Change of plans, part three

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Harbend led his client through a maze of narrow streets. He had one last errand to finish before he could devote himself to preparing Arthur for the evening.

They cut through the southern parts of Verd choosing a route he'd never shown Arthur before, and there was good reason for it Harbend thought grimly. Magical wonder of the world or not, the city still had its poor majority. Right from the planning of it, thousands of years earlier an emperor, more practical than idealistic, had ordered it built with just that in mind.

The few boulevards here were not laid out for beauty but to contain fires should they occur. The streets between them were narrow and crowded with loudmouthed, uncouth people, animals and the occasional cart, all smelly and all dirty. The very buildings were darker, gray rather than the granite red and marble white that was the hallmark of the capital. The streets themselves were flawlessly clean though. This was Verd after all.

Harbend recalled Nachi, his own faraway capital. Larger than Verd and with access to several of the finest magehealers Khi had educated. Dirt everywhere despite a huge workforce employed to transport the unwanted garbage out of the city, dumping it on stinking piles burning perpetually.

No matter how many magehealers made their living there death tolls from diseases were always greater than what he'd seen in Verd during his years here. Only the rich lived longer in Khi, but then Verd had no magehealers to ease the dangers of advanced age.

Eventually he dragged a bewildered Arthur from yet another narrow street to the open place just inside the southern gates. Krante Gates, referring to a large town an eightdays days ride or so to the southeast, attributing more of its fame to legend than any advantageous attractions it had to offer now.

Farmers were bringing in their wares through the gates. Mostly food of different kinds but also bales of linen, leather and wood that would eventually find their way to craftsmen who would turn it into clothes, shoes, furniture and a mass of other items to be sold here.

A squadron of the Holy Inquisition in red and black made their way through the gates cheered on by children staring wide eyed at the display, and a larger infantry unit, all in yellow, waited for their turn to march in the opposite direction.

The regiments prepared to vacate the exercise grounds south of the gates, and soon the last of the soldiers would be sent out to help with harvesting, infantry and cavalry alike.

Stables west of the gates, the only buildings almost perpetually dirty despite the magic of Verd, waited for the only eightdays during the year when they were clean and used as storage in preparation for the great market marking the end of summer. With only Inquisition troops and the Imperial Guard left in the city it would take on an almost unnatural absence of uniforms.

Arthur trailing his steps Harbend walked straight to the enclosed area where every visitor was searched for magic and followed the road to the outer gates. One of the few places where he wasn't pestered by peddlers wanting to make a customer of him. As always during daytime the gates were open and he passed under the archway and started searching for the female courier he knew would be waiting. Ah, there she was. He ran between a few carts to meet her and gave her a small package.

"To Hasselden as usual. It should cover their expenses the coming three eightdays. Send my best wishes."

"As you command, sir." She turned her horse and rode down the road.

Harbend stared after her as she headed for the western leg of the highway. With the money he made from selling Arthur's books maybe, just maybe he'd be able to send enough to last half a year rather than a few eightdays.

He'd have abandoned his office in Hasselden years earlier, but honor demanded otherwise. Winter storms forcing prey close enough to the coast for sea hunters to catch made it possible to keep it. The tender meat alone covered much of the expenses of a business no longer visited by traders from Khi. Much, but far from all.

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