Chapter 3: A Leisurely Day in a Foreign City
Of course, all of this is relevant only if the reader is familiar with the Tallian legend concerning the arrival of Oblarra, the Red Moon. Since this book must inevitably fall into the hands of those that know nothing of this ancient story (or any of its many variants), let me give a quick accounting as I understand it. For those that know the legend – some in most exhaustive detail – i beg your pardon for the repetition and also for any minor inaccuracies. Please feel free to skip this simplified summary.
This is how I know the tale:
There was a time when Luna was whole and the night light was a reflective white. In the sky, she stood second only to the Sun, and their dance was peaceful.
Then, from the dark recesses of space, something approached: a speck, the briefest dot. Most people didn't notice this Interloper until it attempted to pass Tunsar the Time Keeper. The two sparked and dazzled the locals with their distant lightning – all of which made Oblarra glow a menacing red. Then, the dark intruder drifted away from Tusnar and continued on her course. She dimmed and disappeared back into the murk of night.
Over the years, Oblarra emerged again and again as she slowly circled inward among the infinities. None of the infinities were pleased with her presence, though none of them showed it so much as Sram. Oblarra approached the Chief God of War and great arches of energy swirled, rippled, and spun between the two. These tumultuous bolts lit the sky for days at a time and shook the very earth with cataclysmic booms before they snapped and disappeared into the surrounding void.
Despite the savage assault, Oblarra would not be denied. She danced away once more – only now she was close enough to remain visible in the dark night sky.
And she continued to grow.
Eventually, Luna proved to be Oblarra's target. Luna struggled with the angry Interloper above the very heads of our ancestors, and the thunder of it caused no end of difficulties for the world's inhabitants. Energies rippled and surged between the two moons as their violent dance shook and deafened the natives. Sparks shot between them and often struck the Earth. Volcanoes erupted, storms surged, the very earth heaved. The disruptions lasted for weeks. In Odim's histories, it is said this cataclysm "birthed mountains" and "sunk the hills with sea". The great civilizations of the day were all but destroyed.
As the war of the infinities continued above them, the battered peoples of the planet cowered and mourned their mounting losses. There was much fear that the gods had judged the world and found it wanting – but the destruction eventually subsided. Oblarra settled into her current orbit around the Earth, still at cross angles with the other infinities – only now she swam in a sky full of Luna's rubble. Where Luna once stood, a million billion pieces of shiny white rock spun about the night sky – most of which followed the moon's original trajectory and formed a thin ring of debris. When Oblarra crosses too near the debris, some of it invariably hits the planet. Survivors emerged from the destruction and began the slow process of rebuilding. They need only look up to remember what happened – and if they didn't want to remember, occasionally stones fell and reminded them anyway.
Two other items of celestial import are said to have taken place as Oblarra tracked across the heavens and settled around the Earth. Nevus, that most lovely nymph and Keeper of the Heart, took her current position around Jupi, the Benevolent Mother. Also, Trismegist, the Mercurial Rake, took up course around the Earth – though a good distance beyond Oblarra. It is said that Nevus used to circle the Sun, closer than the Earth, and that Trismegist circled the Sun inferior even to that – if such impossible things might be believed. Of course, all of this is said to have happened a thousand generations ago, so who can possibly pretend to know the truth of it?
- The Elder Races of the World: Considerations, Arguments, and Refutations, by Aogostua Veribos, page 73
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Despite the loss of his men, Creigal still wanted to find Humbert. "We came all the way out here. If he's in town, I'd like to know it."
I'll go," Baet agreed. "I'm the only one to do it. If we were in the south where Borz are plentiful..." he looked at Carringten and shrugged.
Both guards knew the duke couldn't go. He was a brazen man at times, but every watchman in Wibbeley was likely looking for him, and far too many probably knew what he looked like. On the other hand, Baet had a common countenance, especially with a few days' dirt behind his ears. He was perfect for this mission. Indeed, he was a trained spy, sneak, and opportunist.
After several glances between his two remaining guards, Creigal agreed. He gave Baet a nod.
"When I find the weasel, what do you want me to do with him?" Baet asked. "I'd offer to bring him out, but..." he let the sentence hang.
Creigal leaned in close. "If this man has my treasure, then he is guilty. If this man is guilty, then I would have blood for our troubles."
Baet nodded at the roundabout order and thought it'd be his pleasure to bleed Humbert dry.
"He stole a good deal of coin," Creigal continued. "Gold, silver, copper, and two fanciful weapons – a musket with a pearl handle and a dagger with a gold filigree hilt. Above all, I want my daughter's necklace," he locked eyes with the junior guard. "It's a locket upon a silver chain and bares the likeness of her mother inside. If you bring me nothing else, recover that necklace."
"Silver?" Baet asked, though he quickly put the question aside. It wasn't his place to ask. He was simply surprised that the trinket should be of such a common material. They charged to the far side of the Saot Kingdom for mere silver?
Carringten had additional orders for Baet as he escorted the junior guard to the door of the small barn. "Be back before sunrise tomorrow or make your own way to Gaurring Heart," he said as he clapped Baet on the shoulder. "Beware: it could be nothing more than a trap," he concluded.
Despite a solemn countenance, Baet left the barn in high spirits. He thought it was a grand development that he should search for Humbert alone. He didn't want to admit it, but he was more than a passing acquaintance to the thief. Just a few months prior, Baet thought of Humbert as a gambling buddy. As they gambled, Baet incurred a good bit of debt to the minor court clerk. They continued to play, and Humbert frequently questioned Baet about his work.
One night, as Baet's debt grew a bit wild and the clerk's questions became a bit too candid, Baet called the clerk on his bad behavior. In a smooth and pious manner, Humbert apologized and swore that the information would do him a deal of good while causing no real harm to the duke, "after all, I'm working on a report for the duke's own judges," he noted. In a flourish of affected humility, Humbert promised to drop the debt Baet owed him, if only this one last question was answered.
For too long, Baet considered the request – it was a debt of two gold sovereign, half a year at a poke's pay. The question was admittedly of minor importance, just a bit of formality in most ways. Conflicted as he was, Baet answered the question. He considered it a minor indiscretion, but it was crack in the dam, a place for the waters of his own destruction to gain footing.
Two months later, Humbert gave Baet a gold sovereign so he "might have a bit of a stroll about the duke's garden – to collect a few seeds," as the clerk put it. Creigal was away. A skeleton crew kept the house. No important persons were at risk and no one was likely to see him. Another moment of weakness struck the guard, and Baet allowed Humbert onto the Manse's grounds.
Baet leaned against the arch of his post as he watched the clerk poke about the flowers and trees of the duke's private garden. He only turned for a second – to find the clerk had slipped away among the thick foliage. With a frown, Baet marched into the dark mass of vegetation and pushed among the larger plants, where a person might hide. He brushed past massive hedges full of all sorts of flowers and fruits – and no few thorns and stickers to go along with it. He cursed as he brushed passed the uninviting plants.
After a few minutes of not finding Humbert, Baet began to run. Next, he tried backtracking. Several times, he held still and listened for his quarry, all as he muttered curses under his breath. When Baet arrived at the far end of the fields and saw Carringten making the rounds, he realized he'd been away from post for maybe a quarter of an hour already. Humbert could be just about anywhere on the grounds! Baet's chest began to tighten. A panic set in. He didn't know what else to do, so he returned to his post and prayed nobody noticed he was ever missing. With any luck, one of the other guards would catch Humbert – unless Humbert was a squealer. In that case, it was best to hope Humbert chickened out and simply abandoned the Manse and it's grounds altogether. Baet returned to his post. He leaned against the archway, then turned to see Carringten come around the corner. Carringten nodded and seemed to sense nothing amiss as he continued on his rounds.
Baet wasn't sure if the duke ever figured out how the clerk managed to get onto the property – though Creigal managed to figure out who the thief was with uncanny quickness. Indeed, Baet had no idea what the duke might know about that night – and he wasn't about to ask. When Carringten first approached and ordered Baet to follow, Baet thought he was caught. Instead, Baet found himself part of a select guard escorting the duke on a clandestine mission to retrieve his stolen treasure – which was apparently nothing more than a silver necklace? Baet frowned to consider it as he thumbed the gold sovereign Humbert gave him.
The light gold coin was a good deal closer to a cabin near Haver's Port – or so goes the lure – but if Humbert and Banifourd were in cahoots, then the sovereign they gave Baet was blood money. The duke was a noble and just man, and it rankled Baet to think that he almost handed Creigal over to his enemies. He assigned a fair amount of blame to the other perpetrators, but he recognized that he'd played his part. But now he had a chance to rectify it – and with no one to witness the confrontation should Humbert try to shame him for his failure! Baet thought it was a glorious development!
In such spirits, Baet trudged along the road in the ill-fitting clothes of his dear friend, Haddelton. The night before, as they made their escape, Creigal mistook Haddelton's supplies for Baet's own, and since he escaped wearing nothing but his boots and underwear, Baet was forced to wear the slimmer, longer garments of his lanky best friend. The outfit bit and pinched at the joints and constantly rolled over his hands and under his boots. Thank the gods Baet maintained possession of his boots! Haddelton's spare riders were far too thin to even consider! To think of wearing such evil shoes with glass still in his foot made Baet cringe.
By late morning, Baet reached his destination and decided to take the direct approach. With any luck, a surprised Humbert would answer the door. Then – after beating the duke's treasure out of him – Baet would stick him with Haddelton's long knife and find himself with another weapon to name. With a grin, he decided to call it Haddie's Revenge.
"Yes, yes..." an unfamiliar voice called through the door. Baet frowned to hear it. The door opened and a man in blue and white glared back at the ill-dressed stranger before him. "What ya want?" the guard snapped.
Baet glanced past the guard. The apartment most immediately went down a long hall and opened into a sitting area. At the back of the room sat Garf in full view of the door. A flush of anger overcame the traitor's face as he stared back at Baet.
"You!" Garf roared as he picked a loaded crossbow off a table and leveled it at the door.
"Balls," Baet muttered.
The guard in the doorway grabbed at his sword. Baet didn't bother to go for a weapon. He hit the guard in the neck and grabbed the door's handle. As the guard reeled back, Baet slammed the door shut. The door trembled as the crossbow bolt struck it with a solid whack. The wood of the door split and the tip of the bolt poked through. Wide eyed, Baet turned from the wicked edged chevron and ran down the steps. He winced as he favored his right foot and limp-ran into an alley.
The alley forked. Baet stopped and turned. He pulled Thunder Maker from its sheath and leveled the weapon at the entrance. It was bit of a bluff. If Baet fired, guards would come running from any and every direction – but if he could get a clean shot at Garf, or possibly Banifourd...
Several guards in blue and white approached the far end of the alley, saw the musket, and broke for cover. Baet didn't get a good bead on any of them, and so he didn't risk a shot. Instead, he holstered the weapon and ran on. He couldn't allow himself to be flanked. If he was caught, there was nothing but torture and death ahead of him. He hopped a couple fences as he criss-crossed north and west through a residential district. His side ached where the arrow grazed him. His foot throbbed as the glass pounded deeper into his sole. He told himself it was his life if he were caught, and ran on with clenched teeth. For a good dozen blocks, he ran, jumped, and dodged like the very devil was after him.
Winded, Baet stopped and listened. There was no more sound of pursuit. Ahead of him and to his left, he could hear a crowd on the street. He eased forward and found himself around the corner to a long row of shops and booths mostly with rugs, textiles, and clothes. With a smile, he peeled off his cloak, pitched it over a fence, and walked into the market, intent to get lost among the vendors. While he considered his next action, he figured he could at least find a new change of clothes – one that fit.
The market stretched on and on. All the necessities were available as thousands of people moseyed about. Baet bought a comfortable outfit and a warm white hat with fur trim. He also bought a new cloak: white with fanciful red stitching. The cloak looked good with the new cap. Although it cost him six lunes, Baet went from every other man on the street to a man of means. He looked perhaps a bit of a dandy, all sparkly and new, but the cloth was a strong and comfortable material. He felt they'd last the length of the journey – if only he managed to keep them. It was certainly nice to wear something that fit, and even nicer that it was clean. Best of all, Baet looked nothing like before in Haddelton's tight and overly long travel clothes.
As Baet paid for the garments, he realized the red sigil of Gaurring sat exposed on Haddelton's undershirt. The undershirt sat on top of the neat pile of Haddelton's old clothes. Baet's heart leaped as the clerk looked down at the symbol and put his hand on it. "For two bits I'll give you a sack for your ol' stuff," he offered.
Baet smiled and gave the man a nod. He turned to the door and caught sight of a rack filled with soft-looking socks. "How much for these?" He asked, as he pulled a pair off the rack and set them on the burlap sack full of Haddelton's old clothes.
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Carringten sat in the door of the barn and looked out over the countryside. Creigal slept as there was little to do but worry and wait while Baet snuck about Wibbeley. The sun approached its zenith and the duke finally took leave of his blankets. He joined his captain at the barn's door, as Carringten looked out over the countryside.
"Morning," Creigal smiled.
"Barely," Carringten looked up at the sun. "And how are you?"
"Better days," Creigal shrugged. "Feelin' a bit of a fool."
"Life is folly," Carringten noted as he stared out over the fields.
"We could be safe, in Gaurring," Creigal replied. "Vearing, Marik, Haddelton; the lot of 'em still with us."
"Including Willem," Carringten noted. "And we might not be safe at all. I distinctly remember two botched assassinations in the halls of your own manse – and a number of dead guards that attended both." He shook his head. "Its a sad existence to beg for safety. Now at least we have adventure."
"Is that what you call this?" Creigal asked. "And yet, you justify my position. We would not be here at all if I did not insist on it."
"We would not be here if Humbert did not steal from you," Carringten noted.
"Still, I would not feel so bad if this adventure was not purchased with the death of such good men," Creigal shrugged. "I wonder if I have spent them foolishly."
"I am sorry for your men," Carringten put a hand on the duke's shoulder. "They would be pleased to know you escaped. They thought it an honor to serve." He continued with a shrug. "Yes, we could be safe in Gaurring. Safeish. And eventually we'll die there. Of age. Of boredom. And what would we have to show for it? Here and now, we pursue a thief. We right wrongs."
Creigal shook his head. "We mean to collect a necklace – a base and simple necklace, if I admit the truth of it. I could buy a thousand identical and not blink at the cost."
Carringten disagreed. "There is none identical. None other was draped around Daphne's neck, and nothing of Daphne was base or simple. She was your one true born child. Your pernicious sons stand for nothing."
Few people took the liberty to say such things to Creigal. He frowned to hear this – though he offered no argument. He knew it was true. He knew what his sons were worth.
"Daphne's memory deserves your defense," Carringten continued. "Plots against you will not stop simply because you stay home."
Creigal wondered if the other men might agree. For his part, Vearing would not have cared. He lived to fight. But some had considerations: Haddelton, Barkaloe, Launden, and Marik all had children.
But it would do Creigal no good to dwell on it. What was done was done. Instead, he turned and looked at his captain. "What's on your mind?" He asked.
Carringten stared off in the direction of Wibbeley. "Can't get it out of my head that Baet saved me."
Creigal grinned. "And all but naked in his efforts."
"He had his boots, and a good deal of blood and dirt for camouflage," Carringten smiled, then shook his head as his mouth formed a frown. "No, I thought of Baet too much, and in the end, he proved to be loyal – at least in this instance. In the mean time, I did not see Banifourd actively plotting with his own men."
"Baet deserved our suspicion," Creigal began. "And I trusted Banifourd to see me north. There was no reason to question his loyalty – though now I question much of his family."
"Then you trust Baet now?" Carringten cut in. "He will not take this opportunity to betray you once more?"
"He has allowed me to be robbed – and yet he has saved my life," Creigal remarked. "It seems he is willing to cross some lines, but not others."
"He is no good as a guard," Carringten frowned. "Not in the long run."
"No, not in the long run," Creigal agreed. "But I think he can be trusted, for now, in this situation. I believe he had more love for Haddelton than his gambling."
"Do you think he was ever in league with Banifourd?"
Creigal shook his head. "If Baet had not fired his musket, we would not have been alerted to Willem and his men as they snuck up on us."
"Perhaps Haddelton's death soured the deal?" Carringten considered.
Creigal snorted. "There's too much to know. We take a risk no matter what we do."
"Then it is truly an adventure," Carringten smiled. "And if Baet does not return, which way shall we go?"
Creigal shook his head. "Is there no time for uncertainty? Must you ask the next question so quickly?"
"We're in a heap of mess," Carringten nodded. "And I've spent the better part of the morning uncertain."
Creigal shrugged. At least planning for the future would keep his mind off the immediate past. "If Baet does not return, our task is impossible," he began. "It will take weeks to get reinforcements to continue the search. By that time, Humbert could be at the far edge of Minist. He could be aboard a ship to Hof Hebrin for all we know – or even go back around to Balliwex."
"Balliwex!" Carringten hooted, "Let him return to the south! Better yet, let him return to Gaurring Heart!" he laughed. "No, he will never go home! That is folly!"
"Whatever his course, I hope he did not go west. I loathe the idea of going into Minist," Creigal said.
"And what if Baet does not return?"
"Perhaps we shall go east to Land's End and have a candid conversation with the Dunkels," Creigal surmised.
"Perhaps. They chafe under the rule of Gred duReb – or so it seems."
"Or so it seems," Creigal nodded. "That, my friend, is an apt description of all politics."
"One that has kept you alive for quite some time," Carringten smiled. "Gred duReb is still unsure of where you stand."
Creigal shook his head. "I cannot believe that. For almost a decade, we kept our secret and pretended that the Breckers bested us. But I think the king is on to us now, if not for the last couple years."
"It was bound to happen," Carringten shrugged. "What is our next step? What do you think our illustrious king will do about it?"
"Likely his plans are already in motion," Creigal sighed.
"We're prepared," Carringten nodded.
"Indeed, we've prepared for war of any kind," Creigal agreed. "And now that war seems inevitable, I think we must come up with some sure-fire strategies to force a peace. Now, that'd be the thing."