“My feet are sore.”
“It’s alright for you. You don’t have to carry all this stuff. This robe’s damn heavy, you know, what with all those little lead weights to stop it moving in the wind. And with the sword too, it’s a damn handful. Can’t you carry them? You’re not carrying anything.”
“For a start, the robe doesn’t have little weights. It’s just made that way specially. And I can’t carry your sword. Remember when I tried to pick it up? It gave me a rash. It’s a special myrddraal sword. And I do so have things to carry. What do you call this?”
“That’s a stick.”
“It’s my gleestaff. Gleemen have to have a staff, it’s like a wizard staff. We can’t tell stories without it.”
“You think just because I haven’t read these stupid stories, you can just make up anything, don’t you? Don’t you? You think I’m a complete idiot.”
“Yes. You’re a myrddraal in a Mambo shirt and sunglasses. I think it’s fair to say you’re a complete idiot.”
“And I think it’s fair to say that ‘gleestaff’ is the single most innuendo-ridden word you’ve ever made up.”
“More than ‘cumbutton’?”
“That’s a close second.”
The day had not been going well for Chucky and Mister C of 9. The fields had turned out to be a lot bigger than they had thought, and they had been forced to trek across acres of cabbage, potato and wheat. Chucky never would have suspected a small community of simple country folk could eat so much vegetable matter. And he had suffered allergic reactions to the scattered leatherleaf trees, and the tiny buzzing insects that lived in the ditches between fields, and of course Mister C of 9’s black sword, which he had stupidly, in a moment of weakness, agreed to carry for a brief time.
Finally, however, they started to see houses, and abruptly they were in the middle of a tiny, boring little village. They stopped in their tracks and looked around.
“It’s dirty,” Chucky said finally. “And it stinks.”
“That’s because there aren’t any toilets,” Mister C explained patiently, “no drains, and everybody craps in a bowl and throws it out of their window. What were you expecting?”
“I don’t know … something a bit … a bit less smelly.”
“You can’t have horses, banquets and sanitation.”
“Shut up – there’s kids coming.”
Sure enough, a bunch of ragged, amazingly ugly children ran up to the pair of weary travellers.
“Wow!” one of them said. “A peddler, strangers in town, and two gleemen!” he paused and looked nervously at Mister C. C smiled widely, and the child went pale. “Um, and another … glee … man…?”
“He’s my apprentice,” Chucky claimed in a flash of inspiration. “That’s why he just has a glee-shirt, instead of a cloak. And no gleestaff,” he ignored C’s invisible glare. “As for the other gleeman – why, you must mean old Thom Merrilin – he’s not just a gleeman, you know, he’s a court-bard from Andor. But don’t tell anybody – he’s actually a sort of exile, the Queen got angry at him because he wouldn’t have sex with her anymore, and she sent him away. It’s a secret.”
The band of horrible kids promptly scattered to spread the news, and Chucky grinned at his scowling apprentice.
“It’s this way,” he said, pointing down the main street. “The place we’re going to is the Winespring Inn, just past that patch of grass there, and just near the bridge,” he frowned at the increasing number of townsfolk. “They’re all filthy,” he said.
They stepped into the Winespring Inn, and several dozen pairs of eyes turned to watch them. Doing their best to swagger, they crossed the common room and faced the bar.
“Coke me!” cried Mister C of 9. “I’ve been walking all day!”
“Shut up! Forgive my apprentice,” Chucky smiled at the innkeeper. “Ah, good evening. You must be the Mayor. I heard that your town was in need of a gleeman?”
“Not really,” Bran al’Vere said, and pointed to the stage.
“If I may continue,” Thom said with a puff of his moustache, “as I was saying before I was interrupted by that fraud-”
“Who’s a fraud?” Mister C of 9 bristled.
Thom just ignored him and went on with his juggling. “And then the lion said to the blind man-”
“Call that juggling? You couldn’t juggle your way out of a wet paper bag!” C stamped towards the stage. “You’re not a gleeman’s asshole, now piss off!” he stood on his tip-toes at the front of the audience and cupped his hands to his mouth. “Boo!”
“Perhaps you’d like to step up here and show us all how this is done,” Thom smirked. The crowd, already disliking Mister C on account of him mysteriously giving them all the heebie al’jeebies, laughed and nodded. Mister C bristled again, and started to clamber up onto the wooden boards.
“Wait,” said Chucky plaintively. “He’s just my apprentice … doesn’t know what he’s talking about…” suddenly he found himself propelled by hickpower to the front of the audience as well. “Don’t touch me! Look at your hands! Oh God!”
With a sinking feeling, Chucky climbed onto the stage. The entire audience stared at him with gaping mouth and unfocussed eye and hereditary facial malformation. Thom leaned back against the wall with a cynical smile on his face.
Chucky had an idea.
“…the Drenai herald waited nervously outside the great doors of the throne room, flanked by two Nadir guards who stared ahead, slanted eyes fixed on the bronze eagle emblazoned on the dark wood…”
“We have to get out of here. I think I’m supposed to be torturing you.”
“Oh! That’s not very nice, is it? Ha ha ha!”
“Not for you…” Forsaken_1 was nearing the end of his tether as far as Contro was concerned. Mindless optimism was a wonderful thing, but there was something awful about mindless optimism in a torture chamber far underneath the Fortress of the Light. And it was far from helpful.
“What you need to do is find some way of getting me up off this table, then I could probably walk out of the door with you! Or you could walk out of the door with me! Ha ha ha! It would be easy!”
Forsaken_1 lovingly brushed his fingers along a rack of shiny, corkscrewy instruments.
“I think I can break the chains,” he said grudgingly, “they’re rusty and not very thick. But then what do we do? You’re dressed up like a colourblind clown, and some of the Children of the Light already know I’m in here Inquisitoring you.”
“Oh! Well, maybe you could tell them that I confessed everything, and that you forgave me and I turned out to be a nice person after all, and you’re letting me go!” Contro really seemed to be thinking about it. “And you’re taking me back to my parents, who are also Tinkers, and you’re going to explain the mistake and apologise to them! Ha ha ha!”
“Okay, we’ll worry about what happens next after I get you out of those chains,” Forsaken_1 said, adding in his mind that if Contro made any more suggestions, what happened next might be Contro getting his head thwapped. “I’ll use this axe. No wait, I’ll use this hammer thing. It’s not so sharp. No, wait. I’ll use the hammer, with this spike thingy. It’ll fit between the links … damn I’m good!”
He struck at the rusted metal, and one of the loops of chain fell away. Contro lifted his arm.
“Not bad, that! Ha ha ha! Of course, I still have this big lump of metal on my arm, ha ha ha! But that doesn’t matter, aww, you did great, really you did, although it could have been better, but it was perfect otherwise!! Ha ha ha! Oi, careful, ha ha ha! You almost hit my face while you were trying to break that next bit of chain!!! Ha ha ha!”
“I missed,” Forsaken_1 said, honestly enough. “Hold still.”
In short order, Contro was free. He jumped to his feet and looked around.
“Everything looks so much different when you lie down and look at it! Ha ha ha!!! Funny that!! It’s all sideways, although that’s not quite what I mean! You should lie down and see for yourself!”
“Alright! Ha ha ha! Let’s go then!”
The mismatched couple set off down the dank corridor, as stealthily as an American and Contro were capable. Soon enough they came to a narrow set of stairs running upwards, and they scrambled onto them and headed for freedom.
It was to be short-lived. The stairs curved around to the right, and Forsaken_1 barrelled around the corner and ran into another white-robed Child of the Light. They collapsed in an undignified heap, and to make matters worse Contro laughed loudly at them.
“You fell down! Ha ha ha!! Honestly!”
The two Children – the two Questioners, Forsaken noted glumly, seeing the red shepherd’s crook on the robe of the man in front of him – climbed to their feet and dusted themselves off.
“Sorry about that,” Forsaken_1 said hurriedly. “My fault.”
“Of course it was,” the man said irritably. “Who are you and where are you going with that … Tinker?”
“I’m, uh, Child Foreskin,” he said miserably, sticking to his lie even though it was the absolute worst. “My associates call me Questioner…”
“Indeed. You are a disrespectful one, not addressing me in the proper manner. But that is unimportant. What is that man doing with you?”
Desperate enough to try anything, Forsaken_1 settled for Contro’s story. “He was wrongly arrested, um, my Lord?” he hazarded. “A harmless Tinker, accused of being a Darkfriend. I have questioned him, and ascertained his innocence … now letting him free … meeting his mother … apologising…”
The Questioner’s face was growing more and more astounded and horrified as Forsaken_1 continued saying things, until finally the impostor decided it had gotten bad enough, and trailed off into unhappy silence.
“Wrongly arrested?” the high-ranking Questioner breathed. “Wrongly accused? The Children of the Light do not make such mistakes. If this Tinker was indeed arrested on suspicion of being a Darkfriend, then he must have done something to arouse that suspicion. And that one deed will doubtless cover others, far darker, just waiting to be uncovered…” the Questioner looked vacantly into the empty air for a moment, as if seeing horrors beyond human endurance. Then he suddenly snapped back into focus. “You say you questioned him and ascertained his innocence?”
“Yes, Master sir.”
“It does not look as if you questioned him very thoroughly,” the Questioner went on, looking at Contro narrowly.
“Well … just look at that face, boss majesty sire. A face like that…”
The Questioner scowled.
“Nonsense. The Hand of the Light never strays. If this man was arrested, then his guilt is certain. He has been ineptly questioned – perhaps intentionally,” this with a suspicious gaze at Forsaken_1, “and through inaction I would be letting a powerful Darkfriend walk free. That is not acceptable. You will return with me to the dungeons, Child Foreskin, and you will watch the way a Questioner should work. We shall get a confession from this fiend, you and I,” he grasped Contro and shoved him back down the staircase in front of him.
“Oh no! Ha ha ha! Back down we go!!!”
Forsaken_1 looked on in unconvincing consternation, then shrugged and followed the Questioner down.