“MAD EARL FAZ” CHAPTER 17 (CONTAINS CASTRATION, BUT IN A GOOD WAY)

21 05 2014

The dusk through the latticed windows lit Deputy Tlezjoy’s face a dim gold.

With his head titled so, considered the Inspector, that sharp chin and nose of his looks handsome. But then deputy spoke, and his smile turned wicked, and the effect was petty and harsh.

“My first stalker heard a terrible crash! My stalker runs outside and found that the tremblar had run straight into that glass house with the birds and the vineflits.”

“A tremblar ran?” asked the Inspector. Tlezjoy’s enthusiasm for destruction was tiresome, and so Mehzadapt tried to quash that foul joy whenever it presented itself.

“The tremblar shook into the glass house.”

“What happened?”

The grin revived. “Ah! The tremblar escaped from his house! He shook into the glass house and the foundations all jiggled and the glass all shattered.”

“Anybody hurt?”

“A couple of citizens were cut up. All that broken glass just angered the tremblar more. They’ve got thick skins.”

The Inspector prompted. “Your first stalker lost the suspect back at the tremblar cage.”

“The rain was so thick, the stalker didn’t even bother to look.”

“Beat your young sleuth. Make comprehensive use of his exposed skin. The young need an example so that they will remember the basics.”

“Gladly, Inspector. Our second stalker was waiting at the entrance, just to be safe. The bag the suspect carried made the both of the stalkers suspicious. She’s getting soaked waiting in the rain when someone goes running by.”

Mehzadapt glared at the attempt at dramatic tension. “Tell and be done!”

Tlezjoy swallowed. “Turns out it’s the suspect! Wearing a Pathetic’s robe! She wouldn’t have known it was him but for seeing his basket. And he’s running down the middle of the road! He’s carrying a basket with a huge moosecrab inside!”

“Deputy, did you say a moosecrab?”

The deputy bit back a grin. “Yes, Inspector! She glimpsed a large moosecrab. She thought she saw some other animal, but the moosecrab seized her attention.”

“A moosecrab!”

“The second stalker’s worth her salt, that one! Tried to whistle the other stalker, but the rain and thunder was too loud. Then when the rain stopped, he caught a rickshaw holding only the toolbag.”

“The same bag that he carried this morning?”

“It looked like it, she said.”

“He walked from the river without the basket.”

“He left the basket. We have it for you to look at. It seems just a pitch basket. There was no sign of the crab.”

Mehzadapt considered.

“She watched him ride off in a rickshaw all wet hunched in his coat again. He was carrying the old brown toolbag. The suspect was headed back into the city.”

Sagging back onto his cushion, Mehzadapt sipped his tea.

The deputy summarized. “Someone had opened the locked door, then nailed a canvas to the floor. The police are blowing a squall about the tremblar being let loose and the crab swiped.”

“Did you check the zoo yourself?”

“I confirm it. The keepers are all weepy. The moosecrab is gone.”

It is obvious that Fazgood loosed that tremblar and destroyed that exhibit! But to loose a moosecrab? What insane whim took him?

“Maintain the watch on Greatsergeant Keep,” the Inspector sucked his lip. “You go to the Amusatorium with that stalker girl. She shows you exactly what path that servant took, and you examine every inch of that trail for hiding spaces.”

“Do you have any idea what he’s up to, Inspector?”

“I can surmise. Indeed I can suppose.”

Behind his calm and meditative face, the Inspector wrung his brain. Destroying a zoo to free a moosecrab?

The Inspector waved his hand. “Tell Bookwright to come here. You are dismissed.”

The deputy stepped out the door and yawped for Bookwright. Alone, the Inspector contemplated in earnest, his fingers templed in front of his mouth, sucking at the fingertips. He had a sudden insight:

Ah! What of the zoo? Are any of the animals of value? Perhaps. He has worked for the Emperor and the Xhnar Family in the Three Cities. Magicians need esoterica, and many of those animals are rare.

He grunted and shook his head. But those creatures could be procured more readily in their native lands! He could have traveled direct to those lands to gain the obscure animal.

The moosecrab is found only in the shoals near Harmonium, he realized.

They are fallow this year.

Mehzadapt liked a good moosecrab, and he endured fallow years glumly.

But Fazgood took the crab to the river. If he wanted to eat it, he could have packed the whole creature off into a trunk of ice and headed to the city.

He blinked and shook his head again. And Fazgood is an exile. He risks being branded and maimed, yet he destroys a zoo to free a moosecrab?

And at the door last night, he made not to recognize my face or name! One can forget many things, but not almost being burned alive!

Mehzadapt muttered to the empty room. “He must have known he was followed, and performed this nonsense to keep me from knowing his true task.”

Fazgood kept the toolbag. There may be the secret.

Footsteps, Bookwright’s light scuffling steps, then that deputy entered. “Yes, Inspector?”

The Inspector looked up at the tall, slim man. “You are a splendid pickpocket. You got in trouble about that, I recall. Stealing from your captain.”

The smile weakened with the sudden, refreshed shame.

“I got you out of that difficulty. Now you can put that wondrous skill to use.”

“Yes, Inspector?”

“Listen well, Bookwright: Go to Greatsergeant’s keep. Look to all who exit there. There is an old brown toolbag that a Therihe carries. It interests me. If he leaves that keep with that bag, I want you to filch it and bring it to me. This is the subtlest matter. Use your greatest guile, as the one who you would filch is wily and on his guard. Do not disappoint.”

The scout scuffled down the hall. The Inspector rose and slipped on his blazer.

I should bring Fazgood in. But over a stolen crab? I could use that to obligate him, and find out his intentions, maybe turn him in, or get leverage on his accomplices.

Mehzadapt slid aside a hidden panel in the ablewood wall to reveal a large mirror. He checked his shoulders, and fixed his ascot. His heart pounded at the possibilities.

A Paragon being obliged to me; that would be of great use. And an army adjutant under obligation would be a luxurious reward. Perhaps this Ijkalla fellow –- the Foofaloof? — is honest; if so, then an authority from a new territory would be my new associate. If this Foofaloof is a connivance, I have exposed a fraud who has duped the civil elite.

He crushed mint drops into his handkerchief and rubbed the kerchief over his teeth. He nodded and took a breath.

Fazgood is here for some grand theft. He couldn’t possibly imagine he could sneak into Harmonium under a new identity, become a new citizen, and go undetected.

Seizing Fazgood outright would cause an uproar. The Foofaloof may prove authentic. Inquiring of the Greatsergeants is out of the question.

Any suspicion of an army officer should be reported to the police. But I am not certain of what the man might have done, am I? It would not be proper to subject the officer to investigation without at least one detail, would it?

Satisfied that his rationalization would withstand official scrutiny, he put aside all thought of contacting the police. He stepped out the door into the hallway.

That some found ambiguity comfortable, was justification enough for the Inspector to stall notifying the police.

Down the hall, a group of deputies turned the corner. They parted and kept respectful distance around a Exult.

“Inspector Mehzadapt,” crowed Inspector Akekek. She waved her underlings to stay as she walked down the hall.

Mehzadapt folded his hands solemnly and nodded.

The Exult pointed. “I have been missing your voice at the prayers for the Magnate.”

Mehzadapt resisted glancing at the listening congregants. “A matter of terrible low treason has appeared, Inspector.”

A low, clucking chuckle escaped from the feathered throat. “Treason? It must be terrible indeed, to seize the attention of the most pious Mehzadapt. You should tell me of it.”.

She would doubtless tell Mikdoktik the most useful parts of this conversation.

The man shrugged. “Would tomorrow morning suffice?”

Akekek’s eyes gave a glimmer of wariness. “That would be splendid! Intrigues over tea.”

Relief washed through Mehzadapt. His smile remained unmoved.

Akekek drew close. “Mikdoktik presses for the brigade captain’s vote at the beginning of next week. Mikdoktik wants the transition to the new regime to be smooth, with a minimum of solicitation.”

Mehzadapt’s breath stilled. A quick vote would keep Mehzadapt from bargaining with captains to support him. The Adactoid knew that. If Mikdoktik became Magnate, the Adactoid would press for a review of Mehzadapt’s competency.

He managed to snort. “Has Mikdoktik no respect for tradition? The vote is mandated to occur ten days after the magnate’s passing.”

“I agree. But the scouts need steady leadership. The ten-day rule has been set aside before in the history of the Scouts. We must show we are well-disciplined, or else the Royal Family may intervene.”

Akekek waited a rebuttal, a raptor’s gleam in her eye.

Nobody wanted the Royal Family’s attention. The Royal Family were three generations from god-head, and spoke with spirits as easily as one spoke with an accountant over tea. And the dead kept their jealousies. He was not ready for the petty dead to ruin his career of service, not when he was so close to a glorious prize like the Mad Earl.

The Inspector smiled. “When we meet tomorrow, I would like to discuss any ideas you may have about the future of the brigades.”

“’Discuss?’”

The Exult giggled. “Tomorrow, I would like to hear more than discuss. To hear about low treasons discovered. Now, I must take my leave to rest. I suspect tomorrow morning to be quite challenging.”

Akekek turned and laughed louder. She walked to her underlings, who all cast sly looks to Mehzadapt as they joined Akekek’s departure. Fear and anger swept chills through the Inspector.

She did not even entertain a negotiation! Are she and Mikdoktik so securely cemented?

He waited and listened for the fading steps of Akekek’s retinue as they descended the stairs.

Satisfied that he was alone, the Inspector strode down the stairs. He pressed through the crowded gallery with the historic fresco; he shook his hands and lamented the Magnate as he walked through the mourners. He walked out the door. Under the purpling dusk, grim Varalam waited.

Mehzadapt turned his attention to the Plaza. In the brighter north-west corner sparkled the trickling walls of the Merhiaz Nurturance. He wondered if –- yes! He did pay his tithe. The mourners began singing “The Star-Lit Path Toward Home”.

There was the jangling of chimes from the west end of the Plaza. Through the delighted crowd dashed a brown-clad member of Public Works, followed by citizens in blue and maroon and yellow. He held aloft a standard with bells of iron and brass. Long ribbons of red played from the standard and lapped and licked along the delighted bystanders.

“’Jezr-Ji!’” they cried. “They’re playing ‘Jezr-Ji!’”

“What is that strange joy?” asked Varalam.

“It is the most potent form of discernment known. The Therihe invented it,” said the Inspector. “I haven’t known a game to be played in many years.”

Their path took them straight toward the Inspector. The ribbons flitted and touched all around them.

The ribbons!

“Get in the rickshaw, deputy! Get in!”

Mehzadapt cuffed the Adactoid into the rickshaw. The Inspector dove after him. He pulled his arm away from the open side. Red ribbons slipped along the ablewood, over the driver’s back, then away through the crowd ahead of them.

He shouted at the deputy. “Did a ribbon touch you?”

Varalam cringed, despite his size. “No! But it is just a game!”

Another set of runners trotted across the far side of the Plaza. He sneered at the deputy’s ignorance.

They are assembling a Temporary God! Having a ribbon touch means that Temporary God will know what is in your heart! Your identity and desires made plain to all of Public Works!

Mehzadapt watched them disappear into the laughing throng of the Plaza.

He told the driver. “Go to the docks! Run!”

 

*         *         *

 

The door opened and a maid squinted at the drenched Earl. Through his pains, Fazgood attempted Pehzpersist’s vague expression. The maid gave a sigh of aggravation and stepped to allow the Earl enter.

He limped upstairs. Voices echoed around the hallway and down the stairs; he paused.

[Listen, Warren.]

The weasel wrestled within the jacket, fur dark with wet. The Earl tried to listen as well.

“Why don’t the merchants ever share their reports…”

“…some illness! Sometimes a new location will cause…”

“Let us pray not! He is such a splendid…”

Reported the weasel, [Calzjha feigned an illness today to get out of contemplations. It has left the congregants hungry for information.]

The Earl nodded. That would be effective, and it would make them sympathetic.

Fluxion! They will have me in there speaking about the Ijkallas!

The Earl sneaked up the last few steps. Slipping around the top of the stairs, he stepped down the hall away from the crowd, keeping close to the ablewood latticement. He ducked under the chain securing the hinged metal gatework in place.

He came to the bedroom door. He listened outside the bedroom. Hearing nothing, slipped inside and shut the door.

Calzjha lay upon the bed, asleep, dressed from the morning, hands upon her chest. The windows were shut tight, and the fan was unlit. Clouds of incense created strata in the air, the smell deeply floral and earthy. The Earl set Warren on the floor. He placed the toolbag at the foot of the bed. Quietly he slipped out of his wet blazer, shoes and pants. He found a towel and dried his clammy feet and legs.

He found a fresh set of clothes and changed as quickly as he could, considering his bruises and sprained knee. The dry clothes brought the blood back to his skin, and his spirits rallied somewhat. Still, coming back for the relish put him back in the Scout Brigade view.

If I was the brigades, I would put new stalkers on my trail, and double their number. I need another way out of the home.

On the floor, Warren rolled in the towel. He cast inscrutable looks at the Earl, but kept his council. Could weasels grimace? Even if they could, Warren would be too politic.

Distracted, the Earl considered the figure recumbent upon the bed. For an unguarded flitting of thought,

The skin of her stomach is so smooth.

Vexed with himself, he growled and walked to the window.

We had an agreement!

Behind him the sheet rustled. “You have returned.”

Newly annoyed, he said, “Yes, I know. I was here when it happened.”

Calzjha said nothing, which gave satisfaction.

[My liege, I must restate my misgivings. What you are about to do is distasteful.]

[I am on personal terms with distaste, squire. If I do not relieve this moosecrab madness, we shall all be sitting branded on the Royal Road.]

The Earl spat. “And I find that distasteful.”

“I am sorry to disturb you when you are in such a mood,” whispered Calzjha.

“What is it?”

“That you should find me distasteful…”

Sputtering, Fazgood turned and reddened. “I was speaking to Warren.”

“Ah,” she said, sounding unconvinced. “You are busy, but I need a great favor.”

“What favor?”

“I would do it myself, but I can barely walk.”

“Did I not just ask ‘What is the favor?’”

“I need for you to find a tree and bury me.”

Fazgood gasped. “What? Did something go wrong? Are you dying?”

“No. It is how my people…. It is not important. I need you to bury my testes.”

Fazgood’s concern turned to relief, and turned to self-recrimination for his concern. Then as he remembered the request, he felt his eyes bulge.

“You want me to do what?”

Calzjha unfolded her hands. In her grasp was a bundle of thick white cloth the size of two human fists.

She said, “It is important that they be interred. You know from Adanikar how important it is to my traditions that they be buried at the root of a tree. That must happen the day of they drop off.”

The words struck Fazgood as if he had bitten onto metal very hard.

Calzjha sat up, clutching the bundle close. “I would take my leave this evening and do it myself, but these last few days have been exhausting.”

The Earl replied, “I am in the middle of a job!”

Calzjha sighed. “Would this also be evidence? Please! The room is warm and close, and they would be easily noted tomorrow.”

“Put them in spices overnight! I am in a job!”

“They must be whole and untainted when buried.”

“Can’t I do it this evening when I return?”

“When will you return? It must be done before the moons rise.”

Like I need more gods angry at me if I do not.

He bit back a vicious profanity. “Yes. I will inter them. Yes.”

“Please, they must be under a tree, so that it may give new life.”

“Yes, yes. New life, yes.”

Calzjha smiled weakly, which made the Earl blink as if he had glanced at the sun. She offered the bundle. The Earl cringed.

“Wait! Wait! I must get the ice and crabs into another container! Ah! That ablewood cask looks proper!”

“It holds lotions. What smells? Crabs?”

Calzjha puzzled over the crabs and ice as Fazgood opened the cask and removed the custom-fitted bottles. Calzjha sighed at the loss of the cask, but said nothing.

The Earl scooped ice into the cask. He crouched over his task to hide it from Calzjha, and delicately placed the antler into the ice. He placed the crabs on top with another layer of ice.

“What are those crabs? Did you find a moosecrab?”

“These are no moosecrabs,” said Fazgood.

Warren began, [But –]

[And you keep our mission secret, squire.]

[I do so under strong protest.]

[Just that you do so.]

Fazgood held out the toolbag at fingertip length and shook it to indicate Calzjha place his bundle within. Saddened by the Earl’s disgust, Calzjha placed his testes into the ice. The Earl closed it firmly.

He looked around the room and found a small satchel of handkerchiefs. He shook them out onto the bed and stuck the wet bags of spice and moalflakes within. This he crammed into the cask, which latched closed with a push.

“I thank you,” said Calzjha.

Her voice was weak and it struck pity in the Earl, at which feeling he cursed and ground into powder, which he then imagined stomping upon.

Fazgood turned to the windowsill and found the gold-topped bottle of relish. The seal was intact. He removed the alarming note and stuck the bottle inside a blazer pocket.

“I am away. I shall return by dinnertime. Warren shall stay.”

“Where do you go?”

“I have an appointment in the Foreign Due.”

Puzzled, Calzjha remarked, “The crabs should enjoy the tour.”

“I promise to return.”

Warren scurried to the door jam. [My liege, please do not eat that crab’s flesh! The gods will curse you!]

[They’ve cursed me before. I will make amends.]

[The Inspector will have someone following you! You won’t be safe!]

[Squire, then your presence is best served here to tell of my troubles.]

Relieved to have bested Warren, he made quick escape before the weasel could rally a new argument. The Earl eased up the latch, picked up the toolbag by the handles, picked up the cask in both hands. He clenched his eyebrows and jaw and nudged the door open with his foot.

Goodwife Greatsergeant stood with the judge, the Mezzo-Barritone. Behind them stood Goodwife Carper, a smile twitching her face. There was no sign of Obdurate.

Respiration’s eyes narrowed. “How is the Foofaloof? His friends are concerned.”

Ah! And how she sings that word with just enough of a point, like a mosquito’s whine, noted the Earl.

“The Foofaloof will take a few visitors,” said the Earl, not feeling charitable with Calzjha’s energies. “Please let me by. I thank you.”

The judge rumbled. “Do you believe we should call a physician?”

Fazgood gazed somberly. “The exalted Foofaloof has a generous soul. It is always his way to commit more than his delicate nature can allow. Now I must pass. I thank you.”

Goodwife Carper and the judge looked to each other with guilt and alarm.

Whispered that nervous woman. “We had no idea!”

“But,” said Fazgood, “given a day of rest and prayer, the Foofaloof does recover to full health. A physician will not be necessary, though the offer is appreciated.”

Their collective alarm eased.

The judge’s finger fidgeted at his cuff. “May we speak with him?”

Fazgood stepped aside. “He would be glad for a few words.”

The Earl stepped down the hall and down the stairs. He had expected some veiled inquiry from the clever Respiration, but none came.

Perhaps she means to interrogate Warren; after I have secured a kitchen and eaten the antler, it will matter not Fabri’s follicle.

He took a rickshaw down to the Malabar Flats. The Earl did not bother looking around for stalkers, as he was certain they were in pursuit.

Fazgood paid with a coin still chilled from the rain. Sitting upon the cask with a groan, he held the cold toolbag against his knee, and listened to the water slap against the quay. There was a crowd of merchants waiting around the dock, eating from vendors, drinking from fountains, conversing.

He contemplated the toolbag with a mirthless chuckle.

I am in Harmonium. I remember swearing I would never come back unless it was to pillage. I do remember that.

If I could eat brick and wood to be done with this craving, then call me a termite. But moosecrab it must be.

And according to the note I left for myself on the relish, I had myself enchanted to have this craving, to eat a crab found only here in Harmonium, and forget the enchantment.

Why would I madden myself?

The Ferry arrived. The Earl gritted his teeth through the crowd, anxious at every surge and push. The boat filled to near capacity. Because he had a burden, the citizens around him allowed his a seat. It was too near the middle of the boat to be truly safe, but it was that or struggle with the cask and hi knee was aching again. He scrutinized his neighbors and found them acceptable.

Sunlight rippled pink upon the river and reminded him of the moosecrab still growing at the bottom. He was tired and the waves and heat made his body heavy. A strong breeze from the sea wafted over the boat. The salty sting reminded him of moosecrab, and the craving pulled at him like a hot tide and he clutched the cask tighter.

At the front of the boat, a musician played a restful air on a reed flute, which was thin like the legs of a moosecrab.

The ferry’s passage began getting choppy, and Fazgood realized he had been dozing. The Foreign Due dock approached. All stood, and he did as well. He looked around, but all he could see were blue-clad shoulders. The ferry struck the dock.

Fazgood seized the cask, but momentum tugged the bag from his grip.

An errand boy sprawled on the deck, then skittered between complaining passengers and was gone.

Fazgood straightened in his seat.

A tall, dark-complected man in a merchant coat helped the Earl up. “Someone should take these errand children to task!”

The Earl felt handles in his grip, and luggage bump his hip. “I thank you, citizen!”

He tried to look at the bag, but the crowd was too tight.

“A good day to all, stranger.” A hale smile, and the man stepped into the passing crowd.

I have to fix this accent, Fazgood considered.

The Earl rose from his seat and walked from the dock. He adjusted the cask in his hands and felt the toolbag was lighter.

Fazgood gritted his teeth to suppress a shriek. His mind flashed with an anatomy lesson spilled onto the concrete. He looked down. There was no white bundle behind him, no trail of viscera up the path. The bag still felt odd.

In his right hand, instead of the toolbag handles were two lengths of tarred rope. They were attached to a ragged carpetbag.

Filched! Someone switched the bag!

He looked around while walking. Shoulders bobbed around him, faces passed. The boy was gone.

It wouldn’t have been him. The merchant! It was a two-person bump! Such a simple maneuver! How could I be fooled by a two-person bump? I haven’t been filched in years, and the best have tried! By a two-person bump!

He looked, but knew it would do no good. Even if he caught the man, who could Fazgood complain to?

The relish!

He felt his pocket, then sneaked a peek and saw the gold stopper. His heart settled.

He could just as easily have stabbed me. Losing my edge! The only thing that may have kept me alive is that the Scouts are too thin-blooded for daylight murder.

He bit back his despair. The craving burned through him again. Then he remembered the bundle in Calzjha’s hands.

Fluxion.

He set down the cask and opened the bag, finding only a few stones and some rags to fill out the bag’s sides. Fazgood looked back at the city, the shadows deepening over the deep gray and tan buildings. He grunted and nodded.

Now they are disposed. Yes. I will tell Calzjha there are trees on the Due. She won’t know. No, she knows me too well: she will ask for details. I shall tell her that I buried them on the riverbank. Within view of the Amusatorium.

He threw the bag down, and walked within the gates. The sun dipped behind the quays and the sky turned the color of boiled moosecrab.

*         *         *

 

The moosecrab pink deepened to purple as the Inspector and four deputies stood on the Malabar Flats Ferry dock; the crowd left them much space due to their glowering. The scouts left the Inspector his space, as his glowering had set them on edge.

Tall, dark Bookwright stepped from the ferry, his proud swagger a contrast to his grim associates. Within the crowd, he resorted to euphemisms:

“I found this bag,” he said of his theft. “When our guest stood, he did look terribly distracted. Some message child bumped him, the bags got confused, and my second intern slipped away easy.”

He was filched in a two-person bump? What simple work to steal from this “Mad Earl”!

The Inspector narrowed his eyes. “Where is our guest now?”

“He is at the Due! My interns seek him. One will meet us at the dock with his location.”

“Give me the bag,” said the Inspector.

With more swaggering before his peers, the deputy handed the bag to his superior.

Mehzadapt jerked the bag open. He shoved away icy slush and picked open the cloth.

The Inspector forgot to be angry. He grimaced, then shook his head as he was honestly and thoroughly dumbfounded:

What esoteric mayhem is this man up to?

Behind Mehzadapt’s shoulder, Tlezjoy and Varalam peeked inside.

“That crab must have put up quite a fight,” Tlezjoy remarked.


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