Clovir: An Overture

Part XII: The Laurel Club I

There is plenty of intrigue in the Thrain Capital, the City of Isha. This story is yet another three-parter, introducing us to a member of the press in the viciously political and dangerous game of life on Clovir. This one was engineered to tantalize you, so don’t go in expecting closure. I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

 The Laurel Club I

I don’t wanna be waiting in line
I got too many things that
I could do with my time
And I don’t wanna feel this confined
To city life, to city life, to city life.
— City Life, Rebelution

“Tell us again, Marcus!” jeered one man.

“Yes, tell us again!” taunted another.

A haze of smoke hung dense in the grand room, a miasma of combusted Erifracian pipe weed and the local poppy tar. Round tables with green felt on their surfaces were arranged haphazardly. Seated alongside them were men dressed in the velvet finery of the nobility, largely glassy-eyed and raucously cheering at the man who stood before them on the podium. Near the back, a server dressed in an appropriately black tie and vest was delivering a steak to a large man who was laughing, his jowls swaying with the effort. He kept looking up from his meal, grinning at the show.

“Erifracian arms smuggling does not require the support of King Revanti,” said the man at the podium, evidently exasperated. He was dressed in a green jerkin and brown hose, bore a feathered cap on his head and a pipe hung from his mouth. His black shoes had silver buckles that gleamed in the dim light. “The idea that it would is just ridiculous! The smugglers make enough money on their own-“

“Who is this,” said the fat man, standing from his steak and throwing his napkin on his chair, “to come into our club and spread these lies of the Erifracian-lover?”

“Marcus Indigo, sirrah. And, who are you?”

The fat man adjusted the large ruby-studded gold disc that hung around his neck on a gaudy chain. “I am Alfred Forsythe, with the Office of the Royal Executioner.” Alfred let his words linger for a moment before picking up the thread again. “Your adoration for the Erifracian King is clear, Mr. Indigo. You have spouted this nonsense from the moment you arrived. It is unfortunate that certain members of this club thought it right that you be invited.” Alfred over at the Emberley brothers, who were staring down at their mugs of Stout Eric. “Revanti is a foul creature with covetous eyes set upon our own Majesty, the King Janus. That he would participate in supplying scimitars and stilettos to the criminal element in Isha and the Provinces is without question.”

“Christ-man, the thieves can just buy weapons from a Blacksmith!” bellowed Marcus. “All you are doing, with this propaganda,” he added, holding up a sheaf of parchment with printing upon it, “is fueling the Gods-damned Priests in their Holy Wars against the foreigners who reside here!”

“And what, pray tell, is wrong with that?” asked Alfred, a reptile’s grin evident on his face. “I see you now, Marcus Indigo, Scribe, base writer of news stories. You wished to gain access to our club so that you might gain bits of information and spread false news about us. Well, we will not have it!”

“Now, now, Alfred, he is our guest speaker,” said Corwin Emberley, standing from his mug of beer. “He will be permitted to say his piece and leave. It is allowed all of our guests.”

“If you bring another one of these unpatriotic wretches in here, Emberley,” snarled Alfred, “you or your brother, we will call a vote to have you ejected.”

“Gods-damn it all, Alfred,” interjected Rodrick Emberley, joining his brother to stand. “That man, over there.” Rodrick pointed at the bust hanging from one of the walls covered in floral wallpaper. “Wilbur Laurel, the founder of this club, encouraged all viewpoints to be discussed during these meetings. We are a club of thinkers, after all. Not men who are cowed by the prospect of entertaining differing political viewpoints. We all know how you feel about law and order.”

This last point was met with a round of guffaws from the gathered men. Alfred stared daggers at the Emberleys, before taking his seat again. “Let the coward finish his fucking speech, then.”

“I am, as it were, finished, sirrah,” said Marcus, stepping down from the podium. “Unless, that is, anyone has a question for me? I came only to see if you had anything to support your allegations that King Revanti supported these men. Please know that I have interviewed a score of men indicted on charges of smuggling – I do not come to my conclusions lightly.”

“Yes, yes,” shouted Alfred, “we should be thankful that you interviewed a gang of convicts and took them at their words.”

More laughter then. Marcus shook his head, looked to the Emberleys, who both returned sheepish glances. Then the Scribe sighed, grabbed his cloak, and left the Laurel Club.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

“Went that well, eh?”

Ivan Goldfarb kicked his feet up onto the desk. The leather of his boot had started to detach from the sole, and a few wisps of wool from the man’s sock were poking out near the toes.

“I do not even know why I accepted the offer,” grumbled Marcus, taking a seat in one of the pair of chairs arranged haphazardly in front of his editor’s desk. He placed his battered shoulder bag on the ground next to him. “The Emberley brothers seemed like an alright sort, but there is this man, this black-hearted creature that has them all-“

“Alfred Forsythe, the Executioner,” said Ivan, smiling at his Scribe. Marcus glared at Ivan, produced his pipe and was filling it with his preferred smoking blend again.

“You have encountered him before, then?” Marcus said. “My brother Terence told me to watch out for the Executioners, that they are a pack of monsters-“

“Virgil is not so bad,” interjected Ivan. Marcus took a draw on his pipe, looked at Ivan, and when nothing else was forthcoming, he spoke again.

“You know, you might consider elaborating on literally any of your points, Ivan.”

“What would you like to know?” said Ivan, producing his own pipe and his own little bag of pipe weed. He stuffed as he spoke. “Alfred is a well-known unhinged type, perfect for his kind of work. It is rumoured that he stiffens at the sight of the dead. He is tolerated by the nobility, but he is nothing more than an up-jumped merchant who thinks himself a grand creature. I would not be surprised if he drafted the propaganda and printed it himself. Vile - utterly vile.” Ivan struck his flint over the bowl and took a long draw as the dried leaves curled orange in the nascent combustion. “Virgil is nothing of the sort. He is a noble – the Bishop’s brother. Funny thing about it, he actually fits the description – ‘noble.’ A decent man in this shitehole of a City in which we find ourselves. Rumour has it he dropped his nut – every piece of gold, silver, tin, and copper that he owned - at the Green Dragon to spring a whore of his. She left him high and dry, running down to Erifracia or some such.”

“If you know all of this, why do you have me out investigating these bloody stories of yours?”

“Marcus, my boy,” said Ivan, his bushy white eyebrows glowing red as he paused to suck on his pipe, “you are simply too much, do you know that? You are one of a half-dozen Scribes I have working on the Ishan Courier. I have many sources, and I used to chase the beat myself. Speaking of which, I would have an update on your Erifracian arm-smuggling story.”

Sighing, Marcus reached into his bag. He removed a sheaf of parchment and began to summarize his notes from his latest interview.

“Hmm, very interesting, very interesting indeed. And you say that this Coulter fellow was using a cove down near Kulch to hide these armaments?”

“Scimitars and cuir d’arbalest. And quite a number of them, too. Enough to arm the entirety of the Thieves’ Guild.”

“And you think that was where they were going – the Purple Run?”

“It would make sense,” said Marcus, “Coulter is from the Run. And there is no thicker den of thieves than the Purple Run – I am sure they all support each other in their criminal folly. Though, I have no evidence to speak of. I simply am following the story, as you taught me to do.”

“Not well enough, it would seem,” said Ivan, sighing and tapping out his pipe. He began to refill it.

“And what do you mean by that?”

“You need evidence, Marcus. Before we can print any of this, you need to get some evidence. The Hightown Gleaner might print yellow trash without any care for the truth, but that is not what we do here. Get back to the Laurel Club – speak to the Emberleys. Remember – they reached out to you. If my instincts on this are correct, they wanted to rattle someone’s cage at the club with your conclusions about the propaganda. It seems to me to be a smokescreen. One of the men there is connected. Get us Willis Coulter’s man, someone who can tell us about the plan.”

“Christ-man, Ivan,” said Marcus, “if you are right I am likely to be killed. Arms smuggling is punishable by death in this country. The stakes could not be higher. And I am no warrior - they will gut me like a-”

Ivan smacked the table with an open palm. Marcus flinched.

“Enough of that cowardly shite now, my boy. If you want an easy job as Scribe, get over to the Gleaner. If you want to do it right, if you want to bed down at night with a modicum of self-respect, haul your pants up and get to work.” Ivan drew on the pipe again. “I like you, Marcus. I really do. But you have not been pulling your weight around here. I have not seen anything decent out of you for months, just that boring piece about the Ivory dairy farm. Produce, or you are out.”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Marcus’ return to the Laurel Club proved fruitless. The place was deserted. Had he not been first given a scrap of parchment by the Emberleys with the club’s address in the Merchant Quarters, Marcus would have thought the squat building completely abandoned years before. Nonetheless, he rapped on the door several times before giving up.

On his walk across the district for the middle class, to his own small home in Hightown, the part of Isha reserved for the upper echelons of the city’s society, Marcus pondered his choice of career. A Scribe working for a Newsparchment was something he had always wanted to do, ever since he was teenager, taking lessons at one of the boarding schools for nobles in Isha. His writing teacher, Mr. Jones, had a subscription to the Ishan Courier. He left it on his desk during breaks and one day Marcus had found it, marveling at the gruesome stories of executions and political intrigues in far-off Erifracia or Liseria. Marcus had especially liked the stories about Knights in the Blue Order who had valiantly gutted Liserians swarming over the border, terrorizing good Thrainfolk their poisoned arrows.

It was no accident: the Blue Order was in charge of the defence of Hume Province, the country lands in the northwest of Thrairn that formed part of the border with Liseria. Add to that the fact that Marcus’ older brother Terence had trained to join the Yellow Order in his youth, and Marcus had always looked up to Terence. Marcus had no interest in following in his brothers footsteps, however – he pleasantly referred to himself as a ‘physical’ coward, unable to raise a sword in combat due to crippling fear. Not that it mattered: once Terence lost his eye in a feud with the Volstead boys, their father, Earl Indigo, forbade any more of his issue from ever serving in the military again, on pain of disownment.

So it was that Marcus had asked Mr. Jones about someday doing reporting for the Courier. It just so happened that Mr. Jones and Ivan Goldfarb were old friends. Given Marcus’ seemingly inborn talent with the written word, the apprenticeship was struck just weeks after the young man’s graduation from boarding school. That was three years ago. In the early days, Marcus had convinced himself he had found his niche in the world. He had also thought that he was escaping danger by taking up the reporter’s quill. Instead, it now seemed like he was rushing headlong into it. Digging around into this story was going to be the death of him, he decided.

Sighing, he kicked his boots off the step in front of his domicile and rapped on the knocker. His manservant, Rilke, opened the door and ushered him in.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

It was a crashing noise that awoke Marcus from his slumber that night. In his room on the third floor of his home, the sounds of glass breaking and a scuffle saw the nobleman scramble from his bunk and towards the door. Pulling his robe from the hook on the wall, he quickly stopped in front of his fireplace to grab the length of wrought-iron that served as his poker. Taking a long breath and closing his eyes, Marcus turned the handle and slowly pulled on the door to his bedroom. He prayed that the hinges would not squeak. His prayers were answered.

Below, shouts and bellows were now flowing up through the air of the stairwell. Marcus recognized the voice of Rilke and an unknown man. ‘Physical’ coward that he was, Marcus could not throw caution to the wind. He slowly edged his way down the carpeted stairs, avoiding the creaky spots as best he could.

“Enough, you Gods-damned Butler bastard! I am not here to hurt you! I am here to see your master! Marcus! Marcus Indigo! I know you are here! I wish to talk! My name is Virgil – Virgil Mountpence!”

“It is alright, Master,” said Rilke. “I have the better of him.”

Marcus relaxed. The Executioner. Ivan had told Marcus that Virgil was a kindly fellow. Standing from his nigh-petrified crouch, Marcus stood tall, placed the poker against the wall of the staircase, and descended to the first floor, into the living room. Virgil, sweaty and blooded from a cut on his forehead, stood before one of the walls with his hands out before him in surrender. Rilke had drawn a rapier and was holding it to the intruder’s neck. Glass from a broken coffee table was strewn next to the marble bust of some long dead Indigo relative.

“Shall I dispatch him or fetch the City Guard, Master? We would be well within our rights to slay him. No one would question it.” Rilke spat on the wood of the floor. Even in the dim candlelight, Marcus could see that there was a tint of crimson to it.

“Are you alright, Rilke? Anything fatal I should know about?”

Rilke did not turn to face his master. He simply shook his head in one terse movement.

“What about you, Mountpence? Any reason to think you might bleed out here in my home?”

“No, Lord Indigo,” said Virgil, gulping as he broke his gaze from Rilke to look upon Marcus. “I should survive.”

“My father is Lord Indigo,” responded Marcus. “I am just ‘one of the sons.’ Certainly not the one in line to inherit the title. Tell me, why did you try to break in to my home? I assume that is what happened. Rilke?”

“Very astute of you, Master.”

“Ever the pert bastard, Rilke,” Marcus said, sighing and taking a seat on the large chesterfield in his living room. He wrapped his housecoat around his body as he did so. “Out with it, Mountpence: would you mind telling me what the fuck you are doing in my home?”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Willis Coulter, the recently-accused Erifracian arms smuggler, an innocent man. A poor wretch from the Purple Run, it was just his type that would get involved in the illegal trade. It was too much to be believed. But believe it Marcus did. Whoever was behind the frame-up was certainly high up in the echelons of the Ishan nobility. If Virgil was correct in his assertions, it might even have come from the Castle. But, it was not what Virgil had to say about Coulter that sent the young Scribe into his pipe-smoking ruminations in the wee hours of the morning. It was what he had to say about the piece itself.

“Bury it, my Lord Indigo,” the Executioner had muttered. “Er, I mean, sirrah. You will not win anything by bringing it to light, except for a spot on my gibbet. Tell Goldfarb that you could not catch the thread.”

“He will fire me,” Marcus had replied. “He told me that he would, if I did not chase this story down.”

“What is more important, sirrah? Your life, or your job?”

Marcus took a long draw on the Erifracian pipe-weed, tapped out the ash in the tray, then stood from his fauteuil. This was a question that Marcus could easily answer. The ‘physicality’ of his cowardice saw to that. But the Courier meant the world to the Scribe. What would he do without it? Perhaps, with a little support, from one less vested in the machinations of fear, he could change the parameters of the question… It was high time he went to see his brother, Marcus decided.