Thursday, July 11, 2013

The weirding road: market forces

General thoughts: Given the nature of the city as layers of wood on wood over the old city few visit or trust, the nature of trade and goods in a city where one might have to flee any area in a given moment becomes both complex and fun. It can be assumed that most real professions in need to machinery in one place are tied to the Merchant-Lords, who have pretty much claimed all areas of the city that -- for unknown reasons -- the weirding does not touch. Which makes them both necessary and powerful because of that very necessity. 

Morning sunlight was a washed-out smudge behind clouds far overhead as Amaris slipped out of Zel's hidey-hole. She'd seldom come down this far in the city in last few months and never alone before now. Her father's explorations of the stone homes and walkways of the city had armoured her against some of the superstitions of the world but even he had said that, in the face of the weirding, sometimes superstition was all anyone had. Superstitions that would lead other men to hunt her down and turn her fingers into talismans against the weirding.

She smiled grimly to herself and flexed her hands slowly. About her the city was old wood built tight and made to last. The first layer had been built on top of stone homes and canals but it had been built with permanence in mind. Lessons about the cost of stone and the logical use of wood to grow a city filled her mind for a moment before she dispelled them with a sharp shake of her head. That was past, and the past meant nothing to the present. Her eyes strayed down unbidden and the roll of the waters of the city caught her gaze.

Even in day the causeways were dark and sluggish, a bubbling darkness of fog and shadow that seemed to blend into the old stone the water pressed against. They said if you swam in the river, the weirding could not touch you. They said many things: she'd ceased to listen to any of it months ago. The weirding had taken all except her and no story or tale could put that one to rest for her. Amaris held the river with her gaze: it was only water.

It was the work of moments to find a ladder leading up another layer of the city. Layers of wood on wood and home on home made up the city as it stood now, the ancient canals now walkways crossed by wooden planks scattered about and moved at need to connect with the walkwalks built around and through the buildings. Planning didn't exist for most of the city: you built as needed, took care not to destroy what was below you in the harvesting of wood and made walkways and ladders and ropes to the rest.

Some days Amaris felt the city had more walkways than it did homes, more paths than people: all made so that the weirding could be fled. Nothing was permanent: both storms and magic could destroy entire swathes of the city in days, the flow of people a scrambled search for safety and space to call their own. The Merchant Lords whose wealth came from terrifying trips outside the city lived in the only true homes, the old stone towers and wood above them that the weirding itself still slid away from. The city had been something different long ago: now it sulked over itself like a scavenger feeding on the dead.

It took two more levels before the city felt more like home, half-built and barely holding together as if it was a dream of itself. A flash of red a few blocks to the left was enough to orient on the red district, though it had many other names. The glass tower at the north end of the city where the magician Hodor lived made a second reference point, even for Amaris to be sure she was a solid hour from the small hole she called a home. She moved up steadily, slipping past people and up roads and ladders as shew found them until she hit the seventh level. Four walkways and two ladders took her up another level and to a market.

Markets littered the city on the tops of the upper layers, flashes of bright colours and cheap textile signs to lure people up. Up was sky and wind, a kind of safety from the dark below if one didn't fall, and most markets were as simple as that idea: one family, stuff they could carry, a few others joining in as the day wore on. Bright enough to be seen, small enough to take apart and flee with at the hint of the weirding flowing through air and stone like a river, only not like a river at all.

The better markets had weirdcasters, humans sensitive enough to the weirding to sense it before it manifested but sane enough to not want to become magicians. All the good ones worked for the Merchant Lords but it did pay well for those who had the skill, entirely based on how human you were. One weirding twisting and everyone dropped you, no matter how mild it might be. Amaris didn't consider herself one: whatever luck she had lay in mostly finding stuff when she needed it and not being around when the weirding hit, which wasn't the same trick at all. And as it was luck, that was all it was: a thing that would run out.

She shook the thought aside and slipped into the market, past small stalls, snagging old fruits from a boy who looked like he needed them more than her for a few shells his mother snatched away. Finding a fabric seller was easy: it took two before she found one who knew her, and Rigore accepted her offer of a one running for bandages and clothing. She was getting the better deal, but bandages were traded cheap – you never knew when someone who you'd held bind up would be able to pay you back – and they both knew that if he needed her again, she'd put things aside for him.

She had worked hard. Too hard, she thought now, given that people were after her, but it had given her some flow to barter with. Have enough ethic – enough honour – and people cut slack and twisted corners because you were good for it. Until you weren't, in which case debts tended to come due violently, regardless of how young you were.

"Careful, little gull," Rigore murmured as he handed her a bag he placed the clothing in. The bag itself was enough to sell at other markets for several meals. He was a big men, gentle in the way they sometimes could be and one of the few people who had known her from Before, though they'd never talked about it. If he recalled her father, he said nothing, but there was enough in that nothing for her to accept a use-name from him.

"Careful for?" she parried, leaving unsaid if it was a what or who.

"At least one of our esteemed Lords has his eye on you and those are more than most hunters."

Amaris ignored the twinge in her arm. "I know. I'm good."

"No one is that good. Not alone." No offer, just fact.

Amaris just grinned and held up the bag in response; let him think it was a friend if it made him feel safer. She owed him that much to balance debts a little, and smiled inwardly as she headed out of the market. Have of having good flow was things like that, paying back debts people didn't even know they owned. Not being owed, or owing, but some balance between it all as solid as a half-rot plank. She's done it, and wouldn't be the last to say she'd done it well, but no one lasted as a runner.

It was safer than being a thief, but that wasn't saying much at all. Amaris let out a breath and slid down two ladders, then four more, stopping a bare two levels above stone before she began to wind her way back to Zel: going this far would be enough to deter common pursuit, but wasting her time on the future would only distract her from living to read it. She drew her second-best knife from the sheathe on her back. It was thin, sharp, woven glass and bone she was more than prepared to use if she had to.

Sometimes all there is for it is to go on as we meant to begin. Her mom had said that, and for once the memory didn't hurt. Good truths didn't as much as the other kind.

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