“It’s nothing, really,” said Sacripant, as he and Quiet walked back from Asterot Maganza’s rooms. The King of the Goblins was presently engaged in what sounded like an epic retching fit. Even though it would probably cause a succession crisis and a diplomatic panic, Sacripant was quietly hoping the bastard choked to death on his own sick.
Quiet gave his fellow Guardsman a worried look. “Look,” replied Sacripant, eventually, “it’s just a word. Something folk like him call folk like us.” He spread a webbed hand. “You--you just learn to deal with it, if you’re a Marsh Erl.” He shook his head. “Ah, hell, now I’m whining. To a Ghoul, no less.” Quiet’s blue eyes narrowed. “No--no,” stated Sacripant. “I’m just trying to say--you have it tougher than I do. I really have no right to complain.”
Quiet looked at Sacripant for a moment, then placed a hand on his shoulder. The Ghoul shook his head in good-natured sympathy. Sacripant smiled and then laughed. “Damn it, Quiet, you know just what to say.” The sound of talking and heavy footsteps came down the hall. The pair turned. The fat form of Malagise Chiarmonte waddled into view, his mother walking behind him.
“You’re lost, Mal,” stated Lanfusa, her withered face pressed in a contemptuous scowl.
“I am not, Mumsy,” said the Duke Chiarmonte quietly, his jowls quivering with barely suppressed indignation . “I know exactly where I am--Castle Terribel.” He nodded. “I must confess, the specifics are escaping me--but I have a firm grasp on the general!”
“Well, isn’t that a comfort?” snapped Lanfusa.
Malagise pouted, and noticing the Guards, turned towards them. “Pardon me--are we heading the right way to reach the Hall of Exquisite Horror?” He smiled. “There was a girl that was supposed to show us the way, but Mumsy wouldn’t stand for it.”
Sacripant and Quiet nodded. “Just keep going this way, and turn left at the first intersection,” said Sacripant.
Malagise smiled and nodded eagerly. “Ahh! Yes. Very good!” He turned to Lanfusa. “See Mumsy! I do know where I’m going.”
Lanfusa snorted at her son. “Pure luck! I‘m willing to wager on it!”
“Oh, Mumsy! You--” Malagise snarled and turned away from his mother. Glancing at Sacripant, he blinked. “Ahh. You’re that--Marsh Erl who assisted--His Imperious Munificence, aren’t you?”
Sacripant frowned. “That’s right.”
Malagise bit his lips nervously, and coughed. “Listen, I--Lord Asterot is--a deeply troubled man, and--well, don’t take what he says seriously.” He forced a smile. “He simply needs to get the spite out, you know. I don’t think he even means half of what he says. Or at least--not very much.”
“Yeah.” Sacripant gave a frustrated nod. “I think I caught that.”
“I thought you did!” declared Malagise with a delighted chuckle. “You strike me as a very clever fellow! I even said so to Mumsy!” He turned to Lanfusa. “Didn’t I, Mumsy? Tell you how clever the Marsh Erl seemed?”
Lanfusa groaned. “How should I know, Mal? You say so much witless prattle, I just ignore it most of the time!”
Malagise gave his mother another resentful glare. “Well, I DID say it!” he declared forcefully. He turned to Sacripant and grinned. “I said to her ‘Why, look at that young Marsh Erl! He’s a credit to his people’!”
Sacripant forced a smile. “Right. Almost like a Highborn.”
“Exactly,” said Malagise with an emphatic nod. “I’ve always thought, there’s nothing wrong with you Marshers that a little time with--the right sort of Erl couldn’t cure.”
Sacripant shook his head. “Gosh, Your Honor. I’m--touched.”
Malagise turned away, looking quite pleased with himself. “I know--I know. But while I may be a Duke--I keep my heart open to the plight of the less fortunate!” Lanfusa gave a sharp laugh. Malagise frowned, and then took a deep breath. “Well then! Mumsy and I had best be on our way! Must get to our quarters!” He offered Sacripant two fingers to shake. “Best of luck, boy!”
Sacripant took them with a weak smile. “You… honor me, sir.”
Malagise smiled. “Think nothing of it, my lad! Pleased to be of service!” He pulled his hand back, and walked away, his mother fast on his heels.
“Well, you just made a perfect fool of yourself!” snapped Lanfusa as soon as they were out of sight. “Going on and on to that damned Nixie about what an open-minded man you are!”
“Mumsy!” shouted Malagise, apparently ignorant of the fact that the Guards were still in earshot. “You know it’s important to encourage the poor, simple creatures!”
Sacripant sighed and shook his head. “Assholes,” hissed a sharp voice next to him. Sacripant turned in surprise.
“Did--did you just talk?” he asked Quiet. Quiet shrugged. Sacripant narrowed his eyes.
“You just talked,” he noted. Quiet turned, and began to walk away. Sacripant started to follow him.
“Look--I don’t care if you prefer not to, but--well, Hagen and I have a bet going on whether you’re mute, or are operating on some weird oath of silence--thing,” the Marsh Erl noted. Quiet turned and stared at him. Sacripant shifted on his feet. “I--my money’s on vow of silence.” Quiet threw his head back and began to walk away again. Sacripant cupped his hand to his mouth. “I’ll split the money with you!”
Quiet kept on walking.