A Fantasy Novel: “Mad Earl Faz” Chapter One

12 02 2014

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CHAPTER ONE

             The widow ought to thank me for stealing her dress. It’s dawn and I’m already soaking in sweat.

So thought Fazgood, Earl of Weiquant as he puffed under the widow’s white mourning veil. His shoes felt like gravy boats on his feet. And the damned ceoclaw leaf he had eaten must have been an unusually potent dose; his stomach clenched and surged.

             He affected the quaver of an old woman. “Bless me, Eldest Daughter River Quand. May you always flow fertile and pure.”

Please let me end my madness and get us all out alive.

            At the rail to his right, Calzjha affected primness to cover vigilance, and looked blindingly beautiful in his white mourning dress. In Calzjha’s carpet bag lay Warren, of the Birqmuir Mountains Banded Weasel breed, nervously shredding a copy of the small book “Know You The Treasure That Is Harmonium?”, among items of convenience.

            And around Fazgood and this retinue stood the thirty-two other passengers of the barge, all arrived to the great city of Harmonium, trying in polite Kingdom fashion to edge away from the ill, mumbling old woman, yet the men tried to sidle close to the fetching Calzjha, as men are wont to do.

At the front and rear of the barge, porters sang and poled the craft between the shining stone levees of the canal, ignorant as those stones to the danger hidden in their charge.

            All this made the Earl growl.

As a boy, I vowed to return home at the head of an army! Here, to my murdering home! Now, I infiltrate Harmonium in stolen widow-wear.

            Her underpants made his crotch feel like a swamp. The widow’s sympathy doll swaddled against his stomach, and god knows what moist masculinity the widow herself felt at that moment, where-ever she may be.

Above their heads, green banners lettered in white hung wet from the mists along the top of the levees: one on their right read “May The Great Eldest Daughter Be As Tranquil As She Is Beautiful”; the left read “The Great Eldest Daughter Provides The Heart’s Blood Of Our Nation.”  The banners and the canal led to Great Eldest Daughter’s Gate, the customs complex for Harmonium. The Earl thought it most sensible to infiltrate his home from there. No one expected a direct sneak. It had worked before so many times before. So many, many times before.

Calzjha leaned to him.

            “Mother…” Calzjha spoke loudly in passable Rahsic for the sake of their disguise. “Still the medicine disturbs you. Let me see your face.”

Calzjha lifted the veil. He then whispered in the Adanikarese, foreign to near-by ears:

            “You are unusually pale for ceoclaw leaf. You do look much older, but I spared your dosage.“

            Fazgood’s Adanikarese was not very good. “’Sparing’? Do you told me I eat ceoclaw leaf, and you ate me ceoclaw leaf, too?”

            “’You fed me ceoclaw leaf’.”

Calzjha glanced at the others, tension straining his smile. “That ceoclaw leaf seemed limp and stale, and I was concerned that it would be weak. I knew you would argue. So I ground some into the fried bread you ate for breakfast.”

            “The ceoclaw was still fresh! Now are two god-poxied goat puke in me.”

            Calzjha bit his lip and lowered the veil.

            Fazgood whispered. “Now I look very god-poxied old, eh? Now I am ready for dead? Because I am ready for dead.”

            From the white carpetbag, Warren projected a thought into Fazgood’s mind, [When the time comes, discharge him immediately, my liege!]

            The Earl replied, [Nobody’s discharging anyone. Except me discharging my breakfast.]

            Despite his nausea, that turn of words amused him as well.

            But Warren’s indignation churned the man’s belly further. [Calzjha’s presumption is galling, great Earl! Today it is an emetic for purposes of disguise, tomorrow Malese water-of-death for his profit and glory!]

            Warren poked his black eye to the opening in the bag’s cinch. Having caught Calzjha’s gaze, Warren communicated with that young being as well as Fazgood.

Warren projected to both of them, [Do we need a temple’s escapee involved in our –]

            “Enough!” Fazgood caught his snarl and turned it into a feeble cough.

Calzjha whispered in Adanikarese. “I could feed some fish very easily –-“

            The Earl coughed. “Everyone is nervous. We will go through customs safe. We have the three good plans.”

            It is bad enough that they accompany me in my madness. I mustn’t let them down.

            The barge completed a turn. Everyone shaded their eyes against the sunlight.

            Warren thought, [Dawn is breaking, my liege! We may miss the change of guard! The new guards will have rested eyes!]

            From the front of the barge, a pole man called. “There’s a queue to disembark.”

            Beside that pole man stood the patsy who the Earl had set up as the decoy. The man ran nervous fingers over his sideburns. His right hand squirmed up the left cuff of his suit jacket, undoubtedly fingering the useless “stealthy travels” charm Fazgood had sold him.

            Fazgood whispered in Adanikarese. “Still we have the sympathic dolls and the clothes. And I did pray to dozens of gods and spirits this week entire.”

            Calzjha whispered. “I danced ‘The Fox King Eludes Destruction.’”

            “And Calzjha danced ‘The Fox King…’” The Earl faltered with the translation. “…dance. And Warren spied out our patsy. Complain when we are in Harmonium and comfortable clothes wearing!”         

The Earl found the bulge of the sympathic doll secured at his waistband under the dress.

            “Adamantine Millproctor. My name is Adamantine Millproctor.”

            The sympathic doll had been wrought to help aid the health of Goodwife Adamantine Millproctor, descended of the kingdom’s Rahsic culture of Humanity. The doll had clippings of her hair, fingernails and other personal excreta within. Using someone else’s sympathic doll clouded magical detection by the customs lotcasters.

            In truth, Goodwife Millproctor was at that moment a week’s sailing due west, in the colonial island mansion of her brother, wringing her brawny hands over the loss of her luggage, and feeling strangely moist and musky. Meanwhile, her daughter’s finery now clothed Calzjha.

Calzjha’s long black hair swept into an irreproachable bun beneath a small hat. The veil arranged to discreetly reveal a smooth, youthful brow and eyes of caramel. Calzjha’s face tapered to a sharp, firm chin, accentuated by full lips and cut angles of his cheekbones. His bodice suggested ample bosom contained by its brocaded cinch. Millproctor’s daughter would be dismayed that Calzjha looked far more fetching in her wardrobe than she ever had. Doubly-dismayed, as the Earl had insisted that Calzjha, who despite appearing human was of the faraway Zhif race, remain male for the duration of their stay in Harmonium.

            The Earl chanted. My name is Adamantine Millproctor. My name is Adamantine Millproctor…

Then his tongue felt a tickle. A hair prickled his front teeth. He licked another hair on his lip. He looked at his fingers. Three, no four, fine brown hairs! His handkerchief bristled with brindled fur. Warren had shed all over everything.

He spat and cleaned his lips with his fingers. He felt his chin and discovered more strands of fur.

Yes, he realized. I am actually in a new Hell that no-one has ever discovered.

Fazgood then brought his hand under the veil for a round of truly disturbing coughing.

The polemen all gave a heave and set the barge into motion again.

The old man in the front called. “We’re next, folks!”

He sang:

            “Welcome you home! Home from the sea!

            Safe you are now! Safe always be!

            Welcome you…”

 

All on the barge shifted to the exit ramp.

The barge drifted around the last corner, and above their gaze stood the city of Harmonium.

A city of three tiers that climbed up a hillside cut by the river long ago. Each of the tiers arrayed brick buildings topped with curved red shingles. Staring at the shingled roofs created the impression of waves along each of the tiers, so much that the eye confused and lost any individual structure, until the highest tier, where the sloping tops of keeps fluttered with bright banners.

Cold wonder struck Fazgood down to his knees. Home. Thirty years away and I’m home.

Beyond that third tier could be glimpsed the great god-wrought wall called the Triumph Secure, gleaming faint copper even from this distance. Following the Secure to their left, toward the northwest, it led to the great pink bowl of the Citadel, home of the Royal Family. Above the wall and buildings, the sky bustled with kites and birds.

“Look, a Cumulid!” cried a boy.

Above the Citadel floated an opalescent swell of what one would believe a cloud. But all who knew to look knew to look for the odd puffs that resembled a protruding brow, above the glad eyes of a Cumulid. That member of the sky-shepherding race watched streams of tumbling mist passed above.

From ahead of the barge, music and voices echoed, until finally the canal opened into a walled inlet. Before them lay a series of docks made of concrete and granite. The docks crowded with barges unloading hundreds of people.

From the Canton of Exultance, knee-high, giggling Exults hopped, their scaly grey skin and colorful feathers contrasting with the dull-colored Harmoniad fashion; a moss-like Fabri undulated by, with swatches of progeny squirming on its back; a couple of gangly, purple Adactoid clad in the blue of businessmen argued details with waving hands. Above their heads drifted the rippling sphere of a Booloob draped in blue, warbling its contribution to their conversation.

In the crowd too waited strangers to the Kingdom: men and women from the Empire of Birqmuir, tall and red and glowering, their blue tattoos matching their imperial blue sashes (Fazgood dropped his veil slightly to avoid being recognized as their nobility).

As their barge passed the first dock, other barges disembarked and filed to stand on a portion of the dock between five tall orange banners. From the ramparts above, music trilled from a flute and drum quartet.

A thrill pierced Fazgood’s chanting. He remembered the sprightly tune from his childhood, but struggled to remember its title and words.

From that dock, a ramp ran parallel to the river and doubled back to reach the rampart, where an iron gate blocked it. Beyond the gate, customs guards in magenta wool topcoats stood around another guard who crouched.

Fazgood whispered, “A lotcaster.”

Calzjha whispered, “I am Tensile Millproctor.”

The next dock held the same, except that instead of a band behind the rampart, an orator recited something too faint for them to hear. Two men wearing small-crowned plug hats leaned upon their elbows beside the orator.

[There, my liege! Beside the speaker!]

The brims of their hats shadowed their gaze upon the river traffic. Yellow ascots glowed in the sunlight. Fazgood’s stomach chilled.

“They are Ivy-and-Waterwell Brigade. They have always run the waterfront.”

Calzjha regarded the men. “People like them regulate the criminal society? I expected people more…awake.”

The Brigade men turned and ambled away from the fence into the city.

Fazgood gave a small sigh of relief. Those two knocked off early, as I expected. I am Adamantine Millproctor. I am Adamantine Millproctor. Hopefully the old wheat-wench won’t have created another sympathic doll and made this one useless. And mourning clothes are the best disguise. No one wants to bother a widow.

Absently his right hand stirred, the jar’s weight guiding his fingers to its center of gravity.

The barge poled into dock five, five being the number for “endurance and persistence” in Adanikarese numeromancy, but also the number for “retreat and grow anew” in Birqmuirish numerology. Fazgood irked at the inconclusive calculation.

Calzjha asked loudly in Rahsic, “Do we have musicians or an orator, Mother?”

Fazgood grunted. Then added a billious croak for effect. A man standing near shifted farther away.

A final slosh and the barge scraped onto the dock. The dock’s ramp wore away into brown at the level where the river rose every spring.

The old boatman called, “All are home to Harmonium!”

The passengers gave a tired cheer. They filed off the front of the barge. As custom in the Kingdom, Calzjha walked before the widowed mother. In his haste, Calzjha bumped into the patsy. The patsy grasped his threadbare lapels and stepped back.

The man wanted to help bring Truth to his people, so he had told Fazgood back at the quarantine port. The Earl thought the man a boob.

The patsy stammered, not recognizing the duo. “I am so sorry, Miss.”

Calzjha patted his arm. “No. It is I who should beg your pardon.”

The widow gave his daughter a sharp poke and they stepped forward, leaving the man chewing his mustache in puzzlement.

The widow’s shoes crunched the seashells mixed in the concrete. They followed the crowd to the red banners arranged on the dock. The pole men waited on the barge with the tagged trunks and cases, waiting for the lotcaster ritual to complete and the porters to remove the baggage.

On the ramparts above the passengers, a stout man with the ruddy face and thick white hair of a beerhouse patron. He opened his arms and boomed, “I bring to you the tale thrilling the populace throughout the Kingdom, written by one of our native authors. It is a story full of adventure and peril for your enlightenment.”

Calzjha smiled. “Oh! A drama in the morning to rouse the blood!”

The orator sang:

“Whereas Truth is, by far, stranger than Fiction, we who dwell in the marts of civilization know, and

Whereas we can only wonder of those who live in scenes where the sword and pistol are in constant use, to protect and take life…”

 

            The orator’s tones resonated, though; deep and exciting like distant thunder:

 

“We must know what strange tales are told of thrilling perils met and subdued! Of romantic incidents far removed from our stern existence!

 

Beyond our beloved lands are such lives full of danger, and tales that stir the blood that can be told over and over again!

 

Of bold Privateers and reckless Buccaneers who have swept along heathen coasts! Of fierce naval battles and sea chases! Of brave deeds onshore in the saddle and on foot! Of bloodied trails followed to the bitter end and savage encounters in forest wilds!

 

And it is beyond the shadow of civilization that we find the hero of thrilling adventures, fierce combats, deadly feuds and wild rides! One and all are true to the letter, as hundreds now living can testify!”

 

“Of them all, who has not heard

of the famous one with the bravest heart?

The one whose throwing hand is surer than all others with blade and needle?

The one who is boldest in seeking evil in its securest lair?

Who has not heard the name of Fazgood, the Mad Earl of Weiquant?”

 

            The false widow’s breath collapsed with a loud squeak. Calzjha’s eyes widened with astonishment.

            Warren thought, [Oh! Oh my great Earl! No!]

            Earl Fazgood of Weiquant snarled. “Zhazh!”

            He slipped his hand under his veil, wiped his face with a circular motion, tugged his nose, spat dry in his palm and wiped his palm over his chest. Calzjha followed suit, and the rustling in the carpetbag proof of Warren’s diligence in making the warding sign against the great Adanikarese god, Zhazh the Great Permutator, Who Tells The Eternal Set-Up Line.

            Fazgood muttered in Adanikarese, “Concentrate very amounts.”

            I am Adamantine Millproctor! I am Adamantine Millproctor!

            The unwitting orator, a tool of either a fathomless power or of malted hops, continued:

 

“It is a magic name, seemingly! For in the uttermost parts of the earth it is known among all races!

 

Mad Fazgood will be writ in history as a strange hero! One who in wanton search of riches faced the most fearful creatures and the most splendid wonders!”

 

            They looked to the customs guards behind the ramparts and beyond the thick, barred gate.

 

“We recall a few names that have stood out in the boldest relief in history, and they are Prince Carnelian Might, Lord General Greatsergeant, Lord Banneret, Admiral Breaker-ridge, and of these names we celebrate the finest of our men-at-arms. But our curiosity is teased by one who struck such blows at our unspeakable enemies without the aid of his countrymen. That last being would be Mad Fazgood, The Best Man of Trickery.”

 

            The Earl looked to the top of the last ramp and watched the maroon customs-men behind the iron gate. Those officials looked down at another crouching at their feet. The crouching one, seeming pink and youthful (as would make sense, the young would get the overnight work) rubbed his hands together and scattered devices upon the ground. The Earl sighed with relief.

            He uses lotsticks! Good! I am Adamantine Millproctor. The information I bought was correct! I am Adamantine Millproctor. Not like a threat-arrow, which would point straight at us. The First Plan goes well! I am…

            The malty orator recited:

                        “Whereas I know the man well, having seen him amid the greatest dangers, shared with him his blanket and his campfire’s warmth, I feel entitled to write of him as a hero of heroes, and in the following pages sketch his remarkable career from boyhood to manhood.”

The clink of copper medallions punctuated the recitation. Presently, the boy stood and brought his hat to proper position and spoke to another customs guard.

Thought the Earl to his familiar, [They had to confirm something with copper coins-of-sight. Be ready to spring The Second Plan.]

            The Earl suppressed the urge to look at his fellows on the dock; he knew them to be the typical late summer travelers to the city. Three young mothers with children but no nannies; these were soldier’s wives visiting their husbands at their posts in the colonies. Some dozen middle-aged men in well-kept suits and new shoes: merchants and bank agents. The merchants gathered mostly near Calzjha, waiting for their chance to impress a striking woman.

Fazgood banked on the guard’s suspicion of the odder-looking repatriates: A thin, deep-bronze human in a foreign tunic; the shabby patsy; and three Adactoid craftsmen, these with broad shoulders of craftsmen and purple skin deepened from the sun, their tools waiting at their feet like patient dogs.

Would the guard captain consider that this oddness happens at the shift change, when patience tires, and then become doubly-dilligent?

That was key to The Second Plan.

            Metal clanged, and a guard unlatched the gate. The captain, the lotcaster and four guards marched down the ramp. The turn at the landing was especially tidy.

            The captain announced to the puzzled crowd, “We will examine your belongings and intentions. Your cooperation is expected.”

            Every person in the crowd hugged her family members close or glanced with suspicion at his business associates.

            Fluxion, the captain is a professional. He only hints at brutality. I need panic.

            The officer flicked his baton. The guards poked and questioned, and the lotcaster brought out five long lotsticks. The young boy crouched and cast.

            The Earl leaned left slightly and peered between two merchants. The five sticks had landed flat before the caster with four joining at the top and the fifth pointing to the crowd. Another more vigorous cast and clatter; the sticks scattered and spun and bounced. Again, the four joining at a peak and the fifth protruding from the top.

            The officer and nearby staff gaped at the sticks. As one, they regarded the disembarked crowd with shock.

            [Those sticks say is what I believe, squire?]

            [Yes, my liege. The lotcaster has cast The Blazing Comet. He has found you.]

            How had the dolls failed? Fresh-stolen dolls had always worked before.

[Ready The Third Plan.]

The guards began at the front of the crowd, to the left, following procedure, which is why the Earl stayed in the middle of the crowd to the right of the man with the mutton-chop whiskers.

            The orator fidgeted and gave unsettled, confused glances at the guards. He raised his voice still louder to dispel the tension. The captain interjected questions:

“Where are you traveling from?”

“Born in this city of Rahsic in 843…”

“Have anything stowed away, hmm?”

“…having been raised by the Harmonium lodge of the clan Faz…”

“Make enough money on this trip? Need a little extra?”

“…Fazgood was inured to hardship and lived by his wits by the time he reached his tenth year. Being a precocious youth, his adventurous spirit…”

“You did miss hearth and royal guidance, hmm?”

“…led him into all sorts of deeds of mischief and daring, which well served to lay the foundation for the later acts of his life.”

            A tall black-skinned Rahsic merchant glanced around at the nervous officials. “Perhaps the grandmother and her charming daughter would like to go first? The mother is ill, and she would be out of the sun and resting sooner.”

            The captain fixed an unblinking gaze upon the fool. “None may leave until all are finished! Determine this man again. Be thorough. Tell your name!”

            The young lotcaster passed his fine wire of alloyed percevium over the merchant. The lotcaster chanted and gauged the twitching of the wire. The captain squinted and gauged the flinching of the merchant. The merchant puffed his cheeks and reddened at the insinuations and the brusqueness, but said nothing lest he raise the captain’s suspicion even more.

The guardsmen resumed their search. They reached the patsy.

            The man fumbled in his coat pocket in despair. The captain flicked the baton at that buried hand. A guard pulled it from the jacket and handed the captain a tiny metal sphere. The captain examined its engravings.

            “This trinket…is remarkably worthless. Did you believe this could deceive our lotcaster? It is not a concealing magic at all! Lotcaster!”

            The boy squinted into the captain’s palm. “Adanikarese, sir. Looks to be a charm to the Spirit of Clean Laundry.”

            At this news, the patsy paled. “It…it is nothing. An old man of Thurihe and some boy sold it to me when I traveled here from Adanikar.”

The captain chuckled. “Did you spend much on the heathen trinket? It works splendidly! It has washed Luck right off of you! Search him!”

The guards tore the coat from the man and found it had not cloth enough to conceal a flea. His shoes flapped thin as leaves. The lotcaster seized the man’s bag and dumped it out onto the dock. He waved the bag and heard a crinkle.

            The captain smiled. “And what have we here, Lotcaster?”

            The boy rummaged through his discovery and withdrew thin reed papers. He read the tiny print.

            “’Examinations On The Purpose Of Intelligence In Nature’! ’Declaring The Tautology Of The Senses’!”

            In joyful disgust, the lotcaster called, “He is a philosopher, Captain!”

            The crowd cried out and shrank from the frayed, tired man. The orator fell silent and swayed. The patsy’s gaze grew distant.

            The captain considered, looking at the philosopher with great doubt.

Will the captain believe this miscreant is The Blazing Comet?

            But the boyish lotcaster had taken up the captain’s jesting. “Can you can reason a way for cobblestones to pave themselves onto roads, eh? For the rest of your life, eh? No pens or treatises on the King’s highways!”

            At this last remark, the patsy declared, “I learned on the highways and I learned on the oceans! The winds of free contemplation have always carried me thus!”

            There’s my patsy! I knew he would not go down without a speech!

Fazgood shrieked as an old woman. “A philosopher! May Enthus spare us!”

            The guards seized the philosopher’s arms. His sideburns trembled and he cried, “I have spoken with the sages of many lands! There are as many truths in the world of our minds as with the spirits!”

            The lotcaster gasped at the blasphemy. “Captain!”

            The crowd cringed in terror. The men gathered between the women and children.

            Fazgood wailed. “The children! Please spare the children!”

            With the relief of the condemned, words spilled from the philosopher’s lips. “Why? Can’t you for a moment imagine that all we live is an illusion of the senses?”

            “Oh mother!” wept Calzjha.

            Others took up cries for mercy and struggled against the guards.

            “Let us go!” Fazgood cried. “Before the gods strike us all!”

            Begged the philosopher, “Or that we can use our minds to create a more wholesome existence?”

            The women and children, a dozen strong, cried and fled up the ramp, taking up the cry: “Away or the gods will strike us all!”

            Thirty panicked people clambered up the ramp. Pushed and fought at the landing at the halfway point. The guards at the gate gaped at the stampede.

            The captain shouted over the din. “Lock the gate!”

            Calzjha’s purse opened. Lifting his skirt-hem, Calzjha cried. “A rat! A rat! Help!”

            The men spilled away from the top of the ramp, leaving Fazgood, Calzjha, and the other women at the gate. Bewildered men stumbled back down around the landing. The women and children pushed shrieking against the gate. Fazgood crouched within that crowd, working the lock.

            Below, the captain fought against the men to get up the ramp. His knee struck a toolbag with a clank of iron, and he bellowed in pain.

            That hulking Adactoid laborer shouted. “What sort of mad river rats do you have here? I’ve never seen anything like that!”

Warren raced back and forth between the ramp battlements, growling and chittering. The captain pushed past the Adactoids and stepped to the cause of the disturbance.

All looked to the captain. Fazgood had already plucked a slip of iron from his sleeve and rattled the gate’s lock. Knowing his master’s task still unfinished, Warren resumed hopping, squealing and running in circles.

            The captain swung his baton. Warren gave a shriek and dodged. The blow scoured the concrete, sending chips flying. The captain took advantage of the gap and leapt up the ramp past the weasel to protect the women and children at the top of the ramp. Separated from the Earl and Calzjha, Warren froze in terror.

            Fazgood pushed the gate open onto two tall, surprised guards.

            “Flee! Flee!” he quavered. The handle of the cane lanced into their larynxs. Eyes bulging, they fell back to cough.

            The passengers spilled past those soldiers and through to the street.

But the Earl saw Warren’s predicament.

If he dies I’ll never forgive myself —

The Earl flicked his right hand and sent a streak of blue.

The jar of Herbwright’s crunched into the captain’s left eye. He cried out and stumbled blind down the ramp.

            A man called. “Watch out, you!”

The captain tumbled against bodies, pushing them back against the battlement of the landing. Rough concrete punched him in the small of his back and he doubled over and fell –-

Fazgood and Calzjha heard the splash from the gate. Warren scurried up Fazgood’s skirt and latched onto the cloth of the underbreeches. Fazgood and Calzjha elbowed their way through the crowd to the street.

The Earl thrilled again as he looked around at The Street of Precious Blood for the first time in thirty years. With Calzjha, he walked down the slope from the battlement, their shoes scuffing the concrete, the matronly din echoing behind them. Yawning stevedores and porters hurried past them, attracted by the noise of women, and adding to the confusion.

            The Earl thought, [A stalwart acting performance, comrade Warren! You were the essence of ferocity!]

            [Thank you for your aid, my liege! An astonishing throw! He must have been twenty full paces away!]

            [Pah! A small effort compared to such talent!]

            Inspired, Fazgood limped with his new burden and quavered, “My leg is so gouty! Who will help an old widow?”

            A rickshaw clattered up the slope. It carried a boy and two men with plug hats and yellow scarves.

            One of the men thumped the rickshaw driver. “Stop!”

            Calzjha and Fazgood froze.

            The younger Brigade man pointed to the driver. “Help these poor ladies in their time of sorrow! We’ll walk the rest of the way!”

            The other, older man growled. “We don’t have time! Something’s happening up there!”

            “Then run! My mother died this month! I’ll not be a selfish fart like you!”

            Calzjha let a small puff of relief and smiled. He used his sudden mirth at the good fortune to appear flattered. “Oh thank you sir! You are such a gentleman!”

            The Brigade man offered his seat as his partner and the boy grumbled and climbed out.

The first man looked upon Fazgood with genuine grief. “It pained me so to see you limping, grandmother.”

Fazgood muttered as he slid into the rickshaw, “So good of you. Such a gentlemen, yes.”

“My mother died suddenly and I miss her so. Would it…would it be an imposition to ask to kiss your cheek? I can tell that you miss your husband very much.”

Fazgood coughed loudly. “I fear that I am ill, good young man.”

“My mother had been ill and I wish I could kiss her cheek a hundred times!”

Behind them, the gate clanged shut. There was shouting and the crowd’s din ebbed.

Fazgood took a deep breath. “Then be quick, sir, lest you be infected.”

The Brigade man stepped before Fazgood, lifted the veil, and leaned to kiss. Then his puckered lips sucked in as if they desired to be swallowed.

The man kissed quickly. He trotted around the rickshaw to Calzjha.

He whispered, “I’m so sorry. Be strong.”

“Bless you,” Calzjha replied.

The man and boy ran to the gate.

Fazgood wiped sweat, crumbs and brindled hair from his face.

What was that all about?

The old rickshaw driver ogled Calzjha. Fazgood thumped the man’s back to chastise his lack of respect.

            “To The Plaza of Memories and be quick!”


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