Polychrome – Chapter 23

Chapter 23.

The gates of the city of Gilgad stood wide before us, a full fifty feet high in a wall of white and black marble. The wide street continued on, with houses and larger buildings visible, street vendors, and hundreds of people bustling about the city’s business. “You should be safe here, Amrin. At least as long as anyone is, and I hope that will turn out to be a long, long time.” I shook his hand.

“Many, many thanks, Lord Erik,” Amrin said, and his family – Ralla, his wife, and Amril and Rallin, their son and daughter – added their own thanks with enthusiasm which I found acutely embarrassing. After all, I’d just happened to be in the right place in the right time, and I was getting an awful lot out of them from that happy accident. I could have spent a long time wandering around before finding my way to the port city, and by walking with Amrin and his family I’d gotten a clear and detailed picture of the situation in Gilgad and surrounding areas.

“Well, you’re welcome again, and stop with the Lords already. I’ve got no titles yet. Just a sword and pretty armor.”

“And the strength of a mountain!” Amril piped up enthusiastically.

“Ha! Not that simple, Amril. Not that simple at all. Why, your father could probably out-wrestle me.”

He laughed at that and of course denied the possibility; after what he’d seen, naturally, that wouldn’t seem possible, and I wasn’t going to try to explain the True Mortal business. No need, and good reason not to. “You won’t have trouble living here?”

“No, L… Erik. I have a few stoneseeds already harvested and some savings we brought. It will keep us for quite some time.” His tone of voice reassured me that I hadn’t just brought them here to hide in genteel poverty.

After a few more farewells, we finally parted. My destination wasn’t hard to spot; the great square-cut castle dominated the center of Gilgad, with outbuildings ranging eastward towards the sea.

Now for the next step… and thanks to Amrin, I even know what I’m doing after this little sequence of events.

The stoneseed farmer almost certainly hadn’t guessed the significance of various things he – and his children – had told me. The most important being something little Rallin had said shortly after we’d set out: “At first I thought you were the Penitent, but then I realized you were much too tall.”

The Penitent… local folk hero. No one knew where he came from or who he was, a mysterious grey-cloaked figure who appeared from out of the mountains, striking down raiders, leaving food for the hungry, jewels for the robbed, never staying long enough to accept thanks, almost never speaking… but that told me all I needed to know. I know who you are, Penitent, and when the time comes, we will be definitely talking.

But that wouldn’t be for a while yet. First things first. I strode up the center of the street, conscious of the stares of numerous residents of Gilgad. Wish I could be subtle… but I’d stand out here anyway. Most of these people are shorter than me, even the men, dark-haired, tanned… No, I’d have about as much chance of sneaking in to see the King here as I would in Japan.

To my surprise, the King of Gilgad was, according to Amrin, the same man as the one described in the books, though his name was Rin Ki-tin – making it obvious where Baum had gotten the name Rinkitink, given Baum’s love of wordplay. But Amrin’s description – given with affectionate smiles from all his family – depicted the same personality, a man of immense appetite, vast girth, and even vaster mirth, who nonetheless hid shrewd statesmanship behind the guise of a rollicking buffoon. He was old, very old now, but as far as Amrin knew he was still as sharp-witted as ever.

Lucky for me if that’s true. Old King Rinki… Rin Ki-tin was just the man I needed to talk to.

The guards at the gate were leaning up against the walls, looking rather bored, but they straightened up as I approached. One held out his spear, barring my path. “Hold, stranger. What business have you here?”

“I’d very much like an audience with the King, if I might, sir.” I’d found that being respectful to guards, police, and soldiers was always the best policy. They often got to deal with people who didn’t respect them in the worst possible conditions, so giving them their due gave you the best reaction. Usually.

“Well, now, nothing wrong with wanting an audience, but the King isn’t receiving visitors right now. Seeing as he’s not here right now.”

Damn. “Is he expected back soon, then?”

The guards exchanged glances and chuckled. “Whenever Chancellor Inkarbleu despairs of being summoned by the King and goes to find him of his own accord. Which will earn the Chancellor another three days of awaiting his terrible execution and then a stay of execution, and another three weeks of rewards for his invaluable service to the Crown.”

Well, now I knew where the King was and who I needed to see instead. “Then would it be possible for me to speak with the Chancellor? I have travelled a very, very long way.”

The two had been studying my armor, and I was rather gratified to see that they were clearly recognizing something unique to the design. “One moment.”

The two guards withdrew, conferred for a moment, and then turned back to me. “Please step inside.”

Once inside the entryway of the castle – a large, arched tunnel through impressively thick walls – the guards motioned me to a side room which was obviously a guard office. “Now, sir, your name – and if you can, your business?”

I smiled. Smart guards. Someone chose well. “My name is Erik Medon. And you’re right, I’d rather not state my business to anyone except the Chancellor. But I think you’ve probably guessed part of it. And you are…?”

They looked startled; I guess that people didn’t ask their names very often, treating them like speedbumps or door-openers. “First Sergeant Huru Ro-Van and Second Sergeant Zammu Rin-Aro, sir!”

“Glad to meet you both, Huru, Zammu.” I shook hands. “Now could one of you let the Chancellor know I would like to see him at his earliest convenience?”

Huru nodded at Zammu, who saluted and set off at a near-run. “Is it… happening, sir?”

I looked at him for a moment, considering. Then I said “It might be. But a lot could still go wrong, so I don’t want it getting out, understand?”

Huru straightened, and nodded. “Understood, sir!” But I could see a gleam in his eye.

I felt both glad and a little guilty. Glad that I could bring some hope to these people, and guilty that I was using him, Zammu, and Amrin’s family. All of them would quietly spread the word. There’d be a whispering of hope, getting stronger, no clear source, hard to trace – but rising up, building support for what we needed to do. Sorry for being a manipulative bastard, Poly. I hope you don’t think too badly of me for it.

Zammu came running back. “Sir! Chancellor Inkarbleu says he will see you immediately.”

I followed Zammu and Huru through the main courtyard, up wide white marble steps with polished black rails, into a vast entryway. Impressive for something built basically by hand, even if the whole castle would have fit inside of Nimbus’ training hall. At the end of the entryway, twin doors were thrown open, and Zammu announced, “Erik Medon, traveller, to see the Chancellor!”

I stepped through and looked up, the doors shutting behind me and leaving me alone with the Chancellor. Chancellor Inkarbleu was seated in a secondary throne, mounted three steps down from the high dias where the King’s throne sat. Inkarbleu stood, and I met his gaze, sharp black eyes in a seamed, narrow face atop a very spare frame in simple formal black robes trimmed with silver. “Erik Medon. An unusual name, indeed.”

“Not terribly common where I come from, either,” I admitted.

“What brings you here, traveller, and what do you seek from Gilgad?”

“From Gilgad directly, I merely seek passage on one of your vessels to a destination only your captains know.”

“That… destination is a closely guarded secret,” Inkarbleu said, tone carefully neutral. “I need something more than the word of an unknown traveller to even consider your request.”

“Of course.” I reached into my armor, and brought out the Jewel.

Immediately the huge gem flared with polychromatic radiance, and a brilliant arch stretched outward, filling the room from one side to the other. Inkarbleu staggered back, knees striking his throne’s edge so he sat down hard, staring. The Rainbow hung there for a moment, and I could hear the Music of the Spheres, chiming and singing, a faerie fanfare. Then it faded, and I returned the Jewel to its hidden location.

Inkarbleu’s face was white beneath its tan. “The Rainbow Lord moves against the Usurpers?”

“He does. We are asking little of Gilgad, but that little is absolutely vital.”

Inkarbleu shook his head slowly – not a refusal, but a sign of disbelief and the need to think. “If they suspect we are assisting an actual attempt to overthrow them, Ugu and Amanita will level this land, Lord Medon.”

I didn’t contest the assignment of nobility here. “Yes, they will. If it’s worth their time. But if the bid against them fails, they are more likely to use the actual participants as an example. I won’t pretend you won’t get more pressure brought against you. There would be costs, and they would be ugly.

“But if no one will help, they’ll come for you anyway, someday. All of you know it, every single land in Faerie has to know that. This temporary peace lasts exactly so long as they’re not quite sure they can take you all.”

Inkarbleu sat, looking down, for a long time. I didn’t dare interrupt his thoughts; I was asking him to make a decision which really was the King’s to make, one that could affect every living person in his country, and I could pressure him no more than he was clearly pressuring himself.

But then his head came up, and with a rising heart I saw that he was smiling.

“My Lord Medon, these are weighty matters of State indeed. Matters of deep policy and terrible consequence,” he said, rising slowly, still smiling. “And I am afraid that I simply cannot make this decision myself. To involve this country in these affairs? No, no, it would not do, it would be an inexcusable over-stepping of my authority.”

The words were not encouraging, but the smile was broadening, so I simply smiled back. “And so…?”

“And so, my Lord, I must insist that you ask the King yourself, directly.” The smile became a grin, and mine answered as I understood how Inkarbleu had found the perfect solution to the problem. “And as the King has already been too long absent from his throne, and as your business is most urgent, I will myself go to fetch him hither. And,” he said, with an elaborately careless air as though it were an afterthought, “you may accompany me on that errand, if you will, and thus ask your question somewhat earlier than otherwise.”

I could not help but laugh. By taking this approach, Inkarbleu could quite honestly say he had made no decision to assist me in anything, had committed Gilgad to no sides. And at the same time, by inviting me along, he would be bringing me exactly where I wanted to go, giving me exactly the assistance I needed while on an errand which, as Huru and Zammu’s conversation had shown, was an expected and oft-repeated one, one which would draw no undue attention and which thus might not even be immediately connected with what I was doing.

I bowed deeply to the Chancellor. “I would be honored beyond words, sir, if you would be so kind as to allow me aboard your vessel so that I might put my case directly to the King.”

“Very well, then,” he said. “You may stay here in the Castle until we depart – which will be early on the morrow, if I have any say in it, and I believe I shall. Zammu! Huru!

The doors popped open. “Yes, Lord Chancellor?”

“Show Lord Medon to the First Guest Chambers, and then tell the Master of Ships to ready the Royal Galley. I have decided it is time our aged and reckless monarch returned to his seat for a time.” As the two began to lead me out, he called out, “And have old Keys clean out my favorite cell, I’m sure the King will have me prepared for execution as soon as we return and I want everything ready!”