Well dressed and better fed, Peccable had a face upon which his present ire sat badly. He looked slightly absurd in his fury, his features too round and his mouth too small for the rhetoric they were producing. Introductions were made, but there was no time for pleasantries. Peccable’s fury needed venting, and he seemed not to care much who his audience was, as long as they sympathized. He had reason for fury. His warehouse near the harbor had been burned to the ground, and he himself had only narrowly escaped death at the hands of a mob that had already taken over three of the Kesparates and declared them independent city-states, thereby issuing a challenge to the Autarch. So far, he said, the palace had done little. Small contingents of troops had been dispatched to the Caramess, to the Oke T’Noon, and the seven Kesparates on the other side of the hill, to suppress any sign of uprisings there. But no offensive had been launched against the insurgents who had taken the harbor.
“They’re nothing more than rabble,” the merchant said. “They’ve no care for property or person. Indiscriminate destruction, that’s all they’re good for! I’m no great lover of the Autarch, but he’s got to be the voice of decent people like me in times like this! I should have sold my business a year ago. I talked with Oscar about it. We planned to move away from this wretched city. But I hung on and hung on, because I believe in people. That’s my mistake,” he said, throwing his eyes up to the ceiling like a man martyred by his own decency. “I have too much faith.” He looked at Hoi-Polloi. “Don’t I?”
“You do, Papa, you do.”
“Well, not any more. You go and pack our belongings, sweet. We’re getting out tonight.”
“What about the house?” Dowd said. “And all the collectibles downstairs?”
Peccable cast a glance at Hoi-Polloi. “Why don’t you start packing now?” he said, clearly uncomfortable with the idea of debating his black market activities in front of his daughter.
He cast a similar glance at Jude, but she pretended not to comprehend its significance and remained seated. He began to talk anyway.
“When we leave this house we leave it forever,” he said. “There’ll be nothing left to come back to, I’m convinced of that.” The outraged bourgeois of minutes before, appealing for civil stability, was now replaced by an apocalyptic. “It was bound to happen sooner or later. They couldn’t control the cults in perpetuity.” “They?” said Jude. “The Autarch. And Quaisoir.”
The sound of the name was like a blow to her heart. “Quaisoir?” she said.
“His wife. The consort. Our lady of Yzordderrex: Ma’am Quaisoir. She’s been his undoing, if you ask me. He always kept himself hidden away, which was wise; nobody thought about him much as long as trade was good and the streets were lit. The taxes, of course: the taxes have been a burden upon us all, especially family men like myself, but let me teU you we’re better off here than they are in Pata-shoqua or lahmandhas. No, I don’t think he’s done badly by us. The stories you hear about the state of things when he first took over: Chaos! Half the Kesparates at war with the other half. He brought stability. People prospered. No, it’s not his policies, it’s her: she’s his undoing. Things were fine until she started to interfere. I suppose she thinks she’s doing us a favor, deigning to appear in public.”
“Have you . . . seen her then?” Jude asked.
“Not personally, no. She stays out of sight, even when she attends executions. Though I heard that she showed herself today, out in the open. Somebody said they’d actually seen her face. Ugly, they said. Brutish. I’m not surprised. All these executions were her idea. She enjoys them, apparently. Well, people don’t like that. Taxes, yes. An occasional purge, some political trials—well, yes, those too; we can accept those. But you can’t make the law into a public spectacle. That’s a mockery, and we’ve never mocked the law in Yzordderrex.”
He went on in much the same vein, but Jude wasn’t listening. She was attempting to conceal the heady mixture of feelings that was coursing through her. Quaisoir, the woman with her face, was not some minor player in the life of Yzordderrex but one of its two potentates; by extension, therefore, one of the great rulers of the Imajica. Could she now doubt that there was purpose in her coming to this city? She had a face which owned power. A face that went in secret from the world, but that behind its veils had made the Autarch of Yzordderrex pliant. The question was: What did that mean? After so unremarkable a life on earth, had she been called into this Dominion to taste a little of the power that her other took for granted? Or was she here as a diversion, called to suffer in place of Quaisoir for the crimes she’d supposedly committed? And if so, who was the summoner? Clearly it had to be a Maestro with ready access to the Fifth Dominion and agents there to conspire with. Was Godolpnin some part of this plot? Or Dowd, perhaps? That seemed more likely. And what about Quaisoir? Was she in ignorance of the plans being laid on her behalf or a fellow plotter?