Authors: Tamora Pierce
Tags: #fantasy magic lady knight tortall
THE CIRCLE OPENS
BOOK THREE OF THE CIRCLE OPENS QUARTET
TO GWEN WEBER
S0 EAGER TO GET TO THIS WORLD OF GREAT BOOKS THAT SHE SHOWED UP EARLY, AND TO HER LOVING PARENTS, HEATHER MARS AND ERIC WEBER, WHO WILL ENSURE SHE GETS PLENTY TO READ!
In the city of Chammur, on the eastern border of Sotat:
For centuries it had been called “fabled Chammur”, “Chammur of the Flaming Heights,” and “Mighty Chammur.” For twelve hundred years the city on what was now the easternmost border of Sotat had straddled the trade routes from Capchen to Yanjing. Chammur was guarded on the west by the Qarwan River. In the north and east were riddled mazes of the flame-colored stone that provided the oldest part of the city with a sanctuary from bandits and warlords alike.
For Dedicate Rosethorn of Winding Circle temple in Emelan and her fourteen-year-old student Briar Moss, Chammur was a stop on a journey to distant Yanjing. Briar had only ever heard the name of the city and little more. Rosethorn, though, had been fascinated since she’d first read of it, and she was able to tell him something of its history on their way east. Her knowledge came from books and this trip with Briar was her first chance to actually see the place that she had studied for so many years.
The original town, Rosethorn said, had been built first on, then in, the spur of stone called Heartbeat Heights. Then it spread to the cliffs on either side. The shepherds, goatherds, and miners who originally settled the area had kept to the rocky mazes that stretched out for miles. It was easy to hide from any force that tried to prey on them in thousands of wind-and water-carved heights and canyons.
As trade prospered between east and west, the value of Chammur’s site and its nearness to the river drew merchants and farmers, who took advantage of the security of the stone apartments. As the city grew crowded, the wealthiest and most powerful moved their homes to the flat, open ground between the heights and the river, where they could surround themselves with elaborate houses and gardens. They also promoted themselves to the nobility: the cousins of the present amir, or ruler, were among them. Although Chammur belonged to Sotat on any map, and its people bowed to the king in Hajra in the west, the truth was that the Chammuri amirs were kings in everything but name, and had been so for centuries.
Rosethorn and Briar’s journey was a kind of working study program for Briar. No matter where they went, people could always find work for green mages, skilled with plants and medicines. Chammur was no different. Within days of their arrival, before they had completed their sight-seeing, they had gotten so many requests for magical aid that Rosethorn knew they had to stay for a while. She moved herself and Briar out of the Chammuri Earth temple’s guest quarters and into a house next door on the Street of Hares. Once settled, she began to work with Chammur’s farmers, Briar with the local Water temple and its stores of medicines and herbs.
Six weeks after their arrival, Briar at least had finished his work. The Water temple now had a store of powerful medicines and herbal ingredients that would hold them for a year, two if they were careful. After weeks of intense magical labor, Briar decided he owed himself a treat.
He approached the giant, enclosed arcades that held the souks, or markets, of Golden House and the Grand Bazaar with his hands in his pockets, whistling. He looked like many local males in his linen shirt, baggy trousers made from lightweight wool, and boots. His golden brown skin was vivid against the cream-colored linen. He wore no turban or hat as the Chammuri men and boys did, but left his black, coarse-cut hair uncovered. His thin-bladed nose might have come from any family native to the area. Even his gray-green eyes could have come of a match between a local and a passing merchant: races mingled here every bit as freely as they did in Briar’s former homes of Hajra and Summersea.
His destination was Golden House. He’d been in and out of the Grand Bazaar for weeks, buying oils, dried imported herbs, cloth for bags and jars, all for his work at the Water temple. Shopping there had given him the chance to look over the big and lesser specialty markets of the Bazaar. It wasn’t until he’d tried to arrange for a day and a booth from which to sell his miniature trees that he learned of Golden House. That was the place for him, the men who sold booth spaces had explained. In Golden House buyers found mages and magical supplies, precious metals, rare woods like ebony and sandalwood, jewelry, and precious and semiprecious stones. Briar’s miniature trees, which were not only works of art but were also shaped to draw particular magical influences to a home, belonged in Golden House.
By the time Briar had made arrangements for a stall there, he’d had to rush to be home for supper. Today he wanted a good look at Chammur’s wealthiest marketplace.
As he approached the two muscular guards at the door, he smiled impishly at them. They stirred, wary. He knew he looked like a student, perhaps, or even a merchant’s son, in clothes that were very well made by his friends in Summersea. He was even wearing boots. The guards had no real reason to bar him from entering, no matter how loudly their instincts might shout that he had the air of a thief.
“Hands,” one of them said when Briar would have strolled by.
He held them out, palm-down, and sighed. The guard who had spoken looked for jailhouse tattoos, and saw a riot of leafy vines that went from under Briar’s nails up to his wrists. The guard blinked, looked into Briar’s eyes, looked at his hands again, and nudged his partner. The other man looked at Briar’s hands, blinked, met the boy’s eyes, then stared at those vines again.
Briar was used to it. At one time he had indeed had prison tattoos, a black ink X etched into the web of skin between the thumb and forefinger of each hand. In most countries, they marked two arrests and convictions for theft. When Briar turned thirteen, he’d gotten tired of being turned away from places or followed in them. Without consulting Rosethorn, he’d brewed some vegetable dyes and borrowed his friend Sandry’s best needles. His plan had been to create a flowering vine tattoo to blot out the telltale Xs. He had not realized that vegetable dyes, exposed to his green magic, might not stay under his control. The final, colorful result blotted out the jailhouse tattoos as surely as if those crude black Xs had never existed. The new designs also made Briar’s hands into miniature, often-changing gardens that were far more conspicuous than his old tattoos.
“Hey, they moved - and they’re moving under the fingernails,” one guard exclaimed, pointing. He looked at Briar. “Don’t that hurt?”
“No,” Briar said patiently, used to the reaction and the comment. “But my arms do when I have to keep holding them out like this.”
Both guards scowled and waved him into the souk. Briar tucked his gaudy hands in his pockets and wandered into the main aisle. He avoided the stalls that peddled precious woods and gums. There was enough living power in those things still to hurt, especially when a touch would show him the original tree in all its splendor. He walked by the gold and copper aisles with only a glance. His friend Daja, a metal mage, would have plunged in here. One day he would explore and write her about it, but not today.
He turned down Pearl Alley, going from stall to stall, examining bowls of pearls with an expert’s eye. Every color and size imaginable was here, from tiny white seeds destined as trimming to black orbs the size of his thumbnail, for use as ornaments or ingredients for magic. The neighboring aisle brought him to sapphires of every color. Rubies came next, then emeralds, then opals.
At no point did Briar take his memorable hands from his pockets. Every stall was supervised by an alert shopkeeper and by one or two guards. They had reason to be wary. Briar guessed that one in five shoppers might be a thief, working alone, with a partner or two, or even with the better class of gang here in Chammur Newtown. He couldn’t have said what told him someone was not on the straight, but he trusted his instincts.
He particularly suspected those young men and women who were his age or just a bit older. A number of them sported a small yellow metal nose ring from which hung a roughly shaped garnet the size of a pomegranate seed. Still others wore a distinctive costume, white tunic over black breeches or skirts. The jewelry was high-priced for a gang mark - Briar’s old gang had just wound a strip of blue cloth around their biceps - but the nose ring and pendant looked like a gang mark all the same, and the black and white clothes had to be gang colors. He wasn’t surprised to find more than one gang here - souks were traditionally grounds where gangs roamed under truce.
He came to a long aisle where those who peddled semiprecious stones sold their wares. Here the crowd was thicker: more people could afford carnelian and amethysts than pearls. That was particularly true of the local mages, hedgewitches, and healers. Only rich mages could afford to use pearls and rubies in their work, but even students could find moonstones or mother-of-pearl discs that would be acceptable substitutes in their spells.
Briar was looking at a basket of malachite pieces, wondering if they might anchor the magic in his miniature trees, when a nicker of light caught his eye. He turned, scanning the aisle. This time the light came as a dart of silver in a stall across from him. Briar knew that particular fire well. Few mages could actually see magic as he did; no one who was not a mage would even notice it. Curious, he sauntered over for a look.
Now, here’s something, he thought as he drew near. The stall’s owner, a barrel-chested man, perched on a stool among his baskets and bowls of stones. Beside him a scruffy-looking girl picked through a bowl of tiger-eye pieces, polishing selected ones with a cloth and setting them aside in a round basket. As she rubbed, silver light flowered, then faded to ember-strength, in the pieces she handled. Briar also saw that the guard who stood watch between this stall and its neighbor kept his eyes on the traffic, not on the girl, though the owner never took his eyes off her. She was known, then, or she wouldn’t have been allowed to stop for half a breath within reaching distance of the stall.
This man sold a bit of everything. Briar identified jade, amber, moonstone, onyx, lapis lazuli, jet, malachite, and carnelian before his knowledge of stones ran out. Now that he was looking closely at the wares, he could see a row of small baskets like the one in which the girl put her polished stones on a shelf beside the stall’s owner. Those stones all showed a seed of silver to Briar’s magical vision.
“Say, kid, how do you do it?” Briar asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. “Make their magic light up like that?”
The girl spun to face him, as wary as a wild animal. She was a foot shorter than Briar’s five feet seven inches, and she looked to be nine or ten. A skinny waif, she had the bronze-colored skin and almond-shaped brown eyes of a Yanjing native. Wisps of black hair stuck out from under the dirty scarf wrapped around her head. She wore a long tunic and trousers of unguessable color, aged and speckled with holes. Even though it was autumn, she was barefoot.
“It’s all right,” Briar assured her cheerfully. “I’m a mage myself. Are you calling to magic already in them, or are you just laying a charm on them?”
The girl put down her basket and cloth. She smiled just as cheerfully as Briar had - and ran.
He stared after her, baffled. “What did I say?” he asked the stall’s guard. The man ignored him still, watching passersby in the aisle.
The stall’s owner left his stool to walk over to Briar. He was short, his body powerfully muscled under his rich silk tunic and draped satin trousers. His skin was a little darker than Briar’s, his hair and eyes black. Briar figured him for a westerner, since he didn’t wear the turban preferred by eastern men. “What did you run her off for?” the man demanded sharply. “Evvy’s no thief.”
“You said something” argued the stall’s owner. “Now look. She’d barely started.”
“What’s she do here?” Briar asked, curious. “What’s her name? ‘Evvy,’ you said?”
The owner shrugged, not quite meeting Briar’s eyes. “She’s just a street kid,” he replied. The word for baby goat was slang for a child in Briar’s native Imperial as well as in Chammuri. “She polishes some of my pieces, and I throw her a few coppers.”
“Then he triples the price and sells them to the mage trade,” the shopkeeper across the aisle called, his voice waspish. He was seated at a bench as he worked on jewelry. “Just because he realized the ones she handles sell quicker.”
“He spoke of magic, Nahim Zineer,” the sharp-voiced man retorted, pointing at Briar. The boy glanced at the awning overhead: gold embroidered letters read NAHIM ZINEER: CRYSTALS, PRECIOUS, AND SEMIPRECIOUS STONES.
“If she’s a mage, what’s she doing living in some Oldtown cave like an animal?” Nahim demanded, glaring at the jeweler. “She’s just got a hand with cleaning stones, that’s all.” To Briar he said, “And I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t frighten her off again.”
“At least not until she’s done all the baskets,” quipped his neighbor.