Palamedes Woodash looked suspiciously at the carter, in a manner he hoped seemed impressive. “State your business.”
“Delivery for the Castle,” replied the carter.
“I can see that,” snapped Palamedes.
“Then why’d you ask?” queried the carter.
Palamedes blinked, and then glanced back at his superior with just a hint of desperation. “Subtle, could you kindly explain the situation to this fellow?”
With a roll of his eyes, Balthazar Subtle stepped forward from the gatehouse. “What my slightly dense subordinate wishes to convey, sir,” explained the Goblin, “is that we would be remiss--nay, we would be monsters of arrogance--if we merely let you in without any further comment.” He grinned with forced pleasantness. “You say you are bringing in a delivery, and sir, I take you at your word, for you are clearly, an honest man. Sadly, my superiors are not made of such trusting substance as myself. They demand verification, sir,” he declared, with a roll of the rs. He glanced over the wagon’s cargo. “Now, then--what are you delivering?”
The carter frowned. “You’re a mite wordy for a soldier, aren’t you?”
Subtle forced on a bitter smile. “I am the regiment’s chirurgeon, sir. A certain amount of--education, let us say, is necessary for the profession. Especially if one wishes to be Guild-certified, as I am. Balthazar Subtle, Ranking Journeyman, at your service, and Their Magnificences, Their Excellencies, and Their Graces as well.” His eyes narrowed. “Now, answer the question, sir. Your delivery--what is it?”
“Wine, if it pleases your honor,” said the carter. “For the Council meeting.” He made a weak attempt at a smile. “Good Cremonian Red.”
Subtle nodded. “So--you say you are delivering wine to the Shadow Council?”
The carter scowled. “That’s what I just said, yes!”
“No need to lose one’s temper,” purred Subtle. “I merely wish to ascertain if you’re being honest.”
The carter tapped a barrel. “You can take a swig if you like. Prove it’s what I say.”
Subtle smiled, and produced a small cup from his belt. “Why thank you! I think I will. From the barrel to the right of this one. If I may?”
The carter frowned at the Guardsman, but nodded. “Of course, sir. Whatever you say.” He uncorked the barrel, and placed a nozzle on the hole. Subtle placed his cup before the nozzle, and turned its handle. A small trickle of wine flowed out, gradually increasing. When the cup was half full, he stopped the flow, and put it to his lips. He took a slight sip, and then smiled.
“Very nice,” said Subtle. “As you say--good Cremonian Red.” He chuckled. “Very good indeed.”
“May I have some, sir?” said Palamedes diffidently.
“I fear, young Master Woodash, that such wine as this would be wasted on the likes of you,” replied Subtle. Palamedes frowned and glanced away. “Oh, don’t pout. You’re the one who referred this matter to me! Next time, you ask the questions, and you drink the wine!” He shook his head and glanced at the carter. “You appear to be of an age with me, sir. These days I find youth seems to be wasted on the young. Are you of a mind with me?”
The carter smiled. “I--think I am, sir.” He glanced away. “If it’s any comfort to you, they won’t enjoy it that long.”
Subtle laughed. “You seem, sir carter, a man after my own black heart.” He shook his head. “Truly, you are wasted in your present profession…” He blinked. “Oh, my. I don’t believe I caught your name.”
The carter nodded as Palamedes opened the gate for him. “It’s Marcolf, sir.”
“Ahh, Marcolf.” Subtle nodded. “A good, solid Nightland name, appropriately attached to a good, solid Nightland man.” The sturgeon bowed. He waved Marcolf through. “A pleasant day to you, sir Marcolf. And know that Castle Terribel thanks you for your delivery.”
Marcolf smiled quietly as his cart rolled away. “And I very much appreciate that, Mister Subtle.”
As he rolled out of sight, Palamedes glanced at his superior. “He seemed like a nice fellow.”
“A Southerner, I believe,” noted the Goblin. “Very proper people. Very polite.” He shrugged. “A bit old-fashioned to my taste, but on the whole, quite commendable.” He paused, took out a scrap of paper, and jotted something down. “Now, then, Master Woodash, would you be a good lad, and rush this to the kitchens?”
“I’m almost twenty, you know,” said the pudgy Erl with a hint of frustration.
“And that’s very impressive,” replied Subtle. He clapped his hands together. “Now--rush, rush!”