Authors: Steven Brust
“You have understood exactly, Viscount.”
Piro frowned. “I believe I should like to discover who perfected this spell, and kick him.”
“If I am not mistaken, that would be Sethra Lavode,” observed Kytraan.
“Ah, well, perhaps I shall modify this determination.”
“That would be wise,” agreed Röaana.
“Do you know,” said Grassfog, speaking for the first time, “I should like to make an observation.”
“Well, and that is?” said Piro.
“As we have decided that teleportation is impractical—”
“And, moreover, as none of us have the skill to perform it anyway—”
“That is also true,” said Piro, struck by the extreme justice of this observation.
“I would suggest that we finish striking these tents and move on. You say that we were recognized, well, it may be that this good peasant will say nothing—you know that many are in sympathy with us. But then, there are rewards on all of our heads, so let us not count overmuch on the good feelings of the Teckla.”
“An admirable suggestion,” said Piro, “and one to which I subscribe with all my heart.”
In a very short time, then, the tents were struck and loaded onto the mules with their other supplies. This being done, they mounted and made their way down to the road, and began riding slowly south.
As they rode, Piro said, “Ibronka, my love?”
“Yes, my lord the fox?”
“Are you happy?”
She gave him a puzzled look, and said, “I do not understand the question you do me the honor to ask.”
“Well, but consider: Your mother is a princess, and you, well, you
were certainly destined for higher things than to sleep under the skies and ply your sword on the road.”
“And it is this reflection that has caused you to ask this remarkable question?”
“Are you not happy with me, my lord?”
“The Gods, Ibronka! If you were there, I should be happy in a hovel is South Adrilankha earning my bread by sweeping refuse in the streets!”
“And can you imagine, my lord, that I feel any differently? Besides—”
“I must admit, I rather enjoy this way of living. It is as if the adventure we set off on never ended. And, moreover, sometimes they send soldiers against us, and so I am able to play a little. What more could I ask?”
“You heard Grassfog; it must end, sooner or later.”
“Then let it be later.”
“And when it ends?”
“If you are there, I will be happy.”
“Ibronka, I may be the happiest man in the world.”
“You know I adore you, Viscount Blue Fox.”
“I am delighted afresh each time you say it.”
“Then I will say it often.”
“We have come a good distance, have we not?”
“Yes, a good distance.”
“In another hour, we will begin to consider our next camp. Where do you think we should sleep tonight?”
“Together, my lord.”
“You are right, my lady; that is all that matters.”
How Khaavren Received a Message
From a Teckla Who Dressed in a
Particularly Unusual Fashion,
And, as a Result, Determined
To Attend an Entertainment
t was on a Skyday in the early spring toward the end of the first year of Zerika’s Reign that Khaavren happened to be passing the time with the Countess in her apartment, which pleasant activity occupied much of his time after leaving the Imperial service, when the subject was introduced of an entertainment to be given the next day at Castle Black.
“We can attend if you wish,” said Khaavren. “I have received an invitation; and, I should add, an invitation written on silk in gold lettering.”
“Well, and how have you replied?”
“Replied? I was to have replied?”
“It is the custom, my lord.”
“Ah, well, you see, if there are customs to how to set the guard, or even how to salute a gentleman into whose skin one is about to poke a certain number of holes, I know these. But, as to customs for entertainments, I confess to a lamentable ignorance.”
“So then, you have not replied?”
“Exactly. And, as I have not replied, well, I should imagine we can do as we please.”
“Well then, my lord, how do we please? That is to say, what is your pleasure in this regard?”
“For my part,” said Khaavren, shrugging, “I confess that I have little enough interest in such pastimes. Yet, should you wish to attend, why, I give you my word it would be no hardship.”
Daro smiled softly. “Oh, I am a most complaisant wife, my lord, you know that. If you do not wish to go—but what is this?”
“My lady,” said the maid, whose entrance had occasioned this interruption, “there is a Teckla who pretends he has business with my lord.”
“A Teckla who has business with me?” said Khaavren. “Cha! I am no longer in the Imperial service, which is the capacity in which I was accustomed to receive messages. Is he not aware that it is my lady the Countess who handles all matters concerning Whitecrest?”
“As to that, I do not know, my lord. But it was your name he gave.”
“Was it? That is strange. More than strange, it is unusual.”
“And then?” said Daro.
“Well then, I will go and see this Teckla, and it will be unusual, or at least strange, if I do not succeed in learning what his business with me is.”
According to this decision, he at once made his way down the stairs and to the front hallway, where he was approached by a Teckla who said, “My lord the Count?”
Before answering this question, Khaavren took a moment to study his interlocutor. He was a Teckla, which was not remarkable; his livery, on the other hand, was: he wore a bright orange shirt, white pantaloons, absurd orange boots with silver buckles, and a sort of black and white headband. Notwithstanding his outrageous dress, the bow he presented was entirely regular, and he took a properly obeisant attitude while waiting to hear whether Khaavren should admit to his identity.
“Well,” said Khaavren when he had completed his inspection. “I am Khaavren, and Count of Whitecrest by courtesy. And you are—?”
“I?” said the Teckla. “Oh, I am merely a messenger.”
“Indeed? I confess to more than little curiosity about who it is who dresses his lackeys in such a manner.”
“Oh, my lord, may I do myself the honor of disputing with you? I am not a lackey, merely a messenger.”
“You are a messenger, but not a lackey?”
The Teckla bowed.
“Then, if you would be so good as to explain? For I admit that I am now puzzled.”
“My lord the Count, I have the honor to be employed by Goodrow and Niece.”
“Goodrow and Niece?”
The Teckla bowed.
“I’m afraid I have never had the honor of meeting either of them.”
“My lord, Goodrow and Niece is a telepathic messenger service.”
“A telepathic messenger service?”
The Teckla bowed.
“But,” said Khaavren, “you must see that this intelligence tells me nothing. What is a telepathic messenger service?”
“Why, it is the simplest thing.”
“So much the better; then it will easy for you to explain.”
“Yes, that is true,” replied the Teckla, struck by the extreme justice of this observation.
“Do you wish me to explain?”
“I confess that I would like nothing better.”
“Shall I do so now?”
“Blood of the Horse! I think it is an hour since I’ve wished for anything else!”
“This is it, then: Imagine that a certain gentleman desires to get a message to another, who lives far away.”
“That is not difficult to imagine. And then?”
“Imagine, moreover, he does not wish to wait for the post.”
“He must be in a great hurry indeed in that case, because, through the posts, I can get a message anywhere in the Empire in three or four days, if it is sufficiently urgent.”
“Well, but we can get this message in three or four
“I must do myself the honor of disagreeing, my lord. Indeed, this message which I am prepared to deliver to you left the hand of him who wrote it less than an hour ago.”
“It is as I have the honor to tell you, my lord the Count.”
“How is this possible?”
“Sorcery, my lord.”
“Certainly. Goodrow and Niece employ sorcerers—indeed, the niece referred to in the name is a sorceress herself—and they pay sorcerers from other parts of the Empire at a certain rate for each page of a message. These sorcerers all know each other sufficiently well that this communication presents no difficulties, and they are always happy to have a few extra orbs.”
“Why, all you need to do is come to our offices, and your message
will be sent to the agent nearest to the person with whom you wish to communicate, and then delivered by an errand runner such as I.” The Teckla punctuated this speech with a bow.
“It is astonishing,” said Khaavren. “And, as an errand runner, you must wear that … that … clothing?”
“My lord Goodrow pretends that, if his errand runners attract attention, people will ask questions, and we will answer them, and then more people will know of us, and so come to us when they wish messages sent.”
“As far that goes,” said Khaavren, “I have no doubt he is right. Only—”
“For my part, I should not think the increase in custom worth the indignity of having my name associated with such … clothing.”
“My lord, may I do myself the honor of agreeing with Your Lordship?”
“Oh, I don’t mind that,” said Khaavren magnanimously.
“That is kind of you, my lord.”
“Yes, my lord?”
“Who is it who wishes to reach me so urgently?”
“As to that, permit me to look.”
“Oh, I don’t mind you looking.”
The Teckla drew forth a moderately heavy sealed paper and, not without a certain amount of display, studied the name upon it.
“I perceive that you know your symbols,” said Khaavren, who never objected to gratifying anyone’s self-love, as long as it didn’t conflict with his own.
“Oh, yes, certainly; Your Lordship must understand, it is an absolute requirement for an errand runner in the employ of Goodrow and Niece.”
“That is very well, then. But, as to the name—”
“Oh, you wish to know that?”
“Obstinate fool, I asked!”
“That is true!”
“It is from,” said the Teckla, slowly and carefully pronouncing each word, “His Venerance, Temma, the Duke of Arylle, Count of—”
“Aerich!” cried Khaavren. “You have a message for me from Aerich! Quick, hand it over, you idiot.”
“Here it is, my lord.”
Khaavren grabbed the message from the Teckla’s hand, ripped it open, and greedily devoured the words. What exactly these words were, we will discover to the reader in due course. For now, however, we will only observe that, upon finishing it, Khaavren turned on his heel and returned to Daro’s apartment, where, after greeting her affectionately, he addressed these words to her: “Madam, I have had cause to change my mind, and, in fact, I should like, of all things, to attend to-morrow’s entertainment at Castle Black.”
Daro smiled. “I am delighted to learn this, my lord, as I have not been to an entertainment since leaving the court. But, if I may ask a question—”
“Madam, you may ask ten.”
“Well, to what shall I attribute this sudden change?”
“Oh, as to that, you may see for yourself,” he said, showing her the message.
This message read as follows: “My dear friend, I am entirely at your service regarding whatever undertaking you may require. If you wish to confer with me, I have been prevailed upon to be to-morrow at Castle Black, where Morrolan is giving an entertainment, and where I know you have been invited. If you wish, I shall be glad to consult with you at your convenience. Please convey my humble respects to the Countess. I remain, as always, your friend, Aerich.”
“Well,” said Daro, “that is clear enough. Only—”
“How are we to get there? You perceive, my lord, that not only is this entertainment to be held seventy leagues away, but it is also a mile in the air.”
“My understanding is that the Lord Morrolan is prepared to levitate his guests up to the castle, so then, we need not worry about the vertical mile.”
“Well, but there are still the horizontal seventy leagues.”
“That is true.”
“It seems we must teleport.”
Daro frowned. “Yes, I know that teleports are now simplicity itself for a skilled sorcerer. But, do we know anyone capable of such a thing?”
Khaavren reflected upon this question, which proved that it was a good one. “I will attempt to discover this,” he said.
Taking his leave of the Countess, Khaavren returned once more to the front hallway, where to his surprise he found that the Teckla was still waiting. “Well?” he said. “Did you wish for something?”
“Only to know if there is a reply, my lord.”
“No, there is no reply.”
“Then, will there be anything else?”
“What else could there be?”
“Oh, as to that, I don’t know, my lord, only that I am to ask.”
“Well, no, there is nothing else.”
“Very good, my lord,” said the Teckla, who then bowed respectfully and left for the servants’ entrance with an obscurely disappointed expression on his countenance.
Khaavren put on his sword, hat, and cloak, and left through the front door, where, the instant he was outside, he found his old comrade, the current ensign of the Imperial Guard, on duty. He said, “Sergeant,” this being that gentleman’s name, he being the son of an old comrade of Khaavren from the days before the Interregnum.
“Yes, Captain?” said Sergeant.
“I am required to be in the duchies. What is the fastest way to get there?”
“Why, by teleporting, Captain.”
“Yes, but, alas, I do not know how.”
“The court wizard is adept at this.”
“This is personal, Ensign, and I am, as you know, no longer in the Imperial service.”
“Then the fastest method would involve finding a sorcerer who has set out his public mark and who specializes in teleportation.”