THE MIRROR OF WORLDS – snippet 7:
Cashel stood on the edge of the mere, listening to the fishermen croon in the near distance as they slid their tiny canoes through the reeds. The unfamiliar bright star was coming up in the southeast; it'd risen earlier each night since the Change. A shepherd like Cashel got to know the heavens very well. When he'd first seen this star it'd been part of the Water Pitcher, the constellation that signalled the start of the rainy season, but after a month it was nearing the tail of the Panther.
One man sat in the back of each canoe, poling it forward; his partner stood in the front with a long spear. Instead of a single point, the spears had outward-curving springs of bamboo with bone teeth on the inner sides. When fish rose to stare at the lantern hanging from the canoe's extended bow, the spearman struck and caught the flopping victim like a gar's jaws.
Cashel wasn't a fisherman, and the fishermen he knew in Barca's Hamlet went out onto the Inner Sea with hooks and long lines. He could appreciate skill even in people doing something unfamiliar, however, and these fellows fishing the reed-choked mere south of Valles obviously knew what they were doing.
Besides, he liked the way they sang while they worked. Cashel couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but it'd always pleased him to hear his friend Garric playing his shepherd's pipe the times they watched the sheep together.
"There!" said Tenoctris firmly, straightening from the squat in which she'd been marking the dirt with a silver stylus. They were as close to the bank as they could get and still find the ground firm enough to take her impressions. Tenoctris took a bamboo wand from her bag, then added apologetically, "This may be a complete waste of time, Cashel. I shouldn't have taken you away from Sharina."
Cashel shrugged and smiled. "I don't mind," he said. "And anyway, you don't waste time that I've seen, Tenoctris."
He cleared his throat and glanced away, a little embarrassed. What he was about to say might sound like bragging, which Cashel didn't like.
"I'd sooner be here in case, you know, something happens," he said. "I figure you're better off with me if something does than if you were with somebody else."
Tenoctris smiled warmly. He didn't know how old she was–really old, surely–but she hopped around chirping like a sparrow most of the time. Wizardry wore her down, but wizardry wore down everybody who used it.
It wore down even Cashel, though he wasn't a wizard the way most people meant. He just did things when he had to.
Tenoctris was the only wizard Cashel'd met who seemed to him to know what she was doing. And by now, Cashel'd met more wizards than he'd have dreamed in the years he was growing up.
"So," said one of the old men who'd been watching Cashel and Tenoctris, the strangers who'd come from Valles in a gig. There were eight of them; a hand and three fingers by Cashel's calculation. "You folk be wizards, then?"
"She's a wizard," said Cashel, smiling and nodding toward Tenoctris. She was taking books out of her case, both rolls and those cut in pages and bound, codices she called them. "I'm a shepherd most times, but I'm helping her now. She's my friend. She's everybody's friend, everybody who wants the good people to win."
There wasn't enough light to read by. No matter how smart you were–and there weren't many smarter than Tenoctris–you couldn't see the letters without a lamp. She liked to have the words of her spells before her even though she was going to call them out from memory, though. It was a trick, the way Cashel always flexed his shoulders three times before he picked up a really heavy weight.
"We don't hold much with wizards here in Watertown," the local man who'd been speaking said; the others nodded soberly. "Not saying anything against your friend, mind."
Cashel looked at the group again, wondering for a moment if they were all men. He decided they were, though they were so old and bent down that it didn't matter.
"From what I've seen of most wizards," he said agreeably, "you're right to feel that way. I've watched sheep as had more common sense than most wizards. Tenoctris is good, though."
He paused and added, still calmly, "I'm glad you weren't speaking against her. I wouldn't like that."
Cashel supposed these folk were the elders of the village too far down the bank to see even if it'd been daylight. The younger men were in the canoes, the women were back in the huts cooking the meal that the fishermen would eat on their return. The old men had nothing better to do than be busybodies, which–
Cashel grinned broadly.
–they were doing just fine.
Tenoctris had finished her preparations; she came to join them. Cashel was wondering if he ought to send the locals away, but Tenoctris pointed to the marble pool behind them. To the man who'd been speaking she said, "Can you tell me if there's writing on that fountain, my good man?"
The pool must be spring-fed, because a trickle of water dribbled from a pipe through the curb, then down the side. The flow used to feed into an open channel, also marble, and then down into the mere. Years had eaten the trough away, so only the little difference lime from the stone made in the vegetation showed it'd ever been there.
The pool curb had the crumbly decay–black below but a leprous white above–that marble got in wet ground, but it still seemed solid. There was a raised part on the back like it was meant to hold a plaque or carved words, but Cashel doubted you'd be able to tell if anything was written there even in sunlight.
"Mistress, I can't write," said the old man nervously. He backed a step; Cashel's size hadn't scared him, but Tenoctris did–either because she was a wizard or just from the way she spoke that showed she was a lady. "Nobody in Watertown can write, mistress!"
"I think this was built as a monument to a battle, you see," Tenoctris said. "According to Stayton's Library, twin brothers named Pard and Pardil fought over the succession to the Kingdom of Ornifal. They and everyone in their armies were killed. A fountain sprang from the rock to wash the stain of blood from the land, and their uncle built a curb and stele–"
She gestured toward the vertical slab at the back of the curb.
She stepped through the group and knelt to peer closely at pool. Cashel moved with her, not because there was a threat–certainly not from these men–but just on general principles. Sometimes things happened very fast. Although Cashel was quick, he still didn't plan to give trouble a head start.
"So this is the spring, mistress?" Cashel said, squinting to see if that helped him make out any carving on the decayed slab. It didn't.
"There are problems with the story, I'm afraid," Tenoctris said, giving him one of her quick, cheerful smiles. The local men were listening intently; two of them even leaned close to see what they could make from the white-blistered stone. "Pard and Pardil mean Horse and Mare in the language of the day, and the island wasn't called Ornifal until the hero Val arrived from Tegma a thousand years later and founded the city of Valles."
She looked at the pool again, pursing her lips, and added, "But still, this could be the battle monument Stayton describes."