hree men crouched in a prison cell.

The cell was dug-and-walled in a sunken courtyard. Ironwood bars were cemented into the floor and ceiling. A bar closed the cell, its handle beyond reach. Locked?

How to get out? thought Charthat.

Where was his partner?

He could saw through the lignum vitae with true-steel; he had none. He'd lost his razor at the prison door, though his bare hands, trained in thefanath disciplines, were more deadly.

Noise from outside, from the hot crowded streets.

He had spoken briefly to his two cellmates, who'd had little to say. Apparently, neither could imagine a way past the guards who sat outside. The noise outside grew louder, and louder still. Charthat Thermatson saw one of his cellmates say something. What was going on? He smelled smoke.

That's all we need now -- a fire in jail. We'll burn to death before the --

Screams. Other prisoners?

Could the three of them burn the wooden bars? No source of fire. Just their clothes, eating bowls, horn spoons, gourd of water, a chamberpot.

he guard looked up, looked at them. Charthat's cellmates were desultorily sitting. Pretending to pray, he looked up. The guard was pacing, not watching him. His chance? He closed his eyes and focused his mind.

Charthat had been trained by the monks of Vokherkhe to remember what he read, heard, and saw. In his mind, he walked outside the cell, saw the long hard-wood bolt, saw the handle that slid it. Saw the lock. Snag the handle with a loop? Not of his belt; it wouldn't work.

He tore a length of his robe, twisted it into a rope, knotted a rough noose. Eyes shut, he swung it, felt nothing. Let out more length of the rope.

The noises came closer, smoke thicker. The noose hit something, slipped. His hand was growing numb from the strange position he held. He flexed it, did not drop the rag-rope. Swung again, caught.

The building shook.

He began to pull, saw the guard again. Prayed for thick smoke. The guard shouted, "Hey, stop that!" and marched over toward their cell.

Charthat had an idea.

The guard grabbed the rope noose, and Charthat hauled on it, brought the man closer too fast for him to react. A pair of hands shot from behind Charthat, cracked the guard's head against the bars. Three times, and the man fell. Charthat shook, recited a mantra. There were voices shoutinginside the jail now, too close, shouting to kill the foreigners.

He motioned the two men closer. With his hands cupped around his mouth, he shouted, "We get a chance, we run!" The other men nodded. Kill the Idolators! shouted a mob outside.

Charthat looped the noose, pulled the handle gently. The heavy bar slid, and the guard stirred. "What --what did you --" He sat up and moved out the range of the prisoners. "What happened?"

One of Charthat's cellmates said, "You fell, sir. We made sure you were okay. Don't move for a while, okay?" Head injuries did not make you coherent or capable, even if you were conscious at all.

he guard looked at them, and then looked at Charthat, who had pulled the long lignum-vitae bar far enough to reach out and grasp the handle with his fist. He pulled it, and the door-gate swung aside. Now, the lock. He pulled a twist of wire from his breechclout, which he'd hidden by shoving it into his mouth when searched. He inserted it, felt for tumblers. Would the guard stop them?

The man got to his knees, stood.

Twist the wire so, remembering picking locks on the candy box at the monastery. . .push it so, and listen for the tumblers clicking. There. He smiled. Free. The guard came at them, and Charthat punched him in the neck; he sank down The prisoners walked out, over the feebly stirring guard. Charthat inspected the other cells, freed men. The guard moaned. Blow to the head: he might suffer shaking of the brain, but Charthat was no doctor. He heard the guard vomit weakly. Preceded by the dash of their fellow prisoners, they climbed the rock stairs to the ground level guardhouse where one could buy cells with a view. They heard noise from the mob outside the gate. The mob attached ropes to the bars of the gate, pulled. The Khus' cells were open, abandoned.

Womens' screams from the jail's purdah: Alegan was a monotheistic province. He stripped off his monk's robe, bundled it inside a blanket. Now he was another pauper in a loincloth. He went to the women's door, where veiled faces pleaded. He said, "Wait."

The women cried, "Let us out!"

Charthat knelt, and one cellmate of his said, "Forget 'em! We'll burn!" and tried to pull him from the door; he shook the man with a wrestling move.

The jail was on fire, smoke stinging his eyes as he tried to pick this lock as well. The women pounded on the door, dislodging his wire. He heard screams from elsewhere-wounded? He didn't know. Again, the man who'd shared his cell shouted at him.

"I can't leave them here," said Charthat to the two men. To the women he said, "Stop hitting the door. I am trying to get you out!"

"Let us out! Let us out! The purdah is on fire now!"

More shaking and pounding. He shook his head. A hand on his shoulder, and he turned and stood.

It was his cellmate, with a ring of keys. "Maybe these?" The man tried them in the lock.

The mob tried the gate again, and it fell in pieces, and the mob poured through. He heard them screaming.

harthat heard voices inside the building. Prisoners shouted and begged in Alegani dialect, calling on the Sun-God and the saints of the faVashala faith. Rioters came inside the guardhouse. "You lot," he heard the mob say, "just you wait. We'll give you what you deserve."

Charthat tensed, wondering. The rioters came closer, and Charthat realized they bore weapons.

One said, "Foreign folk, are you? Come to take our homes?"

"I am a traveler only; my home is --" But Charthat had no time to speak further; a flung stone caught him painfully in mid-ribs. Another stone came, while his cellmate fiddled with the old, bent keys and women screamed and pounded on the door with something hard; he dodged it. Then two men rushed him.

It was just like practice on the old drill field at Vokherkhe. He deflected one man's blow with a move in the Dragon, then took the Eagle-Owl and aimed a sky-kick at the second, who dodged without knowing to topple him. The first man came at him, while thick smoke poured across the courtyard. The day was hot, he thought. That wouldn't help --

Another blow, from a club, glancing from his back. He turned slightly, used the man's weight and momentum to throw him whirling. Charthat was a little man, and had studied till he bled to be a bigger man's equal on the mats.

The first man again, clubbing with a stone. He dropped into the Two Moons and chopped the man, hard, on the side of his neck. The man fell heavily. Then the next was on him, winding up and --

Charthat disarmed him, heard keys click --Yes! -- and while his cellmate stared at veiled and unveiled woman–flesh pouring from the purdah as it burned, some wounded or scorched, leaning no others, Charthat punched him twice in the face and neck. The man's skull hit the pavement stones with a heavy, final crack. That left one man who --

Fled. The man who'd wielded the keys dropped them, stood, and introduced himself with a handclasp, heedless of caste, as Gavak. Charthat said, "I'm Charthat, and I'm a monk."

The other man said, "Ahar."

Flame roared up as the roof beams caught. The two prisoners ran, then Charthat, blanket-bundle over his back.

A tall woman in a blue veil passed the men, crying, "Get out! The building burns!"

The escapees took the hint, exiting through a back gate into the vegetable garden.

#

unkashar was an old FaNurro city, made of squares and courtyards. Sudden feet behind the the escaped prisoners made the two men run. Charthat followed, then had a thought. He snapped a dried sorghum cane off, masking the noise inside his hand, then uprooted tomato vines and draped them, ripe tomatoes and all, on the cane. He motioned to his cellmates, handed each a cane. Charthat and his friends went on, out of the garden, and into a square where four-storied residences stood.

"Thanks, Ahar," Charthat said. "Good work there." They continued on.

Ahar said, "We needed to get away." He looked hard at Charthat. "Are you really a monk?"

"Yes, from Vokherkhe, over in the Churgan. Why?"

"I was just asking. Don't know who to believe. Where you headed?" He ate a tomato from the garden which they had just crossed.

"I came to Gunkashar with my partner, a doctor named Hilojat. They parted us at the customs office, wanted my papers." Charthat didn't have Alegani papers, and they had jailed him with common criminals, if Gavak and Ahar were criminals.

ne did not ask.

"No papers. I understand." Gavak nodded.

"So," Ahar said, "Where you headed?"

"I need to find other faTheyists, and the land-sailing boat we brought here with us, and my partner," said Charthat.

"Your partner?" said Ahar.

"Hilojat, son of Shazhat," said Charthat. "He's a doctor. I don't suppose you've seen him?"

The men shrugged.

Ahar motioned them to move faster. "The faTheyists I can find." Because he was one too?

Charthat had to trust him. City officials would lock them up again. And he knew nothing about the city of Gunkashar at all. This left him with the company of two…thieves? Rapists?

Murderers?

Secret faTheyists?

Charthat didn't know. In an alley they found clothes and bamboo poles trampled by rioters, and he took a bamboo pole to use as a staff. His companions took others, for cudgels.

"The faTheyists live downriver," Ahar said, "in the 'law quarter'." For tolerated foreigners, he meant, the faTheyists and heathens who lived under faVashala rule here.

"How far?," said Charthat. It was early secondday.

"I think we cross this quarter and we'll come to it." Ahar grimaced. "Might be rough." They were now in a region where burnt buildings held people peeping from doors.

"I'll go.", said Charthat. "Maybe they'll know where Hilojat is. Want to come?"

avak said, "Yeah." They went past the opening of a house-courtyard. Thick-walled adobe houses were stepped back on four levels. At a fountain they drank.

They walked on.

As they left the plaza, armed men confronted them.

"Who are you," one of the goons asked, "and what is your business here?"

"I am Khazat, Malar's son, of the city of Nantaishar," Charthat said. The other two gave names which were as legitimate. "We are en route to the faTheyist quarter for a business deal; these men are my associates."

"You are an unconvincing liar, foreigner. Are you one of the criminals from the prison break?"

Behind the speaker, a girl sat on an upturned basket, her face veiled in blue.

Charthat said, "I am no criminal. I am a holy man --" which was true, although of the wrong religion- "and we intend nothing unlawful."

"Be gone from this place or face our spears." The man brandished the weapon.

The girl stood. Had he seen her before, Charthat wondered?

"I would be gone as well," she said. "If you send these men off I go with the man of the Lady God." She was a monotheist, from her dress and reference to Lord Sun. Well, the goons were in Charthat's way. Brick paved the courtyard, loosened by carriages and manhorse-drawn carts.

"Be quiet, heathen slut," said the man who wore an armband and carried a bamboo spear. "You'll go where you're told," he added, leering --

Ahar heaved a brick at the spearman. It caught him on the shoulder and blood appeared through the tunic. Charthat decided -- in for a bead, in for the string -- and cracked the man with his staff, hoping to disarm the fellow.

The blow caught on the spear, and the man dropped it.

His companions took that moment to charge.

Ahar tossed a stone at the man who charged him. The man dodged, but Charthat caught him across the head with the butt of his staff. The foeman fell. Gavak caught up the spear and dueled with another foe.

Meanwhile, the girl had stood, grasped a jug, and-

he cracked it over the leader's head. Her eyes shone with mischief above her veil, and rice beer sprayed as the shards clanked to the paving-bricks.

The man turned, and Charthat tripped him by thrusting the staff between his shins. He fell, tried to catch himself, conked his head on the bricks, lay still.

The fourth man fled. Ahar shouted "And don't come back, apeshit-eater!"

The girl came forward and said to Charthat, "Thank you for rescuing me. We need to go." He nodded, and she kicked the fallen leader.

They hurried down a narrow arcade of shops and walked under balconies that joined above their heads. They heard shouts, screams of fear and pain.

"Brother, should we hide? Or flee them?" the girl asked.

They emerged into a long court of houses. Above, Charthat saw Butros, the giant primary of Pendleton's World, in crescent phase. It was thirty hours to sunset.

"We'll go as we did before," Charthat answered. "If they catch us, well, we got out before."

"You spend a lot of time in prisons," Ahar said. The girl said, "So did the saints."

Gavak smiled at that.

Charthat said to the girl, "Most monotheists aren't so kind to us."

"I'm not a monotheist," she replied.

"Why the outfit, then?" Ahar asked.

"It attracts less attention," said the girl.

"We gave it to 'em, we did," said Ahar. "They won't bother ya again," he added.

"I don't think they will, no," said the girl. Above the veil, her eyes showed that she was smiling.

"So you're…well, faTheyist?", Charthat asked.

"I am, brother. The men you fought, I think, suspected as much. Will you hear my confession, later?" she said.

He nodded.

"Your partner," said the girl. "He is named --"

"Hilojat, Shazhat's son," said Charthat, although he did not know Hilojat's real name. He had grown slowly to realize that Hilojat's mission was more than simple traveling to heal. "Do you know him?"

he others shook their heads as Gavak returned with water in a borrowed jug. Thanking him, they drank. Refilling the jug, they moved on.

The group heard shouts and shots; arrows clinked into stone or thwacked into adobe.

The four of them ran.

Men blocked their path, naked save for loincloths in the heat, bearing axes and machetes. One spoke. "What men are you that carry off a Gunkashari girl, hiding in day's heat when all sleep?"

"I guide them of my own free will, and am carried nowhere," replied the girl.

"I am Tesonk Fejersdaughter. We go to the docks for food."

Carried on riverboats and scarce in the riot-torn city. It was believable enough.

"You go nowhere while sun-worshippers slaughter good faTheyists, and give our land to slaves," a man growled. "Who are you? Heathens who bow to a light in the sky?"

We have found the faTheyists. And they're going to kill us!

"We are good faTheyists," Charthat said, trying to be calm.

They were in the Thervat, the faTheyist quarter.

"It's a trick!" one of the gang shouted. He shifted his stance-

blow came at Charthat's head. The men had closed, fast as rat-snakes.

He snapped out a blow with his staff. The man dropped. He heard a grunt as Ahar fell beside him, chopped with an axe, bleeding. The girl ran at the leader and, screaming, grabbed his arm. This gave Charthat time to disarm the leader. The axeman kicked at him, and the axe fell to the cobbles.

Then he heard many voices. Men rushed into the square. Soldiers? He couldn't tell, staff-fighting as he was with the axe man's friend, who carried a machete. Bowstrings sang, and he felt something hit him in the back. Just the blow at first. then PAIN, and he gasped -- Another blow. Agony and he fell to one knee.

Charthat turned his head, as the world was red around him and -- was there an eclipse?

PAIN and blackness.

#

Red haze as they carried him.

Voices. Charthat lay on his side. He opened his eyes, sticky-bloody from a scalp cut. Pain in his back. Clattering noises, and his eyes ran from the pain as they lifted him onto a shutter.

"Listen, Charthat," he heard the girl say. "I can cut off the arrow shafts. But I need to take you to a surgeon, at the temple. He can cut the arrows out. Ahar is sick, bleeding a lot, too. Is that all right?"

He managed a nod, and felt the shutter lift, and lift. Sure strength held him.

Manhorses.

hey couldn't take him to the temple. The priests would see his tattoos and know who and what he was, send for the city officials to arrest him, and return him to the starting square on this rats-and-dragons board. He grimaced, tried to hold onto the shuddering shutter.

He tried to tell the girl this. He couldn't understand himself speaking.

The girl spoke. "We can get him to the Temple, but he --"

"He's a faTheyist priest. They won't treat him. They'll lock him up. If we're lucky!"

That was Gavak.

The girl again: "We --"

"Is there a doctor somewhere else?" Gavak said. "Doc Kawalov," Ahar said. "Works out of th' marketplace, above the ‘pothecary."

They walked. He was in too much pain to know, or care, where they went.

He used the winassare trance to enter the pain and inhabit it, pacing his breathing.

Breathe.

There was the stink of smoke, more smoke. "Dark it!" he heard the girl's voice curse.

Gavak said, "Monkeyfuck. Gone."

Charthat opened eyes, looked. The shop-house was a gutted shell, adobe scorched and roof collapsed in cinders, smoking still. Ahar was slung over the back of a manhorse. "Where's Doc Kawalov? He alive?", Gavak said to the girl.

Then soldiers appeared and they, and their stolen manhorses, needs must go.

There was a doctor at the spice merchant's house, the girl said. More whirling pain. Charthat --

He blacked out for a while. Then --down a jostling stair. Opening his eyes showed Charthat that he was balanced between men climbing ladders.

Smoke, coughing, vomit, agony, blackness.

He went down into cool, then. Hands examined his wound, and gave him bitterness, dissolved in rice wine.

He drifted away.

harthat woke to hands cleaning his back, soap nut, water, rice-spirit. Another set of hands cleaned his face, his chest. Poppy left him half in dream. He saw apes, an old woman in faVashala veils, Hilojat, and then the palm trees and gardens of Vokherkhe. Was it Vokherkhe? Was it Hilojat?

He did not know. He blinked and saw a woman's face, unveiled, wearing a headscarf and earrings, her hands holding a doctor's tools. He didn't know who she was.

He slept.

He woke in pain, vomiting, weak, while strong hands held his head. Pain stabbed into his back. He could see nothing but a sleeping mat. He vomited over and over, till he was empty, his pain a great deal worse and his vision blurred-black. A serving-ape gave him water, and then a thick honeyed mix of poppy.

Two voices woke him next.

A man, one he didn't know, said, "She's packing. Packing it all."

A girl's voice replied, "Don't talk so loud --they can hear you." He did not know her either.

He said, "Khana, don't fear; the waking ones were sent out to fight. These are unconscious, asleep or half-dead. She'll have it all packed by firstday. Here, come on and --"

"No! They'll wake up if we --"said the girl.

"We can go over there behind where the blankets --oh, there are some soldiers there," said the man.

"What is she doing? Packing all the coffee, all the spices, everything she owns? Is she moving, and not telling us?" said the girl's --Khana's? --voice.

"It's the Khus; it must be. He's ending the riots," said the man.

"What do you mean, Ferchu?", said Khana.

"The Khus of the city --" Charthat remembered that Gunkashar was where he was --"expels the idol worshippers, since they caused the riots --" The speaker interrupted himself. "Someone's coming, outside."

From outside came a farayik's voice, calling the town's news. Charthat couldn't make out what the leather-lunged crier was saying. He was sure it was less salient than the agony that poppy didn't quite blunt.

A woman's shoes, soft leather.

A man's sandals, a man who walked slowly, with a stick.

There were voices. "I seek the doctor, Hilojat," an old man's voice said.

He wasn't dreaming. Dreams involved less pain. "May I speak with him?"

"I am Mrs Sha'unatsch," said a woman's voice. "I own this trading-house. Dr Hilojat is not here; I am sorry."

No one knew where Hilojat was?

"I was told I could find you here. I am the Archpriest Kolesh, Shenna's son, of the Temple of the Painted Walls," said the old man, and, from the creak of a chair, he sat. "Mrs Sha'unatsch, I believe we've dealt with your trading house for incense, some pepper, I think?"

"I think," the woman said, "that we did. Some coffee, Father?"

"I'd be delighted," said the old man." Charthat realized that something was going on here from the tension in the woman's voice.

Where was Hilojat?

Uncomfortable silence, and the patter of apes' feet. Clatter-clink of cups. "Some cake, perhaps? The girls made it, and, you know, they always make too much. . . ."

"Your house apes are so well-trained," the man said. "How do you do it?"

Mrs Sha'unatsch said, "I've been breeding and training vemet since I was fourteen. The other girls liked riding and dresses, and I was planning back-crosses and shopping for purebreds...It's been worth it. But do try this cake."

"I will try a bite," said the old man. "Ah, it's good. So, this Hilojat," the old man said, "son of Shazhat."

"Yes, of course," she said. "What do you need to know?"

"He's very dear to me," said the old man. "He was taught in one of the schools here," the voice went on, "and I worry that...that something dreadful would become of him, with this rioting. So I called a chair and came on over," the man continued.

Charthat wondered, amused, if the oldster was in love with Hilojat. Then he listened more closely.

The man was lying.

"Yes," Mrs Sha'unatsch, the hostess said, "I've had your manhorses fed in the stable. Now, as for Hilojat, the man came here with Dr Kehey, the sworn-virgin doctor, when the temple down the block was overrun with wounded and sick from the riots. He asked to work here, and we're between the spring and fall caravans, so I had some room for him; he'd asked at the temple and they'd been full." Charthat realized that the woman doctor must have been the gal he'd seen when he woke briefly. Clink of coffee cup. "He and the gal have cut and sewn dozens of wounded, drawn down my store of medical supplies; I deal in those as well, worked hour after hour, here and in two other places I know of. His own safety," she said," seemed assured, since he was here, not out there. Then he was called to an aid station by the city guard, cases who couldn't be moved."

"I am most pleased to hear that," said the old man. "Now, when he came here, had he some document, some diary?"

What was Hilojat, really?

"I don't....know. He carried a doctor's bag, a change of clothes. I saw no. . .diary. I don't know that he kept one," said Mrs Sha'unatsch. "Is this important somehow? I can ask him when he comes back in, of course." By her tone she was suspicious.

"Of course. I would be most grateful, ma'am," said the Archpriest.

"Father, do have some more of these cakes. You know, I'll have to feed them to the houseapes!"

"Well, maybe one more won't hurt," said the old man.

Charthat's wounds ached and he could tell that his bandages and bedding were soaked in blood.

"I was curious -- did he come here with another man, an idolatrous priest? In a red robe?"

rs Sha'unatsch said, "I've seen no red robe. That sort of thing's not allowed in Gunkashar, you know!" Luckily, his priest's tattoos were covered by bandages and blood. The apes who changed him didn't know what they were.

"No, no, of course not. But this man's name is Charthat, and he's a troublemaker."

"Well, he mentioned no person such as that," said Mrs Sha'unatsch. And Charthat was sure of something else.

She was lying too. She went on, "He traveled to the Desert, and then came here, and he didn't mention going to school here."

"Ah, of course. That Hilojat!" said the old man. "Well, as I said, I'd be very grateful for any news, Mrs Sha'unatsch. Please, if you see him, do send word to me at the Temple. Could you do that?"

"Why, Father, of course! And --" someone stood up, pushed a chair back, " --surely you don't have to go so soon!"

"Ma'am, I am sure everyone here is exhausted, coffee or not, and needs their rest. The last thing you want is an old man chattering away."

"Well, I understand, yes. Why don't I walk you to..." The voices faded into distance.

He lay there and eventually a house ape came and give him bread soup.


The bland porridge was about all he could handle. Then the ape came and gave him wine mixed with poppy. He slept.


The speakers left. The long, long Pendleton's day had ended. The night wind, the djarukha, blew in through the windows at the end of the long adobe warehouse.

A great commotion arose in the house. What was it?

A face bent over him. "Charthat." A boy, one he didn't know. "If I help you, can you sit up?"

"I, uh. Ow." The stranger managed --who was this boy? --to wrestle Charthat into a sitting position on his pallet, the bedding brown with dried gore. His wounds felt a lot better. We have good medics here, he thought, and wondered --

"Where's Hilojat?" Charthat asked. Why was the boy's voice familiar?

Ahar lay on a pallet nearby, bandaged, his color good. Healing, it looked to be.

The boy knelt, spoke. "They don't look at me walking into the mens' ward if I'm dressed like a boy. My name is Hanash. We met earlier," said the girl, dressed in mens' clothes. Louder, she said, "Can you make it to the surgeon's table?"

That will really hurt, thought the monk, and nodded. He used a breathing technique to call strength to his legs, and stood with her help, wrapped in a bedsheet. Her hand-monks were not to touch women, but the sheet prevented sin --was his focus, in what had once been intended as meditation for childbirth. Breathe, he reminded himself, and walked with her, like an old man, out of the long hall, and then fell. Houseapes carried him, then, to a nook. She sat, and he collapsed, on chairs.

"I am the daughter of Mrs Sha'unatsch, and I veil up sometimes to avoid attention in a faVashala city; no one looks at a veiled girl. Sometimes a boy --" she gestured at her male-appearing self --"goes to sing in taverns, makes a few money-beads, hears all the news. I was coming home from a singing-party, and caught, locked up overnight for being caught in my mens' clothes, and they put a veil on me. You let us go, and then those thugs caught me. We thought Doc Kawalov was closer; he wasn't. And it turned out Dr Kehey and Dr Hilojat had come here."

"Why are you helping me?" said Charthat.

"Because you helped me. Because you are a faTheyist holy man. Time to do some good." She sighed. "The Khus of the city is dealing with the riots by expelling the faTheyists, emptying the Thervat, the law-quarter."

"What?" This was some nightmare, surely. The Protector of the faNurro had enforced peace between the three faiths for millennia. "Will not the Protector's fury descend on them?"

"Holy man," she said, "the Protector is a boy of sixteen and the Lords of Parliament are unable to agree on the shape of a conference-table. We're leaving."

"We?" said Charthat.

"We're the faTheyists' clearing-house for Gunkashar city; we help the ghetto survive. What better place? Caravans come and go, and the warehouse hides what needs hiding," she said, smiling wryly. "We're packing now. It's time for --" and was interrupted.

"Where is the idolator-priest?" said the man who had burst in, a house-ape at his feet. He wore mail and carried a spear. "Let him rise now and face us." Behind him another temple guard held a bound and terrified man.

Hilojat. Charthat's partner.

Charthat got to his feet, wearing a breechclout and a mess of bandages round his torso, and dropped the bedsheet he'd been wearing. Thewinassare discipline let him control the pain enough to do so. "I'm Charthat Thermatson. If it's me you seek, let Dr Hilojat go -- his services are needed."

"Let that man go," Hanash said. "He's done no harm! He is a healer."

"He aided and abetted this fugitive, who is a priest of a forbidden faith. They'll both be judged," the guardsman said, "after they've gone to the Temple for some questions."

"You have no right to assault men so, in my family's home!" said Hanash.

"Boy," the guardsman said, "shut up before you're hauled off with them!"

Hanash's eyes narrowed and she drew a long knife and put herself between the soldier and Charthat. He lunged at her with his sword and she parried, cut at his face. He sneered, slapped at her with the flat of the sword. She blocked and he came back with a counter, struck her on the side of the head. She dropped to the warehouse floor.

"Down on your knees," he shouted at Charthat. Charthat was distracted. What was that in Hilojat's hands? His hands had been tied, before.

Charthat aimed a kick in the Deer mode at the man, got a cut on the shin for his trouble, punched in the Sky mode. Pain! The mental discipline melted in the secondday-heat of combat.

The guard roared, "Down, you shit-smeared fool, unless you want death."

The man whacked at Charthat with the pommel of his sword. He deflected, but unarmed, he could do only so much.

"The Archpriest said to --" shouted the other guard.

Behind the man, blood spouted, as Hilojat stabbed a scalpel into the carotid of the man who held him, who'd been watching the fight. The man gurgled, fell. Charthat's opponent snapped a glance back, and Charthat punched, didn't connect. The man turned back, dropped his sword, forced Charthat, weakened, down onto the floor on his back. One of Charthat's hands shot out to get the soldier's hand in a grip. The other....

he guard wrestled with him, got a knee across Charthat's small body. Then his free forearm closed on Charthat's throat. The monk could feel wounds reopening in his back, bleeding, the holy disciplines alone keeping him wakeful. His hand reached to his own waist --

The guard stiffened.

And collapsed, Charthat's wire shoved through his eardrum into his brain.

Blood and pink-grey brain spurted out, and Charthat chopped the man's neck with his free hand to make sure. As Charthat's vision reddened from blood loss and exhaustion, he felt Hilojat roll him over, bandage him, clean him with rice spirit. He heard Hilojat sing, under his breath.

"I have to --" Charthat said.

"Don't talk," said Hilojat, and went back to "On the Western Hill."

"No. I have. Tell you," said Charthat. Then he heard Hanash speak.

"Charthat. I can tell him."

He heard Hanash relate the news of the faTheyists' expulsion, as Hilojat worked on them both. When the girl was done, Charthat said, "Hilojat. Tell Mrs Sha'unatsch." And he told Hilojat what the servants had said. Hanash called a vemet, and spoke to it by moving her fingers. The ape replied, and Hanash then said to the men, "I've sent a message to my mother. She'll act. Now, monk. Sleep."

He did.

#

The wagon rumbled east-and-north, into the Churgan's high grass, cut with river. Charthat lay facing backwards and Hilojat sat, scanned the grasslands, dawn cold still on the land in firstday, with twenty-five hours to the noon eclipse and great Butros, Pendleton's primary, in half phase.

Sitting by him, Hanash, unveiled, cut her hair with a knife. "Will they let me in, like this?" She had decided to go to Vokherkhe and become a nun.

"Brothers and sisters both need to be shaved," Hilojat said.

"I'll go show Mom," she said, and dropped from the slow wagon, ran to the cart where Mrs Sha'unatsch transported her own belongings.

he Viegani drover, a Farlander from north of the Thanats, sang a sun-worshiping song, and the manhorses grunted along in chorus. The wagon reeked of saffron, cinnamon and pepper; Mrs Sha'unatsch had sold part of her stores to pay the fare of the group; the rest would make a grubstake for her, she'd told them.

"I might as well," Hilojat said, "tell you the truth."

"Huh?" said Charthat.

"He was my handler." Hilojat seemed to struggle. "He takes my reports."

"Reports?"

"Charthat, I'm a spy. I collect information on the faVashala minorities in the Churgan, other places, report to the Archpriest." He took a deep breath.

"Holy Dhai!" Charthat said. "Just when were you going to tell me this?"

"I don't know. I'm sorry. When I had to, I guess," said Hilojat.

"I...I think I have to ask," Charthat said. "Did you tell him? About me?"

"About us. I didn't, and he found out anyway," Hilojat said. "That was the problem. I heard from a priest who was coming to hear the mens' confessions and give them the last rites, that he was coming, coming to Mrs Sha'unatsch's house. I knew I had to go. So I made up some emergency, went out to the lines of the riot." He sighed. "I did save a few people. So I was glad. But the guards were looking for me, found me." He grimaced; his hand found Charthat's. "The rest you know. Nice trick with the wire, by the way."

"Oh, yeah. That's a pretty strange move; you can't practice it much."

They smiled.

Charthat turned to his partner. "What happens now?"

"We go to Vokherkhe Monastery," Hilojat said, "and I offer to work for them as a doctor and you go back to teaching, if Abbot Shandokar will let you. And Mrs Sha'unatsch and the others settle somewhere." He took Charthat's hand and looked into the distance. "And a war starts over the expulsion of the faTheyists."

A herd of woolbeasts followed the wagon train, tended by dogs. Ahar and Gavok rode manhorses. The ex-prisoners carried axes and crossbows at the ready.

The wagon train rolled on.

THE END


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