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Monkey Business part 1

The noise was unbearable. A dozen cats being strangled simultaneously inside a dozen barrels couldn't have created more than a faint echo of the nerve-wracking sounds that had been filling the Odesseiron Mansion for more than three days in a row now. Young Edwin Odesseiron sighed deeply and bent over his Demonology book again.

The difference between Devils and Demons is mainly a question of philosophy, he read. Namely, the difference between the iron fist of ordered evil and the bloodthirsty randomness of chaotic evil. This fundamental…

Screeech! Screeeaaaa!

Edwin winced. That had been a particularly bad one. He wished his father would get over this soon. It was always the same. He'd find some new game, play it with all his heart and soul, then eventually move on to something else. The latest obsession had been collecting rare snakes. Edwin still had nightmares about the night when they all had accidentally got loose. But this was even worse.

Screeeaaaagh! Screeee!

It was no good. The words on the page in front of him made no sense whatsoever. Edwin raised his head again to give his tutor a pleading look.

"Please, Teacher Dekaras", he said. "I can't concentrate."

Vadrak Dekaras, the Odesseiron tutor, was currently pacing back and forth along the cluttered study table and had been doing so for the best part of an hour, occasionally muttering something inaudible under his breath. There was a dark scowl on his face and even darker circles beneath his eyes.

"And to think", he mused, "that I believed myself familiar with all the known instruments of torture. One learns something new each day, it seems." He then seemed to become aware of his pupil's comment. "What?", he said irritably, forcing Edwin to repeat himself. "Hmmm", Dekaras said. "You may have a point there, boy. This atmosphere is not exactly beneficial for the soaking up of knowledge, now is it?" He paused for a moment, considering. "Perhaps it would be to our advantage to remove ourselves from the premises for the afternoon. We should get you acquainted with your future spell components suppliers after all, and there is only so much one can learn from books."

Edwin nodded eagerly. A trip to the market! That should be a welcome interruption of the daily routine. Besides, it might give him an opportunity he'd been waiting for.

Scrrrreeeeeech! Scraaaaaiiiii!

A muscle twitched momentarily beneath the tutors right eye. "But first", he said, "I'm afraid we shall have to go and have a word with your father."

The sounds grew louder and more penetrating as Edwin hurried along the corridors of the mansion. In front of him he could see his tutor's black-cloaked back, stiff with displeasure. Now that he had made up his mind Dekaras seemed to be in a hurry to get things settled, but still his feet glided noiselessly across the floor as usual. Not that it made much difference on a day like this. Eventually they reached the great gilded double doors that were their goal and Dekaras silently pulled them open, then beckoned his young charge inside.

The ballroom was huge, a temple to celebration and luxury. Great windows offered a splendid view of the park outside, dark wooden chairs lined the walls, every single one covered by
a silken cushion inlaid with different kinds of precious stones. The ceiling was decorated with a vast painting where Red Wizards valiantly fought the most hideous of monsters and did various nasty things to their enemies, involving pincers, fireballs and live mice. And then there was the chandelier. A masterpiece of candles and crystal, glittering in all the colours of the rainbow. It floated between floor and ceiling, constantly rotating due to the complex spells that powered it. Edwin could happily sit and stare at the pretty lights for hours. Not today though. His father was standing beneath the chandelier, his eyes closed as he rocked and swayed in time with what only a charitable person would call 'music'. His red robe was dishevelled, his hair unkempt and there was a dreamy smile on his lips.

Dekaras motioned Edwin to stay where he was, then approached until he was close enough to touch the preoccupied wizard.

"You called, Master?” he said, speaking directly into the other man's ear.

Galen Odesseiron gasped in surprise and gave a violent start.

"Dear Gods, Dekaras!", he exclaimed. "Don't sneak up on me like that! Why would you think I called for you?"

The teacher gave him a bland look. "I was under the impression, Master, that you wish for me to be alert to any possible threat to your safety. Since I thought I heard you screaming for help, making sounds like you were being flayed alive, naturally I thought it prudent to investigate the situation and lend whatever small aid I might be capable of."

Galen digested this for a moment. "But what would make you think that, old boy?", he asked. "I was only practising with the violin, you know."

"Indeed, Master."

"Now see here!", Galen said, his normally vague and slightly confused face scrunched up with annoyance. "Are you telling me you think my playing isn't any good?" He waved the violin in the other man's face as he spoke.

"I would never dream of telling you any such thing, Master."

"Well, good! Good! Because I'm going to keep on doing it. I'm on to something here, Dekaras. The music of the Planes will be mine, any day now. I know it. This violin, my Precious, it's a gift from the gods I'm sure. I've made enormous progress already. Why, I've only broken one string so far today."

"Commendable, Master."

"Yes, it is rather, isn't it? Anyway, I'll keep playing whether you like it or not. I mean, who is supposed to be making the decisions around here, after all? We all know who the brains of this household is, don't we?"

"Oh, I think we're perfectly clear on that point, Master", Dekaras said, his voice neutral. "May I make a couple of suggestions, however?"

"Certainly, old boy. Please, go ahead."

"It seems to me, Master, that your progress might be accelerated if you limited yourself to playing either during the day or during the night. We all need to sleep sometimes, after all."

"No, no, not me!" Galen laughed merrily, oblivious to the dark look the tutor gave him at that braying sound. "I'm on a roll here, Dekaras. Wouldn't do to break the flow, you know. Now, was there anything else I can do for you? Madam Odesseiron decided to go visit her mother for a few days, we have plenty of time to chat."

"Yes, Master. I was thinking on taking young Master Edwin on an excursion. A visit to the procurers of spell components. He could benefit from seeing what the items in question actually look like rather than merely reading about them."

"Why, that's a capital idea! Capital!" Galen Odesseiron suddenly noticed his son who had been following the exchange with fascination and who had now approached. "Edwin! There you are! Want to go on this little trip, eh?"

"Yes Father", Edwin said politely. Then he braced himself before adding his own suggestion to the plan. "Father, there's something else I want."

"And what might that be?", Galen asked, ruffling the boy's hair good-naturedly.

"A pet, father. They sell lots of pets in Sacrifice Street, the cook told me so last week. Please, father, can I have one? Please?" Edwin made his best wide-eyed puppy face, complete with fluttering eyelashes, trying hard not to shiver as he felt the eyes of his teacher upon him.

"How sweet", Dekaras said, his voice frigid.

"Yes, it is, isn't it?", Galen Odesseiron said and patted his son on the shoulder. "Well, son, Of course you can have a pet, any pet you want. I had a jellyfish of my own when I was your age, and it helped make me the man I am today. Why don't you stop to buy one on your way home?"

"Why not indeed", Dekaras said, and the sudden glint in his eyes made Edwin take a step backwards. "I believe you are quite correct about the jellyfish, Master. And I am certain young Edwin could benefit from having a pet of his own as well. That should teach him to be responsible, to feed it, train it, look after its every need. To clean up after it."

"But…", Edwin tried.

"Because", Dekaras continued as if he hadn't heard, "should I have to assume those duties as well, apart from the tutoring and the final disposition of awkward commodities, then that would constitute a triple workload, and I would have no other choice but to resign my position."

"Resign?!", Galen yelped. "But…but…you can't…I mean…" He paused, obviously frantic to deflate the situation. " I'm positive that…"

Dekaras raised an eyebrow. "Master?", he said. Just that one word, and yet it spoke volumes.

"Yes, yes", Galen said nervously, running a hand through his hair. "As you say. It will do the boy some good, I'm sure. Oh, by the way. The - the disposition of 'awkward commodities'. Did you - did you carry out the assignment I gave you last week?"

Dekaras nodded briefly. "Yes, Master", he said. "Last night. That particular problem will trouble you no more."

"Oh. Oh! Good. Take the day off tomorrow, why don't you? Looks like you could use some sleep."

"Why, thank you Master. How perceptive of you." With that the tutor gripped Edwin firmly by the shoulder and rapidly steered him out of the room.

Scrrreeech! Screeeaaaa! Galen Odesseiron happily resumed his playing, once again in an obsessive world of his own. Above him precious crystals scattered into a thousand fragments.

As they approached Sacrifice Street, Edwin was excited enough to be skipping rather than walking. The lesson on spell components had been rather interesting, and he had performed reasonably well. The notable exception had been when he'd stuck his nose down a box of fine, greyish powder, curious to see what it was. It had turned out to be highly expensive lich dust, and unfortunately Edwin had sneezed and scattered it all over the floor. Dekaras hadn't been at all pleased about that.

But that was in the past, Edwin thought, and now they were going to buy him a pet of his own! It wouldn't be a familiar, which was what he had really wanted ever since reading about them, but it was close enough. Only thing was, he wasn't sure exactly what kind of pet he wanted. Something big enough to play with, but small enough to carry. And it had to be smart. No stupid goldfish or stick insect that was so lazy you couldn't even tell when it died.

"Well, boy", Dekaras asked as they stopped outside a grimy shop window bearing the inscription 'Buggers and Son. Procurers of Diverse Treasures of the Animal Kingdom'. "Have you changed your mind yet?"

"Of course not!” Edwin said indignantly. "Why should I?"

"It is as I said before", Dekaras said and gave the boy a thoughtful look. "A pet means responsibility. You'll have to look after it, keep it fed and out of mischief, as well as clean up its messes. Are you certain you're up to it?"

"Yes, yes, yes! I want it! And Father said I could have it. Come on, Father told you I could have a pet!"

"Very good", Dekaras said, his voice a bit chilly. "After you then." He pulled the door open with a jingle of tiny bells, then made an elegant beckoning gesture with his cloak.

Edwin almost ran inside, then paused just inside the door, his mouth open. The shop was dimly lit, one of those establishments that seem much larger on the inside than on the outside. There were narrow aisles leading off in all directions, shelves that led all the way up to the ceiling harboured cages and glass-boxes of all shapes and sizes. Dark forms could be seen moving inside some of them. Growl, hisses, hoots and whines made a continuos curtain of disharmonious sounds. Finally, there was a Smell. The kind of Smell that can only be created when a great number of animals, some of whom are natural enemies, live together in close quarters over an extended period of time. Edwin felt his eyes begin to water and he saw Dekaras dab briefly at his long nose with a handkerchief.

There was a counter near the middle of the shop, its top covered with dusty old books and boxes. In front of it stood a large, heavyset man wearing an expensive looking red robe. His bald head was decorated with a tattoo of a roaring lion.

"Why, you miserable little cheat!” the man bellowed at the top of his voice. The animals bayed, cawed and growled even louder than before.

"Now, now good sir", a squeaky voice said, seemingly out of empty air. "No need to get so upset."

"No need to…You sold me a dead hamster for my daughter's birthday! And when I asked you why it was so quiet and still you told me that was because hamsters are nocturnal and only run around in the evening! Except when poor little Zabina unwrapped her gift the thing had gone as stiff as a board!"

"Uh, are you sure that happened before you giftwrapped the cage, sir?", the squeaky voice said.

"Enough!” the angry customer roared and slammed his meaty fist down on the counter. "You're trying to cheat a Red Wizard here, fool! Either you let me have a new pet, free of charge, or I'll turn you into a toad and make you a birthday present instead. Which is it going to be, eh?"

"Er, why don't you look around, sir, and let me know when you find an animal you like?", the squeaky voice said nervously. "I'm sure we can come to an agreement."

The wizard stalked off down an aisle, growling quietly. Dekaras gave him a considering look. "Interesting", he said in a quiet voice, fingering his cane. "So Rory the Roarer is in the pet market as well."

"Who's he?", Edwin asked.

"An - acquaintance of your parents. But enough of that. Let's go talk to Mr Buggers." The tutor stepped up to the counter and rapped it smartly with his cane. Seconds later a worried looking face popped up from behind the counter, causing Edwin to take a quick step back in surprise. At first he thought he was looking at another child, for the head was level with his own. Then he noticed that even though the brown eyes were merry and bright, the brown hair thick and curly and the plump cheeks rosy, there were tiny laughlines around the eyes. Eyes that were far too shrewd and knowing for any child.

"Master Dekaras!” the tiny man exclaimed and stepped around the counter, displaying a bright yellow waistcoat with shiny buttons and an equally lurid green cravat with a glittering diamond pin. The fact that the man was barefoot struck Edwin as odd at first, until he saw that those feet were covered with brown hair the exact colour as that on the shop keepers head. A halfling then. Edwin knew about them, but he'd never seen one before.

"What a pleasant surprise, Master Dekaras", the halfling Mr Buggers said. "Good morning!"

"It is?” Dekaras asked sourly. "I hadn't noticed."

"You do look a bit drawn, sir", Mr Buggers said, his eyes a-twinkle. "Busy night? You wouldn't be the only one."


"Oh, yes! Seems old Craddock, the spice merchant down on Pyre Street was murdered last night. The word is all over the streets. Apparently somebody sneaked inside his house, bypassed all the guards and smothered him with his own pillow."

"How very shocking."

"Quite so, sir. My nephew works down that way, and he says that pillow will never be the same again. Anyway, the assassin got away. There was some kind of incident with the guards, and an alarm went off. Two guardsmen were killed, but nobody was caught and they couldn't even tell what the man actually looked like."

"What a very fortunate fellow."

"Yes, sir. Probably a bit exhausted this morning though, after all of that, which was what you made me think of. Now, what can I do for you?"

"This boy is determined to buy a pet", Dekaras said, indicating Edwin who had been listening to the previous exchange with a feeling that things were being said behind the words openly used. "Perhaps you could make a recommendation. Nothing that's already deceased, mind you. Something a bit more lively."

"Aha!", Mr Buggers said and cheerfully pumped Edwin's hand up and down. "Young Master Odesseiron, I presume. A pleasure to make you acquaintance. We'll find you a perfect pet, don't you worry. There's a pet for everyone, I always say. An owl perhaps? Very popular, these days. Or a snake? Your teacher here always was partial to snakes, them being very useful in so many ways. Or can I tempt you with a hamster?"

"You most certainly cannot", Dekaras interjected. "I know all about your hamsters, Buggers. Your 'special' breed. I said lively, not psychotic."

"No trust between gentlemen these days", the halfling sighed. "Something else then." His face lit up with a huge grin. "I have it!” he exclaimed and scurried off into the darkness. Minutes later he returned, dragging a large cage behind him. Inside the cage something chittered angrily. "Now this", Mr Buggers said, "this is truly something special. As clever as they come. Go ahead, take a look."

Edwin knelt in front of the cage and peered inside. A pair of bright black eyes stared back at him, and there was another annoyed chitter. Apparently the inhabitant didn't like being stared at. It was a monkey, approximately the size of a human newborn, light grey with black markings around the eyes and on the legs. They made it look like the monkey was wearing a black mask and gloves. What it was in fact wearing was a knitted blue vest. The monkey studied Edwin for a moment, then made an ugly face and displayed its bum to the people watching.

"Oooh!” Edwin squealed with delight. "He's great! I want him! What's his name? Can he do any tricks?"

"His name is Blackjack", Mr Bugger beamed. "I'm afraid he doesn't know very many tricks yet, but he is only a young monkey, and he seems very clever. Perhaps you can teach him some? Just remember to never, ever feed him after midnight."

"What happens then?", Edwin asked.

"He gets a very upset tummy. Trust me, you don't want to see that."

Edwin had a huge grin on his face by now. He offered Blackjack a cookie he had saved since breakfast. The monkey nimbly snatched it and swallowed it, then licked its black fingers free of crumbs.

"A monkey", Dekaras said with some distaste. "Suddenly even the mutated hamsters Mr Buggers breeds in the basement sound like a promising prospect. A monkey is hardly an appropriate pet for a boy your age."

"But I want him!", Edwin protested. "I want him, and Father said I could have whatever pet I wanted. And you have to obey Father's orders, he's your Master and you're just a servant!"

The teacher's face froze into immobility, devoid of all expression. His eyes suddenly looked as emotionless as those of a reptile. Edwin belatedly put his hand over his mouth, feeling as if he had walked up to a sleeping dragon and kicked it hard on the nose.

"I…I…” Edwin tried.

"Is that so, young Master", Dekaras said, his unblinking gaze still fixed on the squirming boy. "Then this servant shall trouble you with his opinions no longer." He turned to the halfling again. "How much for the monkey?” he asked. By now he was smiling. If anything, the smile made the eyes even worse.

"Er - fifty gold pieces?", Mr Buggers stuttered.

"No, I don't think so, Mr Buggers. You may have five, and that is only on account of it being such a good morning as you so eloquently put it."

"Five!” Mr Buggers squeaked. Then he took another look at Dekaras' smile and hastily wiped his brow with a large red handkerchief. "Oh, you said five!” he hastily added. "Five is just fine. Very reasonable."

"Yes, Mr Buggers. I am, as you well know, a very reasonable man." Dekaras turned as if to leave, then seemed to think of something. "Oh, yes", he said, snapping his long fingers. "I almost forgot. Mr Buggers, there is also the matter of your other line of business and the item you sold me the other day."

"O-other item?"

"Indeed, Mr Buggers." Dekaras produced a plain, unadorned gold ring from one of the almost invisible pockets lining his cloak. "It may surprise you to learn that this Ring of Invisibility is defective. Imagine if you will my surprise upon realising that while it does make the wearer invisible, his shadow can still be seen. I got into a rather awkward situation because of that. You know how I hate awkwardness, so of course you would never have sold me the item in question had you known. You do after all wish for our relationship to continue on an amicable note, don't you?"

"Oh, yes", Mr Buggers said with a weak smile. He handed over a bag of coins. "Please allow me to refund your money and offer my sincere apologies."

"How kind. And one more thing, Mr Buggers. You talk a bit too openly about certain matters. I, on the other hand, have so far refrained from mentioning your own nocturnal activities. Business has been lucrative as of late, has it not? Why, only a few days ago I happened to run into this dwarf who was looking for you."

"Dwarf?” the halfling said nervously. "I don't know any dwarves."

"That is strange. He seemed to know you. Actually he was very eager to find you, as well as a certain heirloom diamond that had recently gone missing from the family vault. From his description it must have been very similar to the one you've decorated your cravat with. Curious coincidence, that."

"Yes", Mr Buggers said. "Very curious. Er, did you speak long to this strange dwarf whom I have never met?"

"No, Buggers. I try to refrain from embarrassing my acquaintances by blabbing about their personal affairs in public places. A policy you would do well to adopt. It would help you avoid accidents. Good morning to you."

Dekaras picked up Blackjack's cage and headed for the exit. Half way there he was intercepted by the Red Wizard who came hurrying out from behind a shelf and nearly collided with him.

"Watch out, man!", the wizard blustered. Then he paused to stare at the cage. "A monkey!", he exclaimed. "That's marvellous! The perfect present for my little Zabina. Here, I'll buy it from you. How much?"

"Regrettably, sir, that animal is not mine to sell", Dekaras said, shaking his head. "It belongs to young Master Odesseiron here." The monkey spat and tried to bite the teacher who nimbly avoided it by shifting his grip.

"That's right!” Edwin piped up. "He's mine, and you can't have him. Besides, he thinks you're loud and mean."

"What?", the wizard shouted, his face almost as red as his robe. "Rory the Roarer Ravonar? Mean? Why I oughtta'…" He paused. "Odesseiron?", he asked Dekaras and now his eyes were hard. "The son of Galen and Elvira Odesseiron. Then you would be…"

"Their humble servant", Dekaras smoothly interrupted.

"I see. Well, you may tell your Master and Mistress that they may have come out ahead in that regrettable affair with the Tharchion and the spice merchant, but they should watch themselves with the Roarer behind them. Everybody has so sleep sometimes."

"Quite right, sir. Everybody, even Red Wizards. Get moving, boy."

Dekaras walked out the door without looking back. Edwin did, however, and he saw Rory the Roarer watching them with a very unpleasant look on his face. "My previous offers still stand", he shouted. "Any time you change your mind, let me know. That goes for the monkey as well." Edwin saw Dekaras' back stiffen a little, but the tutor kept on walking.

"What did he mean?", Edwin asked as soon as he was certain Rory Ravonar couldn't hear him.

"That is not your problem", Dekaras stated. "Talk to your monkey, I'm sure it's far more interesting than a mere servant."

Edwin looked at Blackjack. The monkey was lying on his back inside the cage, carefully picking his nose. "But I want to know!” Edwin wheedled. "Please tell me! Please?"

"As you wish", Dekaras snapped. "Maybe then you will finally cease bothering me."

Edwin nodded solemnly.

"Briefly then, Rory Ravonar wants me to leave your family and enter his service instead. He has wanted that for quite some time, and due to certain recent events he is more eager than ever at the moment. As I believe I have told you before, I am among the best in my profession."

"Oh, I get it", Edwin said. "He wants you to come and be a teacher to his little girl, Zabina."

Dekaras gave him a guarded look. "Yes", he said. "That is one way of putting it." Then he suddenly seemed to recall his resentment. "Why are you wasting your time like this, Master Odesseiron?", he asked, his eyes narrowing. "Your time is a valuable commodity, not to be squandered on conversing with servants after all." The rest of the walk home was spent in an uncomfortable silence.

Monkey Business part 2

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Last modified on February 2, 2003
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