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The others looked at me and then at each other.
After a very long silence, Walpole said, “It is very early in the morning in High Gordon right now. If we left now, we could be there by noon.”
“We aren’t finished here,” I said. “Besides, isn’t there a way to contact Uncle Tom from here?”
“Oh, of course!” Dusty said.
“It can probably wait for an hour or two,” Percival suggested.
“Right,” I agreed. “We shall contact him in two hours. In the meantime, this still isn’t making sense to me. Let’s start with Melusine.”
Dusty nodded, “The weapon which is not a weapon.”
“Gold is still one of our monetary metals,” I said. “How much is the Melusine worth by weight?”
Dusty cleared his throat, “One of the concerns of the Frankish government of the time, besides that it was a weapon that we could not understand, was that melting it down would cause an international monetary crisis.”
“But despite its inherent worth, nobody ever tried to claim the statue?” I more pointed out than asked.
“If it were being used in a plot against the Empire, though…” Dusty started.
I shrugged, “Were it really a weapon, we could believe that, but other than a gnome reporting that a weapon was there, what proof is there that it was part of a plot against the government?”
The other four did another round robin of consternation, until I prompted, “But what if there were some other crime involved that precluded the sculptor of the Melusine from coming forward to claim it?”
“Aaah,” Dusty said, “Let us say that there was some illegal activity here. Perhaps the gold was stolen…”
Bryce interrupted, “Or illegally mined. Had that much gold been stolen, it would have been reported and obvious as to its origins.”
Dusty nodded and continued, “Yes, that makes sense, too, although perhaps it was a store that had been stolen a little here and a little there for many years or centuries, too. But let us go back, we have tons and tons of illegal gold, and the person who has collected it has decided to craft a thing of beauty like no other.”
“Dwerrows,” Walpole and Percival said at the same time.
“Who else would be so obsessed as to doing all the work that must have gone into this project?” I asked.
Dusty nodded again, “All the pieces are falling together. We have a dwarf or dwerrows with a cache of illicit gold that he or they decide to craft into a magnificent statue. A gnome finds out about it. It had always been difficult for gnomes to find employment before we started hiring them after the discovery of the plot. The gnome contacts us, and…but why did he not just report the illicit gold? Why did he set up the GRN and Wagner?”
“Whose gold was it?” I asked.
“Well, we don’t really know,” Dusty said as Walpole and Percival shrugged.
“No,” Bryce said. “We know exactly who they stole it from.”
I smiled and nodded for him to go on.
“They were carrying out their activities above ground. They were doing it in the Frankish Empire. Why would dwerrows be outside of their own home territories? Unless, that is, they had stolen it directly from the King under the Mountain.”
“The King under the Mountain participated in the investigation,” Dusty said. “They must have illegally mined it, or he would have known it was his gold and claimed it.”
“Very good,” I said. “What is the next obvious question?”
The four did their round robin, as it came back to Dusty, he said, “I already mentioned there was the question of why the gnome set up Wagner and the GRN.”
I shrugged that off, “There are three possible answers to that. The two minor ones would be that he preferred the Frankish government to what he thought the GRN would come up with or that he had something personal against Wagner. Remember that Wagner was very powerful, and that gnomes lose half their power when they become gnomes. Just as a bit of speculation, maybe the two had known each other and the gnome had been more powerful until he tried the Sanctification Spell. Afterwards, Wagner was more powerful. We can look into that later, but the real question is, what would your government have done if someone came and reported that dwerrows had a large amount of gold they had illegally mined and stolen from the King under the Mountain and he didn’t even know about it?”
Dusty laughed, “You are a most worthy opponent, Mister Gordon. It would not have been an extraditable crime, and we would have done nothing. Wait a minute…”
Dusty started mumbling and gesturing. A shield showed around him so we could not see what he was seeing. After a few minutes the shield dissipated.
“I have looked into our files. The mage who had become the gnome who reported the ‘plot’ had been a lawyer and had worked for Imperial Frankish Security before he had tried the Sanctification Spell. Because of the feelings about gnomes, he had been released from employment. The prejudice against gnomes was apparently much stronger back then than it is today. While he was not strong enough to do his old job, he did get a new job in security, and brought other gnomes in, as well. He argued, as one might expect of a lawyer, for gnome rights, and helped change the general perception of gnomes.
“Also, the GRN had a strong anti-gnome policy. So, this works for telling the story of why he framed Wagner and the GRN. That is a mystery solved.”
“About how many gnomes are there in the world?” I asked.
“I think there are about fifty living in the Frankish Empire,” Dusty said. “All of them are employed by Imperial Security.”
“Only fifty?” I asked.
“Yes, the outbreaks happen, but are few and far between. Most only involve one or two mages failing at the spell and becoming gnomes. The Douai outbreak Race mentioned was the largest ever at ten, and that was more than twenty years ago.”
“Any idea how many the Scottish Empire has?”
Dusty shrugged, “Give me a moment.”
His screen went up again for a few minutes.
When it dissolved away, he started, “There are a total of one hundred and two in the world. The highest concentration is in the Frankish Empire with fifty-three. Apparently we have the most tolerant attitude towards them. The Danish Empire has fifteen. The Swedish Empire has twenty, but most are very old at this point. The Russian Empire has two, both immigrants from Sweden. That leaves twelve in the entire Scottish Empire.”
I looked over at Bryce, who raised an eyebrow.
“Did the Frankish Empire loan Uncle Tom some gnomes for the security of High Gordon?” I asked.
Dusty shook his head, “No, all of ours are employed internally.”
Bryce started to say something, but quieted at my gesture. I turned to Walpole and Percival, “Has the Scottish Empire ever employed gnomes for security before?”
The two looked at each other, and Walpole answered, “Never in direct capacities like this before.”
I looked over at a magical clock on the wall, “It’s still a bit early to try to contact High Gordon. We also have one more major question to be answered.”
Dusty frowned, “What is that?”
I looked at the others.
Bryce nodded, “Which group of dwerrows is trying to reclaim the Melusine?”
“How would we know that?” Dusty asked. “The trail is cold. We could find nothing of who had rented the building in 1872. The dwarf or dwerrows who were part of the plot were never identified.”
“Melusine is based on tales from even before the Great Curse, is she not?” I asked.
Dusty nodded and whispered a few words to pull up and display the Omniscience.
“Entry for Melusine, if it pleases you, Omniscience.”
Words and pictures scrolled in front of us slowly.
“Back to the top, please,” Dusty said at the end of the entry.
“What does that tell us?” Walpole asked.
“Suspects,” I said.
“How does that give us suspects?” Percival asked.
Dusty cleared his throat, “I think I understand. The dwerrows who had illegally mined the gold converted it into a beautiful object, a sculpture, a statue. But it was not just a statue.”
“I thought it wasn’t a weapon,” Walpole said slowly.
“It is not,” Dusty agreed. “It is a symbol. It may have been a symbol they were going to use in a push against the King under the Mountain, but then it was confiscated as a weapon.”
“And who would be most likely to use Melusine as a symbol?” I asked.
Dusty frowned and scratched behind his ear, “Aren’t all of the likely suspects here dead?”
“Wait, what are you two talking about?” Walpole asked.
“Melusine was the supposed ancestress of several houses: Lusignan, Anjou, Luxembourg. But they have all gone extinct,” Dusty explained.
“Not true,” Percival said. “There is still an illegitimate branch of the House of Anjou out there. They go by the name of Somerset. They are an illegitimate branch off the Beauforts, who started as another illegitimate branch down from John of Ghent.”
Dusty turned to me, “Is that what you were thinking?”
“Not really,” I admitted. “We are talking among the dwerrows. Are there any dwerrow groups who use the Melusine as a symbol?”
Walpole turned to Percival, “Do any of the Somerset family have relations with dwerrows?”
“Not that I know of,” Percival shrugged, “but it’s not as if I were their family genealogist. I’m just a sky-coach jockey.”
Dusty laughed and turned to the display of the Omniscience that still lingered in the air, “Omniscience, do we have a listing of dwerrow clans and their symbols or arms?”
The list slowly scrolled upward.
“There are a lot more dwerrow clans than I realized,” Bryce said.
“They started out with three thousand clans,” Dusty commented.
After watching for a few pages, Dusty said, “Omniscience, can we limit the list to the clans with a mermaid, siren, or Melusine as a symbol?”
The list dissolved and after a minute, a new list resolved in the air, a list with only four entries.
I studied the list, but the names meant nothing to me. I asked, “Do any of these ring bells for any of you?”
The other four gave a round robin of looks passing between and then shrugs, and a “Not really,” from Dusty.
“The King under the Mountain sent analysts back in 1872. Does Imperial Frankish Security have links where they can ask the King under the Mountain’s people? Special significance for Dwerrow clans that might have had a presence in the Frankish Empire then and have a presence near New Huntly now,” I suggested.
Dusty nodded and drew up his shield again. It was a good ten minutes before his shield went down again, “They will be looking into it. I briefly spoke with the King under the Mountain himself. He finds our theories most interesting.”
“Great.” I nodded at the magical clock in the room, “Then I would say it’s time to call High Gordon.”
Dusty nodded and started mumbling and gesturing. This time the shield came up around all five of us, and then Uncle Tom appeared in the middle of our table. He was still in his dressing robe and eating breakfast.
He looked around and nodded at us, “Don Carlo, Alexander, Mister McKenȝie, gentlemen.”
Dusty said, “Could I trouble you, Your Grace, to ensure that everything is secure on your end and that nobody, neither servants nor security is present?”
“Of course, Serenissimus,” Uncle Tom nodded and then went into his own litany of mumbles and gestures. “All secure. I hope you gentlemen will not be offended if I continue with this part of my morning routine.”
Dusty waved it away, “Not at all, Your Grace, please continue. We think we know more than we did before. Mister Gordon, could you summarize?”
“Certainly,” I said. “First, we believe that Melusine is still there on her plinth. Someone has made her invisible, but if the weight had been removed from the plinth, it would have risen, as would have all of the garden.”
“That is interesting,” Uncle Tom said as he looked out past us, probably out a window at the plinth. The gardens were in the middle of High Gordon as a form of courtyard, and the plinth was visible from all of the courtyard-facing rooms in what was really a palace.
“Second, we believe the construction of Melusine had nothing to do with the GRN. It was never intended as a weapon. It actually had something to do with dwerrow politics. That it was constructed by a clan or group of clans in some sort of bid to embarrass the King under the Mountain of the time.”
“Alright, that makes sense,” Uncle Tom agreed.
“Third,” I continued, “there are only about a dozen gnomes in the entire Scottish Empire, and your new security force is either not Scottish, not gnomes, or both. We think it may be the dwerrow group responsible for the Melusine trying to get her back.”
Uncle Tom sat up very straight where he was projected in the middle of the table and stopped his arm with his spoon halfway to his mouth, “Now, that is very interesting indeed. I suppose a dwarf could disguise himself as a gnome easily enough, and I should have realized there were far too many to be gnomes.”
“We contacted the King under the Mountain, and he is researching to see if he can get more information on likely dwerrow groups involved,” Dusty said.
Uncle Tom shook his head, “Thank you, Don Carlo, but that may complicate matters. What if they have links into his intelligence apparatus?”
“Ah, Dwerrow politics,” Dusty sighed.
“Yes. How quickly can you get back here, Alexander?”
“We need to get lunch, and then I assume it’s a six-hour flight back,” I said.
“Eat lunch on the way. Walpole, Percival, can you fly any faster?” Uncle Tom asked.
The two exchanged a glance, “Not without more candlepower, but it would mean a larger coach to add more mages.”
“Don Carlo?” Uncle Tom turned to the Frankish Imperial.
Dusty nodded, “I can arrange things.”
“Great, then get in the air.”
“We should be there in no more than two hours, Your Grace,” Dusty said.
Uncle Tom blew out a long breath, “Great, then I have some other contacts to make.”
Dusty broke the connection and said, “Come, we must hurry.”Published in