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IV. The Best Thief

The Storm Queen sighted Baharna in sunny midmorning, and by noon they were sailing between the beacons Thon and Thal. Ryel couldn’t remember if they were kept lit on sunny days and couldn’t tell from the deck, looking almost straight up as the ship glided between the towers. The City of Baharna rose behind its docks of porphyry, sloping steeply up a ridge like a giant wave turned to stone, with buildings as a low stony moss. Stepped streets ran up from the front street, with many gates and bridges from building to building. The lower town was dotted with huge trees and also with domes and cupolas and little towers; the upper streets had tall old houses and odd steeples. Far up on the horns of the broken mountain that wore Baharna like a pretty blouse, grand temples stood.

“Quite a sight,” said Ferd as he stopped in his work for a moment to stand with Ryel and Arkmar. “Pity we’re not coming in at night, the lights all over the hillsides give you quite the view indeed.”

“Quite,” said Ryel.

“Ah,” said Ferd, “I won’t pester you more. I have my work, and I see you’re already at work yourself.” He slapped the elf on the back and headed off shouting at his crew.

“Is it true?” said Arkmar. “Working already?”

“Well, what does the map say?” Ryel replied.

“There’s a red spot on the map right here,” said Arkmar.

“Was there a red spot on the ocean floor?”

“You know, I thought it was just blood. But there, you can see it: it’s blurry because it’s under water, I suppose.” He examined the map closely, then got a magnifying glass out and examined it some more. “I still can’t tell exactly where in Baharna,” he began, and then he stopped and looked at Ryel.

“The court house,” said Ryel. “It’ll be in the court house.”

“Why?” asked Arkmar, as they both gazed on the baroque monstrosity, a porphyry amalgam of minaret and dome and turret and crenelation and arches upon arches upon arches. If any building could eat, it would be this one: it had half a dozen toothy mouths and any number of stone tentacles.

“Because it’s just so logical,” said Ryel. “Ever been there?”

“I think we established early in our relationship that I had never been on this lovely island. Have you ever been there?”

She smiled at him in a way that he did not find comforting. “Once,” she said. “No, twice. Strictly speaking. But this time I’m going as a civilian.”

“A what?”

Ryel and Arkmar took leave of the crew and captain of the Storm Queen and went ashore: Elena was nowhere to be seen. Probably filling out paperwork, Arkmar supposed. Then he was hurrying to keep up with Ryel, who passed right on by the lovely bazaars of the lower city and went straight for the courts. They came hiking up the shallow steps of the Main Street, up from the quays, and walked across the central plaza, from which the higher parts of town rose ever more steeply.

“What a burg,” said Arkmar. “What do you think of that shape? Sloping up like that?”

“It’s mostly concave up,” said Ryel, stopping a moment to take in the ridge sides on this brilliant sunny day. Cloth of all colors billowed from a thousand balconies, and people of a dozen shades of skin wore a thousand colors of clothing or none at all, mixing and milling, dealing and stealing all across the circular common. Ryel gave the slightest hmph and strode on, up the pale stone steps and into the maw of the biggest mouth Baharna’s criminal courts had.

Arkmar caught up with her as she stalked up a high-arched corridor in a crowd like a current in a storm sewer. Twenty yards on, it opened out into a vast circular space under a squat dome.

“Wait right here,” she advised him. The dwarf did as he was bid. He took up an examination of the statuary: naked women slaying horrid beasts.

Ryel marched on into the middle of the dome’s floor. Its complex designs, with stars of green and gold and red overlapping with regular polygons of blue, were ignored by almost everyone else hurrying across to this or that office or courtroom. But smack in the middle stood a little man, not even Ryel’s height, ageless and wiry with a halfway bald head of short reddish hair, dressed in a sort of business black. He was studying the glass polygon at his feet, two yards across and the center and focus of the entire floor.

Light welled up from it. Something hard and bronze-like could be seen, mistily, down there in the light in the glass.

“Thaeron,” said Ryel from behind the man.