Chapter Fifth Triangular Number
Scene Two: A Wanted Poster“Thank you, Frau,” said Valentina as she hugged the mayor.
“Call me Ilse, now that we're not being official.” She patted Valentina on the back in a motherly way. Ilse Richter was the right age to have been an aunt or older sister. With Valentina's natural mother passed on during the fighting, it made sense for Ilse to take on the protective role.
The meeting had adjourned from the church to the town hall, where the mayor said she kept her quarters exactly as she had when her husband was in charge. She'd let Denario stash his spear, traveling pack, accounting pack, bed roll, and buckler in a small guest room. There were two other rooms on the ground floor as well as a kitchen and a pantry. The mayor's two female servants slept in the kitchen every night. There were windows in the rooms, all with glass panes. The walls except for the pantry were painted eggshell white so that the place appeared cheery although the paint in the farthest guest room had peeled away to reveal the cedar beams. The ceiling of the main hall was stained charcoal grey by lamp fumes. It looked like someone got up on a ladder and scrubbed but there was only so much they could do. On the whole, the place looked clean despite signs that it acted as a hotel.
Ilsa Richter must have allowed refugees to live here from time to time. Her quarters were in a loft apartment at the top of the stairs. She could bar the door and keep herself private. That was why she had invited Denario to sleep on the ground floor in the guest room.
“Madam mayor.” Denario bowed to her. When he was formal, he reverted to Ogglian city customs. He didn't seem to be able to help it. Everyone looked at him a bit strangely for a moment. The women laughed.
“Um,” he tried to recover. “Thank you for the hospitality and for your payment. You are a generous host.”
Ilsa scowled at that remark. “Not too generous, I hope.”
“Don't worry,” murmured one of the burghers next to Denario. “We are here, too. We'll bed down in the main hall.”
“And we'll take the room next to the accountant,” said Hermann Ansel. Valentina snorted at him.
It took a minute or two of conversation about the arrangements for Denario to understand that all of the other folks were here to protect the mayor from him. There was to be no hanky-panky tonight. Of course they were mostly here to protect the mayor's reputation, not her body. She couldn't be seen inviting strange men into her home. Yet she had. So her invitation to Valentina Ansel kept things looking reputable. Valentina had her husband to protect her. As to the staff, too bad for them. They were told to bar the kitchen door and guard each other's honor.
“I feel indebted that you've gone to trouble on my account.” Denario took the mayor's hand and went down on one knee. He realized that was going to far. He wasn't in court with the Marquis de Oggli. But he couldn't undo the kneeling.
“Oh, my,” she said. “How gallant. I must congratulate Wilmit tomorrow for doing the right thing and inviting you. Someone remind me.”
“Glad to, mayor!” growled a long-bearded burgher.
“You're a useful fellow. And not just because our tribal chief thinks so.” She beamed and patted Denario on the shoulder. She lifted him off his knee. “Get some rest. You've traveled a long ways and you've got many miles yet to go. Maybe being a waldi will help you if you get waylaid by the baron's men. Hard to say. You're a bright young lad. You might make it.”
It had been so long since Denario had considered any alternatives that he almost blurted out that of course he'd get back to Oggli. He had to. But he wasn't that bold so he settled for another round of handshakes. Then the mayor gave him a gift, a thin scroll with a purple ribbon. Denario unwound it.
Vir's face stared back at him from the parchment. Some magician had been hired to create the likeness, surely, because it was too good to have been done any other way. Even after the printing process, there was no mistaking the captain. His portrait sat above the word WANTED in fat, black letters.
“Highway robbery?” Denario read the charge aloud. He looked up at the mayor. “Two hundred gold pieces? That's quite a lot. Alive or dead, I notice.”
“No one's going to collect the reward. No one would even try, around here. It's just a keepsake.” She patted him on the hand. “I think it's a lovely portrait, don't you? Take it. When you see him again, maybe you can have it framed for him.”
“Ha ha.” For a moment, Denario assumed she was joking. But her jaw was set. He accepted the poster with a word or two of thanks. Even as he spoke, he felt like a fraud because he knew he would never see Vir again unless perhaps the captain was captured alive and taken back to the city for torture and execution. Even to reach that fate, he'd have to survive the Raduar.
Next: Chapter Fifteen, Scene Three