An Outtake: A Visit to Smallgate
Welcome to a section I wrote in an early draft of The Spell of the Black Dagger, then cut before sending it off to the publisher.
This is a scene I cut from Chapter Six -- it would have started near the bottom of page 43 in the Wildside edition. I decided it was too much a travelogue, though, and substituted the three short paragraphs beginning with "She heard a man call something obscene..."
Without paying attention, she left the Soldiertown district and drifted into Smallgate. At the corner of Armorer and Smallgate Street she stopped, opened her eyes, and looked about.
She was about three miles from home, she realized, practically on the far side of the city; she certainly wouldn't have to worry about her family finding her here -- not that they would look for her in the first place, or even notice her absence.
She hadn't been in Smallgate often. Looking around, she saw plenty of reasons she hadn't been. The neighborhood was poor and run-down, not promising pickings for a thief; the roofs were thatch, rather than tile, and most of them were musty and thinning, grey even in the bright golden light, long overdue for rethatching. The plastering on the outside walls of the houses had cracked and crumbled in many places; elsewhere, exposed timbers were rough and splintery, not carved or varnished or otherwise ornamented. Most of the windows had shutters, but no glass -- not from breakage, but because they had been built without it. Lizards were in evidence several places, basking in the sun, while large roaches could be glimpsed in the shadows.
There were few shops -- Smallgate was not a commercial district, and never had been. Smallgate was, in fact, an afterthought; it had been enclosed by the city wall, so people had filled it in with streets and houses, but it had no other reason for existence. Soldiertown, to the north, lived off the city garrison -- most of the guard was barracked in the Grandgate towers and the adjoining wall, but the city market had crowded the inevitable military parasites, the armorers and gamblers and whores, off to one side. Eastbeach, to the south, lived off the bounty of the sea -- its people dug clams, collected and carved or decorated shells, harvested oysters and crabs. Smallgate and East End, in between, were inhabited by people who couldn't find anywhere better to live.
The streets here were quiet; a few insects buzzed, and somewhere in the distance children were shouting, but the corner of Armorer and Smallgate was deserted and silent.
Tabaea found that inspiring.
Smallgate struck her, suddenly, as a neighborhood where people minded their own business even more than in the Wall Street Field.
She walked on another block or so; Armorer Street narrowed and turned crookedly eastward as she studied her surroundings. She turned down a side-street, one with no name that she knew, and found the houses growing even more decrepit around her as she walked.
And after two more jogs, she found one that looked too decrepit to live in.
She knocked, and the door swung open, hinges groaning. The latch was broken. Sunlight spilling through a hole in the roof filled the stairwell and what she could see of the upper story with light, while the ground floor remained dim and shadowed.
Obviously abandoned, Tabaea thought. Cautiously, she stepped inside.
"What do you want?" a voice demanded.
The young thief whirled, hand falling instinctively to her battered old belt-knife, rather than the brand-new dagger under her tunic.
The old woman crouching on the dirt floor in the corner glared back, but made no threatening moves and showed no weapon. Tabaea relaxed slightly.
"I asked what you want here," the woman said.
"I thought it was abandoned," Tabaea replied.
"It was," the old woman answered. "But that was before I got here. I found it first, girl; go find your own."
"I just wanted someplace private for a day or two," Tabaea protested, "I didn't want to live here."
"Well, I want to live here! It's better than Wall Street, as far as I'm concerned, and until somebody throws me out, it's mine, and I don't want any houseguests. Go find an inn for the night, girl, if that's all you want."