Authors: Gary Gygax
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Fiction
COULDN'T BE REFUSED
"Setne! Look at this ruby!"
Inhetep didn't look up. He was bent over a large fragment of ancient papyrus, examining the faded hieroglyphs inked there some five thousand years ago by a long-dead fellow dweom-ercraefter. "Yes. Of course. How nice," he muttered without hearing what she had said.
"No, I mean it. The diamonds surrounding it are matched, flawless!"
The magister bent still closer to the yellowed sheet, peering through his special lens. "I understand. Matched. No blemishes ..."
"The seven teardrop-shaped pearls are pink, Setne, as pink as my cl—"
"Pearls you say? A ruby set with diamonds?" She had his attention at last.
"Clematis blossoms," she continued. "Just look there."
"Never mind the blasted flowers," Setne grumbled in annoyance at her frippeiy. "If you must
interrupt my research, Rachelle, at least be succinct and do show it to me,"
Rachelle's eyes grew round, her voice registered shock as she said, "Right here? Now? Why, Magister! It's only mid-morning. What if the servants come in?! But I can never refuse your commands, Omnipotent One. ..."
"Will you stop!" he nearly shouted. But the papyrus was now completely forgotten, not just put aside for a moment. Inhetep was on his feet, walking to where she stood near the balcony doors. "You did say something about a ruby, I believe."
She nodded, not removing her hands from where she held them behind her back. "That's right. It came in a package delivered by the Pharaoh's post just a few minutes ago. It's really nothing compared to your ancient scrap of ogus-bogus there, though, I'm sure. Never mind. Just return to that owlish peering you were doing. Ill take care of the bauble."
"Oh, no. I want to see that fabulous gem. Why wasn't I given the mail, as I have instructed old Djemer-t a thousand times?"
He was reaching towards her as he approached, and Rachelle backed away a little. She drew a deep breath, knowing the thin cotton of her chemise would emphasize what she desired it to. Teasing Seine could be so much fun! "You pointed to me when Djemer-t brought it to you, dear Magister. What choice did he have? He is only the butler, you know. Djemer-t gave the package to
opened it. Finders keepers!"
"Bah!" With that exclamation, Inhetep pounced, grabbed her up off the ground, and kissed her heartily on her full lips. Setne found them soft, yielding, delicious, in fact. He had to remind himself of what he had been after. "Well, then . . . Ahem! Let's have it."
masterful," Rachelle breathed, kissing him hotly as if in answer, and then wiggled her shoulders, pretending she was trying to get out of her shift. "Who cares about that old fossil Djemer-t, anyway? Take me, you savage!"
Inhetep was at the point of saying something, possibly his agreement, but then suddenly heard, "Pardon, my lord, did you call?"
Djemer-t's wrinkled face was, of course, expressionless. Inhetep stared hard to detect the slightest sign. He found nothing. How did the fellow have such a knack? Determined to outdo the stone-faced old butler, Setne returned an equally bland answer. "You are observant, Djemer-t?"
"But of course, my lord."
"Exactly when did the post arrive?"
That seemed to surprise him a little, but Djemer-t quickly lowered his raised brow. "Half an hour ago, my lord."
"You brought the package delivered directly, to me?"
"Well, I had to delay a few minutes in order to see that matters were progressing properly for lunch—you have six guests arriving," the old fellow added smoothly as both explanation and to gently remind his frequently forgetful master of that fact. "Immediately upon caring for that matter, my lord, I came here to your study, but ..."
Djemer-t noted the reprimand in the tone of Inhetep's voice. He was veiy apologetic, polite, and firm as he answered, "I could not hand you the parcel, my lord, because you refused it. You were obviously engrossed in a matter you deemed more important than the receipt of a mere package. By word and gesture you indicated that I must deliver it to the Lady Ra-chelle. I obeyed your wishes, my lord, as Her Ladyship will attest." He made a little bow towards Racbelle.
"Oh." The word escaped the magister's mouth before he could stop it. He forged ahead, determined to best this household autocrat at his own game. "I am pleased to find your recall so precise, but I have far more important questions to test it with, Djemer-t."
"As you wish, my lord."
Inhetep glanced around quickly, and by luck his eyes fell upon the wrappings and the wooden box which they had enclosed. Setne pointed to these as he asked, "The man who delivered that, was he familiar to you?"
The butler shook his head. "No, my lord, he was not the regular post rider."
"What did he look like?"
"Well, ah, let me ponder a moment . . . my lord," the man added in guilty afterthought. "He was, er, rather ordinary and . . . and ... I have it, my lord! He looked to be foreign, sir. He was an easterner of some sort."
The magister allowed a slight frown to pass across his countenance. "What sort of an easterner, Djemer-t? A Yarban? An Afghani? A man of Ch'in, perhaps? Come, come. You must do better than that!"
The butler looked downcast. "Yes, certainly, my lord. He appeared to be fuliginous of complexion. Perhaps he was a Vedic or a Hind."
"And you didn't remark on such a man bearing Pharaoh's post?"
"No, my lord. I have such responsibilities—"
"Never mind excuses, Djemer-t." There was no warmth in Inhetep's words. "And what else did you note—or fail to see? His mount—was it unusual, perhaps?"
The butler's eyes opened wide. "Now that you say that, my lord, I recall there was indeed something odd about it!"
"And just what was that oddity, pray tell?"
"Well, my lord, the horse. It didn't seem, well,
Inhetep cocked a brow. "Right? What was
with the animal?"
"It just didn't seem to say 'horse' as such creatures do, if you get my meaning. Your Lordship." Djemer-t hesitated only a moment, then added, "I am dreadfully sorry, my lord, but that's all. I fear I cannot actually describe the steed or its rider."
"No, of course not. No matter, for
know what seemed wrong about the horse. That will be all, Djemer-t. You may go."
As the old fellow walked from the room with what dignity he could manage, Rachelle grinned at Setne. When the door closed behind the retreating major domo, she actually laughed. "That will teach the stuffy old vulture! But what was all that business about the postman and his horse?"
It was the magister's turn to smile in smug satisfaction. "No more teasing and taunting, Rachelle. Hand over that bit of jewelry with the ruby, and 111 tell you what it was all about."
"All right, you win, Setne," she said as she brought her hand from behind her and displayed the ornate necklace. It was an exquisitely crafted piece of thin gold, alive with flashing diamonds and depending pearls, drawing the eye to a corundum gem of at least fifty carats' weight. The incredible blood-ruby was clearly set so as to depend dramatically toward the low decolletage of a beautiful woman's dress. "It's so lovely. Can I have it?"
"The amazon huntress begging for a bauble?" He stopped his jibes when he saw her face. "I guess it is actually a marvelous piece of jewelry, isn't it? I don't blame you, Rachelle, for being captivated by its beauty, now that I stop and really look at it. Yet you are over-anxious, and as much as I hate to say it, over-presumptuous. "
"No, I mean it. Who sent us this fabulous gem? Why?"
She was silent, suddenly thoughtful of her total lack of attention to critical matters. Ra-chelle's eyes darted over to the torn wrappings, the sandalwood box lined in black velvet to cradle the necklace. "I didn't see any message, Setne. Not even a note. Who could have sent it to you?"
"Yes. I did look at the writing on the wrapping, Setne. It was addressed to you as 'Magis-ter S. Inhetep'."
The tall wizard-priest went over to the table upon which the discarded paper and box it had contained rested. He took the wrapper up first and read what had been written on it. It was just as Rachelle had said, and included after his name the proper location of his villa rest dence—The Noble House of Nine Flowers, Way of Auf 38, Abtugeb Sepat, /Egypt. The hand had written the hieratic script bookishly correct. The ink was the sort which would not smudge or run if subsequently dampened. Next the paper. It was brown but fine and patterned. Tough. There were silk threads in it. He held the wrapper up. "This is all?"
"If you mean, is that what the box was wrapped in—yes."
"There was no cord?"
Rachelle shook her head. "Should there have been?"
Ignoring that question, the magister tossed the wrapper aside and picked up the case in which the necklace had snuggled in its journey to them. He peered inside, then closed it and looked over the outer portion of the box. He hefted it, sniffed it, doing the same a moment later as he reopened it. "A beautiful fragrance from sandalwood." Then he tugged at the form-fitted lining. "Have to make certain," he told Rachelle cryptically. Then he closed it for a second time and began running his hands over the wood.
"Does it feel nice, too?" she asked in evident annoyance. Rachelle was curious, and she knew that Setne was deliberately not telling her what he had learned. It wasn't that he was getting even for her teasing, either; he was always that way, showing off his abilities.
"Feel nice? Yes . . . I . . . perceive it does . . . now that you . . . mention it; but . . .
is what I was after!" he exclaimed with triumph. His long fingers, with a last little pressure, had caused the surface of the container's top to cant upward at a slight angle. Out came a small, white rectangle: a folded sheet of thinnest paper. "Hah!"
Rachelle sprang forward and caught it before he could put down the box and pick the scrap of paper from where it floated towards the floor. She unfolded its filmy squares with great care, but with astounding quickness nonetheless. "Damn! It's written in some gibberish I can't read!"
"Not gibberish," Inhetep countered, peering over her head to see the inscription. "It's Hin-dic—and addressed to me, if you don't mind." She held the paper up, not looking behind her. The magister took it, walked away, and seated himself comfortably in his favorite chair. "Shall I read aloud?"
"Oh, yes, please do," she simpered back. Then she stuck her tongue out. "Magister-Know-It-All!"
Setne remained calmly watching, waiting until Rachelle was seated in the nearby armchair, then he began:
"From He Who Sits on the Peacock Throne. "To The Renowned and All-Knowing S. In-hetep, Prince, Grand Wizard and Mighty Priest of Pharaoh, Magister, Hammer of Wrong-Doers and Unraveller of Mysteries.
"Now there's someone with proper respect," he said with mock admonition in his voice as he looked at the impatient girl. Then, with a great show of smoothing the paper and clearing his throat, he continued:
"I have taken all precautions to see that this missive and the accompanying gift arrive swiftly and safely in your hands. I beg you accept the trantle, respectfully request your attention to My dire difficulty. Master Thief-Catcher Inhetep! A magician has penetrated My vault, made off with the finest gems in My treasury. I am shorn of Honor, bereft of Splendor, without Dignity unless and until the lost items are restored. Wealth up to half of all I own is yours if you accept My commission. Speed to Me! Come in all haste. Each day which passes with the thief unpunished is an unbearable eternity! Fly to Me on wings! Apprehend the culprit and recover the crown jewels. My gratitude will be as bounteous as that of the Heavens, "(signed and sealed)
"Guldir Maharajah Sivadji"
He was watching her. Rachelle hated that look. "That's all?"
"That's the entire message."
She held up the necklace. Crimson lire flashed as a single sunbeam struck the ruby, sent dancing rays of scarlet to dart across the pale walls and play upon the ceiling, as the jewel swung and turned. "A very expensive attention-getter—risky to send . . . and presumptive."