“MAD EARL FAZ” Chapter Seven (a family reunion with resulting threats)

12 03 2014

Cliffside-Bastles was the second neighborhood of the city, and was older than the customary’s neighborhood of Paradesend. Despite that age, the only way one could tell the difference was in the girth and height of the trees, which had grown to fill the wide patches of land set aside for their use. However, the sidewalks lay flat around the massive trees; no root pressed the pattern of the bricks to rumple them like an unmade quilt.

Fazgood had been silent since they had read the broadside. Sensing his sullen mood, his associates knew not to ask until the storm had passed.

Calzjha remarked, “How tidy this is! How do they keep the roots from ruining the surfaces?”

Warren looked up from the basket. [Are you certain you want to know? I could inform you, but you’d just lean on the lid again.]

“The Compact keeps all in cooperation,” muttered Fazgood. “Civilization helps nature something something.”

The Earl and Calzjha walked along the brick. Birds chirped in the trees. In the distance, one could hear the echoes of the traffic’s clatter.

Calzjha asked, “Where are we going?”

“I am going,” said the Earl, “to where I am going. Why are you going where I am going?”

“You are my translator. You must accompany me wherever I go.”

The Earl looked around, sighed, then turned back up the sidewalk. “I am not accompanying you anywhere. You are accompanying me.”

“The populace doesn’t know that. We must keep our roles.”

“I set up appointments for tailors to visit. Go back to the customary.”

“I asked the customarians to cancel them. So where are we going?”

“If there is anyone in this city who can leverage a moosecrab, it will be who we are visiting.”

I have to seek out one of Them.

Calzjha looked to the sky. “We must return by the seventeenth hour, otherwise we will miss the lecture on the Exults.”

“Be annoying, and Exults will love you. The best bribe is perfumed dust for their feathers. There is your lecture.”

A small fountain pattered at the head of the street, and next to that a small grocer. They drank their fill, the Earl soaked a handkerchief and mopped the sweat beneath his new hat. Then he purchased some roasted doakbreads from the grocer, and some sticks of sugarcane, all of which had caused them to be thirsty again which made them drink again. Fazgood asked for directions to Scrivener’s Dilligence Street.

Two streets farther down, Scrivener’s Dilligence Street presented as a particularly quiet and shaded lane of cozy homes. The Earl counted off the six houses, found the door of the seventh. With a leftover length of the hard sugarcane, he knocked upon the stout sliding door.

Calzjha whispered, “Who is this?”

Fazgood tilted his hat down to hide his face.

The door slid open. Before them stood a Therihe woman of middle-age. Blond locks framed a square face and square jaw. Bright blue eyes twinkled over a freckled pug nose.

She seemed startled. “Ah! Good afternoon to you! I have no need for vendors today. I am expecting company soon.”

Fazgood found himself bouncing on the balls of his feet in anticipation. “Good afternoon. Is this the house of Yet-More-Muscular Claimant?”

The woman’s hands rose and wrung her apron. “Yes, it is! If my husband asked you to stop by, he is so helpful, but I am so behind in my cleaning, and I do have a visitor coming. Could you come back tomorrow? I will be a little less scattered.”

The Earl replied, “I’m afraid this is an important matter, Goodwife. It has been four years since we set our last appointment. When your husband posted at the Three Kingdoms embassy.”

Fazgood shifted his hat away from his brow.

The woman’s bird-like hands eased slowly to her sides. Her face changed. Her eyes gained a heat and focus.

“Fluxion,” she said. The woman glanced around beyond them at the neighboring homes.

That alone buoyed the Earl’s mood.

“Goodwife, I was so overjoyed to hear of your husband’s posting! The Royal Foreign Affairs Department! You’ve gained your dream of living back in Harmon –-“

She spoke a little louder, “I am sorry, but you have the wrong house.”

She snapped the sliding door shut. But the Earl shoved faster with his sugarcane, and stuck it in the doorjam.

Calzjha looked to Fazgood, stunned: She has his jaw.

Leaning upon the stick, Fazgood declaimed as she tried to press the door shut, “If I could have just a moment of your time, Goodwife, on a matter of importance. We would just be a moment.”

They pushed and struggled.

“Honestly, Goodwife! I cannot! Restate! The importance! Of a brief discussion!”

A hiss came from behind the door. “You would not want the police, would you?”

Calzjha glanced at the nearby doorsteps. No movements stirred at the curtained windows.

“Goodwife! I would sell my wares to whomever you invite! As long as I’ve –- a voice in my throat!

The last part he ended at a shout, which made the door slide open.

The woman’s crinkled smile had returned. “Enter and be quick.”

The Earl took back his cane and ignored its scuffs. “Fazcelestial Claimant, may I introduce my associate? You may call him ‘Grand Foofaloof.’”

“Please enter my home. Now.”

Once the door shut, so once again did the smile flee. Fazgood offered her his cane and hat, but she glared and led them deeper into the house.

The rooms were simply furnished with well-crafted low tables and cabinets, much like the customary’s furnishings, much like all homes in the kingdom. The difference was that the walls were lined with thick tapestries of gardens and landscapes.

A tea set sat deployed on the common room’s main table.

The Earl sat on a cushion and picked up a delicate cup. “How hospitable! I’m parched!”

She took the cup from his hand. “I am expecting a visitor.”

Calzjha said,  “I hope we aren’t inconveniencing you.”

Fazcelestial set the cup back upon the table. “I’ll get you a cup. Would you like a cup also, Squire Grand Assumed Name?”

“No. Thank you, Goodwife.”

“Fazgood, is that weasel still with you?”

Warren peeped out of the basket. [Nothing for me! Nothing at all! Thank you, Goodwife Claimant!]  The basket lid closed with a bang.

“How can you get used to that talking in your head?” She knocked a hand against her temple, then stomped into the kitchen.

Calzjha whispered, “You told me your sister lived in the Three Cities.”

“She arranged for her husband’s promotion this Spring.”

“’Arranged?’”

The woman stomped back into the room. She slammed a small earthenware mug onto the table before him. It was thick, coarsely-glazed and valueless, as one would give a child.

She passed a hand behind her and sat, arranging the seams of her skirt. “I have received your letters. I do not want to know who you are involved with this time. I truly do not.”

“I left the employ with the royalty of Adanikar. I had time and resources to see the world.”

She reached into a blouse pocket and pulled out a small pillbox. “So you violated a Royal edict of exile to return.”

“Yes. I have a hankering for moosecrab.”

Her jaw clenched. “Of course you do.”

She counted out three pills, poured herself tea in one of the delicate cups and swallowed the pills.

Fazgood held out his coarse cup.

She poured. “Drink. Now.”

She turned to Calzjha. “Squire Co-Defendant, do you know my brother is sentenced to public torment and branding if he was to return to this city?”

Calzjha said,  “He…told me as much.”

Fazcelestine set her cup down and breathed into her folded hands. “Then he told you nothing. He joined a rebellion against the Scout Brigades. They tried to start another brigade centered in the Foreign Due. The bunch of them were declared outcasts, then while they were being captured a fire broke out. All of them died save him.”

“But he said he left when twelve years old.”

“He was.”

The Earl nodded. “I was precocious.”

The Earl’s sister gave him a grievous look.

She then said to Calzjha. “Squire Doom-struck, did you know it means branding for anyone who helps him in any way?”

Warren’s head popped from the basket. [Yes! We are sworn to see this through, no matter what his state of mind.]

“That’s what a familiar would say. But you, Doom-struck, you stay no matter how mad he may be.”

The young man stiffened. “We had been through more dire threats. We have infiltrated palaces! I wanted to come. Wherever Fazgood is, chaos seems to follow. In my religion, we seek to learn from disorder.”

She leaned to Calzjha with a look that was almost pity. “Enthus help you, you aren’t lovers, are you?”

Calzjha sagged, trying to conceal disappointment. “No.”

[Thanks to all gods!]

The lid closed with bang.

Oblivious and ruminating, the Earl shook his head. “People believe it is a blessing to be touched by the gods. I tell you it is not. Everybody pesters you for favors. And one cannot get a decent meal like good common folk can.”

The young man looked to the Earl with shock. “You have caused your sister to risk herself. She knows of your presence. She could be branded.”

Fazgood set his cup down and made to look sad. “And that causes me great pain.”

There was a knock at the door.

Fazcelestial drew a deep breath through her nose and closed her eyes. “It is essential that you go into the kitchen.”

Fazgood grinned. “Have you moosecrab there?”

She swelled with rage. “I will help you find your moose-crab. Go to the kitchen. Quietly. Now.”

“My dear Foofaloof, let us retire to the kitchen. My sister has household business to attend.”

There was another, sharper knock.

All rose. The lady of the house shoved the coarse cup into the Earl’s hands and the visitors retired behind the kitchen door.

The three guests peered around the kitchen and found it to be a simple affair, but with utensils and pots to be of the newest design.

Calzjha leaned to the Earl’s ear. “How can you treat your own innocent sister so poorly? To extort your own family!”

Fazgood suppressed a giggle.

Warren eased his head out. [Calzjha, you have no idea! You witnessed a singular event!]

The Earl nodded with glee.

[She is opening the front door!]

Outside, they heard Fazcelestial’s chirping: “Welcome, Ward Leader! Welcome!”

A hearty man’s voice: “Good afternoon, Goodwife. I hope that you and your family are well.”

The echoes of the voices changed as the two citizens of the Kingdom entered the common room and sat for tea. They exchanged pleasant talk of the weather and the beautiful fruits at the market.

The Ward Leader said, “I’ve visited your home before, but I meant to remark on your tapestries. Very…singular decoration. From your husband’s days at the Three Cities?”

“Oh yes. They’re lovely and they do help to keep the cool air in.”

Fazgood whispered, “They help to keep voices in, too.”

[Ha! And incrimination at bay!]

Calzjha gave the amused two a look of puzzlement.

The Ward Leader said, “You had told me of an issue you wished to discuss with me outside of the official meetings. How may I help you?”

There was a profoundly sad sound, like a songbird pining unto death. They realized it was Fazcelestial sighing.

The Leader, concerned: “Great maids, madam! What grieves you so?”

“It is my poor son Fazprime! The placement exams are coming in ten days. He desperately wants to get into administration like his father, but his school marks haven’t been…. He’s always been a good boy. A hardworking boy.”

“I would not presume, Goodwife, but are you about to ask about his placement tests?”

“Ah, Ward Leader! Am I so easy to read?”

“You are without any pretense, Goodwife. It is my job to know people, and to me you are as guileless as a newborn.”

“Ah! I had prepared such an entreaty. But I will leave arguing to my betters. I will just ask: could you help my poor Fazprime to be admitted to civil service?”

“I would consider it, but such intervention is rare and unusual. Questions would be asked, and Fazprime…is not up to the demands of the duty. This is what the test scores say. You may find him a career with…perhaps the Scout Brigades.”

Honest annoyance slipped through her voice. “There is no enemy to pilfer anymore! The Scouts have become layabouts and savages.”

The politican struggled to convince. “There may come a time when the Brigades will come again to the fore. He is well-suited.”

“But it is so well-known that people do change with responsibility and age.”

He consoled. “My son knows Fazprime and says he is the best sort. But the tests are strict for a reason. Your husband can tell you better than I about that.”

“Are you decided then, Ward Leader?”

“I am, Goodwife.”

“I see.”

“I regret disappointing you, but it is the way of my responsibility that I cannot satisfy all.”

Her voice brightened. “Ah. Do not feel sad for me. But let me tell you something amusing. Such an odd thing had happened the other day, I truly must tell you.”

“Perhaps you could tell me another time.”

“Sir, I had taken an evening’s walk and I had become confused. Silly old me! My husband says my sense of direction is like a butterfly’s. I meant to enter back through my home through the backdoor, but discovered that I had walked down the wrong street and behind the wrong house! What a fool I felt!”

“Ah. How awkward for you.”

“Yes! I remember that the house I almost entered was two streets away and three houses farther down and on the opposite side. I have been preoccupied, but still, I should wear a bell or something so I can be found!”

“Goodwife! A bell? Ha! That would be unnecessary! But…which house did you say you had wandered to?”

“Two streets away, three houses farther down, and on the opposite side as mine.”

“That would be…. Why, Goodwife! That would be my house! We would have enjoyed your company!”

“I felt uncomfortable as it was. Surely you understand. There I trembled in the dark and everyone indoors because it was raining. But as I departed, I suppose it was your back door, I had almost stumbled over a canvas sack. It tinkled a bit. I looked inside, and it was a collection of smashed glass.”

There was silence.

In the kitchen, the three looked to each other to see if any had deduced the significance. All shrugged, then eagerly pressed their ears to hear more.

“Good sir, I always find use for discarded items. It is doing our best for our kingdom!”

More silence, then: “So you took the sack…home?”

“I thought I had. I remember opening the sack and seeing all this beautiful green glass that I knew I could find a use for. But it all had such an odd smell to it. And there was so much of it. I resolved to wash the glass later, and so I set the sack aside.”

Fazgood suppressed an amused groan. Warren closed his eyes and shook his head with pity. Calzjha pouted, still puzzled.

The Leader’s voice was measured and careful. “Where did you put that sack?”

“Do you see? There I am again: lost! I set the sack aside, and I can’t remember where I had set it!”

“You…can’t…remember?”

“Silly me! I’ve looked everywhere.”

Silence again. In the kitchen, none dared breathe.

The Goodwife spoke, “Why sir! Are you well? Have some more tea!”

“I…I could help you look.”

“Oh, the bag’s safe somewhere! I know it is! It’s that with worrying about Fazprime’s acceptances, my mind is a waterspout! Hoosh! All flying everywhere.”

“Your worries are causing you to forget?”

“Indeed sir. I do wish you could help me sort my mind! Otherwise I would never remember about the sack, and I’d have to start asking the neighbors.”

The Ward Leader’s voice had a high, tense quality now: “That sack…contained bottles from many, many years of entertaining guests.”

“I wouldn’t know what they contained, sir. Or how recently the labels on the bottles had been printed. Are you certain you will not have more tea?”

Silence.

Calzjha looked at his compatriots, not certain whether to take umbrage at their mirth.

Fazgood leaned to him. “Green bottles are reserved for the hardest liquors.”

Calzjha whispered, “But alcohol is popular in the kingdom.”

“A rumor that he drinks unseemly amounts would cast doubt upon him.”

[That sack could ruin him, you fool!]

The young man was aghast.

The three heard the Ward Leader stutter his need to leave, which the Goodwife accepted graciously. He tersely bid good-day, and she returned it with an abundant cheeriness.

Footsteps. The door slid open. Fazcelestial stood in the doorway, her eyes like those of a rabbit-sated raptor’s.

The Earl allowed an appreciative nod. “That was well played.”

She accepted the compliment coolly.

Calzjha stammered, “Wasn’t what you did illegal?”

Fazcelestial sorted her cuffs. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

The Earl gave a vexed glance. “I have told you before about asking useless questions.”

[Please do not annoy her.]

The woman escorted them back into the common room. The cups and cushions evidenced the unseen events.

She said, “While I was speaking with the Ward Leader, I had a thought regarding your situation. You want your moosecrab? Try the zoo.”

Fazgood rapped his knuckles against his temples. “Ah! The zoo!”

His sister smiled with satisfaction.

The Earl scratched his head. “I had been considering crabs already dead and cooked. But a zoo crab would still need cooking. Sister?”

Fazcelestial spat air and looked upon him with disdain.

“I apologize, sister. I remember now: your husband does the cooking.”

“He cooks barely to my standards, and certainly not to your tastes, Earl Pet’s-Palate.”

Fazgood tapped his associate’s shoulder. “And she thought of my crab while entertaining a guest! Did I not tell you she was remarkable?”

Calzjha regained his composure. “You did…tell me. Indeed.”

“Normally the Foofaloof is a better liar. Your performance left him speechless.”

“Such a trait is worth learning,” she replied.

“Another thing about families, Foofaloof: never overstay your welcome. Dear sister.”

“Dear brother.”

“I have so many questions: how is your family?”

“You heard of Fazprime’s predicament. He does well otherwise.”

“Yet-More is advancing up the ranks of governance.”

“Yes. However, Squire Inky-Fingers needs to show more initiative, and do less scribbling.”

“The two of you will make a wise Prime Minister one day. Have you heard from brother Fazclever?”

“I send him money. He sends me his artwork otherwise.”

To Calzjha: “Being an artist does not pay much, but our brother’s talent is unique. What of our brother Fazduty?”

“Promoted to Master of Sergeants in the Prince’s Border Guard. He receives your letters. He shreds them in his teeth.”

“It is his own fault that he is honest.”

“You tell him that.”

The Earl dropped his voice to a whisper. “What of sister Fazarboreal?”

“She and mother have fled to points unknown.”

“Then we shall extend pity to ‘points unknown’.”

He leaned closer. “Have you been to see our old house? The Faz lodge in Creedlesbrook?”

“They tore it down and built a grander one. Do you know how many thousands have lived there since we left? Where do you get your sentimentality?”

Fazgood shrugged, not a copy of the Harmoniad Shrug, at a loss for a quip.

He turned to Calzjha. “Foofaloof, please have a look outside?”

Calzjha noted the stillness between the siblings and bade the goodwife a pleasant stay. She shut the door.

“Where did you pick up this poor patsy?”

“I happened upon him in Adanikar.”

“He is in love with you.”

“He’s still young enough to think all of this is exciting.”

“Yet you do not ditch him.”

Fazgood’s smile had gone. He looked out the window at the street.

Her expression of pity returned. “Shadows fall quickest near thieves.”

“I think the street is clear,” he said.

She reached for the door. “If they come asking, I will tell them you were here.”

“I know. I wouldn’t want you to gamble all of this.”

“I’ve said it before many times, I’ll say it again: Stay away, Fazgood. Never come back.”

“I am sorry, sister, but we are stuck with each other.”

“You may…continue sending your letters. My husband gains such enjoyment from them.”

“Extend my regards to your family at some time when it is safe to do so.”

Fazcelestial opened the door and the sunlight streamed in. Her light, dizzy smile returned. “Good day to you, vendor!”

The Earl’s own affable smile returned. “I thank you for your time, Goodwife. I hope the remainder of your day is pleasant.”

He stepped onto the stoop and joined Calzjha. They walked up the street and heard the door close behind them.

Calzjha whispered in Adanikarese, “And that is all? You had not seen her in years.”

“Each family is a nation. Each have its own ways.”

Calzjha walked along, his graceful stride having an unusual weight. “Warren —Brumpf?”

The weasel popped his head from the basket. [Yes?]

Calzjha’s expression froze at the mistake, then resumed his whisper, “In the kitchen, you mentioned ‘a singular event.’  What event?”

[Few have ever gotten leverage on a member of our liege’s family and kept their bones or their fortune intact. Fazcelestial herself blackmailed our liege during his stay at the Three Cities.]

The young man shook his head in dismay.

Fazgood nudged his young friend and asked in Rahsic, “Do you know what you need, good Foofaloof?”

Calzjha noted the Earl’s sudden heartiness and replied. “Moosecrab?”

“Indeed! We are half-way to our goal. And the zoo will keep our crabs safe. Now: to a cook.”


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