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Perry’s captor slammed the door behind him, and the entire building quivered for several long moments with the force of the door crashing into place. Of course, Perry couldn’t actually see this; he had a bag over his head. He hadn’t expected the noise, and it made him jump and his heart pound frantically.
It wasn’t a very well-maintained or constructed building, given how much it shook, and Perry coughed a little as debris sifted down onto him from what was probably the disintegrating—or at least old—thatch roof above him. Fortunately, the bag over his head protected him from most of it. Calm down, he told his heart, sternly. He wasn’t going to be able to think with his heart pounding like a horse at the gallop . . .
He shut his eyes to clear his mind of distractions and concentrated on his surroundings.
He knew the roof was thatch despite the bag, because he heard and sensed mice and sparrows up there and got brief glimpses through their eyes, though he hadn’t yet put his mind to contacting them directly. And there were a couple pigeons as well, but they were on the rooftree, rather than in the thatch or on the rafters. While he slowly counted to a hundred, to make sure the man who had captured him was not coming back soon, he eased his way into one tiny mind after another, getting acquainted with them, getting them used to his presence in their heads.
He didn’t bother with the pigeons for now. Anything on the outside of the building wasn’t much use to him at the moment.
One by one, he coaxed the mice out of the thatch and had them line up on the central rafter, where the sparrows already were. He soon figured out that the mice were too nearsighted to do him much good, but the sparrows’ sharper vision gave him a clear view of the room where he was being held.
There he was, flour sack over his head, sitting on a simple wooden chair in the middle of an otherwise barren room with a rough plank floor. He’d been trussed up expertly, feet tied to the chair legs, hands tied behind the chair back. The chair was a pretty stout one: solid seat and back, thick legs. Heavy, or at least it looked like it. That was very smart of his captors; if they’d just left him tied up on the floor, he’d have been out of his bonds within a candlemark. The chair made things much more difficult. If he tried to tip it over backward, he’d probably break his wrists or hands, and if he tried to tip it over sideways, he’d surely break his wrist or forearm.
A very careful survey, as the sparrows peered around at his request, told him there was nothing in the otherwise bare room for him to use in any way.
Or so his captor probably thought.
The walls were also rough planks, but since there wasn’t any light coming through the cracks between the planks, they might be cob or plaster outside, or both. The windows were shuttered, and the shutters were barred in place on the inside, light leaking into the room from cracks between the boards of the shutters. Huh. This place looked stouter than he’d thought. Maybe the reason it had shaken when the door slammed was because of the strength of his kidnapper, not because the building was in bad repair.
There were two windows in the right-hand wall, two in the left, and a door at either end of the room. The one behind him was nailed shut with rough boards. The one in front of him was the one his captor had left by.
So, this is probably a one-room house with only one floor, unless that door leads to a staircase. It can’t be inside the Old Wall of Haven or the roof would be shingle or tile, not thatch. And he didn’t carry me far enough for this to be completely outside Haven.
Now Perry transferred his attention to the pigeons strutting up and down the roof outside. There was an advantage to using such stupid birds; they scarcely noticed he was in their heads, and it was easy to get them to do what he wanted. And what he wanted right now was a view of the entire building and the neighborhood it was in.
The first time he had entered the mind of a bird and made it fly, he’d thrown up afterward. It had been worse than when he’d taken that dare to spin around while Trey counted to five hundred. Now, though, he was used to it; his gut was finally convinced that it wasn’t his body jerking up and down and making those crazy gyrations. The pigeon he picked was perfectly happy to launch itself into the air and sail in a circle around the building while he looked things over.
It took him a while to identify the neighborhood; it was outside the old wall, but the building he was in was a very small one and quite old; it probably had been a storage building or a laborer’s cottage for a big farm back when this had been farmland. Cob walls much the worse for years but still weatherproof, shutters closed and barred from the inside, and a very thick thatch roof gray with age and green with moss; it was unusual only in that it was built on a slightly raised wooden platform so that you had to go up three rickety steps to the door. The street began practically at the bottom step, and it was closely surrounded by other one- and two-room buildings in a similar state of repair. They were all weatherproof and sound, but not one single thing had been done to them to take them beyond that point. It was as if a single landlord owned everything on this street and adhered to the absolute letter of a contract requiring his cottages to be “stout and livable.”
The street seemed oddly deserted . . .
And then the pigeon turned its head and looked beyond the immediate street, and Perry knew exactly where he was and why it looked deserted. Everyone here was at work in the bigger building, three floors tall, that squatted two streets over, like an enormous sow among her piglets. This was the neighborhood of the Bannerites.
The Bannerites were an odd but harmless sect comprised entirely of bachelors—unmarried men and widowers disinclined to wed again. The Bannerites gave men a trade, a place to live in one of the tiny houses surrounding their central building, and enough wages to keep them decently clothed and fed. In return, they made a heavy twilled sailcloth that was highly prized for its strength and durability; as well as sails, virtually any sort of clothing that needed to take rough wear could be made from it. Raw flax came in at one end of that building, and finished sailcloth exited out of the other. Everything that needed to be done to turn fiber into cloth was done within those four walls, from the retting of the flax, to the spinning of the fiber, to the weaving and finishing of the cloth, the finish depending on who ordered it. Three times a day all work stopped so that the men could pray to the “Banner Bearer,” though that was the only information anyone outside the group had about the being they worshiped. Every eight days, the Bannerites took half a day off for worship and instruction in the faith, and there were evening instruction and prayer sessions for those who wanted more. Work began at first light and ended at sunset, so the workdays were shorter in winter than in summer. If this was an untenanted Bannerite cottage—and it probably was—he could make all the noise he wanted to and no one would hear him until the sun went down. And by then—
It wouldn’t matter. By then I won’t be here.
He let go of the pigeon’s mind and turned his attention back to the mice. This was going to be tricky. He was going to have to convince them that he was no threat and that the rope around his wrists was edible. It was a logical solution to getting free; mice could gnaw their way through rope in almost no time. Come on down, my little friends, he coaxed—but with feelings, not with words.
But no matter how hard he tried, he could not persuade them to come down out of the thatch. Evidently the Bannerites were pretty vigilant about chasing them off, and he couldn’t overcome their fear of human beings. Every time he got one to creep as far on the rafters as the wall with the door in it, the others panicked and scuttled back up into the thatch, and the one he had been coaxing panicked with them and retreated.
There weren’t any rats close by either, not even in the crawlspace under the building. A sharp, curious mind brushing briefly against his told him why. A cat.
And as he cast his mind farther afield, he sensed more and more cats, all of them sleek, semi-feral, but not starving. Clearly the Bannerites encouraged cats in the same way that farmers did, and for the same reasons. Which made sense—a little food and shelter bought you a great deal of pest control.
Well . . . all right. He brought his focus back into the building and hunted for one of the sparrows, eventually choosing a saucy little male. He wasn’t afraid of humans; probably the Bannerites put up with their occasional droppings because they hunted insects in the thatch and the buildings while the tenants were away. Perry had no trouble encouraging the little fellow to fly down and perch on his bound hands.
He couldn’t actually take over the bird’s body. All he could do was show it what he wanted it to do and encourage it to do so. That little beak wasn’t as sharp as mouse teeth, but it might be able to saw through the rope fibers, if he could get the bird to peck at the same place over and over.
He concentrated so hard on his task that sweat ran down his face inside the bag, his jaw muscles clenched until they ached, and then—
Peck. Tentative at first. Then peck, a little harder.
Wordlessly he flooded it with encouragement, and the bird exploded with energy, pecking and pulling at the fibers of the knot, scissoring its way through the first strand, then the second. The little fellow didn’t need any guidance at all now, and he could not have been more enthusiastic.
Even better, as soon as his fellows noticed him working away at the rope, after some puzzlement, they decided this was something that needed doing, so with some dim idea that they were going to get a reward out of it, three more crowded onto his wrists and hands to peck away alongside the first one.
Now he had another problem entirely. They didn’t always hit the rope, and those sharp little biting stabs hurt. He had to bite his lip to keep from wincing and crying out and frightening them up into the rafters again.
He kept up the tension on the rope by pulling his wrists apart, or rather trying to, and after what was probably a candlemark or two, but felt like a lot longer, he sensed the rope giving.
And when it finally parted and his hands came free, sparrows fluttering off to the ceiling, he nearly shouted for joy.
His first action was to pull the bag off his head, and the dust-laden air smelled impossibly sweet. His second was to untie his legs; he ignored the twinges and cramps as he was finally able to move. His wrists were raw from the rope, speckled with blood from dozens of badly aimed pecks, but it didn’t matter. He was free! And he was going to get out of there!
But before he did, there was one more thing he needed to do.
He unraveled the rope that had been around his wrists into hundreds of fiber bits and left them in a pile on the floor by the chair. That was what the sparrows had been after: good strong bits of material for their nests. The sparrows descended on the pile as if it had been grain and carried strands up to the thatch to add to their nests.
They deserved their reward.
And he couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Up or down? He looked up at the exposed thatch of the roof and saw what he had been hoping for: a trap door set into the roof to make it easy to get up there to repair the thatch.
* * * * *
Mags glanced at the time-candle as the light from his window was interrupted by something perching on the sill. He raised one eyebrow, smiled slightly, and turned to greet his eldest son.
“I expected you to take at least a candlemark longer,” he said, offering Perry a hand inside and noting the abrasions and tiny marks on the lad’s wrist. “Mice?”
“Sparrows,” said Perry, with a grin that also betrayed a touch of pain. “The mice were too scared.” Mags fished some soft bandages and a pot of ointment out of his desk and passed them wordlessly over; the boy deftly soothed and bandaged his wrists himself and handed the pot back.
As he wrapped his wrists, Mags regarded his son thoughtfully. Peregrine would be thirteen in two weeks, and he looked like a larger, better-nourished version of his father at that age, at least, as far as Mags could determine. He hadn’t looked at himself in the mirror that often back then, but Perry looked like what he remembered: dark hair that never stayed tidy, dark eyes with more than a hint of mischief in them, narrow face, and wiry body. “I think we can call the exercise a complete success,” he said, allowing his pride in his son to show in his words. “What did you do to the men I had watching for your escape?”
“Left ’em trying to catch me. I made a pass up in the attic of the Bannerite workhouse; they didn’t dare follow me in, and I left in a shipment of sailcloth.” Perry grinned, very proud of himself. “If I hadn’t been able to do that, I figured to drop down among the boys hauling the flax around and leave at sunset.”
Mags grinned and reached out to hug his son. “Good lad. Your mama was going to hold dinner for you, but now she won’t have to. Go tell her yourself.”
With a whoop of joy, Perry dashed across Mags’ workroom and out the door into the large central room of the suite.