Read Gary Gygax - Dangerous Journeys 3 - Death in Delhi Online
Authors: Gary Gygax
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Fiction
"Who was that fellow?" one asked.
His neighbor shook his head. "A stranger here. Say, do you suppose he was a pickpocket?" As he said that, the resident began to check his person for loss. He kept his small horde of coins carefully folded inside the waist of his loincloth. So too his fellow who was likewise frantically searching to see if his money had been stolen. "No. I have not lost anything," the second man said in relief. "He was just a pushy bastard."
More cautious than his fellow, the second local not only touched his coins but counted them. Even though no thief would take only some, it was reassuring to check just in case. The man was startled to find there was a silver one among the bronze and copper coins he knew he had. He hid his surprise. Where had the worn old chuckrum come from? He could t hink of only one way: somebody had carelessly given it to him in change. "I too have all my money," he said finally. It was most unwise to reveal newfound wealth to anyone, of course, even a good neighbor.
By then the magister was a long way from the two. Smiling contentedly to himself, he sought out the worst slum of Delhi to begin his work. Behind him were nine people with strong heka emanating from them. Each had a silver chuckrum, and the coin was the source of the magickal radiation, in particular indicating physical disguise. "Let them try to follow those false trails," he said to himself. Before long some of the coins would change hands, and silver should be hidden on the receiver's person. It would be an hour or more before the ruse was discovered—if any were indeed clever enough. By then he would be hopelessly lost to anything save a full-scale search of the city. The master of Delhi wouldn't do that. "Ill be given a hot reception when I return, but by then 111 have found all I need to know here," Inhetep ruminated. He came to the quarter he had sought, and entered the first public house he saw there.
"Beer," he said to the barman.
The fellow gave Inhetep a hard look of appraisal, and brought a wooden tankard. "One anna," he said loudly as he set the container on the stained and worn plank.
The magister produced the coin, dropped it on the bar, picked up his beer, and turned his back on the servitor. It was a typical dive: little light even in bright morning sun; narrow, deep, with many odd tables and chairs cluttering its length. As his eyes adjusted fully to the dimness, Inhetep saw there were already more than a handful of customers in the place. He chose a table as far away from them as he could. He put his back to the wall and drank.
For a few minutes, he was the subject of guarded scrutiny. Then he was ignored by the patrons and barkeep alike. Ignored but not accepted, he thought. He finished his beer, walked back to the bar, and asked for another. The process was the same as before, but this time he was eyed more closely by the man as he put the refilled tankard before the wizard-priest. Without attempting any conversation, Inhetep went back to his table. He glanced neither right nor left. This time he drank more slowly, waiting.
"Buy me wine?" The whore had come from the depths of the tavern's rear. Even in the gloom the magister could see she was very young, very well-built, and would have been extremely pretty had her face not been badly scarred by disease. He slapped his hand down on the table before her. She started a bit, unsure of what he was doing. Then he moved it, and she saw a bronze coin lying there. "Wine is a rupee, master," she told him in her toneless, professional voice.
"Drink beer then or do without," Inhetep responded with an emotionless tone which matched hers.
"Come on, master, you're a sport aren't you? Buy me wine, and then maybe 111 treat you to something special later." Inhetep ignored her wheedling. The whore grabbed the anna, got up angrily, and left him alone. Two minutes later she returned, a tankard in her hand. She plopped down in the chair opposite him, gulping the beer.
"Tea or fruit juice would be better for one so young," the magister observed in a low, flat voice.
"What the hells are you, some kind of a holy reformer?" She was angry because her commission on wine was an anna; for beer she got only the drink. "Do you want to get laid or don't you? It's a hundred—" His harsh laughter made her break off what she was saying. "All right. Because its early, 111 let you go for fifty annas."
Inhetep shook his head "Crap. The rate is half that. Do you think me stupid?" He finally looked into the too-old eyes in the young, pocked face. "Your name is Braji. No. I am not a spy for the maharajah. No, I am not any sort of policeman, either. Yes. I am not going to pay you for sex, just as you fear. No. It isn't because your face is ugly—it is scarred but pretty, by the way, and the smallpox which caused it happened when you were eight," he added as the astonished girl stared at him with her mouth agape.
"You read my mind. You are a swami!"
"Lower your voice," Inhetep commanded. "Otherwise you won't be paid." He saw that got through to her. She was ready to flee from him at the slightest provocation, but her desire for money held her there tenuously. "You are close, girl. Suffice to say I am a practitioner of the arts. No more stealing thoughts. Relax. I did that only to show you I am no enemy."
It took no magick to see from her expression that she thought that total bullshit as she replied, "Okay, you're my pal. Where's the money you promised, and what do I have to do to earn it? I don't do exhibitions with ani—"
"Shut up and listen to me, Braji," the magister said in a voice so harsh that the young whore froze silent in her chair. But as he spoke thus, he made a copper rupee appear on the table. "There are more, chuckrums too, if you play this right."
She in turn made the coin vanish. "For small change I don't do much of anything," she warned. She didn't mean it, though. Business for her was never good, and money always scarce.
"No lies or even misleading answers," the wizard-priest warned. "Remember I
read your thoughts if need be. All we are going to do is talk. When I'm satisfied you've answered a question fully and truthfully, you get paid. I have a lot of questions. ..."
"You got a deal. Ask away." If he said anything out of line, asked her to tell him anything he shouldn't know, she was determined to walk away. With a little luck, she'd at least have some jingle in her purse when she did that. She quickly shut away the rising thought of what would happen if it turned out he was one of the . . .
"Why do you sell yourself?"
Oh, so maybe this fellow was just another one of those kind. "My father is dead, my mother an invalid. Someone has to bring food home for my little brothers and sis—"
"Don't be a fool. Tell me the truth, I said, or else you can get your ass out of that chair now!"
"I have no hope of marriage—not looking like this. My family threw me out after a soldier raped me. I have to live, and there's no other way." A coin appeared. It was a rupee, and she took it wondering if she might have earned a chuckrum if she had been truthful in the first place.
"The government doesn't serve the people here, does it?"
That made Braji swallow hard. She risked it. "No," she managed in a small voice. The payment was silver.
"Can you recall a time it was less tyrannical, when it was maybe all right for what it was? Is it getting worse now?"
"Things have never been good from what I've heard, or what I recall as a child. That bastard who raped me wouldn't have dared doing that years ago—my parents said that, even though they blamed me. It is becoming worse all the time too, and if you are one of the maharajah's spies, I'm as good as dead now."
The magister smiled at her, a paternal and reassuring show. He produced a rupee and another silver chuckrum. "Buy yourself wine, Braji; then come back. I have more questions, but we want no suspicions as to what is really being transacted between us, do we?"
In a bit, she returned. She had her wine in one hand, a beer in the other. "On me," she said. When she saw Inhetep's questioning look, Braji told him, "Don't worry about the barman—Upura is a good fellow and won't say anything even if he suspected you were a rebel recruiter."
"Do you think I am?"
She shrugged. "I don't know—I've never met one. Are you?" The young whore actually giggled when he asked her for a chuckrum if she wanted an answer. "Right," she said as she regained her composure. "You ask, 111 answer and get the coin."
"How great is the hatred for the maharajah? Are there active rebels here in the capital? Have there been incidents?" As he posed the string of queries to her, the magister slipped three silver discs partway across the table.
She looked at the coins, then at Inhetep. "What you ask of me is very dangerous! I am afraid to answer, even for so much money."
"Here," Inhetep said. "Take them and don't answer if you are so afraid. Know that I am here as one able to assist those who wish to change things, and I will never reveal anything I learn to those who are tyrannizing you."
He had measured her character well. Braji was a prostitute but otherwise a very decent girl. Despite enforced hardness, she couldn't help trusting him. "The toad is the most hated man in the world!" she hissed. "He is not fit to rule a swamp. He has now surrounded himself with officials as bad as he is. His soldiers are rotten and the new mercenaries who swarm over the land worse. Tax collectors extort the last coin from widows. If my face were not so horrid, I'd probably be kidnapped for a slave in one of those pig's harems," she concluded, touching her scarred cheek, then adding, "I should be happy for this . . . blessing!"
"I understand. You became so vehement you forgot to speak about active opposition here in the city. Are there insurgents here in Delhi who are fighting back?"
She nodded, looked around to be sure nobody was near. "Yes. They have even come here once or twice to find men and women willing to join the cause. They have done small things only up to now. Killing a tax collector, making a particularly brutal soldier disappear. Even such little attacks have brought terrible reprisals—executions of randomly seized men, the burning of a building suspected to house a rebel sympathizer. If the opposition tried anything major, it would mean slaughter among the people. The maharajah's men would be loosed to do as they want here."
"So the insurgents build strength and wait for something, a general uprising when their forces in the hills are strong enough to come into the open and fight."
"You know the whole plan?"
The magister bent forward to push the three coins to her, sat back, raised his hand as if taking an oath, then lowered it while saying, "What I just told you is the way of all revolutionaries everywhere. I don't have to see the documents to know the details. What's more, I believe that I fully support it. Whether it will succeed or not is another matter. Yet even there I suspect I might be influential. Come, Braji. Let us go to your room."
That shocked her. "You want to have sex now?"
"No. You are like a friend to me now. But we must go to your lodging place to make sure that anyone who might be a spy for the maharajah thinks that is what I am after. Is it nearby?"
Braji nodded. "It is a little room on the fourth floor of the building next door. Come on." She got up with a false smile on her face and held onto the magister. She gave the barman, Upura, a wave as they left. He returned a knowing smile. "If he bought it," she murmured, "anyone else watching did." They walked the short distance to the entrance to the adjacent structure and climbed up the long sets of steps to arrive at her door. "Sorry for this place," she said. "It is the best I can manage."
Setne entered, and when she had closed the door he sat on the bed. "Can you take me around the city—especially to places where the rebels might be present?"
"I can, but..." Again Braji made her unconscious gesture, fingers over pitted and scarred face. "Let's be realistic. If I'm not recognized as a whore, my looks will cause trouble for you. I think you need another guide."
"Could you do it otherwise?"
"Maybe, I'm not sure," the girl admitted.
Inhetep reached into his shawl-like upper garment and pulled out a little box. "You know I have powers," he said. "Here is something I want you to use now, an unguent for your skin. Smooth it on wherever you have scarring, but be sparing. A little is good, a lot wasteful. There is enough for seven applications, understand? That will help you to judge how much you need to use each time after this."
Braji's eyes brightened with a flash of hope, then clouded. It was something she didn't dare consider. While this stranger seemed a good man, had given her over a hundred annas, not betrayed her as a traitor to the crown, trust and hope both were foreign to her thinking. Like love and caring, to survive in her environment all such potentially weakening emotions had to be shut out. "Ill use it, but you'll have to pay me a chuckrum," she said in her hard, business-like voice.
"Here," the magister replied, tossing a coin through the air. "Maybe this will finally convince you. Even if it doesn't, you need it far more than I." His voice was absolutely neutral. There was neither pity nor judgment in his words or expression.
Braji noted that even as she caught the spinning coin. It was gold. "You throw me a lakh as if it were nothing?" She looked at it closely, bit it to see if it were a counterfeit. "Did you conjure this? Will it soon vanish?" she asked with a mixture of wonder and suspicion. When he shook his head, Braji believed him. The man's eyes denied all duplicity. "Why . . . ?"