To Togura, it looked small - he no longer thought of it as a city - but marvellous.
"Oh frabjous little town!" cried Togura.
Gaining its narrow little streets with their sloping-slanting rickety-arthrickety buildings, Togura did a dance of triumph.
"Yip yip!" he shouted. "Hurrah! Callooh! Callay! Skray skray! Oh Halloo-Schlag! Jeronimo!"
These exultations came to an abrupt end when someone at an upper-storey window emptied a bucket of dirty water over him. Muttering dire imprecations, Togura stalked away.
He was still somewhat damp when he stalked into the Wordsmiths' compound.
"Take me to Governor Troop," said Togura grandly.
"And who might you be?" said the servitor he had confronted, looking him up and down.
"Togura Poulaan," said Togura, boldly. "Sword-master, death-dealer, dragon-tamer and questing hero extra-regular, extra-provincial and extraordinary. And, by the by, a wordmaster in this organisation. So take me to Troop, my good man, or you'll be knucklebone soup in no time."
"Don't play the red cockerel with me, young strop," said the servitor, who was bigger and older than Togura. "We all know about Togura Poulaan. His brother Cromarty paid out good gold for his body's wreckage some six moons back. I saw the muck and mess myself."
Togura promptly punched the fellow, knocking the wind out of him. It must be noted, with regret, that close acquaintance with the Orfus pirates had caused a certain deterioration in Togura's grasp of the finer points of etiquette.
"It's half-brother, snot-head," said Togura, as the servitor doubled up, gasping. "I'm back from the dead, alive and breathing - which is more than you'll be, unless you come to order, pronto."
Very shortly, Togura was in the presence of Governor Troop.
"Who are you?" said Troop, surveying the stranger in front of him - a hard-faced young man with a scarred nose and a raggedy beard.
"I," said Togura, "am Togura Poulaan, also known as Barak the Battleman and as Forester. I am, in case you don't remember - "
"Why, boy, of course, of course!" said Governor Troop, rising, beaming, taking him by the hand. "How foolish of me! Our questing hero! You've found the index, have you?"
"Not so fast!" said Togura, keeping hold of the Governor's hand, and squeezing it a little, trying to feel the bones through the fat.
"We have a problem?" said Governor Troop, twisting free. "Why, my boy, I'm sure we can easily sort things out. Sit down and have a drink."
"We don't have time to drink," said Togura grimly. "My men are waiting for me to return with news of satisfaction."
"Your men?" said Governor Troop.
"My hand-picked killing guard," said Togura, bluffing without a blush. "They're waiting out in the wilds. The rest of my legions, of course, are still on the Lesser Teeth."
"Don't look so startled, man!" shouted Togura. "It's near enough to three years since I left here. Three years of world-wandering, of challenges, courage-tests, heroic deeds. Is it any wonder I've got a following? I've foughts dragons. I've killed men in combat, my hands armed or empty. I've commanded troops in the Harvest Plains. I've - "
"Peace!" begged Governor Troop. "Peace, don't hurt us, don't, please, what do you want?"
The soft fat little butter-plated man disgusted Togura. In a loud, hard voice he made his demands:
"My agent, the wizard of Drum, made an agreement with you and yours. I was to risk all - toes, kneecap, cock, balls, heart, guts, stomach, neck - to recover the index. Not an easy task, my man! Not with monsters, mad wizards, invading armies, sundry assorted barbarian slaughter-specialists and other hazards to contend with."
"Yes, yes, I know, I know."
"In return," said Togura, "you and yours were, among other things, to force Cromarty to withdraw the reward offered for my head. I now know - don't try to tell me different! - that that reward was paid out."
"But you've still got your head."
"That's not the point! You and yours were supposed to deal with Cromarty. Instead I've still got to do the job."
"I'm sure you're more than equal to it," said Governor Troop, with something like a purr in his voice.
"That's not the point!" said Togura. "You reneged on our agreement. You broke the contract. That being so, since you're in dereliction of your contractural obligations, I'm in no mind to settle for the paltry eleven percent my agent settled for."
"I think - "
"Don't! Listen, now. I'll settle for fifty percent. Fifty percent of everything that comes out of the odex. Fifty percent by value. Take it or leave it."
Shortly, Togura had extracted a written contract from the Wordsmiths. He departed, saying he was gong to confer with his men in the hills. Instead, he went and sought out Raznak the Golsh, one of the most powerful men in the Suet clan. They had a long discussion together.
In return for a small cut of Togura's income from the odex, Raznak the Golsh promised Togura armed protection against Cromarty, and assured him he would most certainly have Day Suet's hand in marriage if he could recover that young adorable from the odex.
The next morning, Togura presented himself again to Brother Troop, then went to try his triple-harp, the putative index, on the odex. Now was the moment of truth. Would it work or wouldn't it?
The odex looked just the same as ever: a thin grey disk, invisible when viewed side-on, a mirror when seen from an angle, a discordant swirl of kaleidoscopic colour when seen from directly in front.
"Ahyak Rovac!" screamed Togura, testing the odex with a fighting-phrase he had picked up in his travels.
Out from the odex came a fang-gaping ilps, a vicious manxome monster which Governor Troop demolished with five well-placed immaculately-timed questions.
"Sholabarakosh," said Togura, saying the Word needed to open his enchanted casket.
The odex spat liquid jade. Fortunately, it missed both Togura and Governor Troop. The jade hit the ground, hissing, and hardened swiftly. Togura took his triple-harp from the casket.
"That's the index?" said Governor Troop.
"Watch," said Togura.
And he began to play. He tried high notes and low notes, chords and crescendos. He played something by the way of melody, and something by the way of outrage. He played a caterwauling fugue of his own invention. The music excited the odex. Ilpses came bubbling out, some hard, some lumpy, some focused, some frothy, some with five mandibles and some with seven, some hairy, some glossy. Chased by questions, these fugitive apparitions streamed up into the sky; in the streets beyond, dogs began to bark and howl.
Finally, Governor Troop laughed.
"Well, boy," said Governor Troop. "It seems you haven't done as well as you thought. This is no better than shouting at it."
"I'm not finished yet," said Togura.
"You are for the moment. Sit over there, boy. We've our daily petitioners to deal with."
Togura sat to one side, sulking, while various petitioners entered and were permitted - for a small fee- to cast things into the odex. In went a bundle of squalling kittens which someone had been too soft-hearted to drown. In went an unwanted baby of female gender. An old man, wheezing with emphysema, was hauled off his stetcher and flung into the odex. ("Not dead but merely resting," said the young priest who supervised this operation.)
"Okay then," said Governor Troop, when this was finished. "You can try again."
Togura did try.
He made music and unmusic pour forth from the triple-harp, but all that came out of the odex was more ilpses - all grinning with high hilarity - a small dead fish, a single false tooth and one thin book. The book proved to be full of entirely incomprehensible squiggles (it was, in fact, an antiquated timetable of tides for the Penvash Channel.)
"Well, boy," said Governor Troop. "A good try, but you haven't succeeded. Not this time. We know there's other places you might find an index, though. When are you going to set off?"
"Oh, pox and piles!" shouted Togura.
Frustrated beyond endurance, he was about to smash the triple-harp to pieces. Just in time, he restrained himself. It was, after all, valuable in its own right.
"Play some more pretty music," said Governor Troop. "The ilpses like it, after all!"
"Oh, shit shit shit!" shouted Togura, losing his temper entirely.
And he hurled the triple-harp into the odex.
"Oh, buggeration!" said Togura, as the odex swallowed the triple-harp. "Now look what you've made me do!"
"I?" said Governor Troop, with the merest hint of a giggle in his voice. "Boy, I made you do nothing!"
Togura was tempted to draw steel and kill him.
But before Togura could reach a decision on the matter, the odex spat out the triple-harp.
"There, boy," said Governor Troop, in a condescending voice. "Don't fret now. It's given you your music back."
Togura stooped, and picked up the triple-harp. Of its own accord, it began to play. Not music, exactly, but a weird series of disjointed notes, some high, some low, some flaunting after bat-squeak pitches, some rumbling low to challenge earthquake. And, as it played, the odex began to disgorge things.
Out came the old man wheezing with emphysema.
Out came the unwanted girl baby.
Out came the bundle of squalling kittens.
Out came a bucket-burden of breakfast slops.
"All right," said Governor Troop, "you've proved your point. Now stop it."
"No!" said Togura, who couldn't have if he had wanted to, because he didn't know how.
Oue came a heap of slag and ashes.
Out came a blind woman with a battered face.
"You will stop it, you know," said Governor Troop, advancing on Togura.
Togura drew steel.
"One step further and you're dead!" shouted Togura.
He kept the Wordsmiths at bay for just a little time, then needed to keep them at bay no longer, for things were pouring out in such a flurry that nobody could get near him. He held his station beside the odex as things vomited forth: blood, spittle, urine, dung, ashes, rags, mouldy bread, stones, a mad dog, fish bones, a madman, a cripple, a three-headed calf.
All the filthy, obscene, dirty, unwanted, unloved, despised, hated, feared and abominated objects the world had seen fit to dispose of came surging, screaming, fighting, biting, shouting, reeking, piddling, lurching, slurching and slumping out of the odex. Soon Togura was ankle-deep in filth, then knee-deep. The Wordsmiths fled as things half-dead and half-alive blundered abotu the courtyard, seeking and finding ways of escape.
Suddenly a familiar voice cried:
"By the hell, you pox-blighted Suets!"
"Paps!" screamed Togura.
His father, the redoubtable Baron Chan Poulaan, turned and saw his son, and waded toward him.
"Pox of a demon!" roared the Baron. "What is going on here? Where have those dog-buggering Suets run away to? What's all this - blood's corruption! What a stink!"
"Paps!" said Togura, almost weeping with joy and relief.
"Don't call me that!" said his father, savagely. "What's making this mess? What's that music-thing?"
"It's commanding the odex," said Togura.
"Then stop it."
"I can't," said Togura.
"Can't?" said his father. "I'll show you can't!"
And he snatched the triple-harp from Togura.
"No, paps!" screamed Togura.
But hsi father put the triple-harp on his knee and smashed it with his mailed fist. The music jangled away into silence. One last thing fell out of the odex: a black-clad Zenjingu fighter and the young and beautiful Day Suet.
"Day!" shouted Togura.
"Help me!" screamed Day.
The Zenjingu fighter looked around, bewildered. As far as he was concerned, he had jumped into the odex - which had been described to him as a door - just a moment before. That had been at night. Now broad daylight shone down, revealing -
The Zenjingu fighter saw what he was standing in, and swore. He picked up Day Suet and threw her into the odex. Then he jumped in after her, and was gone. An ilps popped out of the odex, giggled, and hauled itself into the sky.
"Well," said Baron Chan Poulaan, briskly. "So much for that. Come along home, Togura."
Togura turned and smashed him. Or tried to. What actually happened was that his father caught his fist in his hand.
"If you want to play fisticuffs," said the baron, "do it with someone else. Coming? No? Well, we'll see you when you get hungry, no doubt."
And with that, Baron Chan Poulaan strode for the exit.
"Wait about!" said Governor Troop, intercepting him. "You haven't paid the resurrection tax yet."
"Resurrection tax?" said the baron, in tones of outraged incredulity.
"You've been in the odex three year,s you know. You owe us three years' rent, as well."
"It was you who let those pig-licking Suets throw me into it in the first place," roared the baron.
"That doesn't alter your obligations," said the Governor.
And he grabbed hold of the baron, who smashed him with one mail-clad fist, breaking his collar bone. As Governor Troop slumped down in the muck, the baron stalked out of the Wordsmiths' compound; Togura thought it safest to follow him.
He foudn a quiet corner then sat down and wept bitter tears of hate, spite, self-disgust, self-pity, remorse, frustration and despair.