The Drowntown day market was in full spate. Fawn’s nostrils flared at the strong smells: fish, clams, critters with twitching legs like giant crawdads packed in seaweed; frying funnel cakes, boiling crabs, dried fruit, cheeses; piles of used clothing not well laundered; chickens, goats, sheep, horses. Mixed with it all, the damp tang of the river Gray, stretching so wide its farther shore became a flat blur in the winter morning light.
The lead-colored water shimmered in silence beyond the bright busy blot of folks collected under the bluffs that divided Graymouth’s Uptown from its noisier-and, Fawn had to admit, more noisome – riverside. The muddy banks were lined with flatboats at the ends of their journeys, keelboats preparing new starts, and fishing and coastal vessels that came and went more in rhythm with the still-ten-milesdistant sea than with the river’s moods. The streets dodged crookedly around goods-sheds, rivermen’s taverns, and shacks-all built of dismantled flatboats, or, in some cases, not dismantled but drawn ashore intact on rollers by oxen and allowed to settle into the soil. The owners of the latter claimed to be all ready for the next flood that would try, and fail, to wash the smells and mess of Drowntown out to sea, while Uptown looked down dry-skirted. It seemed a strange way to live. How had she ever thought of the rocky creek at the foot of her family’s farm back north as a river?
Fawn shoved her basket up her arm, nudged her companion Remo, and pointed. “Look! There’s some new Lakewalkers here this morning!”
At the other end of the square, where all the bigger animals were displayed by their hopeful owners, two women and a man tended a string of half a dozen leggy horses. The three all wore Lakewalker dress: riding trousers, sturdy boots, shirts and leather vests and jackets, not so different in kind from the farmers around them, yet somehow distinctive. More distinctive
was their hair, worn long in decorated braids, their height, and their air of discomfort to be surrounded by so many people who weren’t Lakewalkers. Upon reflection, Fawn wondered if anyone else here realized the standoffishness was discomfort, or if they only thought it high-nosed disdain. She would have seen it that way, once.
“Mm,” said Remo unenthusiastically. “I suppose you want to go talk to them?”
“Of course.” Fawn dragged him toward the far end of the market.
The man pulled a horse out of the string and held it for a farmer, who bent and ran his hands over its legs. The two young women looked toward Fawn and Remo as they approached; their eyes widened a bit at Remo, whose height, clothes, and long black braid also proclaimed him a Lakewalker patroller. Did their groundsenses reached out to touch the stranger-kinsman, or did they keep them closed against the painful ground noise of the surrounding farmers?
The southern Lakewalkers Fawn had seen so far tended to lighter skin and hair than their northern cousins, and these two were no exception. The taller woman-girl-she seemed not so very much older than Fawn, anyhow-had hair in a single thick plait as tawny as a bobcat pelt. Her silvery-blue eyes were bright in her fine-boned face.
The shorter woman had red-brown braids wreathing her head, and coppery eyes in a round face dusted with freckles. Fawn thought they might be patrol partners, like Remo and Barr; they seemed unlikely to be sisters.
” ‘Morning!” Fawn called cheerfully, looking up at them.