Read Gary Gygax - Dangerous Journeys 3 - Death in Delhi Online
Authors: Gary Gygax
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Fiction
In fact, the soldier didn't like that at all, but he laughed at his comrade. "Better than labor detail—or duty on the frontier!"
The other guardsman was going to make some reply, but just then the under-officer barked a command. They swore under their breaths but moved with several others. Soon the heavy bar was lifted, and the twin panels with their long iron spikes, set so as to keep elephants from shoving them inward during siege, swung back. The Kurla Gate of Bombay was now open. Everyone was busy for an hour after that. As usual, a mob of vendors and farmers wanted to enter, a river of similar peasants stood impatiently waiting to leave the city. By shouting, shoving, and swearing, the guardsmen kept the two streams of humanity from flowing together in an impossible jam, directing one current to the left, the other right.
"That's the opening rush," the surly soldier spat as the throng dwindled into scattered groups and lone individuals.
"Now you know why I smiled," his fellow guard said. "When the gate shuts this evening, I'll be rising from my bed, ready for . . . anything!"
The other soldier ruminated, spat, and said, "You'll probably get the pox."
By then the magister and Rachelle were a mile distant, walking along the dusty road at a steady pace meant to eat up miles without tiring them. Both were used to heat, of course, because they were /Egyptian—Rachelle by adoption, but that of no consequence for she had endured nearly two decades of the blazing desert clime. Neither appeared to be from Pharaoh's Triple Kingdom, naturally. The castings so carefully laid by the wizard-priest had altered their looks entirely.
The young amazon was now brown of skin, her blue-black hair straight instead of curled in ringlets, her height diminished a little. Anyone who knew her, though, would otherwise have recognized Rachelle, thinking perhaps that this Hindic beauty was a half-sister with uncanny resemblance to her pale-skinned sibling.
On the other hand, Inhetep was totally unrecognizable. Instead of six and a half feet of height, he was now more than a head shorter. His head was still hairless, but it was now the color of light mahogany, and his eyes were dark hazel, not bright green. He was clearly a man of the South, Madras, perhaps in Hind. Of good caste, but no Brahman. His garments were unremarkable but not stained or shabby. Thus reasoning, any observer would identify him as a Vaisya, confirm that by what he carried and his woman. Both had relatively large bundles with them. Ergo, they were merchant and wife traveling to sell goods in distant towns or else combining that work with a holy pilgrimage.
Several shabby wanderers eyed the two speculatively, then passed by or decided not to follow them. The merchant was big, nearly two spans above five feet height, and he wasn't fat.
His eyes were alert, and he seemed to move with purposeful strength. There was also that heavy staff in his hand. Better to seek easier pickings elsewhere than test that one.
Rachelle's laughter was a bit forced. "Have you seen them, Setne?" she said in low voice when no other travelers were nearby to see her speak. "The skulking footpads and robbers?"
"How could I miss them?" The magister had, after all, been the bane of criminals for longer than she had lived.
"They fear you—you as a man, Setne. Not as a magister, not as a heka-bender, only because of your strength and your staff!"
"So? What's unusual about that?"
She didn't reply. He had a point, but it made Rachelle feel useless. After all, it was she who usually threatened off such casual would-be attackers with her bearing and sword. Then she turned to him and smiled. "You could be a fine warrior if you chose to be, Setne Inhetep!"
"Pish! What would I want to do that for? That sort of thing is your purview, Rachelle—I mean, Manasay" He said it so the middle syllable was stressed in proper Hind fashion. "And stop calling me anything other than Chandgar."
"I am not to call you anything, Setne. I, Manasay, am under a vow of silence. Call yourself Chandgar." She giggled.
"Then remain silent," Inhetep grumbled. "How far have we gone?" he queried as he glanced around to see if any others were near, might have caught a scrap of their exchange in /Egyptian. None were close, and there seemed to be no large groups ahead or behind.
Rachelle didn't respond to his question. Inhetep was about to repeat himself, then remembered what he had just commanded. She looked at him with a bland expression, but there was triumph in her dark eyes. Setne twitched a brow to let her know he was merely speaking rhetorically. Then he announced, "This is not the path for us,
and whenever we come to a main thoroughfare heading off to the right and proceeding northward, we will follow that road. We need to find fellow pilgrims traveling to the Punjab!"
It was several hours later before they came to such an artery. A knot of people were preparing a meal, shaded from the full sun overhead by a massive old banyan. The magister headed for that group, Rachelle following a bit behind him, eyes downcast. When he found a clear spot close to the others he stopped. "There is a good place for you to cook us our lunch, Manasay. You will need to search for some wood to make the fire, so hurry up. If I am still conversing with the other good folk here when it is ready, simply bring my bowl to where I am."
Rachelle nodded and seemed to work dutifully as he commanded, but Inhetep caught the look she shot him before she bent over her bag to extract her utensils and ready the rest. Smiling with more than artificial joviality, he walked to where five persons were circled around eating. "I beg your pardon, good travelers. My name is Chandgar. My wife and I have come from far away on a pilgrimage. She is barren, but we seek the blessings of the goddesses to change that. Are you by chance journeying to the Five Sacred Rivers?"
"All the way to the Punjab? No, friend Chandgar, not us. I am merely a merchant, a buyer of trees for fine lumber. I guess you are likewise of the Vaisyas, no?" Inhetep nodded, saying he was a minor dealer in medicines and amulets. The man nodded, having no particular interest in that line, but friendly still. He introduced his son, his son's two wives, and then his manservant. "We go but a few leagues, you see, to set up an office in Igatpur. Come, though, get your spouse and join us now. My son's wives love to gossip."
"I regret to say that my dear wife, Manasay, has taken a vow of silence until her loins produce a son. She is no company whatsoever, poor thing. I, however, am most anxious to have conversation. Did you know that I have always loved fine wood?"
Eventually Rachelle brought his bowl of onions and lentils to where the magister sat listening in what seemed rapt attention to the lumber buyer and his son as the two told stories about buying trees, the rowdy crews hired for the felling and transportation of them, elephants at work, dishonest sawmill owners, and still more. "Ah, yes. High time, for I am famished." He patted the ground, motioning to her. "Do not be shy, Manasay, come sit here with my new friends. I am learning much." Although Rachelle couldn't understand a word he spoke, his gestures were plain. She brought her own serving of food and sat next to him.
The younger wood merchant's wives looked at Rachelle-Manasay, found her altogether too beautiful, and shot surreptitious glares at her. Rachelle ignored them, trying to make sense of the strange-sounding conversation of the men. IH have to learn Hindi, she vowed to herself. I just know he's saying absolutely horrific things about me, she thought as the two natives laughed heartily in response to something Setne had told them. Even gossiping with those cows would be better than sitting here like a lump! Sit in silence she did for a full two hours, though, unable to guess the meaning of more than a few of the constantly repeated words. Then the magister stood up, pulled her to her feet, and pointed. She stalked to the place their things were, gathered her bundle, and waited.
"We go with this company to a town up in the hills. Tonight we camp outdoors, I am told. Tomorrow by sundown we should be in
Igatpur," he said softly, speaking in ./Egyptian. "You're doing fine. Keep up the good work. When we arrive in town, well be on our own again. Then I can use a portal to jump us ahead."
Rachelle snapped, "Fine. Fine for you! Are you having fun playing the big man?" Then she lost her irritation. "Sorry, Chandgar, it is just tiresome not to be able to understand anything, let alone having to remain silent."
"Oh. Of course. I can fix that, although youH still not be able to speak." Without haste, the wizard-priest pulled out several little folded bits of colored cloth, each of a varying hue. He handed her one of brown. "When nobody is looking, unwrap that. It's a talisman which will make the Hindic words sound like ./Egyptian to your ears. I meant to give it to you yesterday, but I forgot in all the confusion."
With great pride in herself for exercising restraint, Rachelle merely smiled and accepted the cloth. Only after a few deep breaths did she then say, "Thank you, Setne. And was the luncheon all right?"
"Well, my dear, you aren't very much of a cook, but that isn't why I love you, is it? You know, I feared that darkening your complexion and giving you straight hair would detract from your good looks, but now that I've grown more accustomed to it, I believe you are prettier than
ever. Come on now, we must keep up with the others."
She shouldered her bag, smiled, and walked quickly to catch up. He was, after all, the magister. If he had added the last bit to placate her, Rachelle didn't care. She knew it was true. . . .
Because she was able to hear what was said as if the speakers were using /Egyptian, Rachelle managed the balance of the day's long trek without being irritated and bored. They found a place to sleep that night: a little patch of grass at the edge of the fire's light, just far enough from the two dozen other travelers to be quasi-private and close enough for mutual protection in case of bandits or prowling tigers. They were able to converse in whispers after the others had settled down upon their mats and fallen into a sometimes not-too-quiet slumber.
After an exchange of trivial matters between them, Inhetep said, "Tell me what you think."
"About the folks around? Our impersonation? I'm not sure what you mean, Setne. I do believe that it Is going as you'd planned, and nobody suspects we're not actually natives."
"No. Not that. What do you think about the missing jewels?"
That gave her a moment's pause. "I haven't considered them recently."
"Yes, you have," the wizard-priest contra-dieted in gentle voice. "Only you haven't done so
Just relax and say what comes to mind."
Rachelle started to protest, then relaxed. She turned her thoughts to the stolen crown jewels. "The maharajah shows great concern that there's more to it than the monetary loss."
"Are you sure? After all, any set of baubles sufficient to rate as crown jewels when bedecking a monarch seated upon the gem-encrusted Peacock Throne must be grandiose indeed," Inhetep retorted. "In fact, I am given to understand that there's a hyacinth the size of a pullet's egg atop the crown, and a jacinth nearly as big set in the orb—plus all the usual diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, sapphires, and the like."
"There are six pieces in the set," Rachelle told him in response to that. She ticked them off for him, "The crown, the scepter, the orb, the collar, the girdle, and the ring. Not only are there magnificent corundum gems and the rest, Setne. There are elemental stones included—one big empyrium, a pair of perfect asylphars, four mahydrols, and three matched terrionds. Grandiose indeed, and priceless!"
"That was incisive! I knew I could count on your intuition to help me along. But how do you know so much about his lost jewels?"
"I make a point of knowing about many things, Magister Inhetep, including the most famous gems of the world. You should do the same."
Inhetep prodded her. "Then you retract your assessment."
"Not in the least! To have such fabulous treasure stolen from under his nose is an incredible blow to Sivadji Guldir. If he is typical of monarchs, he must be beside himself with doubts and suspicions of those around him— not to mention the damage to his ego! What occurred is almost as bad as having his famous throne spirited away from under him. If the loss were known to other rulers, he would be a laughing stock. Were it to become common gossip, then he would lose all face with his subjects."
Setne chuckled. "Right again. Have you thought about the ramifications of what you said regarding Guldir Maharajah Sivadji's position, his state of mind?"
Her voice was small when she replied, "Yes. We will be in extreme jeopardy if we somehow fail and are unable to discover the culprit and restore the lost jewels."
"We will be in danger even if we do, should the matter remain a well-kept secret at that time. As you say, if word got out, the mighty monarch would be embarrassed in the extreme."
"I'm sorry I got us into this now, Setne. Let's go back, quickly. The risk is far too great for even a reward equal to the value of the silly fool's lost coronation regalia."
The magister sat bolt upright when she said that. Just as quickly, he lay back down again. He was stiff, tense, but silent.
"Are you all right?" Rachelle hissed.
"Shhh. Wait a few moments." He remained silent for several minutes as Rachelle fidgeted, hoping anyone watching wouldn't notice while she took deep, regular breaths and feigned slumber. Finally the magister spoke again in a harsh whisper. "You did it again, Rachelle! You just showed me something else I had completely failed to consider."