My dearest Zann,
I’ve been on guard with a fellow named Tharus this swing. I first thought him an ordinary sort of person: middle-aged, a little stout, losing some of his hair in the front. Welcomed me to the Rosollas cordially enough, and conversed with me in quite a normal way about what a pain in the chuff it is to have to walk all the way down to the coach station for a proper drink of water in a fountainroom.
That day, we were watching on the Low Spire, which was a tiny tiny grey stone tower that stuck up about three stories above the Comet Halls. It was just an observation tower for us, to make sure that nobody unauthorized was coming to the palace cross-country. There was too much stuff in the way, including the hill, for us to watch either the road or the river from here, but it did have a good view to either side. We had signal flags in case we actually did see something, which, according to Tharus, we never would.
Anyway, we had about an hour to go until our nuncheon when I heard Tharus muttering something. He was looking out one of the windows. “Rotten fuckers,” he said.
I looked down. The only thing happening was some gardener, human of course, raking out the swan pond in one of the pleasaunces. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Those swanfuckers,” he said. “You know this is all their fault.”
I couldn’t really think of anything to say, but my expression must have been enough for him to continue.
“The laurans taking over? King Diopell deposed? All that?” he said.
“Who do you think arranged it all?”
He seemed to want me to answer his question in a way that had to do with swans, but I didn’t see my way clear to doing anything like that. “Um…”
“Now see here. Before all this, when King Diopell was on the throne, what laws did he pass just two swings before the Great Nap started?”
“I don’t know. I’m new to the city.”
Tharus sighed. “Young people. You know, it’s politics that controls everything. You should learn more about it.”
“I was very involved in politics back home! Just, not royal politics. More local.”
“All right. See here, the oldest family in Crideon is the Vangtarms.” I had heard the name somewhere. “The Vangtarms are very rich and powerful, and one of the things that they do is raise and tend swans for use in gardens and pleasaunces and so on. And not long before the Great Nap started, King Diopell did two things: he introduced a new tax on ornamentation of great houses and private gardens, and he changed certain livestock tax categories so that waterfowl and standing birds would be taxed at six percent of their value instead of four and a half percent.” He leaned back against the wall. “And there you are.”
“Don’t you get it?”
“King Diopell’s new taxes hit the Vangtarms’ swan industry in two places. First, they’d be taxed as ornamentation; second, they’d be taxed extra hard as livestock. The Vangtarms had no choice but to retaliate by making a deal with the laurans to come in and take over. And it’s no coincidence that laurans love swans.” He jerked his thumb to indicate the swan pond below. “That’s a Vangtarm man down there with the rake, bet on it. The big swan concerns are making pisskegs of money now that the laurans are in charge.”
“If the Vangtarms were going to depose King Diopell, why wouldn’t they just put themselves in charge?”
“Oh, they’re too smart for that. Wouldn’t look good. This way, their hands are clean. But if you look below the surface, you can tell what’s going on. What broadsheets do you read?”
This conversation had gone far enough. “Just the ones about cunnilingus.”
Tharus went back to looking out the window.
That was the first day. The second day, we were on an afternoon-evening shift, on guard in some kind of conservatory with a lot of pale blue plants. We were standing at the main door, and behind us was a wall full of doors mostly leading to people’s roosts upstairs. Our job here was, as usual in this part of the palace, to keep humans out. Tharus had nodded at me in a friendly enough way when we first met there, but didn’t seem inclined to talk.
The afternoon passed uneventfully enough. Flocks of laurans drifted in and out, their eyes sparkling as they argued politics and chattered about sculpture. They didn’t take any notice of us. Until, late in the afternoon, as the red mists of itching began to gather outside, one of the doors behind us opened. Well, that had been happening all day, but this time it didn’t close again, and we didn’t hear anybody step in or out. We turned. A tall, gaunt lauran stood shaking in the doorway. I had seen him before, at a distance; he was very recognizable because of the bubbling, fuming green scar that cut across half his face.
But there was something wrong with him today. Shaking, as I said, and looking somewhere very far away. Yellow and purple magic flickered around his right hand, and reflected in his scar. “You won’t take me alive!” he shouted. “By the Sauce, I’ll kill you first! I will!” He staggered toward us.
I was not ready for this at all. Beside me, Tharus drew his sword, not very expertly.
The lauran may or may not have known we were there, but he saw the sword, and clenched his fist, thrusting it at Tharus.
The light crackled and flashed all around us, dark, bright, dark, bright; silver symbols blazed in Tharus’s silhouette. When it faded, Tharus wasn’t there anymore; there was some kind of large animal in a Rosolla cape.
The lauran turned to me, his hand still glowing. I backed up and pulled my own cape off, sword still sheathed.
“The battle is not yet won!” he said, brandishing his magic. Some of his spit got on me. I flinched from his hand, trying to coax him to strike.
He did strike, unleashing his magic again. But this time I covered his fist with my cape, trying to tangle him up before his spell could take effect.
It didn’t really work; the same midnight-noon flashes spat from his fist again, sharp and harsh in my ears, the light striking from his gleaming scar into my eyes. I fell back, leaving my cape.
But when I could see again, my cape was gone, and the lauran stood bewildered, his right hand somehow encased in a harpsichord that hadn’t been there before. He tugged at it, and the harpsichord clunked lightly on its legs.
I had a chance to try something while he was confused. All I had to do was figure out what it should be.
For lack of any better idea, I stepped in front of the harpsichord. I couldn’t play it right, but when I was little I did get to play with the temple four-and-fourgan, and, like all the other kids in the village, figured how to plink out “Kiss the Pig” on it. So I put my hands on eight of the middle harpsichord keys and, very slowly and soothingly, in the Conservatory of Contemplation of the Sky, in the middle of Hand Extended to the Dawn, the laurans’ great temple to beauty in the world, gave this lauran my serenest rendition of “Kiss the Pig”.
It did settle him down a bit. It’s not a long song, so I was on my third time through it when some other courtiers came to lead the poor lauran away and get him some attention. I think I was on the verse about “get the mud between your teeth” when I felt I could safely stop.
Another couple of Rosollas came to relieve us while I took Tharus to Ambe’s lair. She seemed confident of success in restoring his human form from whatever this weird snouty clawy thing was.
Of course, the worst part would be going back to Crell for a replacement cape.