Episode 32 - The Locked Larder Committee
by Camille LaGuire
Rozinshura sat at the back of the larder, on the bench, looking down at the odd little book in his hand. Niko pounded madly at the door, while Lady Featherdale stood between them, uncertain what to do.
"Niko, there is no need to make your hand bloody," said Rozinshura, without looking up from the book. "Listen first, then pound if you hear something."
"Yes, Kinchin Captain." Niko, whose hand was sore, hunted down the lid of a crock to pound the door with if necessary.
"Lady Featherdale, was that man Winston Argoss?"
"No, Captain, he wasn't."
"Do you know him? Was he on the train with you?"
"I've never seen him before."
The captain let out a deep sigh and rubbed his head. None of this made sense. Lady Featherdale sat down on the bench beside him.
"Do you think the colonel mistook him for Argoss?" she asked.
Rozinshura shook his head.
"This man was carrying secrets, so... Pookiterin did not make a mistake," he said. He stared for a moment and then burst out rapidly: "But that makes no sense! I do not believe this man is a spy. And I do not know where he came from. I do not know how he gets secrets. He makes no sense."
He looked down again at the book, as though it held answers. It was an Imprish book; a cheap thriller. Such books were popular in Awarshawa, even though Awarshi soldiers and spies were always the villains -- portrayed as machine-like and single-minded beasts who kept coming even after being shot or thrown off a cliff.
Not so very different from Awarshi propaganda.
In these books, the Awarshi were always defeated, but it took every ounce of effort to do so. In real life, Awarshi didn't win much, but like the Cussars, they never gave up. So... Rozinshura liked the books anyway. He had learned to read Imprish by reading many such books.
And that was how he knew the childish code the message was written in. The boy heroes of such novels always used the same code; write the letters backwards. A silly, easy code a diplomat or a spy would never use.
Would a professor of philosophy use such a code? Perhaps, but it was not a professorial sort of book. It was more the sort of book a professor would confiscate from his students....
Rozinshura sat up.
Perhaps that was how he got it! He wasn't given the message. He met up with this student named Alex, and he took the book. And then what? How did this man get here, so far from anything, and so very drunk, except by train? It made no sense.
"Are you sure you have seen everyone on the train?" he asked the lady.
"The train was a special hired for our delegation," said Lady Featherdale, "so there were no strangers among the passengers. But I don't suppose I know the crew. This may sound very imperial of me, but one doesn't notice a porter or a waiter. They're invisible."
"A waiter!" exclaimed Rozinshura
"You think he was a waiter?"
"Who is invisible, but not invisible? Who becomes a hero to a drunk when he suddenly appears?"
"Why, I suppose a waiter would fit that description." said Lady Featherdale. "What's the riddle about?"
"Niko! Who is that boy, the one who was helping you?"
"He is from the wreck--"
"No, he is not. Who is he?"
"He said his name is Alex, Kinchin Captain."
Rozinshura buried his face in his hands. Right under his nose, with the plate of blootchkes. At least it was also right under Pookiterin's nose.
"Did the colonel show any interest in him?"
"No, Kinchin Captain. He was his usual arrogant self and hardly noticed him. That's why I gave him the keys."
"Well, we have an advantage if we ever get out of here."
"Captain," said Lady Featherdale, "do you think they will shoot us?"
The captain paused for a very long time. "Normally I would say no, but if there really is a coup, it depends on who wins. And the risk is that we may be in the hands of the losers who would not care how Imperia would react."
"Oh," said her ladyship, looking somewhat subdued.
"Listen!" hissed Niko. He pressed his ear to the door. "Somebody is here. I can't tell who. Should I knock?"
Rozinshura nodded. Sooner probably would be better, for shooting or escaping.
Stay Tuned for Episode Thirty-Three: "Alex Captured!"
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