CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE
If I wanted to live a life of tedium, I would have become a monk.
22-25 of Uktar 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
Upon my calculatedly unhurried return to the loggia, I found the twins looking flushed and slightly embarrassed. Mirriam immediately assaulted me with questions about Miamla’s whereabouts, which made me suspect that she had been startled at finding the box empty of all its occupants. Her presumption that I would have stayed inside to supervise the dragonette was impertinent. Yet since I now knew Mirri’s little secret, her unreasonable fussiness only made me raise an eyebrow in an expression of ridicule, whereas I would have been greatly irritated if the same scene had happened before the conversation I had overheard only minutes before.
All through Mirri’s incessant stream of interrogatives, Kessen was making faces of comic appeal behind her back, and almost succeeded in making me smile. Curiously enough, even though I knew the boy was an irresponsible selfish rascal, with fewer principles than could fit into a thimble, his cheerful and boisterous blabber always made me forget about his perfidies. Yet both his somewhat amusing display and his sister’s erratic behavior failed to hold my attention after I had a quick look at the ambassadorial box. It was now completely and unequivocally vacant. My distress at this discovery was too obvious to be mistaken for anything else, and after a few minutes of profound silence in return for her string of reproachful remarks, my condition became apparent even to my peevish female companion.
“Jon-Jon, are you so upset because the elven ambassador left before you had a chance to talk to her?” Mirri asked after a brief pause.
I winced at the nickname, but the change of topic was too dramatic to continue ignoring her, and I muttered some insincere protest.
“Of course you must have tried to find the elves during the intermission and could not,” she decided instantly. “And that is why you were late. But, you know, you could not have met with them however hard you tried, as they left almost immediately after the end of the second act. It was announced that Her Excellency has fallen ill. And I was not surprised - judging by her veils the poor woman must have been unwell from the start. I am sorry. I did not realize that talking to them was so important to you.”
“The fact by itself is of no importance,” I noted vaguely.
But the disappointment in my voice must have been too obvious, for she began to speculate that I could always visit the Queen's palace and ask for an audience with the elven Envoy. Oddly enough, I had never thought of such a simple solution. It was strangely enticing, even though I suspected it would be suicidal for me to seek such a meeting. Even visiting the Castle Faemtam Library was now out of the question from my point of view, and I seethed at the prospect of being denied access to the books I needed so badly.
For the rest of the night the girl became almost ridiculously sweet, and even though I was not inclined to delve into the intricacies of her swiftly changing moods, I had to admit that it was a definite change for the better. It was remarkable how my satisfied vanity affected my overall disposition. The discovery of Miriam’s little ploy had assuaged my paranoia and made my entire outlook on the issue of the Envoy more optimistic. One of the worst possible scenarios that can develop when you are going through a crisis is when you are forced to face it alone. Curiously, even such a meager token of good fortune as my reassurance of the girl’s affection had been enough to tilt the scales of my mood. I had no deep feelings for her, yet the awareness of her sentiments made me feel less discontented. Moreover, her presence had started to have another, less than noble effect on me. Namely, not only had her fake affair with Eldoth conjured up the beast of jealousy, the competition had finally stirred up my animalistic instincts as well. So far I had been able to suppress purely physiological reactions of the body, but it was a curious effect nonetheless. Yet I marveled if the libidinal impulses were always triggered by such contests, and if it was so, was not it the biggest joke that Mother Nature had played on her miscreant children?
As for my real feelings on the matter of the elves leaving the theater swiftly - those were unclear even to myself. I knew I should be grateful that my meeting with the mysterious elven warrior had ended quickly and painlessly, yet I was disappointed all the same. It felt unfair that after all the trouble I had gone through, I should be so completely ignored by my compatriots. Besides, although I dared not think about the place Her Excellency called her home, I was certain that the phantom tree-towers of Suldanesselar would haunt my dreams in nights to come. I pondered over it throughout the long and profoundly boring last act of the musical, which ended with the triumphant appearance of my draconic protégée in the role of the main heroine’s younger sister.
Miamla played out her scene with all the amusing sincerity of a small child, pulling all public attention away from the other actors, and no doubt earning many a dark glance from her on-stage colleagues. But my only complaint after watching her dramatic act was that the avalanche of rose petals that she poured down on the heads of the 'happy couple' had not come about two hours earlier. Nevertheless, I decided that she needed to be taken away from Darromar as soon as possible – before acting became a lifelong addiction, highly unsuitable for one of her race. Luckily, after seeing her carried around the setting on her flower-encrusted throne my thespian penance was complete, and I left the Magnificent Theater in a state of utter anxiety over the consequences of my earlier meeting. I was also miffed by the insults to my newly discovered racial pride; not that I cared much about the offence to my elven brethren, but the prospect of being recognized in future as one of the pointy-eared buffoons, who spend their life singing and spewing bad poetry at each other was embarrassing.
A few days passed relatively quietly – as if everything had fallen into the state of hiatus that often precedes a serious crisis. I was nervous, bored, and highly embarrassed by my self-imposed confinement to the Unicorn, which was disrupted only by morning visits to the markets, in a genuine search for information about northbound caravans. But my streak of bad luck continued: Darromar was in a state of minor turmoil over the elves’ visit - rumors had it that the negotiations were directed at forming an alliance against the Sythillian Empire. This intimidated the local merchants, who became reluctant to leave the protections of the capital and venture onto the Plains of the Starspire Mountains raided by the ogre troops. I thought it was an amusing result of the human way of thinking, as technically the situation had not changed for the worse in the last two or three days.
Thus, on a wet and chilly afternoon two days after my remarkable visit to the theater I was locked in my bedroom, once again going over minor variations of the infamous Monster Summoning spell. Alas, my desire for solitude was ignored most nonchalantly, as Kessen briskly rapped on my door and entered my quarters before I could voice my objection to his intrusion.
“Can I steal a brief moment of your time, effendi?”
“Will it stop you if I say ‘no’? As far as I can see you are already inside even without my permission.”
“You spend way too much time indoors, effendi,” the boy grinned in his usual mischievous manner, striding boldly into the room and scanning it for a place to sit down. I silently mused on how much he resembled his sister, especially in his posture – a certain feline grace and fluidity of motion (in his case a little too smooth for a male), were clearly identifiable in both twins. “And it is bad - both for your health and your temper, although I cannot blame you in such weather.”
I briefly glanced at the window. Today the gods of the Tethyran climate had blessed us with wet snow intermitted with rain, so he was not being dishonest, at least on one account.
“What do you want of me, boy? Be succinct. You know how much I dislike being interrupted when I am at my studies.”
“Will you believe me if I say I want your edifying company?” He threw me a laughing stare that made me shrug in annoyance but at the same time wish that I could emulate his easygoing ways when dealing with the outside world. Kessen never appeared at a loss in any company. All disapproving glances and less than complimentary remarks seemed to slide off him as easily as water slides off a greased duck. “No, I suppose, you will not,” he continued with a chuckle, finally spotting a chair which was heaped with only a moderate pile of books and parchments.
He removed them in one quick but gentle sweep, before depositing himself on the freed space, and putting his burden on the floor beside him with great care. I was aware of his habitually slapdash ways with furniture, and could only admire both his dexterity and his caution: anybody who had dared to seriously upset or damage my reference materials would have tasted the full measure of my wrath.
“Why are you always so gloomy these days, effendi?” Kessen sighed, stretching like a playful cat, and throwing one booted foot over another, whilst at the same time thrusting his elbows behind his head and pretending that he was an ornament that naturally belonged in my room, the same as the hardwood floor and the tapestries. “I remember when you were more friendly and accommodating,” he continued casually. “I just wanted to chat with you... for old times sake. Do you know that my sister still thinks you are the most handsome man in Faerun?” The boy grinned suddenly.
I could not claim I was displeased with the notion (although it put me into a rather peculiar mood and disturbed my inner balance), but his way of delivering his ‘news’ made me wince. Besides, remembering his connection with Eldoth, I suspected that he was not entirely sincere.
“Has she asked you to enter my room and tell me that?” I asked coolly.
“No,” Kessen was momentarily taken aback by my lack of cooperation, but it did not keep him discouraged for long. “Come on, effendi, stop pretending that you are not interested!”
“Kessen, we have already had this conversation. But I will repeat myself one more time: since you are not one of the concerned parties, you have no right to solicit this kind of information.”
“Oh, stop being such a tedious bore,” he gave me another one of his trademark toothy smiles. “You know, Jon, I think that you are one of the most tightlipped persons I’ve ever met. We are supposed to travel with you to the other end of the world and I still have no idea what we are looking for and why. As for Mir... even I have tired of your games - and I have to consider my sister’s best interests. Do you want her or not?”
Now that was an impertinent question, and curiously enough, I did not know the answer myself.
“Are you trying to sell her to me?” I raised an eyebrow. “And does it mean that the other potential buyer has backed off?”
“Why are you being difficult?” the boy cringed, dismissing my rude comment.
Since I was aiming for a stronger reaction, his restraint made me think that he indeed needed something from me, and badly at that. I mused at what could it possibly be. Information? Money? Knowing Kessen, it could have been both of these and more.
“You know what I mean, Jon. Mirriam likes you, for reasons known only to her and Lady Sune, and you keep pretending that you haven’t noticed it. Well, I realize, you have this funny problem with your lost memories and such,” he made a vague gesture, “but I though your short term memory was just fine, eh?” He winked at me with the most sincere expression.
“Kessen, stop acting like a fawning bastard! If you want something from me, just go ahead and ask - but I would greatly appreciate it if you stop wasting my time with implications that I long ago dismissed as unreasonable.”
“I am a bastard, remember?” his smile was a little less bright this time around. “Oh well, if you put it this way…” he sighed deeply, but his dark eyes eagerly scanned my face for hints of my true emotions.
Instantly, I experienced an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu, as if that same scene had been replayed numerous times in my former life. I doubted sincerely that Joneleth had met Kessen or Mirriam before – for one thing, they were too young, for another I suspected he was not the kind of a person you easily forget. I still shivered remembering his intervention in the theater - my alter ego had been lurking too close to the surface for comfort. Yet at the same time, I desperately wished he would come out and give me my memories back, even if it would mean that I ceased to exist as a separate person. Whatever sins he had committed, Joneleth was something I could never dream of becoming – an entity that had forced the Seldarine themselves to notice him and take action to stop him from becoming one of them. I dreaded him and yet craved to learn more about him, to touch his thoughts, to become him once again. But the more I thought about him the further he withdrew - and eventually even the faintest trace of his presence had seemed to fade into a fanciful dream.
“Can you loan me some money, effendi?” The boy asked bluntly, and I almost laughed at the ingenuously simple solution to the riddle.
“Is that all?” I raised an eyebrow and noted a flash of eager anticipation in his eyes. “Have you already spent it all?” I chuckled. “I should have guessed that was the real reason behind your indiscretions. Did you think you could simply use your sister’s name to squeeze me for more money?” I tried to catch his eyes, but he simply shrugged and looked away. Once again, I marveled at how much alike they looked – albeit Mirriam’s eyes had never shied away from my gaze.
Money was not an issue. Upon reaching Darromar I had completed a small research study on the matter of finance, so I knew that I still had enough gold to take us all the way to Evereska and back, even after all my more than generous spending on books, arcane scrolls, and manuscripts. Another sizeable part of my wealth had been transferred into letters of credit from various Amnian and Waterdevian moneylenders. (Those two nations were the most famous in the Realms for the vast outreach of their financial operations.) It had seemed like a sensible thing to do - so I had done it, more out of a logical desire for order than out of greed. And since our lodgings had been paid for by Kessen, technically I owed him a favor. I could have simply given the boy some coin and chased him out, but that would surely have resulted in him wasting it away even faster than he had wasted his share of the treasure, or his sister’s gift from the other day. Besides, for all my indifference to Kessen’s opinion of me, confirming his belief that I would vie for Mirri’s favors with a bribe to her twin sounded humiliating.
I looked at him again, striving to find a sensible compromise, and to his grief Kessen took my deliberations for a show of weakness and decided to press on with his luck, making an appeal aimed at my emotions not my logic.
“Maybe I should go to Eldoth for cash after all,” was his next shot, “for unlike you, he is trying to make me an uncle faster than I can say ‘Salaam Aleikum’!”
I had no idea what he had hoped to achieve with that tirade – maybe it was his little revenge for my clumsy remark about bastards? I looked at him coldly. His attempt to blackmail me using his sister’s innocent affection was bad enough, but the idea of Mirriam carrying Eldoth’s child was somehow so revolting that it finally pushed me out of my state of uncertainty and into a potent fit of anger.
“Maybe you should,” I replied in a perfectly calm and controlled voice. “And maybe you should learn to think before speaking out. I shall contact Eldoth and ask him to forward me all your drafts. I shall also ask him to never lend you money again, explaining that there has never been any property tied to your name in Calimport, and that all your claims of ‘noble parentage’ are plain fraud.”
“You will not do such a thing! Not now, not ever!” The boy’s face literally turned ashy pale; his eyes sparkled with a dark fire I would have never expected him to possess. “And if you do - I shall kill you!” Instantly, he was up on his feet, shaking with fury. Had he had a scimitar at his hip, I imagined he would have drawn it.
It was such a swift and unexpected change of heart that I almost lost the initiative. Still, I was able to hold his flaming stare, smiling chillingly until Kessen gave up and shifted his gaze.
“Try me,” I offered mockingly, “if you dare.”
He blinked, muttering some dark curses in fluid Alzhedo. His hands shifted to his belt, and he touched the handle of his bejeweled dagger almost reverently, but let it go after a brief pause. I continued to look at him with cold curiosity. “She will hate me if I do,” the boy admitted in a croaked voice, and slumped back into his chair.
“You are going to leave my room now, very quietly, after you offer me your sincerest apologies.” I said after a short time. “Afterwards, you are going to find your sister and apologize to her too. Then, you will go to Eldoth, and tell him everything yourself, asking him for all your demand drafts. I shall pay all your debts – if it is still possible. After that, you are going to serve as my personal bodyguard for as long as it will take you to work off your debt. I will keep quiet about your noble birth or lack thereof, but you will have to tell Eldoth about your financial situation. If anything, you owe your sister her freedom from his pursuits. And do not think I have forgotten about that other ‘engagement’ that you once forced upon her – the old reprobate paid for his mistakes but Eldoth might not be that lucky!”
“You are jealous, effendi,” he suddenly burst out in a shrill fit of laughter. “I should have known better, but you almost fooled me with your puffed-up performance. What if I refuse?”
“Than you can go to Hell and stay there.” I said briskly.
Admittedly, it was a gamble on my part, since I really did not want him to leave: according to Aluril’s prophecy my life depended on the twins’ presence. But Kessen did not have to know it, and after his recent antics I had to establish a clear chain of command. If he were to stay with me he would have to learn how to obey. There was no other way I could rely on him in a difficult situation - should one arise - and something told me that for all his chaotic nature and addiction to debauchery Kessen liked to be led. Some people are simply born to be in charge, and some to follow. It was a simple unadulterated truth.
In the end, after much sulking and filibustering, Kessen had to agree to all my conditions. I let him go after making him swear he would go straight to Eldoth and inform the bard of the fact that the twins were now penniless, but that I had agreed to pay off the boy’s debts if Master Kron would bring the sight drafts in person. Then I went into the sitting room, and witnessed Kessen putting on a show of mocking apology to Mirriam for wasting her money. After I had explained the situation and had promised to repay Kessen’s debts, she gave me a look full of surprised gratitude, which was pleasant enough to receive for all my trouble. Luckily, her twin had had enough tact never to mention how Eldoth had been linked to his sudden desire to repent his misdeeds, but the bard’s invisible presence hovered over our heads through the entire scene.
Admittedly, with all my urgent rationalizing and trying to stay calm in the face of yet another crisis, I had made a mistake – for I had underestimated both Kessen’s potential for rebellion, and Master Kron’s ability to almost instantly adjust to any changing situation. If I had been more persistent and less distraught with my other worries, I would have gone with the boy. But I had felt that meeting with the bard in some sleazy riverside tavern was beneath my station. Thus, my arrogance had prevailed over my forethought and I had let Kessen go alone. Consequently, the boy did not return home that night, (which was not unusual as I pointed out to his frantic sister). Neither was he back by the next morning, or afternoon. Finally, at about six hours past noontime, just when I was finishing the final and near successful attempt at the same ridiculously stubborn spell, the door of my studio was flung open (this time without even a pretense of knocking), and the female half of the twins stormed inside in a state of white-hot fury.
“Jon, can you pull your refined elven nose out of a book for one minute? I need to talk to you.”
“You can take the manuscripts off and sit if you wish,” I replied calmly without turning my head away from the page I was reading, and nodded at the same chair that her good-for-nothing brother had divested of its burden the day before. Today the seat was loaded with even more tomes and half-unfurled scrolls held in place by a big glass jar full of broken styluses, quill-sharpening blades, sticks of sealing wax, and scraps of parchment.
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” was her angry retort, “since I am not staying in this room a second longer than it will take me to tell you that I am out of here to rescue Kes! And since the only things you seem to care for these days are your bloody books - you can stay in your bedroom and make love to them! I hope you will get hemorrhoids!”
“Today you are even more impudent and illogical than usual,” I answered with a deep sigh, wondering sullenly if the twins were really worth the worry. “Which probably means you have finally received some news about your ‘dear’ brother. What is the problem now? Has he sent you a note asking for more money and promising to ‘repay it all in due time’?”
“No, but I have got a letter from the Magistrate stating that my brother is being held for thievery and trafficking in stolen goods! And I am here to tell you that I am not leaving him to rot in jail whatever you might have to say about it!”
“Interesting,” I marked the place I had been reading with a finger, and deigned to raise my head to have a good look at my fair visitor. “You put words into my mouth before I had a chance to say them.”
One glance at the girl made both of my eyebrows creep up in genial surprise. Instead of one of her ostentatiously ridiculous dresses she had put on a silk and leather adventuring outfit of a hooded vest, a loose shirt, and a pair of leggings. I had always thought those clothes suited her best - the dark mahogany tones went well with her cinnamon-brown complexion, and the leather breeches hugged her slim figure invitingly, displaying her subtle curves to their full advantage. A thin streak of sable hair had escaped her braid, and now hung over the tawny brow, crossing her face diagonally and imparting her childish features with a stronger and subtler look.
“Are you going to storm into the Magistrate’s presence and confess it all?” I asked, trying to keep a straight face.
“Confess what?” Her eyes went wide as saucers. “I... I have nothing to confess! I was going to break my brother out,” Mirri straightened up haughtily. “I am sure Kes is as innocent as I. He is a gambler and a cheat, but not a complete fool!”
“That is a very dubious statement, my dear, the same as the one before it,” and I held a long pause, making her simmer in uncertainty.
The situation was comical and I was enjoying my secret knowledge. Yet I did not want Mirri to guess how much I knew about her thieving habits, or about her machinations with Kron; and least of all I did want her to find out how successful she had really been in her plot to make me jealous.
“What exactly do they say in this letter of yours?” I continued after a modest pause.
“That Kes was caught carrying a very rare and expensive item in his pocket...”
“The small golden scissors that disappeared from the Lord Chancellor daughter’s belt,” I finished the sentence for her.
“Y...yes... but how would you know?”
“A little bird told me, would be a sensible explanation,” I mused at her peeved expression. “But I shall spare you the banalities. Let’s take as a given that I know many things that are supposedly hidden. Give me the letter,” I made a step in her direction, stretching a hand in a gesture of request.
Mirriam tried to say something, but all that came out of her throat was a small mouse-like squeak. Then she began to flush: it was a difficult feat to achieve with her coloration, and I watched in amused fascination as a wave of dark crimson arose from her neckline and slowly spread across her lovely face, finally reaching her ears. My own ears began to twitch, and I had to look away to hide the smile that was tugging at the corners of my mouth. It was a precariously odd moment – one of the few in that fey relationship that I will always remember with fondness.
“You are a complete bastard, Jon!” she exclaimed finally, hiding her reddened face in the tightly clenched fists. The accusing letter was still clutched in one of them.
“Now, that probably is not true,” I commented calmly, covering the distance between us and taking her by the fists to pull them away from her face. All I intended to do was to take the Magistrate’s dispatch away from her. But Mirri’s skin was pleasantly warm under my cool fingers, as her flesh was glowing from anger and embarrassment, and somehow I dallied with her hands in mine for much longer than it was necessary. “For all I know, my race does not put any preconditions on the legal status of a child, except the mutual agreement of the parents to have one.” I said finally, simply to fill the awkward pause.
“Is it truly so?” She asked in a small voice, and I was touched by her eagerness. How much did the twins miss their father? It was a rhetorical question since I knew nothing about Esamon other than his fugitive status, and the fact that he was once the head of the Amkethran smugglers’ gang. Yesterday, my vitriolic remark had had a severe effect on Kessen. I wondered if Mirriam was equally upset by her illegitimate status.
“That is what the books say about elves and their traditions,” I replied absentmindedly. “For all I know, it might be just another lie.”
“It must be horrible to know nothing about yourself or your family!” She exhaled slowly. “I... I am so sorry. I keep getting angry at you because I keep forgetting how awful you must feel all the time. You look so normal somehow...”
“Why thank you, Mirriam,” I replied sardonically, finally letting go of her hands. “It is a useful fact to know about oneself. But should we not forget about our respective deficiencies and concentrate on rescuing your wayward brother?”
“That is what I came here for!” she exclaimed hotly. “I shall sneak into the Castle dungeons and break him out of his cell!”
“Commendable foolishness,” I chuckled whilst scanning the Magistrate’s epistle, “but I suspect it will not be necessary. Firstly, he is not being held in the Castle Faemtam dungeons, they have simply put him in the city jail with the pickpockets and other rabble.” I grinned at her over the letter I was reading and enjoyed the sight of another wave of color spreading over her cheeks. “And secondly, all they have against him are the infamous golden scissors. I think the authorities will be willing to let him go, for a suitable compensation.”
“He gambled away my share of the money,” Mirri complained bitterly. “And now I don’t have enough gold even to pay his bail. But I can sell all those stupid dresses and jewelry.”
“I think I have enough to bail him out and pay his gambling debts,” I stopped her with a wave of a hand. “But I will be severely stressed afterwards.” The look in her eyes was somewhat worth the money but I sighed, thinking of all the scrolls I would never buy. “And I hope you understand that this is not an act of charity. He will have to work for me until I consider his debt paid in full.”
“I understand,” the girl nodded eagerly and suddenly smirked, becoming her old ironic self for a brief moment. “Do you want me to enter your employ as well, o grand Master?”
“That will not be required,” I paused, feeling the tips of my own ears tingle with suspicious heat. “Kessen is the miscreant and he will have to pay for his foolishness.”
“But I might extract a different pay if I fancy it,” I added in my head, and almost bit my tongue in astonishment. My emotions were mixed on that part, but the fact that such a thought could even surface in my mind was a startling revelation.
“That was nicely done,” Omwo smirked at me when I entered the living room ten minutes later. I was wearing a heavy outdoor cloak and boots, ready to challenge the downpour of wet snow and rain on my way to the Magistrate.
“She came out of that room blushing like a summer rose,” the halfling continued cheerfully, waving a fistful of playing cards at me. After yesterday’s events Miamla had expressed interest in card games, and he was teaching her how to play The Old Wizard – an odd game with a set of rules nearly as incomprehensible as Eldoth’s poetry.
“The girl said she would be waiting for you downstairs. Finally, you are doing something right. Remember, women like it when you spend money on them, even if it is to rescue their little brothers. It makes them feel appreciated.” He pulled out the Queen of Flames and waved it at me before dropping the card on the tabletop before him, following it with the Jack of Winds.
“I have no idea what are you talking about.”
“Certainly,” he winked at Miamla who was sitting at the other side of the small table deep in thought over her next move. She raised her cute impassive face from her cards, and winked back at him. I almost choked. The habits that the young dragon had been acquiring from the halfling were disturbing.
“In any case, I wanted to tell you that I might chip in,” Omwo added merrily. “Eldoth paid me handsomely for a job that was more fun than real work. And there is no need to tell the boy about it! In fact if I were you I’d make him squirm for every penny.”
I shrugged without giving the halfling a definite answer. It looked like my party members were firmly set on the notion that all my personal affairs had to include them as well. But his contribution was welcome, as Kessen’s misdemeanors had delivered a heavy blow to my budget.
I will not bother the reader with the account of our repeated travels to the Magistrate and to the city jail, neither will I recount the hours spent waiting in the reception rooms of various public officials or the amount of gold that I had to dole out bribing the aforementioned functionaries. The Tethyran Queen might have thought herself an educated monarch, but her civil servants were of the same obnoxious and gluttonous kind as were to be found everywhere on Toril.
Suffice to say that at the end of that adventure my only consolation was the invention of various cruel and humiliating punishments for Mirriam’s twin – an entertainment that was as refined as it was futile, since I could not really use any of those delectable tortures on the prodigal brother. Although I have to admit that after we finally got the rascal back I was somewhat satisfied with his condition. At least after a full day and a night spent in a cold cell with a handful of rotten straw for his bedding, he had lost his usual cheerful demeanor.