It was swampy. The guidebook had happily described a confluence of rivers and lowland plains, but had somehow, inexplicably, forgotten to draw the obvious conclusion that low lying land near a confluence of rivers would be swampy. Derridà, whose parents had both worked in the construction industry, was standing on the driest tussock of grass that he could find, and looking, with dismay evident on his homely face, at the lush greenness around him. Lush, he now realised, because it was swampy.
Off in the distance a horn sounded, a deep, echoing sound that seemed to repeat itself, sending a little chill of dread down his spine. The dogs would be ahead of the horns, and he was pretty certain that the Leipzigers bred their dogs to be able to swim strongly. He looked around, wondering if there was any way to cross the damn swamp without soaking his thin, social-occasion shoes through. The green looked tempting flat, but then the surface of water often does.
He sighed, picked a direction away from the mournful drone of the horns, and splashed off. His third step plunged him into water up to the waist, at which point he sighed and starting swimming, cursing the doom that had brought him to Leipzig in the first place.
The swamp finally dried up a little, though he could now see the river off to his left. To his right trees rose out of the water and strange skittery things ran around, perching on bark and branches and possibly looking at him, though he couldn't see any eyes. He picked a winding path that at least had been walked by other people and so was unlikely to land him neck-deep in scummy water again, and hurried as much as his aching feet would allow. The sound of the horns had muted a little, but they'd done that many times over the last three days, so he had ceased holding any hope about it. Each step jolted bruised bones and he kept holding his breath to try to reduce the impact. He wasn't sure it worked, but it made it more bearable.
Suddenly a shack appeared, hidden from view on the approach by a large tree and a mound of spoil that he'd assumed was part of the drumlins that seemed ever present around the city. Outside the shack – it was more of a rude wooden hut, he thought as he saw it better; the roof was thatched but badly, and the door was propped against it rather than hinged – was a man in surprisingly rich-looking clothes. He paused what he was doing – hoeing a patch of straggled vegetables – and leaned on the hoe as Derridà limped closer.
"Yo ho!" he called, his voice sounding young and slightly posh. "Yo ho ho!"
"Oh no," muttered Derridà.
"Good sir, young man, you seem most put out and out of sorts. I beseech you, pause a moment here, take the weight off your feet, and tell me your name!" The man spread an arm out casually, and a scintilla of light skeined out behind it. There was a moment where everything in the air shimmered as though seen through a heat-haze, and then the rude shack was gone, revealing a far more elegant dwelling, supported by large chicken legs.
"A mage," muttered Derridà, but not quietly enough for the man heard him.
"Indeed, good sir, I am a burgher of Leipzig and practiced in the arts that only we of this beautiful city may manifest."
"You spin words like a spider," snarled Derridà, his pulse quickening and his bruised bones aching more forcefully as he remembered being chased from Leipzig. "Let me pass and go in peace; I mean you no harm, I harbour no ill-will to you."
"Good sir, the burgher-King's code may not be so casually thrown aside. You are clearly a man of interest and fascination, and I would learn more of you."
"No!" Derridà blanched. "No, that would not be wise!"
"I think I shall judge what is wise," said the burgher, his smile like that of the wolf. He waved his hand, a flexion of the wrist that suggested much suppleness, and another scintilla of light formed and wove around Derridà's head.
"Ah, you see! You are known already. You are... Derridà!"
As soon as the burgher spoke his name there was a chime in the air, a sonorosity that seemed to surround them both and shiver like the taste of ice-cream in the heat of summer. Then the chicken legs knelt and snapped, pitching the dwelling forwards where it smashed and shattered on the ground, breaking apart like ice during the spring thaw. The burgher stared, and Derridà, whose name meant 'deconstruction' in the language of power that the burgher's could use, goaded his legs into enough effort to lurch into a run, knowing that yet one more person was added to his pursuit.