‘And just exactly what part do you play in this grand scheme, Hiera Jalkan?’
‘Ah - I’d really rather not say, your Grace,’ Jalkan replied nervously.
‘I’m sure that the Regulators can come up with a way to make you change your mind, Hiera Jalkan,’ the Adnari said ominously.
‘Well—’ Jalkan said nervously, ‘I sort of find houses and such with lots of valuable things inside.’
‘And just exactly how do you gain entrance into these various houses?’ the Adnari pressed.
‘Well, they’re mostly the houses - and palaces - of the wealthier members of the clergy, your Grace. I told them that the church scholars had issued a rule that the exact dimensions of every piece of church property and all church buildings must be recorded in the church register. That opens a lot of doors for me, and I’m able to have a look around inside every building owned by any member of the clergy. When I come across a place with a lot of valuables inside, I go tell Rabell about it, and he arranges the robbery. I get a quarter of all the money the robbery brings in. He has thieves robbing other places as well, he tells me, but I only get paid for the ones I tell him about.’
‘Ah, now it’s starting to make some sense,’ Adnari Estarg said. ‘You’re very clever, Hiera Jalkan, but you do know that you’ve committed a serious offense, don’t you?’
Jalkan began to tremble violently again.
‘Don’t shake so much, dear boy,’ Adnari Estarg told him. ‘I think I’ve come up with a way for you to expiate this naughty sin you’ve committed - for a price. Everything has a price - or had you already noticed that?’
‘I’ll pay anything, your Grace,’ Jalkan vowed in a trembling voice.
‘You will indeed, Jalkan. Now, then, let’s get down to business here. How many of these tiny children can this scoundrel Rabell put his hands on?’
‘I’m not really sure, your Grace. I haven’t had much contact with their handlers.’
‘They’re the men who more or less own the children. They decide which house they want to rob and stand guard outside while the child is inside stealing.’
‘Our business seems to be very well-organized.’
‘You might want to advise Rabell that I’m the senior partner now. I’ll put together an order about recording dimensions of church buildings and put my seal on it. That’ll get you into some houses and palaces you probably don’t even know about. Our glorious Naos, Parok VII, is so senile now that he doesn’t know night from day. That means that I, as the senior Adnari, am running the church, so what I say is the law. I think our first step should be to put these “handlers” you mentioned into the uniforms of church Regulators. That should be very useful. Nobody argues with the Regulators. You’d better go advise your fat friend that the situation’s changed just a bit.’
‘Ah, your Grace,’ Jalkan said. ‘I can’t really go anyplace just now. I’m all chained up, remember?’
‘Why, so you are, Jalkan,’ Adnari Estarg replied with feigned astonishment. ‘Isn’t it peculiar that I didn’t notice that myself?’
‘Things have changed just a bit, Rabell,’ Jalkan announced when he returned to the ancient convenium.
‘Changed? How?’ the fat man demanded suspiciously.
‘Right after I checked out Adnari Radan’s palace, I went back to my cell to put the notes I’d taken into some kind of order, but there were three Regulators waiting for me.’
‘Regulators?’ Rabell exclaimed. ‘How is it that you’re still alive?’
‘The Regulators aren’t quite that savage, Rabell. They chained me up, of course, and then they dragged me across town to the palace of Adnari Estarg.’
Rabell’s face went suddenly pale, and he started to tremble.
‘The Adnari had evidently heard some rumors about what we’re doing, so he wrung the truth out of me.’
‘If we hurry, we can be out of Kaldacin by sunset,’ Rabell said in a squeaky kind of voice.
‘Don’t get excited, Rabell. After the Adnari had heard the details of what we’ve been up to, he declared that from now on, we’ll be taking orders from him.’
‘Is this all some kind of elaborate joke, Jalkan? If it is, you’ll notice that I’m not laughing very much.’
‘Stay with me, Rabell. He told me that he was going to issue a proclamation to the effect that all church property and buildings are required to be listed in official church documents, and that the exact dimensions of every single room in all those buildings must be included. That proclamation will have his seal on it, and I’ll have it in my pocket. Whoever happens to be living there right now will be required to open the door and let me in. A week or so from now our people will be robbing houses we didn’t even know existed - and the handlers who take care of the children will be wearing the uniforms of church Regulators, so nobody in his right mind will interfere in any way at all.’
A look of astonished wonder came over Rabell’s face. ‘We’re going to get rich, Jalkan!’ he chortled. ‘We’re going to go way, way past rich! If I happen to be just dreaming, please don’t wake me up!’
‘I wouldn’t dream of it, my dear friend,’ Jalkan promised.
And then they both howled with laughter.
The Regulator who’d arrested Jalkan a few months earlier tapped politely on Jalkan’s cell door, and he was much more civil this time. ‘Adnari Estarg would have a word with you, Hi era Jalkan,’ he said mildly.
‘I’ll come at once,’ Jalkan said, rising quickly to his feet.
They moved through the streets of Imperial Kaldacin to the palace of the Adnari, and Jalkan was immediately admitted to Estarg’s study.
‘Ah, there you are, Jalkan,’ the fat churchman said. ‘Things might be looking up for us.’
‘Holy Naos Parok VII seems to be having some serious health problems. His assorted physicians have advised me that he won’t be around too much longer.’
‘I’ll pray that he recovers, your Grace,’ Jalkan declared piously.
‘We all will, of course,’ Estarg agreed, ‘but let’s not overdo it. Divine Amar’s very busy right now - changing the seasons, making sure that the sun rises and sets when she’s supposed to - all those tedious little details that take up so very much of a god’s time. Parok VII has had a full life, and he’s done very well. The church will miss him terribly, of course, but time moves on, and as soon as the holy old fool dies, he’ll have to be replaced.’