It had always been dangerous for deniers of the Prophet and the seven dark moons. But since there had rarely been any, this fact was of little notice or concern.
Arcturus, therefore, was surprised by the flurry of antagonism aimed at him now that he openly defied his Sphere.
It was not that he had any particular reason to reject the moon gods. And drugging a priest in order to paint him in irreverent epithets was nothing personal. It was just that the human servants of those distant gods could be incredibly annoying.
The stocks chaffed his wrists and neck. That was annoying enough. But on top of that were the tomatoes and cabbages creating a salad out of his face.
Yes, it was punishment like this which served to confirm how ridiculous life was under the Prophet’s religious order. The star tongue was, in all probability, nothing but gibberish. Which meant that an austere arbiter had sentenced him with a ludicrous string of garbled spittings and hawkings. It was almost as comical as the lettuce leaf hat he now wore.
Speaking of comical styles, there was a foppish man prancing down the street in front of him with outlandish attire. He looked like a peacock, or maybe something a peacock threw up. Arcturus narrowed his eyes. Under the bright, frilly layers and drapes he seemed to recognize this dandy. That tailor called Ascension Deo. That could not honestly be his real name. Yes, he had made a delivery to that buffoon’s store once. And what a store! It had looked similar to the getup the man wore. But he had been pleasant enough … and a good tipper, unlike most. How a man could get rich in this world was beyond Arcturus. But if you were famously adored you just got showered with coins. A sociological law of nature.
The man halted abruptly so that his artisan robes swished and flailed in the same way that his retinue did. Acturus’ eyes widened. The tailor appeared to be looking his way. Then he appeared to be walking his way. It was difficult to know for sure through the tomato seeds.
“Hoy aloy! You there, my poorest of prostrated men,” Deo declared. “How are you supposed to deliver goods in a timely manner when confined in this aggravating contraption?” His hands wiggled over the stocks and his face scrunched in a constipated manner.
Arc let his jaw drop, wondering how to reply. A cucumber slice slid from his cheek. “To be honest, you are the first to care about my predicament, even if for selfish reasons. Alas, my timely transportations must be put on hold indefinitely.”
“A travesty … for my sake. You see, I have the mindpower to create but the raw materials are ever wanting. Besides, your vegetable attire has sparked some genius within me.”
The haughty, nasal pitch and the regal gestures of the hands produced a twist to Arcturus’ grin. But he held down what little stomach contents he possessed. “You mock me, sir.”
“Nay! In truth I was just speaking to Ephraim concerning a hat just such as yours, green with a slight wilt to one side.” He reached out to adjust the lettuce leaf. “Is that not the epitome of my vision, Ephraim?”
“Indeed, sir,” came the subdued reply. “The spitting image.”
“What horrible crime have you committed to see you thus procured?”
“The priests didn’t appreciate my artwork.”
“An artist! I see. Well, I’m sure you will find your way. Adversity is a divine muse, they say.”
There was a brief nod from the tailor to his servant before he turned with a flourish and the train of his greatness departed.
“See what I mean?” Arc grumbled. The rusty steam-powered lock to his public prison had become a sort of confidant of late. “This whole world has gone and got itself annoying when I wasn’t looking. Why, that fop is the—”
It was only then that Arcturus noticed the lock to the huge stock frame around his head was open. Its usually straight-lined mouth had developed a significantly cracked smile. Arcturus craned his head toward the distant entourage then back to his inanimate friend.
“You could have said something. And wipe that silly grin off your locking mechanism