Alcatraz 4 Chapter Six
Whew! Those were some boring chapters, weren’t they? I know you really didn’t want to hear—in intricate detail—about the workings of the Nalhallan sewer systems. Nor did you care to get a scholarly explanation of the original Nalhallan alphabet and how the letters are based on logographic representations of ancient Cabafloo. And, of course, that vibrant, excruciatingly specific description of what it’s like to get your stomach pumped probably made you feel sick.
Don’t worry, though. These scenes are extremely important to Chapter Thirty-Seven of the novel. Without Chapters Three, Four, and Five, you would be completely lost when we get to a later point in the book. It’s for your own good that I included them. You’ll thank me later.
“Wait,” I said, pointing out through the clear glass wall of the grenade testing room. “I recognize that bird.”
Not the bluebird. The giant glass bird rising from the city a short distance away. It was called the Hawkwind, and it had carried me on my first trip to Nalhalla. It was about the size of a small airplane and was constructed completely of beautiful translucent glass.
Now, some of you Hushlanders might wonder how I could recognize that particular vessel among all of those that were flying in and out of Nalhalla. That’s because in the Hushlands, the Librarians make sure all vehicles look the same. All airplanes of a certain size look identical. Most cars pretty much look the same: trucks look like every other truck, sedans look like every other sedan. They let you change the color. Whoopee.
The Librarians claim it has to be this way, giving some gobbledygook about manufacturing costs or assembly lines. Those, of course, are lies. The real reason everything looks the same has to do with one simple concept: underpants.
I’ll explain later.
The Free Kingdoms don’t follow Hushlander ways of thinking. When they build something, they like to make it distinctive and original. Even an idiot, like me, could tell the difference between any two vehicles from a distance.
“The Hawkwind,” Bastille said, nodding as the glass bird flapped its way into the sky, turning westward. “Isn’t that the ship your father was outfitting for his secret mission?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you think . . .”
“He just left without saying good-bye?” I watched the Hawkwind streak away into the distance. “Yes.”
“To my father and son,” Grandpa Smedry read, adjusting his Oculator’s Lenses as he examined the note. “I am bad at saying good-bye. Good-bye.” He lowered the paper, shrugging.
“That’s it?” Bastille exclaimed. “That’s all he left?”
“Er, yes,” Grandpa Smedry said, holding up two small orange pieces of paper. “That and what appears to be two coupons for half off a scoop of koala-flavored ice cream.”
“That’s terrible!” Bastille said.
“Actually, it’s my favorite flavor,” Grandpa replied, tucking the coupons away. “Quite considerate of him.”
“I meant the note,” she said, standing with arms folded. We were back in Keep Smedry, an enormous black stone castle nestled on the far south side of Nalhalla City. Fireglass crackled on a hearth at the side of the room. Yes, in the Free Kingdoms there is a kind of glass that can burn. Don’t ask.
“Ah yes,” Grandpa said, rereading the note. “Yes, yes, yes. You have to admit, though, he isvery bad at good-byes. This note makes a very good argument for that. I mean, he even spelled good-bye wrong. Bad at it indeed!”
I sat in an overstuffed red chair beside the hearth. It was the chair on which we’d found the note. Apparently my father hadn’t told anyone outside his inner circle that he was leaving. He’d gathered his group of soldiers, assistants, and explorers and then taken off.
We were the only three in the black-walled room. Bastille eyed me. “I’m sorry, Alcatraz,” she said. “This has to be the worst thing he could have done to you.”
“I don’t know,” Grandpa said. “The coupons could have been for Rocky Road instead.” He cringed. “Dreadful stuff. Who puts a road in ice cream? I mean really.”
Bastille regarded him evenly. “You’re not helping.”
“I wasn’t really trying to,” Grandpa said, scratching his head. He was bald save for a tuft of white hair running around the back of his head and sticking out behind his ears—like someone had stapled a cloud to his scalp—and he had a large white mustache. “But I suppose I should. Ragged Resnicks, lad! Don’t look so glum. He’s a horrible father anyway, right? At least he’s gone now!”
“You’re terrible at this,” Bastille said.
“Well, at least I didn’t spell anything wrong.”
I smirked. I could see a twinkle in my grandfather’s eyes. He was just trying to cheer me up. He walked over, sitting down on the chair beside me. “Your father doesn’t know what to make of you, lad. He didn’t have a chance to grow into being a parent. I think he’s scared of you.”
Bastille sniffed in distain. “So Alcatraz is just supposed to sit here in Nalhalla waiting for him to come back? Last time Attica Smedry vanished, it took him thirteen years to reappear. Who knows what he’s even planning to do!”
“He’s going after my mother,” I said softly.
Bastille turned toward me, frowning.
“She has the book he wants,” I said. “The one that has secrets on how to give everyone Smedry Talents.”
“That’s a specter your father has been chasing for many, many years, Alcatraz,” Grandpa Smedry said. “Giving everyone Smedry Talents? I don’t think it’s possible.”
“People said that about finding the Translator’s Lenses too,” Kaz noted. “But Attica managed that.”
“True, true,” Grandpa said. “But this is different.”
“I guess,” I said. “But—”
I froze, then turned to the side. My uncle, Kazan Smedry, sat in the third chair beside the fireplace. He was about four feet tall and, like most little people, hated being called a midget. He wore sunglasses, a brown leather jacket, and a tunic underneath that he tucked into a pair of rugged trousers. He was covered in a black, sootlike dust.
“Kaz!” I exclaimed. “You’re back!”
“Finally!” he said, coughing.
“What . . .” I asked, indicating the soot.
“Got lost in the fireplace,” Kaz said, shrugging. “Been in the blasted thing for a good two weeks now.”
Every Smedry has a Talent. The Talent can be powerful, it can be unpredictable, and it can be disastrous. But it’s always interesting. You could get one by being born a Smedry or by marrying a Smedry. My father wanted everyone to get a Talent.
And I was beginning to suspect that this is what my mother had been seeking all along. The Sands of Rashid, the years of searching, the theft from the Royal Archives (not a library) in Nalhalla—all of this was focused on finding a way to bestow Smedry Talents on people who didn’t normally have them. I suspected that my father did it because he wanted to share our powers with everyone. I suspected that my mother, however, wanted to create an invincible, Talent-wielding Librarian army.
Now, I’m not too bright, but I figured that this was a bad thing. I mean, if Librarians had my Talent—breaking things? Here’s a handy list of things I figure they’d probably break if they could:
- Your lunch. Every day, when you’d open your lunch—no matter what you brought—you’d find it had been changed into a pickle-and-orange-slug sandwich. And there would be NO SALT.
- Dance. You don’t want to see any break-dancing Librarians. Really. Trust me.
- Recess. That’s right. They’d break recess and turn it into a session of advanced algebra instead. (Note: The same thing happens when you go to middle school or junior high. Sorry.)
- Wind. No explanation needed.
As you can see, it would be a disaster.
“Kazan!” Grandpa said, smiling toward his son.
“Still getting in trouble, I presume?”
“Good lad. Trained you well!”
“Kaz,” I said. “It’s been months! What took you so long?”
Kaz grimaced. “The Talent.”
In case you’ve forgotten, my grandfather had the Talent of arriving late to things, while Kaz had the Talent to get lost in rather amazing ways. (I don’t know why I’m repeating this, since I clearly explained it all in Chapter One. Ah well.)
“Isn’t that a long time to get lost, even for you?” Bastille asked, frowning.
“Yeah,” Kaz said. “I haven’t been this lost for years.”
“Ah yes,” Grandpa Smedry said. “Why, I remember your mother and I once spending upward of two months frantically searching for you when you were two, only to have you appear back in your crib one night!”
Kaz looked wistful. “I was an . . . interesting child to raise.”
“All Smedrys are,” Grandpa added.
“Oh?” Bastille said, finally sitting down in the fourth and final chair beside the hearth. “You mean there are Smedrys who eventually grow up? Can I get assigned to one of them sometime? It would be a nice change.”
I chuckled, but Kaz just shook his head, looking distracted by something. “I’ve got my Talent under control again,” he said. “Finally. But it took far too long. It’s like . . . the Talent went haywire for a while. I haven’t had to wrestle with it like this for years.” He scratched his chin. “I’ll have to write a paper about it.”
Most members of my family, it should be noted, are some kind of professor, teacher, or researcher. It may seem odd to you that a bunch of dedicated miscreants like us are also a bunch of scholars. If you think that, it means you haven’t known enough professors in your time. What better way is there to avoid growing up for the rest of your life than to spend it perpetually in school?
“Pelicans!” Kaz swore suddenly, standing up. “I don’t have time for a paper right now! I nearly forgot. Pop, while I was wandering around lost, I passed through Mokia. Tuki Tuki itself is besieged!”
“We know,” Bastille said, her arms folded.
“We do?” Kaz said, scratching at his head.
“We’ve sent troops to help Mokia,” Bastille said. “But the Librarians have begun to raid our nearby coasts. We can’t give any more support to Mokia without leaving Nalhalla undefended.”
“It’s more than that, I’m afraid,” Grandpa Smedry said. “There are . . . elements in the Council of Kings who are dragging their feet.”
“What?” Kaz exclaimed.
“You missed the whole thing with the treaty, son,” Grandpa said. “I fear some of the kings have made alliances with the Librarians. They nearly got a motion through the Council to abandon Mokia entirely. That was defeated, but only by one vote. Those who were in favor of the motion are still working to deny support to Mokia. They have a lot of influence in the Council.”
“But the Librarians tried to kill them!” I exclaimed. “What about the assassination attempt?”
As a side note, I hate assassination. It looks way too much like a dirty word. Either that or the name of a country populated entirely by two donkeys.
Grandpa just shrugged. “Bureaucrats, lad! They can be more dense than your uncle Kaz’s bean soup.”
“Hey!” Kaz said. “I like that soup!”
“I do too,” Grandpa said. “Makes wonderful glue.”
“We need to do something,” Kaz said.
“I’m trying to,” Grandpa said. “You should hear the speeches I’m giving!”
“Talk,” Kaz said. “Tuki Tuki is close to falling, Pop! If the capital falls, the kingdom will fall with it.”
“What about the Knights?” I said. “Bastille, didn’t you say most of the Knights of Crystallia are still here, in the city? Why aren’t they on the battlefield?”
“The Crystin can’t be used for that kind of purpose, lad,” Grandpa said, shaking his head. “They’re forbidden from taking sides in political conflicts.”
“But this isn’t a political conflict!” I said. “This is against the Librarians. They infiltrated the Crystin; they corrupted the Mindstone! If they win, they’ll undoubtedly disband the knights anyway!”
Bastille grimaced. “You see why I’m on edge? We know all of this, but our oaths forbid us from taking part unless we’re defending a Smedry or one of the kings.”
“Well, one of the kings is in danger,” I said. “Kaz just said so!”
“King Talakimallo isn’t in the palace at Tuki Tuki,” Grandpa said, shaking his head. “The knights got him away to a safe location soon after the palace came under siege. The queen is leading the defense.”
“The queen of Mokia . . .” I said. “Bastille, isn’t that . . .”
“My sister,” she said, nodding. “Angola Dartmoor.”
“The knights won’t protect her?” I asked.
“She’s not heir to a line,” Bastille said, shaking her head. “They probably left one guard to protect her, but maybe not. The knights in the area probably all went with the king or with the heir, Princess Kamali.”
“Tuki Tuki is a hugely important tactical position,” Kaz said. “We can’t lose it!”
“The knights want to help, but we can’t,” Bastille complained. “It’s forbidden. Besides, most of us have to be here in Nalhalla City to defend the Council of Kings and the Smedrys.”
“Though the Council no longer trusts the Crystin like they once did,” Grandpa added, shaking his head. “And they forbid the knights entrance to most important meetings.”
“So we just end up sitting around,” Bastille said, frustratedly knocking her head back against the backrest of her chair, “going through endless training sessions and throwing the occasional grenade at someone who deserves it.” She eyed me.
“Baking Browns, what a mess!” Grandpa said. “Maybe we need some snacks. I work better with a good broccoli yogurt pop to chew on.”
“First,” I said, “ew. Grandpa, that’s almost crapaflapnasti. Second . . .” I hesitated for a moment, an idea occurring to me. “You’re saying the knights have to protect important people.”
Bastille gave me one of her trademarked “Well duh, Alcatraz, you idiot”™ looks. I ignored it.
“And the Mokian palace is besieged, about to fall?” I continued.
“That’s what it looked like to me,” Kaz said.
“So what if we sent someone really important off to Mokia?” I asked. “The knights would have to follow, right? And if we had that someone take up residence in the Mokian palace, then the knights would have to defend the place, right?”
At that moment, something incredible happened. Something amazing, something incredible, something unbelievable.
It was a deep, knowing smile. An eager smile. Almost a wicked smile. Like the smile on a jack-o’-lantern carved by a psychopathic kitten. (Oh, wait. All kittens are psychopathic. If you’ve forgotten, read book one again. In fact, read book one again either way. Someone told me once that it was really funny. What? You believed me in the prologue when I told you not to read them? What, you think you can trust me?)
Bastille’s smile shocked me, pleased me, and made me nervous at the same time. “I think,” she said, “that is just about the most brilliant thing you’ve ever said, Alcatraz.”
Granted, the statement didn’t have much competition for the title.
“It’s certainly bold,” Grandpa said. “Smedry-like for certain!”
“Who would we send?” Kaz said, growing eager. “Could you go, Pop? They’d be certainto send knights to defend you.”
Grandpa hesitated, then shook his head. “If I did that, I’d leave Brig without an ally on the Council of Kings. He needs my vote.”
“But we’d need a direct heir,” Kaz said. “I could go—I will go—but I’ve never been important enough to warrant more than a single knight. I’m not the direct heir. We could send Attica.”
“He’s gone,” Bastille said. “Fled the city. It’s what we were talking about when you arrived.”
Grandpa nodded. “We’d need to put someone in danger who is so valuable the knightshave to respond. But this person also has to be uncompromisingly stoopid. It’s idiocy on a grand scale to send oneself directly to a palace on the brink of destruction, surrounded by Librarians, in a doomed kingdom! Why, they’d have to be stoopid on a colossal degree. Of the likes previously unseen to all of humankind!”
And suddenly, for some reason, all eyes in the room turned toward me.
Read the rest . . . buy the book!