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The Circle Opens #4: Shatterglass

Tamora Pierce












  Title Page


  Map of Tharios
















  The Circle of Magic Books


  About the Author



  Tharios, capital of the city-state of Tharios

  On the Ithocot Sea

  The short, plump redhead walked out of the house that belonged to her hostess and looked around, her air that of someone about to embark on a grand adventure. She shook out her pale blue cotton dress and petticoats, then wrapped a collection of breezes around her chubby person as someone else might drape the folds of a shawl before she went to market. The breezes came obediently to her call, having become so much a part of her in the girl’s travels that they no longer rebelled. They spun around her black cotton stockings and sensible leather shoes, raced along the folds of skirt and petticoats, slid along the girl’s arms and over her sunburned, long-nosed face. They swept over the spectacles that shielded intense gray eyes framed by long, gold lashes, and twined themselves over and along her head. They followed the paths of her double handful of copper braids, all pinned neatly to her scalp in a series of rings that left no end visible. Only two long, thin braids were allowed to hang free. They framed either side of her stubborn face.

  With her breezes placed to her satisfaction, guardians against the intense southern heat, the girl whistled. The big, shaggy white dog that was busily marking the corners of the house whuffed at her.

  “Come on, Little Bear,” ordered Trisana Chandler, known to her friends as Tris. “It’s not really your house anyway.”

  The dog fell in step beside the girl, tongue lolling in cheerful good humor. His white curls, recently washed, bounced with his trot; his long, plumed tail was a proud banner. He was a big animal, his head on a level with Tris’s breastbone. Despite his size, he wore the air of an easy-to-please puppy as effortlessly as the girl wore her breezes.

  Tris strode down the flagstone path and out through the university gates without so much as a backward glance at the glory of white stucco and marble that crowned the hill above the house. She thought that the university, called Heskalifos, was fine, in its own right, and its high point — the soaring tower known as Phakomathen — was pretty, but there were perfectly good universities in the north. She was on her way to see the true glory of Tharios, its glassmakers. Let her teacher, Niko, join their hostess, Jumshida, and many other learned mages and apprentices in their long-winded, long-lasting presentations on the nature of any and all vision magics. Tris, on the other hand, was interested in the kind of visual magic wrought by someone who held a blowpipe that bore molten glass on its end.

  At one of the many side entrances to the grounds of Heskalifos, Tris halted and scowled. Had Jumshida said to turn left or go straight once she was outside the university enclosure?

  A girl her own age stood nearby at a loading dock, emptying the contents of a trash barrel into the back of a cart. The muscles of her arms stood out like steel cables. Though she was clearly female, she wore her hair cut off at one length at ear level, and the knee-length tunic worn by Tharian men. She was also extremely dirty.

  “Excuse me,” Tris called to her. “Do you know the way to Achaya Square?”

  The girl picked up the second barrel in a row of them and dumped its contents into her cart.

  Tris cleared her throat and raised her voice. “I said, can you tell me the way to Achaya Square?”

  The girl flicked her eyes toward Tris, then away. She dumped her empty barrel next to the others, and picked up a full one.

  Well, thought Tris. She can hear me; she’s just being rude. She stalked over to the cart. “Don’t you people believe in courtesy to visitors?” she demanded crossly. “Or are all you Tharians so convinced that the world began here that you can’t be bothered to be polite?”

  Though the barrel she had taken to the cart was still half full, the girl set it down and fixed her gaze on Tris’s toes. “You shenosi,” she said quietly, using the Tharian word for foreigners. “Don’t they have guidebooks where you come from?”

  Tris’s scowl deepened. She was not particularly a patient girl. “I asked a simple question. And you can look at me if you’re going to be snippy.”

  “Oh, it’s a simple enough question,” replied the girl, still soft-voiced, her eyes fixed on Tris’s no-nonsense shoes. “As simple as the way is if you just follow that long beak of yours. And I’ll give you some information for nothing, since you’re obviously too ignorant to live. You don’t talk to prathmuni, and prathmuni don’t talk to you. Prathmuni don’t exist.”

  “What are prathmuni?” demanded Tris. She chose not to take offense at the remark about her nose. It was not her best feature and never had been.

  “I am a prathmun,” retorted the girl. “My mother, my sisters, and my brothers are prathmuni. We’re untouchable, degraded, invisible. Am I getting through that thick northern skull yet?”

  “Why?” asked Tris, curious now. This was far more interesting than a simple answer to her question. “Why should a prathmun be those things?”

  The girl sighed, and rubbed her face with her hands, smearing more dirt into it. “We handle the bodies of the dead,” she told Tris wearily. “We skin and tan animal hides. We make shoes. We take out the night soil. But mostly, we handle the dead, which means we defile whatever we touch. If you don’t move along and a giladha —”

  “What?” asked Tris.

  “One of the visible people,” replied the girl. “If they see you talking to me, they’ll demand you get yourself ritually cleansed before you go anywhere or do anything. Now will you go away?” demanded the prathmun, impatient. “You’ll get cleansed, shenos, but I’ll be whipped.”

  She said it so flatly that Tris believed her. She walked two steps away, then asked without turning around, “What’s shenos? And how do you tell who’s a prathmun?”

  “A foreigner is shenos,” retorted the prathmun, dumping the rest of her trash barrel into the cart. “And we all have the same haircut and the same kind of clothes, and straw sandals. Now go.”

  Tris followed the road that lay straight before her, the direction the prathmun had indicated with such flattery. “Niko said I’d find some of the customs here barbaric,” she informed Little Bear when she was out of earshot of the prathmun. “I’ll bet you a chop for supper this is one of the ones he meant. Whoever heard of people not being people just because they deal with the dead?”

  Once she reached Achaya Square, Tris found the Street of Glass easily enough. Reading about Tharios on the way here, she had formulated a plan of exploration with her usual care to detail. She would start at the foot of the street where most of the city’s glassmakers kept their shops, beginning with the smaller, humbler establishments near the Piraki Gate, and work her way back to Achaya Square until her feet hurt. She meant to spend a number of days at the shops that caught her interest, but first she wanted an overview. Tris was the kind of girl who appreciated a solid plan
of action, perhaps because often her life, and her magic, was in too much of an uproar to be organized.

  As she walked, she looked on the sights and people of Tharios with interest. Buildings here were of two kinds, stucco roofed with tile — like those in her home on the Pebbled Sea — or public buildings built of white marble, fronted with graceful colors and flat-roofed, with corners and column heads cut into graceful lines. The Street of Glass and Achaya Square fountains were marble or a pretty pink granite. Statues carved from marble and painted to look lifelike stood on either side of the paved stones of the road. It was all very lavish and expensive. Tris might not have approved, but her view of people who spent so much on decoration was leavened when closer inspection showed her soft edges on statues and public buildings, and fountain carvings worn almost unrecognizable by long years of weather. Tharios was an old city, and its treasures were built to last.

  The Tharians themselves were a feast for her eyes. The natives ranged in skin color from pale brown to black, and while their hair was usually black or brown, many women used henna to redden it. Men cropped their hair very short or even shaved their heads altogether. Ladies bundled their hair into masses of curls that tilted their heads to the appropriate, sophisticated, Tharian angle. The prathmuni, male and female, sported the same rough, one-length cut Tris had seen on the girl she spoke to. All prathmuni wore a ragged, dirty version of the knee-length tunic worn by Tharian men. Tharian women dressed in an ankle-length, drape-sleeved version called a kyten. In summer these garments were cotton, linen, or silk, with sashes or ribbon belts twined around waists and hips. On top of the tunic or kyten upper-class Tharians also wore colored stoles, each of which indicated the wearer’s profession. She knew that mages here wore blue stoles, shopkeepers green, and priests of the All-Seeing God red. Beyond that she was lost. No matter what color the stole, it was usually made of the lightest cotton, or even silk, money could buy. The Tharians looked cool and comfortable to Tris.

  Since the prathmun girl had called her attention to shoes, Tris noted that better-dressed Tharian men and women generally wore leather sandals that laced up to the knee. Many of the poorer residents went barefoot. This wasn’t as risky as it might be anywhere else: Tris saw prathmuni collecting trash and cleaning the streets on nearly every block.

  Though Little Bear was content to stay with his mistress, Tris’s breezes were not. They roamed freely around her, tugging at curls, tunics, kytens, and stoles, exploring people’s faces, then returning to Tris like excited children gone for a walk with a favorite aunt. They brought scraps of conversations about trade rates, fashions, family quarrels, and political discussions from all around her, pouring those scraps into her ears. She half-listened, always interested in local gossip.

  Some conversations mentioned her. A few of the Tharians she passed had discovered her way to stay cool. Perhaps her breezes wouldn’t have been noticed if the air were not perfectly still. The only winds outside Tris’s circle of influence were those made by handheld fans and those roused by pigeons in flight from uncaring feet.

  Tris sighed, and drew the breezes closer to her. People continued to stare as her dress and petticoats stirred in different directions. She ignored them. It was too hot to give up her fresh air so a number of stuck-up southerners weren’t made nervous. If they were as clever as they claimed, they’d find ways to hold breezes of their own, Tris told herself.

  She had a number of breezes tied up in knots of thread back at the house. Perhaps she could peddle some at the market, and make a bit of extra money. There were two more moons of summer to go, and the problem with city walls was that they tended to keep out the wind. She ought to be able to sell a knot, or two, or three, for pocket money. She would ask Jumshida how to go about it.

  On she walked, planning and observing. She passed between shops filled with wonders: vases, bowls, platters, glass animals in a multitude of colors and sizes. In the shops on the Achaya Square end of the Street of Glass, windows were made of small panes of glass, treasure troves in and of themselves that gave a watery, rippling shape to the beautiful objects behind them.

  Mingled with the higher-priced glass was glass that had been spelled in some way. Magical charms and letters in the sides and rims of pieces, suncatchers magicked to catch more than just sun, rounds of glass imbued with magic to capture and hold an image in them, all glinted silver in Tris’s vision, showing her the work of the glass mages of Tharios. It was for this reason that she chose to start among the poorer shops, those more likely to sell plain glass and few charms. Tris knew she would spend most of her time later among the glass mages, comparing notes and learning how they practiced their craft.

  Closer to Labrykas Square the shops had ordinary, shuttered windows, with the wares arranged on shelves to tempt passersby. Tris lingered at one and another, admiring the curve of a bowl or the blue-green hue of a cosmetics bottle, but she always made herself walk on after a moment. She was determined to start at the very bottom of the glassmakers’ pecking order.

  As Tris approached Labrykas Square, the first public square beyond the Piraki Gate, her breezes carried a conversation to her. “— a disgrace!” someone cried. “One of the riffraff, murdered and left in the Labrykas Square fountain like, like so much trash!”

  “It will take a powerful cleansing to purify the fountain again,” a woman replied soberly. “Surely the All-Seeing God will take offense against the district for the defilement —”

  “The district? I think not!” retorted the first speaker. “It’s obviously the work of some shenos who respects nothing and no one. The All-Seeing knows that no Tharian would commit so foul an act.”

  “The Keepers of the Public Good will put a stop to it,” the woman said with the firmness of complete belief. “They have—”

  The breeze had not caught the rest of the discussion. Tris shook her head as she walked on. Someone is murdered, and all these people care about is the purity of the square? she thought, baffled. That’s pretty heartless.

  She also wasn’t inclined to believe these Keepers would be able to do much about the killing. How effective could they be? They were each elected to serve a three-year term by the Assembly, a body of the oldest families and the wealthiest landholders. They would not have the experience or cunning of a proper ruler who’d been raised for the position, like Duke Vedris of Emelan, Capchen’s king and queen, or Empress Berenene of Namorn. She was amazed that the Tharians got anything done, if their entire political system was run by a mob. She had seen at home how much a governing council could quibble, fuss, debate, argue, and fight, with nothing to show for it — and Winding Circle’s governing council was only twenty people. She’d heard there were more than three hundred in the Assembly.

  “It’s different when one man or woman is responsible for a country,” she told Little Bear as they passed through Labrykas Square. The fountain, which she had seen on her arrival in the city, was shrouded in a kind of white, roofless tent. “They have to jump on this kind of nonsense right away, or everyone knows they’re to blame. Here, all the rulers have to do is point to the other Keeper, or someone from the Assembly, and say they’re supposed to be in charge of that.” Disgusted, Tris shook her head and thrust all such dissatisfactions from her mind. She was here to learn, not to let the strange ways in which other people governed themselves get on her nerves.

  At last she reached the part of the Street of Glass that she meant to explore first, the part that stretched between Labrykas Square and the pleasure district known as Khapik. She took a moment to look around using her magical vision. One thing she would say in favor of the Tharians, they looked after the magic that was used in public places. She saw very few tag-ends of old charms and spells gleaming silver on walls or around windows and doors. Spells there were in plenty, the usual creations for protection, health, and prosperity that anyone who could afford it paid to have laid on their homes and businesses. The thing that Tris admired was that local mages either got rid of what remaine
d of older spells, or wrote the same kind of spell afresh, so that the magic in them shone in bright silver layers, an indication that differences in the spells did not conflict and cause the magic to go astray.

  Tris walked idly up the street, admiring the lacelike patterns of spells on the shop walls, tracing a curve here, a letter there, with her finger. She knew most by heart, but this Tharian way of copying them over and over seemed to extend their power, even if the mage who added the most recent layer wasn’t particularly strong.

  Suddenly she felt a twist in the air. Most of her breezes, all of the ones she had acquired in recent months, fled. Only those she had brought from Winding Circle stayed, though she felt them struggle against some powerful call. The escaping breezes whipped around the corner of a nearby workshop: TOUCHSTONE GLASS, according to the sign.

  The breezes weren’t the only things on the move. Power from every charm and spell within fifty feet of the shop streamed past Tris to round the corner in silvery ribbons: protection magic, fire-damping magic, health magic, wards for luck and prosperity, it didn’t seem to matter. Something flexed in the air a second time. Without stopping to ask if she did the wisest thing, she pelted around the corner into the rear yard of Touchstone Glass.

  She plunged into a stream of magic. All of it poured through the open doors of a workshop set apart from the main building. It swirled around a man who toiled in front of a furnace. He stood sidelong to the door, a glassmaker’s blowpipe to his lips as he tried to give form to an orange blob of molten glass. Twirling the pipe with one hand, he shaped the base of his creation with a mold clasped in the other.

  For a moment Tris thought all was well. Then she realized that despite the glassblower’s twirling of the pipe and the steady stream of air he forced into it, the orange blob wriggled, bulged, and then sank like a burlap sack with a cat inside. She had never seen glass do that before. Magic flooded into the man, sliding under his leather apron, squirming into short blonde hair cropped close to his blocky head, tugging at his sleeves, then merging where his lips met the pipe. Down its length the magic streamed, disappearing into the molten glass.