The Logs of the TDFS Tindome
Chapter 42: The Boon of the Serpent Prince
"Khajad? Is magic disallowed everywhere, or just inside the city?" asks Mandorak.
"There is a shield against magic at each of the two walls."
"Would it be a problem if we used magic outside the walls?" the dwarf continues.
"Many foreigners do magic."
Eïr delicately explains to Khajad that our captain could place the image of Sarah in the mind of another, and she asks if this would be acceptable. From his hesitation and distaste, she garners the answer, no. "So, one of the Faithful would not like to come into contact with… one of us?"
"Ah, yes." Khajad is grateful for the polite terminology.
Clearly, we will not show the image of Sarah to any of the locals; we will describe her which, given her strawberry blonde hair and fair skin, should be adequate. We gather ourselves together, and head off for the palace.
As we walk along, Mannie observes to our interpreter, "Every time we've come along here, we've been watched. Have we done something wrong?"
"You are foreigners. That is enough. You give offense easily." We continue down the street. Mannie examines the Guardian of the Gate closely as we approach it. As before, our way is barred. Captain Finwë announces that we have an appointment with the Serpent Prince. One of the guards shouts out in a sing-song voice. Time passes. A lieutenant of the guard comes to check our papers. He seems dubious, but there shouldn't be anything wrong with our papers. Our papers are returned. There is some marching back and forth, and the inner gate swings open. The detachment of nine soldiers stands at attention.
After a very long moment of inaction, Khajad steps forward. We are escorted through the gate and past the attractive fountain we saw last time. We are joined by another officer, whom we eventually recognize as the lieutenant who had led us in last time. We wait while he and the current lieutenant exchange statements.
We enter a circular room in the next building. We are joined by four more guards. We are now in the palace. We pass into nicer and nicer rooms. Finally, we come to a halt. A white-haired man dressed in dark blue appears. Ah, yes. We recognize him: He treated us with skepticism and disdain last time. Our captain hands him our papers. He folds them up, slips them up his sleeve, and gestures.
Two guards open a set of double doors, and he and we step forward into the presence of the Serpent Prince. He is accompanied by the white-haired gentleman in black whom we also saw last time. Only Khajad and the lieutenant came into this room with us. Khajad steps forward, bows, and positions himself to one side, between the two parties. The Prince smiles, and Finwë steps forward. His advisor leans forward and whispers to the Prince.
The Prince asks a long question of Khajad. He translates it as, "Are you still intending to carry word back to your Lady?"
"Yes, it is our duty to return, and report on the results of our mission here."
"Has anything changed?" inquires the Prince.
"Other than having enjoyed a few days in the excellent City of One Hundred and One Temples, nothing has changed."
Several more sentences are translated as, "Ah, I see. We will content ourselves with first a gift." The Prince is handed a shoebox-sized wooden box, tied with a golden cord, and sealed at the intersections with sealing wax. The largest blob of sealing wax, with ribbons imbedded in it, is on the top. Finwë steps forward. Khajad says, "Please step forward." Finwë accepts the box, as the Prince continues, "This is for the Lady Daywen. We hope for a formal diplomatic mission, which will be received with our cordial openness to what they wish to convey."
Finwë bows and steps back. "And perhaps, to commemorate the unusual occurrence of… an unofficial embassy having audience with the Prince, you will accept for yourself a small gift." Finwë hands Daëwen's gift to Eric, and steps forward again. "This one thanks His Excellency for his consideration and generosity." He takes his present. It is a gold ring in the form of a serpent that has passed its own tail, a symbol of protection. "It is rare that we receive an unofficial embassy from foreign places."
"Your Excellency is correct in pointing out the unusual circumstances of this meeting. We are fully aware of the uniqueness of these events, and of your puissance." We await Khajad's translation.
Now we get to the critical juncture. The elf broaches a new subject. "It is an unusual time and situation, but I ask your advice, as one father to another."
Khajad's translation must have been exact. "As a father?"
The guards behind us stir. The man in dark blue looks totally hostile.
"I realize that this is a difficult circumstance. As a father, I have come seeking my lost daughter Sarah, whom we have learned has found sanctuary here in Darkholme. She was traveling, properly escorted, when her ship was blown off course, and sunk. She, and my other children, survived, although all those who were supposed to protect them, must have been drowned."
"You search for her, and not just for word of her?"
"Yes. We hare fey. We have our ways, and so we know that she is alive, and in this fine city."
"I see. Is she then your only child?"
"No, I have three. We have already rescued the other two. She is my younger daughter."
"Do you also seek whatever remnant of her retinue survives?"
"Of course, but we only have certain knowledge of her."
"No doubt you can indulge in their punishments should you find them."
"Yes, there will be questions. Then, there may be new retainers." Finwë smiles coldly, and tries to look as elvish as possible.
"I would not have thought there would even be questions."
Our captain only continues to smile.
"You continue to wish her return?"
"Any father would." He stands upright and tries to look very, very fey. Khajad's translations go back to being longer than the original.
"I suppose that, if it is of deep importance to you, something might be done to assist you in this." He pauses. Finwë softens his stance to a more listening pose. The Prince turns his advisor in black, "Nashrum, you could assign someone to accompany the Captain. We may learn something interesting about these new folk." He turns back to us, pauses again, then says, "Your request is unusual, but this is no doubt appropriate or even caused by how unusual a meeting this is."
"Jhejhaleen," he calls to the lieutenant at the door. "The Captain seems to have lost a daughter and to wish her back. If, in the course of three days, you can help him to find her, you may do that. But then you must return to your duties." He turns back to Finwë. "A fitting end to such an encounter. I will send you my man to assist you as he may. Perhaps it does not go without saying that as unusual as it is for a Prince to be approached by a sea captain, but it shall be done." He gestures.
Finwë bows. "My heartfelt thanks for this additional assistant, most Puissant Majesty." Politely, and quietly, we turn and leave the chamber. The lieutenant follows. Softly, Finwë tells Khajad, "After we've left the palace, you can criticize me all you want." We walk out, and soon find ourselves in the middle of a circle of guards.
Lieutenant Jhejhaleen speaks up briskly. The other, hostile lieutenant leads the way down the corridor. Lieutenant Jhejhaleen asks a questions, which Khajad belatedly translates as "What languages do you speak?"
Finwë goes over his list of languages again, and polls us for our languages. None of them sound familiar to the lieutenant. "Perhaps you would come with me, and tell me what you know."
We agree. He turns another way down the corridor, and down a stairway into a less elegant portion of the palace. Two more guards join him, and we are led onward and downward. We end up in a moderately large room, furnished with stools, short chairs, and two low writing desks.
We sit down informally. "So. You are looking for the return of your daughter."
"Yes. Would you like the circumstances of her loss, or a description of her?"
Captain Finwë introduces Samantha as his daughter, and the older sister of Sarah. He explains about the shipwreck, mentions that we know she is in the palace grounds, and describes her fully, after apologizing for a father's superlatives. Lieutenant Jhejhaleen looks surprised. He asks if we really want her back… in all circumstances.
The captain waxes enthusiastic, "You must understand how precious all the children are in our new, young land, and that we would welcome her back, even if she were not whole, and be grateful to those who gave her what sanctuary there was."
A man in black enters the room, and announces that he is here to report on everything that happens. He says something, untranslated but commanding, to Jhejhaleen. The lieutenant responds with strong words, and points to the corner. The two guards shift closer to him, and the black-clad young man walks to a stool and sits down.
Lieutenant Jhejhaleen announces, via Khajad, "It's too hot in here. Come with me." He, Khajad, and Finwë step through another door, which is opened before them, and closed behind them, by one of Jhejhaleen's guards.
They are now in someone's private quarters. Jhejhaleen draws a quick sketch, and tosses it to the captain. It is a schematic of the palace grounds. "Please mark the location of your daughter."
Quickly, he points to the second tower to the left of the main gate.
The young officer looks at that, then sits back on his stool. "I presume that, uh, you noticed the finality with which you were dismissed from the Prince's presence."
"It was not unexpected."
"We are therefore, in this endeavor of yours, largely on our own. However we manage to resolve this will have to be… how we resolve it."
"The Prince had expected that you will expend this time of yours as on our behalf."
"I hope that we may work together on this in a friendly way, despite our differences. We are bound upon the same course. I am a soldier. I prefer to keep things on the table. This will not be an easy mission. If you are correct as to where your daughter is… I wish we had a language in common." He looks at Khajad. "Your daughter is in an area reserved for slaves, and for those of the promised harem for nobles of the city."
"That fact does not completely surprise me."
The lieutenant warns, "This virtually guarantees that at least one important man in this city will consider your daughter his personal property."
"You use the term, 'property.' There is property that is held dear and not available at any price, and property that is bought and sold. If it were the latter, that would not be unexpected, and we would be prepared to enter into negotiations."
The officer nods, "We may be lucky. She may be promised. She may be promised, but not yet purchased. Or she may still be the property of that temple. If she is promised, it may be to a high-ranking merchant, and that is unpredictable. She may be the property of a temple, and so she is in the custody of the Adjutant Vizier."
"He is the master of the man who burst in on us?"
"Yes, he is the master of that creature we left there."
"Did he say 'creature'?" Finwë asks of Khajad. "Yes."
"I thought it best, against that possibility, not to involve him yet."
"My best guess is that my daughter Sarah is somewhat distinctive among the women who might be part of the harem. Would it be possible to easily identify her?"
"We could do that. There are two possibilities. First, a frontal assault. We go directly to the temple and inquire directly. This will produce immediate results, but may produce a negative reaction. Second, we could send someone to scout the terrain, and receive his reports, so we can plan our approach."
"This person would be a scribe or functionary from your office?"
"The implications of my orders are that my only resources are only the three days of my time. However, the three guards with me are my personal guard. And it is clear that the adjutant has already stretched his orders. Even so, I cannot stretch mine much past my guards, or my page."
"There are presumably professional managers responsible for the slaves and the harem. Would it be possible to contact them and rely on them to behave in a professional manner?"
"Ah. Their loyalty would be to the nobles and merchants of the Inner City, and not…"
Finwë understands. "Then, there have to be functionaries who have more limited responsibilities. Someone in charge of the inventory of harem possibilities, or of the registry of slaves."
"Oh, yes. I see. You are considering methods of scouting the terrain. Yes, this could work." He leans back in thought for a moment. Then he bends down, and produces three goblets, into which he pours water. The three of them drink, and look at each other in understanding. They get up and return to the first room.
The lieutenant keeps the two men who had been with him in the room, and sends the rest of us, including the assistant to the Adjutant Vizier into the corridor.
©2002, 2006 Ann Broomhead. All Rights Reserved.