Here we go. Today, you get three scenes for the price of one. Celebrate!
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.
In the tenth chapter, we remember Glonn helping his sister out in a time of need, and we see Jakta Teneract educating her son.
In the eleventh chapter, we see past Kimbal trying to save Cerya from her brother, while Profound Distress spends a surprisingly harmonious evening with present Kimbal and his family.
Today on Angelic Duties:
The meager light of a yellowish half-moon shone down on the austere garden behind House Teneract. Most of the garden consisted of a simple lawn with only some small clusters of bushes and trees casting silhouettes of a deeper darkness into the night.
On a stone bench beside a small rectangular pond sat Jakta Teneract. Her chin resting on her hands, her elbows against her thighs, she stared into the black water reflecting the greater blackness above.
She did not look up when she heard soft steps approaching her over the lawn.
“Did you get my – did you get her?” she asked when they stopped behind her.
“Yes,” Duncan’s deep calm voice answered.
“She was helpless. Only Glonn had some … reservations.”
“I trust you disabused him of those?”
“As much as I could. Do you wish to see her before I take her Outside?”
Jakta shook her head.
“She’s nothing to me. Good riddance, and may the Empty King enjoy her just as much as we did.”
“She is your daughter.”
“It needs to be done,” she said. “The Custodian has our word we will deliver the Cleric to her, and we know she won’t be able to keep her end without…” She stopped herself, and uttered a bitter chuckle. “Whom am I trying to convince here, what do you think?”
“Not me,” Duncan answered. “You know I do not need convincing.”
“Ah, but is that because you already are convinced, or because you don’t care?”
“I will do as ordered.”
She breathed something between a sigh and a soft laugh.
“As you always do. As you always did,” she murmured, patting the bench beside her.
Duncan stepped forth and took a seat, sitting very upright and shifting uncomfortably in the manner of those unacquainted with relaxation.
“Do you remember when Cerya pushed him in, and he almost drowned in outrage before discovering he could stand?”
Duncan nodded, and, realizing she did not see, made an affirmative noise in his throat.
“And when he tried to bribe you to kill her the next day?”
“Certainly. She’d told me before he would, and asked me to come to her first because she’d pay better.”
“Rewelun was trying to get Ordo Frener to build his new House out of our granite and dragged him from one whorehouse to another drug den, pretending not to hate the damned bastard’s guts, all the while grumbling about that one Cleric’s impractical piety. What was his name?”
Jakta chuckled again.
“Their names. Just their names. But he was so pretty. I tried to seduce him, but he would not even look at me. The lengths I went to, and the hopes I had.”
They looked at the pond for a while before Jakta spoke again:
“It’s funny how sad the funny things get with age, don’t you think?”
Duncan did not reply.
“Who was your sweetheart, back in the days? Did you even have one?”
“You might be the only person in the world I would believe when he tells me that. I never asked you-“ Jakta began, but he interrupted her:
“And we should keep it that way.”
Again, they looked at the water for a long time, but this time it was Duncan who broke the silence.
“Are you sure you have thought this all the way through?”
“Careful,” she admonished. “There are no Engines out here.”
“I always act as if there were none. Security is what you feel the moment before your final mistake.”
She nodded thoughtfully.
“I refuse to believe in the eternity they are trying to sell us, Duncan. Nothing is forever. Whatever rises, has to fall one day.”
“We have no idea how long they have been here,” Duncan contradicted her. “Might be forever.”
She hawked and spit into the pool before them, and the ripples spread out from that drop of phlegm, shaking up the quiet darkness, the moon, and the stars.
“Nothing is forever.”
“When She rises again, somebody will have to pay for this.”
“None of my concern, since I won’t be around anymore.”
“How about your children?” He considered this for a moment, then corrected: “Glonn.”
Jakta gave a vigorous snort.
“They will rise or fall on their own, with or without me.”
“And the House with them.”
Jakta raised her eyes to the moon above them, sighing.
“I almost wish I could be around to witness the reckoning, if there’s going to be one. Their fury will be a thing to behold,” she murmured dreamily, “I’d like to see this abomination of a world change for once, even if it is to dust and ashes. How do you think They feel, having all the power with no one standing a chance at even mildly inconveniencing Them?”
“I have no opinion on the matter.”
Jakta sighed again.
“Of course you don’t.” After a short pause: “I don’t need to tell you to not let her escape or die or in any other way become useless to the Custodian, do I?”
“But I suppose you will feel better for having done it.”
“Make sure the Custodian understands the exact terms of our bargain. Make sure she understands what we are up against, what They are like, and what They are not, if she doesn’t already. It’s your responsibility to guide her into exactly the right kind of mistakes. I trust I make myself obscure?”
“Alright then. Dismissed. Get comfortable, stand up and march towards your duty like a good little tin soldier.”
And Duncan did exactly that.
“Katra, she was coming on to me! She wanted to have me back! What should I have done?”
“Not embarrassed her and given her a reason to run away from you, crying and humiliated?”
“She wasn’t – well, yes, she was, but –“ He somehow couldn’t bring himself to explain what exactly Cerya had said. How she had threatened to use the Angel’s power against them and their family. How she might already have done so.
Now he understood Lady Sorrow’s visit in their house. Cerya had sent Her to make sure he let her in.
But then – did that really make sense? He didn’t know a lot about Clerics, but he knew enough about Angels to doubt they would stand to be sent around on errands to serve a Cleric’s personal agenda like some hired thug.
But why else would Lady Sorrow herself appear on his table to order him to have dinner with Cerya?
Was there something else happening, something he couldn’t see, or was this just the same Angelic madness that had led to his parents’ death?
This did not seem likely. He had witnessed the Angels killing people without an apparent reason, and seemingly unprovoked cruelty, but he had never heard the slightest wisp of a rumor about them trying to procure sexual relations with former loved ones for anyone, whether with or without an understandable purpose.
Something was wrong here. And taken in concert with the disappearance of her predecessor, it seemed obvious that something was deeply wrong.
“Do you think I should go and talk to her?”
“Do you expect she will be … clearer-headed today? I still can’t believe she showed up in such a state. She must really have a problem …”
“Heavens, do you think so?”
“No need to get sarcastic. Just say I told you so, and then you might really want to look after her. Maybe you can help her in some way, or … You know, I’m not saying to exploit her weakness, but we could –“
“Katra, stop, you’re frightening me.”
She laughed. “No, that’s not what I was trying to say. I just mean, if you can do a good deed and, and maybe profit from it as a bonus, why not?”
He did want to know what was going on. And he did want to know if Cerya was alright. Maybe he should –
There was a slow, soft knock on the door. Kimbal knew only one person who knocked in this way.
“What does he want here now?” Katra asked.
“He’s a friend, Katra, he’s like a father to me, why can’t you –“
“Because he creeps me out something fierce!”
“Oh, Jamo creeps you out, but a drugged lovesick Cleric is exactly what you want in our house with our children?”
She shook her head, her lips pressed together.
“Not now, Kimbal.”
“He even likes you!” he called after her as she turned and left.
So he shrugged, and went to open the door.
“I trust everything went well yesterday?” Jamo rumbled as a greeting.
He was wearing his usual spotless stiff leather apron, his gleaming cleaver hanging by a string from his belt.
Kimbal tilted his head from side to side.
“I’m surprised you don’t know already.”
“Well, I don’t, but I know something else, m’boy, and I’ve been having one nightmare of a time figuring out if I should tell you.”
“Do I want to know?”
“Then what did you have to figure out?”
“Whether I’d send you to your death by giving you this specific information.”
Jamo pursed his lips.
“I suppose you’ve grown up into a good man, and should make your own decisions. But let me say, before I tell you and you storm off, that you are just this: one good man, of which the world already holds too few, and that you need to think carefully about what to do.”
“Jamo, you’re scaring me. What is it?”
“They have taken Cerya.”
Kimbal stared at Jamo’s immaculately blackened boots for a while, trying to figure it out.
“Who has done what to her? What do you mean, taken, and who would dare …” He stood there with an open mouth for a few heartbeats as the idea hit him. “Do you mean the Angels? Do you mean that bitch Lady Sorrow has-“
“No,” Jamo growled, smiling indulgently. “Your friend has not done anything to anger Them yet, it seems. It’s her family, m’boy, the House.”
“But how … how dare they disobey Angelic-“
“Pshhhhh…” Jamo held a finger before his lips. “We don’t discuss these things where They may hear.”
“But you just-“
“I know what to say, and what not. You don’t.”
“Then say it.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have a lot more to say. They’ve taken her, and if I were you, I’d live my life with one less complication, I’d love my beautiful wife, and my two perfect children, and thank Heaven each day for what I have received. But since you are you, I guess you will run towards the House and expect Glonn Teneract to answer to you, and die trying to save Cerya. Also,” he added after a pause for consideration – or dramatic effect, you never knew with Jamo – “You might entertain the possibility than Glonn Teneract is not your main enemy in this.”
Kimbal blinked, unsure what to say.
“How … What …”
“His relationship towards her might be unhealthy,” Jamo said, “But it’s there nonetheless. He is driven, and he wouldn’t have done it on his own.
He stepped forth and put a heavy hand on Kimbal’s shoulder.
“Do what you must, m’boy, but, if not for your own sake, then for Katra’s, and Brank’s, and Jonis’, and mine, please try not to die. Try to remember that there’s more to life than what’s just and right, will you?”
“I … Jamo, I don’t know what you think of me, but I certainly don’t intend to die for Cerya.”
A ghost of a patient smile appeared around the old butcher’s mouth while he waited for Kimbal to go on.
“I just … I can’t simply leave her, can I? I have to try at least.”
Jamo nodded, a strange mixture of satisfaction and dismay on his face.
“There you go.”
Glonn stood before the horrid picture given to him by Laghmutch Tawney as a gift for his anointment as Pater Familiae. It depicted a huge machine, a clockwork driving a musical box upon which four couples of prettily dressed courtiers turned in the eternal circles of their dance, their faces distorted in varying expressions of pain, fear, greed and rage, while the cogs and springs within the box were made of human bodies as well, twisted and crushed into the shapes required for their function.
A hunched man in a Pater Familiae’s greatcloak stood beside the machine, braced against a large lever, winding up the clockwork, while, enveloped in a glorious aura of light that must be made of some shimmering material Glonn had never seen before, the Angel Beriel watched him, recognizable by the characteristic halo around its head and its flowing white toga.
Glonn agreed with his mother.
Of course he did. The deal with the Custodian would grant him not only a power unimaginable to any Pater Familiae before him, it would guarantee him an eternal place in history.
What worth some filthy whore when compared to this?
What worth this woman who was not his sister anymore, and who was nothing to him except someone he liked to humiliate because she had made him kneel?
He wouldn’t miss her. He had his choice of better whores, prettier, more obedient, and much easier to handle.
There was nothing to regret.
The only reason for that insistent sting he felt was his own wounded pride. Jakta should have asked him before. She should have included him in her plans. She should not just have sent Duncan to come into his private suite of rooms and take Cerya out of his bed without a word, just dragging her away, one hand clamped over her mouth, the other arm restraining her flailing arms, keeping her locked in his vice grip, while Glonn was still groggily blinking sleep out of his eyes and asking what was going on.
Damn, he’d have to teach his mother some respect for his position one day, she couldn’t just act like she was ruling here. He was.
But he agreed with her.
Of course he did.
It had to be done.
He whirled around and glared at Yarnon, who stood only three steps behind him, bowed down so deep that his nose seemed to touch his knees.
“What is it, snake?”
“Pater Familiae, I regret disturbing your contemplation, sir, I very deeply do, but I thought it expedient to inform you that the Gendarm Kimbal Koment paid the House a visit today, asking after your – after the Cleric.”
“What exactly was his question?”
“He asked whether Her Holiness Profound Distress was anywhere within the House and if he could see her. He said it was very urgent.”
“And what did they tell him?”
“That they did not know, Pater Familiae.”
“And him? Come on now, man, I’d rather not have to drag each syllable kicking and screaming out of your throat. Tell me what happened!”
“He asked to talk to you, so of course they sent him away, and when he wouldn’t leave, the guards accompanied him out.”
“I see. But he didn’t imply he knew anything about my dear sister’s fate?”
“Not at all. But he seemed very urgent, and he would have to be terminally stupid to come into the House and accuse you directly of … whatever he might have imagined in his fevered brain you’re supposed to have done to your sister.”
“So you think he might know? Or suspect?”
“He very well might.”
“But then, he might not.”
“It is not outside the realm of possibility, Pater Familiae. But we have to remember that he will cause us great nuisance, should he decide to contact the Hermitage in this matter.”
Glonn nodded thoughtfully.
“You’re right. Let’s err on the safe side, then. Have him killed. It’s a pity Duncan isn’t here, I’d rather have someone do it who I know will do it right.”
“I assure you, I have several trustworthy men in my pay who will perform quite admirably.”
“In your pay, Yarnon? I think you misspoke.”
“Of course, Sir, I’m sorry, Pater Familiae. I never meant to suggest it was my own meager means accomplishing all the great and … not-so-great deeds done to serve the interests of the House.”
“I just wanted to make sure there was no confusion about that.”
“None at all, Pater Familiae.”
“Splendid. Now go ahead and make sure this troublesome Gendarm becomes very very dead very very soon, would you?”
“I serve at your pleasure, Pater Familiae.”
“And don’t you forget it.”
Yarnon slithered out of the room, while Glonn turned back to that disgusting painting which he intended to burn on the bonfire he’d make to celebrate his victory, if possible together with the person who’d made the gift, and who knew, maybe he’d burn his bitch of a mother, too, while he was at it.
Damn, he wanted to, oh how much he wanted to. But he agreed with her.
Of course he did.
Book group Questions
- This chapter contains two stolen ideas, and, as always, I wonder if it’s a legitimate steal, or if I’m transgressing. It’s „Do I make myself obscure?“ This is, of course, a quote from „A Man for All Seasons“. What do you think?
- I don’t want to bore you with this question and I probably won’t ask it again, but once, for old times‘ sake: Do you feel you’ve now seen another side of Jakta Teneract, and (to shake things up a littke) Duncan Klaut? Did it seem consistent to you?
- Ding, ding, ding, moral question: Do you think Jamo should have told Kimbal?
- Did you like Glonn’s new painting?