While Norweg was taking Blacky down to the docks to watch the ships come in, Mercy was visiting the Mayor and the Reeve to take care of getting custody of their grandson. When Mercy arrived at the Mayor's Office, there was someone else there besides the Reeve and The Mayor. Mercy's eyes lit up when the Mayor introduced the stranger as a representative of the Mantasian Government here to check on the local Royal Orphanage. Mercy proceeded to turn on the charm and began conversing with the three gentlemen; she decided to wait until they finished touring the Orphanage before she brought up her problem. The Reeve decided to stay and watch the Mayor's Office while they were touring the Orphanage.
The Mayor commented as soon as they were outside; "He will have his feet up on my desk and be sound asleep before we are halfway there."
Mercy chuckled to herself as was sure that it was very true.
When they arrived at the Royal Orphanage, the Mayor introduced the stranger as an old friend who was considering opening his own Orphanage and wanted to see how to go about running one. As the tour progressed, Mercy had her eyes open; this was no ordinary Government Flunky this was someone who really cared about what he was doing. What was even more important, he knew how to ask pertinent questions without seeming nosy and giving away what he was really up to. As the questions were being asked, Mercy began organizing the answers in her head and tumbled on to what the Government Representative was doing. He would ask a question about the number of kids and the number of meals served weekly, and then ask a completely different question. Several minutes later he would ask another question concerning how much of a specific foodstuff was purchased and used. He also asked questions that were seemingly innocuous, yet were designed to show whether corners were being cut and where. Mercy came to the conclusion that this Orphanage was mostly on the up and up. When it came time for the children to be questioned, the Mayor took the head of the Orphanage outside to check a reported gutter problem and very smoothly asked Mercy to stay with his 'friend'.
Mercy was surprised at the direction the children's interviews took, as the Inspector never asked the questions you would expect; instead he got the children to tell a little bit about themselves and he would occasionally insert comments like; "I can see why you wouldn't want to live here," and "This place must be terrible to live in". The inspector never followed up on his comments, he just listened to the children's responses and watched their facial expressions and body language. He used the same trick on every child; as he was about to leave, "this must be a very nice place to live in?" he would then make a quick note on the tablet he was carrying with him. When the inspector and Mercy reached the last child, he was only about six or seven years old and very shy. The inspector and Mercy both sat on the floor while the child sat on his bed. The Inspector was unable to get very many words out of the child so he tried a different tack.
"Marty, I haven't had a proper tour of this house yet, would you do Mercy and me the honour of being our Tour Guide?"
Marty sat there stunned with his mouth open, unable to speak until Mercy stood up and walked over to the bed and sat down next to him. Mercy then leaned over and gave Marty a hug and then asked;
"Would you please Marty; I would really like to see where you live and play?"
"Okay... If I can hold your hand," Marty replied in a very quiet voice, causing both Mercy and the Inspector to strain to hear him.
"Of course, little one, I would be very happy to do that." Mercy then stood up and helped little Marty off of the bed and then took his hand and followed the Inspector out the door.
It took several minutes for Marty to loosen up and begin speaking in more than two or three words. Once he did however, it was like the floodgates of a dam had opened; Marty babbled on and on about everything and everyone. He told Mercy and the Inspector who his friends were and who taught him to play games; Mercy almost missed the most important comment of all.
"I did'na like the Mister when I first met him he was big and scary and bearded. I was afraid he could'na walk through the door he was so big. He said hello to all of the kids in a big booming voice that made me wanna hide. But he then went over to his Missus and gave her a big hug and a kiss, and then..." Marty paused for a moment as this was still a little scary for him.
"The Mister then hung up his coat and hat, took off his boots and then he slowly walked over to where I was playing with some blocks on the floor. I will always member what he did next as no one had ever done that befo; he sat down on the floor in front of me and in a very soft voice began talking to me."
"Hello little one, and welcome to our home, will you let me play blocks with you?"
"We played blocks for awhile and then he asked for a hug before he went and visited with the rest of the children." Marty was now smiling and the Inspector reached over and ruffled his hair which brought an even bigger smile to Marty's face.
Marty showed us every square inch of the house, except for the Mister and Missus's bedroom; but he did tell us that it wasn't any nicer than the kids bedrooms. As we were finishing up the tour with Marty, the Missus returned with the Mayor a little sweaty and a bit disheveled.
"Marty, the children are waiting for you, so they can go riding and William says he will let you hold the reins of Zeus this time." The Missus informed Marty as she came inside smiling.
Marty quickly pulled Mercy into a hug and then said;
"I gotta go now, William and Zeus are waiting for me and Zeus is a really big horse and I get to steer. Bye Missus, Bye Mister." Marty flew out the door as if he was being chased by a swarm of bees.
"Sorry it took us so long, but the children talked us into playing a game which had us rolling around and trying to catch them. They were all having a good time and Mercy, Blacky would be much happier here than with those so called parents of his." The Mayor's comments brought an inquisitive look to the Inspector's face.
"Funny you should mention that, Mayor, we can discuss that more back at your office if you and your friend have seen everything you need to?" Was Mercy's delighted response to the Mayor's comment.
The Inspector nodded positively to the Mayor and then turned towards the Missus.
"Ma'am you have truly shown me how an Orphanage should be run and I will definitely be contacting you and your husband if I have any further questions. I am truly sorry I missed meeting your husband as he sounds like a very good person." The Inspector then shook the Missus's hand and gave her a slight bow; followed by the Mayor and Mercy giving their goodbyes also.
Once they were a respectable distance away from the ears at the Orphanage, the Inspector stopped and turned to Mercy and in a very cold and businesslike tone began asking Mercy about Blacky.
"Missus Venedores, who is Blacky? What relationship is he to you? What did the Mayor mean about Blacky being better off at the Orphanage than with his parents?"
Mercy began telling the story of Blacky's life and the Inspector was becoming more and more furious with every word he heard.
"So, if I understand the situation correctly, Blacky is with your husband Norweg and will be joining the five of us for dinner at The Ark? I think the Mayor and I need to go shopping and see what Etan and Parisah have to say for themselves and the whereabouts of their son. Mercy, please stop and get the three of us something to drink and do us the kindness of waiting for us at the Mayor's Office. I have a strange feeling that we will not be very long at all. I do hope, for the parents’ sake, that I am wrong, very wrong. Is that alright with you?" The Inspector asked both Mercy and the Mayor.
Mercy and the Mayor both agreed that it was a workable plan and they headed off to accomplish their tasks. Mercy decided that she had time to head home and fix a pot of her and Norweg's favourite 'Dragon's Gold' Tea. While she was busy fixing the tea, the Inspector and the Mayor headed towards the Dry Goods Shoppe to determine part of Blacky's, or Lucaso's, future.
When the two men entered the Dry Goods Shoppe, they were greeted by Lucaso's Mother, Parisah herself. Upon seeing that it was only the Mayor and a 'friend' who wasn't dressed in the latest styles, and therefore not worth her time, she excused herself saying;
"I will send my husband right out to help you, gentlesirs" and then with swish of her skirts Parisah was gone into the back. The Mayor and the Inspector spent several minutes wandering through the Shoppe and as each minute passed, the Inspector's patience was wearing thinner and thinner. The Mayor had just turned around and started towards the large bell hanging near the till when Lucaso's father finally appeared from the back, with no apology at all for taking such a long time. After a few moments of small talk and some questions about some items, the Inspector asked the big question.
"Do you carry Drakis Rice; my wife will love me if I can bring some home to her?"
Etan, not understanding or not caring about the importance of the question, offhandedly replied.
"We don't carry that sir; there isn't much of a call or use for it here. We do have some absolutely wonderful Roxio Rice, and even very dear mixture of rice’s from Elvandia. Will either or both of those do instead?" Etan was hoping to sell both of them as he paid a trifle for both varieties and in fact that the mixture from Elvandia was less than ten percent Elvendish Rice he stood to make a fat profit if he sold either or both.
"No thank you, my wife told me to only buy Drakis Rice, maybe next time. I understand your son Lucaso is the local expert on Dragon Figurines; might I ask him a few questions? Where is he? I was led to believe he worked in your Shoppe every day like a dutiful son?" The Inspector's reply and question were absolutely dripping in sarcasm and Etan never noticed.
"He should be over here in this corner dusting I believe, please come with me." Etan led them over to the corner where he thought Lucaso was playing. When they got there, Lucaso, of course, was nowhere to be seen. Etan tried to cover up his error with his next words.
"He must be helping my wife in the back, I will go ask her and be right back with him."
The Inspector very politely replied, "That will be fine, we will wait here."
Of course, that was the last thing they did as soon as Etan had walked behind the curtains separating the Shoppe from the storerooms and living quarters, the Mayor and Inspector walked over as close as they could in order to hear exactly what was said.
"Parisah where is your son?" Etan could be heard asking his wife.
"What do you mean, 'My Son,' he is your son and it is your day to be watching the little creep!" Parisah's shrill and venomous reply stunned even the Mayor who knew things were bad but not as bad as this.
"The Mayor and his friend want to talk to him about Dragon Figurines. What do we do now, I know nothing about those, as your father bought them before we took over this Shoppe?" A nervous Etan asked his irritated wife.
"Go upstairs and then come back down and tell them he is taking a nap like a good little boy. Then tell them to come back later; and when I find that urchin he won't be able to sit down for a week. Maybe we should just give him to my parents and be done with him; look at all the money we will save. No, go upstairs and leave me alone." Parisah went back to filing her nails and staring adoringly at herself in the mirror.
Hearing all of this, the Inspector and the Mayor quietly returned to the corner with the Dragon Figurines.
"He isn't staying in this cesspool one more day, Mayor, you have my word and the government's on that." The Inspector spat out furiously.
Meanwhile, Blacky was having the time of his life as everyone who met him and his grandfather addressed him with;
"Good Day Master Blacky, how are you today?"
Blacky was in seventh heaven and his eyes were darting every which way, taking in the different clothing worn by the sailors and their different accents as well. He and his grandfather were seated on their favourite bench at their favourite lookout perch. They both loved to sit at the old watchtower that sat at the middle of the main pier and was reached by a short flight of steps. This vantage point gave them a bird’s eye view of all of the docks and piers yet let them hear the sounds of the ships and sailors.
Norweg had Blacky playing a guessing game regarding the ships and their cargoes. As a ship came into dock, Norweg asked Blacky what nation the ship was from and what its cargo might be. Blacky had to look at the flags and pennants each ship was flying as well as its build and sail rig. When Blacky got the ships nation wrong, Norweg would point out a detail or two in the flag until Blacky got the right answer. Blacky never tired of the game and was very happy when they would walk down the stairs and walk over to a ship and find out that Blacky had guessed the cargo correctly.
Not only was Norweg using this game to teach Blacky the intricacies of shipping, but also which cargoes were more valuable than others. Blacky's biggest thrill came when this beautiful four masted schooner came sailing majestically into the harbour with the sun hitting it just right, turning the wooden vessel into one of solid gold.
"Granpa, Granpa looky, looky a Dwakis Ship, Granma be happy we can bring her some Dwakis Rice." Blacky was jumping up and down so much his grandfather could barely understand him.
"Okay Blacky, as soon as they dock, we will go ask the Captain if you can buy your Grandmother some Drakis Rice." Norweg replied to his ebullient grandson and then took his hand and began heading over to where the incoming ship would dock. Both of them were smiling widely at the little game they were playing. The Captain of the Drakis ship was an old trading partner of Norweg and he and the Captain had a years old agreement. Whenever 'Drakis Quest' arrived in Centralia, a large barrel of Drakis Rice was always delivered to Norweg's house regardless of whether or not Norweg was able to meet the ship.
Even though Blacky knew about the agreement, he always loved to watch the Captain and his Grandfather haggle over the supposed price of the barrel of rice. Of course the fact that the Captain always had some sweets and occasionally a Dragon Figurine for Blacky, could have been part of the reason Blacky always went along with the joke. This time the Captain had a few surprises for his old friend Norweg, like a ewer of Erehwonese Sangiovese and a small barrel of Elvandian Brandy. Norweg's eyes lit up when he heard what his old friend had brought him, so he did the only friendly thing he could think of.
"Old friend, I would dearly appreciate it if you would do my wife, grandson and me the honour of dining with us, on me of course, at The Ark in... Ah well actually as soon as you can join us there. Blacky, say goodbye to the Captain we need to head over to The Ark or your granma will skin us alive." Norweg asked his friend to dinner which he graciously accepted and then he and Blacky took their leave and went to arrange for a larger table. Little did they know how farsighted that decision was.
Meanwhile back in town, Mercy had just finished pouring the tea when the Inspector and the Mayor came storming in. The first words out of the Inspector's mouth were very shocking.
"Mercy, are you sure that, that woman Parisah is your daughter and not a changeling? I find it extremely hard to believe that such a person could come from such a wonderful woman as yourself. Can I assume that you intend on offering Lucaso a home and I mean a real home? I now wholly understand the Mayor's comment about your grandson and the Orphanage; he truly would be much happier there, I am sure of that without even talking to him. You were absolutely right his parents had absolutely no idea where he was, and I am not going to repeat the callous things they said about him when they didn't think we could hear. The Mayor kindly filled me in with more details of your grandson's so called life, and how intelligent he is. The Mayor also informed me how Lucaso absolutely dotes on you and your husband." The Inspector paused and took a small sip of the steaming tea and then another one; a look of delight crossing his face.
"This tea is absolutely wonderful; I have never had anything like it in my life. Please tell me what it is and please don't tell me there isn't any more and I will have to travel to Erehwon to get more."
Mercy and the Mayor were trying very hard not to break out into laughter. Mercy decided to try and explain before she and the Mayor gave in to all out laughter.
"I am sorry Inspector, but the tea is from Erehwon and it is called 'Dragon's Gold' and this is from my family's private stock. I am sure you will be able to order some when you get back to the capital. Inspector, will you please tell me exactly what position you hold in the government, The Mayor didn't really introduce you completely."
"Missus Venedores, I apologize for any deception, but I assure you it was necessary, for me to do my job properly. As you have surmised, I am not your garden variety inspector, I am in fact the Minister of Children's Services and I am conducting spot inspections throughout the kingdom. My name is Duke Kevin of Salmonia and it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." The Inspector then gave Mercy a slight bow.
"Please, don't think ill of your friend, the Mayor, as he is an old friend of mine from our days in the military. He would have informed you of my true identity as soon as I had left, if things had occurred as originally planned. However, as the saying goes, 'the best laid plans of mice and men'; now if Lucaso is willing, are you and your husband Norweg willing to raise Lucaso, if that is his wish? Think carefully because if you and he agree, this will be permanent. I have already decided to remove Lucaso from his parents' 'care', and I use that word extremely loosely, and as of now, he is a ward of the Kingdom. If I had done otherwise, his majesty would have my head. Of course what you may not know is that I was raised in an orphanage myself, totally unlike the wonderful one you have here in Centralia. The one I was raised in was horrible and we were cared for worse than Lucaso's parents care for him. The important thing is, I was taken from that orphanage and conscripted into the Army and eventually joined the Royal Guard. It was there that I was assigned a young recruit to train, we became very good friends and he taught me a lot of things that I didn't know about Mantasia and I taught him a lot of the things I had learned out of necessity at the orphanage. Well come to find out my trainee was actually the Crown Prince, and his father was trying to keep him safe, as there had been a few attempts on the King's life. When the King died in his sleep and the Crown Prince succeeded him, I was appointed to this position and told to make sure that all of the children in the kingdom were adequately cared for. That is what I am attempting to do. I am going to recommend that the Orphanage here receive a much larger stipend and that if Centralia will increase its share, the towns taxes will reflect that." The Inspector finally ran out of breath.
"Thank you for that explanation, Duke, that explains why you knew what questions to ask and why you asked them the way you did. But why the increase in the stipend; I noticed a few discrepancies in the purchasing?" Mercy replied to the Duke with a question of her own.
"Mercy, if I may call you that?" The Duke paused for Mercy's reply and when she nodded her head yes, continued.
"Yes, there were a few discrepancies, but nothing like I normally find; and when Marty gave us his tour, I noticed that he showed us every square inch of the Orphanage except for the Mister and Missus's room. I don't know if you noticed or not; but their room is the smallest bedroom in the place. Also, Marty had absolutely no fear or hesitation about showing us everything in the place. When Marty described being hugged, his face absolutely lit up with joy; also none of the children here looked deprived or mistreated in any way. It seems that they all get plenty of love and care here and lots of hugs if needed. Also I have never seen the Mistress of any other Orphanage get involved in a rough and tumble game with her charges. In this case, I believe the Mister and Missus are short-changing themselves instead of their charges. Does that concur now with what you saw?"
"Duke, thank you very much, that does fit with everything you saw and I was very surprised that the Missus left us alone in the house while she went outside with the Mayor. I have to believe she knew exactly why the Mayor took her outside, but she merely acquiesced with no complaints or reservations. I have to agree with your conclusions. Now, to the big question you asked me, we have wanted to care for Blacky almost since he was born. My husband has been bugging me at least that long; but I was holding out hope that somehow my daughter would come to her senses. We would love to care for Blacky and we will raise him as if he was our own son." Mercy finished her reply with tears in her eyes.
The Mayor interjected a question of his own;
"Kevin, how much does the Kingdom pay to care for a child in an Orphanage?"
"Why do you ask that, Vic?" The Duke questioned back.
"Because, I think that is the least amount that Etan and Parisah should give Mercy and Norweg for assuming the care of their ex-son. It is about time they start spending some money on Blacky instead of themselves and it will serve them right that they have to shell out money without making a profit on it. They might not be able to afford their new costumes to attend the Guildmasters' Ball next month and that would be a crying shame." Vic replied with a lock of mock sadness on his face.
"But...But we can..." Mercy was interrupted the Duke, Kevin.
"Mercy, Victor is right that is the least they can do. If they didn't want the responsibilities of raising a child, they shouldn't have performed that act to cause one!" The Duke replied with a bit of heat in his voice and he was looking towards the Dry Goods Shoppe as he did.
"In fact, I think they ought to pay double and Victor and Mercy I will make it a Royal Order and furthermore the Mayor will be charged with collecting the full amount monthly or they will face the penalties. Victor, are you and your wife coming to the King's Birthday Ball next month? I think you should and Mercy, I will send a Royal Invitation to you, for your Husband, yourself and Blacky as well. The King would love to meet Blacky I am sure. Do not worry about transportation; I will send a carriage for all of you and plan on staying for the weekend at the Palace, I will arrange everything."
Before anyone could respond, the Reeve spoke up; "Duke, I think you should charge me with collecting the payments as the Mayor is responsible to the Townspeople, while I am an Officer of the King. I can guarantee you that those two will not give me any trouble."
The Duke responded; "Reeve, that is a much better idea, let me go out to my horse and get the necessary parchments and seals. In fact, with the Reeve and Vic, the Mayor, as witnesses, there will be absolutely no chance of them contesting my decree. In fact, as soon as I return to the Palace, I will have the King issue a Royal Proclamation confirming my decree. I will return in a few moments and if I could have another cup of that wonderful tea, Mercy, I will forever be in your debt."
While the Duke was fetching his parchments and seals, Vic went upstairs to get his wife as she had excellent calligraphy skills and was used to creating documents for her husband. Jan was the de facto Town Clerk/Scribe so she was very used to crafting documents similar to what the Duke wanted. Once her husband had explained what was needed, Jan flew down the stairs and prepared her quills and inks barely acknowledging Mercy and the Reeve.
Once the Duke returned, it didn't take very long at all for the appropriate documents to be written, signed and sealed. The only document that wasn't completely finished was the one granting Mercy and Norweg care of Blacky. The Duke was adamant that Lucaso was going to have a say in where he was going to live. The Duke did admit that Lucaso was more than likely to say yes to living with his grandparents, soon to be his parents in actuality. The shadow moving across the desk reminded all of them that they were due shortly at The Ark for dinner. The Duke took it upon himself to invite Victor and Jan to join them for dinner at the King's expense.
When Mercy arrived at The Ark and told Norweg how many people were joining them for dinner, he just shook his head and told his wife that the party was larger by one. Norweg left Blacky to tell Mercy that Norweg's friend the Sea Captain was joining them, while he went and informed The Ark's proprietor that they needed the Mayor's Table.
When the Mayor and his wife, along with the Reeve, arrived, they were in the company of the Duke who was now recognizable as a Duke and not some low level flunky. The Duke's entrance caused quite a stir, especially once his party made their way over to the Mayor's table where Mercy, Norweg, the Captain and Blacky were already seated. The Duke signaled everyone at the table to remain seated, however, Blacky didn't understand the signal, left his seat and performed as perfect a bow as a five year old could. The Duke returned the bow and then introduced himself to Blacky and asked if he could sit next to the youngster.
Blacky was overwhelmed at the request and all he could do was nod his little head, yes. The Duke then helped Lucaso into his special seat and with the Manager's help, or was it hindrance, he took his own. The Duke then sent the Manager on his way, trying to find an ewer of particularly rare vintage of Sangiovese and some iced juice for Lucaso. While the waiter was pouring their waters and his assistants were placing the bread and antipasto on the table, the Duke was conversing jovially with his new young friend.
"Lucaso, or may I call you Blacky? Do you like staying with your grandparent's?"
"Your Highness, I like Blacky better." Blacky replied.
"Okay Blacky, then you can call me Duke Kevin or just plain ole Duke, okay?"
"Yes, Duke and I love staying with my granma and granpa, I have my own room with lots of toys and stuff, and I get lots of hugs and cuddles. They always tuck me in bed and never yell at me either. Granma even lets me fall asleep in her lap..." Blacky's response was stopped by a commotion that was heading towards their table.
"Mayor, we would like to report our son is missing, he didn't show up for dinner and his room isn't cleaned, and he hasn't dusted the Shoppe like he was supposed too. We want him found and punished and then he can do what he is supposed to do." Parisah was rambling on about how put out she and her husband were and through all the blathering, they never even noticed Blacky, sitting next to the Duke.
Blacky had started to say something, but the Duke lightly placed his finger across his young friend's lips and shook his head no. The Duke then stood up cleared his throat;
"Excuse me folks, but you are completely mistaken; as of this afternoon, you have no son! I have taken your son away from you, for blatant indifference and a total lack of care. Lucaso is now a ward of the Kingdom and will be eating dinner with me. You are to have no further contact, ever, with Blacky, unless he wishes it. Reeve, give them the decree and then get them out of my sight at once!"
Well I finally got back to this charming little story and we learned a little more about Mantasia and Blacky. But will he want to live with his grandparents, or go live in the castle with the Duke? Hopefully, we will find out in the next chapter, but if we don't it is all Str8mayb's fault.
I would love to hear from you regarding this prequel and whether it should be continued.
TSL AKA The Story Lover
My fault? Good writing is NOT a fault. But if you are meaning to give me credit, I will gracefully accept. Now stop this 'if it should continue' nonsense, Of course it will or I will be forced to torture you with more secret chapters and Cliff Hangers. (I might anyway because it's so much fun.) Now, we also need a story about the King and Duke Kevin when they met and some of their adventures in the army.
Now that you have come back to this story, keep it coming, of course don't ignore Potter's Village, Dragon Earl or Hearts Across Space and the new one about the Duke and King. Hey if the Duke goes to work for Just' would he be the Duke of Earl?
I'll go hide now.
Str8mayb AKA THE Evil Author (Editor) & Master of Misdirection
While I was writing this chapter in total seclusion The Evil Author was also writing a surprise for me in secret. Hmm, I guess real life is stranger than fiction.
That sounds so formal, I think I like that. By all means, this story needs to continue. I mean we do know Lucaso in later life, but it is always nice to see what someone's life was like when they were very young. Seriously, this was indeed a very interesting and informative chapter. It gives us some wonderful insights into the thoughts and lives of several people that influenced Lucaso's life.
We do indeed want and need more chapters. Thank you TSL. This was wonderful.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher