The party at Vasta’s is under full swing when there is a knock on the door. Pinborton is standing there with two young socialites, Irmenia and Draina, who are fans of Septimus. Word seems to have gotten around town that the magician is leaving town for a few days. Pinborton bears a gift of expensive champagne and a document, drawn up just that day, confirming Vastavika’s uncontested title to Karadevelia. It is a peace offering from Matreya, who has just had it signed by the whole Council of Governors, and wishes to reset her relationship with Vasta on a new footing of friendship. While not fully trusting Matreya, Vasta is willing to accept the offer in order to keep close tabs on the Countess and report anything noteworthy back to the group via Ginny.
Septimus is quite willing to entertain the young elites, but he has some temporary competition from Kibu, who the girls instantly recognize as the notorious outlaw hero from the posters and from the wild rumors that have been flying through the city in the wake of the overthrow of Inspector Crimner. They attempt to engage the scruffy lad, but Weed is unavailable as a translator and Septimus does not appear to be encouraging the interaction. Kibu manages to use Momo as a distraction to swipe a souvenir broach from one of their jewel encrusted gowns, but his heart seems hardly in it, and he soon disengages.
The wealthy girls are quite disappointed, because they had purposely come laden with some of the gaudier selections from their many jewelry boxes (most of it last year’s fashion), hoping it would prove enough of an enticement to the dashing young bandit that they could parlay it into a dalliance with him later that night in one of the upper bedchambers. This would have given them priceless bragging rights among their friends, for a legitimate story of having been ravished and stripped of all they possessed by the great Keeboo would have secured their preeminent popularity for the entire season. Instead, with but a momentary sigh of regret, they resign themselves to the attentions of the boringly familiar but always amusing Septimus.
Meanwhile, Pinborton has sought out Marina, per his employer’s instructions, and entrusts to her a hand-printed letter from Matreya in Geronimo’s language, which is addressed to the entire group. Weed is recruited to read the lengthy missive to Marina, Trink, Yachak and Vastavika, and we will assume that he is willing to read it at least one more time when the party is fully assembled and underway.
I hope the time may yet come when I can use that word to describe you without irony. I have spoken with my son this morning, and he has indicated his resolve to remain on your side of our dispute. This has given me much to think about, for I place great store by his judgment of character.
I wish we had had more time to discuss Geronimo Kittikov during your visit, because you each have unique insights into the man which I and my superiors would find very valuable. But I fully recognize and concur with the urgency of your mission to find him, and therefore do not wish to detain you further.
My son is quite put out that I will not tell him more of my origins or the nature of the authority to which I answer. Let me assure you that the necessity for secrecy is equally painful to me, and if my instructions or the logic of my position were to change, I would feel most relieved to be able to share with you what information I have. But I will tell you this: The principles that require my silence were developed to protect the people who live in this land. That protection was hard won, and it does not exist in every part of the world. In the places where such knowledge is not restricted, there has been much greater suffering than the people in this region have known, and I offer the example of the upheavals far north of the Zeeva Zee, from which some of you have fled, as a mere hint of the dangers to which I allude.
The time may come when you win your way to the knowledge you seek, and I do not advise you against its pursuit. But for me to fill you in on the larger picture would amount to going rogue against my chain of command and forfeiting what little power of influence I may yet retain in these matters. I am not aware that you need to know more than you already do to achieve your aim. And it lends my resolve to maintain this secrecy a disquieting kind of support when I reflect that your mentor, for reasons of his own, apparently followed a similar policy. I do not pretend complete confidence in my stand on this issue, but there is no question that information without understanding can be a two-edged sword. It is critical that you not be distracted from the task at hand.
The world you call home is a very old place. It has endured the ravages of war and plague for countless generations. It has also known periods of unimaginable prosperity and progress. Contrary to what some of you have experienced in recent years, you have actually lived in a time of relative peace; but that pattern may be about to change quite profoundly. There are dangers out there which even I do not fully comprehend. And I still believe that a greater threat than man has yet faced may soon be brought upon us, whether wittingly or not, by your beloved “Nimmo.” That is why it has become less important to me which one of us finds him first, than that he simply be found.
By your association with this man, you have been drawn into a sequence of events that began long before you existed. I am now probably saying too much, but his reappearance a few years ago was a shock that rocked the powers that be to the core. How he has eluded our detection since then is a mystery to us, and an ominous one. But the revelation that he has been spending at least part of his time cultivating the development of such a talented group of young people has introduced a perspective for which I, personally, was not prepared, one which persuades me to exercise more caution under the present circumstances than my superiors are likely to endorse. To put it more plainly, I may be in big trouble for letting you go.
But by virtue of my own impressions from our brief acquaintance, as well as the important evidence of my son’s clear trust in his companions, I am at least convinced you are all earnest in the desire to do the right thing. That is why I hope for the safety of each one of you as genuinely as I wish it for Yachak. Were I not in such a difficult situation, and gambling so much on this decision, I would be sore tempted to suspend my own disbelief and throw my lot in with yours in the hope of finding him before my people do, just to see what he has to say for himself. But my involvement in your search would bring upon you the attention of forces with which you could not possibly hope to contend.
Instead, my intuition suggests to me that I can better serve the greater good, whichever side of our disagreement that ends up justifying, by staying put for the time being and continuing to work on the project which brought me to Timble-tain in the first place. There are some things going on in this town that I still need to get to the bottom of, and I will do what I can to keep the gaze of those who monitor my progress turned in this direction. But know that this holding status will not last forever. You must pursue your quest quickly and discreetly, and follow your best instincts and conscience as you near your goal.
From what I am piecing together of the local news from the past few days, you all seem to have a knack for disrupting the ordinary current of events, although whether for positive or negative effect is apparently difficult to predict. I cannot help wondering if the assemblage of so formidable a force has not somehow been a deliberate component of Geronimo’s patient scheming all these years.
But whether that comes close to the truth or is simply a paranoid whimsy on my part, his ultimate motives remain disturbingly elusive to us. I can scarcely guess whether unleashing you upon the world at this juncture will serve to expose, and thus either neutralize or redeem, him, or merely play into his nefarious hands. That I choose to do so is more an act of faith than calculation, faith which may amount to nothing more than a mother’s blindness. Poised on the fulcrum of this dilemma, I find it quite plausible to imagine that in the final analysis, it may well come down to the quality of your own insight and character to determine whether your actions lead to the salvation or the destruction of us all.
So, you know, no pressure. By all means, have a fun trip.
From the bottom of my sorely conflicted heart, I remain
Field Agent Deneb Ka’iulani van Epps
Aka : Lady Connetta
Aka : Matreya, Countess in Exile from the (fictional) Kingdom of Vadalia
Aka : Mom
As the party is making its final travel preparations late the next morning, Jarley Buttles shows up at the gate with news of the latest events in town, He reports that just that morning, the foreign soldiers were led to the graves of the ruffians, where the corpses were exhumed and the necklace promptly recovered. The officers went away completely satisfied that their mission had been accomplished, and planned to return directly to their own country.
But that’s not all. On the previous day, the Council of Governors had gathered for their monthly session. While this is normally a strictly sealed affair, it was announced that the Countess Matreya had been invited to this meeting to give a personal report on the recent upheavals in the city. She had apparently been quite persuasive, for in an unprecedented gesture of cooperation, they agreed on the spot to attend an immediate ad-hoc joint session with the Plenum of Burghers.
At this late afternoon proceeding, many issues were brought up, and the impending trial for the rebel burghers was formally arranged. But another issue emerged and gained increasing traction as the day wore into evening. As had been done many times in the past, it was again proposed that the office of Mayor of Timble-tain be established, especially in light of Crimner’s direct subversion of the executive authority of the police, as well as the even more recently demonstrated need for a single public figure to present the face of Timble-tainian sovereignty to visiting dignitaries. To everyone’s shock, the Governors unanimously reversed their traditional opposition to this proposal, and an election date was agreed upon.
Jarley then proudly announces that his own name seems to be high on the list of likely candidates for the new position. He tells Septimus and the others that if he is elected, he’ll need a few good people in his administration, and he hopes that upon their return, they will all consider accepting posts of one sort or another. As they reach the end of the road where they expect to part ways with him, two of his riders meet them and report that there is a rally forming about a half mile north at a public picnic area between the road and the beach. Everyone follows along to hear Jarley speechify and Septimus is also invited to get a few words in.
Someone puts two and two together and wonders if the zebra is the same one that disappeared from the carnival a few days earlier, but Jarley steps in and smoothes the situation over, informing the crowd that he is personally arranging generous restitution to the original owner, and that it is in fact a small compensation to the famous Keeboo for the services he has rendered to the city. People seem to be satisfied with this explanation.
At long, long last, our brave company finally sets hoof to gravel and begins it epic journey. It takes a couple of weeks to wend their way up the picturesque coastal highway, stopping at the villages and towns to perfect their routines and try them out on the locals. Septimus develops a standard schedule of acts, with each member of the troupe assigned a specific performing or supporting role at each stage. The reactions from the townfolk are mixed, but steadily improve. Gradually they work out some of the details of costuming, prop storage, crowd handling, and quick change-ups when the locals don’t seem to be responding well to a particular act. Their musicianship also improves with daily practice, and they often invite the audience to teach them some of the local ditties, which serves to get the people more involved, helps to bulk up the group’s repertoire, and turns out to be quite a crowd-pleaser.
Finally, they reach the peninsula which is the jumping off point for the ferries that ply the archipelago. Before getting that far, however, they investigate another route that had been partially sketched in on Geronimo’s map, one which might have led around the Zeeva Zee and avoided having to use boats to get to the extreme northern shore. Locals discourage them from trying this route, however, claiming that it disappears into dangerous, unknown swamplands and that no travelers ever emerge from that direction.
Instead they island hop to Summer Isle, the sprawling resort town that plays host to the majority of the Timble-tainian elite during the hottest part of the year. There they get a glimpse of the beehive of activity that goes on behind the scenes all spring before the guest barges arrive from the south. Masons are busy repairing sections of cobbled streets and retaining walls, landscapers are laying out new garden mazes up the slopes of the mountains behind the resorts, and everywhere there are stevedores and carters unloading heaps of supplies bound for the inns and mansions that line the coast. There are also drama troupes and choraliers rehearsing their new repertoires out in the plazas, and scattered street performers practicing their routines for each other’s amusement and professional critique. In the evening, everyone swills cheap ale and raucously carouses with the wait staff on the restaurant patios that will soon be the exclusive preserve of their social betters.
Most people are puzzled when our travelers inquire about the north side of the island, but someone is eventually able to direct them to the narrow road that runs around the western end of the mountains and out into the pastoral hills that slope gently northward to the sea. This is the actual breadbasket of the resort town, but many of the crops which will eventually supply the summer tables on the other side are only just being planted. Along the coast are nothing but tiny fishing hamlets, and all passersby shrug at the party’s inquiries and simply point them further north.
Eventually they reach the closest thing to a town that this side of the island has to offer. It has a wharf populated mostly with small skiffs, paddle trawlers and net rafts, and a couple of ramshackle taverns. No one has heard of any sort of ferry service to the northern coast, and all seem dully amused at the notion that anyone would want to go there. But someone sitting at the bar suggests that if anyone knows how to ply that stretch of the sea, it would be one of the, er, fisher folk that tie up in the coves further along the coast, and a couple of the others nod their heads, but only after snickering at the suggestion.
Undeterred, our band forges on, finding mostly barren, grassy beaches and the occasional subsistence farm family. Finally, they catch a glimpse of a loose jumble of sheds perched on a rocky promontory up ahead, and approach it warily. A lone man emerges and walks in their direction, intercepting them on the beach a couple hundred feet from the settlement. They ask about passage north, and he squints out across the waves as he considers what to tell them. There’s nothing like that available around here, he says, but there’s one fellow, old Smitty, who might know something. He’s out at sea with some of the boys at the moment, but come nightfall, they should be putting in. Whether or no he’ll be willing to talk to them, though, is another question. He offers to let them come in for some grub and drink, but they elect to make camp here on the beach. He says he’ll send Smitty out to meet them when the time comes. They thank him, and tell him they’re fine for the time being.