The Interrogation of Totalie [2 Thory 4385]
(Yay, we made it past Hispis! I hope Thory is a more peaceful month for me than Hispis was...)
After the morning's enchantment work, Phaniet tapped my wing and set me down in the enchatment room's fireplace. "Now I will tell you about Totalie."
"Do I really have to hear about that nearly-a-rapist?" I muttered.
"Yes, you do," said Phaniet, wagging her tail. I guess she has affan in, um, whatever is going on. "After you and Rheng stomped out, the rest of us made with the advanced interrogation techniques on Totalie." (I made Rheng escort me back to Strayway. I feel better with a dangerous Sleeth around for protection, especially after being arrowed and sworded and throttled recently.)
I arched my head up. "What did you do? Start burning his fingers off, I hope?"
Phaniet shook her head. "No. You're the one who wants revenge. I wanted actually useful information. We gave him a healing spell for his burnt tongue, and took him out for eel tarts and the local fermented and distilled beverages. Then we took him back to Glynubla House and Arfaen made sure he was on our side. We learned rather a lot."
"One hour he has his hands wrapped around my throat; the next, he is enjoying delicious treats at my household's expense. Cani loyalty is indeed a perplexing thing," I said, which is very rude.
Phaniet's ears drooped. "We're protecting your interests and trying to make sure things come out in your favor. That's loyalty, I would say. If you want actual revenge on Totalie, you might ask the Khtsoyis to find some distant cousins to help out, or the Sleeth if you want it done directly in style. But wait 'til you've heard the story."
If I had external ears, they would be droopy too. "I suppose that if I know the whole story, I will have to declare Totalie utterly innocent, and probably my best friend if not my actual lover?"
Phaneit shook her head. "The story is not quite that good. But, well, you -- and all of us, but mostly you -- are the target of a massive psychosocial assault."
"Oh, lovely. Are you sure it's not a sorcerous assault? I have some idea what to do about that."
"There's sorcery involved, of course: the scrying spells. Mostly it's psychosocial. And more determined than skillful."
I rolled on my back and waved my paws in the air. "Can you explain what you mean by that?"
Phaniet wagged her tail comfortingly. "According to Totalie, who might be missing some clues, the general opinion in Eigrach is that you have been exiled (or, for the generously-inclined and well-informed, self-exiled) from Ketheria for excessive perversion, and that you are flying around looking for a new home as far as possible from there. Why else would a Zi Ri wizard load zir household up on a skyboat and bring it through pirates and peril to the other end of the civilized world?"
I snorted sparks. "Arrogant Eigrachters, to presume that this is the civilized world! I make no such claim about it. And I didn't bring my whole household, just half of it. We are going back home sooner or later ... or perhaps sooner or soon."
"They do not wholly believe your explanations in your correspondence, especially not the straightforward and truthful ones. They seek to find deeper meanings. Unthinkable, that a Zi Ri might speak or write in anything other than the most obvious and direct manner!" Phaniet grinnned at me; she has often complained when I am particularly Zi Ri of speech. (I'm not usually too extreme about it, not compared to some of my conspecifics.)
"So they are trying to keep me from settling here, by heart-skewering and attempted rape if necessary?", I asked.
"No, or not exactly," said Phaniet. "They want you to settle here, in Eigrach, and provide the wonders of advanced Ketherian wizardry for their city. And especially not for their neighbors. There is a certain amount of clumsiness and working at cross-purposes among the lords of Eigrach to get this to occur, though. Totalie's story may be exemplary. Let me tell it to you."
"We're still not up to the story?", I asked, or whinged, as the case may be.
"Totalie, before he started his new career as a doomed majordomo -- a majordoomo? -- was a flower of the minor nobility. Third and last-to-date Baron of Glynubla, if I remember correctly. He was the young Orren lad whose virginity was mentioned in the nursery." Phaniet waited for me to react, so I stared at her with my most impassive lizard eyes until she continued. "He was not, perhaps, the best of barons. He has been described as rash, impulsive, ungracious. And quite traff -- a series of Cani and Rassimel consorts graced the nursery and later the master-bedroom of Glynubla House."
"One might think he'd have learned somewhat better traff manners than to grab me around the neck," I noted.
"He learned the local traff manners, which are not precisely identical to those of Ketheria. For one thing, the traff here are very quiet about it. Mentioning one's own transaffectionate tastes to a member of another species is tantamout to making a pass; it is simply not said in any but the most immediately practical situations. Indeed, it is generally not discussed at all by the principals, at least if one of them is Totalie: his affairs were conducted in darkness, silence, and shame. And by guesswork (occasionally butressed by prior investigation) about who wanted what done with whose what. He was thunderstruck when Este and I kissed in front of him the way husband and wife do: I don't think he's ever seen such a thing before. Anyhow, from his point of view, he hinted at his availability to you; you made a direct pass at him; he accepted as he thought best fit your tastes; you burnt his tongue."
"That is a ridiculous way to look at it," I said. "He should be ashamed to be so ashamed. And so stupid."
"It's certainly not how I conduct my affairs. For another thing, it is good traff manners here -- which is to say, bad Srineian manners, because it is a distinct sign of being traff -- to adopt some characteristic mannerisms of the species of one's desire or experience. That is how one signals one's availability to another, here. Remember that if you're ever trying to actually seduce any Orren. Fake a wild rush or something."
"Oh! That's why he was wagging his tail!", I chirped, suddenly remembering that the point of being in a foreign place is to experience exotic peoples and learn their customs. "I thought that looked odd -- I even wrote it down. So, that was him flirting with me?"
"Hah, Sythyry is back!" said Phaniet, wagging her tail. And I was more cheerful than I'd been in days. I actually do like understanding people and learning strange customs and all of that. More than being stabbed or strangled, at least. "Anyhow, back to Totalie. A few years ago there was a bit of a legal problem. This is the frontier, so a baron is supposed to defend his townspeople against monsters. He rushed out alone against a hugeng, got trounced, and lost two villagers. They weren't terribly happy, the survivors I mean, and appealed to the mayor for a new baron instead. They don't like his reputation; it reflects badly on them."
"I generally approve of Orren in their wild rushes, but Totalie's seem less than pleasing," I noted aloud.
"Not the best Orren rushes I have seen, to be sure. Nothing much happened until last month, when, all of a sudden, Totalie was tried in semi-absentia for negligent homicide, transaffectionate perversion, and various other crimes, convicted, and stripped of his title and most of his property. He is not the most inappropriate of the local nobility, I might add. "
"Drastic, by my standards, but a worthwhile noble must protect his subjects," I noted.
"Anyhow, after the trial, he was told that you were going to get Glynubla House and his former domain. He was installed as the seneschal; after all, he knows the property better than anyone except the people who actually live and work there. His job was to, in effect, make you very welcome and very comfortable in Eigrach. And more than just his job. 'If you have a noble title again, Totalie, it will be a courtesy title from being the wizard's favorite catamite.', they said. Or perhaps it was 'If you come to the mayoral palace again, it had better be with the lizard's organ in your ass.' So you can see he was eager, even desperate, to take any encouragement he got."
"The city assigned him the job of seducing me?"
"Exactly. An ex-noble known to be traff, and of your preferred species -- what could be better?" asked Phaniet.
"Someone who, oh, likes me. Or whom I like. Or who has any manners, or grace in seduction," I answered.
"Which they might have thought of if you'd been cissy, or if the local manners had been different, or if they hadn't seen our illusion," said Phaniet.
"Nobody sensible could believe that illusion," I said.
"With the amount of detail and effort we put into it, anyone could believe that it was something we cared about. Plus I know for a fact that two couples and one threesome of real people have been going to that room for some recreational inspiration," said Phaniet. "Este gets all competitive about it, in a very good way."
"I'm glad it's good for something. We probably ought to take it down and make another one with more sedate themes, though." Sometimes my extradimensional correspondants have excellent ideas -- often they do, actually. Sometimes they get to me before I've made them impossible, even.
"Pity, but I suppose I see why," said Phaniet, but looked either meditative or devious. If I were a Cani I'd know which it was.
"Not now, anyways. I'm exhausted." Which was true: the hour after dawn had been a very long day. I am trying to do a great deal of enchantment in an impossible hurry. I went to sleep in the enchantment-room fireplace, and Phaniet on the cot in the annex.
Well, knowing that, what should I do to or about Totalie? (The answers at the beginning are more possible; towards the end, less so.)
Srineian manners of transaffectionate interest (or lust) are:
What should I do with the pornographic illusion that is all that can be scried of Strayway?
Since you are being sensible and I am being overwhelmed, what else should I do?
(Question added by Bard:) What is Sythyry (and maybe me) missing?