"The hitherto seemingly exhaustless beds of the [Bay will]
be depleted, if the present rate of dredging is continued. . . . Sooner
or later [destruction] is coming, unless there is a radical change in some
of the present phases of the business. . . . [Dredging is] carried on in
700 boats, manned by 5,600 daring and unscrupulous men, who regard neither
the laws of God nor man."
—R. H. Edmonds, as quoted in Ernest Ingersoll's The Oyster Industry (1881).
"Any valuables to declare?"
Carr spoke automatically, reaching for the foreigner's passage-of-port, which gleamed gold with the seal of the Queendom of Yclau. Carr's mind was not on his work today; it was on the fact that he'd spent half the night dreaming of his father's valet, and the other half of the night trying to forget the dream.
"Yeah," said the foreigner, "but unless you're going to do a body search on me, you're not likely to get a chance to yank it."
Carr's gaze jerked up from the passage-of-port, which was signed, not by a minor government clerk in Yclau, but by an official from the Queen's palace. The foreigner was smirking at him.
Carr looked down at the passage-of-port again to give himself time to think. First name, last name – no title initial, of course, but the foreigner's class was clear enough. Not just from the palace official's signature, and not just from the fact that the foreigner was in a second-class cabin rather than steerage. His class was clear from his behavior. Yclau's commoners, on the rare occasions when they visited the Dozen Landsteads, were either deferential or belligerent toward the border guards. They didn't smirk.
Carr flipped through the rest of the passage-of-port, but aside from an illegible departure stamp, it was blank, showing no indication that the foreigner had left his queendom before. Carr glanced up at the man again. Young, perhaps a sun-cycle or two older than Carr. Dressed in a nondescript travelling cloak that hid his clothes. As light-skinned as Carr himself, but with dark hair and hazel eyes, like a Vovimian. Perhaps the young man was from northwestern Yclau, near the border to the Kingdom of Vovim? Carr couldn't quite place his accent.
"Do you have any items you wish to declare, comrade?" As always, the final word emerged awkwardly, even though it generally had no effect on foreigners passing over the border. Some foreigners would assume that his mode of address was a quaint custom in the Dozen Landsteads. The ones who knew better tended to be amused rather than angry.
Amusement seemed to be the young man's response; he was smirking again. "'Comrade'? Are you a member of the Commoners' Guild, then? I didn't know that the labor unions had made such inroads into the Dozen Landsteads."
"I'll need to see a second piece of identification, sir." He kept his voice empty of emotion as he held out his hand. For all he knew, this youth with the lordly manners and the signature of a palace official on his passage-of-port was a titled heir. Yclau liked to claim that it was the perfect egalitarian state, where all class divisions had been abolished. Judging from the behavior of the elite men whom Carr had met at the border since he reached journeyman age, Yclau still had a long way to go before reaching its ideal.
The young man, laughing, tossed Carr his identification. Carr caught the plastic card neatly in one hand and examined it carefully. First name, last name, and one of those eerie holopics that the Yclau government used. The young man peered out of his holopic, solemn-faced.
Everything looked in order. Carr was about to say so; it was hardly worth pressing an aristocrat as to whether he had any valuables to declare, since everything this young man owned was likely to be of value. At that moment, though, the foreigner asked abruptly, "What is your name?"
He kept his gaze focussed on the identification. "M Carruthers, sir."
"What's the 'M' stand for?"
It was a question he had received from innocent visitors before, but something about the tone of this young man's voice was disingenuous. Carr flicked up his gaze and said steadily, "It's my first name."
The foreigner laughed again and grabbed Carr's hand, the one that was holding the identification. Before Carr had time to pull back, the foreigner had jerked up Carr's sleeve to reveal the M tattooed on the back of his wrist.
Carr jerked back, his heart pounding, as though the young man had unexpectedly pulled open the flap of his trousers. The foreigner, blast him, was laughing again.
"Your first name?" the man said in a mocking tone.
"I'd like to see your bag, sir."
The man's laughter stopped abruptly. His face turned suddenly as solemn as his holopic. For a moment, he was motionless; then he reached down to the floor.
Carr caught a glimpse of his bare right arm as he heaved the travelling bag onto the bed; his biceps bulged as he did so. Any delusion Carr might have harbored that he was dealing with an Abolitionist who had come home under disguise to help other runaways was destroyed by that brief glimpse. No tattoo. Even if the tattoo had been removed – Yclau had surgeons who would do that, for a high fee – the mark of it would still be faintly present, for anyone who had eye enough to look for it.
Not a former citizen of the Dozen Landsteads, then, and anyway, his accent was wrong for that. Watching the foreigner open the bag, Carr wished that he hadn't allowed himself to be goaded by the laughter into inspecting the bag. By the rules of his job, he was supposed to inspect the bags and trunks of anyone who passed over the border. In reality – as his supervisor had made clear on his first day of work – the border guards of the Dozen Landsteads only inspected the bags and trunks of anyone who bore an S or was the foreign equivalent of an S. The border guards – the vast majority of whom wore the letter S on their wrists – couldn't afford to antagonize high-class foreigners. And Carr couldn't afford to antagonize his parents by getting himself into a row that they would have to pull strings to extract him from.
The foreigner, still expressionless, stood back to allow Carr to inspect his bag. It was a surprisingly old-fashioned bag: it opened at the top, had a brass lock, and was made of leather. Carr was used to seeing gleaming metal cases from Yclau citizens, with buttons and lights and alarms that went off when he touched the wrong spot. One trunk he had inspected had begun chattering out what looked like ticker-tape. The 'trunk' had turned out to be a calculating machine that Carr had accidentally turned on. That particular foreigner – an Yclau professor visiting the Second Landstead University – had been eager to explain the workings of his marvellous luggage. By the time Carr managed to extract himself from the conversation in order to inspect the border-crosser in the next cabin – leaving it to his supervisor to break the news that the calculating machine was contraband in the Dozen Landsteads – Carr had learned more than he had ever expected to know about laser colors, logic circuits, vacuum tubes, ferrite cores, semiconductor diodes, and ongoing efforts to make computers think in a ternary fashion, just as humans did.
The latest visitor looked far less pleased to have his travelling bag inspected; he was frowning now as Carr pawed through his clothing. Carr avoided looking at the man directly as he squinted at the interior of the bag. The ocean steamer's cabin was dim; the visitor had turned off the gas lamps, though the porthole was open, allowing in the afternoon light, the fish-scent of the harbor, and the call of gulls wheeling southeast, toward where the Bay opened its mouth to the ocean. Most of the gulls would go no further than the narrow shipping lane between the Dozen Landsteads' southeastern-most port, here in the Second Landstead, and Yclau's northeastern port. The First Landstead's southeastern border lay between the two, but if any Bay ports existed there, Carr had never heard of them. For all he knew, the residents there all travelled by jet-car.
Digging down toward the bottom of the bag, Carr wondered whether the visitor came from the First Landstead. Many of the residents there, he knew, held dual citizenships with the First Landstead and Yclau, and they would need a passage-of-port to enter the upper landsteads, due to their peculiar legal position. First Landsteaders usually entered the upper landsteads by way of the Celadon-Brun Memorial Bridge, which linked the First Landstead with the Second Landstead. But perhaps this man had been travelling overseas and had elected to come home by a less orthodox method.
Tangling with a First Landsteader could shove Carr into even more trouble than tangling with an Yclau aristocrat. Carr hastily withdrew his hands, which had found nothing in the bag other than a few items of clothing, some articles of toiletry, and three books about the Dozen Landsteads, one with a garish picture of Prison City on its cover. He turned to apologize to the visitor.
The young man was standing against the wall, his hair rustling under the light wind through the porthole, his eyes darker than before as he glared at Carr. He had pulled his cloak back far enough to allow himself to fold his arms. His hands were in fists; his biceps bulged.
Carr's gaze lingered on those bulging biceps. Then he turned, closed the bag, and picked it up.
He heard the man's breath whistle in; then the visitor was silent.
Yes, he had been right. The bag – heavy enough to strain the visitor's arm when he lifted the bag onto the bed – must be holding more than Carr had seen so far. Moving with the sureness of experience now, Carr pushed the bag onto its side and began inspecting the bag's bottom.
The hidden latch was not hard to find. He flipped it and pulled open the secret compartment, keeping half an eye on the visitor and both his ears on the sound of his supervisor outside, who was politely greeting foreigners and returning Landsteaders as they made their way down the gangplank. If the young man in this room was going to try to make a break over the border, now would be the time.
But the visitor showed no sign of either fleeing or turning violent. He simply continued to glare as Carr carefully pulled out the contents of the secret compartment: A carnival half-mask. A length of rope. A stack of leaflets. A gun.
Carr inspected the gun first. It was not a model that he recognized, but its change lever was easy enough to locate; it was in the safe position. He opened the pistol. A dozen chambers, fully loaded.
The leaflets were printed by letterpress rather than through the electrostatic printing that Carr was accustomed to seeing in Yclau publications. The nature of the leaflets was even easier to discern than that of the gun: each of them bore a title glaring out from the front. The leaflets said: "Seeking freedom? We can help."
Keeping the gun carefully cradled in his hand, Carr turned to look at the visitor. The young man's expression of hostility had disappeared. He raised his eyebrows at Carr. "Well?" he said in a challenging voice. "Are you going to use that rope on me? Or do you have handcuffs hidden inside that uniform?"
Carr turned the gun in his hand and carefully offered its handle to the visitor. As the young man's expression changed to puzzlement, Carr said, "Actually, sir, I was going to invite you to supper."
Then, as the visitor's puzzlement deepened to bewilderment, Carr smiled slightly. "I think my parents would like to meet you."
The ocean steamer gave a deep whistle of farewell as a group of small boys – too small for service – laughed and chased a taxicab that was putting its way down the street next to the harbor of Solomons Island. The driver of the motorcar, his face dirty with the sooted steam from his engine, thumbed his nose at the boys, but the master sitting behind him, stiff with dignity, took no notice of the boys. The motorcar paused in front of the Bureau, and the cab-driver leapt out to open the 'car door for the master. Back at the far end of the street, closer to the steamboat wharf, another group of boys splashed pump-water on one another as old men – too old for service – whittled and gossiped on a bench.
"M Carruthers," Carr repeated when the visitor asked.
The visitor's eyebrows went up. "So your first name really is 'M'?"
Carr nodded as he stepped out of the way of a nurse with a pram. The nurse, not surprisingly, gave him a puzzled look before lowering her gaze. Carr explained to the visitor as the two of them continued to walk down the dirt road, "There's a law here in the Dozen Landsteads that your title initial has to be part of your official name. My parents hate that law, so they made my first name 'M' in order to get around the law."
The visitor laughed as they approached the gold-domed bank of the Second Landstead's capital, which had a plaque outside proclaiming that it would remain open until midnight every day in the high holiday season between the Masters' Spring Festival and the final day of Spring Manhood. "I like your parents already. They sound like troublemakers."
From the tone of the visitor's voice, it was clear that he considered "troublemaker" to be the highest paean. Carr glanced over at him. Although the last days of frost continued to cling to the Second Landstead, the visitor had peeled off his cloak. Underneath was a plain tunic such as Brun himself might have worn in the middle tri-centuries, but in a startling shade of neon yellow, as though the visitor were a perambulating advertisement.
"And how do you wish to be addressed, sir?" Carr asked. Even though he had already marked the visitor as a master on the young man's official papers, the "sir" came out more as a question than as a mode of address.
The visitor flashed him a smile. "I'm Jesse. Just Jesse. No title, and nobody uses my last name except people who don't like me. What do people call you – Emmy?"
Carr winced. "I'm called Carruthers by the other lads in school. My friends call me Carr."
"Glad to meet you, Carruthers." In the first note of politeness he had shown, Jesse extended his arm. Carr reached out to shake it, but for some reason, Jesse grabbed his hand and shook that instead.
"So this is the Dozen Landsteads," Jesse said, turning his head to look at an oyster shed next to the harbor, where servant-women were queueing up to buy their family's meals.
"The Second Landstead," Carr replied. Then, as Jesse raised his eyebrows again, Carr explained, "Each of the landsteads has its own House of Government, its own culture, its own geographical features. All of the landsteads are located next to the Bay, though. Most of our nation's income comes from shipping or fishing or other water-related occupations."
He felt as pedantic as his old tutor, and from Jesse's grin, Carr suspected that he sounded that way as well. "Is the Bay where your family's income comes from?" Jesse asked.
Carr shook his head wordlessly. They were passing the Bureau now, with its long line of unemployed – or unemployable – servants. Some of them looked as though they had been standing there for months. Others, presumably possessing the proper letters of recommendation, were being ushered inside with alacrity.
Jesse pointed his thumb. "What's that? A charity drive?"
Carr stared at him a moment before he could be sure that Jesse was not joking. Then he said, "The Bureau of Employment. That's where servants go if they want their certificate of employment sold to a new employer."
"'Sold,' huh?" Jesse twisted his head to look back. "How much money do the servants make from the selling?"
"Nothing." Carr had to clear his throat. "Aside from the cut that the Bureau receives, the previous employer gets all the money from the transaction."
"Fucking hell!" Jesse's expletive was unexpected, explosive, and unfortunately loud. A first-ranked mastress, walking hand in hand with her young children, stared at him with a scandalized expression, then lowered her gaze to his wrist, obviously trying to ascertain what mark he wore. Carr carefully tipped his border-guard cap at her so that she could see the mark on his own wrist. Her mouth tightened as she glanced again at Jesse, but she nodded her greeting to Carr and hurried past.
Jesse had seemingly not noticed any of this; he was awaiting an answer. Carr said feebly, feeling that his uncle should be here to respond to such remarks, "The fee is supposed to give masters incentive to write good recommendations for their former servants."
"And not make the servants feel like chattel, huh?" Shaking his head, Jesse snorted. "Gods damn it, I thought you Landsteaders claimed to have abolished slavery four centuries ago."
Carr paused, not so much because it was hard to answer the question – indeed, he could have answered the question by rote from the time he was two – but because he was having a hard time making sense of Jesse's pattern of speech. It wasn't simply that Jesse kept tossing in slang that Carr was unfamiliar with. It was that he mixed expletives from different nations so freely. The Yclau – Carr knew from having met a few low-born Yclau who swore – would use Landsteader profanity such as "fucking," but "damn" and "hell" were Vovimian epithets, and why in the world would someone who was Yclau swear to gods?
"Are you from the First Landstead?" he asked cautiously. For all he knew, Vovimians might be swarming in that landstead.
From the dark look Jesse gave him, Carr gathered that the other young man thought he was avoiding the real issue. But Jesse answered readily enough, "Nope. Never been there. Never even been on this continent before."
"But—" Carr glanced down at Jesse's bag, which Jesse had insisted on carrying himself, and where the passage-of-port was now placed, within the secret compartment.
Jesse laughed. "Did you think I was Yclau? I'm a colonial."
"Oh!" Enlightenment dawned, and Carr gave Jesse's garish tunic a more careful look.
He had never before met one of the citizens of Yclau's many overseas colonies; since those colonies lay so far over the ocean, colonials usually travelled to this continent by rocket, which meant that they landed in Yclau or Vovim. They would not land in the Dozen Landsteads, whose aeroports were only designed for short-travel dirigibles.
Well, now Carr understood why Jesse spoke such a peculiarly accented form of what the rest of the world persisted in terming "the Yclau language," though the Landsteaders, with greater justice, called it the Landstead tongue.
"Which colony?" he asked cautiously, trying to remember his world geography.
"Oh, I'm from Tenarus, originally. Heard of it?"
"No," Carr replied truthfully.
"Didn't think you would have. What's that over there?"
Carr looked at where he was pointing. They had reached the place in the road where they could see the waters of the Patuxent River, which divided the Second Landstead from its western neighbor, the First Landstead. A longboat carrying stacks of cordwood passed an empty shad-galley, whose journeyman master called the time of the strokes to the rowing watermen. The boat-masters of the two vessels exchanged shouts of greeting.
Beyond the river – or rather, straight down the middle of it – stood the high wall which constituted the border between the First and Second Landsteads. The only break in the wall came where the Celadon-Brun Memorial Bridge travelled through a small gap. From where Carr stood, he could see the formidably large building that housed the Second Landstead's bridge border guards, who were charged with preventing dangers from entering the Second Landstead – and more importantly, with preventing valuables from leaving the Second Landstead.
"That's the border between the Second Landstead and the First Landstead," Carr replied.
"Huh." Jesse craned his head to look up toward the top of the cement wall, which was crowned with barbed wire. "You guys sure don't like each other, do you?"
"The wall is ours."
He thought he had succeeded in keeping his tone reasonably level, but Jesse turned his head immediately, saying, "Your hatred isn't mutual, then? Have you ever visited enemy territory?" He waved his hand toward the wall.
Carr frowned. "We're not at war with the First Landstead. We simply restrict travel and imports from the neighboring nations – all of them, not just the First Landstead – in order to preserve our culture."
Jesse pondered this for a minute. "Okay, I don't get the 'neighboring nations' bit – we're talking about another landstead, right? – but I get that you guys are isolationists. So you haven't visited the First Landstead?"
"No," replied Carr, frowning with puzzlement now. "I could do so with permission of my liege-master, but I've never seen the need."
Jesse raised his eyebrows. "How fucking feudal of you. Is that why you don't get along with the First Landstead? Because you guys are so old-fashioned that you have steam-cars and liegemen?"
Now it was Carr's turn to raise his eyebrows. "The First Landstead still adheres to the master/liegeman/servant system of social order. I would have thought even a colonial would know that."
"Why should I?" asked Jesse cheerfully. "It's part of the Dozen Landsteads."
Carr halted. They were standing now on the road that led to the short bridge to the mainland, where the masters' district of the Second Landstead's capital was located. There stood the Second Landstead's House of Government, which was still located, after many tri-centuries, on the southeastern tip of the Second Landstead. Its location, far from most of the other Houses of Government within the Dozen Landsteads, served to keep the Second Landstead from quarrelling often with anyone except its closest neighbor, the Third Landstead.
Carr said slowly, "The First Landstead broke away from the remainder of the Dozen Landsteads over seven tri-centuries ago. It became the original territory of what developed into the Queendom of Yclau. It didn't declare its independence from that nation until half a tri-decade ago, and none of the upper landsteads have permitted it to rejoin the Alliance of the Dozen Landsteads." He narrowed his eyes as he tried to read Jesse's expression. "Didn't you know any of this?"
"I must have fallen asleep during history class at school," Jesse replied cheerfully. "Say, listen, is your house within walking distance?"
Carr gave him a long look before saying, "Not for two masters."
For some reason this statement, unlike Carr's comment about Jesse's ignorance, caused the young man to flush. Mentally classifying Jesse in the category of "Privileged foreigner who doesn't like to be reminded he is privileged," Carr turned toward the harbor.
As usual, Solomons Island Harbor was clustered with dozens of workboats that carried men unloading shipments or seeking repairs. No doubt any of the watermen there would have been willing to take Carr home. On any other day, he would simply have walked up to a random boat, introduced himself, and allowed himself to be chauffeured to his House.
He was suddenly conscious, though, of what the young man next to him would think if he took up the time of working watermen. He hesitated, uncertain what to do; then, to his relief, he saw the solution.
He hailed the open-hooded cab that was now headed away from the Bureau of Employment, but which screeched to a halt the moment that the driver saw his green tattoo. Carr held the door open to let Jesse scramble up into the cab; then he waved back the driver, who had been about to get out to hold the door open for Carr. "House of His Master's Kindness," he said as he climbed into the velvet-upholstered seat next to Jesse.
"Right you are, master." The driver leaned over to plug the appropriate numbers into the taximeter. "Will you be placing this ride on your House's account?" Not surprisingly, he made the suggestion in an unenthusiastic manner; the mansion of Carr's House lay five miles into the countryside, and some of the first-ranked masters and mastresses had a habit of bilking payment to cab-servants, since they could easily hire a different driver's cab the next time they needed one.
Carr pulled out his wallet and extracted the appropriate amount, then added a generous tip. The driver took the bills with a smile and a salute. "Thanks, master. Can I get you and your companion something to drink?" As he spoke, he reached over to the passenger side of the front seat and pulled out the serving tray holding wine bottles.
"Nothing for me, thank you. Jesse?" He turned his attention to the other young man, who, he found, was opening his own wallet. "I'm paying for the ride," Carr told him hastily. "I'd be going this way in any case."
"Damn right you're paying for the ride; I don't have that type of money. —Here." He offered the driver a bill. "Have a drink on me."
The driver gave a surprised look at Jesse, glanced at his blank wrist, and cast a wary look at Carr. Carr nodded.
"Thank you, sir, master." The driver nodded at Jesse and Carr respectively before pushing the drinks tray back into hiding. "I'll have my drink after I've finished work. Don't want to get into trouble with my master – much less be stopped by a policeman and have my certificate of employment taken away." He pushed on the pedal, and the engine spit out steam.
In an open-hooded cab, with the engine hissing and the wind whistling, it was impossible to talk, but Jesse seemed disinclined to converse in any case, keeping his attention focussed on the street, where little servant girls and boys played at the waterside. Carr wrapped his scarf across the lower half of his face in order to protect himself from the steam and the breeze; the driver, cheerful from the two tips he had received, must be racing along at almost thirty miles an hour. The greasy smell of the steam blent with the smoke from the chimneys of nearby businesses, until Carr felt as though his parents had decided he should be trained as a chimney sweep.
Once the cab travelled beyond the narrow confines of the servants' district on Solomons Island, the air cleared of the smell of fish and waste. They were travelling now through the masters' district of the Second Landstead's capital: Avondale, which lay on the mainland. Elegant nineteenth-tri-century buildings with sweeping lawns were dotted at intervals with the sweet-scented flowers of Spring Transformation week: crocuses and snowdrops. The cab passed the tower that was all which was left of the High Master's twelfth-tri-century castle. The tower, much renovated, still remained the heart of the House of Government.
Then the cab reached the countryside and began the circuitous route toward Carr's home.
The trip took twice as long by 'car as it would have by boat; the roads twisted and turned as they followed the many creeks that spread through the Second Landstead, like cracks in ageing furniture. The roads travelled through the farmland, so that the cab driver had to stop periodically to open and close farm gates. After the first couple of times, Jesse hopped down to open the gates, much to the bemusement of the cab driver. He was even more bemused when Carr silently lent his shoulder while Jesse was trying to push the back of the cab across a muddy part of the road.
The countryside was fresh with the smell of earth, except where that smell was overwhelmed by the soot from passing motorcars. The second- and third-ranked masters usually drove their own 'cars for their families; the first-ranked masters and mastresses had chauffeurs. Occasionally, someone would recognize Carr from his visits to his uncle's House and would bow their head in greeting.
Finally, after much zigging and zagging, the cab reached a point where the farmland grew smaller, and the woods grew larger. The cab was climbing hills now; the steepness began to grow strong as the trees closed in, bringing with them the smell of damp leaves from the previous autumn. And then came the smell – the unmistakable smell – of marshland.
They stopped short of being able to see the marsh; the cab turned around in a small circular driveway in front of a hill with grass and hedges, topped by a mansion, red brick with white trim.
The front lawn of Carr's mansion was nearly empty, Carr saw as the cab slowed to a stop. Aside from a few older servants trimming hedges, nobody was there but a slight-bodied girl almost two sun-circuits younger than himself, who was walking down the tree-lined driveway from the mansion, her arms cradling a basket. When she saw Carr, she smiled and curtsied; then, belatedly remembering her training, she looked nervous.
Carr's parents were nowhere around, so he didn't reprimand her. "Where are you going, Sally?" he asked as he climbed out of the cab.
"To the market, master. Comrade," she corrected herself quickly. "The mastre— That is, your mother decided that she wanted some fennel in the soup tonight."
"How are you getting there? By boat?" Carr asked.
Sally shook her head. She had long hair the color of sun-rays, and eyes the color of the ocean, a bluish-green. "No, mas— Comrade. Your mother said not to bother the watermen at their work. I'll walk. It's a nice day." She gave the barest nervous glance at the dark clouds on the horizon.
Not for the first time, Carr felt like cursing his mother. Sending a girl, only five and a third tri-years old, to walk a ten-mile round trip on a day when a thunderstorm was likely, just for a bit of fennel . . . But there was no point in overruling his mother's orders; the servants found it hard enough to figure out what the House Master and Mastress wanted, without having their son give the servants contradictory orders.
So Carr simply took out his wallet again and handed the appropriate amount to the cab driver. "Take this young woman to Solomons Island and back, please."
"Giving me another gift, master?" The driver, grinning, hopped down to open the door for Sally, helping her up the steps to the passenger's seat in the service half of the cab. She giggled, delighted, and settled herself into the cab with a flounce of her skirt, as though she were a first-ranked lady.
Jesse waited until he and Carr had both finished coughing from the dust thrown up by the departing cab before he said, "Trying to compete with me?"
"What?" Carr looked at him blankly.
Jesse scrutinized his face, then smiled. "My mistake. You're just naturally generous. Noblesse oblige and all that, right? This all belongs to you, then?" He waved his hand toward the House's mansion.
"No," said Carr quickly. Then, when Jesse raised his eyebrows, Carr hesitated before opting for his parents' set speech on such matters. "It's wasteful for a single family to live in such a large building. My parents rent out much of it to the house-servants, reserving only a few rooms for their own needs."
"Hmm." Jesse gazed up at the two-storey mansion, flanked on both sides by wings, which sprawled across the lawn. "How very medieval of them. Puts the servants nicely under their thumb, doesn't it? If the servants don't behave themselves, they not only lose their employment – they lose their homes as well."
Carr was silent, not knowing how to respond to Jesse's accurate assessment of the situation. Jesse gave a small, humorless laugh. "Okay, so maybe I'm not going to be as crazy about your mom and dad as I'd thought. Kid, you've got one hell of a wild set-up here, and I've got the feeling this shit's only going to get weirder when we walk through those big-ass doors up there."
"Jesse," replied Carr, feeling the irritation build in him, "would you mind speaking the Landstead tongue from now on?"
Jesse chuckled lightly. "As long as you keep being honest with me about how things work here. Last thing I need is to walk into enemy territory without someone guarding my back. Coming?" And he took his first step onto the path to the mansion, looking over his shoulder, as though he were the host and Carr was the guest.
They hiked up the oyster-shelled path silently, Jesse looking back and forth at the lawn and hedges as though he were a hunted animal expecting an ambush. They passed the pussy willows swaying in the spring breeze and the topiary manicured to the exacting standards of Carr's mother. As they approached the two-storey-high doors of the main entrance, Jesse said, "Okay, I'll bite."
Carr turned his head to look at him. "What do you mean?"
"Where the hell are you hiding your servants? Are they all asleep?"
Carr shook his head. "The house-servants are inside. Most of the outside servants are in the back."
"Come on, then." Without breaking stride, Jesse turned and began heading toward the left-hand side lawn. After a moment's hesitation, Carr followed.
Even before they reached the side of the house, the fishy smell of the Bay drifted toward them. Jesse's nostrils flared, but he said nothing as they rounded the side of the house and walked past the dependency, heading toward the cliff that lay behind the mansion.
They reached the terrace that overhung the cliff. Walking over the map carved into the pavement, Jesse made his way up to the railing, nudged aside the telescope there, and leaned his arms on the railing, looking down.
Carr joined him, his face brushed by the wind off the water. Below, the Bay sloshed back and forth as passing boats sent ripples in the direction of the shore, like friendly greetings. A skipjack, its mainsail and jib proud in the wind, neatly tacked its way round a university boat, whose crew was heaving at the oars as one of the students shouted the timing. The skipjack's bowsprit, as slender and pointed as a heron's bill, passed a runner that was headed for the mansion's wharf, the crews of both boats exchanging shouted greetings. The culling boys of the skipjack waved wildly, their hands filled with the oysters they were sorting. As the runner turned to make its way alongside the wharf, which lay beyond the shallow water next to the beach, Carr saw the baskets of oysters that the runner had transferred from another skipjack dredging the Bay.
Even as he watched, one of his House's skipjacks, which had been docked for repairs for several days, slipped away from the wharf, the noontime sun gleaming on the chain-linked dredge-net on the boat's side. One waterman was checking the dredge's rope leading to the windlass, while the other watermen followed their ship-master's shouted orders for controlling the sails. There was a moment when it seemed that the skipjack would collide with the runner, which could not have expected to meet an outgoing fishing boat so late in the day, but the watermen of the House of His Master's Kindness were among the best on the Bay. As the skipjack neatly tacked its way past the runner, a waterman jumped off the runner and hurried to secure the anchoring rope, while on the boat itself, the remaining watermen, in rubber boots and smocks, began to prepare the oyster baskets for unloading.
"I thought you said your family's income didn't come from fishing?" Jesse commented, raising his voice above the wind. He was staring down at the servants who had come racing out of the packing house at the beach end of the wharf. They met their fellow servants – the watermen unloading the oysters – and formed a delivery line, transferring the baskets from hand to hand to the packing house with an efficiency such as a steam-car manufactory might have envied.
"It doesn't," replied Carr. "Well, only a small part of it, anyway."
Jesse raised his eyebrows as he turned his head to look at the packing house. The building had floor-to-ceiling windows; Carr could see clearly the hundreds of women there, each servant standing in her own little stall, using knives to pry open the oysters. "This is what you call a small-scale operation?" Jesse said. "Gods, what kind of business do you run to bring in the big money?"
Carr was still searching for an appropriate answer when he caught sight of a figure struggling up the railed staircase from the beach. Gratefully, he hurried forward.
By the time Carr reached him, Rowlett was panting to catch his breath, pushing off his forehead the white locks that had become plastered there with sweat. His eyes lit up when he saw who was approaching him. "Ah, Master Carr." He gave a small bow. "It's right good to see you. Have you started your spring holiday, then?"
"Yes, but I'm working as a border guard during the vacation," Carr replied, helping Rowlett up the final steps.
Rowlett smiled. "Not a bad idea, for you to work alongside servants. Gives you a good idea of what sort of work you'll be supervising. Perhaps your father could find something for you to do at his office, eh? And who's this?"
"This is—" He stopped, suddenly uncertain how to perform the introduction, and in which direction.
Jesse stepped in, offering his arm. "How do you do, sir. I'm Jesse of Tenarus."
Rowlett looked from the arm to the blank wrist, then to Jesse's face, before settling on giving Carr an uncertain expression.
"One of the colonials," Carr offered.
"Ah. Well." Evidently deciding to err on the side of politeness, Rowlett grasped Jesse's arm and shook it. Jesse looked down at their arms, as though not entirely sure what transaction had just taken place. "So," said Rowlett, carefully keeping his eyes raised from Jesse's wrist as he released the arm, "have you had a good trip? Do you get to travel often, in your occupation?"
"Yes, quite a lot," Jesse replied, unhelpfully.
"Family business?" Ever persistent, Rowlett tried again.
Jesse seemed to find this possibility amusing. "No, an organization I work for. I travel quite a bit for them."
"Tradesman?" Rowlett suggested, with that faintly puzzled air which Landsteaders invariably acquired when dealing with a foreigner from the mid-class.
"Exports," confirmed Jesse cheerfully.
"Ah." Rowlett looked over at Carr, tossing the matter back over to him.
The exchange had given Carr time to think. "I was hoping that Jesse could stay the afternoon," he told Rowlett. "And perhaps have supper with us. If his business isn't pressing . . ." He looked over at Jesse, waiting for him to confirm or deny this possibility.
"Not at all," said Jesse, still cheerful. "I'm in no rush on my tour."
"Ah." Having finally ascertained that Jesse was a man of leisure, Rowlett relaxed somewhat. "And he'll be dining with you, you say? Well, sir, I hope you have a pleasant visit to our landstead. —Master Carr, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and supervise the unloading of the craft that just arrived."
"Yes, of course," said Carr, and then, on impulse, he kissed Rowlett on the cheek, which caused the old man to smile as he turned to make his way down the steps.
Jesse waited until Rowlett had reached the beach sands before saying, "You know, I could be wrong, but I think the last time I was quizzed that intensely was when I made the mistake of visiting a country where it was considered to be of the utmost importance to determine whether you were turned on by gals or by guys."
Carr felt the corner of his mouth twitch. "Did you give them the right answer?"
"Well, I discovered the hard way that 'both' wasn't the right answer. . . . Do all your guests undergo this type of inquisition?"
"Only the foreigners." Carr turned and leaned his back against the railing, looking over at Jesse. Beyond the other youth, the sky was bright with afternoon light, in between the trunks of the orchard trees. For at least the moment, the threatening thunderclouds had dispersed. "He was trying to determine whether you were a master or a servant."
"Yeah, I got that. I was having the same problem figuring him out. I mean, he called you 'Carr,' which you said is what your friends call you, and you kissed him, but he also called you 'Master' and bowed to you . . ."
"Carr is what my family calls me too." Then, as Jesse gave him an impatient look, Carr added, "Rowlett is the supervisor of our watermen. He's been with our family forever – since the days when my Uncle Geoffrey was Head of this House, which was before I was born. So Rowlett calls me Carr, because he's known me since I was a baby."
"But he's a servant?"
"No, a master." Seeing Jesse's brow pucker with puzzlement, Carr added, "He's a second-ranked master – he owes allegiance to my parents. There are three ranks of lesser masters in the Dozen Landsteads, and all of them owe allegiance to a master ranked above them . . . except for the first-ranked masters. They only owe allegiance to the High Master."
"And you're a first-ranked master."
Carr nodded and held up his right wrist. "A green M. That shows I'm first-ranked. Rowlett wears a blue M, so he's second-ranked. Third-ranked masters – you can see some of them down there, taking orders from Rowlett – wear a red M. Servants wear a black S."
"No ranks among them?" said Jesse quickly.
"Masters can shift their servants' ranks as they wish."
"What about the unranked men and women?"
Carr silently pointed to Jesse.
"Me. Other foreigners. No one else?" Jesse spread his hands, as though embracing the whole of the Dozen Landsteads.
"There's a lad in my school whose rank is still being determined by the courts. Other than cases like that . . . no. Landsteaders are given their rank when they're born."
"And they can't rise in rank?"
"Lesser masters can rise in rank. Servants can't rise to the rank of master." Carr pushed himself away from the railing. "Let's go inside. I should introduce you to my parents before supper is laid."
Jesse gave a low laugh as he turned away from the railing. "Yet another chance for you to struggle with introductions. Will this one be better?"
Carr shook his head. "A lot worse. You can help by introducing yourself as Comrade Jesse. I'll handle the rest." Ignoring the faintly quizzical look that Jesse gave him, Carr walked toward the back entrance to the mansion.