Verd, part seven

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Harbend noted how Arthur hardly gave the shining streets a look before climbing their coach, and realized Arthur had once again sunken into the peculiar apathy he displayed from time to time.

Sighing, Harbend shrugged. Now he might become a lucky merchant. He'd managed to get over two parts of a hundredth more in commission than most did, and Arthur's cargo represented a substantially greater gross value than anything Harbend had seen an outworlder bring in earlier. Arthur might be a strange one, but if he was worth half again as much as any other trader, why bother?

He joined Arthur and they were on their way.

In early daylight one strange aspect of Verd became almost painfully clear, literally so. All streets as well as the foundations of most buildings shone as if an army of cleaners had gone over them with water and brushes the previous night. Still he knew nothing of the kind had happened, and he'd grown accustomed to the powerful, yet muted magic making this impossibility of a city work.

All the dirt and offal produced by far more than half a million people living here vanished nightly and reappeared on fields almost a day's ride from the city. It was the same with water. It just arrived, and the city cisterns were always full with clean water. By now he also accepted that the outworlders took most of it for granted, but at least the shining streets usually caught their attention.

They crossed a large square and he nudged Arthur to attention. Here was a sight worth seeing.

***


Arthur shook himself from his thoughts when he felt several tugs on his sleeve and looked up.

What now? Oh, oh.

A huge, open space crowded with birds, humans and wagons all on their separate business.

Now there's an opening shot. By God, what is that?

A dreamlike castle, not as overbearing as the hotel, but far, far larger. Rising, never ending, climbing on itself into heaven. Soaring as if alive.

A skyscraper, but beautiful. How the hell did they build that thing? It should fall in on itself.

Walls like silver and gold, supporting spires so thin they were balancing like a tightrope walker. Two great wings stretched sideways trying to embrace the square, and sunlight playing on their roofs, each reflection depicting a scene from myth or legend.

Give me a fly cam to the left and one right above us. Holo scanners need bloody fliers to ring it! Damn if I'm sure the scanners could take it all. It's so big, and it's changing. One episode, or two if I stretch it.

"What is that?" Arthur asked awestruck.

"That is Ming Hjil de Verd, loosely the emperor's Verd in your language."

Arthur nodded.

"Once it served as the imperial castle but today it serves the Council of Twelve."

"Your local administration?" Arthur asked without turning his attention from the view.

"Well, not mine," Harbend answered with a chuckle, "but yes, I guess you could call it that. In the left wing you will find the library, the largest in the known world containing almost half a million volumes of all kinds. It is the pride of Keen. Even those who work in other fields of fine art admit that."

Arthur sighed.

So beautiful. I didn't know a building could be alive like that.

The coach crossed the square, passing by peddlers and farmers selling their wares from carts; each salesman loudly announcing the excellence of what he or she had to offer, and some of them caring for the occasional customer. And there were children, hordes of children, walking, running, playing or being carried by parents.

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