Apologies for the delay, but I was trying to work something into this section that I have had in my mind for some time, but didn't know how or where to squeeze it in. In the end, I only hint at it in this chapter, instead, the full sequence is going into the next one.
For now, let's get to know Tambil a little more, and understand more about what Mr Silverkin might be up to...
Silverkin sat behind his desk, his hands placed spread apart, palms flat on the desk. His face was blank and difficult to read. Movo stood to one side of the room, while a group of armed men stood on the other side. The captain was standing directly in front of Silverkin, speaking in a language Movo did not understand.
The discussion was getting decidedly heated, but Silverkin was resolute and said nothing while the captain got increasingly mad.
“Captain Zün, I will not be threatened in my own home.” Silverkin stood up slowly without taking his glare off the captain for a second. “I suggest you leave now, before things get out of hand. I'm sure you would like to return to your master without coming to any harm.” He placed his hands, gently, in front of him without seeming to move. The captain started to speak but quickly close his mouth when he saw that Silverkin was not going to be moved. “Hizzar” he muttered, and walked out of the room with the rest of his guard following him closely. The room was now empty save for Movo and Mr Silverkin.
Silverkin looked across at Movo. “Please do not worry yourself. He is a peacock, all show but no power. We were in no danger."
Movo nodded slowly, not sure that he was ready to believe that they had been completely safe. The code prevented him from leaving, or from sharing anything that had happened in the room while he had been there, even if he didn't understand it. If something had happened, Movo would have chosen his own life over that of the others in the room, although he had no idea how he would have made his escape.
“I need you to send a message to the constabulary immediately.” Silverkin said, quickly writing on a piece of paper as he dipped his quill into the ink with each new line. He folded the paper neatly and sealed it with wax. Handing the note to Movo, Silverkin requested “Take this immediately to the front desk and talk to the constable on duty. This is only for Corporal Jonas. No-one else."
Movo nodded, took the note and placed it in his satchel and walked out the door towards the front of the property.
"And return to me when you've delivered the message. I have another job for you."
As he walked out the iron gates and turned left towards the palace a stream of guards went past him. He looked behind expecting to see them go straight into Silverkin's gate, but they ran past. He paused, thinking whether he should follow, but remembered the promise he made and hurried on to his destination.
The agreement. Every courier had to sign it, and it was always performed in front of the rest of the couriers so that they were all answerable to each other, as well as to the courier guild as a whole. Tambil would be taking her vows and signing her agreement at a ceremony this afternoon. He remembered the day he had signed his and spoken his vows in front of the rest of the team. He was young at the time, nine years old, and he felt overwhelmed and scared, even now, at the memory of the occasion.
In fact, it turned out to be very much easier than he had imagined. He had stood and read out the rules in front of the group, signed the parchment with his mark to indicate he agreed, and then everybody clapped and cheered. It had been over quicker than he expected. He'd been expecting some kind of a test, even one to deliver a simple message to demonstrate he knew the city, but there had been nothing.
He remembered the relief he felt, and realised he had felt the same now when that man had left Silverkin's office. He spied another group of soldiers in the same colours up ahead, and decided to take a different route, darting into a side alley.
The man placed his hands on the side of the pit, looking down into the fire and bodies of men carrying stone, and rock and soil. As he watched, another man fell, and he shouted to his guards to remove the body and place it into the heap with the others. As he moved from the pit, the fires reflected in the muscles across his chest and arms, He stood a full seven feet tall and towered over even his tallest guards. But he had the relaxed look of someone who was in charge and knew it enough to not be nervous in front of the rest of the people in the room.
The guards watched him, cautiously, in case he barked a request. A smaller man, slightly hunched over, was working at a table in the corner, casting occasional unsettling, glances at the man as he continued to work on some parchment and consult various books and maps. He pulled a book forward, leafed through a number of pages, traced his finger along a line of text, made a note on a separate paper, and then pushed the book back. He repeated the process a few times, before hurriedly scribbling a larger note into a yet another tome on the desk. Pausing for a moment, he took a longer than usual look at the man who was again glancing down into the pit beneath them.
Akton felt himself being watched and as he turned to look a Sneave, Sneave in turn immediately turned back to his books and papers with a renewed sense of urgency.
Crossing his arms again, Akton leaned back without taking his gaze off of workers in the pit.
Movo moved quickly through the streets, first passing the main street then a cut through past the various smiths and cottages where all the weapon smiths worked. There seemed to be more stacks of weapons and supplies than he remembered here last time, but probably just some big order from a distant kingdom. He didn't often run items out to this part of the city, although Silverkin was often in contact with some of the blacksmiths and fletchers that occupied this district. Still, he thought, things seem noticeably busier than normal.
As he left the district he stopped, just for a moment, and looked out the Spinward Gate towards to the surrounding farmland and the sand dunes beyond as he crossed the avenue. He could see the fields in the distance, and the road as it curled round to the right where it would eventually pass the Khai-tan mountain before heading off to Akteem. He had left the city only once in his life, when we went to the harvest festival event on a local farm one year when he was younger. He smiled as he remembered sitting on hay bales and eating freshly picked corn and drinking cider with his parents. The red sun was low in the sky at this time of day and it left a strange haze on the horizon where the sun touched.
The yellow sun was higher up. It was nearly lunchtime now and that meant the day was getting warm and he noticed he was sweating. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, then remembered that he was on the job and he should deliver this message quickly.
Tambil smoothed down her trousers, pulled the bottom of her tunic taught, and once again looked at herself in the mirror. "I can do this. I can do this."
She had woken up early with the rest of the girls at the guild at the point of the sunrise, but while they got dressed and left to start ferrying notes and packages around the city, she had stayed and tried to learn the guild rules that she would need for the ceremony this afternoon. Amos had come in after breakfast and asked her to visit him in the main office. That was when she got dressed and was now trying to determine if she looked OK for her first day on the job.
The clothes she had bought were simple, and Movo had told her they were suitable, but she still felt uncomfortable. Not from the clothes, but because she had no idea what to expect. Her mouth was dry, and the butterflies in her stomach were wearing heavier boots than she had ever remembered. She could feel her heart beating faster than normal, and her breathing was shallow as if readying herself to run away.
She took one look at the door, then turned back to the mirror again. She pulled the bottom of her tunic again, in case it helped. Then she stopped, sat on the edge of her bed, and remembered something her grandmother had taught her. She slowly breathed in and counted to five, then slowly breathed out while counting to seven.
As she did, she felt herself close her eyes. She repeated the breathing in slowly. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Pause. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.
She drew a few more breaths while keeping her eyes closed and felt her heart slowing down, or at least not pumping quite so hard. She had always been able to sense her heart beating. If she looked at her chest while lying down, sometimes she could see it. Somehow her grandmother knew this worried her and had told her how to calm down when she could feel it racing away from her. It was difficult when you were nervous, but for reasons she had never understood, the breathing exercise had helped.
She opened her eyes again, stood up and looked in the mirror that one last time. She pulled her tunic again, then smoothed the front and headed out of the door.
She walked lightly down the stairs, part of her hoping that if she walked quietly enough that no-one would notice her, and maybe Amos would not be in his office and that she could go back to her room. But the door was very slightly open, and Amos was busily writing away on some parchment on his desk. She knocked on the door.
"Ah, Tambil, come in." Amos smiled warmly as he stood open and opened his arms wide. "I can see from your tunic you are nervous."
Tambil stopped and looked down, only now noticing the sweat marks from her hands where she had repeatedly pulled her tunic tight. "Yes. Sorry."
"Don't be sorry. I remember my first day, and I don't think I was any different. You look fine, very smart and I'm sure that will help you make a good impression with the members of the city. That will help make things easier and for them to trust you. Trust is very important in this business."
She nodded. "I know."
Amos nodded in solidarity "Are you ready for this afternoon?"
"I think so. I've tried to remember all of the rules correctly…" Her voice trailed off as she realised that didn't sound as positive as she wanted.
"Don't worry. We don't mind if you get the wording a little bit wrong. Why don't you try and remember them now?"
"I Tambil Robertson agree to become a courier for the guild and city of Khapur. As courier, I agree to:" She paused briefly as she tried to remember the wording and order.
"Never to open or read the contents of any message, package, or item that I carry.
To deliver any item within the bounds of the city for one penny per item
To deliver any item given to me if I have agreed to take it
To accept any letter, package or item, providing it can be carried comfortably
To be courteous and responsive to any request
To deliver all items for delivery within the city before the setting of the yellow sun unless agreed otherwise"
She paused to look at Amos, who beamed in response and urged her to carry on.
"As a courier guild member, I have the right to refuse any item if I cannot carry it safely. Charge per league for all items sent beyond the city. Charge for boarding and food in advance for longer deliveries."
She suddenly started to breathe again as she realised she had finished. Amos was still smiling and then nodded in wild approval as he said "Well done lass. That was near perfect. Remember those rules. Especially the one about your safety. That is the most important one. Never agree to bend or wave the rules if you don't feel comfortable. If there are any problems you can come to me and I will talk to the people involved. They know the rules, and they should know better than to ask otherwise.
At this he seemed to stand up and stiffen slightly, pushing out his chest. Amos was a large man, not just in height. Although you wouldn't call him fat, he was clearly barrel chested and had much larger muscles than one would expect for a man who spent much of his time at a desk managing the day to day running of the guild. His hands had tensed into fists momentarily but he relaxed them, and then sat down.
"This morning I want you to go with Movo and get used to the city. I know your ceremony is this afternoon, but I think it would be a good idea for you to work with Movo. Get to know the city a little bit, and some of its inhabitants. Do you know the city at all?" Amos asked.
"A little. Movo showed me some places last night." Tambil bit the side of her lip. She wasn't sure about going out on her own yet.
"Well, I don't know where Movo is now, but I asked him to meet you under the statue of Sir Trevor in the Grand Plaza. Do you know where that is?"
"I think so. We walked past it last night, and I don't think you can miss him." Tambil replied, slightly more relieved that she knew at least where she was going.
Amos nodded, then stood again, walked round the desk, and spread his arms wide. Tambil stepped forward into a massive bear hug she was not expecting. "You'll do fine young lady. There's no-one better than Movo."
They both stepped back and she gave Amos a smile and a thank you. Then turning round she headed out the front door of the guild and into the city.
Movo opened the door to the constabulary and walked straight up to the desk and the looked at the person behind it.
"Yes my lad, what can I do for you?" asked the constable.
"I have an urgent message for Corporal Jonas." said Movo.
"Do you now. Well let me see if I can find him. I can take the note for you if you like?"
"No, thank you. I'm to deliver it to him personally only."
"Understood young sir. I meant no offence." The constable slid back from the desk and then walked off into one of the back rooms in the barracks. He had a large moustache which somehow made him look much more distinguished than his voice did when he talked. He was obviously from one of the villages around the city judging by the accent.
A moment later he came back out one of the rooms, a younger gentleman walking behind him. He had the insignia of a Corporal on the bottom of his jacket, a small flash of red. He looked young and nervous as he come out, but stiffened to look more serious as he realised how young Movo was. Maybe he was expecting someone else.
He looked at Movo. "I'm Corporal Jonas. You have a message for me?"
"Yes." Movo opened his satchel carefully, and passed him the folded piece of paper he had been given by Mr Silverkin"
"Who is that from?" asked the constable.
"Never you mind." said Jonas as he opened the seal. He looked again at Movo as if he expected him to answer.
Instead, Movo stayed silent. He knew the rules. They might not be written down, but he had always thought it bad practice to let other people know who the message could be from. Whether the message was personal or business didn't matter. Unless it was obvious from the packaging who the item was from, Movo never told.
"Thank you, you can go." said Jonas as he turned around and started reading the letter.
Movo glanced at the sun out of the window and realised it was nearly lunchtime and he needed to meet Tambil. "Thank you." he said, as he turned and left the building. As soon as he was out the door, he started to jog and make his way back to main street and the route to the Grand Plaza.
The walk to the Grand Plaza had been easy, and Tambil was beginning to calm down after her first few steps when her heart had been racing. She found the statue of Sir Trevor and looked up at it, squinting slightly in the sunlight as it glinted off the more worn parts of the bronze figure.
There was a small wall which ran around the edge of the square when the statue was located and she sat down on the edge watching the people go by. So many different sights to see and people to admire as they walked past, busy in their own lives.
She watched as cart after cart went past, some of them carrying food and way from the farms further into the city, others carrying everything from swords to furniture, presumably on their way out. Occasionally a larger cart, which was always accompanied by a swarm of flies, would go by.
The foul cart, taking the contents of the cess pits for larger houses, from the public toilets, and the output of the horses pulling all the other carts and carriages. Behind that cart ran a small group of children with buckets and spades, collecting from the street. It was a busy road, and while she wouldn't want the job, she was glad someone was doing it.
She turned as the foul cart went past for a third time, and instead followed a little boy and his sister as they chased each other down the street. Their mother walked behind trying her hardest not to notice them and their rowdy behaviour.
As Tambil turned again as they rounded a corner, she saw a larger contingent of soldiers hurrying past in formation heading further into the city. She didn't recognise their uniforms, or their weapons, but they knew exactly where they were going, and neither the local police or soldiers seemed to pay them any notice. She found this odd. Any other city would be terrified at a foreign force - it must have been nearly 50 soldiers - running through their city.
As they passed out of view, a second, and then a third, group of the same soldiers ran past past. The third group were carrying long pikes, all wobbling as the soldiers jogged past. Again, their passing was largely ignored by the citizens. They were all heading in the same direction, but she couldn't hear any sounds of a battle or commotion.
Movo arrived as Tambil was trying to strain her neck to see where they went.
"Hi!" said Movo.
"Who were they?" asked Tambil, not looking at him.
"Soldiers. I don't know where they are from, but I have met their commander." said Movo.
"Their commander? When?"
"This morning." said Movo. "At Silverkin's place. There was a Captain Zün there this morning, and some other soldiers, all wearing the same uniform. I don't know what they were doing there, but he and Mr Silverkin were arguing."
"Hmm. Amos said I am to do some runs with you today before the ceremony this evening." Tambil looked expectantly at Movo.
Movo smiled. "Really? He didn't tell me. I have jobs to do, I cant have someone following me round all day." Tambil frowned.
"Only joking." said Movo, as his face split into a wide grin.
"Not nice." said Tambil. "But come on. Where are we going, joker?"
"Actually, I need to go back to Mr Silverkin. Sorry, we." He pointed vaguely in the direction of the Silverkin estate to offer Tambil to go first. Before he had even taken her first step, he matched her pace and they talked about the ceremony as they made their way to the Silverkin Estate.
Movo knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He looked at Tambil. She looked at Movo with an entirely bewildered expression. She'd never been here before, why would she know what was going on?
Movo turned back to the door again but there was still no answer. He had never been to Mr Silverkin's office to find that nobody was there. He considered, briefly, going down to his mother, when the door opened with a click.
It was Mr Silverkin. He looked as if he had just woken up, and was very much more dishevelled than Movo had ever seen him before. He looked nervous and stuttered somewhat as he invited Movo into the room.
"And who is this master Movo?" Mr Silverkin flicked his finger a couple of times at Tambil in mild disgust.
"This is Tambil, Mr Silverkin. She started today and I'm teaching her the routes and the rules." Movo gave a weak smile in what he hoped was a respectful manner.
"I see." said Mr Silverkin with the small sneer. "Very well. I have to go and check something. Please wait here until I return."
Movo nodded. There were in the inner office now, where Mr Silverkin's desk still sat in the corner of the room with the various sofas and settees in the middle. Tambil and Movo stood next to the fire. Although it was lit, and the sun was shining outside, it didn't feel warm, but did lend a small glow to the otherwise dark room. It was a small fire, barely more than the size of a log or two, but in a fireplace that was almost 10ft wide it looked pitiful.
As they waited for Mr Silverkin, Movo's mother came into the room carrying a tray with coffee and multiple cups on it. She nodded at Movo, gave Tambil a glance, raised her eyebrows, and then looked back to Movo before placing the tray on the side. She re-arranged the cups and saucers to make them all look neat, and then left the room without saying a word. Even with Mr Silverkin gone, no-one dared say a word out of place.
After his mother had left, they could hear hushed, but strong words being spoken outside the door. It wasn't Mr Silverkin's voice, but someone else. They could also hear what sounded like a small child screaming and crying.
As the voices got closer to the office, they caught sight of a group of the soldiers Tambil had seen earlier in the square. One of the soldiers was holding a boy, barely seven years old, from behind while the boy squirmed and writhed in his grip trying to escape. The boy was dirty, he looked like he spent his day rolling around in soot.
As the argument became more heated, the boy continued to squirm, but now he had started crying, and the tears were making clean streaks as they poured down his face.
One of the other soldiers pulled a knife from his belt and help it at the boy's throat. They didn't understand the language he was speaking, but it was clear he wanted the boy to shut up.
Tambil's hand reached out and felt for Movo's and she gave it a hard squeeze. She whispered "Movo. What do we do?"
"I don't know." said Movo. Movo looked around the room. The soldiers were right outside the door, and he had no idea what they would do if they found him and Tambil in the room. Mr Silverkin was nowhere to be seen, and there were no sign of anybody else from the house either. Where had Mr Silverkin's guards all gone?
The soldiers had begun to argue among themselves while pointing and jeering at the boy who was still crying his eyes out. One of the soldiers was carrying a box, which he noisily slammed down on to the table outside the door. More of them now had their knives in their hands, one or two had their swords. The gap through the door was small, but enough to see what was going on, but the room they were in was dark enough they likely couldn't be seen. Neither Movo or Tambil felt safe.
Movo reached up behind him and pulled a flap across the flue in the chimney, blocking what little smoke was coming from the fire. Realising it wasn't enough, he picked up the jug of coffee and threw it on to the fire. This had the effect of producing steam and a big puff of smoke that filled the room within a few seconds. The fire was out, but the small amount of smoke was acrid and they both placed their hands over their mouths.
As the smoke started to billow out of the door, the argument first subsided, and then increased again as they realised that the smoke was coming from the office. One of the soldiers pushed open the door fully as Movo pulled Tambil down behind one of the sofas. The smoke now was filling the top half of the room. It wasn't thick smoke, but it was enough to sting the eyes.
Using that to their advantage, Movo and Tambil crawled low on the ground behind the sofas as the soldiers began running out of the antechamber or towards the windows looking for some fresh air. Some started to cough and their eyes swelled up as they tried to see where they were going and what was happening.
The two of them waited briefly while another guard staggered into the room through the doors, before ducking out the room and racing on all fours down the stairs and out into the sunlight, passing soldiers on the way. Some of them came up the stairs as confused as those coming down as to what was going on.
Outside, Movo and Tambil gave one last cough each before looking at each other and laughing that nervous 'what happened' laugh, both confused, but also glad that they were no longer listening to the soldiers argue or the boy crying. The boy.
They looked around, and could not see the boy, only soldiers coughing and slapping each other's backs.
As they started to wander away towards the gate, Mr Silverkin had appeared as bemused as the rest as to what was going on. Although the smoke had now gone many of the soldiers were still spluttering outside. Mr Silverkin spied Movo and nodded with relief at seeing the boy and his friend outside. His look lasted longer than it should and Movo wondered if he had guessed what happened.
They lingered for a few more minutes before Mr Silverkin gave them a shooing motion, at which they left the estate and headed back towards the guild house.