Balthazar Subtle glanced around the kitchen. “A very pleasant set-up you have here,” he declared, rubbing one gloved finger on a shelf.
Calchas Woodash nodded. “We try to keep it cozy.” His brother Persante nodded emphatically as he stirred his pot.
Subtle began to rub his fingers together, staring at them intently. “Very, very decent of you,” he drawled. “So--then--you did as I instructed?”
“Mmm-hmm,” replied Calchas. “We’re looking through the barrows, sir. But so far, it--it’s just wine.”
Subtle nodded. “I see. Well, never hurts to be properly prepared. I’ve been told an ounce of it’s worth a pound of cure. A wise investment proportionally,” he declared with a laugh.
Calchas glanced at Persante and shook his head. “I suppose you’re right, sir,” he said pleasantly. “Now--why did you have us…?”
“He made me suspicious,” replied Subtle. “He was too quick to anger, and then too quick to calm down again. He went out of his way to stress--oh, to emphasize--that he was merely a harmless carter, bringing wine to this cheerful gathering. He very much wanted me to like him. And he’s a southerner, and there’ve been--a few incidents down there recently.” He shrugged. “So, nothing definite, but enough to catch my--admittedly formidable interest.”
Calchas blinked in surprise. “Incidents down south?”
“A Shire Reeve was killed. A Mayor was nearly killed. Someone tried to rob a town treasury, and hung themselves when they were caught.” The Goblin shook his head. “It’s the old Magnate country. A few folk still bear grudges.”
Persante snorted, glancing up from his soup. “Don’t recall them bein’ forced to betray House Cthonique, an’ start settin’ up land slavery again…”
“People tend to glorify the past, which is easy to do, as it is no longer around to correct our impressions of it,” said Subtle. He smiled. “I speak from experience--my parents were members of the Free Legion, back in the day.”
Calchas smiled. “Ahh, but that was against old Lord Shaddad.”
“True, but my entire my childhood I heard how everything was going to be better once the Maganzas were back on the Ebony Throne,” said Subtle, picking up a bottle on the shelf, and examining it. “You can imagine my extraordinary disappointment when that happened, and things progressed in the manner they did.” He replaced the bottle on the shelf. “Well, I wound up relocating to White Pines. Which speaks volumes. Now--where’s our friend?”
“Enjoying a cup of cider in the storeroom,” said Calchas. “We’re trying to keep him from catching on. Just like you said.”
Subtle nodded. “Very good. Time--for a chat.” Calchas nodded and took the chirurgeon there. Subtle blinked once on arrival. “This--is the wrong man.”
Calchas stared at Subtle in surprise. “But--this is him. The carter who brought the Cremonian Red.”
Subtle sighed. “Well, then, either Mister Marcolf can change shapes, or he has somehow pulled a runner on us.” He glanced at the old Goblin sitting there, happily guzzling his cup of cider, and forced on a smile. “Hello, old-timer.” The old Goblin glanced up and smiled blandly. “I was wondering if you could tell me about the man who was originally driving that cart…”
The Goblin lifted his mug, pointed to it, and mumbled, “Imbgiuboibagbiuabg.” Then nodded proudly. Subtle shut his eyes and sighed. This was going to be… problematic.