When the train arrived in the main Levour station, workmen removed the cars of materials and re-attached them to a different, smaller engine. With Anna and the workers packed onto the back, holding to the railings, the little train rolled down a special new track direct to the fairgrounds. It was near midmorning, but felt much earlier to Anna, whose hair was still slowly drying and curling madly in the damp drizzle that shrouded the city. Anna missed the usual view of the fabulous crystal station. This route travelled, instead, through trackyards, the backs of warehouses, and the industrial part of the river banks.
At the fairgrounds everything was chaos. A foreman shouted that everything must be unloaded at once, and that Shandorians must use their own wagons to do this, though they had only one. He kept looking away from Anna and her attempted polite questions to berate the relaxed, slow-moving Levour workmen in several languages. One of the Levour men tipped his slumped felt cap at her with a lingering look, and another whistled. The foreman glared at her as if all his problems were somehow her fault. It was not a good start to her day.
By the time their first overloaded wagon began the trek up muddy, rutted trails, Anna was furious and trying not to cry. Everyone they passed in the fairgrounds seemed equally dirty, annoyed, and prone to shouting. The two hills before them were a huge swath of muddy terraces with people calling to each other in dozens of languages and swarming around with carts, scaffolding, tools, sod, and building materials. The skeletons of many of the main pavilions were already standing on the crests of the hills, and two seemed entirely complete.
Anna squinted ahead at the Shandorian site, trying to see if they had planted any of the trees yet. She couldn’t plan the next steps without knowing what they’d begun. It was hard to tell, in the grey mist and drizzle, if much of anything had been done. There were several bright tents, though. Anna hoped they had wagons, and that maybe someone other than her could go down next to collect the rest of the materials.
Anna had plenty of experience in planning and logistics. Her father had worked as foreman for the Blackfeathers’ last three dig projects, and Anna had helped find honest, fair local labor and provision suppliers; design the camp layout, water and lavatory facilities; and get everything safely shipped. All that looked like a simple camping trip compared to this. She wanted to quit, but stubbornly held onto both her perch upon some canvas rolls and her composure, in front of her already travel-weary Shandorian workmen. They were having a difficult day too, which would not be improved by unpacking everything in the rain.
They rolled up at last to the cart-track that led to the Shandorian site, just as it really began to pour. A Vespiri workman began a shouting match with the cart driver, arguing in bad Levour that they could not come up through the Sarvarthi site, while the cart driver tried to explain in Trade Common that they had to in order to get to the Shandorian pavilion. After Anna’s translation intervention, and a conference with four more Vespiri workman, the men moved the wagons blocking the way and let the Shandorians through.
The state of the Shandorian encampment was difficult to ascertain from the road, but it smelled of woodsmoke, paint, and greenery. Anna strode right up to the nearest Shandorian she saw, a very tall woman with broad shoulders and gold hair curling as madly as Anna’s, who was working at a makeshift forge under a canvas awning. “I am looking for Teresthan,” Anna said.
The woman didn’t look up from her work, but waved her hammer in the direction of the other tents. “Should be at the main pavilion.”
“Thank you,” said Anna. She thought she knew from the map which one that was. “And do we have wagons here?”
“Probably somewhere. Ask the lads.”
Anna shook the water from her cloak and went back into the rain, further into camp, finding at last the beginnings of the construction site. She found lads, and wagons, but no Teresthan. She sent the lads and the wagons to bring everything else from the train up here, and finally got information from one boy on where to find the missing Teresthan.
“In there,” he said, pointing at a very brightly colored tent across a bubbling stream, “but I wouldn’t disturb them for an hour or so.”
“I haven’t got that long,” Anna said, and walked over the board bridge and right up to the tent. She clapped her hands in the K’shay tanna pattern that meant she was coming in, and did.
The first thing she noticed was that the tent smelled of paint and thinner, and the next thing was that the beautiful dark-skinned young man lying on the divan was missing something he really ought to be wearing.
“Trousers!” Anna exclaimed.
The man on the divan jumped a little, and the paler young man painting the scandalous portrait of him dropped his brush. Anna refused to feel badly about that.
“You’re Teresthan?” she asked the painter, as the model scrambled for something on the floor.
“No, that’s me,” the nearly naked man said, picking up not the large cloth drape beneath him, but a paint rag from the floor. Anna at once admired that he hadn’t destroyed the difficult-to-re-adjust fabric and was deeply annoyed that he seemed to find a paint rag sufficient dress for a conversation.
“I thought you were overseeing the construction of the main pavilion. That’s where I went to look for you.”
“Oh, I help wherever I can. We’re adding a mural to the east wall, commemorating the stand at the castle, during the Corestemarian war.”
Anna let her expression speak for her.
“And you must be Anna Darvin.” He grinned sheepishly. “And I, well, currently am a slain Corestemarian, but in ten minutes and better dress shall transform into your humble servant. You’re early.”
Anna ignored him, because no part of him seemed safe to look at, and walked over to inspect the painting. The pale boy was very good, she was surprised and relieved to see. The series of panels was becoming an impressive battle scene, and Teresthan was being translated into a poignantly dead, and happily soon to be clothed, Corestemarian soldier. His dark skin and wild curly black hair contrasted well with the cloak of a fellow soldier that he had fallen upon, staining the folds with his blood. Anna double-checked the carefully sketched in proportions against the model without thinking about it, suspecting them to be over-idealized. They really weren’t. She looked back to the painting quickly, and at the color swatches for what would be a reassuring uniform. The painter, a slim blond man about the same age as Teresthan, was blushing profusely. “I’m sorry, it was a personal favor, I asked.”
“Your work is very good. I don’t need to know about your personal relationship, just about where the workmen should drop off four tons of earth, several dozen blocks of culturally significant ruins, and a grove of trees. If it’s not too much trouble for you, Master Teresthan.” She turned on her heel without looking at Teresthan again, and left the tent quickly to avoid any further embarrassment. She was haunted for a number of steps by the puzzle of which colors one would mix to match the golden highlights and deep purple shadows of that rich skin in lamplight, and shook the puzzle off with annoyance and great difficulty.
He was going to be nothing but trouble, as she’d suspected, though how much and in what ways were an ever-revelatory experience.
Anna found the place where she’d left the wagon, and saw that it had been unloaded and was trundling back down toward the Vespiri’s new blockade with a trail of other wagons and the lads from the camp, several of whom were singing.
One of the workmen she’d travelled with stood near, under the smith’s awning, with her luggage. “The others have been shown to our tents. I can help you to yours, Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Jory, but shouldn’t I go with them to sort out any trouble?”
“The folk here seem to have the hang of it already.” Jory nodded down to where the Vespiri were moving their wagons out of the way again, and laughter pealed up from below.
“Right then, they get this trip,” Anna said. “Where are the tents?”
Anna found her tent and, in front of it, an apologetically grinning Teresthan, dressed this time, in bright blues and greens in fashionable southfolk style. He had an earring to match. “This wasn’t how I meant to greet you,” he said. “I thought you’d be in this afternoon, not morning.”
Jory opened the tent flap for Anna, and she went through past Teresthan. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to be out of the rain.”
“Of course, um, would you like to join me for lunch, after, ah, later? We could start again.”
“You can give me a full report once everything’s up here and off the wagons,” Anna said, wringing out her hair in the doorway.
Teresthan belatedly produced an umbrella. Anna just looked at him.
Jory left the luggage inside and left, hiding a smile.
“It’s very inconvenient of you to be so pretty,” said Teresthan.
“Is it?” said Anna, coldly.
“It is, really.” He sighed. “If only you were a little plainer I might be able to distract you from being cross with me by being rather pretty myself. But you seem the sort of pretty who doesn’t care that you’re pretty, and so doesn’t care that I am, either.”
“I suppose you shall have to rely on your other charms. Supposing you have any.”
“Ouch. Both beautiful and cruel. Like Queen whatsit, from the Arienish story.”
“Very like Queen whatsit. If you mean Empress Esmira, from the Seldanian, you needn’t worry. I don’t want a forest of pikes crowned with severed heads as part of my garden arrangements.”
“Oh, my great-grandmother made one of those once. They took it down of course, later. That came out wrong. Sorry. I don’t usually brag. You have me flustered.”
“Because I’m so pretty?” Anna asked, acidly.
“Because you’re unhappy with me, and I’m not used to that. I’m really very helpful and charming, mostly.”
“Perhaps everyone’s usually just distracted by you being so very pretty yourself, hmm?”
“Everything I say goes all backward with you.”
“Perhaps if you go backward away from my door my mood will improve.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll make it better.”
“I’ll talk to you once I’m not cold and cross, all right?”
“And we’ll have lunch.”