The rickshaw’s wheels slipped into the grooved thoroughfare. The Earl marveled; a grooved street! The bumping felt the same as it had when he was a child.
From under the veil, he watched the driver’s bare feet padding, soles flashing. To the right of the rickshaw stepped the shoes, boots and bare feet of pedestrians. To his left, the whirs and padding of other rickshaws.
He cast his mind down a tunnel within to see and hear what Warren noted. Warren stuck his head farther from the carpetbag to accommodate the Earl’s eagerness. Guildsmen walked with their graying masters in front. Vendors still had wagons made from green ablewood wagons. The savory sweetness of pickleballs cut the salt air.
The Earl pulled himself back from Warren’s mind. The weasel slipped back into the bag.
Fazgood leaned to Calzjha. “Stop short of Tailor’s Row.”
Calzjha sang. “Excuse me, kind driver –”
Fazgood reached with the cane and thumped the driver’s back out of principle.
“Yes!” The driver turned his head
“My poor mother wishes to exercise. Please let us out at the beginning of Tailor’s Row.”
Before long, the driver set down the rickshaw. “Here is Tailor’s Row, kind ladies!”
Calzjha paid the grinning driver a silver piece and sent him on his way. The Earl soaked his handkerchief in a fountain and mopped sweat. Before walking on, Fazgood found a smooth stone about half the size of his fist. He slipped it into his bodice.
As they made their way to the clothier’s stalls, many kind tradesmen passing by came up to them and asked after the grandmother’s welfare. The tradesmen spoke at length with Calzjha. When the grandmother suddenly seemed dizzy, the tradesmen helped to steady and comfort the old lady. It is that way that they acquired money to pay for new clothes, and a guildsman’s card.
“Now our next maneuver,” declared the Earl.
They shopped a clothier for Calzjha’s slim-but-hale brother, and for Fazgood’s sainted-but-choosy cousin. Their fictional relatives were themselves tradesmen from the new colonies, and needed fresh new clothes.
Calzjha picked up a bright yellow scarf. “My brother would like this, I believe.”
Fazgood wheezed under the veil and wiped his brow. “That scarf would make him look like a hoodlum! He should have a stiff blue collar like the rest of the guild.”
“Then Cousin-Removed would like this warm wool greatcoat,” Calzjha spoke to the toothy clothier. “For he gets such chills. He told me so.”
The Earl shuddered at the word “warm”. He said, “It costs too much! The cotton short coat will suffice.”
The clothier blinked with surprise. “My prices are reasonable, ma’am. And it is your cousin’s health…”
When they emerged from the shop, the brother’s suit was bundled with a yellow scarf, and Cousin’s bundle included a dark blue cotton blazer. At a woodwright, Fazgood found an ablewood basket and bindlestick to carry their purchases over Calzjha’s shoulder.
They boarded another rickshaw, and proceeded to The Memorium. The hemp-shod feet of deliverymen trotted by. The bright brocaded shoes and flannel cuffs of businessmen strode. The dark slippers and tight cuffs of homemakers traveled in flocks with the tiny shoes and bare legs of children in tow.
To their left came a rumble. Beneath the rumbling floated a complicated, high keening. Calzjha gasped, then caught himself.
Fazgood’s heart leapt into his throat. He lurched in his seat.
Is this a Glaive Ship sent by the Emperor to kill me? No, there’d be explosions! A demon? Some huge Unnamed?
The driver slowed and called back to them. “Don’t be scared, ladies! It’s one of our ambulators! People ride in them!”
Fazgood glimpsed a long carriage trembling past on the left. Woven of knotted ablewood arched into a long dome fringed with tree-trunk sized legs rippling in cooperation, the entire construction held the likeness of an enormous pillbug. The low morning sun behind it cast its shadow upon them. Atop the long dome, they glimpsed the purple heads of Adactoids and the curve of a Booloob swaying in the throes of incantation.
Warren squirmed in his bag. [I believe the peasant tells the truth. That must be one of those ambulators, my liege!]
Fazgood grunted. [Yes, of course. I thought so.]
Abashed and curious, the Earl resolved to ride one as soon as possible, as soon as their infiltration made good.
The rickshaw eased along the traffic up the Arterial Road to the second tier and Champion Terrace. The noon sun had burned off the mist, but a light breeze and the rickshaw’s draft kept its passengers somewhat comfortable. At the red wooden gate of the Memorium, the driver stopped. Calzjha gave the driver a generous reward, but the driver took half offered by his passengers in their time of sorrow.
I should disguise as a widow more, thought the Earl. It spares expenses.
Fazgood and Calzjha joined the sobbing throng of white-clad people in the park. They wandered around the courtyard, reading the signposts: “Memorials for the Beggers’ Guild”. “Memorials for the Stonecutters”, and the like until they found “Memorials for the Millstrong”. They entered its alley and slipped into its shrine, rich with the smell of yeast and malt offerings in the bowls.
Fazgood sobbed the liturgy as Calzjha changed from the gown to his new clothes.
“Grain of soul from chaff of woe,
Enthus culls our blessings so.
Devotion sustains through toils and pains,
we are the stone, we are the chains.
Our wheel will serve anon.”
Mourning doesn’t seem right without a glass of good Birqmuir tzeimprhoazk liquor. I will have another when I finally – finally! — eat my moosecrab.
Roused, his soul panged for buttery, subtle-spiced moosecrab. He cursed himself.
Mad obsession! How I’ve gone through so much, to risk it on madness!
Calzjha then keened as Fazgood changed clothes. After he finished, Fazgood took an extra pair of wool stockings he had purchased and stuffed one inside the other. He then slipped the stone from near the water fountain inside the stockings and tied a knot behind the rock, making a “skullwarmer”. He tucked it into a pocket.
They took their two sympathy dolls, and as they both wailed, they removed their amulets and dangling charms. Mother Millproctor’s doll wore tiny silver wards around its hands (against arthritis, Fazgood had seen those charms sold by homemages) and both dolls had copper bands engraved with a long, clean intestinal tract.
“Sorry, ladies,” Fazgood muttered. “But they’ll have apple elixir at your port-of-call.”
He removed the dolls’ clothing, to reveal the rawhide bags tied around the dolls’ waists. He untied the bags and scraped the activator glyphs from the dolls’ porcelain torsos. Warren kept watch up the alley.
Fazgood defaced the glyphs sufficiently, then opened the drawstrings of the bags. They rose and bowed to the spirits of wheatery and made their exit. Once outside, Fazgood scattered the contents of the bags; bits of hair and personal trinkets and fingernail trimmings and wax flew in the breeze. This insured that the Millproctors would come to no harm when the dolls were disposed. He found a cleft in the wall beside a fountain and tucked the dolls away from sight.
Calzjha asked, “Why don’t they avoid cold and avoid strain and eat what they can digest?”
Warren thought, [Because they are masters of the world, and not primitives scratching themselves with sticks.]
The Earl looked warily at the shadows. “Let’s get to the theater. The Memorium unnerves: I feel Uncle Tch-Cuf creeping in my tender parts.”
He hissed, tilted his head up and stamped his feet, which made the sign to ward off the Selseich culture’s Usher of the Dead. They walked to the top tier of the city.
They arrived at Lanthornmount Square and purchased two admissions to the Shrine Wine Tub Theater. They were some forty minutes early for the Special Night Workers Inspiration to be performed at mid-day. They told their host they would wait in the foyer, but Calzjha and Fazgood did no such thing. They slipped off to a closed off anteroom and rid their old clothes. Calzjha regretted losing such flattering attire, but Fazgood insisted on leaving it to be found by the wardrobe-master, who would then berate his assistant for being sloppy or bless his luck at the unexpected donation.
Then they slipped back out the theater with the crowd, blinking in the bright sunlight. They followed up to Lanthornmount Square. Calzjha walked stiffly in his canvas shoes.
The Earl was relieved to finally see Harmonium fully. Lanthornmount Square seemed so much smaller than when he used to run its length as a child. Across the square at the tile mosaic of the Battle of Lanthornmount. General Greatsergeant glowered from the midst of the swirling smoke and the minions of the Satirist, sword drawn to strike a screaming, snake-bodied demon.
The Earl inhaled. The salt air reminded him of fish, then of seafood, then moosecrab.
He groaned with annoyance.
The Earl passed Warren to Calzjha, who tucked him into the basket.
“Off I go to the Due.”
Warren peered from inside the basket. [Harmonium is so quiet compared to Birqmuir City!]
For all the hundreds of people in Lanthornmount Square, only the low song of a pickle ball vendor rose through the brook of speech and travel.
The Earl guided them from the square. “Now gentlemen, as we walk to the flats, may I introduce you to Harmonium?”
[Certainly, my liege!]
Fazgood looked about. “I’ll do this quickly. Harmonium is built into the north slope carved by the River Quand, the Eldest Daughter of the Ocean.”
“Yes, I know…” replied Calzjha.
Warren projected to them both, [The only river known to run east to west and to flow through a mountain range! The Eldest Daughter is a powerful, venerable spirit!]
Fazgood , “Yes. Of course. Harmonium was once a walled city beset by all sorts of enemies…ignorant tribes, sea reavers, the Prevaricate, the like. The original Rahsics, our darker humans, held this region. The Therihe, the pinkish lot I belong to, were driven here by the Prevaricate’s ruin of their land. It was here in Harmonoium that the god Enthus arrived and delivered us the Royal family. Up there –-“
He flourished his cane to point some two hundred strides across the square to the great stonewall around the city, wrapped strong like the muscled arm of an old ironsmith, but glittering like copper.
“– Is the Secure. Twenty men high, five men deep, it took King Lambent Deliverance a mere week to raise from the earth. To insure the security of the wall, great generals and guild magnates built their own residences into stone towers along the Secure, to show their commitment to bringing the peoples of the kingdom together.”
[The first example of non-Malese godwrought architecture. Its substance is called Harmonite.]
“Yes,” added the Earl, tolerating the interruption. “However the Adanikarese call it ‘god-snot’; as you know they are jealous bastards.”
[Its shape around the city spells the glyph for “flourish-thrive-protect.”]
Fazgood thought to himself, Forgot that.
“Ah!” sighed Calzjha. “To risk their families so! What bravery!”
[Overdone, but a good motivator.]
Out came his lower lip. “Overdone?”
Sensing dissension in his worthies, Fazgood interjected. “And in the century-and-a-half since, with the tribes welcomed and Prevaricate abused, we have enjoyed the Royal Peace. Harmonium flourishes as a city of culture and trade.”
[And those foolhardy showcases are now all museums, my liege?]
[The generals’ residences. Are they now museums, my liege?]
“Museums and shrines, I suppose,” Fazgood smacked his lips. “Now we go to Malabar Flats to meet the ferry to the Due.”
Ahead on the brick promenade, a queue of people waited at the corner. Calzjha and Warren exchanged concerned glances, and Warren squirmed back up Fazgood’s sleeve.
Fazgood said, “My pardons, good citizens. What do you wait for?”
“The ambulator is coming,” frowned a housewife.
The Earl blinked. “Eh?”
A coal-black man grappling two tall scrollcases declared, “You’re new here.”
“I’m a son long gone, but home to visit to where my heart has always stayed. And to get a decent meal.”
The people regarded him with stern faces.
I gave away that dress too soon.
The old Rahsic sneered. “Your accent is strange.”
“Is it?” Fazgood deflated. “I suppose I will regain the knack soon enough. I left to make good fortune!”
“Ah,” the old dark human, a homemage perhaps, nodded, glancing at Fazgood’s common and ill-fit clothes.
The good fortune to have my blood stay within my skin, Fazgood mused.
The Earl smiled. “I see you’ve kept things much as I remember.”
Someone said, “We’ve kept things much as you left them, indeed!”
At the far end of the square came a rumbling, and an ambulator — (The ambulator? Fazgood wondered, is there more than one?) — patiently followed the carriages in the cart lane of the street.
The rest of the people in the queue stared, mouths writhing with suppressed smiles. Their fixed silence gave him pause. Fazgood realized that the someone had made a joke at the Earl’s expense; the ambulator was nothing like the way things used to be. He kept his composure and gave the queue a smile to show he realized his error.
Calzjha gave Fazgood a fleeting, but rebuking glare.
Maroon-coated policemen directed traffic at every corner, but they performed their duties without a second glance. No plug hats around, but that meant nothing. Hundreds of people hurried by, dozens of windows and doorways, to say nothing of scryers, guiltglassers, and dowsers working for either side of Respectability in this city. Fazgood felt his mood darken.
Being in Lanthornmount Square in broad daylight wasn’t a good idea. I was more cautious in Adanikar. And more so in Deliverance Haven. And in Birqmuir City. And in Aldheim and Kelbriche and Weiquant.
He suddenly felt tired. He looked around the bustling square.
Let them find me. I dare them.
The last thought startled him.
The ambulator ground to stop at the head of the queue. The queue stepped slowly up through its door. Fazgood and Calzjha waited last in line.
A Thurihe wearing a dark blue coat with white buttons sat at the pilot’s seat. He held up his hand.
The driver thrust out a hand. “I’m sorry, sir. You can’t ride if you aren’t carrying baggage. I’m sorry.”
He slowly turned to look into the ambulator. To his satisfaction, he saw that all were burdened with toolbags, suitcases, children and the like.
The pilot raised an eyebrow. “Sir?”
The passengers stared back with blank annoyance, trying to erase this painfully ignorant yokel from their day. Even an old, milky Booloob held perfectly still.
The Earl pointed his cane down the steps to direct Calzjha back off.
They stepped onto the sidewalk and looked at the lacquered wooden side of the vehicle. A slight aroma of pine pitch told of loving maintenance. Fazgood resisted the urge to touch the glassy sinews of ablewood, knowing that things like that weren’t done here. He looked up. From the roof, three old brown women dressed in burgundy peered down at him. The three old gray heads rose. The wailing and scraping resumed and the ambulatory trundled off. They stepped back.
Calzjha asked, “Why didn’t any of the people in line tell us?”
Fazgood watched the ambulator rumble away. He remembered an old voice, a voice from his childhood, a man long betrayed and murdered. “If you do not obey every single stupid rule of the Kingdom, you are in a very lonely hell.”