In the City of Plesz, Isle of Ilaroc, the Grand Navigators…
Y’lanna Sparti stepped out from behind the painted screens where the fitters had just finished stitching up the last alterations to her new suit. The tailors Grimbull moved in to add a few finishing touches of lace and pearls, and when they stepped back from the young Zoneloger freshly arrayed in the latest elven fashion, the smile of Ruili Windwolf justified their obvious pride.
“Lovely,” said Ruili, running his eyes over her lean figure perfectly ornamented by the clinging silk britches and pale blue hose, the smartly laced-up bodice, and the iridescent coat that echoed the exotic tones of her skin. “Lovely. But I shall have to do better than these dull rags if I’m to stand up with you.”
He called for one of the new waistcoats he’d bought while waiting — a brilliant, almost gaudy, red and gold stripe to add life to the midnight blue he was wearing — and a fresh white cravat as well.
“As for what we may expect of the entertainment,” he said as adjustments were made, “I will make no promises. See there the advertisement in The Navigator — it’s one of Osrel Lancewing’s historical hystericals, opening tonight. He fancies himself my rival in a number of ways, but I may as well show him the honor of attending. I expect everyone will be there, especially as there is no play of mine in town at the moment.” He winked. “If we leave now, we should arrive in time for the first curtain.”
From the emporium of Grimbull Bros., Clothiers, they left the dog-cart for an open two-seater drawn by a man on a bicycle whom Ruili contracted for the rest of the night.
This conveyance carried them into the district known as the Silken Lanes. Here, music and laughter poured from the bright windows of the pleasure houses where patrons indulged in feasting and gambling and more personal amusements, and the ocean breezes were scented with perfumes and intoxicating incense. The cycle-carriage picked its way through and across streams of similar vehicles in the twisting lanes and around the massive curves of the city’s popular theaters where actors, poets, musicians, dancers, and other performers from all around the world entertained audiences from all around the world as well.
The carriage delivered them to the Half Moon Theater. A huge painted banner hung above the entrance, depicting a vast battle, a dragon or two, and the title of the play.
“Ha,” said Ruili as they alighted, “‘The Lady of Lonia.’ At least we shan’t fall asleep, if only because of the noise. Come, milady.”
Once again, as had happened several times since she had crashed her spaceship into the Sea of Lyr, Y’lanna was caught up in the established systems of Ruili Windwolf’s life in the Grand Navigators. It turned out that Ruili kept pre-paid boxes in every major theater in the Silken Lanes. Here, even more than at his brother’s house on Cherryrose Lane, people knew to come seeking Lord Ruili. If the Windwolf was not at sea, then it was a safe bet that he would be in one theater or another, or lounging on the couch of one courtesan or another, writing or entertaining his friends. Provided, of course, there was no hurling match to attend.
The ushers showed him and Y’lanna up to a first-tier-left box that gave an excellent view of both the stage and the house. Down in the pit, the orchestra tuned their instruments and the incoming audience called for the vendors of various ales and meads and snacks. Boisterous voices echoed through the auditorium as the seats below and in the boxes and the gallery above slowly filled.
As Ruili and Y’lanna took their places, a cry of “Windwolf!” went up from some distant point. To a modest swell of applause, Ruili bowed graciously to the assembly, and also bowed to Y’lanna to share the attention with her.
“It always does to acknowledge polite greetings,” he said, taking a seat and adjusting the sword all elven nobles carried. “Make yourself comfortable, milady. The play shall begin shortly, and as you can see,” he waved towards the theater as a whole, “the show is already well under way.”
He handed her one of the pamphlets the usher had given him. “Here is your program. This will give a synopsis of the plot of each act. You have your Dragon’s Eye lens to read it with, don’t you. It occurs to me that the actors may be too far away for you to understand them with the Dragon’s Tongue, but no matter. It is a Lancewing production. Much of it would make no sense even if you could understand the words. In any event, we well be too entertained to pay much attention.”
Ruili’s meaning soon became clear. The orchestra took up the overture, and the lilting strains of Aeldrethian music cast a spell over the packed house. Whatever Ruili might think of his rival’s writing, a Lancewing production apparently could afford the best in the way of musicians and other accessories. The auditorium chandeliers dimmed. The stage lights rose. And that was when the visitors started to arrive.
It started with soft raps on the side walls, which led to the lowering of the partitions, allowing greetings and chat with the nobles in the adjoining boxes. Then those privileged to know Ruili personally came trickling in. Before long, the box was the scene of a party at which Y’lanna seemed to be the main attraction. Nor did the chit-chat of the elves, dwarves, eormen and faerie of Ruili’s acquaintance seem to disturb those around them, as once the overture had gone on a bit, the general hub-bub resumed. It seemed a night at the theater in Plesz was more a social event than an exhibition to be watched.
When the music paused and the play began, Act One, Scene One, with a burst of artificial dragon fire and a fleet of half-scale warships descending across the auditorium from the ceiling, the audience applauded heartily. And when the starring actors strode into the lights in their armor, waving their great swords, they were similarly greeted. But from that point it would be a fight for them to hold attention for Osrel Lancewing’s version of the legendary war between the Realms of Air and Fire — a battle to be waged with effects magical and mundane, flashing blades, and passionate love scenes for the next three hours.
If Y’lanna had wanted an introduction to the city of Plesz, she would get it here, surrounded by the faces and forms of the people of Aeldreth. The dwarfs and eormen, the tall elves with their pronounced facial structures, the faerie with their wildly varying sizes and shapes. She would get to talk about them and about herself, observe how they socialized — the raucous good-fellowship, the debates, the trysts and assignations — and observe how they observed her, some shy, some sly, and some openly curious.
And she might now and then notice Ruili with a light in his dark eyes, watching the doings on the stage. For all he might run down a rival play-write, Ruili Windwolf loved theater, any theater, as much as he loved the sea. But still, he kept mindful of his charge, and every so often, he looked over to Y’lanna with a warm and kindly smile.
— — —
Meanwhile, in Sesus…
Lotye’s shy and worried question interrupted the thoughts of both Peino and Jeneyeru.
“Oh, dear me,” said Jeneyeru, “I quite forgot.”
“Forgot what?” said Peino.
“Mistress O’Tulvar has been temporarily paroled into my custody for the purpose of my investigation.” Jeneyeru quickly recounted the circumstances by which he had been called in to consult in Lotye’s defense and how she came to be there with them.
“Oh,” said Peino, gazing at the lady in question, “well, we’ve proven it, then, haven’t we? Clearly, she is an innocent victim of these dangerous objects, just as much as anyone else. As to the rest, in light of this, who should care about a little petty thievery?”
“My very point in taking her on, but still, it must be explained to the prosecutor, I suppose. Thimble!”
“Yes, Lord Nightwise?” The faerie popped suddenly into the room.
“Begin to draft a letter, if you would. Address it to the Prosecuting Attorney of the City of Sesus. In it, outline all that we are discussing here, starting with an account of how the lady Lotye O’Tulvar of… Farind, was it? Yes, Farind. How she led us to the … oh, what square was it that lane came off of?”
Peino, always oriented, recited the names of the relevant locations, which Thimble, taking a seat at a writing desk to the side of the room, scribbled down.
“Thank you, brother. And more to that effect, Thimble. The goal is to paint the lady as innocent of wrongdoing and a valuable witness to a much more grave situation, and so forth. Make it dramatic but credible, and I shall sign it. Oh, and mention that the investigation is not complete.”
“Can you knock off a Letter of Service while you are at it, Mr. Thimble?” said Peino. To Jeneyeru’s questioning look, he added, “The lady did a service to the Sovereign Duchy in the person of its Prince. When she laid into that brigand with her bumbershoot, she assisted me most profoundly.”
“Are you serious?”
“Very well, that should help matters.”
A Letter of Service, which would be essentially a statement of a debt owed from him to her for services rendered could, theoretically, extend at least partial protection of a government over its recipient. And indeed, despite the flimsy pretext for using such a power this way, Peino’s tone and expression were completely serious — though when he looked at Lotye, his gravity was broken by a wink.
No time to follow it with a smile, though, as Ionas spoke up at that moment, telling the story of a rather shocking lapse in judgment.
“Oh,” said Peino, reluctant to react in the stead of Ionas’ own captain. “Well. That explains that, I suppose.”
“So it does,” agreed Jeneyeru, less restricted than Peino, “I must say, that was remarkably short-sighted of you, Milord Farseer.”
The two selkie nobles turned to Lafitte, waiting to see what he would do about the godly wrath his lookout had brought upon his ship.