Previous canto: "Back to Porte Godfrey"
by Kevin F. Story
The manor's stone walls were well-decorated; even this corridor displayed many fine tapestries created over the ages by Porte Godfrey's esteemed artists. They depicted fine moments in the history of the town: its incorporation as chartered by an ancient king; the building of its first boat; the subsequent salvage of the first boat after it sank in the harbour on its maiden voyage; and the use of the salvaged materials to build a longer dock to deeper water, which proved to be the beginning of successful times for Porte Godfrey's citizens. An empty space on the wall was instead marked with a short note: “Current Commission: Princely Visit.” Delfort puffed his chest with pride.
At the hallway's end were a number of doors. James felt it was a duty for him, and not his master, to peek through the keyholes to see where each door led. One was a stairway to the basement. One was a hallway where he could see some of the servants laughing and gossipping. One was a garderobe where a grizzly man was desparately trying to hold a candle, read a leaflet, and do his business; James was quick to avert his eyes. Embarrassed, James crouched before the next door.
This door led into a drawing room where the mayor and Dr Bickentawl were taking brandy and chatting idly. The doctor stood by the fireplace smoking a long, thin cigar whose blue smoke spiralled and billowed into a beautiful plume off of which the firelight merrily danced and played. Johannes von Blochstorgg was sunken into an easy chair large enough to seat Sir Reginald comfortably, such that the slight mayor seemed like a child against it. His powdered wig sat on a stand next to him, as if the third member of this party. The mayor was completely bald without it; the firelight bounced off his scalp like colourful acrobats at a circus. When the young prince and James entered, Johannes struggled to free himself from the chair without success; Delfort waved for him to stay put, which is all he could do anyway.
The doctor bowed slightly. “Your highness.”
Delfort put on his courtly demeanour. “Lord Mayor,” he said. “Doctor.”
“Is there something I—I—I—can do for you, your Extreme Graciousness?” snivelled the mayor.
“No, no. Nothing. Just out for a walk,” said the prince. Then, remembering that Sir Reginald still feasted in the great hall, he added, “Be sure to thank your cook extensively for us; the supper he prepared was above and beyond our expectations.”
Johannes bristled at this praise. “Oh! How delightful!” he squealed.
Delfort glanced at James, who was fiddling with his tunic and staring at the floor. Delfort would be calm for the both of them; indeed, there was no reason to be nervous. They just had to ask the question the right way, without seeming too desperate or out of place.
“Doctor,” began the prince. Dr Bickentawl paused mid-drink to look up. “Your niece... the one who was ill...”
Clarabelle! thought Delfort as his heart leapt majestically to an area near his eyes. “Yes,” Delfort said, coughing. “How is she feeling?”
Dr Bickentawl seemed a bit charmed by this, in that he smiled slightly. “Why, thank you for asking, your highness. I must confess, my duties to my patients and my good friend the mayor have kept me away from home.” Here the doctor's eyes glistened and smile widened. “She's always been one of great spirit, though, so I am sure she is coming along just fine.”
“Good, good,” said the prince, glancing again at James but getting no response. “And your daughter...?”
“Jacklynne, my lord,” the doctor said, losing his smile. He puffed his cigar, twice, three times. “She was sorry you had to leave so hastily this morning, but she did say she would try to find you before you left.”
“I believe she wanted to 'kiss your royal seal,' she said,” snorted Johannes.
“Indeed!” chuckled the doctor. “I trust she did find you?”
The prince's eyes widened. “Yes. A fine daughter you have there.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
Delfort turned to James, who remained in his state of apparent discomfort. “Gentlemen, if you'll excuse us.”
“Of course!” squawked the mayor, glowing from the mere presence of a prince in his drawing room. “And please do let me know if there is anything I can do for you, your Beaming Brightness.”
What a ponce, thought Prince Delfort as he pulled James by the arm out of the room and into the corridor.
“What is wrong with you? Are you ill?” asked Delfort
James, now back to reality, blushed. “He's just too tall for a man, that doctor. He frightens me.”
Delfort sighed. “Come along, James, to your quarters. It is late. We shall continue the search in the morning.”
James nodded. “Yes, sire.”
Once again, when Prince Delfort returned to his room, someone was waiting for him. This time, it was neither Clara nor Jacklynne. It was the mayor's son Pot. The prince found him draped over an easy chair enjoying his favourite pastime, which filled the air with such hazy sweetness as to completely take the alarm out of Delfort. He eased the door shut.
“Highness,” said Pot with a nod.
“Likewise,” said the prince.
“You are no doubt wondering,” said Pot, swinging his legs so he sat normally, “why I am here.”
Pot gestured to the other chair. Delfort felt numbish, tingly, but he did not mind. He sat.
“Then again, why should I not pay a visit to a good friend staying once again in my father's house?”
“Why not indeed?” Delfort managed to say.
Pot smiled. It was a relaxed smile; indeed, Pot always smiled that way. “Good, then. Care to join me?” He held forth an unlit pipe. Delfort accepted without hurry. Pot took a small wooden stick and held it to a candle to catch its light, then transferred it to where the prince was holding the pipe.
“Now, just puff in, rhythmically, until you see the fire catch. One... two... three. There. Enjoyable, my lord?”
Delfort cast him a look on hearing a somewhat familiar phrase that, in this moment, he couldn't quite place. The smoke was fragrant, soft, lovely. Delfort could sleep on this smoke and dream the most wondrous things, the most vibrant colours, the most vivid fantasies. It was there, in that fantasy world, that Clara sprang to mind. Clara and Jacklynne. They tickled him with exotic feathers and bathed him in fine perfumes. Oh, sweet Jacklynne! thought Delfort. Oh, Clara, you temptress! Then Clara laughed and held before his eyes the missing royal seal.
“Clara!” said Delfort, grasping at nothing. Pot and the easy chair and the room materialized around him. “Friend Pot, you know the maidens Clara and Jacklynne?”
Pot looked into the prince's eyes, through them. “Not as well as you, highness,” he said flatly.
Delfort smirked. “Perhaps you could tell me where Dr Bickentawl keeps them.”
Pot raised an eyebrow. “I could tell you that, highness, and would be glad to even show you by morning's light,” offered Pot. He leaned back, looking off to nowhere in particular. “Yes, there you will find your Jacklynne.”
Pot blew rings of smoke into the room. They swirled and deformed as they rose to the ceiling. “I fear your highness will not find what he seeks there.”
The smoke's effect was wearing thin on the prince, who stood and confronted Pot. “I demand you tell me where Clara is!”
“Relax, highness. Are we not friends? Please, sit.”
Delfort felt compelled to do so.
After a pause, Pot decided with nonchalance to say, “Your Clara has run away. To Vaslegas.”
Delfort blinked. “Vaslegas?”
“I fear so, highness. If she is what you seek,” said Pot, “then that is where you must go.”
Delfort sunk back in the chair. He could never convince his knightly entourage to go to Vaslegas, with its reputation for scandal and sin. James would sicken at the mere thought of going. “Damn,” he muttered. He would have to find some way. He needed to find Clara. He needed to get what was rightfully his back. He needed to find that seal.
Prince Delfort's journey continues next time in "To Catch a Thief"...