Here is another story set in the Borough, the same place “An Odd Missive” took place. Like that story, it will be broken up into three parts, this being the first. Enjoy, faithful readers.
The Amber Thane stopped and lowered his sword to the ground, where it, with a flash, blackened a small patch of grass.
“By the rules of Chivalry, I must accept,” puffed the Amber Thane as he removed his helmet and put his sword in an insulated sheath.
It was at this point, the point at which he could see that the armor his would-be foe wore was made out of amber, and there were even some insects trapped in the breastplate. Paul’s first instinct was to ask how it was made and how was it better than metal armor, but whenever he asked, what he thought was a reasonable question, he received an answer that made things less clear. So he had learned to just accept what he saw.
Under his helmet, the Thane was sweaty, his hair was soaked though and his mustache drooped so much it looked as if he was trying to make a break for his chest hair, which was in turn was trying to escape from behind his breastplate. Paul could relate.
“Now, what is going on? Why are you trying to kill me?” asked Paul, who, while leaning calmly against a marble column, was prepared to run.
The Thane held out the letter Paul had been directed to deliver by his bosses, Messrs L. Parsnip & P. Looseleaf.
“This insult will not stand!”
“What insult?” asked Paul as calmly as he could.
“Do you not know the contents of this missive?”
“No. Like I said, I’m just the messenger,” Paul said.
“It will not stand!” declared the Amber-encased man.
“Can I read it?” asked Paul.
“This is nothing but lies and twattle!” stated the Thane as he waved the letter like flag.
Paul sighed. “Listen, I’m sure it is twittle-“
“Twattle! ‘Tis a common word, are you a simpleton?” sneered the Thane.
“Right, ‘twattle’, but I didn’t write it, so if you don’t mind?” Paul said as he extended his hand.
The Thane grimaced but handed the letter over with a muttered, “Very well.”
It read thusly:
Greeting Amber Thane!
We hope this letter finds you both hale and hearty, or at least one those two. If you recall, you had made enquiries for our services in discovering the location of your lost love, the Major Veronika. We will always happily aid the cause of true love and are most delighted to report that we have had word of where the Major is.
However, her location is a rather a dangerous place, so please, know that where she is, is not the result of anything we have done, but merely the result of diligent research.
And where is she? You might well ask, and rightly so, after all, this was the task set before us.
The thing is, she now fights in the Oil Brush Wars. We had a dispatch from the front that informed us that she had taken command of the Forty Seventh Pigmenteers, stationed, at last report, in the Umber Valley.
If you wish to proceed, as we know you will, please feel free to employ our apprentice for your quest.
Yours in Truth,
Messrs L. Parsnip & P. Looseleaf, esquire
“Isn’t this good news?” asked Paul.
“That My love is lost in the forests of the Moon? The dread place from whence none have returned!”
“Wait, what?” offered Paul.
“You are simple, ‘twas unfair of me to try and smite you,” said the Thane, “I am sorry,” he said loudly and slowly.
Paul, who was not a genius but far from simple, mustered his patience.
“That’s not what it said.”
“Do you not have your letters?” asked the Thane gently.
“My letters?” asked Paul who knew the conversation had, much like a small dog off his leash, gotten away from him.
“Those squiggly little marks on the paper,” said the Amber Thane slowly, and in the manner of someone who believes he is not being understood, loudly.
“I know how to read,” snapped Paul.
The Amber Thane smiled indulgently, “Of course you do.” And then patted Paul on the shoulder.
Wanting to move things along, Paul said, “This says that Major Veronika is fighting in the Oil Brush Wars, and is stationed in the,” he consulted the letter once more, “Umber Valley.”
Grabbing his helm, the Amber Thane looked at Paul and said, “Come, we must move quickly.”
“We?” asked Paul.
“Did not the missive say you were to aid me, as directed by your masters?”
That part you could read?, thought Paul, who had no choice but to follow the clanky armored man.
They wound through narrow streets, lined with small shops, each built in a variety of different styles, from grey stone to rustic log cabin to something that resembled a red jelly. The sorts of shops were as great a variety as their architecture, Harford’s Puzzles and Mysteries, Lubin’s Artisanal Honeys and Equations, Don Alejandro: Primate Tailor since 1737, amongst many others.The trip was made on a mechanized horse by the Amber Thane and a burro by Paul.
This was an uncomfortable ride, though Paul was told was the preferred mount of a squire (which made him think that either squires were hated by their knights or had low self-esteem), but they did eventually arrive in front of a small storefront, with small windows which displayed small paintings, which were draped with velvet cloths.
The sign above the door read, Mrs. Po, dealer in Rare and Dangerous Art, below which was written in small gold letters, Bellum infernum est.
“Where are we?” asked Paul as he tied up his burro.
“Prepare for the worse day in your life,” replied the Amber Thane.
This day had already been pretty terrible, so Paul was unsure what could make it worse and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“Are you going to buy a painting?” he asked hopefully.
“We are going to war!” declared the Amber Thane as he strode through the front door. Well, strode was the intent, but given the smaller size of the door, it was more of a purposeful squeeze, but he did get inside without destroying the door which was an accomplishment in itself.
Paul followed; the gallery was small and narrow, lit by gaslights, giving the place a sinister feel, which was only reinforced by the rows of paintings hung, covered like the ones in the windows.
Paul reached to look under one of the cloths but had his hand slapped, quite hard, by the Amber Thane.
“You are simple! Do not draw us into a battle we do not know!” said the knight.
“Sorry,” said Paul, who felt as though a verbal warning would have worked just as well.
They approached the back of the gallery where a small desk sat, and on which was neatly arranged on a pale blue blotter, an ink bottle, pens, a cloth bound ledger and a small metal bell, which the Amber Thane rang, delicately.
From behind a curtain, the sound of a door opening was heard and a small woman, about five feet tall, emerged and smiled. It was difficult to tell her age, the flickering gaslight sometimes made her seem like a young woman in the early twenties and some times she had a grandmotherly air about her. The fact that this all happened in the blink of an eye was disconcerting to Paul, but if it affected the Amber Thane, he did not show it.
Bowing to the woman, he said, “Mrs. Po, I have come to join the war.”
“Have you now,” she said with a smile, “This was to be expected.”
“I, and my squire, wish to join the Forty Seventh Pigmenteers in the Umber Valley,” said the knight.
“Wait, what?” interjected Paul.
Mrs. Po looked him up and down.
“He does not seem like much of a squire, so skinny,” she remarked.
“He is a bit simple as well, but time is pressing,” added the Amber Thane.
“Excuse me, I am not simple! I have a college degree!” said Paul who felt as though he needed to speak for himself.
Mrs. Po and the Amber Thane stared at him for a moment.
“I take your meaning,” said the small woman.
“We are ready to leave immediately,” said the Amber Thane.
“As you wish,” she said, opening up the ledger and turning it to the Thane and Paul.
“Do you swear to fight till all is dry and pigments set?” asked Mrs. Po.
“I do!” shouted the Amber Thane.
“What does that mean,” asked Paul.
“Tis but a formality,” loudly whispered the Thane.
Paul knew that things like this were never just a formality, much like Looseleaf and Parsnip’s offer of his services to this crazy knight, so he did what he did, whenever he was in a situation like this, which was more often than he’d like. He said, “Yes.”
Just sign here,” said Mrs. Po who turned the ledger to face them and handed them each a pen.
After signing, and counter-signing, the proprietress led them to a particular, covered painting.
“Whatever you do, do not close your eyes, you could end up anywhere like that,” she scolded the two men.
“I know the rules!” huffed the Amber Thane.
Mrs. Po grasped the edge of the cloth covering the painting and said, “One, two, three, OPEN EYES!”
With a flick of her wrist, she revealed the painting. Paul couldn’t be sure because what was next happened so fast, but it looked like the painting was half oil landscape and half abstract. Any further art critique Paul might have had flew out his mind as he found himself, with the Amber Thane racing through a corridor of color.It was like falling into a magic spin art tunnel, in spite of that being a favorite childhood activity, did little to abate the terror he was experiencing.
Tears poured down his face as he forced himself to keep his eyes open, as Mrs. Po instructed. It was like the world’s most painful staring contest with a volcano of paint. After what seemed like a long time, a black dot appeared at the center of the maelstrom of hues. Expanding rapidly, it enveloped Paul and all went black.
Light and color faded back into vision. Everything looked different, the only way to describe it was, old timey. Not the most artistic description, but it was the best Paul could come up with at moments notice.
Looking around, he found that he was in a camp. Not day or sleepaway, but a military camp. There were soldiers, drilling, setting up tents, digging holes, all the sorts of activities that an army might come up with for soldiers to do when there was no one to fight. Paul had a cousin who had joined the army and described it as long ass times with nothing to do, mixed with a few minutes of scary ass shit.
Paul was pretty sure that it was a paraphrase of something more elegant but most probably true.
Paul turned and saw a man, in what looked like a Napoleonic uniform, but he wore it with a casual air, unbuttoned coat, open shirt, hand rolled cigarette hanging from his lips. It was also paint splattered. Which was easily the most casual aspect of his appearance.
“I guess we are,” said Paul.
“We?” asked the solider.
END PART ONE