|Английски оригинал||Перевод на български|
Gurd stumbles into the bar from the street outside clutching the remains of a box of tankards.
"There's a riot outside," he says, as he starts to barricade the door.
A riot. I see the elections are under way. It's always a difficult time in Turai. With the success of the Populares, or anti-monarchy party, things are getting more tense all the time. When Rittius won the position of Deputy Consul last year it was a sensational victory for the Populares, led by Senator Lodius.
The Traditionals, covering the Royal Family, Consul Kalius and most of the Senate, regarded it as the end of civilisation. Civilisation is still here, but if Rittius holds on to his post this year, it might not be soon enough. The Royal Family can no longer sweep aside all opposition, but neither are they weak enough to be easily overthrown. Praetor Cicerius is standing for them against Rittius, trying to regain some of the lost ground for the Traditionals. He's an honest man though not particularly popular. Still, he has a chance of victory. Since he was elevated from Senator to Praetor, many people think he's done a good job, and he has the reputation of not taking bribes, which is almost unheard of in this city. People might support him in his bid for the higher post of Deputy Consul.
I muse on things, while the riot rages. Who killed Attilan? Trying to pin down some sort of lead, I decide to work backwards. Where, for instance, did a Niojan diplomat get an Orcish spell for putting a dragon to sleep? Not the sort of thing you can buy at the local apothecary. Could Attilan have obtained it from one of the Orcish Ambassadors at the Palace? Possibly. But if their Ambassadors are anything like our diplomats, they won't be magicians. Diplomats are always drawn from the oldest, most respectable families and they tend not to practise magic, regarding it as beneath them. Orcs have their class divisions and snobberies, just like us. Also, unless utterly treacherous to their country, they would not let such a vital spell fall into western hands. I doubt Orcish diplomats are capable of such treason.
Who else in Turai might have such a spell? There's always the dragonkeeper. Now there's an Orc who might well have such a spell, and could be bribable. Many Orcs are greedy for gold, another attribute they share with Humans. Sometimes I swear if they weren't so ugly I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I catch sight of my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I'm no oil painting myself.
I'd like to ask Pazaz a few questions. My Orcish is very rusty so I recruit Makri, who is a rather unwilling accomplice. She's still in a bad mood and it got worse when she was caught in the riot and had to kick her way through to her afternoon ethics class. The prospect of visiting an Orc appals her. Her hatred for Orcs is such that she protests she may not be able to prevent herself from attacking the dragonkeeper on sight. I extract a promise that she will not kill him without provocation but she flatly refuses to leave her swords at home.
"Talk to an Orc without a sword at the ready? Are you mad?"
"He's here under diplomatic protection, Makri."
"Well, he'll need it if he tries anything with me," retorts my young and hot-headed companion,
fastening on her blade.
I absolutely refuse to let her bring her axe.
"We're visiting the Palace, for God's sake, Makri, not going into battle. And take that knife out of your boot. It'll be hard enough getting you into the Palace grounds without you looking like an invading army."
The Orcish diplomats are housed in an Embassy within the Palace walls. They never appear in public for fear of causing unrest. We all hate Orcs here. Fair enough. They all hate us. The dragonkeeper is billeted in a small house in the grounds of the zoo, which are open to the public during the day. It's forbidden to speak to him, but I figure it's worth a try.
Makri is afforded some very strange looks by Guards and officials at the huge Lion Gates that open into the Palace grounds, and when it's learned that we're going to visit the King's zoo there are some unpleasant comments from some of the soldiers on duty.
"Must be missing her dragons," says one.
"Orc," sneers another.
Makri scowls but manages to restrain her temper until they require her to hand in her sword. They don't insist on me turning in my weapon, and Makri is livid about the prejudice against her. I pacify her the best I can, which is hardly at all, and we enter the Palace grounds with Makri angrier than a wounded dragon and threatening terrible vengeance on the next person to insult her.
The King's Palace in Turai is one of the wonders of the world. Many larger states than us have far less impressive imperial buildings. Since money started flowing in from the gold mines a few generations back, various Kings and Princes have turned their hands to building an ever more splendid residence for themselves.
Behind the huge Lion Gates, six times the height of a man, is a fabulous den of luxury. The gardens alone are famous throughout the Human Lands, with towering arbours, vast lawns, avenues of trees, banks and beds of flowers, all fed by streams and fountains that were engineered by Afetha-ar-Kyet, the great Elvish garden-maker of a few generations back. The Palace itself is a vast edifice of white marble and silver minarets. The courtyards are paved with pale green and yellow tiles imported from the far west and each wing is roofed with golden slates. The corridors and state rooms are covered with mosaics of gold leaf and coloured stone, and the private quarters were decorated by artists and furnishers drawn from all over the world.
I used to work here. When I was a Senior Investigator for Palace Security I had the run of the place. Now I'm about as welcome as the plague.
The grounds are vast and it takes us some time to reach the zoo. It's hot, and I'm tired. I don't much feel in the mood for seeing Orcs or dragons. I point out a few of the architectural glories which surround us to Makri, but she's in too bad a mood to admire them, even though architecture would be part of the University course. Her bad mood intensifies deeply when the call for Sabam rings out from a nearby tower and we are obliged to kneel and pray. I have to practically wrestle her to the ground. If we failed to make our prayers right here in the public grounds of the Palace we'd be up on an impiety charge so quick our feet wouldn't touch the ground.
I have trouble staying awake in the heat and doze off during the prayers. Makri unceremoniously boots me awake. I ignore her coarse witticism on my religious shortcomings and haul myself to my feet.
The zoo is now in sight but as we approach its white walls a fearful commotion erupts and Guards and civilian officials start pouring this way and that. We hurry on and reach the zoo but the entrance is barred to all the people flock- ing round from every direction. I recognise various important Palace officials, including Kalius the Consul. The Niojan Ambassador arrives in a sedan, followed by another sedan with thick curtains and an odd, alien crest on the side. The Orcish Ambassadors. One of the Royal Princes hurries past with his bodyguard. What on earth is going on?
Behind the Prince comes, of all people, Pontifex Derlex. I grab the priest's arm and demand to know what's happening.
"The new dragon's been killed!" he yells. "It was cut open during prayers! Princess Du-Akai's been arrested!"