Read An Excerpt
Tharios, capital of the city-state of Tharios
On the Ithocot Sea
The short, plump redhead walked out of the house that belonged to her hostess and looked around, her air that of someone about to embark on a grand adventure. She shook out her pale blue cotton dress and petticoats, then wrapped a collection of breezes around her chubby person as someone else might drape the folds of a shawl before she went to market. The breezes came obediently to her call, having become so much a part of her in the girl’s travels that they no longer rebelled. They spun around her black cotton stockings and sensible leather shoes, raced along the folds of skirt and petticoats, slid along the girl’s arms and over her sunburned, long-nosed face. They swept over the spectacles that shielded intense grey eyes framed by long, gold lashes, and twined themselves over and along her head. They followed the paths of her double handful of copper braids, all pinned neatly to her scalp in a series of rings that left no end visible. Only two long, thin braids were allowed to hang free. They framed either side of her stubborn face.
With her breezes placed to her satisfaction, guardians against the intense summer heat, the girl whistled. The big, shaggy white dog that was busily marking the corners of the house whuffed at her.
“Come on, Little Bear,” ordered Trisana Chandler, known to her friends as Tris. “It’s not really your house anyway.”
The dog fell in step behind the girl, tongue lolling in cheerful good humor. His white curls, recently washed, bounced with his trot; his long, plumed tail was a proud banner. He was a big animal, his head on a level with Tris’s breastbone. Despite his size, he wore the air of an easy-to-please puppy as effortlessly as the girl wore her breezes.
Tris strode down the flagstone path and out through the university gates without so much as a backward glance at the glory of white stucco and marble that crowned the hill above the house. She thought that the university, called Heskalifos, was fine, in its own right, and its high point — the soaring tower known as Phakomathen — was pretty, but there were perfectly good universities in the north. She was on her way to see the true glory of Tharios, its glassmakers. Let her teacher, Niko, join their hostess, Jumshida, and many other learned mages and apprentices in their long-winded, long-lasting presentations on the nature of any and all vision magics. Tris, on the other hand, was interested in the kind of visual magic wrought by someone who held a blowpipe that bore molten glass on its end. At one of the many side entrances to the grounds of Heskalifos, Tris halted and scowled. Had Jumshida said to turn left or go straight once she was outside the university enclosure?
A girl her own age stood nearby at a loading dock, emptying the contents of a trash barrel into the back of a cart. The muscles of her arms stood out like steel cables. Though she was clearly female, she wore her hair cut off at one length at ear level, and the knee-length tunic worn by Tharian men. She was also extremely dirty.
“Excuse me,” Tris called to her. “Do you know the way to Achaya Square?”
The girl picked up the second barrel in a row of them and dumped its contents into her cart.
Tris cleared her throat and raised her voice. “I said, can you tell me the way to Achaya Square?”
The girl flicked her eyes toward Tris, then away. She dumped her empty barrel next to the others, and picked up a full one.
Well, thought Tris. She can hear me; she’s just being rude. She stalked over to the cart. “Don’t you people believe in courtesy to visitors?” she demanded crossly. “Or are all you Tharians so convinced that the world began here that you can’t be bothered to be polite?”
Though the barrel she had taken to the cart was still half full, the girl set it down and fixed her gaze on Tris’s toes. “You shenosi,” she said quietly, using the Tharian word for foreigners. “Don’t they have guidebooks where you come from?”
Tris’s scowl deepened. She was not particularly a patient girl. “I asked a simple question. And you can look at me if you’re going to be snippy.”
“Oh, it’s a simple enough question,” replied the girl, still soft-voiced, her eyes fixed on Tris’s no-nonsense shoes. “As simple as the way is if you just follow that long beak of yours. And I’ll give you some information for nothing, since you’re obviously too ignorant to live. You don’t talk to prathmuni, and prathmuni don’t talk to you. Prathmuni don’t exist.”
“What are prathmuni?” demanded Tris. She chose not to take offense at the remark about her nose. It was not her best feature and never had been.
“I am a prathmun,” retorted the girl. “My mother, my sisters, and my brothers are prathmuni. We’re untouchable, degraded, invisible. Am I getting through that thick northern skull yet?”
“Why?” asked Tris, curious now. This was far more interesting than a simple answer to her question. “Why should a prathmun be those things?”
The girl sighed, and rubbed her face with her hands, smearing more dirt into it. “We handle the bodies of the dead,” she told Tris wearily. “We skin and tan animal hides. We make shoes. We take out the night soil. But mostly, we handle the dead, which means we defile whatever we touch. If you don’t move along and a giladha—”
“What?” asked Tris.
“One of the visible people,” replied the girl. “If they see you talking to me, they’ll demand you get yourself ritually cleansed before you go anywhere or do anything. Now will you go away?” demanded the prathmun, impatient. “You’ll get cleansed, shenos, but I’ll be whipped.”