Chapter 16.1: Lord Fornes

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Benecia. The Realm of Suros

The round-topped battlements of the castle were like golden mushrooms blooming over the eastern portion of the burgeoning city

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The round-topped battlements of the castle were like golden mushrooms blooming over the eastern portion of the burgeoning city. Just beyond them, Hagar knew, was the infamous Distro Delle Sunnos, or the District of Dreams. Regular brothels could be found in most cities or towns in America, except perhaps in Dehn where they were banned by punishment of death, but the District of Dreams catered not just to those seeking company for an hour or a night, but to bizarre predilections, taboo fetishes and inventive fantasies of nearly any fathomable variety. Traditional brothels, in fact, were almost unheard of The District. Their plain and tame temptations were wasted space in a parish that catered to the otherwise impossible, illegal and unthinkable.

He doubted Benecia had a godhouse to mark time, but Hagar guessed it somewhere near the three-bell when he turned down the quiet and familiar graveled road that ended at the stone manse of Lord Fornes, who would be the equivalent of an earl in America but the Surosian hierarchy was more convoluted. Such titles were especially confusing in Benecia where Lord Montesso often forgot—sometimes intentionally—which families he'd promoted and which he'd demoted. People often said that even from day to day Gildar Montesso might give a different answer to who paid who up which ladder. All he could ever remember for sure was who sat on top.

The modest Fornes estate boasted only a low, crumbling wall topped with jagged iron spikes to deter anyone from climbing. A portly knight in tarnished armor stepped from the shadows as Hagar approached.

"Hoy there!" the knight called in Mekisan. "State your name, house, and purpose at the Garden of Fornes!"

Hagar inclined his head slightly. "Well met, sir. I am Hagar of House Ahnalli, captain of the sea ship Ghost, a registered merchant vessel of Dehn. My business is not with Lord Fornes, but I seek council with him and bring tidings from the far seas. And a gift."

"Wait here," the knight grumbled and retreated down a curving path. A few minutes later he returned looking flustered. "His lord will see you." He stepped aside to allow Hagar within but spat as he walked by. "But if my opinion mattered you'd die on this spot before passing any farther."

"Good thing your opinion is worth less than your spitting aim. Do that again and I'll carve you a new mouth to spit from."

The knight stood rigid.

Hagar sparred with a wave of déjà vu as he stepped along stone path through a brown garden and crossed a bridge over a dry streambed to the arched doorway of the two-story keep. He knocked heavily on the oak door. A moment later,  a middle-aged woman a full head and a half shorter than Hagar opened it roughly. An intricate floral dress boasting many of the colors that were once found in her now-dead garden hung loosely from her bony shoulders.

"Hagar," she said gruffly. "You should not have returned." She spoke in American, which she always insisted on around him. Even when he addressed her in her native Mekisan, she'd always respond in what she so-frequently called "that bastard language of the north."

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