My poor Zann,
The Tongue turned out to be a jetty on the upriver side of the palace. It curved out gracefully from the riverside, creating calm water below it that was used for all sorts of things. Shapdar took me to a small wooden building at the end of the Tongue. It was just a guardroom sitting atop a staircase, with some signal flags in the windows.
“Go on up,” Shapdar said. “It’s your first day, so try not to fall in the river. I don’t think Del or Chath can swim.”
I thanked him for his help and climbed up into the guardpost. Two guards were watching me, a young woman and a boy, maybe sixteen. “Day,” I said. “I’m Ybel. I’m on your shifts for a few days.”
“New?” the woman said.
I nodded. “Just today.”
“Great,” the boy said. “We need new guards. Are you a good fighter?”
“Hopeless,” I told him. “Are you Chath?”
“He’s Chath and I’m Delega,” the woman said. “If you’re a hopeless fighter then what are you doing here? That is a sword on your belt, you know.”
“I know. I’ve seen swords before.”
She spat out the window. “It’s a good thing this job pays so well. Most bluepiss useless collection of people I’ve ever seen. Well, what are you good for, if you can’t fight?”
I shrugged. “I was a stevedore yesterday.”
“Like down on the docks? Lifting crates with those hooks?” Chath said.
“That was me. It wasn’t bad work but I think I might like this better. Do you like it?”
“Yes,” he said. “So far. I’ve only been here a few months. It’s… I was going to say it’s interesting, but it’s not. Most of the time it’s pretty boring. But when it’s not boring it’s interesting in really new ways.”
“Not much lifting crates, though,” Delega said. “Not that that’d help you. You’ve got to be able to fight to be a Rosolla Guard. If you can’t, well… I hope you don’t mind if I don’t bother to learn your name.”
“You know my name,” Chath objected.
“I’ve seen you with your sword. You’ll be fine if you have the time to learn. You’re not hopeless.”
“What are we guarding way out here?” I asked.
“We are watching river traffic,” Delega said. “You ought to be able to handle that. Most of the boats going by are traders going to or from Crideon. You get to learn the look of them. Sometimes there are other kinds. All we care about, are any of them trying to land at the palace? If they do, we signal out this window, and a Rosolla down at that station at the marina deals with it. But it basically never happens. Sometimes the lords and ladies row around this little harbour. That’s about it.”
“This is a pretty easy guardpost,” Chath said. “Gets cold in the winter, though.”
“Is there a map of the palace?” I asked. “I need to learn my way around.”
“No map, new man. Learn it the way we did,” Delega said.
“Do you know why, though?” Chath said. “It’s my favourite thing about this place! It’s so highpiss. Look, the big long building there, the Comet Halls?”
“The one sort of curving down the left side of the hill?”
“Yes. See that green tower next to it, with the red pennon?”
“I see it.”
“The tower’s connected to the Comet Halls in two places. Two skybridges crossing the gap, one above the other?”
“If you actually go there, and cross from one side to the other, on the lower skybridge, you can look down and see the upper skybridge. And if you cross on the upper one, you can look up and see the lower one. There’s no map because you can’t map it. There’s all kinds of stuff like that that makes no sense.”
“There sure is,” Delega said. “Who enlisted you, anyway, Y-thing?”
She shook her head. “I thought he was going to be great when they brought him in to be captain. But we need a lot of changes and he’s not making them. Enlisting guards who can’t fight.”
“Maybe you should be in charge,” I said.
She gave me a look. I think she thought I was making fun of her.