Polychrome – Chapter 27
I couldn’t help but grin as Pearl of Gilgad pulled up to the docks of Pingaree. In some ways it was exactly as I had pictured it; in others, it was far better.
The pearl-fishing kingdom lay on an island, but one considerably larger and grander than Baum had depicted. Still, it was mostly low, with a sea of green palm trees running to the edge of brilliant white sand beaches, surrounded by a magnificent reef breached only in three places, where three small, swift rivers ran down to the sea. Dozens of ships and boats, ranging from sleek little rowboats or sailboats to dual-hulled catamarans and many others, were moored at the docks, or casting off for another voyage even as we entered.
The major difference was one I’d always suspected – and, in fact, was one of the few areas I’d envisioned differently even when I was a very young man. Despite O’Neill’s illustrations, the description of Pingaree, its tropical climate, the primary occupation of its people, and its surrounding countries had led me to expect what I now saw; a civilization of more Polynesian than European style, with dark-haired, dark-skinned people vastly predominating.
But this was no simple desert island paradise; I could see on a rise a mile and a half from the port a great marble palace, somehow combining many architectural styles from around my old world without seeming a hodgepodge. The city before me wasn’t a collection of palm-roofed huts, but proud houses of light stonework, open courtyards, white stone streets running straight and true through the city. Gilgad had been impressive, but I wasn’t sure if Pindaras (the name of the capital city of Pingaree) wasn’t even more so.
The Pearl had of course been recognized far out at sea, and so I accompanied Inkarbleu and his party as they were immediately escorted to the Palace. My odd armor, light skin, and blond hair naturally drew notice, but mostly they seemed to accept me as just a member of Inkarbleu’s guard.
Pearls were everywhere in evidence, even in the ornamentation of the houses and on all the people, young and old. In truth pearls were what brought me here – three Pearls in particular, gifted to the rulers of Pingaree by the Sea Fairies: the Pearl of Strength, the Pearl of Protection, and the Pearl of Wisdom. If I had interpreted the Prophecy correctly…
Our party was led through the main gates and straight into the castle. I heard both the tinkling of many fountains and, as we continued, an increasing background of music and many people talking. A set of immense double-doors, appearing to be marble-faced with steel interiors, were thrown open before us. “Lord Inkarbleu and party!” our escorts announced.
Inside was a huge, long table, with room for well over a hundred guests; most of the spaces were in fact full, and we had quite an audience for our entrance. Musicians spaced around the polished white and black hall paused as we walked forward.
At the far end, I could see seven very distinct figures, sitting at a raised section of the long table. A slender old man, white hair contrasting splendidly with dark-teak skin, sat next to an equally old woman; both had slender circlets of gold on their heads. Similar circlets of gold adorned the heads of two much younger people, a girl and a boy seated opposite each other. Both were dark-haired and dark of skin, the girl appearing to be about seventeen or eighteen, possibly taller than anyone else at the table – about six feet, I’d guess, though she was sitting down – while the boy was tiny.
They sat to the right and left hand of the pair of seats at the very head of the table, which were occupied by a tall, handsome man with black hair, wearing a larger crown; next to him was a beautiful woman of the same age but with lighter skin, almost an Italian cast to her face.
Seated across from the older couple in a chair so wide both of them could have easily fit in it at once, was an immense man, not terribly short and very much terribly wide, with a great bushy mane of white hair, rosy cheeks and a red nose, who was apparently in the midst of an animated conversation with the others when we had so rudely interrupted.
The latter heaved himself to his feet and glared down the table at us. “INKARBLEU!” he bellowed, in a voice both deep and resonant and with higher overtones that helped it cut across all other speech. “Inkarbleu, you faithless dried-up scurvy dog of a Chancellor, have you deserted your post again? What have I told you about that? Eh?”
“That I will be executed for such flagrant and terrible abandonment of my post, Your Highness,” Inkarbleu replied with equanimity. “But I hope perhaps you will forgive me, or at least wait to carry out my execution until such time as your Highness has finished your dinner.”
King Rin Ki-Tin dropped back into his chair, threw back his head, and gave vent to a long series of laughs. “Ho, ho, ho, hee-hee-hee! When I am… Ha, ha… finished with my dinner! Ahhh, ha! Ha! Finished! With my dinner!” He laughed longer. “Seeking a stay of execution… ha, ha, heeee! … a stay of execution long enough to outlive me, I see! Finished with my dinner? I am never finished with my dinner until it is finished with me, and eventually it’s become breakfast, I think!”
“King Rin Ki-Tin,” the tall man at the far end said, with a fond smile on his face, “Perhaps we should let the doomed Inkarbleu at least tell us what dire errand has brought him here.”
“Oh, indeed, indeed. No executions at dinner, I agree!” the fat King said cheerfully. “Inkarbleu! Justify your conduct, then, to my good friend King Inga!”
I thought so. King Inga. I guess Kitticut retired and handed his son the throne. Which would make the woman with him Zella, I’d bet, if the subtext I got was right.
“A matter of deep policy, Your Majesty.” Inkarbleu said. “And one best discussed in more privacy.”
The look Rin Ki-Tin shot Inkarbleu was sharp and shrewd, greatly at variance with his clownish exterior, and the way his gaze shifted to me showed he might have already guessed some of the essence of my mission. “Policy is so tiring. You know, I believe I once made a song about –” he broke off at a glance from Inga, “– but enough for now. Ah, well, I suppose we could retire to the inner chambers long enough for the extra dishes to be tidied up and the next course laid.”
He moved with surprising ease for a man so fat and old, following King Inga who gestured for us to follow; the tall girl started to rise, but a glance from the King – her father, I guessed – dropped her back into her seat. Inkarbleu motioned for me to accompany him but left the rest of our entourage behind.
The next room would have looked quite large had we not just come from the immense dining hall. King Inga, Queen Zella (if my guess was right), and King Rin Ki-Tin seated themselves on one side of a wide conference table and indicated that we should sit as well. I see. The former King and Queen will remain with the festivities.
Inga turned immediately to me and bowed. “Sir, it is clear that faithful Inkarbleu has risked much to bring you here. I am King Inga, and this is my Queen, Zella. You now have the advantage of us.”
“Erik Medon,” I said, returning the bow.
“An emissary of Iris Mirabilis himself,” Inkarbleu finished.
All trace of the clown vanished as Rin Ki-tin sat up. “Now indeed I forgive you, Inkarbleu. Though undoubtedly I shall threaten you with execution later, just for form’s sake. Deep policy and dangerous, dangerous. So the Rainbow Lord moves at last, does he? HA!” The jolly face was, for a moment, transformed to grim savagery. “Long have I thought my days would end before that day came; you have already brought me great joy, just to hear that hope has not abandoned us.”
“Rin Ki-Tin speaks of hope,” Zella said cautiously, “but we know well the power of our adversaries. What hope is there, truly, Erik Medon?”
I turned to her. “Enough. A prophecy from a source well-trusted by the Rainbow Lord. I may not look precisely as a hero of legend, but I have… certain advantages over others.”
At this range, I could see that the royalty of Pingaree wore – as one might expect – many jewels, especially pearls of all sizes and colors. The King himself wore two earrings with magnificent matched pure-white pearls of extraordinary size. Now, I saw him tilt his head slightly, as though listening to something. He nodded his head and sat a bit straighter. “A True Mortal?”
Excellent. “You see clearly, King Inga.”
“So what can Gilgad do for the Rainbow Lord and yourself?” Rin Ki-Tin demanded.
I grinned. “Already done, and cleverly by your Lord Inkarbleu. What I really needed was to get here. What he needed was to do that without actually committing Gilgad to such a radical cause.” Quickly I explained Inkarbleu’s decision.
The three monarchs looked at Inkarbleu with such approval I saw a faint blush on the old cheeks. “So clever a statesman should have been King himself.” Rin Ki-Tin said, with a gentle laugh.
“Such a clever statesman knows far better than to want the post, Your Majesty,” Inkarbleu responded, garnering a gale of laughter from his ruler.
“Hooo, hooo, hoo! Too true, too true! As I know, from trying in my manful way to flee from the dread and terrible responsibilities.”
Ignoring the byplay with the same fond smile, Inga leaned forward. “So it was to Pingaree you wished to come. What do you seek here? We have no formidable army, in truth, and while something of a naval force we have acquired, that would do you no good against the Usurpers of Oz.”
“Nothing so obvious or direct, your Majesty,” I said. “Here, I seek only two things – besides of course a trip back to the mainland. First, I need your people to build me a ship, a boat of a very particular design. Nothing too terribly large,” I hastened to assure him, “indeed, just something suitable for a long journey for one person. And to have it transported to a particular spot.”
“And that is all?”
“Well, no, that was really one thing – I mean, getting the ship won’t do me any good if I can’t use it where I want to. The second thing I seek… is the wisdom of Pingaree.”
The King and Queen both straightened and looked sharply at me – as did King Rin Ki-Tin. “How exactly do you mean that?” the King of Pingaree said finally.
Inga looked at me for a moment, and then stood. “Excuse me for a moment.” He stepped to the side and through a door which, it appeared, led to a small side alcove.
Zella studied me curiously. “Do you know what you are asking?”
“I think I know exactly what I am asking.”
The door opened again and King Inga resumed his seat. He reached up and – as I had expected – removed the righthand earring. Not without reluctance, he placed the earring with its magnificent white pearl into my hand. “If wisdom there be in Pingaree, you now hold it in your hand,” he said slowly. “No other has ever carried that which I give to you, save only those of my family.”
The Pearl of Wisdom. “I know of this… and I can guess how difficult my request is for you.” I raised the Pearl to my ear. “You advised him to offer yourself to me, didn’t you?”
From the Pearl came a clear, though distant, voice. “You are correct, Erik Medon.”
I grinned, and then tossed the Pearl back. Inga was so startled he almost failed to catch it. “What…?”
“King Inga, these are perilous times indeed. I will not deprive you of what is undoubtedly your greatest resource, especially when – if I fail – you will need wisdom more desperately than ever. I only have a couple questions to ask the Pearl, and that is all.”
The relief on his face, and that of Queen Zella, matched his surprise. “You are a man of some depth, I see,” Inga said after a moment, with a smile. “Ask, then.”
I had thought about this for quite a while. Really what I needed here was validation. I had thought everything I could through, but there was so much I might not know. I couldn’t ask for things of too great detail – that pesky question of over-working the prophecy and making it backfire on me was always looming above me.
“Pearl,” I said, “First, tell me: are my guesses about … a certain individual… correct?”
Inga listened, then nodded. “The Pearl says ‘yes’.”
Good. “Then… The course of action I have planned… is it a good one?”
I sagged back in my seat. “Then that’s all I needed. That plus the boat, which I’ll sketch out tomorrow.”
King Inga looked at me with a curious expression. “So… you needed only verification of a particular course of action and this boat? You need nothing more from Pingaree?”
“Nothing.” I said. Well, nothing I could ask.
“And you will travel alone… where?”
“After I get back to the mainland? Well, eventually to Oz, of course… but the Nome King’s domain is my next destination.”
For a moment, everyone was silent. Finally, Rin Ki-Tin said, gently, yet with a puzzled air, “Lord Medon… You do realize that the Nome King will help no one, even for the Rainbow Lord?”
“Maybe,” I conceded. “Yet I have no choice. There is no other force sufficient to even have a credible chance against what Ugu and Amanita have to throw at us. Combined with the Rainbow Kingdom’s, it might be enough.” I can’t tell them the whole thing. Partly because the whole thing, in the end, comes down to a big throw of the dice, and whether I’m tough enough to survive the pain and take action at just the right time.
“And do you have… any plan to find the Nome King, let alone convince him to involve himself in this war?”
I grinned. “Oh yes. And that’s what I was asking your Pearl.”
“If the Pearl says it will work, then it’ll work!” a new voice broke in. “So, Father, I’m going with him!”
I turned, startled.
The tall girl from the end of the table stood in the doorway, grinning confidently at us all.
King Inga glared at her. “Zenga, have you been eavesdropping?”
“You said I should take more interest in the running of the kingdom, Father.”
“Not by spying on secret councils!” Inga sighed. “You have no idea what you are saying, anyway. You are far too young to be getting involved in –”
“You were younger than I am when you saved Pingaree, liberated Regos and Coregos, and faced the Nome King yourself!”
“That was entirely –” Inga broke off. I was working very hard to keep a smile off my face, because I was pretty sure grinning at a royal family spat would be very impolitic. “No. I will not play this debate game with you, Zenga.”
Queen Zella spoke up. “Let her go.”
Inga stared at his wife. “I beg your pardon, my love – did I just hear you correctly?”
“Let her go with him.” She rose smoothly and bowed to us. “But this is a discussion for more privacy. My lords – dear Rin Ki-Tin, Inkarbleu, and Lord Medon – please, return to the dining hall. The King of Gilgad never refuses a meal, and I am sure that after weeks at sea both of you would be pleased with a feast. We shall resolve this discussion anon.”
I bowed back. “Of course, Queen Zella.”
We filed out of the conference room and returned to the dining hall, where two seats were placed for us near King Rin Ki-Tin. Inkarbleu glanced at me, shaking his head with a smile. “An interesting development, that. How do you think it will go… and will you take her with you, if that is the decision?”
“I,” I said, reaching out and grabbing a piece of bread, “have gotten about as far ahead of myself as I want to right now, so I’ll leave that decision for when it happens.”
Inwardly, I grinned. I admit I didn’t exactly foresee these details… but even so… all that has transpired here has done so according to my design.