He watched as the innkeeper meticulously poured a half pint of golden ale, careful to ensure the perfect combination of froth and profit margin. Deklow handed him the mug, and waited, staring at him with uncertainty.
“You are sure we are ready?” asked the innkeeper.
He didn’t look at all convinced; but he clenched his words behind his grimace.
“I have spent nearly forty years planning this, Deklow,” he added reassuringly. “I have been through every detail a thousand times. In truth, I have been in control for the best part of a decade.”
“And if your predictions are wrong? Some minor detail missed?”
“Predictions? I do not predict the future. I calculate it. The universe isn’t built upon random events; rather, it is the convergence of predefined variables that produces the result. It is simple mathematics, really.”
“If it’s so simple,” said Deklow, “then why has no one else been able to understand it?”
“Variables, my old friend. I am the result of the perfect combination of variables – infinitely improbable, entirely implausible, and undeniably present. The very paradox of existence.”
It wasn’t the first time they had discussed the matter, and the innkeeper’s face was once again drawing tight in confusion. Deklow, as kind as he was, didn’t have the capacity to comprehend the depth of his own existence – not that it was unusual for the gods to be a little dimmer than their immortality would suggest.
“You do want to go home, don’t you, Deklow?”
Deklow had found his place on Renryre Island. Working in the inns, he was always close to people, able to help them in the simplest ways – lending an ear or extending a little credit. He’d grown to like the mortals. So much so that he had managed to build a life of synonymous self co-existence, where he could be present in numerous places at once, all but monopolising the island’s tavern industry, capitalising on the fact that most punters always returned to the same bar.
“Of course I want to go home… it’s just…”
“What about Lytette? She will never agree to this.”
“I have seen to it that she will. In fact, just today, Madrik has been deposited into the desert. The chain of events leading to Lytette’s allegiance has already begun.”
“What it we fail? What if you fail? The Three will be watching.”
They would most certainly be watching. In fact, he was counting on it.
“We won’t fail, Deklow. You are the only person who knows, therefore you are the only one that can change the outcome. We won’t fail if you do exactly what I tell you to.”
“But how can you be sure?” pleaded the innkeeper.
“I have calculated everything. Even the finest of details.”
More than that, in fact. He had calculated all the variables, and that was the critical part. He understood every possible outcome. And that meant…
“The next forty-five days will go exactly as planned, Deklow.”
The innkeeper was momentarily distracted by another guest. He was an important guest, but it wasn’t his time yet. Not for another month. The innkeeper soon returned, lowering his voice to avoid having eavesdroppers overhear something they shouldn’t.
“You will go see him now?” asked Deklow.
“Tonight, yes. I will show him the Seven Sevens. And in two days’ time, he will begin what he believes to be his plans.”
“And he has no idea at all?”
“I can move in ways that nobody notices. Prod them, push them, lure them. Control them. As far as he is aware, I work for him.”
“No one can know about this,” said Deklow, worrying as usual. “You have to be–”
“Discreet?” he suggested with a grin. “I am always discreet.”
* * *
“Ah, Mr Arynlock. My apologies, I didn’t realise you were in here.”
He knew exactly where Arynlock was, of course – in his office, as usual.
“Don’t mind me, sir, forget I am even here.”
The man barely noticed him standing there. Working as a servant allowed for certain privileges: the run of the house, the ability to move unnoticed in Arynlock’s presence, access to a range of useful contacts, and of course, power. Power most of all, in fact. People scrambled to become useful as soon as they found out that he worked for Arynlock.
“What was that?” asked Arynlock distractedly. “What?”
“I was just bringing up a little paperwork that was left in your bedchamber, Mr Arynlock. I didn’t realise you were in here.”
“Ah, of course. Yes, I am here. Did you need something?”
Of course he needed something.
“No, no, Mr Arynlock. But if I could be of any service? May I ask, have you made any progress interpreting the Seven Sevens?”
Of course he had. Arynlock was a collector of valuable artefacts, and he was no simpleton. It wasn’t luck that had made him more or less the most powerful man on Renryre Island. Besides, it had been two days since he’d given Arynlock the Seven Sevens, which was the perfect amount of time. Just as he had planned it.
“Yes, I believe I have, in fact,” said Arynlock, squinting at the scroll. “It’s very interesting indeed. It doesn’t go so far as to way where the mainland went, but it does allude to the fact that it may have been hidden on purpose. And, more importantly, that there may be a way to find it.”
“Really, Mr Arynlock?” he said, perfectly feigning his surprise. “You think you can find it?”
“What? Well, yes, eventually. But in order to do so, I will need to find some hidden coins. The Navigators Coins.”
“Coins, sir? How many?”
“Seven, of course. That’s why it’s called the Seven Sevens.”
“Of course, sir, silly me. Where are these coins, then?”
“They were hidden, it seems. Though I can’t work out by whom. Perhaps…”
Arynlock trailed off in thought as he subconsciously returned to his reading, pacing the length of his office.
“Perhaps, Mr Arynlock, we should begin collecting the coins? Do you know where they are?”
“What? Why, yes. Yes, of course. Well, no, not exactly. It says that they were hidden all over the island. One in the mountains somewhere, another beneath the sea. One was hidden in the desert, then one in the forest. One of them was apparently with the gods, though I am not quite sure what that even means. And finally, the last two of them were hidden right here in Helen’s Bay”
Arynlock returned to his thoughts, trailing off in silence.
“Well, sir. Why don’t we start with those two? Do you know exactly where they are?”
“The first was… well, I haven’t quite worked that out yet. The second was locked in the safe within the city watch headquarters. But that was back then before the mainland vanished, when there was still a city watch.”
“Ah, yes, I see the problem,” he said, pretending to search his memories. “Wasn’t that building converted to a gambling den some years back? Yes, I think it’s now run by that gangster. What was his name… Tailfin?”
“Tailfin? Yes, I think you correct, he has done well for himself since the mainland disappeared. An unwanted necessity I suppose, given that he probably commits less crime that he prevents. But it won’t be easy, or cheap to retrieve that coin. I wonder how…”
“I may know of someone who can help,” he said, thinking out loud as if by accident. “Ah, yes, sir, I definitely know the man for the task. He will be able to retrieve it for you without causing a fuss. Why don’t I fetch him for you, and the two of you can discuss the matter in person? In the mean time, you can continue your work locating the rest of the coins.”
“Thank you, yes,” said Arynlock, returning his attention to the Seven Sevens. “What would I do without you?”
“I suspect you would easily find a replacement, sir,” he said, dipping his head in respect. “I can only do my best to serve.”
He backed out of the office and quickly made his way outside. Prepared as he was, a cart was waiting for him there. He cast his eyes out into the dreary rain as the cart worked its way down into Helen, into the less fortunate part of the city. When he arrived at his destination, he climbed out of the cart and ambled towards the door. He glanced up at the grey skies, allowing the drizzle to fall on his skin, considering all his calculations.
He knocked on the door until a young man wearily opened it, staring out at him expectantly.
“Mr Kyrnrie?” he said, as if he wasn’t certain.
“It’s just Kyrnrie.”
Yes. Yes, it is. Exactly as planned.
* * *
The ship rocked gently in the relatively small waves of Helen’s Bay. Arynlock was working at his desk in the dim light of the lamp, intently studying the Seven Sevens.
“Can I get you anything, Mr Arynlock? A cup of tea, perhaps?”
“What? Oh, yes please.”
He put the cup on the table as Arynlock returned to his work, barely noticing that the tea had already been made before it had been offered.
“Something the matter, sir?”
Arynlock glanced up distractedly. He looked tired. He had been studying the Seven Sevens for the best part of a month, and was struggling to make sense of it all.
“Have you heard from the thief yet?” asked Arynlock. “Is he back from Rordynne Forest yet?”
“No, sir, but I’m certain he will be back soon. It is a long journey, and he still needs to locate the hermit.”
“I didn’t give him much to go on, did I?” said the Arynlock. “A crazy old man living in the forest.”
“The forest is sparsely populated, sir. But I have no doubt he will find someone who knows where the hermit lives.”
His granddaughter, for example, who happened to be more important to his plans than the hermit.
“Yes, I suppose so,” said the collector. “But it has been, what, three weeks? And I have still only acquired a single coin. This is proving to be more difficult than I had hoped.”
“You have at least located a few more coins. When Kyrnrie returns, you will be able to send him to retrieve the next one straight away.”
“And the coin at the bottom of Helen’s Bay?” asked Arynlock. “How will I collect that one? No one could possibly swim that deep. It’s probably right underneath us, yet it remains well out of reach.”
“Well,” he said, stretching the vowel in thought, “I do know someone, who may know someone… yes. When we return, I will introduce you. His talent with words is only exceeded by his resourcefulness. I am certain he can help.”
“Very well,” agreed Arynlock with an uncertain tone.
There was a commotion outside, shouting, screaming. Right on time.
“Don’t worry, Mr Arynlock, I will handle this.”
He walked out onto the deck, and cast an expectant gaze overboard. Tailfin was sitting in a tender, with the trio of Madrik, Talyreina and one his lackeys splashing in the water. He waited patiently while his guests neared the ship, and then allowed them to climb aboard. He eyed them with as suspicious a look as he could muster, and feigned some annoyed questioning before he was interrupted by Arynlock, who took a much gentler approach to the interrogation of the apparently stranded sailors.
He casually eased around the back of the four as they discovered for themselves the coincidental meeting of previously unconnected people. He chuckled to himself as Madrik came to realise that in finding Arynlock, he had unwittingly done exactly what he was he was supposed to, despite believing he would be completely unable to do so.
While the four guests were distracted by their conversation with Arynlock, he swiftly pushed the lackey overboard, and progressed to knock Tailfin over the head and watch his body crumble onto the deck, albeit to Arynlock’s dissatisfaction.
His employer was quick to understand the situation. That the most dangerous criminal in Helen was after him. That he had an opportunity to put somebody else in his place. That he could use Madrik to his advantage.
Arynlock reluctantly accepted Madrik’s suggestion that Tailfin be thrown to the sharks, and was happy to avoid the responsibility of executing the task himself. He summoned his new pawns inside, leaving the god of time on deck, alone with the unconscious Tailfin.
“Don’t worry, Tailfin,” he muttered. “You will be back.”
He fixed a chain around the crime lord’s ankle, weighting the far end.
“You will have plenty of time to yourself down there,” he added. “You might as well go exploring as far as your chain will allow.”
He pushed the weight overboard, and watched it drag the unconscious Tailfin down with it, sinking deep into Helen’s Bay. He smiled to himself as he saw the colour of the water return to its normal dark hue, glinting in the starlight, hiding the place where Tailfin had been dropped.
“That,” he said to himself while adjusting his shirt, “went exactly as planned.”
* * *
Deklow poured one of his overly generous quarter-pint-in-a-half-pint-mugs of ale, and handed it over with a familiar worried expression on his face.
“I understand that you like to take advantage of your customers,” he said, holding out his drink, “but aren’t we friends?”
“What are you on about?” demanded the innkeeper in a tired voice. “That is the perfect half pint.”
“A half pint of foam, perhaps.”
“Three-quarters of an inch of foam. Nothing more, nothing less. The perfect pour. Not one of my customers has ever complained.”
“Not one of them has ever measured your three-quarter inch.”
“Godsdammit, just drink the thing. It’s not as if you’re paying for it.”
He smiled at Deklow, taking ample enjoyment in ragging him. The simple pleasures of mortality were almost completely lost on many of the gods. He changed the subject, returning to their more pressing business.
“Is everything prepared for the city watchmen?” he asked.
“More or less,” said the innkeeper. “I will be opening the doors to The Sharpened Bluntooth in two days, as requested.”
“And you have enough room, food, and ale for two-score, heavily deprived sailors?”
“Enough to last them a dozen nights without sleep.”
“And when Pektyne shows you the compass?”
“I will send him to Arynlock, just as you asked,” he said. “Is that all you need? The compass?”
“I need many things, Deklow. This plan won’t fall into place without my perfect calculations, the countless variables resolving exactly to the desired result.”
“Yes, I know. I just mean… a whole ship? Never mind. I will do as you say, and trust that you know what you are doing.”
“Excellent. I will find Constable Pektyne and Tyke shortly, and send them north in search of the impending shipwreck. While Pektyne is mostly a simple man, there are particular complexities in correctly manoeuvring him. I have had to set a number of traps to lure him into the suspicion that something is not quite right. Just enough to convince him to follow the signs. Don’t let him onto anything… all you know is that Arynlock might be interested. Do you understand?”
“Yes, yes. Anything else I need to do?”
“Make sure the torch is lit. It’s very important.”
The god of time had a tendency to review the calculations of his predictions frequently to ensure that everything would continue to work out as planned. The torch was important. Without the torch… things wouldn’t go exactly as he’d planned.
“Of course. Make that two.”
He eyed his next meeting at the far end of the tavern. Collecting the two drinks, he crossed the dining hall to a small table in the corner of room. A man was sitting there alone with a parchment laid before him on the table, scribbling away, using an expensive feather pen. The god of time sat down without invitation, the ale a gift to open the conversation.
“You looked thirsty,” he said casually.
“I am always thirsty,” the man replied with a curious expression, glancing at his papers. “Can I help you with something?”
“Why, yes. Yes, you can,” he said twiddling fingers. “What do you know about fishing?”
“Fishing?” he asked, taking the bait. “You cast out a line, and wait for a bite.”
“Exactly right, Mr Scribe,” he said nodding in agreement. “But sometimes, the fish needs a little encouragement to take that bite. And that is what you can help me with.”
* * *
The days passed by, and still the plan continued to unfold without a hitch. Irikhart would be back in Helen by noon, and The Scribe had already returned with the coin from the bottom of Helen’s Bay during the night. Add that to the coin Arynlock already possessed, and the two with the bakerwoman and the hermit, there were only two left to collect. Everything had happened exactly as he’d planned.
His next visit would be a short one. Just long enough to ensure that some tempers were dampened, and that certain people wouldn’t be killed.
The gambling den was full of the wrong type of people, as was expected of any disreputable gambling den. If was also full of lackeys – Tailfin’s men. Well, Madrik and Talyreina’s men.
He stood at the door to the so-called most powerful crime lords on Renryre Island. It was blocked by a large henchman. He was formidable in the size department. Less so when it came to intelligence.
“No one is allowed in,” insisted the large man.
“No one at all?”
“Then why did you let Madrik and Talyreina in?”
“What? Well, of course they are allowed in.”
For the first time since his arrival, the henchman looked down at who he was talking to instead of staring impassively over the sea of heads lost on the tables.
“Why is that? I thought you said no one’s allowed in?”
“Well… No one that isn’t Madrik or Talyreina.”
“Ah. You should make this clearer from the outset. It could be a little confusing to your more intelligent level of prospective meeting attendants attempting to gain entry through your impressive screening process.”
“What?” said the henchman, with a delightful look of confusion.
“You must be their second, then?” he asked with a tired voice.
“Second. Second-in-command,” he added at the continued incomprehension. “Their number-two man.”
“Ah. Yes. Yes, I am.”
“It’s a big responsibility.”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
“Knowing every single person on Renryre Island. Being able to deny entry to guests without even enquiring as to who they are. Of course, if you didn’t know everyone on the island, and you instead refused entry to the wrong person… well, that would be disastrous, wouldn’t it?”
The big man faltered for a moment, eyes darting around nervously.
“Who are you?” he asked, attempting to take back the authority.
“I might be the last person you speak to as an employed man,” he retorted, taking a darker tone. “Perhaps the last person you ever speak to. I suggest you open the door while my temper remains under control.”
The henchman visibly ran the odds through his mind, straining to come to a decision. Eventually the door swung open. Behind it, Madrik and Talyreina sat at their desk, a slightly bewildered look shared between them.
“Mr Madrik, Miss Talyreina. Do you remember me?” he asked.
“Arynlock’s man?” suggested Madrik.
“The one who threw Tailfin overboard,” added Talyreina.
He took a seat in the corner of the office, taking his time to confirm their guess.
“There has been a complication with Tailfin. It seems he failed to die as a result of the misfortune you laid upon him. He is on his way here at this very moment.”
“He’s coming here?”
The pair looked at each other in horror. Crossed the wrong man. In Madrik’s case, three times already. Odd, those two. Paraded their power like birds of paradise without fear of predators, then cowered at the mere mention of Tailfin’s name.
“But don’t worry,” he added. “Arynlock has everything under control. Do exactly as he intends, and we will be rid of Tailfin for good.”
“What must we do?”
“Exactly what Tailfin wants you to,” he said. “Beg. Beg for mercy. Plea for your lives. Agree to any reparations he demands. Eventually, he will ask you to kill Arynlock. You must agree to this. Then, we will hide you up at the mansion until such time as we are ready to proceed. Understood?”
The two nodded vigorously, and barely a moment later, the door was broken in. Tailfin stormed in and threw vicious words at the pair, not even noticing the man sitting quietly in the corner. The returned crime lord went on for some time before his eyes met those of the god of time.
“And you are?” demanded Tailfin.
“Discreet, sir. I believe I was just about to let myself out, sir. On your orders, of course, Mr Tailfin.”
Tailfin still had no idea who he was. What he was. The god of time kept that to himself as he left them to their arguments.
* * *
The rows of breads and cakes laid out before him were but a small pleasure to enjoy as the time drew nearer. Forty-five days had passed, and they had progressed exactly as he’d planned. His calculations had been, of course, perfect.
“I would like a slice of your delicious cheese tart please, Miss Nelysse.”
“Certainly,” said the bakerwoman, as she began cutting the cake. “I am not sure I have seen you around here before…”
“I don’t have a particularly recognisable face,” pointed out the god of time. “Though I have been here a few times – my sir is rather fond of your fresh breads. But that is not important. I am, in fact, here on business.”
“An acquaintance of mine recently visited you to discuss a matter of great importance, and negotiate an agreement. A gentleman by the name of Mr Kyrnrie.”
“Kyrnrie? He didn’t come to discuss anything. I found him digging around my underwear drawer!”
“You hide your valuables in your underwear drawer?”
“Well, no, but…”
“It’s the first place men would look. Even if they weren’t thieves.”
“Well, yes, I suppose…”
“It’s no matter,” he said, shrugging casually. “We now have all the coins. Their owners are bringing them in today.”
“You can really find the mainland with them?” she asked, excitement clear on her face.
“Yes, we can, with all seven.”
She hardly needed convincing. If her oven were smoking, a fire would surely have broken out after she’d forgotten about it. But of course, he already knew that wouldn’t be the case.
They returned immediately to Arynlock’s mansion, and he sent Nelysse to wait in the drawing room while he sought out Arynlock, who was in his office as usual.
“Good evening, Mr Arynlock.”
“Ah, there you are. Have you—”
“Everything is taken care of, sir. Tonight, you will have all seven coins.”
Arynlock was fidgeting with the Seven Sevens nervously.
“Is everything alright, sir?”
“Yes. No. I… I’m not quite sure what to do when…”
“I am sure you will work it out once you have all the coins, sir.”
He was sure, of course.
“Yes. Yes, I suppose so,” said Arynlock, far from convinced. “They are all here?”
“The bakerwoman is in the drawing room, and the others are close. Kyrnrie and his companions arrived by ship just moments after The Scribe docked. They will be here soon.”
“And the crazy old man?”
“The crazy old man? It’s come to my attention that that description fits a lot of people on this island.”
“Yes, yes, I am referring to the hermit.”
“Ah, of course, silly me. Don’t you worry about that, I have already arranged it all. He will be arriving with The Scribe.”
Arynlock visibly counted to seven, his fingers moving vaguely as his grin began to widen.
“Excellent,” he said once he reached the desired number. What would I do without out you?”
“I suppose, sir, you would find the mainland with the help of another servant.”
“Nonsense. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
Really, it was the other way around, but he wouldn’t point that out just yet.
“Thank you, sir. You are too kind. I will go and await your guests.”
The god of time could barely contain his own excitement as he went to wait at the front door. Forty years of planning, and forty-five long days of everything going exactly as planned.
There was a knock at the door, right on time, and he opened it expectantly.
“Ah, Mr Kyrnrie, Miss Ryleine, Mr Abbikson, Mr Irikhart. I trust your expedition went well? Please, come on in. You can wait for Mr Arynlock in the drawing room. Help yourself to any food and drinks laid out on the table.”
They mumbled their thanks as they pushed through the doorway, likely as excited by the prospect of a good meal as they were about finding the mainland. That made five coins, on time, just as he’d planned.
Another knock at the door, and he answered with an increasingly high-pitched voice.
“Mr Scribe, Mr Tailfin, Mr Gerylde. Welcome. Please, come in. Right over there. There are drinks waiting, and something to fill your bellies. Please, make yourselves at home. Mr Arynlock will see you soon. And your granddaughter is waiting for you there, Mr Gerydle.”
There was a gleeful smile from the hermit, accompanied by a deep sigh of relief from Tailfin as the three entered, heading straight for the drawing room.
That made seven coins. All seven of them. The Navigators Coins. He had done it. The mainland was as good as found. He had calculated every intricate detail, eliminated every possible failure. Everything had gone exactly as planned.
There was another knock on the door, and the god of time failed to conceal a giddy squeal.
“Ah! Mr…” he began, his heart sinking rapidly, “who are you?”
“Good evening. I am here to meet with… Arynlock?”
“Who are you?”
“Makyron is my name. I have an artefact that Arynlock would be very interested in seeing if—”
“You have the compass, don’t you?” he sighed.
“Uh, yes. How did—?”
He stepped outside, searching for any other people waiting there.
“Where is Pektyne?” he asked, his voice sagging. “Where is the navigator?”
“You stole the godsdammed compass?”
Makyron turned and sprinted away from the mansion as the god of time watched, stunned and broken.
“Godsdammit,” he sighed, rubbing his temples as he sat on the step in the suddenly lonely night. “This is not how I planned it.”
I hope you enjoyed reading Renryre Island Chapter XIX: Don’t Mind Me
Next, Chapter XX: Seven Sevens
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