Chapter 17, Saturday Morning, June 7—Market Day
Crossing back to the marketplace, they visited the covered market stalls first, under the watchful eye of Madam Claire. She scowled at Flummox, but insisted that D-Stract visit her son, Hound, at his booth.
D-Stract walked up and batted her eyes at him. “Say, handsome, why so glum?”
Hound raised his eyes to meet hers. “No business any more. Even Whittler has bailed on me. He’s usually here looking for jobs.” He waved his hand at the few tables that had been set up by farm families. “I was hoping some of the farmers might bring in some gems they had traded with the Trogs, but half of them aren’t even here this morning. So, nothing.”
D-Stract leaned on the countertop. “Well, maybe we need to go to them. The Trogs I mean. What do you say you lead a group of us, armed against wolves, to go visit the Trogs together? You could show me some of these caves of yours.”
Hound brightened visibly. “That would be swell. Might get some trade that way. And there’s nothing like getting inside a wonderful new place for the first time.” He smiled at D-Stract, then his face fell and he blushed. “’Course I didn’t mean anything by that, I just…”
She patted his hand. “Don’t worry about it sugar. So we have a date? This week sometime?”
“Yeah, sure, whenever you say. I’ve got nothing going.”
D-Stract smiled and they moved on.
Mr. S. had the last booth, with a large accounts book on the counter, evidently serving as money changer and banker. Beside him were two of the law-and-order types standing guard. Flummox and D-Stract nodded as they passed, trying to get a better look at their weird weapons, and went to lean against the stable fence, just beyond the guards.
They pretended to watch the people in the marketplace, among whom Animus had just appeared, talking with a farmer. Actually though, they listened clandestinely to the guards, who were talking about Animus!
The green-clad one spit. “Yeah, Bo, probably one of those homeless scum camped out on the beach. I can’t wait until they let me patrol down there. I’ll make sure they know they’re not welcome.”
Mr. S. rapped on the countertop. “Gentlemen! These are all paying customers, and you would be well to remember that you are here to serve the community. No more loose talk, please.”
“Yes sir!” They clammed up and stood at attention. As the adventurers leaned on the corral fence, surveying the activities of the marketplace, another armed figure approached from the direction of the main road.
The two guards snapped to attention. “Yes sir! Whatever you say, Mr. Capone.”
The two adventured tittered, and Capone looked over at them. “What are you two laughing at?”
Flummox gasped for breath. “You have an excellent sense of humor, sir.”
Capone swaggered over. “Sense of humor? What do you think I am, some sort of wise guy?”
D-Stract tittered. “Oh, we’d never think that.”
Capone put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest. “I ought to run you two in, for loitering.”
Flummox shook his head. “Oh no, sir. We’re here to spend our hard-earned money. We’re solid citizens and have every respect for the law.”
D-Stract nodded vigorously. “Yes. That’s us. Sir.”
Capone glared, and turned away. “Well, don’t let it happen again.”
Flummox and D-Stract looked at each other and suppressed another outburst.
As he left, D-Stract cocked her chin in his direction. “Where does the Earl get all these goofballs?”
Flummox shook his head. “I am really looking forward to meeting this Archie Tomes fellow tonight.”
They then turned their attention to Animus who was still in conversation with the farm family that had their produce spread on the nearest table. Flummox marched up to him with a bold swagger. “Looks like we three are the only ones up this morning.”
Animus looked at him coolly. “I gather the others had a pretty busy night. But let me introduce Master and Mistress Amethyst. They are from one of the only two farm families not to have suffered from any attacks.”
Flummox shook his hand. “Tragic, of course. But to what do you attribute your, ah… relative, good fortune?”
Master Amethyst rubbed his goatee. “Well, we’re closest to town, for one.”
Mistress Amethyst leaned forward. “And we have all girls. Pretty, delicate flowers they are… once you get them out of the barn and cleaned up. You’ll see them around the market, perhaps. None of them were part of Old Mr. Teal’s scout troop, of course.”
Flummox smiled. “Of course. And how many died in that incident?”
Master Amethyst saw his wife was a bit flustered, and pushed forward. “Why, only Old Mr. Teal, of course. The three scouts were taken by the wolves, not captured. Then Rudy Rouge was lost when he and Delft went looking for them.”
Flummox looked puzzled and put his hand to his chin. “I’m surprised though. You’re closest to the Withers estate and yet you’ve not had any trouble with the zombies. In fact, if I have this right, the two Rouge girls lived farthest from town, isn’t that right?”
Mistress Amethyst shook her head. “The Withers had nothing to do with that. They were fine neighbors up until 4 or 5 months ago. The girls and the Autumn couple were snatched off the road at night.”
Master Amethyst nodded. “That’s right. When Chief Grief went to investigate, it was definitely a new group that was to blame. They chased him off; in fact he barely escaped with his life. He told all about it. It weren’t the Withers, no sir.”
D-Stract took the wife’s hand in hers. “It must have been terrible. Then what happened?”
Mistress Amethyst shook her head sadly. “Nobody has been willing to go back in there, everybody was too afraid. At least until Sister Maude went marching in, to try and get the Rouge girls back.”
Mr. Amethyst winked slyly. “Scooter claims he goes everywhere, ‘nothing will stop the mail going through,’ he says, but I think he’s not been anywhere near that place since, either.”
“Well, good luck, and good day to you both. Nice meeting you.” They moved on, and Animus drifted away.
Flummox turned to him with an amused smile. “Oh really? Do tell. I haven’t heard a good one in quite awhile.”
The man sidled up to him, shoulder-to shoulder and whispered. “I know a guy who is all set to supply a basic need of this community, has all the production equipment he needs, almost everything to strike it rich, but he just needs some investors.”
“You’re talking about Grog and his drinking water scheme. I’m Flummox by the way, this is D-Stract. And you are…”
“Larsen. He’s over by the brewery trying to sell water from a barrel but he needs a cheap source of bottles. Any ideas?”
“How about a line on a golden unicorn horn. Magical powers. Great with the ladies…”
“How about the location of that witch on the broomstick and her flying monkeys? Palance and Eastwood have been keeping watch from up on the castle…”
“Okay then. I know a guy who needs a big steady magical power source, and will pay an arm and a leg for it.”
“Probably Roddie for the mill. Sorry, not our line.”
“You know about the big party Uptown tonight?”
“Yes, in fact we are attending.”
“You know about the string of jewel thefts?”
“Indeed.” Flummox started to turn away.
Larsen put a hand on his shoulder. “How about this. The identity of a local arsonist. Dangerous character, you could be a real hero if you can catch them red-handed tonight.”
“You’re talking about Gorbag and Animus…”
“Nope. Nothing to do with them. It’s somebody uptown. What’s it worth to you?”
Animus turned back. “Silver coin?”
“Make it gold and you’ve got a deal.”
“Okay, here’s the scoop. You know why Chief Ash acts like he’s got a pole up his ass and is always on about fire?”
“Something about losing his family in a blaze.”
“Yes but they weren’t alone. And you know who was with them? The late Madam Montecristo. And you know where this happened? In a gazebo on the Montecristo estate. In a gazebo, for gobs sake! How does anybody get trapped in a burning gazebo? The word is, Montecristo himself is to blame. Burned ‘em up to dispose of the evidence after offing his wife. And there have been other unexplained fires; you know how so many people have gone missing lately. Only nobody has found any bodies. But you know how arsonists and serial killers are. They get into a pattern, see. That’s how the cops catch ‘em. Only if you catch ‘em instead, you’re heroes.”
Flummox passed over a gold coin. “An intriguing tale. Worth a gold coin, even if you made it all up.”
Larsen raised both hands. “Honest to gobs! Every word true, or could be. Who’s to say for sure? Hey, I’ll give you one for free. The old broad from the apothecary is selling hangover cures. Wants to sell them to everybody at the party tonight, except that their sort never comes down to the marketplace, so she’s stuck. You’re goin’ up there — maybe you can get yourselves cut in on the action, know what I mean?”
“Well, thanks for the tip. I’ll go see about that now.”
“Don’t mention it. Or do. I can always use a good referal.”
They headed over to where a table sported a sign on a tall pole with a picture of a mortar & pestle sporting an ‘Rx’. Dahlia was nowhere to be seen, but they found Olivia in deep conversation with CK, looking rather uncomfortably bow-legged without a horse under him.
“Don’t you have anything that can help my… bones? I’ve talked with the local clergy about curses but they can’t help, say I need medical attention.”
Olivia shook her head. “These potions are not likely to help you. But I do have some medical training. Well, a little. Perhaps if I were to… examine… your… legs more closely? Somewhere in private. I might then be able to suggest a course of action.”
CK brightened up. “That would be wonderful. Perhaps this evenin’? We can discuss it over dinner.”
Olivia blushed and nodded. “Yes, that would be great.” CK then lurched off, whistling.
Flummox stepped up. “Hi. We’re here about Dahlia’s hangover cure.”
Olivia looked concerned. “Oh, you don’t want that. It doesn’t work, not that way, anyway. Gives you the runs with possible projectile vomiting. Dahlia is mad at the Earl about some slight, or maybe it’s just her weird sense of humor. But anyway, don’t.”
Flummox looked thoughtful. “Hmm. Interesting. So what do you have that you do recommend?”
“Oh, I have the usual collection of remedies that the farm folk need. Stuff for cuts and bruises, ear aches and sore throats, headache remedies, and all kinds of things for the animals. Oh, and I have some of Dahlia’s protective salve.”
“We’ve got some still, but yes. Two more of those, please.”
“Great. And I do have one thing that’s kind of special. I found an old recipe in a book that was called ‘Armor-All’. I had to make a few substitutions, but I think it’ll work. Anyway, I need some way to test it.”
Flummox looked at her sideways. “You don’t test your own potions? Doesn’t give a fellow much confidence, ya know.”
“Don’t be silly. How can I observe and record the effects if I’m the one experiencing them? Come on, give it a try. I’ve got all sorts of general-purpose antidotes here. Where is your sense of adventure?”
D-Stract punched him in the shoulder. “Yeah, come on, sport. I dare you.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll take a little sip.” He accepted the small bottle offered by Olivia, took a sip, took on an expression of surprise, and drained the bottle. He set it down on the counter top and held out his arms. “Tastes good. I don’t feel anything yet.” He did a squat. “Maybe a little stiff in the joints. Hey, punch me in the shoulder again.”
D-Stract complied. “Ow! That hurt. You’re like a rock.” She got out her ice pick, reversed it, and started tapping on Flummox with the handle. It made a knocking sound. “Do you feel that?”
Flummox frowned. “No, I don’t. In fact, I don’t feel anything.” He ran his hands over his robe. “I can’t feel anything.” He tried to draw his hand axe and it fell from his fingers. “Oh this is no good. Uh-oh, I have to sneeze but I can’t feel my nose. Achoo!” He then lost his balance and, with no look of concern whatsoever, started to topple over in D-Stract’s direction.
D-Stract caught him with a laugh. “So do you have an antidote for this, Olivia, or do we just wait for it to wear off?”
Olivia looked up from the parchment on which she had been scribbling notes. “The latter I think. I didn’t give him very much. Just get him to drink plenty of water and it should pass in an hour or two, along with the water. I’d sit him down somewhere if I were you. And if you want any more of that potion, there is more back at the shop.”
Flummox turned his head with difficulty. “We’ll have to get back to you on that.”
D-Stract got herself under his shoulder. “Come on old stone face, let’s get you over to the benches. I’ve got nothing better to do than watch the fountain for an hour or two, though I wish it was actually working. How about you?”
Animus sat on the edge of the gate bridge, staring out over the lake. In the distance he could see the pirate ship, stuck on the sand bar at the end of the peninsula. They had rigged some sort of rope bridge, using a towed boat to shuttle people to and from the shore. It had been active earlier, but now was at rest.
Mostly he thought about the revelations he had received about the mouslings from Rufus and Sapphire. This council thing was a new development, worthy of some consideration. Of course he had not been told about the mouslings, but the monk’s soul-link was still active, and secrets of that magnitude were not possible to keep secret. He still hated the things, but this council might just be a way to get rid of them once and for all. The shear number of the vermin that were around was astounding. Four new ones from the ship, the gray pair that had come in with the wagons, the old blue pair that had harassed the butcher, the pair the Asians had, and now even Goldilocks turned out to be a mousling in disguise. But how to get rid of them all?
The council would go if the two blue ones went. The blue ones were only here to rescue the Asian pets – free them, and all those others would follow, leaving only Goldilocks and the gray ones, and none of them had really been much trouble compared to the blue ones. Yes, that might work.
A sound drew his attention. Coming down the road from the marshes were three figures.
Two were women, clearly from the ship. They had weapons at their belts, but these were not drawn. The third was a younger boy. Animus noticed a hawk going from tree to tree nearby, watching the progress of the three. Here was probably the murderer of Rufus’s pigeon.
Animus drew no weapons, but swung his legs back onto the bridge and stood. He tipped his hat as they approached. “Ladies.” They nodded as they passed him by, keeping as much distance as was possible on the bridge.
They stopped at the gate, as their way was barred by Sir Richard and Cortez. On the wall above, Achilles hefted a spear while Caesar spoke to them in booming tones. “Hail! Who comes armed to the gates of Founder’s Valley?”
The one with the blue overcoat looked up. “Armed? Surely you big ole men aren’t afraid of two little ladies? I’m Lady Luna, this is Starlight. Or maybe you’re afraid of our cabin boy.” With a laugh she turned to the boy. “Hear that Punk? You’re making the brave soldiers nervous.” The boy looked around, embarrassed. The woman pirate turned back to the wall, her tone dropping to a purr. “Come on, we can see you’ve got armed men of all types running all over town. What have you got against a few more blades?”
Caesar spoke again, in commanding tones. “This is no laughing matter. You come to our shores flying a skull and crossbones as a flag. We must respond appropriately. What is your mission? Do you represent the captain of that ship?”
Luna put her hands on her hips. “Well la-de-da. My husband, Lord Ironhand, is the captain of the free ship Buccaneer. But that doesn’t make us criminals or anything, we just like to look fierce to stave off opportunists. Maybe we’re just here to resupply, trade some goods, take on passengers, check out the nightlife. Our coin is as good as anybody else’s, isn’t it?”
Caesar shifted uncomfortably, and looked at Achilles, who then leaned over the edge. “Of course we welcome merchants, and you will find a ready market for any provisions you can spare – it is in fact market day today. I dare say many will want passage back to the City as well, when you depart. We indeed have festivities planned for this afternoon, a renown troop of entertainers, and you are welcome to attend – provided of course that you come as merchants rather than as a military unit. If you leave your martial trappings on the ship, you will be quite safe under the protective eye of our guardians of peace. I’m sure that way your crew won’t be inclined to imbibe too heavily and start any trouble with some of the more hot-headed among our other visitors.”
Luna stared briefly back at Achilles, then gave a short bark of a laugh. “Okay then, we know the score. We have some cargo to bring ashore, and a few passengers that might want to take in the sights, and your show. Any chance of you good people taking that longboat out to help us? You know, pull us off that sand bar?”
Achilles glanced at Caesar, who fielded this one. “The Earl will undoubtedly wish to discuss this with you. I’m sure he will gladly meet your representatives to discuss terms.”
Luna raised her open palm. “Peace, then.” She twisted around in place like a cat, then began a funky walk back across the bridge. Starlight and Punk followed.
As they reached the end of the bridge, Animus approached. “A moment of your time, I pray. I have a business opportunity for a group of talented individuals like you.”
Luna glanced at Starlight, who advanced, put her hand on Animus’s chest, and stared into his eyes. “Is this some sort of trap, elf?”
Animus shook his head. “No. Seriously, I have a job that wants doing. Walk with me.” They headed down the road towards the peninsula. “Perhaps you’ve seen through your spy glasses the fancy oriental carriage on the beach?”
She nodded. “Maybe.”
“In that carriage are a pair of … pet mice. In cages. I want those mice released.”
She frowned. “Why? Are you some sort of animal nut? Getting homesick for the old forest?”
Animus gave a little laugh. “Hardly. Let’s just say I have ulterior motives that you need not concern yourself with. Say 10 gold upfront to cover your expenses? And of course there might be the odd ruby or diamond lying around that wouldn’t be missed, as I expect everyone to be at the big show all afternoon.”
Starlight turned to Luna. “I like diamonds. You can have the rubys.”
Luna jerked her chin at Animus. “Let’s see the color of your money.”
Animus smiled. “So you’ll do it?”
Luna smiled back. “Let’s just say I’m sure we’ll find somebody onboard that wouldn’t want to waste a golden opportunity like that. You can fill me in on any last minute details during the show and no one will be the wiser.”
“Very good. Very, very good.” Animus waved as they headed down the road towards the fishing huts. The hawk took flight and followed them.