Yes, I know, I have shamefully neglected our wonderful serialized novel in the last weeks, and I am sorry. I hope it will not happen again soon. For what it’s worth, I have a pretty good idea how it will continue from this new chapter.
Previously on Angelic Duties:
In the first chapter, we met Profound Distress, watched her attempt suicide, be sent away by Abbot Glistening tears, and saying goodbye to one of her former lovers.
In the second chapter, we watched Profound Distress say her goodbyes to Blue Rose and drive off to Iustik, met a Gendarm called Kimbal with whom we first saved a lady in arguable distress and then watched how Lady Sorrow deals with people breaking Angelic Law.
In the third chapter, Profound Distress first has a rather unenjoyable encounter with Glonn Teneract, then with an Avatar of Lady Sorrow, and finally with a bottle.
In the fourth chapter, Cerya has a bad awakening with Glonn, a bad reunion with Kimbal who guides her to her cottage and then leaves her – on bad terms.
In the fifth chapter, Kimbal leaves, and Profound Distress somehow makes do without him. Kimbal’s wife convinces him to invite Profound Distress for dinner to regain her good will, and she accepts.
In the sixth chapter, Glonn happens upon Kimbal while visiting his mother, and Cerya becomes friends with a puddle of black goo.
In the seventh chapter, we remember times of better relations between Cerya and Kimbal, while in the present, he meets a butcher and explains to his children that a very important old friend is coming to visit.
In the eighth chapter, Glonn meets the Nuntia, and Profound Distress is caught by Duncan.
In the ninth chapter, Duncan takes Profound Distress to her brother, who tricks her into taking some sort of drug, and Kimbal is visited by an Angel in his house, who tells him to admit Profound Distress.
Today on Angelic Duties:
Cerya screamed in frustration. She hadn’t quite realized she was going to until she heard herself do it, and immediately knew she should not have, because the neighbours must have heard, and even Kimbal might, because he hadn’t been gone very long.
“Where is it?” she murmured, digging through her stuff Kimbal had carefully laid down on a chair when he put her to bed the night before, carelessly throwing her shirt on the floor, shaking the contents of her purse out besides it. “Where is it where is it where is it where is it?”
It was not that she needed the Dust right now. She’d just gone over to her things to check because she’d been unsure where she put it, in her pocket or her bag, just to make sure she knew where to find it in case she wanted to, maybe later on, but it seemed it wasn’t there any more.
“Where is it where is it where is it where is it where is it?”
She was kneeling before the chair, naked, hastily and very inefficiently rummaging through her trousers and her shirt and the contents of her bag again and again.
Kimbal might have found it and thrown it away when he undressed her, but she doubted he’d do such a thing. In spite of his unending preaching about her behavior, he’d always respected her decisions, and her property. Always, except for when he just picked her up against her will and took her home, bathed her and undressed her … but that was different. He wouldn’t go through her belongings and throw away what he didn’t like, at least not without telling her. If there was one thing Kimbal was all about, it was honesty.
“Where is it where is it where is it where is it where-“
She clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle another scream, closed her eyes and concentrated on calming down, first breathing noisily through a tightened throat, then gradually getting to grips enough to trust herself in taking her hand from her mouth.
It was not that she needed the Dust right now, or at all, she didn’t, she could cope without it very well, it was just so infuriating not to be able to find it because she knew she’d had at least three or four more doses in that little silken bag, on which she’d spent a lot of money, and which had originally only contained eight. That meant if half of it was gone now that would just be very fucking unfortunate. Also, the guy she’d bought it from had the best Dust in all of Iustok, but he was also an exceptionally annoying person and she’d prefer not having to deal with him again so soon.
But it was just a nice feeling to know it was there in case she nee- felt like indulding a little, and also it would be nice to have some Dust right now to calm down a little bit and be in her best mood when Kimbal returned, she could really use that now, to be perfectly honest.
Had she already used it all, or had somebody else stolen it from her yesterday while she was … distracted at her friends’ house, or had she just lost it somewhere?
She’d never lost so much Dust, and she wasn’t even sure how she’d get the money right now to buy another eight doses because her parents had grown kind of distrustful about her spending habits and might not be willing to extend her another advance on her allowance.
Little as she might have liked it, he would help her if she asked nicely.
Kimbal had not been gone for long. He’d just left, she thought. Although she was not completely sure how much time she’d spent searching her clothes, mumbling and cursing under her breath, it could not have been that long.
Yes, she’d promised, and he’d be mad if he found out, but if she hurried now, she could make it to the House, borrow some Dust from Glonn, and be back without Kimbal even knowing she’d left.
She just needed to make it quick with Glonn, and of course watch out that she didn’t take too much Dust in the next days, so Kimbal wouldn’t notice, but she hadn’t planned on doing that anyway. It was just nice to have some with her, to know it was there, maybe take a small dose every now and then, just to make sure she was at her best for him, not enough to really mess her up. He’d never know, so she wasn’t really breaking her promise, and anyway, she was a Teneract, what did she care about a promise given to a commoner?
She’d be back before him, she was sure. He’d never know.
She wriggled into her clothes as quickly as she could, hurried out of the house, forgetting to lock the door, and waved down a coach to take her to House Teneract.
It took her quite a bit longer than she’d expected to find her brother. He was not in his rooms, the servants she dared ask didn’t know where to find him, and the ones who would know – Duncan and Yarnon – she didn’t want to talk to under these circumstances.
So she spent too much time rushing through the House, from one of Glonn’s usual haunts to the next, before finally finding him down in the cellars, in one of the corridors on the second level below ground.
“What in High Heaven are you doing down here?” she asked. “I’ve been looking for you all over and-“
“Your hands are shaking, dear sister,” he said, looking down on her fingers.
She quickly folded her hands into each other and clasped them tightly. “No they’re not!”
“Are, too. Is it so bad already?”
She involuntarily looked around and over her shoulder, seeing nobody who might overhear.
“It’s not like that. Can we talk?”
He spread his arms wide.
“You can always talk to me, little sister. You know that.”
“You’re an ass.”
“You know that, too.”
“I meant privately.”
Now he looked around furtively, grinning, in mockery of her own previous gesture.
“I guess we can.”
“Not here. Can’t we go somewhere quiet?”
“It’s quiet h-“
She took a step towards him and shoved him.
“Cut it out!”
He held up his hands in a gesture of submission and led her into a storage room. She took one of the lanterns from the wall with her, closed the door behind them and put the light on a tarp covering some sort of keg.
“So, what do you want?”
“I said cut it out! You know it.”
“Maybe I want you to say it.”
“Do you – do you maybe have some Dust I could borrow? Please?”
He grinned and shoved a hand into a pocket of his vest, pulled out a small bag, held it in one hand, over his right shoulder, and grinned at her.
Cerya lunged for it, but he stepped back and evaded her, laughing. She tripped over something she’d overlooked in the darkness, stumbled against something hard under another tarp and cried out in frustration and shame.
“Give it to me! It’s probably mine anyway, and you just nicked it from me some time!”
He shrugged, still grinning. With his back now against her lantern he was mostly just a dark silhouette to her with only his teeth and eyes reflecting some specks of light.
“Maybe I did, maybe I got it on my own, but for now it’s mine in any case, and I’m not giving it to you.”
“Please Glonn, I don’t have time for this, I need to get back before –“
She stopped herself when she realized what she was about to say, what information she was about to hand him, and what he’d certainly do with it.
But it was too late.
“Before what?” he asked. “It’s your little Gendarm, right?”
“It’s not! I meant, I was, it’s just …” Her eyes locked on the bag in his hands, her mind on its contents, she had nothing. She could not come up with even the cheapest, most obvious pretext for what she’d said.
She could have kicked herself for her foolishness.
“He doesn’t know you’re here, right? He’s got you quite whipped, your little commoner, am I right?”
“He’s not ‘my little’ anything,” she said, “and it’s nothing like that. He’s just a good guy, and I enjoy being with him!“
“As evidenced by you sneaking out and turning to me asking for help, fearful that he might find out. What are you afraid of? He can’t do anything to you!”
“It’s not that I’m afraid of him, I –“
He makes me want to be the person he sees in me, she almost said, I want him to respect me, but did not, in the end. She could not say such a thing to her brother. He’d make fun of her for the rest of her life.
“I – he – I just don’t want him to know”, she finally finished lamely.
“You want him to think you obey him, is that it? You don’t want him to find out you have your own mind and your own free will, and your own taste, even if he doesn’t like it.”
It’s not that. It’s that I know he’s right, but I’m too weak to act on that insight, because I’m not what he thinks I am, and I’m afraid I never will be and that hurts me, and all I want is something to dull that pain, so give it to me damn you!
But she did not say that, either.
She just stood there, firmly staring at the flame in the candle to avoid his eyes, knowing that he could now read her features much better than she his.
“Please,” she said in a small voice, “Can’t you just give it to me?”
He shrugged. “I could. But would your little Gendarm approve?”
Her eyes flickered towards his, her brows drawing together.
“Maybe I should ask him,” Glonn mused, stroking his chin, “since it seems you’re not allowed to do anything nowadays without his permission.”
His gesture cast an unsettling shadow on the grey canvas beside her, making it look as if something was moving beneath. Knowing she was being childish, she nonetheless stepped away from the cloth.
“This is silly, Glonn, what are you trying to do?”
Another shrug. “Just thinking.”
“Give it to me.”
“How about this: I give you the bag, and we share the first serving. What do you say, sister dear?”
“Not now,” she breathed. “I shouldn’t …”
“Why not? Because he would not approve?”
“I don’t care what he approves of!” But she did. Very much so.
“Then share with me. After, you can keep the rest. The faster you say yes, the faster you can slink back into your kennel. Better hurry if you don’t want to get caught. Just out of curiosity, what do you think how long he’d wait before he decides he’s had enough and gets another piece of-“
“He’ll wait forever!” she interrupted him, angry, “He’ll wait forever, because he’s loyal and true and good and everything you can’t even imagine!”
“Well I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”
He offered her the bag of Dust, and she greedily snatched it out of his fingers.
“What’s that ruckus out there?” Glonn asked when he heard fast, angry footsteps and a confusion of voices insistently whispering and fearfully admonishing. “No one’s supposed to be down here!”
“It is your –“
The door swung open and Jakta Teneract burst into the room.
“Mother, what are you doing-“
“Have you gone out of your mind? I know it’s not very big, so I can well imagine how that might happen from time to time.”
“She offended me within the House, mom!”
“I’m not talking about that. I know she deserved it, and I’m glad you had the guts to show her what for. I’m talking about your – I’m talking about the Cleric. You let her go?”
“She doesn’t know anything, and –“
“Are you out of your mind, Glonn?”
“You already said that. Didn’t she, Duncan?”
Duncan Klaut just looked at him without any discernible expression on his weather-beaten face.
Jakta turned to Duncan, asking him instead of Glonn: “The Cleric is gone, left to walk the city?”
She blew air over her lower lip as if trying to remove a stray curl of hair and shook her head.
“You know, if it had not been a very painful and memorable process to get you out, I’d seriously wonder if you really were my offspring, useless brats that you are.”
“Mother, I’m Pater Familiae now, and I expect to be treated –“
“Yes yes”, she interrupted him with an impatient wave of her hand, “I’m sure you do, as I expected lots of things from life it never quite delivered, but let’s now focus on you single-handedly affronting our most important ally, squandering a crucial bargaining chip and releasing a dangerous witness to your acts against Angelic Law all in one early afternoon.”
She looked down on the floor, on the shattered remains of the Nuntia’s glass.
“I’m sure this can be fixed. We can tell the Custodian it was an accident. She won’t believe a word of our story, but she’ll have a pretext to ignore this. Who knows, she might even have wanted that stuck-up bitch dead, why else would she have sent someone senseless enough to get poisoned by you?”
“Silence. We’ll send her the Cleric, and you,” she pointed at Duncan, “will take her yourself, and tell the Custodian it was your mistake the Nuntia died.”
“Duncan?” Glonn exclaimed. “Can’t we send someone more expendable?”
“If we offer her some worthless pawn, she won’t even be able to pretend taking our offer on faith. You messed up, son, now man up and face the consequences.”
“But this is ridiculous! I’ll not give her Duncan and Cerya! For what? She’ll just –“
“Glonn, I know you love her, in that twisted, sick, ghoulish way that is the only one you know how to love someone, but there is no choice here, you will need to find someone else to drug and exploit.”
“I don’t love her!” he shouted, jumping out of his seat, but ruining the threatening gesture by tripping, stumbling and having to lean against her shoulder for support.
“Duncan!” he bellowed, “I will not stand for this! Take her away!”
“Duncan,” his mother said, “Wait.”
And Duncan hesitated, his usually expressionless foggy blue eyes flicking doubtfully from mother to son.
It was in this moment that Glonn realized something about his or any human being’s power he had not been aware of before: It was a fiction. It was a shared illusion, the common belief that the Pater Familiae was to be obeyed, and as soon as that illusion shattered, his power vanished with it. He had no power but what those around him granted him. He felt a searing flash of envy for the Angels, who held real power that no one could take away and that was independent of anyone’s consent, and realized at the same time that he could never have this kind of actual control over others.
It was a very confusing and frightening moment for him, and he immediately resolved to forget it as soon as possible.
“If you have him remove me now,” Glonn’s mother said, locking gazes with him, “don’t expect to ever see me again. Think what you’re doing, for once, before doing it.”
Glonn looked away, towards his feet, before raising his eyes towards Duncan.
“I’ll do it,” the old warrior said, “But you know you’d be stabbing yourself in the ear.”
Glonn considered this, sighed, and sank back onto his chair.
“I don’t love her!” he repeated, calmer, “She doesn’t mean anything to me. I just don’t see how it would do us any good to give Cerya to the Custodian now, when she probably won’t be willing to deal with us anyway!”
“Because, unlike you, my misbegotten son, she thinks of the long run. She does not limit herself to reacting to whatever she feels like doing and having now, she actually considers the shadows her decisions cast into the future and adapts them accordingly. She will do business, Glonn. It’s just a matter of price, and you, my foolish boy, might have raised it considerably.”
“But you said-“
“I said she deserved it, and I’m glad you did not let that slight go, but a leader with some vision would not have let things go that far. But enough of that, if there were a leader with vision in this House, I would be somewhere else, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“But if it’s a matter of price, why give her everything she wants right at the beginning?”
“We’re not doing that. We’re offering. That’s different, and sometimes the opposite. Another reason why we are sending Duncan. We know if he’s there, the Custodian will not get the Cleric without fulfilling her half of the bargain.”
“So, maybe it was even a good idea I killed the Nuntia. He didn’t seem to trust himself crossing blades with her, so she might have been an obstacle, right?”
Jakta sighed, closed her eyes, and slowly shook her head.
“If it helps you feel better,” she muttered. “She’s dead anyway, we cannot do anything about that. The only thing we can do is sacrificing your one true love for-“
“I do not love her,” Glonn repeated.
Jakta gave that awful cackle again.
“If it helps you feel better. But you will do what must be done, are we clear on that part?”
“So what are you going to do to get her back here?”
He looked up at her, and let a grin spread across his face, even if it hurt. “Nothing,” he replied. I’m not going to do a thing.”
Her brows drew together, her mouth pinched.
“She’s going to return on her own,” he explained, before any more calamity could ensue. “She always does.”
Jakta nodded pensively.
“Alright,” she finally said. “It’s not like we have a choice, any way.”
She shrugged, hawked and spat fully in his face, the gob of phlegm hitting him straight on the nose, clogging his nostrils, some of it even getting on his lips.
He sputtered, spat and violently scrubbed his fingers across his face to get it off. When he had finally gotten rid of most of the disgusting mucus, he looked up at her accusingly and asked:
“What was that for?”
“For almost having your own mother thrown out of the House, for letting your twisted sense of love for your sister getting the better of your already weak judgment, for having the situation with the Nuntia get completely out of hand, for jeopardizing our relations to the Custodian, for being a fool in general or just anything else you are and do, really. Pick your choice, you won’t be able to get far off the mark.”
Glonn’s eyes flickered towards Duncan. A sour smile appeared around the corners of the old man’s mouth as he slowly shook his head, his lips silently forming the words ‘Don’t even think about it.’
Feeling tired, thwarted, all-around frustrated and indignant, Glonn complied.
book group questions:
- Do you think Cerya’s dishonesty towards not only others but also herself is believable? Could you possibly even relate to her?
- Most of you seemed to like Jakta a lot on her first appearance. Did you think she was portrayed in continuity here, and did you enjoy this appearance as much as the first one? Please elaborate if not. Or don’t. Wouldn’t want you to say “yes” just to evade elaboration.
- Did you notice certain parallels between the two scenes in this chapter? Did you enjoy that?
- “Stab yourself in the ear” is obviously not an idiom in common usage, but I found it fitting here, less because of the hearing problems possibly derived from that, but because it’s a direct way to damaging one’s brain. On the other hand, uncommon expressions are always kind of an obstacle in reading, which is, on yet another hand, not always a bad thing. So, what do you think?