The Secret of the Rose and Glove

by Kevin Andrew Murphy

Chapter Two: The Torching of the Traitoresses

Half the wheel of the year had turned since Norret's return to Dabril. The ruddy firedrake who ruled summer, salamanders, fire mephits, and tinderbox imps had at last spent his rash choler and ceded his place to autumn, the Season of the Blue Dragoness, the earthen drake who embodied the melancholy humor and was thus honored by carbuncles, gnomes, jewelers, and those who harvest the fruits of the earth. It was also the Fifth of Neth, fortieth anniversary of Galt's independence. In Dabril, that also meant time for the Torching of the Traitoresses.

When he was nine, Norret remembered Mad Maudine, who swore that she had uncovered a nest of nobles who had secretly drowned themselves to escape the justice of the Final Blades and were then reincarnated by a royalist druid. Dabril's council was less than pleased to find that the purported nobles were now a flock of wild geese, and were even less amused when Maudine referred to a particularly pretty and friendly goose she had tamed as 'Lady Gemerel,' especially since it was well accepted that the infamously empty-headed ingénue still had her soul residing in Bloody Jaine.

The geese were beheaded with normal blades and roasted, and Maudine's fate was somewhat similar. Dabril was too small to warrant a permanent guillotine, so rather than transporting her down the Sellen to Jaine—inviting questions from the Woodsedgeans as to what constituted a felony in Dabril and jokes about foolish provincials—Dabril's council declared Maudine's crime a misdemeanor. Thus she would suffer the same fate as scolds, gossips, innwives who watered their wine, and those who consorted with monsters or gave birth to them. She was placed in a farthingale woven from osiers, covered with a gown of straw, and had her head locked into a gossip's mask, a monstrous piece of ironwork inspired by Lamashtu with the ears of foolish donkey, the snout of a truffle-hunting pig, and the voice of a silly goose. This last was created by means of a razor-edged kazoo forced down the condemned's throat so that she gurgled blood and made absurd sounds as she begged for mercy.

Of course, it was a mercy. Once she was placed on a raft packed with stakes, a few fellow traitoresses, a lit torch, and a hayrick, Maudine's foolish soul was free to journey to the Boneyard and whatever fate the Lady of Graves decreed thereafter.

Norret still did not know what crimes his father or Ceron had committed to warrant a Final Blade, but knew better than to ask.

Thankfully, this year Dabril's traitoresses were mere wicker and straw, effigies of the hag Traxyla and her cronies who had once disastrously usurped the Revolutionary Council, packed with fireworks so they would burn more brilliantly. Those who wished forgiveness for small transgressions, wished to appear patriotic, or just liked to blow things up could purchase a council-approved firework to add to the pyre. As an alchemist and former apprentice to Powdermaster Davin, Norret had found gainful employment.

The boy clutched a coin purse, his fingers pink in the crisp autumn air, and eyed Norret's tray greedily. The formula for thunderstones, when cut, yielded pouches of popping pebbles. Sunrod amalgam, instead of tipping iron crows, could also be applied to thin wire to create sparklers. The receipt which created smokesticks sufficient to fog a battlefield could be diluted and adulterated with salts and essential oils so as to create wands of incense which left trails of pleasantly colored smoke, the most popular being the patriotic punks Norret had triple-dipped such that first they would release blue smoke scented with heliotrope, then white scented with jessamine, and finally red perfumed with Dabril's own roses. Similarly, the formulae used for creating alchemist's fire and explosive petards could be used to create what Powdermaster Davin had termed "the fires of joy"—hop-frogs, dragonfly rockets, crackers, squibs, a pretty wheel called Shelyn's Rose, goblin brands, siren fountains, and witch's candles.

"Why they be called 'witch candles'?" asked the boy. "'ese cast hexes?"

"They burn blue and scream when you light them."

"Ma granmere's a witch. Candles only burn blue when she cackles." The boy looked to the hop-frogs, which Norret had given scintillating incense pastilles for the jewels in their foreheads rather than the fuming arsenide pills he would use for venomous toads, adding, "Knows a hex that kin make toads hop outta yer mouth too." He paused. "Only uses it on those the Council marks, mind ye."

"Do the toads make noise when they hop, then explode into swarms of fireflies?"

"No," the boy admitted dubiously. "What sorta hex be that?"

"No hexery," Norret corrected. "Alchemy. Natural magic, the art of the philosophers."

The boy was suitably impressed, emptying the purse of coppers and even a few well-worn silvers for an assortment of hop-frogs, rockets, sparklers, squibs and small fountains. Norret added a witch's candle as lagniappe, and the boy smiled and took it. "Gonna slip this inna granmere's hex bag when she ain't lookin'...."

Norret was deaf in one ear and could pretend he had missed that. "Thank you for your patriotism, citizen." He watched as the boy ran down the stairs to the dock and proceeded to stuff rockets up the wicker witches' skirts. "Joyous independence!"

The gardens of the Liberty Hostel were filled with colored smoke, pops and whistles, and sparkling flashes from those who could not wait for nightfall. The chateau itself might be haunted, plagued with inexplicable lights in the corridors, mysterious whisperings from the walls, ghostly music in the grand ballroom, and the occasional unfortunate death or disappearance of those who went poking about too deeply for undiscovered treasures, but the grottos and garden follies, and indeed the rest of the grounds, were blissfully unaffected and treated as the people's park.

A few intrepid souls who were not desperate or brave enough to live there already snuck up onto the dolphin terrace and stole a glance through the shattered panes of the ballroom doors, shivering with delight at their daring since the music sounded like no earthly instrument save the accursed armonica, the glass organ so much in fashion with the nobility before the Revolution. Created by the Andoran inventrix Alysande Benedict, its rotating bowls were tuned to the resonant frequencies of the celestial spheres, said to mimic the voices of angels, the wails of the damned, and all spirits in between, and performances of the infernal device could induce madness or even death. Even so, some declared the unseen minstrels to be the ghosts of patriots since the tune of the spectral armonica at times sounded like the Litraniase, the Chant of the Gray Gardeners.

Norret didn't know about the madness or death, but considerable annoyance was possible. He also personally thought the invisible armonica players were counter-revolutionaries, since half the time he had heard the revolutionary march echoing down the halls, it was played up-tempo, turning the tune into a mocking minuet. He could even hear a slight echo of it now, the merry timing completely at odds with the lyrics: Cruel tyrants, hear the widows weep! / The beggars howl like starving trolls! / Galt's children in the Boneyard sleep / But Mercy's Blade will hold your souls!

Still, the terrace commanded the best view of the river, and there was a comfortable bench by the fountain where, thanks to Norret's handiwork, the dire dolphins were spouting and gargling for the first time since the Revolution.

It had not been intentional.

Like many guests of the Liberty Hostel, Norret had gone exploring, discovering garrets and wine cellars, attics and crypts, parlors, pantries, the buttery, the scullery, and even a still room presided over by a fresco of Patapouf the unicorn in a field of flowers. There, where the duchess and her servants had once prepared the simples, preserves, medicaments, soaps, and of course perfumes a large household required, Norret had unslung his bedroll and now used the old marble mortars and tables to compound fireworks.

That said, while the duchess's still room was the most lavish work area Norret had ever had the privilege to use, the alembics he had cobbled together from jam jars and jelly pots were a far cry from the grand alchemical laboratory a duke and duchess obsessed with alchemy must have had. Flauric, the gnomish chef who made the kitchens his personal domain, claimed in a rare bout of sobriety that the stench of sulfur beneath the chateau came not from the magical dungheap of a cockatrice-hatching toad but from a great lake of brimstone where the duke and duchess stewed to this day, for the duke's laboratory was in Hell itself!

Norret personally doubted this. Not the bit about the ultimate fate of Arjan Devore's soul, but the idea that Anais Devore had already joined him and that the chateau's cellars contained a portal to the underworld. However, the laboratory had to be somewhere, and forty years of propaganda could easily confuse a secret alchemical workshop with Hell itself.

Consequently, Norret had compounded one of Cedrine's formulae—a vegetative extract composed of fern, the puckish herb even illiterate witches knew could grant both invisibility and the ability to sense the hidden—and an exploration of the cellars led him to the pump room, a tangled mass of broken pipes and frozen valves, rusted gears and corroded machinery.

Fortunately what man and time could break, alchemy and art could repair. Unfortunately, when he managed to turn a series of valves he was certain would open a passage to a secret laboratory—or at least a lost ducal treasury—Norret instead diverted the hot springs to the dolphin fountain which had long ago been planted with sugar beets, causing an eruption of molten mud and molasses on the back terrace.

Norret was reeking of sulfur like a parboiled steam mephit when he was brought before Dabril's council. It did not help that rumors were circulating that he was the lost heir of Duchess Devore, here to reclaim his mother's legacy.

Men had been sent to the final blades for less. However, Norret made a pitiable sight and pled his case: His real mother had disowned him, the rest of his family was dead save for one sister, and despite his father and brother's crimes against the state, he was a child of Dabril and patriot of Galt, a decorated veteran with an honorable discharge. Also, while hot mud baths were said to be therapeutic, he had just been trying to open a pipe to one of the Liberty Hostel's other baths so he could soothe his war injuries. As for brimstone, while he could not summon fiends with it, he did know how to turn it into fireworks.

The truths were true and the lies and fabrications were relatively slight, so aside from making fireworks for the council to sell for All Kings Day, Norret was tasked with cleaning out the fountain and then using his alchemical arts to tint the waters red, for this was the Red Revolution's Ruby Anniversary and the council thought it would be festive.

Norret accomplished this by installing a mercury drip in the pump room. Combined with the sulfur already present in the water, and adjustments so as to not create metacinnabar, the rarer black form of mercuric sulfide, this precipitated cinnabar's beautiful red form, vermilion, also known as the limner's pigment Tien red.

Norret thought the water looked like fine claret and was quite proud of himself until one of the older citizens of Dabril came to purchase fireworks and took a moment to praise his verisimilitude, saying the fountain looked just like it had when Bloody Jaine stood on the bench where Norret now sat.

The old timer regaled him with memories of that great day, how the stone basin had caught the spurting blood and the fantastically fanged maws of the dire dolphins had spat it back just as the basket caught the heads! Just imagine—the line of the condemned had stretched all the way down the wide marble stairs to the boathouse which had once housed the vain duchess's swan boats but was now filled with the council of Dabril, currently judging the knitting contest for Coco the cockatrice's new liberty cap.

Norret dully tallied up the old man's purchases and smiled as best he could as he received the council's money along with the man's praise of how patriotic he was to restore such a fine reminder of Dabril's glorious past!

Norret sat there for a long while, listening to the gurgling of the fountain and the ghostly armonica echoing from the ballroom until they were drowned out by another tune, a woman's voice singing: "There was an inn, oh long ago. Its cockerel would crow and crow. Now comes the time ye all should know"—the singer sustained the note masterfully, a rich dramatic contralto, before concluding the verse—"the Tale of the Cockerel...."

This was followed by hacking and sputtering and a loud slurp. "Pfah, thish izh rosewater," slurred the same voice next to him, no longer singing. Norret looked.

A woman, laced into a gown that would have been more becoming when it was fifty years less moth-eaten but still displaying an attractive figure, had come out of the chateau in her salvaged finery and now leaned over the bloody red water, cup in one hand.

The council had also asked him to do something about the fountain's scent, but had thankfully made no preference beyond that. Attar of roses was common in Dabril, one of the few perfumes strong enough to mask brimstone, and Norret had just thought it would be nice. "You were hoping for some other flavor?" he asked querulously.

"Was hopin' fer a tipple fer me gout," the woman confessed. "Looksh like wine...." From the aroma of anise and alcohol wafting from her, Norret assumed she had already tippled quite a bit, anisette being a potent if poor imitation of elven absinthe.

Healing elixirs were not Norret's strong suit either, more the pity, but he knew from the doctrine of signatures that the shape of a plant indicated the malady it treated. "'The bulb of an autumn crocus resembles a gouty toe,'" Norret quoted, retreating to pedantry. "If you could find one, I could attempt a stronger tonic than... mineral water."

"Rhodel may not be the prettiest doxy in town, but she's by far the bravest."

"'s'not gout," the woman admitted, staggering, then turned and abruptly sat down on the edge of the fountain. Norret realized with some horror that the owner of the attractive figure, impressive singing voice, and salvaged pre-Revolutionary gown was Dabril's oldest piece of laced mutton, Rhodel, her weathered breasts corseted high. "Got anythin' fer hag pox?"

She used the vulgar term rather than the seditious "Galtan pox" or the flowery elven "syphilis," which sounded more like some frolicking shepherd from a pastoral lay than a malady that resembled a hag's curse, able to take a hundred evil forms, from sores to deformity to outright madness, and thus utterly defeat the doctrine of signatures.

Fortunately that doctrine was subset to the law of sympathy and names still held power. "Wild pansies," Norret declared. "Halflings call them 'heartsease' and the elves call them 'love-in-idleness.'"

"D'they work?"

"Citizen Cedrine swore by them, but only shared her formula to turn them into a love philtre." Norret shrugged. "I haven't any sure healing receipt save thieves' vinegar, and that's just an antiplague, not a panacea."

Rhodel leered at him, taking in his crippled form slumped on a bench with a tray of fireworks in his lap and his crutch at his side until a smile came over her scab-encrusted lips. "An' if ye had one a those, ye'd have already taken it...."

Norret nodded. "I can't even compound a decent mithridate. Powerdermaster Davin commended the curative properties of pure mercury, but he took that with mithridate to belay the poison. The best I can concoct is antitoxin."

"Fewmets..." Rhodel swore. "Fine sort of alchemist ye are!" She reached into her ample cleavage and produced a flask from the depths of her bodice. "Ye're sure no duchess!"

"What do you mean?"

"Back when the duchess threw a ball, she really threw a ball! She tossed a bash bomb big as a pomander into thish fountain 'n' all at once the water started frothin' 'n' bubblin'." Rhodel uncorked the flask and took a swig, the air filling with the odor of badly aged anisette. "When it cleared, it were filled wid champagne cold as a midwinter mornin' and nicer t'an anythin' ye're likely ta taste in yer lifetime—an' it could cure ev'ry ill, even ma turned ankle!"

"'Bash bomb'?" echoed Norret. "What's that? A concussive grenade?"

"No, I shed 'bash bomb,'" Rhodel corrected. "Like the duchess used ta take a bath." She pointed to the fountain. "She had a pink one 'at made healin' champagne ' an' a white one 'at made a beauty bath a' ass's milk." She took another drink and looked at the bottle, then at Norret. "Y'know this was when I were a parlor slave here an' the wicked duchess weren't beatin' me wid 'er ridin' crop while kickin' da turnspit dogs wid 'er fancy boots. Because, y'know, she did."

"Of course," said Norret.

Rhodel looked back. "Eh, I know men, an' I know ye know that last were a crock." She took another swig of anisette. "Care for a nip?"

Norret looked at her poxy lips. "No, thank you."

Rhodel took another swig of liquid courage, stowed the flask in her cleavage, and seemed to come to a decision. "Let me help ye wid dat," she breathed, reeking of anise, alcohol, and decay, like Urgathoa on a bender. Norret recoiled in horror as the harlot leaned over and expertly unlaced the fireworks tray from his waist, then took it and put it on herself.

"I've already said too much, might as well say a bit more," she declared. She stood, witch's candles and siren fountains bowing away from her bosom. "Follow me, Young Norret."

Norret got to his feet and grabbed his crutch, but it was a sad testament to his state that an aged drunken dollymop driven mad by hag pox still moved faster than he did, staggering down the steps and continuing her song, skipping a few verses along: "Down in the dung there lived a crone! A warty toad with a precious stone! Upon her brow, a diamond shone!"

Rhodel stopped and sustained the note, having found the spot on the landing where the belvedere of the chateau behind her and the hills of Kyonin before combined to amplify her already impressive pipes. Norret had almost caught up when she concluded the phrase: "The Cap of Crapaudine!" drawing applause and causing the revelers on the stairs to part for her as she flounced down with all the joie de vivre of a maiden who has made up her mind.

By the time Norret got down to the dock, Rhodel had climbed atop the dais and lit a goblin brand. It fired shells with a series of loud reports: blue, white, and red flew into the air, the colors of Galt, followed by green, gold, and rose, the colors of Dabril. "Now that I have yer attention," Rhodel declared, "I would like ta address this meetin' a the Council a Dabril!"

There were murmurs in the crowd and words like "mad" and "drunk."

"Thatsh right," Rhodel agreed. "I may be mad, I may be drunk, but I'm the one with the bombs, so ye all get ta listen ta me fer a change!" She held the smoldering remains of the goblin brand over her tray. A few of the wiser and faster ran in terror, but others, underestimating the explosive capacity, foolishly thinking that the fires of joy could only be used for joy, or just as trapped as Norret was by his crutch and the press of the crowd, simply stayed, petrified as if by a cockatrice's touch.

"This is our independenshe!" declared Rhodel. "Independenshe from what? Truth? Common sense? Fear? Well I'm dyin' so I'm done wid the last, so I'll tell ya a few things the old don't wanna admit an' the young only suspect. Our duchess? She were a good duchess! An' she worked her ass harder'n I ever worked mine on these streets! Ye all think perfume 'n' gloves sell themselves? She pimped 'em hard at court, an' our guilds got rich. An' if she took some fer herself, so what? She earned it! An' her husband, old Arjan, the 'bad' duke? He were a scared old man too busy snorting mercury 'n' tryin' ta make the elixir of youth ta have time ta whip peasants! Yeah, he taxed us an' spent too much on his weddin'. Boo hoo. We still got taxes! And death too, an' a lot more o' that! An' shpeakin' a death, maybe the duchess poisoned old Arjan and bribed the priests ta say he weren't comin' back, or maybe he just were too old like she said. Who cares? That be the truth!"

Rhodel was just getting wound up. "Want another bit a truth? Half a ye are are smugglers selling perfume 'n' brandy ta the elves so we kin have food, an' half are spies fer the Gray Gardeners, an' that be a joke right there because ye know yer Litranaise? Yer 'March a' the Revolution'? Darl Jubannich were a hack! He recycled shtuff from his operas! That started as the 'Silver Maidens' Song' he wrote fer the masque fer our duchess's weddin', an' I know 'cause I were only six but I got ta play the Horse! Then Jubannich reused it for his 'Tales of— Oh bugger..." Rhodel trailed off, looking down at her tray where a stray spark from her goblin brand had ignited several fuses. "I was gonna shay more...."

Whatever she was going to add was silenced by the witch's candles, which began to scream, and the siren fountains, which sang like sopranos at the top of their range, their blue flames and waterfall of sparks setting fire to the shreds of Rhodel's tattered gown.

Corsetry, however, is a form of armor, and with icy dignity the old slattern marched forward, hop-frogs hopping from her tray and scintillating as she stepped onto the raft tied at the end of the dock. She embraced the effigies of Traxyla and her cronies like sisters, setting fire to the Shelyn's roses on their breasts which began to twirl like red windmills as she cast off, the raft drifting into the Sellen as the blaze began in earnest.

Then a voice rose up, defiantly echoing off the hills of Kyonin: "But up in the air flew King Coco! The unicorn's horn, where could it go? Then Patapouf found a hole below...." Rhodel sustained the note, harmonizing with the siren fountains until at last concluding with a flourish, "The tail of the cockatrice!"

With that, the dragonfly rockets Norret had bound to Traxyla's broomstick went off in sequence as he had hoped, bearing her effigy high over the river before exploding in a brilliant blue flash of witchfire and brimstone.

He had not thought she would have a passenger.


Coming Next Week: Mysterious clues and the dark clouds of suspicion in the third chapter of "The Secret of the Rose and Glove."

Kevin Andrew Murphy is the author of numerous stories, poems, and novels, as well as a writer for Wild Cards, George R. R. Martin's shared-world anthology line, with his next contribution coming in 2011 with Fort Freak. His most recent short stories include "Tea for Hecate" in the upcoming anthology Fangs for the Mammaries and "The Fifth River Freedom," the fourth chapter of Prodigal Sons in the Kingmaker Pathfinder's Journal. For more information, visit his website.

Art by KyuShik Shin

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Tags: Kevin Andrew Murphy Kyushik Shin Pathfinder Tales The Secret of the Rose and Glove
The Exchange

Wow... That was entertaining.
I can't wait for the next chapter.


Agreed! Well done, Kevin!

Liberty's Edge

O.o Well, that was certainly dramatic. This story is interesting, but I feel like the setting is more of a character than poor Norret. I would like to get a better feel for who he is, and also see some more of his alchemical badassery in action. (Additionally, I rather want to hug him...such a lonely, abandoned guy... :( )

Contributor

I'm glad folks are enjoying this and liked the end of this chapter.

And I'm glad you want to give Norret a hug, Courtney, and see more inside him, and some alchemical badassery, but I dare not say more beyond "check in next week."


I really enjoyed the first chapter, but this one was just amazing.
I'm looking forward to reading more.


The language sophistication used in the piece is quite high. You have me going to the dictionary over and over again. It's almost as challenging as navigating through the technical language in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

Definately storing 'hag pox' in the mental dictionary. Also enjoying this quite a bit, and wanting to play an alchemist more and more.

Contributor

I'll admit that "hag pox" is my own coinage, though James has blessed it for Golarion. Basically, I realized you couldn't do the French Revolution without the French pox, as it was called in the real world at the time, and while everyone in Golarion likely calls it the Galtan pox, the exception would be Galt itself--and "syphilis" sounds too clinical/modern for an 18th century setting, even though it is a beautiful word (and in fact comes from the name of the protagonist of an Italian epic poem about 'Syphilus,' a shepherd cursed with the disease by Apollo, and no, I'm not making this up). But given that green hags are supposed to seduce men, curse them, and drive them mad? I thought "hag pox" sounded about right.

With the rest of the diction, it's the combination of medieval architecture and heraldry, Elizabethan herbalism, 18th century alchemy and perfumery, and peppering to taste with enough other period verbiage so everything would seem of a piece but still be clear from context. I'm glad folk are enjoying this, even with a few trips to the dictionary.


Way too convoluted wording for me. Not enough dialogue and too many sentences that run on and on. I would suggest shortening some of your sentences to make them more entertaining and easier to follow.


I think this is a delightful trip through the alchemical obsessions of Europe around the time of the French Unpleasantness. Or was that the War of Peasant Aggression? I do get them confused ...

Nevertheless I find the otto of the story as fragrant as otto should be!

MI

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Another fun romp in Galt! On to the Feaster in the Dark.

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