I am going to RavenCon on April 25 – 27, and having a reading!

18 04 2014

Richmond, Virginia is home to a convention for fantasy/horror media enthusiasts. I am going this year and will be attending these panels:

Writing Believable Villains, Friday, 3 pm
So You Want To Quit Your Day Job. Friday, 8 pm
Genre Flops, Saturday, 2 pm
Life Hacks For Writers, Sunday, 1 pm
History of Ghosts, Saturday, 10 pm
Hauntingly Yours, Saturday, midnight

Saturday the 26th at 2 pm, I will read from my horror novel “The Flesh Sutra”, soon to be released from Noble Fusion Press.





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER TWELVE (A Horror Is Discovered Before Sexing)

16 04 2014

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

Fazgood remained in sight of his new patroness, while keeping Calzjha from flirting too much with the guests. He sneaked amused glances at her fuming, befuddled lover. After the guests bid farewell, the oldest maid showed him to his new room in the fortress.

His new abode was in a guest bedroom that had been not occupied in almost five years, one that had been adapted from a guard quarters. The room was on the second floor, the same floor as the receiving room where the contemplations were held. The third and highest floor was the master quarters. The first floor had the servants’ rooms, the kitchen and storage rooms.

Members of the Greatsergeant ancestry glowered from resin-and-ink paintings along his room’s white spackled walls.

The Greatsergeant household staff were three people, cousins gnarled with age whose family had been in the Greatsergeant household since the raising of the Secure. There were the older maid, a wary handyman of a more recent epoch, and a pinch-faced cook; all three gave terse protestations at the interlopers, but went about the task of following their mistress’s orders to the minimum degree. Thin drapes were cast across the windows in order to keep the green of busynight from disturbing slumber. An old, plain washbasin was brought in, along with a table mirror of sufficient size.

Fazgood whispered to his patroness. “My household staff at Weiquant were professional layabouts. These three make my bunch look ambitious.”

Respiration gave a grim nod.

The Sixteenth Hour Rain pounded and drifted away, and Warren and Calzjha had not returned from the Customary. Just when Fazgood feared his cohorts had been arrested, from outside the window came a cry:

“Greetings to all! I speak to you in the Greatsergeant Keep! Your most grateful guest and newest and fondest friend has arrived!”

The oldest maid pulled away the drape and let it fall again.

She snipped. “It is the other guest.”

The Earl took the curtain from her hand and said, suppressing sarcasm, “Thank you, good housedame, for that most illustrative detail. Allow me.”

Respiration chuckled to her lover, who became glummer still.

In the courtyard below, Calzjha was surrounded by surprised and amused on-lookers. He and two laborers wrestled packages, parcels and luggage from a second rickshaw.

Calzjha exclaimed, “I took a moment to stop by the street of clothesmakers, oh…”

He turned and asked a young mother. “What is that street called?”

“Brightpiece Street?” she blushed. Her little girl gaped at the stranger.

“You are so helpful! Brightpiece Street! I bought a few items to have tailored. What a wonderful city this is! Such craftsmanship!”

The Earl gritted his teeth at the spending of money. “Very good, Foofaloof!”

Downstairs at the entrance, Calzjha supervised the train of porters bringing the luggage to his room. He insisted they take a gratuity as well. The staff of the keep stood in shock, occasionally yipping admonishments against dirt and clumsiness.

Warren leapt from his basket and scurried to the wall beside the Earl, [I tried to stop him, my liege, but he was like a great wind! A wind with bank permissions from the Atmospheric Union!]

[Do not fret, squire,] Fazgood glanced at his companion. [He is being our distractor.]

The weasel blinked, [Garish poverty is to our advantage, my liege?]

[His enthusiasm is our best disguise. Who would suspect a criminal near someone this goofy?]

[Ah! At last he shows value.]

A cask filled with rattling bottles was carried by between two poles. The fragrances from the cask was so fresh they stung the nose.

Warren sneezed. [Incenses and perfumes! One would hope our fortune holds out until your ruse is done, my liege.]

[All this baggage gives the impression of a long stay. You and I left this much and more behind when we quit Weiquand. In the meantime, all will be too happy to take our appearance as truth, for they will find his presence too exhausting to ask questions. And even if they do look at us, Calzjha’s servants will be all they see.]

Looking about the bustling, fortified surroundings gave the Earl cause to reflect: Two weeks ago, we were sweating on a ship pressed by the odd and shabby. A week ago, we were running connivances in a crowded quarantine compound, surrounded by the King’s army. Yesterday, intimate strangers in a customary with paper walls and the brigades on my neck. My heart is fluttering. I had forgotten what it was like to be running rampant.

Obdurate pressed upon Calzjha. “The wait was interminable. I had thought, perhaps you had been arr –”

Calzjha interrupted the indiscretion with a beaming smile. “Had you worried about me? The relocation from the customary caused an uproar! I had to promise all that Pehzpersist and I would be back tomorrow.”

He cried across the receiving hall to Respiration, “And Goodwife, at the mention of your name, all spoke of you in the highest regard! I told the aspirants and customaries that I would praise their natures to you; consider it so, as they are all so pleasant! So I say now ‘The Three Moaltrees’ contains pleasant people!’”

[My liege, he would not know if he were followed! He would not know what to look for beyond plughats.]

The Earl bobbed on his feet, barely suppressing The Fourteenth Dance of Glee: The Egret In Love.

[Squire, it does not matter! We are the guests of a Paragon family. Our hosts are beloved and honored above all others. Scouts would not dare meddle with us. Even the police can approach us only with Royal mandate.]

Watching workers stumble in with bolts of cloth, the weasel considered. [Ha! Delightful! Yes, that is true! Still, it worries.]

Calzjha saw Respiration fingering a bolt of scarlet flannel, and he went to her side. She greeted Calzjha, and looked to the Earl, her expression seeming alternately overwhelmed and suspicious.

Ah. She still needs to be convinced. Yes, well, how much would it take to convince a sheltered housewife? What will I have to do, open a pickle jar?

A laborer looked out the door. “What’s this?”

In the courtyard, all were in a commotion of conversation, more so than at the Foofaloof’s arrival.

The maid stepped outside and prevailed upon an errand boy. “What has happened?”

The boy pointed. All eyes followed to a Booloob, its bubble swimming with the saffron of the Public Works department, those who enforce the Royal will. The yellow sphere drifting above the crowd in the breathless air.

“– has passed. Of the Paragons, of the most beloved, let us pause, for the Magnate of the Scout Brigades has passed. Of the Paragons, of the…”

As the crowd before them brought hands to their sides and bowed, Fazgood felt a whoop of joy surge and clenched his throat.

The scouts will be distracted for ten days of mourning! Has my luck been dumped all upon this afternoon! All praise every god!

 

*         *         *

 

In the Plaza of the Supurb, a great mob of plughat roughs had converged and were growing in number by the moment. Maroon ascots stood next to yellows and blues. Pale number-coaxers with scarred hijackers. Wobbly, perfume-powdered Booloob sensuaries with sly Exult obligationists.

Wails came from scarred lips, from liquor-hoarsened throats, from membranes of expression coarse from indulgence. Within the eight neighborhoods, there lived and labored over five thousand Scouts, and at the end of a magnate’s life, all had to pass within the entrance of the headquarters, and pray before the mural to show respect.

Within the crying mob, Mehzadapt jostled inside a wedge of his deputies, each awaiting the time within for prayer. Beside him, Varalam pushed crowds away.

The Inspector bellowed, his voice lost mere feet away. “Where is he?”

Varalam creaked in dismay. “Where is he? He is in the most awkward position possible.”

“What? Why is this?”

“Our last suspect is sponsored by the Greatsergeants.”

One of the Paragons? He is here for a few days, and he is friend of one of the Paragons?

Bewildered Varalam shook his head. “It has passed beyond the likes of us!”

What could this man do? A great theft? A subversion of government? Extortion! Some grand obligationism!

Mehzadapt felt his throat roughen. “We must visit this Foofaloof and offer our apologies!”

“There is a week to mourn the magnate.”

“We will visit!”

Varalam startled at this insult to the Magnate’s memory.

Mehazadapt leaned close. “Before his illness, the Magnate himself ordered me to see the case of this stranger through to the end, no matter the cost!”

The Adactoid stilled at the weight of the words.

He seized Varalam’s lapel. “What have they in retinue?”

“What have they?”

“Yes! Surely servants, or errands boys have been hired!”

“None have been hired, sir! They travel simply!”

And quickly. With no retinue who can subvert or betray them. And they strike well and infiltrate towards great sensitivity.

“They do travel with an animal, sir. A named creature that knows laws. A sleek brown-striped animal, like a rat but longer.”

The Inspector looked behind at his story-loving deputy, hearing the words he spoke but yesterday: He is named Fazgood like in the book…the slayer of the Abomination…it’s a ratty-looking thing called a weasel.

Mehzadapt felt his face grow slack. Is Fazgood back for vengeance? To have revenge on me? But why involve the Greatsergeants?

He wrung his brain for all that the foreign reports had told of the Earl of Weiquand.

But he would come straight for a theft beyond measure? The foreign reports were full of this Earl when he was in The Three Cities! Didn’t he steal a fortress? An entire fortress, foundations, stones and all?

Obviously this is The Comet!

But he is also Fazgood, the exile from the Eleven Circles!

His breath came hard.

This could make me Magnate! This Fazgood is an exile from Harmonium, a rampaging menace who is infiltrating the highest of the Kingdom! For his capture, I will get a statue! A monument!

When other scouts saw the Inspector in the plaza, they considered how overwhelmed of emotion he was, and how deeply he breathed to calm himself. It would be hours, well into the green of busynight when Mehzadapt’s turn to the mural came.

After the passage and the keening, the incense and emptying of pockets of all coin and currency, the Inspector next summoned a copy of “The Nimblest Man.” It was that way Mehzadapt learned of Fazgood, Earl of Weiquand: divine-touched rogue.

 

*         *         *

 

“You should see this crab,” the Earl whispered. “Huge! Gorgeous!”

Across the dinner table, Calzjha smiled. “Yes. You have said it is a grand crab.”

Respiration sipped the last of her barley broth. “I have not had moosecrab in a few years time.”

Calzjha refused more rice. “From what my associate said –“ (He maintained discretion for the sake of the servants, they lurked so) “– I thought that the streets swam with them.”

“They are expensive, and my husband keeps the household on a strict budget.”

“Ah,” said the Earl.

Calzjha shook his head. “Your husband is…with my people. In Ijkalla. Would that not make you keeper of your household affairs?”

The Earl looked pointedly to his associate. “Ah.”

In the underlit room, head bowed, the maids waited for the dishes.

“I have just learned,” said Calzjha, taking the hint, “of the Paragons of Saline.”

Respiration assumed a familiar role. “Yes. The Paragon families uphold the traditions of how the Saline Compact is to be followed.”

“These are the rules which all of society follows.”

“Not just the society. The gods and spirits negotiated the agreement as well. It brings the Sixteenth Hour Rain at the sixteenth hour, which deposits the precise amount of moisture every day, until the autumnal equinox, when that season’s weather occurs as scheduled. It allows that insects will be readily fed and housed in neighborhoods and not bore into the dwellings of those who know law. It allowed that during the Siege of Harmonium, our attackers were resisted not only by soldiers, but by quagmires on solid ground, by hail from clear skies, by fogs so thick tremblars could not push through.”

Fazgood beamed. “Their fires could not ignite, their food spoiled upon sight, all chaos something-something from the Se-e-ecure.’ I remember that song now. It was playing…on our first day.”

Respiration motioned for the maid to clear the dishes. She stiffened as the servant brushed past.

They spoke of generalities while they were under watch, of Adanikar already confirmed by witnessing friends, of moosecrab, of Warren-as-Brumpf (upstairs, engrossed in study), of moosecrab, of the contemplations and other spiritual traditions.

It was all the Earl could do to keep his head from thumping the stones, so bored was he. When twentieth-hour came, Fazgood almost shreiked with relief.

“Goodwife, the Foofaloof and I must prepare for our studies tomorrow.”

As they walked upstairs to rest, Fazgood pointed to the waterclock and shrugged an inquiry. She held up a finger and mouthed “First hour.”

To their room they retired. Upon opening the door, Fazgood discovered the room lined with boxes, bolts of cloth, and the day’s baggage. On the bed “The Nimblest Man” lay open for study, and upon that lay the Earl’s scholar deep in study.

“Hail Brumpf! Was our room undisturbed?”

Warren yawned, [The manservant peeked in. He saw me looking at him and eased out quick enough!]

“Your reading a book gave him doubts,” smirked the Earl. “It is best we stay crafty with this lot.”

Calzjha hissed. “That poor woman! This is the sourest home!”

“No wonder she has taken up a hobby.”

“I am sure that soldier is more than some distraction to her.”

“Find me my relish. Squire, how goes your studies?”

The weasel carefully nosed the front cover of the book over.

“Mind how the pages cut,” said Calzjha.

[Gracious of you, but I manage. My liege, this book is a ripe lump of cheese.]

“Take care, squire, that relates to my life.”

[You wrought your own life from artfulness. Someone called ‘Forthright Pewter’ wrought this, I suspect, from his bowels.]

“A harsh assessment.”

[The language is stuffed. Descriptions do not flow as much as they gasp from constipation.]

“Then I will have to belabor Goodman Pewter with a brick.”

[The name suggests a Rahsic man, but it also obviously a pen-name. The writer could be of any race.]

Calzjha took a bottle from the chest of fragrances. “Why is this here?”

He showed the Earl the gold-topped bottle.

“Hiding the precious in plain sight. Please replace it with your bottles.”

“If I rub this vile stuff on myself, I will punch you.”

Calzjha then plucked a tiny bottle of emollient for himself and daubed some upon his hands.

[The details of your life are accurate, my liege. The dates, names, and places are all correct. The author thumps one with drama, but I suspect that is the fashion of these ‘dusk thicket’ books.]

“It is their fashion that I should die, and that sort of presuming annoys.”

[You don’t die in this book, which is a change in the style. You just disappear after the Assassin War in The Three Cities, as you had intended back then, and the book leads one to believe you are dead, or living in guarded retirement.]

The Earl snorted. “That is ridiculous.”

Calzjha sighed. “Yes. Isn’t it, though?”

Warren and Calzjha exchanged a quick, rare commiseration.

Fazgood took off his shoes, sat on the bed and helped Warren set the book upon the floor. “Dim the lights. It is the twenty-second hour. Wake me at the last.”

“Do we skulk?”

“We do skulk.”

The Earl laid his blazer upon a trunk and stretched back, enjoying the beautiful view of sturdy stone walls. “I wonder how she sneaks that clod in. These houses have spirit enough to creak the doors and floorboards if they are not respected.”

Calzjha made a sullen face at the insult of the soldier. He drew the shade of the lantern and cast the room into shadow, the green of busynight shadowing the bars against the window.

The two hours passed. Fazgood rose without needing prompting, noted his shirt was wrinkled and so found a fresh one to wear. Warren took a quick stroll down the hall as the Earl combed and made his case to Zhazh, to all alumni, to the spirit of the house. Perhaps to spite him, the door squealed digestively as they slipped out.

Thought the Earl, [You heard nothing in the last two hours?]

[I heard nothing, my liege.]

The Earl improvised a door jam by prying a piece of metal from the unguent filigree, and bending it in half. He ran a thick black thread into the bend, and slipped both ends of the thread under the door out into the hall. When the three slipped into the hall, the Earl pulled the thread until the bend in the metal held, firm but unseen, under the door. A snooping maid pushing the door would think it secured. A pull of the thread sideways, a knock on the metal jam with a sliver of ablewood, and the jam would come free, allowing them to enter their room.

They crept through the dark hall and up the stairs to the third floor, Calzjha carrying Warren, Fazgood leading, to Respiration’s door.

He tried the latch and pulled. He pulled again. It would not open. He turned to his companions and rolled his eyes.

It was no betrayal. It was no bout of forgetfulness. When the Earl was a member of the College of Incorrigibles, Fazgood had been rated by a panel of peers as The Third Most Effective Living, Tangible, Mortal Thief. When pressed into service by The Three Cities, The Earl had mastered their Bedchamber Guard into greatness as an espionage organization.

But it all makes no difference, because the suspicious trollop wants me to prove myself with a damned lock.

Suppressing a grumble, he slipped past the puzzled Calzjha and dozing Warren back downstairs and into his room. He stripped more ablewood from his cane, another sturdier one from inside a trunk lid, and a piece of wire filigree from the fine carrier of Calzjha’s fragrances. He tucked all within his socks and slipped back into the hall.

Back upstairs he went, his reflexes managing all impatience and anger. Betwixt the door and jam slipped the ablewood and the latch eased up. The door eased open without a sound. All slipped inside.

In the darkness, on cushions before the great bed, sat Respiration and Obdurate. All drew close to whisper.

“We were worried,” said Respiration, lacking any trace of concern. The dark did not conceal Obdurate’s amusement at the Earl’s anger.

Calzjha smoldered. “’An inside job’ means that the person inside does their job. But how did the captain get in?”

“I needed confidence,” she said.

Said the Earl. “Here is some confidence.”

He pointed to the far corner. “The hidden entrance is there behind the parquetry, the one with the corner adjacent the Secure.”

Respiration and Obdurate looked to each other. Obdurate’s smugness evaporated.

The Goodwife nodded. “That does inspire.”

She walked across the room to the aforementioned corner. He slid open a panel of parquet paneling. Behind twinkled an amazing light.

 

 





11 04 2014

The Parsec Awards are open for nominations.   http://www.parsecawards.com/announcements/parsec-award-nominations-open-march-31/

 

The awards celebrate the finest audio narration on the internet.

 

Would you consider clicking and nominating my story?

Even if you do not feel comfortable nominating my tale, please consider nominating a story from Pseudopod. It is a fine podcast. They give beginning authors and voice talent a well-paying and prominent venue for their work.

http://pseudopod.org/2014/02/16/pseudopod-373-the-metal-and-its-mold/

 

 





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER ELEVEN (The Players Manuever For Position and Seafood)

8 04 2014

The rickshaw bumped over a groove. Fazgood leaned close to Calzjha.

“The two of you get to the square. When I come back, we will go talk with Mrs. Cheat-The-General and Captain Doomed.

“Look at that book, Warren. And tell me how it ends.”  

The rickshaw stopped and let Calzjha off with his Basket-of-Brumpf. As Calzjha gave one last worried look, and the devoted weasel gave the Earl one last affirmation, Fazgood bade them farewell for the next hour.

The rickshaw whirred away. Calzjha watched, growing smaller, until he was lost in the crowd.

Watching the crowd as he passed, the Earl recited the entire College of Incorrigibles Alumni Praise twice over, and was starting a third round when the rickshaw eased before the wide brick gates of the Garden of Edification. He paid the driver, then removed and carefully folded his apron. He tucked the apron and his cane under his arm, and strolled into the park.

He passed a group of school children in white tunics following their teacher out. A few older people in aprons swept the brick walkways, or stood silent vigil at vendor stands. He wandered ambled around the courtyards, identifying paths towards the exits, locations of tool sheds and the like.

He finally came across a series of aquatic tanks, fenced with a low barrier. He passed a tank with a printed label for “Knighted Frogs”, with frogs slouching on their carp-mounts idling near the viewing glass. The next tank held an “Alpian Mitre Beetle Nest”, which was a great bubble about the size of a human torso, transparent from the trapped air held in place by some marvel of instinctive engineering, the insides of the bubble crawling and flicking with beetlery.

It took some squinting at the glittering water, but finally Fazgood made out a squat, antlered shape drifting on the bottom of the tank.

The crab was a beauty. The moosecrab was about two handspans wide at the shell, and another two worth of legs at each side. From the front of the crab were two thick, flesh-filled antlers.

The crab sat in the shade, plucking and eating unseen items from the bottom with the tips of tapering, serrated pincers.

All I’ll need is a thick blanket to smother those claws. I had heard that the large old ones lose flavor. But how to get my dinner out? Daytime is better; nobody expects thievery under the sun. I’d crack it open now if I could get away with it!

Fazgood looked around. The water in the tank looked to be about shoulder deep. Spring over the rail, jump in the tank, grab the crab. But he restrained himself.

Put it in what? A trunk? A basket for carrying babies? Then walk out of the zoo wearing drenched clothes. No. I’m going to need a distraction.

Perhaps I should have Calzjha perform one of his celebrated illnesses.

He gave an aggrieved sigh at that undertaking.

Calzjha just cannot fall down and be nauseous. He will ask “Which illness shall I do?” And he will need to contract something spectacular. Such as? Heatstroke? Animal hysterias? The Dancing Plarvies?

The Earl trod down a side path to a small stone building without a sign.

The floor of its pen was a sandy bowel about ten strides wide. The sand was mixed with straw and grain, and insects flittered just above the surface. Near the middle of the bowel lay a gray-skinned beast of six cables in length. It had only two great forepaws for limbs; the rest of its body followed in a huge roll that came up to Fazgood’s shoulder in height. The beast’s long head held an unusually stretched mouth like that of a whale’s. Its tiny eyes gave Fazgood a bored once-over.

The Mad Earl smiled. A tremblar! This zoo is comprehensive!

The large mouth opened to show even, ridged plates of baleen. The sand beneath the long grey body trembled, and it glode forward on the strength of the vibrations, mouth open wide. The grain, bugs and dust shook into the air like a cloud. The tremblar settled its head within the cloud, the dust swirling into its mouth. It smacked its lips and belched a shiny mist.

Fazgood rather liked tremblars. They always had a wary, if resigned attitude, and very simple needs.

Back at the plaza, he purchased a seedcone and a sugarcane from the dozing vendor. He took a bite from the seedcone as he walked back, and spent the next moments before the tremblar’s cage sucking molasses and seeds from his teeth. Twisting off the tip of the cone, he tossed it over the fence. The candy landed before the great beast.

The tremblar swayed its mouth and snuffled. The sand shook, the cone bounced up and the morsel sucked away.

The Earl broke off more pieces of the cone and flipped them ahead of the tremblar. The creature trembled the ground and glode smoothly along, following wherever the food landed.

The Mad Earl took up his cane and cracked its tip of on the bricks of the sidewalk, just enough to make the cane splinter along an end. He twisted a sliver from the canetip, then peeled off another thicker sliver.

The Mad Earl slipped over the rail to the cage door and examined the lock. He slipped the slivers in, twisted them and snapped the lock open.

The Earl looked to the tremblar. “Tch! Tch!”

The long grey head turned to the door. The sand beneath it shook and pounded. The tremblar glided around and approached the door. But as it came to the rise before the doorway, the vibrations caused the sandy slope to spill and cascade. The tremblar grunted and puffed, but it could not gain purchase in the sliding sand.

Yes, it can pound anything to pieces as long as it is on a solid footing.

The Earl considered its struggles for a moment. Nodding, the Earl snapped the lock shut and slipped back over the rail.

On his way out of the zoo he inquired of a keeper. “When is feeding time?”

 

*         *         *

 

The thirteenth hour was the hour of plans, thought the Inspector.

In the alcove of the scout headquarters, Varalam the Inspector’s huge Adactoid deputy filled the doorway. Behind, criminals and scouts murmured and scuffed by, their shadows crossing behind the Adactoid’s back, while snatches of plans slipped by in the air, plans for lunches and cullings and retributions.

Varalam said, “A maid at the Shaded Moaltrees told of a suspect who took up studying there early this week. The suspect is the servant of an official from some islands.”

“Why haven’t I seen him?”

“The customary muddied our first search. Customaries cultivate, and sometimes love their gardens too well. The rules say we have to inquire with them first; sometimes they hide some weed they fancy; then they claim misunderstanding; then we can’t prove they’re lying and being poisonous.”

That customary is due for a burglary. I will demand nothing be left but seat cushions.

The Inspector asked the deputy, “Do you know which island this official is from?”

“I do not remember which islands she said, Inspector. Does that matter?”

Mehzadapt was in a foul mood. “Details are always important, deputy! Was he from the Hermitshells? From Abduryne? I need to know what kind of trouble this fellow could stir up! Wring your brains, or I’ll wring them for you.”

The Adactoid’s scarred brow creased more at the invective. He bowed. “You have jarred loose my memory. The maid said he was from the Ijkalla Islands. Those new islands freshening our kingdom.”

“Then they will need to know how things work here in Harmonium.”

Varalam crossed his hands, relaxing at the Inspector’s satisfaction. “The maid also said this official is a hazard. The maid said the official thrashed a couple of scouts at the Amusatorium.”

“How was this so?”

“The scouts were trying an unscheduled robbery.”

“That is possible. Was this official armed?”

The deputy shook its great gray skull. “She said this little skinny reed of a fellow beat them into the infirmary with his bare hands. Do you want us to snatch this Therihe, his assistant?”

“No, we may not have to. If the story about that robbery holds true, that will work for us very well. On behalf of the Magnate of the Scout Brigades, I will want to offer my apologies to this official and to his associate. Keep a watch on that customary. When I confirm that story about the robbery, we’ll wait for my Therihe to show up. We’ll size him up without causing any problems.”

“Little reed of a fellow?” I would like to search his wardrobe for white dresses.

 

*         *         *

 

In the Lanthornmount Square mural, The General had just opened his mouth to exhort the final pursuit of the Prevaricate’s houda. Two brown-robed magicians from Public Works peered at details of plaster and paint.

Fazgood noted the silent exortation and thought, The battle’s almost done! I am late!

He trotted across the square to Greatsergeant Keep. Calzjha met him at the gate, the book and Warren’s basket in his hands. An elderly maid permitted them entrance.

The Foofaloof said, “I was bored waiting for you, Pehzpersist, so I took a walk to the next keep to the south. It had been maintained by another founding family.”

From inside the basket, Warren thought, [Impressive fortifications in their day, my liege. They had been much adjusted by the years, but still inspiring.]

They passed through the oak and iron door and through a narrow, stone-walled anteroom. Once inside, they noted above their heads the spikes of a portcullis. They passed under, and the maid showed them through another formidable door. Beyond that, a larger room, just as austere, brought them to a set of stairs.

Mused the weasel, This smell! It is sweet and it burns. Such a lot of grease!

The Earl opened his lips a little and sniffed. “I smell it, too.”

At the top of the stairs, a stone balcony followed the width of the anteroom. An iron trellis finely notched and scalloped allowed for archers now long dead, for a final stand that was never necessary.

Warren nudged the Earl’s thumb, [The keep we visited is a revered shrine. This keep has its portcullis ready to drop.]

The Earl considered, [And iron is a treasure in the Kingdom. Someone has a lot of influence to keep this iron handy.]

They turned left at the top of the stairs, walked along the balcony, and entered a receiving room. The Earl counted twelve people in the room, walking about, whispering occasionally to one another.

Fazgood knew of the tradition of “Contemplations.” It was tried a few times among the thinking classes of Birqmuir; it had to be discontinued due to brawling. Fazgood’s preferred form of contemplation required liquor, darkness, and was called “conspiracy.”

Across the room by a window, shadowed by latticework, the officer stood with a tall, dark-skinned Rahsic woman in plain, gray dress. The two noted the newcomers. The officer smiled and whispered to his companion. The woman’s peaceful smile was fixed as if chisled into granite. They crossed the room in greeting.

The soldier walked to them with open arms. “Good aspirants, I am very glad you have arrived. This is the Goodwife Respiration Greatsergeant. Goodwife, this is the Foofaloof of the Ijkalla Islands, and his associate Pehzpersist.”

The Foofaloof said, “Goodwife, I am so pleased to have your hospitality.”

Respiration was slightly shorter than Calzjha. She glanced at the Foofaloof’s plain suit, the grace with which he presented his hands, his poise and the way he fulfilled the Six Common Qualities of Beauty.

Her smile broadened, but with little warmth. “The adjutant says that you are a man of notoriety.”

The soldier coughed and gained her attention. He made a meaningful look to the short Therihe in the business suit beside the youth.

The Earl said, “The Foofaloof is notorious to the unjust, goodwife. I am also grateful for your tolerance.”

Another woman, a smaller Rahsic in utilitarian goodwife weeds, stepped to the fore. “Goodwife Greatsergeant, I was wondering if you needed any help with organizing today’s contemplation.”

“I thank you,” said the hostess. “But all is in order. These are our visitors from the Ijkalla Islands.”

Introductions were performed. The Brumpf was included, but Warren kept his thoughts hidden to maintain his disguise. The goodwife took the Earl aside.

Goodwife Greatsergeant said. “Adjutant Childteacher told me of your meeting. Sometimes the adjutant can be quite fanciful.”

“Yes,” The Earl said. “He is enthusiastic. That can be a danger.”

“It invites much trouble from all sorts of people.”

“Indeed. There is an old saying: Even when an archer aims well, still it’s a damn arrow flying around!”

“Indeed,” she replied, and had a sip, her eyes watchful.

Loudly, Obdurate said, “I noted when we met that you are conversant in Adanikarese.”

“Perhaps,” the Goodwife bowed her head, her smile disappearing, “you were mistaken.”

The Earl wrung his brain to remember the conversation in front of the Amusatorium.

Calzjha smiled and said smoothly, “We trade with the Adanikarese. Do you speak it?”

In her eye gleamed a challenge; she said in Adanikarese:

 

“What will displace what can not be placed?

What forever dies without being broken?”

 

Obdurate translated for the assembled.

“A riddle! Intriguing!” said a tall, burly Therihe judge with a great black beard.

“Ah! I know this!” said the Foofaloof, and he assumed the simple, strong gestures of sanctified theatrical training:

 

“This displaces the not-placed! This eases, always traced:             

An echo in a canyon after words are spoken!”          

 

The Earl sighed and said in Adanikarese, “Is that so? Do not ask me. I am here for the food.”

He gave a thoroughly Harmoniad shrug.

Obdurate translated and all were amused, especially when Pehzpersist performed the shrug anew.

The guests remarked on the Foofaloof’s cleverness and grace to the grudging, newly contemplative hostess.

[Squire,] considered Fazgood to Warren, [I lived for years in that damn eardrum-piercing City of Noise. How is it that these homebound wretches speak the language better then me?]

[My liege, you concentrate on those words that are important. Their language is all unneeded air.]

[Well said, squire. That is why you are on my payroll.]

[Thank you.]

“If…if, uh, we could,” said Obdurate, “complete our sharing…I will be glad to bring the Foofaloof for individual…you know, to speak….”

The guests had already smiled at familiar, stammering Adjutant Childteacher and drifted across the room to their own considerations.

“That riddle has another ending,” Respiration said in Adanikarese. “That is depressing for a lovely day. I also learned the one about ‘hope’ being broken.”

“The sun fades,” said the puzzled Foofaloof. “Yet it is always there. Hope must be sought.”      

Obdurate gently smote the Foofaloof on the shoulder. “Yes! Yes! Heed him! There may still be a way –-“

Even in a foreign tongue, the soldier bit his words to be discrete.

The goodwife’s lip curled. “I thought you said the other is ‘The Nimblest Man.’”

Fazgood growled. “I am happy you speak of me now. I was so sad and lonely.”

Obdurate was reminded, and became angry. “You have my book. Return it.”

“You say the book helped you find me. I will return book when we finish looking at it.”

“I need it now.”

Fazgood cast his eyes down and gestured to the basket. “After he has examined it, we will return it. This I promise.”

The Brumpf popped his head from the basket and fixed the young soldier with a defiant stare: [And my considerations will not be rushed!]

The lid banged shut. Within the basket was the aggravated flip of a page.

Respiration stood stunned. “I was looking in his eyes, and I heard this voice…this irate voice in my head.”

The soldier puffed, then: “If …if Warren promises, that is well enough.”

The other goodwife approached. “Good Respiration! I am very sorry, but time grows short and we haven’t had a chance to speak with your guest and I know I’m –“

The Goodwife Greatsergeant was still reeling from communication with Warren.

Quickly, the Foofaloof affected shock. “’No, no, no! I have been wrong for neglecting you. Could you introduce the Brumpf and I to your comrades?”

The fellow contemplator said, “Of course! But I saw your animal’s ears just now. Would it need water?”

[Pah! Animal!] resounded in Fazgood’s head.

“Do not worry. When the Brumpf is in need, he is most communicative.”

“My son has a mustimouse, and he is so much like your companion!”

[Like a mustimouse! This madwoman!]

The Foofaloof opened the lid for her to see.

“Your Brumpf seems so happy to see me. Hello…”

Fazgood appreciated that Warren kept his further thoughts to himself.

Respiration said, “Odd…talented creature or no, I do not believe you are this Fazgood.”

Obdurate puffed even more. “We have talked of this! How did I find him other –“

She merely had to whisper to cut him off: “Who have you found, with this untested method? Someone akin to this Fazgood? Someone who pretends to be Fazgood? Perhaps you found this…magicked creature.”

The Earl sighed. “Do you have an abomination in your house? I’ll kill it.”

“Leave my house. Whatever Obdurate has planned cannot succeed.”

Fazgood glared at Obdurate. “Her spirit lacks.”

Now it was the soldier’s turn to cast eyes down. “She is just…modest…and she…. You have to understand…her position.”

The Earl mocked. “I…I understand you tol-told me she-she like pl-plan.”

He flicked a pinky at the adjutant and said to the goodwife. “He speaks poorly when he wants. Get pity; get time to think a lie. You not fooled.”

The burning in her eyes dimmed a little, and she gave Obdurate a chiding, sideways glance: “No. Not at all.”

The young soldier smirked.

Fazgood added. “He wants to plow you. You know that.”

“I do not understand.”

“Plow. He wants to plow you.”

Both Rahsics’ jaws dropped with surprise. Respiration seemed about to laugh, and Obdurate about to throttle.

“You want to plow him?”

Respiration blushed. For the first time in their meeting, she almost laughed. Obdurate hung on her next sentence, misinterpreting her hesitancy as betrayal.

The Earl growled to Obdurate. “She means ‘yes.’”

To both: “I help you, nevermind who I am. He wants to plow. You want to plow. I want a meal.

“And Foofaloof, Brumpf and I need stay here.”

The soldier flushed anew and leaned down. “That was not our deal! What are you doing?”

Fazgood said, “Adapt, soldier. Goodwife, I speak with you alone.”

            Obdurate struggled to hold his indignation.

            “Just for a moment,” said the woman.

            With that, the adjutant turned and crossed the room his head down in barely-convincing thought. They watched him leave.

            Fazgood went to a table and poured a cup of water from a pitcher. He whispered in Rahsic. “Adanikarese burns my brain after a while. May I offer you a cup?”

She waited.

“Your young man is rash. He charged in with that Adanikarese. He could have waited to see if the Foofaloof and I would betray ourselves through a misplaced conversation. You would not have made that mistake.”

            “No,” she said. “No, I would not have.”

The Earl sipped. “You need some ready common sense to stop those charges of his. Yours is a delicate situation.”

“Yes.”

“You do not want him hurt.”

“No. I did not want this…deliverance. He wants us to see through our fate together. I want him to…. There is no escape for me.”

She looked ruefully at the cup. “He is determined that good can come of this.”

“Ah.”

A couple drifted close by, and Respiration resumed Adanikarese. “He spoke of your meal, Pehzpersist. The servants are difficult.”

“Yes, I met your maid.”

“The meal may be possible. But to stay here is not necessary.”

Fazgood sighed. “Yes, it is. Our soldier has already talked too much. If we are to deal, we stay together, keep each other in the deal.”

“No,” she replied, with finality.

Damn! I must be out of that customary! This keep is perfect! Who would question me here?

“I get him out of this,” the Earl ventured with a grimace. “I…will make sure he will not go to prison. Do you understand?”

            “Yes,” she said. “How?”

            “I am the Nimblest Man. You get me a meal and refuge, I keep him out of prison.”

“You have tonight,” she said, “to make an impression. If I am not impressed, you will leave.”      

“Our deal is struck.”

Then the Therihe man set down his cup and said loudly. “Your Adanikarese is splendid, goodwife. As a service to your husband, I thought that we might form a study group towards better understanding. To bring the world to your door.”

            The goodwife noted and said, just as loudly, “Everyone! I think I should help our aspiring citizens. To have the knowledge of those who have traveled abroad, that would be most enlightening to our circle.”

            “Perhaps they could answer questions!” said a member of the Public Works.

            Calzjha blushed. “I do not want to take up your time.”

            “It would be our honor!” someone cried.

            Now Obdurate paled. “Perhaps…if they…oh…it is possible –-“

            Calzjha gave a panicked glance. “I would not know where to begin.”

            Fazgood asked, “How much does your circle know of the Ijkallas?”

            “We know only from the official dispatches from the army,” said the Goodwife. “They are dry reading.”

            There were knowing chuckles.

            Said the Earl to the captain in a whisper not-quite-discrete. “It would be useful to have a look at the dispatches. So that we provide fresh insights. The Foofaloof likes to prepare a proper talk for people he admires.”

            Obdurate took the hint. “Yes. I could provide those.”

            “The Foofaloof is so modest,” Fazgood overheard.

“A pleasant person,” said another, and the Earl restrained rolling his eyes.

            The Goodwife took a deep breath. “To facilitate this, I will offer the hospitality of my home. They will reside here.”

            A stir across the room!

            The judge came to her side. “Is that wise? Who would chaperone?”

            The Earl braced himself for Calzjha’s lie, because Calzjha always told this lie whenever possible:

            “Goodwife,” smiled Calzjha, with nervousness a touch overacted. “Pehzpersist and I share a deep love for one another.”

            Another stir! Openness about romance was always such a social gambit!

            To make the illusion good, Fazgood smiled and made soft eyes to the Foofaloof. The Foofaloof’s adoration concealed a flicker of mischief.

            Warren thought, [He maneuvers for romance between you again! The temerity!]

            Much was discussed regarding the continuing of classes at the customary, and the regulations regarding aspirant sponsorship, towards which the judge gave useful advice.

            Calzjha sighed. “Judge Mezzo-Baritone, you were about to talk of Abduryne. Is it beautiful?”

The juror seized a lapel. “There are few places more beautiful!”

“What did you enjoy?”

“I stayed in Llaldzl, the capital. Every morning I looked out of window, and I could see hundreds of spires reflecting green in the sunlight. The spires, and most of the buildings, are crystals, beautiful and perfect…”

Calzjha led the magistrate and a knot of other contemplators to the balcony.

[Warren,] thought Fazgood, [Let us take up immediately. Tell Calzjha to go to the customary and let them know where we may be reached.]

[But we’re hiding, my liege!]

[Not any more, squire! We are under the protection of a paragon family of the kingdom! Our enemies must now tread lightly! Have our luggage brought, and take care of the dirty laundry. Smell the room for any hair or what-have-yous laying around, and we’ll burn what you find.]

[I will do, my liege.]

Warren’s head poked from the basket, and he stared at Calzjha, awaiting his chance for a discrete thought.

            Fazgood looked to Respiration, who gave a grim nod. Beside her, Obdurate’s eyes flickered like those of a man trapped on a galloping horse.

The Earl said under his breath. “This crab had better be good.”





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER TEN (Alert: Seductions!)

2 04 2014

When dawn of the next morning cast its stark shadow upon the customary, Fazgood and Warren waited until figures moved at the windows. The Earl tucked his loyal charge tucked under his arm and walked briskly across the street. He slid open the front door a little to peek. A maid walked by on her way to the common room. He slipped in and up the stairs as quiet as wind. In the upstairs hall, he edged past the husband of the married couple walking bleary and scratching to the shower. A final slip through his door. He slid it closed and turned.

Khouro the Fabri piled before him. The mossy being curled with chagrin.

Warren dropped to the floor with a thump.

The Earl suppressed a sigh of resignation. “Good morning, aspirant Khouro.”

“Good…good morning,” Khuro squeaked. “I was…here to see…I had just entered…”

Calzjha’s voice trilled from the bedroom. “Good morning, Pehzpersist. How went your morning walk?”

“Splendid, Foofaloof,” Fazgood continued the ruse Calzjha had begun. “This is a beautiful neighborhood. Did you sleep well?”

“Ah. Yes, I did. Khuoro came here to study this morning. I will join you downstairs, Khouro!”

The being fidgeted. “Yes! I will be downstairs! For…for the morning routines! Good morning!”

It was possible that Khouro was downstairs before the door was completely closed.

Fazgood hissed to Calzjha in Adanikarese, “Can you not sex everyone we meet?”

Calzjha opened the door to the bedroom, looking refreshed and relaxed, picking bits of green from his hair. “His people are tactile. He felt nervous in this new city. I used my training to align his energies and bring him to focus.”

“’Tactile’! The Fabri are carnivorous plants. They used to ingest lawful people before joining the Kingdom. Look at your wrists!”

“He took a little blood. He kept to fluids only. The more of my being within him, the calmer he will be.”

The Earl sputtered at that, then shoved images of vines and roots from his mind. “It is a pox to my plan!”

“He entered before dawn. I told him you were out having a walk.”

Thought Warren, [Call this ‘bodyguarding’, does he! Or ‘being a decoy’?]

“Yes! Call yourself a bodyguard?”

Calzjha whispered, “No, you call me your bodyguard. Yesterday was the first time I actually protected you from anything.”

“’Decoy!’ You were to be decoy!”

“Being here, I suppose I was a decoy.”

“Did you expect me to lay here by myself when someone offers himself? How is that to be ‘as usual’?”

Fazgood growled and hastily adjusted the blazer on the chair. He stripped off his shirt and undershirt, and found clean ones in a drawer. Calzjha’s attention snapped to Warren, who was waving.

“What is it?” Calzjha said testily.

[You are a harlot!]

Calzjha spat with exasperation. “Khuro has a enlightened understanding –-“

“Nevermind. I can use him. I may have him smother that officer.”

“We need to find you an understanding Human woman.”

“I disbelieve that such exists!”

There was a knock. “Please rise!”

Fazgood affected his daffy smile and chimed loudly. “Good morning! We are on our way!”

While still wearing his pants, he tied on his robe and slid open the door.

They showered and relieved themselves (Fazgood smacking his forehead with unusual vehemence) and ate breakfast. The morning’s lectures included a Booloob who explained its community and nature.

“You are answering questions much more accurately today, Khuoro,” said the customarian.

Calzjha smiled with pride at having brought the universe greater relief and alignment.

After the lectures, the fellow aspirants filed out to the porch. The customarian cast an annoyed look at Fazgood rousing from his doze. The Adactoid took Calzjha aside. They watched the Therihe slouch from the room.

Calzjha spent time on the porch speaking with the other aspirants of their plans for when they became citizens. When judicious, he slipped away upstairs.

He slid open the door to their room, where Fazgood dozed.

Fazgood said, eyes seemingly closed. “What is it? You have that look.”

“Kitpoktik told me that scouts had been asking about someone of your description.”

“He ratted me out. Just because I snore in class.”

“No! He bent the truth. He told them you were not in their house, when you were actually in the bathing house at the time.”

Fazgood opened his eyes further. “Why did Kitpoktik do that?”

“As a favor to me. And he hates the scouts.”

“Ah. Did Kikpoktik say what color the scout’s ascot was?”

“I forgot to ask.”

“Nevermind. If it was that scout we beat up coming back with a grudge, he would have been asking about you, me, and the Brumpf there snoring in the laundry hamper.”

A wet whistle came from the open basket.

Fazgood rose from the chair and stretched his back. He switched to Adanikarese. “The scouts are looking for the Great and Monstrous Comet. Someone else will come today or tomorrow. A delivery person or child says they return a thing of value. They go to another guest or a maid, not Kitpoktik. We must away.”

“Are we being watched?”

“I do not know. I doubt that. They would not have asked, It is not the police, and that is good.”

“Should I speak with a customary across town? Or an inn?”

The Earl held the heels of his temples and rubbed. “Let us take a walk. We have to visit some friends.”

 

*         *         *

 

His heart pounded as they walked. The Mad Earl muttered prayers and imprecations behind his closed lips. “Zhazh, please keep your elaborations at a minimum. Respected elders of the College, steal all doubts and make my spirit light….”

He had decided they would walk down to the Arterial and join the foot traffic into the city. Walking with Calzjha always eased his mind a little. The young man’s gait was naturally quick, and Fazgood hated walking with sluggards who would make the Earl a slow and easy target. Calzjha was also inclined to occasionally stop and enjoy little details; sunlight flickering through tree branches, vendors singing, the textures of seamless stone walls and wrought iron gates. These breaks afforded Fazgood ample opportunities to survey for pursuers, scouts, police, villains, or demons.

[Hear anything, squire?] asked the Earl.

Warren’s head poked from the basket Calzjha held. [The gulls are much noising, my liege, but nothing odd.]

The Earl inquired a citizen regarding a print shop. After a quick stop which included petty thievery, the three were again on their way.

Calzjha sighed at the bundle his scuttling companion held. “Where are we walking to, exactly?”

“We go to deliver this job of printing.”

Calzjha shrugged. “I am perplexed.”

“Good. Remain so.”

Fazgood made The-Sign-Against-Zhazh yet again and kept walking.

They turned up a side street past an inn. Outside the inn, policemen in maroon jackets had queued the residents in front of the building. The police checked the papers, clothing, and luggage of those visitors. A pair of women trembled, surrounded by maroon jackets, and being lotcasted in public. Fazgood and Calzjha looked to each other with rueful smiles.

They proceeded to the Fourteenth of Hikelmonth Stairs to Harmonium Proper’s Third Tier. Here the pedestrians were more learned and administrative, more colors of uniforms, more conversation, more trees. They passed Lanthornmount Square. Fazgood took himself aside behind a fountain to a public privy, where he relieved himself, and from his bundle put on an ink-stained smock.

He returned to Calzjha and said in Rahsic, “Keep this.”

He handed over the gold-stoppered bottle of relish. Calzjha placed it in the basket.

“Entertain yourself for a few minutes. I have a package to drop off at the Army Headquarters.”

Calzjha guffawed in Adanikarese, “Ah! You will have a look at the soldier!”

Fazgood nodded and tugged his hat at the benediction, tucked the bundle of printing under his arm and trotted down the street to the Square of the Superb.

He tugged down his hat further as he entered the square. The courtyard spread eighty paces across, and at the opposite side stood the Headquarters of the Scout Brigades. He strode past the Palentine Offices, chasing away thoughts of guiltglasses and crimedowsers. Fumbling with the package, he ran up the concrete steps, and through the red brick entrance into the headquarters of the Kingdom’s most esteemed fighting force.

The anteroom was small, cool and dim, and smelled of old and polished wood. Any further entrance barred by a thick wooden wall. A window in the wall allowed a soldier to review all visitors before granting entrance through the adjacent door.

Fazgood said to the soldier, “I need to give this printing to Captain Obdurate Childteacher. He is in the –-“

Fazgood fumbled with the paper at the top of the stack. “I cannot read the address. I am so sorry. I merely need to give this order –- the proper order –- to Captain Childteacher. The columns on the requisition forms we delivered are lacking. These forms are the proper forms.”

The young guard waved a hand. “Leave the forms here. I’ll make sure Captain Childteacher receives them.”

“Ah! He is here! Good! I would do that. I would leave them, but…”

Fazgood pulled a handkerchief from behind his inky smock and within his jacket, and wiped sweat from his brow, making sure the guard saw his ink-stained fingers. “…my master has told me to…apologize for the inconvenience. I am to apologize to the good Captain myself.”

From behind the guard, an older soldier grunted. “Leave a note.”

Fazgood puffed. “Oh no madam! I cannot! We take our responsibilities seriously at my shop! I will stay here all day if I must.”

The older soldier pushed the young soldier aside. Fazgood saw that she turned enough to show off the sergeant’s circle on her sleeve.

The sergeant looked up. “No. No, you will not. I will throw you in the street.”

The Earl opened his eyes wide at the sergeant’s insignia, then fumbled the bundle more.

“Madam! Sergeant! Please. Surely you understand that amends must be given face-to-face.”

At the prompting of responsibilities, the sergeant made a grim, disgusted face.

Fazgood added, “I will be very quick. I do not want to add further inconvenience to you as well.”

The sergeant stepped from the window out of sight. A lock rattled behind the door. Fazgood sighed pitifully, and put his head down to be thrown out.

But the sergeant did not come. Moments passed, and Fazgood knew she had gone to seek the Captain’s permission.

Finally, another rattle, and the door opened.

The sergeant waved a meaty hand. “He will see you. He knows not what delivery you refer to, but perhaps you can sort it out. His office is all the way up the stairs and third door on the right! Be quick!”

Fazgood followed the sergeant up the narrow stone stairways and past uniformed clerks to the office demarcated.

“Captain, here is the printer.”

“Thank you, sergeant,” came a familiar voice.

The office was cramped and hard-pressed against the engraved rafters of the building. A small window provided no relief from the heat. In one corner sat a small desk covered with high, but tidy stacks of paper and a book. A small numbergrinder sat behind the chair, its switches and crank all up and at the ready.

At the desk sat the young officer. He looked at Fazgood and his eyes widened with shock. Fazgood gave a hard, sidelong look at the soldier beside him.

Obdurate took the hint. “Thank you, sergeant. You may go.”

Fazgood stepped into the office and spoke loudly, “Captain, on behalf of the Micklescreek Print House, I offer my deepest and most heartfelt apologies for our error. We value –- nay, sir! –- revere! The trust given us by your office and by the army!”

The captain sat at his backless chair with an expression of absolute dumbfoundment.

“Captain, the guildsman responsible for that mistake is none other than myself. It is to my lasting shame that I did not adhere to the time-honored methods that have made the Micklescreek Print House the producer of inventory forms you trust! This matter drew the attention…”

As he spoke, he glanced to the doorway, eased the aghast soldier slightly to one side of his desk, then began rifling through the stacks of papers. As he rifled, he read the titles: “Dunflats Sawyers: Bill of Lading”. “Helkek Brownfeathers: Terms of Payment”. “Axeflower Mark: Invoice”.

“…of our own beloved guildmaster. He has undertaken a process of training all his print workers, myself especially, to ensure this never happens again. Once again, I state with all of my spirit that Micklescreek Print House honors its decades long work in supplying all of our armed forces and government. Let me take your hand, sir!”

The Earl took Obdurate’s right hand. The soldier tried to snatch it away, but flinched at the strength of the grip. Fazgood inspected the ink in the fingertips, felt a callous on the top of the same finger. As he inspected, he said:

“On behalf of the Micklescreek Print House, its traditions and its personnel, please forgive my mistake and be assured that it will never happen again. We would be honored and relieved if we still retained your trust.”

It is then that Fazgood noticed the book on the desk, and saw its title on its cloth cover: “The Nimblest Man”.

Fazgood asked, “Does the Micklescreek Print House still have your trust?”

Obdurate peeped, “Yes. Indeed. It does.”

“I am so relieved. I will report your continued confidence to my superiors. Please understand that your account will not be charged for the printing of these forms, and for your next printing as well. With your permission, sir, I take my leave.”

“Yes! Permission granted!”

“I will see myself out.”

With that Fazgood snapped up the book on the Captain’s desk. He sprang into the hallway, so as to be in full view of any passersby.

He turned back. “Do remember, sir. We value your trust!”

The Earl clambered down the stairs and out of the building.

Sauntering to his compatriots, Fazgood declared, “He seems legitimate enough. Put this in the basket. We go to our next visit.”





It’s Spring! I’m Going Pruning!

31 03 2014





“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER NINE (The Quest Is Revealed By The Naive)

26 03 2014

CHAPTER NINE

Obdurate knew enough to make his approach in public, with plenty of witnesses, and now he was so glad he had thought of that. That willowy youth had snapped those two scouts like twigs. Surely the Earl must be even more dangerous.

The Earl stood a full head shorter than Obdurate, which made him smaller than even the average Therihe man. He was stout in the middle, but his limbs were slender and gave the impression of strength. His skin was ruddy and creased, as if perpetually sunburnt. His cheeks were heavy and implied rich living. His black hair swept back in a widow’s peak, such as the book had described. However, around the temples, there was the slightest frost of white. The suit he wore was well-tailored. This followed the story, for the Earl’s self-indulgence was well described.

He pressed on.

“I mean, sir, I have on good authority that you are the Earl of Weiquant.”

The Therihe gave a polite smile. “Who would that be, colonel? My name is Pehzpersist. I am chief translator and principal negotiator for the Grand Foofaloof of the Ijkalla Islands. I am so pleased to speak with you! Who could I speak to about procurements?”

He looked to the man’s eyes. They had a soft, amiable light; Obdurate tried to imagine this small, dissembling man commanding spies and disarming death-traps. Obdurate swallowed his rising apology and stilled his feet from withdrawing.

“Good citizen-aspirant, I beg your pardon. I am not a colonel, but –-“

“Not a colonel! You have such bearing! How well you present!”

“I thank you, but I have been watching you for some time. I have through truly reliable authority that you are the Earl of Weiquant. The one who helped to kill the Abomination of the North.”

“I am born and raised in the Lower Heronica Islands. I have only just come to these shores. This abomination is someone else’s doing. Truly, sir, set aside your concern and tell me who –”

“I do not want to cause trouble for you!”

The youth asked, “Pehzpersist! Who is your friend?”

During the argument, the willowy, beaming youth had slipped behind Obdurate’s right shoulder.

Obdurate could still hear the scout’s shoulder pop.

The soldier turned to keep the youth past arm’s length. Springing back too far within the crowd, he stumbled into a knot of singing citizens.

Obdurate said to them, “I beg your pardon!”

The Earl and the youth stepped to help Obdurate.

He cried, “Oh! Ah! Please! I am not going to cause you trouble!”

“Grand Foofaloof, I was speaking to this good officer regarding our trade goals! Good colonel! I would ask you to provide information regarding procurement. May we speak on the street, where it is easier to hear?”

The young man sensed an excuse to dissemble. Or an excuse to remove him and snap his neck in private.

Would he be so audacious to kill an army officer outside the Amusatorium? The true question should be “Do I doubt that he would?”

“I am not…I…yes. Let us go to the street. I would like to stay in view! To see the Amusatorium! Not that I do not trust you! Good negotiator! You are a negotiator!”

The Earl and the youth –- what was his title? –- begged leave of their light-dazzled companions. The two wended their way through the crowd. Waves of light of white and gold and red washed over the happy, singing faces.

Obdurate’s chest was like cold stone. His hands tingled.

Breathe, he told himself. Breathe.

He followed the youth through the thinning crowd and out the front gate. The youth walked to the side of the road. The Earl was gone.

Obdurate asked, “Where…?”

He spun around. The Earl wasn’t behind him either, to his relief and disappointment.

“Officer,” the youth said, “Please wait here.”

They waited in the shadows. The cacophony of the song “Akel Makel! Hok! Hok! Hok!” ended and the band struck up the slow and melodious “Tides in Ooleeomeo.”

Obdurate took account of the young man. Almost as tall as Obdurate, the young man was slighter in build. He seemed to be a handsome human male barely in his maturity. He dressed in a sturdy, practical business suit and carried the wicker basket from which the weasel had attacked. A long face with delicate cheekbones framed large, dark eyes, and tapered to a delicate chin. He stood perfectly still, his posture proper, his weight poised.

Obdurate asked, “Where has he gone?”

He took a step to turn around.

The youth’s hand snapped in a gesture to settle. The severity of the movement froze Obdurate in mid-stride.

The basket showed no sign of activity.

“Ah!” came a voice. “There you are, colonel!”

From the shadows many strides from the gate, the man strode, wearing the same daffy smile.

The man strode to Obdurate. Above the smile, the eyes watched. “This Earl sounds like a strange fellow.”

“I…I find him remarkable.”

“How is it that you think that my modest personage should be this Earl fellow?”

“A numeromancy was performed on your story. It led to your residence.”

“’Story?’”

“The tale ‘The Best Man of Trickery.’ Its numbers were factored, which led to an address at a customary. Here you are, a Therihe of the proper age, residing at that customary.”

“Ha! Remarkable! No wonder you are confused!”

“Then I saw what sprang from your basket and attacked that scout.”

The two strangers made puzzled expressions and looked to each other. “The Brumpf?”

“There is a creature called a weasel. Warren. Its description suits the contents of your basket.”

A tiny shadow slipped across the curb to the young man. The man crouched down with the basket opened and accepted the creature. As he stood, a sleek head poked from the basket lid. Its black eyes glittered.

Obdurate suppressed a shout. “That is Warren! Your faithful magic familiar! Bonded to your mind and senses! Loyal without question!”

Warren exchanged nonplussed looks with his liege.

“Aren’t you Warren? Greetings, my name is…”

The creature sniffed the air and looked about absently. The man gave a bemused look to the officer.

“The Brumpf is but a mere pet, a symbol of office for the Foofaloof. But what of this Earl? What would you want with this Earl? A man who kills abominations would be too busy to bother.”

The bemusement that sapped Obdurate’s vigor.

I don’t have the patience for this, not after so many months without any hope.

He suddenly felt very tired.

“Just to ask a favor.”

“What? Money? You wish to extort?”

Obdurate realized that he had been naïve. He had envisioned the Earl accepting Obdurate’s intentions with ease; he realized Fazgood survived through suspicion. The officer tried another tack.

“I have a lock to pick. A magic lock. That is all. One lock.”

The man’s smile slipped, then returned quickly. He looked toward the crowd, then leaned forward. “Is the lock to money? Because if that is so, then I imagine this Earl, if-I-was-to-represent-the-Earl, would not mind picking the lock if there is value to be had.”

This time, the youth and the animal looked to each other. The youth’s mouth drew tight with annoyance.

“So you do…represent the Earl?” asked Obdurate.

“I could make inquiries on your behalf. Are you to draw up some sort of contract with this Earl?”

Obdurate noticed that the daffiness had faded, leaving the watchfulness.

The man added, his voice graver, “We are discussing secrets on a dark street. You came here with a plan. Play it out, citizen. You represent someone.”

“I represent myself only.”

“If I am to represent the Earl, he will want to know the nature of the service, of course. What does the lock protect?”

“The lock is to my true love’s chastity bond.”

“Be truthful. What is the lock defending?”

Beyond the man’s shoulder, the youth seemed pleasantly surprised.

Obdurate plunged ahead. “I tell the truth. It defends the marital devotions of my true love.”

“Who you are not married to.”

“Yes.”

“Does your love know of your love?”

“Yes. She and I have been together for seven months.”

The stranger nodded knowingly. “Ah. One of those chaste things.”

“We have been…she has blessed me with her attentions.”

The youth called, “It is possible to engage in intimacies with the use of –-“

The man blushed. “I thank you, Foofaloof!”

Turning back, the man asked, “Now the most important question: who is her husband, who would have his wife wear this sign of devotion?”

Obdurate swallowed. “I…cannot divulge that! I mean to have you meet with her in privacy!”

“To meet with the Earl, you mean to say.”

“Yes.”

“Speaking as the Earl’s future agent, I can say that those arrangements are not satisfactory.”

Obdurate whispered, and the young man walked closer to hear.

“Privacy must be kept,” said the officer. “On that I insist.”

The man’s brows pinched together. “Then, colonel, I bid you good evening.”

He turned to walk back to the Amusatorium.

The young man whispered in Adanikarese. “Please listen to the officer.”

Adanikarese! And I understood plainly! Our studies are a benefit! I must tell Respiration!

The man glared anew at the youth. “Let he find another up a tree.”

Behind them in the park, bright rose light shone the sky and limned the trees.

Obdurate said, “Wait a moment.”

“What?” the man tensed.

The officer turned to the west. He sang the flowing, wordless hymn of the Royal Anthem. The same notes thundered from over the wall from every throat in the Amusatorium.

Some things must be done regardless. That is honor.

As he sang, he couldn’t see either the man or the youth. Considering what he had told them, Obdurate estimated that there a thirty-three percent chance that they would be gone when he turned back, another thirty-three percent that Obdurate wouldn’t be alive long enough to turn back around, and the third last that they would continue this charade.

What of the other one percent?

When the last notes faded and the crowd gave a hearty cheer, Obdurate turned back.

The man, youth and even the animal regarded him, dumbfounded.

The man walked over and offered his hands. Obdurate took them in his.

“Obdurate Childteacher: Civil Adjutant Captain with the Royal Army of Hospitality.”

The man looked into Obdurate’s eyes and they clenched hands firmly.

“Fazgood, Earl of Weiquant: nobleman become rampant.”

Astonishment and relief swelled in a cold wash and made Obdurate stagger. “It is you! It is you! I am so honored to meet you.”

“This fellow who speaks out of turn should be called ‘Foofaloof’ for now.”

Foofaloof groaned, “Should I?”

“Until my annoyance ebbs, you will.”

Obdurate walked to him and clenched the youth’s free hand in greeting. “The way you handled the scouts was remarkable.”

“Oh! How sweet of you to say,” Foofaloof said.

Puzzling over that reaction, the officer bent his head to the animal.

“You must be Warren! I am Obdurate Child –“

The creature looked at Obdurate. [I heard your name, interloper!]

Obdurate yelped and touched his head with trembling fingers.

[And do not speak to me as if I am an idiot! I am a familiar, not a soldier!]

A giggle escaped Obdurate’s mouth. “This is wonderful!”

At the gate, citizens trickled through, snatches of songs drifting from the revelers.

The Earl said, “You sing well.”

“I thank you.”

The Earl turned with him and smiled. “So, my fresh-baked friend, who is the person in question? The sooner I know, the sooner I can call this mission to order.”

The officer felt giddy. “She is the wife of General Greatsergeant.”

The smile broadened. “You jest!”

A cold shock struck the adjutant. Had he just exposed his love to extortion?

Warren caught Obdurate’s attention. [Is he the grandchild or the great-grandchild of the Smiter of Lanthornmount?]

“He…he is the grandson. And General of the Royal Army of Hospitality.”

[Ah. I thank you for clarifying that. You are terribly doomed.]

The ice in Obdurate’s gut deepened.

The Earl said, “Do not mind my advisor. It is his duty to be mean with odds. It is mine to assess risk versus gain, if you catch my meaning, and I think you should.”

“I…I don’t know what it is I can offer.”

“That is why I feel a kinship to your dilemma. While I am here in Harmonium on…whatever mysterious business I am on, I have my own difficulty to be resolved.”

“Anything. Whatever it is you need, I will bend all of Earth and the moons and –“

“Yes, yes. My palate has yearned for well-cooked cuisine.”

“You…you wish a meal?”

“I would like moosecrab.”

“But that is fallow this year.”

The Earl clenched his teeth. “I know it is fallow. Do you know of one who can cook it?”

Still surprised, Obdurate chuckled. “I used to cook for my uncles when I was growing up. I cooked marshnippers for them, and those are like crabs. If I have a recipe, I believe I can cook moose-crab.”

“’Believe’ you can?”

“I can. But I need a recipe.”

“That should be simple.”

Obdurate’s breathing eased. “Yes! I know just the place.”

“No military cooking, please.”

“No! No! I cam get cookbooks from the pantry of the General!”

The Earl smiled at that. Then his expression grew stern.

“So…how do you make your marshnippers?”

Obdurate stammered. “I have a few recipes, actually.”

“Ah. Tell me one.”

“Do you prefer shelled or unshelled?”

“Shelled,” said the Earl.

“There is the simple way of dropping them in boiling water.”

“Any fool knows that one.”

“But if you prepare the water with –“

“—- with vinegar,” Fazgood waved impatiently. “I know that one too.”

“Yes! But use malt vinegar. And also add a measure of thyme and po-flakes.”

“Po-flakes? Why po-flakes? Answer truthfully, boy!”

“They suck the sharpness from the vinegar so it doesn’t seep into the flesh…and it keeps the malt flavor rich.”

Fazgood took measure of that.

“What sauce would you? Be quick!”

“Served in a separate saucer! A butter sauce with ground dohl, sun-dried pepper and tarragon!”

The Earl gave a disapproving growl. “That sauce is subtle, boy.”

“Subtle is better. You can taste all the flavors that way. And whoever is dining can add spice to suit taste.”

Still wary, the Earl gave a nod.

“But I will still need the crabs!” said Obdurate.

“I will worry about that.”

The crowd filled the street. The three of them stepped back onto the lawn to allow it to pass on the sidewalk. Behind them, the busynight had started. The sky within the wall of the Secure glowed green.

“But you are here…you have smuggled yourself in…for an illegal meal. That is why you are here.”

The Earl shook his head. “It was do this or go mad with wanting it.”

The weasel looked to his master with a steady gaze and a sigh.

Such devotion! considered the soldier. To follow a madman willingly. No wonder Warren is so surly.

However, Calzjha smiled. “But such a tale to be told.”

The Earl sagged so slightly from annoyance.

Thought Obdurate, Naiveté! This Foofaloof is like a glory-struck recruit! Why would the Earl countenance such aid?

Fazgood assumed his daffy smile. “We will have to meet you tomorrow for your introductions, good colonel!”

Obdurate was aware of how wet his armpits felt. “Thank you, good agent, but I am –-“

“Not a colonel. Yes. I remember now.”

“Good agent, good Foofaloof, good…Brumpf, we can meet tomorrow for noon contemplations at Greatsergeant Keep. There I will introduce you to…those knowledgeable. Good evening to you!”

Fazgood nodded. “Good evening.”

The young man waved. “Good-bye.”

[Woeful wretch.]

*         *         *

The Foofaloof and Pehzpersist rejoined their cheerful comrades at the Amusatorium gates. The crowd laughed and clucked and hummed in a flow back down the street.

In Adanikarese, the Earl said, “Two days! I not in this city two days, and already I interfered with!”

“It must be that tale,” Calzjha replied. “Would it create some affinity spell?”

[He said he used it to do a...numeralurgy? He said that is how he found you! How could a mere clerk do that?]

“Poxied tale! Who wrote that tale? I find him, oh-most-very-yes, I find him –“

“Wait! Would Hrikinik betray you?”

“H’rikinik is god-poxied, many-mouthed villain, but when he swore by his name to help me, he was stuck. He betrays me, he starts crumbling into dust. Sphincter-sucking-sewer-flea!”

Calzjha started. “What now?”

“Did you see how that soldier stopped everything to sing the anthem? Take his eyes off us to stand and sing! We could have killed him ten times.”

“He is an honorable soldier.”

“He has a big case of honor, which is also big case of stupid. Either way, he works alone.”

[No one could be that resourceful and that guileless. He must have had help! I suspect he will betray you!]

“I think he is romantic,” said Calzjha using the Rahsic word, for there is no such concept in Adanikar culture.

“Pfffff!” Faz whispered in Rahsic. “Let us assess: he is having an affair with the general’s wife. He seeks me out, using some supposed miracle-method of detection. He does so not to help steal the army payroll and flee the country, for that would make sense and would be an activity I could endorse. No! Our boy wants me to help him circumvent the general’s devotion chain, so that he can get accommodations on the Royal Roads.”

“And you’re helping him for a plate of seafood.”

“Shut up,” the Earl switched to Adanikarese. “What your gut say? We trust him?”

“He seemed sincere.”

The crowd passed the zoo, and Fazgood stole a greedy look at its gates.

“I looked close for a lie,” he finally said. “I saw no lie. The College of Thieves taught me many ways to see lies: He stops blinking; he repeat same words over and over; he repeats what I say or muh-muh-mess up what he say to get time to make up lie; lots more. He did not do any of that.”

[Warren, what do you think?]

[Even if he is an honest fool, which I doubt, he will share what he knows with someone indiscreet. The only question is ‘when?’]

“Yes, all people leak. So he is an idiot who brings trouble.”

“We not go back to the customary tonight,” Fazgood pondered. “Ah! Better! We watch customary to see who watches us!”

Calzjha smiled to himself. “Do what you like.”

Both Warren and Fazgood puzzled over that smile.

The other citizen-candidates started singing. “Akel Makel! Hok! Hok! Hok!”

“I get moose-crab, we get out of Harmonium.”

“But I’ve wanted to know: What will we do after we leave the city? You have quit Hrikinik. You are exiled from here. The Three Cities will have none of you. You’ve said you are out of favor in the Empire.”

The Earl looked down the greenish street. “I do not know.”

“Foofaloof!” Khouro bounced and honked. “Did you hear this song? It is so fun!”

Calzjha drew close to the Fabri. “How does one sing it? Oh!”

He started at his rudeness and looked back to Fazgood.

“Pehzpersist, you may run your errands.”

“Thank you, Foofaloof!”

The Earl waved and watched the two become lost in the crowd.

 








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