“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 26

23 07 2014

Swathed in a purple velveteen shift, Calzjha looked back up the brick walk and waved at the blockade in front of the Terhane Residences. “Oh soldiers! Oh police! I thank you for making the Kingdom safe! If you are to gain your pass, you could come visit me in the Foreign Due!”

The soldiers looked upon her, stunned with adoration, almost red with jealousy of the captain who firmly guided her by her elbow to the Residences.

Warren peeked from the velveteen ready bag under the captain’s arm, [Shut up! We are through the gate!]

“I am so glad! Are there no comfortable shoes in the Kingdom?”

The three walked up the path to the three-story residence of the Birqmuir ambassador. The house was little different from the homes and businesses in the city below, with gables and peaked roof. In the late afternoon sun, the red brick also seemed to blush at Calzjha’s approach.

Calzjha was giddy at such strong, competent military attention. However, the captain’s pace had been measured and hard. His face was fixed, pained, and hollow.

Obdurate appraised his state from a comfortable distance: Hands are shaking a little, yes. The backs of my knees feel like cold fat. Like when I drilled for days at army camp. Or when I did the math recital with that fever. Funny I can note this with all that goes on, with forging the General’s name on the pass we just used, and smuggling fugitives into foreign hands. What a callow fool I am to believe I could do this.

Warren looked to the man. [Calzjha! Invigorate the captain! He is looking slack again!]

She pulled the captain’s arm close and massaged it along the creases in the muscles. She ran her free hand along his spine, pressing firmly along the vertebrae in a mysterious manner. Obdurate’s face tingled, and his breath became freer.

“I do not have much more nerve,” he said.

[Captain, I am about to betray a confidence: the Earl himself said you were impressive.]

The Earl? Impressive? Me?

The thoughts were as disjointed from fatigue as from surprise.

Obdurate remembered sitting in his office, daydreaming of making the Earl’s acquaintance, and gaining the man’s respect.

Was it a month ago? No,…it was not even a week past.

“I am flattered,” he muttered.

[Indeed you should be. He said you were made of stern stuff. The Earl does not impress. He avoids being impressed. You impressed him.]

They came to the narrow, lacquered door.

“I wish I could say…it actually makes a difference.”

[I believe the Earl would be impressed by that sentiment as well.]

To Obdurate’s surprise, his resolve gathered at that.

“Captain,” Calzjha released his arm and guided a strand of her hair back into place. “you should call for their attention.”

“What should I say?”

“Just call for their attention.”

The captain raised his hand to his mouth. “I call for your attention!”

Calzjha gave a musical laugh. “ Much like the Earl.”

The door slid open. Obdurate caught a glimpse of Calzjha’s eyes; they twinkled with excitement.

Appalled, he realized, Enthus! Calzjha enjoys this madness!

Standing in the doorway was a tall and broad Birquir man stood in a formal Rahsic blue tunic. His red hair and beard were woven into tight braids.

He said in sharp, precise Rahsic, with the whistling consonants of the Birquir: “You will have to make way. The ambassador must leave. No petitions accepted today.”

A twig-thin Adactoid with pale skin peered from behind the man’s shoulder.

Warren chittered! [Ambassador!]

The Adactoid’s hands rose to smack its face. “Is it true? It is true! The Public Works informed me that the Earl was in prison! I thought ‘They are spoofed!’ Yet here stands a telepathic weasel!”

Warren wriggled to stand straighter.

[I am Warren, Chief Council for the Earl of Weiquant. Whom am I addressing?]

“I am Irokoinr, ambassador for the Empire of Birqmuir.”

[I recognize your name. Would your parent be Nyroyn, who accompanied the Earl in destroying the Abomination?]

The ambassador gave a sigh of a whistle orchestra whose members were about to be asked to repay a substantial loan. “Yes.”

Warren chittered again, [Blessed day! To finally be home! We --]

The weasel caught himself, and took a breath. [On behalf of the Earl of Weiquant, a man blessed as the nobility of the god Khurkherl, Who Wields A Sword In One Hand And A Bigger Sword In The Other; the same man who --]

Irokoinr lowed, miserable. “Who saved the life of my logic-sire, Nyroyn, yes. What do you want, councilor?”

[We request repatriation. Rather, I request repatriation. This is Captain Obdurate Childteacher, Adjutant to the Army of Invitation. The Captain requests sanctuary. He will share a valuable method of numeromancy in exchange for opportunity under the Empire.]

The Adactoid peered to the grim, dazed soldier. “The Earl sent us a message of this new method.”

Calzjha brushed a sleeve against Warren to prompt him.

Warren closed his eyes and growled, then opened them: [This is Calzjha from the land called The Womb of The Artful Nurturers. She is an agent working for the Earl. This one needs a home, somewhere.]

Calzjha said, “You must help! The Earl is in prison!”

[We also request sanctuary for the Earl’s lover! She is Respiration Greatsergeant.]

“Goodwife Greatsergeant!”

The ambassador slumped further. “You wish sanctuary for her? No wonder the Emperor is spending more time communing in the Dreamland this week. He must have determined the Earl was in the hemisphere again. Enter.”

The Adactoid waved a spindly hand. The Birquir doorman guided them to a comfortable anteroom decorated with shelves holding tiny stone sculptures, and the leaning sitting stools common of households in the Empire. Another wave, and the doorman left them.

Obdurate said, “I do not go without Respiration. I will tell you nothing without her safety assured.”

“And you must spring the Earl!” cried Calzjha.

“Do not worry about the Earl and jails.”

The ambassador chuckled, puzzling over the captain’s concern for Respiration. “Any prison he is in, he is out of soon enough. You, captain, must have quite the method to have impressed the Earl.”

[I can attest to its efficacy, ambassador.]

Warren gave a brief account of the captain’s accomplishments using his method, including the tracking of General Greatsergeant.

The Adactoid considered. “It is possible that if you were to be removed from the city, that you would find ample opportunity to prove your value. But why? Why is the Earl here?”

Calzjha took it upon herself to very quickly tell of their journey to find moosecrab, which was a quest for vengeance in disguise. The ambassador shook its head.

“I stay here. What did my logic-sire used to say? My logic-sire used to say ‘Fazgood has always been a skinny smartmouth with a throwing hand. Stay out of his way, for he will lead you into danger. Who else would think to storm the Abomination via its colon?’”

The soldier exclaimed, “Yes, he is a marvel– hold a moment. ‘Colon’ did you say?”’

Both Warren and Calzjha cast their gaze around the room.

The captain pressed them. “’The Nimblest Man’ said he had crawled down the Abomination’s throat!”

“Hm!” said the ambassador. “Did you read close? Not close enough. The book used the word ‘orifice’. The book leads one to believe it as ‘throat’, but I assure you, my logic-sire was there, and it was a colon.”

Turning to his compatriots, Obdurate gasped. “You knew this?”

Warren twitched. [The world does not want heroes to wriggle up the anuses of monsters! A civilization demands a little…dignity…of its saviors.]

Her smile straining, Calzjha said, “He swore us to secrecy. Fazgood is embarrassed by it. It is still an act of astonishing bravery.”

“But the colon?!”

[This is why he swore us never to discuss it! People always have such disgust --]

The captain waved his hands in utter surrender. “Is there anything in that book that was as I believed? I do not care anymore! How will we get to the Empire?”

Shrugging nonchalantly, the ambassador leaned forward. “How would I know? A boat sails after green-night fades. It sails from the north dock at the pier beside the Customs House of the Blue Swords. All who sail on it would be conveyed around the Teplar Sea to the coast of Liedmakt. Why do I say this? I convey this for those interested in maritime schedules.”

Both the soldier and the occasional woman puzzled at that response.

[The ambassador] explained Warren, [must be circumspect, in order to delay determination. He did not tell us how to escape, only about boat schedules.]

Asked Obdurate, “Where is the Earl now?”

[The Earl has been released to the General’s custody! They are to return to the keep to move the mask to a new hiding place. He believes the General is planning a betrayal --]

At that, the adjutant grew grim. “I am not staying here! I am done with the General and his treachery! I go to Respiration!”

[We are to stay here and wait for the Earl!]

The captain threw open the door and dashed outside.

Calzjha cried, “You cannot go alone!”

She struggled to her feet and swore at the skirt. Spitting a stream of foreign frustrations, she watched Obdurate run into the dusk.

[Fluxion! Fluxion! Fluxion!] squealed Warren, [Seize this bag and after him!]

Calzjha kicked her shoes away. “How is a kingdom that calls itself healthful –“

She tore away the shift at just above the knee. “ — to have clothing where one cannot move!”

Sighed the ambassador. “Why can I not go speak with the spirits for days at a time? What bliss would that be?”

Calzjha grabbed the bag with the weasel and sprinted into the night.

 

*         *         *

 

Mehzadapt wiped itching and damp palms upon his jacket lapels. “What did you say?”

The deputy reported, “The police came and hustled us away. When I said we were fulfilling our duties watching the keep, the sergeant of them smacks my head and says ‘The Greatsergeants do not like your smell. Stay away, all of you!’”

The Inspector looked to the façade of the scout headquarters. The plug-hatted scouts from all over the city were still paying their respects to the magnate, but now the crowds were more idling than mourning. All passersby sneaked glances at Mehzadapt, who caught many gloating looks.

Mehzadapt unfolded the note and again read the note that had been delivered a mere half-hour before, writ in tiny scratch-like letters:

 

To the Scout Inspector Mehzadapt:

Our Mutual Friend seeks to relocate his gains this evening. He will have all away and be saved from scrutiny. They are securely hidden under trap. Be on watch for three casks. I may show you, if I may be brought from under lock and my exile expedited. If not, know that Our Friend will be sparely assisted. Only a few will be needed to seize the moment.

 

F

 

As a boy in Harmonium, I remember taking oaths with others on our names to honor my mentors. Weren’t you the red-haired chap?

 

The last gave him a jolt: What else does he remember? Could he have regained memory?

Mehzadapt remembered vividly the moment to which Fazgood referred. In the warehouse that would eventually prove his pyre, Uzkuk the Black Growth, leader of the Eleven Circles, had them all swear By the truth of my sacred name, the word that describes me, I will honor the Brigade of the Eleven Circles…

The first question asked of all who took civic duties, police, soldiers, civil servants: Have you ever broken an oath sworn by the truth of your name?

The old magnate had given Mezhadapt as pass as a reward for betraying the Eleven Circles. This began the Inspector’s decades of slavish support for that old man.

“Did you see the General?” he asked the deputy.

“Some soldiers are standing around outside the edge of the square. That Fazgood carried in three small black casks. Next, the servants all left, very upset.”

That leaves Greatsergeant’s wife and Fazgood inside. Greatsergeant himself would be too smart or too arrogant to do the dirty work himself. Greatsergeant is one, certainly, and the other two are dupes. Perhaps one is the captain.

“The soldiers are aiding a crime. They will either thank us later or be condemned. We go the square.”

Said a deputy, “But the police have evicted us.”

“The police will thank us or be condemned. We go in,” said the Inspector, “and make an arrest. Gather every deputy you find. Gather at the east arterial gate in one quarter hour! Go, all of you!”

The deputies scrambled across the plaza. Other scouts and passersby noted the flurry of activity, but Merhiazadapt did not care. He clapped his hand on Cornpudding’s shoulder. Deputy Cornpudding, you secure the hidden entrance.”

That deputy puffed. “I know only of the canal, but I don’t know where –“

The Inspector seized the fat man’s shoulder. “Your friend would find it quick. This is the important task at of your career. Your friend needs to insure that the Earl disappears.”

“What of the captain and that – that Foofaloof?” (((

“All of them are going on the Royal Road, no matter what the truth of this matter. But the Earl has to vanish. All will say ‘he escaped’ or some nonsense, but he will be gone. Go! Be in place by one quarter hour as the sun sets!”

“I have not enough time!”

“Go!”

Cornpudding jogged to a rickshaw.

 

*       *       *

 

Fazgood carried the first wooden cask into the kitchen and opened it.

Respiration muttered to the Earl. “Of course you send the servants away before I have them carry these upstairs.”

He removed smaller boxes, a sheaf of foolscap paper, and brushes. He placed the items beside an exposed timber. Each cask had been made as a portable secretary. They were identical: black lacquered ablewood, square, about the length of Fazgood’s forearm. The General had bought them in haste from the same woodwright, with Fazgood providing expert approval. The soldiers and the Earl brought them to the keep. The General told his wife. “Take these and help this fool move the object.”

After shutting the door, the Earl said. “I was planning your husband’s ruin. How do you fare?”

“My lover is tortured near to death, I am a pariah, and my husband is giving me orders.”

Fazgood paused on the stairs, receiving a message from Warren. He gritted his teeth. “Obdurate is well and you will see him soon. I would prefer that he stay put, but apparently he is running here and creating commotion.”

“He is well!”

“Yes, he is well! And about to complicate my plan! We must have these secretaries upstairs now!”

They hustled one secretary each upstairs to the Greatsergeant’s bedroom. His left knee tweaked a bit on the second trip up the stairs, where she carried the remaining secretary and he struggled with a large sack of dry barley.

He wiped sweat from his brow and ran down to his old bedchamber. Seeing the decanters of perfumes and unguents were still by the window, the Earl laughed and seized the gold-stoppered bottle of relish. Two fingers worth of the infernal condiment glistened through the cut glass. The Earl shoved the relish into his blazer pocket then carried the box of decanters to the top of the stairs overlooking the anteroom.

“Help me,” he said. “Find all of the liquor, all of the lamp oil, and every bottle of perfume you have. Pour them on the papers downstairs. Splash them on the furniture. Make a trail along the walls to puddle just within the hallway.”

Realization struck the Goodwife and made her gape as if slapped. “You mean to burn…”

“We do not have time to talk!”

“I know,” she said. “I had always dreamed this moment. The lamp oil is kept by the servants’ rooms. Use the cloth in your room.”

Fazgood spun and smiled at her innovation. “Yes! That is the plan! And Respiration?”

The Goodwife turned back up the stairs.

“Save that tziembroask.”

She laughed and ran downstairs.

Suddenly, the door burst open.

The captain and Calzjha stood in the anteroom, panting. Warren sprang from the basket and staggered across the floor, dizzy from being tossed about during the sprint.

Heaved the captain. “Respiration!”

“Obdurate, you idiot!” she cried.

They embraced and kissed.

The Earl said. “The soldiers! Someone bar — ”

Calzjha had already slid the bar home and secured the door. Hands pounded against it.

She turned and looked up at him, her face glowing with excitement. Her dress was torn further; a rend split well up her right thigh. Her bodice was loosened and plunged deep. Calzjha looked to the lovers embracing, then back up to the Earl.

“Well?” she said, with mock expectancy.

“Your, ah, your…ships are about to sail…” He swallowed and made to pull his hands up his chest and pointed to her.

Pinching the fabric beneath her arms and wriggling up to secure the dress anew.

Outside, someone pounded on the door.

At last! the Earl laughed.

His temper burst forth, throaty and booming. “Oil! Liquor!”

Respiration sprang to the kitchen.

“All sharp objects to me! Get ready to fight!”

All tasks were accomplished with blinding efficiency. Along the hallway of the second story, they lined cuticle knives, cutlery, hairpins, and cherished heirloom weapons along the floor. Fazgood handled all of them, remembering their balance and weight. He snatched up the remaining bottle of tziembroask.

“Stay up here,” he said to the assembled group. “when the Inspector comes, remember your lies from Warren’s script.”

He marched to the contemplation room, now stripped of the tiny paintings of ancestors and the fine crafted furniture. He walked to the window facing Lanthornmount Square.

Beneath, Greatsergeant’s voice cursed.

Across the Square, near the tea vendor, stood a short man with copper-hair.

Fazgood waved to Mehzadapt, beckoning.

 

 





Would you do me a favor?

19 07 2014

I have a Facebook author page. I’m gunning for 100 Likes, which would help me get the word out more about the cool stuff all of you are doing, and the new stuff I’m doing. If you want, I’ll friend you back and post the thing I find most interesting about you.





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 25

16 07 2014

In the pale, windy dawn, before the excited throng in Lanthornmount Square, a great cloud above the Citadel descended. The citizens sang and roared and crowed their delight. General Allotrope Greatsergeant had returned.

The tale cascaded through Harmonium: General Greatsergeant had flown in the mouth of the Army of Invitation’s Cumulid, this Cumulid who now glided above, taking a craggy altonimbus’ guise. The General had ridden the Army of Invitation’s Cumulid all the way from the Ijkallas, three days in the swiftest being of the air, flying as fast as a hurricane’s wind. But not riding atop that fleet’s Cumulid, as earthbound beings were able to do for a few hours at a time.

The General had flown nestled in the Cumulid’s mouth. High in the atmosphere for thousands of thin-breathing miles. It had been done before; magicians were bourn so by the Consortium of Aerial Beings, but to do so for days was a test of endurance that proved the greatness of the kingdom and those who defended it.

Within the crowd, Calzjha wore a dress she snatched from their luggage as she dashed from the keep. Under her arm was the basket containing Warren, the wicker basket being common to the city. Around them, the crowd shared astonishment:

“Did you hear? His wife was caught betraying her marriage.”

“Betrayed her husband with a foreign guest she was sponsoring.”

“My sister-in-law hauled that Foofaloof in her rickshaw. She said the fellow was so charming.”

“That Ijkallan did not enter into it. My brother said it was some lackey who claims to be the Earl of Weiquant.”

“The Mad Earl! Nonsense. But what a tragedy for the Greatsergeants. Again.”

“What a terrible blow for the Foofaloof.”

“The poor, dear Foofaloof.”

Calzjha’s heart panged at their sympathy.

Above the city, the descending cloud gathered and rounded to avoid touching the rooftops. Citizens popped their curious heads from windows to gawp at the huge, billowing white underbelly.

That is how Cumulids traveled unnoticed; adapting their skins to seem like their surrounding meteorological dependants.

At the edge of Lanthornmount Square, above the Temple of Public Works, the cloud cascaded toward the flagstones. At the Cumulid’s front, the semblance of pudgy cheeks and bulbous nose unfurled. In an orderly, Harmoniad fashion, the crowd itself eased back to allow entrance.

Long tentacles extended to the surrounding buildings. Plate-like eyes, larger than gate arches, gave an expression of chagrin at so much attention.

The tentacles drew back. Revealed was a great cavern of mouth, arched and glowing like the anteroom of the Amusatorium.

Within that glow, a shadow stood. It took two, three steps. The man swayed as if exhausted, then steadied himself and hopped upon the brick of the square. The high forehead, the firm jaw unmistakable from his ancestor upon the ever-battling mural. The General had arrived.

The Cumulid swept its lower lip back and swept back up, wind pulling clothes, tugging hair, tearing papers from some awe-slackened clerk and sent flapping into a whirlwind. The great shy face blended with the illusion of cloudbanks. The Cumulid undulated away, casting its huge, diffuse shadow along the Arterial, to join that white quasi-nimbus of Royal Cumulid above the Citadel. The two clouds eased to each other, and stilled.

General Greatsergeant eased his attention to the Citadel. He looked upon it, the sunset gleaming in rose from the walls, that same russet sun striking his brown, chisled profile and edging his hair with gold. The wind ebbed and eased. The crowd settled from their excitement, and seeing the General so stilled and preoccupied, gathered their attention upon him. They drew closer.

He looked upon Harmonium, seeming lost in thought. Then Greatsergeant turned to the crowd. His voice was mellow yet strong, and carried over the breathless square:

“So long I have waited. Near two years away, seeing the marvels of exotic shores and the glories of peoples newly found. Yet…”

The General looked again upon the Citadel.

“…all are faint shadows compared to the sight of Harmonium,” he said.

A ripple of delight swept through the crowd. A woman standing beside Calzjha gasped with pride.

Calzjha muttered in Adanikarese. “Splendid. That entrance was so…poxied…splendid.”

At her elbow, Warren peeked from the basket. [Calzjha, please. We must get to the Birqmuir embassy.]

She thought, [We have time. I am in a new disguise. I am double-guised as they are looking for a man. I want to see the General. Fazgood always says that to gain an enemy’s measure, you must survey him yourself.]

“I have come in such an expedient conveyance,” The soldier drew out the word wryly to emphasize that it was not his lot to be comfortable. “To relate the admiration of the Ijkallan people as I presented myself to our Royal Family. Another splendid race of beings wish to join our Kingdom and Concord. I have come to bring the tidings of their people for your approval.”

Warren had slipped his head from the basket. [What is this. Do I understand this? He traveled from halfway across the world in that Cumulid’s mouth, presented himself to the Royal Family where he undoubtedly warmed and fed himself, then climbed back in the mouth to present himself here as freshly weary? What pomposity.]

Calzjha snorted. [I…yes. Yes. That is what he has done. I told you this would be invaluable.]

“There has been,” spoke the General toward the Keep, “much sadness in my family. This is but another difficulty in a family that has survived greater woes. I am committed to my love, my family and my kingdom. Through the help of my people…”

He opened his hands to beseech the crowd.

“…and the Concord, all will be made well.”

The crowd, over three thousand strong spilling along the Arterial and side streets, was moved by his pious devotion and nodded, hushed.

Warren peered. [Assailing a crowd this large requires great confidence.]

[But he is so simple! He plucks at the words “love” and “kingdom” and “family” and “Concord” again and again without any artfulness.]

The weasel chided, [They seem to like him.]

Calzjha made to shove Warren’s head down. Warren ducked back into the basket.

The General opened his hands to the crowd in a plea. “I have come bearing sad tidings for the Ijkallan delegation, for the son given the title the Grand Foofaloof.”

Warren popped back out of the basket and looked at Calzjha.

“He must be told of the grave illness of his father. I came in the noble Cumulid of the Invitation Army to bring the loving son back to his father’s side. I fear that the poor man may not last the night. But I have been told the Foofaloof has disappeared. Perhaps he is grieving or ashamed of the events of last night. But his father is dying and I bear no ill will. I wish to fly him back to his home, before it is too late.”

Dismay swept the crowd.

A woman near them: “The Foofaloof is such a merry being. I hope he is not distraught.”

To their left, a man: “A splendid fellow. He had the whole textile market roaring with laughter.”

Warren squeaked, [That…that tricky bastard. The entire city now looks for us.]

Calzjha could barely suppress her smile. [They love me so. And I love them.]

[Dolt! If the General gets hold of us, we may go up in that Cumulid, but we will come down without it, and over an ocean.]

Backing out of the crowd, she thought, [I must go to the Terhane Residences.]

The black eyes widened, [It is too late for the embassies. They will be watching. You still resemble the Foofaloof too closely. You must come up with a better disguise, or a distraction, or a ruse.]

She froze, aghast. [Why me? You are the playwrite. A play which, I should say, was absolutely horrible. How could you write such lines for me?]

[Ah!] Warren pounded the basket. [So you did roll your eyes at your lines. Art is a curative. Sometimes medicines make ill before they cure.]

[You make ill with your presence!]

[You wish you had one tenth of my intelligence. You are ashamed of your awe.]

Calzjha groaned and hunched through the remainder of the crowd. [I am awed of your dreariness. If you are so intelligent, think up a ruse then.]

[So I will.]

[Then do it.]

[Stop twittering at me; I’m trying to think.] Warren banged the basket shut.

Meanwhile, Warren thought, [My liege, I know you are preoccupied. But….may I disturb you?]

 

*         *         *

 

The Eximus Quayfort was mushroom shaped and squat from the outside. Fazgood was familiar with the design; the Xhnar had been royalty in the Kingdom before divesting themselves of the Compact, and founding their own land. They used the Eximus as a basis for their keeps in the Three Cities.

The common room on the third and highest level in the fortress was a design that balanced security with social grace. Walls were of thick brick covered with smooth, white plaster. A latticework of ablewood allowed guards to walk atop the ceilings and look in upon their charges. On the latticework stood three guards, whose expressions revealed nothing, but whose staring eyes alternated from hard determination at the importance of their task, to twinkling wonder at the charge’s identity.

Below on a stool, the Earl stared at the whiteness, ignoring the bitter smell of plaster, seeing only his thoughts.

Public Works will be here to determine me, that is well and good. The General will get nothing from Respiration, and he dare not have her determined. Obdurate is probably at the General’s side, or soon will be. His nerve will be a problem; but will it? He gave up nothing to the scouts. How I underestimated him.

His arm still tingled where it had pushed against Respiration’s breast.

Now. Now, the General doesn’t know where the Foofaloof is, and that must be making him frantic. Calzjha must be in the embassy by now. Where in the several dozen hells is Public Works?

[My liege, I know you are preoccupied. But…may I disturb you?]

The Earl considered, Warren is not panicking. That is good. Everything must be going smoothly.

[Squire, I am well. What have you?]

[My liege. We are doomed. The General just asked the entire city to look for us.]

The Earl suppressed a groan. [You are in the embassy, I hope?]

[We are surrounded in Lanthornmount Square. Calzjha wanted to see the General. It was rumored that the man would speak this morning.]

The weasel conveyed the events, and the Earl’s groan ran free.

The Earl scrubbed his forehead. [It is too late to get to the embassy. By this time, the General will have it under watch, saying the Foofaloof is panicking or some such. But you discovered the General wants to keep up the pretense. We can use that.]

[We could drive a group of people to the gates of the embassy to confuse the watchers, as you did with the Adanikarese Trade House.]

Fazgood sucked his lip. [The palace guards will be too smart, and the streets there are too narrow. The police would just cordon and interrogate one at a time. They would also stop and search all messengers.]

[Perhaps something to draw the police away?]

[Lose the basket and hide yourself within a bundle of clothes. Contact the captain, and have him escort Calzjha to the embassy in best dress. The captain is Greatsergeant’s voice; no one will bother him today.]

[Yes. I hope he is well enough.]

[He will be.]

The Earl’s face turned grim. [I would have liked him at my side back at the Earldom. Tell Calzjha she may flirt with the soldiers. That will keep her calm.]

The door latch clacked and the white painted door slid open. A maroon coated soldier escorted two old, dark-skinned humans in brown. The Earl brightened.

[Ah. Here comes Public Works. Go to your task.]

[Yes, my liege.]

The Earl looked to the men with anticipation.

They unrolled a square of black velvet, upon which was embroidered a large red square. The first gray-haired man rattled and rolled between his hands a set of lotsticks. He hummed and cast.

The sign of the Great Monstrous Broom lay, its staff pointing at the Earl.

Fazgood eyed it glumly. “Ah. That.”

Silence smothered the room. Shocked stares locked upon the Earl and their breathing stopped. The men backed away, thumped into the wall behind them, reached over their shoulders and knocked upon the door in tiny, sharp strokes. The door opened and they slipped out. The door slammed shut.

Fazgood looked up from the red sticks at the guard standing on the lattice above. “I have the foulest time with that…”

The guard was gone. Running footsteps clattered the latticework, receding, gone. Sharp rattling tapped Fazgood’s eardrums. From the top of the wall with the door, darkness raced across to the top of the wall behind him, and stopped its progress with a solid boom. The diffused light turned to sharp bands of light and dark. Outside the door, a similar boom.

Counter-weighted and tracked concrete blocks on the ceiling and door.

Ah. I forgot. Those are part of the design here as well.

The Earl grimaced in the stark light.

Will the Temporary God be disassembled? If so, that lotcaster in the scout brigades will be sent back to the Inspector.

He sighed and thought: What state are Mehzadapt’s deputies in? I fed two of them enough of that relish.

He cast his mind back to the keep, to the very spot among the glass bottles where he left the Lava-God-Vengeance Relish: Hope it doesn’t ignite the perfumes.

What had I just considered? Ah. Feeding relish to sow dissension, and dropping enough hints to my identity to that Tlezjoy. Those deputies must be quite excitable about being kept ignorant by Mehzadapt. Now when is that cursed General going to come?

 

*       *       *

 

Mehzadapt sat pressing his fingers tight against his teacup so tight, his fingernails were white. His heart pounded. It is true, or true enough. The General is not here for any Ijkallan lie. He is here to protect his graft. His being in Harmonium makes everything much easier. Today I will have exposed a conspiracy and be seated firmly upon a paragon.

The vote is tomorrow. I must have him today to sway Inspector Akekek and be elected Magnate.

He glared at the maid at the door, who moved to fill the half-emptied cup. The Inspector had taken a liking to the Bellflowers after having twisted the Earl here that night. Outside the window, and below, this side alley of the Foreign Due swept and swirled in the lively dance of commerce. Emissaries from the scout captains of the city scurried in and out of the meeting room all morning.

Petitions and promises were sent by messenger to the captains. The notes that returned were polite and perfunctory.

No support. Not one captain will back me. I have to get the General now, and get Inspector Akekek’s support, before I am destroyed.

From the open window of the warehouse, just under the sill, the crowns of three plughats shifted and tilted hats; by height he knew the highest hat was Deputy Varalam’s, there was the top half of Varalam’s gray head beneath. At least Varalam could keep them in some propriety.

Even now the Adactoid growled. “Keep quiet, you.”

One deputy’s deep vibrato, almost subsonic as a tremblar. “The whole city talks about it. We cannot?”

“I told you: I knew so.” whined another, which he recognized as Tlezjoy.

“You knew nothing,” said Varalam.

“I saw him throw beannuts and strike a policeman fifty strides away. He told me of his traveling in mountains is his youth; he was supposed to be from islands. I knew there was more to him.”

“That first day of searching,” said the deep voiced one, “that animal we were looking for must have been Warren. But what was his play at living in the Greatsergeant Keep?”

“Perhaps he was spying,” suggested Tlezjoy.

Varalam’s head shook. “He is willful as a demon. He lives for things precious like a pirate king. Perhaps he sails from city to city, pillaging rich homes but with the owners’ cooperation. Human women admire excitement.”

“Imagine having a play like that.” Tlezjoy said. “You would bed rich, beautiful women, live high, and leave when you are bored.”

“I would never be bored,” said Growly.

“What a prize. And the Inspector could not keep him.”

Mehzadapt rose and leaned out the window.

The three turned and looked up. The Inspector noted two fleeting looks; the narrow eyes and tilted heads of resentments from the Humans, and the Adactoid’s eyes twinkled of amused doubt, though that faded quick to cold. In normal circumstances, the Inspector would have played that he had heard nothing of their conversation. But with the desperate wrangling with captains, the strange anger among his crew, his own frustration, the loss of the Earl’s obligation, and now the dearth of comforting deference; all made his temper short.

The Inspector sneered: “I knew that he was the Earl of Weiquant. You know one spit of it. There is more to him still. But if my deputies insist on speaking free –“

The three looked around the empty sidewalk.

“ — and losing their demeanor. All of you go walk the Triumph and contemplate keeping your mouths shut until I say otherwise. When anyone asks, tell them ‘I walk to improve my discipline’. I will not have your willfulness known and ruin my candidacy. Go to your task.”

The Inspector immediately regretted mentioning his candidacy. He held his composure.

The Adactoid opened his mouth to protest, then thought better of it. The mens’ expressions did not even harden. They merely turned and walked down out of the yard to find a rickshaw to headquarters. Varalam straightened and strode after them.

Enthus, can I not trust anyone? I must go to the General today, before my deputies or my nerves unravel.

*         *         *

 

His stomach said it was past noonday, the room felt warmer and the smell of plaster was sharper. Fazgood was about to check with Warren on the progress, when the bracing behind the door gave a sharp bang.

The white door slid open, and stepped through a tall dark man in maroon. His strong block chin was tilted high, and beneath a tall forehead, brown eyes narrowed in flat appraisal.

The man’s voice was deep and melodic: “Fazgood. The mad Earl of Weiquant. I read your biography. I would not have assumed such things to look at you.”

Fazgood shrugged. “General Allotropic Greatsergeant. All of my disappointment in you comes from direct testimony.”

Greatsergeant nodded, quick smiling nods.

“Ha, yes. That amuses,” Greatsergeant spoke, but his eyes were piercing. “Considering your situation, I accept my disappointments.”

He waved at the room. “We can speak freely, if we speak soft. I ordered for no one to listen. There are lotcasters in the hall. They cast to determine your actions every few seconds. One shout from me, or one poor cast, and this room fills with something brutal. One shout.”

“If we can speak freely, I had wondered.”

“What do you wonder?”

“How long did you expect to roam the seas, and leave your wife with your family secret.”

The General smiled and folded his hands, relaxing. “What secret is that?”

“Ah. So we must still be circumspect for the casters. Then I ask: Why leave your wife with that object in the black trunk?”

A chuckle, more arrogance than mirth. “My wife is the cleverest, most splendid woman in the kingdom.”

“I would think you would want her as ignorant as the household staff.”

“You reveal your own ignorance. My staff knows about the secret passage. They suspect some sort of treachery, but swore to their ancestors who served my family that nothing would be told.”

“That is loyalty,” the Earl remarked.

“You may have noticed how grim they are. I think of them as an educational artwork. Like a sculpture of a dissected body. Their devotion to duty has sucked the joy from their lives. That is what loyalty to a lie wreaks.”

“Respiration would be no one’s fool.”

Greatsergeant’s eyes became sharp. “My wife is exemplary; I thought she of all would understand it, and understand me. I came to understand…the item…while very young, when I sneaked into that room every chance I got, and lay outside, knowing what it could do. I wanted to give her the same opportunity.”

Looking above at the latticework, Fazgood shrugged. “About that, I could shout about it to the guards just now.”

Greatsergeant waved a hand to the white door. “Speak clearly. If they do find what is in the trunk, what of the Concord? If you felt that revelation was an option, then you already would have done so.”

Fazgood made to look defiant, but did make to shift his eyes with uncertainty from the General’s gloating, flat gaze. He grumbled, pretending half-warning, half in boast:

“Indeed. You have me. I would not reveal. But there is a citizen who insists on knowing your business.”

“Who would this citizen be?”

“The man I was under obligation to. Scout Brigade Inspector Mehzadapt.”

“My family has a great many friends in the Scout Brigades.”

Then why did no scout mention this? Does the General seek to deceive me, or is he deluded?

“That,” the Earl enunciated, “would not be of any interest to Mehzadapt. There is a vote on for the new magnate, and the Inspector is ambitious. He wishes to know your secret and have you under his rump.”

“You have misguided him. I will set that right.”

“He had your captain beaten and tortured to get information about your wife. He wishes to leverage your household.”

The General’s smile faded. Many questions swam behind his eyes.

“My captain will account for his attackers.”

“If you go to the Inspector, the Inspector will believe you afraid and believe he has you.”

“I am a paragon. I already have him.”

He deludes himself. He turns from being friends with the Scouts to domineering his supposed chums. Let him delude himself more.

“Why do you think I was caught in the affair?” the Earl asked.

“Affections makes one careless.”

“To save the kingdom.”

Greatsergeant’s head was tilted a little, a pose of interest. “Our hero.”

Fazgood added, “Do not mistake me. I did not do it to save you.”

“That would be odd, to cuckold for the sake of the husband.”

“Indeed. Your wife and I would have had our dalliance, and I would have been away and all would be pleasant memory. Then I found out about your secret, then became under obligation to the Inspector, and I was compelled to stay.”

“You were under obligation because you were poor at cards or dice.”

“I was set up. The Inspector wanted to know any secrets lying around your home.”

“When you were arrested,” the General noted, “that was when Public Works dispelled any obligations you were under.”

“Out from under one rump, and under another.”

The General laughed, an open and honest laugh of relief. “My wife must have been so disappointed in you. She did let you see it.”

“She hoped I could destroy it, or render it useless. I opened the secret room, and the chest.”

“I am glad you did. Specifically you. A leader of experience and standing like myself. So you saw it?”

“Yes.”

Greatsergeant’s smile widened, gloating, self-possessed. “It is so beautiful.”

Carefully, to coax the man along. “How so?”

“Power declares beauty. It is the most beautiful object in the kingdom. In the world.”

“She hoped that I could find a way to destroy it. It cannot be burned or mashed, but I did keep the secret hidden for the kingdom’s sake. I was trying to figure out how to solve the problem. Then you arrived. How did you discern me? The sympathy doll held to the end.”

“What you did with the doll was quite clever. You are a tricky one. To answer your question: I have many resources. I have close supporters and spies everywhere.”

The Earl made to be ignorant. “Did the judicial fellow clue you? Was it that captain who told you? That wretched little bloodpuddle.”

“It was foolish to go against me.”

Holding a retort, Fazgood thought, That should cover the captain’s betrayal for the moment.

So he replied, “I believe that now. But you’ve another problem with the Scout Inspector. He told me you are callow and stupid. I was foolish to believe him.”

“He said that?”

“The Scout Inspector believes your inherited title means you can shirk challenge.”

“I cannot help his ignorance.”

“All has been handed to you in the easiest manner. Those are the sort of things –”

Greatsergeant’s face darkened. “I have survived the most difficult life in the history of this Kingdom. And he believes there is challenge to being a Scout Inspector? To being a herder of vermin-herds?”

“You must be accustomed to such jealousies.”

The General puffed. “I will set the Inspector to the proper tack. As for you? I have heard the Public Works speak of this Broom nature. You will not be sweeping away anything in this city, mad Earl. Doubtless they know a suitable means of removing you from the Kingdom. I will keep my wife, and resume my place and family.”

“Why keep her? She seems miserable.”

The soldier laughed and whispered, “She loathes me. I keep her because she is the finest of the kingdom, and because she is mine to keep.”

“But she will not have a child by you.”

“She will.”

Fazgood sneered. “Or the most-beautiful-powerful comes out of hiding.”

“She is practical.”

“Abomination is quite an aphrodesiac.”

“She will accept the truth.”

“Because of that item, the Kingdom survives only through your tolerance.”

The General’s eyes came alive. “Yes.”

“You and Respiration will control the fate of the most powerful city in the world.”

“Yes.”

“Rather than fight you, even the Royal Family will surrender, and give you and she immortality so that you may rule for all time.”

“Yes.” the General chortled. “There is only one other fate possible for my wife. Perhaps you would like to know what it is.”

The Earl made to listen.

“If it is as you say,” Greatsergeant said. “and I am surrounded, then my little secret will be revealed. My wife has known of it for over six years. She told no one. If the Kingdom survives the revelation, for her not to have told would be called ‘high treason’.”

Fazgood felt his sneer slip. “She had no choice. You put her in that circumstance.”

“Yes, I did.”

“They would determine her sincerity. That would be taken into account.”

The General’s smile returned. “Ten years ago, Prince Meteoric Prudence rearranged the entire officer staff of the Eleventh Naval Squadron. He even had two admirals imprisoned, and not even their family knows if they are still alive. No explanation was given. No one knows why. The Royal Family just does things. No one will ask, no one will question, no appeal will be heard by mortal ears.

“So,” said Greatsergeant, his brow creasing in mock concern. “If I am caught and revealed, she shares a great uncertainty. We had best insure that doesn’t happen.”

The Earl had the urge to leap off the stool and head butt the bridge of the man’s nose.

Fazgood gathered his composure enough to ask. “What would you want?”

“I want to move it to a safer place.”

And there it is. In the end, no matter how much anyone professes to despise me, they always have a favor to ask.

“I know a way …to transport your secret out of the keep. The same method can secure another place so it can be safe.”

The General leaned close. “How? The impercept vault is built too large for the doors. You are lying.”

“And fidelity braids are infallible.”

“Indeed. You are full of tricks. Yet why should I trust you? Why didn’t you move the secret already?”

“And put it where?” Fazgood spat. “There is no place safe enough from spirits, weather and prying. I don’t want it. Respiration was right to be concerned about future generations. I may hate this city, but I have met some useful distilleries here.”

“Tell me what you would do.”

“Creating an impercept is not difficult.”

The Earl shaped the dimensions of a box. “You need three identical boxes of proper size. You bring the boxes in the vault. You place the secret in one. The trick is the proper handling of the boxes. And some other items.”

The Earl stopped and pointedly placed his hands in his lap.

“This is when,” the General said, “you should remember the futility of crossing me.”

“You are going to try to do this yourself. You cannot. The handling must be done as a ritual. One misstep and the spirits notify Public Works.”

“That brings me to my last demand: where is your conspirator?”

“In the greatest honesty, I do not know where the Foofaloof is.”

Greatsergeant pointed to the door. “I will have those lotcasters determine you. It will take time, but I will have your Foofaloof.”

The General turned and walked toward the door. It opened without a knock.

Conscious of the audience, the General declaimed, “I will negotiate a release for you to make amends to my wife. As an act of civility. There will be guards involved. After that, that is for the Kingdom to decide.”

Fazgood bit back a mocking tone. “Ah. Bless you. Oh, and here is an incidental question: where are we taking the object in question?”

The door banged shut. The Earl listened, and he thought that very faintly, lotsticks and lotcoins rattled and rang.

He thinks he is going to kill me before he has to reveal the destination.

The Earl cast his mind to his familiar.

Warren seemed to be peering from within a roll of cloth. A swell of olive-dark hip and firm, dimpled rump eased into view. From the angle of the view, the front of her hip could not been seen.

Calzjha’s voice. “Citizen Dressmaker, is the purple is more flattering to my skin?”

Transfixed, Fazgood hesitated in asking: [Buying a dress, Warren?]

[Ah. My liege. It was considered that Calzjha ought to spend time naked before witnesses, in case we are followed and they are asked.]

[Yes. Prudent. I need you to turn away so I can concentrate.]

[Yes, my liege. She is such a strumpet.]

[I just had a lesson from General Greatsergeant.]

[The General was with you? What did he say?]

[In a great grouping of words, General Allotrope Greatsergeant told me that he is insane.]

[He could destroy the city and the Kingdom! How can you know he is insane and be calm?]

[Squire, I find having only one worry very soothing, despite its size. Have you notified the captain yet?]

[Obdurate sent word to us to meet outside of the Terhane Residences.]

[Keep to that plan. Find a pen and ink and I will dictate two messages. Be quick. We have to do this quick.]

 

 

 





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 24

9 07 2014

In the morning, the Earl and Calzjha were seen out the keep door by a maid. Calzjha smiled and nodded to the sharp-faced girl. She gave a sincere and warm smile; this puzzled the Earl so much that he turned to insure that he had just departed the correct keep.

Calzjha carefully resettled the basket so as not to wake Warren. The whistling was uninterrupted.

As they passed the corner constable, he nodded to Calzjha.

“A good day awaits you, constable,” the Foofaloof smiled.

At the end of the Square was the usual group of business folk knotted around the reading board. They turned and nodded in greeting.

The Foofaloof replied, “A good day awaits you, citizens.”

Pehzpersist was about to speak, but the citizens turned back to their reading.

He muttered to Calzjha, “You do not leave the keep. How do you know these people?”

Said she, “They are stern, but if you are cordial to one, that one tells others. You should practice.”

“Pleasantry thins the blood.”

“It does not.”

“It thins my blood.”

“You are jealous.”

“It just seems that way because my blood is thick.”

“There is a way you could gain more energy for pleasantry.”

“Ah,” said the Earl, “there is the deputy.”

The Earl took this opportunity to register with the scout assigned to watch the keep; that morning, across the square beside the tea vendor, stood the short deputy Tlezjoy.

The small, rope-muscled man wore a smile that was unusually malicious, even for that now-familiar crimeherd. This was despite a blackened left eye, swollen like a cranapple.

Walking across the square, the Earl noted that eye and especially the smile.

No risk of pleasantry here. This will be good, thick conversation.

The Earl bade Calzjha continue without him, and keep Warren’s basket.

He continued to the deputy and called. “Hail to you, deputy. Did your inspector do you ill?”

“That,” said the scout, “is not your concern.”

Fazgood sighed. “He just likes to decorate his subordinates? Does he do that often? ”

Tlezjoy flushed and his jaw clenched. “He did not ‘decorate’ me! The one who did…answers quite well for it.”

A low, mean chuckle.

The Earl bought a cup of tea and brought out his bottle of relish. He brought out from his pocket and unwrapped two ricecakes.

The deputy spat. “Do you live on that stuff?”

Fazgood paused, the question resounding oddly. “I suppose I do.”

He took the stopper in his teeth and tapped a thin gold streak upon a smooth, white cake.

“Deputy, I brought one for you.”

“I just ate.”

“You’d be surprised at how much easier it is now that you know the stuff.”

The Earl put the stopper back in, snorted, stuffed the entire cake in his mouth, chewed dryly, and swallowed. It all went down quite easily with a minimal gasp, like a well-oiled ember. When it arrived at his stomach, the heat flushed his veins like an old tziembroask.

Tlezjoy saw that gasp and sniffed. “If that is what the heathens eat in Adanikar, I am doubly happy to be Harmoniad.”

The Earl pulled the stopper out, tapped out relish onto the other cake and put the stopper back in.

“Adanikarese children eat this, actually,” said the Earl. “It makes their blood mean. What of your inspector’s rage yesterday? Did you lack something?”

Tlezjoy slapped the cake from the Earl’s hand. “I lack nothing.”

Fazgood almost punched the man for that slap.

“You lack symmetry,” interjected the Earl, pointing to his eye.

“You lack much more.”

His cackle reminded Fazgood of Birqmuirish tribesmen reminiscing about those had they outnumbered.

The Earl stooped and picked the cake from the ground. He felt sorrow for the loss of even that small dab of relish.

Said the Earl as he wrapped it again for later disposal. “Certainly not! My life is a continuing abundance of divine favor. But you would not know anyone’s favor, or so it seems.”

The laughter broadened. “You lack for luck; for time; for…all things. Go to your customary, aspirant.”

“I will report to the Inspector at thirteenth hour,” said Fazgood, wary.

“Expect to wait.”

Walking away from the deputy, that brute scout gave a derisive snort. The Earl returned the teacup, his mind frantic.

Reflected the Earl as he walked quickly, It’s bad when the cocky wait to brag.

“Lack?”

At the fountain near the Arterial, he had a sip of water, which still made his stomach pinch.

A teenaged human waited paces away, the one who had just walked to the rickshaws, that dark Rahsic girl? From days before at the customary.

The Earl vigorously rubbed his nose, and muttered an imprecation to the alumni of the College. He found a handkerchief, rubbed again, and muttered another imprecation. Forty paces away, without realizing, the girl quickly gave her own nose a scratch.

Fazgood turned and dodged his way through the pedestrians down the Arterial. He walked through the Plaza of the Superb, the Army headquarters being at the south side. He looked around and saw no plughats. His worry heightened.

He trotted as if making to catch up with Calzjha. At the end of the Plaza, he found a thick knot of blue-coated merchants around the sonnet vendor from the other day. He hunched while walking and removed his hat and coat. He crossed into the nearest building, bade “official apologies” to all the textile clerks within, and exited the backdoor. He walked briskly down the alley back to the Plaza, until the alley ended and allowed him back onto the Arterial. He slipped his blazer and hat back on and trotted along the side of the Plaza to the Army headquarters.

Puffing, he slipped through the door. At her post was the same sergeant.

Fazgood covered his now-ink-cleaned fingers and said. “Ah! Sergeant! Do you remember me? Is Captain Childteacher available?”

She eyed him with some disappointment, remembering his spectacle from the other day. “He is not in his office yet.”

“He is normally in his office by now, is he not?”

The sergeant conceded, “I am certain he will be here in a moment.”

“But he is punctual?”

“I am sure he will be here.”

“I will return. I thank you.”

He slipped back out the door, cursing, cursing, cursing. He needed a rickshaw and quickly. He walked quickly to the corner. Was he followed? He did not see anyone.

There were no rickshaws. There was a crowd standing around a board reading something. He stepped into that blue-coated crowd, made to look at the posted text and thought: [Warren!]

[My liege! We have almost arrived at customary! Where are you?]

[The Inspector has snatched the captain! That idiot deputy was taunting me with it! I was just at the headquarters, and Obdurate was not there.]

[But…the Inspector would not dare --]

[The Inspector knows Obdurate cannot report being interfered with, or else everything is lost. Mehzadapt is capable of anything.]

[What can we do?]

[Tell Calzjha what has happened. Tell her I am trying to flush a scout into leading me. Have her turn and travel to the Lambent Concourse outside the Exhus Gate.]

Fazgood noted that the crowd had thinned around him. He pulled his hat down and found a rickshaw. He rode out of the Plaza, then stepped out quickly just before Lanthornmount Square, his blazer and hat in hand, his sleeves pulled up and his widow’s peak mussed so that strands hung into this eyes and his bald spot showed. He affected a stiff kneed walk and followed a knot of aproned stoneworkers into the square.

The guildsmen scuffed and stomped to the building in the southeastern corner, which was unremarkable. They began to point and discuss the refurbishment of the masonry. Fazgood stood along the wall with his hands on his hips and made to listen and nod.

Some thirty paces away, beneath the smirking demons who had not noticed the gathering shadows of the General’s impending sneak attack, Tlezjoy stood and scratched. The Earl waited for the tail to report her having been eluded.

The masons gave Fazgood some odd, confused glances, but ignored his interests.

The girl may try to find me at the customary, or she may come back here. My behavior was surprising enough; she has to come back and report that I am being odd. Where the –

The Earl saw a shadow fly past not three steps away, and he looked to the wall, tried to shake a brick within it, nodded that yes that held very well, good work that. He counted to ten then glanced over to the deputy.

Just in time to see the deputy pull the girl close and cuff her ear.

Praise to all gods.

The Earl swept imaginary sweat from his brow in time to see the deputy giving angry, lengthy instructions to the girl. She scuttled dejectedly back to the Arterial.

That is the walk of one sent to the boss for a mistake.

Waiting a count of ten, the Earl took the moment to think:

[The scout is flushed. I am following her. The Inspector is preoccupied today, and I think it to be with the captain. He would not trust any of his scouts with the interrogation.]

[We are in a rickshaw about to come to the Concourse.]

[Step out there; I may pass you while following her.]

At the thought of “rickshaw”, it seemed Zhazh made to play another joke. The girl hailed such a transport and climbed inside.

Damn all scouts to all hells! I will never keep pace without a rickshaw!

But he could not risk her trying to duck out of the conveyance to shake a skulker, had she suspected, or even out of habit. Knees aching, the Earl trotted.

He noted that her driver was a lanky Rahsic, but he knew better than to count even that piece of good fortune. The way down the hill to the Modus Gate made his running easier, and made the dark Human close his stride to keep control of the vehicle.

[Warren, she is in a rickshaw. The driver is a tall Rahsic.]

[We are waiting at the Concourse, my liege!]

[Watch for him!]

The Earl found a rickshaw. As he rode, he projected his perceptions into Warren.

From the basket, he heard Calzjha’s voice, loud and booming to the weasel’s ears: “I am very sorry, rickshawman. My friend will be here in a moment. I will pay to wait!”

Warren kept his gaze fixed upon the bounding, bobbing pedestrians and carts, rickshaws and wagons.

[My liege, there!]

The Rahsic plodded into view. Within the cart, the girl sat sullen.

It was that way that they followed the girl that last ri to a house in Cliffside-Bastles. Fazgood arrived not two hundred heartbeats behind.

 

*         *         *

 

Inside the dark bathhouse, the Inspector shook the girl at the door. “Ah! Did you? Did you lose him? If it isn’t scorn all of you give me, it is incompetence! Deputy!”

Just up the outside stairs, on the path before the bathhouse stood the hulking adact Varalam.

Mehzadapt said, under his breath, “I have been already too long away from headquarters. Hyek-kukuk will join you, and the two of you will track down the fellow that this one missed. Cornpudding will see our willful guest home. Come along, fool!”

None saw the small rustling not even a pace from their feet.

The Inspector swept along the grass-lined path, the skulk following in a grim procession.

Behind the Adactoid, the door creaked.

A feathery Exult head poked from the dark and took a deep breath. “I demand air! Cornpudding’s reek is smothering me. Has he gone?”

“The Inspector’s fury leads to more devastation back at headquarters.”

The Exult shook his hackles. “The magnate election has got him in a twist. And Bookwright and Tlezjoy going all angry. I tell you; all of this ills.”

Varalam nodded beyond the open door. “Did he spout information, or merely water?”

“I put him under enough to prune his skin, but he would not accept obligation.”

“Some are like rock and all drain over them.”

“He’s protecting a sweetheart. Older men would cut their losses. Old men would just die. If I had more time to crack him, I would. Still he’s to go with Cornpudding.”

The Adactoid’s expression darkened.

The Exult’s laughter became a light panting. “It’s better for you to ask ‘what shall I read for lunch?’ than to guess where Cornpudding takes his charges. Lunch matters. Ha!”

Popping a plughat upon his crest, the Exult hopped down the brickwalk. “Cornpudding is a deputy meant for herd-work in a windy field. Ha!”

Varalam stepped close behind. “Note your speech: you are more Adactoid than I today.”

“Perhaps we can get you to laugh like a Exult, Varalam. Without making the fledglings shriek with fear that is.”

The scarred deputy said nothing as the cackling echoed up the street.

Behind them, Fazgood stepped from behind the neighboring house. Calzjha walked from the one farther beyond. They slipped up the walk and joined Warren at the bath-house door.

[There is something rancid within, my liege. The deputies say the smell comes from one deputy.]

Fazgood tried the door and found it unlocked. He opened the door wide with a casual attitude.

The Earl’s shadow fell across a dark room. Laying on his back along a board tilted back was Obdurate. A stream of water fell from a cracked showerhead onto Obdurate’s cloth-covered face. Over the captain stood a round man. In his hands was his black plughat. His dark-haired, greasy head was tilted back, and his jaw hung open. The deputy made vague, gargling sounds.

The two entered, eyes watering at the stench.

Calzjha asked, “What is wrong with him?”

Fazgood said, “Tried to eat his soap, I imagine. See to the captain.”

They looked to Obdurate. He was tied to the board and drenched with water. A filled bucket was at the end of the board above his head. The Earl grew grim.

He turned to the deputy and seized the man’s shoulders. The Earl head-butted the man square in his upturned chin. The deputy cried out and fell back into the shadows. The gargling grew harsher.

Fazgood said, “If you will excuse us, we will take our friend and –”

Calzjha broke the brick foundation securing the ropes with two quick elbows.

“—be on our way.”

The gargling smothered into a low moan.

Warren popped into his head, [My Earl, I believe I recognize what is in the room with you.]

“Calzjha, there is a ‘what’ in here with us.”

Calzjha was already pulling the captain outside. The Earl skipped out the door and pulled it shut behind him. Weight thundered the wood.

A thick green ooze squeezed under the door. The wood smoked and sizzled.

The three limped away from the back of the house and into the quiet residential street. They looked back at the quiet bathhouse.

At the end of the path, Warren loped from the weeds.

[I saw people at their windows, my liege. We must hurry!]

Obdurate cried, “What was that? What in the idiom of the Concord was that?”

Said the Earl. “Be quiet.”

“What – what…?”

Calzjha soothed. “You must bear up. We are in public. Let me help you.”

“Those – those wretches tried drown to me!”

“Calzjha, seize him.”

She stepped close to the soldier and restrained his arm. Fazgood did the same to his left arm.

Fazgood whispered, “Hold your tongue. We are still not safe!”

“We cannot allow that thing to be on the loose”

“Yes, we can, because at this moment we are not in the occupation of ‘thing-killing’.”

“If the neighbors summon the police,” smiled Calzjha as if speaking idle chatter, “all is lost. Your bravery would have been for nothing. Just a little more strength. Think of Respiration.”

And Obdurate took a breath and gritted his teeth and kept quiet. Fazgood and Calzjha quickly sorted out the drenched uniform coat. The water merely darkened the maroon color, and fortunately was not noticeable.

Calzjha spoke loudly, as if in conversation, “What I admire the most about your love is her wit. Pehzpersist?”

“Yes. Yes. Her wit. And her resiliency. She is beautiful, as well. Is she not beautiful, Obdurate?”

Obdurate swallowed back a sob and nodded.

Warren’s head peeked from the basket and looked to Calzjha, [The Earl and I know of this sort of creature. All are safe from it now, except us.]

Fazgood muttered, “And to have us, it needs get in the queue.”

Beyond and away from the houses, the three walked as best they could to the bustling street corner.

*         *         *

 

At mid-day, the warehouse at the end of the quay lost all gloom. Instead, the sunlight reflected bright from the rainwashed brick. The building retained its simplicity, so that it gave one a chill as it reminded those viewing it of a bleached, square skull.

Cornpudding stood shadowed in the doorframe, eyes downcast.

From within the humid, rank warehouse, behind the deputy, spoke the Inspector:

“Your close friend is lacking discipline.”

Mehzadapt wanted to scream. Can no one do a proper task? No one? Three days from the vote, and my Magnateship or ruin lies with fools!

But he kept his voice low and consoling. Cornpudding was the last person in Harmonium that he could afford to lose.

The deputy scrubbed his swollen chin with the back of his hand. “When I am threatened, my close friend attacks. You – you know that.”

“So they gained advantage and the captain escaped.”

“He did.”

The Inspector said, “Do not worry for a moment. They know about your close friend, that is true, but we know about them. They cannot accuse you of anything, and there are many hours in the day. There will be busy hours, Cornpudding.”

“They could leave a slander with the police! Through a messenger! They would find me and kill me! There is no way I could withstand even a basic examination!”

“And who would lead the investigation into your behavior? I would.”

Cornpudding scrubbed again. This deputy’s confidence was most important of all, so Mehzadapt explained:

“The conspirators have to keep to their ruse. Because of that, everyone will just settle deeper into their shells, which makes them easier to retrieve, if we are patient.”

“Those two sleep in the keep. Trying to surprise both would be a problem.”

“Your friend gained on those two smugglers with no difficulty last year. Do you remember?”

Thin lips twisting, the deputy considered that.

“They are all more isolated. The captain sleeps alone,” the Inspector added.

“But within an army barracks! And he will never let himself be alone again. The captain will not go back to the canal. Inspector, how is it the captain appeared in the drain at the canal? He couldn’t have hidden.”

There is a secret entrance into the Greatsergeant Keep, you idiot.

“I am looking into that,” Mehzadapt said.

Mehzadapt had pored over the green pages of the book-plants from the brigade archives for Greatsergeant Keep and found a clue to such a portal. Notes of hasty construction led by a journeyman mason, followed by the remark “all accomplished within a fortnight, no details notable until builders can be found” (as the scout had written scores of years before Mehzadapt had been born).

If the entrance was not important, it would have been made known, or walled up.

That wretch Fazgood has been playing duncebird with me. He is shrewder than I had thought.

How will he avoid our next meeting? It would be slow death for him to appear; even slower suicide for him to delay. But he still must go to customary if he is to keep up his ruse.

The Earl has saved his captain, the money is free, and all may flee at an instant. But if Fazgood flees, he will be powder in a month from the obligation.

Not an hour ago, the Inspector had suspended all smuggling in the city. Let the other Inspectors contest it or argue for the embargo’s ending; he will gain at least an evening’s security, as smugglers would rather idle and play cards for the next few days rather than risk offending a future magnate.

The Inspector’s foot scuffed the ablewood floor.

“Cornpudding, go to the canal and watch. I will have someone relieve you in the evening. Have Tlezjoy approach.”

He watched the deputy trudge away to the knot of deputies on the quay.

Fazgood is cornered, but it will take too long to go get a good grip on him. The captain would rather die than be subverted. Now I set aside the protocol and do what I should have done; address the goodwife directly.

Tlezjoy walked from the group, stiff backed, neck cords straining, flushed with anger.

How does he imagine he is justified?

“Deputy,” the Inspector started low. “Can you avoid being arrogant and stupid for an hour? Can you manage that?”

The deputy’s face purpled. “I told you I don’t know how he found out! That skulk led him to the captain!”

“To whom are you speaking these loud, harsh words, you brutal little bungler?”

Tlezjoy tightened but said nothing.

“No, I imagine you let something slip,” continued the Inspector, louder. “I imagine that a wicked little childbeater like you might just blurt something. How is it that everyone in your life develops welts, deputy?”

The knot of deputies stopped whispering and took notice.

“Your parents, your siblings, your lovers. All of them filed charges upon you. How is it that man who cannot keep his hands open actually believes he deserves to be a deputy?”

The scouts at the Quay were now quiet with eyes averted. Longshoremen trudging beyond, started to trot to avoid the scene.

Anger spilled out of the Inspector. “Was I mistaken for placing trust in you, Tlezjoy? Should I have left you ready for your life paving the Royal Road, Tlezjoy?”

The additional insult of having his name hurled into the street with his crimes caused the man to tremble with humiliation.

Give respect to a disgraced man, and it will hurt tenfold when the respect is taken away.

“So I repeat my question: can you avoid being arrogant and stupid for an hour?”

The deputy’s face twisted. “Yes, Inspector.”

“Then do so one hour at a time. Get out of my sight and get to your post.”

Tlezjoy turned, chest heaving, and walked down the quay, eyes straight ahead. The knot of deputies watched him walk. They gave the Inspector bitter, sidewise glances.

Merhiazadapt looked back at them. They will not bungle this. Not with everything at risk. Not being so close to Magnateship. Not so close to being ruined.

 

*         *           *

 

They had explained to the headquarters staff and to the police that they found Obdurate in a canal, beaten by unknown persons. Obdurate had said that he had not seen his attackers. He was taken to the recovery ward of his barracks, where a physician rushed the young man to a bed to check for cranial concussion.

The Foofaloof, Pehzpersist and Brumpf rushed to the keep to convey the terrible development. Respiration held her resolve through the report of the attack to the shocked contemplators, through seeing those distraught guests away. As soon as the last was away, the goodwife begged off dinner with a headache, and retired, arms held close, the Earl surmised to keep her hands from shaking. The Foofaloof and Pehzpersist likewise retired, under the supportive gazes of the maids, which galled Fazgood.

In their room, Calzjha slumped onto the bed, her thumb pressing upon vitalizing points along her neck and chest. Warren struggled onto a bolt of combed cotton. The Earl remained standing, his eyes seeming to twinkle with anticipation.

“May I now know,” sighed Calzjha, “what was that thing that attacked us?”

“That,” the Earl whispered, “and my knowledgeable colleague agrees, that was –“

[It was a Dropsy of the Gods, Calzjha!]

“There you are, squire.”

[Like all creatures who are named and who know laws, the bacterium worship greater forms. A Dropsy of the Gods is an inconsequential sniffle to a god, but a ravenous parasitic assassin to mortals.]

Fazgood chuckled. “They are very wicked!”

“You are enthusiastic about this! About poor Obdurate being attacked!”

“Customaries and contemplations were wearing me down. Now that everything is in the open, I can complete the plan. ”

Calzjha peeped, “What of your plan?”

“The plan builds. Press your thumbs so very well, Foofaloof. I will say no more.”

Late that evening, Fazgood, Calzjha and Warren found Respiration sitting on her bed, hunched, feet on the floor, her dress removed to her slip. She sobbed without sound. When she noted their entrance, she let her head drop again. The Earl went to the window. With a finger, he pulled aside a drape and peered out, the glow of greennight making his drawn expression more haggard.

“Ah,” said the goodwife, low and bitter. “what is your plan now, nimblest man?”

Fazgood swallowed and drew a breath, then said firmly, “He has survived and he is safe.”

Ha and Calzjha explained the story, the first opportunity she had to hear it. They excerpted the green creature from the tale.

“He said…Obdurate said that he told them nothing. I believe him.”

“Was this in your plan?”

“Your lover knew there was danger. He would risk his life for you and he did.”

“That man was going to kill him.”

The three messengers looked to each other, again impressed and stung by her acumen.

“Yes,” said the Earl.

Respiration looked up at Fazgood, furious. “When are we to see our advantage in this plan of yours? After we are murdered or dead of exhaustion? Will our ashes at last be free? Or do we need more minute reduction?”

“By the captain’s own reckoning, this should be the last night of waiting.”

“Ah, you are going to abandon us. Your plan is failed and we are worse for it.”

“The plan is still in place. We will soon see its next step.”

“Leave. Just leave the city.”

Calzjha sat beside the desperate woman and held her hand. Warren slowly walked to the door and listened.

At the window, The Earl sighed as if about to bear a great burden, and said, “The next step begins. See now.”

They went to the window. Above the rippled rooftops, the yellow glow of Rezhalla was being blotted. A cloud rolled and swelled like coal dust in wine. Sparks of lightning flickered near its head. It rolled to meet the now-swelling Cumulid above the Citadel.

The goodwife deduced immediately.

“Enthus!” she cried. “All gods! He is here!”

Calzjha asked, “What is that?”

Fazgood looked around the room. “We have not much time. That is the Cumulid assigned to General Greatsergeant’s fleet. The servants may be here any second.”

“But isn’t that Cumulid supposed to be protecting the fleet from rogue storms?”

“Yes! Warren, have we gathered all of the cups?”

[What? Oh! They are still behind the secret door!]

“Stay sharp-witted, squire. You must go back to our room.”

Respiration whirled upon the Earl. “You knew? You knew he was coming!”

“How else would the General be hundreds of miles away from the coast unless he was over the ocean?”

“But,” Calzjha gaped. “to fly for thousands of miles on a Cumulid! How?”

“In its mouth or bundled in blankets upon its back! It makes no difference!”

“How do you know that is what he would do?”

“That is what I would do.”

“You would leave your fleet without any protection from hurricanes!”

Fazgood amended. “To save my hide!”

The goodwife nodded, numbed. “Yes. Indeed. It is what the wretch would do.”

Wind slammed the drapes open and whipped the candles into darkness.

Fazgood leapt across the room and seized Calzjha by the shoulder. Calzjha startled. The Earl slapped a hand across her mouth.

He said, “Go! Get to our room! And when they ask, you are shocked at all you are told!”

Calzjha allowed herself to be led to the door, and they quickly fumbled for the catch. A rush of moist air and the erstwhile woman was gone.

Fazgood quickly unbuttoned his shirt and cast it fluttering into a corner.

Behind the Earl there was a loud crackling and a flash of blue light.

He turned and called loudly into the storm. “What is this, my love?”

Backing away to the bed, perplexed by Fazgood’s sudden adoration, Respiration cried, “What do you say? It is an educated wind! Haven’t you seen one before?”

She then noted his bare chest, his stomach and chest which bulged noticeably from age. The disbelief in her face was such that it choked her attempts at inquiry.

Framed by the billowing drapes, another blue spark lit the air within the window. Within that brightness were peculiarly molded shadows. Fazgood closed his eyes and saw the after-image of that flash under his eyelids:

The molding of cheekbones and forehead, pudgy and ill-formed, turned toward Respiration. A puzzled, scrutinizing squint.

Fazgood sprang toward the bed and said, “I will save you, my love!”

Farther into the room, the bedsheets fluttering, there was another crack!

The face, the face of that named breeze given a soul, was an arm’s length across. It was looking directly at Fazgood.

The Earl turned, grabbed Respiration around the neck with the crook of his arm and kissed her full on the mouth. She shrieked against his lips and punched him in the jaw with both hands. The Earl secured her pounding left fist and brought his shoulder up to guard against her right. Fazgood looked at Respiration. Her eyes were wide with rage and bewilderment.

Fazgood felt the hair on his head and hands prickle as they raised.

Another crack! Respiration looked just over Fazgood’s right shoulder and screamed louder. The wind howled almost loud enough to hide the sound.

Then all was quiet and dark.

They both paused, lips crushed together, and noted the sudden relieved change. Then she started slapping the Earl anew.

He brought his head away and hissed. “Be quiet! It had to be done! Be quiet!”

“What are you doing? Get away! Do you know what that was?”

“Yes!”

He let go of her hand and dodged a last punch. “An educated wind. From a Cumulid, a nanny of the atmosphere.”

“It will go and tell what it has seen to the Cumulids at the Citadel!”

“The General had his Cumulid send that wind to catch us out and…yes! See? This is delightful!”

The sparkling wandered and wafted over the square, its flashes brightening the greenight over the rooftops and toward the approaching thunderhead.

“’Delightful?’ Was that your plan? To destroy me, then escape?”

“No. I am not leaving,” Fazgood said.

“What? What are you talking about?”

Her face tight with rage, she stalked to the corner grabbed the shirt. “Put this back on!”

“I speak of your contribution! To the cause of success! You want a divorce? You wish to be away with your love, and not have him made a criminal?”

She listened, fists clenched.

He sat upon the bed and brought his foot up to remove a stocking. “Then it is you and I who are having an affair. We confess. You will be divorced. I will be arrested. What happens after will be no one’s concern.”

The left sock went flying. “If all is made clear…”

The right. “…and contrite, then there will be no determination to call us liars.”

He slid back upon the mattress to its center. “You never liked it much here, so you said. Obdurate will still marry you and share your burden, and you may leave to the provinces or even emigrate. If you want Obdurate himself to stay out of prison, then you and I had the affair, and we profess it loudly to all.”

The door opened, pushing the cloth at the bottom.

The most-senior maid named pressed into the room. She was followed by the younger maid.

“Goodwife!” she sneered. “ At last! Our master is here and this shame will be exposed!”

Called the Earl, “Did you citizens bring a bottle? We are a bit dry.”

“Night after night since the guests were dropped upon us, I have suspected. Oh you will be cast –”

The elderly maid’s expression plummeted into disbelief.

“This one? You disgrace yourself with this one? But…but I would have sworn it would be the Foofaloof! That one is charming!”

“Do you not have duties?” Fazgood gave Respiration’s hand a squeeze. Both of them flinched at the strange familiarity. “And spare us your rudeness?”

The maid snarled to her cohort, “Go to the Plaza, to the Public Works! Bring a despoiler! And the police!”

That maid retreated.

Respiration had gained the wind of Fazgood’s spirit. She asked, “May we dress, or shall we be deprived even that moment’s privacy?”

“Ah! How you will both suffer!”

The goodwife rose and walked to her bureau for a proper dress.

After a rather awkward wait, the younger maid brought a young man in the brown smock of Public Works. Behind him were two policemen. All were awed at the circumstance. With a properly respectful audience, the Earl felt his blood surge.

He stood and clapped. “Citizens! Let me make this sweeter! It will be revealed, so I reveal all: I am the Earl of Weiquant, Fazgood.”

Spat the maid. “What a flabby spawn-of-lies you are!”

“To think,” said the Earl with grief, “that I sang the praises of your gummy toast!”

“Was it paean?” asked the goodwife. “Or a eulogy?”

The Earl gawked at her spirit. “Ha! Indeed!”

“What is this?” called a voice from the hallway. “Pehzpersist! What are you doing?”

Calzjha, in full haughty dudgeon as the Foofaloof, slipped through the crowd.

“I am tendering my resignation, your highness.”

“What! Goodwife! What is this?”

Then Calzjha spoke Adanikarese in great, assumed rage, “What-shall-I-do? They-shall-determine-me-and-find-me-a-fraud!”

The Earl puffed and replied in same: “Respiration-and-I-insist-on-being-guilty! Tell-them-Respiration-and-I-are-in-love! The-story-is-easy! They-shall-not-look-farther!”

Calzjha whirled and howled to the throng, “He says they are in love! Treachery! Treachery!”

Fazgood rolled his eyes and bellowed in Adanikarese to make himself heard over the performance. “This morning, take all of our money and buy clothes! Be ready to flee! Seek the Birqmuirish! Tell them all!”

Calzjha wailed in Rahsic: “I have been deceived! My soul is torn asunder!”

The maids patted Calzjha’s shoulders with sympathy and cast vile looks to the Earl.

Warren thought, [With your permission, my liege….I believe I will stay in our chamber.]

[Granted, squire. I thank you.]

A policeman approached the bed. “Up, you! Goodwife, if you may rise?”

Respiration straightened and stood. “I regret hurting the Foofaloof so. He is a decent man. Tell me, officer: do they serve palatable meals in prison?”

“For you, goodwife, yes.”

“That will be a welcome change.”

“Ha! Indeed! She may use her spoon to actually eat, instead of tunneling to escape!”

This is how the stunned procession proceeded through the plaza to Public Works, as the clouds sputtered over the Citadel.





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 23 (AFTERGLOW LEADING TO THE GRAVEST CRISIS)

2 07 2014

That morning at the appointed time, Obdurate waited at the gate of the Terhane Residences. Even more than the previous morning, his nerves hummed, the sunlight seemed even brighter. The smell of the earth now seemed richer, fuller, even sweet. Passing the bramblerose bushes, he noticed the sparrows singing. He listened. He had heard sparrows all his life, his uncles’ garden was regularly pillaged by them, but was there an additional high peep at the end of their song? How was it that he never heard that tone before?

What miracles does Calzjha perform that my senses improve?

He turned back to the gate and was met by a messenger girl.

She walked to him, her gaze fixed and confident. His heart chilled.

“Are you Captain Childteacher?” she asked.

“I am.”

She offered a note with a flourish and trotted back down the Arterial.

The note was sealed with a College of Lotcasters glue-stamp. Obdurate opened it:

 

An emergency with the Ijkallan assembly has taken the General’s attention. The General is not available for sympatile for the remainder of this week.

 

It was signed by the Army lotcaster.

The captain slumped at the gate, staring at the letter.

He fought back a wave of relief at not having to confront the General, What does this mean? The General would go into hiding now? He would flee from negotiating when we have threatened everything?

This was not like the General; the Greatsergeant of yesterday’s communication wheedled and bullied as expected.

What does this mean?

Shoulders weighted with preoccupation, Obdurate trudged to the Arterial.

A rickshaw driver hailed him, but Obdurate shook his head, feeling quite unsettled.

 

*         *         *

 

After customary, the Earl hurried to the Plaza and his morning interrogation.

“Inspector, yesterday morning,” the Earl settled onto a stool. “began with a light knock on the door from the maid. A very light rapping. It woke me and the Foofaloof. I lay in bed for a moment, quietly cursing my life and begging the gods not to strike me ill, which is how I like to start my day. I got out of bed and chose my clothing. That would be a blue business suit, white muslin shirt and black cotton stockings. The water was especially cold in the shower, so much so that vital parts of my body drew close for warmth. I cursed once again for a decent heated Birqmuir bath. For breakfast, we ate gummy toast, yet again, and –“

“Get to the moments,” the Inspector said with a pronounced and fierce evenness, “where the Goodwife and that adjutant are near.”

The Earl soothed. “It was after my class. During the contemplations. I noticed their presence. The adjutant was on the side of the room with the outside wall, beside the window. The goodwife was across from him, at the inside wall. Both watched as we made our presenta –.”

The Inspector snapped. “Did you see them do anything of use?”

“Ah! Indeed!” Fazgood made to nod nervously. “The captain fidgeted from his left foot to his right foot. Then his left. Then he leaned upon the wall. Ah! Then I noted: the captain did scratch. He made to be sneaky about it but –“

The Inspector slammed the table. He pointed a finger in Fazgood’s face. “Do not trifle with me.”

“What do you want to know?” the Earl asked, eyes wide with exasperation. “I thought you a man for details.”

“The crime. The damned crime. What do you think I want to know?”

The Earl related the scene from the previous night in the Goodwife’s bedchamber, all that he saw and heard.

Merhiazadapt leaned back on his stool and considered. His fingers rubbed.

“Are you telling the truth?”

“Yes, I told you every word. Check my skin this afternoon. I will be clear of pox.”

“Why do they conspire in the bedchamber at night?”

“The goodwife has very little privacy.”

“Is she having an affair?”

“Yes,” Fazgood kept his gaze up.

“With which one?”

He said conclusively, “She is sharing passions with the captain.”

The Inspector said, “How kind of you to tell me.”

“You were interested in the money. What else they did was of little interest to you.”

“It interests me now.”

“Which is why,” whispered the Earl again. “I was giving you details before. I am not certain what detail interests you.”

“Relate to me any information about the conspiracy to extort of the General. That is my interest solely.” The Inspector spoke the syllables to seal the obligation.

“I will provide new information on the subject as it comes to me.”

The Inspector sighed and adjusted his hat on the table just so. “Does she let him out at the end of the night, or is the help in on this too?”

“The goodwife lets him out.”

“That Goodwife Greatsergeant seems a vicious sort. Squashing that wretch banker.”

Fazgood shrugged again, but held comment.

Asked the Inspector, “Does anyone else know about this conspiracy?”

“My reputation can take only so much ridicule. No.”

“You will not accept any specie delivered from them without my permission. You are obligated so.”

“I will be late for contemplations. The goodwife will be upset again.”

The Inspector laughed. “You are an insult to extortion. Go.”

Fazgood slipped out the curtain. The scout who was at the square yesterday, Bookwright, one who had eaten the relish, sprang away from the wall upon which he was leaning. His expression was sullen.

The Inspector snarled at the deputy. “Combative and lazy, are you? Have any more sharp words for me? What is with you surly wretches lately!”

Another scout surged up the stairs past the Earl, the huge adactoid. The scarred blue face was blank with enduring patience.

The Earl smiled to himself as he trotted down the stairs.

Hrikinik, you have made me a better bastard.

He slipped through the crowd of mourners and into the Plaza. Upon leaving the Headquarters, the Earl continued trotting to the far corner of the Plaza to a messenger booth.

He told the Exult hen dispatcher, “I would write a note to be delivered.”

She gestured to a standing table with pen, paper and inkstone. The Earl regretted that Warren was not available to help phrase a proper message, but there was not time. He wrote a message in the square Birqmuirish script:

To the Ambassador representing his Imperial Majesty:

From the Earl of Bywater, Fazgood:

 

I have found a method of locating valued persons even if the persons are concealed by incantations. Also, I know how to flam this method. I may be found at the Greatsergeant Keep under the name Er-humf-knert. Please make all visits secret.

 

Please remind the Emperor that I shot out like a flaming bullet of liberate phosphorus

 

The last was an observation that Blounbirq spoke about the Earl’s encounter with the Abomination, and was a comment only a handful in the world would know.

He sealed the message with a glue-stamp and handed it to a stern Exult fledgling. The progeny hopped and leapt through the crowd to the Arterial. Earl followed for two crowded, bustling streets to insure that no one followed the messenger. The sunlight deepened and all looked up. The pearly, filigreed face of the Cumulid slipped over the Arterial, heading north toward the Mercymortar neighborhood. More figures dangled banners from its snowy back.

The Earl turned back through the Plaza and continued down the Arterial to the Greatsergeant Keep. The contemplation had just begun. Fazgood found the Foofaloof, bade a good afternoon, and took the offered Brumpfbasket.

Warren peeked. [Obdurate says that the General was not present for the sympatile. He was told the General would not be available until late this week.]

Fazgood’s eyes widened.

[My liege, I am sure this is but an insig…. Why are you smiling?]

Indeed the Earl smiled. Despite their circumstances close to curious citizens, the Earl had to stretch his mouth and tilt his head back so as to feign a yawn. He took a breath and brought his head back down, and all trace of the smile was gone.

The Earl’s eyes still twinkled with mirth. [There is something in the air at a Rashic contemplation! I have just had an idea! The General has very limited options. I would tell you, but I wish assurances. Tell Respiration to tell Obdurate to gather all the important information on the General.]

[Information? Like what?]

[Like his birthdate, important moments in his life, names and the like. Obdurate is to perform his little numerical trick with it.]

[Ah! But, my liege, how will knowing the general’s location help us? We know he is in the Ijkallas.]

[It is of greatest importance. Obdurate must present the result of his sums when we meet this evening.]

[This evening? That will not leave him much time.]

[Please extend the Earl’s apologies.]

I will harness this young, lucky dolt and have him work to my favor for once.

He looked to the fidgeting young man. Despite his unease, in the presence of Respiration, exchanging taps on the forearm with the Foofaloof, he did have a glow about him.

Fazgood grumbled and amended, Young, lucky, tuned-true, satisfied dolt.

 

*         *         *

 

Varalam the grim deputy looked ridiculous on a stool. The Inspector insisted that all sat as they reported; it was time-honored tradition.

The Adactoid squirmed in discomfort. “It is as you said: in the morning, the captain went to the Terhane Residences. He met with a messenger, and received some sort of note at the gate. I stayed within sight of him.”

The captain sympatiles with General Greatsergeant. Is it a betrayal?

“How did our captain seem as he read?”

“He was dumbfounded enough for ten pathetics.”

General Greatsergeant is not taking extortion well. He is probably squawking like the mighty usually do: “I will not pay a dahbe to you, vermin-herd!” In the end, they all beg to pay every dahbe they have.

But the note could not have been explicit: a lotcaster could not aid Greatsergeant in low treason and keep the spirits’ trust.

He wondered at many permutations.

Does the General know this captain and his wife are lovers? I doubt it.

The Inspector tapped his fingertips together.

That captain is in a bit of a pinch. He would know the banker, and the accounts, and the remaining details. It would pay just to put a scare in him. But if he tells what he knows, what good is he? He would make a suitable warning for the others.

“You have skulkers following all of them?”

The deputy said, “Since you told me to this morning, Inspector. The Goodwife does her civic errands to hospitals and the like in the morning, then has administrators come for contemplation. The Foofaloof partner goes to customary, and shops enough for five people. The captain is at the Army Headquarters at this moment, and he lives in the barracks. He is an odd one, so they say.”

“Keep a watch on the barracks. I want to meet the captain, and he will be too suspicious and too smart to trick. When you see a chance, seize him. When you have him, bring him to the bathhouse.”

The Inspector rotated his hat on the table just so. “Have Cornpudding accompany you. After our captain testifies to the Inspector’s satisfaction, Cornpudding may see the captain home.”

*         *        *

 

Greennight seeped between the curtains. Across the bedroom, the dark was broken by the glows of yellow candylanterns; Respirations latest idea was to have the glowing, gemlike confections in dishes as light. Obdurate sat upon the bed, downcast. Respiration sat beside him, hugging his arm to console him.

The adjutant said, “I cannot find a useful solution. Any location I determine is not in the Ijakllas at all. It is along a swath of the south Blaphanic Ocean. It is nothing but sea; there are no islands anywhere in that area.”

The Earl walked to the window. “Where in the Blaphanic?”

So nice to be able to stretch out and conspire freely again!

“Just north of the equator. The swath begins just east of the Isthmus of Aiomb. It is twelve-hundred ri east of the Ijkallas, with empty ocean between there and the Kingdom. Twelve-hundred ri off target! And I have no idea where the equations are wrong!”

“That would be another two-thousands away as well,” Fazgood muttered.

“Yes.”

Respiration said, “Perhaps not enough information was gathered. I can search for documents.”

“That would account for unplottable results. But all of these sums are convertible into demarcations. I used the Grand Demarked Meridians map at the lotcaster’s desk work to do the calculations. But they are consistently several hundred ri east of the Ijkallas.”

The Earl peered out the heavy drapes into greennight. “When did you perform these equations?”

“I tried the latest at twentieth hour.”

“Four hours ago. Do you have any sort of map?”

“I have my notes.”

They spread these papers upon the mattress. On one brown paper, Obdurate had sketched a small map of the hemisphere along with meridians. In the upper right of the map, the nipple of the Quand Peninsula poked west from the chest of the Ksam continent.

At center of the map, a reasonable approximation of the squished duck shape of the Naltna continents. At the far side of the squish, which was the Aiombian Isthmus, were the archipelagos of Ijkalla. To the east of that Aiombian squish were many tiny marks of differing shapes: crosses, dots, converging crescents, various shaped squares. The marks became more unusual (was that last a crab-shape?) the farther east they lay.

“I was more frustrated with every new set of coordinates,” explained the captain. “Here is the legend.”

On this scrap of paper was a list of his attempts in sequence, noted by time with its corresponding mark-shape on the map.

The Earl asked, “That is a crab at half-past-seventeen.”

“I was becoming giddy with desperation.”

The goodwife pointed. “And this one at eighteen-fifty is to the east of it? By how many ri?”

“Over one-hundred ri.  Not that it matters! How could he travel over twelve-hundred ri in a day?”

Calzjha scratched an itch on her breast, which itched from being bound. “The Adanikarese would dreamwalk.”

“This method should determine his physical location,” said Obdurate, “and the Concord prohibits the living from dreamwalking. I am sorry, Fazgood. I do not know what is wrong.”

The Earl continued peering out of the window. The green light glittered in his unblinking eyes. “Do not fret about it. Tomorrow I will tell you about the next step in the plan.”

Warren and he took their leave.

Later, in his chamber, as Warren dozed on his bundle, Calzjha slipped in. The Earl was throwing a set of grooming tools. Rattle, shake, fling! A cuticle knife thumped into the rolled center of a cloth bundle.

The Earl looked up. “You are back much too soon. Do they need anything?”

Calzjha smiled. “They felt they would do better without me this evening.”

“Is that good?”

“Yes. Their posture and breathing are so much improved, have you seen? Obdurate says he can hear and smell more clearly. Respiration says food tastes better, and that she feels more vital. The dialogue in contemplations has been much more lively.”

She looked to the Earl. “Would you care for –“

“No. I prefer my nerves jumbled.”

Rattle, shake, fling. A blade to pare bunions.

“But,” she said, shaking her head, “Respiration and Obdurate have gained bliss –“

“We are surrounded by all four flavors of enemy. How would ‘bliss’ work for me? If you have some disquiet you could give me, I am stockpiling it.”

Calzjha weighed his words. “Is everything going to your plan?”

“It becomes interesting tomorrow.”

Thump went a silver skin file.

 

*         *         *

Obdurate eased the secret door closed. Through the memory of his senses, he stepped around the black lacquered box without touching it. The thought flitted through his mind another uncounted time: take the box and sink it, sink it in the ocean. But that would only delay the inevitable of it rotting open, the Ocean Mother taking note of it and recoiling in horror as the mask declaimed its pedigree and ownership.

How was the Earl to relieve us of this? How would he save the Kingdom? He must be lying. But to what advantage? He is a decent man in the book, that is written most assuredly, but he’s also fond of betrayal.

The captain slipped within the ladrail and placed his feet and hands within its holds. He climbed down to the bottom of the shaft. He stepped onto the floor and shifted his weight to his toes. The counterweighted floor eased open.

The smell of water swept up, then a sulphurous stink.

Obdurate grimaced. This is much worse use than normal, and he began to climb down.

Eight holds then a drop. One-two-three-four-five –

“– deeper in.”

Adrenaline jolted the captain’s limbs. He fumbled to keep a grip.

The voice came from the darkness below him. Below him! There was perhaps a man’s height between the drop and the sewer floor. The captain tried to look down, but the narrowness of the shaft kept him from seeing below. He listened.

He knew the shaft’s opening to the sewer was hidden in plain sight: the edge of the sewer ceilings had square openings for drains every thirty-paces. The counterweighted floor opened to a storm drain, which had further rungs to climb down.

From his reading of ‘The Nimblest Man’, and through conversations with the Earl, Obdurate knew to keep quiet and be very patient.

He held the cool gritty stone, smelled his sour sweat in his cotton jacket, and counted to one hundred. Nothing.

I know I heard something. I know I heard a male human voice say something. Would Public Works be checking drainage this time of night?

That could be; when he had first been shown this secret by Respiration, he had done some subtle asking of his acquaintances at Public Works. The drains here were reliable, and only needed cleaning twice yearly. Educated streams of water flushed away clogs, which meant no people were necessary. Perhaps there was an accident or emergency.

He could climb back up to the secret room and wait. But it was becoming early morning, and he had to get back to the barracks.

He hung in darkness.

The sewer stank, especially in the summer. But the stench was especially raw this evening.

He held his breath and counted again. Nothing.

  Perhaps they are gone. If I hadn’t imagined it after all.

He climbed down, slowly down the remaining holds until his right foot hanged from beyond the last. He dropped with a splish!

He turned and walked to the canal. A huge being stood in the opening, all in shadow. A plughat was on its head.

From behind the captain echoed a labored breath, then: “Where did he come from?”

“Consider the color of his coat,” remarked a second voice. “Perhaps someone’s got a bleeding pile.”

The shadow turned around. The gray face shone in the dark.

“Citizen Captain,” the figure rumbled. “If you are scat, then we are your Public Works.”

The three converged. The stench smothered.

 





Another Great Review for “The Flesh Sutra” PLUS “ERIC BLOODAXE” by DQD Comedy Theatre, 1994

28 06 2014

Another reader is absorbed by “The Flesh Sutra”. See what the editor of Pseudopod called “a beautiful, precision timepiece of unease.”

51z68DAy2XL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

 

and here is another comedy sketch from My Long Ago,

 

written by Steve Mamlin, I co-star with James Dempsey, who went on to become James and The Breakpoints.





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 22 (THE WEASEL’S WORLD PREMIER STAGEPLAY)

25 06 2014

Standing beside his seat in the back of the classroom, Fazgood continued the recitation. “Sagacious, expository, infusive, crystalline, asexual and sexual. Those are the six forms of reproduction found within the Kingdom, Citizen Customary.”

Kitpoktik’s eyes were narrow, grim slits. His jaw clenched. “Did you recite all six, Pehzpersist? Yes, you did recite all six.”

The Earl sat back down, and received the puzzled amazement of his fellow aspirants with a gentle smile. Kitpoktik whirled to the blackboard and returned to the review of biologies.

Fazgood thought, [Your biology studies have given you great advantage, squire.]

[Thank you, my liege.]

Calzjha glanced over, her look of haughty Foofaloof affirmation, followed by an annoyed, knowing Calzjha frown. The Earl suppressed a smile.

[This is the third time the customary has called upon me this morning. Has our customary decided to find reason to have me evicted?]

[Perhaps if you hadn’t dozed through all the classes, my liege.]

[I doubt I’ll be sleeping this morning. Kitpoktik was never this interesting before.]

“Pehzpersist!”

“Yes, customary?” he blinked innocently.

The customary’s face pinched from concentration. The Earl knew Kitpoktik was looking for any sign of note-glancing or Foofaloof-prompting.

“What,” said the customary, “ is the school leaving age of the eight races?”

Fazgood kept his gaze even and unblinking, straight into the eyes of the inquisitor.

[Have at it! I can handle any customary’s task.]

The Earl rose to his feet, [Do not get full of yourself, Warren. Keep your mind on the subject.]

[Yes, my liege. For Exult fledglings, it is twelve years. For Adactoid offspring, it is after the answering of their Second Question. For Booloob squeaks: the successful recitation of the Plasticising Warble.]

“Customary, for Exult fledglings, it is… (he made to grasp for the answer)…twelve years. For Adactoid offspring: after the answering of their Third Question. For Booloob squeaks: it –”

Kitpoktik pounced!

“Is it the Third Question for Adactoid offspring? It is not! Such an Adactoid should have graduated from guild apprenticeship! Who can answer this question? Khuoro can answer this question!”

Fazgood bowed his head and sat. He did note that his classmates looked upon him with curt nods, satisfied and impressed with his efforts.

[But I knew that!] sulked the weasel.

[If we look too clever, we stand out. We must allow the occasional mistake so to save the esteem of the other students, and avoid the customary’s curiosity.]

[The octopus’s lament, my liege.]

[Indeed,] thought the Earl, not knowing entirely what was meant.

The basket rustled, [To be clever enough to hide so well, yet not have anyone know of the cleverness. From the old Adanikarese poem.]

[Ah! But I knew that.]

[I am sure you did, my liege.]

Fazgood glared at the basket and kept his thought to himself:

One of these days, I really ought to study books.

Then with a snort: But “school leaving age”? Those are not useful questions! How do you pick members of a rival Birqmuir clan from a crowd? What is the best bribe for an Adanikarese petty noble? What salutation will keep any assassin from killing you? What the average citizen learns is a bucket of mud!

After the class was dismissed, the aspirants gathered on the still, sun-bright porch for lunch of cold barley and fish sauce. They squeezed into the shadows along the purple brick wall as best they could and chatted.

Khuro dipped a corner of roots into river water. “Did you see the Cumulid decked for jezr-ji? What fun it was!”

Interjected the husband, “We ran up the Arterial to catch it!”

Both Calzjha and Fazgood’s breath stopped.

Khuoro said, “Last night, we watched it sweep over the Amusatorium. We ran to catch up with it, but it had drifted north and along the canals.”

Others chimed in:

“We saw people playing in the streamers, like they were under a great flower!”

“Do you think it will come out again tonight?”

“We were sad that you were not with us!”

Both Calzjha and Fazgood shrugged off and made half-promises to join them that evening. In the chatter, the Earl started mumbling many imprecations and pleadings to very many gods.

 

*         *         *

 

As Fazgood had been answering questions at the customary, at that same time, Obdurate was watching the army lotcaster assemble the sympatile. As she did so, Obdurate remembered what the Earl had told him last night, between smacking lips from the bitter tziembroask:

“The General has confirmed all he can through his lotcaster, without raising suspicion. But he cannot dare ask the lotcaster how much we know. The General has no immediate means of communicating other than through the army.

“It is your responsibility that the General know what we want him to, and no more.”

The symaptile was assembled. Obdurate noted that the leaves in the trees appeared to glow in the sun. He had not noted this the day before, nor how loud the sparrows seemed. He sat upon the chair, his chest tight, and rapped the red wood frame. He moved the hoop to spell his name.

The response: “Greatsergeant. Where is my wife?”

“I have told her you must speak with her. She will not.”

“What did she say?”

Last night, Obdurate had imagined the response to this question from the General. Fazgood thought the response splendid, and Respiration tweaked the words to her style:

“She said, ‘Surely he has greater concerns, or soon will, when the curse is lifted.’”

The hoop thrashed. “What does she mean? Tell!”

“I do not know.”

“You are lying! I can tell you are lying!”

“She said those exact words.”

Which was the truth; Fazgood was very helpful in explaining how a conscience works. Did she speak that actual phrase? Yes, she did. Therefore, it was not a lie.

Obdurate swallowed, his mouth sticky.

But the General would not allow that easy glibness. “You know more than you tell.”

“I do not. I have told all.”

A pause, then: “You do not have to protect her. She is my wife. I love her, and disregard her mistakes.”

“I do not know what you mean.”

“What she has risked, I will ignore.”

“I do not know what you mean.”

Another pause. Heat seemed to pour from the board. The letters seemed like cinders, so much that he expected scorching to spread and set the wood alight.

Obdurate grasped the hoop. “Are you still there?”

The hoop jumped. It slid precisely. “Yes.”

The wind stirred, brushing tiny things past his eyelashes. Was the air above the board wavering with the heat?

The hoop moved in sweeps to land upon each letter, then adjusted upon it infinitesimally:

“I have work to attend to. Let them do what they may. I will be in negotiations tomorrow with the Ijakallans.”

The red frame rapped so hard it shook. The General had ended the conversation.

Obdurate rapped lightly. He looked up from the sympatile. The sunlit courtyard was already warm. Across, along the wall, bramblerose trees stood in the shadows.

The adjutant tried to distract himself, Back home, the diaphenes would be blooming now. Such a touching transluscent purple, one would think that spirits would weep such things.

The lotcaster got up from her seat and unsnapped the sympatile partition with smooth, practiced movements. She glanced at Obdurate, then quickly back to her work. Obdurate realized that though she did not know the dialogue that had taken place, his expression must be very unsettled.

He thought of saying something casual to dispel that impression, but he knew that his effort would make him seem even more nervous.

Certainly, if it weren’t for Respiration, and yes Calzjha, I would be quaking with fear.

 

*         *         *

 

Walking into the headquarters of the Scout Brigades, the Earl’s stomach grumbled and seared, as it usually did lately. It was best for many reasons to eat light when he had a plan in play. It was also best to avoid tea, syrups, powdered condiments, any cooked legume, any herbal remedies, inhaled substances of any kind, the wearing of colognes, dangling jewelry, blue eyeglasses, snug-fitting suits, passing any glass without checking reflections, and cursing the many gods who took an interest in him.

Fazgood trotted up the stairs, following Tlezjoy, whose expression was sullen and seething.

“Is your mood well?” asked the Earl.

Tlezjoy said nothing.

“Did you have a quarrel with the Inspector?”

The deputy spat. “Shut up.”

The Earl smiled to himself as he was shown down the hallway of draped alcoves. They walked to a different niche, the one at the end of the hallway. The Inspector waited, alone, his rubbing fingertips revealing his anticipation. He dismissed the deputy with a glare.

“Did you enjoy yesterday’s walk?” the Inspector asked Fazgood.

“It was very educational.”

“Good. See that you learn.”

The Inspector’s voice was sharp, and Fazgood found himself twitching to avoid an anticipated slap.

“I think,” said Mehzadapt, “ that we ought to discuss General Greatsergeant.”

“Indeed,” said the Earl.

“Tell me about how he swindled the Army.”

“He did not swindle the Army. He promised undue influence to a group of Ijkallan magicians.”

“Then tell me.”

Fazgood told the Adanikarese’s favorite method of subverting a new trade partner, but inserted “The General.” He placed General Greatsergeant in the role of the subversive, and invented the Ijkallan government as a contemplative republic (“a bunch of slow-moving dupes”).

“Secret gifts of gold and silver jewelry were made to the General. Well-made stuff. Good value. We, the Foofaloof and I, had the precious metals sold and deposited in an account for the General, who told his wife. But the adjutant found the account, and wanted in.”

The Inspector crossed his arms: “Greatsergeant could have took the money and told the magicians to scram, then had them arrested. The General would have gotten around easier if he had told the Scout Brigades. We would have protected him from magicians for the right price.”

Looking to his shoes, the Earl replied, “He…ah…he has low opinion of the brigades. He is one of those who feel you should be disbanded.”

“Then the General has spent too many years away and has lost his traditions. Let him spend more.”

“He is a paragon.”

Mehzadapt sneered. “Born into such influence! Trusted with a mission to expand the kingdom! He could become Marshall of the Army! Prime Minister!”

“His family,” said the Earl, “is such a sad tale.”

“Who knows what that is about? A melancholy in his blood. His rewards more than compensate for sad sap.”

“But further prying will enrage him more. He’s a general! And a paragon! You shouldn’t treat him so lightly!”

“He has such a low opinion of my kind, perhaps we should get acquainted.”

The Earl puffed. “You would write a letter to him? Speak with him? That would be such a mistake.”

“Are you always so nervous? My deputies tell me that you were a spymaster in the Three Cities.”

“The Xhnar family press-ganged me! I was almost murdered, more than a few times! I got out at the first opportunity.”

“The book tells that you found the Satirist’s spy network and captured his assassins.”

“Ha!” Fazgood leaned close. “Grandfar Xhnar would have you think that. He surrounded me with excellent people, then waved me aloft in public for the assassins to slay. Whoever wrote that book took Grandfar’s word.”

Mehzadapt looked at the Earl in disbelief. The Earl focused his gaze just above the Inspector’s eyes, to give the impression of directly gazed sincerity. Both men knew that the Print Guild did not publish lies. The Print Guilds received carefully-vetted approval for every book offered, from the Public Works and the Royal Family. But the Royal Family were also inscrutable, and made allowances that made no sense until years, even decades later.

The Inspector shrugged and looked Fazgood over. “Leave home and Compact, and that’s what sort of rule you get.”

Fazgood bit his tongue and waited for his words to work on the Inspector.

Mehzadapt asked questions to trip the Earl up, and so locate a lie. But having accepted the premise of the General’s corruption, and being greedy for it to be true, the Inspector had stopped examining the foundation of the tale. The Earl purposefully made mistakes in re-telling the tale, so to make the Inspector feel valuable; the inconsistencies were explained away with other lies that the Inspector found more acceptable. By the end, the Inspector was fuming and distracted.

“Would he let crime run loose?” Mehzadapt muttered. “Would he let generations of our ancestors be devoted, then say ‘Get off our doorstep. You mean nothing to us.’ Ingrate.”

Warned the Earl, “If he was ever to return and assume a role in civil society, he could –”

“If that were to happen, expect the scout brigades to be more organized, with greater respect for tradition.”

“Ah.”

“You have shown use today. Go back to your den of traitors and wait for instructions. Return tomorrow and tell me all that you hear or see. Continue checking in with whichever deputy is posted every six hours.”

Fazgood made quick scuttle from the alcove and out of the somber headquarters, lest the inspector add to his new hardship.

“Tell me all that you hear or see.”

Merhiazadapt is changing the phrasing of his instructions to catch me in a lie. Looks like I will be sleeping early tonight. I cannot go upstairs tonight, nor can I discuss plans with the others.

His heart dipped that he would not see Respiration in the dark. In her dim-lit chamber, against the white nightdress, her skin shone like polished onyx. But, then again, Fazgood found it increasingly wearisome to leave the chamber to that young dolt soldier (a well-intending fellow, yes, but all dolts mean well).

How doltish could he be? That method of gathering numbers from the achievements of one’s life, and determining from that information…that is so simple it is gifted. Knowing that could come in very useful; it could be used to bargain with the Cacaphoness or the Xhnar, or even the Emperor, if I needed to buy my way from under a rump.

Fazgood remembered from a few nights ago, from Warren’s perspective, the quick glance of the soldier with both Respiration and Calzjha. The Earl snorted ruefully.

Something for the soldier to remember when he is ignoring his grandchildren.

No. It was no lustful tryst. Calzjha’s race didn’t countenance rampant rutting. All physical touch was meant to be soothing, harmonious and enlightening; Khuoro’s studies were still focused and confident, thanks to the ingestion of Calzjha’s blood and sweat and seed that first night.

Calzjha’s skin is always flawless. Not voluptuous either, but always of kind proportion and this is *why* I always have Calzjha stay male. I do not need that distraction!

It has been so long since I have rutted, I really do not miss it. Not that I did it well when married.

He entered Lanthornmount Square, and decided to find a beannut vendor. He made to sip at a fountain, looked around at the people and the sky, then turned his mind back to the problem at hand:

Mehzadapt has five days until the Magnateship vote. He must win that vote or he will be ruined. What can I give him? I have to tell him everything I hear or see. There needs to be a conspiracy discussed for me to see.

Then the Earl was struck with an idea.

“Gods,” laughed the Earl softly. “That solves a problem. This calls for beannuts and some soup.”

He hastened to vendors and bought lunch.

At the vendor, he noted the scout on duty that day was the one who had deftly picked the toolbag at the Malabar Flats Ferry. The Earl took great joy in forgiving the man, inviting him to chat, and challenging his fortitude to a taste of relish. After a few questions about the Inspector, the man bade the Earl well and went back to his post across the square, his mood much more hateful toward Mehzadapt.

The Earl sat at a bench and brought out his bottle of relish. It was still half-full. He tapped a drop into the soup and stirred, and quickly ate. The heat stabbed his stomach, yet filled him with resolve. The pain also made him angry, which heightened his resolve further. He contacted his familiar.

[Warren,] thought the Earl, [I am under obligation. Note me very carefully, for I must report all I hear or see to the Inspector.]

That worthy’s pity was palpable. [You poor man. What now?]

Fazgood used his pinky fingernail to pick a beannut seed from between his teeth, [I will be at the keep soon. Please tell all not to speak about the conspiracy; I cannot even risk overhearing whispers. I will help Calzjha with the afternoon speech to the contemplators.]

Warren thought, [I will draw Calzjha’s attention at once and convey your messages. Obdurate took a moment and told me of his sympatile with the general this morning. According to the captain, it went very well.]

[Was the captain telling the truth?]

[He truly believes he did well, and concealed nothing. He is nervous, though.]

The Earl chuckled, [It is good for him. Squire, do you still like playwriting?]

[Why…I suppose. We have been rather busy.]

[Sir, I need for you to imagine a scenario with dialogue.]

The Earl provided the particulars of the desired scene and released Warren until late that evening so to craft his wordwork.

Fazgood returned the soupbowl to the vendor and strolled across the square to Greatsergeant Keep. The first of the contemplators had arrived and, as usual, chatted in a noisy knot around the Foofaloof, each looking for an opportunity to step into conversation. No one noted Fazgood’s entrance into the room.

He approached Respiration. “I would like to set the Brumpf up in our room. And I would need paper, water and an inkstone.”

All were provided, and the grateful playwright was set next to the window on a flat trunk. The weasel immediately set his paw into the dish of water, flicked the excess, daubed a finger in the inkstone and set to scratching in tiny print.

Fazgood noted Warren’s thoughts, [Ah! If she says…. No! Then he would say, yes!]

From in front of the closed door, Respiration shook her head. “Such a talented retinue. What does he write?”

“You will know soon enough. Do you have the reports on the Ijkallas?”

“They are beside the bed. Still unopened.”

She sounded as annoyed as he was at Calzjha’s lack of initiative.

“Fret not, I shall help with the presentation today. How fares your morning?”

“Better now that your schedule has opened up. Contemplation is like swimming in deep-water lately.”

“Shall we?”

The Earl tucked the folio of reports under his arm. They walked to contemplations.

After a brief introduction and a chorus to show appreciation, the Foofaloof and Pehzpersist presented themselves before the crowd. Pehzpersist stepped forward and spoke:

“With your indulgence, I grant that I will speak on the economy of the Ijkallas. This subject is more to my knowledge, as the Foofaloof is educated more in matters of the spirit. He had not said as much before, because he is a kind man and did not wish to disappoint his new friends.”

The Earl opened the folio of reports and set them upon a table. He looked directly at the frowning Mezzo-Barritone of the Royal Judiciary and smiled. “I would like to elaborate on this splendid documentation.”

 

*         *         *

 

That evening, after the most relaxed dinner since their arrival, the Earl retired early, after the anthem. He brought a small dish of legume stew up to the bedroom for Warren, and mixed some of the favored sauce that came with the box from Adanikar. He entered to find the weasel surrounded by inky papers, and staring intently out the window, oblivious to his liege’s entrance. Fazgood kept quiet, and set the plate beside Warren quietly to avoid disturbing his work. The Earl lay upon the bed and slept.

Later, Calzjha entered. At the appointed time, they roused the Earl, then Calzjha and Warren sneaked upstairs with a sheaf of papers writ upon by Warren. The Earl waited a count of two hundred, then proceeded upstairs.

He opened the door and slipped into Respiration’s bedroom. Around the room, in the conspirators sat in their usual locations, Respiration at the desk, Obdurate on the bed, Calzjha beside him, Warren near the door jamb.

Respiration spoke, as if repeating words from a voice only she could hear, “There…there you are, you wretch.”

‘Yes!” said Obdurate stiffly, staring at the weasel. “We have much undue suspicion direct upon us already. Where do you go in the afternoons?”

The Earl waited for his prompt from Warren, who was playwright, director and stage manager for the production.

[“I was wandering past abodes and a-worksplaces, as is my wont. For I learn more through a-watching than do all the sages through consterned studies thereby.”]

The Earl was then reminded the degree of Warren’s love of language. He suppressed an annoyed mutter and spoke his line.

The other three conspirators looked upon him, stunned by the florid statement. Respiration sucked in her cheeks to avoid laughing.

Said Obdurate, “’I suspect vile treachery!’”

“’I think that as well,’” said Calzjha, primly yet with tense annoyance, “’for I am silly and easily swayed.’”

Respiration took a breath, which shuddered with clenched laughter. “’Out with your truth, you lousy fence. Are you to determine us to the police as your patsies? That’s a magic you will regret and regret hard.’”

“’I’m a soldier. His blood will sluice over my blade with ease.’”

Prompted Warren, [Your threats bore me, as my blade would bore through you.]

Fazgood spoke his line, and actually thought it had a good turn.

“Enough of the prattling,” said the goodwife. “Where do you go? We hired a tail, and he saw you skulking into the scout headquarters!”

The Earl followed the prompts: “I owe grevious indebtedness from fell gambling, as I have told you before. I forestall their action with assurances and small payments. Money would propel us from your society.”

Respiration glanced at Obdurate. “’What of that? Where lies his payoff?’”

From the door jamb, Warren rustled through his ink-scratched papers.

Obdurate translated the thoughts Warren projected. “’Wait…wrong pa –‘“

The soldier smartly bit his tongue to keep from speaking words which would spoil the illusion being created for the Inspector. The performers waited in the dark; Obdurate and Calzjha looked restless and concerned, but the Earl gave them a tiny wave to encourage patience. The goodwife choked down another fit of giggles.

Obdurate looked to Warren and said finally. “’Ah! Let me kill him. Who is going to miss him?’”

“’I would not,’” said Calzjha. “’For I lack any…any depth of character?! Beyond my sensual studies?!’”

The last was added with exasperation.

Respiration took another shuddering breath. “’Shut both your noise-holes! The time has past for any saline-spilling. Where is their payoff?’”

The captain said. “’The banker is giving me grief. He will not give the amount in specie.’”

“’A lowly banker? I will see to him,’” said the goodwife. “’I will crush that little weed for crossing me.’”

The Earl said, “’So I must await another evening? This is not an inconvenience. Your board and larder is more than adequate. But another day in our clutches is another day where all may be discovered, determined, or deduced.’”

Respiration mustered an authentic sneer. “’Go scuff some flagstones, thief. We have business to discuss.’”

“’Why can’t I stay?’”

“’Start scuffing, I said.’”

The Earl gathered Warren and, leaving his rustling documents for Obdurate to dispose of when he departed later, slipped out the door.

In the hallway, the weasel looked up with black marble eyes filled with hope.

[Did it satisfy, my liege?]

[It filled the requirements splendidly, squire. I can go to the Inspector and tell him all I heard and saw, and he will have to believe.]

Wareen nodded happily. [I tried to make Respiration more the boss of the conspiracy, as you instructed before I wrote.]

[Noted and noticed, squire.]

[Ah! Good! I tried to capture the essence of the other characters otherwise. I didn’t have much time.]

[It was splendid. I believe Goodwife Greatsergeant enjoyed her role.]

The Earl peered down the stairs. He began skulking down.

Warren thought, [I thought I saw Calzjha making faces.]

[Dyspepsia.]








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 738 other followers

%d bloggers like this: