It was easy for Lee to get into the Upper City. All he had to do was show at least five gold Solans, and drop the same number of spins for an entrance toll. He wondered if he'd been overcharged as an obvious outlander, deciding it didn't matter because five of the small coins was negligible to him anyway. He had enough gold from his association with Jinleer to live comfortably for a while, and had no doubt that another job would be easy to find for a Karojan. He had the reputation of his people behind him.

     He had wandered through the Undercity for about an hour after his experience at the gypsy camp. He was still troubled by that, even a bit jumpy. He was no stranger to magik -- his own city was built of ice and kept livable through eldritch means -- but this was different. Why had a simple reading of cards gone so awry? It hadn't been a gypsy trick, of that he was certain; the girl had been as shocked as he had.

     So what had it been? There was no way for him to know for sure...but he was plagued by the nagging thought that someone hadn't wanted him to have his fortune told.

     Throughout his walk through the Undercity, Lee had been on guard. The place was disgusting, the people like animals. Human beings dying in the streets and their brothers stepping right over them with hardly a glance. There had seemed to be no sanitation measures, other than the fortunate accident that the city was on a sharp slope and a good rain would sluice refuse away to the sea.

     He’d swiftly decided to try to find lodging in the Upper City, and not only because of the filthiness of life below. He felt he’d be safer in the Upper City. Not likely to encounter any gypsies set on vengeance.

     Because he had taken the hand off of one of them while fleeing their camp.

     He hadn’t meant to. He only wished to be away, far away, from those demonic cards. Thinking back, he realized that the gypsy men hadn’t known what was happening within the girl’s wagon. They only heard her screams and the sounds of a commotion, and then he’d burst forth with sword drawn. They only tried to stop him. But he would not be stopped, and so one lost his hand before Lee escaped into the woods.

     He wondered if gypsies were vengeful people.

     And so he came to Shandizar’s, which was one of those inns much frequented by the merchant class, a large building with a fancy, colorful sign swinging out front over double doors. Inside was a huge common room with fireplaces at opposite ends and an ornately-carved bar along the back wall. The boards of the floor had been treated with paraffin and shone with the daylight streaming through the windows.

     There were only a handful of patrons at this hour, who tried not to stare at the strange man (a Karojan!) as he took a corner table to himself. He realized that, human nature being what it was, it would soon be known throughout Drogarth that a Karojan was here — and word might reach the gypsies. He would look for work. Try to leave this chaotic place as soon as he could. Move on to Eltkester, perhaps.

     An attractive young woman approached his table, of a type which consistently amazed and enthralled him. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and large breasts. Three traits he’d never seen until coming to this barbaric land. Three traits he hoped to see much more of.

     “My name is Kira, milord,” she told him pleasantly. “May I get something for you?”

     He nodded formally. “Yes, please. Some milk…and a bowl of hot stew, if that is possible.”

     A smile. “Of course, milord. Will that be all?”

     “For now.”

     She curtsied and whirled gracefully away, moving toward the door that must lead to the kitchen. He wondered if the service here was always so friendly. It was nothing like the bald rudeness he’d encountered in most such places he’d patronized since coming to Inslarian realms.

     Inslar. Why? His brother had asked. Why go among the white and black barbarians? Why leave our beautiful city? Our people? It is as if you give up the wonders of heaven to live in a wasteland.

     I seek knowledge, Kino, he had said. And adventure.

     Huh! Adventure you can have here. And what knowledge can you gain by moving with unwashed savages, Lee? Hmm? Tell me…

     He hadn’t been very eloquent that day, hadn’t been able to define the wanderlust which lay heavy on him. Nor had he seen the necessity to define it. He wasn’t the first to go forth from their land, nor would he be the last. He was, as these barbarians would say, simply following his wyrd. His fate. If Kino did not understand that it was his loss, not Lee’s.

     In time the girl returned, bearing his order on a wide tray. She sat bowl and flagon before him, smiled, and moved off. He thought he’d caught a blush in the instant before she turned. Might she be interested…?

     He smiled. Might be worth looking into.

     He drank a bit, then started on the stew. Delicious.

     The door opened. A thin young man entered and glanced around, his gaze settling on Lee. He started toward the corner table.

     He stopped across from Lee, looking unabashedly at the warrior whose meal he was interrupting. His cheeks were fleshy, his face round, despite the slimness of the rest of him.

     “Is there something I can do for you?” Lee asked. This boy couldn’t be a gypsy, could he?

     “You are Karojan?”

     Lee nodded. Was the boy blind? Or just stupid?

     “You are a…shadow-warrior?”

     “That is what your people call me, yes.”

     The boy paused. Then, “My master wishes to speak with you.”

     “Who is your master, and what does he want with me?”

     “I am forbidden to say his name, and I do not know his wishes. But I believe he wants to employ you for some purpose. Are you interested in a job?”

     “Yes,” Lee said.

...Chapter 7...