Swathed in a purple velveteen shift, Calzjha looked back up the brick walk and waved at the blockade in front of the Terhane Residences. “Oh soldiers! Oh police! I thank you for making the Kingdom safe! If you are to gain your pass, you could come visit me in the Foreign Due!”
The soldiers looked upon her, stunned with adoration, almost red with jealousy of the captain who firmly guided her by her elbow to the Residences.
Warren peeked from the velveteen ready bag under the captain’s arm, [Shut up! We are through the gate!]
“I am so glad! Are there no comfortable shoes in the Kingdom?”
The three walked up the path to the three-story residence of the Birqmuir ambassador. The house was little different from the homes and businesses in the city below, with gables and peaked roof. In the late afternoon sun, the red brick also seemed to blush at Calzjha’s approach.
Calzjha was giddy at such strong, competent military attention. However, the captain’s pace had been measured and hard. His face was fixed, pained, and hollow.
Obdurate appraised his state from a comfortable distance: Hands are shaking a little, yes. The backs of my knees feel like cold fat. Like when I drilled for days at army camp. Or when I did the math recital with that fever. Funny I can note this with all that goes on, with forging the General’s name on the pass we just used, and smuggling fugitives into foreign hands. What a callow fool I am to believe I could do this.
Warren looked to the man. [Calzjha! Invigorate the captain! He is looking slack again!]
She pulled the captain’s arm close and massaged it along the creases in the muscles. She ran her free hand along his spine, pressing firmly along the vertebrae in a mysterious manner. Obdurate’s face tingled, and his breath became freer.
“I do not have much more nerve,” he said.
[Captain, I am about to betray a confidence: the Earl himself said you were impressive.]
The Earl? Impressive? Me?
The thoughts were as disjointed from fatigue as from surprise.
Obdurate remembered sitting in his office, daydreaming of making the Earl’s acquaintance, and gaining the man’s respect.
Was it a month ago? No,…it was not even a week past.
“I am flattered,” he muttered.
[Indeed you should be. He said you were made of stern stuff. The Earl does not impress. He avoids being impressed. You impressed him.]
They came to the narrow, lacquered door.
“I wish I could say…it actually makes a difference.”
[I believe the Earl would be impressed by that sentiment as well.]
To Obdurate’s surprise, his resolve gathered at that.
“Captain,” Calzjha released his arm and guided a strand of her hair back into place. “you should call for their attention.”
“What should I say?”
“Just call for their attention.”
The captain raised his hand to his mouth. “I call for your attention!”
Calzjha gave a musical laugh. “ Much like the Earl.”
The door slid open. Obdurate caught a glimpse of Calzjha’s eyes; they twinkled with excitement.
Appalled, he realized, Enthus! Calzjha enjoys this madness!
Standing in the doorway was a tall and broad Birquir man stood in a formal Rahsic blue tunic. His red hair and beard were woven into tight braids.
He said in sharp, precise Rahsic, with the whistling consonants of the Birquir: “You will have to make way. The ambassador must leave. No petitions accepted today.”
A twig-thin Adactoid with pale skin peered from behind the man’s shoulder.
Warren chittered! [Ambassador!]
The Adactoid’s hands rose to smack its face. “Is it true? It is true! The Public Works informed me that the Earl was in prison! I thought ‘They are spoofed!’ Yet here stands a telepathic weasel!”
Warren wriggled to stand straighter.
[I am Warren, Chief Council for the Earl of Weiquant. Whom am I addressing?]
“I am Irokoinr, ambassador for the Empire of Birqmuir.”
[I recognize your name. Would your parent be Nyroyn, who accompanied the Earl in destroying the Abomination?]
The ambassador gave a sigh of a whistle orchestra whose members were about to be asked to repay a substantial loan. “Yes.”
Warren chittered again, [Blessed day! To finally be home! We –]
The weasel caught himself, and took a breath. [On behalf of the Earl of Weiquant, a man blessed as the nobility of the god Khurkherl, Who Wields A Sword In One Hand And A Bigger Sword In The Other; the same man who –]
Irokoinr lowed, miserable. “Who saved the life of my logic-sire, Nyroyn, yes. What do you want, councilor?”
[We request repatriation. Rather, I request repatriation. This is Captain Obdurate Childteacher, Adjutant to the Army of Invitation. The Captain requests sanctuary. He will share a valuable method of numeromancy in exchange for opportunity under the Empire.]
The Adactoid peered to the grim, dazed soldier. “The Earl sent us a message of this new method.”
Calzjha brushed a sleeve against Warren to prompt him.
Warren closed his eyes and growled, then opened them: [This is Calzjha from the land called The Womb of The Artful Nurturers. She is an agent working for the Earl. This one needs a home, somewhere.]
Calzjha said, “You must help! The Earl is in prison!”
[We also request sanctuary for the Earl’s lover! She is Respiration Greatsergeant.]
The ambassador slumped further. “You wish sanctuary for her? No wonder the Emperor is spending more time communing in the Dreamland this week. He must have determined the Earl was in the hemisphere again. Enter.”
The Adactoid waved a spindly hand. The Birquir doorman guided them to a comfortable anteroom decorated with shelves holding tiny stone sculptures, and the leaning sitting stools common of households in the Empire. Another wave, and the doorman left them.
Obdurate said, “I do not go without Respiration. I will tell you nothing without her safety assured.”
“And you must spring the Earl!” cried Calzjha.
“Do not worry about the Earl and jails.”
The ambassador chuckled, puzzling over the captain’s concern for Respiration. “Any prison he is in, he is out of soon enough. You, captain, must have quite the method to have impressed the Earl.”
[I can attest to its efficacy, ambassador.]
Warren gave a brief account of the captain’s accomplishments using his method, including the tracking of General Greatsergeant.
The Adactoid considered. “It is possible that if you were to be removed from the city, that you would find ample opportunity to prove your value. But why? Why is the Earl here?”
Calzjha took it upon herself to very quickly tell of their journey to find moosecrab, which was a quest for vengeance in disguise. The ambassador shook its head.
“I stay here. What did my logic-sire used to say? My logic-sire used to say ‘Fazgood has always been a skinny smartmouth with a throwing hand. Stay out of his way, for he will lead you into danger. Who else would think to storm the Abomination via its colon?’”
The soldier exclaimed, “Yes, he is a marvel– hold a moment. ‘Colon’ did you say?”’
Both Warren and Calzjha cast their gaze around the room.
The captain pressed them. “’The Nimblest Man’ said he had crawled down the Abomination’s throat!”
“Hm!” said the ambassador. “Did you read close? Not close enough. The book used the word ‘orifice’. The book leads one to believe it as ‘throat’, but I assure you, my logic-sire was there, and it was a colon.”
Turning to his compatriots, Obdurate gasped. “You knew this?”
Warren twitched. [The world does not want heroes to wriggle up the anuses of monsters! A civilization demands a little…dignity…of its saviors.]
Her smile straining, Calzjha said, “He swore us to secrecy. Fazgood is embarrassed by it. It is still an act of astonishing bravery.”
“But the colon?!”
[This is why he swore us never to discuss it! People always have such disgust –]
The captain waved his hands in utter surrender. “Is there anything in that book that was as I believed? I do not care anymore! How will we get to the Empire?”
Shrugging nonchalantly, the ambassador leaned forward. “How would I know? A boat sails after green-night fades. It sails from the north dock at the pier beside the Customs House of the Blue Swords. All who sail on it would be conveyed around the Teplar Sea to the coast of Liedmakt. Why do I say this? I convey this for those interested in maritime schedules.”
Both the soldier and the occasional woman puzzled at that response.
[The ambassador] explained Warren, [must be circumspect, in order to delay determination. He did not tell us how to escape, only about boat schedules.]
Asked Obdurate, “Where is the Earl now?”
[The Earl has been released to the General’s custody! They are to return to the keep to move the mask to a new hiding place. He believes the General is planning a betrayal –]
At that, the adjutant grew grim. “I am not staying here! I am done with the General and his treachery! I go to Respiration!”
[We are to stay here and wait for the Earl!]
The captain threw open the door and dashed outside.
Calzjha cried, “You cannot go alone!”
She struggled to her feet and swore at the skirt. Spitting a stream of foreign frustrations, she watched Obdurate run into the dusk.
[Fluxion! Fluxion! Fluxion!] squealed Warren, [Seize this bag and after him!]
Calzjha kicked her shoes away. “How is a kingdom that calls itself healthful –“
She tore away the shift at just above the knee. “ — to have clothing where one cannot move!”
Sighed the ambassador. “Why can I not go speak with the spirits for days at a time? What bliss would that be?”
Calzjha grabbed the bag with the weasel and sprinted into the night.
* * *
Mehzadapt wiped itching and damp palms upon his jacket lapels. “What did you say?”
The deputy reported, “The police came and hustled us away. When I said we were fulfilling our duties watching the keep, the sergeant of them smacks my head and says ‘The Greatsergeants do not like your smell. Stay away, all of you!’”
The Inspector looked to the façade of the scout headquarters. The plug-hatted scouts from all over the city were still paying their respects to the magnate, but now the crowds were more idling than mourning. All passersby sneaked glances at Mehzadapt, who caught many gloating looks.
Mehzadapt unfolded the note and again read the note that had been delivered a mere half-hour before, writ in tiny scratch-like letters:
To the Scout Inspector Mehzadapt:
Our Mutual Friend seeks to relocate his gains this evening. He will have all away and be saved from scrutiny. They are securely hidden under trap. Be on watch for three casks. I may show you, if I may be brought from under lock and my exile expedited. If not, know that Our Friend will be sparely assisted. Only a few will be needed to seize the moment.
As a boy in Harmonium, I remember taking oaths with others on our names to honor my mentors. Weren’t you the red-haired chap?
The last gave him a jolt: What else does he remember? Could he have regained memory?
Mehzadapt remembered vividly the moment to which Fazgood referred. In the warehouse that would eventually prove his pyre, Uzkuk the Black Growth, leader of the Eleven Circles, had them all swear By the truth of my sacred name, the word that describes me, I will honor the Brigade of the Eleven Circles…
The first question asked of all who took civic duties, police, soldiers, civil servants: Have you ever broken an oath sworn by the truth of your name?
The old magnate had given Mezhadapt as pass as a reward for betraying the Eleven Circles. This began the Inspector’s decades of slavish support for that old man.
“Did you see the General?” he asked the deputy.
“Some soldiers are standing around outside the edge of the square. That Fazgood carried in three small black casks. Next, the servants all left, very upset.”
That leaves Greatsergeant’s wife and Fazgood inside. Greatsergeant himself would be too smart or too arrogant to do the dirty work himself. Greatsergeant is one, certainly, and the other two are dupes. Perhaps one is the captain.
“The soldiers are aiding a crime. They will either thank us later or be condemned. We go the square.”
Said a deputy, “But the police have evicted us.”
“The police will thank us or be condemned. We go in,” said the Inspector, “and make an arrest. Gather every deputy you find. Gather at the east arterial gate in one quarter hour! Go, all of you!”
The deputies scrambled across the plaza. Other scouts and passersby noted the flurry of activity, but Merhiazadapt did not care. He clapped his hand on Cornpudding’s shoulder. Deputy Cornpudding, you secure the hidden entrance.”
That deputy puffed. “I know only of the canal, but I don’t know where –“
The Inspector seized the fat man’s shoulder. “Your friend would find it quick. This is the important task at of your career. Your friend needs to insure that the Earl disappears.”
“What of the captain and that – that Foofaloof?” (((
“All of them are going on the Royal Road, no matter what the truth of this matter. But the Earl has to vanish. All will say ‘he escaped’ or some nonsense, but he will be gone. Go! Be in place by one quarter hour as the sun sets!”
“I have not enough time!”
Cornpudding jogged to a rickshaw.
* * *
Fazgood carried the first wooden cask into the kitchen and opened it.
Respiration muttered to the Earl. “Of course you send the servants away before I have them carry these upstairs.”
He removed smaller boxes, a sheaf of foolscap paper, and brushes. He placed the items beside an exposed timber. Each cask had been made as a portable secretary. They were identical: black lacquered ablewood, square, about the length of Fazgood’s forearm. The General had bought them in haste from the same woodwright, with Fazgood providing expert approval. The soldiers and the Earl brought them to the keep. The General told his wife. “Take these and help this fool move the object.”
After shutting the door, the Earl said. “I was planning your husband’s ruin. How do you fare?”
“My lover is tortured near to death, I am a pariah, and my husband is giving me orders.”
Fazgood paused on the stairs, receiving a message from Warren. He gritted his teeth. “Obdurate is well and you will see him soon. I would prefer that he stay put, but apparently he is running here and creating commotion.”
“He is well!”
“Yes, he is well! And about to complicate my plan! We must have these secretaries upstairs now!”
They hustled one secretary each upstairs to the Greatsergeant’s bedroom. His left knee tweaked a bit on the second trip up the stairs, where she carried the remaining secretary and he struggled with a large sack of dry barley.
He wiped sweat from his brow and ran down to his old bedchamber. Seeing the decanters of perfumes and unguents were still by the window, the Earl laughed and seized the gold-stoppered bottle of relish. Two fingers worth of the infernal condiment glistened through the cut glass. The Earl shoved the relish into his blazer pocket then carried the box of decanters to the top of the stairs overlooking the anteroom.
“Help me,” he said. “Find all of the liquor, all of the lamp oil, and every bottle of perfume you have. Pour them on the papers downstairs. Splash them on the furniture. Make a trail along the walls to puddle just within the hallway.”
Realization struck the Goodwife and made her gape as if slapped. “You mean to burn…”
“We do not have time to talk!”
“I know,” she said. “I had always dreamed this moment. The lamp oil is kept by the servants’ rooms. Use the cloth in your room.”
Fazgood spun and smiled at her innovation. “Yes! That is the plan! And Respiration?”
The Goodwife turned back up the stairs.
“Save that tziembroask.”
She laughed and ran downstairs.
Suddenly, the door burst open.
The captain and Calzjha stood in the anteroom, panting. Warren sprang from the basket and staggered across the floor, dizzy from being tossed about during the sprint.
Heaved the captain. “Respiration!”
“Obdurate, you idiot!” she cried.
They embraced and kissed.
The Earl said. “The soldiers! Someone bar — ”
Calzjha had already slid the bar home and secured the door. Hands pounded against it.
She turned and looked up at him, her face glowing with excitement. Her dress was torn further; a rend split well up her right thigh. Her bodice was loosened and plunged deep. Calzjha looked to the lovers embracing, then back up to the Earl.
“Well?” she said, with mock expectancy.
“Your, ah, your…ships are about to sail…” He swallowed and made to pull his hands up his chest and pointed to her.
Pinching the fabric beneath her arms and wriggling up to secure the dress anew.
Outside, someone pounded on the door.
At last! the Earl laughed.
His temper burst forth, throaty and booming. “Oil! Liquor!”
Respiration sprang to the kitchen.
“All sharp objects to me! Get ready to fight!”
All tasks were accomplished with blinding efficiency. Along the hallway of the second story, they lined cuticle knives, cutlery, hairpins, and cherished heirloom weapons along the floor. Fazgood handled all of them, remembering their balance and weight. He snatched up the remaining bottle of tziembroask.
“Stay up here,” he said to the assembled group. “when the Inspector comes, remember your lies from Warren’s script.”
He marched to the contemplation room, now stripped of the tiny paintings of ancestors and the fine crafted furniture. He walked to the window facing Lanthornmount Square.
Beneath, Greatsergeant’s voice cursed.
Across the Square, near the tea vendor, stood a short man with copper-hair.
Fazgood waved to Mehzadapt, beckoning.