Threll, Invigilator Civic to Prince Machthaber of Dienlich, was a man who wielded calm patience as a weapon of fearful effectiveness. Nobody wanted to be the one who caused him to lose his temper; in his usual demeanour he left an efficient enough trail of woe upon any who suffered his professional displeasure.
‘This is most unfortunate,’
He sounded as if an unforeseen weather event was causing cancellation of an afternoon’s repose in his garden. However the slight furrowing of his brow warned the two before him. One was trying to keep the word ‘grave’ out of their thoughts; it gave a prescient air to matters.
Both knew not to serve excuses up to Threll. Reasons and self-criticism were your best hopes; no babbling either. Calm and composed, was the way
‘Very unfortunate,’ Surveyoress Bekwaam said, contrition in her voice, encouraging her colleague.
‘Quite so,’ Surveyor Ervaren agreed.
Threll considered the two of his senior staff.
‘Indeed,’ he said ‘And have you formulated how the deep coded false message to the rebel group to act, thus showing their hand actually contained a warning they had been compromised? It should have been impossible considering our failsafe programmes,’
Bekwamm straightened clutching the file into the crook of her arm.
‘Three separate layers of code, each with their own clerkes did not account for clerical errors being transposed,’ she swallowed ‘We should have considered this,’ and handed The Analysis to her superior.
Some days before.
‘Time to unlatch the hatch, and sneak the catch,’ the fellow trilled.
Ven being the professional thief of the duo gripped the fellow. Palavelle by name, being a rogue Mechanical. His talents enabled him to work through a quadruple lock with three sets of alarms, his lack of common sense allowed him to announce his success to the locality and would have had him march into the final, least subtle but most effect trap.
Two axes swung down from the walls in a criss-cross motion.
‘An’t you lucky,’ Ven hissed ‘I know the classics. Now let’s get in before someone comes to find out who is singing damn silly songs, this far from a tavern,’
Once they eased passed the still slightly swaying blades Ven had the man relock everything.
‘Ah latch the catch. There’s the thing,’
Why, Ven mused to himself did these rogue Mechanicals have to been so artisy and showy? They didn’t impress nobody down the working end of the City. After this job was done he’d have quiet words with his Guv’nor, Old Fryd about this one. Even if a contract was a contract, and the whole job was for someone, who might be acting for another someone else, if fellows like Ven Jek was caught, the last conversation would be with a rope.
Meanwhile, get the business done. Hope everyone in the town house of a lesser duke, one Sabatch, placed too much faith in that lock and assumed it was doing all the work.
‘Stop humming. This is no social visit,’
‘You should be happy in your work,’
‘I save, Happy, for when the job is over. Save all your talents for third door up on the left,’
‘It’s not a bad piece of work Guv’nor,’ Ven said handing over the ornately carved lapis lazuli statuette. Old Fryd surveyed with work with a veteran’s eye, but nonetheless passed it to the gang’s own antique expert.
‘Actually, very nice,’ the fellow said examining details through magnifier ‘Well done young Ven for bringing such a delicate piece out intact. I’ve seen a thousand golds literally knocked off the value through carelessness,’
Old Fryd winced at the memories.
‘How was our,’ he coughed dryly ‘Specialist,’
‘Typical talented risk from the Comfy Class, getting his thrills,’ Ven said sourly. ‘Lucky, we didn’t raid some sort of professional Antique collector, not so legal,’
Their own expert pulled a face.
‘They do get very cross and usually have accurate ideas where to express their displeasure. Did he pick up anything of for his own collection, a souvenir?’
‘He fiddled and nosed with a few bits; that was all. Shouldn’t use him again Guv’nor. Him and his damn sing-song silly rhymes. As if everyone appreciates them,’
‘I’ll take care of those words Ven. That I will,’
Around the same time.
‘Imagine how embarrassing it would be to have the name of Hatchapatch,’
Fegdale tightened putting down his newspaper in a sharp movement. The club was a place where one was supposed to sit and enjoy silence.
‘The matter has never occurred to me, Wingsleyden. In fact, I would say I couldn’t care two straws on the subject,’
‘Even so,’ the man had continued as if the matter were of fundamental philosophical concern ‘It would be fairly hard going for the poor fellow. You could make all sorts of poor jokes at his expense,’
Fegdale glowered at Wingsleyden, who seemed unconcerned by the sight.
‘Why this sudden morbid interest in such an unlikely name?’
Wingsleyden waved his own newspaper in response.
‘Why? Because I encountered the name in this journal. He’s suffered a ballooning accident at a farm cottage. And the bally paper has made light of it,’ his voice took on an injured tone as he waved the broadsheet in Fegdale’s face, pointing to a small column set aside for trivia ‘Hatchapatch Catches The Thatch In An Inflated Despatch,’
The irony that one of the biggest fatheads in town was inadvertently blurting out a significance message was not lost on Fegdale. There was no time to reflect on such synchronicity. At least the warning had reached him sooner than the usual network of bemused gossip arising from a seemingly random quirky newspapers items. He grunted his excuse for leaving.
‘It comes to something when a fellow cannot find peace and quiet at his club,’
The bustle of night time mixed with the steady autumn rain would provide distractions and cover. As watchman this was one of his roles. Raise the alarm.
‘This is very thorough, and it has to be said honest work,’ Thrall said to the pair, at the next meeting. ‘Taking full responsibility for all of your region’s status,’
Ervaren took the lead.
‘We should have been more vigilant with the codes. Both in their drafting and overseeing. Complex systems need constant surveillance,’
‘Always a problem,’ Thrall agreed ‘ Balancing a system’s theoretical composition not to be compromised with its efficiency in practice,’
‘Mistakes have been made, I hope lessons learnt,’ Bekwamm added ‘At least the rebels should be relatively easy to trace, with their nascent unprofessional approach,’
‘Yes,’ agreed Thrall ‘As the old tag-line goes. Good luck, bad luck. Who can say?’
The duo laughed, lightly.
Palavelle relaxed and then only slightly when the coastline slipped from view. Even in uncouth company, being a simple conveyor dropping a message tube into an indifferent vase had been a thrill. All the fuss afterwards though; folk vanishing, strangers come to spirit you out of town. Far too rich a diet for him. Exile it would have to be.
‘Do you think he ever knew who he was working for?’ Ven Jek asked from the alley shadows as the ship sailed on.
‘Doubt it,’ Wingsleyden drawled glad to be relieved of his public voice.
‘Fribbin’ Comfies thinking it’s game,’ Ven spat. ‘Speaking code without checking,’
‘You try being one, year in year out chum,’ Wingsleyden said in grim humour ‘Forget your own name in a while, you will,’
Fegdale was carefully drafting his confession, making sure it was officially obvious he had actually been working for the princedom as a decoy agent within the Dukes’ rebellion. That was what he had been told to write. He confessed to being quite wrong, the prince’s administration was very efficient. And was that not what everyone wanted? From his cell window he could see the scaffold. He shuddered thinking on his narrow escape.
Maid Bekwaam comforted by her last herbal tea, walked composed to the scaffold. There was no more to be said. She had been caught in acts of treason. At least Thrall had assured her, her mother would be protected from the threats which had forced Bekwaam into the rebels’ hands. How they had targeted her was still being investigated. She was glad it was autumn, she would hate to be seen sweating.
Bekwaam could remember the rope, it was silken, then the brief tightness. Now she was blinking? Someone was peering into her face with a magnifier. And she was breathing?
‘Yes. She is recovering,’ the someone said, her focus returned, he was elderly and maybe familiar?
Two pairs of women’s hands raised her gently, sweet clear water to her lips, she knew enough to sip, and wait for clarity.
She knew this one; Franzet ‘Old Fryd’ Durchtrieben. In criminal terms equivalent to nobility, always careful in his playing of sides. Thus, not surprising to learn now his network had found out her fate, unbeknown to her smuggled a powerful narcotic into her tea; the resulting feigned death, her coffin switched with another. All an effective rescue. Further details she might know eventually. Until then, be guardedly grateful.
‘Hello Miss Bekwaam. I won’t repeat the explanations. Glad to see you looking well,’ he tutted ‘Hate to see good resources wasted. Can’t have that,’
‘Thank you for thinking so,’ she replied, still a little croaky.
‘We’ll be easing you elsewhere. Five hundred myles south and west to Elinid. I expect you have a working knowledge about how that city is run. We have an agreement with the Silc clan there. They could use someone of your deductive and organisational talents. You’ll like it. Not so stuffy. Still spry enough to start afresh,’ he winked ‘And we’ll arrange for you to keep in touch with your old Mum. We got tender folk are already explaining basic matters to her, so it won’t come as a shock,’
Bekwaam had to admit, currently this was a better outcome. She could not help but wonder if Thrall had some idea about this. A much broader and deeper game maybe.
Ervaren brooded into the into the glass. He should have helped Bekwaam and not been instrumental in laying her upon Strategy’s bloody altar, our sacrifice of gratitude for a bountiful harvest of the treacherous, all to ensure our prince slept well.
Without the usual knock the door to his study opened. His servant, a solid veteran entered, three men followed him, stern. Ervaren was familiar with the type, those who did not need to be obvious. He managed a harsh laugh and swilled his wine.
‘And so, the covering of the traces. My turn then,’ he raised his glass in a sincere salutation. ‘Make it quick and dignified. And Lave here, I bear you no ill-will,’
One man of iron-grey short hair afforded Ervaren a softening of his expression.
‘Surveyor Ervaren. Your remorse and the urge for self-chastisement are understandable. However, these are pragmatic times. The empire’s stability always paramount. Invigilator Civic Thrall is willing for your talents to be seconded,’
‘Seconded?’ the effects of the wine flushed out by professionalism.
‘Yes,’ the voice was now shielded ‘The Invigilator understands he is too close to be effective on one issue. There are concerns regarding Prince Machthaber. Being the subject of avaricious potential rebellions does not exclude a prince from suspicion on other issues. You will receive instructions on methods of reporting,’ a thin smile ‘All for the stability of the Empire,’
Later, pondering, Ervaren could not help but feel it could just as easily have been Bekwaam receiving those words. Imperial Stability was such an amoral concept.
Duke Sabatch was vexed. Another occasion of Court People trampling through his town house. He would vet his staff better.
Thrall made fresh entries upon the map of relationships and alliances. It would not do to lose track of who was who and what was being hatched by all sides. At least Sabatch was consistent, The Useful Idiot.