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The Death of Ambassador Janus

"Convent of St. Saba" - David Roberts (Old Book Illustrations 2007-2023)

[1] A figure, barely visible

As they approached the tents.

Her cloak and headscarf billowed hard.

The wind appeared incensed.

[2] She clutched in hand a leather bag

A satchel filled to burst.

And staggered through the waves of sand

To reach the shelter first.

[3] The guards bowed out of guardhouse

And asked the stranger where

And why they looked to come this way

And if they’d stay long there.

[4] “Imperial business," said a voice

Calm despite the questions.

They handed over several notes

That would serve as distractions.

[5] Safely sheltered from the storm.

They ducked behind a column

And pulled the scarf down from her face.

A face most thought was rotten.

[6] Tremendous scars ran up her face

From cheeks to her hairline.

The rub of cloth across the cracks

Were painful every time.

[7] In front was a kaleidoscope

Of brightly coloured men

A rainbow of alliances

And swords to govern them.

[8] Horse lords, merchantmen, and dwarves

From Volca to the Sea.

Dignitaries from Lattenfluss

And slaves from Drummerdy.

[9] Although most travellers would be

Bewildered and unsure.

To navigate a gathering

Had never been a chore.

[10] And though the throng was numerous,

The woman found a path.

Despite the noise, despite the heat

She found the Orthic heart.

[11] An Orthic tent, coloured with red

And gold around the seams.

Guarded by two grim soldiers with

Such sweat that ran in streams.

[12] She knew to wait until their break

Before she headed in.

No witnesses, as usual

Nobody there to scream.

[13] Once the heat had grown too much

And they had left their post,

The woman slipped into the tent

Almost unseen. Almost.

[14] Inside the tent, a welcome space

Of cool and pleasant air.

Two pots of water mocked the vase

Of flowers, which despaired.

[15] A broad and wooden bed was there

Quite opulent in look.

Such effort must the men have made

To bring what they had took.

[16] And in the centre of the space

On top of sequined rug

A wide, map-laden tabletop.

A handled, wine-filled mug.

[17] From what she guessed the map suggests

Invasions of the West.

From what she saw ‘twas little thought

For peasants and the rest.

[18] But truth be learned the woman turned

Her back against it all

And from her satchel took an orb

Well-polished, black, and small.

[19] Inside the orb, if you had looked

Was swirling, turning smoke.

So much contained inside the ball,

Enough to make it choke.

[20] The woman threw it up and caught

It in her clever hands.

With one examination of

The room, she made a plan.

[21] The bed would do, at night he would

Return and think him safe.

He’d take off all his fancy clothes

No longer would they chafe.

[22] Then when under the covers he

Would roll and toss and turn

Until the orb made contact.

His final payment earned.

[23] She held the key and wound the lock

Until it was prepared.

But from outside the tent she heard

The sound of laughter flare.

[24] The giggling of figures who

Should know better than that

Were edging nearer to the tent

And to the woman’s trap.

[25] But she was still inside, and still

Beside the target’s bed.

So hastily she hid the orb and

And grabbed her bag instead.

[26] With one last placement of a note

She dipped out the front door

And made a show of disconnection

From the tent, before

[27] She ducked her head and pulled her cloak

Around herself to hide

From anyone discovering

Their privacy denied.

[28] She slipped out just in time to spy

A sodden diplomat

Supported by two guards and then

A third one at the back.

[29] “Oi! What you think you’re doing here?”

The last one grabbed her arm.

“What business do you have to share?

Or do you mean us harm?”

[30] “No sir,” she said without a pause,

“it’s just that I was sent

“By members of the Conclave to

Ambassador Janus’ tent.”

[31] The giggling Janus overheard

and whooped, “that’s me! I’m him!”

The suffering guards continued on.

The bed they’d put him in.

[32] “The ambassador is, ah...indisposed

Right now. So, what is it?

“You have something to share with him

You’ll share it with me quick.”

[33] “Umm...sir,” the woman feigned again

“It’s already inside.

“Apologies but nobody

Was here when I arrived.

[34] “I left it on the table,

There’s a note for you to read.

‘Twas meant for master Janus

But maybe you’ll read instead.”

[35] The guard had barely time to register

What had been told

Before the woman slipped his grip

And through to the crowd she strolled.

[36] When she was out of eyeshot the

Guard rejoined the group.

The ambassador let his men

Unclothe him head to boot.

[37] And whilst they did so, on the desk

The guard noticed the note.

It had no signet on the wax,

And in the note was wrote:

[38] To Ambassador Janus.

Tallo does not forget.

For wasting all our children’s blood

You’ll have no more regret.

[39] Just as he finished reading,

“What’s this? A funny orb?

I don’t remember owning this -”

Then out all the smoke poured.

[40] To people in the makeshift town

All that they understood

Was one moment a tent was there

The next a pilar stood.

[41] A pillar of black flame ascended

Far into the sky.

It even stopped the sandstorm for

A second, then it died.

[42] The flames and smoke were gathered up

Back into the small orb.

It steamed atop the dusty ground

And rocked from south to north.

[43] Meanwhile, the woman slipped back out

And went into the sand.

She fixed her headscarf back in place

And left that horrid land.

[44] Later, inside of Tallo’s hall

She met the ruling Thane.

She took his gold and left the town

And was never seen again.

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