art by Melissa Mead
The Traveling Raven Problem
by Ian Watson
"Right, apprentice lad, welcome to Ravenstower! As yer already well aware, or bluddy ought to be, the Thirteen Dukedoms communicates by raven-post, and us 'ere is the central ravenry of this 'ere fine city of Orth, proud capital of Northland. Woz yer name again?"
"You addresses us as Corvomaester."
"Behave yerself, scrape up the raven shit, sweep spilled food, pick up dropped sticks cos them's a fire hazard, see as there's always enough carrion and kitchen waste, not picking out any maggots or gobs of fat fer yerself, don't forget about berries and cereals and pullet eggs, and in twenty or thirty years some young oik might just be addressing yerself as Corvomaester."
All the way up the domed tower were big rough-hewn numbered niches for ravens' deep fur-lined nests of sticks, mud, and bark, tied together with roots, open to the outside air as well as to the inside. Due to all this ventilation, the tower was bloody cool within but less pongy than otherwise might have been. Curving stairways of black iron led up to all levels of the railed interior galleries. Igar imagined a huge library where the ravens were books, their feathers pages. Bright Igar imagined far too much. He'd been taught things by a mythematical maester who went into retirement to meditate but who then took a fancy to this lad so open to learning yet bottom of his class due to woolgathering during dull lessons. When the hundreds of hogs in Dad's flock suddenly died of rampaging purpleskin posteriorparalysis brainrot, necessity compelled that the boy be gainfully indentured, and Igar was lucky indeed that the maester pulled a string within Orth Castle.