Previously: Frustration rules after spending most of the morning searching through the notes Nadec’s parents had left her. There wasn’t much about how the Lines work. They go to Blackie, where Nadec lets her repeat the voices from the cave. It confirmed something to Nadec. She now suspects where her uncle Jodec is.
Read all the previous chapters here.
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It made sense. No one else could have any of the Lines but members of the Ichau family. Nadec didn’t have siblings. Kridec and Stetem didn’t have children. Theoretically, Jodec could have had children after his disappearance, but that was a detail Nadec ignored for now. The male voice from the cave spoke about not taking the effort of transporting the zlurp, better to preserve the power and said hold on. There had been no other way to enter or exit the cave. He must have been talking about Skipping. The man’s voice—the one the woman had referred to as Klapper—had to be Jodec.
‘Your uncle tried to kill you?’ Melia looked sad when she asked her question.
‘I… yes, I suppose he did.’ The day before, Nadec had given Melia a brief summary of the events which led up to her appearance in the mansion. ‘It doesn’t make sense though, does it? If he works now for the same Order who wants to kill me because they want the power, why didn’t he remain on the throne? He could’ve had all of the Squares, Triangles and Lines years ago. And if he had kids then, the first one would’ve inherited it all when turning twenty-eight. Even if he hadn’t had the throne, wouldn’t it happen anyway? Or would that depend on when I was born? This whole inheritance system is too complicated.’
‘It most certainly is. But I do not believe it matters right now, what matters is that you are the current heir, and they—whomever they are—do not want it. Are we still doing the plan as we have decided last night? It was very late and we did not know all the details.’
Nadec smiled. She liked this woman—Fluetza, her real name was Fluetza— much better as an active part of the team than servant. It somewhat relieved the pressure Nadec felt on her shoulders.
‘Yes, still the same. It’s crazy but I like it. It will work. Knowing that one of my enemies is my uncle doesn’t change anything. It’s even better to be aware of it. You are sure about breaking the laws here?’
‘It was one of the first things I studied. From the moment I knew this was to be my new home, I asked Madame Ichau to teach me all of the laws and rules. I didn’t want to be locked up for something easily avoided.’
‘Smart move. Good for me, glad you did. Let’s do this.’
It felt good to wear trousers again. The breeches Nadec wore, stopped midway her shin, not on her knees like any other men’s. The puffiness around the hips was perfect to hide her wide ones. Instead of white stockings, hers were red, like a little wink to what she was about to do. She liked the jacket, shirts, and undershirts, they were loose enough not to feel trapped, unlike dresses. Her complete outfit differed enough from the local males to exclaim her as a foreigner. The large floppy hat on her head obscured enough of the white curly wig she wore to hide her long hair. Wigs weren’t as much in fashion here, but people didn’t give her the side-eye for it either.
She would’ve liked it even better if she had her halberd on her. But there had been no point in carrying it along, as the guards might be taking it of her when they caught her. She did have two small knives hidden in her sleeves. If Melia was right, the guards wouldn’t pat her down to remove any hidden weapons she might be carrying. Not for the offense she was about to do.
The Square Market was buzzing with activity. All of Paralelo’s performers had gathered there, which filled the Square with colourful balls being tossed about, swirling capes, and sparkling outfits. All of that drew a large crowd, most of whom stared wide-eyed around them. For many of them it was one of the rare times they were able to see these acts, since they weren’t usually free. Guards roamed around, heads swiveling to catch possible pickpockets and other law-breakers.
A pair of the blue-liveried guards strolled in Nadec’s direction. The perfect moment. Time to get arrested. She lifted the red apple out of her pocket and took a bite, nearly eating her fake moustache and dripping juice on her short beard. Chewing slowly, she made sure to keep the apple up high. The shocked faces of passerby reminded her of Wyny’s reaction in the cave, when she’d explained strawberries to him. She chuckled at the same time one of the guards held her wrist, while the second one grabbed her other arm.
‘Sir, red food is forbidden in Paralelo. Under the law, we have to take you into custody. You are not from around here, we assume?’
‘Of course I am not.’ She tried to modify her voice, to make it sound more like a man. It made her sound slow-witted. So be it, she thought, annoyed at herself. Perhaps she should’ve stayed female instead of turning male. But they might’ve treated her differently. As a man, there’s a better chance of being thrown closer to where Patat was kept.
‘Can you not squeeze quite so hard? Thank you. What is this nonsense about red food? Let me just dispose of it—I’ll quickly eat it—and pretend it never happened? You go on with your day, and I go on with mine, and that is it. No need to keep me captive.’ She managed to give a little shake to her voice.
‘We cannot do that, sir. Do not worry, I will personally make sure they treat you right. Though you will have to spend the night in the dungeon. In the morning, you will be given an induction on the Paralelian laws.’ The guard plucked the apple from her hand, with the help of a handkerchief. Nadec almost snorted at his unwillingness to touch the apple. Ridiculous.
‘This is preposterous,’ Nadec exclaimed. ‘You are locking me up for eating an apple? How was I to know of such a rule? Can I not be left free with the promise of going to that induction in the morning?’
‘Please sir, let us not make this difficult.’ Both of the guards each grabbed one of her arms and moved forward. ‘If you do not cooperate, we shall have to manacle you. The law is the same for everyone else. Do not worry, you will get one of the better dungeon rooms. Do you have any relatives here with you who may need to be notified for your absence?’
Nadec pulled her arms out of the guards’ grips, putting on the most gruffest face she could. She slid a hand over her face, momentarily shocked as she felt the moustache and beard. She’d already forgotten about those. She held up her palms toward them.
‘I will work along, there is no need for manacles, please. To answer your question, no, there is no one who would be looking for me.’
The main guard nodded. They didn’t take her arms again, but Nadec could see there were vigilant and prepared to hold her if she’d try to run. She wasn’t. So far, her plan was going perfect.
Sitting in a dungeon room was pretty boring. It had happened to Nadec before. Even though she’d wanted it this time, the boredness didn’t change. The guard hadn’t been lying when he said they’d put her in one of the better rooms. Nadec had never heard of a dungeon with a variety of rooms, but Paralelo has proven to be different in many ways.
Her prison had a large, barred window. It looked out on a round hole, across which she could see other windows. There weren’t many. Nadec suspected they must have a mirror system kept in place to provide these cells with light. The sun had gone down a while ago, but the dungeon hadn’t grown dark. A different type of light had replaced the natural sun. It wasn’t bright, but enough to prevent prisoners from sitting in the complete dark.
Nadec had tried to look up and down the circular hole. It hadn’t worked. Extensions above and below her window prevented her from seeing much. It didn’t matter. She sat down on her bed. It wasn’t merely a hard wooden plank like her previous dungeon experiences. This one had a soft stuffing on top, almost like a proper mattress, and sufficient blankets to keep her warm. There was a small chest-high wall, hiding the chamber pot from the prison bars. It was the only place for privacy, since the side onto the hallway was all bars, no wooden doors or anything.
Footsteps echoed, the sound getting stronger each step. Nadec flipped the sheets open and got herself busy fluffing the pillows. She kept her facial expression indignant and frustrated. Two guards passed by, shining their lantern light briefly in her cell before continuing on. She heard them laugh about silly foreigner nobles who don’t know the local laws. Before their voices faded away, one of them dropped the word gorwak. Nadec strained her ears but couldn’t hear more. Perhaps she should’ve been paying more attention to what they’d been saying instead of giving all her focus to undressing and stuffing her clothes underneath the bed sheets.
The men’s outfit—including the hat and wig—-she’d been wearing hadn’t only been chosen because it proclaimed her as an obvious outsider and hid her as a man. It had also been chosen because of its bulkiness, perfect to use as a pretend sleeping form. Not to mention the ability to wear other clothes underneath.
When she was satisfied with the outline of a supposed figure under the sheets, she remembered the fake beard and moustache. Snorting quietly, she pulled those off, hiding them under the sheets as well. She checked the hallway. No one there.
She skipped, and appeared outside of her cell. Keeping to the shadows, she moved through the hallways. They seemed to go in a circle, following the central open shaft around which the cells were built. Most of the them were empty. She recognised one. Oh. She’d returned to her own cell. Patat wasn’t on this level. Time to look further then. She was glad to have been able to find the sleek black clothes she wore, it made her feel less noticeable.
An hour later, frustration overwhelmed every other emotion when she hadn’t found even a clue of where Patat was kept. By then, she was pretty sure she’d been in about every corner of the dungeons. She’d tried following the guards for a while, hoping for a hint. But the only thing that accomplished had been near discovery, when they’d unexpectedly turned and she had to Skip away in a hurry. She suspected there were some deeper parts of the dungeons, but she doubted Patat would be there. Sighing, she decided to leave them and head into the castle. Perhaps they’d put him up as a display somewhere.
She’d lost track of where she was a long ago. The castle’s halls were like a labyrinth to her. She froze. Voices. Familiar voices. She sneaked closer. The sounds were coming from behind double doors, one ajar. She popped her head through and almost choked on her breath. There was Patat. In a cage, in the middle of what Nadec could only imagine as being the throne rome, seeing as there was a dais with a large throne at the end of it. In front of him, pacing up and down a short distance, was an old man of average size. Except for an eyepatch, he didn’t have many special features.
The large hall reverberated enough sound for Nadec to clearly hear both of their words. When the man spoke next, he gestured wildly with his hands, giving Nadec another featured of recognition: he missed several fingers. But that wasn’t what made her gasp. She recognised his voice and manner of speech.