Monday, November 16, 2009

Chapter 6. A day late and a dollar short.

I've been busy being all crunchy and stuff, so it took me a while to get to actually, you know, posting this. But here it is. I don't have any other cool stuff for right now, but maybe I will next week. Enjoy more pirating.

Voosh said, "It's all about the money." But his heart wasn't in it.
This by way of explaining to Reed why becoming a privateer was a good idea.
Voosh said, "Do you know how hard it is to even be a pirate? I mean the ocean's a big place. You've got to find other boats to, you know, pirate."
"How do you do that?" Reed asked.
"It ain't easy."
Mumphrey nodded in agreement.
The three of them sitting on the deck of the "Green Squid" sipping rum and smoking cigars. Voosh had given the rest of the crew a couple of days of leave, so there was no one else even on the boat. They watched other ships crews, legitimate ships, Mumphrey called them, as they worked through the night, loading boxes of cargo and cleaning barnacles off the front ends of their ships.
Voosh pointed one of them out. "See that one? They're loading boxes onto their ship. What do you think is in those boxes?"
Reed craned his neck to watch four guys struggling to get a giant wooden crate up a gangplank. He couldn't see anything written on the side of it. He couldn't tell how heavy it was because the four guys weren't straining, but then again, there were four of them. He shrugged, said, "I don't know."
Voosh looked at him. "Me neither." He said, "Could be anything. Food, grain, paper, gold coins, diamonds. Might be swords or shields. Might be strips of leather."
Mumphrey said, "The whole thing could be filled with dirt. Remember that?"
Voosh rolled his eyes and said, "Ye Gods, what a haul that was, eh?"
Reed said, "Dirt?"
"Boxes full of it." Voosh said.
"Dozens of them." Mumphrey agreed.
"Why?" Reed wanted to know.
"We still don't know." Voosh said. "But that's the point. A ship rolls out of port, we don't know what's on it. Unless you wanna pay someone works in the shipping office a bribe to tell you what every ship's carrying."
"Better be someone you trust." Mumphrey said.
"Damn right." Voosh agreed. "They get pinched they're not going to be so cavalier as to keep your name out of it. Not to mention it's a pain in the ass getting the information anyway."
"Why's that?"
Mumphrey said, "You got to pull into port just to find out. By the time you know the ships are halfway to where they're going. It's a waste of time."
"So you take a chance." Voosh said. "Hit a ship and hope. But sometimes you get dirt."
He took a sip of his rum and looked off wistfully at the moon over the dark ocean. He took a long drag of his cigar and said, "And that's not even the hard part."
"What's the hard part?" Reed asked.
Voosh said, "You hit a ship coming right out of port? You sit out there in the dark and wait? You got to be careful. You come up on em too fast, especially in the dark, you could ram em. Damage your ship and theirs. Not a lot of good being a pirate if you sink your ship."
"So you go slow." Mumphrey said.
"Ah, but then if they see you," Voosh continued, "Then they start firing. They know what you're up to. If you're too close to port the King's Ships start sailing out and next thing you know you're surrounded."
"They'll bust holes in your ship and sink ya." Mumphrey said.
"They don't arrest you?"
"Why should they?" Voosh asked. "You're a pirate. What do they care if you live or die?"
"That's..." Reed had to think about it. "That's not what I thought it would be like."
"Things are different on the sea." Mumphrey said.
"Very." Voosh agreed.
Reed's head was spinning. It was probably the rum. And the cigars. They were pretty strong. But there was a lot of pirating that he didn't get quite yet. The stories made it all seem so easy. All you needed was a sailing background, the ability to fight, and an inability to care about stealing other people's stuff. Seemed there was a lot more to it than that.
Reed said, "How'd you become a pirate?"
Voosh chuckled. "Stupid really. I was pinched for stealing a bag of salt from a local merchant. He was going to cut my hands off, but instead he decided to put me to work swabbing the ship he traded on."
"You know, mopping the deck. Keeping seagull poop off the railings. Basically keeping the ship clean."
"It's a terrible job." Mumphrey said.
"The worst." Voosh agreed. "But I learned all I could. Sailing, knots, navigating by the stars. Everyone on the ship was basically a slave who owed the Merchant, an old guy named Taggart, some amount of money or something. Or was a thief he didn't turn in, whatnot like that."
"So that's how you learned about sailing?"
"Where I learned everything. See, we're out at sea once and one guy had just had it. Taggart had been riding him, so the guy just goes berserk. Kills Taggart, throws his body overboard, and now we're pretty much all free. We didn't know what to do. We couldn't go back to Taggart's home port, cause people would be looking for him. We didn't want to go back where we'd been. They'd ask questions. So we stayed out on the sea. Fished for food, drank all the water and liquor that was on board, and then we decided to become pirates."
"So you just became a pirate?"
"Something like that." Voosh said, "We had to learn on the job. We found out all kinds of things. Like how hard it was to actually overtake a merchant ship. How much harder it was to just get the people on that ship to hand you their stuff. How it was even harder once people got back to port and started saying, 'Hey, there's pirates out there.'"
"Huge pain in the ass." Mumphrey agreed, finishing off his rum.
"So what happened?" Reed asked. "How did you end up here?"
Voosh shook his head. "That was twenty years or so ago. I guess things just worked out."
"What happened to the ship? The merchant's men?"
Voosh looked at Mumphrey and Mumphrey just smiled.
Voosh said, "This is the merchant's ship."
"It is?"
"The very one." Mumphrey said.
"So, what happened to the guy that killed the merchant?"
Mumphrey nodded at Voosh and said, "We made him captain."


It was almost dawn. Reed was leaning against the main mast, snoring, and Mumphrey was starting to doze off.
Voosh said, "Here they come."
They could see the torches coming down the road, heading to the docks. Three of them. The only people awake this time of night. They made their way to the pier and started coming up the gangplank of the "Green Squid".
Voosh said while they waited, "What do you think of the kid?" Nodding at Reed.
Mumphrey said, "He looks familiar to me, somehow, but I can't place it."
Voosh just said, "Hm."
"He'll be all right, I guess."
The three men were at the top of the gangplank now, looking around. Voosh decided he'd better take care of things. He said, "Keep an eye on my back."
Mumphrey said, "Aye."
The guy in front was tall, with a long black beard that he kept braided neat. He stood nearly a foot taller than Voosh, making Voosh have to crane his neck to look in the man's eye. He had two body guards with him, all of them carrying torches. The bodyguards were big, Voosh thought. But not tall.
Guy liked to keep people around he could look down on.
The guy looked around the ship, glanced at Mumphrey and the sleeping Reed and then back down at Voosh.
He said, "You're the captain?"
It was the tone Voosh didn't like. Such disdain. Like the guy was mocking him.
"What do you want?" Voosh said, deciding there was no reason to be nice about this.
"Here." The guy stuck out a parchment folded and sealed with wax. Voosh looked at it. No seal in the wax. Nobody wanted their sign on a paper for some Privateers. Especially if things went bad.
Voosh said, "There's money too, right?"
The tall man looked down at him. He said, "Oh yes. Pirates."
One of the bodyguards handed the tall man a bag that jingled with coins. The man passed it to Voosh.
Voosh said, "It's all here."
"I'm not going to stand around while you count it."
Voosh eyed him warily.
The tall man sighed. "If it's short then consider it free money and you don't work for us. That's how confident I am in it's contents."
Voosh said, "Fine."
They stood there a moment longer.
Voosh said, "Is there a reason you're still on my ship?"
The tall man smiled at him. Voosh wondered for a moment if they guy was going to do anything, but at the last minute he appeared to decide to let it go. He turned and walked back down the gangplank, followed by the two bodyguards.
Mumphrey walked up to him and said, "What was that all about?"
"That was Guard Captain Varin." Voosh said.
Mumphrey looked off into the darkness at the torches. "Really?"
"It really was." Voosh said. "I guess they're serious."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chapter 5. And we're back to the Orcs.

I had a lot of fun writing this chapter for some reason. I hope you like it.

On the non-novel front there's Flood Fill to play. And Kurt Russel's Han Solo audition to watch.

Have fun with those. On with the book:


Loro and his orcs spent the better part of the day hiding in the field, watching the little farm house from the safety of six to eight foot tall stalks of corn. Moving between the rows to keep out of the farmer's sight, and avoid the god-awful scarecrows the man kept in his field.
"They stink." Pakk said at one point. Pakk was a burly orc, with a scimitar hanging from his belt. "Like there's rotting meat inside."
Loro agreed. They did stink. So they avoided the scarecrows and watched the farmer as he tilled away at his task. They considered briefly killing the man out in the field. But there were possible problems with that.
"We don't know if he only has one child." Akar said, remembering Loro's rules of engagement.
That was true. They hadn't seen any children yet. But these were farmers. All farmers had kids, right? So there must have been at least one.
"There's no one helping him in the fields." Boga pointed out. This was true. If he had kids wouldn't they be helping?
Mull pointed out that perhaps the children were too small. "Maybe his kids are young."
The man didn't look young. He looked older. Perhaps his children were all gone away. Grown men.
Loro didn't know for sure what kind of man this was, just that he was a farmer, his farm was far enough away from anyone or anyplace else for them to get ambushed suddenly by a neighbor, and that farmers usually had kids.
So they waited and they watched.
Eventually the man finished up his work, in the early afternoon, and headed to the house.
Probably for lunch, Loro thought. Or an afternoon snack.
An afternoon snack sounded good. Loro hadn't eaten since the night before. None of them had. They didn't have any food they didn't have to cook, and building a fire in the man's cornfield to make lunch just seemed like it was asking for trouble..
When the man entered the farmhouse Loro said, "All right, let's go."
He felt a surge of energy then, and something in the pit of his stomach. They were doing something. This was the beginning. It was exciting. Would there be anyone else in the house at all? Maybe the man lived alone. Maybe he was a great warrior who had retired and only now tended a farm since he could no longer adventure with the younger warriors or fight alongside the king in epic battles.
Maybe they'd have an epic battle right there inside the man's house, swords flashing and fists flying. Bloodshed. Things he'd grown up appreciating. How long had it been since he'd been in a good fight? A while.
The orcs were swift and silent. They moved through the cornfields like a pack of wolves through a forest, coming upon a lone deer, ready to feed on it's corpse, ripping it apart savagely, tearing it limb from limb, rending the sweet meat from the bone.
Loro sent a couple of the orcs around to the back, to make sure there was no one behind the big farmhouse for one thing, but for another thing, to pen the man in. Come at him from two sides. A classic pinch maneuver, Loro thought. It had been a long time since he'd gotten to use battlefield tactics as well. He hoped he wasn't rusty.
Before he knew it he was in the small yard that led to the front door. A big window looked out on the yard, but the glare from the sun kept him from seeing inside. He wondered if the man was there, watching them approach, ready to take action.
There was no time to lose, don't let the man get prepared, he thought.
His hand on the front door knob, he turned it.
The door swung open, creaking ever so slightly, and he stepped inside, noting first the smell of something cooking, and then the darkness of the interior of the little farmhouse. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the light, but he stepped inside quickly to be out of the doorway, not only so the sun at his back wouldn't silhouette him and make him an easy target, but also so his band of warriors could follow him inside. He took one step, then a second, and then there was someone in the doorway.
A woman, old, sweet looking, with gray hair done up in a bun on her head. She looked at him and at Mull and Boga coming in behind him and said, "Oh." Putting her hand to her mouth and jumping back, startled.
Loro thought he should use his gruff voice, and careful not to show any sign of emotion he said, "Where are the children?"
The woman glanced off to the back of the house. She looked at Loro and said, "No! Not the children!"
The man's voice came from the back room then, saying, "What is it?"
He appeared behind her and said, "Good Gods!" His eyes going wide as he stared at the savage orc standing in his living room, holding a short sword to his wife's throat. Loro said, "The children! Bring them out!"
The man moved towards his wife, but Loro was faster, pulling her towards him and spinning her around so he could put his blade at her throat, using her as a shield in case the man were armed.
He waved his sword in a vaguely threatening fashion at the woman's throat and said again, "The children!"
"There!" Akar shouted. Loro looked towards the back of the house and saw a small boy, maybe five or six years old, with black hair coming out of a room. He looked tired, like he'd just woken up, but now his eyes had widened as well, seeing his mother or his grandmother being held hostage by a six foot tall, green skinned monster with a sword. The boy started to say something but his voice wouldn't come out of his mouth for some reason.
Loro thought the situation was perfect. He'd slice the woman's throat, stab the man in the chest, skewering him, and they would move on. Leaving the poor kid to become an orphan. A powerful orphan who would one day come for revenge on the orcs. Perhaps as a wizard or a knight, ready to do battle with the forces of evil. Yes, he'd be perfect.
He almost did it then, killed the woman and the man, but he hesitated, seeing the look in the man's eye. He didn't look angry or bitter, just scared, and Loro didn't want to do it for a moment. He felt a twist of conscience and didn't know for sure what it was. It wasn't something he'd ever felt before.
Before he could steel his nerves and do the deed though he heard a voice in the back of the house say, "There's two of them!"
He looked back at the kid. Jeru had come up behind him and picked him up by the back of his shirt. He was holding him like a mother cat holds a kitten, Loro thought, looking at the boy sitting there helpless in Jeru's massive green hand. And in Jeru's other hand, another boy. The same size and shape as the first, with the same dark hair, wearing the same blue clothes.
The two boys watched their parents about to be mercilessly slaughtered and he realized then he couldn't do it. One of the kids started to cry. Loro sighed and released his grip on the woman. She fell forward into her husband's waiting arms, and he closed his eyes and hugged her tight to his chest.
She said, "Please don't hurt the children." Her voice tearing up.
The man said, "What in the Nine Hells is going on?"
Akar said, "I think you mean eight."
Loro looked over at Akar who was holding a curved dagger in one hand and looking at the farmer. He glanced at Loro and shrugged. "It's eight." He said.
Loro said, "Eight?"
Boga, standing behind Loro, said, "It's nine."
"Eight." Akar reiterated.
Loro looked at the man and woman. They were staring aghast, though in different directions. The man was staring at Akar, holding that wicked curved blade down at his side as he argued with one of the other orcs. The woman was still staring at Jeru holding the twins.
Loro looked over to see Jeru hold one of them up to his nose and sniff. He pushed the kid away, a sour look on his face. He looked over to see Loro looking at him and said, "This one's peed."
Loro said, "Oh."
"He's scared." Loro looked over to see the old woman. She was trying to move in that direction, but fear was holding her back.
Loro said, "It's ok." He nodded at Jeru, and Jeru put the kid down and let the old woman have him. He held the other kid almost casually at his side as the woman and the child hugged each other.
The woman looked at Loro, figuring him to be in charge, and said, "Is it all right if I get him some clean pants?"
"Please." Loro said. "Go ahead."
Jeru moved out of the doorway to let them pass, and bumped the other kid's head on the wall.
The kid said, "Ow!"
Jeru picked the kid up and turned him so he could look directly in his face. He said, "Sorry."
The kid was rubbing his head now. Loro turned his attention back to the other orcs, the ones that had followed him into the front door.
Akar was saying, "Look, you don't count the first part. The part right outside. That's purgatory? Or Limbo? I forget. Maybe it's both. But Hell itself, that is, the eight hells, they don't start until after that."
Boga was counting on his fingers. He was saying, "There's the frozen part, there's the buried up to your neck part, there's the lake of fire..."
Pakk said, "I thought it was a pit of fire."
"It is a pit." Akar agreed.
Boga said, "It's a lake."
"Pit." Akar said.
"I say pit." Pakk said.
Loro turned back around to the old man, the farmer, still standing there, awed and amazed by this scene taking place in his living room. He said to Loro, "You won't hurt the children then?"
Loro said, "No. We won't."
He looked back at the rest of the orcs and they were putting their blades away and still babbling about the eight or nine hells.
Boga was saying, "Look, you dig a pit, you put water in it, it's a lake. You put fire in it, it's a lake of fire."
Akar said, "It's not a lake of fire, it's a pit of water. You call it a lake if it has water in it and a pit if it's full of fire."
"That's ridiculous." Boga argued. "That's like saying if I put water in a cup it's a cup, but if I fill it with mead it's a jug."
"It's a tankard." Pakk said. "Filled with mead."
Boga rolled his eyes. "Ok, look, that's not important. We're up to seven, right? Frozen, buried, firey pit or lake, lost in the dark, tortured by demons, covered with ants, what else was there?"
Pakk said, "I think it's covered in honey."
Akar said, "And that's all with the buried part anyway, you get buried up to your neck, they cover your head with honey, then they bring out bees...or ants...or something."
Boga pointed out, "Bees aren't attracted to honey. They make it."
Akar said, "Oh, that's a good point."
Pakk said, "Bears are, though!"
"Oh, that would be good, huh? Put honey on your head, and then the bears come-"
Loro shouted, "Enough!"
They all stopped talking and turned to look at him.
"We're going." He said, simply. He turned to look at the farmer and nodded. The farmer, completely confused about what to do nodded back.
Jeru handed the other twin to the old woman who had come back with a freshly cleaned first twin. Everyone else had made their way outside.
He looked outside at Akar, waiting for him to come outside. The others milling around in the yard, wondering which direction they'd head off in next.
He said, "Hang on." To Akar.
Loro looked at the old woman standing there, still staring at him, and said, "Do you have any food? We're starved."


Later on, when she told the story, Agnes would tell the other women at the farmer's market that the orcs had actually been very pleasant. They'd sat quietly while she fixed stew and they ate very calmly, without making a mess. When they were done they thanked her and actually put their dishes in the sink.
She'd say, "I don't know what it was that happened, but it was like a miracle." And she would say, "And they didn't smell near as bad as those scarecrows Ollie put out in the fields."


Loro led the orcs out of the farmhouse and into the darkness of night. He'd told the man not to mention them being there and the man had readily agreed, happy to have his family in once piece. Things could have gone a lot worse. It was only by the grace of the Gods that Loro hadn't killed him and his wife.
When they were safely away from the farmhouse Mull said, "That was pretty good stew."
"It was." Boga agreed. "I could have eaten another bowl."
Akar said to Loro, "We couldn't have killed them anyway. Two kids, right?"
Loro said, "Yeah, I guess. But I just don't know. I don't know that I could have done it anyway. It just felt so wrong."
Akar nodded. "It did, didn't it."
"It's one thing to fight on a battlefield." Loro said. "To know that your opponent wants to kill you as badly as you want to kill him. But those people. They were just minding their own business. I mean, they were farmers."
Akar nodded again. "And they were actually pretty nice."
"That was good stew." Loro agreed.
Something was happening. He didn't know what it was, but he could feel it coursing through him. He didn't want to murder people. This might not have been the best plan. He looked up at the stars and wondered what the Orc Gods thought of him right now. Probably thought that he was losing it. That he was showing too much compassion for his enemies. But were those people really enemies? He couldn't think of them that way.
They'd surely never set foot in the Northern Wastes, or tried to attack an orc village. They'd never raided or pillaged an orc community. They were just farmers.
He didn't know if he had it in him to keep up this plan.
Looking around the rest of the group he didn't know if they did either. They all seemed to be very relieved that they hadn't killed those poor people. Their kids were nice too. They sat quietly at the table next to armed men who had threatened their family and just ate dinner. It was all so very confusing.
Loro said, "We'll try again tomorrow." But his heart wasn't in it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Needs a title. Chapter 4 today!

There's nothing I love more than random movie trailers, except maybe when somebody goes out of their way to mash up a movie trailer with another movie trailer. Like this Pulp Fiction/Alice in Wonderland crossover.

And speaking of Pulp Fiction, here's somebody with way too much time on their hands.

Apparently last week's chapter was too graphic, or something, since no one bothered to comment on it. But that's ok. I have no shame, and nothing better to do than post Chapter 4.



Shonin Lord Gahn-Jihan, Emperor King of Isterak, was half a world away, being whisked through his own palace by his personal security detail, a group of a dozen highly trained swordsmen, wearing pale white masks to hide their identities, and speaking with his favored adviser on all matters relating to foreign policy, Kotero. Kotero was listening faithfully, without prejudice, to what his master was saying.
The Emperor King was saying, "That man is a fool if he thinks there will be no retribution for this injustice!"
Kotero said, "Yes, master."
"He thinks he can do whatever he wants! Because he is called king in his own land? He is a mindless idiot who thinks only with the organ between his legs."
"Yes, master."
The Emperor King held the gaze of his adviser and said in a hiss, "He looked at her breasts!"
"Yes, master." Kotero repeated dutifully. This had happened. Kotero had witnessed it himself.
It wasn't the looking that had been such an affront, at least not in Kotero's mind. This might have passed unnoticed. It was certainly on pain of death that anyone in Isterak would have done such a thing. When any of the Emperor King's several wives was present each man averted his eyes, as they had always done in the presence of any royal female. Indeed, Kotero thought, it would be nigh on impossible to find a man in the entire kingdom of Isterak that could pick one of the Emperor King's wives out of a line-up of women. There were frequent rumors that some of the women didn't exist, or that the number of women was actually misreported. Perhaps there weren't dozens. There may have only been one wife as far as the men in the kingdom were concerned.
But Kotero knew that there were at least six that he had been in the presence of personally. They were used for different things. One was brought to state dinners held in the Emperor King's palace. One was specifically designed to teach the Emperor King's children their duties as a court officer. One was brought along on foreign affairs. This one, her name was Yahn-Theil, was the one that they were speaking of currently.
Yahn-Theil was a beautiful woman. Kotero knew that he could be killed if he even hinted that he were aware of such a thing, but living in the palace he had opportunity to see the woman on several occasions, what with him being the adviser on foreign policy. And whenever they went abroad she was there with them. It was unavoidable. But he also understood that part of his job was to make sure that the Emperor King never caught him looking at her, and that he never mentioned that he'd seen her. The truth and the visibility of the truth were often two seperate things.
This was what made Kotero such an invaluable adviser on foreign affairs, his knowledge of the visibility of truth. Stated another way, perception is reality.
But what had set Gahn-Jihan off was not just that King Otho had dared to stare at his wife (or more specifically, her spectacular breasts) but that he had openly commented on them.
What King Otho had said, as far as Kotero could remember, was "Good Lord, those breasts are spectacular!"
He'd actually leered at her.
And Gahn-Jihan had been furious.
But he'd contained himself for the rest of the visit, never commenting to King Otho that this was unacceptable behavior. Only now, on the other side of the world, did he let his wrath show. That was the sign of a good leader, Kotero thought. Never let the enemy see just how pissed you are.
But now, there was nothing to hide. His master's anger was brought to the forefront, and it was time to deal with it.
The only question was, how?
Full scale war?
That seemed ridiculous. Especially now. The rest of the trip had been a complete success. He'd gotten exactly what he'd wanted from Grandview's officials. Trade would start booming soon, with Isterak sending silks, spices, and alcohol across the sea in exchange for grains, iron ore, and sturdy wood that could only be found in Grandview's lands. It would be an economic boon for both sides. Things had worked out perfectly.
But now? With the Emperor King turning red and ready to explode?
No, there must be some other way to deal with this situation.
Something that wouldn't destroy the trade agreements that were already in place. A war would be disastrous.
Any overt action would be disastrous.
This called for subtlety.
And subtlety was how he planned to handle his master.
The fine art of manipulation was another credit to Kotero's ability to advise his Emperor King.
"We should bring in Lanto." Kotero suggested. "And see what the law says we should do."
Kotero already knew what the law said. He just needed to remind Gahn-Jihan before he made a sudden decree that couldn't be overturned. Once the Emperor King made his statement out loud there would be no going back on it. It would be put into effect as law. If he said the man had to be eviscerated by a blind donkey than Kotero was going to spend a lot of time trying to find a blind donkey, trying to find a donkey he could blind without killing it, and then figuring out how he was going to get either King Otho to the donkey or the donkey to King Otho. Not to mention trying to figure out how to get a donkey to eviscerate someone.
Better to jump in early and keep Gahn-Jihan from saying something dangerous.
Gahn-Jihan said, "Lanto? Do we really need to check the laws?"
"It's a matter of foreign diplomacy, my master. The laws are advised. We should at least see what they say. Perhaps they will find a way to appease you."
Gahn-Jihan thought on this. He had some sincere ideas about how to deal with a lecherous foreigner like King Otho. Someone who would so brazenly look upon his wife's form and comment on it for all to hear. His imagination ran wild with the things he could do. Places to put the man's head. Places to spray the man's entrails. Something about donkeys. But Kotero was right. It was best to check the laws. Perhaps they could find something suitable to do to the man.
"Very well." Gahn-Jihan said. "Have Lanto brought to the court."
And with that the Emperor King whisked away, his brightly colored cape fluttering in the wind, and his pack of trained guards surrounding him on all sides, anticipating their masters every move, like a well armed school of fish.
Kotero was left alone in the hallway, wondering how he managed to stay alive every day.


Lanto was, as usual, reading the great stone tablets that stood on the walls of the Room of Law. This was his only duty. A young girl, naked from the waist up, was feeding him grapes as he read, and occasionally rubbing his shoulders as he oohed and ahhed and spit grape seeds on the floor.
Kotero motioned for the girl to leave and she did so, smiling at him as she passed, noting that he saw nothing but her bare breasts. Kotero had to regain his focus before speaking, and this gave Lanto an opportunity to speak.
"Yes?" Was all he said, his gruff voice echoing around the stone chambered room.
Kotero spent a moment studying the giant granite walls. Twenty feet tall, Covering every wall of the room, words carved from floor to ceiling, these were the laws of Isterak. The law itself forbade writing them down on anything else, decreeing that the stone tablets must be kept where they had been written, in the room of Law. This had presented endless problems early on, until someone clever, someone probably not unlike Kotero himself, had devised a way to make the laws mobile.
"Make someone memorize them." This early Kotero-like advisor had decreed. And someone had. Throughout history there had been nearly a hundred men who held the job that was now Lanto's. To live in the Room of Law, and to memorize every piece of information carved there.
There were perks to this job, to be sure. Like bare breasted ladies feeding you grapes while you "worked". And all the food and drink you could stomach. And freedom to do whatever you wanted. As long as when the time came you knew the laws you were supposed to memorize. And knew them well.
More than one reader of the law had been beheaded by an Emperor King for stumbling through a difficult phrase, or saying "I'm not sure..." or muttering "I think it says..." You had to know it and you had to know it well. Lanto knew it well. He'd been born and bred for this job.
Kotero knew the law pretty well, too. Well enough to advise and guide and point the Emperor King in different directions. Well enough to know when he needed Lanto to verify the specifics of a law. Lanto for his part knew that it required someone like himself and a willing partner like Kotero to keep a lunatic Emperor King from bringing the entire system crashing down on itself.
Lanto said, "What's he done now?"
"Nothing. Yet."
Lanto had learned early on that it was wise to make sure there was no one in the room save himself and the occasional half naked girl. He could talk freely to Kotero without worrying that some guard with half a sense of civic duty would go wandering off and tell Gahn-Jihan what had been discussed behind his back. Kotero thanked the Gods every time he needed Lanto's help that the man had been blessed with such foresight.
"I need a passage." Kotero said. He always started this way. He needed Lanto to point him to something that either was the legitimate rule, or something that sounded enough like it that between the two of them they could push Gahn-Jihan into what they needed done, or at least keep him from declaring war on the moon.
"What is it?" Lanto said. "Something happen on your boat trip?"
"Our master was offended by the offhanded comment made by a foreign king."
"Wants to declare war, does he?"
"I think he wants to rip the man limb from limb, but I've set into place several trade agreements that would vanish into thin air if such a thing were to happen."
"You need this to be quiet." Lanto said.
"Something that will make him feel vindicated."
"Go on." Kotero urged.
"But keep this country we're trading with from declaring war back at us. Or perhaps even knowing it was us that did anything."
"That would be ideal." Kotero agreed.
"I have just the thing."
Kotero nodded. "Where should I start?"
This question was also customary. When Gahn-Jihan held audience in the court, Kotero and Lanto would put on a two man show that would rival even the most practiced actors performances. They just needed to know their cues.
Lanto scanned the laws on the wall. He used his finger to keep his place. Finally he said, "There."
Kotero read. "Laws of justification of force on Foreign Rulers?"
"He'll have to be assassinated."
"King Otho?" Kotero asked.
"Indeed. But the law requires that it be done quietly, and with no evidence of Isterak's hand."
Kotero nodded. It was regretful. He didn't necessarily dislike King Otho, but better he die quietly and the next king keep the trade agreements in place than start a messy and bloody trans-oceanic war.
Kotero said, "Audience in the court this morning."
Lanto waved him out of the room. "I'll be there."
Kotero wandered off to try to figure out what the best way to assassinate a foreign king was. Did they have any agents on that continent? Not any that he could think of. At least not assassins that he could think of. They'd have to send someone.
Best to go see the assassin's guild before court, he thought. To see if he could find someone suitable for the job.
It would take the better part of the day.