|Amberic Nailhammer||Dwarf and Ex-Member of Professionals||150|
|Avamintu Patanishi||Wealthy elf resident of Delia||1000+|
|Bigalow Toonplanky||Secretary of Defence for the Dukedom of Plantinak||70|
|Charles Canning||Wizard and Member of The Professionals||35|
|Christopher Martin||Court of Plantinak Serving Staff||21|
|Clarissa Wentworth||Leader of the Antidote Girls||12|
|Edward Dotey||Constable of Magwash County Police||30|
|Fagrot||The Ogre of Rocky Hill||25|
|Gilbert Winslow||Secretary of State for the Dukedom of Plantinak||60|
|Grissom Woodwright||Captain in the Worthing Scouts||60|
|Hassan Nassiri||Wizard and Member of The Professionals||27|
|Harold Finkworthy||Opthamologist and a Hobbit||80|
|Lee-Wam||Mah-jong playig resident of Delia, from Chiin||80|
|Jane Bellamy||Resident of Swamp Bottom||21|
|John Williams||Captain of the Surprise||50|
|Kadmium Herkocide||Swordsman and Member of The Professionals||25|
|Margret Manchester||Duchess of Manchester||32|
|Malcomn Wentword||Physician at Magwash Hospital||43|
|Murial Toastworthy||Landlady of the Unicorn Tavern||50|
|Olatunji Katanga||Landlord of the Unicorn Tavern and From Nubia||50|
|Nader Rafsanjanian||Wizard to the Court of Plantinak||30|
|Patricia Nonak||Thief and Member of The Professionals||25|
|Precilla Toonplanky||Wife of Bigalow||68|
|Richard Britteridge||Chief Inspector of Magwash County Police||60|
|Richard Manchester||Duke of Manchester||46|
|Samuel Fuller||Mayor of Delia and a Hobbit||80|
|Zebedia Smogg||Well-respected by mysterious visitor to Delia||70|
The Surpise, with Richard Manchester, Duke of Plantinak on board, sails north slowly on the fourth of March. Behind her sails the Shark, captured the day before. The crew and captain of the Shark have escaped, along with their treasure chests and valuables, rowing away in longboats the day before, all night, and this morning. The same slow breeze that moves the Surprise today is to blame for the pirate captain's escape that morning.
Jack and Wicklow are delighted with the outcome of the battle. They are not sure how comfortable they would have been with the capture of the wizard captain, after he fought so valiantly. And for their part in the battle, the Duke promises them 1,500 gp each.
When the thrill of the battle has worne off, Jezel and Quahiri succumb once again to sea-sickness, and confine themselves to their room or to leaning over the ship's rail and throwing up. Jack and Wicklow are sad to see them this way, but there seems to be nothing they can do about it. None of the remedies suggested by the crew do anything to alleviate the suffering of the orcs. Wicklow has to work hard just to get them to eat a bowl of soup a day, let alone a solid meal.
The next day, the wind picks up, and the two ships sail joyfully over long, rolling swells in the spring sunshine. The Duke joins Wicklow and Jack at the bow of the ship in the afternoon, and they start talking about the orcs, and their possible future in Plantinak.
At one point, the Duke says, "I would like to know who it is I will ultimately be dealing with in this matter. Who makes the final decision? Is it Bragash, Qhahiri, you two, or the black-orc called Dreadmanifold?"
Our heroes give various answers to this question, and debate among themselves. The duke looks from one to another and says nothing. Eventually, Jack and Wicklow agree that Bragash will make the decision, and the two of them will offer advice.
"What is the relationship between the orcs and Dreadmanifold, if he does not make the decisions?"
"Dreadmanifold looks out for the orcs," Wicklow says. "The relationship is paternal. If anyone tries to harm them, he will protect them."
"And what do the orcs do for him in return?"
Jack and Wicklow look at one another. "Nothing," Jack says.
"They once fought for him," Wicklow says. "They were his favorite soldiers when he was general of the army of the Kratanak Empire."
The Duke nods. "Thank you gentlemen."
That evening, Wicklow and Scythe have supper with the Duke and the captain of the Surprize. They are sailing, even though it is dark. The wind is steady, they know their course, and the water is deep. Jezel and Quahiri are invited as well, but decline. They feel sick at the sight and smell of food.
Over dinner, they learn that the Duke has a wife and five children. He is fourty-six years old. His wife is thirty-two. His children are a baby boy aged six months, a girl aged three, a boy aged six, a girl aged nine, and another girl aged twelve. He shows them a black-and-white photograph of the seven of them together, taken just before he left to hunt for the Shark.
"What a lovely family," Jack says.
"You must be proud," Wicklow says.
The Duke nods. "Indeed I am"
The next day, the sixth of March, they turn east. In the morning, the crew of the Shark finds a fourth pirate hiding in the boat. There are many jokes about the poor fellow aboard both ships.
In the afternoon, Jack and Wicklow sit in their cabin and talk by space bridge with the other GMI members, who are just about to leave Tankum Island for Mizzen. Martha presents a summary of an article she is preparing for Adventuring Wizard.
"Is there anything in here that you would rather I did not talk about?" she says.
They read the summary and discuss their on privacy and secrecy. After half an hour, Dreadmanifold joins the bridge conference. He says he has no objection to publicity, but he would rather that the articles did not compromise people like Galoopius Maximus. He says he trusts their judgement on what can and cannot be reaveled without ruining GMI's reputation for good service.
"What is the date there now?" he says.
"It's the sixth of March," Hocus says, "And one hour after noon."
"The Jamchelk conjunction opens on the twenty-fourth," Dreadmanifold says. "We'll be coming back then."
"Are things going well for you?"
"Yes. Everything went smoothly. Too smoothly, perhaps. But the company has been good."
Dreadmanifold leaves the conference. Those remaining continue their discussion of privacy. In the end, they agree to Martha writing four articles for Adventuring Wizard, each concentrating on the actions of adventuring wizards. The first article will describe the battle between Loose Lips and the Kamazi. The second will describe Hocus's actions at the Battle of Tankum Island. The third will describe the battle between the Shark and the Surprise. The fourth will describe Hocus and Martha's fight with the Sea Wolf crew members on Waterfront Street.
At dinner that night with the Duke, Quahiri and Jezel are once again absent in their cabins. Their seasickness shows no signs of abating, and both women are looking pale and exhausted.
"To our absent companions," the Duke says after they have eaten. He raises a glass of port.
Wicklow, Jack, and John Willimas (the captain) raise their glasses.
"When I return to Plantinak, I will be busy for several days before I get a chance to discuss matters of importance with Miss Quahiri."
"Feel free to discuss such matters with us now," Wicklow says, "That way, we can think about what you have in mind for the orcs while you are busy."
The Duke agrees, and describes to them a region in the south of Plantinak, at the base of the Kratanak Mountains, called Magwash County.
"In Magwash County, the Kratanak mountains are like cliffs, with wide, flat valleys between them. Several rivers flow down from the high plateau within the mountains. The rivers rush down through the mountains and hit the Plantinak Plain, where they stop in great pools, and proceed at a more leisurely pace, winding back and forth between the cliffs, and out into the plain."
The Duke passes the port bottle to the captain.
"As I'm sure you know, the Kratanak Mountains, and the great plateau within those mountains, are the territory of the orcs."
"Yes," Wicklow says, "They are part of the Outlands awarded to the orcs by the Reconciliation."
"Quite so," the Duke says. "And between the Outlands and our own lands, there is a strip of territory known as the Borderlands. In Magwash County, the Borderlands wind in and out with the percipitious shoulders of the mountains. They are marked by standing stones, but they turn and bend about on themselves so much that sometimes you can even find yourself entering the Borderlands when you are travelling North out of the mountains."
"Why is that?" Jack says, "Why didn't they keep it simple, so everyone would know where they were?"
"The problem was that a community of dwarves, sapiens, and various other Allied Races, had taken up residence in Magwash during the Dark Ages, and defended themselves there against the orcs."
"Really? But they must have been surrounded for centuries."
"They were, or so the history books tell us," the Duke says.
"I've read some capital first-hand accounts," the captain says, "The dwarves dug catacombs in the rock and earth that went on for miles, with hundreds of passages and chambers. They grew their own food. They had elves with them, and wizards. They had light and water. And the place was unassailable."
"They lived beneath the ground?" Wicklow says.
"Most of the time," the Duke says, "But they controlled the surface as well. The borders of Magwash county are roughly the borders of the territory controlled by the People of the Catacombs, as we call them."
"They called their little country Samothraki," the captain says, "They had a democratically elected government, and they spoke Greek in their parliment."
"Yes," the Duke said. He frowned at the table. The captain looked at him.
Jack smiles. "They didn't want to be part of Plantinak either, I bet."
The Duke looks up. "Oh, Plantinak came later. I think they were glad enough to stop fighting. But they were a force to be reckoned with, and they were happy living below ground. They demanded that the Borderlands go around most of their tunnels, and they got what they wanted."
"Do they still live underground?" Jack says.
"No. With the peace, they started to move above ground, where you don't need wizards and elves to help you grow food. They built a town, called Delia, a few kilometers from the Borderlands. The town has no river. They use wells instead, and pumps kept up by the dwarves."
"The dwarves are still there?" Wicklow says.
"They are indeed, and hobbits, and a few elves. And they are of mixed sapien races too, they have people with jet-black skin, yellow skin, tall people with red hair: all sorts."
"They sound interesting," Jack says.
The captain laughs. "Aye, they are that."
"They still have the same democratic and independent spirit that they used to have," the Duke says. He smiles. "But sadly they have lost the warlike and courageous spirit that preserved them through the Dark Ages. On the one hand, they organise their affairs democratically, and teach all manner of extraordinary things to their children in their schools, but on the other hand, they can't defend themselves against the orcs who raid them from the borderlands."
"But they are part of Plantinak," Wicklow says.
"Yes, they are, and they are subject to my laws, and to our legal system."
"And in exchange for that," Jack says, "They get your protection."
"That was the arrangement my grandfather made with them. He was forever coming to the aid of Magwash County. In the end, he told them he would let them be over-run. Either they looked after themselves, or they became part of Plantinak. They voted on it, and joined the Duchy."
"And now their expectation," the captain says, "is that the Duke should rush to their aid whenever there is any mischief."
"It is their right to expect protection," the Duke says, "But they don't provide us with enough soldiers from among their own to protect us. And what soldiers they to provide us are not good soldiers. They are too independent. They don't take orders."
The steward brings in a pot of herbal tea, which the Duke likes to drink after his port. The Duke pours himself a cup. "Be that as it may, gentlemen, I have land in Magwash County that is available. The Earl of Swampbottom died last year, leaving no heir. His land is mine now. I could make Bragash the Earl of Swampbottom."
"What type of land is it?" Wicklow says.
"Of the estate's hundred square kilometers, ten or twenty are swamp." The Duke blows on his tea. "The Manor is large and comfortable, with an ample stable. The hunting is excellent, in the forests for deer, and in the swamp for fowl. There are two streams and three ponds, all of which provide excellent fishing. I hear the mosquitoes can be bad in the summer, and the buildings are in a state of disrepair, but I'm sure such things can be put to order."
"What about the people living on the estate now?" Jack says.
"Bragash can keep them on if he likes, or I will evict them."
"That sounds like a bad beginning for their relationship with the local people."
"There are twenty or thirty people living on the estate, including children. If they don't want to work for the orcs, then they can go elsewhere. From what I hear, they are an eccentric bunch, and none too efficient in the exercising of their duties. I would not waste your time worrying about them."
Wicklow folds his arms and nods.
Jack leans forwards. "How far is it from the estate to Delia?"
"Four or five kilometers."
The four of them are silent for a while. The captain pours himself more port and passes the bottle to Jack. The Duke breaks the silence. "The duties of the Earl of Swampbottom will be to repel invadors from the Borderlands."
"What kind of invasions are taking place?" Wicklow says.
The captain chuckles. "All sorts."
"The captain is laughing," the Duke says, "Because recently there was an occurance that has provided the source of many jokes in Plantinak City."
"What was that?"
"I have heard several versions of the story. The one I read in the Plantinak Herald went something like this. A green dragon with no wings crawled into town in the middle of the day with ten orcs on its back. The people of Delia tried to make the dragon turn back, but its breath was so noxious that they could not get near it. The orcs dismounted in the center of town, leaving their dragon in the street, entered a public house, caroused there all day, and emerged drunk in the evening, re-mounted the dragon, and made their escape."
The captain slaps the table. "That's one I haven't heard."
"What's so funny about it?" Jack says.
The Duke looks at Jack for a while. "Young man, don't you think it is absurd that a town would allow a large, green, lizard with bad breath to lounge around all day in the town square, while ten orcs drain the barrels of their local pub?"
"Can't you imagine the policemen?" the captain said, "Booking the dragon for a public disturbance, but being annoyed to find that he cannot get close enough to deliver the court summons?"
Jack shakes his head slowly. "No, I don't get it."
"I think it's kind of funny," Wicklow says. "The orcs must have had a good time."
The Duke smiles. "Exactly. The orcs are having a good time. Of course, the fact is that it's hard for policement to deal with orcs, and its hard for soldiers to deal with them too. Orcs don't kill anyone. You say the same about Bragash's people. All they do is come into town, get drunk, steal things, paint rude signs on the school building, and make a lot of noise."
The Duke frowns at his teacup. Nobody speaks.
"If you kill one of them, they get really angry, come back, and do serious damage to the town. They might drag half a dozen adults out of their houses and beat them up, at random. If you don't kill them, but instead beat them up, that just encourages them to come back again, because they like nothing better than to fight. If you throw them in jail, then their buddies all come charging in to break them out of jail."
Jack holds his hand over his mouth and grins.
"Ah," the captain says, "Now the boy is getting the joke."
"It's hard to despise these orcs," the Duke says. He looks up at the ceiling for a moment. "They have a certain spirit. A spirit I would welcome in my armed forces, if it could be controlled and subject to discipline." He looks at Wicklow. "From what you say, it can be."
"Most certainly it can," Wicklow says.
"For years now, we have sent our soldiers to Magwash County to contend with the orcs. It's good training for them, and little chance of being killed. But the orcs see in the dark, and they have all been fighting since they were born."
The captain nods. "Aye. They tease our boys. My nephew Clarance was out there for a year. It drove him to distraction." He laughs. "One night. I should not be telling you this, poor Clarance, he always took himself very seriously. A very somber boy."
"I believe I met him at your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary," the Duke says.
"In all likelyhood you did, my Lord, and I'm honored that you remember."
"What did the orcs do to him?" Jack says.
"He walked to the outhouse one night, a summer's night," the captain says, "And he's sitting on the toilet, contemplating the universe in his somber way, with a candle beside him, when an orc comes in, pulls its pants down, and sits next to him."
"Just like that?" the Duke says.
"Just like that."
"What did he do?" Jack says.
"Who, the orc or my nephew?"
"He didn't know what to do. He figured if he shouted, the orc would kill him. He said the orc was as tall as he was, and about twice as broad. Probably weighed three hundred pounds."
The Duke turns to Jack. "Around a hundred and fifty kilos."
"Sounds like Ugluk," Wicklow says.
"Yes," the captain says, "Something like Ugluk, or so my nephew claims." The captain takes a sip of his port and puts his glass back down on the white tablecloth. "My nephew figures that if he shouts, the orc is going to break his neck. If he says nothing, the orc is going to get up after a while and leave. Maybe the orc just needed to go to the bathroom."
"He could have gotten up and run away," Jack says.
"Well, he didn't. He sat there, while the orc, he tells me, passed his bowles noisily."
"Then what?" Jack says.
"The orc stood up, pointed to the toilet paper, pointed at Clarance, bent over, and pointed at his own backside."
The three listeners stare at the captain. "The orc wanted Clarance to wipe his backside."
"Did he?" Jack says.
"Oh my gosh," Wicklow says.
The Duke frowns and shakes his head. "I am not sure, my good captain, if you should be sharing this intimate and sad story of your nephew's misfortune with strangers."
"You're probably right, my Lord," the captain says, "But if you will allow me to finish, I would be grateful for your judgement at the end of the story."
"Very well," the Duke says.
"So, Clarance takes the toilet paper and wipes the orc's backside. After that, the orc pulls his trousers up and leaves the bathroom. Right away, Clarance hears shouts and whoops. The orcs have made holes in the walls, and they have been looking in and watching. They had a bet going to see if they could get one of our boys to wipe one of their backsides."
Jack laughs. The captain laughs too, and leans forward, pointing at the table. "Not only that, but they had captured two other soldiers at the outhouse earlier that night, both of whom had been subjected to the same treatment, and these two were now gagged into silence, and forced to watch my poor nephew through the entire−"
"I have heard enough, Captain," the Duke says. "I can see that it was a public humiliation for your nephew, but there is no need to continue it."
The captain looks at the Duke, then drains his glass of port. "As you wish, my Lord."
"It is embarrassing to me also," the Duke says, "That two soldiers could be captured by an outhouse without the knowledge of their comrades."
The captain shrugged. "It wouldn't happen in the navy, I can assure you of that, my Lord."
The Surprise arrives in Plantinak harbor at three in the afternoon on the seventh of March, 2478. It is a brisk, sunny day with only a few clouds. Quahiri and Jezel are so eager to get off the boat, that they come up on deck and look at the city through Jack and Wicklow's binoculars. The city slopes up gently to a low hill a few kilometers from the harbor. At the crest of the hill are several tall towers painted red, yellow, and white. Aside from the crowded warehouses down by the docks, the houses of the city are hidden beneath tall trees. Occasional larger buildings rise above the trees. These are made of stone.
As they approach the harbor, the Duke says to Wicklow, "The docks will be crowded with people welcoming us home. I will leave with the captain. Most of the sailors will leave and greet their wives and children. You will wait with the orcs here for an hour. A carriage will come to pick you up. Board the carriage with your luggage, and it will bring you to the Court."
"Why don't you want us to travel with you?"
"My plan is to introduce orcs into our country," the Duke says, "I don't think there is anything wrong with orcs. But my people think otherwise. They hate orcs. Today their Duke is returning victorious. Let them be proud. Let them celebrate without concern. Tomorrow let them hear about the orcs and speculate. They will enjoy the gossip."
Wicklow looks at the Duke. He seems taller than usual today. Is he standing straighter, or is he wearing high heels? Wicklow looks down at the Duke's shoes. No, they seem like ordinary boots. Perhaps it's the way the Duke holds his head. It seems like he's looking down on Wicklow.
"A happy people are a cooperative people," the Duke says.
The Plantinak docks are deep. It is half-tide when the Surprise and the Shark sail into harbor, but both tie up easily to well-kept and orderly board-walks on pine columns. People gather at the end of the docks. Sailors gather on the dock next to the Shark, staring at the ship and talking among themselves. The Shark is now part of the Plantinak navy.
The orcs remain below decks. Wicklow and Jack remain with them. The orcs look out of the window from the shadows, pointing, whispering and giggling. The Duke rides off on a horse among throngs of people cheering his return, and waving flags. Behind him rides John Williams.
An hour later, a large carriage drawn by four horses backs down the dock. Quahiri and Jezel walk quickly off the ship. Twenty smartly-dressed marines from the Surprise surround the carriage. They make way for the orc woman. One bows low, opens the door, and lets down the steps. He smiles at Jezel as she get in. Jezel walks slowly up the steps. When she bends over to get through the carriage door, Jack is certain that at least half the marines are staring at her.
The carriage pulls away, leaving the marines behind.
In the carriage, Quahiri says she and Jezel should not look out of the windows because the people in the street will see them. Wicklow draws the curtains and peeks out. The streets of the city are wide, with trees on the sides, and water channels. The houses are made of wood, and are brightly painted in many colors. A few people watch the carriage go by, but they do not come close, and the carriage is moving at jogging pace, so they don't get much time to look through the windows.
They pass a large park with a fountain and a pool. It is too cold to bathe in the pool, but several children are playing next to it, placing model boats in the water.
"They have a lot of parks," Wicklow says, "And a lot of horses. And the streets are clean, apart from the horse-manure here and there."
"I want look out," Jezel says.
"Go ahead," Jack says, "Even if someone sees you, who cares?"
"The Duke does not want his people to know we are here," Quahiri says.
Jezel holds the corner of the curtain and looks through from the shadows of the back seat. "They no see me."
Quahiri pushes Jezel's hand down. "Stop it," she says in the language of their tribe. Wicklow and Jack can understand it well enough by now, but they still have trouble speaking it. Even Quahiri laughs at them when they try to speak it.
Jezel furrows her brow and sticks her lower jaw out, so that her tusks move away from her cheeks. She leans back on her seat with her arms crossed and looks down at her knees.
"I really don't think it's a problem," Wicklow says.
The brightly-painted houses go by, set back from the street. The street is paved with flagstones. They pass through a square that must be half a kilometer across, all paved with flagstones. Pigeons flutter around a statue on a tall column. Ten or twenty men and women in brown jackets are picking up rubbish and horse manure and putting it on carts. A few market stalls are being taken down and packed up.
The carriage ascends the gentle slope of the hill, beneath towering maple and oak trees, until it comes to a four-meter high wall, plastered on the outside, and painted sky-blue. A large gate in the wall opens to admit the carriage, and they find themselves in the Court of the Duke.The next afternoon, the eighth of March, Quahiri, Jezel, Wicklow, and Jack are sitting at a table in the Guest Courtyard. The courtyard is a hundred meters long and about fifty wide. It is surrounded on all sides by a three-story building made of sandstone. Much of the courtyard is gardens. Bulbs are blooming. There is a pool and a fountain. The pool appears to be designed for swimming. It is warm today, warm enough to sit outside without a coat.
Our heroes have four adjacent rooms in the Guest Quarters, on the second floor, overlooking the courtyard. The rooms have hot and cold running water. The ground floor is partly rooms and suits, and partly libraries, conservatories, a tea room, a guest room, and a game room. The third floor is for the servants.
There is tea on the table for Jack and Quahiri, coffee for Wicklow, and a bottle of beer for Jezel. Wicklow has a notobook and pencil. He is taking notes.
"The population of Plantinak is three hundred and fifty thousand," he says. "The city is home to fifty thousand. The standard family house lot size in the city is fourty-two meters square. The city is four kilometers across."
"What was the name of the Secretary of State?" Quahiri says.
"Gilbert Winslow," Jack says.
Gilbert had shown them to their rooms the day before, and answered their questions for an hour.
"I think he is a good person," Quahiri says.
"Maybe," Jack says. "He is a charming person, that's for sure."
"What charming is?" Jezel says.
One of Jack and Wicklow's responsibilities is to translate Weilandic into Latin for Jezel and Quahiri, who speak only their own language and Latin. Jezel's Latin is not that good, so Quahiri has been translating the Latin into orcish for her.
Now that they are in the Court of the Duke, Quahiri tells Jezel she must study Latin. Jezel tells Jack that it is his job to teach her. Now she smiles at him over the top of her beer. Both the orcs are very happy to be off the boat. Jezel has been baring her teeth with all day, and staring at Jack most of the time also.
"It means polite, considerate, and clever," Jack says.
"What consmidarate is?"
While Jack answers Jezel's question, Quahiri says to Wicklow, "And what was the name of the Duke's wizard. The one with the big nose who stuck his head forward like this." She pushes her head forward. It is hard for an orc woman to do an impression of a sapien male, because of the tusks, but her posture is, nevertheless, just like that of the young wizard they met the day before.
"Nader Rafsanjanian," Wicklow says. He writes the name in his notebook. "He has been here for one year. He equipped the Surprise with her sails and ropes."
"He is sad," Qhahiri says.
"Do you think so?"
"Who is sad?" Jezel says.
"The wizard man," Quahiri says. She pushes her head forward again in imitation of the young man.
Jezel nods. "Yes. He has no woman. He is lonely." She leans on the table and tilts her head at Jack. "Not good for a man to have no woman. What you think, Jack?"
"He does not like you," Quahiri says, and points to Wicklow. "I see him make that upside-down smile when you walk away from him. That means sapien unhappy."
"He doesn't like me?" Wicklow says. "He doesn't know me. I think Jezel is probably right."
"Hocus not work too hard," Jezel says, "He have good woman to keep him happy."
"Yes," Wicklow says, "Perhaps the Court Wizard was jealous that I get to travel with two beautiful orc women."
"Yes," Jezel says, "Maybe I should go see him and cheer him up. What do you think Jack?"
Jack shakes his head and smiles.
"Stop it, Jezel," Quahiri says, "You're making him embarrassed." She speaks in orcish, but Jack and Wicklow understand.
That night the orcs and their two sapien companions attend a State Dinner. At the reception before-hand, they meet Bigalow Toonplanky, the Secretary of Defence. This gentlemen is there in his military uniform, complete with medals. His hair is gray and unruly. He has a thick beard, red cheeks, and a big smile.
"Welcome to Plantinak," he says in Weilandic. "It sounds as if you all had an eventful and profitable journey here."
Wicklow translates into Latin for Quahiri.
"Oh, for sure I speak Latin also," General Toonplanky says, and he repeats his statement in Latin.
"Yes," Quahiri says, "But I was sick most of the time."
"Yes." She rubs her tummy and frowns.
"Ah, well, my dear, that is a curse, is it not?" He puts his hand on her shoulder. She looks at his hand for a moment. It is unusual for a sapien to reach out and touch an orc. "You have my sympathy. I suffer terribly at sea." He points at the ground. "That's why I keep my feet here."
Quahiri smiles. "I would like that."
Dinner is at a table with twenty people on each side. The Duke sits at one end. Quahiri and Wicklow are several places down to his right, and Jack and Jezel are ten or fifteen places down on his left.
Jezel is laughing for much of the time during the meal. She drinks four or five glasses of wine, and a huge supper. She rubs Jack's knee under the table, and leans against him frequently. The man on her right is polite, with spectacles on his nose. The woman opposite is Precilla, General Toonplanky's wife. She is slender, gray-haired, and handsome.
"Mrs. Toonenplank," Jezel says, "Your husband, he is the chief general, yes?"
Precilla says, "Yes, indeed, dear creature, he is the Chief General."
"Does he have biggest spear in army?"
The man to Jezel's left clears his throat and shakes his head. Precilla, on the other hand, smiles and says, "How would I know? But I always assumed it was the biggest." She taps her head. "So much of life's enjoyment is in the mind, you know."
Jezel stares at her and then laughs. "You are wise woman." She raises her glass. "To the wise woman."
She drinks the last of her white wine. "How old you are?" she says to Precilla.
Precilla tilts her head and smiles. "I am sixty-eight, Miss Jezel. And how old are you?"
Jezel stares. "How much?"
Jack says, "Three twenties and eight."
Jezel looks down at her fingers and counts. She looks up. "Three twenties and eight?"
Jezel stares at the table. There is no expression on her face.
"How old are you, my dear?" Precilla says.
Jezel looks up. "I am seven and ten."
"Oh, that is a lovely age," Precilla says. "I was seventeen when I met Bigalow."
Jezel is quiet for several minutes after that, until Jack says in her ear, "What's the matter?"
Jezel looks up at him. Her cat-slit eyes, set in sparkling green-and-blue irises, gaze into his. "I never be so old. I will live twenty more years. I live half of my life."
Jack smiles at her and puts his hand on her back. "The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long."
Jezel closes her eyes and leans a little towards him, until her tusks touch the shoulder of his jacket.
After dinner, Richard Manchester, Duke of Plantinak, tells the story of the capture of the Shark. John Williams rises and accepts praise for his part, as well as a dozen other officers and even three sailors. Last of all, the Duke praises Wicklow, Jack, Quahiri, and Jezel, for their invaluable help and stoicism under fire.
"I regret to say that I am unable, because of the protocols of diplomacy, to award a share of the prize money to our honorable orc visitors."
The guests voice their disapproval.
"But I am, you can be sure, awarding a generous share to their sapien advisors, to do with as they will."
The guests cheer and clap.
Wicklow and Quahiri eat together at eight o'clock the next morning in the Breakfast Room. The glass doors to the room are closed. It is a cool. They discuss the people they met the night before, and Wicklow takes notes. When they have finished their breakfast, they turn to reading the several Plantinak broadsheet newspapers available in the Breakfast Room. Quahiri can read Latin, but slowly, and she sometimes moves her tongue when she does so. But she enjoys reading.
The price of the broadsheets is marked at the top of their front page, and is between one and two Plantinak Shillings. Each has two or three large sheets of paper printed on both sides, and folded in the middle. Wicklow is examining Naval Notifications, hoping to see a public declaration of their prize-money, when Jack and Jezel enter the room.
They sit down on opposite sides of the breakfast table. Wicklow looks up at the clock on the wall.
"It's ten o'clock," he says, "We were supposed to meet at eight." He looks from one to the other. Jezel is baring her teeth and leaning on her elbow. Her eyes open and close slowly. She looks at Wicklow. She runs her tongue along the inside of her teeth.
Quahiri puts her paper down and looks at Jezel, frowning. She sniffs the air beside Jezel's neck. She thrusts out her lower jaw and picks up her newspaper. From behind it, she says a word in orcish that Wicklow and Jack don't know, "Zabalishk."
Jack is sitting comfortably in his chair. Wicklow looks from one to the other. "What did she say?" he asks Jezel.
"She say I am woman who sleeps with any man."
Wicklow laughs. "Oh, for being with Jack?" He picks up his coffee cup and drains the last few, cold drops. "Jack is not just any man. I say congratulations to both of you."
"Thank you," Jack says.
Jezel puts her hand on Wicklow's. "You are good person."
Quahiri puts the paper down. "Now we will have fights and angry talking. We are here for important things. Not for playing."
"Well now, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," Wicklow says.
Jezel turns to Quahiri for the first time. "And light that burn twice burn quicker."
Quahiri squints. "What are you talking about?"
Jezel waves her hand and turns away. "Never mind."
The waiter arrives. "What can I get you for breakfast, Madame?"
"I like many eggs, much bacon." She looks at Jack. "Then I am going to sleep."
Jack smiles. "Me too."
The Secretary of State, Gilbert Winslow, visits them on the eighth of March, telling them that the Duke will be busy for the next week. "Several urgent matters have arisen," he says, "The Duke hopes that you can use the next few days to inform yourselves about Plantinak."
"Can we take Quahiri and Jezel into the city?" Wicklow says.
"Ah, well. That might be imprudent. The Duke would rather you delayed such a display."
"So he wants them to stay here for a week."
"I believe he would prefer it, yes." He gestures with his hand. "They can explore the court, within the blue walls. There are many things to see: libraries, museums, gardens." He smiles. "And the staff will be at your disposal."
Wicklow nods. "Very well. Jack and I might go into the city. Will that meet with the Duke's approval?"
The Secretary smiles. "Certainly it will."
The ninth of March issue of the Daily Observer publishes a detailed account of the Winning of the Shark. The roles of Jack and Wicklow are described briefly, and almost accurately. There is a separate section listing the distribution of prize money. The Shark is valued at 50,000 gp. Of this, the Duke received no share, because he does not qualify for shares of prizes. The captain's share was 3,000 gp, that of Wicklow and Jack 1,500 gp each, that of four officers 1,000 gp each, that of each marine and sailor 130 gp.
The Daily Observer says, "The share awarded to the two passangers may be an indication of the extraordinary role they played in the action, or it may be an indication of the role played by two other passangers whose identity is unknown. A sailor we interviewed from the Surprise claimed that these two unidentified passangers were orc women."
The Obituary section of the same paper lists the soldiers and sailors killed in the action. Each of their families will receive a pension of 500 gp a year for the next ten years.
Although they are glad to hear of their share of the prize money, the Duke gives no indication of when or how it will be paid, and they decide against pressing the Secretary of State for such information. He visits them once a day, and introduces them to other dignitaries staying in the guest quarters. Although he has discouraged Quahiri and Jezel from going out into the city, he is happy to have them meet with visitors to the Court, and to be open about their purpose there.
Jack and Wicklow decide not to go out into the city without the orcs just yet, and instead spend the next week with them in the Court. Wicklow spends much of his time reading. There are novels and history books in the library, and several newspapers every day. Jack and Jezel are happy to be in one another's company, and when they are out of their rooms and wandering in the gardens and corridors of the Court, Quahiri accompanies them. They play a game with mallets and balls and hoops called croquet on a large and perfect lawn. They try an outdoor ball game called tennis.
One thing all four of them do every day, at Quahiri's insistence, is exercise together. They run twice around the path along the Blue Wall, a distance of six kilometers. On a quiet lawn surrounded by trees, they stretch and do push-ups. They are always cheerful and laughing after these excursions. Afterwards, they enjoy hot baths in their rooms.
One of the servants in the Guest Quarters is a young man called Christopher Martin. It turns out that he is from Delia in Magwash County. They tell him that they plan to visit Delia. He answers their questions, telling them, "Anything goes in Magwash County." After several such conversations, he and they arrive at the idea of asking the Duke to spare him for their own visit to Magwash, to accompany them as their mansearvant.
Another daily ritual is talking to Hocus and Scythe on Loose Lips by space bridge. They follow the adventures of their comrades in Mizzen Island closely. On the twelfth of March, when they hear that Scythe is in hospital, they talk of little else for the rest of the day, and eagerly await their next interview with Hocus.
In short: with the fine food and service provided by the Court, and its well-manicured and well-equipped gardens, our heroes have a pleasant stay despite their confinement.
With Loose Lips safely back at Tankum Island on the sixteenth of March, Wicklow and Jack decide to go into the city on their own, in search of night vision goggles like those used by The Professionals in their raid upon the kobold village. They leave the Court a little before lunch time, in search of a Magic Shoppe, or some other such establishment. They ask a few storekeepers, and find themselves directed to Stigmata Square. They walk at a leisurely pace through the city, admiring the painted houses, the gardens, and the health and vigor of its population.
Just before lunchtime, they arrive at Stigmata Square. It is secluded amid a cluster of large, old, stone buildings. It is a mild and sunny spring day, but the buildings cast shadows across most of the square. There are market stalls set up, and store fronts behind them. A large sign marks the Witch's Brew Inn. One stall is selling Special Equipment. A young man stands beneath the awning.
"Do you have Thunder-Eggs?" Wicklow says.
"Indeed I do," the young man answers.
He has six in stock, and they sell for two hundred gold pieces each. He has one sample at the stall, which he shows them.
"What about night vision goggles?"
"I have a night-vision viewer, but no goggles. The goggles don't give you the dark-penetration that the viewer gives you."
"May we see the viewer?"
The young man takes out a fat, short telescope-like object. Its housing is brass, and it weighs half a kilogram. "Don't take the cover off the end. Bright light shortens its life. If you look after it, you won't have to get it serviced more than once a year."
Wicklow takes the viewer and turns it about.
"Aha!" says a voice behind them. "Wicklow and Jack, if I'm not mistaken."
It is Bigalow Toonplanky, the Secretary of Defence.
"General Toonplanky," Jack says, "A pleasure to see you."
"Likewise, young man." He looks at the viewer in Wicklow's hands. "What do you have there, sir? Is that a night vision viewer?"
"It is. We have been thinking of buying one."
"How much are you selling them for, Johnathan?" Bigalow says to the vendor.
"One thousand gold pieces."
"Yes," Bigalow says, "They are expensive. I have often wanted to provide my commandoes with them, so they can contend with orcs, but the expense has always stopped me."
"Do they work?" Jack says.
"Oh, assuredly they do. I have one myself, and a pair of goggles. You must try this one before you think about buying it."
"We can't try it during the day, it seems."
"You can borrow them for the night, isn't that right, Johnathan?"
"Ah, well, yes, certainly, Mr. Secretary, although my father would be quite distressed if I was to allow a viewer to be borrowed without a cash deposit."
"Nonsense, boy," Bigalow says, "I'll guarantee it myself. The word of Bigalow Toonplanky will serve as your deposit."
And so it is that the vendor lends Wicklow the viewer and its box. Bigalow goes on his way, they thank the vendor, and enter the Witch's Brew Inn.
They spend an hour over their lunch in the Inn, watching the other clients. Carrying arms and armor is a constitutional right of every adult in Plantinak, be they citizens or not. Most of the customers of the Inn are armed and armored, and by their armor, Jack can tell them to be adventurers.
"Do you have a hippogriff stable?" Wicklow asks the waiter.
"We do," the waiter says, "Its a few kilometers outside the city. A stagecoach runs between here and there for the benefit of our guests."
"Why so far away?"
"There is no flying permitted over Plantinak."
"Really? None at all?"
"None. In fact, you had best not, because the air above the city is filled with balloons and ropes."
"I haven't seen any," Jack says.
"They are invisible. Before the new wizard came, they were made of rope and silk balloons filled with some stuff the old wizard made. But those did not work as well, because people could fly between them. The new ones you can't see, so nobody dares fly over the city."
"Why don't they allow flying?"
"It's not that they don't want people flying, it's that they don't want the dragon of Snake Island coming down upon the city and setting it to fire like he did fifteen years ago."
"Yes, you are welcome to read about it our library. But I have to go."
In the library, our heroes become absorbed in the latest issues of Adventurer's Gazette and other such publications. They find Martha's article about her first interview with Hocus the Destroyer in the latest issue of the Adventuring Wizard. It is late in the afternoon before they rise from their seats and walk back to the Court.
That night, it is warm enough outside that Jezel asks to go for a walk. The four of them set out, strolling around the gardens. With them, they bring the viewer. It works well for the sapiens, but the orcs can see just as well without it. The orcs hide, and Jack and Wicklow try to find them with the viewer.
"What's that flashing in the sky?" Jack says.
They take turns looking up in the air. High above the Court is a dim light flashing for one second out of every twenty. The orcs can't see it without the viewer. They walk around until they are certain that whatever is flashing is at least a hundred meters in the air. It is not directly above any of the three tall towers inside the walls of the court, but it might be floating on the end of a rope tied to the middle tower.
They stay up watching the flashing light until three in the morning, when it stops. They wait another ten minutes, and go to bed.
The next morning, the seventeenth of March, Jack and Wicklow return the night viewer to the vendor. They ask if there is a type of light the viewer can see, but orcs cannot see. He says he does not know what orcs can see, but the viewer will see a color called infrared. Later that morning, Hocus confirms that infra-red is a color that magical light-sensitive materials respond to, but which lies outside the sensitivity of the human eye. "It appears that infra-red is also outside the range of the orc eye."
In the daylight, they cannot see anything floating above the central tower. "Maybe it's invisible, like the balloons the waiter said are over the city."
Two hours after lunch, they meet with the Duke. He confirms that there is no flying permitted over the city, in order to protect people from accidents with the invisible balloons. The balloons are indeed a defence against the dragon of Snake Island, which allies itself with the dispicable, slave-keeping nation of Independence Island.
"I don't have time to go into such matters with you right now. I propose that you leave on a trip to Magwash County the day after tomorrow."
"The nineteenth?" Wicklow says.
"Yes. I will provide you with a carriage, four horses, a driver, a servant, and four of my personal guard."
To this, Quahiri agrees. They request that the servant be Christopher Martin, and to this the Duke agrees.
"You can spend a week in Magwash County if you like, at my expense."
The next day, the eighteenth of March, they talk to Dreadmanifold. They discuss the fate of his kobolds if he were to move to Plantinak. He says he would like to bring them with him. Later, they bump into Bigalow Toonplanky, and they talk about kobolds with him. He is an admirer of the little creatures, and says he would dearly love to have a company of them in his army.
In the afternoon, our hereos go to the Duke's quarters for tea, and there they meet the Duke's family for the first time. His wife, Margret, is charming and beautiful.
"How old she is?" Jezel says to Jack.
"About thirty. And the Duke is fourty-six."
Jezel has been asking how old all sapiens are since the night she met Precilla Toonplanky.
The Duke's children are dressed in bright, clean clothes of rich cloth, pressed and starched. There are five of them, ages one to twelve. The three-year old pulls at her collar and smacks her dress. When Quahiri smiles at her, she hides behind her mother.
"Clare," the Duke says, "Quahiri is smiling at you. When an orc smiles, she shows her teeth like we do." He smiles. "Only their teeth are bigger, so it's scary."
After tea, the Duke takes them to his Hall of Audiences. They sit by while he receives a petition from Magwash County. A young woman enters. She coughs and stammers before the Duke, but slowly her story emerges. She is Jane Bellamy, age twenty-one, from Swamp Bottom. She claims that fifty orcs from the Borderlands invaded the Swamp Bottom estate three weeks ago. They have been carousing in the Manor since then, breaking things and causing havoc. She asks that the Duke send soldiers to remove them. The police of Delia say they can do nothing against so many orcs. There are thirty staff living on the estate, including children, and only six men of fighting age. So they certainly could do nothing against the orcs.
"Why did you not come sooner?" the Duke asks.
Jane says they did not want to bother the Duke at first. They thought the orcs would go away after a few nights. And besides, the orcs were paying in gold for food and wine. Four days ago, however, one of the orcs tried to kiss one of the young women among the staff. The Head Butler ordered all the women into town to stay with relatives, and Jane came to Plantinak with her brother to petition the Duke.
"Where is your brother?"
"He is at the Witch's Brew, my lord."
The Duke stares at her. "I see."
"Please help us," she says.
"I will think about it," the Duke says, "Come back tomorrow at eight in the morning, and I'll tell you what I'm going to do."
The morning papers on the nineteenth of March are full of the story of Swamp Bottom. Wicklow is at the breakfast table at seven o'clock sharp, and he reads all the articles before they set off for the Hall of Audiences at eight. It is a dark, rainy morning. On the way there, Jack and Jezel, who arrived at the table at only five minutes before eight, ask him to tell them what he read.
By the time they reach the Hall, Wicklow is only half-way through the story. Jane is there, too, and the Duke arrives promptly as the clock above the hall strikes eight. He hands Jane a rolled document with his own hand. "This is a message to your people at Swamp Bottom. It is brief. It tells them to hold on. Don't aggravate the orcs. Help will come soon."
"How soon?" Jane says.
"It will come at the best time." He points to our heroes. "You and your brother can ride with these gentlemen and their orc friends. You have nothing to fear from them. With them will go a captain of the guard and three soldiers. You will be quite safe."
Jane curtseys. "Thank you, my lord."
At nine in the morning, our heroes board a coach driven by Christopher Martin and drawn by four horses. They depart the city of Plantinak and head south along the Kratanak Road. With them rides Jane Bellamy on her own horse, but not her brother. She says he left the day before. The captain of the guard is Grissom Woodwright. He is about sixty years old. His equipment is well-worn and well-cared for. So is that of the three soldiers who ride with him. They say they are from the Worthing Scout Regiment, which Bigalow Toonplanky refers to as his "commandos".
Lunch is at the Queen's Head Public House on the Kratanak Road. Inside the pub is the following notice.
The Queen's Head has been a feature on the Kratanak Road since the time of Queen Mary in 1170. The road itself was layed down in the reign of Queen Penelope, in 1023, and ran from Plantinak through Magwash County, up into the valleys of the Kratanak Mountains, over a high pass, and onto the Kratanak Plateau. Only the stretch from Plantinak to Magwash County remains today, after restoration by Duke George in 2421. This building was built next to the foundations of the previous Queen's Head, which burnt down in 1984.
In the carriage after lunch, Quahiri tries to read a newspaper Wicklow brought for her, but she starts to feel sick. She and Jezel must look out the windows to stop themselves from throwing up. Outside it is rainy, gray, and cold. The soldiers ride their horses ahead of the carriage, protected from the rain by rubber capes.
With Christopher Martin's permission, Jane Bellamy has tied her horse to the back of the carriage, and now rides beside him underneath the canopy above the driver's bench. They are from the same school class in Delia, and spend their time laughing about the things they got up to when they were kids. Jack can hear occasional sentences of their conversation, when they speak loudly. He learns that Jane was a member of a club called the Guild of Frog Poisoners, while Christopoher was a member of the Dangerous Mission Group. They laugh about the names of both clubs, but Jane insists that the Guild of Frog Poisoners is a real and ancient children's club, and that she still dare not reveal its secrets to Christopher. Christopher says he has no intention of revealing his club's secrets either, even though it has ceased to be.
Wicklow sets up a space bridge to talk to Hocus and Heraklese on Tankum Island. He and Jack help Heraklese write a Cast of Characters, to which they add on subsequent days.
The Kratanak Road makes its way through cuttings in low hills, and along causeways over swamps. In the early evening, they pass a muddy turning off to the right with a sign saying "Swamp Bottom". Jane does not leave the carriage. She will deliver her message from the Duke tomorrow.
The road turns left, and they are amid fields that slope upwards into the twilight. Ten minutes later, and they enter Delia Town. The buildings lean over the narrow streets. Every square and corner has a statue. There are lanterns hanging from the overhanging buildings. The streets are cobbled and paved. The steps leading up to the shops and front doors are worn and smooth. The rain glistens on the ancient stone walls of the Delia Museum.
They leave their carriage and horses in the Carriage Park and Stables, which is a large covered building off the main square. Christopher Martin and Jane Bellamy go have dinner together. She says she can find him a place to stay for the night, so he can save some money. Officer Edward Dotey of the Magwash Police escorts our heroes to the Police Station, where they present a letter from the Duke stating that Wicklow, Jack, Quahiri, and Jezel are in town on official business of the Duke, and they are to be given the freedom of the town. Chief Inspector Dick Britteridge agrees, but keeps the letter, intending to show it to the Mayor Samuel Fuller the next day.
Our heroes and the soldiers walk through the town, carrying their baggage, looking for the Unicorn Tavern, which is where Bigalow Toonplanky recommended they stay. They pass through Delia Square, which is adorned with a large fountain. The fountain is spraying water in the air, amid large brass fish. A luminous stone somewhere in the center of the fountain lights the fish and the water in a delightful spectacle of flickering droplets.
They walk down a narrow ally, hardly wide enough for four people to walk abreast. The alley is layed with stones, and has stone gutters on either side, close to the house walls. They arrive at an open circle layed in brick. The ally ends. A bright lantern hangs over a door. Warm light shines from bulls-eye windows. A sign, wet with the rain, reads The Unicorn Tavern. Upon it is painted a white unicorn with a girl riding on its back. In the brick-work of the circle they see a unicorn, with its horn pointing to their right. There is no way out of the circle, other than perhaps through the houses that surround it. Their doors stand a few steps above the level of the circle, with the exception of the door to the tavern.
"This is it," Grissom says. He and the three soldiers head for the door, "We'll run a tab for all of us. The Duke says your stay is on him."
He pushes open the door, and they enter the warmth and babble of the tavern.
Jezel and Jack share a room overlooking the alley. Wicklow and Quahiri each take a room overlooking the tavern garden. The soldiers all share one large room. When our heroes descend for their supper in the restaurant, they find the soldiers waiting for them. On the next table over, are several people Jack recognises. He sits down and makes sure of himself before he leans over and tells Wicklow, "Those are The Professionals."
Jack and Wicklow get up and say hello to their one-time adversaries in the Defence of the Kobold Village. Four of them are there. One is missing: the dwarf. Patricia Nonak is friendly, and Charles Canning is cordial. Charles says that they are in Delia to help get rid of the orcs in Swamp Bottom. Wicklow says that they are in Delia for other business. Patricia suggests they talk by the fire later, or perhaps tomorrow. Our heroes agree, and return to their table. Wicklow explains who The Professionals are. One of the soldiers says he knows the name of the group from an article in the Adventuring Gazette.
"They used to work over in the West, in Kiali," he says.
Everyone orders Shepherd's Pie, which is one of the landlord's specialities. The landlord is the cook. They can hear him singing in the back, in a loud and very deep voice. They imagine he must be a large man. But they don't catch sight of him. His wife, Murial Toastworthy, runs the bar, along with her four daughters, all of whom are well-presented with low-cut blowses, smooth, brown skin, curly black hair, and thick, dark lips. Muril herself is red-headed, fair, and plump.
The Professionals go up to their rooms. They, too, are staying in the Unicorn Tavern. Grissom declares that he and his men are going for a "walk". Our heroes go to their rooms and get some rest. Wicklow takes a warm bath. One of the Landlady's daughters brings him the hot water and fills the tub. Before he gets in, he asks her about her family. She says her father is from Nubia. His skin is black as night. She grew up here, and it is a great place to be a child. She leaves so that Wicklow can undress.
The next day is overcast, but not bright. Nevertheless, the orcs complain that they can't see properly because they have to squint all the time. Jezel says the squinting is going to give her a headache. Jack and Wicklow take them out into the town, wandering around, until they find the Office of Harold Finkworthy, Opthamologist. It is down a side ally, and the door is so low, they have to stoop to get in. But Harold, an elderly hobbit, proves to be competent and quick. He checks everyone's vision, and recommends various reading glasses. In the end, the orcs leave each with their own pair of attractive sun-glasses. Harold has to modify the metal frames so they fit upon the orc's unusual faces, but this he does expertly and quickly.
Well-satisfied with their purchases, the orcs and sapiens continue their exploration of the town. Nine out of ten people in the town are sapien. Of these, most are fair-skinned. The remainder are of all races: black, brown, Chiin, Kubla, and many others. Their clothing is varied also, but our heroes do not find that those of the same race or species dress in the same clothes. While they are sitting in the Samothraki Coffee House, watching the people, Jack says, "I think they all like to go around in costumes."
One out of ten people they see out and about in the town are dwarves and hobbits, in about equal numbers. They see three people who look as if they are half orc and half sapien, but these are walking together and look as if they would not welcome conversation. They are young. Two are male and one is female. In the coffee shop, they agree that the half-orcs, if that's what they are, have neither the warlike beauty of the orc nor the soft-featured beauty of sapiens. Jezel is sorry for them. Quahiri wants to find out more about them.
They are reluctant to leave the coffee shop, because the coffee is exceptionally good. Jezel has a hot chocolate, and that is good too. The noise of conversation and games in the coffee shop is exhilerating. People of all sizes and shapes are playing chess, checkers, backgammon, and a game with colored tiles called Mah-Jong. Even children sit around tables and play together. The floor of the coffee house must be thirty meters square, with pillars holding up the high ceiling. It is warm and crowded. Today is one of the two days in a week when the people of Delia don't work, but instead devote themselves to play and relaxation.
"Very civilized," Jack says.
Remarkable to Jack and Wicklow, but unremarkable to Quahiri and Jezel, is the way they themselves are regarded by the people of the town. Everyone is equally polite to the orcs as they are with the sapiens. News has spread that the orcs are visitors with the Duke's license. Children follow them, but not in the way that children of other towns follow people of interest. These children follow stealthily, switching between members of a group. Wicklow gets the feeling that two or three separate and rival gangs of children are stalking them for some nefarious purpose of their own. But he is not concerned.
"I think we can handle a few crafty kids," he says to Jack.
Jack looks back at the two girls who are following them. They are stopping now and then to look at the flowers in the pots by the road. It is clear that they imagine Jack and Wicklow don't know they are following.
"There are a lot of them," Jack says.
"But they are just kids," Wicklow says.
Jack smiles. "Never underestimate the power of superior numbers."
That evening, Jack, Wicklow, Quahiri, and Jezel sit down in front of the fire with the Professionals. The Professionals propose that our heroes join them in an effort to take the gold from the orcs in Swamp Bottom. There are fifty orcs, and the Professionals estimate that they must have a stash of about five to ten thousand gold pieces.
Their discussion is cut short by the sound of shouting outside, the door bursting open, a sudden acrid smell wafting into the tavern, and the arrival of seven orcs in leather armor with various clattering metal plates added on their arms, heads, and necks. They carry no bladed weapons, only long sticks strapped to their backs. Six of them stand behind a large one who approaches the bar. He pounds his fist upon the polished oak bar-top. With his other hand, he up-ends a small cloth bag. A pile of coins pours out.
"Drink for everyone! We pay!" he says, in broken Weilandic.
Murial has stood with a glass and dishcloth in her hand, pressing herself against the wall behind the bar. But now she steps forward and runs her fingers through the coins. Some are gold and many are silver.
"Where did you get this, Bradik? Rob an old lady?"
He pounds his fist on the table. "Beer, woman! Not talk!"
Bradik walks to the chairs by the fire, where our heroes and the Professionals are seated. "I like fire. I like these chairs. We sit here. You sit there." He points to the other side of the common room.
Our heroes stand up, smile, and step away from their seats. The Professionals do the same, with the exception of Kadmium Herkocide, who stays seated. Bradik stands in front of him. "Fighting man! You sit in my chair? I sit on you!"
"Do you want to go outside and talk about this? Just the two of us?" Kadmium says. There is a thin smile on his lips. His voice is level and slow.
"No, dumb-ass, I want my boys to pick you up by your fingers and throw you out the door!"
Kadmium looks at the fire. Four orcs stand behind his chair. Kadmium looks over his shoulder. Slowly, he gets up and walks away. Bradik sits down. "Ah! Good place!"
As Quahiri and Jezel leave the fire-side with their sapien comrades, the orc men call out to them in orcish. Their accent is strong, and neither Wicklow nor Jack can understand them, but Jezel answers them, laughing and smacking her bottom as she walks away. Quahiri ignores them. The orcs whistle and whoop in appreciation of Jezel's jesture.
One of Murial's daughters is about to close the front door of the pub when a man comes in saying, "The dragon is in the square!"
"I figured that was what the smell was about," Murial says.
Our heroes leave their beers and, with The Professionals, walk along the alley to the square. Fog curls about the bases of the buildings and shrouds the rooves. The fountain plays in the light of its luminous stone. Wrapped around it is a green dragon. It is about thirty meters long from the tip of its tail to its snout, but the bulk of its body is about five meters long. Its wings are partly-folded upon its back. Jack can see that the creature has lost half of one wing, and the other wing is broken.
"It can't fly," he says.
Officer Dotey is standing by, filling out a Violation of Public Space ticket. "Don't know if I want to stick it on the creature," he says. "Always the same problem, and they never pay the tickets anyway."
"Shall we kill it for you?" Charles Canning says.
Officer Dotey raises both eyebrows. "Kill it? What for? It's not the dragon's fault." He shakes his head. "Indeed not. Besides, killing someone else's pet is a crime in Delia, unless you do so in self-defence."
Kadmium turns to Nader, "These people are retarded."
The Professionals return to the tavern. Our heroes remain, watching the dragon and the people milling around doing the same. There are many children. Officer Dotey orders them not to go within twenty steps of the dragon. "His breath is poisonous. If you anger him, he will breath upon us all!"
"I'd like to get back to the tavern," Wicklow says, "Maybe we can get Bradik to answer some questions."
They cross the square. The fog is thicker now, and they stand at the end of an alley and wonder if it's the one that leads to the Unicorn Tavern. Jack points up at a sign on the wall of one of the stone houses that press right up to the cobblestones.
"This is Artifact Street," he says, "The tavern is on Catoblepas Street, over here."
They walk twenty steps through the fog. A lantern hanging over a doorway illuminates a black sign with white letters saying Catoblepas Street.
"This way," Jack says.
"What does catoblepas mean?" Quahiri says.
"It's the name of a creature," Jack says, "When you look into its eyes, you die."
After a few more steps through the fog, she says, "Have you seen one?"
Jack shakes his head. "No, and maybe there is no such thing. Maybe it's just from childrens' stories. I don't know."
An hour after midnight, Wicklow is sitting in front of the fire with Bradik. There is a low table between them. Wicklow rolls a die. It comes up six. The five orcs standing behind Bradik growl and stomp. Wicklow smiles.
"Who is the lord of your tribe?" he says to Bradik in Weilandic.
Bradik bares his teeth and crosses his arms. His biceps bulge. He grunts. The orcs behind him go silent. Their heads are swaying and their eyes are bloodshot. Wicklow is sitting on the edge of his seat. Quahiri, Jezel, and Jack lean forward.
"Our lord," Bradik says, "Is Dreadmanifold."
Wicklow breaths out. "Dreadmanifold?"
The orcs laugh. Wicklow looks at Jack. Jack shakes his head and smiles.
An hour later, Bradik stands up, sways in front of the fire, raises one hand and shouts in orcish. His men stand up. He walks towards the door, opens it, and steps out into the fog. His men follow him. Watching them from the door, Jack sees them leaning upon one another, staggering, and bumping into the walls on either side of Catoblepas Street.
"Close the door will you, sir?" Murial says.
She is wiping the bar. Her hair is out of place and she is not watching where she is wiping. She knocks a pint mug off the bar and it clatters on the floor boards, spilling half a pint of beer.
"Come on," Wicklow says, "Let's watch them get on the dragon."
Quahiri, Jezel, Jack, and Wicklow step out into the fog and close the door. When they reach the square, the orcs are climbing onto the dragon. There are leather straps running along its back, tied around the base of its legs at either end. The orcs grab the straps and pull themselves up onto the dragon. One falls off. Another slips right over the other side and lands with a splash in the fountain.
A few children, hidden in the shadows, laugh. Officer Dotey watches with no expression on his face. Apart from that, the square is deserted.
When all the orcs are seated, with Bradik at the base of the dragon's neck, he gives a shout.
"Up!" The word is Latin.
The dragon raises its belly. It lets out a long groan and shakes its head. It flaps its maimed wings and shivers.
"Home!" Bradik says, and again the word is Latin.
The dragon flaps its wings again and cries out. Its cry is low and long and mournful. Jack looks at Officer Dotey, and sees him shaking his head slowly.
Bradik pats the dragon's neck. "Home!"
The dragon moves one foot, and then another, and suddenly surges forwards. It writhes its way around the fountain in the manner of a lizard, bending its body one way and then another. Within seconds, it has disappeared into the fog on the other side of the square.
"I want to follow them," Wicklow says.
Jack nods, and they walk into the fog. They can hear the orcs and the dragon in front of them. With the help of a luminous stone, they have no trouble following the dragon along the road leading out of town to the east. By jogging, they start to catch up with the creature.
When the road leaves the town, its paving ends, and the surface is dirt. After a kilometer, the dragon turns off the road and follows a trail to the south, through a forest of tall, ancient trees. The ground becomes rocky.
"What they call Rocky Hill is on our right," Wicklow says.
The trail turns west, then climbs. They hear an iron clang up ahead. They emerge from the trees and see that the trail ends at a tunnel entrance. Thick wooden beams mark the sides of a large door leading into the hill. The hill itself looms up into the fog. They approach the door. It is made of oak bound with iron.
Jack examines the ground. "The dragon went through the door, that's for sure."
Wicklow pats the door with his palm. "The catacoumbs of Magwash County," he says. "Not deserted after all."
Clarissa Wentworth, Prolocutor of the Antidote Girls, aged twelve and a half, leaned against a yew tree in Rocky Hill Cemetary. It was an hour before midnight on the twenty-first of March. There was snow on the ground, and low clouds over-head. In front of her, beyond the shadows of the trees, was a clearing filled with gravestones. Upon one of the gravestones, one she had chosen because it had a flat top, rested four candles in jars. The candles were lit, and cast a yellow glow across the snowy ground.
Sitting on a large wool blanket in front of the gravestone were three girls in white robes. They were nudging one another and giggling. Clarissa took her black hat off and clenched her teeth. She wished they would shut up. She took her black leather gloves off, held them between her legs with her hat, and re-tied her pony-tail. If she went out and told them to shut up, she might be seen.
A low grumble sounded from behind her, followed by, "It's okay, Grimwold, nobody's going to break the jars. We'll look after the jars, and you'll get them back in the morning. Okay?"
Clarissa put her hat and gloves back on. She stared out across the graveyard. Zebedia Smogg, Patron of the Antidote Girls, had hinted that the two men and their two orc women would visit the graveyard tonight. She and her comrades had been waiting for an hour, but still no sign of them. She was getting cold.
Across the graveyard Clarissa saw a flicker of white light. She raised her hands to her mouth and let out an owl call. "To-whit, to-whoo."
The girls on the blanket were whispering to one another, but when they heard the call, they stood up, sat down, kneeled, stood up again and turned around in circles. They were giggling. Clarissa wanted to run out and thump one of them.
The girls knelt down in front of the gravestone and held their hands together, as if worshiping. The candle-light shone upon their faces. Clarissa stared in the direction she had seen the white light. She saw the light again, flickering through the trees, and once more. It was coming closer.
The light disappeared. These must be the two men and the two orcs. When Zebedia makes a prediction, he's almost always right.
Clarissa frowned. How would she know when the men had started watching the girls in front of the gravestone? She was certain that they would watch from the shadows, because no adult could possibly walk past three girls worshipping at a gravestone in the middle of a snowy night. It would simply be too strange to pass by. Unless, of course, you were used to such things, like the residents of Delia, but these four were Outsiders.
How could she have failed to anticipate such an obvious problem? It was absolutely dark in the graveyard, except for the light of the candles. She could not see the visitors. What should she do? She put her fist under her chin. Surely they would watch for a few minutes. Wait a few minutes, then do it.
She waited. One of the girls looked over her shoulder at the trees where Clarissa stood, then another. They must be wondering what was going on. Clarissa was counting in her head. Sixty-seven... sixty-eight...
When she reached one hundred and eighty, she clapped her hands together. Moments later, three child-sized shapes, dressed all in black, emerged from the bush to her right, followed by a man-sized shape also dressed in black. The big one was Grimwold, Trillian's older brother. Trillian was the girl who had spoken to him. Her brother was big for his age, and strong, but not so smart, and did whatever his sister told him.
Clarissa walked with the four of them to the edge of the trees. The three girls in front of the gravestone kept their heads down. Grimwold held up a big sack in his huge hands. They rushed forward. Grimwold thrust the sack over the middle girl's head. The other two girls stood up and waved their hands in the air. They screamed. The girl in the sack wiggled a bit. Clarissa could hear her giggling. But the other two were screaming so loudly the people watching would surely not hear the giggling.
Without opening her mouth, Clarissa said, "Run, you're suppose to run."
The two girls in white robes turned and ran off across the snow and into the darkness. Clarissa pointed south. "Go," she said to Grimwold and Trillian. Trillian started running. Grimwold followed her, lumbering along like a monster, the sack with the girl wiggling in it over his back. Clarissa smiled. The wiggling was well-done. It was important to convince the watchers that there really was a girl in the sack. She turned and looked at the trees where the white light had come from. She saw nothing.
Had they been watching? Were they just going to sit there? Her shoulders slumped. It had been such a good plan. Had she not waited long enough?
Out of the woods four adult humans came running. Her heart started pounding and her mind felt suddenly giddy. She turned and ran after Grimwold.
There was a trail out of the graveyard, heading up Rocky Hill. In front of her she saw a dim light. That was Trillian's luminous stone. Clarissa took out her own. Its dim light showed her the path. There was Patty and in front of her, Rebecca, then Grimwold and Trillian.
"Hurry!" Clarissa said, "They're coming!"
They ran as fast as they could. The path was icy and wet. Grimwold slipped in the mud. He almost landed upon the sack.
"Let me out!" the girl in the sack said.
"Okay," Clarissa said, "let her out."
Jessica Toastworthy crawled out of the sack. She rubbed her head. "Ouch."
Clarissa pushed her. "Go!" She looked back down the path. A white light was flickering through the trees. "They're right behind us. Go!"
Grimwold stood up, bundled the empty sack under his arm and followed his sister. Jessica ran in her white robes. They passed an ancient stone pillar on the right side of the path. They had just left Delia and entered the territory of the Orcs. The path climbed sharply up an escarpment. "Careful up ahead!"
Trillian left the path and clambered up the snowy slope to the top. The path was blocked with short logs and rocks.
The five children and Grimwold stood at the top of the escarpment. Clarissa picked up two ropes lying on the ground and gave them to Grimwold.
"Pull them when Clarissa tells you to, okay Grimwold?" Trillian said.
Clarissa looked down the escarpment. She saw the white flickering light. She put her own light in her pocket. "Trillian," she said, "Put your light away."
When Trillian put her light away, it was quite dark. The flickering white light was the only light she could see. It came closer, up the path. She heard men's voices. She heard boots splashing in the puddle at the bottom of the escarpment. The light came bouncing up through the trees. It was twenty paces away. "Now!" Casandara said.
Grimwold grunted. A moment later, the pile of logs and rocks thumped and clattered its way down the path towards the white light. Clarissa did not wait to see what became of the four outsiders on the path. She knew they would be unhurt. She just wanted to slow them down. She took out her light. "Go!" she said. The Antidote Girls and Grimwold turned, found the path, and ran.
The path wound up between walls of jagged rock. It turned left, right, and left. They came to a fork in the path, and went right, then another fork, and went left. Each time they chose one path over another, Clarissa made large footprints in the snow and mud, just to make sure that the outsiders would be able to follow them.
The air grew damp and foggy. Clarissa looked up and thought she saw the moon shining for a moment through the mist.
Jessica Toastworthy stopped and leaned upon the rock wall beside the path. She was breathing deeply and wheezing. Her white robe was splattered with mud.
"I can't," she said, and took a deep breath. "Go on."
Clarissa smacked her on the side of the head. "Get moving, or they'll catch you and you'll give us away."
Jessica staggered, stood up, and kept running. Clarissa followed. Another hundred meters and the path came out from between the rock walls and into an open space with cliffs on three sides. Trillian and Grimwold stopped at the edge of the open space. Trillian crouched down. Grimwold sat on the snowy ground beside her. Patty and Rebecca pressed themselves against the wall, out of sight of the cliffs.
Clarissa stared through the darkness at the cliff on the other side of the open space. The fog was thinning. The moon had risen about half an hour ago. Its light penetrated what was left of the fog and cast a pale glow over the tumbled boulders and sheer cliffs of Rocky Hill.
"Okay," Clarissa said. She took ten deep breaths. "He can probably see us, but he's standing by the door to the Frog Poisoner's Cavern. The door is in the base of the cliff on the other side of this flat area. He'll know we are children, so he won't hurt us. He's big and slow, so he won't be able to catch us."
She listened for any sound of the four outsiders following. She heard nothing.
None of the girls answered her.
"Follow me," Clarissa said.
She started walking across the open space, towards the cliff. She held her dim luminous stone in one hand so she would not trip over any rocks. The others followed her, looking around, stepping slowly. Clarissa stomped in a puddle, and dug her boot heal into the snow. Better leave good tracks for the outsiders to follow.
She was still breathing hard from the run, but now her knees felt weak and her stomach was upset. She wanted to crouch down and curl up into a ball. Time for that later. She stared ahead. There was the door to the tunnel that lead to the Cavern. She walked towards it. Her comrades followed. When she was twenty paces from the door, she stopped. Where was the ogre?
A roar sounded from the cliff wall to her right. Out from behind a looming boulder came a huge, dark, shape with legs and arms. He ran towards them. His feet crunched in the ice and mud, and this crunching was accompanied by a clashing and scraping of metal. Clarissa ran to the tumbled rocks on the left of the door. She clambered through them. Her comrades followed, crowding behind her. She lowered herself to her hands and knees and crawled through the mud and snow, beneath a slab of stone, and out the other side. The ogre roared behind them. Clarissa climbed farther up through the boulders until she came up against the vertical wall of the cliff. She turned. She was standing above the door. The tunnel was beneath her. Her comrades climbed up beside her, and they all looked down into the open space. Another roar sounded, from the other side of the slab of stone. The ogre could not follow them. The passage beneath the slab was too small.
The white light shone out on the other side of the open space. The outsiders had arrived.
"Get down," Clarissa said. Her comrades crouched among the rocks. She put her luminous stone away. Trillian did the same. She stared out between two boulders. A large shadow moved slowly from the door to the looming boulder, scraping and clanking as it went.
"What's happening?" Jessica said.
"The ogre is going back to his hiding place," Clarissa said.
"What's the scraping and clanking?"
Trillian said, "Armor. It's armor is five centimeters thick. I read that ogres can fight in armor that weighs two hundred kilograms."
The white light moved slowly towards the door. It shone upon the ground, stopped, and shone up towards the cliffs. For a few seconds, it flashed in Clarissa's face. She closed her eyes but did not move. The light turned away. The four outsiders were half-way across the open space, walking straight towards the door. She heard them whispering to one another, but she could not make out what they said.
The ogre roared. The roar was so loud Clarissa ducked. She heard the ogre scraping and clashing his way out into the open space. When she looked out again, the white light had disappeared. The four outsiders separated in the moonlight. She saw the flash of swords and spear-tips. Two of them carried shields.
"Aargh!" the ogre said, and swung a huge weapon.
The outsiders jumped back and attacked the ogre from all sides. The ogre was more than half again as tall as the tallest of the outsiders, and broad like a bear. He struck a rock. The rock shattered. Sparks flashed in the air.
Trillian pressed up beside Clarissa. "He's got a mace." The ogre swung its weapon again, and struck another rock. "Wow, it must weigh fifty kilograms."
How were the four puny outsiders going to subdue him? Clarissa had assumed that they would subdue him, not kill him. That was what Jessica had said about the two men, from watching them in the Unicorn Tavern. Clarissa doubted that orc women would want to kill anything. But what if the ogre hit one of the outsiders with his mace? How could anyone survive?
The mace glanced off one of the adult's shields with a clash. The adult jumped forwards and stabbed with a spear. The other outsiders scurried around the ogre's legs. The ogre seemed to pay attention only to the one person he chose to attack, or he'd swing his mace all about him, and drive them all back at once. But when he attacked one person, he ignored the others, and they came in and chopped at his armor as hard as they could.
The ogre smashed another rock. He swung his mace in a circle. One of the outsiders came close up and stabbed at his head. The ogre stepped backward and nearly fell. It roarded and swung his mace once more in a circle. For a moment, he stood there, looking about him. The outsiders held their weapons ready. The ogre ran from the door. He roared as he went, and his armor clashed and scraped. The outsiders let him go. He was soon out of sight among the rocks and passages through which the children and outsiders had arrived.
The outsiders gathered together and talked. They walked to the boulder behind which the ogre had hidden. They explored with their light. Clarissa had no idea what they might find back there. Maybe a pile of yellow snow. She took out her watch, which hung on a chain from her belt, and examined it in the light of her luminous stone. It said two minutes before midnight.
"Okay," she said, "I'm going to hide next to the door. You wait here. When you get a chance, sneak back to the paths and wait for me there."
Clarissa crept between the boulders, and under the stone slab, until she was hiding in the shadows beside the door. She crouched and waited. The outsiders were still looking behind the boulder.
The door opened. Bright yellow light shone out. Boots crunched upon the ice. Long shadows fell across the snow.
"Fagrot!" a voice called, and the sound of the voice reminded Clarissa of her dog barking. "Fagrot!"
Six tall, thin creatures walked out across the snow. Their faces had snouts like a dog's. They looked boney and hard. As they walked, their heads went up and then down. They looked as if they were jumping instead of walking. Three of them were holding burning torches.
Clarissa smiled. These were gnolls. Over the past week, she had observed them taking over watching the door at midnight.
The four outsiders came running from behind the boulder. Two of them were sapien men. Each wieled a sword with two hands. The other two were orc women. They each wielded a spear and shield. The gnolls were armed with metal-shod staffs. One of them shouted in orcish, the same one who had shouted "Fagrot". The three gnolls with torches leaned them against a rock and jumped to stand beside their leader.
Clarissa smiled. Gnolls are stupid, but they are quick, big, and tough. She doubted that the outsiders would be able to get past the gnolls before the gnolls had a chance to close the door. But as for her... she looked at the door. The door opened inward, and it was standing wide open. She could see a brick-lined passage with more light inside.
The gnolls barked. The two orc women shouted. Staffs smashed against the orc's shields. The iron-shod tips of the gnolls staffs whined through the cold night air. The sapiens' swords flashed in the firelight. Clarissa stared at the battle. The sapiens and orcs were surrounded. But they seemed little disturbed by the experience. The men seemed were smiling. The orc women were shouting in what appeared to be excitement, although she could not be sure. Orcs were hard to understand.
Now was her chance to enter the passage. The gnolls had their backs turned. The sapiens and orcs were too busy fighting to notice her. It was time to go. But she did not move. She kept staring at the fight. This was a real fight between grown-ups. She had hardly ever seen such a thing.
A roar sounded from the far side of the open space. Clarissa stared into the darkness. Here came the ogre, running towards the fight, thumping, clashing, and scraping.
"Fagrot!" one of the gnolls barked, and the other gnolls barked with him. "Fagrot!"
The ogre charged into the fight, swinging his mace. In the light of the torches, Clarissa could see his big, ugly face. He had tusks like an orc, but smaller. Or maybe they were the same size, but his face was so much bigger. He looked large and stupid. But he was smiling, and as he swung his mace, he roared.
One of the sapiens stabbed the ogre's leg. Clarissa could hardly believe what she was seeing. The sapien pulled his sword out and the ogre fell backwards. He roared. It took a while for him to hit the ground, because he had so far to fall. His ugly face was scowling. He snorted between his teeth and closed his eyes. How had the sapien stabbed through the ogre's armor?
Would the ogre die? The sapien stood over the ogre for a second, looking at the blood seeping out of the ogre's wound. The gnolls charged in and attacked. The sapien turned and defended himself. The ogre began to crawl towards the door. His mace was tied to his wrist by a leather strap.
She really must go now. The ogre might see her. But he was wounded. There was nothing he could do to stop her. She had to go now. She did not move. Her heart was pounding. She did not want to get trapped in the cavern with the gnolls or the ogre. Maybe there were other things in there, worse things, waiting to catch her.The sapiens and the gnolls kept fighting. The ogre kept crawling towards the door.
Now, Clarissa said to herself. Now!
She moved out from behind the rock, into the flickering light. She stepped through the door. She was in the passage. It smelled of smoke and roasted meat. \She passed through a six-sided room with a table, several chairs, and a fireplace. The passage went on around a bend in front of her. There was light up ahead. It was steady, yellow light.
She crept along the wall, peeking around the corner. She stopped and listened. She could hear the fighting outside. She heard another sound. It sounded like an insect, a kind of chirping. The chirping was the Song of the Death Frog. But the song was not supposed to be dangerous, only the touch of the Death Frog would kill you.
She crept forwards. An iron door stood open. She walked through and entered a cavern. She was not sure how large the cavern was, because trees and bushes and shrubs filled it from floor to ceiling. Light shone from bright, luminous stones. All the trees and bushes and shrubs were growing out of large clay pots sitting on the floor. Water dripped from holes in the ceiling onto the plants. The soil in the pots was wet. Where the water landed on the stone floor, it flowed slowly to a pool in the center. A path led from the iron door to the pool.
In the pots were wooden signs pained in strange characters in many different colors. These characters were the written script of a far-away land, the land called Chiin, on the other side of the world, where the dragons live. The man who wrote them came from there. He it was who made the luminous stones, and he it was who kept the plants.
The Song of the Death Frogs filled the cavern.
Clarissa was here to do one thing only: to steal mushrooms. She left the path, walked between the trees and vines, and hid behind a large pot. She took her pack from her back, and removed a wicker box. The box was about thirty centimeters long, twenty centimeters wide, and ten centimeters high. She opened the lid. Inside was a piece of paper with two characters written on it. They were Chiin characters. She picked up the piece of paper, held the box and her pack in one hand, and looked around for mushrooms. She did not see any. She crept farther into the cavern.
She pushed her way through a wall of vines and creepers. She looked up, and there in front of her face was a small frog with blue and black skin, holding onto a vine leave. She staggered back and fell on her bottom. The frog made no sound, but its was the right color for a Death Frog. There were others in the vine leaves. One of them was crawling right above her in a tree. She moved back across the wet stone floor.
She had dropped the wicker box under the vines. She stared at the deadly frogs moving about in the vines. One of them chirped. She put the piece of paper in her pocket and rose to her feet. She lunged forward, grabbed the box, and jumped back.
Ten paces farther on, she met the wall of the cavern, and there she found, beneath an over-hanging tree, several large pots of mushrooms. Each stand of mushrooms was marked with a sign. She compared each sign to the one she held. One of the signs looked almost the same as hers. The mushrooms were short and fat. Their tops were brown. She opened the wicker box, picked a mushroom, and put it in. There was a cloth in the bottom.
She watched the mushroom. The correct mushroom was supposed to turn blue around the base, where she broke it off. She waited. The mushroom turned a little dark around the base, and then blue. She picked twenty more mushrooms, placing them in the box. There were still ten mushrooms left in the pot. She closed the box and put it in her pack.
She heard shouting. The gnolls were back in the tunnel. She heard banging, scraping, and more shouting. She crouched behind a tall, red pot with a palm growing out of it, and looked through the cavern jungle towards the iron door. Four gnolls came running through, down the path to the center of the cavern, and off in another direction. The sound of their boots grew quiet.
Now what? Were the outsiders in the tunnel? Should she creep out? Why hadn't she thought about this part of the plan more carefully? All she had been thinking about was how to get into the cavern.
She crouched behind the palm. Several minutes passed. Quiet voices sounded from the neighborhood of the iron door. They spoke Latin. She could tell it was Latin, because she studied Latin at school, but she could not speak it well enough to understand.
She peeked out past the palm. One of the orc women was at the door. There was movement among the pots and plants. To her right, one of the men pushed his way through a crowd of ferns. Clarissa froze in the shadows. But he saw her. He looked at her and smiled.
Clarissa stood up and ran. She splashed through the pool and burst through a curtain of vines beside the iron door. She ran along the passage to the six-sided room. There was a dark stain on the floor. Boots sounded behind her. The door to the outside was almost closed. A wooden spike stuck out of the lock. She grabbed the door and was about to pull on it when two strong hands held her by the shoulders. She tried to shake them off, but the man twisted her arm behind her back and she stayed still.
"Ouch!" she said.
She looked up and saw the face of the man who had found her. Behind him the two orc women and the second man arrived from the cavern.
"Where is the girl you captured?" the man holding her said.
"Let me go!"
She looked around, wondering how she could escape. There was the ogre, sitting up against the wall next to the fireplace. His eyes were closed. The dark stain on the floor was his blood. He had crawled into the tunnel while the gnolls were fighting.
"He's not dead," the man said, "He'll be fine. Where is the girl?"
"I don't have to answer your questions. Let me go. I'm only a child."
The outsiders talked to one another in Latin. One of the women kneeled in front of Clarissa and touched her face with a claw. Clarissa pulled her face away.
"Don't touch me!"
The orc woman bared her teeth and said something to the second man. He laughed. The first man pushed Clarissa forwards. One of the women opened the door. They walked outside into the cold night air. The moonlight shone on the pools of water and ice. On the ground were the three torches the gnolls had brought, and lying on the ground nearby were two gnolls. In the shadows to the right, Clarissa saw her comrades.
"Run!" she said.
The children ran, splashing away across the open space. Clarissa pushed back upon the man holding her, and struggled. She did not want one of the others to catch any of her friends, and certainly not Grimwold, who would be terrified, and might have one of his tantrums.
But none of the outsiders tried to follow the children. They talked among themselves for a minute. Clarissa struggled, but it was no use. He was too strong. On his hand he wore a metal glove. He held her firmly, and whenever she tried to get away he twisted her arm and hurt her so badly she wanted to scream.
But she did not scream.
He leaned down and spoke to her. "Why is the girl in the white robes running away with the people who kidnapped her?"
"I'm not going to tell you anything. Let me go, or you'll be in trouble for attacking a child."
"We're in the Borderlands," the man said, "We can do pretty much anything we like out here." Clarissa thought he was going to twist her arm again, but he didn't.
A metal door clanged behind them in the tunnel. Heavy boots thumped on the passage floor, accompanied by deep, growling voices.
"Orcs," the man said. Clarissa knew the word for orc in Latin. He untwisted her arm and stood beside her, holding her wrist. "Run, child. We're taking you to the police." She ran.
So far, they had not noticed the pack she wore under her cape.
Half an hour later, Clarissa stood in her black cape and clothes, cold, wet, and tired, with the outsiders around her, and Officer Edward Dotey in front of her. They were in the police station.
"Well now, Clarissa," Officer Dotey said, with a serious look on his face. "What will your father have to say about all this?"
Clarissa frowned, but she did not answer. So long as nobody took the mushrooms away from her, she did not care what they did, or how angry her father was. And he would not be angry. He would probably laugh. She and her father had a deal. He would not get angry at her for what she did, and she would tell him whatever he wanted to know.
She was glad it was Officer Dotey on duty. It was not that she liked him. He was always meddling in her business. But when Officer Dotey's first daughter had been borne, it was Clarissa's father who had delivered the little baby. The delivery was difficult, because the baby was the wrong way up. But her father saved the baby's life and Mrs. Dotey's life too. So there was no way that Officer Dotey was going to do anything to her that would annoy her father.
"We think the girl in the white robe is okay, but we're not sure," the man who had twisted her arm said.
"I expect you're right, Mr. Wicklow," Officer Dotey said. He looked at Clarissa. "Is that right, Miss Wentworth? Everyone okay, or is someone in the clutches of an evil-doer?"
Clarissa shook her head. "Everybody's fine."
Dotey smiled at the outsiders. "I think everything will be okay. Thank you for your concern. I apologise for any inconvenience or disturbance caused by the children, but..." He looked at Clarissa. "They are a right mischeivious lot, the children of Delia, so you will have to forgive them."
Mr. Wicklow frowned. The other man scratched his head and spoke to the orcs in Latin. He turned to Officer Dotey and said, "Okay, so we should just go back to the tavern?"
Dotey put his hands behind his back and raised himself up on his toes. This was one of his annoying mannerisms. "I can't hold you here, Mr. Jack. There's no cause."
Mr. Jack nodded. "Well, goodnight."
The outsiders left the police station. Clarissa did not turn around and watch them go. She kept her eyes cast down at the floor. When they were gone, Dotey said, "Those are important visitors. They are representatives of the Duke. They're here on an important mission. You probably know all about it. You should be more careful who you get wrapped up in your crazy schemes."
Clarissa said nothing.
"Sit down on the bench for a while," he said. "Then go home."
"Yes sir," Clarissa said, and when Officer Dotey turned away to pour himself a cup of coffee, she smiled.
"My sister Jessica saw the dragon crash in the forest," Toyia Toastworthy says, "That was about six months ago."
Jack, Jezel, Wicklow, and Quahiri are sitting in the dining room of the Unicorn Tavern. It is the morning of the 22nd of March, 2478. They slept late after their night on Rocky Hill. Jack and Wicklow had a short conference by space bridge with Dreadmanifold at ten in the morning, and now they have joined the two women for a late breakfast. The fire in the corner of the dining room is burning brightly. Outside it is snowing.
"Why did the dragon crash?" Wicklow says.
"It was attacked by a black orc on a wyvern," Toyia says, "Same as anything that flies around here with someone riding on it."
Quahiri and Jezel watch Toyia. They cannot understand her Weilandic, but they watch her face and stare at her dark skin.
"What if someone arrives here by hippogriff?" Jack says.
"Nobody does," Toyia says.
"There are no griff stalls in the central stable," Wicklow says. "Is your sister here? Perhaps she would tell us the story herself."
"I think she's still in bed. I'll let her know you want to talk to her." Toyia picks up Jezel's plate. "But I'm warning you: she won't tell you anything unless you give her something in return."
Toyia carries their breakfast plates away, and through the swinging door to the kitchen. Jezel and Quahiri watch her go.
"I think she is darker than her sisters," Jezel says.
Jack and Wicklow take out their notebooks. Wicklow opens his and looks up. "Dreadmanifold, wants to know who is in charge of the Borderlands next to Delia."
"Does he know Bradik?" Quahiri says.
"No, but your Lord Dreadmanifold is well-know in the Kratanak Outlands. So Bradik knows the name of your Lord, and pretended that your Lord was his. It was Bradik's idea of a joke."
"Dreadmanifold laughed," Jack says.
Jack looks in his book. "I think the dragon was injured when it fell," he says. "Since then, someone has been looking after it."
"The lord of Bradik," Quahiri says.
"I think you're right." Wicklow looks at his notes. He has a pencil in his hand. "We have Chiin characters on the signs in the Plant Cave. We have an ogre guard, then gnolls coming out to relieve him, then a bunch of orcs charging out a little while after that. The dragon and Bradik's men entered Rocky Hill on the south side. The entrance to the Plant Cave is on the east side."
"What if all the caves are joined by tunnels?" Jezel says.
"In that case," Wicklow says, "Bradik's boss is the boss of the Plant Cavern, the gnolls, and the ogre too."
"Maybe Bradik was with the men that came last night," Quahiri says.
Jezel shakes her head and smiles at Quahiri. Quahiri frowns. She has a notebook of her own, a small one, which she writes in. Her father asked her to keep a diary of her travels. But she does not show it to the others. She is worried that they will think the things she has written in the diary are not clever enough for a chief's daughter. Her handwriting is not as pretty as that of the two men either.
"One boss," Jezel says, "Many peoples, all living underground. The boss makes lights and draws on paper for his plants in strange letters from far-away land. He is from far-away too. He is a karazi with power in his fingers." She raises her hands and wiggles her fingers.
Jack smiles. "Not just a pretty face."
Murial Toastworthy walks up with a pot of coffee. "Well, what weather we are having," she says. "Snowing on the first day of Spring. What a pity we've had such bad weather for your visit."
"We don't mind," Wicklow says. "It's good to have cold, damp weather outside, and to be warm and dry in here."
Murial puts her hands upon her hips. "Warm and dry is our business. And well-fed too, of course. Can I get you anything else?"
Jezel whispers to Jack. Jack looks up. "Jezel would like to meet your husband."
"Oh." She smiles and then frowns. "Well." She looks at the kitchen door. "He doesn't normally visit with orcs. They seem to come over all strange when he's around. Angry at him for the color of his skin, he says. So he keeps in the kitchen when there are orcs around."
Jack looks at Jezel and shakes his head. Murial takes a deep breath. "But I suppose you're not like the other orcs, being women and all. So I'll ask him."
"Thank you," Jack says.
Christopher Martin meets them for lunch at noon in the common room. He speaks Latin slowly so that the orcs can understand. He is in good spirits. He has been staying with Jane Bellamy.
"That sounds like fun," Jezel says.
"I always admired Jane in school," Christopher says, "But she was two years ahead of me, so she never paid me any attention."
"Interesting," Wicklow says. "Now, what do you know about black orcs visiting Delia?"
After lunch, Jane Bellamy and her father George Bellamy come into the tavern. They pull up a table and sit down with Christopher and our heroes. George Bellamy is half-way through his pint of beer when Samual Fuller, the Mayor of Delia comes in, followed by Dr. Wentworth, Clarissa Wentworth's father, and Officer Dotey. They join George Bellamy.
Another half-pint later, Grissom Woodright and his three men come in, stomp snow off their boots, and order hot milk. They sit nearby. More citizens of Delia enter the tavern. The Professionals descend from their rooms and stand at the bar. Quahiri waves to Harold Finkworthy, the optician who made their sunglasses.
What appears to be a Town Meeting ensues, over which Samual Fuller the hobbit presides. The citizens of Delia challange Grissom over the bothersome orcs in Swamp Bottom. Grissom says the Duke is going to take care of the problem soon, but he won't say when.
"If you had told us earlier," Grissom says, "We would have taken care of it earlier. But you didn't." He looks at George Bellamy, who is the Chief of Staff at Swamp Bottom. "You were too busy taking their money."
Shouting erupts. Samual Fuller stands upon his chair and raises his hands. "Easy. Steady on. Stay calm."
"We don't want orcs coming out of the borderlands," Dr. Wentworth says.
Some of the townspeople cheer. Others shake their hads. From the other side of the bar, Murial shouts, "Don't be disrespecting my guests, the young ladies over there, or I'll throw you out. This is my Tavern, and you'll be polite when you're here."
"For sure!" Dr. Wentworth says. "But when Bradik and his men come in, they can be as rude as they want. It's money you care about, Murial, not manners."
Samuel raises his hands again. "Now, now. We are all concerned about money. We pride ourselves upon our head for business in this town. And we pride ourselves upon our freedom. I know it's worrying to have orcs roaming around as they like, but we must talk less about their race, and more about their behavior."
He looks at the faces in the crowd.
"We have looters at Swamp Bottom. We have hooligans coming into town and patronising our oldest tavern. Three months ago, we convicted a murderer. You may remember the case. Do you?"
The crowd answers, "Yes."
"A hobbit like myself, murdered his own dear wife of fourty-five years in a dispute over their herb garden, if I remember rightly. What are we to say to all this? Hobbits are murderers, orcs are hooligans?"
The crowd murmers.
"I understand your point, Samuel," George Bellamy says, "But I have some experience with orcs now, and I think it's safe to say that they are at least more likely to be hooligans than the rest of us, but at the same time less likely to be murderers."
The crowd receives this observation with enthusiasm, some because they agree with it and wish to say so, but most because they disagree with it and wish to say so. Jack takes this opportunity to explain to Jezel and Quahiri what has been said. They lean close and listen carefully. Quahiri nods as Jack talks. Jezel looks up at the faces in the crowd.
Grissom stands up. "You have a problem with orcs. The Duke knows this. We will drive away the orcs at Swamp Bottom. After that, the Duke has long-term plans to solve your problem." Grissom looks to Quahiri and Jezel and smiles. Wicklow does not remember Grissom smiling at the orcs before. "These four visitors are part of one of the Duke's plans for the long-term. But I cannot give you the details. I hope, however, that you will not reject orcs, because they may be part of the solution."
Quahiri writes in her notebook that evening. Here is what she wrote. (Note that the word keshi is the orc name for their own species, and karazi is their name for black-orcs.)
Christopher Martin walked with us through the town this afternoon. He answers our questions. We visited Delia College, school for men and women. When the people are 18 years old they start. When they are 20 they leave. Most of them leave, but some are staying. The teachers are called professors. Two professors are sapien wizards. Six almost-wizards work with them. We spoke to one these almost-wizards who are called adjutants. No karazi or keshi are in this school called Delia College. In the town there are four wizards who have shops where they sell wizard things and make spells. We went one place like this and Wicklow looked at some wizard glasses that let him see like a keshi at night. These he likes good, they are like Sacha's flying glasses, not like one glass for one eye we tried in Plantinak.
There is a large building with many rooms all filled with books. This is the Delia Library. You can take a book from the library, but you have to bring it back when you have finished reading it. They know when you have finished the book and they write you a letter to tell you to bring the book back. There are books telling about many kinds of things there. We looked at books about Delia history, and books of wizard spells. Tomorrow or maybe day after we will visit the Delia Museum. It has pictures and statues from the history of Delia.
There are valleys and hills south of Delia. These lands are called Borderlands. In these lands are living keshi, and also other creatures called gnolls who are tall and ogres who are very large. The keshi come into Delia sometimes with wife and children. They bring some things to trade with people of Delia. Like: pepper, cinnamon, saffron, cayenne, and other things all called spices, and fresh leaves and mushrooms delicious and that make strange your head feeling to see other pretty things. Coffee and tea they bring. Not enough for Delia who likes their coffee, but very best coffee. The keshi want to get meat and salt.
When the keshi bring their children the Delia people do not mind keshi and children going to coffee place and school playing places. Coffee shop is large, smells good. Best coffee Wicklow and Jack say. Best hot chocolate Jezel and me say. The name of this is Samothraki Coffee House. Many games to play there with small pieces and boards with squares.
We find girl from Rocky Hill called Clarissa Wentworth. She is carrying food home for her parents. We ask her questions. We pay her with pieces of gold. She tells us the boss of the keshi in the Borderlands is a wizard from Chiin, not a karazi. The wizard makes light stones for plants. He writes in Chiin letters. She thinks he is very old.
There are two other very old people we learned about. One is called Natasha. She is an elf woman who lives in the Borderlands. She keeps many strange animals in her own zoo. Another is Avamintu Patanishi. She lives in a big house on the edge of the town, with a large garden. She likes children, and throws a party for them once a year that none of the parents are allowed to go to, but all the children in the town are invited. The children love to go to the parties.
The next morning, the 23rd of March, the sun is shining, and the late spring snow has melted away. The confused and sloping roovess of Delia Town, as seen from Wicklow's room on the fourth floor of the Unicorn Tavern, are glistening in the sunlight. He sits with Jack in front of their space bridge to Loose Lips.
"Do you know any wizard who fits that description?" Wicklow says.
"A wizard from Chiin?" Martha says through the bridge. "Well, there's Ha-Min-Chu, of course, but he's..."
"He's a time-traveller and a renegade."
Wicklow and Jack look at one another.
"Where was he trained?" Hocus says.
"Not at the Pakesh University," Martha says. "I don't think anyone knows where he was trained, or when for that matter. He cast twenty-fifth century spells back in the twenty-first century. He's more of a legend. I assumed he was dead. It's unlikely to be him. It could be any wizard from Chiin."
"Are there many?" Wicklow says.
"Not that I know of," Martha says. "I'm sure training by apprenticeship has reached Chiin. It's easy enough for a wizard to travel. So I would not get excited if I were you."
"Too late," Wicklow says.
Afternoon finds Wicklow, Jack, Quahiri and Jezel in the Samothraki Coffee House. As they sit enjoying their coffee, they see Samuel Fuller playing a game with ivory tiles. The ivory tiles are arranged in neat piles in front of him and his opponent. His opponent is an old man sitting with his back straight, wearing an embroidered silk robe. The man's thin white moustache hangs down around a white beard. His skin is tan, with a hint of yellow, and mottled with marks of age. His eyes are narrow, in the manner of the people of Chiin. His right hand rests upon his knee. Its fingernails are long. He uses his left hand to pick up a tile and place it upon the table.
"That's our man," Wicklow says. "Old, from Chiin, wizard nails on the right hand."
Soon after, they see that Samuel Fuller is preparing to leave. They approach him as he stands bowing to the old man. Samuel greets them and introduces them. "This is Lee-Wam, the best mah-jong player in town."
Lee-Wam smiles and nods. He looks up and down at the orc women and smiles some more. He jestures to the seat recently vacated by Samuel and says to Jezel, "Won't you sit down, dear lady, and play a game."
Jezel looks at Jack. Jack translates into Latin. Lee-Wam says in Latin, "Would you like to play?"
Jezel sits down and puts her hands upon the table. "I don't know how to play this game."
The old man smiles again. "I will teach you."
Wicklow, Jack, and Quahiri pull chairs up to the table. A waiter approaches. Lee-Wam speaks to the waiter without looking away from Jezel. "Jasmine tea for me, a fresh pot, and whatever my guests want."
Wicklow examines Lee-Wam's face. Here is an old man who is most definitely not taking longevity drugs. And yet he acts like a wealthy man. If he is a wizard, he should easily be able to afford the $10,000 a month needed to buy the drugs. Why has he forgone them? Is it because he is forbidden them by Olympia, or because he spurns them?
From the way the old fellow is staring at Jezel, it seems that he still enjoys, or would like to enjoy women, and even orc women. Particularly orc women, in fact. The old man has not looked once at the young sapien students sitting at the next table, turning their faces towards the Outsiders frequently, but trying not to be noticed. Wicklow is sure the one with the brown hair is making eyes at him.
Better concentrate on the business at hand. But maybe later he could ask her to show him around the town, because he's an Outsider. It would be easy to do, and business as well. That would be lame, making up an excuse. He should just ask her. But not in front of the others. What if she said No? Wicklow shakes his head. He has lost his train of thought. Just when he was on the verge of figuring something out. Where was he?
A middle-aged man walks up, also wearing a silk robe, and also from Chiin. His bearing is erect and his face is without expression. He leans over and whispers in Lee-Wam's ear. The language is not one Wicklow has heard before.
Lee-Wam looks up. "I must leave. I have an appointment."
"What a pity," Wicklow says.
The middle-aged man helps Lee-Wam stand up. Once standing, however, Lee-Wam does not need assistance. Our heroes stand also. Lee-Wam has his hands tucked away in the sleeves of his silk robe. They do not try to shake his hands. He bows from the neck. "I will be here again tomorrow, two hours after noon. I would be glad to teach the game of mah-jong to these charming ladies."
Qhahiri looks at Wicklow. He nods slightly. She smiles at Lee-Wam, baring her white tusks and showing her black tongue. "We will see you at that time."
Lee-Wam turns and walks through the coffee shop with his secretary. When they leave, Wicklow looks back at the table next to theirs. His smile fades from his face. The three young women have gone. They are just leaving through the other door.
Jack and Jezel sit down again. Jezel picks up one of the tiles. Jack smiles. "I think that's him."
Quahiri says, "He is the wizard of Rocky Hill?"
"Yes," Jack says.
"But is he Ha-Min-Chu as well?" Wicklow says.
Jack frowns. "I don't know about that. But I'm not sure it matters, either."
At 2 pm on the 23rd of March, Wicklow, Jack, Quahiri, and Jezel return to the Samothraki Coffee House. They are not wearing armor. They are not carrying weapons. Quahiri takes her sunglasses off. She whispers to Jezel, and Jezel takes hers off also.
The four of them stand at one end of the coffee house and look among the tables for Lee-Wam. Without their armor and weapons, the orcs's clothes are plain. Jezel tugs on her wool shirt and frowns. She would like to wear something more colorful, like the yellow silk shirt worn by the the dwarf woman sitting by a pillar nearby. The dwarves wear such pretty, bright clothes. Sapiens seem to have hardly any sense of color. What they call a green pair of trousers is a shade of green barely distinguishable from gray. Why not wear bright green trousers? Why not wear clothes that people will notice and enjoy?
"I don't see him," Wicklow says.
Quahiri points to the same table Lee-Wam was sitting at the day before. "There is Lee-Wam's table."
The table is set with mah-jong pieces, but Lee-Wam is not there. A clock on the wall says two minutes to two.
"We're early," Wicklow says. "Let's wait."
A minute later, Lee-Wam walks slowly across the coffee shop from the toilets. He holds his hands in the sleaves of his silk robe which is yellow, red, and black. Jezel smiles. This old man likes bright colors. The yellow and red go well with the black borders.
At Lee-Wam's invitation, the two orc women sit with him at his table, while the two men sit at a nearby table. Lee-Wam orders hot chocolate for the women. He starts to teach them how to play mah-jong. Most of the time, he talks to them in Latin, but every now and then he talks quietly and quickly to them in another language that both the orcs seem to understand. After a while, Wicklow and Jack recognise this language as Kratanak Orcish. What else could it be? So far as they know, Quahiri and Jezel speak only Latin and Kratanak. What interests them is the fact that Lee-Wam appears to speak Kratanak well, but is unwilling to speak it loudly.
Quahari listens carefully to Lee-Wam. Jezel fools around with the tiles, mixing them up and switching them with those of Lee-Wam when she think's he's not looking.Lee-Wam mixes Jezel's tiles up without her seeing how he does it. He has the sleaves of his robe to help him, but it seems to Jack, sitting a little to one side and behind Lee-Wam, that the old man would have no need of his robe sleaves to perform his tricks. His hands move easily over the tiles, picking them, hiding them in his palms, and replacing them.
"He may look old," Jack said, "But his fingers are not stiff."
Wicklow nods. "No arthritis. He must be taking medicine to stop arthritis, to keep his fingers nimble for his work."
Jezel laughs with delight at Lee-Wam's slight of hand. She tries to switch a tile with him and knocks over Quahiri's pile of Dragon Tiles, mixing them with her Wind Tiles, so that everyone can see them when they are supposed to be secret.
"Stop it!" Quahiri says.
Wicklow looks at the clock on the wall. It's 2:30 pm. That's enough mah-jong lesson. The two orcs are about to start one of their fights. Jezel might shout and Quahiri will sulk. Sooner or later he's going to have to talk to them about their behavior, or talk to Quahiri at least. If she wants to take her father's place, she's going to have to learn to keep her cool. She can get angry, but the sulking has got to stop.
Jack smiles at Jezel. She's such a breath of fresh air, that girl.
Wicklow stands up. "I'm going to put a stop to this." He walks to Lee-Wam's table and kneels beside Quahiri. "It is time for us to talk to Lee-Wam."
Quahiri looks from her tiles to Wicklow. Jezel knocks another pile of tiles over trying to grab something out of Lee-Wam's sleeve. He pulls his sleave away and laughs.
"Thank you for the lesson," Quahiri says to Lee-Wam.
"You are welcome," Lee-Wam says.
"We would like to talk to you in private," Wicklow says.
Lee-Wam nods. He gathers the tiles together in a pile in front of him. "Jezel," he says, "Help me walk."
Jezel takes his arm and helps him up from his chair. "Let us walk to the school. The children will be leaving soon. We can watch them." He leans upon her and walks to one of the exits.
It's a warm, sunny day outside. Jezel and Quahiri put their sunglasses back on. For the first time, our heroes can see clearly past Rocky Hill to the south. Valleys with near-vertical walls lead into the mountains. Trees cling to the cliffs, but most of the valley walls are bare, jagged rock.
Lee-Wam points to the mountains, "Have you been into the valleys?"
"No," Jack says, "But I would like to."
"You must go," Lee-Wam says. "They are in the orc lands, but you will be safe enough, I think. I like to go there. There are slow-moving streams in the valleys with large fish." He looks at Wicklow. "I love to fish. Do you?"
Wicklow puts his hands in his pockets. "If I'm hungry, I'll fish. But I'd much rather hunt. I don't like to sit around waiting."
"Ah," Lee-Wam says. He leans on Jezel for a few steps. "A man must learn to do nothing before he can do anything well."
"I love to fish," Jack says.
Lee-Wam chuckles. He leads them to a bench outside a large stone school with a playground surrounded by an iron fence. He sits down. Jezel sits next to him. He pats the bench on the other side and Quahiri sits next to him also. Wicklow and Jack stand with their backs to the school.
"We're not sure if what we're going to say to you will make any sense," Wicklow says. "If it doesn't, then let us know." He looks up at Rocky Hill. "We believe there is someone organising the orcs, gnolls, and ogre of Rocky Hill. Whoever organises them is a wizard, he's old, and he prefers to write in the characters of Chiin." He looks at Lee-Wam. "We believe you are that person."
Lee-Wam has his hands on his knees. He stares across the street at the school.
"Quahiri and Jezel come from an orc tribe living on an island in the Satian Sea. They want to move. Jack and I are here to help them decide whether or not they should leave their island to come and live near Delia. The Duke of Plantinak is thining about making their chief the Earl of Swamp Bottom."
Lee-Wam says nothing.
"If their tribe moves here," Wicklow says, "They will keep order among the orcs in the Borderlands. We wanted you to know this, because we think you are already keeping order among orcs. We want to know how you will feel about another tribe of orcs, with another leader, living so nearby, and maybe coming into conflict with your orcs."
Wicklow waits for Lee-Wam to answer. After a minute, he says, "I do not see how more orcs at Swamp Bottom will solve Delia's problems."
"The orcs that are there now," Jack says, "Will be gone."
A bell rings. "Ah," Lee-Wam says, "The children will come out. Let us watch them."
One or two hundred children emerge from the school over the next ten mintes. A dozen of them wave to Lee-Wam and he waves back. Most are sapien children, but there are dwarves and hobbits as well. There are no orcs.
When the last of the children have gone by, Lee-Wam says, "This is a good school. If I had young children, I would be very glad to send my young children to this school. They would be happy here. They would be well-educated."
Wicklow nods. "Yes, it looks like a good school."
"I must go now," Lee-Wam says. "I must meet Hoon-Cham in the coffee shop."
Jezel helps him stand. He begins to walk back the way they came. "Who rules this tribe of orcs on an island?"
"A black orc," Wicklow says.
"Ah. Black orcs have such beautiful names. What is the name of this black orc?"
"Dreadmanifold," Jack says.
A little farther on, Jezel says to Lee-Wam in orcish, "Do you have any children?"
"I have many children."
"How old are they?"
Lee-Wam chuckles. "You would not believe me if I told you."
They say goodbye to Lee-Wam in the coffee shop. He walks on his own to his table, where the same middle-aged Chiin gentlement they saw with him yesterday is waiting.
"I want to by new clothes," Jezel says.
They take Jezel and Quahiri to a tailor. The tailor is a sapien woman. There is much giggling among the three women in the back room while the tailor measures them. When they emerge, the look at cloth and discuss shirts and trousers. The tailor proposes skirts and dresses. Quahiri are not interested. Jezel agrees to a knee-length skirt made of black cotton. Wicklow and Jack sit in a corner talking about Lee-Wam.
The clothes will be ready in three days.
That afternoon, at 5 pm, they meet Samuel Fuller in his office in the Delia Town Hall.
"This is an important day," Samuel says in Weilandic, "It is the first time I have ever had orcs in my office." He smiles. "I am glad you are here."
"We are honored," Wicklow says.
Jack translates into Latin for Quahiri.
"Thank you," Quahiri says to Samual Fuller in Latin.
He points to her face. "I like your dark glasses. Is the light in my office too bright for you?"
Quahiri takes her sunglasses off.
"Now, what can I do for you?" Samuel Fuller says.
"As you know," Jack says, "Quahiri and Jezel's tribe is thinking of moving here, to live at Swamp Bottom at the invitation of the Duke of Plantinak. They would come here to keep the peace with orcs, and protect Delia. We would like to ask you a few questions to help them in this decision."
Samuel nods. "Go ahead."
"What is the attitude of the people of Delia towards orcs? Are orcs welcome or not?"
Samuel answers this question at length, going over the history of Samothraki during the dark ages, and the growth of Delia after the Reconcilliation. Over the past ten years, trade has built up between orcs and Delia. The orcs bring coffee, spices, and many other rare commodities of high quality and at low prices. In return, the orcs buy salt and meat. The people of Delia are businessmen and liberatarians. They will not refuse trade with orcs on the grounds that orcs are not sapien, nor on the grounds that four hundred years ago orcs were trying to enslave their ancestors.
"So, as you can see, orcs were enemies then, but are our business partners now."
"Would you consider allowing orc children into your schools?"
"I would consider it, certainly," Samuel said, "If we had orc residents in the city, we would have to provide schools for their children."
"Are there any half-orc children enrolled in your schools now?"
"No." Samuel leans forward. "That's the level at which our debate about orc children has taken place. There are nine or ten half-orc children living in the city with their sapien mothers or fathers. I won't go into the details of their family history, because in several cases it's unpleasant, and I don't want to violate their privacy. At the moment, the city law does not permit half-orcs in school, but neither have any of the parents tried to enroll them."
He spreads his hands and sits up. "So, when one of them brings the matter to a head by trying to enroll their half-orc child in school, we'll have to decide. Until then, the half-orcs are the only children in town who are not required to attend school."
Wicklow and takes a few minutes to translate what has been said for Quahiri and Jezel. The conversation has been taking place in Weilandic, which neither of them speak.
"What do you feel are the three biggest challanges facing Delia today?" Jack says.
To this Samuel says it's the renovation of the sewer system, which is three hundred years old in places, and the installation of running water pipes throughout the town. The running water is to some a luxury, but to him it is a way of saving labor. "It takes the average house-wife five hours a week to fetch water from the well. What a waste of time, time that could be better spent making something, or just relaxing."
"How do you obtain your operating funds?"
"Income tax." After thirty minutes discussing these subjects with him, Jack is convinced that the mayor is more concerned about the sewers and the proposed water supply than he is about orcs.
Their interview with the mayor goes on for an hour and a half. They call it to a close. He says it's been a pleasure, and they leave.
"I like him," Jack says, as they walk down the steps for the Town Hall.
"He is so cute," Quahiri says.
"No structural damage," Wicklow says, "But they burned most of the furniture."
Wicklow is leaning upon a large table, talking at a small trumpet-like device resting upon the table surface. The table is three meters long and a meter wide. The surface is uneven and scarred, but thick and solid. In addition to four legs at the corners, the table has two legs at the middle to support its great weight.
Jack is standing next to Wicklow, leaning with him towards the trumpet. "There's a table in here," he says, "It was too big to carry out and throw on the fire. But they took all the chairs, so we're standing."
The room is lit by a luminous stone sitting on top of a battered brass candlestick beside the trumpet, and also by a bright fire burning in a fireplace to their left. Shelves are built into the walls on every side. For the most part, the shelves are empty, but several hundred volumes are sitting here and there, resting sideways in piles. A broom, a dustpan, and a bucket sit beside the door.
Tall windows of many small panes look out upon the a clear sky lit from the left by the last glow of the setting sun. Beneath each window is a bare stone window-seat. Quahiri, eldest surviving child of Chief Bragash, sits upon one of the seats with a pile of books on either side a pencil in one hand and a notebook on her lap. She's wearing green trousers and a red shirt. She picks up a book from one of the piles and opens it. She reads the first page and writes in her notebook. She turns another page and frowns down at the writing inside. She shields her eyes from the bright light of the luminous stone.
It is the evening of the 30th March 2478. The room is the library in Swamp Bottom Manor.
A voice emerges from the trumpet. Jack and Wicklow lean closer to hear it clearly. The voice is that of Heraklese, Accountant of Global Mediation Incorporated.
"Go through the events for me again. I want to get things straight in my journal."
"You're keeping a journal?" Wicklow says.
"Yes, I'm recording company business."
"Not personal business?"
There is a silence on the other end of the trumpet. Jack and Wicklow are smiling. Jack looks up at Quahiri. She is frowning and moving her lips as she reads from the thick pages of the book upon her lap. Jack wonders where Jezel is. He frowns. She was supposed to be here, helping Quahiri clean up the library, but she never arrived. He looks through the windows at the darkening sky. She wanted to go exploring. He and Wicklow asked her not to go on her own. She probably went anyway.
"Will you stop poking fun at me?" Heraklese says.
"I'm sorry," Wicklow says, "I just miss you, that's all. I can't wait to read your journal."
A log cracks in the fireplace and a shower of cinders wafts up the chimney.
Another voice comes through the trumpet. "I want to know what happened too. I'm getting mixed up here." It is the voice of Hocus the Destroyer.
"The Duke's heavy infantry arrived before dawn on the twenty-fourth," Wicklow says.
"How many of them?" Heraklese says.
"Two hundred. The orcs retreated. We don't know how the infantry persuaded them to retreat. I spoke to Grissom Woodright yesterday, but he wouldn't talk about it. I think they have some secret orc-fighting tactics they don't want to give away."
"All fifty of the orcs just took off?"
"Where did they go?"
"Into the Borderlands, as far as we know. All they left was a mess. As I said, most of the furniture has been burned, the wine celler is empty, the larders are empty, except for the food they smeared on the floor. It's a mess, but the staff have been working hard to clean it up, and the place is looking better already. Quahiri is here going through what remains of the library books."
"So you went to dinner with Lee-Wam and Dreadmanifold." Heraklese says.
"We went that same day without Dreadmanifold," Jack says, "Lee-Wam's house is on the south side of Delia, at the base of Rocky Hill, near the cemetary. We had dinner with him and his..." Jack looks at Wicklow. "His wife?"
"His woman," Wicklow says, "She's an orc from Rocky Hill. And they have a three-year-old daughter. She's very cute. Lee-Wam wants her to go to school in Delia."
"What did he say about his dealings in Rocky Hill?"
"Not much. He said he wanted to meet Dreadmanifold. So the next day we talked to Dread, and he agreed to fly out with Stardiamond. They arrived in the afternoon the next day. Christoper Martin fixed up a bedroom for them here, and we put the wyverns in the stables."
"The next day?" Heraklese says.
"Yes. The stables were empty. After the orcs ate two of the horses, George Bellamy had the horses taken into Delia to keep them safe."
Jack sits on the table next to the trumpet. He's not sure if he should speak out of turn in these conversations or not. He's not a member of Global Mediations Incorporated, not yet. But he might be soon.
"No," Heraklese says, "I mean how did he get there the next day? He was in Gowachin, wasn't he?"
"Yes, the wyverns brought them across the sea in seven or eight hours."
"They're twice as fast as hippogriffs," Hocus says.
"What happened to Clodine's griff?" Wicklow says.
"What?" Wicklow says.
"Its still here with Sacha. The orcs don't want the thing because they get sick when they ride it. We're trying to persuade Sacha to fly off home on it, but no luck so far. "
Wicklow nods. "Poor fellow. He must be very upset."
"Yes," a new voice says. It's Scythe. "And we were sympathetic for the first couple of weeks. But everyone is getting a bit depressed listening to his grieving and hand-wringing and what shall I do with my life I have no friends story, so we're hoping he'll just fly away and let us get on back to Mizzen Island to pay the sailors and catch up on some business."
"Oh yes?" Wicklow says, "What kind of business, Scythe? Do you have an appointment with your savior, the very same woman who put a sudden end to Sacha's happy existence with Clodine?"
There is a knock on the door of the library. Jack walks to the door and opens it. Christopher Martin is standing on the other side. "Sir," he says, "I thought you would want to know that Jezel has gone for a walk."
Jack frowns. "Thank you, Christopher."
Christopher turns and walks away. Jack closes the door and returns to the table.
Wicklow is speaking into the trumpet. "We went back to Lee-Wam's place with Dread and Stardiamond. Dread spent two hours locked up with Lee-Wam making a deal. We find out later that he went along a secret tunnel from his house to Rocky Hill and had a tour of the catacombs. He said he was impressed. There are some fine caves, and a good place for he and Stardiamond to make a home."
"Good," Heraklese says.
Jack stands next to the table frowning. Wicklow looks up at him. "What?"
"Jezel has gone off for a walk on her own."
They are speaking in Weilandic, so Quahiri does not understand them, but at the mention of Jezel's name, she looks up.
"Don't worry," Wicklow says, "She can handle herself."
"When did the Duke show up?" Heraklese says.
"The next day, the twenty-seventh. He set up a huge tent on the grounds among his infantry. Dread went and talked with him for a couple of hours. We were not invited."
"Not invited?" Heraklese says.
Jack walks to the window and looks out at the dark lawns and fields of Swamp Bottom Estate. Where was Jezel out there? Why should he worry about her? He clenches his teeth. He's not worried about her getting into trouble. He's worried about her carrying on with another man. She's a young orc woman. Her idea of fun would be to have a fling with another man and then watch him and Jack fight over her. He takes a deep breath and puts his hands in his pockets.
"What did the two of them decide?" Heraklese says.
"The Duke made Dreamanifold the Earl of Swamp Bottom, effective immediately."
"Nice!" Hocus says.
"But Bragash was supposed to be the Earl." Heraklese says.
"They changed the plan. Dread is the Earl, but he's going to live in Rocky Hill and take over management of the orcs, gnolls, and ogres. He gets to bring his kobolds to live in the Hill as well. The Duke is interested in them for military use as well. Bragash will be Manager of Swamp Bottom, and his tribe will live here. The estate is almost one hundred square kilometers. There's good hunting, especially deer and water-fowl, and some good fishing too. There's enough arible land to support a few hundred people, if they can farm it."
"What about the staff? What about this George Bellamy fellow and his people?" Heraklese says.
Jack cross the room to the fire and puts another log on. It was bad management of George Bellamy's part to go hiding the firewood among the barns. They were trying to sell the wood to the orcs, the greedy fools, and the result was that the orcs burned all the furniture. There was not a chair left in the entire Manor.
"They can stay if they want, I suppose," Wicklow says, "We're hiring Christopher Martin as our agent here. He's going to do what he can to take care of the staff and manage their relations with the orcs if any of them decide to stay."
"How much are you paying him?"
"Fifty gold pieces a month," Wicklow says.
"Fifty?" Heraklese says.
"It was Dread's idea. He'll pay the salary through GMI."
"Whatever," Hocus says, "It's small change. What about Lee-Wam? Is he pulling out of Rocky Hill?"
"Not entirely," Wicklow says, "He'll maintain his gardens, so trade between the orcs and Delia will continue as it has been."
"And what about our fee?" Hocus said. "Did he say how much he was going to pay us for all your good work in Delia?"
Wicklow smiles. "He did. He's going to transfer seven hundred thousand Olympian dollars into our Three Aces account tonight."
"Seven hundred thousand?" Heraklese says.
"You heard me."
Jack leaves the fire and comes to the table. "I want a cut of that," he says.
They discuss the size of Jack's cut of the seven thousand gold pieces. After quarter of an hour, they settle upon twelve hundred.
"I propose," Wicklow says, "That we let Jack buy into the company."
In the discussion that follows, Jack sets aside his concerns about Jezel and concentrates upon negotiating his purchase of a share of the company. Although his companions have dealt fairly with him at every step during his time with them, he has never felt equal to them in these space-bridge conferences. He has always felt that they could send him from the room at any time, or that they might decide to have a private conference without him because they cannot trust him with company secrets. They appear to trust him, but how can he be sure? There's only one way for him to be certain of their loyalty to him and assure them of his loyalty to the company, and that was to become a share-holder.
Quahiri has moved to the fireside by the time the negotiations come to an end. She is reading a small book with small letters, and appears to be paying no attention to the often-raised voices of her sapien advisors, and the strange, floating voices emerging from the trumpet.
"Okay," Heraklese says. "Hocus, Wicklow, and Scythe sell you four shares each, giving you twelve shares, and a twelve percent stake in the company. You pay GMI two thousand gold pieces for the shares. Of that, twelve hundred comes to the company immediately in the form of your share of Dreadmanifold's recent payment. The remaining eight hundred you hold for GMI in your Olympian bank account."
Jack has a thousand gold pieces, or one hundred thousand dollars, in his AAA Summoning Agency account.
"GMI's assets today," Heraklese continues, "Amount to twenty-three thousand gold pieces, counting Stephanix and the boat and all our cash. We're valuing Stephanix at ten thousand. So Jack's twelve percent share is worth around twenty-five hundred, and he's getting it for two thousand."
"That's fine," Hocus says, "Stephanix could jump overboard tomorrow, and then where would our assets be. Two thousand is plenty. So, Jack now has 12%, Heraklese 10%, Scythe, Wicklow and I 26% each. Are we agreed?"
"In principle," Heraklese says. "I suggest we think about it and sign papers here in the Captain's Cabin on Loose Lips when we are reunited, which I hope will be soon so that Wicklow can poke fun at me in person."
"How soon will that be?" Scythe says.
"The Duke has gone back to Plantinak," Wicklow says. "His troops are still camped here, and will be for another week or two, to make sure the orcs stay away. Dread left this morning. So we're planning on leaving tomorrow by stage-coach for Plantinak ourselves. We'll sail for Tankum as soon as we can. Dreadmanifold and the Duke agreed that the Duke would send two frigates to Tankum and sail the orcs back for us."
"Won't they get seasick?" Heraklese says.
"Yes, but Lee-Wam has given us some medicine he calls dramamine, which he says will help the orcs with sea-sickness. We're going to try it out on the coach ride tomorrow."
"On the orcs?" Hocus says.
"Yes. If it works, we'll see about getting a few thousand doses from Three Aces for the trip north from Tankum."
"Oh," Hocus says, "What about The Professionals? What happened to them?"
"They left the day after the orcs were driven out," Jack says, "Their big plans came to nothing." He laughs.
"You are cruel," Wicklow says.
"Did you ever meet the landlord of the Unicorn Tavern?" Heraklese says. "The black man?"
Jack looks at Wicklow. Wicklow shakes his head. "No," Jack says. "It's strange, but we never even saw him. We just heard him singing."
"Are you sure he was real?" Hocus says.
Wicklow frowns. "I don't know. It's a strange place, Delia. There was that guy Zebedia Smogg, probably a time-traveller, all the kids running around getting up to no good, Lee-Wam, maybe Ha-Min Chu−"
"Certainly Ha-Min Chu," Jack says.
"He never admitted it," Wicklow says. "Anyway, it's a strange place. I'm looking forward to going back to... normal society."
"Okay," Scythe says. "Jessica is calling us for lunch. It's roast lamb, so we're going to sign off."
"Send the sailors our regards," Wicklow says.
"Goodbye," Scythe says, "And welcome to GMI, Jack."
"Thank you," Jack says, and smiles. He looks out the window. Now, where is that woman?