The Earl and Calzjha stepped from between the houses and onto the street, revealing the moons above the trees. Some windows showed the fluttering of heat pump fans. Other roofs and verandas of houses twinkled with small lanterns, as their residents slept upon them to gain the cool night breeze. The air smelled sweet from the flowering trees.
Fazgood placed Warren on the brickwalk. Now outside the Secure, the three looked up at the Greatsergeant Keep, its curtained windows concealing multiplying scandals. Behind the keep, the green of busynight dimmed into true dark. They turned back to the street. The moon Rezhalla was obscured by clouds, coloring those tumults into the hues of sweet pink moosecrab-flesh.
The Earl exclaimed. “Is there nothing that does not –-!” He caught his shout, and whispered. “We must get that crab.”
Calzjha lifted his foot and flicked wet grit from his cuff. “From what you told me, you could just climb the wall and steal the crab while it is night!”
“The moons are too bright for burglary. Even if it were cloudy, those who work in Golden Utilities sleep on its grounds out in the open air. Imagine that: we splash into that tank, battle my dinner, then retreat while stumbling over freshly-roused civilians.”
Calzjha looked back at the keep. “What was that…thing? How can I ask about this?”
“Warren, please explain to Calzjha.”
The weasel startled, [My liege, do you truly trust Calzjha with such important information?]
[I obey, my Earl.]
He leaned to Calzjha to share the secret. Excitement overwhelmed his disdain.
[Calzjha, it was the Prevaricate! That device in that box was a magicked device of the Prevaricate!]
The Earl nodded. “Good hysterics, squire.”
[We had seen such devices when we were spies for the Three Cities! Those serving the Prevaricate gain their power from masks!]
Calzjha choked. “The –“
[The mask would melt with the agent’s very skin. It bestows hideous powers upon the wearer. The ones we had seen were made of dragon hides, to give power over the dragons of the Three Cities! Another was made of activated ice, and that gave powers over the Hazbirq icecaps!]
[The mask we saw was unmistakably made from god-clot! That would give power over the Secure!]
Fazgood said, “So you do see the situation.”
Calzjha looked up and down the empty, moon-dappled street, crestfallen. “Respiration…is a spy?”
The Earl rolled his eyes at such concluding. “No!”
[The general, you tart! The Battle of Lanthornmount!]
Fazgood wagged a finger aloft. “There! Warren sees the beginning of the situation. How did that battle go, squire?”
[Throughout history, it had been believed that the General’s grandfather had led skirmishers outside the Secure and deep behind the siege lines of the Prevaricate’s Governor, and that when confronted by that great villain, the General’s grandfather used guile and fury to make his force seem larger and drive that evil from the field, breaking the siege.]
“Or,” the Earl shrugged. “Perhaps not.”
[These events are believed true by historians all over the civilized world.]
The Earl chuckled. “Truth is seldom a snug fit. Calzjha, all of that warband was either killed or locked forever in babbling despair by magic. Except for one.”
[The Prevaricate and a founding Paragon of the Kingdom! But why would the Prevaricate allow withdraw, allow his slaves to revolt and take thousands of miles all the way to the Alpia Mountains, if he had such advantage?]
The Earl looked to Warren and waited for the squire’s realization. That worthy was crouched a few steps back with a stunned expression worthy of taxidermy.
Prompted Fazgood. “What is the quote, Warren? The ‘Let the Gods’ quote?”
[“And The Prevaricate exhaled his smoke and spake unto the land: ‘Let the Gods build forever; it shall never be as it should. I will make even the finest achievements and even the greatest struggles into the merest poot.’” My liege, I think I’m going to be sick.]
Fazgood whispered. “I think I can say this aloud. He did it, Calzjha, as an object lesson. To take the most perfect society and defeat it through one man’s greed. And the longer the item is held, the greater the disaster and misery when it is revealed. Then he comes back and reconquers and everyone is even more miserable for having had the pleasure of freedom and prosperity and then knowing they screwed it up.”
Calzjha looked around at the houses perfect as they day they were laid scores of years ago, at the streets of uncracked hundred year old bricks, and the trees whose branches and roots never grow to inconvenience, and to the utterly predictable clouds.
“Why not destroy…?”
[Calzjha, a part of the Prevaricate lies within it. It cannot be destroyed. Where could they hide it and truly know it to be safe? Bury it in the ground wrapped in despondene? If that box is damaged, the spirits will know the betrayal. This whole kingdom is built on their cooperation.]
They stood in the dappled shadows on the brickwalk, contemplating how enraged the trees would be, and the clouds, and even Eldest Daughter, and how they would vent that rage on the entire Kingdom. Thanks to the Compact, the Kingdom’s navies always sailed in splendid weather, bogs and fogs parted before its armies, the very gnats kept to pest sanctuaries. Through the mutual respect of the Compact, civilization and nature could repel their common enemy. The spirits of nature were not sophisticated. A betrayal by a Paragon would be considered a betrayal by all civilized people.
“Where is the common house for this neighborhood?” said the Earl. “Again they keep the most basic needs secret. The dark house there, I think.”
Fazgood opened the unlocked door, chose a bottle of caml-zre and left payment on the shelf. None stirred from the bedrooms upstairs, why should they? None stole without permission in Harmonium.
Sharing sips, the Earl looked back to the keep. “The concrete of the bedroom wall did not match the rest of the rooms. Some lesser mason added it after and shortened the room, and added the concealments. Most likely that mason’s heart was bled out!”
They sat at a fountain, on a street whose name they knew not, and waited for Rezhalla to sail to the position of the third hour.
The time was spent in manner they found familiar and comfortable, with Calzjha and Warren arguing theories through their thoughts while the Earl glowered into the dark, sipping and contemplating.
They walked back to the Secure as Fazgood swatted concrete-grit from his pants. Weary, they trudged through the back yards, into the canal, and found the recess that allowed them back to the Keep.
They climbed the ladrail.
In the alcove, only one lantern was still lit, its light made the granite walls sparkle. The box rested under its cloth, the perversion within waiting.
They took off their shoes and opened the door. In the bedroom, Respiration sat on the bed alone.
“He went home already?” asked the Earl.
She looked up, roused from her thoughts. “Yes.”
“Have you any liquor in this room?”
“None in the room. None in the home.”
“I say this with respect, but we have to change that. It is a useful substance.”
“I have been considering that.”
Calzjha asked, “Was your evening satisfying?”
The firmness and poise returned to her, but her gaze went to her hands.
“Yes,” she demurred. “It was.”
“I ask because…sometimes when new love has been forbidden, then is allowed, sometimes the thrill becomes a fear.”
She considered that.
“Does the captain know of that device? Does he truly know what it is?” Fazgood asked.
Respiration’s jaw clenched. “He knows. It is why he is desperate. And foolish.”
“You knew of the betrayal and did nothing.”
“What would I do?”
“You have money. You have an entire city filled with ships and carts. Take a package tour with a trunk full of specie and vanish.”
“And go where, Nimblest Man? What magician would conceal me? What nation would give me sanctuary? And who would gain the secret next?”
The words spilled from her: “The General’s lineage is rife with death and insanity. His grandfather led a charge into certain death. His grandmother and his father were known for their melancholia, and died early. His mother…drowned. They all knew of that. The knowledge drove them mad.”
Her eyes gleamed wet in the dark room.
“But for all this despair, my husband is a charming, winning man. All believed and believe still that he defeated this mysterious curse of the Greatsergeants. I had no family, and was a ward of my father’s liege. I wanted to bring a new life to this dark place. Imagine my horror after we wed. Imagine when he dared me to tell.”
All looked to the floor. The Goodwife’s burden now shared, the weight of generations made the darkness heavy as lead.
She touched a sleeve to her eye. “He revels in it.”
The Earl took a breath and rubbed his chin.
Said he, “Whether you believe in me or not, I will not betray you. It would be incriminating to me, and rude to you.”
She looked to the window. “I must believe in you. It occurs to me this evening, gentlemen. You will be but another man I have invited in my room to improve my life. The first was wealth, with horror. The second is love, with peril.”
The Earl listened and sucked his lip, contemplating her woe.
She said, her voice bitter and heavy. “I could see who I will have save me next.”
With an unusual vehemence, the Earl smoldered. “Feeling sorry for yourself will save no one.”
She took a breath and nodded. “No. No, it will not. I just need some rest. I will see you in the morning, gentlemen.”
Fazgood, Calzjha and Warren slipped out the door and shut it. At his feet, Warren listened at the doorjam.
[She weeps, my liege.] Warren’s own eyes glistened.
Fazgood looked to the door, his gaze hard, then looked to the removal of his shoes. [Yes, I imagine she does.]
He turned to the stairs and they slinked back to their room.
* * *
In the dawn, Obdurate showered, the water pouring across his brow, down his chest and body and along his betraying member.
I have gone through all this trouble, and had such a stroke of fortune, that I should fail it.
She had tried consolation last night, but his heart pounded so that it nauseated him. The fire that had burned in every breath, nerve, and cell of his body was gone. From the moment he had watched the Earl with Respiration, there had been a rising apprehension.
He dressed, presented himself with the rest of the officers for exercise, ate, his thoughts in a deep iron silence.
In the lobby of the headquarters, an errand child cried: “Adjutant Childteacher!”
“What?” he snapped. He cared not.
The fluffy Exult stepped forward tremulously, a letter in tiny, ridged fingers.
“A message, sir.”
The officer snatched the letter. The fledgling fled.
The letter had Lacquerfish’s seal at its top:
The schedules for the lotcasters in your services are suspended at the convenience of the Palentine. This is without exception. The lotcasters will be boarding at the Terhane Residences near the Citadel. They are not to be contacted except in case of family emergency. All are to deliver themselves without delay.
His woe stepped back. Obdurate remembered Hakek’s relating of the Navy’s assistance to the Palentine in some discerning matter. The corps’ own discerners and lotcasters were all at the Ijkallas with the General, except for one lotcaster who was near retirement, who cast for accounting errors. His curiosity rousing, Obdurate walked downstairs to her alcove.
The old woman greeted her sudden assignment with some surprise.
She snorted. “Something’s swimming, adjunct. The Palentine’s not gathered all discerners in…. Since that rogue hurricane ten years ago? More? Much before your time! Had to find survivors at sea.”
“There is no hurricane about that I saw.”
“No, there isn’t, is there? The Palentine doesn’t do things idly, and no drill was scheduled. You’ve been looking worn, captain. Have you been feeling well?”
“I just need some tea.”
The lotcaster gathered her casting sticks and rolled them in her casting cloth. She wrote a quick letter to her husband for her belongings to be sent to the residences. Obdurate saw her out of the foyer to a rickshaw.
“I will arrange for your mail to be delivered.”
She touched heart and hummed a salute. “Thank you, Captain.”
Obdurate watched the rickshaw trot away.
Just to get away and do your job. What a heaven that would be.
He trudged back inside and up the stairs to his office. His desk already had a stack of requisitions laying in wait for him. He slumped onto his stool.
I have ruined Respiration’s life. I must find a solution. There must be a solution to this.
Have I not done enough?
The young officer sat, mind empty of all but misery. He did not enjoy misery or value its lessons.
What else can I do but this? he thought.
He sighed and considered.
He easily recalled his total from the numeralurgy of two days ago. Could he determine his and Respiration’s fate this way?
No. His method only gave locations in space and time. He would need figures from the mute future to use his method.
Could I try numeromancy? There are so many equations for that discipline, and they are so closely guarded.
Obdurate knew none of them.
The numeromancer gave him one equation; one that was applicable to Obdurate’s job, one that he felt would cause no risk or disruption: The Formulae for Determining The Most Valued Baggage.
How completely, utterly useless I am. Worse than useless. I have destroyed everything. At best, my love is gone and I am imprisoned. And last night was the final, cruelest joke.
Two days ago, two long days ago, while deducing the numeralurgy of “The Nimblest Man”, Obdurate had imaginings. Obdurate had imagined approaching the Earl at some discrete, but public street, and confronting the Earl with the knowledge of his identity. The Earl would have denied all, of course, but been alarmed. Obdurate had imagined inviting the Earl to a nearby hospitality. In a darkened, removed nook of the public room, the Earl would appraise him over Birqmuir whisky concoctions. Despite himself, the Earl would be openly astonished:
“A humble adjutant? Not even a true numeromancer! Remarkable!”
Then the Earl would whisper, “I am here on a matter of gravest importance! I am contracted to the King on a matter of sincere security!”
After a sip of his concoction, Obdurate would coolly make his bargain.
The astonishment would harden. Here was the world-renowned adventurer trapped and forced to bargain with an upstart!
Then the rage would turn to an appraising nod. “Being royalty, I can recognize a noble spirit! Freeing your beloved from her hated circumstance! Splendid! I need someone clever and noble to aid my defense of the Kingdom, and for your aid that I shall relieve you of this General in a manner that humiliates him, but somehow leaves –“
Another stack of requisitions dropped onto his desk. The clerk hummed a salute and walked out of the office, glancing at the stack that already sat on the desk untouched.
I have to do something to get myself in the mood to work.
He sighed, Perhaps the Formulae could loosen my brain for those forms.
He took the number for Fazgood, remembered from the numeralurgical calculations. He divided it by Adanikar and Harmonium’s factors. He converted the distance between the cities to the proper unit of measure, then factored it by the ocean. He remembered someone had mentioned “two months” as travel time, and Fazgood’s arrival date he knew.
He applied the First Formula. The first determined the port of entry for Fazgood’s…most…valued…baggage.
I am useless.
But the numbers filled his mind with something, so he continued.
The calculations were easy. He had been given the numbers denoting the most used ports of entry in the Kingdom. Obdurate hoped one of those numbers would be the solution.
58 and one-third. The Foreign Due of Harmonium.
The Earl must have entered through some Adanikarese subterfuge. That is something I didn’t know, I suppose….
The Second Formula determined the value of the item to the receiver, who he factored as Fazgood. The same values again as the First Formula, a factor for Fazgood’s social status in the receiving port (an exile, whose number was “four-and-seven-tenths”), another for diplomatic relations between the points of transport, and number of entourage.
All of those factors were low, and the low numbers drove everything down. The solution was one-third.
Now this was interesting. “One” was the value of the mortal receiver; if Fazgood had packed himself in a crate and shipped only himself, the answer would have been “one”.
But “one-third”? Fazgood had shipped a large fraction of himself to the Foreign Due?
During Obdurate’s lunches with Mehezgladness, the adjutant had asked the trafficant about the interpretation of a fractional result. Between the sucking of teeth, Mehezgladness replied. “I heard of the circumstance of a soldier. He had shipped his severed, mummified arm for cremation on the banks of the Quand. That must have caused quite a fuss when that package was mislaid!”
Obdurate looked up at the carved rafters of his office and thought, Perhaps the Earl had shipped himself, and Calzjha was already in the Foreign Due, and received the package.
But if that had been the case, then the first equation wouldn’t had been so tidy.
Obdurate reminded himself, This is a man who stole a fortress. And then he returned it.
What could have been in that package? Perhaps it was Warren! But no, a separate being would still count as “more than one”. Despite their connection, Warren would possibly count as “one-and-a-third”, but not as a part of the Earl.
Fazgood’s body seemed healthy and whole. He wrung his memory for any limp or looseness of limb he may have seen on the Earl. Perhaps an inner quality of the Earl had been displaced.
Is such a thing possible?
The young man looked out his office window and over the rippled roofs across the plaza at the clear blue sky, and realized how very, very far away it stretched. For a moment, he realized those wondrous and bewildering distances, to other lands and peoples. He realized there were living beings and societies whose abilities his studious brain could never stretch to imagine, and his soul only yearn to understand.
What could have been in that package? And did he get it back?
And: He broke himself into pieces…for moosecrab?
* * *
That same morning, Calzjha, Fazgood and Warren left before dawn for the customary, and were seen out of the keep under the curious, baleful stares of the maids. Thus morning meal with Goodwife Greatsergeant was avoided.
The Earl walked quickly to awaken his blood. The foot traffic was refreshed and yawning, rather than the intermittent pedestrians of a few hours ago outside the Secure. The still-moist air kept the stinging smoke of peatfires thick in the street. The haze gave the whole of the streets and squares a gauzy, yellow glow.
“We must help them,” Calzjha said flatly.
“You are young. Part of becoming old is knowing doom when you see it. They are in an endgame.”
“You have been in many endgames and have guiled your way out. I read that somewhere.”
Warren gave not one quip or observation. His nose poked from the basket lid and twitched, as was his habit in desultory contemplations.
As they arrived at the customary, there were many inquiries of the Foofaloof. All were very pleased to ask the young man (and also greet his servant of course) about life in a Paragon household. Kitpoktik had tried to be nonchalant about the Foofaloof’s new celebrity. But the excitement proved too much for the customarian, and the old Adactoid took the beginning of the class to reinforce the previous lessons:
“And how does she live?”
The Foofaloof confirmed. “The customarian teaches truly. She does live as simply as we at the customary.”
“And what does she do?”
“She helps others to contemplate fine ideas. The guests at her contemplations all remark that her presence is delightful. That as a Paragon, she…. What was the phrase you said yesterday, Customarian?”
“What was the phrase? ‘The paragon refines the spirit and purifies the devotion.’”
“I often remark to her on what a splendid class and classmates.”
The warmth of the aspirants’ dedication, the greed in the glances of the customarian, and the Foofaloof’s joy in sharing good fortune; all served to make Fazgood’s eyes roll in disbelief.
After the lessons ended at midday, Fazgood and Calzjha parted company, Warren was dozing in the Brumpfbasket. The day was unusually warm, and the Earl was glad to walk about in his usual determined pace, and the feel of what little breeze cooling the nape of his neck. At the Arterial, he watched an ambulatory wail and rumble past, and regretted again that he had eschewed the widow’s clothes, as she would doubtless have been allowed to ride.
At the Malabar Flats Ferry, he presented the guildman’s card, paid, and was transported across to the Foreign Due.
The ferry had the same declaimer as his last trip, perhaps even the same merchants lining the benches. This time, however, they listened to the recitation with rapt expression.
The man recited from memory:
“Up he crawled and wriggled, clutching Blounbirq’s lethal delivery to his breast,
a mere guild magician’s Preservation Wrapping about his body to protect him from the inferno,
dulling it to a smothering warmth.
But the stench of a thousands years of digestion assailed his nostrils even through the enchantments!
The Nimblest Man had crawled this vilest hell.
Even the slightest tickle felt by the slumbering Abomination,
As an ant in our own sleeping tracts, spelled the brave boy’s doom.”
His doze ruined, the Earl listened to the tale and was amused. A few listeners rubbed their throats and swallowed, faces appalled at the risk the boy took.
Fazgood thought, At least that legend still holds: Everyone prefers heroes in throats.
He stepped from the boat and followed the crowd through the gatehouse and into the Due.
He walked the familiar quays, rediscovered a bend in the street he had forgotten, crossed two thick bridges whose names he had still forgotten, and found the alleyway again.
At the end of the alley, the afternoon sun cast upon a weather-beaten, lacquered storehouse. It appeared as if it had always been there, in this narrow way that held no delight, no charge of excitement or significance.
It has been thirty years.
He stepped no farther, not wanting to risk being trapped in the alleyway if he was discovered.
There would be no cinders, no keepsakes; all would be long gone.
He remembered most of their names: Uzkuk the Grand, the big red-haired Birqmuir man; Iqiar from an island north of the Hermitshells, who always smelled of sweat and beer; others if he wrung his brain. He had realized long ago that he couldn’t remember them, even Uzkuk, who had been their leader, could not even remember their faces clearly much less their natures. But he knew they were good beings who deserved better.
He had imagined there would be at least a sign to warn others.
What would the sign read? A placard as in the zoo:
The Death of the Eleven Circles Rebels!
Nineteen incredibly foolish beings burned to death on this site after trying to get the foreign-born equal rights to Scout Brigade membership.
But one apprentice escaped! Have you seen him?
But he had not even a sign to drink to, or piss on.
He did remember the day they died. Under the floor of that burning building, wriggling into a sewer pipe, crawled along and out to the street. The fire had leapt bright red-orange, fluttering and waving like a terrible monster, trapped and contained by the waiting Scouts, and the Public Worksmen who had kept it alight but had exulted the waves and undulations of water out from the river and onto the roofs of the surrounding buildings.
The fire, how had it started? They had been trapped, how? Betrayed? There had been someone. I knew every detail, even back in Adanikar so few months ago, and the anger was so hot and satisfying! Why can’t I remember?
The moosecrab craving swept upon him once more, crushing all thought.
Juicy antlers, sweet flesh melting in his mouth. That relish! It would be more tasty with Hrikinik’s relish!
Then: And I am here to eat seafood.
I am mad.
He gathered himself for the walk back to the pier. Thankfully, a different declaimer spoke of spice and dye prices on the ride back.
A few zreces bought a quick rickshaw to Golden Utilities, and from there a quick walk to the Garden.
He very studiously avoided the crab pen. He was indeed assessing the resources and landscaping, looking at the buildings, the large wheeled bins for gathering rubbish, the idleness of the keepers, the lawns behind the buildings where the grass had been pressed down from where workers had obviously slept.
As the sixteenth hour poured, he stood under an awning, savoring a sour pickleball.
After the rain, a rickshaw ride back within the Secure, along the Arterial to the Third Tier along the river, then purchases: from a trades supply he bought a broad length of canvas, some slim cast iron spikes, and a small mallet; from a clothier, he acquired a robe dyed Pathetics’ Tan, and two wool blankets.
The foot traffic led to a square, with its own fountain beside a public house. He stepped within and using a minimum of verbage and a maximum of smiling, he had recommended to him the best distiller of caml-zre, a sharp, sweet Therihe liquor he hadn’t tasted in years. He bought two jugs, then had all of his burden loaded into a rickshaw.
Back to the Greatsergeant Keep. He now noted the gay yellow banners atop the keep and the bright flowers in the pots outside, and chuckled at what such cheer hid.
He rapped upon the door.
The keep door opened, and the pinch-faced maid said. “Your…master has been seeking you.”
The Earl noted the hesitation. Word of Pehzpersist’s love with the Foofaloof had spread to the servants.
“Ah!” declared Fazgood. “Indeed! I shall offer my apologies! Could you help me with this?”
He thrust the smaller bundle of clothing and tools into her hands. It did his heart good to see her severity turn to anger as they carried the goods upstairs to the increasingly crowded bedroom.
The maid led Fazgood down the hall to the Contemplation Room. In the hall, Fazgood noted the murmur of lively conversation. The maid opened the door.
Laughter rang against the stone. The room was lit orange with the sunset through the window. The Goodwife and the adjutant sat watching the Foofaloof. The audience of two was laughing, weak from long durations of doing so.
The Earl noted that even Warren was bobbing from side-to-side on the floor and squealing.
[He is performing that dance where the heron is stealing fruit from the drunk farmer! It is so base, but it is so funny!]
Calzjha was swaying his head frantically, arms swooping as wings, stepping high and staggering, playing the heron with his bill thrust inside the farmer’s jug. Soon would come the newly-emboldened heron’s challenge of the farmer to a duel.
While laughing, Respiration and Obdurate both turned and noted the Earl. Their laughs subsided notably, and they turned their attention back to Calzjha.
The Earl discovered that he had missed the sound of a human woman laughing. The sound of Respiration’s chiming laugh felt like a drink of water after a long thirst. The realization annoyed him.
But Calzjha’s saucer-eyed, perplexed heron made for good distraction, and indeed the story sharpened his taste for the caml-zre tucked away beside the gold-topped bottle of relish in his room.
The heron smacks the farmer fiercely with a wing and sends him sprawling. Victorious, the heron dons the farmer’s hat and demands the farmer begone. The stunned, astonished farmer staggers away. The heron sits as a human, crosses his ungainly legs, and puzzles over what to do with his victory. As he eats the last wine-soaked fruit, he passes out with feet in the air.
The audience stood, their bright song of appreciation reverberating the room. Calzjha stood, crossing his feet and dipping to show gratitude for the applause.
Respiration looked at Fazgood, and her eyes narrowed to a hawk-like sharpness.
And it was at that moment, the thought of a heavy object in hand, that Fazgood realized that he had approaching the problem of cooking the crab from the wrong direction. He groaned from the simplicity, and could feel his sister mocking him.
Calzjha chattered exuberantly, as usual after a performance:
“The house was in a such a foul mood! Respiration had been gloomy! Obdurate angry and pensive; I think frustrated, but so! And you had not returned! The guests at Contemplation had been desiring our report about the Ijkallas! But I cannot –-“
He used the Adanikarse: “I cannot connive. That’s your strength!”
Back to Rashic, with emphatic discretion: “So…the Brumpf…showed usefulness and gave the inspiration that I dance! The idea was so good, we didn’t dare bother you!”
The Goodwife said testily, keeping pretense for the sake of the two maids organizing the room for supper. “Our contemplations today might have been a description of life in the Ijkalla Islands. However, you were not here to organize our notes. Foofaloof, affections make your employee lax. I would not note this, but you said we should speak freely as peers.”
Calzjha lowered his eyes in respect, but still spoke brightly. “I desire your candor above all. He is terrible.”
Respiration would not be swayed by agreeable enthusiasm. “I would arrange performances for friends, if he would –“
“Ah!” sighed Calzjha. “If it were no inconvenience! Could we invite musicians? Our friends at contemplation could recite! Perhaps a theatre could be rented –“
I need to get this damned crab, quick.
At the stairs, the oldest maid was flustered.
She said. “There is a visitor for the Goodwife. He wishes to pay respects to the Goodwife and the Foofaloof. I told him it was not the proper time, but he insisted.”
Respiration’s normal reserve was removed, and she walked downstairs to the door. “Who would it be?”
At the bottom of the stairs, a figure waited in the anteroom.
“Goodwife! Citizen aspirants!”
The Earl recognized the tone of voice that rang “unctuous official.” He fixed Pehzpersist’s smile firmly upon his face.
A man stepped within the receiving room. He was a middle-aged, pale Therihe with thick red hair. Wrapped around him was a spotless, well-tailored blue coat of fine cotton. His gaze was firmly fixed on the Earl.
“Good citizen aspirant,” the visitor said. “I am here to extend my heartfelt apologies.”
In his fingers, he gently held a plughat before his ascot, striped with five colors.