A Novel of Ethshar

The Spell of the Black Dagger

An Outtake: Walking the Wall

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 excerpt is an earlier version of part of Chapter Ten -- specifically, most of page 76 in the original Del Rey paperback, and pages 72-73 in the Wildside edition.

Walking the top of the city wall was not really a military necessity any more, if it ever had been; the Hegemony of the Three Ethshars had been at peace since the destruction of the Northern Empire and the end of the Great War, over two centuries earlier, and Ethshar of the Sands was forty leagues from either the nearest Small Kingdoms or the Sardironese border. True, the Pirate Towns were a mere dozen or so leagues to the west, but no army could cross that thirty-some miles without advance warning reaching the city. Besides, the Pirate Towns, or any other enemies, were far more likely to attack by sea than by land.
     And as if that weren't enough, the watchers atop the towers could see farther than a soldier on the ramparts.
     But walking the wall was a tradition, and it did serve a purpose both for discipline and for maintenance -- it was an active but not unpleasant duty, useful for keeping bored soldiers busy, and those soldiers had strict orders to report any signs of wear and damage along the route.
     The lieutenant was somewhat apologetic about keeping Deran on his scheduled assignment after his late night out working, but Deran insisted that he didn't mind a day on the ramparts, not even when his scheduled partner turned up sick in bed with a "phthisic" that bore a suspicious resemblance to a hangover. The weather was hot, especially for this late in the summer, but it was pleasantly sunny, and atop the wall the breeze could reach him and cool him.
     Deran strolled along the wall, whistling softly, taking his time. He studied the stonework, peered out over the surrounding countryside, and paused every so often to look down at the city itself, at the ragged inhabitants of the Wall Street Field, the tawdry homes and shops on Wall Street, and the rooftops and streets beyond.
     Deran walked out to the northwest from the north barracks tower at Grandgate, around the two corners that gave the Northangle district its name, through the half-deserted tower at Northgate, and then westward along the long straight stretch that bordered the Longwall district, to Beachgate and the tower there. He took a few minutes there to mount to the top and look out at the ocean, and down at the waves breaking into white foam against the base of the tower.
     Children were playing on the beaches to either side, city children to his left, villagers and farmers to his right, all splashing happily, none of them venturing far enough out to round the base of the fortifications and see the other group. Most of them on either side were naked; a few of the older children, especially among the city girls, wore dripping, faded old tunics. This was all sandbars and shoals on this side of the city, no place for ships or fishing boats, so the children had it to themselves.
     To the south the beaches were clearly marked off by the plank surface of North Beach Street -- west of that line was empty sand, inhabited by nothing but pebbles and seaweed and laughing children, while east of it was the city, the shops and houses along the waterfront weatherbeaten and salt-stained.
     To the north, there was no clear line marking the edge of the beach; the sands faded gradually into dunes and scrub grass. A few bored-looking goats were chewing on the vegetation in the tower's shadow.
     It was all really quite pleasant, and Deran smiled at his good fortune in life. He had a secure and undemanding job in the finest city in the world, the sun was warm, the air was sweet, the sound of the waves and the children's laughter delightful. Pleased with his life, he descended the stairs to the guardroom and reported to the bored and ancient lieutenant in charge. Formalities taken care of, he then turned and headed back toward Grandgate.
     From the ramparts he could see the orange groves, the date palms, the farms and villages scattered across the broad, flat plain. There were no signs of invaders. There were no signs of any trouble at all, outside the city.
     The inside was really far more interesting.
     The houses in Longwall never came as high as the top of the wall, and in some places he could see into the courtyards behind the houses, where the pigs and chickens were kept, where the wells were, where the children played and the women gossiped and the men played idle games. The Field was mostly empty in Longwall; there was little traffic on this stretch of Wall Street, which meant few passersby for beggars to accost and thieves to rob. There were few shops to work at or steal from. The houses were clean and respectable, but clearly not the homes of anyone wealthy. Many of the people here worked in the Arena, not as star performers, but as scene-setters, sand-rakers, and drudges of every sort.
     Northgate was less prosperous -- and perversely, the Field was fuller there. A few seedy inns still hung on, although there was no longer any market square and the road beyond the gatetower was virtually abandoned; perhaps, Deran thought, those inns drew the homeless. Or perhaps the beggars simply felt more at home in a neighborhood largely inhabited by wastrels and drunkards, albeit those who had not yet lost their homes.
     Moving on into Northangle the population density of the Field increased steadily. Northangle was a better neighborhood than Northgate; it had the overflow from Grandgate to keep its economy thriving. It was a slightly seedy economy, though.
     By the time Deran neared the line between Northangle and Grandgate the sun was well down in the west, the shadows lengthening dramatically. Deran paused in his walk and leaned on a merlon, looking down at the Field.
     Since it was still daylight, almost all the huts and tents were unoccupied, and the broad patches of mud where blankets were spread at night were bare. Most of the people who slept in the Field were elsewhere in the city, working or begging or doing whatever they did to sustain themselves.
     A few people lingered, though. Four ragged young women were fighting over something; a fifth was standing back and shouting at the others. A line of children was running through the maze of huts and tents, intent on some sort of following game. Half a dozen old people, men and women, were huddled together on a faded red blanket, dickering over a pile of vegetables.

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