Sobyiet the watchman heard the cry and made toward the sound. Two of his brethren, Miyaki and Brumbow, joined him from other streets. Rounding the corner, they found a crowd on the verge of becoming a mob, nervous, frightened but unhurt, hemming in a raggedy, hapless member of the town’s homeless community carrying a sack and an ugly looking club. Sobyiet, being senior, took the lead. “Good evening, PaLau*. How may I be of assistance?”
“One at time, please! You, what did you see?”
“Little but enough. You can see he’s…very sick,” here the citizen pointed at the homeless man, bandaged and bedraggled, “and I think the bundle he carries does have a corpse inside.”
“Oh, come now, it’s late and the sandman fills the dark with fantastic dreams. He’s obviously a peddler of rags and sundries. Why do you say it’s a corpse he carries?”
“See for yourself.” The man looked as if he had seen… well, a dead man. Twitchy and on edge, there was little to be learned from the witnesses. The watchman asked them to come to the Warden’s Court in the morning where they could make their statements; then he dismissed them. Some would come, some wouldn’t. By then, it probably wouldn’t matter; meanwhile, now they were out of harm’s way and more importantly, out of his. They dispersed and the servitors were alone with the peddler.
“Certainly looks like a grave robber with a broken shovel,” Brumbow said.
“And a corpse carrying a corpse,” Miyaki added.
“We’ll know soon enough,” the watchman addressed the homeless man, “Well then, ragamuffin, let down your sack and show me your wares.” The hooded man did not move. To his brothers, “mind that club,” and to the homeless man, “Come sir, lets us see you and speak as men. Do not be afraid.” Slowly, a slender, long fingered hand reached up and pulled back the hood.
“Yah save us! What is that?” Miyaki cried.
“Well, that explains the muteness. I didn’t know leprosy did that!” Brumbow said.
“Nor did I,” Sobyiet said, “What are you carrying, cousin?” The leper carefully set his bundle behind him. Then opened a bag on its hip. “What’s this then? A book? You want me to take it?” Vigorously the Leper slashed the air with the club hand. “Whoa! Fine! Keep it!” Sobyiet jumped back and the three watchmen went into defensive stances. Their lanterns now became flails. The Leper advanced and tried to offer the book again.
“Insistent chap, isn’t he?” Sobyiet said.
“Deranged is more like it,” Brumbow answered. “I don’t like it. I say we put him down for his own good.”
“His good or our good?” Sobyiet asked.
“You want me to take the book?” Again he slashed with the club. Miyaki’s flail shot down and Sobyiet grabbed the book. As soon as he had, the Leper jumped back into a defensive stance, spines extended from either end of the club to make a wicked, two-pronged spear.
“How much you want to bet he can throw that like a javelin?” Brumbow said.
“Enough of this, we need to take him down,” Miyaki argued.
“No,” Sobyiet commanded. “We need to take him to the palace.”
“What?” “Are you deranged?”
Sobyiet ignored his brothers but addressed the Leper, “cousin, may I see what you have in your sack?” He pointed at the bundle behind the Leper’s feet. He set his flail aside.
“What are you doing? Stay away from him!”
“Just. Keep. Calm.” Sobyiet slowly walked over to the bag, the Leper didn’t move but watched Miyaki and Brumbow. Sobyiet knelt and parted the coverings. “We need to take him to the palace, to see the Viceroy. We need to tell the Viceroy, we’ve found his son.”
*PaLau – literally, “children of my paternal ancestors”, sometimes used for cousins or siblings. Here used to denote solidarity with fellow citizens of a shared heritage.