A damp night, a grimy dark alley, a town on a river in Europa, somewhere between Scandalusia and San Bruno.
In the shadows, fog-muted blades clash; shoes scrape on the greasy cobbles.
A quick beat-disengage-thrust found a home under the right armpit of the last of the bravoes facing el Grapadura Rojo. Schwinglein kicked the dying man off his smallsword and turned to see Havelocke, breathing heavily and wiping his sword, his opponent sprawled dying on the cobbles.
"If senhor would be so kind as to watch the entrance to this alley--this is no work for noble blood," Schwinglein said to the Henrovian in an almost apologetic tone. Havelocke nodded and turned away as Schwinglein drew his long poniard and went to work among the half-dozen dead and wounded.
When he finished, there were only cooling corpses on the ground, and a sealed letter in his hand. Peering at the seal in the dim light, Schwinglein suddenly inclined his head as if startled. "Senhor--we should go quickly," he said to Havelocke. "Don Rafael-Vidkun should see this."
"You are quite right, I think," said Havelocke. "We'll go at once."
"Sangre de Cristo, what has befallen the two of you?" exclaimed de Cerveza when the disheveled and bloodstained pair entered the sitting-room of their suite at the inn.
"Banditti, m'lord, or so we first thought," said Major Havelocke to de Cerveza. "However, your man Schwinglein here had occasion to find a letter upon one of the villains. He thought, and I agreed, that you ought to see it at once, else I'd have cleaned up a bit before intruding upon your repose."
"Well, what is it, man?" de Cerveza demanded of Schwinglein, who stepped forward and extended the sealed letter without a word.
Don Rafael Vidkun examined the seal, and visibly paled. "This...this is the Khalifa's seal! What would banditti be doing with a letter from the Mooerish Dominions?"
"You could forward it to Don Diego Halfdane, senhor," Schwinglein said. "I could convey it safe into his hands."
de Cerveza considered this, then frowned. "No! I thank you, Schwinglein, but no! Don Diego Halfdane did not secure this appointment to San Bruno that I might serve as merely an expensive errand boy! No, this calls for quick action!"
Don Rafael-Vidkun seized a letter opener and slit the crescent seal. Opening the letter, he scanned the contents. His face fell. "It is not in a language I can read," he said at length.
"I suppose it will have to go to Don Diego Halfdane after all. Schwinglein, I accept your offer. I know he holds your abilities -- and your discretion -- in high regard. I must do likewise. Rest an hour, and prepare yourself for a journey back to Scandalusia. I shall compose a note for Don Diego Halfdane to accompany the letter you found. Return and take it with you when you depart." Schwinglein nodded, bowed, and left the sitting room.
"Major Havelocke -- I should thank you as well. Will you return with Schwinglein, or continue to San Bruno with me?"
"With your permission, m'lord, I should like to accompany your embassy. I hear San Bruno is lovely this time of year."
"I suppose," Don Rafael-Vidkun mused, "that it was a stroke of fortune that Schwinglein found this letter. Whatever the Khalifa's purpose was in sending a letter in the language of the East, perhaps we have thwarted it."
Havelocke's reply was to look uncomfortable. Seeing his expression, de Cerveza said, "What is it, man? Speak your mind -- out with it!"
"Begging m'lord's pardon," the erstwhile Henrovian cuirassier said, "if there were indeed a purpose behind the Khalifa's letter that bodes ill for your Union Real, then I highly doubt that it was the only copy -- nor the villain we dispatched the only courier."
"Mierde!" said de Cerveza. "I feared as much...and rather hoped you would have a more innocuous explanation I had overlooked."
"Well, m'lord, it could be a mere greeting to a relative in 'the old country,' as it were."
Don Rafael-Vidkun brightened a little. "Do you think so, Senor Havelocke?"
"No, m'lord, not really."
Don Rafael-Vidkun gloomed, then shrugged. "No, my friend...I do not think so either."
3 weeks ago