The next morning, Lucinda and the little ones cleaned the gate. Joshua and Heathcliff started for the Bungle Downs with the two pieces of metal and a basket of vegetables.
Depending on who was asked, the Bungle Downs were either an extension of Destinapolis or a separate city onto itself. They lay just beyond the ancient stone wall that marked the city’s ancient Southern border. There along what had been nothing but a series of dry flats and sandy hills sprang up hundreds and hundreds of shacks and huts made of boards and canvas or even twigs and mud. It was made by people born on foreign soils. It was a place of thick accents and alien tongues. Even Joshua and his friends were still considered part of the city and worthy of its modest charities and benefits. The Bungle Downers were excluded from those. Constables would arrest them on sight if they lingered in the streets past sundown and sometimes never let them go. All kinds of stories were made up by the good citizens to justify these things. The Bungle Downers were said to steal babies and eat runaway pets. Lucinda had even spouted a few tales at night. That was why Joshua didn’t tell her where he was headed that morning. But thanks to his strange new knowledge, he was certain that he could find what he needed among the huts and hovels of the Downs.
Joshua and Heathcliff headed South Dreamer’s Garden, past neighborhoods more decrepit and forgotten. Along the way they’d spot the odd Bungle Downer. Most of them made their living from selling wares in the city out of push carts. Every night they had to push their wares back to the Downs.
“You sure about this?” Heathcliff asked.
“This is the place to go when all you have for currency is a basket of carrots,” Joshua said.
They passed by a street where not a building had been left standing save a single guardhouse with a single guard. The man in his tight uniform marched back and forth with his rifle slung across his shoulder. Joshua wondered what this one soldier with one rifle could do to hold back the thousands waiting beyond the low Southern Wall now within sight. The wall itself was barely more than a long mound of bricks that you could step over. Then he wondered what the man was protecting in the first place. Was the rubble and ruin of Dreamer’s Garden really worth protecting? Were these people so horrible that should be denied even that?
They peered over the wall and saw the huts of the Bungle Downs spread out in every direction. Above the downs floated a dozen strange smells, not all of them unpleasant. Joshua inhaled them deeply.
“Astefida, galangal, mustard seed,” he said.
Heathcliff pointed to a brace of small creatures roasting over a fire in front of one of the huts.
“Oooo. I hope those aren’t puppy dogs.”
“Rabbit,” Joshua said.
“Well, hare to be precise.”
He scanned the line of huts until he found the one he wanted.
“This is what we need.”
He led the way into the Downs. The huts were arranged in no sane pattern. The streets and pathways curled and curved a dozen different ways. The Bungle Downers themselves came in a dozen different forms. Some were dark, some pale as ghosts. Some had curly hair like black wool, others had long blonde locks. They were tall, short, fat and thin. And every other Bungle Downer seemed to speak a different tongue, some guttural and grunting, some light and lyrical. Heathcliff looked about with mouth agape.
“It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
Joshua kept his gaze focused on what he needed.
“There,” he pointed.
Before them was hut with a dozen knives laid out on a bright cloth near the entrance. An old man with light tan skin and grey hair sat cross legged next to the knives. The man had a grey stone and a bucket of water next to him.
Joshua approached with the basket. He held out the two pieces of metal for the man to see. Not needing an explanation the man examined the metal. Then he waved Joshua to come forward with the basket. Joshua took off the cloth to reveal the carrots, peas, and leeks they had carefully gathered the other night. The man looked at the payment and nodded. Joshua set the basket down on the side and man started to rub the piece of metal against the grey stone, back and forth, back and forth. Occasionally he’d scoop a tiny bit of water with his gnarled hand and wet the stone a bit. He worked the long piece of metal over the stone and then did the same with the smaller one. When he was done, he fastened a piece of wood to the end of each and tied it in place with a length of leather. Joshua handed the man the basket and the man handed him back his first pair of knives.
Joshua felt the weight of them in his hand. He could tell, again without knowing how he knew, that the man had done his work perfectly. The knives were finely balanced and sharp as a shard of glass. They could cut through cow’s hide if needed.
“Thank you,” said Joshua.
“Welcome,” said the man with only a trace of accent.
Joshua turned to leave. The old man called out to him.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!”
He disappeared into the hut. He came back with a pair of wooden spoons and a two inch thick dowel. He pressed them into Joshua’s hands.
“Take,” he said.
“Thank you,” said Joshua.
The old man just nodded and went back into his hut.
Joshua and Heathcliff walked away.
“That was nice of him,” Heathcliff said.
They looked around the sea of huts.
“Do you think it’s possible they’re all that nice? These Bungle Downers that is?” Heathcliff asked.
“I highly doubt that. I’m sure they’re plenty of good ones. And a few bad ones. Just like the rest of the city,” Joshua answered.
“I suppose you’re right. It’s a pity. I was hoping we’d found something better than what we already have.”
Joshua grinned. That was the most sensible thing he’d heard out of Heathcliff.
“I guess we’re just going to have to make the best with what we have.”