The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Two Jonathan Strahan


The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small



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The Sky is Large
and the Earth is Small

Chris Roberson


Chris Roberson (www.chrisroberson.net) has worked as a baker, taught middle-school history, was a product support engineer, and gave change at an arcade. An exciting new writer, his work is heavily influenced by the pulp adventure classics of the '40s and '50s. He has published six novels, including Set the Seas on Fire, Here, There & Everywhere, and Paragaea: A Planetary Romance. His first short story, "Lord Peter Midnight and the Goblin King," appeared in The Clockwork Reader Volume 1 in 2001. Short story "O One," part of the "Celestial Empire" alternate history sequence, was nominated for the World Fantasy Award and won the Sidewise Award in 2004. He is currently working on "Celestial Empire" novels The Dragon's Nine Sons and Iron Jaw and Hummingbird, and cross-time Arthurian science fantasy End of the Century.

The story that follows is part of Roberson's "Celestial Empire" sequence, one of the most interesting future histories currently being written.

Water-Dragon year, 28th year of the Kangxi emperor


Cao Wen stood south of the Eastern Peace Gate of the Forbidden City, facing the entrance to the Eastern Depot. It was an unassuming building, dwarfed by the grandeur of the buildings on the opposite side of the concourse—the Six Ministries, the Court of State Ceremonial, and the Directorate of Astronomy, where the imperial astronomers studied the heavens, watchful of any signs or portents which might auger good or ill for the emperor. Only the Office of Transmission was less grand than the Eastern Depot, its function largely eliminated when the emperor had instituted the palace memorial system, requiring that each of his ministers and deputies communicate their reports to him directly in their own hand, for his eyes only.

At the Eastern Depot's large, unadorned entrance, two guards stood at the ready, sabers sheathed at their sides, poleaxes in their hands. Cao displayed his signs of authority, which marked him as an authorized representative of the Ministry of War. One of the guards studied the papers closely, and then turned and motioned for Cao to accompany him, leaving the other at his post.

Following the guard into the main hall of the Eastern Depot, Cao's eyes lit upon a plaque, on which a motto was engraved in simply crafted characters: "Heart and Bowels of the Court."

"Please wait here," the guard said with an abbreviated bow, "while this one fetches a superior." Then, Cao's papers still in hand, the guard disappeared through one of the many arches leading from the main hall.

Cao waited in silence, as agents of the Eastern Depot came and went, all about the emperor's business. Most were clad in plain gray robes, and would not merit a second glance, were he to pass them on the street. Only a few wore the elaborate mantles which gave the emperor's secret police their name—the Embroidered Guard.

After a few long moments, the guard reappeared, with an older man following close behind. In his simple cotton robes, this older newcomer could have easily passed for a fishmonger or merchant in textiles, thin wisps of mustaches drooping over his thick lips, his eyes half-lidded as though he were just waking from a long slumber. His face, frame, and hands displayed the softened edges that suggested he was a eunuch, one who had traded in his manhood for a life of imperial service.

"Return to your post," the older man said to the guard, who replied only with a rigid nod.

"You are Cao Wen?" the older man says to him, without preamble.

Cao allowed that he was, and bowed lower than the man's appearance would suggest was required. In such a setting, appearances could be deceiving.

"I am Director Fei Ren of the Eastern Depot." The older man brandished the papers Cao had brought with him, which bore the chop of the Minister of War. "I understand you wish to speak with one of our guests?"

"Yes, O Honorable Director," Cao said, bowing again, and lower this time, "it is the wish of His Excellency the Minister of War that I should do so. It is believed that your . . . guest . . . has some intelligence that may be of use to the emperor, may-he-reign-ten-thousand-years."

"This individual has been temporarily housed with us for some considerable time," Director Fei answered. "Since before our emperor reached his age of majority. And not all that time spent in the Outside Depot, but some months and years in the Bureau of Suppression and Soothing, as well."

Cao suppressed a shudder. He had heard only whispered rumors about what went on in the private chambers of the Bureau of Suppression and Soothing, which the Embroidered Guard used to elicit confessions from the most recalcitrant suspects.

Director Fei continued. "Any intelligence this individual had to offer has been long since documented, I would venture to say. And had we been able to extract a confession from him on his many crimes, he would long ago have gone under the executioner's blade. I think you will find this one a spent fruit, all juices long since dried up, leaving nothing more than a desiccated husk of a man."

"You are obviously much wiser in such matters than I, Honorable Director," Cao said, with the appropriate tone of humility, "but such is my office to fulfill, and it would displease my master the Minister of War if I were to shirk my responsibility."

Director Fei shrugged. "Very well. It is your own time that you waste. Come along and I will have one of my agents escort you into the Outside Depot."

Director Fei waved over another man dressed in plain robes, this one nearer Cao's own age of twenty years.

"Agent Gu Xuesen will escort you, Cao Wen. Now you must excuse me, as more pressing matters demand my attention."

Cao bowed low, and Director Fei disappeared back into the shadows beyond the main hall.

"This way, sir," Gu said, inclining his head, and starting towards one of the larger arches.

Agent Gu led Cao through the winding labyrinth of passages within the Eastern Depot. The building was larger inside than its exterior would suggest, largely a function of the snaking passages and innumerous small chambers and rooms. Frequently passages opened onto open-air courtyards, and just as frequently onto sunless, dank chambers that had never seen the light of day. And as they went, Agent Gu provided the name and use of each chamber and room.

Cao was surprised to find so talkative a member of the Embroidered Guard, who were widely known as a circumspect, and some might even say taciturn, lot. When Agent Gu explained that he was only in his first years with the Embroidered Guard, and that he was required to complete his long years of training before being allowed to go beyond the walls of the Eastern Depot, his talkative manner became much more understandable. He clearly hungered for dialogue with someone nearer his own age, and while his training likely prohibited providing information when it was unnecessary, and when there is no advantage to be gained, his youthful hunger for distraction, in this instance at least, was getting the better of his discretion.

"And now, Cao Wen," Agent Gu was saying, "we pass into that section known as the Inside Depot. This is the place used to house the most dangerous and serious suspects brought in by the Embroidered Guard. It is the most closely guarded of all the sections of the Eastern Depot, and none who are not of the Embroidered Guard may enter unescorted."

They passed by a tall doorway, the door lacquered matte black, the frame painted a red the color of blood.

"And beyond this point," Gu said, pointing to the door, "rests the Bureau of Suppression and Soothing."

Cao flinched, despite himself. He had, of course, heard of the Bureau, though he labored not to call to mind the stories he had heard.

"Even through the reinforced walls and doors of the Bureau," Gu went on, "which have been designed to dampen sound, screams and hideous wailing can occasionally be heard."

They passed by the jet-and-scarlet doorway, turning a corner to a long corridor, and Cao tried to put the door and what lay beyond it out of his thoughts.

Continuing on, they came at last to a broad, open-air courtyard, surrounded on all sides by narrow doorways leading to small chambers. Men and women milled around in the bright morning sun, shuffling under the gaze of guards who perched atop towers positioned on the opposite sides of the courtyard, surmounted by banners on tall posts.

"This, finally, is the Outside Depot," Gu explained, "in which guests of the Embroidered Guard are temporarily housed. Some have confessed to minor crimes which merit no more severe punishment than imprisonment, while others await the decision of the emperor on their final sentencing. Some few have yet to confess, but have been deemed by the Bureau of Suppression and Soothing as not likely to confess at any point in the future. As no conviction can be achieved without a confession, these few are returned to the Outside Depot, assuming they are not violent enough to merit imprisonment in the Inside Depot, to wait."

"Wait for what?" Cao asked, casting his gaze across the dispirited faces before him.

"Some wait for a reprieve from the emperor, some wait for further evidence to come to light, while some just wait. For death to take them, one supposes."

Agent Gu pointed to an ancient man sitting at the center of the courtyard, his legs folded under him, his full attention on the passage across the ground of the shadows of the two towers.

"That is the man you seek," Agent Gu said. "That is Ling Xuan."

Cao Wen sat opposite the ancient man in the interview chamber. Agent Gu waited beyond the door of iron-clad hardwood, which Cao doubted any sound could penetrate, short of a full-bodied bellow.

Cao had a sheaf of papers in front of him, while the old man sat with his shoulders slumped, his hands folded in his lap and the slack-jawed smile of an imbecile on his wrinkled face.

"Ling Xuan?" Cao repeated. The old man's eyes rested on the simple wooden table between then, worn smooth by generations of hands. Cao could not help but wonder what other dialogues had played out across the table, over the long years since the Embroidered Guard was established in the days of the Yongle emperor, during the Bright Dynasty.

Still, though, the old man did not reply.

"Is that your name?"

The old man drew in a deep breath through his nostrils, blinked several times, and straightened up, all without lifting his eyes from the surface of the table. When he spoke, his voice was soft but with an underlying strength, like the sound of distant thunder.

"The swirls and curves of the wood from which this table is constructed call to mind the heavens and clouds picked out in golden thread on the longpao dragon robes I wore in the service of the Shunzhi emperor. Strange to think that they follow me, here, after all of these long years. Perhaps they seek to remind me of days past, when my circumstances were more auspicious."

The man had spoken slowly, but without any pause between words, a single, breathless oration.

Cao looked at the table, and saw nothing but meaningless swirls and knots. Was the old man mad, and his search already proven in vain?

"Need I remind you," Cao replied, his tone moderated but forceful, "that I come here on the authority of the Minister of War, who speaks with the voice of the Dragon Throne itself? Now, I ask again, is your name . . ."

"Yes," the old man said, not raising his eyes. "Ling Xuan is my name."

Cao nodded, sharply. "Good. And are you the same Ling Xuan who is listed here?"

Cao slid a piece of paper across the table, a copy he had recently made of the fragmentary inventory of the imperial archives of the Chongzhen emperor, one of the last of the Bright Dynasty, who ruled before the Manchu came down from the north and established the Clear Dynasty.

On the inventory was highlighted one item: A Narrative Of A Journey Into The East, To The Lands Which Lay Across The Ocean, With Particular Attention to the Mexica, by Ling Xuan, Provincial Graduate.

Ling looked at the paper for a long time, as though puzzling out a complex mathematical equation in his head. After a long moment he spoke, his voice the sound of distant thunder. "Such a long time ago." And then he fell silent once more.

After a lengthy silence, the old man nodded, slowly, and raised his eyes to meet Cao's.

"Yes," Ling said. "I am he."

"Good," Cao said impatiently. "Now, I am sorry to report that all that is known about your account is the title, as it was among those records lost in the transition of power from the Bright Dynasty to the Clear. My purpose for coming here to interview you is . . ."

"Such a long time ago, but I can remember it all, as though it were yesterday."

Cao paused, waiting to see if the old man would speak further after his interruption. When Ling remained silent, Cao nodded again and continued: "That is good, because—"

"When we are young," Ling said, the distant thunder growing somewhat closer, "the days crawl by. I remember summers of my youth which seemed to last for generations. But as we grow older, the months and years flit by like dragonflies, one after another in their dozens. But by the calendar, a day is still a day, is it not? Why is it, do you suppose, that the duration of a span of time should seem so different to us in one circumstance than another?"

Cao shuffled the papers before him, impatiently. "I'm sure that I don't know. Now, as I was saying . . ."

"I have begun to suspect that time is, in some sense I don't yet fully comprehend, subjective to the viewer. What a day signifies to me is quite different than what it signifies to you. How strange my day might seem, were I able to see it through your eyes."

"Ling Xuan, I insist that you listen to, and then answer, my questions."

"We shall see how our day looks tomorrow, shall we?" Ling Xuan rose slowly to his feet, crossed to the door, and rapped on the metal cladding with a gnarled knuckle. "Perhaps then we shall have more perspective on the subjectivity of time."

Cao jumped to his feet, raising his voice in objection. "Ling Xuan, I insist that you return to your seat and answer my questions!"

Agent Gu opened the door, in response to the knocking sound.

Ling smiled beatifically, looking back over his shoulder at Cao. "And if I insist to the sun that it stop in its courses, and remain unmoving in the heavens, do you suppose that it will?"

With that Ling Xuan turned and walked out of the chamber, nodding slightly to Agent Gu as he passed.

Cao raced to the door, his cheeks flushed with anger. "Agent Gu, bring him to heel!"

Agent Gu glanced after the back of the retreating prisoner.

"That old man survived more than a year in the Bureau of Suppression and Soothing," Gu answered, "and never confessed. What do you suppose that I could do that would make him talk?"

Gu walked out towards the courtyard, and Cao followed behind, his hands twisted into trembling fists at his sides.

Ling had walked out into the sunlit courtyard, and he glanced back at Cao as he sat, gracefully folding his legs under him.

"Tomorrow, don't forget," he called to Cao. "Perhaps that will be the day in which we find answers."

Back at the Ministry of War, across the concourse from the Eastern Depot, Cao Wen sat in his small cubicle, surveying the mounds of paper before him, hundreds of notes and maps and charts, the product of months' work.

"Cao?" an impatient voice called from behind him, startling him.

Cao turned, pulse racing, to find the imposing figure of the Deputy Minister of War standing behind him.

"Deputy Minister Wu," Cao said breathlessly, rising to his feet and bowing.

Wu waved him to return to his seat, an annoyed expression on his bread face. "Is it too much to hope that you have completed your survey of the archives, and your report on the Mexica is finally ready to present to the Minister?"

Cao blanched, and shook his head. "Your pardon, O Honorable Deputy Minister, but while my researches are very nearly complete, I still have one final resource to investigate before my survey is ready for review."

"I take it you refer to this prisoner of the Eastern Depot? Were you not scheduled to interview him today?"

"Yes," Cao answered reluctantly. "But our initial meeting was not entirely . . . productive. It is my intention to return to the Eastern Depot tomorrow to complete his interrogation."

"Was this Ling Xuan forthcoming with strategic details about the Mexica? The emperor is most desirous of a complete analysis of the possibilities for invasion of the Mexic isthmus, once our pacification of Fusang is complete, and the Minister of War is most eager to present the Ministry's findings on the matter."

"The urgency is well understood, Deputy Minister." Cao shifted uneasily on his bench. "But I believe this final interview will provide much needed detail for the survey, and greatly improve the emperor's understanding of the strategic possibilities."

"I suppose you are well aware of the fact that a survey well received by the Dragon Throne will do much to enhance the estimation of a scholar so far unable to pass the juren level examinations, and would greatly aid one's chances of advancement within the imperial bureaucracy."

Cao brightened, and sat straighter. "Most certainly, Deputy Minister."

"The converse, however, is also true," Wu said, his eyes narrowed, "and a report which displeases the Minister, to say nothing of displeasing the emperor, Son of Heaven, may-he-reign-ten-thousand-years, could do irreparable damage to a young bureaucrat's career prospects. Such a one might find himself assigned to the far provinces, inspecting grain yield and calculating annual tax levies for the rest of his life."

Cao swallowed hard. "It is understood, Deputy Minister."

The Deputy Minister nodded. "Good," he said, turning and walking briskly away. "See that it is not forgotten."

The next day, Cao Wen stood over Ling Xuan, who again sat in the middle of the concourse, his eyes on the shadows on the ground.

"Note the shadows of the two towers," Ling said without looking up, before Cao had announced himself. "The spires atop each function like the points atop an equatorial sundial. If one views the many doorways opening off the central courtyard as marking the hours, the shadows indicate the time of day, with the southern tower indicating the time in the summer months, when the sun is high in the sky, and the northern tower indicating the time in the winter, when the sun is lower."

Ling at last looked up at Cao.

"Tell me," the old man said, "do you suppose the architects of the Eastern Depot intended the shadows for this purpose, or is this merely an auspicious happenstance, the result of nothing more than divine providence?"

Cao Wen glanced over at Agent Gu, who stood beside him, but Gu only shrugged, helplessly.

"I intend to complete our interview this morning, Ling Xuan," Cao answered.

"Morning," Ling Xuan replied with a smile. "Afternoon. Evening and night. Shadows measure the hours by day, and drips of water by night. But if the towers were to be moved, what would become of the hours? In the days of the Southern Song dynasty, a great astronomer named Guo Shoujing constructed at Linfen in Shanxi province a grand observatory, an intricate mechanism of bronze, perfectly aligned with the heavens. Later, in the Bright Dynasty, it was moved to Southern Capital. Though the instruments which constituted the observatory were no less intricate or precise after the move, they were intended for another geographic location and, after being relocated, no longer aligned with the heavens. The observatory no longer measured the movements of the celestial. What had been an invaluable tool became merely statuary. How many of us, removed from our proper position, likewise lose our usefulness?"

Cao tapped his foot, and scowled. He was convinced there was still meat to be found in amongst the mad offal of the old man's ramblings, but he wasn't sure he had the patience to find it.

"You will accompany me to the interview chamber," Cao said, keeping his tone even, "where we can continue our conversation like civilized beings."

"As you wish," Ling said, smiling slightly, and rose to his feet on creaking joints.

"Before the establishment of the Clear Dynasty, before the Manchu rescued the Middle Kingdom from the corruption of the Bright Dynasty, you journeyed on one of the Treasure Fleet voyages to the far side of the world, traveling east to Khalifah, Mexica, and Fusang."

It was a statement, not a question, but Cao Wen paused momentarily, nevertheless, to give Ling Xuan the opportunity to reply.

"I was a young scholar then," Ling said, "not yet having passed my jinshi examinations and become a Presented Scholar. I traveled to the Northern Capital from my home in the south, to serve the Dragon Throne as best as I was able. My skills, apparently, were best served as chronicler aboard a Treasure Fleet dragon boat, and my skills with languages were likewise of some utility. The passage across the broad sea took long months, before landfall on the shores of Khalifah."

"I want to ask you about Mexica. The title of your account suggests that—"

"When I served the Shunzhi emperor, I once received a legation from Khalifah. But when the Shunzhi emperor went to take his place in the heavens, and the Kangxi emperor took the Dragon Throne, Han bureaucrats such as I quickly fell from favor. The Regent Aobai reversed as many of the policies of Shunzhi as he could, attempting to reassert Manchu domination, feeling that the emperor had permitted too many Han to enter positions of authority. There were insufficient numbers of qualified Manchu to replace all of the Han serving in the bureaucracy, so Aobai had to console himself by replacing all the Han already in post with candidates more easily cowed by his authority."

Cao sighed heavily. The old man rambled like a senile grandmother, but Cao had confirmed that he had indeed traveled among the Mexica, so he could well have the intelligence Cao needed to advance.

"To return to the subject of the Mexica . . ."

"I hated Aobai for years, you must understand." The old man shook his head, sadly. "He had taken from me my life and my livelihood. When he found me too highly respected in the Office of Transmission to eliminate without scandal, he had me arraigned on trumped-up charges of treason and remanded to the custody of the Embroidered Guard. Consider the irony, then, that eight years later, after Kangxi had reached his majority, the young emperor enlisted the aid of his uncle Songgotu in order to break free from the control of his regents, and had Aobai himself arrested on charges of usurping his authority. Aobai joined me here as a guest of the Embroidered Guard, and died soon after."

This was all ancient history, done and buried long before Cao was born. He shifted on the bench, impatient, and tried once more to regain control of the flow of conversation.

"Ling Xuan," Cao began, allowing the tone of his voice to raise slightly, "I must ask you to attend to my questions. I am on the urgent business of his supreme majesty, the Son of Heaven, and do not have time to waste in idle rambling."

"But the affairs of men turn in their courses just like the tracks of the stars in the heavens above," the old man continued, as though he hadn't heard a word Cao had said. "I understand that in the nations of Europa they have a conception of destiny as a wheel, like that of a mill, upon which men ride up and down. Too often those who ride the wheel up fail to recall that they will someday be borne downwards again. Thirty-four years after Songgotu helped his nephew Kangxi rid himself of the influence of the Regent Aobai, Kangxi had Songgotu himself jailed, in part for his complicity in the Heir Apparent's attempt to consolidate power. Songgotu joined us here, in the Outside Depot, for the briefest while, until Kangxi ordered him executed, without trial or confession."

Cao Wen remembered the scandal from his youth, hearing his father and uncles talking about the purge of Songgotu and his associates from the court.

"Ling Xuan . . ." Cao Wen began, but the old man went on before he could continue.

"The Heir Apparent himself, of course, is resident here now. Yinreng. We passed him in the courtyard, on our way into the interview chamber. A sad shell of a man he is, and perhaps not entirely sane. Of course, some say that the eldest prince Yinti employed Lamas to cast evil spells, the revelation of which resulted in Yinreng's earlier pardon and release from imprisonment, and reinstatement as heir and successor to Kangxi. But when he returned to his old ways on his release, the emperor finally had him removed from the line of succession, degraded in position, and placed here in perpetual confinement. Still, he seems harmless to me, and I believe that he may have developed some lasting affection for another of the men imprisoned here, but as his leanings were the nettle which originally set his father on the path of disowning him, I suppose that isn't to be unexpected."

Cao Wen raised his hand, attempting again to wrestle back control of the discussion, but the old man continued, unabated.

"There are those who say that some men lie with other men as a result of an accident of birth, while others say that it is a degradation which sets upon us as we grow, an illness and not a defect. But was the Heir Apparent fated to prefer the company of men to women in the bedchamber? Did the movement of the stars through the lunar mansions in the heavens dictate the life he would lead, up to and including his end here, imprisoned behind these high, cold walls ? Or did choices he made, through his life, in some sympathetic fashion affect the course of the stars through the heavens? We know that man's destiny is linked with the heavens, but there remains the question of causation. Which is effected and which effects?"

"Ling Xuan, if you please . . ." Cao said with a weary sigh. He found that he was almost willing to surrender in frustration, and simply complete his report with the information he already had to hand.

"During the Warring States period of antiquity, the philosopher Shih-shen tried to explain the non-uniform movement of the moon as the result of man's actions. He said that, when a wise prince occupies the throne, the moon follows the right way, and that when the prince is not wise and the ministers exercise power, the moon loses its way. But if we presume that the ancients knew more than we do in all such matters, where would that leave the spirit of invention? The ancients, as praiseworthy as they were, could not have constructed a marvel like the Forbidden City. Can we not, then, assume that in the generations since we have likewise constructed concepts which they also could not have attempted? I like to believe that the world grows as a person does, maturing with the slow turning of years, becoming ever more knowledgeable and developed. But many would hold that such thoughts are an affront to the luminous ancestors who proceeded us, and whose lofty heights it is not given to us to reach. I suppose my thoughts were poisoned by the clerics of the Mexica. There, they believe that this is just the most recent of a series of worlds, and that each world increases in complexity and elegance."

Cao Wen leaned forward, cautiously optimistic. Was his patience about to be rewarded?

But before he went on, the old man leaned back, and breathed a ragged sigh. "But perhaps these are discussions for another day. I find that my voice tires, and my thoughts run away from me. Perhaps we should continue our discussion tomorrow."

The old man rose, and went to knock on the metal-clad door.

As Agent Gu opened the door, Cao rocketed up off the bench, raising his hand to object.

"Tomorrow, then," Ling said, glancing over his shoulder as he shuffled down the passageway to the courtyard beyond.

Agent Gu just shrugged, as Cao's mouth worked, soundless and furious.

Back at the Ministry of War, Cao Wen looked over the paperwork he'd amassed. Spread before him were the notes he himself had taken by hand, long months before, which had led him to Ling Xuan in the first place.

Cao had been through everything in the imperial archives on the subject of the Mexica, but much of the early contact with the Mexica had occurred during the Bright Dynasty, and many of the records from those days had been lost when the Clear Dynasty took control. Worse, much of what remained was fragmentary at best. Cao had spent endless days combing through the archives, hungry for any mention of the Mexica, when he finally stumbled upon a simple inventory list of the archives from the reign of the Chongzhen emperor, the last of the Bright Dynasty. Among dozens of bureaucratic documents, in which no one had taken any interest in long years, was listed one item which caught Cao's eye, and sped the pace of his heart—a Ling Xuan's account of a Treasure Fleet voyage to Mexica.

In the weeks that followed, Cao searched unsuccessfully for the account, checking other archives and inventories, but quite by chance came across a communication from the eunuch director of the Embroidered Guard to the Office of Transmission, intended for the eyes of the Regent Aobai, listing all of the suspects temporarily housed in the Eastern Depot. The report dated from the early days of the reign of the Kangxi emperor, while the emperor had still been a child and the regency controlled the empire, before the introduction of the palace memorial. Cao very nearly returned the communication to its cubby hole without a second glance, and had he done so his researches would have been at an end. But instead he chanced to notice a name at the bottom of the communication, in amongst the hundreds of other names—Ling Xuan.

Cao had looked into the matter further, and found no burial record, nor record of any conviction, for a Ling Xuan. He had, however, discovered that Ling had once held a position of minor authority during the reign of the Shunzhi emperor.

Cao had petitioned the Deputy Minister of War for weeks to arrange the authorization to contact the Embroidered Guard in order to confirm that Ling Xuan was still imprisoned at the Eastern Depot, and once confirmation was received Cao labored another span of weeks to receive authorization to cross the concourse and interview the prisoner himself.

At the time, Cao Wen had considered it an almost unbelievable stroke of good fortune that he should chance to discover that the author of the missing account, so crucial to his survey of the Mexica, still lived. Now, having met and spent time with the old man, he was beginning to rethink that position.

Cao Wen stood over Ling Xuan, who sat in the middle of the courtyard.

"Why do you not move from that position, Ling Xuan?"

"But I am always moving, though I do not unfold my legs from beneath me." The old man looked up at Cao with shaded eyes, and smiled. "I move because the Earth moves, and with it I go. As Lo-hsia-Hung of the Western Han Dynasty said, 'The Earth moves constantly but people do not know it. They are as persons in a closed boat, and when it proceeds they do not perceive it.'"

"You speak a great deal of astronomy, and yet the records indicate that you served in the Office of Transmission. But the study of the heavens is forbidden to all but the imperial astronomers."

"When I was first brought to the Eastern Depot," Ling explained, a distant look in his eyes, "I was interred for some time in the Bureau of Suppression and Soothing. The days were long and full of pain, but the nights were largely my own. In my narrow, dank cell, I sat the long watches of the night, unable to see a patch of clear sky. However, there was a small hole cut high in the wall, for ventilation, and I learned that it opened onto the adjacent cell. In that cell was a dismissed minister, previously the head of the Directory of Astronomy. His name was Cui, high mountain. He had offended the Regent Aobai in the days after the death of the Shanzhi emperor."

Ling drew a ragged sigh, and averted his eyes before continuing.

"We helped one another survive through those weeks and months. I told the astronomer tales of my travels across the oceans, and he told me everything he had ever learned about the heavens."

Ling stood up on creaking joints, and faced Cao.

"One night, the cell next to mine was silent, and the night after that, another voice answered when I called through the vent. I never learned what became of my friend, but I remember every word he ever spoke to me."

With that, the old man turned and started towards the interview chamber, where Agent Gu stood by the open door.

"Come along," Ling called back over his shoulder to Cao, who lingered in the sunny yard. "You wanted to discuss the Mexica, did you not?"

Cao sat at the worn table, and pulled a leather tube from the folds of his robe. Removing a cap from the tube's end, he pulled out a rolled sheaf of paper and, setting the tube to one side, arranged the papers before him, meticulously. Ling Xuan looked on, dispassionately.

Finally, his notes arranged to his satisfaction, and with an inked brush in hand, Cao began to speak, impatiently. "I have already spent the better part of a year in my survey of the Mexica, Ling Xuan, and I would very much like to complete my report before another year begins."

"But which year, yes?" Ling asked, raising an eyebrow. "We in the Middle Kingdom know two. The twenty-four solar nodes of the farmer's calendar, and the twelve or thirteen lunar months of the lunisolar calendar. The Mexica had more than one calendar, too."

Cao sighed. He had little interest in a repeat of the previous days' performance, and yet here he was, about to assay the same role. "Ling Xuan—"

"The Mexica have a solar calendar, which like our own was made up of 365 days," the old man interrupted before Cao could continue. "Can you imagine it? Two cultures, so different and divided by history and geography, and yet we parcel out time in the same allotments. But unlike us, the Mexica divide their solar year into eighteen months of twenty days each, leaving aside five more, which they call 'empty days.' These are days of ill omen, when no work or ritual is to be performed."

"That's very interesting," Cao said, in a rush, "but to return to the subject at hand . . ."

"But like us, they are not satisfied with only one calendrical system," Ling continued, undaunted. "In addition to their solar year, they have a second calendar of 260 days, marked out by interlocking cycles of twenty-day signs and thirteen numbers. Again, reminiscent of our own system of element and animal, wouldn't you say?"

"I suppose so," Cao agreed, weakly.

"But the Mexica have another calendar, on a scale even grander than the other two. In the capital city of the Mexica, Place of the Stone Cactus, there is a massive circular stone, thicker than a child is tall and wider than the height of two men. This is a calendar too, of a sort, but while the other calendars measure the passage of days, months, and years, this massive calendar of stone is used to measure the passage of worlds themselves. As I told you, the Mexica believe that this is the fifth and most recent world created by the gods. They believe that this world was constructed only a few hundred years ago, in the year 13-Reed, and that its peoples and cultures were put in place, fully formed and with their histories already in place, as a test of the Mexica's faith."

"You traveled to the capital of the Mexica?" Cao asked, sitting forward, readying his brush over a blank sheet of paper.

"Yes," the old man answered, a faraway look in his eyes, "a party of us, along with the commander of the Treasure Fleet, traveled overland for long days and weeks before we reached the heart of the Mexic empire. Their city of Place of the Stone Cactus was as large and grand as the Northern Capital itself, hundreds of thousands of men and women toiling away in the service of their emperor."

Ling Xuan's eyes fluttered close for a brief moment, and he swayed, momentarily lost in thought.

"The Mexica know when this world will end," he went on. "It will come in the year of 4-Movement, when the world's calendar has run its course. But which cycle, yes? In Place of the Stone Cactus, I saw steam-powered automatons of riveted bronze, which symbolically represented the jaguars, hurricanes, fires, and rains which destroyed the previous worlds."

Cao Wen's brush raced down the page in precise movements, as he took careful notes. "Steam-powered, you say?"

Ling Xuan nodded. "Yes, and while the Mexica had never before seen a horse, they had steam-powered trolleys that could carry them back and forth across the breadth of their broad valley in a twinkling."

"What of their military capacity?" Cao asked, eagerly. "Were you given any glimpse of their level of armament?"

Ling Xuan blinked slowly. "I did, in fact, spend considerable time with an officer of their army, an Eagle Knight of the first rank. I was one of the few to have learned the rudiments of Nahuatl, the Mexica's tongue, and as such I was appointed to tour their city and report back what I'd learned, and Hummingbird Feather was to be my guide."

Ling Xuan dropped his gaze, and his eyes came to rest on the leather tube at the edge of the table, in which Cao Wen had brought his notes.

"This reminds me of something," the old man said, pointing at the tube.

"Something to do with the Mexica?"

The old man nodded, slowly, his eyes not leaving the tube. Then he shook his head, once, leaving Cao unsure whether the old man had meant to reply in the affirmative, in the negative, or if in fact he'd replied at all.

"I remember something my friend Cui told me. A metal tube capped on either end by ground glass lenses, used for far viewing. A Remote-Viewing Mirror, he called it. A tool employed by the Directorate of Astronomy. Have you heard of such a thing?"

Cao nodded, impatiently. "Yes, I believe I've seen them in operation. What of it?"

"I would very much like to see such a device for myself. My eyes are not as strong as they once were, and it would be a welcome sight to see the shapes upon the moon's surface. If you could arrange such a thing, I would be happy to tell you all I saw of the Mexica's armament and defenses."

Then the old man rose, rapped on the door, and disappeared from view, leaving Cao in the room with his notes, his brush, and his questions.

It took Cao Wen several days to receive authorization from the Deputy Minister of War to requisition the far-seeing device from the Directorate of Astronomy, several more days to locate the bureaucrat within the Directorate who was responsible for materiel and equipment, and an additional week of wheedling and cajoling to get the astronomer to recognize the authority of the Deputy Minister's order.

Cao tried on several occasions in the interval to renew his interview with Ling Xuan, but every attempt failed. Each time, the old man would look up at him, blink slowly, and ask whether Cao carried the far-seeing device. When he saw that Cao did not, Ling would turn his eyes back to the ground, watching the shadows in their slow course across the ground.

Finally, Cao managed to retrieve the device from the Directorate of Astronomy, and a short while later sat in the interview room, carefully removing the device from its protective sheath. He presented the object to Ling Xuan, with Agent Gu standing by as witness.

While Ling turned the device over in his hands, eyes glistening and mouth open in wonder, Cao read aloud from an official release document, signed with the chop of the Head Director of Astronomy, and countersigned by the Deputy Minister of War. "This far-seeing device, the Remote-Viewing Mirror, remains the property of the Directorate of Astronomy, as decreed by His Majesty the emperor, but by special order of the Deputy Minister of War, it is being loaned for a short time to one Ling Xuan, a temporary resident at the Outside Depot of the Embroidered Guard. Be it known that this Ling Xuan is not to allow the Remote-Viewing Mirror to pass into any hands other than his own, nor is he to reveal the details of its manufacture to any but those parties determined by imperial decree as worthy to hold such knowledge."

Cao paused, and glanced up from the document at the old man, whose eyes were fixed on the device in his hands.

"Ling Xuan, do you understand these terms?"

The old man simply held the device up for a closer inspection, marveling.

"Temporary Resident Ling," Agent Gu said, his tone martial, stepping forward incrementally and looming over the old man as menacingly as he was able. "Do you understand the terms as recited to you?"

Ling Xuan nodded, absently. "Yes, yes, of course."

"Thank you for bearing witness, Agent Gu." Cao nodded to Gu, and motioned him towards the door. "Now, with your permission, I would like at this point to continue my interview with Ling Xuan."

Agent Gu bowed, crossed the floor, and closed the door behind him as he left.

"Now," Cao said to the old man, his tone turning dark, "let us talk about the Mexica."

Ling Xuan held the Remote-Viewing Mirror lovingly and, without lifting his eyes from the device, began to speak.

"Hummingbird Feather, who I like to think became my friend in the weeks we stayed in Place of the Stone Cactus, explained to me the structure of the army of the Mexica. He was an Eagle Knight, and a Quauhyahcatl, or a Great Captain of the Mexic army, meaning that he had taken five foreign captives in combat. When the Treasure Fleet arrived, though, the Mexica had not gone to war against their neighbors in almost a generation. And so they fought, instead, the War of the Flowers.

"The army of the Mexica is organized into banners of twenty men each—and here, too, we hear echoes of our own culture, do we not? So like the banners of our Manchu masters, yes? In any case, twenty of such banners make up a battalion of four hundred men, and twenty of these an army of eight thousand. The best warriors were inducted into the orders of the Jaguar and the Eagle, and advancement was measured by how many captives one took while in battle. In times of peace, though, there were no captives to be had, and how then to measure one's worth?

"The Mexica challenge their neighbors to fight in a War of the Flowers. We were lucky enough to arrive in Place of the Stone Cactus during one of these ceremonial tournaments. The armies of the Mexica and those of their neighbors gather in the broad plains beyond the valley of the Stone Cactus, and meet in mock combat. Though the blows are not killing blows, and no blood is spilled on the plains, the stakes are no less high than in warfare. The combatants in the War of the Flowers take prisoners, capturing their defeated foes, and when each side decides that it has taken enough prisoners, the battle is ended. The side which has captured the most of its enemy is declared the winner, and the two armies return home with their spoils. The captives are executed or enslaved, depending on the moods of their captors.

"In this way, the army of the Mexica are able to keep their martial skills honed and ready, even when there is no enemy to be bested."

Cao scarcely looked up from his notes, his brush flying across the page.

"Yes, yes," Cao said, eagerly. "Now, how do the generals of the armies communicate their orders to the officers of the banners, and how do the banners' leaders communicate the orders on to their subordinates?"

Days passed, and Cao Wen returned again and again to the Outside Depot, filling page after page with notes on the Mexica, dictated by the old man. He'd originally hoped for one or two choice facts with which to spice his survey, and after long frustrated weeks, wrangling the incommunicative prisoner, he'd begun to doubt that he'd get even that much. Now, though, it seemed that flood gates had opened, and the old man was providing more detailed information than Cao had dreamed possible. Now, the thought of advancement within the ministry as reward for all his efforts, which he'd originally held as a slender hope, seemed a very achievable goal.

This morning, the old man was waiting for him in the interview room, the Remote-Viewing Mirror in his lap.

"I think we near the end of our cycle of interviews, Ling Xuan," Cao said, not bothering with pleasantries. He slid onto the bench across the table from the old man, and arranged his papers and brushes before him. "I need just one final bit of information, and my report will be complete. I'm not sure just what it is, yet, but I believe that you must have it within you. I want to hear more about the automation of the Mexica. From what you describe, it sounds as though their technological development has taken a different path than our own, but that they seem not far behind us."

Ling looked up, smiling.

"I was able to spend long hours last night, watching the skies through this remarkable device. Agent Gu was kind enough to allow me to remain in the courtyard all hours, and so I had a much fuller view of the heavens than I am allowed from my small window." The old man lifted the Remote-Viewing Mirror to his right eye and, squeezing his left eye shut, peered through the device at Cao, sitting across from him. Then he laughed, a soft, strong noise like distant peals of thunder, and continued. "I have been following the path of Fire Star across the heavens. In the last few months, it has risen in the early hours of the morning, rising earlier and earlier every day, tracking steadily eastward across the sky. Just a few week ago, it rose shortly after sunset, and the most remarkable thing occurred. Cui had told me about it, but until this occasion I had never had opportunity to see it for myself. Fire Star seemed to stop in the heavens, and then turned back, now moving westward across the skies. Now it rises at sunset, tracks westward across the sky, and sets by dawn. In another few weeks, if what Cui told me holds true, it will reverse course again, moving once more eastward across the sky, rising earlier and earlier until it once again rises at dawn and sets at dusk."

"Fascinating," Cao said, without feeling. "Now, to return to the Mexica . . ."

"There are shapes, shadows, and lines upon the surface of Fire Star, I have found. This most ingenious device allows me to see them with my own eye."

"The automatons of the Mexica, Ling Xuan," Cao repeated. "Now, you say that they are little more than parlor tricks, fixed in place and able to go through only route motions. But did the Mexica display the capacity to develop these trinkets into something more? A siege engine of sorts, perhaps?"

"Cui told me that the best astronomers of his time felt that these wandering stars were worlds such as our own. Tell me, do you suppose if that is so, it might not be peopled with beings such as ourselves?"

"Ling Xuan . . ." Cao began, rubbing the bridge of his nose, his tone menacing.

The old man, his eyes half-lidded, sways on his bench, like a tall tree blown by a high wind. "I'm tired, Cao Wen. Too many late nights and early mornings, too little sleep. Let us continue tomorrow, yes? I am sure I will be in better spirits then, and better able to hear your questions."

Ling stood, and knocked on the door.

"But . . ." Cao began, and then trailed off as the old man exited after Agent Gu swung open the door. Cao sighed, dramatically, and shrugged. He had waited this long. What harm could another day do? But if by then the end of the next day he did not have the answers he needed . . .?

Cao felt his patience was an at end. He gathered up his papers, and to the empty room he said, "Tomorrow, then."

The next day found Cao Wen and Ling Xuan back in their accustomed places.

Ling seemed more lucid and animated today, and didn't wait for Cao to initiate their discussion before returning to their perennial topic of conversation. "All of this talk of the Mexica has reminded me of something I've long since forgotten. A salient fact about the culture of the Mexica that I did not realize until years after my visit to their empire."

"What is it?" Cao asked, warily.

"It is one final fact which you must have for your survey. It is something about the culture of the Mexica which I have realized only later in life, which is the reason that the Dragon Throne will prevail, if it should go to war against them. But in exchange for this final bit of information, I request one last favor."

Cao glanced at the Remote-Viewing Mirror, clutched as always in the old man's gnarled hands. What would the old man want this time?

"I would go, just once more, beyond the walls of the Eastern Depot. From my vantage point within the Outside Depot, there is only so much of the night sky I can see, and there is so, so much more to behold."

Cao straightened, and folded his arms across his chest. "Absolutely not," he said, sharply. "Out of the question." Cao rubbed the bridge of his nose, and tried to compose an appropriate counter offer. "No. Instead, if you don't tell me what I want to know, you will be punished. Yes, and I will have the Remote-Viewing Mirror taken from you."

Ling shrugged, unmoved. "I have seen the heavens with my own eyes, from within my little box. If you take away my vision, I will still have my memories, but if I am unable to venture beyond these walls, my memories will be all I have, anyway. What have I to lose?"

Cao jumped to his feet, and began furiously to pace the floor.

"This is unseemly, Ling Xuan. This is unacceptable."

"And yet it is happening," Ling said, his expression serene.

Cao Wen stormed to the door, and pounded loudly with the heel of his fist.

Gu opened the door, his expression curious.

"Agent Gu, remove this prisoner from my sight immediately!" Cao Wen said imperiously.

Gu looked from Cao to Ling and back, shrugged, and took the old man by the elbow, leading him slowly from the chamber. "This way, old man."

Cao collapsed back onto his seat, glowering.

Cao Wen sat on the hard, unforgiving bench, waiting while bureaucrats shuffled back and forth across the polished floors of the Ministry of War, about the business of the empire.

Cao didn't have to test the old man's resolve. He knew that Ling meant what he said. If Ling said he wouldn't answer any further questions without receiving his boon, he wouldn't speak another word. Not another useful word, at least.

"Deputy Minister Wu will see you now, Cao Wen," said a steward, appearing at the open door.

Cao swallowed hard, rose to his feet, and crossed the floor.

"O Honorable Deputy Minister," Cao said, bowing low.

The imposing figure of Deputy Minister Wu was crowded into a spare, simply made chair on the far side of the room. There was a low table at his side, covered with rolled maps, bound sheaves of paper, and small notebooks. At his elbow stood his secretary, a weasel-faced man with ink-stained fingers who recorded everything said in the room in exhaustive detail.

"Cao Wen," the Deputy Minister said, a faint smile on his thick lips. "I harbor hopes that you come to deliver your survey of the Mexica."

"Not quite yet, this one is afraid to report," Cao Wen answered, his voice tremulous.

"Why am I not surprised?"

"My interrogation of the prisoner Ling Xuan these last weeks has been exceedingly productive," Cao continued. "I believe that, with one final addition, it will be complete and ready to present to the Minister of War."

"And then on to the Dragon Throne itself?" Wu asked, eyes narrowed.

Cao Wen swelled with pride, but his voice wavered nervously when he answered. "Yes, Deputy Minister. I believe it will not only summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the Mexic military, but the survey should further provide a sound justification for why the Middle Kingdom will inevitably defeat the Mexic militarily, should it come to open warfare."

"And what is this last addition, one wonders, and what is it that the Ministry of War will be asked to authorize in its pursuit?"

With as little detail and as briefly as possible, Cao explained that the old man who was his primary source for the report had requested one night beyond the walls of the Eastern Depot, in exchange for his final testimony.

"For what purpose?" Wu asked, when Cao had completed his summation. "Some conjugal business, perhaps? A fine meal, or an evening of drunken revelry?"

"No," Cao said simply. "Star-gazing."

Wu looked at Cao, disbelieving. "And in return for this small privilege, we will get the secret to defeating the Mexica?"

"Yes," Cao said.

The Deputy Minister steepled his fingers, and pursed his thick lips.

"Having paid quite a lot to get this far along in the game, Cao Wen, it seems a shame to withdraw when there is just one final wager to make. You will have your authorization. But return with this storied survey in hand, or don't bother returning at all."

Cao bowed, deeply, and scuttled away.

Three days later, approaching the middle watches of the night, Cao Wen arrived at the Eastern Depot, where he was met by Director Fei Ren.

"I am not happy with this development," Director Fei said, as though his expression was not explanation enough, "but the Deputy Minister of War has managed to get the approval of the emperor himself for this little excursion, so there isn't anything I can do about it."

Before Cao could reply, Agent Gu arrived, escorting Ling Xuan.

"Temporary Resident Ling Xuan," Director Fei said, turning to the old man. "Know that a great many bureaucrats have been put to a great deal of trouble on your behalf."

The old man just smiled, clutching the Remote-Viewing Mirror to his chest.

"You have until sunrise, old man," Director Fei said, and then turned his attentions to Agent Gu. "This is your first mission beyond the walls of the Eastern Depot, is it not, Gu?"

Agent Gu bowed, and stammered a reply in the affirmation.

"Such was my recollection." Fei looked from the old man to Gu, and scowled. "If Ling Xuan attempts to escape, know that you are free to take whatever means are necessary to insure that our temporary resident returns home to the Eastern Depot."

"Yes, sir, Director," Agent Gu said, punctuated by a further bow.

With that, Director Fei turned on his heel, and disappeared back into the labyrinth of the Eastern Depot.

"Let's get on with it," Cao said, impatiently.

With Cao on one side, and Agent Gu on the other, Ling Xuan passed through the archway and into the concourse beyond, walking out of the Eastern Depot for the first time in more than fifty years.

They threaded through the boulevards and avenues of the Northern Capital, lined on all sides with the offices of the Six Ministries and countless imperial directorates and bureaus. They came at least to a public square, far from the palace, surrounded by low buildings, inns and residences of the meaner sort. Lamplights glowed warmly from within them, but the sky overhead was dark and moonless, the stars glittering like gems against black silk.

Ling Xuan paused, and took a deep breath through his nostrils, looking up at the skies with his naked eye. "I have been imprisoned behind four walls for more than half of my life, but I have come to realize that my mind has been imprisoned even longer. The noble truths that Cui taught me through that little vent, while we were guests of the Bureau of Suppression and Soothing, were far grander and broader than anything I'd previously imagined. I have seen more of the world than many, read more than most, and yet even I had only the most tenuous grasp of reality."

Above them, the stars in the heavens seem to turn while they watched, and Cao found himself becoming dizzy, vertiginous.

"Do you know why my friend Cui was imprisoned in the Bureau of Suppression and Soothing?" the old man continued, glancing momentarily down from the stars to the two men at this side. "It was widely reported, so he said, that it was because he had provided readings of the heavens which were inauspicious for the regent's reign. In fact, that was not his crime. Cui challenged the accepted wisdom. He devoted his life to studying the heavens, and made a frightening discovery. Our world is not, as we have always believed, the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, and stars twirling around us. Through a careful study of the heavens, Cui came to realize that, in fact, our world was just one of many, all of which circled around the sun. What is more, he claimed that the stars themselves might be other suns, out in the distant heavens. Perhaps a small fraction of those other suns might have worlds of their own, and some small fraction of those might be peopled. We might not be the only beings in creation able to look upon ourselves and wonder." The old man paused, and smiled ruefully. "Of course, this offended the Regent Aobai, who was convinced Cui had concocted his theory only to insult the young Kangxi emperor."

Agent Gu shook his head in disbelief, when the old man fell silent. "The Earth circle around the sun? You might as well say that the Dragon Throne exists to serve me, and not the other way around."

"You might indeed." Ling smiled, his eyes twinkling.

Cao swayed on his feet. He felt unsteady, as though he stood on the edge of a precipice, about to fall into the abyss.

"Ling Xuan, you promised me one final fact about the Mexica," Cao said, uneasily.

"So I did," Ling said, nodding. "So I did. And I will tell you. It is this."

The old man leaned closer to Cao, and spoke softly, like thunder more distant than ever before, as though he were communicating some secret in confidence which he didn't want the stars above to overhear.

"The Mexica, as clever and bright and ferocious as they may be, are still blinded by their faith. The most learned among them honestly believes that the world is but a few hundred years old, and all evidence to the contrary is merely a test of their faith. We of the Middle Kingdom, I would argue, cling with as much tenacity to beliefs and superstitions no more grounded in reality than that, but with one notable difference. Ours is a culture that can produce a mind like Cui's, a mind which challenges received wisdom, which questions the foundations of knowledge itself. If we manage to produce only one like him in every dozen generations, we will still manage, in the fullness of time, to conquer the universe. Like the fraction of worlds of the fraction of stars in the great immensity of the heavens, that ensure that we are not alone, just one small spark of genius in the vast sea of complacency will mean that history does not stand still."

Ling Xuan turned, and headed back the way they had come.

"I am ready to return home to my cell now, thank you," the old man said, calling back to Cao and Gu over his shoulder. "I have seen all I needed to see."

The next morning, as Cao Wen struggled to work out how to conclude his report, he received a visitor to his cubicle in the Ministry of War. It was Agent Gu, dressed in simple gray robes.

"Gu? What are you doing here?"

"At the request of Director Fei, I come to tell you that Ling Xuan, temporary resident of the Outside Depot, died in the night. From all signs, it was not a suicide, nor is there any indication of foul play."

Cao blinked, a confused expression spread across his face.

"The old man died?"

"Yes," Gu replied. "Of extreme old age, or so I am given to understand."

"And yet he waited long enough to walk once more under the stars as a free man," Cao observed.

"Perhaps he felt that it was important enough to live for," Gu said, unsure, "and having done so, his work was done."

Cao sighed, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Strange timing, and no doubt, but he was old, and the elderly have a habit of dying." Cao regarded Gu's plain gray robes. "But here you are, beyond the walls of the Eastern Depot yourself, and so adorned that you could pass for a simple merchant in the streets."

"Yes," Agent Gu said, with a smile that commingled embarrassment and pride. "It is the opinion of Director Fei that I have completed my training, and will be of better use to the Dragon Throne beyond the walls, rather than within." Gu paused, and shifted uncomfortably. "Cao Wen, I must ask you. What are your thoughts about the things that Ling Xuan said to us in the night, about the sun and the Earth and the stars, about the Middle Kingdom and the Mexica and all?"

Cao Wen shrugged. "All I can say is that everything Ling reported to me these long weeks has been true, as far as I have been able to determine, the intelligence on the Mexica and the facts the old man learned from Astronomer Cui alike. But who am I to judge?"

Agent Gu nodded, absently, and with a final bow, departed, leaving Cao with his work.

There remained only a few more characters to brush onto the final page, and then Cao's detailed report on the astronomer Cui was complete. This appended to his report about the Mexica, Cao rolled up the papers and slid them into a leather tube. Then he rose to his feet, arranged his robes around him, and headed towards the office of the Deputy Minister to hand in his survey.


Orm the Beautiful

Elizabeth Bear


Hot newcomer Elizabeth Bear (www.elizabethbear.com) has made quite an impact on science fiction and fantasy in just a few short years. Her first short fiction appeared in 1996, and was quickly followed by eight novels and nearly fifty short stories. Her "Jenny Casey" trilogy won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005. Her most recent book is collaborative fantasy novel A Companion to Wolves (written with Sarah Monette).

In the economical contemporary fantasy that follows Bear shows that even the oldest of the genre's icons can be made fresh and new again. Here a great dragon, the last of his kind, manages to surprise us with an act of grace.

Orm the Beautiful sang in his sleep, to his brothers and sisters, as the sea sings to itself. He would never die. But neither could he live much longer.

Dreaming on jewels, hearing their ancestor-song, he did not think that he would mind. The men were coming; Orm the Beautiful knew it with the wisdom of his bones. He thought he would not fight them. He thought he would close the mountain and let them scratch outside.

He would die there in the mother-cave, and so stay with the Chord. There was no one after him to take his place as warden, and Orm the Beautiful was old.

Because he was the last warden of the mother-cave, his hoard was enormous, chromatic in hue and harmony. There was jade and lapis—the bequests of Orm the Exquisite and Orm the Luminous, respectively—and chrysoprase and turquoise and the semiprecious feldspars. There were three cracked sections of an amethyst pipe as massive as a fallen tree, and Orm the Beautiful was careful never to breathe fire upon them; the stones would jaundice to smoke color in the heat.

He lay closest by the jagged heap of beryls—green as emerald, green as poison, green as grass—that were the mortal remains of his sister, Orm the Radiant. And just beyond her was the legacy of her mate, Orm the Magnificent, charcoal-and-silver labradorite overshot with an absinthe shimmer. The Magnificent's song, in death, was high and sweet, utterly at odds with the aged slithering hulk he had become before he changed.

Orm the Beautiful stretched his long neck among the glorious rubble of his kin and dozed to their songs. Soon he would be with them, returned to their harmony, their many-threaded round. Only his radiance illuminated them now. Only his eye remembered their sheen. And he too would lose the power to shine with more than reflected light before long, and all in the mother-cave would be dark and full of music.

He was pale, palest of his kin, blue-white as skimmed milk and just as translucent. The flash that ran across his scales when he crawled into the light, however, was spectral: green-electric and blue-actinic, and a vermilion so sharp it could burn an afterimage in a human eye.

It had been a long time since he climbed into the light. Perhaps he'd seal the cave now, to be ready.

Yes.

When he was done, he lay down among his treasures, his beloveds, under the mountain, and his thoughts were dragonish.

But when the men came they came not as single spies but in battalions, with dragons of their own. Iron dragons, yellow metal monsters that creaked and hissed as they gnawed the rocks. And they brought, with the dragons, channeled fire.

There was a thump, a tremble, and sifting dust followed. Cold winter air trickling down the shaft woke Orm the Beautiful from his chorale slumber.

He blinked lambent eyes, raising his head from the petrified, singing flank of Orm the Perspicacious. He heard the crunch of stone like the splintering of masticated bones and cocked his head, his ears and tendrils straining forward.

And all the Chord sang astonishment and alarm.

It had happened to others. Slain, captured, taken. Broken apart and carried off, their memories and their dreams lost forever, their songs stripped to exiled fragments to adorn a wrist, a throat, a crown. But it had always been that men could be turned back with stone.

And now they were here at the mother-cave, and undaunted to find it sealed.

This would not do. This threatened them all.

Orm the Beautiful burst from the mountain wreathed in white-yellow flames. The yellow steel dragon was not too much larger than he. It blocked the tunnel mouth; its toothed hand raked and lifted shattered stone. Orm the Beautiful struck it with his claws extended, his wings snapping wide as he cleared the destroyed entrance to the mother-cave.

The cold cut through scale to bone. When fire did not jet from flaring nostrils, his breath swirled mist and froze to rime. Snow lay blackened on the mountainside, rutted and filthy. His wings, far whiter, caught chill carmine sparks from the sun. Fragile steel squealed and rent under his claws.

There was a man in the cage inside the mechanical dragon. He made terrible unharmonious noises as he burned. Orm the Beautiful seized him and ate him quickly, out of pity, head jerking like a stork snatching down a frog.

His throat distended, squeezed, smoothed, contracted. There was no time to eat the contraption, and metal could not suffer in the flames. Orm the Beautiful tore it in half, claw and claw, and soared between the discarded pieces.

Other men screamed and ran. Their machines were potent, but no iron could sting him. Neither their bullets nor the hammer-headed drill on the second steel dragon gave him pause. He stalked them, pounced, gorged on the snap-shaken dead.

He pursued the living as they fled, and what he reached he slew.

When he slithered down the ruined tunnel to the others, they were singing, gathered, worried. He settled among their entwined song, added his notes to the chords, offered harmony. Orm the Beautiful was old; what he brought to the song was rich and layered, subtle and soft.

They will come again, sang Orm the Radiant.

They have found the mother-cave, and they have machines to unearth us, like a badger from its sett, sang Orm the Terrible from his column of black and lavender jade.

We are not safe here anymore, sang Orm the Luminous. We will be scattered and lost. The song will end, will end.

His verse almost silenced them all. Their harmony guttered like a fire when the wind slicks across it, and for a moment Orm the Beautiful felt the quiet like a wire around his throat. It was broken by the discord of voices, a rising dissonance like a tuning orchestra, the Chord all frightened and in argument.

But Orm the Courtly raised her voice, and all listened. She was old in life and old in death, and wise beyond both in her singing. Let the warden decide.

Another agreed, another, voice after voice scaling into harmony.

And Orm the Beautiful sat back on his haunches, his tail flicked across his toes, his belly aching, and tried to pretend he had any idea at all how to protect the Chord from being unearthed and carted to the four corners of the world.

"I'll think about it when I've digested," he said, and lay down on his side with a sigh.

Around him the Chord sang agreement. They had not forgotten in death the essentialities of life.

With the men and their machines came memory. Orm the Beautiful, belly distended with iron and flesh, nevertheless slept with one eye open. His opalescence lit the mother-cave in hollow violets and crawling greens. The Chord sang around him, thinking while he dreamed. The dead did not rest, or dream.

They only sang and remembered.

The Chord was in harmony when he awoke. They had listened to his song while he slept, and while he stretched—sleek again, and the best part of a yard longer—he heard theirs as well, and learned from them what they had learned from his dinner.

More men would follow. The miners Orm the Beautiful had dined on knew they would not go unavenged. There would be more men, men like ants, with their weapons and their implements. And Orm the Beautiful was strong.

But he was old, and he was only one. And someone, surely, would soon recall that though steel had no power to harm Orm the Beautiful's race, knapped flint or obsidian could slice his opal hide from opal bone.

The mother-cave was full of the corpses of dragons, a chain of song and memory stretching aeons. The Chord was rich in voices.

Orm the Beautiful had no way to move them all.

Orm the Numinous, who was eldest, was chosen to speak the evil news they all knew already. You must give us away, Orm the Beautiful.

Dragons are not specifically disallowed in the airspace over Washington, D.C., but it must be said that Orm the Beautiful's presence there was heartily discouraged. Nevertheless, he persevered, holding his flame and the lash of his wings, and succeeded in landing on the National Mall without destroying any of the attacking aircraft.

He touched down lightly in a clear space before the National Museum of Natural History, a helicopter hovering over his head and blowing his tendrils this way and that. There were men all over the grass and pavements. They scattered, screaming, nigh-irresistible prey. Orm the Beautiful's tail-tip twitched with frustrated instinct, and he was obliged to stand on three legs and elaborately clean his off-side fore talons for several moments before he regained enough self-possession to settle his wings and ignore the scurrying morsels.

It was unlikely that he would set a conducive tone with the museum's staff by eating a few as a prelude to conversation.

He stood quietly, inspecting his talons foot by foot and, incidentally, admiring the flashes of color that struck off his milk-pale hide in the glaring sun. When he had been still five minutes, he looked up to find a ring of men surrounding him, males and a few females, with bright metal in their hands and flashing on the chests of uniforms that were a black-blue dark as sodalite.

"Hello," Orm the Beautiful said, in the language of his dinner, raising his voice to be heard over the clatter of the helicopter. "My name is Orm the Beautiful. I should like to speak to the curator, please."

The helicopter withdrew to circle, and the curator eventually produced was a female man. Orm the Beautiful wondered if that was due to some half-remembered legend about his folk's preferences. Sopranos, in particular, had been popular among his kin in the days when they associated more freely with men.

She minced from the white-columned entry, down broad shallow steps between exhibits of petrified wood, and paused beyond the barricade of yellow tape and wooden sawhorses the blue-uniformed men had strung around Orm the Beautiful.

He had greatly enjoyed watching them evacuate the Mall.

The curator wore a dull suit and shoes that clicked, and her hair was twisted back on her neck. Little stones glinted in her earlobes: diamonds, cold and common and without song.

"I'm Katherine Samson," she said, and hesitantly extended her tiny soft hand, half-retracted it, then doggedly thrust it forward again. "You wished to speak to me?"

"I am Orm the Beautiful," Orm the Beautiful replied, and laid a cautious talon-tip against her palm. "I am here to beg your aid."

She squinted up and he realized that the sun was behind him. If its own brilliance didn't blind her pale man's eyes, surely the light shattering on his scales would do the deed. He spread his wings to shade her, and the ring of blue-clad men flinched back as one—as if they were a Chord, though Orm the Beautiful knew they were not.

The curator, however, stood her ground.

His blue-white wings were translucent, and there was a hole in the leather of the left one, an ancient scar. It cast a ragged bright patch on the curator's shoe, but the shade covered her face, and she lowered her eye-shading hand.

"Thank you," she said. And then, contemplating him, she pushed the sawhorses apart. One of the blue men reached for her, but before he caught her arm, the curator was through the gap and standing in Orm the Beautiful's shadow, her head craned back, her hair pulling free around her temples in soft wisps that reminded Orm the Beautiful of Orm the Radiant's tawny tendrils. "You need my help? Uh, sir?"

Carefully, he lowered himself to his elbows, keeping the wings high. The curator was close enough to touch him now, and when he tilted his head to see her plainly, he found her staring up at him with the tip of her tongue protruding. He flicked his tongue in answer, tasting her scent.

She was frightened. But far more curious.

"Let me explain," he said. And told her about the mother-cave, and the precious bones of his Chord, and the men who had come to steal them. He told her that they were dead, but they remembered, and if they were torn apart, carted off, their song and their memories would be shattered.

"It would be the end of my culture," he said, and then he told her he was dying.

As he was speaking, his head had dipped lower, until he was almost murmuring in her ear. At some point, she'd laid one hand on his skull behind the horns and leaned close, and she seemed startled now to realize that she was touching him. She drew her hand back slowly, and stood staring at the tips of her fingers. "What is that singing?"

She heard it, then, the wreath of music that hung on him, thin and thready though it was in the absence of his Chord. That was well. "It is I."

"Do all—all your people—does that always happen?"

"I have no people," he said. "But yes. Even in death we sing. It is why the Chord must be kept together."

"So when you said it's only you . . .."

"I am the last," said Orm the Beautiful.

She looked down, and he gave her time to think.

"It would be very expensive," she said, cautiously, rubbing her fingertips together as if they'd lost sensation. "We would have to move quickly, if poachers have already found your . . . mother-cave. And you're talking about a huge engineering problem, to move them without taking them apart. I don't know where the money would come from."

"If the expense were not at issue, would the museum accept the bequest?"

"Without a question." She touched his eye-ridge again, quickly, furtively. "Dragons," she said, and shook her head and breathed a laugh. "Dragons."

"Money is no object," he said. "Does your institution employ a solicitor?"

The document was two days in drafting. Orm the Beautiful spent the time fretting and fussed, though he kept his aspect as nearly serene as possible. Katherine—the curator—did not leave his side. Indeed, she brought him within the building—the tall doors and vast lobby could have accommodated a far larger dragon—and had a cot fetched so she could remain near. He could not stay in the lobby itself, because it was a point of man-pride that the museum was open every day, and free to all comers. But they cleared a small exhibit hall, and he stayed there in fair comfort, although silent and alone.

Outside, reporters and soldiers made camp, but within the halls of the Museum of Natural History, it was bright and still, except for the lonely shadow of Orm the Beautiful's song.

Already, he mourned his Chord. But if his sacrifice meant their salvation, it was a very small thing to give.

When the contracts were written, when the papers were signed, Katherine sat down on the edge of her cot and said, "The personal bequest," she began. "The one the Museum is meant to sell, to fund the retrieval of your Chord."

"Yes," Orm the Beautiful said.

"May I know what it is now, and where we may find it?"

"It is here before you," said Orm the Beautiful, and tore his heart from his breast with his claws.

He fell with a crash like a breaking bell, an avalanche of skim-milk-white opal threaded with azure and absinthe and vermilion flash. Chunks rolled against Katherine's legs, bruised her feet and ankles, broke some of her toes in her clicking shoes.

She was too stunned to feel pain. Through his solitary singing, Orm the Beautiful heard her refrain: "Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no."

Those who came to investigate the crash found Katherine Samson on her knees, hands raking the rubble. Salt water streaked opal powder white as bone dust down her cheeks. She kissed the broken rocks, and the blood on her fingertips was no brighter than the shocked veins of carnelian flash that shot through them.

Orm the Beautiful was broken up and sold, as he had arranged. The paperwork was quite unforgiving; dragons, it seems, may serve as their own attorneys with great dexterity.

The stones went for outrageous prices. When you wore them on your skin, you could hear the dragonsong. Institutions and the insanely wealthy fought over the relics. No price could ever be too high.

Katherine Samson was bequeathed a few chips for her own. She had them polished and drilled and threaded on a chain she wore about her throat, where her blood could warm them as they pressed upon her pulse. The mother-cave was located with the aid of Orm the Beautiful's maps and directions. Poachers were in the process of excavating it when the team from the Smithsonian arrived.

But the Museum had brought the National Guard. And the poachers were dealt with, though perhaps not with such finality as Orm the Beautiful might have wished.

Each and each, his Chord were brought back to the Museum.

Katherine, stumping on her walking cast, spent long hours in the exhibit hall. She hovered and guarded and warded, and stroked and petted and adjusted Orm the Beautiful's hoard like a nesting falcon turning her eggs. His song sustained her, his warm bones worn against her skin, his voice half-heard in her ear.

He was broken and scattered. He was not a part of his Chord. He was lost to them, as other dragons had been lost before, and as those others his song would eventually fail, and flicker, and go unremembered.

After a few months, she stopped weeping.

She also stopped eating, sleeping, dreaming.

Going home.

They came as stragglers, footsore and rain-draggled, noses peeled by the sun. They came alone, in party dresses, in business suits, in outrageously costly T-shirts and jeans. They came draped in opals and platinum, opals and gold. They came with the song of Orm the Beautiful warm against their skin.

They came to see the dragons, to hear their threaded music. When the Museum closed at night, they waited patiently by the steps until morning. They did not freeze. They did not starve.

Eventually, through the sheer wearing force of attrition, the passage of decades, the Museum accepted them. And there they worked, and lived, for all time.

And Orm the Beautiful?

He had been shattered. He died alone.

The Chord could not reclaim him. He was lost in the mortal warders, the warders who had been men.

But as he sang in their ears, so they recalled him, like a seashell remembers the sea.

The Constable of Abal

Kelly Link


Kelly Link (www.kellylink.net) published her first story, "Water Off a Black Dog's Back," in 1995 and attended the Clarion writers' workshop in the same year. A writer of subtle, challenging, sometimes whimsical fantasy, Link has published close to thirty stories which have won the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, British SF, and Locus awards, and collected in 4 Stories, Stranger Things Happen, and Magic for Beginners. Link is also an accomplished editor, working on acclaimed small press 'zine Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and co-edits The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror with husband Gavin J. Grant and Ellen Datlow. Her next book will be a collection of stories for young adults.

The story that follows, which first appeared in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's anthology The Coyote Road, is a typically enchanting Link tale of ghosts, family, and con artists.

They left Abal in a hurry, after Ozma's mother killed the constable. It was a shame, too, because business had been good. Ozma's mother had invitations almost every night to one party or another in the finest homes of Abal. Rich gentlemen admired Ozma's mother, Zilla, for her beauty and their wives were eager to have their fortunes told. Ozma, in her shiny, stiff, black-ribboned dress, was petted and given rolls and hot chocolate. The charms and trinkets on the ends of the ribbons that Ozma and her mother wore (little porcelain and brass ships, skulls, dolls, crowns and cups) were to attract the attention of the spirit world, but fashionable ladies in Abal had begun to wear them too. The plague had passed through Abal a few months before Ozma and her mother came. Death was fashionable.

Thanks to Ozma's mother, every wellborn lady of Abal strolled about town for a time in a cloud of ghosts—a cloud of ghosts that only Ozma and her mother could see. Zilla made a great deal of money, first selling the ribbons and charms and then instructing the buyer on the company she now kept. Some ghosts were more desirable than others of course, just as some addresses will always be more desirable, more sought after. But if you didn't like your ghosts, well then, Ozma's mother could banish the ones you had and sell you new charms, new ghosts. A rich woman could change ghosts just as easily as changing her dress and to greater fashionable effect.

Ozma was small for her age. Her voice was soft and her limbs were delicate as a doll's. She bound her breasts with a cloth. She didn't mind the hot chocolate, although she would have preferred wine. But wine might have made her sleepy or clumsy and it was hard enough carefully and quietly slipping in and out of bedrooms and dressing rooms and studies unnoticed when hundreds of ghost charms were dangling like fishing weights from your collar, your bodice, your seams, your hem. It was a surprise, really, that Ozma could move at all.

Zilla called her daughter Princess Monkey, but Ozma felt more like a beast of burden, a tricked-up pony which her mother had laden down with secrets and more secrets. Among Ozma's ghost charms were skeleton keys and tiny chisels. There was no magic about how Ozma got into and out of locked desks and boudoirs. And if she were seen, it was easy enough to explain what she was looking for. One of her ghosts, you see, was playing a little game. The observer saw only a small solemn girl chasing after her invisible friend.

Zilla was not greedy. She was a scrupulous blackmailer. She did not bleed her clients dry; she milked them. You could even say she did it out of kindness. What good is a secret without someone to know it? When one cannot afford a scandal, a blackmailer is an excellent bargain. Ozma and Zilla assembled the evidence of love affairs, ill-considered attachments, stillbirths, stolen inheritances, and murders. They were as vigilant as any biographer, solicitous as any confidante. Zilla fed gobbets of tragedy, romance, comedy to the ghosts who dangled so hungrily at the end of their ribbons. One has to feed a ghost something delicious, and there is only so much blood a grown woman and a smallish girl have to spare.

The constable had been full of blood: a young man, quite pretty to look at, ambitious, and in the pay of one Lady V____. Zilla had been careless or Lady V____ was cleverer than she looked. For certain, she was more clever than she was beautiful, Zilla said, in a rage. Zilla stabbed the constable in the neck with a demon needle. Blood sprayed out through the hollow needle like red ink. All of Ozma's ghosts began to tug at their ribbons in a terrible frenzy as if, Ozma thought, they were children and she were a maypole.

First the constable was a young man, full of promise and juice, and then he was a dead man in a puddle of his own blood, and then he was a ghost, small enough that Zilla could have clapped him between her two hands and burst him like a pastry bag, had he any real substance. He clutched at one of Zilla's ribbon charms as if it were a life rope. The look of surprise on his face was comical.

Ozma thought he made a handsome ghost. She winked at him, but then there was a great deal of work to do. There was the body to take care of, and Zilla's clothes and books and jewelry to be packed, and all of the exceedingly fragile ghost tackle to wrap up in cotton and rags.

Zilla was in a filthy temper. She kicked the body of the constable. She paced and drank while Ozma worked. She rolled out maps and rolled them back up again.

"Where are we going this time?" Ozma said.

"Home," Zilla said. She blew her nose on a map. Zilla had terrible allergies in summer. "We're going home."

On the seventh day of their journey, outlaws shot and killed Neren, Zilla's manservant, as he watered the horses from a stream. From inside the coach, Zilla drew her gun. She waited until the outlaws were within range and then she shot them both in the head. Zilla's aim was excellent.

By the time Ozma had the horses calmed down, Neren's ghost had drifted downstream, and she had no ribbons with which to collect trash like the outlaws anyway. Zilla had made her leave most of her ghosts and ribbons at home. Too many ghosts made travel difficult: they frightened horses and drew unwelcome attention. And besides, it was easy enough to embroider new ribbons and collect new ghosts when one arrived in a new place. Ozma had kept only three favorites: an angry old empress, a young boy whose ghost was convinced it was actually a kitten, and the constable. But neither the empress nor the little boy said much anymore. Nothing stirred them. And there was something more vivid about the constable, or perhaps it was just the memory of his surprised look and his bright, bright blood.

She's a monster, the constable said to Ozma. He was looking at Zilla with something like admiration. Ozma felt a twinge of jealousy, of possessive pride.

"She's killed a hundred men and women," Ozma told him. "She has a little list of their names in her book. We light candles for them in the temple."

I don't remember my name, the constable said. Did I perhaps introduce myself to you and your mother, before she killed me?

"It was something like Stamp or Anvil," Ozma said. "Or Cobble."

"Ozma," Zilla said. "Stop talking to that ghost. Come and help with Neren."

Ozma and Neren had not liked each other. Neren had liked to pinch and tease Ozma when Zilla wasn't looking. He'd put his hand on the flat place where her breasts were bound. Sometimes he picked her up by her hair to show how strong he was, how little and helpless Ozma was.

They wrapped Neren's body in a red sheet and wedged it between the branches of a tree, winding the sheet around and around the blankets. It was what you did for the dead when you were in a hurry. If it had been up to Ozma, they'd have left Neren for dogs to eat. She would have stayed to watch.

I'm hungry, said the constable's ghost. Ozma gave him a little bowl of blood and dirt, scraped from the ground where Neren had died.

After that, they traveled faster. The horses were afraid of Ozma's mother although she did not use the whips as often as Neren had.

Ozma sat in the carriage and played I Spy with the constable's ghost. I spy with my little eye, said the constable.

"A cloud," Ozma said. "A man in a field."

The view was monotonous. There were fields brown with blight and the air was foul with dust. There had been a disease of the wheat this year, as well as plague. There were no clouds. The man in the field was a broken stalk in a clearing, tied with small dirty flags, left as a piece of field magic. A field god to mark the place where someone had drawn the white stone.

Not a man, the constable said. A woman. A sad girl with brown hair. She looks a little like you.

"Is she pretty?" Ozma said.

Are you pretty? the constable said.

Ozma tossed her hair. "The ladies of Abal called me a pretty poppet," she said. "They said my hair was the color of honey."

Your mother is very beautiful, the constable said. Out on the coachman's seat, Zilla was singing a song about black birds pecking at someone's eyes and fingers. Zilla loved sad songs.

"I will be even more beautiful when I grow up," Ozma said. "Zilla says so."

How old are you? said the constable.

"Sixteen," Ozma said, although this was only a guess. She'd begun to bleed the year before. Zilla had not been pleased.

Why do you bind your breasts? said the constable.

When they traveled, Ozma dressed in boy's clothes and tied her hair back in a simple queue. But she still bound her breasts every day. "One day," she said, "Zilla will find a husband for me. A rich old man with an estate. Or a foolish young man with an inheritance. But until then, until I'm too tall, I'm more useful as a child. Zilla's Princess Monkey.

I'll never get any older, the constable said, mourning.

"I spy with my little eye," Ozma said.

A cloud, the constable said. A wheel of fire. The dead did not like to say the name of the sun.

"A little mouse," Ozma said. "It ran under the wheels of the carriage."

Where are we going? the constable said. He asked over and over again.

"Home," Ozma said.

Where is home? said the constable.

"I don't know," Ozma said.

Ozma's father was, according to Zilla, a prince of the Underworld, a diplomat from distant Torlal, a spy, a man with a knife in an alley in Benin. Neren had been a small man, and he'd had snapping black eyes like Ozma, but Neren had not been Ozma's father. If he'd been her father, she would have fished in the stream with a ribbon for his ghost.

They made camp in a field of white flowers. Ozma fed and watered the horses. She picked flowers with the idea that perhaps she could gather enough to make a bed of petals for Zilla. She had a small heap almost as high as her knee before she grew tired of picking them. Zilla made a fire and drank wine. She did not say anything about Neren or about home or about the white petals, but after the sun went down she taught Ozma easy conjure tricks: how to set fire dancing on the backs of the green beetles that ran about the camp; how to summon the little devils that lived in trees and shrubs and rocks.

Zilla and the rock devils talked for a while in a guttural, snappish language that Ozma could almost understand. Then Zilla leaned forward, caught up a devil by its tail, and snapped its long neck. The other devils ran away and Zilla chased after them, grinning. There was something wolfish about her: she dashed across the field on all fours, darting back and forth. She caught two more devils while Ozma and the ghosts sat and watched, and then came strolling back to the camp looking flushed and pink and pleased, the devils dangling from her hand. She sharpened sticks and cooked them over the campfire as if they had been quail. By the time they were ready to eat, she was quite drunk. She didn't offer to share the wine with Ozma.

The devils were full of little spiky bones. Zilla ate two. Ozma nibbled at a haunch, wishing she had real silverware, the kind they'd left behind in Abal. All she had was a tobacco knife. Her devil's gummy boiled eyes stared up at her reproachfully. She closed her own eyes and tore off its head. But there were still the little hands, the toes. It was like trying to eat a baby.

"Ozma," Zilla said. "Eat. I need you to stay healthy. Next time it will be your turn to conjure up supper."

Zilla slept in the carriage. Ozma lay with her head on the little pile of white petals and the constable and the empress and the kitten boy curled up in her hair.

All night long the green beetles scurried around the camp, carrying fire on their backs. It didn't seem to upset them, and it was very beautiful. Whenever Ozma woke in the night, the ground was alive with little moving green lights. That was the thing about magic. Sometimes it was beautiful and sometimes it seemed to Ozma that it was as wicked as the priests claimed. You could kill a man and you could lie and steal as Zilla had done, and if you lit enough candles at the temples, you could be forgiven. But someone who ate little devils and caught ghosts with ribbons and charms was a witch, and witches were damned. It had always seemed to Ozma that in all the world there was only Zilla for Ozma, only Ozma for Zilla. Perhaps home would be different.

Ozma thought that Zilla was looking for something. It was four days since Neren had died, and the horses were getting skinny. There was very little grazing. The streambeds were mostly dry. They abandoned the carriage and Zilla walked while Ozma rode one of the horses (the horses would not carry Zilla) and the other horse carried Zilla's maps and boxes. They went north and there were no villages, no towns where Zilla could tell fortunes or sell charms. There were only abandoned farms and woods that Zilla said were full of outlaws or worse.

There was no more wine. Zilla had finished it. They drank muddy water out of the same streams where they watered their horses.

At night Ozma pricked her finger and squeezed the blood into the dirt for her ghosts. In Abal, there had been servants to give the blood to the ghosts. You did not need much blood for one ghost, but in Abal they'd had many, many ghosts. It made Ozma feel a bit sick to see the empress's lips smeared with her blood, to see the kitten boy lapping at the clotted dirt. The constable ate daintily, as if he were still alive.

Ozma's legs ached at night, as if they were growing furiously. She forgot to bind her breasts. Zilla didn't seem to notice. At night, she walked out from the camp, leaving Ozma alone. Sometimes she did not come back until morning.

I spy with my little eye, the constable said.

"A horse's ass," Ozma said. "My mother's skirts, dragging in the dirt."

A young lady, the constable said. A young lady full of blood and vitality.

Ozma stared at him. The dead did not flirt with the living, but there was a glint in the constable's dead eye. The empress laughed silently.

Ahead of them, Zilla stopped. "There," she said. "Ahead of us, do you see?"

"Are we home?" Ozma said. "Have we come home?" The road behind them was empty and broken. Far ahead, she could see something that might be a small town. As they got closer, there were buildings, but the buildings were not resplendent. The roofs were not tiled with gold. There was no city wall, no orchards full of fruit, only brown fields and ricks of rotted hay.

"This is Brid," Zilla said. "There's something I need here. Come here, Ozma. Help me with the packhorse."

They pulled out Ozma's best dress, the green one with silver embroidery. But when Ozma tried to put on her dress, it would not fasten across her back. The shot-silk cuffs no longer came down over her wrists.

"Well," Zilla said. "My little girl is getting bigger."

"I didn't mean to!" Ozma said.

"No," Zilla said. "I suppose you didn't. It isn't your fault, Ozma. My magic can only do so much. Everyone gets older, no matter how much magic their mothers have. A young woman is trouble, though, and we have no time for trouble. Perhaps you should be a boy. I'll cut your hair."

Ozma backed away. She was proud of her hair.

"Come here, Ozma," Zilla said. She had a knife in her hand. "It will grow back, I promise."

Ozma waited with the horses and the ghosts outside the town. She was too proud to cry about her hair. Boys came and threw rocks at her and she glared at them until they ran away. They came and threw rocks again. She imagined conjuring fire and setting it on their backs and watching them scurry like the beetles. She was wicked to think such a thing. Zilla was probably at the temple lighting candles, but surely there weren't enough candles in the world to save them both. Ozma prayed that Zilla would save herself.

Why have we come here? the constable said.

"We need things," Ozma said. "Home is farther away than I thought it was. Zilla will bring back a new carriage and a new manservant and wine and food. She's probably gone to the mayor's house, to tell his fortune. He'll give her gold. She'll come back with gold and ribbons full of ghosts and we'll go to the mayor's house and eat roast beef on silver plates."

The town is full of people and the people are full of blood, the constable said. Why must we stay here outside?

"Wait, and Zilla will come back," Ozma said. There was a hot breeze and it blew against her neck. Cut hair pricked where it was caught between her shirt and her skin. She picked up the constable on his ribbon and held him cupped in her hands. "Am I still beautiful?" she said.

You have dirt on your face, the constable said.

The sun was high in the sky when Zilla came back. She was wearing a modest gray dress and a white kerchief covered her hair. There was a man with her. He paid no attention to Ozma. Instead he went over to the horses and ran his hands over them. He picked up their feet and rapped thoughtfully on their hooves.

"Come along," Zilla said to Ozma. "Help me with the bags. Leave the horses with this man."

"Where are we going?" Ozma said. "Did the mayor give you gold?"

"I took a position in service," Zilla said. "You are my son and your name is Eren. Your father is dead and we have come here from Nablos. We are respectable people. I'm to cook and keep house."

"I thought we were going home," Ozma said. "This isn't home."

"Leave your ghosts here," Zilla said. "Decent people like we are going to be have nothing to do with ghosts."

The man took the reins of the horses and led them away. Ozma took out her pocket knife and cut off her last three ribbons. In one of the saddlebags, there was a kite that a lady of Abal had given her. She tied the empress and the kitten boy to it by their ribbons, and then she threw the kite up so the wind caught it. The string ran through her hand and the two ghosts sailed away over the houses of Brid.

What are you doing? the constable said.

"Be quiet," Ozma said. She tied a knot in the third ribbon and stuck the constable in her pocket. Then she picked up a saddlebag and followed her mother into Brid.

Her mother walked along as if she had lived in Brid all her life. They stopped in a temple and Zilla bought a hundred candles. Ozma helped her light them all, while the priest dozed, stretched out on a prayer bench. Couldn't he tell how wicked they were? Ozma wondered. Only wicked, wicked people would need to light so many candles.

But Zilla, kneeling in front of the altar steps, lighting candle after candle, looked like a saint in her gray dress. The air was thick with incense. Zilla sneezed and the priest woke up with a snort. This would be a very dull game, Ozma thought. She wished that Zilla had charmed the constable instead of killing him. She had not been at all tired of their life in Abal.

Zilla led Ozma through a public square where women were drawing water from a well, and down a narrow street. The gutters smelled of human sewage. In Abal the finest houses had been outfitted with modern plumbing. There had been taps and running water and hot baths. And a public bath—even if Brid had such a thing, Ozma realized—would be out of the question, as long as she was a boy.

"Here," Zilla said. She went up to the door of a two-story stone house. It did not compare to the house they had lived in, in Abal. When Zilla knocked, a woman in a housemaid's cap opened the door. "You're to go around to the back," the woman said. "Don't you know anything?" Then she relented. "Come in quickly, quickly."

There was a vestibule and a front hall with a mosaic set in the floor. The blue and yellow tiles were set in a spiralling pattern and Ozma thought she saw dragons, but the mosaic was cracked and some of the tiles were missing. Light fell down through a vaulted sky light. There were statues standing in panelled niches in the wall, gods and goddesses looking as if they had been waiting for a long time for someone to bring their coats and hats. They looked dowdier than the gods in Abal did, less haughty, less high. There were ghosts everywhere, Ozma saw. Somehow it made her miss Abal less. At least Brid was like Abal in this one way.

She didn't care for the gods. When she thought of them at all, she imagined them catching people the way that Zilla caught ghosts, with charms and ribbons. Who would want to dangle along after one of these household gods, with their painted eyes and their chipped fingers?

"Come along, come along," said the housemaid. "My name's Jemma. I'm to show you your room and then I'll take you back down to the parlor. What's your name, boy?"

Zilla poked Ozma. "Oz—Ozen," Ozma said. "Ozen."

"That's a foreign name," Jemma said. She sounded disapproving. Ozma stared down. Jemma had thick ankles. Her shoes looked as if they pinched. As she hurried them along, little eddies of ghosts swirled around her skirts. Zilla sneezed.

Jemma led them through a door and then up and up a winding staircase. Ghosts drifted after them lazily. Zilla pretended they were not there and so Ozma did the same.

At the top of the stairs was a hall with a door on either side. Their room had a sloped roof, so there was barely room to stand up. There were two narrow beds, a chair, a basin on a small table, and a window with a pane missing.

"I see there's a fireplace," Zilla said. She sank down into the chair.

"Get up, get up," Jemma said. "Oh please, Miss Zilla, get up. I'm to show you down to the parlor and then I must get back to the kitchen to start dinner. It's a mercy that you've come. It's just been the two of us, me and my da. The house is filthy and I'm no cook."

"Go on," Zilla said. "I'll find the parlor. And then I'll come find you in the kitchen. We'll see what we can do for dinner."

"Yes, Miss Zilla," Jemma said, and made a little bob.

Ozma listened to Jemma thumping down the stairs again as if she were a whole herd of maids. Some of the ghosts went with her but most remained crowded around Zilla. Zilla sat in the chair, her eyes shut tightly.

"What are we doing here?" Ozma said. "How could there be anything in this place that we need? Who are we to be?"

Zilla did not open her eyes. "Good people," she said. "Respectable people."

The constable wriggled like a fish in Ozma's pocket. Good liars, he said quietly. Respectable murderers.

There was water in the basin so that Zilla and Ozma could wash their hands and faces. Zilla had a packet of secondhand clothing for Ozma, which Ozma laid out on the bed. Boy's clothing. It seemed terrible to her, not only that she should have to be a boy and wear boy's clothing, but that she should have to wear clothes bought from a store in Brid. In Abal and in the city before Abal, she'd had the most beautiful dresses and gloves and cloaks, and shoes made of the softest leather. It was one thing to dress as a boy on the road, when there was no one to admire her. She slipped the constable out of the pocket of her old clothes and into the pocket of her shirt.

"Stop sulking or I'll sell you to the priests." Zilla said. She was standing at the window, looking out at the street below. Ozma imagined Brid below them: dull, dull, dull.

Ozma waited just outside the door of the parlor. Really, the house was full of ghosts. Perhaps she and Zilla could start a business here in Brid and export fine ghosts to Abal. When Zilla said, "Come in, son," she stepped in.

"Close the door quickly!" said the ugly old man who stood beside Zilla. Perhaps he would fall in love with Zilla and beg her to marry him. Something flew past Ozma's ear: the room was full of songbirds. Now she could hear them as well. There were cages everywhere, hanging from the roof and from stands and all of the cage doors standing open. The birds were anxious. They flew around and around the room, settling on chairs and chandeliers. There was a nest on the mantelpiece and another inside the harpsichord. There were long streaks of bird shit on the furniture, on the floor, and on the old man's clothes. "They don't like your mother very much," he said.

This was not quite right, Ozma saw. It was the ghosts that followed Zilla and Ozma that the birds did not like.

"This is Lady Rosa Fralix," Zilla said.

So it was an ugly old woman. Ozma remembered to bow instead of curtsey.

"What is your name, child?" said Lady Fralix.

"Ozen," Ozma said.

"Ozen," Lady Fralix said. "What a handsome boy he is, Zilla."

Zilla sneezed sharply. "If it meets with your approval, Lady Fralix, dinner will be served in the small dining room at eight. Tomorrow Ozen and Jemma and I will begin to put your house in order. Shall we begin here?"

"If Ozen will agree to help me cage my friends," Lady Fralix said. "We can go over the schedule tomorrow morning after breakfast. I'm afraid there's been too much work for poor Jemma. There are one or two rooms, though, that I would prefer that you leave alone."

"Very well, madam," Zilla said in her most disinterested voice, and a ha! thought Ozma. There were birds perched on Lady Fralix's head and shoulders. They pulled at her thin white hair. No wonder she was nearly bald.

Zilla was a good if unimaginative cook. She prepared an urchin stew, a filet of sole, and because Jemma said Lady Fralix's teeth were not good, she made a bread pudding with fresh goat's milk and honey. Ozma helped her carry the dishes into the dining room, which was smaller and less elegant than the dining rooms of Abal where ladies in beautiful dresses had given Ozma morsels from their own plates. The dining room was without distinction. It was not particularly well appointed. And it was full of ghosts. Everywhere you stepped there were ghosts. The empty wine glasses and the silver tureen in the center of the table were full of them.

Zilla stayed to serve Lady Fralix. Ozma ate in the kitchen with Jemma and Jemma's da, a large man who ate plate after plate of stew and said nothing at all. Jemma said a great deal, but very little of it was interesting. Lady Rosa Fralix had never married as far as anyone knew. She was a scholar and a collector of holy relics and antiquities. She had traveled a great deal in her youth. She had no heir.

Ozma went up the stairs to bed. Zilla was acting as lady's maid to Lady Fralix, or rifling through secret drawers, or most likely of all, gone back to the temple to light candles again. Jemma had started a fire in the grate in the dark little bedroom. Ozma was grudgingly grateful. She used the chamber pot and then bathed as best she could in front of the fire with a sponge and water from the basin. She did all of this behind a screen so that she was hidden from the constable, although she hadn't been so modest while they were traveling.

The constable did not have much to say and Ozma did not feel much like talking, either. She thought of a thousand questions to ask Zilla, if only she were brave enough. When she woke in the night, there were strange cracking sounds and the fire in the grate was shooting out long green tongues of flame. Zilla was crouched before it, adding things to the blaze. She was burning her ghost tackle—the long needles and the black silk thread, the tubes and ointments and all of her notebooks. "Go back to sleep, Ozma," Zilla said, without turning around.

Ozma closed her eyes.

Zilla woke her in the morning. "What time is it?" Ozma said. A thin gray light was dribbling through the window.

"Five in the morning. Time to wake and dress and wash your face," Zilla said. "There's work to do."

Zilla made a porridge with raisins and dates while Ozma located a broom, a brush, a dustpan, and cloths. "First of all," Zilla said, "we'll get rid of the vermin."

She opened the front door and began to sweep ghosts out of the front hall, through the vestibule, down the front steps and into the street. They tumbled in front of her broom in white, astonished clouds. "What are you doing?" Ozma said.

"This is a respectable house," Zilla said. "And we are respectable people. An infestation of this kind is disgraceful."

"In Abal," Ozma said, "fashionable homes were full of ghosts. You made it the fashion. What is different about Brid? What are we doing here?"

"Sweeping," Zilla said, and handed Ozma a brush and a dustpan.

They went through the smaller dining room and the larger dining room and the breakfast room and two sitting rooms which seemed to Ozma pleasant at best. There were souvenirs of Lady Fralix's travels everywhere: seashells, souvenir paperweights, music boxes, and umbrella stands made from the legs of very strange animals. They all seethed with ghosts. There was a ballroom where the ghosts rinsed around their ankles in a misty, heatless boil. Ozma's fingers itched for her ribbons and her charms. "Why are there so many?" she said.

But Zilla shook her head. When the clocks began to strike eight o'clock, at last she stopped and said, "That will do for now. After Lady Fralix has dressed and I've brought her a tray, she wants your help in the front parlor to catch the birds."

But Lady Fralix caught the birds easily. They came and sat on her finger and she fed them crumbs of toast. Then she shut them in their cages. She didn't need Ozma at all. Ozma sat on the piano bench and watched. Her hands were red and blistered from sweeping ghosts.

"They need fresh water," Lady Fralix said finally. So Ozma carried little dishes of water back and forth from the kitchen to the parlor. Then she helped Lady Fralix drape the heavy velvet covers over the cages. "Why do you have so many birds?" she said.

"Why do you have a ghost in your pocket?" Lady Fralix said. "Does your mother know you kept him? She doesn't seem to care for ghosts."

"How do you know I have a ghost?" Ozma said. "Can you see ghosts too? Why is your house so full of ghosts? In Abal, we caught them for ladies to wear on their dresses, but the ladies only pretended that they could see their ghosts. It was fashionable."

"Let me take a look at yours," Lady Fralix said. Ozma took the constable out of her pocket. She did it reluctantly.

The constable bowed to Lady Fralix. My lady, he said.

"Oh, he's charming," said Lady Fralix. "I see why you couldn't give him up. Would you like me to keep him safe for you?"

"No!" Ozma said. She quickly put the constable back in her pocket. She said, "When I first saw you I thought you were an ugly old man."

Lady Fralix laughed. Her laugh was clear and lovely and warm. "And when I saw you, Ozen, I thought you were a beautiful young woman."

After lunch, which was rice and chicken seasoned with mint and almonds, Zilla gave Ozma a pail of soapy water and a pile of clean rags. She left her in the vestibule. Ozma washed the gods first. She hoped they were grateful, but they didn't seem to be. When she was finished, they had the same sort of look that Zilla wore when she was bamboozling someone: distant, charming, untrustworthy.

Ozma's back and arms ached. Twice she'd almost dropped the constable in the pail of water, thinking he was a clean rag.

Zilla appeared in the vestibule. She reached up and touched the robe of one of the gods, a woman with a wolf's head. She left her hand there for a moment and Ozma felt a terrible jealousy. Zilla rarely touched Ozma so gently.

"Be careful with the tiles," Zilla said. She did not look particularly dirty or tired, although she and Jemma had been beating birdshit out of the carpets and upholstery all afternoon.

Lady Fralix came and watched from the balcony while Ozma cleaned the mosaic. "Your mother says she will try to find tiles to replace the ones that have been broken," she said.

Ozma said nothing.

"The artist was a man from the continent of Gid," Lady Fralix said. "I met him when I was looking for a famous temple to the god Addaman. His congregation had dwindled and in a fit of temper Addaman drowned his congregation, priests, temple and all, in a storm which lasted for three years. There's a lake there now. I went swimming in it and found all kinds of things. I brought the mosaic artist back with me. I always meant to go back. The water was meant to cure heartsickness. Or maybe it was the pox. I have a vial of it somewhere, or maybe that was the vial that Jemma thought were my eyedrops. It's so important to label things legibly."

Ozma wrung dirty water out of a rag. "Your mother is very religious," Lady Fralix said. "She seems to know a great deal about the gods."

"She likes to light candles," Ozma said.

"For your father?" Lady Fralix said.

Ozma said nothing.

"If your ghost needs blood," Lady Fralix said, "you should go to the butcher's stall in the market. I'll tell your mother that I sent you to buy seeds for the birds."

There was nothing to do in Brid. There was no theater, no opera, no chocolate maker. Only temples and more temples. Zilla visited them all and lit hundreds of candles each day. She gave away the dresses which she had brought with her from Abal. She gave away all her jewels to beggars in the street. Zilla did not explain to Ozma about home or what she was planning or why they were masquerading in Brid as a devout, respectable housekeeper and her son. Zilla used only the most harmless of magics: to make the bread rise, to judge whether or not it was a good day to hang up the washing in the courtyard.

She made up simple potions for the other servants who worked in the houses on the street where Lady Fralix lived. She told fortunes. But she only told happy fortunes. The love potions were mostly honey and sugar dissolved in wine. Zilla didn't charge for them. Neighborhood servants sat around the kitchen table and gossiped. They told stories of how the mayor of Brid had been made a fool of, all for love; of accidental poisonings; who had supposedly stuffed their mattresses with bags of gold coins; which babies had been dropped on their heads by nursemaids who drank. Zilla did not seem to pay any attention.

"Lady Fralix is a good woman," Jemma said. "She was wild in her youth. She talked to the gods. She wasn't afraid of anything. Then she came to Brid to see the temples and she bought this house on a whim because, she said, she'd never been in a town that was so full of sleepy gods. She claims that it's restful. Well, I don't know about that. I've never lived anywhere else."

"There's something about Brid," Zilla said. She looked cross, as if the word Brid tasted bad. "Something that drew me to Brid, but I don't know what. I don't know that I'd call it peaceful. Ozen finds it dull, I'm afraid."

Ozma said, "I want to go home." But she said it quietly, so that Jemma wouldn't hear. Zilla looked away as if she hadn't heard either.

Ozma developed calluses on her hands. It was a good thing that there was nothing to do in Brid. She spent all her time mopping and dusting and carrying fire wood and beating upholstery. Zilla's nose was always pink from sneezing. The constable grew bored. This was not what I expected death to be like, he said.

"What is death like?" Ozma said. She always asked the ghosts this, but they never gave satisfactory answers.

How do I know? the constable said. I'm carried around all day in a young girl's pocket. I drink the stale blood of market cattle. I thought there would be clouds of glory, or beautiful lecherous devils with velvet bosoms, or a courtroom full of gods to judge me.

"It will be different when Zilla has done what she needs to do," Ozma said. "Then we'll go home. There will be clouds of glory, and my pockets will be lined with lavender and silk. Everyone will know Zilla and they'll bow to her when we drive by in our carriage. Mothers will frighten their children with stories about Zilla, and kings will come and beg her to give them kisses. But she will only love me."

You think your mother is a blackmailer and a thief and a murderer, the constable said. You admire her for what you think she is.

"I know she is!" Ozma said. "I know what she is!"

The constable said nothing. He only smirked. For several days they did not speak to each other, until Ozma relented and gave him her own blood to drink as a peace offering. It was only a drop or two, and she was almost flattered to think that he preferred it.

It was hard work keeping Lady Fralix's house free of ghosts. Ozma said so when she brought Lady Fralix's breakfast up one morning. Zilla and Jemma had gone to a temple where there was a god who, according to his priests, had recently opened his painted mouth and complained about the weather. This was supposed to be a miracle.

"Your mother wants me to let my birds go free," Lady Fralix said. "First the ghosts, now the birds. She says it's cruel to keep things trapped in cages."

This did not sound at all like Zilla. Ozma was beginning to grow tired of this new Zilla. It was one thing to pretend to be respectable; it was another entirely to be respectable.

Lady Fralix said, "It's considered holy in some places to release birds. People free them on holy days because it pleases the gods. Perhaps I should. Perhaps your mother is right to ask."

"Why do the ghosts come back again and again?" Ozma said. She was far more interested in ghosts than in birds. All birds did was eat and shit and make noise. "What do you want to wear today?"

"The pink dressing gown," Lady Fralix said. "If you let me keep your ghost in my pocket today, I'll give you one of my dresses. Any dress you like."

"Zilla would take it away and give it to the poor," Ozma said. Then: "How did you know I'm a girl?"

"I'm old but I'm not blind," Lady Fralix said. "I see all sorts of things. Ghosts and girls. Little lost things. You shouldn't keep dressing as a boy, my dear. Someone as shifty as you needs some truth now and then."

"I'll be a boy if I want to be a boy," Ozma said. She realized that she didn't really think of herself as Ozma anymore. She had become Ozen, who strutted and flirted with the maids fetching water, whose legs were longer, whose breasts did not need to be bound.

Be a girl, said the constable, muffled, from inside her pocket. Your hips are too bony as a boy. And I don't like how your voice is changing. You had a nicer singing voice before.

"Oh, be quiet," Ozma said. She was exasperated. "I've never heard so much nonsense in all my life!"

"You're an insolent child, but my offer stands," Lady Fralix said. "When you're ready to be a girl again. Now. Let's go down and do some work in my collection. I need someone with clever fingers. My old hands shake too much. Will you help me?"

"If you want me to," Ozma said, ungraciously. She helped Lady Fralix out of bed and into a dressing gown and then she combed what was left of Lady Fralix's hair. "How old are you?"

"Not as old as your mother," Lady Fralix said, and laughed at Ozma's look of disbelief.

There was no door to the room in which Lady Fralix kept her collection, but Ozma felt sure she had never noticed this room before. There were four or five ghosts brushing against the door that wasn't there. They stayed on the threshold as if tethered there. "What are they doing?" Ozma said.

"They want to go inside," Lady Fralix said. "But they're afraid. Something draws them. They want it and they don't know why. Poor little things."

The room was very strange. It was the size of a proper ballroom in Abal, only it was full of paintings on stands, altars, and tables piled high with reliquaries and holy books and icons. Along the far wall there were gods as large as wardrobes and little brass gods and gods of ivory and gold and jade gods and fat goddesses giving birth to other gods and goddesses. There were bells hanging from the ceiling with long silk ropes, bells resting on the floor so big that Ozma could have hidden under them, and there were robes stiff with embroidery, hung about with bells no bigger than a fingernail.

Where are we? said the constable.

Lady Fralix had stepped inside the room. She beckoned to Ozma. But when Ozma put her foot down on the wooden floor, the board beneath her foot gave a terrible shriek.

What is that noise? said the constable.

"The floor—" Ozma said.

"Oh," Lady Fralix said. "Your ghost. You had better tie him up outside. He won't want to come in here."

The constable trembled in Ozma's hand. He looked about wildly, ignoring her at first. She tied him to the leg of an occasional table in the hallway. Don't leave me here, the constable said. There's something in that room that I need. Bring it to me, boy.

"Boy!" Ozma said.

Please, boy, said the constable. Ozma, please. I beg you on my death.

Ozma ignored him. She stepped into the room again, and again, with each step, the floor shrieked and groaned and squeaked. Lady Fralix clapped her hands. "It's almost as good as going to see the orchestra in Oldun," she said. She walked in a quick odd pattern towards an altar carved in the shape of a winged fish.

"Why don't you make any sound when you walk?" Ozma said.

"I know where to place my feett," Lady Fralix said. "I keep my most precious relics here. All the things that belong to gods. There. Put your foot down there. There's a pattern to it. Let me teach you."

She showed Ozma how to navigate the room. It was a little like waltzing. "Isn't this fun?" Lady Fralix said. "An adept can play the floor like a musical instrument. It comes from a temple in Nal. There's an emerald somewhere, too. The eye of a god. From the same temple. Here, look at this."

There was a tree growing out of an old stone altar. The tree had almost split the altar in two. There was fruit on it and Lady Fralix bent a branch down. "Not ripe yet," she said. "I've been waiting almost twenty years and it's still not ripe."

"I suppose you want me to dust everything," Ozma said.

"Perhaps you could just help me go through the books," Lady Fralix said. "I left a novel in here last summer. I was only halfway through reading it. The beautiful gypsy had just been kidnapped by a lord disguised as a narwhal."

"Here it is," Ozma said, after they had hunted for a while in companionable silence. When she looked up, she felt strange, as if the room had begun to spin around her. The gods and their altars all seemed very bright and it seemed to her that the bells were tolling, although without any sound. Even Lady Fralix seemed to shimmer a little, as if she were moving and standing still at the same time.

"You're quite pale," Lady Fralix said. "I'd have thought you wouldn't be susceptible."

"To what?" Ozma said.

"To the gods," Lady Fralix said. "Some people have a hard time. It's a bit like being up in the mountains. Some people don't seem to notice."

"I don't care for gods," Ozma said. "They're nothing to me. I hate Brid. I hate this place. I hate the gods."

"Let's go and have some tea," Lady Fralix said. She did not sound in the least bit perturbed to hear that Ozma was a heretic.

In the hallway, the constable was tugging at his ribbon as if the room was full of blood.

"What is it?" Ozma said. "There's nothing in that room, just boring old gods."

I need it, the constable said. Be kind, be kind. Give me the thing I need.

"Don't be tiresome," Ozma said. Her head ached.

Before she could put him in her pocket, Lady Fralix took hold of Ozma's wrist. She picked up the constable by his ribbon.

"Very curious," Lady Fralix said. "He's so lively, such a darling. Not the usual sort of ghost. Do you know how he died?"

"He ate a bad piece of cheese," Ozma said. "Or maybe he fell off a cliff. I don't remember. Give him back."

"It's a good thing," Lady Fralix said, "that most people can't see or talk to ghosts. Watching them scurry around, it makes you dread the thought of death and yet what else is there to do when you die? Will some careless child carry me around in her pocket?"

Ozma shrugged. She was young. She wouldn't die for years and years. She tried not to think of the handsome young constable in her pocket, who had once thought much the same thing.

By the time Zilla and Jemma returned from the temple, Lady Fralix had made up her mind to let the birds go, as soon as possible.

"I only kept them because the house seemed so empty," she said. "Brid is too quiet. In the city of Tuk, the god houses are full of red and green birds who fly back and forth carrying holy messages."

Zilla and Jemma and Ozma carried cage after cage out onto the street. The birds fussed and chattered. Lady Fralix watched from her bedroom window. It was starting to rain.

Once the birds were free, they seemed more confused than liberated. They didn't burst into joyful songs or even fly away. Ozma had to shoo them out of their cages. They flew around the house and beat their wings against the windows. Lady Fralix closed her curtains. One bird flew against a window so hard that it broke its neck.

Ozma picked up its body. The beak was open.

"The poor little things," Jemma said. Jemma was terribly tenderhearted. She wiped rain off her face with her apron. There were feathers sticking out of her hair.

"Where do the ghosts of birds and animals go?" Ozma said quietly to Zilla. "Why don't we see them?"

Zilla looked at her. Her eyes glittered and her color was high. "I see them," she said. "I can see them plain as anything. It's good that you can't see them, Ozen. It's more respectable not to see any kind of ghosts."

"Lady Fralix knows I'm a girl," Ozma said. Jemma was chasing the birds away from the house, flapping her own arms and her sodden apron. The rain fell harder and harder but Zilla didn't seem to notice. "She said something about how I ought to be careful. I think that perhaps I'm becoming a boy. I think she may be right. I stand up when I piss now. I'm shaped differently. I have something down there that I didn't have before."

"Let me take a look at you," Zilla said. "Turn around. Yes, I see. Well, it has nothing to do with me. You must be doing it yourself somehow. How enterprising you've become. How inconvenient."

"Actually," Ozma said, "it's more convenient. I like standing up when I piss."

"It won't do," Zilla said. "It's not very respectable, that's for certain. We'll take care of it tonight."

I liked you better as a girl, the constable said. You were a nice girl. That girl would have given me what I wanted. She would have found what I needed in that room.

"I wasn't a nice girl!" Ozma said. She stood naked in the attic room. She wished she had a mirror. The thing between her legs was very strange. She didn't know how long it had been here.

Ever since we came to this house, the constable said. He was sitting in the corner of the grate on a little heap of ashes. He looked very gloomy. Ever since your mother told you to be a boy. Why do you always do what your mother tells you?

"I don't," Ozma said. "I kept you. I keep you secret. If she knew about you, she'd sweep you right out of the house."

Don't tell her then, the constable said. I want to stay with you, Ozma. I forgive you for letting her kill me.

"Be quiet," Ozma said. "Here she comes."

Zilla was carrying a small, folded pile of clothes. She stared at Ozma. "Get dressed," she said. "I've seen all that before. It doesn't particularly suit you, although it does explain why the housemaids next door have been mooning and swanning around in their best dresses."

"Because of me?" Ozma said. She began to pull her trousers back on.

"No, not those. Here. Lady Fralix has lent you a dress. I've made something up, although only a liar as good as I am could pull off such a ridiculous story. I fed Jemma some confection about how you've been dressing as a boy as penance. Because a young man had fallen in love with you and committed suicide. You're handsome enough as a boy," Zilla said. "But I don't know what you were thinking. I never cared much for that shape. It's too distracting. And people are always wanting to quarrel with you."

"You've been a man?" Ozma said. The dress felt very strange, very confining. The thing between her legs was still there. And she didn't like the way the petticoats rubbed against her legs. They scratched.

"Not for years and years," Zilla said. "Gods, I don't even know how long. It's one thing to dress as a man, Ozma, but you mustn't let yourself forget who you are."

"But I don't know who I am," Ozma said. "Why are we different from other people? Why do we see ghosts? Why did I change into a boy? You said we were going home, but Brid isn't home, I know it isn't. Where is our home? Why did we come here? Why are you acting so strangely?"

Zilla sighed. She snapped her finger and there was a little green flame resting on the back of her hand. She stroked it with her other hand, coaxing it until it grew larger. She sat down on one of the narrow beds and patted the space beside her. Ozma sat down. "There's something that I need to find," Zilla said. "Something in Brid. I can't go home without it. When Neren died—"

"Neren!" Ozma said. She didn't want to talk about Neren.

Zilla gave her a terrible look. "If those men had killed you instead of Neren," she said. Her voice trailed off. The green flame dwindled down to a spark and went out. "There was something that I was supposed to do for him. Something that I knew how to do once. Something I've forgotten."

"I don't understand," Ozma said. "We buried him in the tree. What else could we have done?"

"I don't know," Zilla said. "I go to the temples every day and I humble myself and I light enough candles to burn down a city, but the gods won't talk to me. I'm too wicked. I've done terrible things. I think I used to know how to talk to the gods. I need to talk to them again. I need to talk to them before I go home. I need them to tell me what I've forgotten."

"Before we go home," Ozma said. "You wouldn't leave me here, would you? You wouldn't. Tell me about home, oh please, tell me about home."

"I can't remember," Zilla said. She stood up. "I don't remember. Stop fussing at me, Ozma. Don't come downstairs again until you're a girl."

Ozma had terrible dreams. She dreamed that Lady Fralix's birds had come back home again and they were pecking at her head. Peck, peck, peck. Peck, peck. They were going to pull out all of her hair because she had been a terrible daughter. Neren had sent them. She was under one of Lady Fralix's bells in the darkness because she was hiding from the birds. The constable was kissing her under the bell. His mouth was full of dead birds.

Someone was shaking her. "Ozma," Zilla said. "Ozma, wake up. Ozma, tell me what you are dreaming about."

"The birds," Ozma said. "I'm in the room where Lady Fralix keeps her collection. I'm hiding from the birds."

"What room?" Zilla said. Her hand was still on Ozma's shoulder, but she was only a dark shape against darkness.

"The room full of bells and altars," Ozma said. "The room that the ghosts won't go in. She wanted me to find a book for her this afternoon. The floor is from a temple in Nal. You have to walk on it a certain way. It made me feel dizzy."

"Show me this room," Zilla said. "I'll fetch a new candle. You've burned this one down to the stub. Meet me downstairs."

Ozma got out of bed. She went and squatted over the chamber pot.

So you're a girl again, the constable said from behind the grate.

"Oh, be quiet," Ozma said. "It's none of your business."

It is my business, the constable said. You'll go and fetch the thing that your mother needs, but you won't help me. I thought you loved me.

"You?" Ozma said. "How could I love you? How could I love a ghost? How could I love something that I have to keep hidden in my pocket?"

She picked up the constable. "You're filthy," she said.

You're lovely, Ozma, the constable said. You're ripe as a peach. I've never wanted anything as much as I want just a drop of your blood, except there's something in that room that I want even more. If you bring it to me, I'll promise to be true to you. No one will ever have such a faithful lover.

"I don't want a lover," Ozma said. "I want to go home."

She put the constable in the pocket of her nightgown and went down the dark stairs in her bare feet. Her mother was in the vestibule where all the gods were waiting for dawn. The flame from the candle lit Zilla's face and made her look beautiful and wicked and pitiless. "Hurry, Ozma. Show me the room."

"It's just along here," Ozma said. It was as if they were back in Abal and nothing had changed. She felt like dancing.

"I don't understand," Zilla said. "How could it be here under my nose, all this time and I couldn't even see it?"

"See what?" Ozma said. "Look, here's the room." As before, there were ghosts underfoot, everywhere, even more than there had been before.

"Filthy things," Zilla said. She sneezed. "Why won't they leave me alone?" She didn't seem to see the room at all.

Ozma took the candle from Zilla and held it up so that they could both see the entrance to the room. "Here," she said. "Here, look. Here's the room I was telling you about."

Zilla was silent. Then she said, "It makes me feel ill. As if something terrible is calling my name over and over again. Perhaps it's a god. Perhaps a god is telling me not to go in."

"The room is full of gods!" Ozma said. "There are gods and gods and altars and relics and sacred stones and you can't go in there or else the floorboards will make so much noise that everyone in the house will wake up."

Bring me the thing I need! shouted the constable. I will kill you all if you don't bring me the thing I need!

"Ozma," Zilla said. She sounded like the old Zilla again, queenly and sly; used to being obeyed. "Who is that in your pocket? Who thinks that he is mightier than I?"

"It's only the constable of Abal," Ozma said. She took the constable out of her pocket and held him behind her back.

Let me go, the constable said. Let me go or I will bite you. Go fetch me the thing that I need and I will let you live.

"Give him to me," Zilla said.

"Will you keep him safe while I go in there?" Ozma said. "I know how to walk without making the floor sing. The ghosts won't go in there, but I could go in. What am I looking for?"

"I don't know," Zilla said. "I don't know, but you will know it when you see it. I promise. Bring me the thing that I'm looking for. Give me your ghost."

Don't give me to her, the constable said. I have a bad feeling about this. Besides, there's something in that room that I need. You'll be sorry if you help her and not me.

Zilla held out her hand. Ozma gave her the constable. "I'm sorry," Ozma said to the constable. Then she went into the room.

She was instantly dizzy. It was worse than before. She concentrated on the light falling from the candle, and the wax that dripped down onto her hand. She put each foot down with care. The ropes from stolen temple bells slithered across her shoulders like dead snakes. The altars and tables were absolutely heaped with things, and all of it was undoubtedly valuable, and it was far too dark. How in the world did Zilla expect her to come out again with the exact thing that was needed? Perhaps Ozma should just carry out as much as she could. There was a little wax god on the table nearest her. She held up the hem of her nightgown like an apron and dropped the god inside. There was a book covered in gold leaf. She picked it up. Too heavy. She put it back down again. She picked up a smaller book. She put it in her nightgown.

There was a little mortar and pestle for grinding incense. They didn't feel right. She put them down. Here was a table piled with boxes, and the boxes were full of eyes. Sapphire eyes and ruby eyes and pearls and onyx and emeralds. She didn't like how they looked at her.

As she searched, she began to feel as if something was pulling at her. She realized that it had been pulling at her all this time, and that she had been doing her best to ignore it, without even noticing. She began to walk towards the thing pulling at her, but even this was hard. The pattern she had to walk was complicated. She seemed to be moving away from the thing she needed, the closer she tried to get. She put more things in the scoop of her nightgown: a bundle of sticks tied with strips of silk; a little bottle with something sloshing inside of it; a carving of a fish. The heavier her nightgown grew, the easier it became to make her way towards the thing that was calling her. Her candle was much shorter than it had been. She wondered how long she'd been in the room. Surely not very long.

The thing that had been calling her was a goddess. She felt strangely annoyed by this, especially when she saw which goddess it was. It was the same wolf-headed goddess who stood in the vestibule. It seemed to be laughing wolfishly and silently at her, as if she, Ozma, was small and insignificant and silly. "I don't even know your name," Ozma said, feeling as if this proved something. The goddess said nothing.

There was a clay cup on the palm of the goddess's hands. She held it as if she were offering a drink to Ozma, but the cup was empty. Ozma took it. It was old and ugly and fragile. Surely it was the least precious thing in the entire room.

As she made her way back toward the hall, she began to smell something that was both sweet and astringent, a fragrance nothing like Brid. Brid smelled of cobblestones and horses and soap and candles. This fragrance was more agreeable than anything she had ever known. It reminded her of the perfumed oils that the fashionable ladies of Abal wore, the way their coiled, jeweled hair smelled when the ladies bent down like saplings over her and told her what a lovely child she was, how lovely she was. A drowsy, pearly light was beginning to come through the high windows. It settled on the glossy curves of the hanging bells and the sitting bells, like water. The two halves of the stone altar and the tree that had split them were in front of her.

All the leaves of that strange, stubborn tree were moving, as if in a wind. She wondered if it was a god moving through the room, but the room felt hushed and still as if she were utterly alone. Her head was clearer now. She bent down a branch and there was a fruit on it. It looked something like a plum. She picked it.

When she came out of the room, Zilla was pacing in the hallway. "You were in there for hours," Zilla said. "Do you have it? Let me have it."

The plum was in Ozma's pocket and she didn't take it out. She pulled the things from Lady Fralix's room out of the gathered hem of her nightgown and put them on the floor. Zilla knelt down. "Not this," she said, rifling through the book. "Not this either. This is nothing. This is less than nothing. A forgery. A cheap souvenir. Nothing. You've brought me trash and junk. A marble. A fish. A clay cup. What were you thinking, Ozma?"

"Where is the constable of Abal?" Ozma said. She picked up the clay cup and held it out to Zilla. "This is the thing you wanted, I know it is. You said I would know it. Give me the constable and I'll give you the cup."

"What have you got in your pocket?" Zilla said. "What are you keeping from me? What do I want with an old clay cup?"

"Tell me what you did with the constable," Ozma said, still holding out the empty cup.

"She swept him out the door with all the other ghosts," said Lady Fralix. She stood in the hallway, blinking and yawning. All her hair stood out from her head in tufts, like an owl. Her feet were bare, just like Ozma's feet. They were long and bony.

"You did what?" Ozma said. Zilla made a gesture. Nothing, the gesture said. The constable was nothing. A bit of trash.

"You shouldn't have left him with her," Lady Fralix said. "You should have known better."

"Give it to me," Zilla said. "Give me the thing in your pocket, Ozma, and we'll leave here. We'll go home. We'll be able to go home."

A terrible wave of grief came down on Ozma. It threatened to sweep her away forever, like the ghost of the constable of Abal. "You killed him. You murdered him! You're a murderer and I hate you!" she said.

There was something in her hand and she flung it at Zilla as hard as she could. Zilla caught the cup easily. She dashed it at the floor and it broke into dozens of pieces. The nothingness that had been in the cup spilled out and splashed up over Zilla's legs and skirts. The empty cup had not been empty after all, or, rather it had been full of emptiness. There seemed to be a great deal of it.

Ozma put her hands over her face. She couldn't bear to see the look of contempt on her mother's face.

"Oh, look!" Lady Fralix said. "Look what you've done, Ozma," she said again, gently. "Look how beautiful she is."

Ozma peeked through her fingers. Zilla's hair was loose around her shoulders. She was so beautiful that it was hard to look at her directly. She still wore her grey housekeeper's uniform, but the dress shone like cloth of silver where the emptiness, the nothing had soaked it. "Oh," Zilla said. And "oh" again.

Ozma's hands curled into fists. She stared at the floor. She was thinking of the constable. How he had promised to love her faithfully and forever. She saw him again, as he was dying in Zilla's parlor in Abal. How surprised he had looked. How his ghost had clung to Zilla's ribbon so he would not be swept away.

"Ozma," Zilla said. "Ozma, look at me." She sneezed and then sneezed again. "I have not been myself, but I am myself again. You did this, Ozma. You brought me the thing that I needed, Ozma, I have been asleep for all this time, and you have woken me! Ozma!" Her voice was bright and joyful.

Ozma did not look up. She began to cry instead. The hallway was as bright as if someone had lit a thousand candles, all burning with a cool and silver light. "Little Princess Monkey," Zilla said. "Ozma. Look at me, daughter."

Ozma would not. She felt Zilla's cool hand on her burning cheek. Someone sighed. There was a sound like a bell ringing, very far away. The cool silver light went out.

Lady Fralix said, "She's gone, you stubborn girl. And a good thing, too. I think the house might have come down on us if she'd stayed any longer."

"What? Where has she gone? Why didn't she take me with her?" Ozma said. "What did I do to her?" She wiped at her eyes.

Where Zilla had stood, there was only the broken clay cup. Lady Fralix bent over and picked up the pieces as if they were precious. She wrapped them in a handkerchief and put them in one of her pockets. Then she held out her hand to Ozma and helped her stand up.

"She's gone home," Lady Fralix said. "She's remembered who she is."

"Who was she? What do you mean, who she is? Why doesn't anyone ever explain anything to me?" Ozma said. She felt thick with rage and unhappiness and something like dread. "Am I too stupid to understand? Am I a stupid child?"

"Your mother is a goddess," Lady Fralix said. "I knew it as soon as she applied to be my housekeeper. I've had to put up with a great deal of tidying and dusting and mopping and spring-cleaning and I must say I'm glad to be done with it all. There's something that tests the nerves, knowing that there's a goddess beating your rugs and cooking your dinner and burning your dresses with an iron."

"Zilla isn't a goddess," Ozma said. She felt like throwing more things. Like stamping her foot until the floor gave way and the house fell down. "She's my mother."

"Yes," Lady Fralix said. "Your mother is a goddess."

"My mother is a liar and a thief and a murderer," Ozma said.

"Yes," Lady Fralix said. "She was all of those things and worse. Gods don't make very good people. They get bored too easily. And they're cruel when they're bored. The worse she behaved, the more she forgot herself. To think of a god of the dead scheming like a common quack and charlatan, leading ghosts around on strings, blackmailing silly rich women, teaching her daughter how to pick locks and cheat at cards."

"Zilla is a god of the dead?" Ozma said. She was shivering. The floor was cold. The morning air was colder, somehow, than the night had seemed. "That's ridiculous. Just because we can see ghosts. You can see ghosts too, and I can see ghosts. It doesn't mean anything. Zilla doesn't even like ghosts. She was never kind to them, even when we were in Abal."

"Of course she didn't like them," Lady Fralix said. "They reminded her of what she ought to be doing, except she couldn't remember what to do." She chafed Ozma's arms. "You're freezing, child. Let me get you a blanket and some slippers."

"I'm not a child," Ozma said.

"No," Lady Fralix said. "I see you're a young woman now. Very sensible. Here. Look what I have for you." She took something out of her pocket.

It was the constable. He said, Did you bring me what I need?

Ozma looked at Lady Fralix. "The fruit you picked from the tree," Lady Fralix said. "I see it ripened for you, not for me. Well, that means something. If you gave it to me, I would eat it. But I suppose you ought to give it to him."

"What does the fruit do?" Ozma said.

"It would make me young again," Lady Fralix said. "I would enjoy that, I think. It gives back life. I don't know that it would do much for one of the other ghosts, but your ghost is really only half a ghost. Yes, I think you ought to give it to him."

"Why?" Ozma said. "What will happen?"

"You've been giving him your blood to drink," Lady Fralix said. "Powerful stuff, your blood. The blood of a goddess runs in your veins. That's what makes your constable so charming, so unusual. So lively. You've kept him from drifting any further away from life. Give him the fruit."

Give me what I need, the constable said. Just one bite. Just one taste of that delicious thing.

Ozma took the ghost of the constable from Lady Fralix. She untied him from Zilla's ribbon. She gave him the fruit from the tree and then she set him down on the floor.

"Oh yes," Lady Fralix said wistfully. They watched the constable eat the fruit. Juice ran down his chin. "I was so looking forward to trying that fruit. I hope your constable appreciates it."

He did. He ate the fruit as if he were starving. Color came back into his face. He was taller than either Ozma or Lady Fralix and perhaps he wasn't as handsome as he had been, when he was a ghost. But otherwise, he was still the same constable whom Ozma had carried around in her pocket for months. He put his hand to his neck, as if he were remembering his death. And then he put his hand down again. It was strange, Ozma thought, that death could be undone so easily. As if death was only a cheat, another one of Zilla's tricks.

"Ozma," the constable said.

Ozma blushed. Her nightgown seemed very thin and she wondered if he could see through it. She crossed her arms over her breasts. It was odd to have breasts again. "What is your name?" she said.

"Cotter Lemp," said the constable. He looked amused, as if it were funny to think that Ozma had never known his name. "So this is Brid."

"This is the house of Lady Fralix," Ozma said. The constable bowed to Lady Fralix and Lady Fralix made a curtsey. But the constable kept his eyes on Ozma all the time, as if she were a felon, a known criminal who might suddenly bolt. Or as if she were something rare and precious that might suddenly vanish into thin air. Ozma thought of Zilla.

"I have no home," Ozma said. She didn't even know she had said it aloud.

"Ozma, child," Lady Fralix said. "This is your home now."

"But I don't like Brid," Ozma said.

"Then we'll travel," Lady Fralix said. "But Brid is our home. We will always come back to Brid. Everyone needs a home, Ozma, even you."

Cotter Lemp said, "We can go wherever you like, Ozma. If you find Brid too respectable, there are other towns."

"Will I see her again?" Ozma said.

And so, while the sun was rising over the roofs of the houses of the city of Brid, before Jemma had even come downstairs to stoke the kitchen stove and fetch the water to make her morning tea, Lady Fralix and the constable Cotter Lemp went with Ozma to the temple to see her mother.

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