Read Gary Gygax - Dangerous Journeys 3 - Death in Delhi Online
Authors: Gary Gygax
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Fiction
"You view inattention, insult, as little? I shall tell that to the prince himself, as well as communicate your attitude to the owner. What
the name of he who owns this place?!"
"You misunderstand! No, wait! I speak in confused fashion because I am so distraught at the heinous conduct of those who formerly were employed here. Allow me to show you to a lounge where you can have tea and such other refreshment as you might desire while I personally attend to your suite. There will be no charge for the refreshments. ..." He paused for breath as he said that, peering up into Inhetep's face. What he saw didn't reassure him. The manager hastened on with even greater urgency: "Or for the room, of course. Never would the Rajah's charge a noble client such as the sahib for its services, considering the unfortunate circumstances!"
"Services? We shall see. However, since your offer indicates there might be merit to this place after all, I suspend my previous judgment. We will be staying two nights, possibly three. We will need some light comestibles to accompany our tea, and don't be long in readying our rooms. There we require a bath. Have a servant ready to run errands. One cannot carry amenities when traveling incognito with . . . special instructions, shall we say?" The last was in friendlier voice, the conspiratorial tone and words hinting at secret matters, whether of financial dealings or state affairs.
The manager took the cue. "Naturally, sahib, naturally. Is there anything else?"
"That will do. I am beginning to feel better about your establishment. If the remainder of our stay continues in this manner, you shall be rewarded, ah . . . ?"
"Dushatara, sahib. Dushatara, manager of the Rajah's, at your command always."
"Register us only Sahib Chandgar and Sa-hibah Manasay. You do not know I am fakhir to Prince— Never mind. The tea room?"
"The morning salon is there, great sahib, just through those draperies to your left. All you asked for will be served there. Now if you and your lady will excuse me," and with that he backed away several steps, then turned and nearly ran off to take care of all he needed to do.
"I do so love to do that," the magister said under his breath as he and Rachelle proceeded to the room in which they could finally get some breakfast.
"Browbeat overweening functionaries? Get a free suite?"
"Both!" Setne admitted enthusiastically. He smiled and added in a whisper as they passed through the heavy draperies into the jaosh chamber beyond, "My Hindic is much better that I had hoped. Otherwise, though, this exercise is the same in any land one visits. All Dus-hataras everywhere are alike. Trample on the hapless, sell their souls to those of power and prestige. It makes me ashamed to actually be among the latter."
It was some considerable time later. Fed, bathed, Setne shaved, and each now wearing new clothing purchased with coins supplied by the magister to a hotel servant who shopped for them, the two strolled languidly along an avenue in the city. "Well it's nice for a change, Setne," Rachelle said under her breath so nobody would overhear her /Egyptian speech, "to have the chance to see a Hindic city. Let's see what that shop offers."
Inhetep demured. "We can't carry much more with us, Rachelle, and I need to think. Window shopping only." When he saw her pout, the magister reassured her. "Tomorrow you can examine every place offering goods in the whole of Jaipur if that suits you. Right now, I need to walk around and get the lay of things here."
"Why tomorrow, then? I know you too well not to be suspicious, Setne Inhetep!"
"I will be busy gleaning information on the morrow, my dear. When I am engaged thus, you 11 have plenty of free time to do as you like. I have but one thing you must do."
She stopped short, halting the wizard-priest in his tracks by holding fast to his arm. "What do you mean
be out? I will be with you."
"Impossible," Inhetep told her bluntly. "These lands are far more unenlightened than /Egypt and some other states. Here women aren't allowed alone in many sorts of places, are unwelcome even in the company of a man in others. No help for it, Rachelle. You will shop alone while I do my investigation. Besides, I really do need you to do an important errand while I am trying to learn something here."
"What is that, pray tell?"
He smiled and said, "Close. I need you to locate a seller of religious items. One carrying shrines of a portable sort, able to fit easily into your travel bag. When you find the right establishment, you are to select an impressive but not ostentatious shrine consecrated to the goddess Sita. Something in the five-hundred-annas range, I should imagine. No solid ivory or silver, no encrusted gems. Finely carved hardwood with such inlay as seems discrete. The figurine of the goddess should be removable."
"This is important?"
"Vital. You know I wouldn't say it was if it wasn't—-just as I wouldn't go alone if it were possible to include you."
That made sense. Rachelle, was above all, a reasonable person about most things. She still had one doubt, though. "You have seen such shrines?"
"Yes. Well, I have, but I haven't noticed any for sale here in Jaipur. There must certainly be a shop which purveys them, though."
"No doubt," she said as dryly as he was effusive. "I don't question that, it is your estimation of the cost which I suspect. What made you choose five hundred as the price?"
The magister cleared his throat and looked skyward a moment or two before responding. "That is a reasonable sum to pay for such a thing, of course. A mere wooden shrine couldn't be more expensive."
"Tomorrow shall be as you say, Setne, but when you depart, I want three times—no, four!— the amount you think 111 need. That's final." She heard him sigh heavily as he nodded his head.
After a long walk through the heart of the city, Rachelle fascinated with the exotic sights, sounds, and smells, they returned to the hotel. There they enjoyed a brief rest and dined. The service they received was impeccable, their slightest wish seemingly anticipated by a hovering steward. After a leisurely consumption of digestives in an ornate side chamber provided to patrons for after-dining relaxation, they returned upstairs for an early night's rest in soft beds. The little orchestra and dances performed downstairs held no interest for Rachelle, and Inhetep was lost in other matters. It was a true pleasure after ship, slum room, and outdoor camps, to be nestled in such luxurious comfort. Both slept late.
Shortly before mid-morning they came downstairs. Having already had sufficient breakfast in their suite to carry them through to evening, they exited the Rajah's and soon went their separate ways. "Ill be back before twilight," the magister told Rachelle. "Please do not remain out any later—it would be too dangerous and certain to attract attention."
"But of course. YouH be mistaken for a courtesan."
She nodded her agreement. Rachelle would show anyone mistaking her for a whore the folly of his error in short order. That she didn't fear, but under no circumstances did the ama-zon wish to draw unwanted attention to them, and her correction of one approaching her for sex would certainly bring the city guards. Anyway, she was thinking as she entered an interesting bazaar, with so few coins, there'll be no need to remain out for more than a few hours. I could spend twice this amount in such a short time.
When they departed from the hotel the next day, Rachelle had the desired shrine tucked safely away in her sling carry-all. Although their recently acquired finery was again replaced by common garments suitable for walking the dusty roads of the land, Dushatara, manager of the Rajah's, was as subservient as ever. So too his staff, among whom were several new members. Without showing his distress, the magister handed him a lakh. The coin instantly disappeared, hardly a flash of gold seen to mark where it had been. "See that those people who deserve reward are taken care of," Inhetep said rather curtly.
"Of course, sahib," the fellow shot back with ease, which implied that such advice was indecorous and unneeded.
Outside Rachelle spoke to him about his action. "If you give such lavish gratuities, Setne, you shouldn't lecture me!"
That was most irritating to the magister. The shrine had cost over twice what he had thought reasonable for such a thing. He had had to pay such a big departing gift to the manager so as to assure the fellow didn't talk about his visit afterwards. With so large an amount to pocket, Dushatara would not relate the matter of the supposed official having visited, the fuss, and the free lodging. It would be hushed up, but the expense was as great as if he had actually paid for their accommodations. "Bah! If I hadn't needed to assure that officious worm's silence, I'd not have given him a gold lakh for his services!"
"Setne! Many of the staff there were excellent—after the first little difficulty."
He clamped his mouth shut and made no reply to that. The two thus proceeded In silence through the Alwar Gate. It was still a long way to the city for which the gate was named, and before they arrived in Alwar they would have to cross the border between Sindraj and their destination, the maharajate of Delhi in which lay the aforenamed city. Horses would have hastened their progress, but mounts were uncommon for average folk here. To approach the border riding horses would be to raise a warning flag to the guards. Well away from Jaipur, they surreptitiously moved off the road, and once again the wizard-priest used his words of magickal power to create an anomaly to transport them to a place very near the imaginary line which separated Sindraj in the south from Delhi in the north.
"This is risky," he said as he activated the casting. He peered at a distorted area on the trunk of a big tree, the place which marked the spot he had created the "door" for them. "Perhaps I can ..." With that, the magister thrust his head into the seemingly solid bole. He vanished to the abdomen, looking for ail the world as if he was a monstrous growth springing from the trunk to the ground where his feet were rooted. "Why are you staring so?" Setne asked in puzzlement when he withdrew and turned to speak to Rachelle.
She laughed nervously. "You seemed a very odd part of that tree, Setne. It wasn't actually funny, more eerie, and ..."
"That's fine. 1 understand. The exit point is fortunately in a secluded place. We must hurry before the heka runs out and this portal disappears." He held out his hand. Rachelle took ahold, and with him leading, they went through. A few heartbeats later, first Inhetep, then Rachelle, stepped from what appeared to be a similar tree bole. Only the sickening sensation and the changed surroundings enabled them to discern that they had passed over leagues, not simply stepped through one side of the trunk to come out on the other.
"Which direction now?" the magister murmured, peering around with uncertainty.
She glanced at the sky, then pointed. "Let's try that way, Setne. From the position of the sun, that's north, and if we angle eastward a bit we should cross the road—if you managed to get us along a parallel to it."
"I think I did. Let's see." In a relatively short time, they came upon what was certainly the Alwar Road. It was broad and busy. Hardly a glance was directed at the two as they stepped from the underbrush to join the flow heading northward. Couples coming from the bushes weren't remarkable, after all. One fellow winked at the magister after eyeing Rachelle. Setne winked back and let it go at that.
Afternoon found them amid a cluster of hovels, a miserable little hamlet which marked the place where the maharajah of Sindraj's rule ended, being replaced a little beyond by that of the potentate who sat upon the Peacock Throne. "What business have you in Delhi?" a soldier demanded roughly as the two came to the place where travelers were allowed to pass out of Sindraj. He was brutal looking and had cold eyes.
"We go on holy pilgrimage to the sacred rivers of Punjab," Inhetep said with neither arrogance nor subservience.
Somehow that seemed to arouse the guard's suspicion. "Is that so?" he growled, stepping closer to both. "Have you anything to declare? Any proscribed things? Contraband?"
"No. Nothing of the sort."
"Ill see if that's so," he snapped. "Lay your packs upon the ground. I will also search you both—the woman first."
Setne saw a glint in Rachelle's eyes. It spelled trouble for the soldier if he dared to lay his hands on her. No such commotion could be allowed. The priest-wizard acted quickly then. "Wait! I urge you not to lay a finger on her, good soldier!"
The man spun, hand on his weapon's hilt. His face was flushed as he nearly shouted, "What was that you said to me?!"
"Have a care! That woman is under vow to the goddess Sita. She is making a pilgrimage because the goddess came to her in a vision, told her she must do this. That is why I am here. I dare not rouse a deity's ire, do you?"
"I don't believe you! Hah, I don't give a pinch of monkey's shit for that lie," he continued as he grabbed for Rachelle. An instant later, he was knocked backward, the event accompanied by a sharp crack of sound and a flash of light.
Many other travelers had been witness to the whole scene. In fact, several other guards had been watching casually, hoping to see something interesting from what their comrade did to the two. They were soldiers, sick of border duty, bored, and generally nasty at the best of times. "When the man ended up prone, they drew their weapons, came closer, but hesitated. Perhaps it was some conjuror's trick, but what if the tall man spoke the truth?