It was one of those dreary afternoons you get here. So humid you could wring it out, unsteady light occasionally breaking through thick clouds. The rest of the time they obscured the sky, greyish. The sun was a corrosive yellow burning a hole in the horizon. The air felt almost dirty but maybe that was just me. It was natural thing to feel, after all I had learned about the place.
I was tired, a dull headache trapped in my skull. I was a little dazed as well. I walked behind Jacob and took things in quietly, not making any judgements yet. Beside the path the grass grew unevenly. In parts, for no reason I could see, there was just cracked mud. But the grass was long and healthy, bursting with yellow weeds. They were ugly but cheerful. According to Jacob and Lottie the grass had never grown properly in Redware, before.
There was debris everywhere. Not a huge amount, but enough to notice. Potholes on the road were filled with water. It would be hard for anything to get down there. The place we were walking through was filled with small, old houses, their windows like eyes. Some of them seemed empty. A few had no doors.
Jacob laughed, suddenly. I quickened my step a little to catch up with him and he pointed vaguely towards a row of the houses.
“These were never empty before. And they were never as rundown as that. We always thought they’d be fucking wonderful to live in. The paint was never like that either.”
Many of the houses had the remains of cream paint on them, with grey stone showing underneath.
“Why’d it get worse?”
“People left when they could. Just wait, though. There’ll be renovations coming pretty soon. And they won’t be from , either. They’ve a department to deal with all that. I think they automatically have rights to any homes people left.”
“Sounds very modern. Like Gessu.”
It didn’t sound at all like something that could happen in this place. A cluster of skinny, barelegged children were playing in the street Jacob had pointed at. I hadn’t seen any adults anywhere. It all felt dead. I’ve never seen anywhere as abjectly pathetic in Enedolla as in ; it is as if everyone is constantly on the edge of giving up.
I’d better explain. The year was D20.6. It was summertime. I was doing something for people I don’t like very much, in a place I don’t know well, and I’m doing it because I am desperate.
The Queen Lydia had told me that this city was quite ancient; but there was very little known about its early inhabitants and there wasn’t much to know about it when I went. Still isn’t, although it’s interesting enough to study. A small, chaotic place where people hid. It used to have its moods, sudden swells of anger and desperation. There was only one thing notable about it, and that was the sheer amount of children living there alone or half-alone – in large groups, or loosely connected to some family unit. I came here with my cousin, but now I’m staying here. I live with my aunt sometimes. I was here with my big brother, but he moved away and I stayed.
“This road was built through here about four hundred years ago, you know,” said Jacob. He spoke as if he was trying to create a topic of conversation, rather than being actually interested in the road that was built through here about for hundred years ago.”
“Wouldn’t there be things from much earlier?”
“People were living here a long time. But there’s not much left of them. A lot of the stuff here, it’s from when they tried to make it into one of the Royal Cities-”
“And they failed.”
He started to laugh again. “Yeah. They failed.”
I had only met a handful of people who know Redware but all of them found this fact hilarious. It was the only verified piece of history about Redware that many people from it knew. There were endless swirling, unclear myths in the place about its past. The many-headed bear that apparently attacked the city millennia before the Modern Days was probably not true, but there were stories about local epidemics and food shortages that could be accurate. Some were fantastical, some not. More got written down in Enedollia than in . And nothing got written down in Redware.
It was a sort of defiance, the hilarity. They would never be ashamed of Redware. It was the base that everything in their life kicked off of.
We turned and suddenly there was a denser part of the city in front of us; calm, shabby grey buildings rising high. Closest to us seemed to be shops, though I couldn’t really tell. There were two people standing in the street in front of a doorway, arguing, and another pack of children scampering around. They looked as if they existed only to create atmosphere.
There was a stream cutting the path in front of the city proper. Two men stood around it, exuding a businesslike manner to insulate them from interference. Jacob, I knew, would not care.
He called out sharply to them. I am not sure how to describe the vocalisation, which I know is one used in Redware. I hear it from Lottie sometimes as well, and even occasionally from Lydia. It’s a long vowel sound, almost a cross between “a” and “o” and then it stops fast with the lips closing together. I can’t make it, I’ve tried.
I didn’t know what was happening and wasn’t sure I’d understand everything so I kept well back, my body tense. Jacob moved closer and began talking to one of the men, using calm, authoritative gestures.
Understanding his Redware-inflicted Tyre wasn’t hard for me by then, and it had helped me learn the language. But Jacob was speaking the actual Redware dialect, which was hard even for most native Tyre speakers to understand. The man responded without difficulty. I caught a few words in the fast-flowing river of their speech; why, where, outside. Jacob made a sweeping gesture with one hand, fingers splayed. The man responded and Jacob straightened up, stepped back. His next words were in a colder tone. For a minute it seemed as if there was an argument incubating. Their voices were slightly raised. The hand movements looked almost defensive. The man asked something. Jacob paused and then replied. The man spoke again. His tone was more conciliatory this time. Jacob hesitated, before saying something quietly. Another couple of exchanges. Jacob asked a question. I got the word him and nothing else. The man replied. Jacob shook his head and said something else. His voice caught a little. He smiled and turned away, looked to see where I was.
I waited until we’d crossed the stream to ask what had happened.
“They’re pushing a bridge further down. It’s not safe, they say. It could give on its one.”
Pushing is destroying.
“Were you arguing?”
“I’m wondering what’ll be done about it now. Anyone who used the bridge before will have an hour or two to walk before they can get across. Unless they just swim through. We used to do that sometimes, but the water’s pretty dirty.”
“What’ll they do?”
“I’d say it’ll be replaced at some point. But when is the trouble.”
“It won’t be a problem for us?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Was there a fight?”
“Not really. I told him I was from here. They’ve been getting a lot of people who don’t like changes being made here.”
“No wonder,” I said. Where we were walking – a dreary, narrow street fenced in on both sides by high grey buildings – there was more debris, sometimes large pieces. The place was like a raw wound, with the area we’d passed through the inflamed skin around it.
“Do you really think this will be of any use? Finding that guy, Saldana, I mean?”
“For fuck’s sake, Camilla.”
“I’m just saying-”
“I don’t have the energy for another fight. I’ve told you I know where Slater is, and I can get-”
“Will they tell you?”
He stopped and inhaled for a long moment in a pointed way, meaning to demonstrate that he was getting irritated.
“Jay, this will be easier to talk about if you don’t imply that I’m devaluating your whole childhood. You don’t even know these people. Let’s be realistic for a minute.”
“You think I found an excuse to come back here.”
“And this is what I’m talking about.”
“I could’ve come back anytime in the last four years and you think I chose now.”
“I’m not interested in accusations about motive. I’m saying, if we go back to those two guys, the ones who were working with Saldana, and talk to them again-”
“Slater’s more likely to tell the truth.”
“How does he know?”
“They all know this stuff here. I don’t think you understand the way it works.”
“That’s convenient. And that’s the way it used to work – No, don’t go like that. You’re from Redware. You know that. You’ll always be. Saying you’re not familiar with everything happening right at this moment isn’t – it’s just what’s true.”
“I know it’s true. And Slater sent me the damn letter. The one I showed you multiple times. You saw Tadhg give it to me. The address will have moved but I’ve got his signature. I should be able to find it.”
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to change his mind but I kept going anyway. There’s no point mentioning the other arguments I made; they were just points dragged up for the sake of it. After a while Jacob went quiet and then I did. He moved to walk beside me again, but I fell back. He gave another of his pointed sighs.
He told me to stay behind when we approached a doorway in one of the grey buildings. It looked exactly the same as everywhere else; Jacob seemed to remember the whole complicated place perfectly.
“Because they might get angry and then you’ll get angry.”
“You’d be more likely not to if you stayed outside.”
We visited six places in total. I didn’t know exactly what happened in any of them. They were all acquaintances of Slater and Jacob was asking about his location using the letter Slater had sent him before. The letter was intended to prove that Slater wanted to see him. It was hard to find stable housing in Redware at the time so Slater was moving around like everyone else. I guessed Jacob had gotten the other locations from Tadhg.
I heard the residents from two of the houses raise their voices at Jacob. He didn’t shout back. I wanted to.
Jacob turned to me as he emerged from the last house.
“He’s in Khatunly Street. Unless she’s lying.”
“What if she is?”
“We’ll talk about that if there are problems later.”
It was anticlimactic. We made our way to what I assumed was Khatunly Street. Jacob let me come in with him this time. The man he talked to was in his early twenties, our own age. The conversation was all in true Redware dialect again. It was short and awkward. I didn’t understand much. At one point Slater got angry. Jacob held up his hands, said something, gave a forced laugh. Slater left it.
I remember what happened next. But I can't talk about that right now,