As soon as he gets home, Inglorion calls out to his son, “Lucius, I need your help with something.”
“Oui, mon pére?” Lucius looks up. He’s fiddling with a handful of feathers, fashioning them into some kind of head ornament.
“I’m going to steal the iron owl off the façade of the Owl’s Club building. I need you to belay for me.”
Lucius blinks. In their old life, they were surrounded by people able to check Inglorion’s wilder impulses: Virginia, Valentine, Father Nate Szyba, even Ajax in a pinch. Lucius has had little practice dissuading Inglorion from engaging in hare-brained schemes. Indeed, the few reckless acts Lucius has ever committed were at his father’s instigation. As a result, he hardly knows where to begin.
“Mon pére, is that wise?” he asks.
“Almost certainly not. However, I’m determined to try, and I need someone to hold the rope. We do have rope and climbing gear? I don’t need much — a handful of quick draws, a few nuts and cams, perhaps a daisy chain.”
Inglorion continues, “I’ll need chains to rig on the top, and a sling of some kind to lower down the owl. Harnesses and a couple of belay devices. One of those things used for rappelling — I always forget what they’re called.”
“I have all that, yes. But, father, why do you want this iron owl?”
Inglorion says airily, “Brutus expressed a desire to have it. He’s considered stealing it himself, but he weighs 13 or 14 stone, you know, and parts of the structure are unstable. He would be unwise to attempt it. However, you and I could easily do it.” Seeing Lucius’s dubious expression, he says, “Come, now. I weigh perhaps nine stone soaking wet with full pockets. You must admit that it’s a very different matter.”
“Father, I’ll gladly help with the owl, but I’m not sure I can belay you. You outweigh me by 30 pounds.”
“I’ve thought of that. If I take a fall, you may get dragged a bit. I’m unlikely to fall, however. If you truly dislike the idea of being dragged, then you can rope in.”
Lucius dislikes the idea very much. He raises several more points, all with a tentative, apologetic air, and Inglorion brushes them aside. Lucius is confronted with the dilemma common to all of Inglorion’s close associates. First, Inglorion’s genuinely excited about the idea, and Lucius doesn’t want to disappoint him. Second, and more to the point, if Lucius refuses to go along, it seems likely that Inglorion will go alone and free-climb the whole thing with a rope clenched between his teeth.
The very next evening, then, they walk the half-mile to Snob Hallow, weighted down with rope and climbing gear. The street is empty, but clearly lit by the remains of the sunset. The moon is nearly full, too. Any casual passer-by will have an excellent view of both the lawn, where Lucius will stand and belay, and the façade that Inglorion intends to scale. This prompts Inglorion to ask, “Is it illegal to scavenge building materials around here?”
Lucius is habitually truthful, so he says, “Well, yes. But everyone does it, and the police and court systems have collapsed.”
“Excellent,” says Inglorion. “I take it you’re armed?”
“Of course,” says Lucius. He raises his shirt to reveal a bandolier of throwing daggers strapped to his chest.
“I knew I could count on you. You’ll want to reason with them first. You won’t relish throwing daggers with your off-hand while handling a rope.”
They walk up a little stone path, and stand just beneath the north balcony. Inglorion studies the stonework, tilting his head this way and that. Though the second and third stories are dripping with ornamentation, the first story is entirely smooth, and the arched windows are recessed to an uncomfortable degree. There’s no obvious way to get onto the balcony short of a cataleptic leap that seems guaranteed to end in failure, and possibly injury. They walk around to the south side of the building, where Inglorion’s relieved to find a small, verandah-like structure. The ornate pillars offer excellent hand- and foot-holds — or, at least, from the ground they seem to. The whole leads to a small ledge that wraps around the top of the first floor, and intersects with the balconies.
Inglorion removes his sword belt and stashes it by the side of the building, and they both don climbing harnesses. Inglorion sorts his gear out, and clips everything to the loops on his harness: A handful of quick-draws, an assortment of nuts and cams, the rappel device, chains, nylon webbing, a utility knife, and a bag of tools. “Can you think of anything else I need? Maybe an extra belay device for luck.”
Lucius hands him one. They check each other’s knots.
For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.