“I think we can save the causeway!” Gilvelle Marser, Dargon’s Master Architect, slapped his palm onto his desk to punctuate this joyous statement. He looked up from the plans he had been studying. “Cephas’ Boot, Adjarn! All we need to do is …”
Sard Rilius, his new chief mason, only stared at him with sullen eyes.
Gilvelle felt his cheeks redden as he realized what he had just done. “I– I’m sorry, Rilius,” he said. “I didn’t mean –”
“It doesn’t matter, sir,” Rilius interrupted, waving the apology away as if it were an errant fly, but the scowl lingering on his face said it did. “What men and equipment will we be needin’ to execute your plan, sir?”
Gilvelle looked at Rilius, wondering how he could have made such a mistake. Adjarn was gone; the causeway disaster had taken his life. Gilvelle felt his absence every time he worked with Rilius. Adjarn had always shared Gilvelle’s excitement, but he had often challenged the architect’s plans. The two men would have argued the details for the next few bells, and the plans for the causeway repair would have come out the better for it. No, Sard Rilius was no Adjarn.
Rilius shifted uncomfortably beneath the master architect’s gaze. Gilvelle realized he was still waiting for an answer. He decided to test Rilius.
“What would you recommend, at least for repairing the damaged pylons?”
Rilius’ gaze shifted to the left, and back. “I’m sure I don’t know, sir.”
“If you don’t know, what do you think it will take?”
Rilius bent over the document for a moment, his palms pressed to the table and his arms tight, and appeared to study it. His voice quavered when he spoke. “I, well, I think maybe two dozen men to start. Six on this pylon, an’ the rest split between these two.”
Gilvelle frowned as he looked where Rilius was pointing. The third pylon the man had pointed to hadn’t been harmed in the crash. Had Rilius been to study the damage?
Gilvelle debated giving the man a tongue-lashing then decided against it. No amount of scolding was going to turn Sard Rilius into Adjarn. A chief mason who would only follow orders was better than no chief mason at all. Before Rilius could continue, Gilvelle said, “I need to work on this some more. Why don’t you go check on the other worksites? We can talk about the causeway tomorrow.”
Rilius relaxed, and nodded. “Very good, sir. I’ll get to it right away,” he said, the confidence returning to his voice. He left the office.
Gilvelle returned to his desk and tried to focus on the causeway plans, but his head was awash with all of the little details Adjarn used to take care of, which were now his to address. How many people *would* he need to work on each pylon? Who was the right person for each task? What equipment would they need? What sort of support platform should be set up for the river work?
He was almost relieved when, several menes later, someone knocked at the door. When he called for his visitor to enter, a young girl dressed as a ducal page walked into his office.
“Master Architect Marser?”
“His lordship the duke wishes to see you, sir.”
“When would he like to see me?”
“He said to come as quickly as you can, but…” She nibbled her lip and looked up, apparently struggling to remember the duke’s words, then she smiled. “But not so quickly that you break something important.”
Gilvelle chuckled as he stood up from his desk. In the first days after he became Master Architect, he had jumped from a scaffold in his eagerness to answer a summons from the duke and broken his ankle. Duke Clifton Dargon had instead come to visit him while he recovered.
He fished a bronze Penny from his pocket and handed it to the page. “Any idea why he wants to see me?”
The page shook her head. “No, sir. But he is meeting with the strangest man.” Her eyes widened and Gilvelle could see she was eager to tell the story.
“What makes him so strange?”
“His face is covered by a mask, even in front of the duke. And he talks funny. He called Dargon ‘Darkon’. But that’s not the strangest thing. His clothes are all made of stone!”
Gilvelle wondered if he had misheard the girl. “Stone clothes?”
“It’s true! He’s wearing a big cloak of stone plates. They click when he walks! They say that he came here in a ship made of stone, too.”
Gilvelle laughed at this absurdity, wondering what had started such a rumor. “Indeed? Well, maybe the duke wants me to repair this strange man’s ship. Or fix a hole in his cloak.”
The page’s mouth formed into a small circle as she appeared to take his joke seriously. “That must be it, sir! I have to go, now. I have another message to deliver.”
Gilvelle watched her depart, realizing he had just added another element to the rumors about the duke’s unusual guest. He took a light cloak and left his office, bound for Dargon Keep.
Gilvelle wondered if the duke really wanted to see him because of the strange visitor. More likely though, Clifton Dargon wanted to discuss Gilvelle’s plans for the causeway. The duke, absent from the city of Dargon during the disaster, had only just returned a few days earlier. He had pressed Gilvelle for a solution to the causeway that would not further cripple the city. Gilvelle was eager to share his new idea with the duke, despite the fact it had failed to impress Rilius. Rebuilding the causeway without having to tear the rest down would save months, at least, if it was even possible.
Gilvelle crossed the Coldwell from the New City to the Old by ferry, a method made more popular — and expensive — by the near-collapse of the causeway. He arrived at the keep, and found another page, who let him know the duke was conducting his business in the east hall. The boy offered an escort, but Gilvelle declined. He had studied the plans of the keep for years; he was sure he knew his way around the place better than anyone.
Gilvelle arrived in the east hall to find sunlight streaming through the windows, which were thrown wide to allow in an unseasonably mild Ober breeze.
Clifton sat across a table from a man who looked as odd as the first page had described. Although he was seated, Gilvelle could tell he was a tall man. His shoulders appeared unnaturally broad, until Gilvelle realized it was part of the man’s clothing. From this rigid structure hung a cloak or a robe matching the page’s description: round stone plates of various sizes, fastened together at the edges. Between the gaps, Gilvelle could see a second layer of discs beneath the first. What the page had failed to mention were the intricate designs carved into them; Arcs and whorls intertwined in complex patterns, different on each one. Bright colors highlighted each design without dominating it. The man also wore a mask of some thin metal that stretched all the way back to his ears. The mask, along with a head covering of the same material, left only the area around the man’s eyes exposed. Another feature the page had failed to notice, but which drew Gilvelle’s attention, was the complex pattern of tattoos surrounding the man’s eyes.
Gilvelle paused and made a small bow before the duke, who nodded to him in greeting.
“Gil, thank you for coming so quickly. I would like to introduce Nachak –”
“Na Chok,” the other interrupted, clearly separating the two syllables.
Clifton only blinked at the interruption before continuing. “Of course. Na Chok of the Doravin.”
Gilvelle, unsure how to greet the newcomer, settled for a slight bow, and extended his hand. The other regarded Gilvelle’s hand for a moment before rising and making an awkward wrist-clasp. Na Chok had a strong grip. The first layer of plates comprising the man’s clothing clattered against the second layer as he rose. Gilvelle wondered how heavy the garment was.
“Have you ever heard of the Doravin before?” Clifton asked.
“No, my lord.”
“I’m not surprised. They hail from Duurom. I read about them, years ago, but Na Chok is the first member of their race I have met. He’s made me a very intriguing offer: one I think you will find interesting. The Doravin are master stoneworkers, Gil.”
Clifton paused to let Gilvelle digest that thought before continuing. “Na Chok has offered to help us rebuild the causeway. He has one hundred and fifty stoneworkers and their families on the way here by boat, and they are willing to repair the causeway in exchange for land. I want you to work with Na Chok on the repairs.”
A thousand thoughts raced through Gilvelle’s head, but he held his tongue, aware Na Chok was still in the room. Clifton looked at Gilvelle’s face and a concerned expression crossed his own. He turned to the Doravin.
“Na Chok, my Master Architect and I have much to discuss. Will you excuse us, please?”
Na Chok rose from his seat, and without acknowledging Clifton, turned to address Gilvelle. His voice was thickly accented and echoed slightly behind his mask. “You will meet Na Chok at the bridge seven days from today, after sunrise.”
“Yes, I will.” Gilvelle replied, although there was no question in the man’s voice. The Doravin left the room. Gilvelle saw a guard fall in behind him just outside the door.
After Na Chok left, Clifton said, “Straight, Gil, let’s hear it. What’s bothering you about this?”
There was very little about the situation that was *not* bothering Gilvelle. The man’s rudeness to the duke troubled him the most. Clifton had seemed to ignore it; Gilvelle decided to start with practical matters. “How do we know they are master stoneworkers, my lord? Do you just have this man’s word on it?”
The duke shook his head. “It’s true Na Chok made it quite clear to me he thought his people were better stoneworkers than any we had in Dargon. One thing I do remember reading about the Doravin supports his position pretty well. It went on at length about their architecture: wonders in stone rivaling anything in Baranur. The book didn’t say much about the Doravin people, but it did explain that stoneworking is also their religion.”
Gilvelle found this information difficult to refute. Still, he was troubled. “They’ve arrived at an awfully convenient time, haven’t they? Doesn’t an ocean voyage from Duurom take months? They can’t have heard about the causeway and come running to help us. What if they made the causeway collapse and then showed up claiming to be able to fix it?”
Clifton scowled. “I did consider that. I’m surprised to hear it from you, though, Gil. You were there. You told me about the cracks in the pylon. Even if the Doravin caused those through some magic, they didn’t cause the barge to hit it. It also doesn’t make sense given the price they are asking. If you were trying to con someone, wouldn’t you ask for a large amount of money and leave as quickly as you could? Instead, they are asking for a place to settle. Our land is settled sparsely enough; it will cost me little to move some local farmers, much less than it would take me to bring in all of the extra masons we need.”
“What about the masons, then? Surely those we’ve summoned are even now on their way.”
Clifton shook his head again. “Not any more. After I sent for you, I ordered riders out along every main road. Word will reach most of the masons in time, and those that do arrive can be put to work fixing some of the other damage to the city.
“Don’t you think it’s time for a little good luck, Gil? After all Dargon went through last month? What’s really bothering you?”
Gilvelle felt his cheeks begin to redden. He opened his mouth to reply, not sure what was going to come out. How could he express it? This was his task to complete. His!
Before Gilvelle could speak, Clifton asked, “It’s your legacy, isn’t it?”
“I — yes, my lord. I hate to say it, even to think it. I feel like such a ghoul. You can’t think I would wish anything like the causeway disaster on Dargon. All those deaths …”
Clifton put his hand on Gilvelle’s shoulder. “Of course not, Gil. No more than your father wished for Beinison to invade us.”
Gilvelle glanced at the shortened sleeve that hid the stump of the duke’s arm, lost breaking the siege five years earlier, and looked away. The duke’s hand dropped from his shoulder.
“You helped rebuild those walls, Gil, right beside your father. The Marsers have served Dargon well since the Great Houses War.”
“That was my father’s great work, my lord, not mine. I was but a ‘prentice to him. All of the Marsers have served Dargon since that war, but not all of us have been remembered. I know it’s vain, but this was my opportunity.”
Clifton merely gazed at Gilvelle, his face impassive.
Gilvelle felt the blood rushing to his cheeks again. “I’m sorry, my lord. You have better things to do than listen to me worry about how I’ll be remembered.”
“It’s not that, Gil. My father once told me the most important thing a leader can do is take care of his people. I believe that to be true. I needed to listen to you. It’s not simple vanity to want to be remembered. If everyone aspired to greatness, as you do, this would be a much better world. I was silent simply because I wanted you to think about the opportunity that still lies before you.”
“But the Doravin –”
“The Doravin are the opportunity, Gil. Working with them, you can create something greater than any Marser before you, and save the city in the process. I’m counting on you to do it.”
Gilvelle walked from his family home in Dargon’s Old City to the causeway with a lighter heart a sennight later. He’d had time to think things through, and found he agreed with the duke’s logic. He was even looking forward to the idea of working with the Doravin and seeing what they were capable of. When he had broken the news to Rilius, the man had seemed relieved instead of angry about not being involved in the causeway repair. Rilius was off supervising the smaller jobs throughout Dargon, leaving Gilvelle to make his mark on the city, with the master stoneworker Doravin at his command.
The only thing troubling him was something his mother had often said. She had converted to Stevenism when she married his father, but still kept sayings from the Olean faith. One of her favorites had always been, “Ol doesn’t just reach down and fix the world for you.” The Doravin’s arrival felt like that to him, but just a bit. He knew there was still a lot of hard work ahead.
Gilvelle arrived at foot of the causeway and was surprised to see at least half a dozen figures scrambling around on it. He approached the guard whose sole purpose it was to keep people off the bridge.
“Good morning, Master Architect,” the woman said. Gilvelle had been to the causeway often enough to know most of the guards. He recognized this one’s face, but could not recall her name.
“Good morning. Can I ask why there are so many on the causeway this morning? The duke has standing orders to –”
“Forgive me, sir, but it’s by the duke’s orders those people are up there. They’re the strangers, the Doravin, who are supposed to repair it.” She frowned, and looked back over her shoulder at the stone-robed figures.
“I see,” said Gilvelle. “I need to get across.”
The guard shrugged. “Of course, sir. You have standing permission. What’s one more person when there’s so many up there already?”
Gilvelle felt his jaw tighten. “One more could be enough to topple the bridge, or at least part of it, which could kill anyone who’s up there as well as anyone passing beneath.”
The guard’s cheeks reddened and her posture stiffened. “Y-yes, sir. Should I order them off?”
Gilvelle considered this for a moment, but he didn’t know the whole situation. He needed to find out who was giving the orders to the Doravin; he needed to find Na Chok. “No, I’ll see to this myself. I’m going over. Let no one else across until you hear from me, understand? Not even your captain. Not even the duke.”
Gilvelle began climbing the gentle slope of the causeway. As he neared the top, he saw a small village of domed tents on the far bank, upstream. The Doravin had been busy on the land the duke had granted them. Dozens of the tents stood in the fallow field, in concentric circles. At the center was the largest, standing thrice the height of a man. Gilvelle wondered what the duke would have done with the Doravin if they had arrived before harvest.
Beyond the crest was the most damaged area, where a large section was completely missing: fallen into the river below when the pylon beneath it had collapsed. There were at least ten of the Doravin in this area, moving about or squatting to inspect various locations. Several of them were right near the edge of the break, with their weight on blocks he knew were not supported from below. He increased his pace.
He needed to warn the Doravin of the danger they were in. Master stoneworkers! Had they even checked the blocks before walking on them? He spied one, kneeling on a partially shattered block. What was left was about two-thirds the size of the original rectangular slab, with a chunk missing from one corner. The Doravin knelt near the jagged edge, with the bottom of his stone robe spread out around him. He was chanting in a deep voice and swaying slightly. He held something in his hands.
Gilvelle approached. He was hesitant to interrupt what was obviously some sort of religious ceremony, but the man’s life was in danger. Gilvelle knew the block was only held in place by friction. As he neared, the man raised the object, which was some sort of ring about two handspans across, over his head. The chanting reached a crescendo and stopped abruptly, and the man brought his arms down quickly. He was going to strike the block!
“No! Wait!” Gilvelle cried, knowing it was already too late. He rushed forward, but felt a restraining arm wrap around his torso. He turned to look into the face of another Doravin, or at least the eyes above a mask. The mask appeared to be cloth, stiffened somehow from behind, rather than the light metal worn by Na Chok. Behind the mask, the Doravin said something unintelligible to him.
Gilvelle turned back to look at the chanter, who was rising to his feet. Gilvelle realized he had not heard the ring strike the block. He looked for it in the man’s hands, but did not see it. Then he spied it near where the man had been kneeling. It appeared to be imbedded in the block, with half of the circle still exposed.
The Doravin who had been holding Gilvelle released his grip, but kept a hand up as if to ward him away from the damaged block. He spoke again; Gilvelle recognized some of the words. “Ta nek na Darkon Arky Tek?”
“Yes, I am the Dargon Architect. Where is Na Chok?”
The other replied, but the only words Gilvelle recognized were “Na Chok”. He was going to have difficulty directing these workers if Na Chok was the only one who knew Baranurian. While Gilvelle was trying to figure out what to do, the chanter approached. The man had apparently attached some sort of rope or line, gray and thin, to the ring, and was paying it out behind him. The other Doravin turned and spoke to the newcomer; Gilvelle could understand the garbled “architect”, but nothing more. The chanter replied, then turned to Gilvelle.
“Greetings,” he said. His accent was heavy but intelligible. “I am Evim. You are architect?”
Gilvelle nodded. When Evim only tilted his head, Gilvelle added, “Yes, I am Gilvelle Marser, Dargon’s Master Architect.”
“You should watch where you walk. Evik save you, and me. Too much chaos in that stone. Only safe for one to stand.”
Gilvelle’s mouth opened and then snapped shut as he realized *he* was being chastised for not being careful enough by the man he had been trying to save. What had Evim meant by “too much chaos”? He bit back a reply, instead asking, “Where can I find Na Chok?”
Evim pointed down the other side of the causeway. “Below. Go to the center structure. Na Chok is waiting for you.”
Gilvelle continued along the causeway, wondering what structure Evim had been referring to. When he reached the downward slope, he saw. More of the half-dome tents had been raised beside the road. This was a smaller group: one large tent with a single circle of a dozen smaller tents surrounding it.
When he arrived at the bottom, Gilvelle went to the middle tent. It and its smaller siblings were made of cloth or hide stretched over some sort of framework. A circular portal stood open, so Gilvelle thrust his head inside. Within, a stone table stood low to the ground. One of the Doravin sat before it, cross-legged on the floor of the tent. The Doravin rose to greet him, amid a clatter of stone plates. The mask and robes were similar to those of Na Chok, but the Doravin appeared considerably shorter. Gilvelle thought some of the designs on the robe’s stone plates were different.
“Pardon me. I was looking for Na Chok. Can you tell me which tent –?”
“I am Na Chok.” The voice emerging from the mask was clearly feminine. Was there more than one Na Chok?
Suddenly aware of his awkward position, Gilvelle stepped fully into the tent. “No, I’m looking for the man I met several days ago, with the duke. That Na Chok. I am supposed to meet with him.”
The Doravin shook her head. Clearly at least some of them understood the gesture. “I am Na Chok, Master Architect. You are to meet with me.”
Gilvelle was puzzled, but this Na Chok was the only one available; he needed someone with authority to give orders to the Doravin on the causeway. “Straight, Na Chok. The first thing we need to talk about is getting some of those men off the bridge. It is not safe.”
“They make it safer, Master Architect. They remove the chaos.”
Remove the chaos? Did she mean danger? Gilvelle decided she did. “I’m afraid they are adding chaos by being up there.”
Na Chok’s eyes widened as if he had slapped her. She said something angrily in her own language, and then composed herself. “You are a rude man, Master Architect. But that is the Chok’s job, to listen to rude strangers. Do not speak so to the others of my people, though. One of them might kill you, unaware you are ignorant.”
Gilvelle stammered for a moment, unsure how to react. He had been insulted at least twice by the Doravin already, and had managed to insult one of them. He needed to be more careful. “Look, I’m not sure what I said, but I meant no harm by it. I’m only concerned for those of your people on the bridge. I think they are in danger.”
“You are wrong, Master Architect. Already there is more order on the bridge than there was this morning. Come, I will show you.” She stepped outside the tent.
Gilvelle followed. “There is no need to call me Master Architect all the time if we are going to be working together. My name is Gilvelle Marser.”
She turned to look at him. “Which of those is your clan name, the first or last?”
“Clan name? If you mean my family name, it’s Marser.”
“Then I will call you Marser,” she said. “You may call me Noval,” she added, as if bestowing a gift. “Come, Marser. I will show you the bridge has no danger.”
He fell in step behind her, wondering about her name. Hadn’t she said it was “Na Chok”? Then he remembered she had referred to “the Chok” when she had called him ignorant. He felt his cheeks flush at his foolishness. “Na Chok is a title, isn’t it, Noval?”
“Yes,” she said without turning her head. “‘Na’ is like your ‘the’. Chok is …” The strange, broad shoulders of her robe shifted slightly. Had she shrugged? “Chok is one who must speak to strangers.”
As they approached the base of the bridge, Gilvelle saw one of the Doravin standing on the bank, slightly downstream, pulling some sort of rope or line out of the water. He was wrapping it lengthwise along his forearm, from his palm to his elbow. Just as Gilvelle was wondering what was going to emerge on the end of the line, the line itself came out of the water, and Gilvelle could see the other end was attached to something up on the causeway. The Doravin continued wrapping until the line was nearly taut, and then yelled out toward the causeway. Looking closer, Gilvelle could see it was made of the same light, gray material Evim had attached to the ring he had imbedded in the damaged block. Was it the same line? Gilvelle’s heart began to race.
“Noval! You have to tell him to let go of that line! The river is deeper there than the causeway is high. If they knock the damaged block into the river, he’ll be pulled in and drown, or his arm will be broken!”
Noval turned back to him, one eyebrow raised. “Marser, please stop yelling. What are you talking about?”
Gilvelle stabbed a finger toward the Doravin with the rope. “That man, he –”
Too late. There was a shout from the top of the causeway, and Gilvelle watched in dismay as the damaged block tumbled free. It struck the water with less of a splash than he expected. The man on the bank braced his feet and leaned away from the river slightly. Gilvelle wanted to rush forward and grab him, but he knew he couldn’t reach him in time. The line went taut again, and the end moved downriver with the flow of water. Then the stone slab bobbed to the surface.
Gilvelle blinked in surprise and could only stand and watch as the Doravin pulled the floating block of stone to the bank. Once he’d landed it, he reached down and picked it up by the ring and started dragging the block, which was as long as he was tall, away from the river.
“See, Marser? Already there is less chaos on the bridge. By the time the sun sets today, we will have most of the broken blocks removed, and then more Evik and Evim can prepare to take down the rest of the bridge.”
Gilvelle’s head was spinning in confusion as he watched the Doravin drag that massive piece of stone with one hand, but Noval’s last words penetrated the fog of his thoughts. “Take down the bridge? No, we don’t have to do that. I’ll show you how we can save it.”
Now the Doravin was holding up one end of the slab with one arm, while several others laid a half dozen long cylinders on the ground underneath it. Gilvelle gestured toward the group. “Look, how is he lifting that block?”
“Evim performed daltak on the stone to make it easier to retrieve.”
“‘Daltak’? What is that, your word for magic?”
Noval’s shoulders shifted again. “You might call it a kind of magic. Daltak is a lightening of the stone.”
Just then, the man holding up the stone slab shouted, and those who were positioning the cylinders stepped away. The man’s other hand came up and he appeared to brace himself as he slowly eased the slab down onto the cylinders. Then he and all but two of the others got behind the block and started pushing it up the road, away from the river. The cylinders rolled beneath it, easing their efforts. As the block rolled off one cylinder, one of the two Doravin who weren’t pushing grabbed it and hurried to lay it down in the path of the block.
Gilvelle scratched his chin. As uncomfortable as magic made him, he could see the practical application in this situation. “Noval, why not simply have Evim lighten the stone again, rather than go through all of the effort to move the block by hand?”
Noval simply looked at him for a moment, her eyes displaying no emotion. Her shoulders shifted beneath the frame of her robe, and she seemed to come to a decision. “Daltak is tiring for Evim. We only use it at need. There was too much chaos around the block to move it by hand. As the bridge gains more order, more Evik can work directly on the bridge, removing the stone for reshaping.”
All the Doravin’s talk of chaos and order was confusing Gilvelle. He had thought they meant danger and safety, but when he had tried to use “chaos” to mean “danger”, Noval had become offended, even furious. Still, the Doravin on the bridge were making it safer by removing the damaged blocks: there was less weight for the remaining pylons and arches to support.
Gilvelle realized he had allowed the discussion of the Doravin’s magic to sidetrack him. He needed to be sure Noval understood him. “Noval, you never answered me about taking down the bridge. I know some of the damaged portions will have to come down, but the rest of the bridge can be saved. I know you’re new here, and maybe you don’t understand how important both the causeway and the barge traffic underneath are to this city. If we tear the bridge down, both will be disrupted for months. People will starve, and the city will lose trade, perhaps permanently. Repairing the bridge in place is the fastest way, and I’ve figured out how to do it.”
Noval raised her hand, palm down, and jerked it sideways: an obvious gesture of dismissal. “This bridge is weak, without order. We can restore order for a time, but it is better to tear it down and begin anew.” She reached down and picked up two small chunks of stone. “Would you assemble these pieces of broken stone and build a home with them? If so, you are mad. You could hold them together for a time, with mortar, but they will never be as strong as the single piece they once were. Too much order has been lost. So it is with your bridge. Even before it was damaged, the bridge was weak, like every other structure in this city. Too much chaos. Too many …” she held her hand up, “corners.” She spat the word as if it were a curse, and made the gesture of dismissal again.
Gilvelle felt his cheeks redden. “Weak? That bridge has stood for centuries. And many of the *other structures* were built by my family. To call them weak is to insult me.” He took a deep breath to calm himself. “Straight. Insult me all you want, but the causeway has to be saved. I know how it can be done. If– if you won’t let me show you, I’ll go back to the duke and tell him what you are doing is wrong. I think he’ll listen to me and send you on your way.”
Noval’s eyes narrowed, and then her shoulders shifted again beneath her robe, and she looked down. “You say you know how to save the bridge?”
Gilvelle felt the tension easing out of him. “Yes.”
“Very well. Let us return to my shelter, and you can tell me about it.”
Noval led the way back to the half-dome of her tent. Once they were within, Gilvelle crouched down and quickly sketched a view of the causeway in the dirt floor. “The downstream side is basically undamaged. I think we can actually hang the rest of the bridge from it for a while. Long enough to rebuild the arch underneath, at least. Actually, the work you are doing in removing the damaged blocks will help lighten the load. We would use barges to work from while we rebuilt the pylon and arch, three of them, positioned here, here, and here.” He drew the locations of the barges.
“I begin to see, Marser,” Noval said as she squatted down next to him.
Gilvelle spent the rest of the day explaining his plan to Noval, who grew more interested and began to ask him questions about the details of the plan. She even made a few suggestions to hasten the project. When the tenth bell of day sounded in the distance, signaling nightfall, Gilvelle said farewell to Noval and headed home, exhausted from the day’s work.
He felt no trepidation as he crossed back over the damaged causeway to the Old City. He knew the Doravin had spent the day making it safer: “more orderly,” he supposed Noval might say. He completed the crossing without incident, greeted the guard at the foot of the bridge, and returned home for the night. He collapsed into his bed and slept dreamlessly.
Gilvelle arrived at the base of the causeway shortly after dawn to find a small crowd massed there. Others were scattered along the banks of the river, watching the Doravin work. The guard from the previous morning was there. Those nearest to her stood back a respectful distance from her, seeming to be held in check only by her menacing glare. As he worked his way through the crowd, he noticed some people straining to see the activity on the bridge, while others sullenly returned the guard’s stare. The latter group seemed more interested in crossing the bridge than watching the Doravin; one optimistic fellow had even brought a wagon laden with pottery, no doubt hoping to sell his goods in one of the markets in the New City.
The guard turned her glare upon Gilvelle as he stepped into the half-circle that seemed to be neutral ground between her and the crowd. Then she snapped to attention, no longer making eye contact with him. She stood even straighter as he was passing her. Curiously, Gilvelle stopped and approached her. Her eyes didn’t move.
“Good morning,” he said to her.
“Good morning, milord,” she replied.
“Milord? I was only ‘sir’ yesterday –”
“Y-y-yes, milord,” she stammered, “For that you have my sincere apology. I’m new, and I didn’t know. Some senior guards set me straight, though, and –”
Gilvelle held up a hand. He understood, now. Of course, she was new; no seasoned veteran would draw duty standing guard at the foot of a ruined bridge. The prank was an old one, though, one his masons had long since tired of. Apparently, some of the veterans in the Town Guard had decided to have some fun with it. He had to raise his hand into her field of vision before she finally stopped apologizing.
“Listen, I appreciate the courtesy, but I’m neither military nor nobility, and you’re making me nervous standing so stiffly. Please relax.”
“As you wish, milord,” she said, not moving a muscle.
Gilvelle fought hard not to smile. “No, seriously. Stand down, guardsman. That’s better. And I’m over here.”
Her gaze shifted to meet his.
“Well, they really had one on you. What’s your name? If we’re going to have a conversation, I can’t keep calling you ‘guardsman’.”
“Celia, mi –”
“Pleased to meet you, Celia. I’m Master Architect Gilvelle Marser. Note there’s no ‘lord’ or ‘baron’ on the front of that.”
“But they said Duke Sumner Dargon made your position hereditary after the Great Houses War.”
Gilvelle noted with relief that she had finally dropped the honorific. “Yes, he did, Celia. Both I and the Quarrymaster inherited our positions from our parents, for great service by our grandparents — a few times removed — in rebuilding the city after the war.”
Unless he managed to get the causeway rebuilt, the next Chief Architect might not be named Marser; it suddenly became less difficult to hold back his smile at poor Celia’s distress. “And a bit of truth is always helpful when you’re telling a lie. I’m afraid you’ve been made the butt of a very old joke, Celia.”
Celia’s eyes widened. “A joke?” All of the formality was gone from her voice, replaced by irritation. Gilvelle liked the change.
“Straight,” he replied. “I doubt the other guards ever said I was a nobleman. They just got you good and worried and left you flapping in the breeze, didn’t they?”
“Straight, that’s just what they did! Those whoresons!” Her cheeks flushed. “I’m sorry, sir, I–”
“That’s quite alright. And my friends call me Gil. Do you think you can keep this angry mob at bay?”
Celia looked from Gilvelle to the small crowd and back, as if trying to decide whether he was making another joke. “I think I’ll manage, si — Gil,” she said with a grin.
Gilvelle smiled at her one more time, and turned to climb what remained of the bridge. Despite the expectation of another long day with Noval, he had a spring in his step. He wasn’t sure if it was from helping Celia with her tormentors, or from the young woman’s smile. He suspected a bit of both.
On the bridge, even more of the Doravin scrambled about than the previous day. He passed one group of workers who were lifting and levering a block out of the bridge, and another who were slowly lowering one down the slope of the bridge toward the north bank, using their cylindrical rollers and a complicated pulley system. These Doravin were all dressed simply, with cloth masks and very little color on the stone plates of their robes. Noval had called these the Evik, or manual laborers. He also saw quite a few more of the Evim — Noval had called them “thinkers” — moving about. The decorations on their robes were more complex, and their masks were made of thin metal, but less ornately worked than Noval’s. The chanter who had directed Gilvelle the day before had been one. Gilvelle suspected the thinkers were actually the Doravin magi.
Once on the far side, he saw many damaged blocks from the causeway, laid out beside the road. There were more damaged blocks than he remembered being left in the bridge. As he looked closer, he saw many were covered with lichen. The Doravin must have figured out how to get some of the debris up from the riverbed.
When he entered the half-dome tent, he was met with another surprise. The Doravin within did not look like Noval. The mask was similar, but the markings on the stone plates of the robe were very different, and the figure seemed broader. Before Gilvelle could even stammer in confusion, the Doravin spoke, removing all doubt. “Greet you, Master Arky Teck.” The voice was deep and resonant, with a thick Doravin accent.
Gilvelle bowed slightly. “Greetings to you, sir. I am looking for Noval. Am I in the wrong tent, or did I arrive before her?”
The Doravin made the same palm down gesture Noval had made the day before. “I be na Chok. I speak you this day.”
“You? But …” Was all of the progress he had made with Noval the day before wasted? This man’s Baranurian was horrible. How would Gilvelle be able to explain anything to him?
“Yes. I.” The man thumped his own chest with his fist, making the stone plates in his robe rattle. “You speak way to save bridge. I hear.”
At these words, Gilvelle felt somewhat relieved. At least Noval had told this man something of their discussion the day before. And even if the Doravin could not speak as well, he seemed to understand.
They spent several bells as Gilvelle and Noval had the day before: crouched on the floor of the tent, sketching pictures in the dirt floor. Despite the fact that Gilvelle had to start from almost the beginning — apparently Noval had conveyed very little of the details — they made good progress. The Chok seemed to understand everything Gilvelle explained. Gilvelle never did learn the man’s name, nor could he get the Chok to call him anything but Master Architect. He felt a small sense of victory for at least fixing the pronunciation of his own title.
Near midday, another of the Doravin stuck his head in through the opening of the tent and said something in the Doravin tongue. The Chok replied and then stood. “Come, Master Architect.”
“Where are we going?” Gilvelle hoped it was to eat something. The day before, they had only been served some strange, thick drink while they worked. Gilvelle had found it satisfying, but very bitter. Noval had sipped hers through a tube without removing her mask.
The Chok did not turn back as he stepped through the tent flap. “I listened to you. Now it is time for you to look.”
Puzzled, Gilvelle followed the Chok as the man approached the base of the causeway. Had the man’s command of Baranurian suddenly improved? He felt his palms begin to sweat with fear; something was wrong here.
Near the collection of blocks beside the road stood a strange contraption. It was a large stone sphere, bigger across than Gilvelle was tall. It stood on six stumpy legs. Logs were piled beneath it, and more wood was piled nearby. As Gilvelle was wondering if this strange device was what the Chok wanted to show him, he noticed something that validated his fear. The number of blocks beside the road had increased, and many were undamaged and free of lichen. A glance up at the bridge confirmed it: substantially more of the causeway had been taken down than was necessary for his plan. In fact, he was certain removing much more would cause the remainder of the causeway to collapse.
Before he could address his concerns to the Chok, there came a shout from the causeway. Many Doravin came running off the bridge, all of them Evim. These Doravin gathered in a circle at the base of the causeway and began a low chant. Just as Gilvelle was wondering if the workers were also going to come running down, he saw them but not on the bridge. They were lined up on the banks of the Coldwell, with gray ropes wrapped around their forearms. The chanting began to increase in volume.
Gilvelle grabbed the Chok by the shoulder of his robe and spun the man around. “What are you doing? The bridge –”
Gilvelle was interrupted by a loud crack, and the chanting ceased abruptly. Looking up at the bridge, he saw a gray-brown cloud at the top, just beginning to drift away in the mild breeze. Then a muted rumbling began, growing in volume along with the distant murmur of the onlookers on the far bank. The murmuring gave way to shouts as first one, and then a half-dozen blocks fell from the apex of the ruined bridge, sending gouts of water high into the air. A second crack sounded, this one loud enough to echo off the surrounding hills like thunder. The center of the span began to collapse, the remaining blocks grinding against one-another as they slid apart. The Chok pulled free from Gilvelle’s numb fingers, leaving him grasping at the air, while his mouth worked, unable to form words. Then a louder rumbling began, drowning out the splashing of the massive stones striking the river and the amazed cries of the onlookers on the far bank. With the center gone, the bridge could no longer support its weight. Both sides began to cascade into the water in a torrent of rock, sending massive waves both up- and down-river. The ground shook beneath Gil’s feet as the end of the causeway nearest him dropped onto the muddy bank. The causeway had fallen, taking Gilvelle’s dreams of greatness with it.
It was suddenly clear to him the conversations with Noval yesterday and the new Chok today had been nothing but distractions. The Doravin had no interest in his ideas. Whatever replaced the causeway would be a Doravin creation, and would carry no memory of Gilvelle Marser. Gilvelle sank to his knees as echoes of the crash rolled back to fill the silence for a moment, and then faded. He watched numbly as the Doravin on the banks began to retrieve the bobbing blocks of stone.