sent a wave of heat rolling into the shop and against Danil's face. When the shipsteel glowed red hot, Era turned to put it on the anvil beneath the drop hammer. He caught sight of Danil then, and threw him a wink. A long wooden lever engaged the waterwheel to the hammer's shaft, and the hammer began to rise and fall, clanging with loud rhythm. Danil watched in fascination as the red-glowing shipsteel yielded to the hammer, trying to determine what it was Era was making. Eventually the blacksmith was satisfied with his handiwork, and thrust the work piece into a bucket of water where it sizzled and steamed. He put down the tongs, and disconnected the waterwheel from the hammer, then moved another lever to disconnect the bellows as well.

"That will do for now." He smiled as broad as his shoulders. "What have you brought today, lad?"

Danil took his prize from his belt bag and held it up. "An axe head."

"Not stolen, I trust?"

"Not from any fisherfolk."

"From a lumber crew?"


Era laughed. "Young man, you'll live to regret stealing from the Prophetsy."

"I don't steal, I scavenge. It's not my fault they leave so much behind."

"The Prophet already thinks he owns us. He might yet own you, and you'll be hauling those trees instead of climbing them." The blacksmith took the axe head and hefted it. "This is nice. How much do you want?"

"Whatever you think is fair."

"We'll say thirty hooks."

"Thirty? There's a good kilo of shipsteel there."

"Forty, then."

"Islan Keenn would give me sixty."

"Islan wouldn't give his own mother sixty, but you're welcome to ask him."

"Fifty, Era, that's fair."

"I don't have fifty hooks, so let's say thirty hooks and a token, since you drive such a hard bargain." Era went to a shelf filled with ranked wooden boxes, took one down and counted out thirty fishhooks, then added a silvery trade token to the pile.

Danil swept the hooks into his belt bag, careful to avoid pricking himself on the points, and slipped the token into a pocket.

"Thanks, Era." He hesitated. The token alone was worth thirty hooks. He wanted to say more, but he didn't know what to say. Era was the only person who'd been kind to him since he'd come to the city, and his wife Sall would sometimes slip Danil a heel of bread or some dried trout. He wanted to thank Era for that as well, he wanted to find a way to win the big man's friendship, he wanted . . . he wasn't even sure what it was he was looking for. He didn't know what words to say, and didn't want to risk the fragile connection by saying the wrong ones.

"No thanks required for a fair trade." The big man smiled and the transaction was over. It was Danil's cue to leave, but he didn't want to go. Hatch would be angry and looking for him, and the forge was safety for as long as he could stay.

"What's are you working on?" he asked, because he couldn't think of anything else to say.

Era fished the now cooled work piece out of the water with the tongs. "It's a better wheel hub." He handed it to Danil. The piece of shipsteel was round and as big as his hand, with a flange on the outside to hold the spokes and a hole in the center to take the axle. "Try it, see how it works." He pointed to a rounding jig with a finished wheel on it.

Danil put down the hub and took the wheel from the jig, held it by the axle and gave it a spin. It turned smoothly and easily, and he smacked the edge of it to speed it up, until finally the spokes were a blur.

"It's so quiet." Danil had little exposure to wheels or hubs, but every wagon he'd ever seen squeaked and rattled while the wheels went around.

"No other wheel in the world spins like that."

Danil nodded silently, unable to take his eyes off the simple magic he was holding. "How did you do it, Era?"

"A smoother bearing surface. Two pieces of shipsteel, shaped against each other hot so they fit perfectly."

Danil nodded, so engrossed with the motion that at first he didn't notice the subtle force twisting the wheel in his hands, but it grew steadily until finally it threatened to take the axle right out of them.

"What makes it twist like that?" he asked.

"Like what?" Era was puzzled.

Silently Danil handed the wheel back to its creator, spun it up, and watched until the effect manifested itself.

Era's eyes widened. "I don't know what it's doing. It's a perfectly ordinary wheel, I built it myself. The hub spins better, but there's no magic to that."

Danil shook his head. "Something is pulling at it." He looked closely at the wheel hub, not really sure what he might be looking for that could explain what he had experienced.

Era nodded. "Something is. I never noticed that, but I've always spun it in the jig."

They spun the wheel again in the jig, which resolved nothing, and then spun it a few more times, taking turns holding it. They found that sometimes the wheel tried to turn itself sideways and sometimes it didn't. It was Era who discovered that if you tried to force it to turn it would always resist the movement, which was strange, but it was Danil who discovered that it twisted most if you faced foreward or aftward, and not at all if you faced spinward or antispinward, which was stranger still.

"How can it know the difference?" he wondered. "It's just a piece of wood and shipsteel."

Era shrugged. "I don't know."

"Do other wheels do it?"

"I don't know. Other wheels don't spin so well as mine."

Danil faced foreward and spun the wheel again, and held it as it turned slowly through a full circle. Something about the motion seemed familiar . . . 

"Let's take it outside," he said, sudden inspiration in his voice. "I have an idea."

They went out the back into Era's yard, full of piled scrap and ingots of shiny shipsteel. Danil pointed up at the foredome, where the faint stars revolved in the blackness between the central glare where the suntube touched it and the grey mist that shrouded the top of the forewall. "Watch the stars . . ." He faced foreward, held the wheel vertically and spun it up. " . . . and watch the wheel."

They watched and Danil shifted his grip as the wheel twisted, allowing it to move the way it wanted to and spinning it up again when it started to slow down.

"What should I be seeing?" asked Era.

"The wheel stays aligned with the stars. It's moving with them, but we aren't, so to us it looks like it's the wheel that's twisting."

Surprise came into the blacksmith's face. "You're a clever one. How did you guess that?"

"Something seemed familiar, and it was the rate of twist, the same as the speed the stars go around. You could keep time with it, if you could keep it spinning somehow."

"That's clever, though you'd put the timeringers out of business," said the smith. "You could be a mechanographer, young man."

"Do you think so?"

"I do. Now I have that hub to finish, and I'm sure you've got something to trade those hooks for."

Danil nodded. He'd stayed as long as he could. They went back into the forge. Era restarted his bellows, and Danil went out, his hunger returned, and his temporary respite from Hatch over. He checked carefully at the doorway, saw no one hostile, and stepped into the street. It was crowded with horses and wagons, merchants and customers, and he threaded his way through the throng, staying to the side where he was out of the way, less likely to attract attention. Six hooks bought a couple of loaves of dark bread from a baker, three more bought some smoked trout. He split one loaf in half and made a sandwich of the trout, and devoured half of it on the spot. That tamed his immediate hunger, and he put the rest of his under his shirt and made his way back to his nest on the waterfront, hidden behind a fence-board rigged to be a doorway just big enough for him. His nest wasn't much, just a dilapidated wooden box by a net spinner's shop on the wharf, once used to hold carved balsa floats, and now used to hold nothing. He had made it more comfortable with a section of discarded sail canvas to sleep under. The float box was part of a tangle of disused gear by the side of the shop, most of uncertain purpose and all of it broken. The net spinner was an old man with failing vision, and his business was slowly dying. Neither he nor his customers ever came to Danil's side of the shop, and that suited Danil just fine. He had slept under a wharf his first week in the city, and it hadn't been pleasant.

He climbed into his box and left the lid open. A loose board on the bottom lifted to reveal a tiny, hidden space and he undid his belt bag and put hooks and the token in it. Only then did he lie back to enjoy the rest of his sandwich. He felt safe in his nest, and the suntube was warm on his face. He could look up and around the arch of the world overhead, watch the fishing rafts high up on the ocean's curve, sails bright in the sun. It seemed they should slide down, that all the water arching over his head should slosh down to flood the bottom of the world's cylinder, that the people who lived on the other side of the suntube should fall, as everything fell from a higher place to a lower one. They never did though, regardless of what Danil Fougere thought they should do, so he just looked up at it and wondered. Somewhere up there was Cove, where he'd grown up, and he was suddenly filled with longing for the home he'd had there, for his parents, for his brother and his sister. It was always like that after he had been to Era's. It was nice to spend time with the big blacksmith, to not have to be afraid for those few precious minutes, but it always reminded him of what it was he had lost. A flight of ducks flew over in V formation, and he found himself wishing he could fly as they did, just fly across the world to home and safety. He was suddenly overcome with loss and sadness, and he pulled the lid of his box down over himself, and finished his sandwich in the dark. When it was done he curled up tight in his sail, stomach full, but still empty in a way the meal could not satisfy. He felt that he should be crying, but he had no tears. Instead he closed his eyes and willed himself to go to sleep.

Sleep was slow in coming. The fight with Hatch's gang had been frightening, and he wondered if he should leave Far Bay. For most of his life he'd known the city as nothing more than a shape, an outline blotched in buildings against the ocean shore, halfway up the curve of the world. It was the place he looked to when his father was away to trade their catch, a place the older fishers told stories of, a place that seemed mythical even though he could see it directly. It touched the ocean with a tangle of docks and fishing rafts and the forest with rows of neat houses set into the rising upper shore. The space between was a bewildering maze of merchants and mongers and crafters, smokesheds and warehouses. Danil wasn't comfortable with so many people doing so many things in such close proximity, and moreover the place smelled, of dried fish and wood smoke and leather and sweat and too many people in too little space. He didn't like that at all. He'd had a plan, when he first arrived. In Cove, all the children dived for clams. All you had to do was line up at the dock and get on the next raft going out clamming. It was hard work, but fun, and you got a quarter of all you could bring up. He'd gone down to the docks his first day in the city, expecting it to be the same, but in Far Bay there were more children willing to dive than there were spaces on rafts to take them out to the clam beds. Every gang worked with a certain raft captain, and Danil had gotten his first beating for intruding on someone else's turf. He'd gone hungry that first night, and the next as well. He'd had to learn quickly to scavenge for what he could sell, to hide while the city worked and move in the sleeping hours. At least I'm surviving now. More than that the world seemed unwilling to grant him.

He fell asleep at last, listening to the gentle waves lapping against the dock pilings, and woke up to the distant chiming of the mid-sleep bells, feeling better. He yawned and stretched, and opened the lid of his nest, squinting his eyes against the suntube's brightness. Today's work feeds tomorrow's hunger. His father's words overcame his residual drowsiness, and he climbed out of his nest and went out into the wharf street, idly munching on his second loaf of bread. The shop fronts were closed and shuttered, the streets silent. It felt strange to be alone in the city, but it was safer than going out in the waking hours. He followed the suntube forewards, towards the thick band of forest that separated the ocean from the patchwork farm fields of the Prophetsy. A couple of times he had to duck into doorways or behind fences to stay out of the way of the sleep-watch. Soon he was out of Far Bay, into the forest and away from anyone who might care that he was awake while they slept. For a short distance he followed the trading road. It was a good road, the quickest route through the trees to the forelands, and laid with baked clay bricks to prevent rutting. It was also patrolled by the sleep-watch, and at the forest's edge it met the barricade wall controlled by the Prophetsy's elite inquisitors. Getting caught by either group was not in his plan.

Instead he cut into the woods, following a faint animal track that he knew. This part of the forest had never been logged, and the tall oaks and ironwoods towered overhead, creating a permanent twilight beneath their shade. He kept his eyes open in case he ran into one of the rare leopards, but saw nothing. Occasionally a rustling in the undergrowth told of a squirrel or other small herbivore. Yesterday's rain still dampened the ground, and the air was rich and humid as the moisture steamed from the saturated ground. Some of the ancient trees were hung heavy with kudzu vine, the others had their lower reaches covered in moss. A couple of kilometers foreward the forest changed, with younger trees interspersed with tall bamboo. The underbrush was thicker there, and it made for harder going. He pushed his way forward, until he broke through at a hundred meter wide clearing, broken only by a few low thickets of blackberry. On the other side of it was the tall resined-brick wall that separated the forest and the fisherfolk from the Prophetsy. It was a good five meters high, and every two hundred meters there was a watchtower on the forelander side. At the clearing he paused, looking carefully left and right, because sometimes the inquisitors had spotters patrolling the forest side of the wall as well. He couldn't help but marvel at the way the wall curved up and around the world, gradually thinning to a line as climbed the world's arch, to a thread as it went vertical in the distance and then circled overhead, until finally it vanished in the glare of the suntube.

He returned his attention to the closest watchtowers. Not every tower was manned all the time, especially in the sleeping hours. When he was satisfied that the coast was clear he ran across and, cat-agile, leapt up to grab for the rough edges of the bricks, climbing as easily as he'd climbed the trees around Cove. He paused as his head cleared the top, checking again for patrolling inquisitors. On the top of the wall there was a walkway three meters wide and a meter and a half down from the top, and when he was sure no one had seen him he pulled himself up and over in one fluid motion, rolled across the walkway and grabbed the lip to flip himself down on the other side of the wall. He held on just long enough to check his fall, let go and rolled again when he hit the ground. He smiled to himself as he came up running. No doubt the forelanders thought their wall was an obstacle, and maybe to the town boys it was, but the children of Cove grew up swimming and climbing, and he had always been the best at both in his peer group. The forelands were mostly a patchwork of cultivated fields, but next to the wall it was all pasture, and five hundred meters foreward there was a plot of woods. He ran hard, made it to the trees, and slowed once he was among them.

The trees were mostly oak and beech, not as big as they were in the aftward forests but big for a foreland forest. He came to a clearing surrounding a crude, rutted road and he slowed, moving cautiously now. Up ahead came the rhythmic ringing of axes on wood. It was still two hours short of the breakfast bell, but the Prophet's slave crews worked sixteen hours a day. He stole closer to the sounds, choosing his route carefully. The road turned a corner, and the clearing widened. At its edges a crew of Prophetsy slaves were felling trees, sweating under the suntube's heat, and Danil crouched down beside a thick oak trunk to watch. There were three dozen or so, and the rhythmic thunk, thunk of their axes echoed through the woods. Half a dozen crew-drivers guarded them, occasionally applying their leather short-whips to encourage the work along. He watched the activity for a while, satisfying himself that his arrival hadn't caused any change in the rhythm of their work. Once he was sure they hadn't seen him he clambered up the oak, keeping the trunk between him and the workers. He found a comfortable fork ten meters up and settled himself down to wait.

They kept at it steadily as time slid past. It took two or three backbreaking hours for a pair of men to chop their way through one of the thick trunks, angling their cuts to bring the big trees down onto already cleared land. When the tree fell they could be injured or killed if they didn't get out of the way, a task made difficult by the short neck-rope that linked their shipsteel slave collars together. A buck crew cut the fallen giants into manageable logs to be dragged away by the toiling haul crews, forty or more men yoked into traces and straining under a driver's lash. The crew's passivity puzzled Danil. Why don't they fight back? To him it seemed the obvious thing to do. Their axes were only slightly less effective weapons than the spears the drivers carried, and the advantage the guards enjoyed in armor was more than offset by the imbalance in numbers. If the slaves chose they would make short work of their captors. Instead they endured the abuse and worked on. Why don't they even run away? All a slave had to do was cut his neck rope and vanish into the forest. But they don't. It didn't really matter, the forelanders were strange in a lot of ways. What did matter was that, sooner or later, the food wagon would arrive, and the drivers would herd the slaves over to eat. When that happened the odds were good that someone would leave a tool unguarded, and Danil could be able to keep himself fed for a few more days.

A foraging squirrel caught his attention, and he watched as the small creature diligently scoured acorns from the forest floor and ran them up to its hidden storehouse high in another tree. Unlike the laboring slaves it was well aware of his presence, and carefully avoided coming too close to his tree. He slowly became engrossed in its antics, so much so that the sudden silence in the forest took him by surprise. He looked up to see the clearing emptying, the slaves filtering foreward. The food wagon had arrived. Danil looked around carefully, alert for any stragglers, and then, as agile as the squirrel, swung himself down through the oak's thick branches. The forest floor was soft against his toes, and he crouched instinctively. It wouldn't be good to get caught. Carefully he crept towards the work area, keeping to the shadows where the leafy canopy blocked the suntube, and choosing his path for both cover and silence. Still-white stumps dotted the area, and the ground was churned by dragged logs. He could hear voices coming faintly down the crude logging road; the forelanders weren't far. He went to one half-felled forest giant, quickly checked around its base, found nothing. He moved to the next and the next, again coming up empty handed. It seemed the slaves had taken their tools with them. The axe-head he'd traded to Era had come from this very crew, and the slave who'd lost it would have been punished. The rest would be more careful for a while.

He checked the remaining trees the crew had been working on and found nothing. That was disappointing, and there was a temptation to look further, but the key to scavenging shipsteel from the Prophetsy was caution. Impatience would get him caught, sooner or later. He turned to go, and then he saw it, so obvious that he was momentarily astounded that he hadn't before. It was not just an axe but a whole pile of axes, arranged to lean against each other and form a neat pyramid, and he found his heart suddenly pounding. This wasn't just a score, this was wealth. The pile was just down the crude road, close to the edge of the clearing, but out of sight of the meal wagon. He ran to it, checking down the road to make sure the slaves weren't on their way back. There were eight axes, and it was immediately apparent he couldn't carry them all in a bunch, not easily anyway. Working quickly and quietly he disassembled the pile, being careful not to let it clatter to the ground. He stacked his prizes head to head and haft to haft, and stripped off his shirt to tie them into a bundle. Once that was done he picked the burden up and turned to steal out of the clearing.

Something slammed into his head, flashing pain and sending him sprawling forward. He scrambled up, ready to run on reflex and found himself facing a leveled spearhead. He saw crimson cloth and shipsteel, and looked up to find hard eyes on his. He froze. Where the crew drivers were to be avoided, the inquisitor warrior-priests earned dread.

"Don't try to run, boy," his assailant warned, lethal intent clear in his voice. "We've got arrows on you."

Danil darted his eyes left and right, saw the scarlet uniforms in the tree line on either side, bows drawn. He was caught.

"Smart move." The inquisitor nodded approvingly as he saw Danil's realization that he had nowhere to go. "Get on your belly." Danil complied, felt a knee forced into the small of his back, and then his arms yanked back and expertly tied behind him. The soldier cinched the knots tight and secured the rope to Danil's belt. A second length of rope went around his neck in a tight loop.

"Mik!" The man yelled. "Get over here and take him up to the camp."

Another soldier came running, this one shorter and not quite as lean. He took Danil's neck rope and led him up the road. As they came up to the slave crew he saw a familiar face standing beside the head driver, younger than the others, smirking in triumph. Hatch. The pile of tools hadn't been left by accident, the inquisitors were no coincidence. Danil had been set up.


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