Spring 42: the wheel

Dearest Zann,

The next thing we had to do was see Sergeant Vasro about getting me on the wheel. I didn’t know what that was.

Shapdar led me down some stairs, and then outside. I had to shield my eyes from the sun, but I could see that the clouds were pink: vinegar mists this afternoon. One of my least favourites.

We crossed a grassy area, between gazebos and gardens, and I saw my first laurans all day. They were beautifully dressed, mostly, and were lounging in the sun and the flowers, drinking exotic pops, flirting with butterflies. None of them took any notice of us, but Shapdar was careful not to pass too closely to any of them.

We approached a greenhouse in which I could see orchids and orange trees and other such plants. Shapdar took me through a door in the base of it. “Just warning you,” he said. “Don’t talk to Sarge the way you did Crell.”

Under the greenhouse were two rooms. One, its door open, was full of gardening supplies and strange mechanisms. The other was another common room for the Rosolla Guard. It was bigger than the one under the pink tower and had a pitchpenny table. There were a lot more guards in here, sitting in a circle and doing something complicated with a lot of string, and arguing about it. Shapdar pointed at one of the walls, and, sure enough, there was a big wheel on it, and some kind of rack beside that. I couldn’t make out any details from where I was.

Sergeant Vasro’s office was across the room, the way Candur’s was. When we went in, he was drunk and slumped down in his chair. “Sarge,” Shapdar said, gently, and shook his shoulder.

He didn’t open his eyes. “What,” he slurred.

“Got a new man here. Got to put him on the wheel.”

“Tsiz name?”

“Ybel. He’s from the Boltmarch.” I had never heard of the Boltmarch having any kind of a reputation in Crideon before. Maybe it was just in Shapdar’s mind.

“Tcher name here,” the sergeant said, shoving a small slate of wood at me. I found a pen, wrote YBEL on the slate, and handed it to Shapdar. “Now piss off,” he said to us.

“Thanks, sarge,” Shapdar said, hustling me out of the office. He took me over to the wheel on the wall of the common room. None of the other guards were taking any notice of us. Now that I could see it up close, the wheel had slots all around it for guards to put their slates into, and the rack had slots for all the different duty shifts around the palace. Shapdar said, “See, you put your name here, and then when Sarge or whoever is setting who gets which shifts next swing, he spins the wheel, and if the wheel points to your name, you get those shifts, and he puts your name over here next to it. Then next week we do it all again. More fair this way. Some duties are better than others, and any of us can get any of them from swing to swing.

“Now, this time, it’s already been set, so we can’t spin to see where you go. But the Captain wants you to see a bit of everything, so we’ll put your name here for the rest of this swing.” And put my slate into a slot with two others. “Today, you’re starting on the Tongue with Delega and Chath. Easy duty. I’ll take you over now.”

I looked at the slot as we left. The Tongue was there, for today, and then tomorrow was the Fiery Spikes. Day after was the Demon’s Loincloth, and finally Death’s Embrace.



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