9. Krysztof, Cobbler King of the Gypsies

Inglorion made his promise to Sieia in the spur of the moment, without considering what it would entail to run away with his little sister and seek their fortunes elsewhere. He begins to plan their escape immediately, and is frankly shocked at the difficulties it presents. He starts by pulling together his small funds, and selling or pawning the few bits of extra clothing he has that will bring any cash. This leads him to worry about lack of money and certainty of pursuit.

The more he tries to plan, the more difficulties Inglorion confronts, and the less confident he is of his ability to get Sieia away successfully. It’s spring, so temperatures will be moderate, and the summer rains haven’t set in yet, but he and Sieia are urban creatures, unaccustomed to foraging. They’re both poor riders, and no horse will carry him. Neither of them has ever been aboard a ship, the cost is prohibitive, and passengers are easily traced. He doesn’t dare try to cross one of the mountain passes without a guide; otherwise, there’s only one road out of Liamelia, the post road to Amakir. He starts to think they’ll have to travel to Amakir on foot, a 10-day trip if they can’t hitch a ride. Pursuit is certain, and sure to be vigorous and vengeful. Hair can be dyed and features can be concealed, but his silver eyes and Sieia’s violet ones are impossible to disguise, short of magic. If they’re caught, she’ll be brought back to Liamelia. He’ll certainly be dismissed from service and permanently separated from Sieia; he’d probably face criminal charges for abduction. 

When Inglorion is honest with himself, the chances of escape seem very poor indeed. Finally, in desperation, he swears Collatinus to secrecy and takes the old man into his confidence. To his relief, Collatinus doesn’t reject the idea of escape out of hand. “I hate to say it, but it’s reasonable to fear that the master might kill his wife or a child. He’s in a bad way, and so is Lady Lavinia.” He listens to Inglorion’s plans and fears carefully, then says, “There’s one option you haven’t considered. It will take money, and it’s hard to arrange. In fact, it may not be possible at all.”

“I don’t have much money, but I can get more. I’m willing to try anything that offers a reasonable chance of escape.”

“Over the years, there’s been a mutual aid pact between your mother’s clan, the Theates, and the local gypsy king. I’ve always thought they must have aided her escape. She would have had no natural allies in Liamelia. The gypsies know the Drow egress points, and they use all the old mountain passes rather than the post road. I don’t know how she could have done it without their help. She faced all the same problems you will. After the trouble surrounding your birth, whatever agreement they had may have broken down. But perhaps not — perhaps it’s simply not much used.”

Inglorion is nodding, slowly at first, and then vigorously. “What you say makes sense. There’s no way she could have done it without help. Who else knows of this? Does Tereus? The army? The Council of Elders?”

“I think not, or else they would have put a stop to it years ago.” Collatinus considers. “If anyone knows — and some people are bound to, if it’s still a viable path — then I think they’d be inclined to be your friend, or at least they wouldn’t stop you. I don’t know if it will work, mind you —  if there’s still an agreement, if they’ll be inclined to help Sieia escape. It would cost money, perhaps a lot.”

“What should I do?”

“Find the King of the Gypsies. His name is Krysztof. I’ve always heard that you should insist on seeing him personally, face-to-face, refuse to tell anyone else what your business is or let any of his people carry a message for you. If you have trouble getting an audience, tell them that you’re descended from the Theates clan. Once you get in to see him, say that you may have a smuggling job for them — a dangerous and profitable one. That’s all I know.”

“I don’t have much money, Collatinus. You know that.”

“Don’t worry about the money. If you can strike a bargain with the gypsies, we can find the money.”

That very evening, Inglorion enters the gypsy camp. A young man walks up to him and asks him roughly, in Common, what his business is.

“I’m looking for Krysztof.”

“Krysztof the cobbler?”

“Krysztof the King of the Gypsies. Is he a shoemaker, too?”

The guy obviously doesn’t find that funny. “Who are you?”

“My name’s Inglorion. I’m a footman in the Shelawn household.”

“I can take a message to him. What’s your business?”

“I was told to discuss it with him face-to-face.” Inglorion looks around the Gypsy camp. It consists of a score or so of wagons that look barely mobile. A few campfires, a stray dog or two, a naked child. “You can’t tell me he’s busy,” Inglorion says. “Everyone here is barefoot.”

“Fucking hilarious. You here on Shelawn business?”

“No. My own. I’m Drow, descended from the Theates clan.”

“You don’t look Drow.”

“Give me a fucking break. Have you ever seen eyes like mine on a gray elf? Look, just take me to Krysztof. I don’t want to go knocking on trailer doors, but I’ll do it if I have to.”

The gypsy shrugs, spits, scratches his balls, looks up at the moon, says, “Follow me, then.” He leads Inglorion to a caravan two rows over. There’s nothing particularly royal-looking about it, but there is a cobbler’s sign outside. The gypsy bangs on the door, shouts, “Krysztof, elvish kid here to see you. Claims he has business with you.”

The door opens. “No need to scream, Jaime. Come on in, kid.”

Inglorion steps into the one-room caravan. It’s tidy, compact, and almost entirely empty. A wood stove is burning in a corner, but it’s still cold and drafty. It somehow feels colder than the spring night outside. The king of the gypsies is a nondescript, dark-skinned human below medium height, wiry. He could be any age from a hard-living 30 to a well-preserved 60. His eyes and hair are black, and there’s a shock of white at the center of his widow’s peak. 

He asks, “You want some tea? It’s chai. I don’t think you guys get a lot of that here in Liamelia.”

“Sure. That sounds good.”

“Sit down while I make it, then.” There’s a Murphy bed, but no other furniture, so Inglorion perches on the edge of the bed while Krysztof busies himself making the tea and getting down a package of biscuits and some kind of preserves, which he arranges neatly on a tray. When the water comes to a boil, he pours it into a little teapot. “We’ll let it steep for a moment. It’s best with cream. I think I have some left from this morning.” He brings the tray over, with its elegant little spread of biscuits and chutney. The surface of the tray is a geometric mosaic made of shell and colored hardwood. It’s not especially fine work, but the pattern is pretty. Krysztof prepares a cup for each of them. The tea smells of a mixture of East Indian spices: pepper, coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, ginger. Following Krysztof’s lead, Inglorion sniffs it, then takes a delicate sip. 

“It’s quite good,” he says. “I’ve never had anything like it.”

“It is, isn’t it? Try the peach chutney. It’s spiced with ginger.”

“It goes with the biscuit?”

“That’s how I eat it. Like this.” Krysztof spreads a thin layer of chutney on the biscuit, which is actually a shortbread cookie, and hands it over. It’s very good, too. Not too sweet, with very distinct peach and ginger flavors. Absurdly, once he eats the biscuit, Inglorion realizes he’s very hungry, and has been all day. 

“Thank you,” he says. “I appreciate your hospitality.”

Krysztof smiles. “It’s a dying art, isn’t it? One preserved mostly among the poor.”

Inglorion eats another biscuit with chutney, and they both sip their tea. The spice of the food and the warmth of the tea cut through the drafts a bit, and Inglorion is able to unbutton his cloak. 

“What did you say your name was? How do you happen to have business with the King of the Gypsies?”

“I didn’t. It’s Inglorion. Are you Krysztof?”

“That’s what my mother’s always told me. I don’t carry a birth certificate.”

Inglorion laughs. “Fair enough. I was told you could help me out with a risky piece of business — that your people and mine have worked together in the past.”

“Who are your people?”

“I’m half Drow, descended from the Theates clan on my mother’s side.”

“And on your father’s side?”

“I’m Tereus Shelawn’s natural son.”

Krysztof gives a satisfied nod. “I know who you are, then. Your mother was Philomela.”

Inglorion gives an incredulous laugh. “Possibly. I’ve never heard her name. I just knew she was Drow.”

“You’re just over 20 years old?”

“I’m 22.”

“That would have been your mother, then. It’s not a case that comes up often. Our people have worked together for a very long time.”

“I may have a smuggling job for you. It’s dangerous, but profitable. I have a sister, younger than I, and legitimate. The daughter of Tereus and his wife, Lavinia. I’m concerned for her safety. I have to get her out of Liamelia.”

Krysztof’s eyes widen. “That’s a very dangerous job, indeed.”

“It is. I promised to take her away, and I know that I must. But if we’re caught, we’ll be separated. I’ll be dismissed, perhaps charged with kidnapping. She won’t have anyone to care for her. We must get away cleanly, in one try, leaving no trace.”

“It’s a difficult case.”

“I know. It’s not an abduction — she’s more than willing to go. She’s run away on her own more than once already.”

“Where do you plan to take her?”

“I considered taking her to Amakir, but it’s the first place they’ll look. Ideally, I want to cross one of the mountain passes, get her out of elvish territory entirely. I can get work as a guard, or we can go adventuring for ourselves. I just have to get her far enough away. Can you do it? Smuggle us over one of the passes?”

Krysztof nods. “We can. It will take a bit of time and some planning, and it won’t be cheap. It’s risky for us. If we were caught aiding such a crime, the Council of Elders would consider it an act of war. They’d kill our menfolk, burn the caravan down.”

“Good God — would they?”

“It’s happened before. Not for a long time, but if we were caught stealing a little girl from a rich family, harboring a Drow criminal? That’s the old blood libel against Jews and Gypsies. We’d be lucky if they declared war and responded proportionately. There might be a pogrom. We could all be wiped out.”

Inglorion realizes with a chill that Krysztof is right. Memories of the war are still fresh: Drow raids, children enslaved, settlers slaughtered, their corpses mutilated, livestock stolen or stampeded, orchards burned, vineyards hacked down. There would be hysteria, a lynch mob. He shudders. Still, it’s their best chance. “How much would it cost? And when can you do it?”

“For both you and your sister? No less than 100 GP, possibly a bit more. No more than 120, say. The next time we could do it is three weeks from now. We’d have to time it with our regular, seasonal migration. Anything else is too risky. You’d have to follow our instructions implicitly, put yourselves entirely in our hands, no questions asked.”

Inglorion nods, agreeing with all these conditions. “Yes, of course.”

“Does anyone know that you came here?”

“A close friend suggested it — said that your people might be able to help.”

“What’s his name?”

“Collatinus Octavius. He’s retired army, a gardener in the Shelawn household.”

“I don’t know him. Just as well. You trust him?”

“Implicitly.”

“Don’t tell anyone else that you came here, not even the girl. She’s too young to keep a secret. Can you get the money?”

Inglorion hesitates. “I certainly don’t have it now. Collatinus said it would be expensive, but not to worry.”

“I’ll need half in a week, and the rest when we set out. If you can’t get it, let me know right away. We can’t do it for free, or for a partial payment. If necessary it can be postponed, but there’s risk there.”

“Understood.”

“Are you serious, then? Are you going to do this?”

“I don’t think I have any choice. It’s the only way. Otherwise we’ll be caught.”

“Very well. I’ll send a messenger to you within the week. Put nothing in writing, in any language. I may send messengers to you, but if you come here, see me in person. Don’t discuss your errand with any of my people.” He extends his hand, and he and Inglorion shake firmly, sealing the deal. “Have another couple of biscuits,” says Krysztof. “I keep them for guests.” 

“Thank you. I will. They’re very good.”

Krysztof looks pleased. “I’m glad you came here. It’s good to keep up the old ways, and traditional alliances. I’m glad your friend knew to send you to us.” 

“I’m grateful you could help.” Inglorion leaves a few minutes later, carrying one last biscuit, almost dizzy with excitement. For the first time in weeks, he believes that he and Sieia have a real chance of escape. 

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