The Cold Commands

Richard Morgan


CHAPTER 1

When they got down into the fringes of the forest beyond Hinerion, Gerin saw the heat shimmering off the scrublands ahead of them, and knew the crunch had come.

Live or die, this was the shape of their last chance.

We re going to broil out there, he told the others that evening as they sat in their chains and waited to be fed. You hear the march-masters talking? It s another six weeks to Yhelteth at least, all southward, hotter every step of the way. You think these motherfuckers are going to give us any more water or food than we re getting already?

Of course they will, idiot. Tigeth, city-pallid and ponderous, and apparently too bone-fucking idle to want his freedom at any real cost, snorted, sniffed, and blew his nose on his fingers. Like half the men on the coffle, he was coming down with a cold. He wiped the snot away on the ground and glowered at Gerin.

Don t you get it? They have to sell us when we get to Yhelteth. How they going to do that if we don t make it, or if we re starved to the sinew by the time we arrive? Maybe you re too young or stupid to grasp the fact, marsh-foot, but this is commerce. We re worth nothing to them dead.

Marsh-foot.

In some quarters of Trelayne, it was insult enough to bring down an instant formal challenge and a duel at Brillin Hill Fields with the dawn. Elsewhere, it would simply get you stabbed and dumped in the river. As with everything else in the city, assumptions were general but wealth and station defined your specifics for you. And upriver or down, the Glades or the harbor-end slums, the common truth held no one in the city of Trelayne would easily let word stand that they might have marsh dweller blood.

Gerin had grown up in the marshes and he wouldn t have lived in the city if you d paid him. He let the epithet pass, the way he d watched his kin put up with it for as long as he could remember.



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