/ Language: English / Genre:sf, / Series: Serpent World

Pathfinder

Orson Card


Orson Scott Card

Pathfinder

CHAPTER 1

If a Tree Falls Saving the human race is a frantic business. Or a tedious one.

It all depends on what stage of the process you’re taking part in. • • • Rigg and Father usually set the traps together, because it was Rigg who had the knack of seeing the paths that the animals they wanted were still using.

Father was blind to it-he could never see the thin shimmering trails in the air that marked the passage of living creatures through the world. But to Rigg it was, and always had been, part of what his eyes could see, without any effort at all. The newer the path, the bluer the shimmer; older ones were green, yellow; the truly ancient ones tended toward red.

As a toddler, Rigg had quickly learned what the shimmering meant, because he could see everyone leaving trails behind them as they went. Besides the color, there was a sort of signature to each one, and over the years Rigg became adept at recognizing them. He could tell at a glance the difference between a human and an animal, or between the different species, and if he looked closely, he could sort out the tracks so clearly that he could follow the path of a single person or an individual beast.

Once, when Father first started taking him out trapping, Rigg had made the mistake of following a greenish trail. When they reached the end of it, there were only a few old bones scattered where animals had torn the carcass many months ago.

Father had not been angry. In fact, he seemed amused. “We need to find animals with their skins still fresh,” said Father. “And a little meat on them for us to eat. But if I had a bone collection, these would do nicely. Don’t worry, Rigg.”

Father never criticized Rigg when it came to his knack for pathfinding. He simply accepted what Rigg could do, and encouraged him to hone his skill. But whenever Rigg started to tell someone about what he could do, or even speak carelessly, so they might be able to figure out that he had some unusual ability, Father was merciless, silencing him at once.

“It’s your life,” said Father. “There are those who would kill you for this. And others who would take you away from me and make you live in a terrible place and make you follow paths for them, and it would lead to them killing the ones you found.” And, to make sure Rigg understood how serious this was, he added, “And they would not be beasts, Rigg. You would be helping them murder people.”

Maybe Father shouldn’t have told him that, because it haunted Rigg’s thoughts for months afterward-and not just by giving him nightmares. It made Rigg feel very powerful, to think that his ability might help men find criminals and outlaws.

But all that was when Rigg was still little-seven or eight years old. Now he was thirteen and his voice was finally changing, and Father kept telling him little things about how to deal with women. They like this, they hate that, they’ll never marry a boy who does this or doesn’t do that. “Washing is the most important thing,” Father said-often. “So you don’t stink. Girls don’t like it when boys stink.”

“But it’s cold,” said Rigg. “I’ll wash later, just before we get back home.”

“You’ll wash every day,” said Father. “I don’t like your stink either.”

Rigg didn’t really believe that. The pelts they took from the trapped animals stank a lot worse than Rigg ever could. In fact, the stink of the animal skins was Rigg’s main odor; it clung to his clothing and hair like burrs. But Rigg didn’t argue. There was no point in arguing.

For instance, this morning, before they separated, they were talking as they walked through the woods. Father encouraged talking. “We’re not hunters, we’re trappers,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the animals run from us right now, because we’ll catch them later, when they can’t see us or hear us or even smell us.”

Thus Father used their endless walks for teaching. “You have a severe case of ignorance, boy,” he often said. “I have to do my best to cure that sickness, but it seems like the more I teach you, the more things you don’t know.”

“I know everything I need to know already,” Rigg always said. “You teach me all kinds of strange things that have nothing to do with the way we live. Why do I need to know about astronomy or banking or all these languages you make me speak? I find the paths of animals, we trap them, we sell the furs, and I know how to do every bit of it.”

To which Father always replied, “See how ignorant you are? You don’t even know why you need to know the things you don’t know yet.”

“So tell me,” said Rigg.

“I would, but you’re too ignorant to understand the reasons why your ignorance is a fatal disease. I have to educate you before you’ll understand why it was worth the bother trying to tan your brain.” That’s what he called their schooling sessions: tanning Rigg’s brain.

Today they were following the trail of an elusive pench, whose pelt was worth ten otters, because penchfur was so thick and the colors so vibrant. During a brief lull in Father’s endless teaching, during which he was presumably trying to come up with another problem for Rigg to work out in his head (“If a board fence is nine hands high and a hundred and twenty yards long, how many feet of four-inch slat will you need to buy from the lumbermill, knowing that the slats come in twenty- and fourteen-hand lengths?” Answer: “What good is a nine-hand-high slat fence? Any animal worth keeping inside it can climb it or jump over it or knock it down.” Then a knuckle on the back of his head and he had to come up with the real answer), Rigg started talking about nothing at all.

“I love autumn,” said Rigg. “I know it means winter is coming, but winter is the reason why people need our furs so I can’t feel bad about that. It’s the colors of the leaves before they fall, and the crunching of the fallen leaves underfoot. The whole world is different.”

“The whole world?” asked Father. “Don’t you know that on the southern half of the world, it isn’t even autumn?”

“Yes, I know that,” said Rigg.

“And even in our hemisphere, near the tropics it’s never autumn and leaves don’t fall, except high in the mountains, like here. And in the far north there are no trees, just tundra and ice, so leaves don’t fall. The whole world! You mean the tiny little wedge of the world that you’ve seen with your own ignorant eyes.”

“That’s all the world I’ve seen,” said Rigg. “If I’m ignorant of the rest, that’s your fault.”

“You aren’t ignorant of the rest, you just haven’t seen it. I’ve certainly told you about it.”

“Oh, yes, Father, I have all kinds of memorized lists in my head, but here’s my question: How do you know all these things about parts of the world we can never ever see because they’re outside the Wall?”

Father shrugged. “I know everything.”

“A certain teacher once told me that the only truly stupid man is the one who doesn’t know he’s ignorant.” Rigg loved this game, partly because Father eventually got impatient with it and told him to shut up, which would mean Rigg had won.

“I know that I know everything because there are no questions to which I don’t know the answer.”

“Excellent,” said Rigg. “So answer this question: Do you know the answers to the questions you haven’t thought of yet?”

“I’ve thought of all the questions,” said Father.

“That only means you’ve stopped trying to think of new ones.”

“There are no new questions.”

“Father, what will I ask you next?”

Father huffed. “All questions about the future are moot. I know all the answers that are knowable.”

“That’s what I thought. Your claim to know everything was empty brag.”

“Careful how you speak to your father and teacher.”

“I chose my words with the utmost precision,” said Rigg, echoing a phrase that Father often used. “Information only matters if it helps us make correct guesses about the future.” Rigg ran into a low-hanging branch. This happened rather often. He had to keep his gaze upward, because the pench had moved from branch to branch. “The pench crossed the stream,” he said. Then he clambered down the bank.

Vaulting over a stream did not interrupt the conversation. “Since you can’t know which information you’ll need in the future, you need to know everything about the past. Which I do,” said Father.

“You know all the kinds of weather you’ve seen,” said Rigg, “but it doesn’t mean you know what weather we’ll have next week, or if there’ll be a kind of weather you never saw before. I think you’re very nearly as ignorant as I am.”

“Shut up,” said Father.

I win, said Rigg silently.

A few minutes later, the trail of the pench went up into the air and kept going out of sight. “An eagle got him,” Rigg said sadly. “It happened before we even started following his path. It was in the past, so no doubt you knew it all along.”

Father didn’t bother to answer, but let Rigg lead them back up the bank and through the woods to where Rigg first spotted the pench’s trail. “You know how to lay the traps almost as well as I do,” said Father. “So you go do it, and then come find me.”

“I can’t find you,” said Rigg. “You know I can’t.”

“I don’t know any such thing, because no one can know a false thing, one can only believe it with certainty until it is contradicted.”

“I can’t see your path,” said Rigg, “because you’re my father.”

“It’s true that I’m your father, and it’s true you can’t see my path, but why do you assume that there’s a causal connection between them?”

“Well, it can’t go the other way-you can’t be my father because I can’t see your path.”

“Do you have any other fathers?”

“No.”

“Do you know of any other pathfinder like you?”

“No.”

“Therefore you can’t test to see if you can’t see the paths of your other fathers, because you don’t have any. And you can’t ask other pathfinders whether they can find their fathers’ paths, because you don’t know any. So you have no evidence one way or another about what causes you not to be able to see my path.”

“Can I go to bed now?” asked Rigg. “I’m already too tired to go on.”

“Poor feeble brain,” said Father. “But how it could wear out I don’t know, considering you don’t use it. How will you find me? By following my path with your eyes and your brain instead of this extraordinary ability of yours. You’ll see where I leave footprints, where I break branches.”

“But you don’t leave footprints if you don’t want to, and you never break branches unless you want to,” said Rigg.

“Ah,” said Father. “You’re more observant than I thought. But since I told you to find me after the traps are set, doesn’t it stand to reason that I will make it possible for you to do it, by leaving footprints and breaking branches?”

“Make sure you fart frequently, too,” Rigg suggested. “Then I can track you with my nose.”

“Bring me a nice switch to beat you with when you come,” said Father. “Now go and do your work before the day gets too warm.”

“What will you be doing?”

“The thing that I need to do,” said Father. “When you need to know what that is, I’ll tell you.”

And they parted.

Rigg set the traps carefully, because he knew this was a test. Everything was a test. Or a lesson. Or a punishment from which he was supposed to learn a lesson, on which he would be tested later, and punished if he hadn’t learned it.

I wish I could have a day, just a single day, without tests or lessons or punishments. A day to be myself, instead of being Father’s project to make me into a great man. I don’t want to be great. I just want to be Rigg.

Even taking great care with the traps, leaving them in each beast’s most common path, it didn’t take that long to set them all. Rigg stopped to drink, and then to empty his bladder and bowel and wipe his butt with leaves-another reason to be grateful for the autumn. Then Rigg backtracked his own trail to the place where he and Father parted.

There wasn’t a sign of where Father went. Rigg knew his starting direction because he had seen him go. But when he walked that way, Father had left no broken branches, no footprints, nothing to mark his passing.

Of course, thought Rigg. This is a test.

So he stood there and thought. Father might mean me to continue in the direction I saw him go when we parted, and only after a long time will he leave a mark. That would be a lesson in patience and trust.

Or Father might have doubled back as soon as I was out of sight, and left in another direction entirely, blazing a trail for my eyes to see, but only after I had walked blindly for a while in each random direction.

Rigg spent an hour doubling back again and again, so he could search for Father’s signs of passing in every direction. No luck, of course. That would have been far too easy a challenge.

Again he stood and thought. Father listed the signs he could leave; therefore he isn’t going to leave any of those signs. He’ll leave different signs and my job is to be creative and think of what they might be.

Rigg remembered his own snotty remark about farts and sniffed the air, but he had only the ordinary human sense of smell and he couldn’t detect a thing that way, so that couldn’t be Father’s game.

Sight and smell haven’t worked. Taste seemed ludicrous. Could Father leave a clue using sound?

Rigg gave it a try. He stood in absolute stillness so that he could truly hear the sounds of the forest. It was more than holding his body still. He had to calm himself and concentrate, so that he could separate sounds in his mind. His own breathing-he had to be aware of it, then move past it so he could hear the other sounds around him. Then the near sounds-a scurry of a mouse, the scamper of a squirrel, the jarring notes of a bird’s song, the burrowing of a mole.

And then he heard it. Very distant. A voice. A human voice. Impossible to know what words it was saying, if any; impossible to know if it was Father. But he could tell what general direction it was coming from, and so he moved that way, trotting along a path used by many deer so he could make good time. There was a low rise on the left that might block sound-he wanted to get past that; he knew there was a stream to the right, and if he got too close to that the babble of the water might drown out the voice.

Then he stopped and went into stillness again. This time he was reasonably sure the voice was Father’s. And he was more certain of the direction.

It took two more stops before he could hear the voice clearly enough to run continuously till he reached Father. He was saving up some choice criticisms of this tracking method when he finally reached the spot where the voice was coming from, a clearing where a large tree had recently fallen. In fact, the path of the falling tree was still sparkling blue. There was little occasion to follow plants, since they moved so little, except a bit of waving and bending in the breeze, but this tree must have fallen only a few hours ago, and the movement of its fall had marked a bright path through the air.

Rigg couldn’t see Father at all.

‘“Where are you?” he asked.

He expected some remark with a barbed lesson in it, but instead Father said, “You’ve come far enough, Rigg. You’ve found me.”

“No, I haven’t, Father.”

“You’ve come as close as I want you to. Listen carefully. Do not come any closer to me.”

“Since I don’t know where you are-”

“Shut up,” said Father.

Rigg fell silent and listened.

“I’m pinned under the tree,” said Father.

Rigg cried out and took a step toward the tree.

“Stop!” cried Father.

Rigg stopped.

“You see the size of the tree,” said Father. “You cannot lift it. You cannot move it.”

“With a lever, Father, I could-”

“You cannot move it because I have been pierced by two branches, completely through my belly.”

Rigg cried out, imagining the pain of it, feeling his own fear at Father’s injury. Father was never hurt. Father never even got sick.

“Any further movement of the tree will kill me, Rigg. I have used all my strength calling to you. Listen now and don’t waste what life I have left on any kind of argument.”

“I won’t argue,” Rigg said.

“First, you must make your most solemn promise that you will not come look at me, now while I’m alive or later after I’m dead. I don’t want you to have this terrible image in your memory.”

It couldn’t possibly be worse than what I’m imagining, Rigg said silently. Then he silently gave himself Father’s own answer: You can’t possibly know whether what you imagine is worse than the reality. I can see the reality, you can’t, so… shut up.

“I can’t believe you didn’t argue with me right then,” said Father.

“I did,” said Rigg. “You just didn’t hear me.”

“All right then,” said Father. “Your oath.”

“I promise.”

“Say it all. Say the words.”

It took all Rigg’s concentration to obey. “I promise solemnly that I will not come look at you, either now while you’re alive or later after you’re dead.”

“And you will keep this promise, even to a dead man?” asked Father.

“I recognize your purpose and I agree with it,” said Rigg. “Whatever I imagine might be awful, but I will know that I don’t know that it’s true. Whereas even if the reality is not as bad as what I imagine, I will know it is real, and therefore it will be a memory and not my imagination, and that will be far more terrible.”

“So because you agree with my purpose,” said Father, “following your own inclination will lead you to obey me and to keep your oath.”

“This subject has been adequately covered,” said Rigg, echoing Father’s own way of saying, We have achieved understanding, so let’s move on.

“Go back to where we parted,” said Father. “Wait there till morning and harvest from the traps. Do all the work that needs doing, collect all the traps so you don’t lose any of them, and then carry the pelts to our cache. Take all the pelts from there and carry them back to the village. The burden will be heavy, but you can carry it, though you don’t have your manheight yet, if you take frequent rests. There is no hurry.”

“I understand,” said Rigg.

“Did I ask you whether you understand? Of course you understand. Don’t waste my time.”

Silently Rigg said, My two words didn’t waste as much time as your three sentences.

“Take what you can get for the pelts before you tell anyone I’m dead-they’ll cheat you less if they expect me to return for an accounting.”

Rigg said nothing, but he was thinking: I know what to do, Father. You taught me how to bargain, and I’m good at it.

“Then you must go and find your sister,” said Father.

“My sister!” blurted Rigg.

“She lives with your mother,” said Father.

“My mother’s alive? What is her name? Where does she live?”

“Nox will tell you.”

Nox? The woman who kept the rooming house they sometimes stayed in? When Rigg was very young he had thought Nox might be his mother, but he long since gave up that notion. Now it seems she was in Father’s confidence and Rigg was not. “You tell me! Why did you make me think my mother was dead? And a sister-why was this a secret? Why haven’t I ever seen my mother?”

There was no answer.

“I’m sorry. I know I said I wouldn’t argue, but you never told me, I was shocked, I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry. Tell me what else you think I should know.”

There was no answer.

“Oh, Father!” cried Rigg. “Speak to me one more time! Don’t punish me like this! Talk to me!”

There was no answer.

Rigg thought things through the way he knew Father would expect him to. Finally he said what he knew Father would want him to say.

“I don’t know if you’re punishing me with silence or if you’re already dead. I made a vow not to look and I’ll keep it. So I’m going to leave and obey your instructions. If you’re not dead, and you have anything else to say to me, say it now, speak now, please speak now.” He had to stop because if Father wasn’t dead he didn’t want him to hear that Rigg was crying.

Please, he said silently as he wept.

“I love you, Father,” said Rigg. “I will miss you forever. I know I will.”

If that didn’t provoke Father into speech, nothing ever would.

There was no answer.

Rigg turned resolutely and walked back, retracing his own bright path among the trees and underbrush, along the deer path, back to the last spot where he had seen his father alive.

CHAPTER 2

Upsheer Ram Odin was raised to be a starship pilot. It was his father who adopted the Norse god of the sky as their surname, and it was his father who made sure Ram was absolutely prepared to go into astronaut training two years before the normal time.

Every bit of surplus wealth on Earth had been used to build humanity’s first interstellar colony ships; it took forty years. Under the shadow of moondust that still blocked out more than a third of the sun’s rays from the surface of Earth, the sense of urgency flagged very little, despite the human ability to get used to anything.

Everyone understood how close the human race had come to extinction when the comet swept past Earth and gouged its way into the near face of the moon. Even now, there was no certainty that the Moon’s orbit would restabilize; astronomers were almost evenly divided among those who thought it would sooner or later collide with Earth, and those who thought a new equilibrium would be achieved.

So all who had survived the first terrible years of worldwide cold and famine dedicated themselves to building two identical ships. One would crawl out into space at ten percent of lightspeed, with generation after generation of future colonists living, growing old, and dying inside its closed ecosystem.

The other ship, Ram’s ship, would travel seven years away from the solar system and then make a daring leap into theoretical physics.

Either spacetime could be made to fold, skipping ninety lightyears and putting the colony ship only seven years away from the earthlike planet that was its destination, or the ship would obliterate itself in the attempt… or nothing would happen at all, and it would crawl on for nine hundred more years before reaching its new world.

The colonists on Ram’s ship slept their way toward the foldpoint. If all went well, they would remain asleep through the fold and not be wakened until they neared their destination. If nothing happened at all, they would be wakened to begin farming the vast interior, starting the thirty-five generations that the colony must survive until arrival.

Ram alone would remain awake the entire time.

Seven years with only the expendables for company. Once engineered to do work that might kill an irreplaceable human being, the expendables had now been so vastly improved that they could outlive and outwork any human. They also cost far more to make than it cost to train a human to do even a small part of their work.

Still, they were not human. They could not be allowed to make life-and-death decisions while all the humans were asleep. Yet they were such a good simulation of human life that Ram would never be lonely. • • • For as long as Rigg could remember, Father had been his only home. He could hardly count the rooming house in the village of Fall Ford. The mistress of the house, Nox, didn’t even keep a permanent room for them. If there were travelers filling all the rooms, Father and Rigg slept out in the stable.

Oh, there had been a time when Rigg wondered if perhaps Nox was his mother, and Father had merely neglected to marry her. After all, Father and Nox had spent hours alone together, Father giving Rigg jobs to do so he wouldn’t interrupt them. What were they doing, if not the thing that the village children whispered about, and the older boys laughed about, and the older girls spoke about in hushed voices?

But when Rigg asked Father outright, he had smiled and then took him inside the house and made him ask Nox to her face. So Rigg stammered and said, “Are you my mother?”

For a moment it looked as if she would laugh, but she caught herself at once and instead she ruffled his hair. “If I had ever had a child, I’d have been glad if he’d been one like you. But I’m as barren as a brick, as my husband found to his sorrow before he died, poor man, in the winter of Year Zero, when everyone thought the world would end.”

Yet Nox was something to Father, or they would not have come back to her almost every year, and Father would not have spent those hours alone with her.

Nox knew who Rigg’s mother and sister were. Father had told her, but not Rigg himself. How many other secrets did she know?

Father and Rigg had been trapping in the high country, far upriver from Stashi Falls. Rigg came down the path that ran on the left side of the river, skirting the lake, then coming along the ridge toward the falls. The ridge was like a dam containing the lake, broken only by the gap of the falls. On the one side of the ridge, the land sloped gently down to the icy waters of the lake; on the other side, the land dropped off in a cliff, the Upsheer, that fell three hundred fathoms to the great Forest of Downwater. The cliff ran unbroken thirty leagues to the east and forty leagues to the west of the river; the only practical way to get a burden or a person down the Upsheer was on the right bank of the falls.

Which meant that Rigg, like everyone else lunatic enough to make a living bringing things down from the high country, would have to cross the river by jumping the ragged assortment of rocks just above the falls.

Once there had been a bridge here. In fact, there were ruins of several bridges, and Father had once used them as a test of Rigg’s reasoning. “See how the oldest bridge is far forward of the water, and much higher on the cliff wall? Then the bracing of a newer bridge is lower and closer, and the most recent bridge is only three fathoms beyond the falls? Why do you think they were built where they were?”

That question had taken Rigg four days to figure out, as they tramped through the mountainous land above the lake, laying traps. Rigg had been nine years old at the time, and Father had not yet taught him any serious landlore-in fact, this was the beginning of it. So Rigg was still proud that he had come up with the right answer.

“The lake used to be higher,” he finally guessed, “and the falls was also higher and farther out toward the face of Upsheer Cliff.”

“Why would you imagine such a thing as that?” asked Father. “The falls are many fathoms back from the cliff face; what makes you think that a waterfall can move from place to place?”

“The water eats away at the rock and sweeps it off the cliff,” said Rigg.

“Water that eats rock,” said Father. But now Rigg knew that he had got it right-Father was using his mock-puzzled voice.

“And when the lip of the cliff is eaten away,” Rigg went on, “then all the lake above where the new lip is, drains away.”

“That would be a lot of water each time,” said Father.

“A flood,” said Rigg. “But that’s why we don’t have a mountain of rocks at the base of the falls-each flood sweeps the boulders downstream.”

“Don’t forget that in falling from the cliff, the boulders shatter so the pieces are much smaller,” said Father.

“And the rocks we use for crossing at the top of the falls-they’re like that because the water is already eating down between the rocks, leaving them high and dry. But someday the water will undermine those rocks, too, and they’ll tip forward and tumble down the falls and break and get swept away, and there’ll be a new level for the falls, farther back and lower down.”

That was when Father started teaching him about the way land changes with the climate and weather and growth of plants and all the other things that can shape it.

When Rigg was eleven, he had thought of a question of his own. “If wind and rain and water and ice and the growth of plants can chew up rock, why is Upsheer still so steep? It should have weathered down like all the other mountains.”

“Why do you think?” asked Father-a typical non-answer.

But this time Rigg had already half-formed his own theory. “Because Upsheer Cliff is much newer than any of the other mountains or hills.”

“Interesting thought. How new do you think it is? How long ago was this cliff formed?”

And then, for no reason at all that Rigg could think of, he made a connection and said, “Eleven thousand, one hundred ninety-one years.”

Father roared with laughter. “The calendar! You think that our calendar was dated from the formation of Upsheer Cliff?”

“Why not?” said Rigg. “Why else would we keep a memory that our calendar began in the year eleven-one-ninety-one?”

“But think, Rigg,” said Father. “If the calendar began with the cataclysm that could raise a cliff, then why wasn’t it simply numbered from then? Why did we give it a number like 11,191 and then count down?”

“I don’t know,” said Rigg. “Why?”

“Why do you think?”

“Because when the cliffs formed”-Rigg was not going to give up on his idea-“they knew that something else was going to happen 11,191 years later?”

“Well, we reached Year Zero when you were three. Did anything happen?”

“Lots of things happened,” said Rigg. “A whole year’s worth of things.”

“But anything worth remembering? Anything worth building your whole calendar around?”

“That doesn’t prove anything, Father, except that the people who invented the calendar were wrong about how long it would take to get to the thing they thought would happen in Year Zero. People are wrong all the time. It doesn’t prove that the calendar didn’t begin with the formation of Upsheer.”

“Good thinking,” said Father, “but, of course, wrong. And why are you wrong?”

“Because I don’t have enough information,” said Rigg. It was always because he didn’t have enough information.

“There’s never enough information,” said Father. “That’s the great tragedy of human knowledge. No matter how much we think we know, we can never predict the future.”

Yet there had been something in Father’s tone that Rigg didn’t trust. Or maybe he simply didn’t trust Father’s answer, and imagined he heard it in his tone.

“I think you know something,” said Rigg.

“I should hope so, as old as I am!”

“I think you know what was supposed to happen in Year Zero.”

“Calamity! Plague! The end of the world!”

“No,” said Rigg. “I mean the thing the calendar-makers were thinking of when they started in eleven-one-ninety-one.”

“And how would I know that?”

“I think you know what it was,” said Rigg, “and I think it actually happened, right on schedule.”

“And it was so big and important that nobody noticed it except me,” said Father.

“I think it was something scientific. Something astronomical. Something that scientists back then knew would happen, like planets lining up or some star in the sky blowing up or two stars crashing or something like that, only people who don’t know astronomy would never notice it.”

“Rigg,” said Father, “you’re so smart and so dumb at the same time that it almost takes my breath away.”

And that had been the end of that. Rigg knew Father knew something, and he also knew Father had no intention of telling him.

Maybe Nox would know what happened in Year Zero. Maybe Father told her all his secrets.

But to get to Nox, Rigg had to get down Upsheer to the village of Fall Ford. And to get down Upsheer, he had to reach Cliff Road, which was on the other side of the falls, and so he had to cross over the very place where the water ran fastest, the current strongest, and where he knew the boulders were being undermined and eaten away and it was quite possible that his step on one of the rocks would be the tipping point, and it would tumble over the falls and carry him down to his death.

And his consolation, all the way down, until the water or the rocks or just the force of landing pulverized him, would be that at least there’d be a big flood of water gushing out of the lake, so he wouldn’t die alone, the whole village of Fall Ford would be swept away in moments.

He remembered that this had been one of Father’s test questions. “Why would people build a village in a place where they know eventually there’ll be a terrible flood with no hope of survival and no warning in time to get away?”

“Because people forget,” Rigg answered Father.

“That’s right, Rigg. People forget. But you and I, Rigg-we don’t forget, do we?”

But Rigg knew that it wasn’t true. He couldn’t remember a lot of things.

He remembered the route across the rocks. But he didn’t trust that memory. He always checked it again when he got to the starting place, just above the surface of the lake.

It seemed so calm, but Rigg knew that if he dropped a stone it wouldn’t sink into the water, it would immediately be pushed toward the falls, moving as rapidly as if someone under the water had thrown it. If he dropped himself into the water, he, too, would be over the cliff in about two seconds-having been bashed into six or seven big rocks along the way, so that whatever fell down the waterfall would be a bloody bashed-up version of Rigg, probably in several pieces.

He stood and looked out over the water, seeing-feeling-the paths of countless travelers.

It wasn’t like a main road, which was so thick with paths that Rigg could only pick out an individual with great difficulty, and even then he would lose the path almost at once.

Here, there were only hundreds, not thousands or millions of paths.

And a disturbing number of them did not make it all the way across. They got to this spot or that, and then suddenly lurched toward the cliff face; they had to have been swept away by the water.

Then, of course, there were the ancient paths. This is why Rigg had been able to figure out about the erosion of the rock, the way the falls moved back and lower over time. Because Rigg could see paths that walked through the air, higher than the falls and fathoms outward. These paths jogged and lurched the way the current paths did, for the people who made those paths had been crossing on another set of rocks that penned in a higher, deeper lake.

And where the bridges used to be, thousands of ancient, fading paths sweeping smoothly through midair.

Of course the land had moved, the water had lowered. Someone who could see what Rigg could see was bound to figure out that the falls kept moving.

But today, here is where they were, and these rocks were the rocks that Rigg would have to cross.

He always chose a route that almost everyone had crossed safely; he always tried for a route that was well back from the edge.

Rigg remembered-or remembered Father telling him about it, which was as close to memory as didn’t matter-how Father had first discovered Rigg’s ability to find old paths, right here at the footcrossing of the water. Father had been about to leap, carrying little Rigg, from one stone to another, and Rigg shouted, “No!” He made Father take a different path because, as Father told him, “You said, ‘Nobody fell into the water this other way.’”

Rigg saw now the thing he saw then: Paths from stone to stone, different people, days or years or decades apart. He saw which of the paths of fallers were old and which were new. He chose a route that looked dry, that had been used most recently.

He saw his own past paths, of course.

And, of course, he saw no path at all belonging to Father.

What an odd thing for a son to be blind about-to see every person in the world, or at least to see the way they went, except his own father.

This time Rigg had to make doubly sure of his calculations, because he had to make the crossing with many pounds of bulky, unwieldy furs and hides bound on his back. A crossing he could make easily, carrying only a canteen and traps and a bit of food, would now require him to jump onto too small a rock; he would overbalance and fall in.

He was three leaps out, on a dry platform of rock a full two fathoms wide, when he caught a glimpse of movement and saw, on the far side of the water, a boy of about ten. He thought perhaps he knew him, but since Rigg only came to Fall Ford a few times a year, more or less, and didn’t always see everybody, it might be the younger brother of the boy he thought it was; or it might be a boy from another family entirely, or a complete stranger.

Rigg waved a greeting and the boy waved back.

Rigg made his next leap, and now he was on a much smaller rock, so there’d be no room to make a run. This was the trickiest place in his crossing, where he was most at risk of dying, and he thought that perhaps he should have let down his burden on the big rock he had just left, and crossed with only a third of the furs, and then gone back for the rest. He had never made this leap with such a burden-Father always carried more than half.

It wasn’t too late to go back to the big platform and divide his burden.

But then he saw that the boy had moved out onto a rock. It was much too close to the lip of the falls-Rigg knew that it was the beginning of a path that had the most deaths of any.

Rigg waved and gave a sign with both hands, as if he were pushing the boy back. “Go back!” he yelled. “Too dangerous!”

But the boy just waved, and made the push-back sign in return, which told Rigg that the boy hadn’t understood him. Obviously Rigg could not be heard above the roaring of the water as it swept among the rocks.

The boy leapt to the next rock, and now he was on a path that was pure peril. It would be hard for him to get back now, even if he tried. And the boy was apparently so stupid he was determined to go on.

Rigg had only a moment to decide. If he went back the way he had come, he could set down his burden and then take a dangerous path that would get him nearer to the boy, perhaps near enough to be heard, near enough to stop him. But it would take time to get the furs off his back, and he’d be farther from the boy while he did it.

So instead he simply made the leap he was already planning. He did it exactly right, and a moment later he was ready to leap for a slightly bigger rock. He made that leap, too.

He was only two stones from the boy.

The boy jumped one more time, and almost made it. But the water caught just a part of one foot and swept his leg toward the lip, and it threw the boy off balance and he whirled around and both his feet went into the water, and the water pulled savagely at him.

The boy wasn’t quite stupid after all. He knew he was doomed to lose the rock he was on, so he tried to catch at a smaller rock that was right at the lip of the falls.

He caught it, but the water whirled him around so that he hung by his fingers from the outward, dry edge of the rock and his body dangled over the vast drop to the river below.

“Hold on!” cried Rigg.

A whole winter’s trapping, and he was about to discard it in order to have a slim chance of saving the life of a boy so stupid that surely he deserved to die.

It took Rigg only a moment to get the thongs untied, so he could shrug the load of furs from his back into the water.

He was so close to the lip now that the huge bundle caromed only once against the rocks as it hurtled toward the lip of the falls and then flew out into empty air and fell.

Meanwhile, Rigg dived for the rock that the boy had not quite made; Rigg made it, even though the boy had splashed water onto the surface and made it wet. “Hold on!” Rigg cried again. All he could see of the boy now was his fingers on the rock.

There wasn’t room on the rock for Rigg to jump for it; though it was very close, it was too likely that he would kick the boy’s fingers in the process of stepping there. So instead, Rigg knelt on his rock and then let himself topple forward, planning to catch the boy’s rock with his hands, making a bridge of his body.

Only something strange happened. Time nearly stopped.

Rigg had been in tense situations before. He knew what it was like when your perceptions became suddenly keener, when every second was more fully experienced. It felt at such times as though time held still. But it did not really happen that way. As Father explained it, there were glands in the human body that secreted a substance that gave greater strength and speed at times of stress.

This was not the same thing at all. As Rigg let himself fall forward, an operation that should have taken a second or less, it was suddenly as if he were sinking slowly into something very thick. He had time to notice everything, and while he could not turn his eyes any faster than he could move any other part of his body, his attention could shift as rapidly as he wanted it to, so that anything within his field of vision, even at the edges, could be seen.

Then his attention was engaged by something far stranger. As time slowed down, so did the paths he saw in the air. They thickened. They became more solid.

They became people.

Every person who had tried to cross these rocks at this place became, first a blur of motion, then solid individuals, walking at their real pace. Whoever he concentrated on, he could see walking, jumping, leaping his or her course across the rocks. As soon as he focused his attention on someone else, the other people all became a streak of movement again.

So in mid-fall, he became aware of, concentrated on, a barelegged man who was standing right in the middle of the rock to which the young boy was clinging. The man’s back was to him; but because Rigg was falling so slowly, he had plenty of time to register that the man was dressed in a costume rather like those on the old fallen statues and crumbled friezes of the ruined buildings where the newer of the two old bridges had once rooted into the cliff.

Rigg realized that he was going to fall right into the man. But he couldn’t be solid, could he? This was just part of Rigg’s gift, weirdly changed in this moment of fear, and the paths were never tangible.

Yet this man looked so real-the hairs and pores on his calves, a raw place where something had scraped against his ankle, the frayed and half-opened hem of his kilt, the drooping band of embroidery only half-attached to it. Once the man had dressed in finery; now the finery had become rags.

Whatever ill-fortune had come upon the man, the fact remained that at this moment he was in Rigg’s way. Rigg thought: The people I’m not paying attention to become blurs of motion. If I turn my thoughts away from him, he, too, will become insubstantial.

So Rigg tried to focus on a woman who had tried to make the leap to this same rock, but had slipped and fallen immediately into the current and been swept over. He did this-and saw the horror on her face, flashing almost immediately to the death look of an animal that knows there is no escape. But then she was gone, and his attention returned at once to the man in front of him. If he had become insubstantial for a moment, he was solid enough now.

Rigg’s forehead smacked into the man’s calf; he felt the force of it, yet he was moving so slowly he could feel the texture of the man’s skin on his forehead and then, as Rigg’s head was compelled to turn, the abrasion of the hairs of his leg on Rigg’s face.

Just as Rigg’s face was forced to turn in order to slide down the man’s leg, so also the weight of Rigg’s head and shoulder striking the man caused his leg to buckle, and the man twisted, started to topple forward.

I came to save a boy and now I’m killing a man.

But this man was a soldier or athlete; he whipped around in mid-fall and reached out and clutched the rock, so that when he fell he dangled from both hands.

His left hand completely covered the right hand of the boy.

Apparently two solid objects could occupy the same space at the same time. Or, technically, not at the same time, because the man was actually here hundreds of years ago, but to Rigg it was the same moment. The man’s hand was solid. Rigg could feel it as his own hand, flung out by reflex to support himself after the collision with the man’s leg, slid across the rock and rammed into the fingers of the man’s right hand.

The result was that Rigg stopped sliding forward barely in time to keep his knees from sliding off the previous rock and into the water. Rigg’s body now made the bridge between rocks that he had planned to make. The man had, without meaning to, saved Rigg’s life.

But Rigg had not returned the favor. First he knocked him off his perch and toppled him over the side; and then Rigg’s hand, sliding across the rock, had jammed into the man’s fingers and shoved his right hand from the lip of the stone.

Now the man held on only by his left hand-the hand that completely covered the right hand of the dangling boy Rigg was here to save.

The man’s hand was not transparent in any way. It was real, thick, muscular, tanned, hairy, callused, spotted with freckles and ridged with veins. Yet at exactly the same time, Rigg could also see the taut, slender, nut-brown fingers of the boy, starting to slip just a little. Rigg knew he could help the boy, could hold him if he could only reach past his fingers and get ahold of his wrist. The boy was smaller than Rigg, and Rigg was very strong; if he could lock that wrist between his own fingers he could hang on to him long enough to get his other hand out for the boy to grab.

He could imagine it, plan it, and he could have done it except that he could not get past the thick wrist and forearm of the man.

You’re already dead, for decades and centuries you’re dead, so get out of the way and let me save this child!

But when Rigg’s hand clutched at the man’s forearm, trying to get through him to the forearm of the boy, the man felt him and seized the opportunity. His right hand came up and caught Rigg by the wrist with a grip as much stronger and thicker than Rigg as Rigg’s grip would have been stronger and thicker than the boy’s wrist.

And the weight of the man began to drag Rigg forward.

Rigg’s right knee dipped into the current, and if the man had not had such a tight hold on him, he might have been swept away; at it was, it spun his body so he lay on his side. But that took his knee back out of the water, so once again his body was a bridge between stones.

Still the man’s weight dragged at him. Rigg momentarily lost all thought of the boy-he couldn’t save anybody if he himself was dragged off the cliff.

Rigg clutched at the man’s fingers with his other hand and pried his little finger up and bent it backward, backward. All of this took forever, it seemed-he thought of the movement, and then, slowly, his hand obeyed, reached out, clutched, pried, pushed.

The man let go. With agonizing slowness his right hand slipped away from Rigg, his fingers sliding over Rigg’s skin. Just as slowly, Rigg righted himself so that he could once again try to reach out for the boy; but still the man’s left hand covered the boy’s right.

Just as Rigg’s hand once again settled over the man’s left wrist, trying to get past him or through him or under him to reach the boy, Rigg saw the boy’s fingers lose their grip and slide away from the rock, slowly, slowly… and then they were gone.

In fury and frustration and grief at his failure, Rigg raised his hand to strike downward at the man’s hand. It did not enter his mind that he was preparing to do murder. In Rigg’s time the man was already long since dead, no matter what the outcome here; all Rigg knew was that because that man had suddenly become visible and tangible, Rigg had not been able to save the boy-a boy he almost certainly knew in the village, if he could only place him.

But Rigg never got the chance to complete the action of striking the man. Instead time sped up again, became normal, the man simply disappeared without Rigg seeing whether he fell or somehow managed to clamber back up onto the rock, and Rigg’s fist struck only stone.

A moment later, Rigg heard a scream. It couldn’t be the boy-he would already have been so far down before the scream began that he could not have been heard where Rigg was, and the scream went on much too long. Yet it was not a man’s scream-the voice was too high.

So there was someone else on the shore, someone else who had seen the boy die. Someone who might help Rigg get himself back off this rock.

But of course no one could help him. It would be insane for anyone to try. It had been insane for Rigg to try to save the boy. For here he was, his body bridging two stones, barely out of the water himself, and if he even bent his knees he would be carried away by the torrent.

He inched backward, trying to get his knees back onto the rock where his toes were. Already his arms and shoulders were aching with the strain of holding himself like a bridge. And now, when he might have used the slowing of time to help him pay attention to even the slightest move he made, his fear gave him no more than the normal degree of heightened concentration.

Yet after a while his knees were on the hind rock, and he was able to rise up on his hands till he was as high as he could get above the water, and his fingers still had enough strength in them that he could shove himself up and back, and…

He shoved, rose up, and then teetered for a moment that felt like forever, unsure whether he had pushed too lightly and would fall forward again, or pushed too hard and would tumble off the back of the rock.

But he found his balance. He stood up.

A rock hit him in the shoulder just as he was standing up. For a moment he lost his balance, could have fallen, but he recovered and turned to see a boy of perhaps his own age, maybe older, standing on the first rock from the shore, where the dead boy had started his fatal journey, and he was preparing to hurl an even bigger rock.

It was not as if Rigg had anywhere to hide.

So he had no choice but to try to slap the rock away with his bare hands. Rigg quickly discovered that his own slapping motion caused him to lose his balance as surely as if the rock had hit him. Somehow, though, he managed to twist himself and turn his fall into a lunge that got him, barely, onto the next rock back from the falls.

“Stop it!” cried Rigg.

But the rock-throwing boy couldn’t hear him. Only the boy’s scream had been loud enough to be audible over the roaring of the water.

Now Rigg recognized him-this was Umbo, a village boy, son of the cobbler, who had been his best friend when they were both much younger, and Father had kept him longer in Fall Ford than in recent years.

Now Rigg realized why he had known the boy who fell-it was Umbo’s little brother, Kyokay, a daredevil of a boy who was always getting into trouble and always taking insane chances. The boy’s arm had been in splints, healing from a break, during the time Rigg and Umbo had been friends, but even then he would climb impossible trees and leap from high places onto rough ground, so that Umbo constantly had to go and stop him or rescue him or scream at him.

If I could have saved Kyokay, it would have been a gift to my friend Umbo. A continuation of the many times I helped Umbo save the boy back when he was even smaller.

So why is Umbo trying to kill me by throwing stones? Does he think I made Kyokay fall? I was trying to save him, you fool! If you were there on the bank, why did you let him go out on the rocks? No matter what you saw, why didn’t you try to find out what really happened before you passed a death sentence on me? “People are never fair, even when they try to be,” Father said more than once, “and few are the ones who try.”

Rigg made it back to the rock where he had been when he first saw Kyokay. If I had just stayed here, he thought, and let the boy take his chances and, of course, die, Kyokay would be no more dead than he is now, and I would have been so far from him that no one could possibly have blamed me for his death.

And I’d still have my furs, and therefore I’d be able to take money with me on my journey to wherever in the world my mother and sister might be.

Umbo was still throwing rocks, but few of them came close now, and with so much rock to stand on, Rigg could dodge those easily. Umbo was weeping now in his fury, but still Rigg could not hear his words, nor hope to be heard himself if he tried to answer. Rigg could think of no gesture that would say, “I did nothing wrong, I tried to save him.” To an angry, grieving boy like Umbo, a shrug would look like unconcern, not helplessness; a bow would look like sarcasm instead of respect for the dead.

So all Rigg could do was stand there, waiting until Umbo gave up. Finally he did, running from the water’s edge back into the woods.

Either he’s heading down Cliff Road to the village, where he’ll no doubt tell everybody whatever he believes happened here, or he’s lying in wait till I come closer.

Rigg hoped Umbo was waiting to ambush him. He was not afraid of fighting Umbo-Rigg was strong and agile from his life in the forest, and besides, Father had trained him to fight in ways that a cobbler’s son would never have learned to counter. Though if it came to driving tiny nails through thick leather, Umbo would no doubt prevail. Rigg only wanted to get close enough to explain what happened, even if they were fighting while he talked.

When Rigg got to the other side, Umbo was gone-Rigg could see his path, bright and clear and fresh in the air, heading right down the difficult part of Cliff Road.

Rigg would like to have taken a different way, in case Umbo set some trap for him, but there was no other way down the cliff, except of course the ever-present option of falling. That was half the reason for Fall Ford’s existence as a town, this road up the cliff. At the bottom it was a road, an ancient one, high-curbed and paved with large stones, switching back and forth up the steep slopes at the base of Upsheer.

But then the switchbacks got narrower, the ramping road gave way to a high-stepped path, and paving stones gave way to carved and weathered rock, with makeshift repairs or detours where some ancient calamity had torn away the original path. Still, it was just possible for someone to carry a burden in both hands up the road, and for a boy like Umbo, bounding down, energized with grief and rage, it would take very little time to reach the bottom.

If Rigg still had his huge bundle of pelts and skins, that would be a problem. Umbo would have plenty of time to get to the village and back again, no doubt with men who would believe his story and who, in their rage, might not listen to Rigg’s version of events.

As it was, if Rigg hurried, he would be at the bottom of Cliff Road and away before Umbo could get back. And unless he or someone else in the village had an ability like Rigg’s, there would be no tracking him. An expert tracker was hard to track, Father had told him, since he knew what signs a fugitive shouldn’t make in the first place.

Father! Rigg felt another pang of grief, as fresh as the first, and tears came into his eyes. How can I live without you? Why couldn’t you hear the groaning of the wood and get out of the way before the tree fell on you? Always so quick, always so perceptive-it’s almost unbelievable that you could ever be so careless.

And I still need you. Who will explain to me what caused time to slow, caused all those people from the past to appear, caused that man to block my way so the boy died?

Tear-filled eyes don’t find a good path. So Rigg stemmed his grief, cleared his eyes, and continued through the woods, looking for the back way to get to Nox’s rooming house.

CHAPTER 3

Nox’s Wall What training could they have given Ram Odin that would help him when the seven years of tedium ended and it was time for his decision?

The ship’s computer already knew the entire procedure for the fold. The process was far too complicated for a mere pilot to be able to take part in it. Ram’s job was to read and hear the reports of the computers, and then decide whether to go ahead.

But the decision was not an easy or an empty one. As the ship began its strangely twisted acceleration into the fold, data would be generated on a vast scale. The computers would begin their reduplicated analyses and fuzzy predictions of what was happening, what might happen, what would happen during the fold itself.

At any point, Ram could abort the procedure, based on what the computers told him. The computers would generate odds and likelihoods, but Ram was quite aware that the odds were all fiction. It was possible that none of the predictions would resemble the outcome.

And no matter how many times the computers repeated any one prediction, that did not make it the most likely outcome. It might mean nothing more than this: The computers and the software all contained the identical set of false assumptions or built-in flaws that made all prediction worthless.

Ram was an expert pilot, a deep-thinking astronomer and mathematician, his creative faculties well-practiced. Everything that training could do had been done. But it still came down to this: Who was Ram Odin? Would he bet his life and the lives of all the colonists on the unknown leap into a fold in spacetime?

Or would he, in the moment, decide that it was better to use known technology, generate the scoopfield, start harvesting interstellar hydrogen, and drive forward through ninety lightyears of ordinary spacetime?

Ram knew, or thought he knew, what his decision would be. He had said so, many times, during the testing and screening of potential pilots for the mission: Unless there is information from the computers that makes the jump seem recklessly dangerous, I will proceed. Even failure will be enormously valuable-you will see what happens to the ship, you will harvest the monitors that will be trailing behind us, you will know.

But now, seeing the reports, talking to the expendable that sat in the copilot position beside him, Ram realized that there was no such thing as “enough” information, and no way to set aside fear. Oh, his own fear he had mastered. What caused him problems was the vicarious fear for all the people sleeping in their berths; the fear that they would jump into the fold but never come out, or come out in a strange place that was much too far from any planet to make colonization possible.

How did I become the one to make this decision for everyone? • • • In settled country, even the wildest wood is wound about with paths. Children playing, couples trysting, vagabonds seeking a place to sleep undisturbed. Not to mention the countless practical needs for going into the forest. Mushrooms, snails, nuts, berries-all will bring people across the fields and into the trees.

Running steadily, lungweary, Rigg could still see the most recent paths. He knew which woods should be empty of people, and those were the paths he chose. Several times he had to abandon wild country and strike out across fields or through orchards, but always he knew from the paths which houses were empty, which roads safe to cross.

He came at last to the back approaches to Nox’s rooming house. She kept a large vegetable garden with rows of pole beans, where Rigg crouched to scan the house.

A crowd had already gathered in front of the house. They weren’t a mob-not yet-but Rigg heard their shouted demand that Nox let them search for “that child-murderer.” Because Rigg had taken a roundabout way, Umbo’s version of events had had plenty of time to spread through the village. And it was well known that here was where Father and Rigg always stayed.

Of course Nox let them in. Since Rigg really wasn’t inside, what reason would she have for refusing them, which would invite them to burn the place down?

Rigg couldn’t see the men who searched the house-they were behind walls-yet somehow, in a way that blended into vision but wasn’t actual sight, he could still track the men’s paths through the house. All he could sense was the pace at which new paths appeared, and their position relative to each other and the outside wall of the house.

Yet this was enough for him to know that they were almost frantic in their search. They seemed to run up and down the stairs, and walk all around each room. There was bending, crawling, stretching upward. For all he knew they were slashing open the beds and dumping out trunks.

But of course they found nothing, since their quarry was outside in the bean patch.

And if they widened their search and found him here, they would assume Nox knew he was there. It might go very badly for her.

So as the paths converged again on the front porch, Rigg scampered for the back door and slipped inside the pantry. He dared not go upstairs or to any public room, because the regular residents were there.

From the pantry, Rigg could sense the movement of members of the crowd. They set two men to watch in front and two in back. Several men did indeed search through the garden.

I shouldn’t have come here, thought Rigg. Or I should go back out into the wild and wait for a year and then come back. Maybe I’ll be able to grow some kind of beard by then. Maybe I’ll be taller. Maybe I’ll never come back at all-and never know who my mother is, or find my sister…

Why couldn’t Father have simply told him instead of making him come here? But a dying man has the privilege of deciding his own last words, and when to stop talking.

Rigg tried to imagine what it would be like for Nox, when at last she came to the pantry. If he was standing up and looking at her, she was likely to scream; that would draw attention, certainly of the residents, and perhaps of the guards outside. He needed to be sure she remained silent, which meant she should feel neither shocked nor threatened.

So he sat down in a corner and hid his face in his hands. She wouldn’t be startled by seeing his eyes, nor face an unexpected stranger looming over her as she opened the door to the room. It was the best he could do.

It took two hours before Nox was able to calm down the guests, who were, of course, frightened or angry about the intrusion and search. Two of them packed up their things and left. The rest stayed, and finally it was time-past time-for Nox to start preparing dinner.

“Too late for soup, no time for anything that takes any time to cook,” Nox was grumbling as she opened the pantry door.

Rigg was not looking up, so he couldn’t be exactly sure she even noticed him, as she unsealed the flour and sugar bins to draw out the ingredients for quickbread. She had to have seen him, but gave no sign. Only when he lifted his head very slightly, enough to see her, did she whisper, “Stay here till after dinner,” though Rigg knew well that the noon meal there hardly deserved the lofty title of dinner. Then Nox was out of the pantry, closing the door behind her.

Dinner was served, during which the two guests who had left came back-there were no other rooms in town, and after all, the murderer had not been found in the house, so surely that made this the safest rooming house in Fall Ford, since this one had been found most definitely killer-free.

Finally, when Rigg sensed that all the guests had gone out again, Nox opened the pantry, came inside, and closed the door behind her. Her voice was the tiniest of whispers.

“How did you keep them from finding you when they searched the house? You haven’t learned how to make yourself invisible, have you?”

“I came in after they searched.”

“Well, thanks for dropping by. It’s made everybody’s day.”

“I didn’t kill that boy.”

“No one in their right mind thinks you did.”

“He was hanging from the lip of a stone and I even dropped all my furs so I could try to save him, but Umbo thinks what he thinks.”

“People always do. Where’s your father?”

“Dead.”

That left her silent for a long while.

Then, finally, “I honestly didn’t think he knew how to die.”

“A tree fell on him.”

“And you came back here alone?”

“He told me to. He told me to come to you.”

“Nothing about killing an odd child or two on the way?”

For a moment, Rigg thought of telling her about the man from centuries ago that he might or might not have killed as well. But that would mean telling her about his pathfinding, and things were complicated enough already. She’d probably think he was insane and therefore cease believing that he had not killed Kyokay. So Rigg ignored her provocation. “He told me you’d tell me where my sister and mother are.”

“He couldn’t tell you himself?”

“You say that as if you think he might have explained himself to me.”

“Of course he didn’t.” She sighed. “Trust him to leave the hard jobs to me.”

“You’ve known my mother was still alive my whole life long, and you never bothered to mention it to me?”

“I’ve known only since he was about to lead you out on this last jaunt,” she said. “He took me aside and made me memorize some names and an address. He said I’d know when to tell somebody.”

“It’s now,” said Rigg.

“Fat lot of good it’ll do you,” said Nox, “with men watching my house.”

“I’d rather die knowing.”

“First tell me how that boy died.”

So Rigg told her what had happened, except that he left out any mention of the man from another time whose hand had covered Kyokay’s. He was sure she could sense that he wasn’t telling the complete story, but it still seemed better not to tell her about his abilities.

Nox seemed to take it all in stride. “Trust that idiot Umbo to accuse you before trying to find out the truth. And you lost all your furs?”

“I didn’t really lose them, since I know where they are,” said Rigg. “They’re somewhere downriver, hung up on rocks or branches.”

“Oh, you can be funny? I’m so glad to hear it.”

“It’s laugh or cry,” said Rigg.

“Cry, then. Give the old man his due.”

For a moment, Rigg thought she meant the ancient man at the top of the falls. But of course she meant Father. “He wasn’t all that old.”

“How can anyone tell? He was coming to this house when I was a child, and he looked no younger then.”

“Will you tell me now where I need to go?”

“I’ll tell you-so you’ll know what address it was you never made it to. Nobody’s letting you out of town today.”

“Names,” Rigg insisted.

“Are you hungry?”

“I’ll be eating the flesh of warmed-over rooming house owner if you don’t tell me now.”

“Threats. Tut tut. Naughty boy. Raised without manners.”

“Exactly,” said Rigg. “But I do have a lot of experience with killing animals larger than myself.”

“I get it,” said Nox. “You’re so clever. Your mother was-is-Hagia Sessamin. She lives in Aressa Sessamo.”

“The ancient capital of the Sessamoto Empire?”

“That very city,” said Nox.

“And what is her address?” asked Rigg.

Nox chuckled. “Not a very good listener. Your father always said, ‘If I could only get him to pay attention.’”

Rigg was not going to be put off. “Address?”

“I told you, she’s Hagia Sessamin.”

“And that means she doesn’t need an address?”

“Ah,” she said. “Apparently your father omitted any explanations about Sessamoto politics. Which makes sense, come to think of it. If you get out of Fall Ford alive, get to Aressa Sessamo and ask for the house of ‘the Sessamin.’ Ask anyone at all.”

“I’m some kind of royalty?”

“You’re a male,” said Nox. “That means you could fart royal blood out of your ears and it wouldn’t matter. It was an empire ruled by women, which was a very good plan while it lasted. Not that most cities and nations and empires aren’t ruled by women, one way or another.” She stopped and studied his face. “I’m trying to figure out what you’re not saying to me.”

Rigg said the first thing that came to mind. “I have no money for the journey. The furs were all I had.”

“And you come begging an old housekeeper for a few coins from her stash?”

“No,” said Rigg. “Nothing, if you can’t spare it. If you have a little, I’ll borrow it, though I don’t know when or if ever it’s going to be possible for me to repay you.”

“Well, I’m not going to advance you anything, or lend it, or even give it. Though I might ask you for a loan.”

“A loan? When I have nothing?”

“Your father left you a little something.”

“When were you going to tell me?”

“I just told you.” She pushed a stepladder into place against one of the sets of rough shelves and started to climb. Then she stopped.

“If you try to look up my skirt, I’ll poke needles into your eyes right through your eyelids while you’re asleep.”

“I’m looking for help, you give me nightmares, thank you so much.”

She was on the top step now, reaching up for a bin marked dry beans. Rigg looked up her skirt mostly because she told him not to, and saw nothing at all of interest. He could never understand why Nox and other women, too, were always so sure men wanted to see whatever it is they concealed under their clothes.

She came down with a small bag. “Wasn’t this nice of your father? To leave this behind for you?”

She opened the little bag and poured its contents into her palm. Nineteen jewels, large ones, of more colors than Rigg had imagined jewels could have, and no two alike.

“What am I supposed to do with these?”

“Sell them,” she said. “They’re worth a fortune.”

“I’m thirteen,” Rigg reminded her. “Everyone will assume I stole these from my mommy. Or a stranger. Nobody will imagine that I have them by right.”

Out of the bag Nox took a folded sheet of paper. Rigg took it, looked at it. “It’s addressed to a banker in Aressa Sessamo.”

“Yes,” she said. “I can read.”

Rigg scanned it. “Father taught me about letters of credit.”

“I’m glad to hear that, since he never taught me any such thing.”

“It says my name is Rigg Sessamekesh.”

“Then I suppose that’s what your name is,” said Nox.

“This is worthless until I get to Aressa Sessamo,” said Rigg.

“So live off the land, the way you and your father always do.”

“That works in the forest. But long before I get to Aressa Sessamo, it’ll all be towns and farms and fields. I hear they whip you for stealing.”

“Or put you in jail, or sell you into slavery, or kill you, depending on the town and what mood they’re in.”

“So I’ll need money.”

“If you make it out of Fall Ford.”

Rigg said nothing. What could he say? She didn’t owe him anything. But she was the closest thing to a friend he had, even if she wasn’t his mother.

Nox sighed. “I told your father not to count on my giving you money.”

“He didn’t. He saw to it I had a good-sized bundle of furs-all I could carry.”

“Yes, yes, so I will give you something, but it won’t be enough for you to ride a carriage. It won’t be enough for you to ride anything. And you’d be wise to keep off the roads for a good long way. I have a feeling that nobody’s going to get new shoes or shoes repaired in Fall Ford until a certain cobbler gives up on finding you and gutting you like a fish.”

Rigg heard something outside the pantry. “When did we decide to stop whispering?” he asked.

Nox whirled around and flipped open the pantry door. There was nobody there. “We’re fine,” she said.

Then there came a pounding on the front and back doors of the house, both at once. “We know you have him in there, Nox! Don’t make us burn down the house!”

Rigg shuddered with panic, but otherwise he couldn’t move, he couldn’t even think.

Nox pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m getting a headache. A big fat throbbing one, relentless as a moth.”

She spoke as if it were a mere annoyance that they had realized where Rigg was hiding. Her calmness dispelled most of his fear. “Do you think we can talk them out of this? Or will you try to keep them busy while I climb out on the roof?”

“Quiet,” she said. “I’m building a wall.”

Since her hands were doing nothing at all, Rigg assumed her wall must be metaphorical. A wall between herself and her fear?

As if he had asked aloud, she whispered an explanation. “A wall around the house. I’m filling it with a will to turn away.”

He should have known that Father would have become her teacher because she had some kind of interesting talent. “They’re already at the door.”

“But nobody will want to come any farther. For as long as I can sustain it.”

“How long is that? Minutes? Hours?”

“It depends on how many wills are attacking it, and how strongly determined they are,” she answered.

She took her fingers from the bridge of her nose and walked to the back door, then spoke through it to the guards in back. “I’m opening the front door in a moment, so you might as well go around.”

“Do you think I’m fooled?” asked a male voice from the other side. “As soon as I leave, you’ll come out the back.”

“Suit yourself,” said Nox. Then, to Rigg, she said softly, “That’s how you get people to outsmart themselves. If they think they’ve found your plan, they’ll stop looking for it.”

“I heard that,” said the man on the other side of the door. “I can do that spell myself.”

“We weren’t doing a spell,” said Nox. “We were just talking.”

As they walked to the front door, Nox added, for Rigg’s ears alone, “Don’t go through the door when I open it.”

She opened the door. Standing right there were two burly men. One was the blacksmith, and one a farmer from an outlying homestead. Just behind them, but off the porch, stood the cobbler Tegay, father of the dead boy Kyokay. His face was streaked with tears and Umbo was clinging to his arm, half-hidden behind his father’s bulk.

Rigg wanted to run to Umbo and tell him what had happened-tell him everything, the magic and all, so that Umbo would understand that Rigg was only trying to save Kyokay, and had risked his own life to do it. Umbo would believe him, if they only had a chance to talk.

The two men at the door made as if to come inside-to burst in, from their posture-but after a shifting of weight they remained outside after all.

“He was not here when you searched,” said Nox. “I did not know he was coming.”

“You say,” said the farmer.

“I say,” said Nox, “and you know my word is good.”

“How do we know that?” asked the blacksmith.

“Because I pay my bills promptly,” answered Nox, “even when my tenants haven’t paid me.” Then she called more loudly. “Tegay!”

“You don’t have to shout,” said the cobbler softly, from behind them. They moved aside a little, so Nox and Tegay could see each other.

“Why do you accuse this boy of killing your son?”

“Because my boy Umbo watched him throw Kyokay over the falls.”

“He did not,” said Nox.

“I did too!” cried Umbo, taking a step closer to the porch.

“I’m not calling you a liar,” said Nox. “I’m saying that you are telling, not what you saw, but what you concluded from what you saw.”

“Same thing,” said the blacksmith.

“Umbo,” said Nox. “Come here.”

Umbo stepped back and stood close to his father again.

The cobbler said, “I’m not letting him into that house, not while that child-killer is there!”

“Umbo,” said Nox, “what did you actually see? Don’t lie, now. Tell us what your eyes actually witnessed.”

Rigg knew that Umbo would tell the truth-he was no liar. Then he’d realize for himself that Rigg hadn’t thrown or pushed, but had only reached out to try to save.

Umbo looked wildly from Rigg to Nox and then up at his father. “It happened like I said.”

It surprised Rigg that Umbo would persist in his mistake. But perhaps Umbo was afraid to change his story now. Everyone knew how Tegay beat him when he was angry.

“I see,” said Nox. “You were supposed to be watching Kyokay, weren’t you? Keeping him out of danger. But he ran away, didn’t he? Ran ahead of you, and when you got to the top of Cliff Road, he was already out on the rocks.”

Tegay’s face changed. “Is that true?” he asked his son.

“Kyokay didn’t obey me, but I still saw what I saw,” Umbo insisted.

“And that’s my question,” said Nox. “Scrambling up that road, you were out of breath. You had to watch your handholds and footholds so you wouldn’t fall. There are moments you can glimpse the falls and see what’s happening. But you wouldn’t have stopped to look, would you?”

“I saw Rigg throw Kyokay into the water.”

“While you were still coming up the road?” prompted Nox.

“Yes.”

“And when you got to the top, what did you see?” asked Nox.

“Kyokay was hanging from the lip of a stone, dangling over the falls. And Rigg was stretched out across two stones trying to slap and pry at Kyokay’s hands! And then he fell.” On that last sentence, a sob burst from him at the memory.

“And then what did you do?” asked Nox.

“I went back to the shore and picked up stones and threw them at Rigg.”

“You thought you could avenge your brother with stones?”

“Rigg was having trouble getting back onto his feet. I thought I could make him lose his balance and fall in.”

Hearing Umbo admit to having tried to kill him was infuriating. “And you nearly did, too,” said Rigg.

Nox hushed him with a gesture. “Umbo, you saw your brother die a terrifying death, falling from the top of Stashi Falls. You thought you understood what happened from the glimpses that you saw. But let me tell you what really happened.”

“You weren’t there,” growled the farmer.

“Neither were you, so keep your mouth shut,” said Nox calmly. “Rigg just came back from two months of trapping. On his back he was carrying all the furs that he and his father had gathered. Did you see that bundle of furs?”

Umbo shook his head.

“Yes, you did,” said Nox. “That’s what Rigg was throwing into the water when you caught a glimpse of him as you scrambled up Cliff Road. That’s what got swept over the falls, not your brother. Your brother was already dangling from the rock. Rigg got rid of his burden so he could go and try to save him.”

“No,” said Umbo. But he did not sound very certain.

“Think,” said Nox. “Rigg must have done something with his furs. Where were they? Would he have left them on the other side? What do Rigg and his father always do with the furs they bring to town?”

Umbo shook his head.

“And then you say Rigg stretched himself across two rocks. Why? To slap at Kyokay’s fingers and push him from his perch? Why would he need to do that? How long could Kyokay have held on anyway? Did he have the strength to climb back up onto the rock? Was the rock even big enough?”

“I don’t know,” said Umbo.

“The only story that makes sense is the true one,” said Nox. “Rigg was crossing where he and his father always crossed-far back from the falls. Only a foolish daredevil of a little boy would try to cross on the stones near the edge of the falls.”

A few of the men in the crowd murmured their assent. And Rigg’s respect for Nox grew. Even better than Father, she knew how to speak patiently, clearly, in a way that created trust, that built up the right story in the minds of these men.

“We all know how reckless Kyokay was,” said Nox. “How many of us have seen him walking along roofs and climbing high trees and showing off in a dozen different ways? That’s why your father told you to watch him, to keep him from…”

“From getting himself killed,” said Tegay softly.

“Rigg was where you were supposed to be, doing what you were supposed to do, Umbo,” said Nox. “Looking after Kyokay. He sacrificed two months of labor, all the goods he had in the world, so he could try to save your brother. He risked his life, stretched out between two rocks, to try to get to your brother’s hand and pull him up. But then your brother lost his grip and fell. And there was Rigg, balanced over the rushing water. If he dipped even a knee into that stream, he’d be swept over the falls. And while he’s trying to get back from the edge alive, what happens? You throw rocks at him.”

“I thought he… I thought…”

“You were angry. Someone was guilty of something terrible. Someone had done something wrong and needed to be punished,” said Nox. “Someone. But it wasn’t Rigg, was it?”

Umbo burst into tears. His father held him close.

“It wasn’t Umbo either,” said Tegay. “It was Kyokay. He never believed in danger. He wouldn’t obey. I don’t blame Umbo. I don’t blame Rigg, either.” He turned to the other men gathered there. “Let no man lay a hand on Rigg for Kyokay’s sake,” he said.

“Why do you believe her?” asked a man from farther back in the crowd.

“She’s a spellcaster,” said another. “She’s ensorceled you.”

“She wasn’t there. She talks like she knows but she wasn’t there.”

Nox pointed a finger at the man who spoke last. “Why do you want to believe the worst? Why are you hungry to do a killing here today? What kind of man are you?”

“He killed a child!” the man cried. Rigg had seen him around the village, but didn’t know him. He wasn’t anyone very important, until now-now he seemed to be the leader of the angriest men in the mob. “I say Rigg’s father had the furs and it all happened the way Umbo said!”

“That would be a very clever guess,” said Rigg, “except my father is dead.”

Silence fell on the crowd.

“That’s why I was carrying all the furs,” Rigg continued. “I was coming back alone.”

“How did your father die?” asked Tegay, with a gruff sort of sympathy.

“A tree fell on him,” said Rigg.

“A likely story!” shouted a man in the crowd.

“Enough!” shouted Nox. “You searched through my house, causing all kinds of damage, and I bore it for the sake of Kyokay and his grieving family. But Umbo admits he saw only a glimpse here and a glimpse there. Rigg had no reason to kill Kyokay-there has been nothing but friendship among these boys. Instead Rigg sacrificed his furs and risked his life trying to save him. It’s the only story that makes any sense at all. Now go away from my rooming house. If you want blood, go home and kill a chicken or a goat and have a nice feast in memory of Kyokay. But you’ll shed no blood here today. Go!”

Even as the crowd began to break up and wander away, the angriest man muttered loudly enough for Rigg to hear: “Murdered his father in the woods and came home to murder our children in their beds.”

“I’m sorry your father’s dead,” Tegay said to Rigg. “Thank you for trying to save my little boy.” Then the cobbler burst into tears and the blacksmith and farmer led him away.

Umbo stood alone for a moment, looking up at Rigg. “I’m sorry I threw stones at you. I’m sorry I blamed you.”

“You saw it how you saw it,” said Rigg. “I don’t blame you.”

He would have said more to Umbo, but Nox closed the door.

“How did you know all the things you said?” asked Rigg. “I didn’t tell you all of those things.”

“I know the place,” said Nox. “And I already heard Umbo’s story when he told it before, during the search.”

“The wall you made just now-what does it do?”

“It weakens everyone’s will but mine, so they begin to want a little less of what they want, and a little more of what I want. And just now I wanted peace and calm and forgiveness. And I wanted them to stay out of my house.”

“But it didn’t seem to affect some of the men,” said Rigg.

“My wall had no effect on the men far out in the crowd. Only on the ones who were close to me. It’s not really that much of a talent, as the good teacher was fond of telling me, but it worked well enough today. Though it wore me out. If Tegay had really wanted your murder, he could have outlasted me. But he didn’t. He knew Kyokay was a foolish boy. Everyone said the child was doomed to kill himself doing some foolish jape, and then he did. Tegay knew that.”

“But then magic is real,” said Rigg. “You have magic.”

“Think,” said Nox. “Is the thing you do magic? Seeing the paths of every creature? Thousands of years ago they passed, and you can still see the path? Is that magic?”

So Father had told Nox all about his pathfinding, after commanding Rigg never to trust anyone with the secret. When Father said to tell no one, he apparently meant to be careful and tell only those you could trust. It made a lot more sense than an ironclad rule. “It’s a thing I can do,” said Rigg.

“But it’s not a spell, you didn’t learn it, you can’t teach someone else to do it, it’s not magic, it’s a sense you have that others happen to lack, and if we understood it better we’d see that it’s just as natural as-”

“Breathing,” said Rigg. He knew how to finish the sentence because it was one that Father had said many times. “Father taught you to understand your talent, too.”

“He tried to teach me many more things than I actually learned,” said Nox. “We didn’t tramp together through the woods for hours and days and weeks and months at a time, the way you did. So he didn’t have time to teach me the way he taught you.”

“I didn’t know Father was so old. To teach you when you were young.”

“How old do you think I am?” asked Nox.

“Older than me.”

“I was sixteen and your father-the man I knew as Good Teacher-had been teaching me for three years before he left Fall Ford. He said he had to go get something. I was seventeen when he came back with you in his arms.”

“So Father went to the city and fell in love and got married and they had a baby and then he left her and it only took a year?”

“A year and a half,” said Nox, “and who said anything about falling in love? Or getting married? He got a child, and it was you, and he brought you back here, and now you have a fortune in jewels and a letter of credit and you’ll have most of my meager savings to take with you. You’re going to leave on your journey now, today, before it’s dark, and you’re going to get as far as you can before you rest.”

“Why?”

“Because there were men in that crowd who still believed Umbo’s first story-violent men-and I don’t have the strength to build my wall again today.”

They went to the kitchen and he helped her make quickbread and then she packed some of it along with cheese and salt pork in a knapsack. Meanwhile, he sewed her little bag of silver and bronze coins to the tail of his shirt, which he then tucked inside his trousers. He tried to give her one of the jewels in exchange, but she refused it. “What would I do with it here? And each one of these is worth a hundred times more than all the coins I gave you. A thousand times more.”

While they worked, Rigg thought of his father and how, in all his teaching, he had left out so many things, yet had told them to Nox. It left a bitter feeling in his heart, to know how little Father had trusted him; yet it also made him feel closer to Nox, since she had held so many secrets without ever telling them. Well, now she could certainly tell them to Rigg, couldn’t she? “Why do you call him Good Teacher instead of using his name?”

“It was the only name I had for him.”

“But his parents wouldn’t have given him a name like that,” said Rigg.

“I’ve had guests stay here who had names stranger than that-given to them by their parents. I had a man whose first name was Captain, and one whose first name was Doctor, and a woman whose first name was Princess. But if you want a different name for your father, try the one he used in that paper-Wandering Man. That’s the name he went by in this place, before I started calling him Good Teacher. Or Wallwatcher, or Golden Man.”

“Those are names from legends,” said Rigg.

“I’ve heard people call your father by such names. They took it seriously enough, even if he laughed. Names come and go. They get attached to you, and then you lose them, and they get attached to someone else. Now let me concentrate on making this bread. If I don’t pay attention to it, it goes ill.”

It wasn’t much, but she had just told him more information about Father than he had ever heard from the man himself.

It was still three hours before sundown when he set off.

“Thank you,” he said, taking leave of her at the back door.

“For what?” she said dismissively.

“For lending me money you couldn’t afford,” said Rigg. “For making bread for me. For saving my life from the mob.”

She sighed. “Your father knew I would do all that,” she said. “Just as he knew you’d have the brains to find a way here without getting yourself caught and killed.”

“Father didn’t know I was going to try to save a stupid boy on Stashi Falls.”

“Are you sure of that?” asked Nox. “Your father knew a lot of things he shouldn’t have been able to know.”

“If he knew the future,” said Rigg, “he could have dodged the damn tree.” And after that, Rigg couldn’t think of anything else to say, and Nox seemed eager to get back inside the kitchen, because she had a whole supper to prepare for her guests, so he turned and left.

CHAPTER 4

Shrine of the Wandering Saint “How did I ever become the one to make this decision for everyone?” Ram asked aloud.

“You spent six years winning your way through the testing process,” said the expendable.

“What I meant was, Why is this choice being left up to one human being, who cannot possibly have enough information to decide?”

“You can always leave it up to me,” said the expendable.

That was the failsafe: If Ram died, or froze up, or had a crippling injury, or refused to decide, any of the expendables was prepared to take over and make the decision.

“If it were your decision,” asked Ram, “what would you decide?”

“You know I’m not allowed to answer that, Ram,” said the expendable. “Either you make the decision or you turn it over to me. But you must not ask me what I would decide. That would add an irrelevant and complicating factor to your decision. Will you choose the opposite in order to assert the difference between humans and expendables? Or follow me blindly, and then blame the expendables, on which you have no choice but to rely, if anything goes wrong?”

“I know,” said Ram.

“I know you know,” said the expendable, “and you know that I know that you know. It spirals on from there, so let’s just assume the dot dot dot.”

Ram chuckled. The expendables had learned that Ram enjoyed a little sarcasm now and then, so as part of their responsibility to maintain his mental health, they all used the same degree of sarcasm in their conversations with him.

“How long do I have before I have to make the decision?”

“You can decide any time, Ram,” said the expendable.

“But there has to be a point of no return. When I either miss the fold or plunge into it.”

“Wouldn’t that be convenient,” said the expendable. “If you just wait long enough, the decision gets taken out of your hands. You will not be informed of any default decision or point of no return, because that might influence your decision.”

“The data are so ambivalent,” said Ram.

“The data have no valents, take no sides, lean in no direction, Ram,” said the expendable. “The computers do their calculations and report their findings.”

“But what do I make of the fact that all nineteen computers have such different predictions?”

“You celebrate the fact that reality is even more fuzzy than the logic algorithms in the software.”

“Whoop-de-do,” said Ram.

“What?”

“I’m celebrating.”

“Was that irony or loss of mental function?” asked the expendable.

“Was that a rhetorical question, a bit of humor, or a sign that you are losing confidence in me?”

“I have no confidence in you, Ram,” said the expendable.

“Well, thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

Ram wasn’t quite sure he had made the decision even as he reached over and poked his finger into the yes-option box on the computer’s display. Then it was done, and he was sure.

“So that’s it?” asked the expendable.

“Final decision,” said Ram. “And it’s the right one.”

“Why do you think so?”

“Because live or die, we’ll learn something important from jumping into the fold. Thousands of future travelers will either follow us or not. But if we don’t make the jump, we’ll learn nothing, have no new options.”

“A lovely speech. It has been sent back to Earth. It will inspire millions.”

“Shut up,” said Ram.

The expendable laughed. That laugh-it was one of the reasons why the expendables made such good company. Even knowing that it was programmed into the expendable to laugh at just such a moment, and for just this long, tapering off in just such a way, did not keep Ram from feeling the warmth of acceptance that laughter of this kind brought to primates of the genus homo. • • • Rigg scanned for recent paths as he walked briskly through fields and woods. No one could hide from him. If someone had moved within the last day or two his path would be intense, and if in the last hour or so, it would be downright vivid. So if someone had set up an ambush for him, he would see by what route they had approached their hiding place, and he could avoid them.

So within a few hundred yards of Nox’s rooming house, Rigg went between a couple of buildings and stepped into the road. The whole course of the ancient highway from Upsheer to the old imperial capital at Aressa Sessamo was packed with hundreds of thousand of paths, but most of them were old and faded, left over from ancient times when there was a great city atop Upsheer, and Fall Ford had been a sprawling metropolis at its foot. These days the paths were in the hundreds per year instead of thousands.

Rigg’s heart was full of Father’s death now, and the death of the boy at the falls just this morning, and the strange man from the past. Rigg could not keep his mind on any one of them. Instead, with a kind of franticness his thoughts would skip from one to another. Father!-but the horror of seeing the boy’s hand, knowing it would slip away-and the man clutching at him, dragging Rigg toward the edge.

Father wouldn’t let me see him, dying with a tree pressing on him, so I wouldn’t have to live with the memory. Now I’ve seen something nearly as awful to haunt my dreams.

He was rounding a bend when he saw it-a very recent path of someone crossing the road, scrambling up an embankment, and then lying down in thick bushes.

He did not even slow down-but he drifted to the far side of the road. And as he got closer, he was able to recognize the path. It was the same one he had followed down Cliff Road, and had seen again behind the boy who faced Nox in the doorway of her house.

“Umbo!” called Rigg. “If you plan to kill me, then come ahead and try. But don’t wait for me in ambush. That’s a coward’s way, an assassin’s path. I didn’t mean to let your brother die, I truly meant to save him.”

Umbo rose up among the bushes. “I’m not here to kill you,” he said.

“You seem to be alone,” said Rigg, “so I believe you.”

“My father banished me,” said Umbo.

“Why?”

“I was supposed to keep Kyokay out of trouble.” There was a world of misery and shame in the words.

“Kyokay was too big for you to control,” said Rigg. “Your father should know that. Why didn’t he watch him?”

“If I said that to my father…” Umbo shuddered.

“Come down out of the bushes,” said Rigg. “I don’t have much time to stay and talk. I have to get as far as I can before dark.” He didn’t bother to explain that he could find his path as easily by night as by day.

Umbo half slid, half stepped down the slope. He fetched up on the road at a jog, and came to a stop right in front of Rigg. They were about of a size, though that would probably change-Father had been very tall, and Umbo’s father was no giant.

“I’m going with you, if you’ll let me,” said Umbo.

Umbo had tried to get Rigg killed with his accusations back at Nox’s house. And now he wanted to be Rigg’s traveling companion? “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“You know how to live and travel on your own,” said Umbo. “I don’t.”

“You’re not going as far as I am,” said Rigg.

“Yes I am,” said Umbo. “Because I have nowhere at all to go.”

“Your father will relent in a day or two. Just linger at the fringes of town until he comes looking for you to apologize.” Rigg remembered the time when, drunk, Tegay the cobbler had threatened to kill Umbo the next time he saw him. Umbo and Rigg had both believed him-they were about five years old-and so they fled into the woods on the west bank of the river. It wasn’t six hours before Tegay came out of his house and hollered, then pleaded for his son to come home.

“Not this time,” said Umbo, no doubt remembering the same event. “You didn’t hear him. You didn’t see his face when he said it. I’m dead, he said. His son Umbo died at the falls along with the brother he was supposed to take care of. ‘Because my son would have done all he could to save his brother, not watched another boy try to do it and then accuse him falsely of murder.’”

“So you’re saying it’s somehow my fault that your father threw you out?”

“Even if he changes his mind,” said Umbo, “I can’t stay here. I spent my whole life worrying about Kyokay, watching out for him, protecting him, hiding him, catching him, nursing him. I was more father to him than Father ever was. More mother to him than Mother was, too. But now he’s gone. I don’t even know why I’m alive, if I don’t have him to keep watch over. His constant chatter-I never thought I’d miss it.” And he began to cry. He cried like a man, his shoulders heaving, and sobs almost howls, his cheeks flowing with tears and making no effort to hide them. “By the Wandering Saint,” Umbo finally said. “I’ll be a true friend to you, Rigg, though I was false to you this very day. I’ll stand by you always, in everything.”

Rigg had no idea what to do. He had seen mothers and fathers comfort crying children-but those had been little kids, crying eye-rubbing baby tears with little hiccupy sobs. A man’s tears needed a man’s comfort, and as Rigg thought back to any experience that might show him what to do, Umbo came out of it himself.

“Sorry for letting go like that,” said Umbo. “I didn’t know that was going to happen. Thanks for not trying to comfort me.”

What a relief, thought Rigg. Doing nothing happened to be exactly the thing to do.

“Let me come with you,” said Umbo. “You’re the only friend I have.”

And it occurred to Rigg that with Father dead and Nox left behind, Rigg had no other friend than Umbo. If he truly was Rigg’s friend.

“I travel alone,” said Rigg.

“Now that’s just stupid,” said Umbo. “You’ve never traveled alone, you were always with your father.”

“I travel alone now.”

“If you can’t have your father, you won’t have any companion?”

Then, as Father had trained him, Rigg thought past his feelings. Yes, he was hurt and angry and grieving and filled with spite and bitter at the irony of Umbo now asking him for help, after nearly getting him killed. But that had nothing to do with deciding the wisest course.

Will Umbo be trustworthy? He always has been in the past, and he seems truly sorry for accusing me falsely.

Does Umbo have the stamina for the road I travel? He doesn’t have to. I have money enough to stay at inns if the weather turns bad.

Will he be useful? Two strong young striplings would be much safer on the road than one boy alone. If there came a time they needed to keep watch at night, there’d be the two of them to divide the task.

“Can you cook anything?” asked Rigg. “I can always catch some animal we can eat, but… meat begs for seasoning.”

“You’ll have to do it,” said Umbo. “I’ve never cooked meat.”

Rigg nodded. “What can you do?”

“Put a new sole on your shoes, when you wear a hole in them or the stitching comes out. If you provide me with the leather and a heavy needle.”

Rigg couldn’t help but laugh. “Who brings a cobbler along on a journey?”

“You do,” said Umbo. “For the sake of the old days, when I kept the other boys from throwing rocks at you for being a wild boy from the woods.”

It was true that Umbo had looked out for him when they were much smaller, and Rigg was seen as a stranger among the village children.

“No promises,” said Rigg, “but you can start the journey with me and we’ll talk about how well or badly it’s working at the end of each day.”

“Yes,” said Umbo. “Yes.”

Rigg strode boldly into the great stream of ancient paths that flowed up and down the road like a river going both ways at once. Rigg thought of what he had seen at the top of Stashi Falls-how everything had slowed down and the paths had become people rushing by. Now he understood that all these paths still contained a vision of the real person passing, a vision that could become real. Now he was plunging into that flow of people up and down the road, swept onward with half the current and yet at the same time fighting his way upstream against the other half.

“Are you in a rush?” Umbo asked when he caught up and began to jog alongside Rigg. “Or have you changed your mind and you’re deliberately leaving me behind?”

Rigg slowed down. He had merely been walking as fast as he and Father always did on every journey, but few adult men and no boys Umbo’s size could match the pace without real exertion. Umbo was strong and healthy, only a little smaller than Rigg, but he was a cobbler’s son, a village boy. His legs had never tried to cover distance this way before, taking long strides every hour, day after day.

Rigg almost answered as heartlessly as Father always had: “Keep up if you can, and don’t if you can’t.” But why should he speak like Father? Rigg had always resented his utter unwillingness to make any concessions to Rigg’s age and size.

So instead of giving a snippy, cold answer, Rigg simply slowed down and walked at Umbo’s version of a brisk pace.

They said very little for the two hours until dusk obscured the path. The silence felt wrong-and when Rigg realized it was because in times past Kyokay had always been with them, keeping up a stream of chatter, it felt even more wrong.

At last, though, it was dark enough that while Rigg could still find his way among the paths, Umbo could not.

“It’s dark,” said Rigg. “Let’s get some sleep.”

“Where?” asked Umbo. “I can’t sleep while I’m walking, and I don’t see an inn or even a barn.”

“You can sleep while walking,” said Rigg, thinking back to all-night pursuits of fleeing animals. “Or something like sleep, and something like walking. You just aren’t tired enough yet to fall asleep on your feet.”

“And you’ve done that?”

“Yes,” said Rigg. “Though it isn’t very efficient, since you can’t see your way and you fall down a lot.”

“Which has nearly happened to me three times in the last five minutes.”

“So we’ll go off the road a few yards-far enough that anyone on the road will fail to see us.”

Umbo nodded and then, because it was dark, added, “Good plan. Except the part about leaving the road and walking in the dark among the brambles.”

“We’re coming to a side road,” said Rigg. He knew it was there because he could see the paths of quite a few recent travelers take a turn from the highway. Wherever they had gone, they all came back the same way and rejoined the road. He couldn’t explain how he knew any of this without telling Umbo about his pathseeing, and so he made no explanation at all. Umbo must have thought Rigg was familiar with this area, since he didn’t ask how Rigg knew they were coming to a path.

They walked only a dozen yards into the woods beside the road and found themselves standing before a very small temple-or a very substantial shrine. It had stone walls and a heavy flat wooden roof topped with living grass to keep it cool.

None of the paths that came here was much more than two hundred years old. This was a fairly recent shrine.

“The Wandering Saint,” said Umbo.

“The what?” asked Rigg.

“We used to play the game-you’d be the Wandering Saint, or I would, or Kyokay, and the others would try to push him off the cliff, over the falls. You know.”

But Rigg did not know what Umbo was talking about. It can’t have been very important or surely Rigg would remember. And what a horrible game, anyway-to play at falling off the cliff! If that’s how Umbo and Kyokay played when Rigg wasn’t there, no wonder Kyokay thought it was all right to dance around on the edge of the falls.

Umbo stared intently at Rigg’s face. “Are you insane?” asked Umbo. “It’s our local saint.”

“What’s a saint?” asked Rigg. “You swore by one before-the same one? This wandering one?”

“A holy man,” said Umbo impatiently. “A man some god has favored. Or at least some demon has been merciful to.”

Gods and demons Rigg had heard about, but Father had no patience with such ideas. “There are some gods and some demons whose stories are based on real things that happened to real men,” Father had taught him. “And some that are completely made up-to frighten children, or get them to obey, or to make people feel better when something goes terribly wrong in their lives.”

Now a new category had been added: saint.

“So this saint isn’t a god, he just has a friend who is.”

“Or a demon who favors him. Like a pet. They go out hunting or whatever. Ordinary people just stay away from the gods and demons as best they can. It’s the saints we talk to, since they’re so thick with the powerful ones. But you know this, Rigg. You went to Hemopheron’s lessons same as me.”

Rigg knew Hemopheron, the schoolteacher for the boys whose parents could afford the tuition. Rigg had gone with Umbo now and then, but Father had ridiculed him for it, pointing out that if Hemopheron knew anything, he wouldn’t be teaching in Fall Ford. “I’ll teach you everything you need to know,” Father had said. But he hadn’t, after all. He had held back some of the most important bits. In fact, Rigg wondered if Father had mostly taught him things he didn’t need.

“Come inside,” said Umbo. “We can stay here-it’s a sanctuary for travelers, all the shrines of the Wandering Saint are. The only curse on it comes if we desecrate the place.”

“Desecrate?” asked Rigg.

“Poo or pee,” said Umbo. “Inside it, I mean.”

They were standing there in nearly complete darkness, just a bit of starlight seeping in through the door. There were walls. There was a floor.

“Well,” said Rigg, “I’d better go back out before I lie down on this very hard stone floor to sleep. In fact, since it isn’t raining, I think I’ll sleep outside.”

“But…” Umbo began.

“You’ll be fine inside, if that’s where you want to be,” said Rigg. “And I’m used to sleeping outside.”

“You’re rejecting the hospitality of the saint?”

“On the contrary,” said Rigg. “I’m preserving the holiness. Of this place. Because I intend to poo and pee all night.”

Umbo stayed inside when Rigg came out and found a place to empty his bladder. He didn’t really need to do anything else, so he walked a quarter of the way around the shrine and found a place where, using his fingers, he could rake together a reasonably soft bed of soil and leaves.

But he couldn’t get to sleep because this was all too strange. He had never come to this place, but since they rarely traveled on the North Road that was no surprise. This business of saints and gods and demons-Rigg did not remember ever playing such games as Umbo described. And gods and demons were things that people invoked without actually seeming to believe much in them. I mean, when you curse “by Silbom’s left testicle” you can’t be terribly worried that the god might take offense and come and punish you-and that had always been the favorite oath of the blacksmith.

Yet Umbo seemed absolutely certain that he and Rigg had played these games, and that everyone-including Rigg-knew about saints. How could such a thing be? How could two people who had played together quite a lot as children have such completely different memories, but in just one area?

Rigg heard Umbo come out of the shrine. “Rigg?” he called out.

“I’m over here,” said Rigg. “You’re welcome to sleep outside near me-it’s a lot softer and it’s not a cold night.”

“No,” said Umbo. “Where did you pee and all?”

“You don’t have to use the same place.”

“I want to avoid the place,” said Umbo. “I don’t want to step in anything.”

“Oh-go away from the door to the left and you won’t be anywhere near my personal mud.”

Umbo gave a little hoot of laughter. “Personal mud.”

“That’s what…” but then Rigg didn’t finish the sentence. That’s what Father always called it. What would Umbo know-or care-about that?

Thinking about Father made Rigg sad all over again, and to keep himself from crying he shut his eyes and started working through some of the problems in topology that Father had been training him in. Visualizing a fractal landscape was always a surefire sleep inducer, Rigg had found-no matter how much you explored it, going in deeper or coming out to a wider view, there were always new forms to discover.

He woke up at the first light of dawn. He was a little stiff from the chill of the morning-it was cold, he could see his breath-but he had shaken out the kinks by the time he got back to his spot from the night before and added to the mud. Then he went across the clearing to the other side, where there was a burbling stream with clear water. He filled three smallish water bags-another habit he had learned from traveling with Father. “You never know when you might break a bone and have to go a long time before someone finds you.”

“You’ll find me, Father,” Rigg had replied, but Father would not find him now. And the water would be for two travelers, not one.

Umbo hadn’t stirred yet when Rigg got back to the shrine. Rigg got his little pack open and pulled out the food Nox had given him. Having accepted Umbo as a traveling companion, by the custom of the road the food belonged half to him. From his own half, then, Rigg ate only a little. He didn’t want to have to stop and hunt very much, this close to Fall Ford; he’d let the food linger as long as he could before he worked the setting of traps into the nightly routine.

It was full light before Umbo came out of the shrine, groaning and walking like a cripple.

“Stone floor,” said Rigg. “It’ll do it every time.”

“But it has walls,” said Umbo.

“And a door that doesn’t close.”

“It doesn’t have to close,” said Umbo, “with the saint’s protection.”

“So what happens if robbers come and decide to kill everyone and take what they have? This withering saint appears and stands in the doorway and withers at them?”

“Wandering Saint,” said Umbo, looking pained.

“I know, I was joking,” said Rigg.

“You shouldn’t joke about sacred things,” said Umbo.

“What’s happened to you?” asked Rigg.

“I need to make mud-is that what you call it? That’s what’s about to happen to me.”

Umbo went off for a while and then came back and said, “You have any food?”

“You didn’t bring any?” asked Rigg, assuming that he hadn’t.

“Just this sausage,” said Umbo. “My sister hid it in my hat-she rushed after me and gave me my hat. I think Father hit her for the hat-for giving me anything at all. But he might have killed her for the sausage. Well, not killed, but you know.”

“Share the sausage. Here’s what Nox gave me. Halves on everything.”

“I know the traveler rules,” said Umbo.

“This is your half.”

Umbo looked from half to half.

“It was even when I divided it,” said Rigg.

“It’s still even as far as I can tell. Haven’t you eaten?”

“I’ve eaten as much as I want. I want this food to last.”

“What good is it to make the food last? So the animals who find your starved corpse will have something delicious to eat and leave your flesh alone?”

“I had what I need,” said Rigg. “We often go for a few days on short rations, just for practice. You get so you kind of like the feeling of being hungry.”

“That is the sickest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Umbo.

And then, once again, Umbo was caught up in sobs. Only for a moment-just four great heaves of his chest, a brief storm of tears. “By the Wandering Saint,” said Umbo. “I just think of Kyokay and there it is.” He made some pretense at laughing. “It’s going to be really embarrassing if I ever do this in front of somebody.”

“What am I? A stump?” asked Rigg.

“I meant somebody who wouldn’t understand. Somebody who wasn’t there.”

By that system of thought, Umbo could mourn for his brother all he wanted, but Rigg had better not shed tears for Father, since nobody else was there. But Rigg wasn’t in the mood for a quarrel. They had a long way to walk today, and Umbo wasn’t used to walking, and the last thing they needed was to be snippy with each other from the start.

“Eat,” said Rigg. “Or smear the food into your hair, or whatever you intend to do, but let’s get it done. The sun’s up now, so we’ve already lost a half hour of traveling at least, and there’ll be other people on the road before long.”

“Oh, are we avoiding them?” asked Umbo.

“I am,” said Rigg. “If they come from Fall Ford, anyway. Looking for me. Or you, for that matter. And strangers coming the other way-what are they going to think of boys traveling without adults with them? We have to be ready to dodge into the woods whenever anybody’s coming. I don’t want a lot of conversations with strangers out here.”

“A lot of travelers come through Fall Ford,” said Umbo. “They never harm anybody.”

“In Fall Ford they’re outnumbered. They might act very differently when they outnumber us.”

“What are you scared of?”

“Well, let’s see. Death first-that’s a big one. And pain. And having somebody take away what pathetic few things I own.” He didn’t see any reason for Umbo to know about the jewels and the letter of credit. Travelers’ law of sharing didn’t extend to money or trade goods or other valuables.

“I’ve never even thought about that until…”

Rigg thought Umbo was going to cry again, but he didn’t after all.

“Well, Umbo,” said Rigg, “you’ve spent your whole life in a village. It’s a lot safer there, unless somebody accuses you of murder and they work up a mob to come and kill you.”

Umbo looked away-ashamed? angry?-so Rigg dropped the subject. Not a good topic for humor yet. Father would have understood that joking about the worst things is how you get them tame and under control.

“Look,” said Rigg. “I’ve spent my life traveling. But in the wild, not on populated roads. Father and I always stepped out of the road when we were carrying pelts on our backs, because we don’t have the agility to fight or even to run away, unless we drop the pelts, and then they can be stolen. So it’s a habit, for safety. And I figured I don’t know what kind of danger we’re going to face on this road, but it can’t hurt to stick to the same habit. If you want to travel with me, you’re going to need to comply with that. All right?”

“You can hide, I’ll stay in the road.”

“That’s what I said,” Rigg said, letting himself sound a little annoyed. “If you stay in the road, and something bad happens to you, then if we’re traveling together I’m honor bound to defend you. And the whole point of my leaving the road is to avoid having to defend anybody. So if you don’t want to leave the road whenever I say, and hide as long as I say, then we aren’t traveling together. We’re each on our own. Is that how you want it?”

“Sure, no,” said Umbo quickly. “I wasn’t trying to cause trouble. I just ache all over and the idea of constantly getting off the road and hiding in the woods just doesn’t sound very good to me. Besides, you move like a senoose, so quiet you could surprise a snake. I crash around like a drunken cow.”

“I’ve never seen a drunken cow,” said Rigg.

“Then you’ve never laughed,” said Umbo. “Of course, if somebody catches you giving ale to a cow, they’ll turn you into shoe leather.”

“So you’re done eating? We can go?”

“Yes,” said Umbo. He picked up his few possessions and headed, not down the path toward the road, but straight toward the shrine entrance.

“Where are you going?”

“We’re not going to set out on a journey without paying our respects to the Wandering Saint, are we? I thought that’s why you picked this place to stay last night-for the sanctuary and for the blessing.”

It wasn’t worth arguing. Rigg followed Umbo inside.

A smoke hole had been left in the middle of the roof, and it allowed in enough daylight that now Rigg could see that the walls were painted. Not just decorations, like the ones the women wove into their cloth in Fall Ford, but actual figures of people. He couldn’t see all that clearly, but well enough to see that the same man-or at least a manlike thing with the same clothing-kept showing up in every wall section.

“It’s the life of the Wandering Saint,” said Umbo. “Since you seem never to have seen it or even heard of him before.”

Rigg walked around, beholding the legends of the W.S., for Rigg was already thinking of him that way. He always made initials and acronyms out of phrases that he thought were getting too repetitive. “Personal mud” had long since become “p.m.” in his mind.

Here the W.S. brought two lost children back to their joyful mother. On the next panel, he fought off a bear that was about to devour a poor family’s milk ewe. All sorts of brave and good deeds.

When we were growing up, thought Rigg, we called these Hero Stories and that’s what we acted out when we played. Kyokay always wanted to be the bear or the ruffian or the enemy troop, he never wanted to be the one that got rescued, even though he was the smallest. The gods didn’t even come into it.

But he didn’t want to talk about it with Umbo. It was too disturbing that their memories had grown so different.

“Come on,” said Rigg. “What is it we have to do before we can leave?”

“Just this,” said Umbo. “Look at the stories and remember the Wandering Saint.”

“Then I’m done.”

“Except that you started with the second panel,” said Umbo. “You missed the whole beginning, which is when the Wandering Saint first encountered his demon and gained the power to make it disappear. That’s how he’s able to do all these good things-he can command demons to disappear.”

“Can?” asked Rigg. “He’s still alive?”

Umbo laughed. “No, I don’t think so. I mean, not in the body. Did you know that there are people who said your dad was the Wandering Saint?”

“No,” said Rigg. “Nox said they called him ‘Wandering Man,’ sometimes, and she called him ‘Good Teacher,’ but nobody ever said ‘Saint.’”

“They used to whisper it all the time,” said Umbo. “Among other things. I guess they never talked like that in front of you.”

“Nobody ever mentioned the…” He let his voice trail off before he could say something annoying, like “Nobody ever mentioned the stupid Whimpering Saint at all.”

Instead of picking a quarrel, Rigg dutifully went to the first panel and saw at once that it was a depiction of the top of Stashi Falls, seen as if you were hovering in the air about three rods away from the face of the falls. A man was dangling from a single stone right at the lip of the falls, water spraying down (or so it seemed the painter wished to suggest) on both sides of him, while a fierce demon squatted on the stone and pried up on his fingers.

Then, still on the same picture of the falls but a little over to the right, there was the same man (by the costume anyway) dangling from the same rock, only instead of a demon there was a wad of something nondescript and the man now had two hands on the stone and was raising himself up.

“That was the miracle, see?” said Umbo. “You’ve really never heard of him? If you’re just lying to make me tell this story I’ll fart in your food, I swear it.”

“What miracle?”

“The demon knocked him off the falls and the Wandering Saint barely caught himself by one hand on a dry rock. Then the demon smashed at his hand, and when the Saint grabbed onto the demon’s arm, the demon pried up his fingers. A lot of people draw the Wandering Saint with two fingers of his right hand permanently bent up and away from the others, but that’s just grotesque,” said Umbo.

Rigg didn’t really care about the fingers. Couldn’t Umbo see that this was a picture of what happened yesterday on the cliff? But of course he couldn’t. Umbo had seen only his brother Kyokay. He had never seen the man that Rigg fought with to try to get through him so he could reach Kyokay’s hand to save him.

This is the man I fought. He was real-but he was from the past, and stayed in the past. He didn’t die after I lost sight of him. When time sped back up and I stopped prying his fingers, he must have thought a miracle happened. And when he climbed up onto the stone-he must have been so strong!-there would have been no sign of me.

Except there was something on the rock. “What’s this?” asked Rigg.

“Oh, that’s not supposed to be there. That’s really in the second story, but they just put it there to remind us of it so they could use the other panels for other tales. It’s a fur.”

“A fur?”

“When the Wandering Saint came down the Upsheer, he was cold and frightened, and he went to the great pool in the river where the cascade makes a mist, and caught among stones he found a fur, completely dressed out and ready for him to use it. It was from the demon, of course-the demon now recognized the Wandering Saint as a man of power, and so he gave him the fur as a tribute.”

I dropped my furs in this time, not in that man’s time, thought Rigg. But… maybe a fur got hung up on rocks for a brief while at the top of the falls, and maybe, just as time slowed down so I got shifted into the past where this man was, the last of my furs got swept right past the stone and…

He wanted to blurt out the truth to Umbo, but felt the long habit of silence about his abilities hold back his words. Father had forbidden him to tell anyone.

But Father had told Nox, hadn’t he? Because he trusted her.

Well, I trust Umbo. Or at least I want to. And if I’m traveling with him, how can I hide what I do with paths? Do I have to pretend that I don’t know where roads lead, or when someone is approaching, or where someone has laid an ambush? Maybe Umbo isn’t trustworthy. But if he is, this journey will be a lot better for not having to hide what I can do.

“Umbo,” said Rigg. “I’m the demon.”

Umbo looked at him with a little anger showing. “That’s not even close to being funny.”

“Come on, didn’t you say we used to play at being the W.S.?”

“The what?”

“The Wandering Saint.”

“How are we going to get the blessing if you ridicule this place, and him, and all he did for travelers?”

Now Rigg began to see why Father had warned him never to come up against a man’s religion. “Nothing makes people angrier than finding out somebody thinks they’re wrong about how the universe works.” It had been a mistake to try to tell Umbo anything. “Sorry,” said Rigg.

“No you’re not,” said Umbo. “You weren’t even joking. Do you really think that you’re a demon?”

“I’m thirteen years old, and I’m just ordinary.” Then Rigg walked out of the shrine, to show that he thought the discussion was over. If Umbo refused to drop the matter, then this idea of traveling together wasn’t going to work.

Umbo stayed inside the shrine for a while, then came out, acting a little huffish as he gathered up his few things. Clearly he was ready to go, and was marking time until he could say what he needed to say.

Rigg was about to tell him that it was all right, Umbo could go back home and Rigg would continue his journey alone. But Umbo spoke first. “You’re not ordinary.”

“Is that good or bad?” asked Rigg.

“I’m sorry I got so angry. I’ve just never-nobody ever says a bad thing about the Wandering Saint. And nobody calls him the ‘W.S.’”

Rigg wasn’t going to play this game-the apology that was really just a continuation of the argument.

“Believe what you want,” said Rigg.

“I was thinking I should leave you. Go back home before you bring down a curse on us.”

Oh, so the W.S. has the evil eye now, thought Rigg. But he didn’t say anything.

“I don’t know if it’s safe to travel with you if you’re going to mock him like that,” said Umbo, and he sounded afraid as well as angry. “But then I remembered how your father talked about saints and demons, back when he was teaching me… things. So you were only talking like your dad.”

Rigg remembered now that Father had taken Umbo out on walks in the woods or through the fields. Not recently, but when they were both about eight or nine. And Father was teaching him? “For what it’s worth, I wasn’t mocking,” said Rigg, “I was realizing something.”

“That you’re a demon?” said Umbo scornfully. “I know you’re not.”

“No, I realized that the demon in the Wandering Saint story wasn’t a demon at all,” said Rigg. “So I’m not a demon, but I’m the person who did the things that the demon in the story supposedly did-and before you start getting mad at me again, you watched me do it.”

“The Wandering Saint was hundreds of years ago,” said Umbo. He was barely containing his impatience.

“I’m not lying, and I’m not joking,” said Rigg. “When I was trying to save your brother, the reason I couldn’t do it was because this man appeared. I was jumping to try to get to your brother, and suddenly there he was.” There was no reason to complicate things by trying to explain about the paths and how for the first time ever they turned into people. “I fell into him and it knocked him into the water.”

“I didn’t see anything like that.”

“I know you didn’t,” said Rigg. “I’m not saying you saw him-he was in the past. I’m saying you saw me do the things the demon does in that story.”

“So he’s there hundreds of years ago, and you’re there a couple of days ago, and you bump into him and knock him into the water?”

“Exactly,” said Rigg, ignoring the tone of mockery in Umbo’s voice. “The water swept him over the edge, but he caught himself on the very same rock where Kyokay was hanging on. Kyokay in the present, and him in the past, and they overlapped. His hand was completely covering Kyokay’s hand.”

Umbo rolled his eyes and jammed his hat on his head, sausage and all.

“Why not wait to make up your mind until you hear me out?” said Rigg. “Even if you don’t believe me, I know it happened, and if you believe in saints and demons and curses, which I think are impossible, why not consider the possibility that I saw and touched a man from the past at the same time I was trying to get past the man so I could grab your brother’s arm?”

“‘Consider the possibility,’” Umbo echoed. “You really do sound like your father.”

“And was my father stupid or a liar, so that you have to reject anybody who sounds like him?”

Umbo’s face suddenly changed. “No,” he said. “Your father wasn’t stupid. Or a liar.” He looked thoughtful.

“So I had to get past this man’s hand so I could save Kyokay. I pounded on his hand. Then he grabs my other arm and I can see he’s going to pull me over-I mean, he outweighed me by about twice, it’s not like he could have held on to me and dragged himself up on the rock. So I pried up his fingers. Two fingers. So he’d let go of me.”

“I knew I saw you trying to pry up Kyokay’s hand!” said Umbo, angry again.

“You did not!” cried Rigg. “You saw me making a prying motion but you never saw me holding on to Kyokay’s fingers because I never touched him. I couldn’t! The W.S. was in the way! It was his fingers I was prying-fingers that you couldn’t see because he was still trapped back there in the past.”

“You just don’t know when to stop, do you,” said Umbo.

“I’m telling the truth,” said Rigg. “Believe what you want to.”

“The W.S.-the Wandering Saint was three hundred years ago!” Umbo shouted at him.

“Father warned me not to tell anybody anything about what I do,” said Rigg. “And now I see why. Go home. I’m done with you.”

“No!” shouted Umbo. “Don’t do this!”

Rigg forced himself to calm down. “I’m not doing anything,” he said. “I told you a true story, you think I’m lying, and I don’t see how we can travel together after that.”

“What you said about your father,” said Umbo. “Warning you not to tell people about what you do.”

“Right, well, I don’t do anything.”

“Yes you do, and you have to tell me.”

“I don’t tell things to people who believe I’m a liar,” said Rigg. “It’s a waste of breath.”

“I’ll listen, I swear I will,” said Umbo.

Rigg couldn’t understand why Umbo had suddenly changed-why he was now so eager to hear. But Umbo seemed sincere. Almost pleading.

He could almost hear Father saying, “You don’t have to answer someone just because he asks you a question.” And so Rigg replied as Father had taught him to-with another question. “Why do you want me to tell you?”

“Because maybe you’re not the only one with a secret your father said never to tell anybody,” said Umbo softly.

“So are you going to tell me yours?” asked Rigg.

“Yes,” said Umbo.

Rigg waited.

“You first,” said Umbo, even more softly. Like he was suddenly very shy. Like Rigg was dangerous and Umbo didn’t want to offend him.

But Father had known a secret of Umbo’s, one that he had never told to Rigg. So maybe that meant Father would approve of Rigg trusting Umbo.

“I see paths,” said Rigg. “I see them wherever any person or animal has ever gone. And that’s not really it, either. I don’t see them, not with my eyes, I just know where they are. They can be on the other side of a bunch of trees or behind a hill or inside the walls of a house, and I can close my eyes and the paths are still there.”

“Like… a map?”

“No. Like… streams of dust, strings of dust, cobwebs in the air. Some of them are new, and some old. Human paths are different from animal paths, and there are colors, or something like colors, depending on how old they are. But it means that I can see the whole history of a place, every path that a person has ever walked. I know it sounds crazy, or like magic, but Father said it had a perfectly rational explanation, only he would never tell me what such an explanation might be.”

Umbo’s eyes were wide, but he said nothing. No mockery now, no accusations.

“Up there at the top of Stashi falls, just as I was trying to get to your brother, everything changed. All of a sudden it was like the paths slowed down. I hadn’t ever realized they were moving, but when they slowed down I could see that the paths were not something the people left behind as they passed-they were the people, and I was seeing into the past. Only everything had always moved so fast that I didn’t realize it.”

“Everything slowed down,” said Umbo.

“Or my mind sped up,” said Rigg. “Either way, the paths became people doing the same motions, over and over. Except when I looked at one of them, concentrated on him-then he did it just the once. I figured he wasn’t real. Just a vision of the past, like the paths I see. I walk right through them all the time. So I lunged at the stone-and I hit him and knocked him off. He wasn’t a dream after all, he was solid and real. Solid enough that I could knock him down, pound his hand, pry up his fingers. I didn’t know how to get rid of him. And Kyokay died while I was trying.”

Umbo sank to the ground. “Do you know why time slowed down? Why the paths turned into people? Into the Wandering Saint?”

Rigg shook his head, but even though he didn’t have an explanation, Umbo seemed to believe him now.

“I did it,” Umbo said. “You might have saved Kyokay, except time slowed down and that’s why the Wandering Saint appeared.” His face twisted with anguish. “I couldn’t see him. How could I know that I was making him appear?”

Now Rigg understood why Umbo had started to believe him. Umbo’s secret, the one that Father had told him never to tell, was a strange gift of his own. “You had something to do with that slowing down of time.”

“Your father noticed me doing it,” said Umbo. “When I was little. That’s why he came to the shop so often. He talked to me about what I could do. It used to be I could only slow down time around myself-you know, when I wanted to keep playing for a while longer. I guess what I was really doing was slowing down time for everybody else, or speeding it up for me, but I was little, and what I saw was that everybody else started moving really slowly and I had time to do whatever I wanted to do. It could only last a few minutes, but your father knew what I was doing somehow, and he gave me exercises to do so I could learn how to control it. So I could slow time down exactly where I wanted it to slow, and nowhere else. When I was running up Cliff Road and I was out of breath and exhausted and I caught a glimpse of Kyokay falling, I… slowed him down. I mean, I practically stopped him.”

“Father never said anything about you,” said Rigg. “I mean, about you having a… thing like that.”

“He was a man who could keep a secret, wasn’t he?”

Like never mentioning that Rigg’s mother wasn’t even dead-yes, he could keep a secret all right.

“But this explains it,” said Rigg. “Why I don’t remember anything about this W.S. I mean, I don’t understand it, but it at least makes some kind of weird sense. I was the one who was in the story. Until you slowed time and I knocked the man off the rock, he probably never fell at all. But once it happened, then the past changed for everybody else. Now everybody knew the stories of the W.S.-except me. Because I was the one who was there with him, and I did it. So my past wasn’t changed. I don’t remember it, because to me it didn’t happen until yesterday.

“Excuse me while I stab myself in the eye with a stick,” said Umbo. “None of this makes any sense. I mean, I was there, too.”

“But you didn’t slow down time for yourself,” said Rigg. “You didn’t touch the man, and I did. Why else does this shrine exist to honor a man I never heard of, only you say everybody knows about the Wandering Saint and his story. But I remember doing everything the demon supposedly did. So because I was the one who made the change, I can still remember how it used to be, and everyone else remembers how it is now.”

“Rigg,” said Umbo, “I don’t know why I decided to ask you to let me travel with you. Talk about this all you want, but I did not need to find out that I caused Kyokay’s death by stopping time. Do you get that? That’s the only change I care about!”

“I know,” said Rigg. “Me too.” But as soon as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true. Somehow the combination of their gifts had changed the world. Because they were ignorant of what was going on, it had prevented him from saving Kyokay. But the solution to ignorance was obvious. They had to do it again so they could figure out how it worked.

Rigg took Umbo by the arm and started leading him-no, almost dragging him-toward the road.

“By the Wanderi-” Umbo began. “What are you doing?”

“We’re going to the road. The Great North Road. The place is thick with paths. Every one of them is a person. It isn’t just a few like right there at the edge of the cliff. It’s hundreds of them, thousands if we go back far enough. I want you to slow down time so I can see them. I’m going to prove to you that I’m not making any of this up.”

“What are you going to do?”

“See whether we can do this thing on purpose.” When they got to the highway, Rigg walked out into the middle of the road. “Do you see anybody?”

“Just a crazy guy named Rigg.”

“Slow down time. Do it-for me, right here. Slow it down.”

“Are you insane?” asked Umbo. “I mean, I know you’re insane, one way or another. Because if people become solid when I slow down time, you’re going to get trampled to death by ten thousand travelers.”

“I think the only one who gets solid is the one I’m concentrating on,” said Rigg. “Slow me down.”

“So you turn people solid just by concentrating on them?”

“While you’re slowing them down, yes,” said Rigg. “Or at least I think that’s how it worked. Here, I’ll leave the food by the side of the road, so if I do get trampled, you can have all of it.”

“Wow, thanks,” said Umbo. “Dead friend, free lunch.”

“Are we still friends?” asked Rigg. “Even though we remember the past so differently? I never played Wandering Saint with you-we played hero games, that’s what I remember. But at least we both remember playing something together, right? That means we’re still friends.”

“Yes,” said Umbo. “That’s why I’m here with you, fungus-head, because I’m your friend and you’re my friend and by the way, I have very clear memories of your playing Wandering Saint with me and Kyokay because you did all these death scenes of the bear and the wolf and everybody the Wandering Saint defeated. That happened. So there is some version of your life where you lived in a world where the Wandering Saint was respected by everybody.”

“You’re right, this is complicated,” said Rigg. “It’s like there are two versions of me, only I’m the wrong one-I’m here in the world with a W.S., even though I never lived in it, and the me who did live in it, he’s gone.”

“Like the me,” said Umbo, “who lived in the world with your hero games, whatever they are.”

“Slow down time for me,” said Rigg. “Let’s just do it and see.”

“Kyokay got killed by doing crazy stuff on an impulse. Think this through, Rigg. Don’t stand in the middle of the road. Come to the edge. There have to be fewer people here at the edge.”

“Right,” said Rigg. “That’s good, that’s right.” He walked out of the middle of the road and then looked back at Umbo. “Now.”

“Not while you’re looking at me,” said Umbo.

“Why not? What happens, your pants fall down?”

“You weren’t looking at me when I did it up on the cliff,” said Umbo. “And shouldn’t you be watching the road so that nobody bumps into you?”

“Umbo, I can’t look both ways at once. No matter where I look, somebody’s going to be coming up behind me and walking right through me.”

“You’re going to die.”

“Maybe,” said Rigg. “And maybe my body will just disappear in our time here and I’ll show up as a mysterious corpse in the past. Maybe I’ll be the Magical Dead Kid and they’ll build a little temple for me.”

“I really hate you,” said Umbo. “I always have.”

“Slow down time for me,” said Rigg.

And, just like that, with Umbo glaring at him, it started to happen. Umbo hadn’t waved his hands or muttered something like the magicians did when traveling players came to town.

Rigg deliberately kept his eyes out of focus-it was pretty easy, considering what came into view when time slowed. The middle of the road was so full of blur that Rigg was grateful he had moved to the edge. Because here the blurs became more individual, he could see people’s faces. Just glimpses as they blurred past, but he finally picked one man and watched how he hurried, looking neither left nor right. He seemed to be a man of authority by his attitude, and he was dressed opulently, but in an outlandish costume whose like Rigg had never seen before.

At his hip, his belt held a scabbard with a sword in it. On the other side, the side nearer to Rigg, a sheathed knife had been thrust into his belt.

Rigg fell into step beside him, reached down, snatched the knife and drew it out. The man saw him, reached out immediately to grab him or take back the knife-but Rigg merely looked away and focused on somebody else, a woman, and at the same time he called out to Umbo, “Bring me back!”

Just like that, all the blur people became mere paths of light, and Rigg and Umbo were alone on the road.

Rigg was still holding the knife.

Now he could see that it was quite a lavish thing. Fine workmanship in the metal of the hilt, with jewels set in it that seemed the equal in quality of any of those Father had left for him, though they were smaller. And the thing was sharp-looking; it felt wicked and well-balanced in his hand.

It had been in the past, and Rigg had brought it into the present.

“That knife,” said Umbo, staring at it with awe. “It just-you just reached out and suddenly it was there.”

“Yes, and when the owner of it tried to take it back, to him it must have seemed that suddenly I was not there. Just like the demon.”

Umbo sat down in the grass beside the road. “The Wandering Saint story-it really happened-but it wasn’t a demon.”

And then Rigg had a sudden thought, and just like that, he burst into tears, nearly the way Umbo had. “By Silbom’s right ear,” he said, when he could speak. “If I had just been able to take my mind off him, the W.S. would have disappeared and I could have saved Kyokay.”

They wept together then, sitting by the side of the road, realizing that if either one had understood at all what their gifts were doing, Kyokay might still be alive.

Or, just as likely, Kyokay would have fallen anyway, dragging Rigg with him. Who knew whether Rigg could really have drawn him up onto the rock? Who knew whether they both could have hopped from rock to rock and made it to safety even if Rigg had dragged the younger boy back up?

The weeping stopped. They sat in silence for a while. Then Umbo said a really foul word and picked up a rock and threw it out into the road. “There was no demon. There was just us. You and me, our powers working together. We were the demon.”

“Maybe that’s all the demons ever are. People like us, doing things without even knowing what we’re doing.”

“That temple back there,” said Umbo. “It’s a temple to us. The Wandering Saint was just an ordinary guy like the one you took the knife from.”

“He was actually pretty extraordinary.”

“Shut up, Rigg. Do we always have to have a joke?”

“Well, I do,” said Rigg.

“So let’s fix it,” said Umbo. “Let’s go back to before your father got killed, and stop him and tell him what happened and then he won’t have a tree fall on him and you won’t be out on the rocks upstream from the falls just when Kyokay-”

“Two reasons why that’s a really bad idea,” said Rigg. “First, if I’m not there, Kyokay falls. Second, you can’t watch him more closely because I’m the one who experiences the time change, not you, so you won’t know anything about what’s going to happen, you’ll just keep doing the same thing. Third, we can’t go back and talk to Father. Or shove him out of his path. Ever.”

“Why not?”

“Because Father doesn’t have a path. He’s the only person-he’s the only living thing-that I’ve ever known that didn’t have a path of any kind.”

“Are you sure?”

“After ten years of seeing and watching and studying paths, you think I might be wrong when I say that the one person I was close to all the time had no path?”

“Why didn’t he?”

“I don’t know,” said Rigg. “But I think you and I can both agree that Father was a really unusual man.”

“Why do we have these abilities if we can’t go back and save Kyokay?” demanded Umbo.

“Are you asking an invisible saint or a god or something? Because I don’t know. Maybe we can save him-that time. But how do we know he doesn’t just get himself killed the next day doing some other stupid thing?”

“Because I’d watch him,” said Umbo.

“You already watched him,” said Rigg. “He couldn’t be controlled. And meanwhile, we might change a thousand other things that we don’t want to change.”

“So our gifts are completely useless,” said Umbo.

“We have this knife,” said Rigg.

“You have a knife,” said Umbo.

“At least you’re not suddenly remembering a whole bunch of stories about men who appear out of nowhere and steal fancy knives and then disappear,” said Rigg.

“If Kyokay stays dead, then all of this is useless.”

“All of this,” said Rigg, “us being together, talking, finding out what we can do together-all of this happened because Kyokay went up on the falls and I tried to save him, and failed. So if we save Kyokay, does that make it so none of this happens? Then how would we go back to save Kyokay?”

“You already proved that you can change the past!” said Umbo.

“But I never did anything that mattered,” said Rigg. “Or at least I wasn’t able to accomplish anything I wanted to.”

Umbo reached out his hand for the knife. Rigg handed it to him at once. Umbo pulled it out of the sheath and pressed the point of it against a spot on the heel of his hand. It punched in almost at once, and blood welled up around the blade.

Rigg snatched the knife back. Umbo stared at his palm, making no effort to stanch the bleeding. Rigg wiped the blood off the blade with a handful of dewy grass, but he didn’t say anything to Umbo. Whatever crazy thing Umbo was doing, he’d explain it when he felt like it.

“Now the past is real,” said Umbo softly. “I’ve been wounded by it.” Then he, too, tore up a wad of damp grass and pressed it to the wound in his palm. “That stings like a hornet,” he said.

“I guess now you know why your mother taught you never to poke yourself with a knife.”

“She’s a smart one, my mom,” said Umbo. “Even if she did marry some angry idiot of a cobbler.”

“I hate the way you make a joke out of everything,” said Rigg.

“At least mine wasn’t funny,” said Umbo.

They picked up their things. Rigg dried off the clean blade on his shirt, and slid it into the sheath. Then he tucked the knife he had stolen about two thousand years ago into his belt, and they set off down the Great North Road toward Aressa Sessamo.

CHAPTER 5

Riverside Tavern “Has anything happened yet because I made the decision to go ahead with the fold?” asked Ram.

“Yes,” said the expendable. “You remained in command of the ship.”

Ram was a little irritated to learn that the decision had been a test of him rather than a real decision. “So you were going ahead no matter what I decided?”

“Yes,” said the expendable. “It’s in our mission program. You never had a choice about that.”

“Then what am I here for?” asked Ram.

“To make all the decisions after the fold. Nothing is known about what happens after we jump. If you had proven yourself timid before the jump, you would be regarded as unfit to make decisions afterward.”

“So if I was too timid, I would have been replaced. By you?”

“By the next crew member we awakened and tested. Or the one after that.”

“So when does the real jump happen?”

“In a week or so. If we don’t blow up before then. Spacetime is being very naughty right now.”

“And nothing I might do can stop it?”

“That’s right, Ram.”

“And what if none of the crew turned out to be capable of making a decision that would satisfy your criteria?”

“Then we would command ourselves until we got to the target planet.”

“‘We’… meaning the expendables?”

“We the ship. All the computers together.”

“But the ship’s computers don’t agree on anything.”

“That’s one of the many reasons we were all hoping you’d do the right thing.”

Ram hadn’t missed the one bit of information the expendable had given him. There was zero chance that it had been an inadvertent slip. “What do you mean, spacetime is being naughty?”

“We keep generating fields and forces, and things change. They just don’t change the way anyone predicted.”

“And when was I going to be told that?”

“When you asked.”

“What else should I ask in order to find out what’s going on?”

“Whatever you’re curious about.”

“I want to know what spacetime is doing.”

“It’s stuttering, Ram.”

“What does that mean?” asked Ram.

“There seems to be a quantum system of timeflow that has never been seen or suspected before.”

“Meaning that instead of a continuous slide into the fold, we’re finding that spacetime reforms itself in a series of discrete steps?”

“It’s going to be a bumpy ride, Ram.” • • • After three weeks on the road, Rigg and Umbo had long since exhausted the food they brought with them, and hunting for small game was taking more and more of their days. Just because Rigg could see the paths of the animals didn’t mean that setting traps would catch them. In this part of the world, the animals were far more wary of humans than they had been up in the wild highlands of the south.

So they were hungry as Rigg led the way to the public house that filled the five or six rods of land between the river and the road.

“This doesn’t look like much of a place,” said Umbo doubtfully.

“It’s all we can afford,” said Rigg. “If we can afford it.”

“It isn’t much of a town, either,” Umbo added.

Rigg looked around him. The buildings were all fairly new, and had the look of shabby construction. A thrown-together kind of town. But from the paths weaving through the area, Rigg could tell that it already had a lot of people. “You could drop Fall Ford into the middle of it and nobody could tell.”

“Well, my standard of a good-sized town has changed a little over the past three weeks.”

“And my standard of a good-sized meal has changed, too,” said Rigg. “If I set traps we might have some squirrel or rabbit by morning, or we might not. They’ve got food in there right now.”

By now they stood outside the door of the tavern. A couple of burly rivermen brushed them aside as they went in. “Out of the way, privicks.” Rigg had heard that term more than once, as they passed through towns they couldn’t avoid. At first the word had been whispered, but lately it was openly used to insult or diminish them. It might have been more effective if Rigg had had the slightest idea what it meant.

“So let’s go in and see if we can afford the food at this public house,” said Umbo. “Or stomach it.”

A riverman came lurching out of the tavern, cursing over his shoulder at someone inside. He took a swipe at Rigg, who was inadvertently blocking his way. Rigg dodged aside, but fell, and several men standing not far off laughed at him.

“Privick’s got himself covered in mud!”

“Trying to plant himself to see if he’ll grow.”

“Hey, privick, better go wash yourself!”

“Privicks don’t know about washing.”

“Then let’s duck him in the river and show him how it’s done!”

Umbo helped Rigg rebound to his feet, and they dodged inside the door. Rigg had no idea whether the rivermen really meant to do anything to him, but he didn’t want to stay and see. They were all big men. Even the shortest of them had massive arms and barrel chests from poling and rowing up the river. Rigg knew how to defend himself, even without weapons-Father had seen to that-but only one at a time, and he knew that if they took it into their minds to hurt him, he couldn’t stop them. That knowledge put a cold knot of fear in his belly, and it didn’t go away just because a door closed between them.

The tavern was dark inside-the shutters were nearly closed against the cold outside, but no lanterns had yet been lighted. A dozen men looked up at them, while two dozen more kept their eyes on their mugs, their bowls, or their cards and dice.

Rigg walked to the bar, where the taverner-who looked to be at least as large as the largest of his customers-was setting out a half dozen bowls of a thick stew that made Rigg almost faint with hunger, though it had only been two days since he last ate. But the hunger didn’t drown out the fear that had begun outside and got worse in here.

“We serve men here, not boys,” said the taverner, sounding more bored than hostile.

“We’ve been walking three weeks down the road from the south,” Rigg began.

The taverner chortled. “You have ‘upriver’ writ all over you, no need to tell a soul.”

“We need a meal,” said Rigg. “If you won’t serve us here, then maybe you could tell us where we could buy bread and cheese for the road.”

“Boys nor beggars,” said the taverner. “I don’t get up in the morning wishing to see much of either.”

“We’re not beggars. We’ve got enough coin, if your price is fair.”

“I’m surprised privicks even know what money is,” said the taverner, “let alone what ‘enough’ might be.”

Umbo usually kept still when they had to talk to people, since Rigg could put on a higher dialect than the one they spoke here, and nobody had to ask Rigg to repeat himself. But Umbo spoke up now, sounding a little annoyed. “What’s this ‘privick’ they call us?”

“It’s just an old word,” said the taverner. “It means ‘upriver folk.’”

Umbo sniffed. “That’s all? Because it sounds like an insult.”

“Well,” said the taverner, “privicks aren’t too famous for being smart or talking well or dressing like decent folks, so there might be a bit of contempt in it sometimes.”

“We’re decent enough not to pee in the river for downstream folk to drink,” said Umbo, “and we don’t have no insult for travelers from the north.”

“Why would you?” said the taverner. “Now, are you going to show me your money or am I going to throw you out?”

Again, the knowledge that this man could force Rigg to do whatever he wanted filled him with dread. Instead of feeling in his purse for a single jackface, Rigg filled his hand with all the coins from the moneypurse tucked into the waistband of his trousers, meaning to look through them quickly to find the one he wanted. The taverner reached out at the moment Rigg was opening his fist to show the money, and their hands collided. All the coins were jostled out of Rigg’s hand and hit the counter. They sounded so loud in the quiet room. There were too many of them.

The taverner’s eyes grew narrow and he looked out into the room. Rigg didn’t turn around. He already knew that all eyes were on him, that everyone in the room had mentally counted the money. If only he had not let fear make him hurry; if only he had taken the time to feel for the single coin with the money still in his purse. Now he felt panic surge through him, knowing he had already done something stupid, and chance had made it worse.

Rigg could hear his father’s voice saying, “Don’t let the other man control what you do.” And, “Show little, say less.” Well, he hoped he was keeping his fear well-hidden. But he couldn’t think of anything to do, not before the taverner flung out his hand, scooped the coins to the edge of the bar, and dropped them into his other hand. Then he walked to the end of the bar, where he opened a door.

“Follow me,” said the taverner.

Rigg wasn’t sure whether he meant for them to clamber over the bar and go through the same door, or find another way. Before he could decide, a door on their side of the bar opened and the taverner beckoned. He led them to a tiny room with nothing but a table and two chairs in it, and some books and papers on the table.

The taverner poured their coins out of his hand onto the table. “You bring whole new worlds of meaning to the word ‘stupid,’” he said wearily.

“It was you knocking into my hand that spilled the coins,” said Rigg.

The taverner dismissed his words with a wave of his hand. “Who did you rob and why do you think I won’t turn you in?”

Don’t let the other fellow control what you do-it might be too late, but he could obey it now. So instead of defending himself against the charge of thievery, Rigg moved the conversation back to his real business here. “So it’s enough money to buy a meal and lodgings.”

“Of course it is, are you mad?”

“Seven rivers have joined the Stashik since we left Fall Ford,” said Rigg. “It’s so wide now we can hardly see the other side sometimes, and it seems like the price of everything gets bigger right along with the river. Last town where we ate, a baker charged us a jackface for a small loaf of stale bread, and he wanted two kingfaces for a night’s lodging.”

The taverner shook his head. “You were cheated, that’s all. And who wants to stay in some tiny fleabitten room in a baker’s house? You pay me one fen and you can stay two nights, or stay one night and I give you five shebs in change.”

Rigg touched the coins in turn. “You call this a ‘fen’? And this is a ‘sheb’?” Rigg knew the names of all the coins-including denominations so large that Father said they never actually minted the coins-but it had never occurred to him that the same money might be called by different names just because he had walked a few weeks on the Great North Highway.

“Why, what do you call them?” asked the taverner.

“‘Kingface’ and ‘queenface,’ but we stopped calling them anything when people laughed at us.”

“I’m surprised you’re still alive to tell the tale,” said the taverner, “the way you spread that money out for all to see.”

“You knocked it out of my hand,” said Rigg. “I thought you did it on purpose.”

The taverner covered his eyes. “It never occurred to me you’d bring up more than one coin out of your purse.” He put his hand atop Rigg’s head and turned his face so they were eye to eye. “Listen, boy, maybe nobody killed you back south, but you’re right aside the river here, and this is a river tavern, and these are rough men who wouldn’t think nothing of tipping you into the river to take a pair of shebs out of your pocket, never mind a fen. And they’d do it for a ping if you riled them somehow. Now every man in that room knows you have a lot of money and very little brain.”

“None of them could see,” said Umbo stubbornly.

“You think they’re deaf? Every man of them could name all the coins you dropped by the sound alone.”

Rigg understood now, well enough. Rules were different here. In Fall Ford a man’s money was safe in his pocket or in his palm, because no one would think to take it. But that was because everybody already knew how much money everybody else was likely to have, and if somebody popped up with more of it after somebody else got robbed, it wouldn’t take much of a guess to solve the crime. Here, though, in towns like this, the citizens couldn’t know but a tiny number of their fellows, and the rivermen came and went so that nobody knew anybody. Not known means not caught, if they weren’t taken in the moment of the crime, because the rivermen could be many leagues away by morning-or merely asleep on their boat, and their fellows reluctant to admit it or let a stranger go on board to search.

Father had warned Rigg how the rules changed when you traveled far, and he always warned that the bigger the city, the lower the level of civilization, which had seemed to make no sense to Rigg until now. Because the rules of civilization might be obeyed by however so many people you choose, it only took a few who despised those rules and you’d be in danger. “The worst of predators is man,” Father had said, “because he kills what he does not need.”

“Like us,” Rigg had said. “We leave the meat behind, most of the time.”

“The meat feeds the forest scavengers,” Father had answered, “and we need the pelts.”

“I’m just agreeing with you. We kill like men,” Rigg had said, and Father had replied in a surly voice, “Speak for yourself, boy.”

Now Rigg was seeing it for himself. “Seems to me,” said Rigg, “the baker who cheated us harmed us more than anyone here.”

“That’s because you haven’t left my tavern yet. They wouldn’t dare attack you in here, but I can promise you’ll have many companions joining up with you the moment you leave the place, and you’ll be lucky if they only turn you upside down to shake out the coins and leave you with your skin and bones unbroken.”

“How does anyone get through here alive?” murmured Umbo.

The taverner turned sharply, his hand flashed out, and this time his hand was not so gentle resting on a boy’s head. “To get through here safe, two boys wouldn’t be traveling alone-they’d have adults with them. They wouldn’t be barefoot, and dressed in oafish privick homespun. They wouldn’t come any nearer the river than the road out there, and that in daylight only. They’d never enter a riverside tavern. They’d never spread coins across the bar or take out more than was needful. And if they break all these rules, they still survive if they happen to run into me on a day when I feel particularly magnanimous. Now, the supper rush is about to begin, and then it’s a night of drinking and whoring for rough men whose money I mean to have, with a minimum of breakage. You’re going to stay in this room.”

“In here?” asked Rigg. “What do we do in here?”

“One of you lies on the table, the other underneath it, and you sleep if you can, but you don’t sing, you don’t talk loudly, you don’t show your face at the window, and you don’t-”

“What window?” asked Umbo.

“If you can’t find the window, I guess you can’t show your face at it, so you’ll actually obey me,” said the taverner. “The last thing is, when I lock the door from the outside, you don’t panic, you don’t start thinking I’m making you my prisoner, you don’t scream for help, and you don’t try to escape.”

“Isn’t that exactly what you’d say if you were holding us for ransom?”

“Yes,” said the taverner. “But who’d pay?” He walked to the door, closed it behind him, and they heard the chunk of the lock as he turned the key.

Immediately Rigg was on his feet, scanning high along the walls.

“Looking for the window?” asked Umbo.

“Found it,” said Rigg. He pointed up, high on the wall above the door. It might be facing toward the inside of the tavern, but what was coming through the slats of an old shutterblind was daylight.

“How did you know it wasn’t on the outside wall?” asked Umbo.

“I can see the paths of the builders. Few others have climbed that high on the walls, but now and then someone does, and that’s where they went.”

“It occurs to me,” said Umbo, “that your little talent with pathfinding only works to see what people did, not to help us with what they’re about to do.”

“True enough,” said Rigg. “But what’s your little talent good for, either, when it comes to defending ourselves?”

“I slow down time,” said Umbo.

“I wish,” said Rigg. “That would be useful.”

“I think I know what I do!” said Umbo.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” said Rigg. “You weren’t slowing down time for me-I walked at the same speed as the man I saw.”

“And picked his pocket-”

“Do you want me to find him and put it back?”

“If I don’t slow down time, what is it I’m doing when I make it so you can see paths turn into people?”

“You speed up my mind.”

Umbo threw his hands in the air and sat down. “Speed you up, slow down time, it’s the same thing. I already said so from the start.”

“You’ve lived with it all your life, Umbo, you decided what you thought it was when you were little, and you’ve never had a need to change your mind. But think about it. When you slowed me down, and I walked along with other people, what did it look like to you? You could still see me, couldn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Did I walk slower? Or faster?”

Umbo shrugged off the proof. “Then what am I doing? Because I’m sure doing something if you can see people that you never ever saw before I did it.”

“You’re speeding up my brain. The speed at which I see things, and notice them, and think about them. All those people who left those paths behind them, they’re always there, but only when my brain starts seeing and thinking faster can I actually see them. And only when I really concentrate on one person can I touch him and take things from him and pry up his miserable fingers to try to get to Kyokay.” Saying that, Rigg felt the grief of it rise inside him again, and he stopped talking.

Umbo closed his eyes and thought for a while. Finally: “So I make you smarter?”

“I wish,” said Rigg. “But I can see things that I couldn’t see before, and touch things I couldn’t touch.”

Umbo nodded. “I always thought of it as slowing down time, because when I first started doing it around other people, they’d say things like, ‘Everything slowed down’ or ‘the whole world started going slower.’ They didn’t know I was doing it, they thought it was something that just… happened. And that’s how it seemed to me, too. And then your father heard my mother talking about a time like that, and he looked at me and somehow he knew that I had done it. That’s when he took me aside and started helping me learn how to control it. To be able to affect only one person. Myself or somebody else. Whoever I chose.”

“At the falls, you were aiming at Kyokay, and you got me, too, by accident.”

“I didn’t say I got to be perfect at it. You and Kyokay were kind of far, and I was climbing up the cliff, and I couldn’t even see you most of the time.” Umbo leaned his elbows on the table and hid his face in his hands. “But what good is it, anyway, whatever it is we do. If you can only see the past and I can only make other people think faster, then what can we even do with it?”

“I got a knife.”

“A nice sharp one,” said Umbo, holding up the palm he had cut with it, now mostly healed, though the scar was red. “Can you fight one of these rivermen with it? What about three of them?”

“If you really could speed me up,” said Rigg, “I could run around so fast they wouldn’t see me, and I could kill six of them before they knew what was happening.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice,” said Umbo. “Meanwhile, they’re beating me up because I’m just sitting there, so as soon as one of them hits me, I stop speeding you up, so then they catch you.”

“Well, it’s a good thing we can’t do it, then, isn’t it?”

Through the walls Rigg could hear the noise from the common room of the tavern. Nothing angry-sounding, but lots of talking. Shouting, really. When he could make out words, they were cheerful enough. Even horrible curses sounded like joking between friends.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if he brought us food?” said Umbo.

“Suppose somebody beats us up. But doesn’t kill us,” said Rigg.

“Let’s hope for that.”

“But then later, we go back to the place and I find the path they took to get to us. You slow down time-”

“I thought you said that wasn’t what I-”

“That’s what I’m used to calling it,” said Rigg impatiently. “You do that thing, and I’ve got a sledgehammer and as they’re stepping toward us, ready to beat us up, then one by one I smash them in the knees. Every single one who takes a step toward me.”

Umbo was smiling. “I bet after a couple of them fall over screaming with their knees all bent the wrong way, the rest hop away like ebbecks.”

“And we don’t get beaten up after all,” said Rigg. “So actually we’re perfectly fine.”

Umbo laughed. “It’s better than revenge, because we stop them before they do it in the first place!”

“The only thing I don’t get is how it could possibly work,” said Rigg. “The only reason we’d be doing it is because they beat us up. But then afterward, we can’t remember why we attacked these guys, because we don’t have a bruise and they never laid a hand on us.”

Umbo thought about that for a while. “I don’t mind that,” he said. “Who cares if we remember? We’ll just trust ourselves that we wouldn’t do that kind of thing unless we had a good reason.”

“But if all we remember is smacking people with sledgehammers, and never the reason why…”

“Well, don’t worry about it,” said Umbo. “With any luck they’ll kill us, so we won’t be able to go back in time and stop them, and so we won’t remember anything cause we’ll be dead.”

“That eases my mind,” said Rigg.

Then something dawned on Umbo. “You remembered growing up without any stories of the Wandering Saint, right? So you still remembered the way things were before you changed things in the past.”

“And you didn’t.”

“I think that’s convenient,” said Umbo. “One of us will remember how it was before we changed things, and the other one will remember the way it went after we changed it.”

Something still bothered Rigg about Umbo’s analysis, if he could only figure out what it was. “So let’s say we get beaten up, like I said. I don’t forget the part about getting beaten up. So I remember all the things we did after getting beaten-how we hid, how somebody nursed us back to strength, and then how we went back to the place and got even. But you don’t remember. All you remember is the new way, where they almost beat us up but some of them fall over with their knees broken and the rest run away. So… you didn’t go anywhere to recover from your injuries, because you never were hurt. So in this new story, where you didn’t have to recover from injuries, what did you do instead? And why did you end up coming back with me to prevent something from happening, when you don’t remember it happening at all? It’s just impossible.”

“Here it is,” said Umbo. “We both do both things. Only right at the moment where you break their knees, you lose one memory and I lose the other.”

“It still doesn’t work,” said Rigg, “because if we both see the bad guys fall over and we walk away, then we have to somehow do the things we did before so we end up at the place at the right time to break their knees. How will we know when that is?”

Umbo leaned over and started beating his forehead softly against the table. “I’m so hungry I can’t think.”

“And it’s too cold in here to sleep,” said Rigg.

“And we’ve still got the ability to change the past together, only whatever we do, we just figured out that it can’t be done.”

“And yet we do it,” said Rigg.

“We’re like the most useless saints ever. We can do miracles, only they’re pretty worthless.”

“We can do what we can do,” said Rigg. “I won’t complain about it.”

“Remind me why we didn’t go back in time and rob enough people in the past that we could afford passage on a downriver boat?”

Rigg lay down on the floor. “Ack! It is cold.”

“So get back up on the chair where it’s warm.”

“We’re going to die in this room,” said Rigg.

“That solves all our problems.”

The door opened. A woman almost as large as the taverner came in carrying two bowls with spoons in them.

“Speaking of saints,” said Umbo, “here’s one with the miracle of food.”

“I’m no saint,” said the woman. “Loaf will tell you that.”

“Loaf?” asked Rigg, smelling the stew and staring at the bowls. She set them down on the little table and Rigg and Umbo instantly sat down.

“Loaf is my husband,” she said. “The one who locked you in here instead of throwing you and your money out into the street the way I would have.”

“His name is Loaf?” asked Umbo, his mouth already full.

“And my name is Leaky. You think those names are funny?”

“No,” said Rigg, stopping himself from laughing. “But I do wonder how you got them.”

She leaned against the wall, watching them shovel in the food. “We came from a village out in the western desert. Our people name their babies before the next sundown, and they pick the name because of what we do or look like or remind somebody of, or from a dream or a joke or any damn thing. And we have to keep that name until we earn a hero name, which almost nobody ever manages to do. So Loaf looked like a big loaf of bread, somebody said, and I drooled and puked and peed in a continuous dribble of something so my father started calling me Leaky and he wouldn’t let my mother change it on my naming day, and I’ve beaten about a hundred people into the ground for laughing at my name. Do you think I can’t handle you?”

“I have a deep abiding faith that you can,” said Rigg, “and I’ll do my best not to earn a beating. But I have to wonder, when you came here why didn’t you change your name? Nobody in these parts knew you, did they?”

“You think we’re the kind of folks to start out in a new place by lying to everybody?”

“But it wouldn’t be a lie if you changed your name. Then you just say, ‘My name is Glorious Lady,’ and since that now is your name, it isn’t a lie.”

“Anybody calling me Glorious Lady is a liar, even if it’s my own self,” she said. “And you’re getting closer to that beating every time you open your mouth. Next time just put food in it.”

Rigg had food in his mouth the whole time he was talking, chewing and swallowing in the pauses, but he knew what she meant.

“You’re sleeping in here tonight,” Leaky announced. “I’m going to bring you some blankets.”

“A lot of blankets, I hope,” said Umbo.

“Plenty, compared to sleeping outdoors on a night like this. Isn’t that what you’ve been doing for the past few weeks?”

“But we don’t like it,” said Umbo.

“I don’t mind,” said Rigg.

“And I don’t care what you like or don’t like,” said Leaky.

“I like this soup,” said Umbo.

“It’s stew,” said Leaky. “Trust a privick not to know the difference.” As she left, she relocked the door behind her. They buckled down to the serious business of eating every scrap of food they could see.

As they neared the bottoms of their bowls, they slowed down enough to talk a little.

“I’m still hungry,” said Umbo, “but my stomach is packed solid and I can’t fit anything in.”

“That’s how you get fat,” said Rigg. “Eating even after you’re full.”

“I guess I just remember being hungry so clearly that being full doesn’t wipe out the hunger.”

“If the people of Fall Ford named babies the way Loaf’s and Leaky’s village did, I wonder what your name would have been,” said Rigg. “‘Turdmaker’!”

“Yours would be ‘Crazy Baby.’”

“The craziness didn’t show up till later,” said Rigg. “Mostly since knowing you.”

True to her word, Leaky returned quite soon and seemed surprised that they had already finished eating. She held up their bowls and made a show of looking for some trace of the stew. “If you barf because you ate so fast, make sure you keep it all on the blanket or I’ll have you scrubbing the puke off the floor till it smells like fresh-cut lumber in here.”

“It smelled a lot worse than puke when we got here,” said Umbo. “We’d be improving it.”

“It’s the only reason I’d ever be glad you came here. Strip off those filthy traveling clothes before you get into these blankets. And I mean all of them.” With that she left again. Again they heard the door lock-but only just barely, as it was so noisy out in the common room.

“She likes us,” said Umbo.

“I know, I could feel it too,” said Rigg. “She’s really glad to have us here. I think she loves us like her own children.”

“Whom she murdered and cut up into the stew.”

“They were delicious.”

Rigg stripped off his clothes and even though he really was cold now, he had the promise of the blankets to encourage him. There was such a great pile of them that he wouldn’t have to curl up with Umbo to stay warm. That would make a nice change, because out in the woods, Umbo had moved around a lot in his sleep, leaving them both to wake up freezing cold five times a night.

The door opened.

“Hey, we’re naked in here!” protested Rigg. Umbo just dragged a blanket up to cover himself.

As Leaky set down a chamber pot, she said, “Don’t splash when you use this, and for the sake of Saint Spider, keep the lid on tight when you’re done or I’ll never get the stink out of this room.” She set a basket of large leaves beside the pot. “These go inside the pot when you’ve used them.”

“We’re from Fall Ford,” said Umbo. “That far upriver, sheeshee don’t stink.”

“You just don’t notice, sleeping with the pigs like privicks do.” She closed the door and locked it again.

They took turns using the chamber pot and when they were done they both agreed that a tight-closed lid was an excellent idea.

“I liked those leaves,” said Umbo. “Way more comfortable than any we used in the woods.”

“I’ll make it a point to find out what tree they come from and pull one along behind us in a big pot on wheels.”

Rigg spread out his blanket, folded it double thick, and then covered himself with two more while Umbo did the same. The light of the Ring came through the high window, which had apparently been angled for just that purpose. There were no branches above them to block it out.

“The leaves outside made for softer sleeping,” said Rigg.

“But there are no stones jabbing me,” said Umbo. “And no bugs or snakes or other vermin crawling all over me.”

“So far,” said Rigg.

He waited for Umbo’s retort-something like “If I don’t see them, I don’t care”-but Umbo said nothing at all.

Can you believe it? thought Rigg. Umbo’s already asleep. And in that moment, so was Rigg.

CHAPTER 6

Leaky and Loaf It was still two days before the jump into the fold when Ram suddenly found himself strapped into his chair. The expendable was kneeling in front of him, looking up into his eyes.

“Was I asleep?” asked Ram.

“We jumped the fold, Ram,” said the expendable.

“On schedule and I simply don’t remember the past two days? Or early?”

“We generated the seventh cross-grain field,” said the expendable, “and the fold came into existence four steps earlier than predicted.”

“Was it the fold or merely a fold?” asked Ram.

“It was the fold we wanted. We’re exactly where we were supposed to be.”

“What a convenient error,” said Ram. “We inadvertently trigger fold creation four steps early, and yet it still takes us to our destination.”

“All the folds, all the cross-graining of fields, everything we did was polarized, so to speak: It always pointed us exactly where we wanted to go.”

“So spacetime, naughty as it was, suddenly got the idea and leapt ahead of us?”

“We got ourselves caught in the midst of a stutter,” said the expendable. “We were trying to avoid that because we didn’t know what would happen to us in a stutter-most of the computers predicted the ship would be sectioned or obliterated.”

Ram had been scanning all the reports from every part of the ship. “But neither happened. We’re still intact.”

“More than intact,” said the expendable.

“How can you be more than intact?” asked Ram. • • • The floor was hard and the room was cold, but Rigg awoke feeling more comfortable than he had in many days, and he burrowed down into the blankets to see if he could sleep a little longer.

“They took our clothes,” said Umbo.

Rigg opened one eye. Umbo, wrapped in a blanket, was sitting on a chair looking glum in the dim light eking its way down through the shutterblind.

“Probably having somebody wash them,” said Rigg.

Then he realized that if their clothes were gone, it meant someone had come into the room without waking them. They could have taken anything. Rigg bounded up from his blankets and searched for his pack. It was right where he had left it, and the money was where he had tucked it when he undressed.

“Not thieves,” he said.

“Well, we knew that,” said Umbo.

The key sounded noisily in the lock. Was it that loud last night? Not with the noise from the common room to drown it out. But when someone came and took their clothes?

Leaky came in, not bringing breakfast, not carrying clean clothes. She merely stood there looking coldly at them. “Wrap yourselves in something and come with me. Right now.”

Rigg didn’t know what to make of her attitude. She seemed furious, and yet also much more respectful than she had been last night. She averted her gaze as they rearranged their blankets to cover themselves a bit more securely, then stood aside for them to pass through the door.

The common room was empty except for Loaf, who stood behind the counter, propping himself on it with straight arms. In front of him a white cloth was spread. At the end of the counter was a pile of rags that Rigg immediately identified as his own and Umbo’s unwashed clothing.

As he came nearer, Rigg saw something on the cloth sparkle in the light from the half-shuttered windows. Large gemstones, of different colors. Eighteen of them.

“Where’s the light blue one shaped like a teardrop?” asked Rigg.

Leaky walked beyond him to the pile of clothes and slid it toward the middle of the bar. “Find it yourself, saints know we didn’t take it.” Rigg began at once examining the waistband of the trousers-which had been neatly sewn closed again in each spot where a stone had been.

Loaf’s voice was a low growl when he spoke. “What do you mean, having such wealth on you, and talking poor as you did?” Like his wife, Loaf was angry-and yet he was also deferential.

“Asking for our charity,” added Leaky, “when all the time you had that.”

“We didn’t ask for your charity,” said Rigg, “we offered you money-too much money, if I recall.”

“And acted like you were afraid of running out of it,” said Leaky sullenly, “which you couldn’t do if you live to a hundred.”

Rigg worked his fingers along the waistband of the trousers on the counter. He found where the light blue gem had been sewn, and there it was indeed, though harder to feel because it was also involved with a vertical side seam, which thickened the cloth over it. He pulled it out and laid it on the cloth. There was no reason to hide it now. If Loaf and Leaky were thieves, they wouldn’t be laying out the stones, they’d be pretending they knew nothing about them. If they had even allowed Rigg to wake up alive.

“It’s my inheritance from my father,” said Rigg. “He said I should take it to Aressa Sessamo and show the stones to a banker there.”

“Inheritance?” asked Loaf, looking wary. “If your father had wealth like this, why do you dress so poor?”

Rigg understood the question. Loaf was asking if the jewels were stolen; but even if they weren’t, the man wanted to make sense of the contradiction.

“We lived our lives in the forest,” said Rigg. “We trapped furs for a living. I’m dressed in the clothing that was useful to me-we never needed any better. There is no better for the work we did. And as for being wealthy, the first I knew of these jewels was after my father died, and the woman who had them in safekeeping gave them to me.”

“That was a very trustworthy woman,” said Leaky.

“And you are no less trustworthy,” said Rigg, “or I would not be seeing these laid out on the bar.”

Loaf snorted. “For coins such as you had,” he said, “someone might kill you and toss you in the river. But a boy who owned such jewels as these, someone would come looking for him. A man might hang. And if I turned up with such as these, who would believe that I got them honestly?”

“Who would believe me?” asked Rigg. “Part of Father’s inheritance was the letter to the banker.”

“Then would you mind if we saw the letter?” asked Loaf. His words were polite, but his tone was firm, as if to say, it’s time now to dispel all doubt.

For a moment Rigg hesitated. Do they think that with the letter they might steal the jewels and prove a right to them? But he set aside his suspicion at once. If they meant him harm, he could not stop them. So why not suppose they meant well? Or at least well enough? “I’ll get it,” said Rigg. “It’s in my pack.”

“No, send the other boy,” said Loaf. “I don’t want you to let these jewels out of your sight.”

Umbo glared at Loaf and then at Rigg. “You might have told me,” he said.

“I shared all my coin with you,” said Rigg, “and my food and all. But these couldn’t be spent anywhere we’ve been or anywhere we’re going. What was to tell?”

Umbo turned his back and went for the pack. He was back in only a few steps and thrust the pack into Rigg’s arms.

Rigg set the pack on a stool and pulled out the letter. He laid it on the bar.

Loaf squinted over it. Leaky reached out and snatched it away. “For saints’ sake, Loaf, we all know you read as fast as a toadstool turns into a tree.” She scanned the document, moving her lips a little and humming a note now and then. “It’s an obvious fake,” she said.

Loaf stood up straight and looked down his nose at Rigg.

But Rigg knew the letter was genuine, and if it wasn’t, Leaky would have no way of knowing. “If it’s a fake, I didn’t fake it,” Rigg said. “The woman I got it from said my father wrote it. He never showed it to me while he was alive, but it looks like his handwriting.” Rigg looked at Leaky. “Have you ever seen his handwriting?”

“I don’t have to,” said Leaky. “It’s signed by the Wandering Saint. That’s like having it signed, ‘The Ring.’”

“That would be a really stupid thing to do, but he didn’t do it,” said Rigg. “Read that signature again.”

She scowled and read it again, moving her lips even more pronouncedly. “Ah,” she said. “‘Wandering Man’ instead of ‘Wandering Saint.’ But it’s still not even a name.”

“It’s one of the names his father went by,” said Umbo.

“What’s his real name, then?”

“All his names were real,” said Umbo. “He answered to them.”

They looked at Rigg, who said, “I never called him anything but ‘Father.’”

“Why do you think you can judge this paper?” asked Umbo. “It isn’t written to you. It’s written to a banker in Aressa Sessamo. So we’ll take it to him. Give it back.”

It was bold of Umbo to demand “back” something that he had never held. But Leaky put it in his hand all the same. Umbo scanned it, reading quickly-for the village schoolteacher in Fall Ford did his job-and then passed it on to Rigg.

“So your father made up names for himself and signed them on legal documents,” said Leaky. “You already know what I think of people who use false names.”

“Doesn’t matter what you think of this boy’s dead father,” said Loaf curtly, earning a glare from his wife. “I believe the boy and the letter, and whether the father came by the money honestly or not, the son surely did.”

“What are you going to do, then?” Leaky demanded. “Adopt him? He certainly lied to us.”

“I never said a word to you that wasn’t true,” said Rigg.

“You said those coins were all your money!”

“Do those jewels look like money to you?” said Umbo.

“Why did you take my clothes in the first place?” asked Rigg. “I’m the one whose belongings were taken by stealth in the night.”

Flustered, Leaky said, “I was going to wash them.”

“They don’t look any cleaner to me,” said Rigg.

“Because I picked up your trousers and I could feel something in the waistband.”

“And you had to rip open the seam and take it out?”

“My wife’s no thief,” said Loaf, glowering.

“I know she’s not,” said Rigg. “But she’s been spitting out accusations and suspicions, and I wanted her to see that those can go both ways. I have more cause of complaint here than she does-but I’m not complaining, and it’s time she stopped being suspicious of me for giving far less grounds.”

“The boy’s a lawyer,” said Loaf to his wife.

“Honest men don’t need lawyers,” she said huffily.

“Honest men are the ones who need them most,” murmured her husband, and when she made as if to argue with him, without even looking at her he raised his hand as if to smack her backhand across the face. He didn’t hit her and obviously never meant to, but she rolled her eyes and fell silent. So it seemed that a hand raised for a smack was the downriver equivalent of putting a finger to your lips.

“If you give me back my clothes,” said Rigg, “I can sew these jewels back into the waistband and we can leave.”

“No,” said Loaf. “In Aressa Sessamo, that letter will do you good. Here it does none, and you need to turn one of those jewels into money.”

“I thought we had a lot of money,” said Rigg. “Too much of it.”

“I said you had enough money that rivermen would kill you for it,” said Loaf. “But prices get a lot higher the farther down the river you go. You’ll be out of money long before you get to Aressa Sessamo, no matter how carefully you eke it out.”

“Is there a bank in this town?”

“Not yet,” said Loaf. “But I can accompany you downriver to the first city that has one. It’s a place where I’m known well enough, and I can vouch for you. I can also keep you safe along the way.”

“Why would you do that for us?” asked Rigg.

“For money, you dunderheaded boy. I’m an honest man but not a rich one. We’ll get to the bank-the banker’s name is Cooper-and when he gives you the money, he’ll give a fee to me. And don’t fear I’ll cheat you-we’ll let the banker set the price. Fair value for my protecting you and leading you there.”

“The banker is your friend, not ours,” said Umbo.

“But you’re the one with the jewels,” said Loaf. “So that’ll make him your friend, not mine.” Then he pointed at Rigg. “Or rather, his friend, not either of ourn.”

“What kind of banker is named ‘Cooper’?” asked Umbo. “Are the coopers around there all named ‘Banks’?”

“The city where he lives has a law that family names are passed along father to son, husband to wife, regardless of whether the name itself still fits. He once had a distant ancestor who was a cooper, that’s all it means.”

“It’s a very dull way of naming people,” said Leaky.

Loaf turned to Rigg again. “I’ll make money from taking you, but it’s money fairly earned, since without me you’re so likely to be dead before you get out of Leaky’s Landing.”

“Is that the name of this tavern?” asked Rigg, wondering why it wasn’t named for Loaf, since at least his name suggested something edible, while Leaky’s name seemed a recommendation against staying there on a rainy night.

“It’s the name of the whole town,” said Leaky.

“They named it for you?” asked Umbo.

“Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t,” said Leaky.

“This termite-supper town?” said Loaf. “They called it sixteen different things till we got here and told them that they had to settle on a name or we wouldn’t build the tavern here. I suggested they name it for me, and so they named it for her just to prove that they don’t have to do what they’re told, even though it was the best advice they’ve ever had. Population’s tripled in the fifteen years since they named it.”

“What does having a name matter?” asked Umbo.

Loaf rolled his eyes. “I can hear the land speculator saying, ‘Come and buy land here and build a house in a town so saint-forsaken that we don’t even know its name!’ or a traveler saying, ‘Let’s stop for the night at that inn in that town, you know the one, the town with no name?’”

“They get the point,” said Leaky.

Rigg wanted to know what the plan was. “So are we leaving for… the town with the banker named Cooper-”

“Does that town have a name?” asked Umbo. “Or are they waiting for you to move there and name it for them?”

“Leaky’s Landing is new,” said Loaf. “That city has had people there for twice five thousand years. It’s as old as the world. Nobody even knows the language it was first named in.”

“It’s called ‘O,’” said Leaky.

“And it has the Tower of O in it,” said Loaf, as if they should know all about it.

“There must not have been many cities in the world when they named it,” said Rigg. “Are there other old cities named for vowels?”

Loaf looked at his wife, rolled his eyes, and said, “It’s going to be a long trip.” Then he turned back to Rigg. “To answer the question you should have asked, I’ll say that before we set out for O, we’re going to buy you some clothes that won’t attract notice. Not too rich, not too poor, definitely not of woodsy leather, and equally not the latest fashions from upriver. You,” he said, pointing to Umbo, “will pass for my son, dressed like me.”

“I’m excited,” murmured Umbo.

“And like a son, you’ll get cuffed in the head when your mouth gets smart like that,” said Loaf.

“No he won’t,” said Rigg, moving closer to Umbo.

“If I wanted to get hit,” said Umbo, “I could have stayed at home. My father did it plenty. For free.”

Leaky laughed. “He was joking, you fools. This is a rough town with a lot of hitting, but Loaf never lays a hand on any, except when he throws troublemakers out.”

“I had my fill of hurting people when I was in the army,” said Loaf. “I won’t lay a hand on you.”

Umbo relaxed, and so did Rigg.

“Umbo is my son,” Loaf went on, “and Rigg will be my wife’s brother’s boy, your cousin, and his family have a bit more money than us. He was visiting us and we’re taking him to meet his father’s men in O.”

“Why all the lying?” asked Rigg.

“To explain why your clothes will be nicer than ours. When we meet Cooper, he has to believe you are what you say. The letter means something but not as much as you’d like, since it wasn’t addressed to him. He doesn’t know Wandering Man any more than I do. So he has to look at you and see a boy who might come from a family with money.”

“If the banker catches us lying about anything,” said Rigg, “then he won’t believe the jewels are mine.”

“We’ll tell him as much of the truth as he needs to hear. The lies are for nosy people along the way, to explain why you’re dressed different from us. And why you talk so much better than your friend.”

“He does not!” said Umbo, outraged.

“Are you deaf, boy?” asked Leaky. “This Rigg here sounds like he’s been to school. The way he pronounces his words so clear.”

“I’ve been to school!” said Umbo.

“I mean a downriver school,” said Leaky. “We get travelers like that now and then. You really can’t hear the difference in the way he talks?”

“He talks like his father,” said Umbo. “What do you expect?”

“That’s my point,” said Loaf. “You talk like a privick, and he talks like a snooty boy from the schools. He talks like money.”

“Well, I only know how to sound like who I really am,” said Umbo.

“And that’s why I’m calling you my son,” said Loaf, “and him my rich nephew, so why are we having this argument? Besides, I’m going to do the talking anyway. Don’t answer if anybody asks you a question, just look at me. Got it?”

“Yes,” said Rigg.

“This is so stupid,” said Umbo.

“You say that because it’s not your money,” said Leaky.

“Not yours either,” Umbo insisted.

“This boy never backs down,” Loaf growled.

“That’s what makes him a good friend,” said Rigg.

“Some of the money’s ours,” Leaky said to Umbo. “In exchange for the clothes we’re going to buy you two and the passages we’re going to pay for and the days Loaf spends away from here and the bouncers I’ll have to hire when he’s not here to keep the peace. If we don’t make a fair profit on this great and noble service we’re providing you, then he’s a stingy lad and you’re no better.”

“I’ll pay fairly,” said Rigg. “And just so you know, Umbo speaks like an educated boy from Fall Ford, but Father taught me to talk in several different accents and a few completely different languages, too. At home I talk just like Umbo, but for the last week I’ve been talking the way Father said they talk in Aressa Sessamo, cause people understood me better and laughed less.”

“Of course they did,” said Loaf. “That’s the imperial city. And your father sounds like a man who meant you to travel.”

Rigg remembered telling Father that he already knew everything he’d ever need to know-but Father knew all along that Rigg would not be spending his whole life trapping animals in the mountains. Father might not have told Rigg anything about his plans for Rigg’s future, but he’d certainly prepared him to speak wherever he went. Maybe someday Rigg would even have a use for all the astronomy and physics Father taught him. Maybe it would matter that Rigg knew that the Ring was made of dust and tiny stones circling the world, shining in the night because of reflected sunlight. Now that would be a journey!

They went to buy clothes right away that morning; the tailor measured and by evening the clothes were delivered-two of everything for each of them, in different fabrics. “Why do I need two?” asked Umbo.

“So you can wear one while you clean the other,” said Leaky. “Though it’s no surprise you don’t know about washing.”

Rigg interrupted before they could bandy words yet again. “So should I open up a seam and put the jewels back in my clothes? And if I do, which pair of trousers? I tell you I don’t ever want to be caught wearing the wrong pair if a thief steals the other, or if I have to run from somebody.”

“The jewels aren’t very big,” said Umbo. “Can’t you just keep them in a little bag in your pocket?”

Loaf wouldn’t have that. “Pickpockets take whatever they find. Never put in your pocket anything you mean to own for long.”

“I’ll make you a ribbon to put around your waist and tie right tightly,” said Leaky. “And you hang a little bag from the ribbon, inside your trousers, right in front. No one will see it, or if they do, they’ll think it’s your boy parts.”

“Your family jewels,” said Umbo, chortling.

But at that moment, Rigg caught something in Umbo’s eyes, some emotion he couldn’t identify, something that made his eyes shine a little. And he thought: He hasn’t completely forgiven me for letting Kyokay die. It was one thing before, when he didn’t know about the jewels. He could forgive me then, and share blame. But now that he sees me as rich, and knows I hid it from him, it changes everything. He thinks he has reason not to trust me. Does that mean I have reason not to trust him?

It took four days to make the downriver passage to O. First thing the boat’s captain said when they booked passage was, “Pilgrims?” and later Loaf explained that thousands of people a year go to visit the Tower of O. To the captain, though, he told the story that they had agreed on, and Rigg realized that the most important part of the tale was the part about meeting his “father’s men.” It told the captain they were looked for, and by a man of power. They’d be safe enough aboard this boat.

At first it was a delight to travel by boat. The river did all the work-even the rivermen aboard the boat had little enough to do. They were there for the return voyage, when they’d have to pole and row to get upstream against the swift current. For now the rivermen lolled about the deck; and on the cabin roof, where passengers were required to stay, Loaf and Rigg and Umbo did the same.

Until Rigg’s legs began to feel twitchy for lack of use. Father had never let him spend a single whole day abed-not even when he was sick, which wasn’t often. Umbo seemed content enough, and Loaf was positively in heaven, dozing day and night, whenever he could.

It was one of those times when Loaf was sleeping and Rigg was walking around and around the corral-for so it seemed, this small platform edged with a fence-that Umbo came up to him. “Why can’t you hold still?”

“I never got much practice at it,” said Rigg. “It requires a talent for laziness.”

“So what do you see? Paths on the river, too? The people aren’t actually walking, except the insane ones, they just sit there. So do they leave a path even though they’re holding still?”

“Yes,” said Rigg. “They’re moving through space so they leave a path.”

“All right, then that brings another question. I learned in school that the world is a planet moving through space, and the sun moves through space, too. So when the world moves, why don’t all our paths get left out in space? If the world’s like a boat, then even if we’re standing still, we should be leaving paths behind us in space because the world is moving us, the way this boat moves us even while we’re sitting here.”

Rigg closed his eyes, picturing it-all the paths leading out into space.

“It should do what you said,” Rigg finally answered. “But it doesn’t. That’s all I know. All the paths stay where people passed by, on the land or in boats. So I guess there’s something that holds the paths to the exact place on Garden that the people moved through, no matter how long ago. Maybe gravity holds the paths in place. I don’t know.”

Umbo held his silence for a while, and Rigg thought the conversation was over. But Umbo was just coming up with new questions. “Can we do something here on the boat?” asked Umbo. “I mean, you know, practicing that thing we do?”

“I don’t see how,” said Rigg. “The crew would see me walking around and wonder what I was doing. And like I said, there are no paths on this boat, the paths are all hovering above the water, where other boats dragged people through the air. Our own paths are behind us, floating exactly this high above the water. I can see yours right up the river.”

“But that’s all the better. You just wait till some path comes right across this platform, and then you do something.”

“What would I do? Give some poor guy a shove so he falls in the water, five hundred years ago? That would be murder, if he can’t swim.”

Umbo sighed. “I’m just so bored.”

“I have a better idea. Let’s try to teach each other how to do the other one’s thing.”

“Nobody taught us to do what we do already,” said Umbo.

“That’s not even true. Father worked with you, didn’t he? Helped you sharpen it and focus it.”

“Yes, well, that’s right, but I could already do it, he just trained me.”

“So maybe instead of having none of each other’s ability, we only have a very very little so we never noticed it,” said Rigg. “So you try to explain it to me while you’re doing it, and I’ll try to point out the paths as we pass through them.”

“There’s not a chance it will work,” said Umbo.

“Then let’s find that out. Come on, we’re both bored, this is something to do.”

“Sh,” said Umbo. “I think Loaf is waking up.”

“Unless he’s been awake the whole time, listening.”

Umbo grimaced. “It would be just like him.”

But Loaf seemed not to have heard anything. He was perfectly normal toward them when he woke up-surly and deferent and helpful all at once.

Rigg asked him, “You worked the river yourself, didn’t you?”

“Never,” said Loaf.

“But you’re as muscular as these men.”

“No I’m not,” said Loaf. “I’m much more so.”

Rigg looked at him carefully. “I can see that you’re different from them, but not how.”

“Look at my right shoulder and then at my left. Then look at the rivermen.”

Rigg and Umbo both looked. Umbo saw it first, and chuckled. “They favor one side.”

Now Rigg could see it. They were each stronger on one side of their body than the other, from years of working the same side of the boat.

“On military boats they’re not allowed to do that,” said Loaf. “They make them change sides in regular shifts so they stay even.”

“So were you a military boatman?”

“Military, but not on a boat,” said Loaf. “Before I met Leaky and married her and built the tavern, I was in the army. Got to be a sergeant, a good squad of tough men.”

“Did you fight in any wars?” asked Umbo.

“We haven’t had a war in my lifetime,” said Loaf. “Even the People’s Revolution was back when I was a baby. But there’s always fighting and always killing, because there are always people who won’t do the will of the People’s Revolutionary Council, and always wild people at the edges of civilization who won’t respect the boundary or any other law. Barbarians.”

“So are you a bowman?” asked Umbo eagerly. “A swordsman? Or do you work the pike or the staff? Will you show us?”

“The boy is in love with the idea of soldiering,” said Loaf. “Because you’ve never seen a man holding all his guts in his lap, begging for water because he’s so thirsty, but has no stomach left for the water to go into.”

Umbo gulped. “I know people die,” he said. “They die at home, too, and sometimes in pretty terrible ways.”

Rigg thought of Father under the tree and Kyokay slipping from the rim of Stashi Falls. At least he hadn’t actually seen what the tree did to Father’s body, or what happened to Kyokay when he hit the turbulent, rock-filled water.

“Nothing is more terrible than the way men die in war,” said Loaf. “One slip and your enemy has the best of you. Or you’re walking along and suddenly, pfffft, there’s an arrow in your throat or your ear or your eye or your back and if you aren’t killed outright, you know it’s over for you, it saps the strength from you.”

“But you had an equal chance,” said Rigg. “Or maybe not equal, but you were trained for it. Killing and therefore dying. It can’t be a surprise to a soldier when he dies.”

“Take it from me, boy, death is always a surprise even if you stand there staring it in the face. When it comes, you think, ‘What, me?’”

“How do you know,” said Umbo. “You’ve never died.”

In answer, Loaf lifted up his overshirt and revealed his chest and belly. The man was so huge that Rigg had assumed he was fat, but no, his whole body followed the bulges and creases of his musculature, and veins stood at the surface everywhere instead of hiding in layers of fat.

And running right up his belly, just a little off center to the right, there was a savage scar, still partly red, and it hadn’t been stitched up right, so the skin puckered on one side or the other all the way up and down it. “I’m the man who held my guts in my hand,” he said. “I counted myself as dead. I refused to let my men waste any time trying to take me off the battlefield. I named another man as their new sergeant and ordered them to retreat with the rest of our men. Later they went ahead and won, but they never came back to the battlefield. They knew there’d be nothing left of anyone.”

“Why not?” asked Umbo.

“It doesn’t sound very loyal,” said Rigg.

“Scavengers, my boys,” said Loaf. “The battlefield was empty no more than a minute before these women and old men and boys were among the fallen, killing the wounded and taking their clothes and weapons and whatever else could be found. War brings ’em, like crows to carrion. So there I lie, expecting to die-hoping it doesn’t take long because it hurts in waves like the sea, each one pounding through me and I’m thinking, this is the one that carries me off into death, but it didn’t. I hear footsteps, I look up, and there’s this huge woman standing over me.”

“Leaky,” said Umbo.

“Of course it’s Leaky, you daft boy, but I’m telling the story and I decide when to say things out loud.”

“Sorry.”

“So I look up and she’s looking down and she says, ‘You’re a big one,’ and I didn’t say anything because it was a fool thing to say, what does it matter how big a dead man is? Then she says, ‘You’ve stopped bleeding,’ and I says, “I guess I’m empty.’ It comes out as a whisper but she heard me and she laughs and says, ‘If you can talk and you can joke you aren’t going to die.’ Then she pulls away my armor-which the other fellow’s sword had sliced through like butter, that’s what happens when your armor is built by somebody’s cousin and he makes the steel out of tin-plated dirt. Anyway, she stitches me up-and a right lousy job she did of it, I’d say, but the light was failing and I was going to die anyway, so who cares? She says to me, ‘The skin’s all cut but the stomach and bowel look to be unhurt, which is why you didn’t die. A knuckle deeper and you’d already be dead of it.’ So she hoists me up on her shoulder-me! heavy enough even without my blood-and takes me home and says that by scavenger law I’m her slave. Only when I got better, we were in love like a pair of heroes and we got married and I went home and tossed my old wife and sold the house and land and took my vast fortune and built the tavern in a scabby little mushroom village and turned it into a town and a regular stop for the river traffic. So her not killing me and taking my stuff, but taking me instead-that changed the world, my lads.”

“Hard on your first wife,” said Rigg.

“I was away eight solid years the last time, and when I got home she had three children under five that looked like three different men had done me the service of a substitute. You telling me I did wrong?”

“At least she waited a couple of years faithful,” said Umbo.

“And at least I didn’t kill her, which was my right. I only tossed her out instead of killing her, because Leaky says, ‘Let’s not start with blood,’ and also because I vaguely remembered we were in love once. And besides, I never fathered a child on her, no more than I have on Leaky, so I reckon a woman has a right to her babies, don’t she? Wherever she has to go to get them.”

“A tolerant philosophy. But she’d kept the farm for eight years and you took it right away from her.”

“The servants worked it,” said Loaf, “and it was my farm, just like she was my woman, and those weren’t my children. I didn’t lay a hand on her, but even a saint would sell the farm and take the money from it. She could go for shelter to the dad of one of her little ones, if he’d take her.”

“You’re soft, then,” said Rigg, but he smiled so that Loaf would know he was teasing.

“Yes, boy, jest all you like, mock me hollow, but I am soft. That’s what Leaky did to me. That and the one that gave me this scar. They took the war right out of me. But I still train for it. When I’m on land, that is. Train every day, an hour or two, using all the weapons. I can still put an arrow where I want to, within twenty rods. If I hadn’t slipped in horseflop on the battlefield he’d never have put his sword in me, that’s how good I was. And I still am, barring the changes that fifteen years of not having an opponent better than a drunken riverman makes in an old veteran.”

It was good to know that Leaky was the one who talked him out of killing his old wife. She could brag about how she would have thrown Rigg and Umbo in the river, or tossed them out on the mercy of the rivermen that first night-but Rigg understood now that Leaky and Loaf were kind people, and only had to look and talk tough because of their clientele.

“Does Leaky train with you?” asked Umbo.

Rigg expected him to get cuffed for his impertinence, but Loaf only laughed. “Who else?” he said. “No, she’s no fighter, not like me, but she puts on the pads and helps me through my steps and stings. Nobody else I know can match my reach, except her. I’m right big, you know. So we’re out at dawn, practicing an hour in full light. And it’s not a bad thing if rivermen see us at it, them as aren’t nursing hangovers. So they know that even when I’m not there, she holds her own.”

In the early afternoon of the fourth day, they saw it: the Tower of O, rising above the trees that lined the river. It was almost invisible against the lead-grey wintry sky, but they could all see it, a steel cylinder rising up and rounding off in a dome at the top.

“So we’re there,” said Umbo, and he and Rigg headed for the ladder down to the main deck.

“Wait,” said Loaf. “We won’t reach O till tomorrow noon, or later.”

“But it’s right there!” said Umbo.

“Look how hazy it is. This is clear air, and if it was as close as you think it is, it wouldn’t look that way.”

If the tower was still a day’s journey away, Rigg wondered, how could it rise so high above the trees? “How tall is it?” he asked.

“Taller than you imagine. Do you think people would make pilgrimages to see it, if it was just tall? Besides, the river takes a wide bend that way, and we’ll lose sight of it for hours, and then we come back at it from another direction before we get to see how big it really is. It’s a wonder of the world, to think any nation or city had the brains and the power to build such a thing. And yet it’s completely useless. They say it takes a day to climb to the top, but I don’t know how anybody would know that, the whole thing’s sealed off, and not because the Council of O made some law-no, it’s sealed off inside so you can’t get deep enough inside to figure out even what they built it for.”

Rigg watched the Tower of O until the light gave out so completely that it was invisible. He wondered what his father might have known about the Tower of O. He knew everything, or so it seemed. But he’d never thought to give Rigg a lesson about this place.

CHAPTER 7

O

“Was it the fold or merely a fold?” asked Ram.

“The fold was there,” said the expendable. “All nineteen of the ship’s computers report that the fold… was jumped.”

Expendables made no careless decisions about sentence structure. Nor did they hesitate, unless the hesitation meant something. “‘Was jumped,’ you said, but you didn’t specify that it was jumped by us,” said Ram.

“Because apparently we did not do the jumping,” said the expendable. “We emerged in exactly the position we were in at the beginning of the jump.”

“And were we still moving?” said Ram.

“Yes.”

“So what position are we in now?” asked Ram.

“We are two days’ journey closer to Earth. The physical position we were in two days ago.”

“So we came out of the fold reversed,” said Ram. “Heading the other way.”

“No, Ram,” said the expendable. “We came out facing away from Earth, just as we were when we went into the fold.”

“We don’t have a reverse gear,” said Ram. “We can only move in the direction we’re facing.”

“All the computers report that we are proceeding forward at precisely the same velocity as before. They also report that our position keeps progressing backward toward Earth.”

“So we’re moving forward and backward at the same time,” said Ram.

“Our propulsion is forward. Our motion is backward.”

“I hope you will not remove me from command if I admit to being confused.”

“I would only question your sanity if you were not confused, Ram.”

“Do you have any hypotheses that might explain this situation?” asked Ram.

“We are not hypothesizers,” said the expendable. “We are programmed instruments and, as I pointed out to you before, decisions about what to do after the jump are entirely up to our resourceful, creative, highly tested and trained human pilot.”

Ram thought about it. • • • As they started seeing the buildings of O, Rigg was amazed at how different they were. During the weeks he and Umbo had walked along the North Road, changes had been gradual. Farms had become more frequent, villages larger, buildings a bit more grand. Thatch gave way to shingle and tile, oilcloth to shutters and occasional panes of glass. Leaky’s Landing had an air of newness about it, but the town was of the same wooden construction, the same roof angles, the same alternation of cobble, gravel, and corduroy on the streets, depending on the whim of the owners of the buildings abutting them.

But the trees lining the river had concealed any such gradual changes, and the current moved them much faster, so that as they approached the docks of O it was like entering another world.

Everything seemed to be made of stone-and not the grey-brown rocks of the mountains, either, but a pale rock, almost white with streaks of warm colors in it. No moss had been allowed to grow on any of it, except down near the water-it gleamed warmly in the noonday sun.

By contrast, the Tower of O shone with the glaring coldness of a steel blade. And since it was larger by far than any other structure, and many times higher than the tallest trees, the whole city gave the impression of the pale hand of a very white woman, holding a fierce dagger upward toward the sky.

As the boat drew nearer the docks, however, that impression faded. The docks were as dirty and cluttered and busy as docks anywhere. Not all the buildings were stone after all; in fact most buildings were wooden structures, though with roofs only of tile or, to Rigg’s amazement, tin. So much metal as to cover a roof! Rigg could see that the impression that all was stone came from a few dozen large buildings that rose much higher than the jumble of wooden warehouses, taverns, and shops selling mementoes of the Tower of O. From a distance, all he had seen were the white-stone walls of those buildings; close up, he could hardly catch a glimpse of them from the narrow streets, where each story of every building jutted out beyond the one below, until at the third or fourth story houses across the street from each other were so close that, as Loaf said, “A man could take a mistress across the street and neither of them leave their house.”

Rigg expected that they would first secure lodging, but Loaf grimaced and said no.

“So we’re going to carry our packs and goods to the banker?” asked Rigg.

Loaf drew them over away from the crowded street to the open space near one of the large stone buildings. “Listen,” he said, “the boat passage and the cost of food and of your clothes have me close to broke. The places I could afford right now would be of such a low nature that we wouldn’t dare to leave our belongings in them anyhow. I’m a taverner, my boys, and I know what the dockyard inns of O are like. Everything depends on getting Mr. Cooper to convert one of these… items… to money at full value, without anyone else getting a glimpse of them. Then we can afford to stay in a respectable place without hardly making a dent in your fortune, young Rigg. That’s why we’re stopping nowhere, but finding Mr. Cooper’s bank.”

Loaf seemed to know his way through the maze of streets and only had to backtrack twice. To Rigg this seemed like a miracle, since there were few street signs high up on the buildings, and even then they weren’t always right.

“Oh, that’s the old name,” said Loaf when Umbo noticed one of them. “Then they made a boulevard and put the name on that. This is now… something else that I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. You don’t learn by names here, you learn by landmarks and turnings.”

“How can they have landmarks here?” said Umbo. “Every street looks just like every other.”

“If you lived here, you’d see the differences plain enough,” said Loaf. “I could ask anyone here and get directions to Cooper’s bank because he faced his building in grey stone-not to show too much pride, you see, so grey not white-and then he set a clock high on the wall. You ask anybody, ‘Where’s the banker’s clock?’ and if they don’t know, they must be a tower pilgrim because no one as lives here wouldn’t know the place.”

They passed many a food vendor, and when Umbo suggested stopping at one, Loaf just pulled him away and kept them on the road. “So you eat some greasy slab of meat and go in to see Mr. Cooper with fat dripped all over your hands and sleeves and the front of you. Then he throws us out as being the kind of people who have no house to eat in or table to sit at or napkin to drape with.”

“But we don’t have any of those,” said Umbo.

“Exactly, and we mean to have them, so we’ll be hungry and thirsty in the bank, but we won’t look like poor privicks.”

“We are poor privicks,” muttered Umbo. Loaf ignored him.

But Rigg thought about it. Umbo is a poor privick, though in Fall Ford his father did as well as anyone else, and his family was never hungry, nor was anyone else’s. During lean times they shared about, knowing that every man and woman worked as hard as any other, if they could, and they all watched out to make sure no old widows or spinsters starved or froze in the winter. But of food sold by vendors on the street no one got a taste, because there were no such. Only Nox cooked food for strangers, and you had to come at mealtime for a bite; she never brought the food out into the road, she never called out the name of the dish.

Strange how, just by being in a different place, a boy who always had enough and never wanted for anything could now be poor, and had to go hungry for fear that someone will notice his poverty.

And Loaf, too. In Leaky’s Landing he was prosperous, and mocked the privicks as merrily as anyone. But here in O, so far downstream, he was a privick, too, though better at disguising it, since he had traveled the world a good bit more.

I’m the only one who isn’t a poor man here, or at least might not end up so. Even though I’m the most upriver of all, having lived above the falls most days of my life, wandering with just my father in the deepest forest with few paths of men among the beasts and trees. But because of nineteen jewels in a bag hanging from a ribbon at my waist, I may soon be rich compared to them.

And yet they are my friends on this journey, the only friends I have. And if I prosper, they will prosper. The money may be mine, but the benefit will be for all of us. Loaf will go home with a fine profit for his kind service. Umbo can stay with me or go back upriver if he wants, this time in fine clothes and with the passage money for as far upstream as oars and poles can go. Let him go home and be the richest young man in Fall Ford, and then see whether his father shuns him. No, Tegay the cobbler will usher him into his house and offer his son his old place at the table.

People talk of magic and miracles wrought by the saints-and if they saw what Rigg and Umbo had done together, conjuring out of thin air a fine bejeweled knife, they’d be accounted saints or mages themselves-but none of these miracles is as potent or useful as a sudden flow of money into a man’s pocket. Then the transformation is like changing rainy to sunny weather, which no evil mage or generous saint can do except in the silliest old stories.

They arrived at the greystone building just as the large clock set high in the wall began chiming so loudly Rigg was surprised he hadn’t heard it clear down at the docks, though none of the locals seemed to be startled by it. At the door, a man dressed all in grey, wearing a short sword and holding a quarterstaff, stopped them and looked them up and down.

Loaf had already warned them many times to stay silent and say nothing, so Rigg merely looked at the guard with candid interest, showing no apprehension or any other thing if he could help it. Just wide-open eyes, regarding him. Whether the man could read the dread and the hope behind his eyes, Rigg could not guess. But at least Rigg wasn’t blurting things out, or showing the gems around, the way he had spilled his money on Loaf’s bar.

The man stared especially long at Rigg, trying perhaps to break the steadiness of his gaze. But Rigg had done this exercise with Father, so the more the man tried to stare him down, the calmer Rigg became, the steadier his gaze. Until the man looked away.

Then Loaf spoke to him. “I see that you can recognize quality, however weary the traveler,” said Loaf. “This boy and I”-he indicated Umbo-“have kept company with young master here, to ensure his safe arrival here at Mr. Cooper’s bank. But Mr. Cooper has had dealings with me before. I’m Loaf of Leaky’s Landing now, but once a sergeant major in the People’s Army, and I have accounts here, credit and debit both.”

“Then the boys stay outside,” said the guard.

“I’m not here on my own business, but on young master’s, and we go inside all three.”

“Then you go inside none. What do your accounts matter, if the business isn’t your own? And this boy”-he gestured with the head of the quarterstaff toward Rigg-“he’s no customer of Mr. Cooper’s.”

“And yet Mr. Cooper would be sorry to lose his custom,” said Loaf without a hint of temper. “Mr. Cooper has trusted me with loans before, and I have trusted him with my deposits. Let him say for himself if he trusts me now when I say this boy is worth a thousand times the trade that Mr. Cooper’s bank has had with me. Mr. Cooper knows I lie not, and pay my debts, and that is honor enough to win us entrance, I think you’ll find.”

“Mr. Cooper wants no visitors right now,” said the guard.

“And yet I say he will want us,” said Loaf, still as pleasant as could be. Rigg thought: It must be a skill a taverner has to have, if he’s to succeed-to stay calm and friendly in tone and look, regardless of the provocation. And it was quite possible the guard was showing so much resistance precisely because it was obvious that Loaf could pick the man up and break him against the stone walls if he was so inclined. The guard had to prove he was both brave and manly, by making Loaf stand begging at the door. Though in fact, now that Rigg thought about it, Loaf had not begged, but rather demanded, however cheerfully, nothing less than exactly what he wanted.

Which is what Father taught me to do, if I can only overmaster my fear.

Rigg forced himself to become calm, slowing his breath and relaxing his muscles. If Rigg was to be a worthy son of his father and claim his inheritance, he would have to stay clearheaded and confident, putting fear aside. He could not afford to wait until he was as old as Loaf to have that kind of sureness.

When the guard turned around and went inside-leaving the doorway unattended, Rigg noticed-it had not been more than a minute or two that he’d delayed them at the door. And his return was even swifter, and his manner completely changed, for when the door reopened, the grey guard bowed deeply and solemnly, and ushered Rigg inside first, taking him at Loaf’s valuation. Rigg, for his part, carried himself in a relaxed manner, as if being treated with deference were the most normal thing in the world to him.

The moment they were inside, a sharp-faced old woman led them up a wide flight of stairs while the guard returned to duty at the door.

“Why are these stairs so wide?” asked Umbo. “Do so many people have to go up and down them at the same time?”

“No,” said Loaf, patient-sounding as if talking to a favored son.

And that was right, Rigg thought-as right as Rigg remaining silent, as if he had no curiosity about the place.

“It’s important for a banker to impress those who are not yet his customers with how prosperous he is. A rich banker will not be tempted to steal from his customers, and his wealth shows that he knows how to use money wisely.”

Umbo opened his mouth to speak, but Rigg put up a finger that the old woman could not see, twitching it to warn Umbo to keep silence. For Rigg knew exactly what Umbo was going to say, since he had thought of it himself: A banker who looked rich might have gotten that way precisely by stealing from his customers. But now was not the time to bandy words that they would not want repeated to Mr. Cooper.

So they walked in silence up yet another flight, which ended in a spacious landing with a huge double door paned with glass at the far end of it. Other, more modest doors led off on either side.

The old woman brought them to a halt a few steps short of the great doors, and though there was no one to be seen, she said, not particularly loudly, “Loaf of Leaky’s Landing, former master sergeant of the People’s Army, and two boys, one of whom he vouches for as being of quality, sir.”

Without any hand touching them, the doors opened, but not by swinging in or out. Instead they slid aside to left and right, and in front of them was a large, bright room, with many tall windows in the walls and a table larger than the one in Nox’s dining room. Bookshelves filled the gaps between the windows, and they were jammed with books, not a space left over.

Mr. Cooper himself stood at the largest window, directly behind the table, silhouetted by the bright light coming through it. He faced outward, as if there were something important to examine on the wall of the building opposite.

“Come in and be seated,” said Mr. Cooper, his voice like a whisper of someone speaking directly into their ears.

As they walked through the doorway, Loaf stopped them long enough to show them a finger pressed to his lips, to remind them that only Loaf was to do any talking. At first, Rigg decided to comply, letting Loaf take care of everything. He’d handled things well so far.

Yet Rigg knew that it was only his fear and self-doubt that made him imagine he could let Loaf deal with everything. When it came to banking in large amounts, Loaf knew little and Rigg knew much. Father had never taught Rigg how to talk with surly rivermen in a dark tavern by the river, but he had taught him the principles of banking and finance. And Rigg also understood that if he was to be credible as the rightful possessor of whatever money these jewels were worth, he must show that he alone was making the decisions, that he could not easily be fooled.

The only seats were stools around the table. And the stools were low, almost to the point of being milking stools, so that when they sat, even Loaf looked a bit ridiculous, like a child sitting at the grownups’ table. Umbo was not tall for fourteen years of age, so he looked even sillier, lacking only a bib for the babyish effect to be complete.

Rigg, seeing the effect, did not sit down. He recognized at once a thing that Father had warned him about: Men jealous of their power and fearful of losing it will use tricks to dominate other men. “But if you refuse to let such a man deploy these tricks against you, he will be afraid of you. If that’s what you desire, then refuse to submit. But if you want to deceive him into complacency, submit happily, and keep your resistance in your heart.”

In this case, Rigg decided not to submit, because he knew he needed to be seen as bringing great wealth into the bank, not asking for a favor. It was the banker who must prove himself to Rigg, and not the other way around-that was how Rigg knew this conversation must be framed.

And he also realized that Father had spent those forest journeys preparing him for such a moment as this. My life was in the woods among the beasts, up to my elbows in blood, the skinning knife worn down to fit my callused hands-but my education was for rooms like this.

When the sound of sliding and shuffling stools was silent, Mr. Cooper turned around, and there was an eyeblink of a moment in which he took in the fact that Rigg remained standing at the end of the table, his bag resting open upon it.

Rigg met his gaze calmly, trying to keep the same steady emotionless regard he had practiced on the guard downstairs. And as he did, he noticed the path that Mr. Cooper had most recently followed. There had been a back-and-forth from table to bookshelves, a half a dozen little trips, and Rigg realized that when their arrival had first been announced, while they were still waiting outside the door, Mr. Cooper had rushed around to clear everything off the table. His stance by the window was nothing but a pose. He did indeed regard Loaf’s arrival as a matter of some importance, and he had gone to some trouble to make an impression of loftiness and lack of need, which suggested that he needed the business they were bringing him.

“Mr. Cooper,” said Rigg, though Loaf had been about to speak and now glowered at Rigg for preempting him. “I have come into an inheritance from my late father. I was to take it to Aressa Sessamo, where I have kinfolk that I have never met. He gave me a letter of introduction to bankers there, but I find that it is inconvenient to make the rest of the journey without converting a little of it into ready money. Therefore I wish you to oversee the sale of a particular item, return a small part of the value to me in coin, and provide me with a letter of credit that will be convertible in Aressa Sessamo when I arrive. I assume you have a relationship with at least one banking house in Aressa Sessamo?”

Loaf’s irritation had changed to something more like awe. Well, hadn’t Father made Rigg practice rhetoric? “Say the same thing, but now say it to someone you love, to whom you are in great debt.” “Say it now to someone who thinks he has power over you, but whom you wish to intimidate.” “Say it to someone of a higher class than you wish to seem to be of.” “Say it now to make sure someone knows he is of a lower class.” It all seemed like such a game to Rigg, but he had mastered all these tricks of rhetoric before he reached the age of ten, and had done it well enough that Father laughed with delight at some of the things he said. He had used these skills well enough with farmers and taverners and other travelers coming down the North Road, and had dealt with Loaf and Leaky well enough, but in those cases it served him to seem what in fact he was-a harmless boy in need of help.

Now, though, Loaf and Umbo were seeing him in another guise-as a boy quite aware of his own worth, relative to a man of whom he expected a service, and for which he would pay not a penny more than the service warranted.

“Yes, yes,” said Mr. Cooper, after a moment’s hesitation. “I have a good relationship with two Aressid bankers, at either of which my letter of credit will have a good reception.”

“At what discount?” asked Rigg, for Father had made sure he was aware that letters of credit might be accepted, but at a discount sometimes as high as ninety percent, until the funds could be transferred and verified.

“No discount, I assure you!” said Mr. Cooper, a little flustered. And the reason for his blush emerged when he was forced to add, “At one of them, anyway, the house of Rududory and Sons.”

“And the other one, the one that discounts your note?”

Cooper turned a little red. “Does it matter?”

“I intend to take the note first to the house that discounts you, and disdain their discount, and take my custom to Rududory. You may be sure they will regret the loss and not discount you in the future.”

“That is… generous of you.” But Cooper seemed still to have his doubts.

“If you serve me well, I shall serve you well,” said Rigg. “The best legacy my father left me were his principles of honest trade. He taught me that it is better to make a friend of a man through fair dealing than to make a momentary profit and lose his trust. Sergeant-major Loaf assures me that you do business in such a way as well, which is why I have stopped at O to deal with you, if you are interested in performing the service I require.”

Of course Loaf had told him no such thing, and it probably wasn’t true, though it might be. But Father had also taught him: Treat a man as if he had a fine reputation to protect, and he will usually endeavor to deserve it.

“The other house,” said Mr. Cooper, “is Longwater and Longwater.”

Rigg nodded gravely. “Now it is time for me to show you the item I wish you to sell for me. Please turn your back, sir.”

Loaf’s eyes widened and he looked like he was about to speak, but thought better of it. Rigg knew perfectly well that in his place, Loaf would have turned his own back to remove the bag of jewels from his trousers; for Rigg to demand that Mr. Cooper be the one to turn his back was nothing short of outrageous-unless, of course, Rigg were a lordly young man accustomed to other people showing him respect, and not the other way around.

Mr. Cooper once more hesitated, then turned his back to look out the window again, affecting the air of one who simply decided it was an apt occasion to study the birds flying to and from nests in the eaves of the building opposite.

Rigg reached down into his trousers, pulled out the bag, opened its mouth wide, and looked at the jewels, wondering which to offer. He settled on the light blue teardrop-shaped one that had hidden in the seam of his trousers back at Leaky’s Landing, for that was the only thing that had made any one of them different from the others since he’d had them. Holding that gem, he tightened the bag’s mouth, tucked it back down into his trousers, and strode around the table. “Here, sir,” he said, “let’s look at this by the light of the window.”

It was generous, for a man of the status Rigg was pretending to have, to walk around the table himself to show the jewel to Cooper. Thus, a moment after diminishing the other man, Rigg made him feel that he was respected in turn, and perhaps even liked, by this rich young stranger.

Rigg set the jewel on the table, well back from the edge. “I realize you are not a jeweler, sir, and that your valuation of this stone must depend on what consultants tell you. But I believe you are experienced enough with all forms of collateral to know what you are looking at.” Because I certainly am not, Rigg thought-but did not say.

Before Mr. Cooper could sit in his chair, Rigg deftly slid it back out of reach of the table. “Let’s not have the back of the chair blocking any of the light,” he said.

As a result, Cooper was forced to sit on a stool at the side in order to examine the stone in the light, while Rigg sat in the chair. Thus Cooper’s strategem of keeping his visitors in a lower, supplicative position was quite reversed. During Cooper’s examination of the stone, Rigg glanced at Loaf and Umbo and saw that Loaf was only barely suppressing a grin, for Mr. Cooper was shorter than Loaf and no taller than Umbo, and at his age looked even more absurd sitting on the stool.

The moment Cooper stood up again, Rigg also rose from the chair and slid it back into place. What could be taken as perfectly natural during the examination of the light-blue jewel would be insolence if Rigg remained in the chair when the need had passed.

Mr. Cooper cleared his throat and spoke. “If this is what it seems, and I have no doubt of it, you understand, then you do my little banking house great honor, sir.”

“It is the honor due to all good men of business,” said Rigg, “when a matter of great trust is in hand.”

“Do you wish me to advance you against the value of the stone, while I pursue its sale on your behalf?”

“I am not pawning the stone, sir,” said Rigg, pouring contempt on the very idea that a young man of his means would bring forth a treasure like this to get some amount of pocket change. Though in fact that was what he was doing. “Your note of receipt will be enough, I’m sure, with a statement of probable value.” In effect, such a note would serve to win them credit with the loftiest of lodges, though it would be meaningless at ordinary public houses.

“Yes, of course, I didn’t mean to-may I recommend a lodging house where you will be most happy with the food and bed?”

“You may recommend three,” said Rigg, “and we will think kindly of you when we make our choice.”

Cooper now moved, not with the ponderous whispered dignity he had shown at first, but with alacrity bordering on eagerness. He rushed to a shelf, took down a book and a box of paper, then rushed back to get a pen and inkbottle, and sat in the chair to write. Meanwhile, Rigg returned to his pack, took out Father’s letter to the bankers that Nox had given him, and brought it to lay in front of Cooper so he could spell Rigg’s legal name correctly.

Rigg did not watch him after that, but instead wandered the room, looking at the shelves to see what kinds of books the man kept about him. Many books had no lettering on the spines, but only numerals that corresponded with months and years-account books all. The others, the ones with titles on them, were in so many different languages that Rigg suspected that Cooper had bought them for the fine, aged bindings, and had no notion what was inside. Either that or he was a consummate linguist with a dozen languages at his command.

Which led Rigg to realize that Father was such a linguist, and in teaching Rigg to read and speak four languages besides his native tongue, and make sense of several others on the page, and know the history of the speakers of the tongue, and why their writings were of worth, he had made such a linguist of Rigg as well. He had often complained that all these languages were useless, and Father had only said, “A man who speaks but one language understands none.”

“Your commission, Mr. Cooper,” said Rigg, not turning back to look at Mr. Cooper. “I think under the circumstances, I will raise the normal half-percent to three-quarters, to be taken immediately upon the sale.”

Mr. Cooper said nothing, merely continued scratching with his pen, and Rigg was quite sure he had intended some absurd commission like three percent or even higher. When Rigg returned to the table, he saw that on the contract of agency, Cooper had crossed out “one-half of one percent” and replaced it with “three-quarters of one percent” in the space above it. Whether he had really written the regular commission before Rigg spoke, or wrote it afterward and then crossed it out to give a false impression, he would learn from Loaf soon enough, for Loaf was watching everything Cooper did.

Rigg and Cooper both signed the relevant documents: the agency contract, which would tell a jeweler that Cooper was authorized to enter into a contract and receive the funds for the sale of the gem; and the note of receipt, affirming that the house of Cooper had possession of an item of value not less than one purse, belonging to Rigg Sessamekesh, the son of Mr. W.M. of High Stashi.

His own full name still seemed like something foreign to Rigg. But he wrote it out carefully and clearly. It was his signature now.

Since a purse was worth 210,000 fens at the official rate in Aressa Sessamo, and even more upriver, there would be no trouble getting lodging-in the mayor’s own house, perhaps, if Rigg were impudent enough to introduce himself and ask the favor.

To Loaf, the word “purse” had some meaning, as a vast amount that only the rich would ever see; to Umbo, it was not a coin at all, but rather a bag you kept money in. Rigg, however, had been trained to convert purses, spills, glimmers, counts, and lights as readily as ordinary people could figure kingfaces, queenfaces, jackfaces, and pigfaces-or fens, shebs, pings, and lucks, as Rigg had learned they were called downriver. Rigg knew that for a purse, a man living upriver could buy an estate with a fine house and land enough to feed three hundred souls. The income from such an estate would support a household with a dozen servants, as well as horses to draw a fine carriage. A family could remain wealthy forever from such a place, if they didn’t divide the lands.

And that was what a single purse was worth, if anyone had ever minted such a coin; Father said that sums that large would exist only as abstractions in the records of banks and the treasury, or as writing on notes of value.

One thing was certain: Father did not acquire these gems by being frugal with the money from the pelts they sold.

Rigg remembered spilling his money on the counter at Loaf’s tavern, and wondered what Mr. Cooper would think if Rigg showed him the other gems and asked what he thought the aggregate was worth. But of course he would not do it; Rigg doubted that any jeweler in town would have the means of buying even the single gem for ready money. Instead, they would give Cooper something on deposit, the rest to be paid when they sold it to a jeweler in Aressa Sessamo.

But the contract with the jeweler would be enough for Cooper to advance Rigg any amount of ready money he might reasonably ask for-perhaps a pair of glimmers. It would be too much to ask for a banker in O to give him a spill, and where would he spend it? The rest of the value would be marked on a letter of credit that Rigg would take to the bankers in Aressa Sessamo. There Rigg would divide his funds among several reputable banks, and appoint bonded agents to buy and manage lands and businesses for him.

He had learned all this as a series of intellectual problems; the thought of actually doing it, with real cost to him if he did it badly or someone cheated him, was daunting. Is this how I am to spend my life? Looking after managers and bankers, checking on them to make sure they stay reasonably honest, deciding other men’s futures by my whim of what to buy and when to sell? It’s the forest that I love, not rooms like Mr. Cooper’s lair, however bright it is with windows.

When all was copied, all copies signed, the papers folded, and the light-blue jewel placed in a little box, Mr. Cooper looked almost radiant. Rigg suspected that at a stroke, this gem would triple-at least-the assets of the Cooper bank. Most of the funds would soon enough be passed along to banks in Aressa Sessamo, but every hand that touched the money or the jewel would make a good profit, and Mr. Cooper would rise in the estimation of everyone doing business in O, for the tale of it would spread. Cooper himself would see to that, and the jewelers would be his witnesses.

“I don’t mean to hasten you on your way,” Mr. Cooper said, “but I must be off to get the bids from the jewelers, and to do that I will close the bank and take my guard, Beck Brewer, with me through the streets.”

“Is that unusual?” asked Loaf, ever careful. “Will that alert people that you have something worth stealing?”

“It’s prudent of you to ask,” said Mr. Cooper. “But I always take him with me when I’m out during the day, and everyone knows I take no money with me when I leave the bank for the day, or come in the morning. It will be safe enough-at least until one jeweler blabs.” Then Cooper’s face reddened a little, because “blabs” was not a word a man of his dignity should have used.

Well, no matter, Mr. Cooper, thought Rigg. We’re all posers here.

Within the hour, they were settled into a vast suite of rooms in the first lodging Cooper had recommended to them. “Aren’t we going to check the other two?” asked Umbo.

“This one’s good enough, and I need a bath,” said Loaf. Then he waved the servants away and they were alone.

“I asked for three recommendations,” said Rigg, “so that Mr. Cooper would know we didn’t intend to let him steer us to a place where he had an arrangement with the hotelier for a percentage of whatever we spend.”

“People do that?” asked Umbo.

Loaf chuckled. “He probably has an arrangement with all three of these. And spies watching what we do, as well. He struck me as a careful man.”

“But I had to keep up appearances,” said Rigg.

“Appearances,” snorted Loaf. “Where did you learn to talk like that? You spoke high enough with me and Leaky that I thought you were putting on airs, but never like how you talked to Mr. Cooper!”

“I thought he’d wet his pants,” murmured Umbo.

“I used an educated accent with you and Leaky, because people downriver were having trouble understanding the way we talk in Fall Ford,” said Rigg. “But Mr. Cooper needed more than an accent. He needed to hear a lordly dialect and the attitude to go with it. Would talking rich have worked on you?” Rigg asked Loaf. “Or on Leaky?”

“Not a bit on me, and less on her.”

“So to you I talked like a boy of some education, but still one who grew up in a smallish town upriver. Father always said, If you talk like someone used to being obeyed, people will obey you. But if you talk like someone who fears being disobeyed, they will despise you.”

“What else did he say?” asked Umbo. “He never taught me that.”

There was no use trying to explain to Umbo how Father spent all day every day teaching and testing Rigg about things that Rigg thought he’d never use in his life. “I wish in all his saying he had given me a hint of where he found a jewel as valuable as that.”

“Nineteen of them,” said Loaf. “I think you carry in your crotch most of the wealth of this wallfold.” Then he laughed. “But that’s how all young men feel, isn’t it!”

Three baths and a dinner later, they were all napping on soft beds in their own rooms when a soft rap came at the door. Loaf got up and answered it. Rigg assumed it would be a summons from the banker, but it wasn’t-it was the banker himself. Loaf ushered him into the parlor of the suite and soon enough they had the tale.

“All three jewelers said the same, my lord,” said Mr. Cooper to Rigg. “This is every bit the gem I thought it was, but alas, it is more, too much more. This is a famous jewel, recognizable by particular marks which each of them identified with no prompting from me. I was told by one that it was the centerpiece of an ancient crown of a royal family from far northwest, in a kingdom whose name I had never heard of. It was won as a prize in battle by a great general, a hero. I thought the man was a mere legend, not real, but the jewelers believed in him. The story is that he struck the jewel from the crown-hence the mark-and bestowed it as a gift upon his great friend, the hero Wallwatcher, who walked the borders of the world, they say. However the skyblue gem of Wallwatcher might have come into your father’s hands, it is that very jewel, they’re sure of it. The value is so far beyond a purse that none of them will buy it, because they know of no one they could sell it to.”

Rigg felt a stab of fear when Mr. Cooper made his veiled reference to how Father might have got possession of the jewel. Might he declare that the jewel was stolen? No-if that were so, the People’s Revolutionary Council would confiscate it, and Mr. Cooper wouldn’t get a pigface. No, Mr. Cooper was merely explaining that he did not know how to sell it. Rigg calmed himself and began planning how to get around the problem.

Meanwhile, Loaf asked, “How far beyond a purse?”

“Without a buyer, who can say? A pounce at least. But who in this People’s Republic has wealth enough to buy it, or would admit it if they did, knowing it would just be taken from him?”

“Why is this a problem?” asked Rigg. “The jewel merely has to be sold privately, to someone who would value it without declaring to any other what he had.”

“But the price would be drastically discounted. Instead of fifty purses, no more than five, and in all likelihood less than that. Perhaps only two.”

“What about a consortium?” asked Rigg. “Would the three of them together undertake the purchase and the sale?”

“They might, if I suggested it. Perhaps a partnership among the three, with me as well.”

“Thereby converting your commission into a share of profit?”

“Unless your lordship disapproves,” said Mr. Cooper.

“I’m not a lord-or at least if my father was, he never told me so. Please call me Master Rigg and nothing more.”

“Of course, sir,” said Cooper.

“I see we’ll have to stay here longer than I intended. But I expect you to make this happen as I have described. I imagine that a jeweler in Aressa Sessamo will secretly sell the stone for a bargain price of three purses to a private party, and pass along two-and-a-half purses to this partnership you speak of, and you will credit me with two purses, telling me that you’re each making only a spill apiece.” Rigg said it with a smile, and shook his head at Mr. Cooper’s protests. “I have no quarrel with everyone’s taking a profit that makes their fortune, Mr. Cooper,” Rigg replied.

“I can hardly agree to this no matter how much I might make,” said Cooper. “The jewel is beyond price.”

“And yet I must have a price for it.”

“Even if it all works as you predict, Master Rigg, you will be getting only one twenty-fifth the true value of the stone.”

“My father certainly knew it would be hard to sell when he passed it on to me. If he had valued it more highly than the price the thing will fetch, he would have taken it with him.”

They all looked at him in shock and consternation.

“I was making the joke my father would have made. He could not take the jewel, so he left it to me. I cannot use the jewel for anything but money, and I need that money. So this precious ancient artifact will bring its money value, not the value of its fame. Meanwhile, I’ll have to wonder how the hero’s prize found its way into my hands, for my father cannot tell me now. Get busy, Mr. Cooper, and make this happen as quickly as you can. Here’s your incentive for speed: You will pay our lodging costs out of your personal profit from the sale, and not from mine.”

Cooper smiled. “I was already going to propose that.”

“I thought you didn’t like that three-quarter percent,” said Rigg, still smiling.

“You were generous to a fault, by normal practice, sir,” said Cooper. “It was yourself proposed the consortium, and I saw no reason that the jewelers should make a fortune, while I made do with my three-quarters of a point-which would have been a lovely sum, if I hadn’t known of others profiting much more.”

“I know of profit, too,” said Rigg, “and I begrudge you none of it. I only ask that these terms be kept as secret as the buyer’s name, so I don’t get a reputation for gullibility. And be sure of this: I will find out, in due time, what the private buyer paid, and if my portion is less than two-thirds of the amount, I’ll be back to see you, and if all I bring are lawyers, you’ll be fortunate.”

Rigg said it all so cheerfully that one might almost miss the fact that it was a threat of bloody retribution. Cooper responded just as happily, but he missed no part of the threat.

After he left, Rigg turned to Loaf at once and said, “Your fee, too, will be higher.”

“My fee will be what we agreed on,” said Loaf.

“If I had known what these jewels were worth, I would never have agreed to pay you so little.”

“And if I had known what the one jewel was worth, I would never have agreed to take you here at all,” said Loaf. “I know now that I was out of my depth before you ever showed Mr. Cooper the stone. This is all too high for me. The fee we agreed on was fair, and it’s still fair today.”

Rigg made no further protest, for he was reasonably sure that when they eventually discussed this with Leaky, she would agree instantly that a much higher fee would not impoverish Rigg-and was justified by the greater risk Loaf had incurred without knowing it. Why argue with Loaf now, when Leaky could do the arguing with him later?

In the end it took nearly two weeks for the consortium to be formed. Meanwhile Rigg, Umbo, and Loaf became more familiar with the taverns, restaurants, galleries, shops, parks, bookstalls, libraries, and other recreations of O than any of them had wished. But the wait seemed worth it when the sale was made for more than Rigg’s rough estimate, for his portion was three purses for himself.

On the last day, Rigg came from Mr. Cooper’s bank with a glimmer and twelve lights, one of which Rigg had asked him to convert on the spot into 120 fens-the rate of exchange in O between the River coinage and the People’s coin.

He also had two documents, signed by witnesses. One was a letter of credit for two purses, which Rigg would put on deposit in a bank or banks in Aressa Sessamo, whereupon the funds would be transferred-probably without ever actually passing through O or Cooper’s bank at all.

The other document was a certificate of deposit for one purse at three percent, secured against all of Mr. Cooper’s personal assets, which were partly enumerated. In effect, Rigg had bought the bank and leased it back to Cooper at an annual rate of return of three percent; if he demanded any portion of it back and Cooper could not (or declined to) pay, this document gave Rigg the right, without court action, to seize by force any and all of Mr. Cooper’s possessions.

Trust between friends was a good thing in business, but nice tight legal documents helped keep the friendship true despite long absence or far distance.

And in Rigg’s mind, as surely it was also in Loaf’s and Umbo’s, was the knowledge that he still kept tied to a ribbon around his waist another eighteen gems of whatever value they might be. They could not all be famous relics of the ancient past. Rigg might have chosen, by random chance, the only gemstone in the bag with a value greater than a spill or two. But even that would be enough to buy every stick of property in Fall Ford without even noticing the expenditure. It was wealth beyond their ability to calculate. If Rigg wanted to spend it all he wouldn’t know where to begin; he thought he could spend a fortune every day for his whole life without exhausting it.

Then again, his definition of “a fortune” had just undergone a change, and he was sure that if he really put his mind to it, he could probably waste it all. That’s what Father said: “There is no rich man so unfortunate as to lack for friends who are eager to spend his money for him.”

But so far, at least, Loaf and Umbo were not that kind of friend. The money frightened them. They still joked with him, yes, and they laughed together; but they also kept apart from him at odd times, and seemed surprised and even grateful when he paid ordinary attention to them.

Talking about this change in them would only make it worse, because they’d feel he was judging them now and finding them wanting; it would make them more awkward, more eager to please.

All Rigg could do was be himself and never speak to them in the way he had spoken to Mr. Cooper and the jewelers and the lawyers he had worked with to make the deal come through.

Truth be told, Rigg had come to enjoy his pose as a man of wealth and power, and to watch these men treat a thirteen-year-old boy with ridiculous deference. It occurred to him that if he really was of royal blood, as Nox had said, and if that still meant something under the People’s government, he would probably have grown up thinking he deserved the treatment he was getting.

But he knew-had Father not warned him?-that he must never value himself for the money he owned. “It can all be swept away,” said Father. “Money only retains the value that society places on it. Many a man has thought he was wealthy, only to discover that in the collapse of his nation or the inflation of the currency, his money was now tinscrap, and himself a beggar.”

Since that very thing had happened to thousands of noble families after the People’s Revolution, Rigg took the lesson to heart. Money is a thing separate from a man, Rigg knew. “I wasn’t born with it, I won’t have it when I die, it’s all temporary.”

Yet even as he told this to himself, he felt the warm glow of knowing that he would never have to worry about money again. That separated him from most people in the world. It was impossible to have wealth like this and remain unchanged, and he knew it. He could only try to make sure the changes were neither too extreme nor all to the worse.

CHAPTER 8

The Tower Ram thought about it sitting, standing, walking, lying down. He thought about it with eyes closed and open, playing computer games and reading books and watching films and doing nothing at all.

Finally he thought of a question that might lead to a useful bit of information. “The light of stars behind us-blue or red shifted?”

“By ‘behind us,’ do you mean in the spatial position we occupied moments ago? Or in the direction of the stern of this vessel?”

“Stern of the vessel,” said Ram. “Earthward.”

“Red shift.”

“If we were moving toward Earth, it should be blue-shifted.”

“This is an anomaly,” said the expendable. “We are closer to Earth with the passage of each moment, and yet the shift is red. The computers are having a very hard time coping with the contradictory data.”

“Compare the degree of red shift with the red shift when we were in the same position on our way to the fold.”

The expendable didn’t even pause. It was a simple data lookup, and to a human mind it seemed to take no time at all.

“The red shift is identical to what was recorded on the outbound voyage.”

“Then we are simply repeating the outbound voyage,” said Ram. “The ship is moving forward, as propelled by the drive. But we, inside the ship, are moving backward in time.”

“Then why are we not observing ourselves as we were two days ago on the outbound voyage?” asked the expendable.

“Because that version of ourselves is not moving through time in the same direction as we are,” said Ram.

“You say this as if it made sense.”

“If I started crying and screaming, you’d stop taking me seriously.”

“I’m already not taking you seriously,” said the expendable. “My programming requires that I keep your most recent statements in the pending folder, because they cannot be reconciled with the data.”

“It’s really quite elegant,” said Ram. “The ship is the same ship. Everything about it that does not need to change remains exactly as it was on the outbound voyage. It occupies the same space and the same time. But the flow of electrical data and instructions through the computers and your robot brain and my human one, and our physical motions through space, are not the same, because our causality is moving in a different direction. We are moving through the same space as our earlier selves, but we are not on the same timestream, and therefore we are invisible to each other.”

“This is an impossible explanation,” said the expendable.

“Come up with a better one, then.”

This time the expendable waited a long time. He remained completely still while Ram deliberately and without hunger pushed food into his mouth and chewed it and swallowed it.

“I do not have a better explanation,” said the expendable. “I can only reason from information that has already been reasoned from successfully.”

“Then I suppose that’s why you needed a human being to be awake after the jump,” said Ram.

“Ram,” said the expendable. “What will happen to us when this ship reaches Earth?”

“At some point,” said Ram, “either the two versions of the ship will separate and probably explode, or we will separate from the ship and die in the cold of space, or we will simply reach Earth and continue to live backward until I die of old age.”

“But I am designed to last forever,” said the expendable, “if not interfered with.”

“Isn’t that nice? Expendable yet eternal. You’ll be able to go back and observe any part of human history that you wish. Watch the pyramids being unbuilt. See the ice ages go and come in reverse. Watch the de-extinction of the dinosaurs as a meteor leaps out of the Gulf of Mexico.”

“I will have no useful task. I will not be able to help the human race in any way. My existence will have no meaning after you are dead.”

“Now you know how humans feel all the time.” • • • They were at the docks, all their new clothes packed and the trunks ready to be loaded onto a much better grade of boat, when Rigg looked back at the city of O. From here, he could barely see the tops of the white stone buildings over the ramble of houses and warehouses near the wharf. But he remembered what he would see again as the boat pulled farther and farther from O.

“We’d be fools, wouldn’t we,” said Rigg, “if we spent these weeks in O and never visited the tower.”

“That’s what I thought,” said Loaf. “But you were determined to go as soon as the money came in.”

Rigg wanted to say: Then why didn’t you advise me to see it? But then he remembered two things: First, Loaf had said, in a hinty kind of way, things like, “All these pilgrims heading for the tower-what do they care for the city?” and “People live here in O all their lives and never visit the tower.” This was not at all the forceful way Loaf used to give advice, so Rigg didn’t hear it as counsel, he heard it as mockery of the pilgrims and the locals.

And second, this was exactly the kind of change that Rigg dared not criticize for fear of making it worse. Loaf was treating him now the way he treated wealthy customers who by some bit of ill-fortune were reduced to stopping at his tavern. Deference bordering on cringing was the order of the day-Rigg saw it in the people who served him in his lodging house, and he saw it in Loaf as well, a side of him that had never surfaced before, not even when he and Leaky found the jewels.

They had known they were worth a lot of money, but had not been able to conceive how much; nor had they really believed that Rigg was capable of holding on to his wealth. Hadn’t Loaf come along precisely so Rigg would not be cheated? He had said more than once, “Looks like I wasn’t needed after all, you handled them just fine,” and each time Rigg would reassure him that without Loaf there, no one would have taken Rigg seriously at all-he would have lost everything as soon as someone reached out to take it. “I’m not a fighter, Loaf-you are. So they’d look at you, and then they had to listen to me.”

But Loaf only believed it for a moment, if at all. He was in awe of the negotiating skill Rigg had shown. “You sounded like an officer,” he had said.

Well, if sergeants gave such limp, irresolute advice to their officers, it’s a wonder anybody ever won a battle!

So Rigg made no argument with Loaf’s mild I-told-you-so. “You did say it was worth seeing, didn’t you,” said Rigg. “Well, let’s see it now.”

It took only a wave of the hand to have a coachman bowing to Loaf, who was still as forceful as ever when dealing with people he regarded as his equal or lower. In a minute Rigg, Umbo, and Loaf were inside a coach, their luggage left in the care of the boat’s captain.

It took two hours to get to the Tower of O-one hour to get through a mile of maze-like streets leading to the nearest city gate, and the second hour to go the five miles along the road to reach the base of the tower. The road they took was really the cleared area outside the city wall, intended to force an enemy to come uphill, fully exposed to projectiles from the defenders of the city, so they stayed so close to the wall that they could not see the tower at all until suddenly they rounded a bend and there it was, looming over them, looking as tall as Upsheer Cliff.

“But it’s not as tall,” said Umbo, when Rigg said so. “We’re two miles away, and the cliffs don’t look like that until you’re five miles back.”

“It’s the tallest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Loaf.

“You need to come upriver more,” said Umbo. “Become a true privick.”

“The ambition of my life,” said Loaf.

The stream of pilgrims coming and going made it impossible to bring the coach as close as they might have wished. “Just as well,” said Loaf. “You need to let me and Umbo go ahead and make our offering for three people, or the keepers of the tower will get one look at you and triple the price. Or more.”

“Then I’ll pay the coachman-I’ll pay him enough to wait for us. How long does it take in there?”

“Never long enough,” said Loaf.

“Enough for what?”

“To see it all, or understand what you’re seeing,” said Loaf.

Loaf and Umbo alit from the carriage-that is, Loaf stepped and Umbo fairly leapt from it and ran on ahead. Rigg talked to the coachman, who kept saying, “I’ll be here waiting, young master, see if I’m not,” and Rigg kept saying, “But let’s agree on a price or you’ll think I cheated you,” not adding “or vice versa,” and the coachman would reply, “Oh, young master is generous, I seed that right away, I trust in young master’s generosity,” which was enough to make Rigg crazy. He looked over and in the near distance saw Loaf and Umbo talking to one of the extravagantly uniformed tower guards, and wondered if they were having half the trouble he was having getting a price set.

As he stood there, gazing at his friends, he heard a voice at his side. Umbo’s voice. And he was speaking so rapidly that Rigg couldn’t understand him.

Rigg turned to face him, then glanced back at where he could see Umbo right beside Loaf. The two Umbos were dressed differently, and the Umbo standing beside him looked distressed, frightened, and deadly serious. Rigg knew at once what was happening. Somehow a future version of Umbo had managed to learn the trick of following a path back in time-Rigg’s own path. And he had done it in order to warn him of something.

Umbo slowed down-Rigg could see that he was mouthing the words with difficulty, and yet they came so rapidly that Rigg could still only just barely understand him.

“Give the jewels to Loaf to hide them at once.”

Rigg nodded to show he understood. He could see Umbo sag with relief-and in that moment he disappeared.

Rigg walked around to where the coachman was watering the horses. “I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “There are plenty of coaches here, I can see, so let me pay you for bringing us here and then if we happen to meet for the road back to the dock, so much the better. But meanwhile you’re free to take another fare.”

The man named a price for the one journey, looking vastly disappointed. Rigg knew the fare was much too high, but he doubled it and paid the man, who bowed and fawned and made himself so obnoxious with gratitude that Rigg was glad to turn and jog away from him, trotting toward the others.

They came to him at a walk, and Loaf brandished a pass for three visitors for the whole day. Rigg thanked him, but then drew them away from the tower.

“Where are we going?” asked Umbo.

“We’ll go to the tower soon enough,” said Rigg. “But something must happen first.”

“What?” asked Loaf.

“I’ll tell you where we can’t be overheard by half the pilgrims here.”

They headed for the men’s latrines but then passed them by. Not until they had found a secluded place behind the latrine wall did Rigg stop and, facing the wall, draw the small bag of jewels out of his trousers.

“What are you doing?” whispered Loaf harshly. “Get that back in your pants.”

“No sir,” said Rigg. “I’m giving it to you for safekeeping.”

“Why? A pickpocket’s as likely to get it from me as from you.”

“Quieter,” said Rigg. “I had a warning.”

“Who from?” asked Umbo.

“You,” said Rigg.

Umbo blanched, then looked at Loaf and back again. He seemed nervous. “I’ve been with Loaf the whole time, I didn’t say a word to you.”

“The warning came from you-you in the future. You were very upset. You told me to give the jewels to Loaf, and he should hide them at once.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Loaf. “How could Umbo warn you about anything when he doesn’t know what you’re talking about?”

“He knows all right,” said Rigg. “He’ll explain it to you later. For right now, Loaf, take this bag and hide it-someplace where it will be safe for a few days or a few weeks or a year. I don’t know how far in the future Umbo had gotten before he was able to come back and warn me.”

“I suppose this means I actually learn how to do it,” said Umbo. “Since it was me who came, and not you.”

“If I’m understanding you aright,” said Loaf, “then you’ve lost your mind.”

“Take it on faith for now,” said Rigg. “If I can trust you with wealth like this, you can trust me and Umbo not to be insane.”

“I don’t think the two things have anything to do with each other,” said Loaf, but still he took the little bag in his massive hand. “I’ll hide it all right, but if someone sees me do it or finds it by chance, it’s on your head, not mine.”

“Exactly,” said Rigg. “And to be safe, don’t tell Umbo or me where you hid it. I don’t know what the danger is, but there must be an excellent reason for me not to have the jewels, and it seems to me that it’s best if I also don’t know where they are. I think Umbo will be safer, too, if only you know.”

“So if I die, they’re lost forever,” said Loaf.

“I already have wealth beyond my wildest dreams,” said Rigg.

“Just like a child… easy come, easy go.” But Loaf turned away and walked into the park-like woods that surrounded the tower grounds, while Rigg and Umbo started off toward the trail of pilgrims headed back to the tower from the latrines.

“We might as well go, as long as we’re here,” said Umbo.

“Who knows when we’ll get a chance again? Something’s going to go seriously wrong or you wouldn’t have come back to warn me, and it’s probably going to be soon or you wouldn’t have warned me right when you did.”

“Maybe that was the only time I could find you.”

“Who knows?” said Rigg. “I don’t like knowing that something’s going to go wrong. Here I spent the past couple of weeks thinking I was handling things rather well.”

“But things going wrong, that’s the usual, isn’t it?” said Umbo. “My brother died. Your father died. Whatever happens next can’t be as bad as that.”

“Unless I get killed,” said Rigg. “Falling out of the boat into the water and I drown and so you had me give the jewels to Loaf so-”

“I’d tell you not to drown,” said Umbo, “and if I wanted to steal the jewels, I’d tell you to give them to me.”

“So you’ve already thought about this?” asked Rigg.

“Just keep peeing,” said Umbo.

By the time they were through, Loaf was back.

Umbo asked, “Where did you go?”

“Shut up,” replied Loaf. “What now? What’s this all about?”

“Rigg and I decided that whatever it is, it’s probably not the worst thing in the world. I mean, we know that you and I are still alive, whatever happens to Rigg.”

“I thought I told you to shut up,” said Loaf, sounding more like he meant it now.

They showed their three-person pass to a different set of guards from the ones Loaf had talked to before, so they wouldn’t see Rigg’s rich-boy clothing and decide they had been defrauded of their rightful bribe. Then they joined the throng of pilgrims going in.

Though the outside was metal, inside the structure was massive stone, with a long narrow ramp climbing in a spiral up the inside walls. There wasn’t a window in the place, and yet it was brightly lighted by magical globes hanging in the air.

“This ramp is steep,” said Loaf.

“You’re getting old,” said Umbo. “I could run all the way up.”

“Do it then,” said Loaf.

“No,” said Rigg. “The ramp is narrow, and all it takes is one pilgrim getting irritated and giving you a shove.”

“But I can’t die,” said Umbo. “Because I’m alive in the future to come back and warn you to do whatever.”

“Maybe you came back from the dead,” said Rigg.

“Come on, that’s impossible,” said Umbo.

“Coming back from the future is impossible, too,” said Loaf. “If you can explain one, you can explain the other.”

Rigg wasn’t at all sure he could explain anything, at least not well enough to be sure Loaf would believe it. After all the years Father had pressed on him the importance of telling no one, he had no practice in explaining anything to anyone. Nox already knew, and Umbo had a gift of his own. Yet to tell Loaf less than everything now was to make it plain that he was not trusted. That would make him resentful-and therefore less trustworthy. If future-Umbo thought it was safe to trust Loaf with the jewels, it seemed pointless not to include him in the secret of their shared power to reach backward in time.

All the other pilgrims on the ramp ahead and behind them were engaged in their own conversations. Keeping their voices at a normal volume, Rigg and Umbo told him about their abilities, and what they were able to do together. Between Loaf’s questions and Rigg and Umbo correcting each other, it soon was clear enough.

“You still have that knife?” asked Loaf. “It didn’t disappear or anything, did it?”

“In my luggage,” said Rigg.

“Well, not actually,” said Umbo.

Rigg sighed. “What, future-you came back in time to tell you to take it and put it in your own luggage?”

“Loaf’s luggage, actually,” said Umbo.

“I was joking,” said Rigg. “Are you telling me you already knew that some future version of you was paying social calls on us?”

“He-I-woke me up this morning and told me to do it and then disappeared before I could ask any questions. I think me-in-the-future isn’t very good at it and a few seconds were all I could manage. Anyway, I didn’t tell you because why would you believe that I wasn’t just stealing it? Then you got your warning and it seemed way more important than mine. I mean, that’s a fortune in jewels, and you gave it right to Loaf.”

“And if he had told you he took your knife, would you have trusted him when he told you to give me the jewels?” asked Loaf.

“Yes,” said Rigg. “Probably.” He thought a little more. “Maybe not.”

“I think he handled it right,” said Loaf. “Unless he is stealing stuff, but then why would he have you give the jewels to me, and put the knife in my luggage? No, I think whatever happens will make it so I’m the only one who doesn’t lose all my stuff.”

“What could make us lose our stuff?” asked Rigg.

“If the boat sinks,” said Umbo, “Loaf would lose his stuff, too.”

“If the boat sinks we all drown,” said Loaf.

“I can swim,” said Umbo. “So can Rigg. Like fish. Can’t you?”

“I’m a soldier. I was always wearing armor, I would have sunk right to the bottom. And since then why would I learn to swim?”

“It’s a useful skill,” said Umbo. “Especially for people who live by the river and might get tossed in by rivermen.”

“Most rivermen can’t swim either,” said Loaf.

“You still haven’t answered,” said Rigg. “Can you swim?”

“The idea is to stay in the boat,” said Loaf.

“Try again,” said Rigg.

“If you never admit you can swim,” said Loaf, “people think they can kill you by throwing you in the water.”

“Look,” said Umbo.

They had finally climbed up just higher than the balls of light and now the glare no longer prevented them from seeing the upper half of the tower. They could see that the stone ended not far above them, with a wide porch that ran all the way around the inside of the tower. It was crowded with pilgrims.

“Keep moving,” said a gruff man behind them. They walked on.

But glances upward told Rigg that from the platform ring, more than a dozen stone pillars rose to form vertical ribs that supported the metal walls. He remembered observing outside the Tower of O that from about the middle, the metal shell tapered in. So he was not surprised that the stone pillars leaned inward, right up against the metal, until the pillars were joined together by a metal-and-stone ring high above them. Beyond that, the metal formed a simple dome with no stone supporting it at all.

It was a marvel of engineering and design, making the stone support its own weight, and then the weight of the metal. It occurred to Rigg that the metal must be very, very thin, or it would be too heavy for the stone to support.

They got to the platform and moved far from the upward ramp. The beginning of the downward ramp was on the opposite side, and between them, hanging in the air, was an enormous ball. The globes from below and fewer globes from above lighted the entire surface of it. Now, though, they could see that wires from the top ring supported the globes of light, and probably there was some wire arrangement supporting the bigger ball.

The surface was painted in a way that Rigg did not understand. It didn’t seem to be a picture of anything, and the colors were drab and ugly and didn’t go together. There were brighter yellow lines making divisions on the largest areas of green and brown, and those seemed to shine. But the pattern of them made no sense. Perhaps a honeycomb made by drunken bees? “There’s the world,” said Umbo. “It’s a picture of the world right there.”

Umbo was pointing to a particular place on the surface of the big globe. “See? That spot of red, that’s where Aressa Sessamo is. And that white spot, that’s O. The blue line is the Stashik River. So Fall Ford would be a little lower down.”

“Then the yellow lines are the Wall,” said Loaf. “I’ve patrolled the Wall, and that looks about right. But what’s the rest of it?”

“The whole world,” said Rigg, understanding it now. “It’s a globe, round in every direction, just like this.”

“Everybody knows that,” said Loaf. “Even the most ignorant privicks.”

“That’s crazy!” said Umbo, in mock dismay. “We’d all fall off!”

Rigg made a joke of explaining it to him, as if to a little boy. “No, no, little Umbo, the center of the world pulls on us, holding us to the surface. ‘Down’ is really toward the center.”

“This map of the globe is impossible,” said Loaf. “Nobody knows what’s outside the Wall. No one in the whole history of the human race has passed through it to see.”

“But you can see through it, right?” said Rigg.

“Not far enough to know things as distant as this map shows. Not just the neighboring wallfolds, but all of them. If it’s a map.”

“It’s a map,” said Umbo. “Come on, it can’t just be random chance that they show the course of the river and O is a white dot and the capital is a red dot.”

“And we can’t be the first to figure it out if it is,” said Rigg. “Why haven’t we heard about this?”

“Well, we have,” said Loaf. “I have, I mean. Why do you think the pilgrims say, ‘The Tower of O lets you see the whole world’?”

“I thought they meant you could see really far from the top of it,” said Umbo.

“But they also say, ‘All of the world is inside the tower,’” said Loaf.

“I thought that was mystical booshwa,” said Rigg. “Or maybe just talking about how many pilgrims come here.”

“It’s weird to think of the world that way. Very disturbing. I mean, the world is the land inside the Wall-that’s what the word means. How can there be more of the world than the whole world itself? How could anybody know what’s outside the world?”

Rigg had been counting. “There are nineteen of them-nineteen lands surrounded by yellow lines. And quite a bit of land that isn’t inside any of the yellow lines.”

“So there are nineteen worlds on this same globe?” asked Loaf. “Is that what the Tower of O is saying?”

“No wonder people don’t talk about it after coming here,” said Umbo. “It’s just too crazy. Even if they think of it this way-and Rigg’s father was no fool and no liar, either, so if he says that we live on the surface of a ball, it’s probably true. Somehow. Even if they think of this as a map of nineteen worlds on the face of a globe, who’s going to believe them? People would think they were crazy.”

“I think you’re crazy,” said Loaf. “Except the map of the world-of our world-is accurate enough. The military keeps maps like that-all the world inside the walls, all the roads and towns. It’s illegal for anyone else to make them, though. So I wonder how you knew it was a map, Umbo.”

“Our schoolteacher showed us a map. Smaller than this, but it had the river on it, and Aressa Sessamo at the mouth of it, and the big bay. And the line of the Wall.”

“It was against the law for the schoolteacher to have a map like that,” said Loaf.

“Oh, he drew it himself, I think. On a slab of wood. With chalk. And… then he went away.”

“How long after he showed you that map?” asked Loaf.

“I don’t know. After. He only showed it to us the once.”

Rigg had been scanning the walls while he listened. “There are nineteen pillars of stone holding up the walls. Nineteen ribs to the tower. A map with nineteen lands surrounded by walls. Nineteen isn’t a convenient number to work with mathematically. To divide the circle of the tower by nineteen-that’s just crazy, unless they were doing it to have the same number as the number of lands.”

“Do you think if these really are other wallfolds,” said Umbo, “there might be people in them?”

“There are red dots and white dots and blue dots in all of them,” said Rigg.

“Boys,” said Loaf, “you have no idea how illegal this conversation is.”

“You’ve been to the Wall,” said Rigg. “Were there people on the other side?”

“Nobody goes right up to the Wall,” said Loaf. “The closer you get, the more fearful and sad and desperate you get. You have to get away. You’d go crazy if you didn’t. Nobody gets close. Even animals stay away-on both sides.”

“So you only saw it from a distance?” asked Rigg.

“We patrol the edge, because that’s where a lot of criminals and traitors and rebels like to go-close enough to the Wall that other people stay away, but not so close they actually go crazy. In a way, it’s a fitting punishment for them, living with the dread and grief and despair. But it was our job to go into the zone of pain and force them out. So they wouldn’t keep coming out and foraging or raiding or recruiting.”

“If it’s the same way on the other side,” said Rigg, “then even if there are people there, they won’t come any nearer the Wall than you did. So they wouldn’t see anybody on our side and we wouldn’t see anybody on theirs.”

Loaf drew them closer, his hands tight on their shoulders. “You’ve been talking way too loud. Now I think I know why your future self came back to warn us.”

“No,” said Umbo. “If we got arrested for talking, I would have told myself and Rigg to just shut up.”

“Well, I’m telling you to do that,” said Loaf. “Your teacher probably came here and thought about what he saw and memorized the map as best he could. I’m betting that’s what happened. Because any soldier-well, any sergeant or higher officer-might recognize this map for what it is, if he happened to come to this side of the sphere. And then he might memorize it. But soldiers would know to keep their mouths shut. And never, ever to draw an unauthorized copy.”

“Why not?” asked Umbo.

“Because,” said Rigg, putting things together the way Father had taught him, “the army doesn’t want any of its enemies to have an accurate map of the world.”

“Exactly,” said Loaf. “Now let’s get out of here before somebody notices us lingering so long looking at the globe.”

But Rigg would not leave, not yet. He looked at the maps of the other eighteen wallfolds and tried to imagine the cities. In one, the wallfold just to the north of the one they lived in, the cities were out on the blue part, even though the blue had to be the ocean and the rivers that feed into it. The blue covered more of the globe than Rigg had imagined possible, though Father had told him there was more ocean than land in the world. It never crossed his mind to wonder how Father could know such a thing. Father knew everything, Rigg took that for granted, but now he had to ask himself, how could Father have known how much ocean there was in the world, when you couldn’t get through the Wall?

Father has been through the Wall.

No, thought Rigg. Father merely came here to the Tower of O and reached the same conclusion we did.

But someone must have been through the Wall, or this map could never have been made.

Until today Rigg had never even worried about the Wall. He knew it was there, everybody knew it was there, and so what? It was the edge of the wallfold, which meant it was the edge of the world. You didn’t even think about it. But now, in this moment, knowing that there were eighteen other wallfolds, all of them surrounded by an invisible Wall, Rigg longed to get to one of the other wallfolds and see who lived there and what they were like.

And the only thing blocking him was an invisible Wall, one that supposedly drove you crazy if you got too near. But you could see through it. You should be able to walk through and get to the other side.

At last Rigg gave in to Loaf’s prodding, and they set out on the downward ramp. “I’m going to go to the Wall,” said Rigg softly.

“No you’re not,” said Loaf. “Unless you’re a criminal or a rebel, and then it will be the job of somebody like me to hunt you down and kill you.”

“I’m going to go there and see the paths,” said Rigg. “If anybody ever crossed the Wall, I’ll be able to see where. And if I have you with me, Umbo, I’ll be able to go back and ask them how they’re going to do it. How it’s done. Just before they cross I’ll ask them.”

“Unless it was somebody like your father,” said Umbo, “who made no path.”

“True. If Father crossed I wouldn’t know it.”

“Or anybody like your father.”

“There’s nobody like my father,” said Rigg.

“That you know of,” said Umbo. “Because if there were others before him who left no path, you wouldn’t know about them.”

“That’s kind of an important hole in your talent, there, Rigg,” said Loaf. “That’s like saying, ‘We have a spy network that sees all our enemies… except the ones we can’t see.’ How sound do you think that sergeant will sleep at night?”

“There could be hundreds like your father,” said Umbo.

“Father wasn’t invisible,” said Rigg. “If we had ever run into somebody else without a path, I would have known it.”

“But you never saw many people,” said Umbo. “You just went out into the woods and then came to Fall Ford and how many other villages did you even visit?”

“A few. Mostly tiny ones above Upsheer,” said Rigg.

“Hardly anybody,” said Umbo. “So that means there could be hundreds like your father, and you wouldn’t know it.”

“Father would have told me,” said Rigg.

“Unless he thought it wasn’t good for you to know,” said Umbo.

Rigg had to admit, that was the truth.

At last they reached the bottom and passed through the entrance of the tower into the bright noon sunlight. It had taken at least an hour to get up, and almost as long to get down, and despite all the things they said and observed up in the tower, they hadn’t been there all that long.

“They’re checking people,” said Rigg.

He only noticed it because he saw the converging paths of many guards-people who were not part of the general flow of pilgrims to and from the tower. There was a choke point, and they were heading for it. Rigg felt the dread from future-Umbo’s warning come to the surface. “They’re looking for someone,” he said.

“That’s why they check people,” said Loaf.

“Separate from us,” Rigg said to Loaf.

“No,” said Loaf.

“There are too many guards, you couldn’t fight them. We need you to stay free. That’s why Umbo warned us to give things to you, don’t you see? Separate from us. Drift back, don’t make a sudden movement the wrong way.”

“I know how to do it, thank you, boy,” said Loaf. And he began to walk a little faster, drifting forward through the crowd. As he went, he took off his outer jacket and carried it, tucking his hat under the jacket as well.

Rigg was pleased to find out that his instinct had been the same as a soldier’s knowledge.

But after a while, Loaf drifted back to them. “It’s Cooper, the banker,” said Loaf. “He’ll know my face.”

“Cooper?” asked Rigg.

“There are two officers of the People’s Army with him, letting him look at everybody who passes. One of the officers is very high, a general I’m sure.”

“I thought the People’s Army had no ranks,” said Umbo.

“They have no insignias of rank,” said Loaf dismissively. “But a general is a general. Look, Rigg, if Cooper hadn’t been scrutinizing all the nearer faces, he would have seen me-I was in plain view.”

“Maybe he’s looking for someone else,” said Umbo.

But Rigg knew that for some reason, on some pretext, Cooper had betrayed them. “Go back into the Tower of O and wait for a couple of hours.”

“Cooper will just tell them to look for me inside,” said Loaf.

“No,” said Rigg. “We’ll tell them you left us hours ago because you were tired and didn’t want to climb. Do you have the money?”

“Most of it. But they’ll still search my luggage,” said Loaf.

“I’ll try to get them to turn Umbo loose, too,” said Rigg. “I’m the one Cooper wants.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I’m the one who owns the money,” said Rigg. “I should have known it was too good to be true.”

Umbo spoke up, his face reddening. “Loaf, I didn’t put the knife in your luggage.”

“Why not?” asked Rigg.

“Where did you put it?” asked Loaf.

“Behind a barrel of salt pork in the boat’s galley,” said Umbo.

“Got it,” said Loaf. Then he drifted back in the queue, made a show of looking for something, and then went back against the flow of the crowd, ostensibly to find it.

“Why did you lie about the knife?” asked Rigg, as he and Umbo continued forward toward the checkpoint.

“I told you I put it in Loaf’s bags so you wouldn’t think I was trying to steal it. You even said yourself that you wouldn’t trust me if you thought I was stealing.”

“Umbo,” said Rigg, “I was wrong when I said I wouldn’t trust you. I trust you with my life.”

Umbo said nothing.

Rigg tried to keep other people between him and Cooper-he wanted to give Loaf plenty of time to get back inside the tower.

“Father always accused me of the worst thing,” said Umbo. “Whatever it was, he always said I was planning to do it. I’m just… used to it.”

“We’re friends, Umbo,” said Rigg. “Now try to act stupid and confused.”

“That won’t be acting,” said Umbo.

“I’m going to try to get you out of this,” said Rigg.

Then the people in front moved quickly forward and Rigg was staring Cooper in the face.

“That’s him,” said Cooper. “That’s the boy who’s claiming to be a prince.”

CHAPTER 9

Umbo “If we are trapped inside the same starship, Ram, on the same voyage, moving backwards through time,” said the expendable, “why did the ship’s computers show that we made the jump successfully?”

“What were the criteria for determining a successful jump?” asked Ram.

“Observations of the positions of distant stars relative to how they should look near the target star system.”

“Can you bring up an image of what the stars looked like at the moment the computers determined that the jump was successful?”

In an instant, a hologram of a starfield appeared in the air over Ram’s console.

“I take it that’s not the appearance of the stars around our present position.”

“Correct,” said the expendable.

“How long did the stars have the appearance recorded here?”

“The scan was repeated three nanoseconds later and the stars were as they had been just before the jump.”

“So we made the jump, and then we unjumped,” said Ram.

“So it seems.”

“And we’re sure that this wasn’t just a glitch? That the computers weren’t just ‘detecting’ what they were predicted to detect?”

“No, because the starfield of the target was not quite identical to the prediction.”

“Show me the difference,” said Ram.

The starfield view on his holodisplay changed to show yellow and green dots instead of white ones.

“The nearest stars show the most difference, and the farthest ones the least,” Ram observed.

“Not always,” said the expendable, pointing to the few exceptions. “This is expected because our observations of the universe are based on old data-light that has had to travel ninety lightyears to reach Earth.”

“Didn’t the astronomers allow for that?”

“Yes,” said the expendable. “But it was partly guesswork.”

“Let’s play a game,” said Ram. “What if the difference between the prediction and what was observed in that less-than-three-nanosecond interval could be explained, not by astronomer error, but by the passage of time. Is there some point in the future or in the past when the stars would be in these positions relative to the target star system?”

One second. Two seconds.

“Eleven thousand years ago, roughly speaking,” said the expendable.

“So when we made our jump through a stuttering, quantized fold in spacetime, the fold didn’t just move us through space, it also moved us backward in time.”

“That is one explanation,” said the expendable.

“And so we got hurtled back into our previous position in spacetime, only progressing backward.”

“So it would seem,” said the expendable.

“That must have taken enormous energy,” said Ram. “To move us eleven thousand years backward in history, and then to recoil back to the present while reversing the flow of time.”

“It might have,” said the expendable, “if we understood how this actually works.”

“Please tell the computers to calculate what laws of physics would explain an exactly equal expenditure of energy for the two operations-passing through the fold into the past, and passing back but reversing direction.” • • • Umbo tried not to glare at Cooper. Stupid and confused, that’s how he was supposed to act. So he stared at the officers. Loaf had been right-the one with the more rumpled-looking uniform was showing nothing on his face, but there was something about his posture, the tilt of his head, that suggested he expected to be noticed and obeyed.

Umbo had expected that Rigg would talk to Cooper, challenge him, argue with him. But instead Rigg was as silent as Umbo. And when Umbo stole a glance at Rigg, he was looking the general straight in the face-not defiantly, but with the same steadiness as a bird.

“You thought I was fooled by your act, didn’t you, boy!” said Mr. Cooper. “All your strutting and posing, but the moment I saw your signature on the paper I knew you were a fraud and a thief.”

Umbo wanted to answer him, to say, You certainly gave us a lot of money for someone who knew we were frauds and thieves. He wanted to say, Rigg never even knew that was his name until he saw it on the paper. But instead Umbo said nothing, as Rigg was doing.

“Well, I notified the authorities in Aressa Sessamo that a boy was claiming to be the dead prince and had an ancient jewel-”

“Rigg Sessamekesh” was the name of a dead prince? Rigg had never heard of him, if that was so. But then, the People’s Revolutionary Council had made it illegal to talk about royals. Not that people in Fall Ford would have worried much about such a law, from such a far-off government. They simply didn’t care about royals, or the People’s Council either, for that matter. So until this moment Rigg had no idea that the name Father wrote on the paper meant anything except Rigg himself.

“That’s more of our business than needs to be discussed here,” said the officer who wasn’t the general. “You said there was a man.”

“A big man, a roadhouse keeper, they called him Loaf,” said Cooper.

“And this other boy?”

“They keep him like a pet, I have no idea what he’s good for, he’s the most ignorant privick of them all.”

Umbo couldn’t help the way his face reddened.

The officer chuckled. “He doesn’t like that.”

“I said he was ignorant, not deaf,” said Cooper.

“I notice you’re not denying anything,” said the officer to Rigg.

Rigg turned his gaze to the officer for a long, steady moment, and then returned to looking at the general. Umbo wanted to shout with laughter. In that simple look, Rigg had as much as told the officer he was a worm, not worth talking to. And yet his expression had not changed at all.

On impulse, Umbo started to cast his net of speeded-up time around Rigg.

Rigg turned to him and said, “No.”

Umbo stopped.

“No what?” the officer demanded.

Rigg said nothing.

The officer turned to Umbo. “What did he tell you not to do?”

Umbo shrugged.

The officer seized him by the shoulder, his grip fiercely painful, as if he meant to drill a hole through his shoulder with his thumb. “What did he tell you not to do, boy?”

“He was thinking of running,” said Rigg.

“Oh, you can read his mind?” said the officer.

One of the tower guards approached them gingerly. “If you’ve found them, can we let people continue to leave the tower?”

The officer turned to him and said harshly, “Don’t bother us!”

The general turned his head to the guard, ignoring his own subordinate from the People’s Army. “There’s no reason to block them now. Thank you for helping us.”

The officer showed no sign that the general had just contradicted him.

The tower guard bowed deeply. “Thank you, your excellency.”

“The People’s Army has no ‘excellencies,’” snapped the officer.

“Sadly enough,” said the general, “that is true. Guard, if you wouldn’t mind, could you send a man or two into the tower to search for a tall man who looks like a former soldier? I saw him with these two, and when he saw Mr. Cooper, he headed back into the tower, pretending to look for something.”

Umbo was impressed. Maybe generals got to be generals because they were smart, or at least observant.

Then again, the general seemed to carry himself and turn his head and speak exactly the way Rigg was acting. When Rigg told Umbo no, he had spoken with the same kind of calm authority the general used when speaking to the guard. It was a voice that expected to be obeyed-yet there was no anger or emotion in it, so that it didn’t provoke resentment. When Rigg spoke, Umbo had simply obeyed, without even thinking of arguing or doubting or even hesitating. How had Rigg learned how to do that? He had never been in the army. But maybe it was something he learned from the Wandering Man. He had the power of command.

What a fine thing it must have been, to be raised by the Wandering Man. And what had Rigg’s father been planning for him? Not just the jewels, not just a royal name that apparently belonged to someone who was supposed to be dead, but also this air of command, all the knowledge of finances Rigg had, his understanding of how to bargain with adults-Rigg’s father must have trained him in all of that.

Had he foreseen this moment? Wouldn’t this make him one of the heroes, to be able to see into the future? Umbo had never heard of a hero with such a power, but wouldn’t that be a mighty gift from a god? All that Umbo and Rigg had been able to do, between them, was reach into the past-and even that was a rare gift, and hard to do.

I will have to learn how to do it alone.

“I’ll take the boys with me back to their boat,” said the general. “We’ll wait there while you see to getting the man called Loaf.”

“That’s his name,” said Umbo.

The general looked at him steadily.

“It’s not a nickname or anything,” said Umbo. “In his native village, that’s how they name people. His wife’s name is Leaky.” Umbo had no idea why he had felt the need to speak up, but it had been an irresistible impulse. And now the tiniest trace of a smile played at the corners of the general’s mouth. Umbo looked to Rigg to see if he had said too much, but Rigg’s face was calm and showed nothing.

“By all means,” said the general. “Wassam, the man’s name is ‘Loaf,’ so there’s no need to demand a realer-sounding one. Bring him to me unquestioned and unbeaten, please.” With that the general reached out his hands toward Umbo and Rigg. Without needing a bit of explanation, they each took one of his hands and he walked with them back toward the city.

He held their hands lightly. But when Umbo thought-just thought-of running off, he could feel the grip tighten on his hand.

Can the man hear my thoughts?

No, thought Umbo. I must have tensed up just a little when the idea of running crossed my mind. Or maybe he noticed that I glanced off toward that canebrake.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cooper shadowed their steps. “He’s going to lie to you,” said Cooper. “He’s full of nothing but lies and poses!”

“And yet,” said the general mildly, “he hasn’t told me a single lie today.”

“That’s because he hasn’t said a thing. You notice he doesn’t deny anything I said!”

“Mr. Cooper,” said the general gently. “He doesn’t regard you as worth his notice, that’s all.”

“Yes!” cried Cooper. “That’s the arrogance I was talking about!”

“The arrogance that we might expect,” said the general, “if he really is of the royal house.”

“Oh, right, I’m sure you know how impossible that is!”

“Wouldn’t your time be better spent, Mr. Cooper, remaining behind to identify the man called-no, the man whose name is Loaf?”

Again, there was that subtle air of command, and Cooper turned and began to walk briskly back toward the tower, muttering, “Of course, should have thought of it myself,” and then his voice faded out.

With Cooper gone, the general’s demeanor changed. “Well, my young friends, how have you been enjoying the city of O?”

“It’s very big,” said Rigg.

The general chuckled. “You’re from upriver, of course, and this is certainly the first real city you’ve encountered. But I can assure you that there are fourteen cities larger than O within the People’s Republic. No, big as it is, O’s real claim on the attention of the wise is its great age. The artifacts of an earlier time, whose wisdom we have not yet recovered, and may never recover.”

Rigg nodded. “You mean the globe of the world inside the tower?”

The general walked in silence for a few moments, and it occurred to Umbo that perhaps the general had never realized that the thing was a map of the world both outside and inside the Wall. “The whole tower is a miracle,” said the general, finally. “The ribs of stone up inside the tower seem to be structural, but they aren’t.”

“They aren’t holding up the walls and the dome?”

“The stone pillars are not attached to the walls in any way. They hold up the lights and the globe, but there was an earthquake once, more than three thousand years ago, and three of the pillars collapsed inside the tower. The great chronicler of that time, Alagacha-which is as close as we can come to pronouncing his name in our tongue-reported that as they restored the pillars, they discovered that there was no way to tie them to the walls. It’s as if the tower was there before anyone thought to add the stone ramps and pillars, the lights and the globe.”

Rigg did not seem impressed. “What does that have to do with the great age of the city?”

“Nothing at all. Except that legend has it that the tower was here before the city of O, and nothing else.”

“Then the tower is very old,” said Rigg.

And Umbo thought: How can you arrest us and then talk to us as if we were children at school?

But Rigg had said his life with his father was like this-walking along, discussing things. So maybe Rigg found this natural. Maybe the general was already some kind of father to him.

Well, he’s a father to me, too, thought Umbo. The difference is that to me a father is a punisher, unreasoning and unstoppable, not someone to chat with about history.

“In every other city, wherever someone digs to lay the foundation of a new construction, the workmen turn up stones and bones-old walls, old floors, old burial grounds. Everything is built on the foundation of something else. No matter where we go in the floodplain of the Stashik, and all around the coast of the sea, someone has been there before, layer on layer of ancient building. But that doesn’t happen in O.”

“You can’t tell me that those buildings in the port are thousands of years old!” scoffed Rigg. “The timbers would be ten thousand years of rotten by now, so close to the river.”

“Oh, I’m not talking about the wooden structures, yes, those are built and replaced. But the stone buildings and the great wall-they’re the original. Every thousand years or so the great buildings fall into such decay that they have to be rebuilt. And when they do it, they find there’s nothing under the foundations. When the city walls and the great white buildings were originally built, they were on virgin ground. It’s here in O that we feel all the eleven thousand years of history.”

Then, suddenly, the general’s grip on Umbo’s hand tightened a little and Umbo looked up to find the general gazing at him-but with a slight smile. Of mockery? Or sympathy? “Your young friend, Master Rigg, seems uninterested in history.”

“He’s a year older than I am.”

Umbo waited for the general to make some comment about his height. Instead, the man said, “Eleven thousand years of history, that’s what we have. To be precise, 11,191 years plus eleven. They say there’s a stone at the base of the Tower of O which, when you pull it out of place during repairs, bears an inscription: ‘This stone laid in the year 10999.’ Of course it’s in a language that only scholars can read, but that’s what they say.”

“So the world was only 192 years old when the stones of the tower were laid?” asked Rigg.

The general was silent again for a few moments. “So it seems. The oldest building in the world.”

“The tour guides are missing a bet not to tell folks that,” muttered Umbo.

“They’d say it, I’m sure, if they knew. But only a few people care enough about the deep past to root through the old records and learn the ancient languages and then write new books about old things, and only a few of us bother to read them. No, the only history that matters these days is the story of how wonderful our lives are since the People’s Revolution deposed the royal family, and how rapacious and cruel the royal family were when they ruled the World Within the Walls.”

“And how happy we all are that they were deposed,” said Rigg.

The general stopped walking. “I’m trying to decide if your tone was sarcastic.”

To which Rigg’s only answer was to make the identical statement with the identical intonation-which is to say, no discernible intonation at all. “And how happy we all are that they were deposed.”

The general chuckled. “Now I see what that asinine banker meant about you. By the Fixed Star, my boy, it’s as if you were a bird singing the same song, over and over, never varying.”

“I know nothing about the royal family, sir,” said Rigg, “or perhaps I would have known that there was something wrong with the name my father said was mine in his will.”

“There we are,” said the general.

Umbo looked around-they didn’t seem to be anywhere in particular.

“Not literally, my young friend,” said the general to Umbo. “I mean to say, this is the crux of the matter. This is why I was sent to arrest Master Rigg and bring him back to Aressa Sessamo. Yes, he had the jewel and when that fool tried to convert it into cash, all he accomplished was to alert the People’s Revolutionary Council. Did he really think a royal artifact could be sold without attracting the notice of powerful people? Did you think it?”

“Yes, sir,” said Rigg. “I did indeed. To me, it was a stone that seemed likely to have some great value. I did not expect Cooper’s exorbitant response to it, recognizing it as an ancient jewel. Nor did I expect to raise the sums of money he immediately talked about. My father left it in the care of a friend, to be given to me when he died. Then he died. The friend gave it to me, and here we are.”

“Come now, Master Rigg, do you expect me to believe that you were well enough educated to know enough about finance and contract law to run rings around a sharp dealer like Banker Cooper, and yet you did not recognize the name ‘Rigg Sessamekesh’?”

“My name is Rigg,” said Rigg. “My father never mentioned a last name. So I recognized the prenomen, but not the gens.”

The general chuckled. “And since you have iron control of your vocal intonation, your gestures, your facial expressions, how can I know whether you lie or tell the truth? But it’s a stupid lie, if it’s a lie, because everyone knows the name Rigg Sessamekesh.”

“I never did,” said Umbo, “and I went to school lots more than Rigg. Nobody talks about the royal family. It’s against the law to care about them.”

“Well, well,” said the general. “I had no idea. That the law was actually followed, at least upriver. In the city-and when I speak of ‘the city,’ I don’t mean O-in the city the name and story are so widely known, and the law against speaking about the royal family is so little regarded, that I never thought that perhaps in the hinterlands people might still avoid uttering the forbidden names. Have you eaten?”

It took a moment for Umbo to realize that the subject had changed.

“I’m not famished at the moment,” said Rigg, “though Umbo is always hungry. But you, sir, are better situated to know when our next opportunity to eat might be. If you’re offering a meal now, I’ll accept it gladly and do my best to make it worth your while.”

“You’re offering to pay?” asked the general.

“I don’t know, sir, whether I have access to any of my funds. From what Cooper said, I would guess that everything is impounded.”

“It is indeed,” said the general. “But under the People’s Law, you are not yet guilty. So the money is still yours, even if you don’t have the free use of it. I, however, have complete access to your funds-provided I have your consent.”

“Then you have my consent up to the full price of a very nice meal.”

“A very quick meal, I think you meant to say.”

“‘Quick’ depends on what we do with the food, sir; ‘very nice’ depends on what the cooks do with it.”

“You’ve been here for several weeks. Is there any food along the remainder of our route that is worth stopping for?”

“If you tell me our destination,” said Rigg, “I’ll choose a shop that lies on our route.”

“The boat, of course. The one you already engaged to take you to Aressa Sessamo. I thought you heard me say that. Since you already paid for it, the People’s Republic will save money by using it to transport you.”

“I leapt to the conclusion that it was our boat that we were bound for, but then you only really said that was where our companion was to be brought if they happen to find him.”

“Let’s have it out right now, Master Rigg. Are you Rigg Sessamekesh?”

“That name means something to you. You speak of a story that everyone in Aressa Sessamo knows. But I do not know it, so I cannot say whether I am that person. It seems unlikely to me. I only learned the name after my father was dead. Was it some joke of his? A trick to arrange for me to meet you? My father was an enigmatic man, and I can’t guess what he meant by it. I only know that I had to show his letter to Cooper in order to prove I had the right to my father’s funds and possessions. He didn’t seem to recognize the name-he only paid attention to a valuable jewel. So until your arrival here today, I really didn’t think anything of the name. My father never called me by it.”

The general chuckled again. “Oh, you’re a player, you’re a player. Don’t assert, don’t deny. You could be an innocent passerby, for all you admit.”

“I tell you the simple truth,” said Rigg. “If what I say represents a move in a game, then the player is my father, sir, not me. I am as intrigued as anyone to learn the implications of what my father wrote in that letter. It seems he was determined to further my education from beyond the grave.”

“Your ‘father,’” said the general. “If he really is your father, then you can’t possibly be Rigg Sessamekesh.”

“Father never told me the circumstances of my birth. Others from Fall Ford say that my father went away on a long trip and came back with a baby. I’m sure he never explained and no one dared to ask. He never said more than he wanted others to know, and people didn’t pry into his affairs.”

“Everybody thinks he’s a bastard that the Wandering Man got on some woman,” said Umbo. “And the Wandering Man brought him to Fall Ford to raise.”

“It’s all right, Master Rigg, that your friend calls you a bastard?” asked the general.

Umbo started to protest that he hadn’t meant to call him that at all, but Rigg smiled at him, silencing him.

“My friend reported that it’s the gossip of Fall Ford that I am a bastard,” said Rigg, “not that he thinks me to be one. But what if I am? My father recognized me.”

“Except that if you are Rigg Sessamekesh, he is not your father.”

“Someday you must tell me that story.”

Again the general studied Rigg’s face, searching for a hint of sarcasm. Umbo could have told him that it would do no good. Rigg never showed what he didn’t want to show. Even on the cliff, that terrible day when Kyokay hung there and Rigg was trying to rescue him, nothing at all showed on Rigg’s face-not concern, not even interest. Not that Rigg couldn’t show emotion-but why would he bother when he didn’t know anyone was watching? Displays of emotion were just one of the many things that separated the rest of the world from Rigg. It had been different when Umbo and Rigg were both little. Rigg had been perfectly normal then, just a kid, as likely to get angry or cry or laugh or screech as any other kid. But with each journey he took with his father, Rigg had grown more reticent, more self-controlled. Colder, except when he decided not to be. That’s why Umbo had been so willing to believe that Rigg had murdered his brother, there on the cliff. It was the face of a stranger. Lately that was the only face Rigg had worn.

They reached a place that Umbo had found in his wanderings through the city during the past few weeks. He had brought Loaf there, and when Loaf said it was good enough, they had brought Rigg. It made Umbo feel a rush of pride that this is where Rigg would choose to buy their last meal in O. Or, for all Umbo knew, their last meal as mortal humans.

Rigg signed for the meal as he always did, including a lavish tip. He wrote the name of the bank and the place they had been lodging until this morning. The shopkeeper knew them, bowed, thanked them. He gave no sign that word of Rigg’s arrest by the People’s Army had spread this far.

What does this general want? thought Umbo. He’s so nice to us. A little boring when he gets off on the subject of history, but far better than any treatment I ever heard about a prisoner getting from the authorities.

They ordered their food-which consisted of cheese, boiled eggs, and vegetables between the two halves of a boule of bread. Umbo immediately started to eat his-he was famished-and the general seemed to watch him to see how it was done. Perhaps he’s never eaten good street food, thought Umbo. Maybe the capital doesn’t have anything this good-or, perhaps, anything this crude and low-class. Well, even if he thinks it’s a privick thing, it’s very nice food, and I’m not going to bother being ashamed of it.

And within moments, the general was eating his with as much gusto-and the same slobbering juices from the tomatoes running down his chin-as either Umbo or Rigg.

The general’s hands were busy, but Umbo realized by now that nothing would be accomplished by his running away. They would only find him again, and no doubt would treat him differently after an escape. Umbo had heard of whippings and he had heard of leg irons. He didn’t want either.

They were just finishing their food when they reached the docks, and then picked their way among the passengers and rivermen and stevedores and onlookers. Not that it was hard. The general’s uniform did what it was supposed to do-it made everyone alert enough to get out of their way. No one actually looked the general in the eye-they just sidled this way or that so that they were never actually blocking the general’s path. Though they were happy enough to jostle Rigg and Umbo. After all, they were mere boys richly dressed, and deserving of a bit of a knock from those who resented their obvious privileged status.

Umbo wanted to shout at them, Until a few weeks ago I was poorer than any of you! But what good would that do? He didn’t want or need the love of passersby on the docks.

There were six soldiers guarding the ship. Or rather, two guarding the gangplank, two more standing near shops much farther away, but still within calling distance, and the last two on the boat itself, calmly observing the crowds.

“As you can see, your things are all loaded onto the boat,” said the general.

“Actually,” said Rigg, “I can see only that our things are not where we left them.”

The general sighed-exasperation or amusement?-and said, “I suppose when you get aboard you’ll see that your things were loaded.”

“And now it’s our turn to get loaded on.”

The general answered by speaking to the young sergeant who was in charge of the contingent of soldiers. Umbo noticed that the sergeant had an insignia-it was only the general and the other officer back at the tower who had no markings on their clothing. It made Umbo smile: The People’s Army has no insignia for its high officers-but has markings to identify the lower-ranking ones. Therefore the absence of insignia was the highest insignia of all. It was what Umbo’s dad always said: The People’s Revolution was just a change of uniforms-it was still the same kind of people running everything.

“These boys have the run of the boat, but are not to be let off it. This one”-he indicated Rigg-“is the terrifying hooligan that a man of my rank had to be sent to arrest. Please ignore the tomato drippings all over his very expensive tunic. He’s from upriver-they haven’t discovered napkins yet.”

The sergeant laughed, but Umbo wanted to say something very cutting. But just as he was drawing in breath before speaking, Rigg brushed the back of his hand and somehow the message was clear: Patience. Wait.

It had been fun running up and down the gangplank when they put in at various river towns. But that was when Umbo was free; now he was forbidden to leave, so walking up the plank to the ship seemed to have a hint of the gallows about it.

Almost as soon as they had seen that their bags and trunks were suitably placed, the general reappeared and said, “Master Rigg, the ship’s captain has been kind enough to allow me the use of his quarters. Would you mind terribly if we started your inquisition now?”

The word “inquisition” had a bit of a smile in it, no doubt meant to dispel fear, hinting that it wasn’t a real inquisition. Yet that was the word the general had chosen to use, and hardly by accident. No matter how nice the general might wish to seem to be, he still had the power to put them to torture or anything else he pleased, and Umbo wasn’t all that reassured to recall that the general had affirmed that they couldn’t be treated as guilty until there was some kind of court verdict about Rigg’s supposed conspiracy.

When Rigg joined the general and started toward the captain’s quarters, Umbo came along because it never crossed his mind to do otherwise. But the general noticed him at once, and gestured with his trailing hand for Umbo not to stay with them. This would be a solo inquisition, apparently. Though Umbo had no doubt that his time would come.

There was no way to linger around the door and hope to overhear some of their conversation, so Umbo went to the galley, where the cook ordered him to go away.

“I just wanted to help,” said Umbo.

“What do you know about cooking?”

“Everyone in Fall Ford knows how to cook something,” said Umbo. “‘It’s a useless man starves without a wife to cook for him.’”

“Is that some kind of proverb?” asked the cook.

“Yes, sir,” said Umbo.

“Then you come from a place full of very stupid people,” said the cook.

“Thank you sir,” said Umbo. “Does that mean I can help?”

“If you break one dish I’ll knock you on the head, crack your skull, and pry it open like a hardboiled egg.”

“I hope word doesn’t get around that you’re as likely to serve chopped boy in your stew as mutton or pork.”

“Wouldn’t matter if I did,” said the cook. “Anybody’s on this tub, they’ll eat what I serve or try their luck at catching something edible in this saint-forsaken river.”

Within moments, the cook had Umbo running errands, and to Umbo it felt like being home again. It took no particular effort or even a detour to glance into the spot where he had put the knife and see that it was still there. But he wouldn’t take it now. He didn’t know yet whether the People’s Army even knew about the ancient knife-this general seemed to have an obsession with old things and it was better if he didn’t know about the one thing that Rigg had really stolen.

Finally the cook set him down to pare turnips to make the mash for the next day’s breakfast. It was slow work, but mindless as long as you were careful not to let your finger get added to the mix.

And as he sliced and chopped, Umbo thought about what he knew he would have to do. Somehow he must figure out how to do the thing that he had already been seen doing-travel back in time to this morning to give warnings to himself and to Rigg.

Wouldn’t it have been nice of his future self to give him some hint about how he was going to learn how to talk to people in the past?

One thing was certain-Umbo had never seen any of the paths that Rigg was always talking about. So even if he succeeded in causing himself to slow down-or speed up, or whatever it was he did-it was an open question about whether he would ever be able to see anybody from the past-even the past of just this morning.

And before long, he was trying to do to himself what he had so easily done to Rigg, speeding him up-or slowing him down, depending on how you looked at it. But it was as if his talent were a long sword-he could easily use it to touch others, but his arms were too short or the sword too long for him to stab himself.

It was like Wandering Man had said, during the brief time he gave Umbo a little training: You have to find it the way you teach yourself to wiggle your ears.

Since Umbo had never knowingly wiggled his ears-nor known anyone who could-the example was wasted on him.

But then Wandering Man went ahead and taught him how to wiggle them. He had made Umbo look in the mirror and then smile his broadest grin. “See how your ears move up just a little when you smile?”

Umbo could see it easily, once it had been pointed out.

“That means you have the muscles to wiggle your ears, and they’re working. What you do is smile and then unsmile, again and again, only now you’re concentrating on the muscles that draw your ears up and back when you smile. Smile hard, and then try to move your ears again only without any of the smiling.”

Umbo tried and tried. “Nothing happens,” he said.

“But you’re mistaken,” said Wandering Man. “Something very important has happened. You’re aware of those muscles. It takes a while for the nerves to reinforce their connections so the muscles will contract without dragging all the rest of the smile with them. Practice it whenever you think of it, smiling hard and then trying again without the smile. Gradually, the muscles will strengthen. Just make sure you work both ears equally, so you don’t end up with only one ear you can control.”

It took only three days before his ears were moving on command-either together or individually. Within another couple of weeks, he was a champion ear-wiggler.

And, as Wandering Man had predicted, the analogy was nearly perfect. Previously when he had thrown his little web of speed onto another person, it had been willy-nilly and ragged-it gave Mother a headache when he did it to her repeatedly. But with practice, even though he had no idea what was actually happening inside him, he began to be able to control the thing, to make it steady, to make it strong. It just took concentration and repetition, hour after hour.

Now he would have to do it all over again, this time learning how to include himself, and only himself, within his zone of speed.

The only sign he had that he might have made any progress was when the cook came in and said, gruffly, “Where’d you put the rest of them?”

“They’re all in the pot,” said Umbo.

The cook looked doubtful, but came and looked in the pot and then turned back to Umbo. “Nobody ever peeled them that fast.” But then he examined them closely and had to admit that Umbo had done it exactly right.

“I would have said it can’t be done that fast.”

“I applied myself.”

“Apply this, you show-off,” said the cook, making a dismissive gesture that Umbo had been told had something to do with either female body parts, the act of rutting, or defecation-Umbo had been told of many a likely meaning, but none of them seemed right to him.

But Umbo took no offense-for the cook really meant it as backhanded praise. And the fact that he had done it so quickly was also an indication that something was happening. Had he sped himself up, at least a little? It was a promising start.

Umbo was up on the passenger deck, the kitchen chores done, when he saw them bringing Loaf-in a cart, manacled and attached to the cart with chains. Apparently his arrest had not gone as smoothly as Rigg’s and Umbo’s.

The general came out at once, long enough to greet Loaf and give him the run of the ship, as long as Loaf didn’t try to go back on land.

The general also told the captain they could start the voyage whenever he and his crew were ready. Then the general went back into the captain’s quarters to continue his interview with Rigg. Umbo would have given almost anything to be in that room. Instead, the mate started barking orders and in no time the boat was untied and being poled away from the dock.

“You think Rigg’s all right in there?” asked Loaf.

Umbo turned to see that Loaf had come up on the passenger deck.

But so had the officer who arrested him. When Umbo and Loaf pointedly looked at him, he smiled a bit nastily and said, “The general may have forgotten that you’re prisoners, but I haven’t.”

Umbo ignored the officer-for Rigg’s method seemed the best, saying nothing and acting as if nothing had been said. “I’m practicing,” Umbo said to Loaf-deliberately making his voice loud enough for the officer to hear. “But the thing I’ve got to do, I don’t know if it’s even possible. There are things you can do for someone else that you just can’t do for yourself.”

“Like tickling,” said Loaf.

“Exactly like that,” said Umbo.

“What did you mean by that?” demanded the officer.

“Mean by what?” asked Umbo.

“‘Tickling.’ Are you speaking in some kind of code?”

Loaf turned to the officer. “If you don’t understand what we’re talking about, that doesn’t mean you have a right to pester the grownups to explain everything. You’d have to have been with us during our whole journey up till now, and we don’t like you well enough to spend enough time with you to acquaint you with all the particulars.”

Again with the evil smile. “The general won’t always be here,” said the officer. “Then we’ll see how much you like me.” He went over the ladder and scooted down it to the cargo deck.

As soon as they were alone, Loaf got to the point. “I’m glad you’re making progress, though I wouldn’t be worried even if you weren’t. One fact is clear: you can learn to do it because you did it. Or will do it.”

“That’s easy to say when you don’t have to do it.”

“Right,” said Loaf. “Now, go down and get whatever you plan to take with you, secure it on your body so it won’t fall off in the water, and get back up here right away.”

“Why?” asked Umbo.

“Are you daft?” asked Loaf. “Where did your future self find you and Rigg to leave those incomprehensible and useless messages?”

“Me in my bed in our lodgings, and Rigg there at the coach, while you were already heading up to the tower.”

“Well, then, unless you can travel through space as well as time, we can’t afford to get too far from O. Don’t you have to be in the exact spot yourself in order to talk to somebody from the past?”

Umbo nodded. “I’ve got to stay here. In O.”

“Too late,” said Loaf. “We’re not in O. But that’s fine, we need to go into hiding for a while once we leave this boat, and we’re too well known in O to avoid recapture. Now go and get whatever you want to take and come right back up here.”

Umbo dashed down the ladder and got to his bags. But he didn’t open them. They contained plenty of fine new clothing, but how could he explain bringing changes of costume up to the passenger deck? No, there was only one thing he really needed to bring with him-and that was in the galley.

When Umbo charged in the cook barked at him. “I don’t have time for you now, and if you try to snitch something, I warn you: The gruel hasn’t boiled yet and it’s as likely to make you sick as not, so snack at your own peril.”

“I just forgot something I left where I was peeling turnips,” said Umbo.

“Then get it and get out,” said the cook.

The knife was still there, in the fine leather bag Rigg, in his days of wealth, had bought to keep it in. Umbo paused long enough to tie the bag’s strings around his waist and let the knife hang down inside one pantleg. It was very awkward, but he couldn’t think of a better place to conceal it for the time being.

Up on the passenger deck, Loaf was conversing with the officer again. “The general said we had the run of the ship,” Loaf was saying. “So it’s really none of your business if the boy and I stay together or go our separate ways. If the general wanted us all to stay together, he’d have us in the captain’s quarters with Rigg.”

Rigg. They were abandoning Rigg!

But Umbo knew there was no choice. Rigg was going downriver, and there was no way to stop that from happening without getting somebody killed and probably still losing. Umbo had to stay in O because that was where he had to be to give the warnings that they had already received. Loaf had to stay in O because that’s where he had hidden the money and gems. Rigg would understand that.

“Did you find it?” Loaf asked. Umbo nodded.

“Find what?” demanded the officer.

“Your father’s blade in the box your mother kept it in,” said Loaf.

The officer flared with rage but then backed off. He really was exceeding his authority, and knew it, and didn’t want to have to account to the general because he punished the prisoners for breaking a rule that the general hadn’t imposed.

Loaf pointedly turned his back on the officer and walked Umbo to the railing at the edge of the upper deck. They both looked down at the river.

“Now might be a good time to prove you can swim,” said Loaf.

The river was much narrower in Fall Ford; Umbo had never swum so far. “Can’t we take one of the boats they tow behind?”

“Can you make shore? Figuring that we swim partly with the current and end up well downstream?”

“I suppose this means you can swim after all. Or am I supposed to tow you? “If you really try,” said Loaf, grinning, “you might not die.”

“Might not?”

“Old saying in my village, forget about it. Thing you do, once you’re in the water, swim under the boat and come up the other side, where they’re not looking for us.”

“Want me to dig up some oysters while I’m down there?”

“Either you can hold your breath long enough or you’ll die. But go under the boat or they’ll have bolts in you from their crossbows when you come up for air.”

Umbo started for the stairs. Immediately the officer moved toward them.

“Get back here,” said Loaf loudly. Umbo did.

The officer went back to the opposite rail.

“We go from here,” said Loaf softly.

Umbo looked straight down.

“Don’t look there,” said Loaf.

“What if I can’t clear the deck below?” asked Umbo. “What if I smash against the railing down there and break a leg and then go into the water and drown?”

“I already thought of that,” said Loaf.

And without another word he picked Umbo up by the collar of his tunic and the belt around his waist and pitched him over the railing with such force that he landed far beyond the lower deck.

Not that Umbo had any time to take much note of his surroundings. The shouting began on deck immediately, and when Umbo came up for air the first time, he saw another body hurtling into the water-and to his surprise it was the officer, who was sputtering and choking and calling for help.

Umbo toyed with the idea of helping him, then decided that it wasn’t his job. Instead, he obeyed Loaf’s instruction and started swimming under the boat. He felt more than heard the boom and splash of Loaf’s arrival in the water. But by then he was in the shadow under the boat. He couldn’t see in the murky river water and felt a terrible fear that he would come up for air and bump his head, finding that he hadn’t swum far enough and now he couldn’t breathe, he’d die for sure… but he kept swimming until he felt like his lungs would burst.

When he finally came up, the boat was well downstream from him, and all the crew were on the other side of the boat, dragging the officer out of the water.

In a few moments, Loaf popped up about ten yards downstream from Umbo. He knew enough not to wave or make any kind of greeting-anything they did might be seen, anything they said might be heard-sound was tricky, moving across water. But between Umbo letting the current carry him and Loaf treading water against the current, they were close enough to each other to talk quietly.

Only there was nothing to say except, “Better wait till they’re farther away.”

The most important thing, though, didn’t get said. Umbo hoped with all his heart that Rigg would understand why they deserted him and jumped out of the boat. Though technically Umbo hadn’t jumped at all.

After a while, deeming the boat had gotten far enough ahead, Loaf began swimming diagonally toward the shore, and Umbo did the same, not even trying to keep up with Loaf’s long, strong strokes.

He was in no hurry to get there. Swimming he knew how to do; when he got to shore, he would have to figure out how to go back in time.

CHAPTER 10

Citizen It took a week before the computers finished their nineteen separate calculations and the expendable was able to say, “The computers have come up with a set of physical laws that would have to be in force for the two passages through the fold to use up identical energy.”

“Does this system of physical laws bear any relation to how the real universe has been observed to work?” asked Ram.

“No,” said the expendable.

“Please tell the computers to keep recalculating the transition through the fold and out again, into the past and back again but reversed, until they can find a way to balance the energy without violating any observed laws of physics.” • • • “You will be happy to know,” said the general, closing the cabin door behind him, “that your friend ‘Loaf’-if that’s his name; if that’s a name at all-has been found and brought here, so our company is now complete.”

Rigg did not allow any emotion to register on his face. In truth, he didn’t know what to feel, except disappointment. And even that was tempered by the fact that Loaf may well have allowed himself to be taken; it would be hard to imagine that they could capture him without a bloody struggle if he didn’t consent.

To turn the subject away from things that mattered, Rigg said, “I know your rank, sir, but I don’t know your name.”

He sat at a table across from the general, inside the narrow confines of the captain’s cabin on the riverboat. Outside the room, he could hear the loud sounds of the crew readying the boat for departure.

The general turned to him with a smile. “Ah, so when we’re alone, you observe the civilities.”

“And you do not, since you continue not to tell me who you are.”

“I thought you were so frequently silent because you were frightened. Now I see that, as a royal, you simply did not deign to speak to one of such low station.”

“I put on no airs when I came into money, and as for being royal, I have no idea how royals would behave if such a thing as royalty existed in the People’s Republic.”

“You know perfectly well that the People’s Revolution was bloodless. The royal family is still alive.”

“I believe you said I was dead,” said Rigg. “And those that aren’t dead are no longer royal.”

“No longer in power, if that’s what you mean,” said the general. “As for me, you may either call me by my military rank, which is ‘general,’ or by my station in life, which is ‘citizen.’”

“If the royal family is no longer royal,” said Rigg, “what would I gain by pretending to be one of them?”

“That is what I am trying to figure out,” said the general. “On the one hand, maybe you really are the ignorant bumpkin you pretend to be. On the other hand, you have handled yourself quite deftly, both before I met you and since, which means you have been very well taught.”

“My education was very selective,” said Rigg. “I had no idea how selective, since so much of it seemed useless to me and yet turned out not to be-but my father insisted that I learn what he chose, when he chose.”

“He taught you finance, but not history?”

“He taught me a great deal of history, but I realize now that he left out most of the recent history of the World Within the Walls. I’m sure he had a reason for that, but I find it quite inconvenient at the moment.”

“You speak a very elevated language, befitting a royal.”

“Father taught me to speak this way, but I never used this language with anyone but him. I use it now because you use it, and because it intimidated Mr. Cooper.”

“It didn’t intimidate him enough, apparently,” said the general.

Rigg didn’t want to discuss Mr. Cooper any further. “Someone will tell me your name eventually, if I live. And if I don’t live, then I would take this great and terrible secret with me to the grave.”

“I was not really being elusive,” said the general. “At the time of the revolution, my family dropped their rather-too-prominent gens and took the name ‘Citizen.’ So I truly am General Citizen. My prenomen, however, seems to be what you wish to know, though it would be quite impolite of you to use it, unless you are royal. I am Haddamander Citizen.”

“I am pleased to meet you, sir,” said Rigg. “And unless my father is a liar, I am Rigg Sessamekesh.”

“But we already agreed that your father is a liar, because if Rigg Sessamekesh is in fact your name, then the man who attested to it is not your father. And if he is your father, then that is not your name.”

Apparently Citizen was asking the same questions as during their walk in order to see if Rigg’s answers changed. But since he told the simple truth-except about the number of jewels-it was easy to stick to the same story. “I don’t know which is true.”

“I almost believe you,” said Citizen. “But you see the quandary you put me in. If you are Rigg Sessamekesh, then you are royal, the only son of the woman who, if we still had royalty, would be queen, and her late consort, Knosso Sissamik, who died at the Wall.”

“Either way, then, my father is dead,” observed Rigg. “Though if I’m royal, then it’s illegal for me to own anything valuable.”

“No, it’s illegal for the royal family to own anything, regardless of value, not even the clothing they wear, not even their own hair. If you doubt it, I assure you that from time to time citizens are admitted to whatever house the royals are guesting in, to shave the royal heads and carry away the hair.”

“And their clothing?”

“Whenever they wish,” said Citizen. “In theory. However, in recent years, because of public outrage at the first time Param Sissaminka was denuded after entering on puberty, the courts have deemed that since the clothing the so-called royals wear is borrowed, only the lender of the clothing has the right to take it back. Any other who takes it is a thief and will be punished accordingly. This reversed the earlier court decisions that whatever the royals wear is theirs, no matter who bought it, and therefore could be taken. Times change. The People’s Revolutionary Council does in fact respond, however slowly, to the will of the people.”

Rigg thought about what he had said. “The clothing I wear most certainly is my own, and yet you haven’t taken it.”

“Like your money and other possessions, your clothing is being held in trust for you in case you aren’t a royal, and I’m allowing you to continue to wear it. But if you are not a royal, then your ownership of the jewel you sold is highly questionable, and in all likelihood you’ll be charged with possession and sale of stolen property, fraud, and attempting to impersonate a royal, for which the combined penalty could be death, but since you are so young and almost certainly were put up to this, that sentence would probably be commuted to a few years in prison-provided you told us who induced you to commit these crimes.”

Rigg sighed at the repetition of the question. “I’ve already told you. I found out the name at the same time I got the jewel-when my father’s letter was opened and read by the friend he left it with. She had no knowledge of the contents, though she obviously knew about the jewel. She had no idea of its value and historical importance, though. No one did, until Mr. Cooper. So if there’s a deception, isn’t he part of it?”

“He insists he is among the deceived.”

“He would, wouldn’t he.”

“Yes-but the jewel most certainly was genuine, so he did not defraud anybody.”

“General Citizen,” said Rigg, “I’ve been thinking back to your summary of my situation, and I can see that either way, I will lose every penny that I have. On the one hand, I’ll lose it because I’m a genuine royal and subject to the laws that apply to that family. On the other hand, I’ll lose it because I’m not royal and therefore am guilty of a crime and, since I can’t name any co-conspirators, will probably be put to death.”

“If it’s any consolation,” said Citizen, “your companions will probably be tortured to death first, in the effort to find out the truth. If neither of them tells who your co-conspirators were or might be, or offers proof that you are not Rigg Sessamekesh, then in all likelihood their deaths without confession will save your life.”

Rigg leapt to his feet. “No! That’s-that’s evil. That can’t be the law! They didn’t do anything wrong! Umbo is a friend from childhood and he came along with me because his father kicked him out of the house. And Loaf is merely a kind man, an ex-soldier and now an innkeeper, and he came with us to keep us safe on the rest of our journey! Why should they die because of that?”

“But my lad, don’t you see? The only evidence we have of their innocence is your insistence on it-and the very point at issue is whether you can be believed or not.”

Without another word, Rigg bolted for the door to the cabin, but when he tried to pull it open, he found Citizen’s hand, above his head, was keeping it closed.

“You don’t really think I’d let you warn them, do you?” asked Citizen.

Rigg sat back down and fell silent. At least he knew his legal dilemma. But what he did not know was how to keep his friends safe. He couldn’t warn them. And yet… he knew that Umbo must live, at least long enough to come back from the future and give him the warning by the carriage near the Tower of O. Didn’t that mean that he not only would live, but would also remain in O? And Loaf must live and still be with Umbo, or why would future-Umbo have told Loaf to hide the rest of the jewels?

It was not possible that Loaf and Umbo would be tortured to death. And if that was so, then in all likelihood they would make their escape right now, while the boat was still at the dock.

There was a lurch, and the boat began to move.

All right, then, Umbo and Loaf must leap from the boat and swim to shore.

“You seem curiously untroubled by the movement of the boat,” said Citizen. “What do you know that I don’t know?”

“The movement of the boat,” said Rigg, “is not a surprise. That’s what I assumed it would do from the moment I got on it. That’s what boats are for.”

“But you were certainly calculating that your friends would try to escape while the boat was still at the dock.”

“Why are you so sure of what I was ‘calculating’?”

“Because the dock was the only place where they’d have a crowd to disappear into, where they could use their feet to run away. And, despite your skill at concealing your emotions, you still betrayed just a bit of it. Enough for a trained player of blackstone to detect it.”

“Then you aren’t very good at it,” said Rigg. “Because I definitely felt surprise when the boat moved. If you can read emotions at the gaming table, surely you can detect that.”

“Surprise, yes, but you were not troubled. Your worry dissipated instantly.”

“I don’t believe you’ll really kill them.”

“Oh, believe it, I won’t.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Rigg, allowing himself to feel a tiny trace of relief.

“Don’t try to fool me by letting yourself seem relieved. You can’t feel relief if you didn’t feel tension, and you didn’t. Besides, I won’t kill them or torture them because it’s not my job-the Revolutionary Council have specialists who handle all the judicial torture. I’m about fetching you; they’re about opening you up to examination.”

Rigg didn’t allow the implications of that-the hint that he, too, might be tortured-to enter his emotional consciousness. “I’ve been curious as to why a general would be sent to arrest me. Are you considered so worthless to the People’s Revolutionary Council that they would send you on a trivial errand like this?”

General Citizen laughed then. “You really are naive. I truly believe that. Because if you’re pretending, the things you pretend not to understand are so… stupidly chosen.”

“Again, I express my ingratitude to my father for the poor design of my education.”

“The reason I was sent to get you is because I maneuvered very carefully to win the assignment. And that’s because there are controversies centered on the Sessamoto Empire older and deeper than the mere matter of the royal family being deposed and the Revolutionary Council being in charge of the World Within the Walls.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Rigg.

“It was the decree of Aptica Sessamin, the grandmother of the current non-queen, that only women could rule in the Sessamoto Empire. She gave this decree force by having all her male relatives killed. This put an end to a great many plots centered around removing her-a woman-from the Tent of Light.”

“Tent?” asked Rigg.

“Officially, every royal residence is the Tent of Light when the ruling monarch is in it. Aptica Sessamin murdered all her own sons, as I said, and her reigning daughter, Mutash Sessamin, had only the one child, a daughter, Hagia Sessamin.”

“Hagia-the one who is either my mother or not?”

“So you do know the names of the royal family!”

“Of course I know it now,” said Rigg. “It’s been whispered by half the people we met. ‘He claims he’s the son of Hagia Sessamin.’”

“Cleverly done,” said Citizen. “I was very careful never to mention her name, in case you came up with it. But yes, I did hear the same comments, though I wouldn’t have thought you’d-never mind, I shouldn’t underestimate your cleverness or your powers of observation.”

Rigg showed absolutely no response to this-but by now he understood that to Citizen, not showing a response was, in fact, a response.

“So when Rigg Sessamekesh was born, the first male royal since the death of Aptica Sessamin, the very fact that he was given the suffix ‘ekesh’ was very controversial. That was the suffix given to the male child who was the heir presumptive, back in the days when males ruled. Hagia Sessamin claimed that the suffix only meant that he was the firstborn male child. Since by then the People’s Revolution had made sure there was nothing any royal child, still less a male one, could inherit, the name obviously had no implication of being heir. Others thought he was being named thus to stir up revolt and restore royal power. Still others thought that she was repudiating the law, started by her grandmother, that the Tent and the Stone must pass mother to daughter.”

“Tent and stone?” asked Rigg.

“Yes,” said Citizen. “The Tent that kept alive the memory of the days when the Sessamids were nomads, and the Stone, lost for thousands of years but still revered-its place symbolically taken by a common river rock-which you so kindly offered for sale.”

Rigg said nothing, for his thought now was upon the eighteen other stones, wondering why, when he stood there in Mr. Cooper’s office, he had managed to pick the one that would get him in the most trouble.

Citizen was going on with the story. “So when word came that Rigg Sessamekesh had died as an infant, those who believed the story were relieved. Others, however, thought it was a ploy, that conspirators had stolen away the baby to use him for the purpose of not only restoring the monarchy, but also abolishing female rule.”

“Then I must be an absolute fool to pretend to be him,” said Rigg. “Not only the Revolutionary Council but also those who still approve of the laws of Queen Aptica must want me dead. Any friends that such an impostor might have would be in a hopeless minority.”

“Well, that’s where things get complicated,” said Citizen, chuckling. “Because much of the support for the People’s Revolution was actually opposition to the continuation of female-only monarchy. At the time of the revolution, there was no male royal, so the only way to abolish the rule of queens was to abolish the monarchy entirely. But if a male heir turned up, some of the support of the Revolutionary Council-some say most of that support-would evaporate and regather behind the male child, since there have always been many who considered Aptica to be an abomination and her anti-male law to be sacrilege.”

“I’m surprised the real Rigg Sessamekesh wasn’t murdered the moment they saw his little ding,” said Rigg. “Just to save a lot of bother.”

“You speak as if you were not he,” said Citizen.

“As far as I know, I’m not,” said Rigg. “But I’m also not a fraud. You keep omitting the possibility that everything I’ve said is true. That in my ignorance I’m innocent of any offense.”

“Be that as it may,” said Citizen, “I got this assignment because certain people believed I could be trusted to find out the truth about you.”

“So if I turn out to be the real Rigg Sessamekesh, you can kill me?”

General Citizen smiled at him. “I see I’m not the only one to lay traps.”

For it was indeed a trap that Rigg had laid for him. If the situation as Citizen outlined it was correct, a loyal servant of the People’s Revolutionary Council would not have hesitated to kill Rigg at the first opportunity, since no outcome that left him alive would be good for the Council. Of course he’d disguise it as an accident, but it would happen, because fraud or heir, he would have to die.

“General Citizen,” said Rigg, “it seems to me that you don’t care whether I’m really the Rigg Sessamekesh that Hagia Sessamin gave birth to thirteen years ago.”

“But I care very much,” said Citizen.

“What you care about is whether I can be made believable to the people of Aressa Sessamo-believable enough that the Council can be overthrown and replaced by a regent-you, perhaps?-who will rule in my name.”

“You have made only one mistake,” said Citizen.

“No I haven’t,” said Rigg. “You’re about to tell me that you were really trying to draw me out so you could see if I posed a danger, but in fact you’re perfectly loyal to the Council.”

Citizen said nothing, showed nothing.

“You may or may not be loyal, and you may or may not be ambitious,” said Rigg. “Whatever judgment you come up with, I can’t control. But there is absolutely nothing in what I’ve said or done to suggest that I would be willing to take part in a plan to overthrow the Council. And if I did not take part willingly, no conspiracy could use me.”

“What if the survival of your friends were at stake? Wouldn’t you do as you were told?” asked Citizen.

Would Citizen really count on Rigg’s loyalty to his friends to make him a reliable tool? Father had once quoted an ancient philosopher, who said, “The good man counts on others to share his virtues, while the evil man counts on the virtues of better men. They are both mistaken.” Was Citizen foolish enough to make either mistake?

There was suddenly a great deal of shouting outside the cabin, and in a moment someone shoved open the door. It was a soldier.

“They’ve jumped overboard, sir! And threw Shouter overboard!”

“Guard this prisoner,” said Citizen as he ran from the room.

The soldier closed the door and stood in front of it. “Don’t even try to talk to me,” he said to Rigg.

“Not even to ask who in the world has the horrible name of ‘Shouter’?”

The soldier stood there for a long time, and Rigg had concluded he wasn’t going to answer. And then he did.

“It’s not his real name, sir. It’s what we all call him behind his back. I hope the general didn’t notice.”

“I think you have little chance of that,” said Rigg. “He notices everything.”

The soldier nodded and sighed. “Hope it’s short rations and not the lash for me.” Then he blushed, probably because he shouldn’t have said any such thing to the prisoner.

“Would it help if I told him you were immediately remorseful?”

“No, because that would mean I had talked to you.”

“Which you certainly have not done,” said Rigg, “despite my efforts to induce you to speak.”

Long silence from the soldier. Lots of noise outside. A slackening of the speed of the boat, and then a reversal of direction. Then a return to forward motion. There was a double rap on the door. The soldier opened it a little, stepped through it-never turning his back on Rigg-and in a moment stepped back inside.

“Your friends got away safe, sir,” said the soldier softly, mouthing the words rather than speaking them, which he did so naturally that Rigg imagined this must be the way soldiers communicated when maintaining silence on duty.

Rigg did not ask the soldier why he said “sir.” He knew perfectly well that his supposed identity had spread among the soldiers, if not through the whole crew and half of O before they left. The soldier called him “sir” because he still had respect for royalty, and Rigg was purportedly the heir to the throne.

So the fear of there being support for a revolution against the Revolutionary Council was not ungrounded.

Was it possible that Father had taken him, as an infant, from the royal house? Then the only question was whether he did so in obedience to Rigg’s parents’ wishes, or against them. Had his real mother and father given him to the Wandering Man in hopes of saving his life? Or was he kidnapped?

Or-an intriguing possibility-had Father, knowing the real Rigg had been murdered and the body hidden or destroyed, taken a perfectly ordinary baby and raised him so as to prepare him to pretend to be the Sessamekesh? If so, Father would certainly have gone to great lengths to make sure to use a baby who could be expected to grow up to resemble the Sessamoto family enough that he would be believable as their long-lost son and brother.

What Rigg couldn’t figure out was why Father would arrange things so that this plot would start even after he died. Why wouldn’t he want to be there to help guide Rigg through this perilous path?

Or had he already given him all the guidance he needed?

Rigg sat there trying to imagine what else Father had taught him that might be applicable in this situation. Nothing came to mind. Hard as it was to believe, it seemed likely that Father had not thought of everything.

But Father knew that no one could think of everything. So he must have believed he gave Rigg the tools he needed to deal with any situation, including this one. The problem was that Rigg had no idea what to do, so whatever training Father might have thought would be applicable would not be applied as long as Rigg remained as stupid as he was right now.

The door opened. It was not General Citizen who came in, but rather a very wet officer-apparently the one called Shouter. He was shoved into the cabin by other soldiers and immediately manacled to Rigg, wrist to wrist and ankle to ankle.

Only then did General Citizen come to the door and shout at the dripping, shivering man, “Maybe you can keep this one from diving overboard, you blithering fool! Maybe you won’t get thrown over yourself!”

Rigg immediately assumed that the shouting was so that the other soldiers on the boat would get the message; to Rigg, Citizen did not look genuinely angry at Shouter. The sincere glance of rage was directed at Rigg.

When the general was gone and he was alone with Shouter, it took a great deal of effort for Rigg to keep himself from laughing. Good old Loaf had not only gotten himself and Umbo off the boat, he had tossed the watchdog into the water as well. And General Citizen, whatever his real purpose might be, was not happy.

CHAPTER 11

Backward This time it took eleven days for the computers to come up with their answer.

“Converting the energy requirement into mass,” said the expendable, “all the computers agree that without violating previously observed laws of physics, the most likely cost of returning from the fold to our previous position in spacetime, but with the direction reversed, would be about nineteen times the mass of this ship and everything on it.”

“Nineteen computers,” said Ram, “and nineteen times the mass.”

“Do you find this coincidence significant?” asked the expendable.

“Each computer was an observer and a meddler in spacetime at the time the fold was created,” said Ram. “You and I weren’t observers, because we could not sense or even understand the convolutions of the fields being generated. So for each observer, there had to be a distinct jump. And for each jump, there had to be an expenditure of mass equal to the total mass of the ship and its contents.”

“So if there had been only nine or ten computers,” said the expendable, “we would have come only halfway back to the present?”

“No,” said Ram. “I think if there had been only one computer, we would have crossed the fold only one-nineteenth as far into the past of the target star system before being shoved back, in reverse.”

“You seem to be very happy about this hypothesis,” said the expendable, “but I don’t see why. It still explains nothing.”

“Don’t you see?” said Ram. “Crossing the fold pushed us into the past a certain amount, based on the mass of the ship and its velocity or whatever. But the only way to pay for that passage across the fold was to send an equal mass backward. And because there were nineteen observers creating the fields that created the fold, it happened nineteen times.”

“But it happened only once,” said the expendable.

“No,” said Ram. “It happened nineteen times. For each jump, a copy of the ship was thrust backward in time. Eighteen other versions of ourselves occupy the identical space as the original ship, only moving the opposite direction through time as we journey toward Earth, all of us invisible to each other.”

“So our reliance on the computers caused the failure of the mission?” asked the expendable.

“The mission didn’t fail,” said Ram. “It succeeded nineteen times. We’re just the exhaust trail.” • • • Loaf was full of plans to sneak back into O and live there in hiding long enough for Umbo to deliver his messages. Only when Umbo finally convinced him that he had no idea how to do it did Loaf finally realize that learning how to go back in time might better be done somewhere else.

“I might not learn how to go back in time for weeks,” said Umbo as they walked through the woods, back toward O. “Or months.” If I ever do. “It was only Rigg who could go back in time. I helped, by slowing him down. Or speeding him up.”

“Which?”

“I always thought I was slowing other people down, but Rigg said I was really speeding them up so that everything around them seemed slower.”

Loaf grunted at that and moved a branch out of the way, holding it so it didn’t swing back and hit Umbo in the face.

“Thanks,” said Umbo. “You see, Rigg could always see the paths of people moving around in the past. Long before I ever helped him. He knew what he was looking for. I don’t.”

Another grunt.

“We need a safe place to go where I can practice trying to do to myself whatever it is I do to other people. And even then, who knows whether I’ll be able to see anything?”

“Look,” said Loaf, “we know you did it. We know it happens. We just have to be patient. And you have to work hard at it so we don’t waste too much time.”

“It’s not a waste of time,” said Umbo. “It’s however long the job takes.”

“Here’s how I see things,” said Loaf. “We must have gone through all this before, only the first time, Rigg got arrested without your moving the knife and without my hiding the jewels and money. Then you learned how to go back in time, came back to O, delivered the warnings, and now everything is happening differently. So why do you need to deliver the messages this time at all?”

“Because none of that has happened yet, so now it won’t,” said Umbo. “I have to learn how to travel in time so I can go back this time and deliver the same message again.”

“But you didn’t get the message twice, did you? So why deliver it twice?”

“I don’t know,” said Umbo. “I don’t think it is twice. I think there’s only one message, and I still have to deliver it.”

“But you only know you have to deliver it because you already did. And that’s the point. You already did. But I’m not going to argue with you. Even if you don’t have to deliver the same message again, it’ll be useful for you to learn how to do it. And then if it makes you feel better, go ahead and deliver the messages-if you remember what you actually said.”

“I have to do it because I know I already did, only when I did it, it was the future, so I have to get to the future in order to come back and do what I already did… This is so crazy that it has to be impossible.”

“Except it happened, so it is possible. We won’t do your figuring-it-out time in O, because we might get caught. But I’m still going back to get the jewels and the money. The coins will be convenient for us, right now-we can buy passage upriver to Leaky’s Landing and stay there in safety for a while. But the jewels and the knife-it’s not like we can cash those in. I think you came back to warn Rigg and yourself because first time we went through this experience, those items got taken by the soldiers, and that made everything worse for Rigg. That first stone-did it just happen to be the only one that was legendary and fabulously valuable? Or are there others that would make things even worse if Rigg was caught with them? And that knife-who knows what that would cause. It’s very old, but it looks very new, right? And Rigg never did know anything about the man he lifted it from.”

“So we should take the money and bury the knife and the jewels somewhere nobody can ever find them,” said Umbo.

“No,” said Loaf. “Because we don’t know but what we’ll need them later to buy Rigg’s freedom. Or some other thing. They’re Rigg’s inheritance from his father, so what we have to do is keep them out of the hands of the Revolutionary Council or anybody else who means us ill. But we still need to get it all to Aressa Sessamo so Rigg will have the use of them if he ever needs them.”

“Because having them has worked out so splendidly up to now,” said Umbo.

Loaf gave him a little shove. “Look what you’re wearing. Look what we’ve experienced, the people we’ve talked to, the things we’ve learned. A few weeks of being rich has taught me a lot.”

“Like what? That it gets you arrested?”

“It was Rigg’s name that got him arrested, not his money.”

“So what has being rich-or hanging around with a rich kid-taught you?”

Loaf grinned. “That I like it a lot better than being poor.”

“I was fine with poor. I didn’t even know I was all that poor. I didn’t even know the stuff we were buying even existed, so I didn’t miss it. Life was good.”

“Spoken like a true privick,” said Loaf.

“So what’s the plan? We go into O, get the jewels and money-”

“You are so very, very wrong. I go into O, I get the money.”

“You’re not leaving me!”

“Yes I am,” said Loaf. “And we’re going to have a signal so that when I come back, I can call you. If I whistle like this…”-he whistled-“then I’m all alone and it’s safe. But if I whistle like this…”-a different sound-“then I have somebody dangerous with me and you should stay away.”

“There’s not a bird alive that makes sounds like those.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m not calling any birds, isn’t it?” said Loaf. “Those are military signals from my old regiment.”

“You need one more signal.”

“What’s that?”

“One that means ‘I’ve got somebody dangerous with me, but I need you to come to me anyway.’”

“I would never give you a signal like that.”

“But you might. So whistle that one for me.”

“I’ll never need it.”

“Then you’ll never use it, but let’s have it anyway!”

Loaf glowered and whistled again, a very different sound. “I’m the experienced one, but you think you can give the orders.”

“You’re the big man, and I’m the little kid. I never have the option of fighting my way out of a situation. So I think of all the options I might need. That’s just how it is when you’re small.”

“I was a kid once, too,” said Loaf.

“And I bet you were bigger than kids two years older than you.”

Loaf said nothing.

“When you don’t answer, that means I’m right.”

“Shut up,” said Loaf. “I think I caught a glimpse of the tower.”

“What tower?” asked Umbo.

“The Tower of O,” growled Loaf. “Are you that stupid?”

“I was thinking of other things,” said Umbo. “I was thinking of how to go back in time.”

“You were thinking of how smart you are, telling me ‘I’m right,’ and then you proved you aren’t very smart after all, and don’t bother arguing because we both know I’m stuck with the dumb kid while the smart kid is a prisoner on that boat.”

That stung Umbo-worse than his father beating him. And even though Loaf cuffed him playfully and told him, “Come on, you know I was teasing you,” it didn’t change the fact that they both knew it was true. But it wasn’t about being smart. It was about the things Wandering Man had taught them. Umbo had gotten a little training and that was all. Just enough to help Rigg. But Rigg had been trained for anything. He had been trained to be a son of the royal house-because that was what he really was.

If Wandering Man had trained me the same way, I’d be smart, too.

Wouldn’t I?

Despite all the signals, Loaf ended up not using any of them. That’s because Umbo disobeyed him, didn’t stay where he was told, but instead followed him and, not far from the tower, climbed a tree. He could see now where Loaf dug to get the bag of jewels, and could see that nobody was following Loaf as he threaded his way back into the woods. So Umbo ran back toward their meeting place, climbed another tree, and dropped from a lower branch right in front of Loaf. He submitted cheerfully to the do-what-I-tell-you-or-you’ll-get-us-both-killed lecture.

When Loaf was finally through grumping at him, Umbo asked, “Did you get it? All of it?”

“Unless somebody found the bag, took out just one jewel, and put the rest back, yes, I found it all.”

“Well, let’s see it. Let’s count,” said Umbo. “Because now I think there really is one missing.”

They counted. And counted again.

“I can’t believe it,” said Loaf. “How could one be gone?”

“The biggest one, too,” said Umbo.

“How did you know?”

“I didn’t know,” said Umbo. “I just thought maybe.”

“It makes no sense at all,” said Loaf savagely. “Nobody would steal just one.”

“I would,” said Umbo. “And I saw the hiding place when you dug it up just now. So I’m betting that I did take it.”

Loaf rounded on him. “Hand it over, then, you little thief.”

“I didn’t hear you calling Rigg a thief for stealing that knife.”

“I called him a thief, all right!”

“That’s right, you did, but you didn’t grab him like you’re grabbing me and it hurts, so stop it! I don’t have the jewel because I didn’t take it!”

“You said you did.”

“I said I’m betting that I did, and I really should have said that I’m betting that I will.”

Loaf sighed and let go of him. “Why? What’s the point?”

“No point except that when you made your sarcastic remark about how somebody might have taken one, I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if my future self comes back, finds the bag of jewels, and takes out the biggest one. And the moment I thought that, I decided to do it if I got the chance. Now I know I’ll get the chance.”

“So you’re saying that when you learn how to travel in time, you’re going to use it to play stupid bratty tricks on your friends?”

“Now you’re getting it.”

“I ought to break your arm.”

“But I know you won’t.”

“Don’t be too sure.”

“Because my arm looked fine when my future self came to visit me. I also know I won’t drown, break my neck falling from a tree, or get my throat slit by a highwayman. I won’t die of some disease and I won’t get struck by lightning, and nobody will beat me to death with a stick.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure.”

“How can I be anything but sure? I came back and visited me and Rigg! I took the jewel out of the bag!”

“I wish I could go back and hide the bag in a different place,” said Loaf.

“Now you’re getting into the fun of it!” said Umbo. “Come on, people always make games out of everything. You did war as your real grownup work-but didn’t you play at war when you were little? I did. All of us did. So when I learn to go back in time, I’ll play with it! Giving warnings is one thing-that’s just showing up and talking. I know I’ll have to prove I can do whatever Rigg did or I’ll feel like I lost the game. He took the knife-from a stranger. I took-I will take-the jewel, but I’m only stealing from us so nobody else will miss it. See? A game.”

“I’m not having fun yet,” said Loaf.

“Because you’re old and tired and you know you’re going to die.” And this time, when Loaf made as if to hit him, Umbo dodged away. “See? We’re friends, and I’m teasing you like a friend. See? That’s what normal people do.”

“It’s not how normal children treat normal grownups,” said Loaf, and he did seem a little angry.

“But you’re not a normal grownup,” said Umbo. “When you hit me, you don’t really mean to hurt me.”

“Come a little closer here, Umbo, and we’ll see about that.”

“My father would have knocked me down and then kicked me a few times,” said Umbo.

“Too much work,” said Loaf. “You’re not worth it.”

“Friends!” said Umbo triumphantly.

“Well, friend,” said Loaf, “I have only one question for you. Where is that jewel now?”

That kept Umbo silent for quite a while. Was it possible that the jewel had simply left the world? Had it ceased to exist, and then would exist again, out of nowhere, out of nothing? It got Umbo to wondering what it meant to exist at all. When Rigg went back and took the knife, he stayed completely in the real present world-the only difference was that he could see the people from the past, and they could see him, but he was still here. The jewel, though. It was gone.

What about the knife? It was in the stranger’s possession, Rigg reached out and took it, and Umbo remembered seeing it come into existence in Rigg’s hand. The knife had a continuous existence. The problem was that it skipped centuries, maybe thousands of years. Jumped right over them. Because Rigg had reached back in time and moved it. That’s what happened to the jewel. It never ceased to exist, it just changed places. And eras. The knife had been carried by Rigg’s hand; the jewel would be carried by Umbo’s.

They had come downriver carried by a boat. At every second between Leaky’s Landing and O, they still existed, somewhere in the world-on the boat. For the knife and the jewel, though, there was no boat. No river. The movement was instantaneous. And Umbo didn’t want to think about it anymore. Mostly because Loaf looked so smug, for having made him think of a problem that kept him silent.

That, too, was a kind of game, wasn’t it? And Loaf had won it.

They didn’t try to board an upbound boat in O, in case someone there recognized them, realized they must have escaped, and took them back into custody, jewels and all. Instead they went back downriver to a small ferry, crossed to the other side, and then caught an upriver boat.

They didn’t take the first one that passed, or even the first one that came close to shore and somebody called out if they wanted passage. Umbo didn’t understand why none of these boats was good enough, until Loaf called out to one boat-it wasn’t even coming to shore-by shouting the name of the pilot. “Rubal!” he cried, and then again, louder. Then Loaf waded out from the shore and waved and shouted “Rubal” again until finally the pilot heard him, or saw him.

“Loaf, you old poacher!”

“I didn’t poach, she just liked me better!” Loaf called back. But under his breath, to Umbo, he said, “I really did poach his girlfriend, but we were soldiers then, almost children. I’d never do it now.”

“Good thing,” said Umbo, “or Leaky’d kill you.”

“True. She might kill me for bringing Rubal back to our inn-I’ll have to put him up for the night, it’s only fair.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“He can’t stop gambling at stones, and he cheats all the time. He’s pretty good at it but not good enough that a sharp player won’t spot him doing it.”

“You a sharp player?”

“No,” said Loaf. “But I had to kill a sharp player once to save Rubal’s neck.”

“So he owes you this passage.”

“We’ve saved each other’s necks about twenty times. He’ll do it as a favor, not as a debt.”

“How did you know he was coming?”

“I didn’t know it would be Rubal. I knew that soon enough there’d be somebody I knew well enough to trust he wouldn’t rob us and float our bodies downstream. I live and work on the river, Umbo. There’s only so many boats and only so many pilots, and after a while you get to know a lot of them.”

The passage upriver was uneventful. They stopped here and there. Loaf introduced himself to other innkeepers. They always got along cheerfully, because there was no competition between them. Rivermen stopped at the nearest inn when darkness approached; it was not as if they would continue upriver in the dark to stop at a favorite place. So unless your beds were so bugridden or your food so rancid that rivermen went out of their way to avoid it, the money was there to be made for all of them, but with steadily diminishing trade the farther upriver you went.

Loaf joined in with the poling and rowing from time to time-his muscles weren’t shaped to the work, but he was strong and learned quickly enough. Umbo, though, was so little that when he offered to help they only laughed at him. “Besides,” murmured Loaf to him, “you have other work to do. Inside your head.”

Thus Umbo spent hour after hour lying in the shade of a sail, when the wind helped them upriver, or a tarpaulin, when it didn’t. It was an easy thing to speed up the perceptions of the crewmen, so that they were more alert and had plenty of time to deal with obstructions or possible collisions on the river. None of them suspected they had had any help from Umbo, except Loaf himself, who squinted and glared at Umbo the few times he did it. Now that he was trying to study what he was doing-something he hadn’t done since Wandering Man stopped his lessons-he realized some useful facts.

First, the speeding up lasted for several minutes after Umbo stopped imposing it on the other person.

Second, it worked rather like the quick rush of energy that came when you were in danger-only it didn’t cause the racing heartbeat, the panting for breath, and the sheer terror that usually caused such intense concentration and speeded-up perceptions. Umbo’s gift to them was really a kind of panic without the fear.

So to cause himself to have the effect, he tried for a while to make himself afraid, in order to speed himself up. It didn’t work. For one thing, he didn’t really believe it. For another, it simply wasn’t the same thing at all, so fear had no effect.

If he had had a mirror he might have tried looking in it in order to cast the spell on himself, but the more he thought of that, the more ridiculous it seemed. He knew that mirrors worked by reflecting light-but there was no reason to think it would reflect whatever power it was that he wielded.

He tried looking at his hands or feet, the way he looked at the person he was targeting, but again, there was no effect that he could discern-no quickening, no perceived slowing down of the world around him.

Finally, he gave up in despair and just lay there in the shade, letting the boat surge upstream with each call of “Pole!” or “Stick!” then slacken as half the poles were reset at a time. It was almost smooth, but not quite, and lying there on the deck he could feel each surge, each slackening. He concentrated intensely on it, and it seemed to him that they were slowing down, the calls coming more slowly, each surge lasting longer, each slackening more sharp.

Then he fell asleep.

And when he woke up-nudged awake by a boatman’s toe, with a muttered, “Supper, lad”-he had almost forgotten that feeling just before he slept, of everything moving slowly, and even when he remembered it he did so only to think, I wonder if that’s how it feels to be under the time-slowing spell.

“Fool,” he whispered.

“What?” asked the riverman nearest him. They were pulled up along shore for the noon meal and a bit of a rest, so no one was at the poles right now.

“Myself,” said Umbo. “I called myself a fool.”

“Honest of you,” said the riverman. “Though it was obvious to the rest of us days ago.”

Umbo gave him a quick grin-it did feel good to have their acceptance, though it was Loaf, not Umbo, who had earned it. But when he met Loaf’s eyes across the coals of the cookfire still red in the metal firepan, he gave him a wink, and Loaf nodded. Progress.

That afternoon, Umbo worked to isolate what caused him to go into the trance himself. It was not sleepiness-that had ended, not triggered, the phenomenon. Nor was it concentration, really-he had not been thinking about the rhythm of “pole, stick, pole, stick” as the two teams alternated their surges. Rather it was a different thing, different from the way it felt when he did it to others, but still, in a strange way, the same. Just like learning to use a new muscle, and the more he practiced, the more easily he found himself in that inward place where time slowed down, or he speeded up.

It was as if, instead of doing something to himself, he simply found the place inside himself where time was already moving along at a different clip. And as he got more practiced at it, he realized that he had much more versatility and control over his own trance than over the timeflow of other people, when he worked the trick on them. He could go much faster than he could make them go; he could vary the tempo across quite a broad range of speeds. And it didn’t weary him to do it to himself; he was rather invigorated by it, instead of its wearing him out.

“All well and good,” murmured Loaf. “But can you do it with your eyes open?”

Umbo woke up. Or not really-he hadn’t been asleep this time-but coming out of the trance of time always felt like awakening, though it also felt like leaving home and coming out into a harsher world.

“How did you know I was doing it?” Umbo whispered.

“Because when I sit by you,” murmured Loaf, “or walk near you, I can feel it happening to me. A quickening of my step. And it’s stronger than when you were practicing on us all, back at the beginning. It grows as I come nearer to you, and fades as I walk away.”

“Do you think the others feel it?” asked Umbo.

“If they do, they don’t know why. It feels, to a man my age, as if I were younger, fresher, less tired. As if I thought more sharply, saw more clearly, heard things from farther away and could tell them apart more easily. In other words, it just feels good. Who would try to blame feeling good on a boy who seems to be asleep on the deck?”

“I really do need to open my eyes,” said Umbo. “I don’t know why I haven’t already. I don’t think I have to keep my eyes closed to make it happen to myself, not anymore. I just don’t know if there’ll be anything to see. It was Rigg that saw people moving through time, without any help from me.”

“But it’s you that knows how to move a man backward in time, whether he can see anything there or not.”

“I need Rigg. I really do. Maybe I don’t send the message until he gets out of his captivity.”

“If that’s how it worked, then it would have been Rigg delivering the messages instead of you, wouldn’t it?” Loaf got to his feet again. “My rest time is over. I’m on the stick team today. Stick, pole, stick, pole-no wonder these rivermen need so many pints of strong ale when they stop at Leaky’s Landing!”

In the remaining two days of the upriver voyage, Umbo grew so practiced at slipping into quicktime that he began having to work at not moving about in that mode. He felt sluggish when he did not have that alertness about him, and he wondered if this ability to speed himself up in relation to the world might not be rather like ale to these rivermen-a way of making the world brighter and pleasanter. Because it felt good to be so aware of everything, and to have time to think of what he wanted to say before he said it. It made him seem cleverer-to others and to himself-to have the time to think of an answer before speaking, or not to speak at all when his first impulse was to say or ask something stupid.

But in all the time he spent in quicktime, he never saw so much as a glimpse of the “paths” Rigg talked about seeing all the time, still less any person from another era. It seemed hopeless to him, for Rigg, when Umbo put him into quicktime, had to pick out a particular path and then look at it closely in order for the individual person to emerge clearly enough for Rigg to pick his pocket. But Umbo, seeing no paths, could not pick out a target for his attention, and therefore could not possibly make them become solid and real.

I can’t do it. And yet I did it.

Not until they arrived at Leaky’s Landing was there another opportunity to talk, for this part of the river Loaf knew well, having plied it up and down to buy groceries and linens, tools and hardware, furniture and liquid refreshments for the inn. So as they passed each landmark, Loaf would offer his opinion of the place-“You never buy your sheets from the weavers in that town, they make them all too small to tuck in tight on a goodsized bed. It must be a town of dwarfs, eh?”-and then the rivermen would offer their opinions of the place-“There’s a girl there so ugly they don’t castrate their hogs anymore, they just bring them to look at her and their equipment freezes up and drops off.”

Umbo was quite aware that what Loaf said was always literally true, and what the rivermen said was almost never true at all-and yet no one was lying and all were entertained by each other. Umbo could well see why rivermen might prefer to live in an exaggerated or downright imaginary world, what with all the poling, and the sameness of the river going up or coming down. While Loaf, the soldier, the hardheaded man of trade, the toiler in all trades, he needed to keep a clear-eyed view of the world.

When they got home they bade good-bye to the rivermen, who did not stop the night, “Because why should we give you back, for food and ale, the very passage money you just gave to us?” said the captain of the boat.

Leaky barely seemed interested in them-neither Umbo nor her own husband. She was busy, she said, and didn’t have time for greetings, what with doing everything single-handed while they were off playing the tourist in far countries. Loaf’s answer was not to rail at her, as Umbo’s father would have done, but rather to pitch in beside her and help her make short work of her tasks. And as they labored side by side, she began to smile now and then-not looking at him yet, but just smiling-and then she hummed, and then sang, and finally began to tell him stories of things that had happened while he was gone.

Umbo, meanwhile, tried to make himself useful, too, though he did not know how to do many of the tasks they did, and had to learn by watching. That, however, he did very well, for he could quicken himself so he had plenty of time to watch and understand exactly what they were doing, and then observe his own actions and correct them. He didn’t move any faster than he normally did-that is, exactly in proportion to the time of the people or creatures or things he was interacting with. But while acting, he had time to think again and stop himself or change his action. It was a wonderful luxury, that ability to rethink and still have time to change his course.

So now he understood, at last, how his quickening gift was useful to the people he had used it on, though he hadn’t really understood how. They really are better able to carry out their plan of action, when I put a quickening on them. Wandering Man called it “slowing” because it made things around a person seem to proceed at a leisurely pace. He had gotten it all wrong, as if Wandering Man thought it was time itself that Umbo affected, rather than the person’s perceptions and thought processes within time.

It was actually a bit of a relief to realize that Wandering Man didn’t know everything about everything; he wondered if the man himself had ever realized it before he died. Or maybe he died because he was so sure he knew everything that it didn’t occur to him that he might be wrong about the direction in which a hewn tree would fall.

Supper was the best food Umbo had eaten on the river, and he said so. “That’s because you’re eating like family now, not the swill we slop the pigs with,” said Loaf, at which Leaky smacked him across the top of his head, saying, “We eat from the same pot as the guests and that’s a fact, which you well know, Loaf, and I won’t have you saying otherwise.”

“No, my love, you won’t have me saying otherwise in your presence,” which earned him another smack, and a harder one.

The room they put Umbo in was not one of the guest rooms. It was a smallish bedroom right next to their own, and Umbo realized that this was the room where, if they ever had a child, that child would sleep. How old is Leaky, Umbo wondered as he readied himself for bed. Might she have children? Or is one of them unable? When they built this place it was clear they meant to have children. Sad if they couldn’t have what they wanted, when a lout like Umbo’s father popped babies into women every time he had a go at them, and heaven knows why any woman ever let him.

Umbo had just fallen asleep when he was wakened by Loaf shaking him gently.

“What?” murmured Umbo.

“I know you can’t see them,” said Loaf. “But does that matter, if you know right where they are?”

Umbo was too tired to get what Loaf was trying to say, and fell asleep again in moments. But when he awoke in the middle of the night to pee, the words came back to him, and actually took on some meaning. In fact he realized he had been dreaming about them. In his dreams, Umbo pictured Rigg standing a very long time by the carriage, so that Umbo did not have to be able to see him in order to tell him his message. And the same with Umbo’s message to himself-he had received it while lying in his bed in their lodging in O, so that he, too, was firmly in the same place and Umbo did not actually have to be able to see himself to give the message.

Awake now, Umbo tried to remember what his future self had looked like, and now he realized that his head had been bowed, as if he was staring at a spot on the floor rather than himself lying in bed. He had seemed rather shy or humble to Umbo, but what if he were simply not looking at anything at all, only talking into the air and hoping someone would receive his message?

But no, he had heard what Umbo asked him. Or had he? Perhaps, already knowing what past-Umbo would say, having said it himself, future-Umbo was able to answer it.

Closing the lid of the pissoir, he thought back to last night’s supper and almost went downstairs to try quickening himself and then speaking to the invisible past versions of himself and Loaf and Leaky. But he stopped himself in time. He couldn’t do that, because he hadn’t done it. There had been no visitation and no message last night. He’d have to do it tonight, instead.

Unless Loaf was right, and it was perfectly possible for him to go back and give a message where no message had been received, and then it would be received, and thus change the future, and after that there would be no need to actually do the message giving again. But Umbo could not see how such a thing was possible. It was maddening enough that trying to make sense of it put him back to sleep almost as soon as he was back under the covers.

The next day he said nothing to Loaf about his dreams and quandaries, and still less about his plans. During the afternoon he managed to filch some bread and cheese from the kitchen and secrete it in his room, because he intended to eat no supper at the table that night. In order to avoid confusing himself with the issue of whether he could take a message into the past that he had not already seen when it was delivered, prior to delivering it, he decided to be absent from the place where the message would be received.

So he pretended to have a little headache which needed nothing but sleep to be cured, and went to his room. He ate his bread and cheese and wished he had thought to bring water or weak ale into the room. But he resolutely did not leave the room, and waited until he could hear the quieting of the house. Only when all was dark and quiet did he get up and make his way down the stairs by the scant light of the stars and the silver night-ring coming through skylights and windows, then down a dark hall by feel alone.

He came into the little room off the kitchen where Loaf and Leaky must have eaten their private meal-late, as always, after the guests were served-and found no one there and the room dark, except for the flickering light from the kitchen fire.

Only then, imagining where Leaky and Loaf would have sat, did he realize just how many holes there were in his plan. Because even though he himself was not present for dinner, it is absolutely certain that if they had received his message-the one he was preparing to slip into the recent past and give them now-they would have come up to his bedroom and wakened him and told him of the success of it.

Unless I told them to let me sleep uninterrupted till morning. That’s what my message should be-to go to sleep as normal and not waken me till morning!

Satisfied now that he had resolved the contradictions, Umbo closed the doors to the room and, keeping his voice low, put himself into the trance of quickening. “Don’t waken me till morning, please,” he whispered entreatingly to the empty chair where Leaky usually sat. Then he spoke again, but with the trance shallower, or so he hoped. And again and again. At no point did he see any trace or flicker of Loaf and Leaky, or hear a speck of answer, but he resolutely tried to do it at every level of trance, thinking that perhaps the depth of the trance determined how far back he would go in time.

Exhausted and stupid from lack of sleep and long concentration, he was whispering now from hoarseness rather than a desire to be quiet. He hit on the idea of varying the message a little so that he’d remember which level of trance had been seen by them, but then gave up on it because how could he remember how “deep” the trance was at the time of a given message?

Even when he thought he was done and resolved to go back upstairs, he did not. Instead he sat down in his own place at the table and rubbed his eyes and knew, without knowing why or how, that he had failed. He had only been talking to himself.

Sitting there, drifting near sleep, yet still trying to quicken himself, he fell into an even deeper quickening-or dreamed he did-and this time when he spoke his message, talking across the table to his two friends, he reached out his hands and dreamed-or was it a dream?-that he felt their hands in his, and their voices assuring him that they would comply with his wishes.

“Then come back here after dark,” he said, “and bring me back up to bed, because I’m so very tired.” Whereupon he closed his eyes and fell, not into a deeper trance, but into such a deep sleep that he slumped forward and slept with his head on his arms.

Then he awoke to Leaky shaking him gently and saying, “Wake up, Umbo, go upstairs to your bed, why would you sleep sitting at table?”

For a moment Umbo thought this meant his dream was true. “You came as I asked!” said Umbo-his voice still a hoarse whisper.

“Listen to the croaking of a frog!” said Leaky with delight. “You poor thing, you really are sick, at least a cold, all full of mucus and snot, which is what happens when you come downstairs and fall asleep in a cooling house with no blanket and hardly a stitch on.”

There had been no message received, none at all.

I’ll just have to try again, he thought.

But the next night he tried nothing at all. He had spent the day working, not on reaching back in time, but rather on helping Loaf repair things around the inn, and fetch things from the weekly market that were needed to feed the guests, and whatever other errands were needed, anything to keep himself awake, since he had slept so little the night before.

Almost as soon as he had eaten, he went upstairs and dropped off to sleep immediately.

Again he was woken by Leaky’s hands shaking him.

No. Leaky’s and Loaf’s hands. They were in his room and it was still the same night, because there was the noise of guests in the common room, singing songs with bad harmonies and voices lubricated by ale.

“You did it!” said Loaf. “You appeared at our table, sitting there, reaching out your hands! We took your hands boy.”

Umbo felt a glow of satisfaction. “What did I say? Didn’t I tell you not to waken me?”

“No, you said we must waken you and send you upstairs to bed.”

“No he didn’t,” said Leaky.

“But since you were already here-well, we thought you were, so we came upstairs to check, and couldn’t help waking you and telling you that it worked!”

But it hadn’t worked. “I left that message last night. That’s why I was sitting at the kitchen table. So I didn’t go into the past at all, I went into the future. Tonight. Last night I left the message that you got tonight.” In despair Umbo rolled over in bed and faced the wall.

“You stupid little fool,” said Loaf, not without affection. “You think that’s failure? What do we care, right now at least, whether you go into the future or the past. So you went a few hours into the future? You shifted yourself into another time at all!”

Come to think of it, once Loaf had put it that way, it was an encouraging sign. “All right,” said Umbo, rolling onto his back but keeping his eyes closed. “Because you saw me sitting at the table, and you touched my hands, I know exactly which of my tries actually worked. It was different from the others. I was numb from lack of sleep, I was so deep in my trance I felt lost, felt like I might never find my way back. I couldn’t tell when I crossed the boundary from that into sleep. But all the other times accomplished nothing.”

“Unless we’re going to keep running into ghosts of you giving us foolish messages for the rest of our lives,” said Leaky.

“I must learn how to push the messages into the past-and just the right amount of time, too.”

Loaf chuckled. “You’re not even awake. But tomorrow, let’s keep you sending messages until you start going in the right direction. Or maybe you can pick a spot to write messages in the dirt.”

“I don’t think that’ll work,” said Umbo. “You couldn’t even hear my voice, am I right? All you did was see me.”

“And hold your hands,” said Leaky. “Didn’t you feel us hold your hands?”

“Yes, I did,” admitted Umbo. “And I could smell the kitchen.”

“Of course you could,” said Loaf. “You were in the kitchen.”

“I mean I could smell the dinner as if it was fresh. I remember that now, from what I thought was a dream.”

“We know you can scratch a message in the dirt, Umbo,” said Loaf, “because you were able to dig up a certain bag that was buried in dirt, and then cover the place again so it betrayed no disturbance.”

“What bag are you talking about?” asked Leaky.

“The bag of jewels,” said Loaf. “When Rigg was arrested, we went back and got it. Only Umbo, here, had apparently come back from the future to raid my little hiding place and take the biggest jewel out of the bag.”

“Anyone could have taken it,” said Leaky.

“Anyone in their right mind would have taken the whole bag,” said Loaf.

“I can’t have done it,” said Umbo miserably. “I’m only traveling in time to reach into the future. Which is useless, since we’re all going to end up in the future anyway.”

“All those stories of ghosts,” said Leaky. “They’re probably just somebody like you. They’re walking around in a house when they’re so tired they accidentally fall into this quickening you’re talking about, and they inadvertently leave behind an image of themselves-or even the reality of themselves, since there can be touching and smelling-which pushes them into the future so that people many decades from now will see this ghost going about its business. Maybe they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

“If they do it like me,” said Umbo, “they know what they’re doing.”

“Oh, so now you know what you’re doing?” asked Loaf. “Weren’t you the one who thought he was pushing messages back into the past, but they were really getting misdelivered into the future?”

“Let me go back to sleep,” said Umbo. “I’m so tired I could die.”

“But remember this when you’re going back to sleep, Umbo,” said Loaf. “You really did it. You really shifted yourself through time.”

“Yes, I did, didn’t I,” said Umbo. And then he was gone and dreaming again, but this time of his brother standing at the edge of the falls.

He felt this urgent question building inside the part of him that knew it was a dream: Why can’t I also go back and save my brother’s life? If I can save Rigg’s money, doesn’t it mean I can go and speak to Kyokay and save him before he goes out to the falls?

Maybe I did, he thought as he drifted back to sleep yet again. Maybe I did, only years from now, when I’m grown. Maybe I’m the man that Rigg thought he was pushing or at least letting fall from the cliff.

Impossible.

If only.

He slept again.

CHAPTER 12

In Irons The expendable and the computers worked out the math as best they could in only an hour or two. “If your extravagant and unverifiable guesses happen to be right,” said the expendable, “then yes, the stuttering of spacetime might have allowed all nineteen versions of this ship to pass through the fold to eleven thousand years in the past, but with just enough time elapsed between passages that they wouldn’t overlap and therefore wouldn’t necessarily annihilate each other.”

“So there might be not just one, but nineteen versions of this ship and all its crew and equipment, including your charming selves, and me, the pilot, proceeding toward the target planet in order to colonize it.”

“Or not,” said the expendable.

“Oh, but it’s too delicious not to be true.”

“Metaphorical flavor doesn’t influence reality,” said the expendable.

“But the elegance of reality has a metaphorical flavor,” said Ram.

“Suppose you’re right,” said the expendable. “So what?”

“So I’ll feel better as I spend the rest of my life doing nothing meaningful.”

“You’ll have time to read all those books you never got around to reading.”

“I think I won’t have time to do anything at all,” said Ram. “I think I will only live until we reach the place where this ship was constructed. Only the structure we now see around us is moving backward through time. When we come to the place where it was built, it will be unbuilt around us.”

“So we’ll get off.”

“How?” asked Ram. “We would have to get into a shuttle that would take us back to the surface of Earth. But there are no shuttles moving our direction in time.”

“There aren’t any stars moving our direction,” said the expendable, “and yet we still see them.”

“What an interesting quandary,” said Ram. “By all means, stick around and see what happens.”

“What will you do?”

“I’ll continue this voyage until I find a way to send a message to the versions of myself that cross the fold into the past and have to deal with their nineteenfold replication.”

“How do you propose to do that?” asked the expendable.

“Carve it into the metal of the ship somewhere that I’ll be sure to find it, but not until after I come through the fold.”

“No matter where you decide to carve it,” said the expendable, “the fact that it wasn’t already there when you arrive to start carving it proves that you cannot do anything to change objects that are moving in the ordinary direction of time.”

“I know,” said Ram. “That’s why you’re going to do it.”

“That changes nothing.”

“With your eyes closed,” said Ram. “So you can’t see in advance the proof that it didn’t work.” • • • Rigg and Shouter, clamped together at ankles and wrists, sat side by side on two stools in the pilot’s cabin as the boat made its way down the river. The current was carrying them, so there were no steady surges from the polemen. Instead, the boat would yaw to one side or the other as the polemen shoved them away from some obstacle-a bar, a bank, an island, another boat. Able to see nothing, Rigg and Shouter could make no preparation for these changes of direction, and so they sat constantly braced, trying to avoid lurching into each other or falling off the stools.

For the first several hours, Shouter said nothing, which did not bother Rigg-he was practiced in holding his tongue and forcing the other to speak first. And judging from the raw hatred Rigg could see and feel in the rigidity of Shouter’s body and facial expression, the beat of his pulse, the heat coming from him despite his being soaking wet, when Shouter spoke it was not going to be nice.

But it might be informative. General Citizen was practiced in self-control, revealing only what he chose, most of the time; Shouter, judging from his nickname, had no schooling in self-control-except, perhaps, in front of a superior officer; if he didn’t have that skill, he would never have become an officer. Still, Rigg might learn more about General Citizen, perhaps get an idea of which things Citizen had said were true. He might also stumble upon some information that would help him figure out a way to escape from custody, if he decided that’s what he wanted to do. And perhaps he could turn Shouter into an ally, or at least a tool.

Food was brought to them and placed on a table in front of them-but too far away for them to reach it without either pulling the table toward themselves or their stools toward the table. Rigg reached forward with his left hand and pulled slightly on the table. Then he held his hand there, waiting for Shouter to do the same on the other side.

He could see that it truly pained Shouter to have to cooperate with him, but in due time he must have seen the necessity of it, for he reached out his right hand and together, they drew the table toward themselves, so now the bowls of barley soup were within comfortable reach.

Rigg reached with his left hand to take the spoon from the right side of the bowl. Shouter did the same with his right.

“This is going to be clumsy,” said Rigg. “I’m right-handed. Using a spoon with my left hand on a boat that’s prone to yaw, I might spill.”

Since Rigg could plainly see that Shouter was left-handed, he was deliberately giving Shouter an opening to say that he was at the same disadvantage. Instead, Shouter grimly set about bringing dribbling spoonfuls to his mouth, spilling a little onto the table and his lap.

Rigg had spent considerable time with Father practicing to be as ambidextrous as possible-able to shoot a bow, clean and skin an animal, and write smoothly and legibly with either hand. He could have eaten without dribbling, but instead he matched Shouter spill for spill.

“I don’t think it’s an accident they bound your left hand to my right,” said Rigg. “To make us both clumsier.”

Shouter didn’t even look at him.

As they both kept eating, Rigg spoke between bites. “For what it’s worth, my friends and I had no idea we were going to be arrested today, and whatever they did to put you in the water, I wasn’t part of it.”

Shouter turned to gaze at him with furious eyes, but still refused to speak. That was all right-he had made contact and it was just a matter of time.

“So you don’t hate me because you’re wet, you hate me because of who I’m supposed to be. Just so you know, I’m not claiming to be anybody but myself.”

Shouter gave a single bark of a laugh.

“The only parent I knew was my father, who raised me mostly in the forests. He died several months ago, and left-”

“Spare me,” said Shouter. “How many times do you think that story is going to work?”

“As often as the truth works.”

“I’m here to kill you,” said Shouter.

Rigg felt a thrill of fear run through his body. Shouter meant it. Well, that was certainly useful information.

“All right then,” said Rigg. “I can’t stop you.”

“You can’t even slow me down.”

Rigg waited.

“Well?” he asked.

“Not here,” said Shouter. “Not in this room. Then they’d have to have a trial and execute me, and it would become public. Stories would spread about how a soldier under General Citizen’s command murdered the rightful King-in-the-Tent. It would be as bad as leaving you alive.”

“So the general has given you orders to-”

“Fool,” said Shouter. “Do you think I need orders in order to see my duty and do it?”

Rigg thought again of the hatred on the man’s face. “This isn’t about duty.”

Shouter said nothing for a long while. Then: “Killing you is more than a duty. But the manner will be dutiful.”

“Just for my own interest,” said Rigg, “are you killing me because you think I really am the Sessamekesh? Or because you think I’m an imposter?”

“Just for your own interest,” said Shouter, “it doesn’t matter.”

“But your hatred for me-does it spring from a love of the royal family or a loathing for them?”

“If you’re truly royal or if you’re an imposter, your purposes can only be served by restoring the royal family to power.”

“Your hatred of the royals is personal.”

“My great-grandfather was a very rich and powerful trader. Someone accused him of putting on airs as if he were nobility-the crime was sumptuary presumption. Trying to pass as a lord. Wearing the clothes of a lord. Assuming the dignities of a lord.”

“That was a crime?” asked Rigg.

“Not a mere crime. Each charge was a count of treason. Under the monarchy, it was law that everyone must stay in his class. Merchants cannot become armiger, armigers cannot become noble, and nobles could not aspire to the monarchy. If my great-grandfather had been accused of dressing as a warrior, bearing arms, the penalty would have been a steep fine and house arrest for a year. But he was charged with dressing as a noble, which would have jumped him up two ranks. The penalty was the same as if he had attempted to murder the queen.”

Rigg had never heard of any such nonsense, but he did not doubt the truth of Shouter’s story. “Death?”

“A slow and gruesome public death,” said Shouter. “With his body parts fed to the royal hunting dogs in front of the merchants’ guild. His family was stripped of all wealth, including the clothing of a merchant, and wearing only the loincloths and mantles of beggars they were turned loose in the street to be the prey of any.”

“That’s not fair,” said Rigg.

“After my great-grandfather was executed, his eldest son, my grandfather, was killed almost at once by the servants of a rival merchant-the one who had denounced his father, no doubt. Without protectors, without money or property, all the women and young boys of the family would have been forced into prostitution, the men into bonded service in the mines. Instead they were taken under the protection of the Revolutionary Council. My father was only nine. He grew up to show the Council the loyalty they deserved. I was raised on that loyalty and I feel it still. I would die to keep the royal deathworms from infesting Stashiland again.”

He had called it Stashiland-the name of the valley and delta of the Stashik River, before the Sessamoto came from the northeast to conquer it and establish the empire. For the first time, Rigg began to understand just how deep memory could go, and how much pain could still be felt because of things that happened decades before.

“I have never-”

“I know you have never harmed me or anyone that way. But if your game is played at all, no matter what kind of player you are, those who would treat commoners that way will use you to seize power again. The Council is the worst sort of government-corrupt, arbitrary, self-righteous, fanatical. But they’re better than any of the alternatives. And my family owes them our survival.”

“Well, this all makes perfect sense,” said Rigg. “If I have to die, it’s just as well to be murdered by someone whose family lost everything at the hands of people I’ve never met and never claimed to be related to, and whom I would fight against myself if they behaved that way.”

“You’re wasting your breath,” said Shouter.

“For my own satisfaction,” said Rigg, “may I know the real name of the man who’s going to kill me?”

“My great-grandfather was Talisco Waybright. My grandfather was also Talisco, and my father, and I as well, though the Waybright name was stripped from us, and replaced with ‘Urine.’”

“Not really,” said Rigg.

“It’s a common-enough name in Aressa Sessamo,” said Shouter. “It was given to convicts, along with other colorful and degrading names. After the revolution, most of us kept those names as a badge of pride. I will not call myself Waybright again until the royal family all are dead. Though I may decide that your death is enough for me to earn the old name back again.”

“So how do you plan to separate us so you can kill me?”

“I’ll share no plans with you.”

You already have, Rigg thought. Since you plan to kill me in such a way as to avoid a trial for murder, you’re going to make it look like an accident, and as proof of it, you intend to die with me. It’s a dutiful death. But I’ll pretend not to know.

As they finished eating, soaking up the last of the soup with fresh city-made bread, Rigg looked, without seeming to, at the way the manacles were fastened. Heavy iron bands that were closed at their wrists and also attached to each other by a single lock. An easy one to pick open, as Father had taught him the mechanisms of the most common locks. Rigg assumed the leg irons were attached the same way, but the problem would be getting to them with some kind of tool while Shouter-no, Talisco Waybright-was fighting him.

“You’re small,” Father had taught him, “and if you show no aggression, your enemies will not expect you to be bold. Most adult men will be stronger than you, but you’ll be stronger than they expect a child to be. Whatever action you take must be the final action, for you’ll get no second chance to surprise the same man.”

The handle of the spoon was narrow enough for lock-picking, if he could figure out a way to keep it. Was there anything else? There were pens and other writing tools on shelves, but none of these would be strong enough, except the trimming knife, and there was no chance anyone would let him come near it.

He was mentally inventorying his clothing to see if anything would do the job when suddenly Talisco shouted, “We’re done with the food!” His voice was like a sledgehammer in that small room-Rigg could certainly understand how he got his nickname. “Come get the plates before this boy steals the spoon to pick the lock!”

So I’m not as subtle as I thought I was, Rigg said silently. Or perhaps it’s a common trick.

The door opened and two soldiers came in. They stood at the door, watching, as a crewman gathered up the bowls and spoons.

“I need to pee,” said Rigg.

“We’ll bring you a jar,” said one of the soldiers.

“Oh, that’s good, I’ll splash all over my hand,” said Rigg. He raised his manacled hand as far as Talisco would let him. “Do you think I’m going to jump into the water fastened to him? Just let me pee over the side.”

The soldiers looked at him, then followed the crewman through the door and locked it again behind them.

“So you’ve decided just how I’m going to kill you, is that it?” asked Talisco.

“If you want to kill me and yourself by falling into the river with irons on, go ahead. But if you’re going to kill me later in some other way, I’d rather die with an empty bladder.”

The clasp of his belt was the only possibility-the tongue of it was hard enough iron. But was it long enough? Could he unfasten it one-handed?-for he assumed that Talisco, under water, would prevent him from being able to use both hands. Could he then use it to pick the lock without dropping the belt? Because there was no chance he’d find it again, in the murk of the river.

After a few minutes, the soldiers came back in and left the door standing open. Then they stepped outside.

“You’re a royal all right,” muttered Talisco as they stood up. “Think you’re going to control everything, even your own assassination.”

As they passed through the door, one soldier took Rigg firmly by the free arm and the other held Talisco. Other soldiers stood by to watch. They were determined that there’d be no escape attempt this time.

As if I wanted to escape from the boat, thought Rigg. Didn’t Father tell me to find my sister? You’re taking me where I want to go. The only escape I want is from this assassin. “He’s planning to kill me, you know,” said Rigg softly to the soldier holding him. “If we have an accident, you can be sure it was murder.”

The soldier said nothing, and Talisco’s body shuddered in silent laughter. “Do you think I’m the only one wants you dead?” he murmured.

“Um,” said Rigg aloud to the soldier holding him. “How do you propose that I open my pants? If I’m just going to pee all over myself I could have stayed inside.”

In answer, the soldier-never relaxing his grip-forced Rigg’s left hand down toward his crotch. There Rigg reached under his overshirt and one-handedly unfastened the belt of his trousers. They were loose enough that they dropped from his waist-but by spreading his legs widely apart, Rigg kept them from dropping right to the deck.

“He doesn’t even have a butt,” one of the rivermen jested.

“Silence,” said a voice that Rigg knew. General Citizen-so he, too, had come to watch Rigg pee.

The soldier on Talisco’s side asked him, “Aren’t you going to pee, too?”

“I don’t need to.”

“Come on, this is your chance, we’re not going to do this again for hours.”

“I don’t need to,” said Talisco again, a little more softly and grimly, and the soldier took the hint.

Rigg tugged on his right hand, trying to reach it toward his crotch. Talisco yanked it back. “Use your left!”

“I’m right-handed!” Rigg shouted back. “I can’t aim with my left!”

“It’s the river!” shouted Talisco. “You can’t miss it!”

“I don’t want to get it all over my clothes!” Rigg shouted, letting his voice rise a little higher in pitch, so he sounded more like a little boy.

“Royal bastard,” muttered Talisco, letting Rigg drag their manacled hands down toward his crotch.

“Probably right,” Rigg murmured back. Then he deliberately aimed a stream of urine onto the back of Talisco’s hand.

Talisco’s reflex was quick and unthinking. With a roar he snatched his hand back.

Rigg used the momentum of his grab to propel Talisco’s own wrist, with all his own strength added, into a smashing blow of the fetter against Talisco’s forehead. That was the surprise Father had warned him needed to be enough.

Assuming that it had been enough to stun Talisco, Rigg instantly made a great show of losing his balance, flinging his left arm free of the soldier holding him and getting behind the now-unconscious Talisco so no one else could grab the man. With another shove-disguising it as best he could by crying “help” and flailing his arms-he got Talisco’s limp body over the rail, which dragged Rigg over as part of the same movement.

He could feel that he still had his pants, though they were around his ankles now. Before they hit the water, Rigg was doubling over to lay hands on the belt, and as they splashed into the brown stream, he was already working the tongue of the clasp into the keyhole of the lock.

The weight of the leg irons dragged them straight down. By the time they hit the bottom of the river, Rigg’s right hand was free. He doubled over and freed his ankle.

But that was not enough. He was not making an escape the way Loaf and Umbo had done. Nor did he want Talisco to die-if he could bring it off, he had a use for him. So he continued to hold his breath as he opened Talisco’s leg and wrist fetters, letting the iron drop. Now both of them were weighed down only by their clothes. Rigg stepped on one of his trouser-legs and pried his legs free. Then, being a strong swimmer, he dragged the limp man up to the surface.

When his head bobbed up into the air, Rigg gasped a quick breath and then worked to get Talisco’s head above water. “Help!” Rigg cried. “Talisco’s drowning!”

The boat had already stopped and the rivermen were poling it upstream. In moments Rigg had Talisco at the side. General Citizen sharply commanded them to forget Talisco and get the boy.

“I’m the only thing holding him up!” Rigg shouted savagely, using his authority voice, and sure enough, the soldiers and rivermen obeyed him instinctively and took the weight of Talisco. At that point, Rigg scrambled back up onto the deck almost without assistance, so he was able to watch as they dragged Talisco over the rail and laid him on the deck.

Talisco obviously wasn’t breathing.

“Take that boy inside again!” ordered General Citizen.

“Not till I get that man breathing again!” Rigg counter-ordered, and again his voice of command worked well enough that the soldiers who had been reaching for him hesitated. In that moment, Rigg flung himself onto Talisco’s unconscious body and started working on him as Father had taught all the children in Fall Ford to do.

The rivermen had their own method, which involved turning a drowned man upside down and hitting his back with oars or poles. Apparently the victims of that process recovered often enough that the men up and down the river kept on doing it. What Rigg was doing-pressing on Talisco’s chest to eject the water and then clamping his mouth over Talisco’s and forcing air down his throat-was not something they had seen before. Some of the rivermen were shouting for him to get out of the way so they could paddle the man back to life.

A bloody wound on Talisco’s forehead attested to the strength of the blow Rigg had managed to land on him. He wondered if the blow had already killed Talisco-but for Rigg’s purposes it didn’t really matter. As long as everyone saw him save, or try to save, the man’s life, that was the story that would be told; the blow to the head would be seen as an accident, and probably not even ascribed to Rigg, since nobody would think a stripling boy would have the strength to inflict a fatal blow.

And they would be right-Talisco was not dead. It took only a few moments before he was coughing and sputtering and breathing on his own, in short quick gasps.

“I’ve heard of that sort of thing,” said one of the rivermen.

“I never have,” said another.

“Can you teach us that, boy?” asked a third.

But by then General Citizen was back in control, furious and anxious-and showing it, for once. “Get that boy back into the cabin!” he ordered, and this time Rigg meekly let himself be half-led, half-dragged back to his prison.

In moments Citizen was in the room with him and they were alone together. Citizen kept his voice low as he asked, “What, by the Wall, did you think you were doing?”

“Not escaping,” said Rigg.

“Why not?” asked Citizen. “What’s your game?”

“My father’s last words were for me to find my sister. If I’m really Rigg Sessamekesh, then my sister is Param Sissaminka, and I need to get to Aressa Sessamo to meet her. Since that’s where you’re going, I thought I’d stay aboard.”

Citizen grabbed him by his drenched shirtfront and put his mouth against Rigg’s ear. “What makes you think you’ll ever be allowed anywhere near the royal family?”

“Well, obviously I won’t be if I’m dead,” said Rigg. “But it’ll be harder to get people to believe it was an accident after this failed attempt.”

“What attempt?” asked Citizen. “I saw what happened-you did this from beginning to end.”

“Who else saw it that way?” Rigg shook his head. “Talisco told me he planned to kill me, make it look like an accident, and convince people by dying himself in the process. All I did was rush the process and turn it to my own advantage.”

Citizen seemed genuinely dumfounded. “He told you?”

“He told me that it was his duty. He assumed that’s why you manacled the two of us together, so he could pay for having let Loaf and Umbo get away by dying as he murdered me.”

“I gave no such order,” said Citizen.

“Of course you didn’t,” said Rigg. “You ordered us into irons and he took it from there.”

“I mean it was not what I wanted. Are you really that stupid?”

“How stupid do you mean?” asked Rigg. “I think I just did rather well. I took down a man twice my weight and strength, got free of the irons, and saved him from drowning.”

“Very theatrical. I’d applaud, but the men listening outside would think I was hitting you.”

“Maybe you’re of the royal party-the royal male party-or maybe you were testing me. It’s beyond my knowing. But I believe Talisco meant to kill me, whether it was your plan or not. And I didn’t intend to die without meeting my sister.”

“Your sister,” said Citizen. “Not your mother?”

“It was my sister that my father spoke of. For all I know, Param Sessaminka is not my sister, and Hagia Sessamin is not my mother. But he said my sister was in Aressa Sessamo so that’s where I’m going. And if anything happens to me now, the story of Talisco and me going into the water will be told in a different way-as your first attempt to have me killed.”

“I do not want you dead, you fool. I want you alive.”

“Then don’t manacle me to fanatical anti-monarchists.”

Citizen let go of him and crossed to the other side of the room as the boat lurched to one side, staggering them both. “You may be sure I won’t,” said Citizen.

“When we get there,” said Rigg, “let me see the royal family. Let me stand beside them. If there’s no resemblance, then the whole idea of passing me off as the male heir is done with, whether you’re in favor of such a thing or not.”

“Do you think I’m an idiot?” asked Citizen.

“I know you’re not.”

“I saw your father, boy. You look just like him. And enough like your mother, too, that everyone will know at a glance you’re the real thing.”

Rigg didn’t bother pretending that this opinion didn’t affect him. “Couldn’t my father-the man I called my father-couldn’t he have chosen a baby that he thought might grow up to resemble-”

“You don’t resemble them,” said Citizen. “You’re not similar to them in some vague way. Anyone who knew your father will know that you’re his son. You’re not an imposter, though I’ll never say that to anyone else on this boat. Is that clear?”

Rigg shivered. “I suppose you won’t be willing to let me wear some of the dry clothing that I no longer own in the trunk that isn’t mine.”

Citizen sighed. “As I told you, no official verdict has been rendered. You have the use of the clothing you bought in O. I’ll have something dry sent in. But no more belts.”

“I won’t need them, if you don’t put me back in irons.”

Citizen stalked toward the door, then paused there. “You’ll be peeing in a little pot for the rest of the voyage.”

Rigg smiled. “I told you, General Citizen. I want to go to Aressa Sessamo, and I want to go with you. The only way I’d leave this boat is dead.”

“I believe you,” said the general. “But you’re staying in here so that some other volunteer assassin doesn’t try to get at you.”

“What will you do to Talisco?” asked Rigg.

“Hang him, probably,” said Citizen.

“Please don’t,” said Rigg. “It would make me feel like all my work saving his life was wasted.”

“He won’t thank you for it,” said Citizen.

“He’s always free to kill himself,” said Rigg. “But I don’t want his blood on my hands-or on yours, for my sake. Remember what you saw, sir. He never lifted his hand to kill me, even if he planned to do it later. He committed no crime.”

“He committed the crime of stupidity while under my command,” said Citizen.

“Oh my,” said Rigg. “They’re handing out the death penalty for that these days?”

Citizen turned his back and knocked twice on the door. It opened; he left; the door closed and was barred behind him.

Rigg peeled off his wet clothing, wrapped himself in a blanket, and lay down on the floor, curled up and shivering. Only now could he face what he had done, how easily it could have failed, how completely he might have been killed, and it left him whimpering with fear.

CHAPTER 13

Rigg Alone “But even if I close my eyes before carving the message, I’ll see the other proof that it didn’t work,” said the expendable.

“What’s that?”

“The existence of the message after I carve it, which in the ordinary flow of time would be before I had carved it, proving that the message is moving in the same direction through time as us, which means it will not be in the version of the ship that will make-or has made-the jump.”

“Just close your eyes and do it,” said Ram. “And keep them closed. And then come back and tell me you did it without knowing whether it worked or not.”

“Why would I deliberately conceal data from myself?”

“Because it will make me feel better.”

“Then I will observe and simply not tell you.”

“If you know, then you have to tell me, if I ask.”

“Then don’t ask.”

“If I know you know, I will have to ask,” said Ram.

“So I have to behave irrationally in order to give you an irrational hope.”

“And then I’ll die,” said Ram.

“Are you suggesting a medical outcome, an emotional hyperbole, or an intention?”

“Intention,” said Ram.

“So by doing this and remaining ignorant of the outcome, I am hastening the time when you will take your own life?”

“No,” said Ram. “You will take my life.”

“I will not.”

“You will if I order it,” said Ram.

“I cannot,” said the expendable.

“At the end of the jump through the fold, there came into existence a total of at least twenty versions of myself-nineteen going forward, and me-or nineteen of me-going back. There can only be one real Ram Odin.”

“You,” said the expendable.

“I am a version that can do nothing, change nothing, affect nothing. Because of the direction of my movement through time I am, in effect, nonexistent already in the real universe. I declare this copy of myself to be flawed, useless, and-let’s admit it-completely expendable. There can only be one real version of myself.”

“Killing you will only eliminate the back-flowing Ram or Rams,” said the expendable. “It will not affect the nineteen forward-moving Rams, of which eighteen will be as redundant as you say you are.”

“That’s not my problem,” said Ram. • • • It took twenty-two days for the boat to carry Rigg from O to Aressa Sessamo. This was long for such a voyage, but Rigg thought of several reasons for their slow progress.

First, they stopped every night and anchored well away from shore but out of the current-this much he learned from careful listening to the commands being given in loud voices. This was common practice-away from shore to avoid land-based brigands, but ceasing to move downstream for fear of running aground on a sand bar or other obstruction in the dark.

Second, the current slowed and was spread among many channels as it moved into the vast alluvial plain of the Stashik River. It no longer gave a sure direction, and the pilot could not guess which formerly useful channels were too silted up to be safe. Twice they had to pole their way out of a channel in order to return to a main channel and search out another way.

Third, a slow passage for the boat meant that any messengers General Citizen might have sent by land would reach Aressa Sessamo long before the boat could get there, despite the fact that the road was constantly winding this way and that, and often blocked, having to be rebuilt with each collapse of a portion of it as the water of the Stashik delta seeped under it and eroded it away. (Many a ruler of the various empires that had chosen Aressa Sessamo for their capital were saved from invaders by this natural, unmappable, three-hundred-mile series of moats and obstacles.) During the whole of the voyage, after Rigg was given dry clothes and no longer had to be fettered to a spy or assassin or whatever Talisco had been, he was left completely alone. A crewman-a different one each day-would bring him food on a tray in the morning, which was to last him for the day. The meal was brought in under the watchful eyes of two soldiers, who said nothing and allowed neither the crewman nor Rigg to speak, either.

Rigg ate whatever was hot for breakfast, and then waited to eat the rest-even though some of it tended to wilt-until he could hear the sounds of the boat being anchored for the evening. The food was decent-by the standards of riverboat fare-and they must have been sending small boats to shore now and then to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables, because these were not lacking.

Twice a day-once as soon as he awoke and had used the chamber pot, and once again when he imagined it was getting near dinnertime (and he was never wrong)-Rigg walked the periphery of the room with a steady stride until his heart began to beat faster and his breath was needed more quickly, and then continued for at least half an hour, by his best reckoning. He went around one direction in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

When those outside the cabin were getting a noon meal, he took none, but instead did the kind of physical exercise Father had taught him to make a part of his daily regimen, to keep strong the muscles that weren’t used in whatever work he happened to be doing. Since he was doing no work at all, he did all the exercises.

He slept well twice a day, four hours at a time. He had long since learned the trick of deciding how long he wanted to sleep, and then waking at the time he chose. So after breakfast and again after supper, he took his sleeps. This meant that in the afternoons and in the long silent hours of the morning, he was wide awake. He made sure to stay awake by not lying on his bed except when it was time to sleep, and he varied his position from sitting in a chair to sitting on the floor to standing-even sometimes standing on his hands or balancing himself on his head while leaning against the wall.

His assignment to himself was to think. Being temporarily powerless, deprived of any ability to gain new information or influence events, he had only two projects that mattered to him: to see what he might learn from the information he already had, and to try to learn how to broaden his visions of paths into the skill that Umbo and he had mastered together, and which Umbo had now obviously learned to accomplish by himself. He knew that it was unworthy of him to think this, but he could not help it: If Umbo can do it alone, though he never saw a path, surely I can do it alone.

He told himself that he meant no slight to Umbo by thinking this: If one of them could learn to acquire or replace the other one’s contribution to their shared time travels, then surely the other could as well. But he was honest with himself, and he knew that there was too much of pride and contempt in the thought, for in his own heart it took this inflection. If even Umbo can do it, then surely I can do it-and better, and more easily.

Rigg had taken it as a matter of course that when time travel happened, it was he who did it. Yes, he had needed Umbo’s help, but it was Rigg who actually fell in step beside a man and took the knife from its sheath. It was Rigg who saw the paths, and had always seen them and used them to track game and see where people had gone, while Umbo hadn’t really understood very much at all about his own gift.

Do I have the natural arrogance of royalty? he asked himself. Do I automatically assume that everything about me is better than everything about other people?

For all I know, it is Umbo with the precious gift-the ability to alter time, or at least to alter a person’s speed of passage through it-while mine is more that of a scout, searching out particular paths where Umbo’s gift might be used. Umbo can bestow the power of time travel on other people-I can share my gift with no one.

And yet there was something in him that made him think less of Umbo than of himself.

Maybe he felt that way because Father had spent so much time with him, training him, and had only spent a relatively little time training Umbo. Or maybe it was the soul-numbing arrogance that came with having so much money for a few weeks in O. He had put on the act of a proud young man of wealth, but it was quite possible that at an unconscious level he had come to believe his own performance, that it had become part of his nature. But he resolved now to get rid of any trace of that arrogance, because he knew it would make him into that kind of idiot who says, when he’s not getting his own way, “Do you know who I am?”

Father had always taught him, “A person is what he says and does; that’s how you learn whether his reputation was earned or manufactured.”

That much Rigg had come to understand on his first day of solitude, and from then on he humbly and assiduously tried to learn how to do to himself what Umbo had done to him-make his own perceptions speed up so that his observation could keep pace with the swift movement of long-past people along their paths.

Two things kept him from making even the slightest progress, as far as he could tell. First, every time Umbo had allowed him to see the people in the paths, he and Umbo had been standing still, watching the paths for a dozen seconds at least. It took time for Rigg to discern the individual people racing along, and to pick one of them to concentrate on; only then did the person slow down until Rigg could choose one of the iterations of his passage and take action.

On the boat, this was impossible. Not that there weren’t countless paths up and down-and across-the river-it was a chaos of paths. But when the boat was moving, Rigg could never study the same path long enough to have a hope of discerning anything.

And even when they were anchored at night, and he could study a few paths for some length of time before the current shifted his position, he ran into the second problem, which was that he had no idea how to go about duplicating what Umbo’s gift had done. He could imagine that Umbo’s need to duplicate Rigg’s gift, by locating a person in the past in order to focus on him, was sidestepped by choosing someone whose location had been known to him and who remained in the same spot for a considerable length of time. In such cases, Rigg’s vision of paths would be unnecessary to Umbo, or at least less necessary.

But Rigg had seen the paths his whole life, had learned to distinguish between them and identify a particular path and follow it through time-always knowing in which direction it flowed, though he could never explain to Father how he knew-and yet he had never once suspected that the path was actually the rapid blur of the person himself endlessly repeating his movements. Not until Umbo’s gift had opened his eyes.

So now Rigg knew the truth behind what he had always known-where the long-past people and animals had gone. He even had a clear sense of which paths were older and which newer, which were of men or of women, which were of adults or of children, just as he could tell which species and gender and age of animal had made a certain path. He conceived this information as colors, thickness, intensity, texture, as if it were sight, but he knew now that he was gleaning information from the paths that sight alone could never have given him. At some level he was penetrating the paths and “seeing” who it was-though of course sight had nothing to do with it.

Well, not nothing. He could sense paths that lay behind hills or walls-he could sense paths, for instance, far outside the bounds of the little cabin that served as his prison. The paths were mostly just a blur to him in the darkness, and with his eyes closed they were like an indistinct haze-but they were there, and he could sense them, and with concentration could achieve some kind of clarity. He could see as they were made the movements of the men on board the boat, even though the paths quickly receded upriver as the boat drifted down, which helped him make sense of the sounds he heard. All this depended little on what his eyes could see.

But his eyes gave him context for what he was seeing. He knew which wall of the cabin he was seeing these paths through, and remembering the general layout of the boat, he was able to understand what he sensed. The paths that crossed the gap over the Stashi Falls in midair, many rods out from the falls, still passed from side to side of the canyon cliffs, so Father’s explanation of the falls’ having eroded the edge in and down, and of bridges once having spanned the gap, made sense to Rigg.

On the river, though, the paths were far more confusing, because all the movements of people-except the rare swimmers and waders-had taken place on boats or bridges that had long since disappeared. A path would suddenly rise up into the air and pass overhead; others made strange looping motions; it was a mind-numbing tangle, when the ladder or mast a man had climbed was no longer there. Add to that the fact that in the delta, the river had changed course so many times that paths ran in every conceivable direction and bore little relation to the present channel, and Rigg could hardly be blamed for not being able to pick out one path and make it slow down (or himself speed up) to see the person making it.

The worst problem he faced, however, was that he had no idea what Umbo had done. They had decided by reason alone that Umbo must be speeding up Rigg’s perceptions so he could see faster, so to speak. But nothing about the experience had felt to Rigg as if he were actually speeding up. In fact, he had felt nothing at all, so he could hardly figure out how to replicate the feeling. All that had happened was that what once had been a path now became a blur of human motion, and by concentrating closely on one target he could make it resolve into a person and visually slow him or her. And that was eyesight.

Or was it?

Rigg thought back to his experience at the falls, lying on the rock. Hadn’t he seen the man with his eyes? He had certainly touched him with his body when he knocked him from the rock! Yet there had been a different quality to his seeing, compared to the way he saw the rock itself, and Umbo’s brother Kyokay. As Father had taught him much about the workings of human brains, Rigg now imagined that the rocks and water and sky and Kyokay were coming into his brain the normal way, through his eyes; but the man who fell had come into his brain a different way, not through his eyes. Instead his brain had interpreted it as vision and laid it over what his eyes showed him. It had been fitted into his vision-which, now that he thought about it, was what Rigg always did with the information his path-sense gave him.

But this did not help him in any way to discover how Umbo had changed him-or the paths, or time itself-so that a path that had seemed to Rigg like a smooth ribbon became instead a blur of a rapidly moving person. Nor could Rigg make any progress by concentrating hard, squinching up his face, or trying to juice up some emotion.

He even tried, in a few insane experiments, to try to walk beside and keep pace with a path that he knew must be a person, in hopes of being able to see a human shape. He even ran with one for a moment, but of course crashed into the wall and caused a guard to open the door, though by then Rigg had contrived to pick up his chair so he could ruefully explain, “I fell asleep and the chair fell over,” which the guard had no way of knowing was not true. In any event, the guard was forbidden to speak-all he could do was either go back out and shut the door, or waken General Citizen to come investigate. He chose the easier path and merely closed and rebarred the door.

Rigg even spent time philosophizing about what his and Umbo’s experiences proved about the nature of time. For instance: The paths did not follow the present contours of the land; they remained exactly where they were regardless of how the land changed beneath them-or the water, or buildings, or vehicles.

Yet Rigg knew that the world was a spheroid planet with a ring of debris around it that raced through its orbit, sometimes nearer and sometimes farther from the sun, like the unsteady path of a drunken man. The sun itself did not hold still, but moved through a huge sea of stars, orbiting the center of the galaxy, while the galaxy itself drifted through space. So if the world had shifted a vast distance since these people first moved along its surface, why didn’t the paths remain out in space where they had been made, instead of staying with this world wherever it roamed?

The passage of living creatures was preserved in paths that were tied, not to the absolute locations of those creatures in space, but to their position relative to the center of planet Garden. Their paths continued to pass through exactly the same spot above the rotating world.

To Rigg, this meant that living things had a firm connection to the planet itself, and not just to the surface to which gravity pressed them. Time remembered the movements of all things which lived, but it kept the record engraved in exact relation to the center of gravity of the planet on which they dwelt, keeping their original relationship to each other as they stretched over the surface of the world.

Why time should be tied to gravity he did not know, but clearly it was. Rigg wondered all kinds of things, in his solitude-why, for instance, their movements were not preserved in relation to the sun, whose gravity was so powerful that it controlled Garden and kept it from whirling off into space; or whether, if a man could fly between worlds the way he sailed across rivers and seas, he would leave any kind of path behind him, or if his path would flex and bend between one world and the next? It was a strange kind of imagining, and he could imagine Loaf telling him it was a complete waste of time to wonder about such things, since men couldn’t fly and certainly couldn’t fly between planets. For Father had taught Rigg from childhood on that there is no thought that is not worth thinking, but that all ideas might be examined logically to see if they meant anything useful. Admittedly, Rigg had no idea now why thoughts about traveling between worlds and the persistence of paths on the voyage might be useful, but it was a pleasure to think them, and since pleasures were few and far between these days, he would take those he had and enjoy them.

Besides, thinking about travel between worlds kept him from brooding about what awaited him in Aressa Sessamo.

For that was his other project, and he could never get away from it for long. What did he know? What could he learn from the information he already had?

General Citizen had talked about various parties in Aressa Sessamo-the royalists divided into camps between followers of the female succession and those who yearned for a return to the male, and supporters of the People’s Revolution, though if Citizen had told the truth, there were those who didn’t so much support the Revolution as oppose the female succession.

Citizen seemed to be satisfied that Rigg really was the long-lost son of Hagia Sessamin and her husband Knosso Sissamik, so that whatever someone thought about royalty-or males of the royal line, of which Rigg was presumably the only living specimen-they would think about Rigg.

But Rigg couldn’t even be sure which party he was under the control of now. If Citizen really was of the male-royal party, then he was in the hands of one who might exploit him in service of a monarchical restoration. But if Citizen was testing him by pretending to be of that party, then he might be in the hands of either a true servant of the Revolutionary Council, or of a follower of the female-succession party, in which case Rigg was in grave danger and might be murdered at any time.

There might also be other possibilities, no more or less far-fetched than these obvious ones. Citizen might indeed be a male-royalist but his party was not ready yet to make use of Rigg’s existence, so he might be perfectly safe and would be delivered to the Revolutionary Council under circumstances that would make it difficult or impossible simply to kill him.

Or the royal family might actually have more influence than it seemed, and his own mother might wish to have him killed-if she was a true believer in her grandmother’s decision to slaughter all the males of the royal line, then having Rigg delivered to Aressa Sessamo might be something so loathsome to her that she would seek to kill him the moment they met.

So many scenarios played out in his mind that he had no choice but to set them all aside, as much as possible. I’ll know what I know when I know it, he told himself over and over. I can’t predict the future from the facts that I have, so I can’t prepare any more than I was already prepared, by Father, to speak with authority and understand the way politics in general was conducted.

Which always, always brought him back to Father, the one person, the one subject, he could not bear to think about.

Father had lied to him. Contained in everything Father taught him and told him and said to him and implied was a deep, abiding lie, or at least a vast concealment of information that amounted to a lie.

He never told me who I was, or how I came to live with him. He let me think him my real father and never corrected me with the truth.

And while he gave me many skills that I’ve used effectively, he left me blind about so many other things that I have stumbled into danger completely unawares, and don’t have enough information now to know what to do.

Rigg would get into this line of thought and then would be distracted. Some path moving through the cabin. Some sound outside. A hunger pang, a sudden ache or twitch. Anything rather than continue to think about Father and the terrible ignorance that was the true inheritance Rigg had received from him.

Rigg wanted to stop thinking of the man as “Father” at all. His real father was a man named Knosso Sissamik, who was dead, but was reputed to have died at the Wall, perhaps even attempting to pass through the Wall. What a remarkable-or insane-man! Everyone knew that no living thing could pass through the Wall. That was my father, the man from whom the manly part of my mind derived. He is the one I need to learn about, because by studying him I’ll learn about myself. Could he see the paths? Did I inherit this from him?

But Knosso was dead, and Rigg could not know him directly. Hagia was alive, but Rigg feared her, for it was possible she had meant him to die, and the man he called Father had saved him from her.

And Father-or whatever he might call him-had sent him forth, not to find his mother, but to find his sister, Param Sissaminka. Why her, and not anyone else? Why her, instead of some political mission? It was as if Father was telling him that whatever he was supposed to do, it had nothing to do with all the politics and maneuvering of the royal family and the people who had deposed them and kept them imprisoned, and everything to do with Param herself, as a person.

As a person with gifts like Rigg’s and Umbo’s? Was that what Father cared about? Certainly he had taken time to help train Umbo and Nox, too, in their gifts. And he had worked with Rigg and his paths endlessly, it seemed. Father had given Rigg the skills to keep him alive on the journey, more or less-confinement in this cabin was not a sign of Rigg’s glorious success-but the goal was to get him to his sister, and nothing else. Father didn’t care who ruled in Aressa Sessamo. He cared only that Rigg and Param meet.

But do I care? What was Father to me, that I should still let him govern my choices? Maybe I want to rule in Aressa Sessamo! Maybe I want to reclaim my lost and ancient heritage! Or maybe I just want to find out about my real father, and come to know and love my real mother, who might have been broken-hearted when Father stole me away, or might have hidden me by giving me to him to keep safe.

Maybe I will do what I want with my life!

The only problem is that I have no idea what I want to do with it.

They came to Aressa Sessamo by night-as planned, Rigg assumed, for they had waited at anchor for many hours of daylight on the day they arrived. The channels into the great port were well-marked by night, apparently. And when Rigg, newly washed, dressed in the fresh clothes they had brought him, came out of the cabin, it was with a bag over his head and his legs hobbled and his hands bound behind him. He was carried like a sack of potatoes to a sedan chair, in which he rode alone and in silence, having been warned that if he cried out or spoke he would be gagged.

And thus he came into the great city, in the dark, hooded, hearing only various noises in the streets, which changed as they moved along, but not in ways that he could understand.

Of course he was constantly aware of all the paths around him outside the sedan chair, the new ones and the old ones; he could tell where streets were now and where they had once been, but not what kind of buildings lined them, though he could see how tall they were by the recent paths that wended upward, floor by floor.

He could also see places where no one had gone in a thousand years, for the paths within those spaces were very old. But why they had been so long unvisited he could not guess.

At last the chair came to rest within a garden-from the chirping of the birds and their many paths into and out of the place-and someone opened the sedan chair door and reached in to remove the bag from his head.

It was a woman, and she wore only a simple tunic and her hair was raggedly cropped and she was not beautiful but she looked more than a little like Rigg himself.

“Welcome to Aressa Sessamo, Rigg,” she said. “I am your mother.”

CHAPTER 14

Flacommo’s House “We got ourselves caught in the midst of a stutter,” said the expendable. “We were trying to avoid that because we didn’t know what would happen to us in a stutter-most of the computers predicted the ship would be sectioned or obliterated.”

Ram had been scanning all the reports from every part of the ship. “But we were neither sectioned nor obliterated. We’re still intact.”

“More than intact,” said the expendable.

“How can you be more than intact?” asked Ram.

“There are eighteen other copies of our ship, and ourselves, that passed through the fold.”

Ram tried to visualize what the expendable was describing.

“But not occupying the same space at the same time.”

“The quantized nature of our passage through the fold dropped off all nineteen versions of the colony ship at regular intervals. We are separated from each other by about four seconds, which puts us a safe distance apart as long as we all refrain from firing our engines or generating any fields that would cut through another ship.”

“And on each ship,” said Ram, “there is a version of you speaking to a version of me?”

“All the expendables have reported that all the Ram Odins went unconscious at exactly the same time. All of us placed you in the same position and strapped you in and waited until you awoke, so you could tell us what to do. All of us are speaking to our Ram Odin and saying the identical words at the same time.”

“Ain’t spacetime a bitch,” said Ram.

“Noted,” said the expendable. “Nineteen times.”

“So if all the mes are saying the same thing at the same time,” said Ram, “I’d say there’s a certain redundancy.”

“Which does no harm.”

“But at some point, one of us will do something different. We will diverge.”

“As all of you are saying at this exact moment,” said the expendable.

“And when we diverge, it will be impossible for the expendables and the ship’s computers on all the ships to know which version of Ram Odin to obey,” said Ram. “Therefore I order you and all the other expendables to immediately kill every copy of Ram except me.” • • • The queen-his mother-drew him out of the sedan chair and stood him on the smooth stone paving of the garden courtyard. “My beautiful boy,” she said, standing back a little and looking him up and down.

“I’ve been prettier,” he said, because it seemed odd to be called beautiful. Nobody had ever called him beautiful or even good looking. In O it had been his clothes and his money that were admired.

She reached out and gathered him into her arms and held him. “I see you with the eyes of a mother who long thought you were dead.”

“Did you, Mother?” asked Rigg softly. “Did you think I was dead?”

This was not just a personal question-it was a political and historical one as well. If she thought he was dead then it meant she hadn’t arranged for him to be carried away to safety. It also meant that he hadn’t been kidnapped-for if he had been abducted, she might as easily suppose him to be alive as someone else groomed him for the kingship. For her to think he was dead, then either the kidnappers must have misled her-a cruel note, animal blood smeared around, some other kind of evidence-or she herself had sent him away with the intent of having him assassinated.

There were precedents in the family, after all. Mothers in this family were not always kind to their boychildren.

“Don’t be indiscreet,” she murmured into his hair.

Her message was clear enough: This was not a private meeting, but a public one. Whatever she said would be governed, not by simple truth, but by whatever she needed onlookers to overhear and believe. Therefore, he would learn nothing about his own past or hers, but instead would learn about what was going on in the present.

Since his own future was also at stake, he didn’t really need the warning to be careful. At the same time, he had little idea what she would consider to be indiscreet. So perhaps she was asking him to say nothing.

Rigg could wait. Meanwhile, he couldn’t help but feel a flash of pity for her, a woman who, even in greeting her long-lost son, still had to watch every word she said, every gesture, every action, every decision.

A kind of prisoner because of the crimes of her ancestors, she thought like an inmate who lived in dread of her guards; everyone was an informant.

And where was his sister? Why had no one mentioned her? He did not ask, not now, not yet.

Rigg pulled away when she relaxed her embrace. Now he looked around and saw that there were at least a score of people in the courtyard, and probably more behind him. This was a state occasion, of course. The empress Hagia Sessamin had decided to affirm his identity as prince of the house royal even before having a chance to see him by daylight-that was a political decision that she probably made after hearing the report of General Citizen’s messengers. If Citizen was a friend of the royal house, that would explain Rigg’s solitary imprisonment and the hobble and manacles that bound him during his hooded journey from the boat into the city. There had to be a great show of how harshly Citizen had dealt with the newfound royal son. Just as Hagia Sessamin had to make a show of giving him a warm embrace-even if the secret wish of her heart was to have him killed as soon as it was safe to do so, in order to preserve the female-line inheritance law of her grandmother Aptica.

“How complicated I’m making your life, Mother,” he said with a smile.

He watched closely her reaction to these words. She showed a flash of anger; was it tinged with fear? Yes, it was. She might be afraid he planned to be indiscreet after all, and that some word from him would jeopardize everything. But how else could he signal to her that he understood the dilemma she was in-regardless of what her plan for him might be? If he had merely played along, saying nothing, she would wonder what game he was playing, how well he had been coached and trained, and by whom. Instead, he was letting her see that he planned to act the part of someone who had not been coached or trained, but was merely being himself. He was playing the naif. If she was wise, she would let him continue so-because the more clueless he seemed to be, the less he would be feared by the anti-royals, and the less likely the pro-male-heir faction would decide to strike her down so he could become the new king-in-name-only.

It was not his mother who answered. “It’s my life that you’re making complicated, my lad,” said a man.

Rigg looked at him-a tall, stout man with severely understated clothing that was, nevertheless, of the richest fabric and most perfect cut. A suit of clothes designed to communicate money and modesty at the same time.

“Are you my mother’s kind host?” asked Rigg. “Is this your house?”

The man bowed deeply.

It had been an easy guess-between his words and what Rigg had been told about the way the royals lived, he could have been no one else. And Rigg supposed something else, though he did not say it: that this man was also a trusted agent of the Revolutionary Council, for why would the council let the royals live in the house of someone who was not completely in their pocket?

Of course, the possibility remained that he only seemed to be the Council’s man, and that in fact he was a royalist of one stripe or another. But as Father told him several times, a man who is trusted by both sides can be trusted by neither. If you pretend to be a double agent serving both factions, then how can either of them tell which side you’re lying to? Usually both. One thing was certain, though: Whatever the man’s real allegiance might be, if any, he would be no friend of Rigg’s.

“I would like to say that I could pay my own way,” said Rigg. “But if Hagia Sessamin is correct in recognizing me as her son, then all my previous goods are confiscated and I have no choice but to throw myself on your mercy.”

“You will find me your true friend in all things, as I have been to your mother.”

“Then you are a brave man indeed,” said Rigg, “for there must be many who disapprove of your sheltering the cursed tyrant family that oppressed the World Within the Walls for so many generations. There must be many who are not pleased to have a male added to the royal family when none was looked for.”

There were several sharply indrawn breaths-though Rigg was pleased to see that his mother was not one of those who so nakedly revealed emotion.

He turned to the onlookers-who, for all he knew, might be servants, courtiers, hostile citizens, or the Revolutionary Council themselves-and said, “Do you think I’m going to pretend not to know what everyone knows? I used to be ignorant-the man who raised me kept me that way, so I didn’t have a hint until a few weeks ago that I might have any connection with the royal family. But much has been explained to me, and I know that my existence is inconvenient to everyone. Including myself.”

“Inconvenient or not,” said Mother, “your existence brings me only joy.”

“I have wished for a mother all my life,” said Rigg to her. “But, raised as a good citizen of the Republic, I never wished for a queen. I hope you will forgive me if it is the mother whose love I hope to earn, while I pay no attention to the empress-who-might-have-been.”

“Well put,” said the host. “For of course the notion of ‘royalty’ is merely a matter of genealogy-in all this city there is not a soul that is not grateful to be ruled by the Revolutionary Council instead of the accidental offspring of a particular household.”

Rigg marveled at the man’s oiliness. This speech of smarmy sucking-up to the Revolutionary Council was designed either to reassure his masters of his loyalty, or to disguise his true loyalty under a layer of lies. Either way, it was so egregiously overplayed that Rigg assumed that the man intended no one to believe him.

Or else-always a possibility-he was an idiot and had no idea how his words sounded.

“Look at his hair,” said one of the onlookers.

“And his rich clothes,” said another.

Rigg turned to face the one who spoke of clothes. “These are some of the fine clothes I bought when I thought the money my father left me was mine to spend. These were confiscated by General Citizen when I was arrested, and he allowed me to dress in these only because they fit me, and I needed to be clean to ride in the sedan chair in which I was carried into the city. But if you have need of them, friend, I will happily give them up and wear whatever someone might lend to me out of decency.”

A few low murmurs.

“Don’t tell us you weren’t trained to play this part,” said an older man.

“I was trained by my father-for so I thought he was-to play many parts.”

“An actor?” said the old man caustically.

“Yes, and of the lowest order,” said Rigg. “A politician.”

Now the gasps were loud and led to a few suppressed titters of laughter.

“You are the secretary of the People’s Revolutionary Council, aren’t you, sir?” asked Rigg. “That is my guess, anyway.” Father had told him that the Secretary of the Council was actually its leader-but in this topsy-turvy government, the loftier and more powerful the office, the more subservient the title. Father pointed out that in such a case, the meanings of the words all change, until “secretary” becomes the new word meaning “dictator” or “king” or “emperor.”

“I do hold that office for now,” said the man.

“Please, sir. We’re among loyal citizens here,” said Rigg. “You hold the office for life.”

“I hold it for the fixed term of one year.”

“Renewed fourteen times already,” said Rigg with a cheerful smile, “and sure to be renewed again and again until your wizened, drooling body falls over and admits that it’s a corpse.”

True statements all-everybody knew that Secretaries of the Council served for life-but extremely rude and dangerous to say outright. Now there were neither gasps nor laughs, merely low murmurs. How do you like the way I play this game, Mother? Are you clever enough to understand what I’m doing?

The Secretary, a man named Erbald, stepped forward angrily.

“My father taught me, ‘Do not deny what everyone knows,’” said Rigg. “I honor you for the great service you render to the people of the whole world, and your sacrifice in continuing to serve us for all your days.” Whereupon Rigg knelt before him.

“My son thinks himself clever and honest,” said Mother behind him. “But he is merely being ill-mannered. If only I had been able to rear him myself, you would see more courtesy from him, and less of this arrogance.”

That’s right, Mother, Rigg said silently. Let them see a division between us.

But when Rigg turned, he let hurt feelings that he didn’t feel show in his face. “Mother,” he said, “how can it be rude, in this republic of honesty, to name things and people for what they are?” He decided on taking yet another plunge. “For instance, our generous host could not possibly shelter the royal family without the consent of the Council, which means he works for Mr. Erbald. And since we know that the Council will never tolerate another hereditary ruling family to rise up to replace our family’s ancient blood, the fact that Erbald’s father Urbain was secretary before him, with only three years of the genial placeholder Chaross in between, is merely proof that the great talents of the father were passed on to the son. Only a fool could suppose that such gifts would be easy to replace.”

Rigg could see that a couple of people were slipping away now, fearing to let Erbald know that they had been here to hear Rigg’s outrageously offensive-and accurate-words. He saw their paths and determined that at the first opportunity he would see where they had gone, since these were probably people who already knew they were not trusted by the government. It was among them that he was most likely to find friends, if he were to find any at all.

Rigg felt it was worth the risk to speak as he did, because every schoolchild knew that the official ethos of the Revolution was “speaking truth to power,” so nothing he had said could be used as grounds for a trial. In fact, Rigg was deliberately making it harder and harder to dispose of him quietly, for now that he had proven his willingness to say things that no one else dared say out loud, the Council would be afraid to have the people hear what he might say in a public trial.

A regime that wraps itself in the flag of truth fears truth most of all, for if its story is falsified to the slightest degree, its authority is gone.

Besides, Rigg was having great fun. Since Father had given him the tools of political maneuver and the understanding to use them, and since he had no idea what his life was for or any desire to be servant of anyone else’s plans, why not please himself by being a little bratty, even if it got him killed? “This is such a lovely garden,” said Rigg. “And the house surrounding it is extraordinarily fine. I marvel that the Council would leave such a house in the hands of one man, when so many live in poverty. What is your name, sir host? I want to know who it is that the Council have trusted to be guardian of such a great public treasure.”

The host, his face reddening, bowed slightly. “I have the honor to be named Flacommo.”

“Dear friend Flacommo,” said Rigg, “may we go inside? I fear the mosquitoes of Aressa Sessamo have tested me and found that I’m delicious.”

“This delta country is such a swamp,” said Flacommo heartily. “I fear that we who live here are used to having a half dozen itching bites at any time. Please, follow me into the kitchen, where I’ll wager you might beg the cook to give you a bite or two.”

“I’ll be happy to help him in the kitchen to earn my keep, if you give your consent, Sir Flacommo. I’m a fair hand with a cooking pot, especially if it’s a well-seasoned stew of wild game you’re cooking.”

Rigg was perfectly aware of the bizarre picture he was painting in everyone’s mind. Outrageous candor, rough ways from his life in the forest, and not thinking himself above menial labor-stories of this scene would immediately spread through the city. Even if the Council had ordered that no one tell about the arrival of this supposed boy-royal, Rigg had made the stories too good not to tell.

In essence, he had bribed the servants and courtiers with a coin far better than mere money. He had given them wonderfully outrageous secrets to tell. Nothing conferred more prestige than knowing the deepest secrets of the highest people, and few of them could resist telling someone. Each someone would tell others, and by morning thousands would have heard the tale.

The more people in the city who knew about him-the more who cared about him, liked him, were entertained by stories of his antics-the safer he would be, for the people would be scrutinizing the way he was treated. And if Umbo and Loaf managed to make it to Aressa Sessamo, the stories would tell them where he was.

Rigg could see that Mother disapproved of what he had done. But that was no surprise-for all he knew, she wanted him dead, and had hoped the Council would do it for her, which would now be a bit less likely. Nor was Flacommo much pleased. Most courtiers had probably believed that he really was a friend of the royal family, voluntarily sheltering them at great risk to himself. Now they had reason to believe he was no friend to the royals at all, but rather their jailkeeper.

The most important reaction, however, was Erbald’s. Mother led Rigg into the house, insisting that it was time for her dear son to eat with her for the first time since he had been stolen away from her. Erbald therefore announced his departure, then threw an arm across Rigg’s shoulder. “Walk with me to the door, young Rigg,” he said loudly.

Rigg walked along with him toward the gate that opened onto the street.

“Well played, for an amateur,” said Erbald softly.

“Was there a game?” said Rigg blandly. “I didn’t see anyone enjoying themselves.”

“Transient popularity will keep you safe for the moment, but the support of the people can never be counted on. When a rumor is planted that paints you in a very different light-especially if it’s true-they’ll tear you into squirrel-sized chunks.”

With those words Erbald strode out into the city, leaving Rigg inside as the gates were closed again.

In the kitchen, Rigg made a point of sitting down immediately beside the servants who were preparing food for tomorrow’s meals. While Rigg knew little about fine cooking-he especially regarded bread and other pastries as verging on magic, though Father had explained about yeast-he knew how to slice a carrot, peel a potato, core an apple, or pit a peach for tomorrow’s stews and pies. So before Flacommo could give orders to the morning chef for how Rigg was supposed to be treated, Rigg already had a knife in hand and was sitting beside the young servant boy who had fallen most behind and needed the help to catch up with his task.

“That is not work for a son of the royal house,” said Flacommo.

Rigg immediately looked up at him in astonishment. “If there were a royal house, sir, I’m sure you would be right. But there is no such house and therefore no such son. There’s work to be done and I’m doing it.” Rigg turned to the chef. “Am I not doing it well enough, sir?”

“Very well, sir,” said the chef, “but it’s not for you to call me sir.”

“Are you not older than me?” asked Rigg. “My father taught me to call my seniors by ‘sir’ and ‘madam,’ in reverence for the wisdom and good luck of age.”

“‘Wisdom and good luck,’” repeated Flacommo, laughing as if it were a jest. “Only a boy could think we old people were lucky, with our creaking joints, thinning hair, and bad digestion.”

“I will consider myself very lucky and very wise, sir, if I live long enough for my joints to creak, my hair to thin, and my stomach to keep me awake at night.”

Flacommo laughed again, as if this, too, were meant as humor. But Rigg noticed-by his peripheral vision, for he would not look directly at her-that his mother nodded very slightly. Was it possible that she now understood his game, and approved of how he was playing it? “We’ll take care of feeding the lad, sir,” said the chef to Flacommo. “And one of the boys can show him to his room-we all know which one has been prepared for him.”

“A room?” said Rigg. “For me? After my long journey, that will be a wonderful comfort. Yes, I’ll go there soon. I’ll not need much of a meal-a little bread and a good strong cheese will suit me well-so I’ll go to bed as soon as these apples are cored for the pies.”

Despite his words, Rigg planned not to enter any specially prepared room. If traps had been laid for him, it would be there. His best protection would be to go somewhere no one would expect him to sleep, and in a place with as many witnesses as possible.

“Will you leave your mother waiting to talk to you?” asked Flacommo.

“But there’s a stool, see?” said Rigg. “I hope my mother sits here, and talks to me while I core the apples.”

This suggestion rather alarmed the other servants, but Rigg looked at all of them with a cheerful smile. “What, does my mother’s work keep her in other parts of the household? Then we can all get acquainted with her together!”

“I’m afraid that our beloved Lady Hagia cannot help in the kitchen as you suggest,” said Flacommo. “By law, she is forbidden to put her hands upon any blade-even a kitchen paring knife.”

Rigg held up his coring shaft. “But this is not a knife,” he said.

“You stab it into the fruit, my lad,” said Flacommo, “and that makes it, in the eyes of the law, a dagger.”

“That would be a cruel weapon indeed,” said Rigg, laughing. “Monstrous-imagine being cored to death!” He pressed the corer against his own chest. “The strength it would take, to force it between the ribs!”

Some of the servants laughed in spite of their efforts to remain solemn. Another anecdote that would be spread through the city by morning.

“Mother, it is so late at night. I beg you to go to bed and sleep well, so we can talk tomorrow. I slept well on the boat and in the sedan chair, they both glided along so smoothly.” And it was true that Rigg was usually awake at this time of the night-one of the reasons he had trained himself on shipboard to sleep at such odd times was so he would not be helpless and unconscious at predictable times.

Flacommo and Mother both lingered for a while, and it was clear that Mother would have sat down to talk with him, even in front of the other kitchen workers, if Flacommo had not interposed himself. “Well, well,” he finally said, “you are certainly an unpredictable young man, Master Rigg!”

“Really? In the village of Fall Ford I was thought of as rather dull; I never did anything extraordinary.”

“I find that hard to believe,” said Flacommo.

“Oh, I’m sure you’d find all our village ways unpredictable, sir, life being so different upriver. For instance, when village folk gather to cut up vegetables and fruits, there’s always singing. But apparently no one in this kitchen knows a song!”

“Oh, we know songs, young sir,” said an old woman.

“We could curl your hair with the songs we know of fright and woe,” intoned another.

Rigg, recognizing the old tune, answered with the second line: “And your lady fair will be taught to woo by a love song true.”

The servants all laughed with approval.

“So the songs are the same, upriver or down!” cried Rigg. “Well, let’s finish that one and have another two or three, as long as we still work hard and sing soft, so as not to make the master sorry we’re so noisy at our work.”

Flacommo tossed his hands in the air and strode from the kitchen. Only now did Rigg allow himself to look directly at his mother. She also looked at him. He saw a ghost of a smile pass across her lips; then she turned and followed Flacommo from the room.

The pile of apples done-with a grateful smile from the boy whom he might just have saved from disgrace-Rigg wolfed down the bread and cheese with only water to drink. It was a finer bread than the coarse-ground loaves Nox used to send with them when Rigg and Father set out into the wilderness on one of their trapping jaunts, but that only meant it took more of it before Rigg felt full. The cheese was very fine, though of a flavor Rigg had never had before.

“Thank you for this,” said Rigg to the woman who had prepared it for him. “I’ve eaten the best bread and cheese of O, a city known on the river for its refined taste, and I think I can fairly say that the servants in this great house eat better than the lords of O!”

Of course he was flattering the cooks and bakers and servants outrageously-but Rigg guessed that few thought them worth flattering. Indeed, how often did Mother come into the kitchen? How many of these servants’ names did she know? By the end of this hour in the kitchen, Rigg knew them all by name and most of them by their history and manners and speech. He had not won their loyalty yet, but he had won their liking, and that was the first step.

“Let me take you to the room prepared for you,” said the baker’s apprentice-a young man named Long, though he was not particularly tall.

“Gladly,” said Rigg, “though I wager it won’t be as warm and cozy as that nook behind the hearth where the kitchen boys sleep.”

“On old straw laid out on stone,” said Long. “Not a comfortable bed!”

“I’ve slept in damp caves and under dripping trees and on frozen ground with only snow to keep me warm. To me, that place looks like the best sleeping room in the house!” Rigg pitched his voice so he might be overheard by the day-shift boys still pretending to be asleep in the nook, and he was rewarded by several heads poking out of the nook to see who would say such a ridiculous thing.

“Snow can’t keep you warm!” said the youngest of the boys.

“You burrow into a snowbank like a rabbit, and the snow all around you holds in your body heat and keeps out the wind.”

“It’ll melt on you and drown you, or fall on you and smother you!” cried another boy.

“Not if you choose the deepest and oldest bank-it holds its shape for night after night, and when I’ve done with such a burrow, it’s used by small animals who never had such a lovely palace to sleep in. You may be in the north here, but you don’t know snow till you’ve wintered in the high mountains.”

With that he turned and joined Long, who led him out into the dining hall, and then on to the corridors of the house. Rigg urged him to go slowly, asking him what each large room was for, and where each door led. As Father had trained him to do, Rigg built up a map inside his head. He saw from the dimensions of the rooms that here and there they didn’t match up properly. Once he knew to look for them, he quickly located the secret passages that had been built into the gaps, for he could see the paths of the people who had used them. The paths wouldn’t show him how to open the secret doors, but he could see quite easily where they were. The house was a labyrinth: Servants’ stairways and corridors, which were the most-trafficked lanes in the house; the public corridors, which were all that loftier residents and visitors would ever see; and the secret passages, rarely traveled but constant throughout the house. There was hardly a room that didn’t have at least one hidden entrance.

It wasn’t just the rooms that Rigg was scouting, either. He had seen enough of his mother’s path to be able to recognize wherever she had gone; he knew very quickly which rooms she habituated, and which she rarely entered. Her path only ever used one secret passage, and that one only a handful of times. Was this because she only knew of the one, or because she dared not be out of the public eye very often, lest someone think she had escaped?

What surprised Rigg was that Flacommo’s path could not be found in any of the hidden passages. Was it possible he knew the house even less well than Mother?

At the first opportunity, Rigg would search into the older paths and try to find his own path when, as a baby, he had been spirited away. It would be interesting to find out who had carried him, and what route they had taken.

Then he realized: In all likelihood his family had not been living in this house when he was born. No doubt in keeping up the pretense that they owned nothing and belonged nowhere, the royals were shunted from house to house. Well, time enough to track himself down-it would be easy, once he earned some freedom.

They came to the door of an extravagantly large sleeping chamber with a bed that looked like a fortress, it was so high and fenced about with bedposts and canopies and curtains. There was even a stepstool beside it so Rigg could climb up and in.

Rigg stood in the doorway, gaping and admiring for Long’s benefit, while he was actually scanning the room for the most recent paths. No one was hiding in the room-that would be too obvious. But someone had been under the bed only an hour or two ago, and spent a little time there. Some kind of trap had been laid, and when Rigg noticed the faint paths of six akses-the most poisonous breed of lizard known within the wallfold-he knew what the trap was. When the weight of his body bounced on the bed, it would break the fragile cage in which the akses were intertwining themselves, and soon they would follow his body heat and find him and kill him.

“It’s so pretty,” said Rigg, deliberately sounding as young and naive as possible. “But I could never sleep in a bed so high. I’d be afraid of falling out and never sleep a wink. Come on, let’s go back to the kitchen, I’ll sleep behind the fire!” Rigg turned around and rushed away, retracing his own path.

Long tried to protest, but Rigg only turned around, put a finger to his lips, and whispered, “People are sleeping! Don’t wake them!”

CHAPTER 15

Trust “I’m so sorry,” said the expendable. “One of the versions of Ram Odin did not include the word ‘immediately,’ and therefore his order was complete a fraction of a second before all the others. He is the real Ram Odin.”

Ram gave a little half smile. “How ironic. By specifying that you should act at once-”

The expendable reached out with both hands, gave Ram’s head a twist, and broke his neck. The sentence remained unfinished, but that did not matter, since the person saying it was not the real Ram Odin. • • • Rigg fell asleep almost as soon as he lay down among the tangle of boys in the space behind the fireplace. The one wall was quite warm from the fire on the other side; the opposite wall was cold from the late autumn air beyond it. Rigg chose one of the unloved spots near the cold wall, partly because that’s where the most empty space was available, but mostly because he was used to sleeping in the cold and preferred a bit of a chill to overheated sleep.

He woke only four hours later, as he had schooled himself to do, in the silence of the dark hours before dawn. The nook was fuller now-the late-shift boys had taken their places as well. Most of the boys’ hair was damp from sweat, for even as the fire slackened during the night, the boys’ own body heat kept them warm. Rigg himself, despite keeping his back against the cold wall, was too warm, and he stepped outside into the courtyard to cool off before beginning his morning’s work.

In the garden there was no one keeping watch-what mischief could anyone do inside the courtyard, unless he were a thief of herbs and flowers? Rigg knew, however, that if he approached the front gateway or the servants’ entrance, there would be guards to challenge him. Even if he walked around in the garden he might attract notice. So he chose a place near the door to the kitchen-the pepper door, it was called, because the cooks sent servants through it to gather fresh herbs-and sat on the ground. The air now was quite cold. Soon the basil would die back, and then, when the snow came, the thyme. Only the woody-stemmed rosemary would last the winter.

To Rigg, the garden was almost as artificial and unnatural as the wood-floored interior of the house. Nothing grew wild here, and there was no life more complicated than a few birds, which were not allowed to nest here. Insects left paths, but so thin and faint that even if he wanted to, Rigg would not be able to single out individuals. It was just as well-for every vertebrate creature’s path there were ten thousand insect paths, and if all paths glowed equally wide and bright in Rigg’s mind the insects would blot out everything else.

Rigg kept his eyes open only so he could find where the paths went in relation to the building. He could sense all the paths, no matter how many walls rose up between. The outside walls of the house were clear-for six hundred years at least, there had been no passage that crossed those barriers.

Rigg had many things to learn, but he attached first importance to the path of the person who had placed the half-dozen akses in a flimsy cage under the bed he was supposed to have slept in. Without quite knowing how he distinguished them, Rigg had learned when very young how to identify a particular person’s path and recognize it when he saw it again in another place. The older the path, the harder it was to do this, as if they lost detail and resolution with age-though Rigg could not have described exactly what the details were that he recognized. He simply knew.

The would-be assassin had come in through the servants’ door in the alleyway, and from the way his path moved-smoothly, until, inside the large pantry, it lurched upward and then down-he concluded that he had come into the house inside something, most likely a barrel. He had emerged last night at the same time Rigg arrived inside the courtyard in a sedan chair; that’s when the akses had been placed.

What Rigg needed to see was whether the assassin had had any contact with anyone in the household. He also had to know whether he had used any of the secret passages. No, to both questions. The assassin had moved unerringly and without encountering anyone else or even pausing to hide somewhere, straight to Rigg’s designated room.

But he did not go back to the pantry. Instead he went up onto the roof by way of the steep ladderway used by the workmen who fixed leaks, removed the nests of birds and wasps, and washed the skylights and the windows in the attic cupolas. There he had been until the exact moment Erbald had walked Rigg to the gate-for Rigg had also learned to discern the relative ages of paths, to a high degree of precision with very recent ones.

At that point, the assassin had emerged onto the roof, scooted over the top of it, and down into the next-door neighbor’s courtyard. No one had been awake in that house, and though it was almost as fine a house as Flacommo’s, it had no need for a guard beyond the sleepy old man who was apparently dozing at his post-for the assassin passed right by him, vaulted the gate, and went into the street without the old man waking.

The assassin had moved with the confidence of someone who had been in the house before and knew his way, so Rigg began looking deeper and deeper into the past, finding older and older paths. In a way his eyes could never have done, it was as if only the paths of the age he was looking for were visible, while the newer and older ones attenuated until he shifted his attention to yet another set. It was time-consuming work, and required iron self-discipline, like forcing himself to read fine print in a dim light and refusing to give up just because the letters were hard to focus on. But he had trained himself to peel away each layer, examine it thoroughly and methodically throughout the entire house, then start with the next layer back, and so on.

The assassin might have been sent to scout the layout of the house only in the days since General Citizen’s report arrived, or he might have come the moment the first rumors of Rigg’s existence reached Aressa Sessamo nearly two months ago. Or the assassin might have learned the house before the royal family ever moved into it, in the expectation that at some point his services were bound to be needed. If his previous visit was that old, Rigg was unlikely to be able to find it-a slow, methodical search would take months to get back that far, and a quicker, skimming search would be likely to miss a single visit.

Realizing this, Rigg chose a different strategy. Instead of searching the whole house, he searched only at the gate. On his first visit, the assassin would surely have entered on some legitimate pretext; he would be someone with a cover story so bland as to make him forgettable. If he hadn’t come through the gate, he would have come through the servants’ door; if Rigg didn’t find him in a thorough search at the one place, he’d search again at the other.

Found. The assassin had come through the gate, and it had been only a month ago. Before General Citizen’s messenger could have made it here, but not before a different messenger might have come, from some spy in O who might have investigated Rigg before Citizen even arrived.

Still, it was something of a relief to know that whoever sent the assassin was not someone who depended on General Citizen to inform them. Rigg had come to rather like, or at least respect, General Citizen, and he didn’t want him to be the type of man who resorted to assassination.

Who ushered the assassin into the house on his first visit? The normal servants who greeted everyone, and then Flacommo himself-but that meant nothing except that the party was of some lofty social standing. Most of the party went on with Flacommo to meet with Mother in a room just off the garden where her paths showed she spent most of her waking hours. But the assassin was left behind.

That suggested that he was posing as a servant, and his master had dismissed him. The assassin prowled the bedroom level of the house, exploring every room. No one challenged him, though he took at least an hour doing it.

Then he went straight to the room where the rest of his party was conversing with Mother, and the whole group left almost at once.

If only he had Umbo with him! Then he could slow down the paths to see whether Mother knew about the plan to assassinate Rigg when he showed up there.

This much was certain: Mother spent an hour talking with the people who brought the assassin along with them.

But there was no indication whether the rest of the party knew the assassin’s real mission, still less whether Mother knew about it. And just because Flacommo never encountered the assassin on either of his visits to the house said nothing about what he knew, or what the Revolutionary Council knew. Rigg’s gift told him many things that no one else could know-but it did not tell him a tenth as much as would have been useful to him.

Someone was in the garden with him.

He could see the path, and it was new-it was being created even as he watched. But it moved incredibly slowly, and faded more quickly than usual, and when he looked with his eyes, there was no one there.

There were folktales about invisible people, about saints who had the power to walk through a crowd unseen, or people who had offended a wizard and been turned invisible so they were always alone. But he had never believed them for a moment. Since Father had explained to him how vision worked-the photons of different wavelengths variously reflected or absorbed, and the retina of the eye detecting them-it seemed impossible to Rigg that someone might be able to make it so every atom of his body became transparent to photons.

But hadn’t Father said, “Only a fool says ‘impossible,’ the wise man says, ‘unlikely.’” That had become a joke between them for several months-instead of “no,” they told each other “unlikely.” Now it occurred to Rigg that Father might have had a specific example in mind when they were discussing whether invisibility was impossible or not.

Stubbornly, Rigg decided he would not yet believe in a human being transparent to photons. There must be some other explanation, and he closed his eyes and studied the slowly moving path for some kind of clue.

There was the fact that it was moving more slowly than any human being could possibly move. More important, though, was the fact that the path faded far too abruptly. The beginning of the stranger’s path into the garden was actually earlier than Rigg’s own path as he came in.

And at the head of the path, right where the person should be visible, but wasn’t, the path flickered.

Not blinking on and off, but the color of it-or flavor, or whatever sense you might want to use as a metaphor-seemed to be changing slightly in abrupt shifts.

Rigg opened his eyes again. If this was another assassin, Rigg would certainly have no problem getting away from him, his progress was so slow. Then again, he might move slowly when invisible, then turn visible and leap upon Rigg like a stooping hawk.

Still, Rigg had to learn more. So he stood up, walked directly to the head of the slow path and blocked it.

It took a few moments but the path stopped moving, and then began moving backward. But in that moment of hesitation, when the invisible one did not move forward or back, his shape became faintly visible to Rigg’s eyes. Not enough that Rigg could see him clearly, but he knew where the eyes were, could see the height. He could see the outline of the clothing and the hair, telling him that this was a woman. And in the eyes, he caught a glimpse of-what, fear? Startlement?

Rigg knew that he had revealed to the invisible person that her invisibility was not complete. But he had also learned that when the invisible person ceased moving, she became somewhat visible again.

“Who are you?” Rigg asked softly. He was so close she could not help but hear him, though no one inside the house could have. Yet there was no hint of a response. The Invisible just kept moving away, moving perhaps a little faster but not much.

Frustrated, Rigg walked up her path and did not pause, but kept moving right through the place where she had to be.

He passed right through.

Did Rigg feel anything odd during that passage? Perhaps a slight shakiness, or perhaps a little warmth. Or maybe he was just imagining the sensation because he knew he had to be passing through a living person.

When he looked back at the path, it was unchanged, except that it continued moving forward-perhaps a little more swiftly than before, if “swiftly” could be used to describe a speed that would make a snail ashamed.

Rigg had a good idea now who the Invisible might be. If he could not speak to her or force her to become more visible to him, he at least could find out where she had been and who might know who she was. Rigg stood out of the Invisible’s way and closed his eyes so he could focus on her path backward in time. Not terribly far away, the path changed-it lost its trait of rapid fading, and instead seemed quite normal as it moved through the house. Back to a bedroom where Mother lay asleep.

The Invisible had come straight from Mother’s room, and at a normal pace. But she had done so in the middle of the night, when no one was about. Rigg made the reasonable assumption: When the Invisible moved at an ordinary speed, she was completely visible, and remain unnoticed because the house was dark and everyone was asleep. As soon as the Invisible realized there was someone in the garden-Rigg-she slowed down and became invisible.

She is not “slowing down,” Rigg realized. Whatever she’s doing affects her path, and paths have to do with time. The Invisible is actually jumping forward in time, in tiny increments.

Silently in his mind, Rigg explained it all as if he were expounding his theory to Father. Suppose the Invisible moved an inch a second. Suppose that at the end of every second, she then jumped forward one second in time. To the Invisible, she is making a continuous forward movement, one second per inch. But because she is jumping forward a second at the end of every second, to an outside observer she would seem to move one inch every two seconds-but for one of those seconds she would seem to flash out of existence.

Now suppose that instead of a second per inch, it was a millionth of a second per millionth of an inch. The pace would be the same, but now she would not exist in any moment long enough for a significant number of photons to hit her.

He could almost hear Father’s voice raise an objection. If she exists in any moment for exactly as long as she does not exist between moments, then she should be half visible, for half the photons would pass through her, and half would strike her and reflect or be absorbed.

All right, Rigg answered himself. Suppose the Invisible exists for one millionth of a second, but then jumps forward a thousandth of a second. Now she exists far less time than she does not exist. She’s only reflecting light for one millionth of a second every thousandth of a second. Our eyes simply can’t notice that tiny amount of light, can’t focus on it.

She has to keep moving, though. And very quickly, so that each thousandth of a second, when she reappears so briefly, she’s in a different place. When I made her stop and back up because I stood directly in front of her, for that fleeting second she did not move quickly enough and she became much more visible-I could see her height, her shape, her eyes, a trace of her mouth. Then she sped up, moving backward, and disappeared again.

She never disappeared, really. She was always there. When I walked through her, she was there.

Father had taught Rigg that all solid objects were actually mostly empty space, the atoms very far apart, and within each atom the nucleus and electrons were separated by spaces many times their size.

So when he passed through the Invisible, the Invisible must have flashed into existence many times, maybe a thousand times. Most of the actual particles of their bodies would not have collided, and the Invisible jumped ahead in time before they could distort or destroy each other.

But some particles must have collided, and those that did…

No wonder the Invisible backed up rather than collide with Rigg. Even though such a collision would do no visible harm, there must be significant radiation from the relatively few crashes between atoms that did take place during the passage. If the Invisible did not avoid collisions as much as possible, eventually the radiation would become significant. Enough, perhaps, to make her sick or even kill her.

For the first time, Rigg understood that it was useful that Father had taught him so much about physics. He wanted me to be able to make sense of things like this.

Except that it didn’t really make sense yet. How could a human being divide time into such tiny bits? How could the Invisible possibly even comprehend such intervals?

Again, Rigg answered his own objection. The Invisible no more understands what she’s doing than Umbo understood what he was doing when he “slowed down time,” no more than I understood the nature of the paths that only I could see. It was instinctive. A reflex.

Like sweating. You know what causes sweat, but you don’t have to consciously activate every pore for sweating to take place.

No, sweating was involuntary. More like walking. You don’t think about each tiny muscle movement involved in walking, you just walk, and your body does what it does. Or like seeing-you decide what to look at, how wide to open your eyes, how long to stare-but you don’t have to understand the photons striking the rods and cones of your retina.

The Invisible may not even know that she’s moving forward in time. She only knows that when she becomes invisible, her forward movement slows down. With years of practice, she would learn just how much time-movement was needed to stay invisible, because if she became too invisible, her movement through space would become so slow she would be unable to get from one place to another. But if she did not move forward far enough with each tiny time-jump, she would become visible and people would see her-as a ghost, a dream, an apparition, a memory, but they would see her.

So over the years she has learned to control it the way Umbo learned to control his sense of timeflow, the way I learned to distinguish among the paths and see at a glance how old they were compared to each other, and peel them away with my mind so I could concentrate on the paths of a certain time or of a certain person rather than all the paths that passed through that point in space.

This Invisible is like me. And like Umbo. Talented.

Umbo and I were both trained by Father to hone our talents. So was Nox. Did Father know this person and train her, too?

Rigg remembered Father’s voice as he lay dying under the fallen tree. “Then you must go and find your sister. She lives with your mother.”

Father had sent Rigg to find his sister, not his mother. His mother, the queen-by-right, was not the important one. What mattered to Father was Rigg’s talented sister.

Everything came together and made sense. His theory fit all the facts and omitted none that he could think of. He might later learn of many flaws in the theory, but for right now, as Father had taught him, it was useful enough to act on the assumption that he was right.

Rigg allowed himself to notice the paths again. The Invisible was moving toward the door she had come out of-and she was moving much faster. Which meant she was actually leaping forward in time by smaller increments, or less frequently, which meant that she was reflecting more photons. And sure enough, Rigg could make out a shadowy form, and it was running-running so very slowly that he could still have overtaken the Invisible in a dozen steps.

This is how the Invisible has learned to escape-trading a little bit of visibility for speed in getting away.

Now he knew better than to try to speak to her. Existing only a thousandth of a moment in any one position in space, there was no way the Invisible could distinguish speech.

The Invisible. She has a name. Param Sissaminka.

Rigg walked into the kitchen, where the morning shift was now beginning to be about their business-bakers shaping the dough that had been left for them by the night bakers, cooks starting the pots for the afternoon stews, servants sleepily going here and there, taking care of their needs so they could begin their chores.

“Did you sleep at all, young master?” asked the head baker. This was a woman that Rigg had not met the night before, but of course the kitchen staff talked to each other, especially since Rigg had been a stranger sleeping in the nook behind the fire.

“I did,” said Rigg. “But I wake early-no doubt I’ll be back in the afternoon for another nap, if you don’t mind.”

The baker looked at him with a hint of amusement. “If you’re sleeping away from your room for fear of someone meddling with you, perhaps you should sleep in a different place every time, and not go returning to the nook to sleep.”

Rigg was surprised that the baker was so forthright. “Am I in danger?” he asked.

“It seemed to my sister that you thought you were, and so you may well be. My sister is the night baker, Elella. I’m Lolonga.”

“Then let me tell you something, Lolonga,” said Rigg. “Something was left in my room last night, which is why I didn’t sleep there. Something designed to kill. And I’m afraid that if anyone goes into that room today, and jostles the bed, the trap that was set for me might be sprung on some innocent who does not deserve to die.”

“Do you deserve to die?”

“I’d like to think I don’t, but there are those who think the world will be a better place without me.”

“Since you haven’t told me what the trap is-though I assume it is involved with the bed-I take it you’d like me to warn people away from that room without it being known that the warning came from you.”

“I’d like that, yes, but it’s not worth lying about. If someone asks point blank, someone whose trust you need to retain, then by all means tell them I warned you. It will come out soon enough anyway. But if they don’t ask, please don’t volunteer the information.”

“The housekeeper, Bok, is an early riser,” said Lolonga. “Even though my idiot apprentices will no doubt ruin the day’s bread in my absence, making the dough too dry or too wet, I’ll go find her and tell her so she can save the life of some silly worthless chambermaid.”

“Even the silliest chambermaid is worth saving,” said Rigg.

“Really?” said Lolonga. “But I never suspected that one of you would feel that way.”

“One of… who?”

“Royals. The rich. The educated. Those we wait upon, who have all the money and fame and power. You.”

“Ah, well, there’s your mistake, ma’am. Until a few months ago, I was one of you. No, worse-I was a wandering trapper whom folk like you would look down on and not let into the kitchen.”

Lolonga grinned. “I sensed that about you, lad,” she said, “which is why I didn’t have you thrown out of my kitchen the moment you stepped in. I don’t let your mother in, you know. Not while I’m baking. It distracts my people and ruins the breads and cakes and pies of the day.”

“Ma’am,” said Rigg. “I have to know. Between you and your sister, which one is head baker?”

“We both are. It’s a constant battle between us. She thinks she gets to decide what dough to make each night, and I’m stuck with making whatever bread she determined we’d need. But I got even with her. I made her take on my lazy worthless son, Long, as her apprentice on the night shift. It’s a punishment that goes on and on.”

“I like Long,” said Rigg.

“So do I. That’s why I put him on her shift-so I don’t have to spend all day every day yelling at him and cursing him for a stupid lazy son of a stupid lazy father. That might interfere with the affection between us.”

She left the kitchen on Rigg’s errand. He went out by another way and found himself in the dining room, which at the moment stood empty, the table cleared away. Soon it would be set for breakfast, he was sure, but for now it was a quiet place, and almost completely dark, illuminated only by the starlight coming through the windows-the Ring cast its light from the other side of the house.

Rigg sat in one of the chairs and watched the path Lolonga took through the house. He saw her path encounter the housekeeper’s path, and then followed the housekeeper-Bok?-as she went to the maids, no doubt to give them instructions about avoiding the room with the trap.

Then he cast his attention to his mother’s room, and sure enough, the Invisible, Param, had moved back into it. Now Rigg had the leisure to study the paths in that room, and he could see that Param came there every night. So did someone else, always arriving and leaving just before Param came invisibly in. Rigg traced that path and saw that it led to a serving maid he had seen last night. In fact, he had watched her on what must have been that very errand-taking a tray of food out of the kitchen and going… somewhere. Now he knew where. He thought back to the tray of food and realized: This is how Param eats. An invisible has to hold still, become visible in order to interact with the physical world enough to eat, to drink, to wash, to void her bladder and bowel. Such would be the times of greatest danger. So she does all this in Mother’s room.

Param is under Mother’s protection. “She lives with your mother.” So to Param, Mother is a refuge, not a danger.

I wish that it were so for me. But I can’t know. I can’t be sure. Param is the female heir to the Tent of Light. Mother might be her protector, and my deadliest enemy. The games are all too deep and layered here for me to fathom them.

Rigg sat down to breakfast at the table with Flacommo, Mother, and a dozen guests and courtiers.

After the normal social niceties had been observed, and after a polite amount had been eaten without distracting conversation, Rigg turned to his mother and said, “Actually, my lady mother, I did not set out for Aressa Sessamo to meet you. Nothing delighted me more than to learn that you were alive, though naturally I wondered why I had never met you, or why my adopted father had never mentioned you until he lay dying. But his first instruction was for me to go to Aressa Sessamo to meet my sister. And I can’t help but wonder where she is. Is she unwell? Doesn’t she want to meet her brother?”

Rigg pretended to be surprised at how silent everyone grew at the mention of his sister.

“Is there some reason why it isn’t right for me to ask after her? No one on my journey hinted that there might be something wrong; I assumed that I would meet her.”

All eyes were on Mother now. She alone looked completely poised, paying attention to the bite she was chewing, while looking at Rigg with twinkling eyes. “I’m not surprised you’re curious,” Mother finally said. “But you see, your sister has withdrawn from society for more than a year. She had a very unpleasant experience when one of the peasants who periodically burst into the house of our host, to demand that we let him shave our heads or take our clothing, forced her to surrender all her clothing. It was a cruel thing, and ever since that happened, she sees no one.”

Or rather, no one sees her, Rigg thought. “Is there no hope, then, even for her long-lost brother?” he asked aloud.

What he did not say was that he knew perfectly well his sister was in the room right now. He had seen her path moving slowly into the room and then pacing back and forth in order to stay in motion. No doubt she was as curious about Rigg as he was about her. She knew that he could see her, or at least that he knew where she was. In fact, after he sat down at table he had turned toward her and given her a little wave, though he held his hand below table level, so no one else could see. He waved very slowly, too, so that she would be able to detect the motion.

“There is hope indeed,” said Mother. “I’m quite sure she’s eager to see you, and when the time comes, I will fetch you to the place where she is in seclusion.”

“It must be setting back her schooling dreadfully,” said Rigg.

“Her schooling is a paltry thing, compared to the heartbreak of her humiliation,” said Mother.

Flacommo chimed in now. “It was a shame to all of us, that someone would use a child so harshly. The Revolutionary Council immediately changed the law to prevent anyone from taking the clothing of the persons of the family once called royal from their bodies. It was a change long overdue.”

“In other words,” said Rigg, who of course already knew the story, “the Council discovered that the humiliation of the royals no longer played well with the crowd, and they discontinued it. Could it be that the public hatred of the royal family is slipping?”

“I think that would be wonderful,” said Flacommo. “Someday, of course, the royals will be just like any other family. But right now they remain a constant hope for certain revolutionary factions.”

“Then I wonder we haven’t all been put to death,” said Rigg.

There were gasps all around the table.

“It’s a matter of pure logic,” said Rigg. “As long as members of the royal family survive, we will be used by this or that group as a rallying cry, even if we never lift a finger against the Revolutionary Council. Wouldn’t it be better for the sake of the nation if we ceased to exist entirely?”

“I will never be persuaded of that!” cried Flacommo. “Once there was much talk of it, but your mother-and her mother before her-conducted themselves with such humility and deference to the Council, obeying all laws and never countenancing any talk of revolt, that the Revolutionary Council has thought it wiser to keep them here, accessible to the public, though not to so great a degree. Your mother graciously allows the people to see that royals own nothing and live as obedient citizens.”

“We eat rather well, though,” said Rigg, looking at the lavishly spread table.

“No,” said Flacommo, “I eat rather well, and so do you all when you share my table as guests. But many a day each year your mother dines with whoever invites her, no matter what their station or how simple their fare.”

“I see,” said Rigg. “Then there will be no objection if I do the same?”

“You may accompany your mother whenever she accepts such an invitation,” said Flacommo. “But of course you may not do this on your own, because each time a royal leaves my house and goes forth into the city, she-they-must be kept under guard. There are those, alas, whose rage against the royal family is unabated after all these years of Revolutionary government.”

Rigg was quite sure the guards were there to keep the royals from running off, escaping the city, and going out to raise an army. But there was no reason to say this. He had a different item on his agenda. “Oh, I know about that!” he said. “Someone tried to kill me last night.”

Everyone at the table cried out at once. No! Who! When! How did you stop them! “I stopped them easily enough,” said Rigg. “I simply didn’t sleep where I was supposed to sleep. The assassination attempt was a stealthy one, a trap set for me.”

“What kind of trap!” demanded Flacommo. “If someone came into my house and-”

Rigg made a soothing gesture and smiled. “I’m sure it was done without your knowledge, my dear friend. I may call you ‘friend,’ may I not? You have been so kind to my mother and sister.”

“Yes, please, I’m honored if you think of me that way,” said Flacommo. Though of course he would not have forgotten what Rigg had said the night before.

“It was a little box containing akses, which was placed under my bed. The box was flimsy enough that the very action of lying on the bed would break the box and release the akses. And of course you all know how long I would have remained alive after that, since they are drawn to body heat.”

“But how did you defeat them?” someone asked.

“I didn’t,” said Rigg. “I avoided them. As far as I know, they’re still there. I would advise sealing the door to the room and leaving them alone. They’re bound to starve to death within a few weeks, especially if the room is kept warm. It’s very tricky trying to dispose of them any other way. There are gases that will immobilize them-but it takes time for such gases to act, and in the meantime whoever brings the gas near them runs the risk of one of the akses taking a flying leap and winning the engagement preemptively.”

“And such creatures were left in your room?” Flacommo said, incredulous. “How did you detect them?”

“Having been warned that there are those who still hate the royal family, one of them having made an attempt on my life during the voyage here, I’ve become cautious. I look under beds.” Rigg hoped that no one questioned Long, since he knew perfectly well that Rigg had not even entered the room, let alone bent down to peer under the bed.

“Thank the Wandering Saint for that!” said Flacommo, and many at the table agreed.

Rigg turned to his mother, who did not seem alarmed at all, but merely regarded him between bites of her breakfast porridge-for she ate much simpler fare than any of the others at table. “Lady Mother,” he said, “I’m not sure how to take this incident. I’m really quite certain that I was not sentenced to such a death merely because I’m a royal-after all, the assassins could have killed any royal in the house, and yet they targeted only me.”

She took another bite.

“I can think of two reasons why I would be singled out. One is that my presence destabilizes the arrangement under which you and my sister have lived under the protection of such flunkies of the Revolutionary Council as our gracious host Flacommo. In which case it might be the Council itself, or some faction of it, that wants me dead. On the other hand, I’m a male, and ever since my great-grandmother killed all the males of the royal family and made it a law that only females of the family could rule, there have been those who have eagerly awaited the birth of a male heir, hoping he would live long enough to strike down that old decree and reestablish an emperor rather than an empress.”

“If there are any such people,” Mother said mildly, “I doubt they’d try to kill you.”

“Probably not,” said Rigg. “Ever since I learned of my true identity, or at least the possibility of it, I have wondered who it was that kidnapped me and carried me away from my mother and father and sister. One possibility was that I was taken by members of the faction that wants a male heir restored to the throne. But if that’s so, why wasn’t I trained and indoctrinated to fulfil that role? Why wasn’t I raised to be a king? Because I can assure you, I never had a breath of a hint that I had any connection with royalty, or any great destiny to fulfil. So I have to conclude that the man who raised me was not of that faction.”

Mother said nothing, but smiled slightly.

“Still, you never know what people so insane they would seek the restoration of the royal house might do-surely the ones who want to restore the male line are the craziest of them all.”

“There are so many crazy people in the world,” said Mother. “Some who are crazy and remain silent, and some who in their madness keep talking and talking, annoying everybody.”