Book One: The Relics of Saint Malathric
Part One: Master Siskington, I Presume?
In which we meet the ne’er-do-well the scrutator must use to do Menoth’s good works in a city of sinners.
In my younger and more vulnerable years, before I attained my current position of eminence, it was my mixed pleasure to serve one Scrutator Victus Semper. The situation was this: the Northern Crusade was in full swing; Merwynn and other Llaelese towns had been under the rule of the Menite forces for several months. The natives had finally recovered from their initial joy at their liberation from the cold Khadoran yoke, just in time to realise that with Menite rule came another yoke, this one much more constrictive and on fire. Such a tense situation required people of initiative, scrupulous officials who could see that what both the Llaelese and the Menites needed was for goodwill to be generated in a forward-thinking and rational manner. Instead, none other than my master was put in charge of Merwynn and the surrounding vicinity. His official title was Scrutator Overseeing Governance, Distribution, Justification, Flagellation and Sewage. I was hired shortly after his appointment.
I remember that first meeting very well. I was working as normal: selling boots that I had pried from the feet of dead men, dead men being the only plentiful commodity in wartorn Llael. Business was brisk, as was the weather. The Llaelese winter succeeds to the Llaelese spring only grudgingly, and quite often as late as February it will stab back with a vengeance, freezing rivers, lakes and wine with no regard for propriety or justice. I had just parted with a thick-soled brace of Khadoran hobnails to an enterprising butcher when I felt a sharp pressure in the small of my back, and a gruff voice in my ear said, “Master Siskington I presume?” When I bleated in reply, a black bag was introduced to my face along with a smart knock and I woke up tied to a chair.
The good scrutator had taken an office once belonging to the head of a merchants’ guild. The guild had been dissolved, the heads detached from the merchants and their combined wealth shipped back to the Protectorate. The office that I saw as the bag was taken off was more sparse than it might have been several months earlier, but some tapestries still hung on the walls. As I glanced around a melodious voice said, “They are too heretical to send back to the Protectorate. In any case we have no need of tapestries to warm the walls at home, unlike this frozen swamp I find myself in.” The voice originated with a robed man who sat behind a desk with his feet up. He wore a simple golden mask with a vent to allow him to speak, his eyes were the only thing that was visible. They looked bored.
“Master Siskington, did you know you are guilty of several offences under the new Penal Laws?” he said, taking a roll of parchment from a drawer. “To wit, trading as a Morrowan without appropriate documentation, trading as a Menite on a day of penance in defiance of the Lawgiver, trading with Dhunian heretics, consorting with enemies of the Lawgiver, consorting with friends of the Lawgiver on days where such consortation is not duly approved, urinating in a public place in defiance of sewage ordnances, imbibing alcoholic beverages which do not comply with the purity laws of Llael, refusing to…” The list went on for several minutes, my friends, and I will not bore you with it. Sufficed to say that I lead a colourful life in my youth and I was not one to abide by laws, even if I knew what the laws were. Llael had many more laws in this respect than my homeland of Ord, and Occupied Llael seemed to sprout new laws every day.
The scrutator finished his charge sheet and looked at me for a long moment. Then he leaned forward towards a candle – the room was in darkness with the curtains drawn – and set fire to the roll of parchment. With his other hand he took a cigar from a small chest on the desk and lit it with the flaming list of my misdemeanours. “You are resourceful man, to have committed so many crimes. As fast as we can invent new laws you find a way to break them. Are you a rebel, Master Siskington? An opportunist? Or a fool?” I opened my mouth to reply (this was before I got to know the scrutator, you see, and still thought he might have any interest in what I had to say) but he went on, “This city is a den of sinners, and you are paramount amongst them.” The vent on his mask flipped open like the belly of a stove, allowing him to puff on the cigar, and exposing yellowed teeth behind a thin-lipped mouth. He blew a plume of smoke up to the ceiling of the office, “I want you to work for me. You will serve as my eyes and ears in the city of Merwynn and its surroundings. The success of the Northern Crusade may depend on the information you can gather. In exchange for this service, your crimes will be forgotten and you will receive a wage. I have taken the liberty of procuring your signature on a confession in the event of your refusal.”
From outside of my field of vision a meaty forearm appeared, holding a piece of paper. Sure enough, it was a confession with a bleary X scratched at the bottom. This was the mark of professionalism. Other would-be torturers will extract a confession from a subject after hours of denigration and pain. The scrutators don’t even bother with this charade; it is much more efficient to get the subject to sign while unconscious, that way free will does not enter into the equation. The way I saw it, I was caught. “As the scrutator wishes,” I said, trying to sound as casual as I could while trussed like a turkey. The golden-masked man nodded to someone behind me, and my bonds were cut. As I massaged the feeling back into my limbs, Scrutator Semper stood in a whirl of thick robes and strode to a map table in the corner. “You are familiar with the festival of Saint Malathric?”
I followed him over and looked at the map. It was a street map of Merwynn, with wooden chits of blue and red laid out on top of it. The chits traced two routes through the city streets. “That’s the procession route, isn’t it?” I said. Not taking his eyes off the map, the scrutator’s fist lashed out and knocked me sideways. As I picked myself up off the floor, rubbing my jaw, I repeated, “That’s the procession route, isn’t it, my lord scrutator?” He did not react, which I soon learned meant that he was waiting for the next mistake.
“Saint Malathric was a martyr in the age of the Priest Kings. He performed the miracle of the two suns, where he made the working day twice as long so that the peasants would work the fields and the Priest King’s birthday feast would have enough oats to feed all the guests the ceremonial porridge. Although the peasants rose up and slew him the next day, the Priest Kings venerated his sacrifice. Each year Menites celebrate his sainthood by working twice as long the day before and the second day of the festival they parade the streets, throwing oats to the children. But these Morrowans have named him an Ascendant. This year, they will have their own procession, where they claim to have new relics of Saint Malathric, gotten from the Lawgiver knows where.”
He gestured at the red chits, which wound from the Menite temple in the west of the city through the side streets, eventually ending on the grand boulevard. “I took the liberty of suggesting a different procession route to the local visgoth,” he said. The blue route ended at the same point. “Sentiments may get heated, and such relics as the Morrowans have may end up in more just hands. Saint Malathric will be restored to the True Faith.” I nodded, still not seeing where I fit in. “Where you fit in, young Master Siskington, is watching what these Morrowans do next. Where they go. Rumour has it that there is a cache of these relics somewhere out in the wilderness. You will sniff out the location, and we will seize them from the heretics. For the glory of Menoth.”
I assented, of course. It wouldn’t be the first sect I had infiltrated for underhanded reasons. And it seemed like the good scrutator had me cornered. It helped that a weighty bag of coin was put into my hand as I left his office. As I emerged into the frigid day, I was considering the fate of my immortal soul. It was hard not to, the smell of scorched flesh and smashed hope pervaded the scrutator’s office. Out of the frying pan and into the fire didn’t begin to cover it.