Outside the office of Don Chieftain, the don of the Plist branch of LandOrder, three of his six department heads sat on a couch, waiting to make their daily reports; two others had already been and gone. The door opened, and chief enforcer Clem Lambshank exited the office. He smiled, tipped his hat first to the secretary, and then to the fellows on the couch, then walked out into the hall, happy to be heading home for the day. Moments later, the secretary answered a t-mail call from the don, and said, "Don Chieftain will see you now, chief Atwood." Chief spy Palzo Atwood stood, nodded and thanked the secretary, and went in. The door closed behind him.
"Well, Palzo, anything of interest, today?" inquired Chieftain.
"Nothing much. Lonewander is preparing for an adventure."
"Hasn't been in town long," observed Chieftain. "But then I suppose he rarely stays in one place too long. So... adventure. Anybody else around here making similar preparations?"
"Well, there is the Band, of course."
"Probably unrelated; they're always going on adventures."
"But they're booked at the Boar & Bear for awhile yet."
"Till the end of the month only. Can it hurt to make preparations a little early for their departure? Or was there another reason you thought there might be a connection? ...Oh, I'm sorry. Did you say there was a connection?"
"No, but you're correct in assuming I was going to. They were seen some days ago talking with Lonewander, who is, coincidentally, also staying at the Boar & Bear. Oh, and their conversation also included a local drunkard and some crazy streetrat. They all went into a private room at the tavern for some time, the other night."
"Any idea what their plans are?"
"But it does look like they're planning an adventure together."
"It appears likely, yes."
"Hmmm. Interesting. The Band generally don't work with others; neither does Lonewander. Keep me informed."
"Of course, Don."
"And how does Drugfix's work progress?" It was a bit unorthodox for a don's chief spy to be reporting on the activities of an apothecary; but then, few dons had any apothecaries in their employ at all. Most major gangs, particularly intervillage gangs such as LandOrder, tended to have five basic departments: Adults, dealers, enforcers, spies, and thieves. The best gangs also had a department of Sorreters or sorcerers (the latter being the term preferred by Elves). Each department had a chief in each village, to report to that village's don. But there were always miscellaneous employees who didn't quite fit into any of the basic categories, and their work would of course need to be supervised and reported upon by the head of one department or another. Some dons lumped them all together into a separate category labeled "other," with their own chief, who didn't really have a specific title. This was not a position of great esteem, and so was not much sought after. Though most gangs that did employ apothecaries would have them report to the chief dealer (as dealers sometimes dealt in drugs, as well as other goods), Don Chieftain preferred to leave his "miscellaneous" employees chiefly to their own devices, and let them report to whatever department head they felt most comfortable with. Laver Drugfix didn't much care who he reported to, so Chieftain assigned his good friend and most trusted advisor, Palzo Atwood, to check in on the apothecary from time to time.
"On schedule. He should be ready to provide us with samples to test-market within the month."
"Good. Anything else to report?"
"An associate from Woodstockade is investigating something which she believes may turn out to be of great interest to us, and to the world. Something big, which may have been going on for some years now, she's not even sure how long. Perhaps since before the Coming."
"Hmmm. Any idea what this may be?"
"No. All she told me was that it involves a sorcerer named Des'Caina."
"What do we know about this Des'Caina?"
"My associate only gave me the last name, but I assume she refers to Silas Des'Caina, who works for InterGang. He's a descendant, obviously, of Caina, one of the original fifty Elves. Caina was the first Second Sorcerer, until Roderick's death in 792, at which point she became High Sorcerer until her own death in 824. All of Caina's descendants have been sorcerers; among the best, I've heard. But none of them have been High or even Second Sorcerer."
"Resentful much?" Chieftain asked, the corner of his mouth quirking slightly upward.
"Ah, yes," Atwood replied with a grin of his own. "The clan of Caina has held a long-running grudge against mainstream Elven society, and magical and political authorities in particular. Generally they have been involved in gangs. Silas has been in InterGang since it was first getting organized."
"Local department chief?"
Atwood's grin widened. "Nope. And that's a tremendous mistake on the part of don Des'Rosset, in my humble opinion. From what I understand, Des'Caina stays with InterGang just for the financing they provide. Financing for what, beyond life's little necessities, I cannot say." This said, his smile naturally subsided, slightly.
"But this project of his that your associate mentions...?"
"While his work for them is what makes the project possible, it is our belief that it's Des'Caina's own, and has nothing to do with InterGang. Probably. They may not even be aware of it, though I doubt their spies are so inept as not to know what the organization's own employees are up to. However, if they do know about it, it doesn't seem Des'Caina knows they know."
"Or maybe he just wants them to think he doesn't know that they know." Chieftain grinned again, but dismissed the little game with a wave of his hand, before Atwood could continue it. "Well, try to find out what it is. And have your associate look into the possibility of hiring Des'Caina away for LandOrder. We really must expand our operations there. ...On second thought, I'll have to discuss this with don Des'Tambor, anyway. I might as well ask him to talk to his own chief spy. I assume that's who your associate is?"
"Well... of course." Atwood's smile turned abruptly into a frown, and his brow furrowed. "It's just that..." He trailed off and sighed.
Chieftain nodded and allowed, "Just that you spies like to be surreptitious about everything, even the obvious. Even in dealing with your own bosses. Your own friends."
"Of course, Don. It's our job, it's who we are. You'd expect no less of us."
"Of course. ...Anyway, if you wish, you may speak with your associate, but I think I'll be calling Des'Tambor right after our meeting. Now then, what else is going on in the world?"
"Let's see... you may recall that Marshal Primus has spent the last few months inspecting troops in the three villages of the Northern Alliance. My associate in Kimrin informs me that he's finished his business there, and should soon be returning to First Village. Meanwhile, my associate there informs me that he's expected to speak with King Demos about the growing public opinion that there is no real need for continued funding of standing armies. For the time being, it seems the public accepts that navies are still worthwhile for their protection against piracy, but on land, the police are seen as sufficient in dealing with the, ahem, criminal element." At this mention of Chieftain's and his own industry, Atwood's grin momentarily returned. "All armies are good for is war, and no one seems to think there are likely to be any more wars. One is enough for the century."
"Ah, I do love a good debate. I only wish I could take part. In fact, I'd love to argue both sides. But perhaps you can just have your First Village associate sneak a t-mail bubble into the meetings, so we can all have a listen."
"Then you don't want to influence the outcome?"
"I think... not, just now. Still, an interesting issue, in an election year. Anyway, it's more a matter for the capo and don Fourth to deal with, than myself. Perhaps I'll discuss it with them, though."
"Of course. Well... I think that was just about all, for the moment."
"Thank you, Palzo. Well then, back to work."
Don Chieftain's chief spy left the room and went to his office to contact his associate in Woodstockade. Don, meanwhile, selected a black t-mail bubble from its box, and set it on his desk. "Activate, visual and audio." The bubble expanded to a 13-inch diameter and began to glow. "Don Chieftain, for Listrin Des'Tambor."
After nearly a minute, the image of an Elf appeared in the bubble. "Hello, Don. This is I believe about the time of day you usually finish speaking with your chief spy. I assume he had something to say which would concern me?"
"You know me too well, my friend. Yes... has your own chief spy mentioned anything about a sorcerer working for InterGang-?"
"Silas Des'Caina, you mean?"
"Mmm. Yesterday. I assumed she'd be telling yours today, as well as her associates in the other branches. Well, and knowing you too well, as I do, I imagine I can guess what you're thinking. InterGang is dominant in Woodstockade, and it is proving difficult for LandOrder to make progress here. Des'Caina is very likely disgruntled, and as we have no chief sorcerer in this branch at the moment, perhaps it would be propitious, after further investigation into the situation, to offer him the position."
"Just so. And your opinion?"
"I agree, as usual. Although in discussing this matter with others- and really, we should contact Capp about this- I would prefer it if we say that you agree with me."
"That would not be inaccurate, I am sure. You must have thought the same thing yesterday as I, only today."
"Yes. Now, do you want a joint conference with him, or-"
"No, you can talk with him yourself. Just let me know what happens."
"Of course," said don Des'Tambor. "And I suppose you'll have your own matters to discuss with him. Perhaps you'd be so good as to let me know how that goes, if it's not too secret." Chieftain nodded, and Des'Tambor continued, "Anyway, since you're on the air, is there anything your man may be telling his associate here tomorrow that you could tell me now?"
"Let me see... probably nothing important you haven't already heard. There are a few adventurers we're keeping our eyes on, but I'm sure they're not going to do anything important. It's just odd they're working together. It should prove nothing more than a passing diversion."
Listrin nodded. "Anyone I've heard of?"
"For starters, a drunkard- my spy didn't mention his name, I should have thought to ask it- and a streetrat. Crazy, I think he said. Then there's the Band, a minstrel/adventure group."
"They've not been to Woodstockade, but I have heard of a few things they've done elsewhere. Nothing major. As you say, a diversion. I hear they play well."
"Yes, I've heard them from time to time when they're in Plist. Very nice music. You know an Elf girl joined them last year. Emma Pseud, her name is."
"That I hadn't heard. So there are... five?... of them now?"
"Strange name for an Elf, Pseud."
"I hear she's in self-exile. Prefers being among people who think she's a little short to those who think she's a little tall, is the excuse I've heard."
"Pfff, that hardly sounds likely," scoffed Listrin. "After all, the difference between the average heights of Elves and Men is mere inches, and there's ample crossover in ranges. She's covering something with that little story, I shouldn't wonder, and covering it poorly. Still, probably just some trifling political thing. For example, there are more Elves than the general public, among you Men at least, are led to believe disagree with our people's affiliation in the war."
"That may be it..."
"At any event, it's of no concern to us or the government. Just her, and maybe her family, whoever they are. Any idea of her real name?"
"No, sorry. Never looked into it, not important. Might be easier for you, anyway."
"I shouldn't think I'll bother. Simple musician/adventurer, as we both say, of no importance."
Chieftain smiled to himself, thinking, As often as we've said how unimportant these people are, one might begin to think it's a rather sloppy, heavy-handed job of foreshadowing the opposite. But perhaps I read too much pulp fiction. But he only allowed himself a moment's contemplation before mentally waving away such thoughts. "Still, I wonder where she came up with a name like Pseud. Some kind of subword, perhaps?"
"Hmmm..." Listrin thought a minute. "Ah, I have it. From 'pseudonym.'"
Don thought for a few moments about that, then smiled. "Yes, of course. You're good at that."
"I am an ELC, you know."
"Yes. I wonder if we'll ever have figured out all the alien words in the collective subconscious."
"Who knows? Probably not for millennia, yet. Anyway, was that about all?"
"Ummm... oh, I mentioned the Band, and there was one other adventurer. Darius Lonewander. I like to have my spies keep track of him, because-"
"He is the son of Adam of Triscot. One of two remaining members of that clan."
"So, you know of him too."
"I like to follow the aftermath of history. But again, he is so far of no great significance. A minor adventurer, a sometime writer- I enjoy his stories, you know. Have you-?"
"Read any? Of course. Not my favorite writer, but not least. Anyway, it is as I say odd for him to be working now with the Band, but again, a diversion. It's good to have diversions."
"Of course. Well then, I'll talk to you again."
"Good-bye," said Chieftain. And to the t-mail bubble, "Close." It quickly shrank out of existence, as did the one at Listrin's end.
The don of LandOrder's branch in Plist sighed, paused, rubbed his face, and after a moment, got back to his work. He activated a blue t-mail bubble to contact his secretary and said, "Send in Chief Citman."
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