Arrival, part two

38 1 0

Arthur winced uncomfortably at the screeching, but he quickly put on his professional mask. Soon he was signing all kinds of peculiar objects, all the while longing for the ordeal to end.

He glanced at his wrist computer knowing he would have to add the local time system to its data banks. The communicator he would have to disable, but he hadn't exactly come here to make any extensive calls anyway. For reasons still unexplained to him visiting traders were forbidden to bring any functioning portable communication devices, and the locals apparently had means to find out.

Almost a tenth of the early years' travelers were caught and permanently banned from the planet before the lesson was finally learned, and he didn't plan to play the role of a very slow student.

His fellow travelers had all left the room together with the locals.

Not much of a loss. After all he'd had his credentials falsified, and while on board the merchantman he found himself forced to hold on to his lies about a secret news coverage for his newscasting company. After a few days the novelty of having a famous media personality among them wore off and he spent the rest of the voyage in solitude, which, he found out, suited him perfectly.

The members of the crowd demanding his attention earlier had vanished back to their previous doings whether those were machine repairs, paper handling or cargo lifting, and he found himself almost alone again.

I wonder how many of those stationed here came just because of my holos, Arthur thought.

Another man in the room, one Arthur had failed to notice earlier, met his eyes. Short and slender, as of Asian origin, maybe 160 centimeters tall, straight, black hair shining with a metallic sheen, most of it in a knot to the left but head otherwise shaved clean. In his mid thirties if people aged the same way here as on Earth, and until their twenties they were supposed to. Bleached but richly decorated, baggy linen trousers were partially covered by a shirt of the same material buttoned only over the chest. The clothes told Arthur hot weather probably was what he had waiting. It made sense. He'd arrived in late summer local time.

Of course, my assigned representative. Poor bastard, he's in for a surprise.

The man rose and greeted Arthur in a singing, outlandish voice. "Harbend Garak, at your service, Lord Wallman."

"Do I need your services?"

"None needed, only offered, my lord."

Irritation still clinging to him as a result of the verbal assault from the hastily gathered fan-club, Arthur lashed out: "Let's get this straight. To begin with I'm nobody's bloody lord and what grand services are yours to offer?"

That made Harbend blanch slightly. It probably wasn't the start he had hoped for and Arthur knew he was being rude. He didn't know if the stranger grasped Terran English fully.

"My fault sir. I am a trader and help visiting traders when they are here," Harbend tried again.

"And what if such a visiting trader eventually turned out to be no trader at all, but something completely different?" This was getting fun. Arthur enjoyed verbal fencing and wasn't above taking any advantage he could. What wrong could there be goading the stranger a little?

"Then I would still offer him to find a good place to sleep and eat, good sir."

"Then it has to be good indeed. I am God's greatest gift to mankind, or mankind's greatest to God. Opinions vary dependent on who you ask."

"Which god?"

What's so difficult. Here I'm baiting the hook and you won't bite. "Then so be it my insistent trader. My trade is not with ordinary wares. What I sell has dubious lasting worth where I come from and even less here," Arthur said and bent in an exaggerated bow before continuing, "but do not despair, my gracing your lands with my presence is not brought on by monetary needs but rather personal ones," he finished after standing straight again.

"That would answer a question I had in mind. I take it you are traveling, ah, what is the word again? Incognito?"

No, he wouldn't bite, and Arthur had waited for this question anyway. The identity he'd bought didn't fool anyone. He was too well known, but bribing the communications officer on the space ship had taken care of that problem until he arrived at Theta 47. It was time to end the joking.

"You're quite right, my good man. Now, what do you have in mind?" Arthur answered eager to leave the subject.

Weeks before anyone can act on my being here anyway.

"It is already late, sir. We leave and take the train to Verd," Harbend said and started for the doors.

Arthur followed him through the sliding doors and stepped outdoors onto a gravel road. It had stopped raining but the air was still filled with the aroma of water and wet earth. The rain soaked gravel was slowly steaming and it was uncomfortably hot.

Arthur saw the queuing pairs of local and foreign traders waiting to receive luggage and beyond them a large group of riders. Thirty or so but only a few of them mounted. All wore the same green and yellow uniforms with swords hanging by their sides.

"Crossbows?" Arthur asked, surprise mixed with disbelief spicing his voice.

"Crossbows," Harbend acknowledged. "They are the Free Inquisition," he continued as if it explained everything.

"Free Inquisition?"

"Ah, well, a leftover from some local troubles a hundred years ago or so."

"So, is there an Imprisoned Inquisition, or what?"

"No, not really, or at least I strongly advise against any such suggestion as long as you are heard. Keen has its own Inquisition open only for citizens. The Free Inquisition is open for anyone who is fit and skilled enough and shares Keen's view on the use of the gift."

"And that view is?" Arthur asked while he shuffled forward in the queue.

"Using the gift is banned in Keen. Any wielder of the art caught in the act is shot on sight. It is not too uncommon anyone suspected is killed before the real investigation starts."

"Oh, I see," Arthur said glumly. "And why are they here?"

"They are still a bit edgy about you outworlders so they control anything brought in by your sky ships."

"I still don't understand. How can they do that, and by the way, why do you say them and not we?"

Harbend frowned. "The Inquisition, no matter whether it be the Holy or the Free, has access to powerful tools draining magic with which to make certain whatever strange items you bring still works while within reach of their power." He smirked before continuing, "As for my exclusion it is simple enough. I come from a land far away to the south and do not share their views on the use of the art."

"It still doesn't make sense. We're supposed to trade our wares in a city filled with this magic of yours."

Harbend smiled. "Magic has not always been banned. There was a time when magecrafters lived and worked in Verd. Once it was the very center of those artisans. The use of the art is forbidden, but the people in Keen are sensible enough to use what is already there. They have always been a practical people."

"If so, why ban magic?" Arthur asked.

"They were unluckier than most with the power struggles between mages. A lot of dirty small scale wars hit Keen and those living here." A frown grew on Harbend's face. "And one big one, of course," he finished, and for a moment there was a shade of regret glimmering in his eyes.

Arthur mused on the information for a while, and then, as had been the case for half a year, his thoughts turned darker, far darker, and he was once again trapped in his own internal nightmare.

The TaleweaverRead this story for FREE!