25 06 2014

Standing beside his seat in the back of the classroom, Fazgood continued the recitation. “Sagacious, expository, infusive, crystalline, asexual and sexual. Those are the six forms of reproduction found within the Kingdom, Citizen Customary.”

Kitpoktik’s eyes were narrow, grim slits. His jaw clenched. “Did you recite all six, Pehzpersist? Yes, you did recite all six.”

The Earl sat back down, and received the puzzled amazement of his fellow aspirants with a gentle smile. Kitpoktik whirled to the blackboard and returned to the review of biologies.

Fazgood thought, [Your biology studies have given you great advantage, squire.]

[Thank you, my liege.]

Calzjha glanced over, her look of haughty Foofaloof affirmation, followed by an annoyed, knowing Calzjha frown. The Earl suppressed a smile.

[This is the third time the customary has called upon me this morning. Has our customary decided to find reason to have me evicted?]

[Perhaps if you hadn’t dozed through all the classes, my liege.]

[I doubt I’ll be sleeping this morning. Kitpoktik was never this interesting before.]


“Yes, customary?” he blinked innocently.

The customary’s face pinched from concentration. The Earl knew Kitpoktik was looking for any sign of note-glancing or Foofaloof-prompting.

“What,” said the customary, “ is the school leaving age of the eight races?”

Fazgood kept his gaze even and unblinking, straight into the eyes of the inquisitor.

[Have at it! I can handle any customary’s task.]

The Earl rose to his feet, [Do not get full of yourself, Warren. Keep your mind on the subject.]

[Yes, my liege. For Exult fledglings, it is twelve years. For Adactoid offspring, it is after the answering of their Second Question. For Booloob squeaks: the successful recitation of the Plasticising Warble.]

“Customary, for Exult fledglings, it is… (he made to grasp for the answer)…twelve years. For Adactoid offspring: after the answering of their Third Question. For Booloob squeaks: it –”

Kitpoktik pounced!

“Is it the Third Question for Adactoid offspring? It is not! Such an Adactoid should have graduated from guild apprenticeship! Who can answer this question? Khuoro can answer this question!”

Fazgood bowed his head and sat. He did note that his classmates looked upon him with curt nods, satisfied and impressed with his efforts.

[But I knew that!] sulked the weasel.

[If we look too clever, we stand out. We must allow the occasional mistake so to save the esteem of the other students, and avoid the customary’s curiosity.]

[The octopus’s lament, my liege.]

[Indeed,] thought the Earl, not knowing entirely what was meant.

The basket rustled, [To be clever enough to hide so well, yet not have anyone know of the cleverness. From the old Adanikarese poem.]

[Ah! But I knew that.]

[I am sure you did, my liege.]

Fazgood glared at the basket and kept his thought to himself:

One of these days, I really ought to study books.

Then with a snort: But “school leaving age”? Those are not useful questions! How do you pick members of a rival Birqmuir clan from a crowd? What is the best bribe for an Adanikarese petty noble? What salutation will keep any assassin from killing you? What the average citizen learns is a bucket of mud!

After the class was dismissed, the aspirants gathered on the still, sun-bright porch for lunch of cold barley and fish sauce. They squeezed into the shadows along the purple brick wall as best they could and chatted.

Khuro dipped a corner of roots into river water. “Did you see the Cumulid decked for jezr-ji? What fun it was!”

Interjected the husband, “We ran up the Arterial to catch it!”

Both Calzjha and Fazgood’s breath stopped.

Khuoro said, “Last night, we watched it sweep over the Amusatorium. We ran to catch up with it, but it had drifted north and along the canals.”

Others chimed in:

“We saw people playing in the streamers, like they were under a great flower!”

“Do you think it will come out again tonight?”

“We were sad that you were not with us!”

Both Calzjha and Fazgood shrugged off and made half-promises to join them that evening. In the chatter, the Earl started mumbling many imprecations and pleadings to very many gods.


*         *         *


As Fazgood had been answering questions at the customary, at that same time, Obdurate was watching the army lotcaster assemble the sympatile. As she did so, Obdurate remembered what the Earl had told him last night, between smacking lips from the bitter tziembroask:

“The General has confirmed all he can through his lotcaster, without raising suspicion. But he cannot dare ask the lotcaster how much we know. The General has no immediate means of communicating other than through the army.

“It is your responsibility that the General know what we want him to, and no more.”

The symaptile was assembled. Obdurate noted that the leaves in the trees appeared to glow in the sun. He had not noted this the day before, nor how loud the sparrows seemed. He sat upon the chair, his chest tight, and rapped the red wood frame. He moved the hoop to spell his name.

The response: “Greatsergeant. Where is my wife?”

“I have told her you must speak with her. She will not.”

“What did she say?”

Last night, Obdurate had imagined the response to this question from the General. Fazgood thought the response splendid, and Respiration tweaked the words to her style:

“She said, ‘Surely he has greater concerns, or soon will, when the curse is lifted.’”

The hoop thrashed. “What does she mean? Tell!”

“I do not know.”

“You are lying! I can tell you are lying!”

“She said those exact words.”

Which was the truth; Fazgood was very helpful in explaining how a conscience works. Did she speak that actual phrase? Yes, she did. Therefore, it was not a lie.

Obdurate swallowed, his mouth sticky.

But the General would not allow that easy glibness. “You know more than you tell.”

“I do not. I have told all.”

A pause, then: “You do not have to protect her. She is my wife. I love her, and disregard her mistakes.”

“I do not know what you mean.”

“What she has risked, I will ignore.”

“I do not know what you mean.”

Another pause. Heat seemed to pour from the board. The letters seemed like cinders, so much that he expected scorching to spread and set the wood alight.

Obdurate grasped the hoop. “Are you still there?”

The hoop jumped. It slid precisely. “Yes.”

The wind stirred, brushing tiny things past his eyelashes. Was the air above the board wavering with the heat?

The hoop moved in sweeps to land upon each letter, then adjusted upon it infinitesimally:

“I have work to attend to. Let them do what they may. I will be in negotiations tomorrow with the Ijakallans.”

The red frame rapped so hard it shook. The General had ended the conversation.

Obdurate rapped lightly. He looked up from the sympatile. The sunlit courtyard was already warm. Across, along the wall, bramblerose trees stood in the shadows.

The adjutant tried to distract himself, Back home, the diaphenes would be blooming now. Such a touching transluscent purple, one would think that spirits would weep such things.

The lotcaster got up from her seat and unsnapped the sympatile partition with smooth, practiced movements. She glanced at Obdurate, then quickly back to her work. Obdurate realized that though she did not know the dialogue that had taken place, his expression must be very unsettled.

He thought of saying something casual to dispel that impression, but he knew that his effort would make him seem even more nervous.

Certainly, if it weren’t for Respiration, and yes Calzjha, I would be quaking with fear.


*         *         *


Walking into the headquarters of the Scout Brigades, the Earl’s stomach grumbled and seared, as it usually did lately. It was best for many reasons to eat light when he had a plan in play. It was also best to avoid tea, syrups, powdered condiments, any cooked legume, any herbal remedies, inhaled substances of any kind, the wearing of colognes, dangling jewelry, blue eyeglasses, snug-fitting suits, passing any glass without checking reflections, and cursing the many gods who took an interest in him.

Fazgood trotted up the stairs, following Tlezjoy, whose expression was sullen and seething.

“Is your mood well?” asked the Earl.

Tlezjoy said nothing.

“Did you have a quarrel with the Inspector?”

The deputy spat. “Shut up.”

The Earl smiled to himself as he was shown down the hallway of draped alcoves. They walked to a different niche, the one at the end of the hallway. The Inspector waited, alone, his rubbing fingertips revealing his anticipation. He dismissed the deputy with a glare.

“Did you enjoy yesterday’s walk?” the Inspector asked Fazgood.

“It was very educational.”

“Good. See that you learn.”

The Inspector’s voice was sharp, and Fazgood found himself twitching to avoid an anticipated slap.

“I think,” said Mehzadapt, “ that we ought to discuss General Greatsergeant.”

“Indeed,” said the Earl.

“Tell me about how he swindled the Army.”

“He did not swindle the Army. He promised undue influence to a group of Ijkallan magicians.”

“Then tell me.”

Fazgood told the Adanikarese’s favorite method of subverting a new trade partner, but inserted “The General.” He placed General Greatsergeant in the role of the subversive, and invented the Ijkallan government as a contemplative republic (“a bunch of slow-moving dupes”).

“Secret gifts of gold and silver jewelry were made to the General. Well-made stuff. Good value. We, the Foofaloof and I, had the precious metals sold and deposited in an account for the General, who told his wife. But the adjutant found the account, and wanted in.”

The Inspector crossed his arms: “Greatsergeant could have took the money and told the magicians to scram, then had them arrested. The General would have gotten around easier if he had told the Scout Brigades. We would have protected him from magicians for the right price.”

Looking to his shoes, the Earl replied, “He…ah…he has low opinion of the brigades. He is one of those who feel you should be disbanded.”

“Then the General has spent too many years away and has lost his traditions. Let him spend more.”

“He is a paragon.”

Mehzadapt sneered. “Born into such influence! Trusted with a mission to expand the kingdom! He could become Marshall of the Army! Prime Minister!”

“His family,” said the Earl, “is such a sad tale.”

“Who knows what that is about? A melancholy in his blood. His rewards more than compensate for sad sap.”

“But further prying will enrage him more. He’s a general! And a paragon! You shouldn’t treat him so lightly!”

“He has such a low opinion of my kind, perhaps we should get acquainted.”

The Earl puffed. “You would write a letter to him? Speak with him? That would be such a mistake.”

“Are you always so nervous? My deputies tell me that you were a spymaster in the Three Cities.”

“The Xhnar family press-ganged me! I was almost murdered, more than a few times! I got out at the first opportunity.”

“The book tells that you found the Satirist’s spy network and captured his assassins.”

“Ha!” Fazgood leaned close. “Grandfar Xhnar would have you think that. He surrounded me with excellent people, then waved me aloft in public for the assassins to slay. Whoever wrote that book took Grandfar’s word.”

Mehzadapt looked at the Earl in disbelief. The Earl focused his gaze just above the Inspector’s eyes, to give the impression of directly gazed sincerity. Both men knew that the Print Guild did not publish lies. The Print Guilds received carefully-vetted approval for every book offered, from the Public Works and the Royal Family. But the Royal Family were also inscrutable, and made allowances that made no sense until years, even decades later.

The Inspector shrugged and looked Fazgood over. “Leave home and Compact, and that’s what sort of rule you get.”

Fazgood bit his tongue and waited for his words to work on the Inspector.

Mehzadapt asked questions to trip the Earl up, and so locate a lie. But having accepted the premise of the General’s corruption, and being greedy for it to be true, the Inspector had stopped examining the foundation of the tale. The Earl purposefully made mistakes in re-telling the tale, so to make the Inspector feel valuable; the inconsistencies were explained away with other lies that the Inspector found more acceptable. By the end, the Inspector was fuming and distracted.

“Would he let crime run loose?” Mehzadapt muttered. “Would he let generations of our ancestors be devoted, then say ‘Get off our doorstep. You mean nothing to us.’ Ingrate.”

Warned the Earl, “If he was ever to return and assume a role in civil society, he could –”

“If that were to happen, expect the scout brigades to be more organized, with greater respect for tradition.”


“You have shown use today. Go back to your den of traitors and wait for instructions. Return tomorrow and tell me all that you hear or see. Continue checking in with whichever deputy is posted every six hours.”

Fazgood made quick scuttle from the alcove and out of the somber headquarters, lest the inspector add to his new hardship.

“Tell me all that you hear or see.”

Merhiazadapt is changing the phrasing of his instructions to catch me in a lie. Looks like I will be sleeping early tonight. I cannot go upstairs tonight, nor can I discuss plans with the others.

His heart dipped that he would not see Respiration in the dark. In her dim-lit chamber, against the white nightdress, her skin shone like polished onyx. But, then again, Fazgood found it increasingly wearisome to leave the chamber to that young dolt soldier (a well-intending fellow, yes, but all dolts mean well).

How doltish could he be? That method of gathering numbers from the achievements of one’s life, and determining from that information…that is so simple it is gifted. Knowing that could come in very useful; it could be used to bargain with the Cacaphoness or the Xhnar, or even the Emperor, if I needed to buy my way from under a rump.

Fazgood remembered from a few nights ago, from Warren’s perspective, the quick glance of the soldier with both Respiration and Calzjha. The Earl snorted ruefully.

Something for the soldier to remember when he is ignoring his grandchildren.

No. It was no lustful tryst. Calzjha’s race didn’t countenance rampant rutting. All physical touch was meant to be soothing, harmonious and enlightening; Khuoro’s studies were still focused and confident, thanks to the ingestion of Calzjha’s blood and sweat and seed that first night.

Calzjha’s skin is always flawless. Not voluptuous either, but always of kind proportion and this is *why* I always have Calzjha stay male. I do not need that distraction!

It has been so long since I have rutted, I really do not miss it. Not that I did it well when married.

He entered Lanthornmount Square, and decided to find a beannut vendor. He made to sip at a fountain, looked around at the people and the sky, then turned his mind back to the problem at hand:

Mehzadapt has five days until the Magnateship vote. He must win that vote or he will be ruined. What can I give him? I have to tell him everything I hear or see. There needs to be a conspiracy discussed for me to see.

Then the Earl was struck with an idea.

“Gods,” laughed the Earl softly. “That solves a problem. This calls for beannuts and some soup.”

He hastened to vendors and bought lunch.

At the vendor, he noted the scout on duty that day was the one who had deftly picked the toolbag at the Malabar Flats Ferry. The Earl took great joy in forgiving the man, inviting him to chat, and challenging his fortitude to a taste of relish. After a few questions about the Inspector, the man bade the Earl well and went back to his post across the square, his mood much more hateful toward Mehzadapt.

The Earl sat at a bench and brought out his bottle of relish. It was still half-full. He tapped a drop into the soup and stirred, and quickly ate. The heat stabbed his stomach, yet filled him with resolve. The pain also made him angry, which heightened his resolve further. He contacted his familiar.

[Warren,] thought the Earl, [I am under obligation. Note me very carefully, for I must report all I hear or see to the Inspector.]

That worthy’s pity was palpable. [You poor man. What now?]

Fazgood used his pinky fingernail to pick a beannut seed from between his teeth, [I will be at the keep soon. Please tell all not to speak about the conspiracy; I cannot even risk overhearing whispers. I will help Calzjha with the afternoon speech to the contemplators.]

Warren thought, [I will draw Calzjha’s attention at once and convey your messages. Obdurate took a moment and told me of his sympatile with the general this morning. According to the captain, it went very well.]

[Was the captain telling the truth?]

[He truly believes he did well, and concealed nothing. He is nervous, though.]

The Earl chuckled, [It is good for him. Squire, do you still like playwriting?]

[Why…I suppose. We have been rather busy.]

[Sir, I need for you to imagine a scenario with dialogue.]

The Earl provided the particulars of the desired scene and released Warren until late that evening so to craft his wordwork.

Fazgood returned the soupbowl to the vendor and strolled across the square to Greatsergeant Keep. The first of the contemplators had arrived and, as usual, chatted in a noisy knot around the Foofaloof, each looking for an opportunity to step into conversation. No one noted Fazgood’s entrance into the room.

He approached Respiration. “I would like to set the Brumpf up in our room. And I would need paper, water and an inkstone.”

All were provided, and the grateful playwright was set next to the window on a flat trunk. The weasel immediately set his paw into the dish of water, flicked the excess, daubed a finger in the inkstone and set to scratching in tiny print.

Fazgood noted Warren’s thoughts, [Ah! If she says…. No! Then he would say, yes!]

From in front of the closed door, Respiration shook her head. “Such a talented retinue. What does he write?”

“You will know soon enough. Do you have the reports on the Ijkallas?”

“They are beside the bed. Still unopened.”

She sounded as annoyed as he was at Calzjha’s lack of initiative.

“Fret not, I shall help with the presentation today. How fares your morning?”

“Better now that your schedule has opened up. Contemplation is like swimming in deep-water lately.”

“Shall we?”

The Earl tucked the folio of reports under his arm. They walked to contemplations.

After a brief introduction and a chorus to show appreciation, the Foofaloof and Pehzpersist presented themselves before the crowd. Pehzpersist stepped forward and spoke:

“With your indulgence, I grant that I will speak on the economy of the Ijkallas. This subject is more to my knowledge, as the Foofaloof is educated more in matters of the spirit. He had not said as much before, because he is a kind man and did not wish to disappoint his new friends.”

The Earl opened the folio of reports and set them upon a table. He looked directly at the frowning Mezzo-Barritone of the Royal Judiciary and smiled. “I would like to elaborate on this splendid documentation.”


*         *         *


That evening, after the most relaxed dinner since their arrival, the Earl retired early, after the anthem. He brought a small dish of legume stew up to the bedroom for Warren, and mixed some of the favored sauce that came with the box from Adanikar. He entered to find the weasel surrounded by inky papers, and staring intently out the window, oblivious to his liege’s entrance. Fazgood kept quiet, and set the plate beside Warren quietly to avoid disturbing his work. The Earl lay upon the bed and slept.

Later, Calzjha entered. At the appointed time, they roused the Earl, then Calzjha and Warren sneaked upstairs with a sheaf of papers writ upon by Warren. The Earl waited a count of two hundred, then proceeded upstairs.

He opened the door and slipped into Respiration’s bedroom. Around the room, in the conspirators sat in their usual locations, Respiration at the desk, Obdurate on the bed, Calzjha beside him, Warren near the door jamb.

Respiration spoke, as if repeating words from a voice only she could hear, “There…there you are, you wretch.”

‘Yes!” said Obdurate stiffly, staring at the weasel. “We have much undue suspicion direct upon us already. Where do you go in the afternoons?”

The Earl waited for his prompt from Warren, who was playwright, director and stage manager for the production.

[“I was wandering past abodes and a-worksplaces, as is my wont. For I learn more through a-watching than do all the sages through consterned studies thereby.”]

The Earl was then reminded the degree of Warren’s love of language. He suppressed an annoyed mutter and spoke his line.

The other three conspirators looked upon him, stunned by the florid statement. Respiration sucked in her cheeks to avoid laughing.

Said Obdurate, “’I suspect vile treachery!’”

“’I think that as well,’” said Calzjha, primly yet with tense annoyance, “’for I am silly and easily swayed.’”

Respiration took a breath, which shuddered with clenched laughter. “’Out with your truth, you lousy fence. Are you to determine us to the police as your patsies? That’s a magic you will regret and regret hard.’”

“’I’m a soldier. His blood will sluice over my blade with ease.’”

Prompted Warren, [Your threats bore me, as my blade would bore through you.]

Fazgood spoke his line, and actually thought it had a good turn.

“Enough of the prattling,” said the goodwife. “Where do you go? We hired a tail, and he saw you skulking into the scout headquarters!”

The Earl followed the prompts: “I owe grevious indebtedness from fell gambling, as I have told you before. I forestall their action with assurances and small payments. Money would propel us from your society.”

Respiration glanced at Obdurate. “’What of that? Where lies his payoff?’”

From the door jamb, Warren rustled through his ink-scratched papers.

Obdurate translated the thoughts Warren projected. “’Wait…wrong pa –‘“

The soldier smartly bit his tongue to keep from speaking words which would spoil the illusion being created for the Inspector. The performers waited in the dark; Obdurate and Calzjha looked restless and concerned, but the Earl gave them a tiny wave to encourage patience. The goodwife choked down another fit of giggles.

Obdurate looked to Warren and said finally. “’Ah! Let me kill him. Who is going to miss him?’”

“’I would not,’” said Calzjha. “’For I lack any…any depth of character?! Beyond my sensual studies?!’”

The last was added with exasperation.

Respiration took another shuddering breath. “’Shut both your noise-holes! The time has past for any saline-spilling. Where is their payoff?’”

The captain said. “’The banker is giving me grief. He will not give the amount in specie.’”

“’A lowly banker? I will see to him,’” said the goodwife. “’I will crush that little weed for crossing me.’”

The Earl said, “’So I must await another evening? This is not an inconvenience. Your board and larder is more than adequate. But another day in our clutches is another day where all may be discovered, determined, or deduced.’”

Respiration mustered an authentic sneer. “’Go scuff some flagstones, thief. We have business to discuss.’”

“’Why can’t I stay?’”

“’Start scuffing, I said.’”

The Earl gathered Warren and, leaving his rustling documents for Obdurate to dispose of when he departed later, slipped out the door.

In the hallway, the weasel looked up with black marble eyes filled with hope.

[Did it satisfy, my liege?]

[It filled the requirements splendidly, squire. I can go to the Inspector and tell him all I heard and saw, and he will have to believe.]

Wareen nodded happily. [I tried to make Respiration more the boss of the conspiracy, as you instructed before I wrote.]

[Noted and noticed, squire.]

[Ah! Good! I tried to capture the essence of the other characters otherwise. I didn’t have much time.]

[It was splendid. I believe Goodwife Greatsergeant enjoyed her role.]

The Earl peered down the stairs. He began skulking down.

Warren thought, [I thought I saw Calzjha making faces.]




Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: