Sorry, I forgot to put this up yesterday.
The Rite of Lawful Obsequiousness
Kal woke up with a pounding in his head. No, it was in his left leg, his knee. What had he done to it? He was sprawled on the bathing pool's reclining edge, half submerged. He pulled himself out of the pool and hobbled across the room and flopped across a low couch. For a moment he became involved in the tactile sensation of the couch's fabric against his skin: smooth and soft and-
No use pretending. The pounding existed in neither his head nor his knee.
Someone was at the door.
They weren't shy about using the knock plate, either. Kal forced himself to sit up. Very unpleasant. The main room/bath area was wrecked; empty jugs; furniture overturned; garbage littered the floor and floated in the tub; Thront, his snores sounding rather congested, lay eye down in a congealed pool of suspicious origin.
Kal stood. Painful. He considered hand walking across the room, but decided it would be pretentious, and hopped to the door on one foot instead. He paused on his way across the room long enough to deliver three bouncing kicks into Thront's side.
"Get up," he said. "Someone's here."
The pounding continued. Kal hopped the remaining distance to the door; he passed the looking glass on the way. The green shirt had a dark stain shaped like an open lotus, almost; his sash was gone and the tan leggings were a muddy brown; dye dripped from them onto the floor. His hair had lost its gloss and was bunched together in steel colored tufts. He was amazingly unsightly and he became distracted by the sight.
The pounding. Always the pounding.
Kal opened the door. The morning light was too bright. He held a hand before his eyes.
Two nort stood at the threshold. They were impeccably dressed, in formal orange, the color of the buerophant caste, and wore impressive purple ribbons tied into intricate bows at each joint. One wore a complicated harness-sash around his sub thorax and abdomen. Each bore a polished and ornate powerstave.
Pained by the too bright morning's light, Kal looked at them through splayed fingers.
The nort in the harness-thing leaned forward, lowered a long snout and looked down it at Kal with black, oval shaped eyes.
"Why have you not reported for the March of Lawful Obsequiousness?" The nort bent and swayed on its four hind legs. The tube of its muzzle terminated in a diamond shaped orifice, which, during speech, convulsed and folded in unlikely ways.
"March?" Kal rubbed his head and squinted; his tail was bunched up in the seat of his trousers; it was beginning to itch, and his left leg ached badly. A march? What a terrible idea.
Best to be brisk with these official types.
"No thank you. None today." Kal swung the door.
The en-harnessed nort thrust the butt of his powerstave into the door jam. He made an inarticulate noise, consisting mostly of guttural clicks and buzzes, and turned his eyes once more towards Kal. The other buerophant turned away, as if in polite embarrassment.
"'No thank you', unfortunately, is not an option this morning my foreign, little friend. I am the sub-arch prefect of this district, and it is my honor to inform you that it is the law that you participate in the march on the first full day of every five moon cycle in which you retain a residence in Xiang-Xiang or on Zimtur Isle." He interposed a scroll made of glittering plaspyrus. "Punishment for non- compliance is as follows: Offenders shall have the flesh of one primary appendage flayed, or removed in a fashion that is most painful to the individual offender. Said offender shall forthwith be driven from the provinces of Xiang-Xiang and banned from their use forever more."
"Flayed..." Kal was waking up.
"You have no vestments?" The Buerophant leaned close.
"No vestments." Kal repeated; the flat black eyes had a hypnotic, anesthetic quality about them. "Are we really expected to keep track of a custom that only comes into play once every five hundred years?"
The sub-arch Prefect turned to his companion.
"Ah, these foreigners: they dwell in our bejeweled city and make use of its luxuries, but they cannot be bothered to learn even our most fundamental customs." He wagged his long head. "Larvabrother Thane, will you return to the car and fetch a set of the robes."
"What happens here?" Thront stood behind Kal.
"What indeed?" The nort replied. "Sir," it addressed Kal. "Please inform your domestic that you have failed to prepare yourself for the March of Lawful Obsequiousness and that if you do not do so and report to the courtyard before the Rook Mesiquitar and join in the mandated observance, the full penalty of the law will be visited upon you."
"Did you refer to me as a 'domestic'?"
"Yes. I see that I have erred." The nort twisted its head up at Thront. "I feel it necessary to apologize for my transgression; I also feel it needful- for no particular reason- to remind you that striking a member of the Buerophant caste is an offense of the highest magnitude, and could lead to punishment as severe as whole body flaying, or even lethal orifice expansion." The other nort came up the steps. The sub-arch prefect looked at him sadly. "My apologies, brother; but would you be so good as to fetch another vestment. A rather large set, please."
"I-" Thront began.
"You will remain silent." The Prefect arched his neck and thrust his snout into Thront's face. "I will hear no further protests, or complaints; you should be grateful that I have saved your hands from the Hungry Glove and your household from eviction."
The other buerophant reappeared. He carried two bundles of brightly colored cloth.
"Come now, don the garments." The Prefect clucked.
"If you run you can make the next ferry and still have enough time to walk across town."
"We can afford a cab-"
"No, it would invalidate the ritual; be thankful you are not compelled to swim the channel. We have talked long enough; put on the sacred garments and be on your way. Or we will call the guard and have you taken to your reward."
Without further ado or complaint Kal and Thront donned the costumes.
Kal locked up the house; goaded by the nort, he and Thront ran down the lane, towards the ferry. The sub-arch prefect and his companion were walking towards the next house as Kal rounded the corner.
They ran down the street, turning at the swaybacks. The costumes were puffy; complicated affairs, with bells sewn into the hem of the robe, and whistles fitted into the headdress; they made an awful racket descending the hill, and by the time they came to the bottom they were being followed by a group of curious children.
When they reached the pier they went immediately aboard the ferry, which was for the best; the curiosity initially exhibited by the band of children had swiftly transformed into hostile ridicule; rocks and other small missiles followed them up the boarding plank.
They had the ferry mostly to themselves.
"Strange. You would expect more foreigners with the rite and all," Thront said. The ferry paddled away from the dock. "Never heard of it- what's it called again?"
"The March of Lawful Obsequiousness, or some such." Kal placed a finger on his lips. "Odd isn't it?"
"That we've never heard of it? No not really, the norts are law crazy; who can keep track-"
"Why do you suppose the prefect had a radiation detector?"
"A what?" Thront stood up; his headdress whistled and rang.
"You didn't see it?"
"Why didn't you say anything?" Thront tore at the 'vestment'.
"I thought you saw it," Kal said. "Are you insane, don't destroy that, we'll get flayed.".
Thront blinked hard; a green film slid over his eye. "Don't be stupid," he said. "Come on." He ran to the side of the ferry and vaulted the rail into the channel.
Kal returned to the bungalow some time later. He found Thront sitting in the drawing room. The house was much as they had left it, but for the smashed in front door and the hole dug in the courtyard floor.
"They take my 'caster too?" Kal asked.
Thront bobbed his ocular case. "And they made us wear shameful hats. There is no greater insult."
Kal perched on the edge of the stone table.
"They were friends of Wister. As were those blackguards that accosted us last night" Thront waved his arms. "Of that I am certain."
"We must recover it. We must. Wister knew it was a treasure map, that's why he turned it off. We need to retrieve it."
"That will most likely be impossible, at least in the short run." Thront took a carafe of nhurr out of the cupboard, flipped away the lid with his thumb and took a long drink. He put the vessel on the table and sat down. "They're probably on their way there right now."
"How can you be so calm? We've lost a possible fortune."
"There is no reason to get excited, beyond the fact that we have been betrayed and robbed, anyway; you see, I memorized the map last night."
"Than we can go after them," Kal said. "Maybe we can catch them."
"If I am correct in my assumptions catching them will be the least of our problems. Wister owns only one boat: a barge, we could leave three days from now and still overtake him. But I doubt we could afford to finance such an enterprise with our current resources."
Kal swung down from the cabinet and took a drink of nhurr. "We must find a way; there is more than treasure at stake here."
"I agree." Thront slammed his massive three-fingered fist down onto the table, shaking the entire house. "We must swear a pact! Someone must pay for my wearing of the shameful hat."
Thront held out his massive hand. Kal grasped it, and they made an angry oath, both swearing never to rest until they had taken the full measure of their vengeance.
TO BE CONTINUED
next week: Sursha.