The neighbor’s kid had returned, with the news that Melly had run off with a stage performer. (“And she seemed like such a sensible young woman,” Rishard had sighed. “How long do you think it will be before she’s back in the city, asking for her job back?”) This was poor enough news. What made it worse was the sight of the Prime Minister of Norland peering at Primus over the expanse of her truly impressive nose in a way that reminded Grace of a butterfly collector.
Yes, Kit was part of her staff. Did that mean that she knew about Dot? Kit likely would not have offered up the information, but it would have been uncharacteristically lazy of Stonild not to check the family ties of her employees. She was patting his shoulder. Oh gods.
“Primus, eh? Glad to see Grace has finally hired some new help, especially as it seems that Melly has made good on her threat to abandon this life for the stage. How long have you been in town, Primus? How do you vote?”
Grace could see the hapless young… man try to formulate a response and she could nothing to help him, having five customers who could potentially revoke her business license at the bar to serve. Primus was simply going to have to sort this one out by himself. She grabbed a clean tankard, turned to the keg, and tried to shake off the dread of imminent disaster.
“I arrived today,” Primus decided. “I haven’t voted.” He didn’t even know what ‘vote’ meant; like most households, the creator’s laboratory was not a democracy. But this big-nosed woman was clearly important and perhaps this ‘vote’ thing was part of the reason why.
Chuckles all around, although Primus could not imagine what he said was actually amusing. Why would they chuckle if he didn’t say anything amusing?
“We’ll have to change that,” said the big-nosed woman. She offered her hand for him to shake. “Stonild Lark.”
“Oh! The Prime Minister!” He remembered that from Dot and Kit hurriedly shouting facts at him as they prepared to leave for the Queen’s Knuckles. He shook the hand. It seemed like the right thing to do.
“Good, firm grip,” judged Stonild. “You’ll go far in life with a handshake like that. Primus, you seem like a nice young man, and on behalf of my colleagues here, I’d like to welcome you to the city with a drink.”
Primus considered this. It seemed as though the further this social interaction progressed, the further away he was drifting from Grace’s instructions. But he had to be nice. He had to be thoughtful. He had to not give offense if it could possibly be avoided. He tried ever so hard to catch the eye of Grace or Rishard for some sort of guidance, but they were so busy now, their hands, arms, bodies moving without rest to fulfill the sudden deluge of orders.
“That would be appreciated,” he lied. The creator had said that lying was acceptable in special circumstances. Stonild raised two fingers, and quick as those fingers could snap, pints of Baisby’s Original were thrust into hers and Primus’ hands. Stonild held her tankard out expectantly; Primus, following the examples set by the other politicians tapped his tankard against it. Hurrah! He took a swig, also in order to follow example, and oh yes, he liked this.
It tasted like… Bread. In a way. But also not like bread. Like a cold, liquid, somewhat bubbly bread that was not like bread. Like honey. But also bitter. But it was interesting.
It should be noted that his immediate appreciation for the taste of beer, independent of the potential intoxicating effects, was one of the characteristics that distinguished him as non-human. Given the present atmosphere, this went completely unnoticed. And while whether he could ever truly be drunk remained an open question, he did find himself more receptive.
To the PM’s deputy, Jacques Capet of Montarbre, his bald head shining and his mustache teased into perfect points, challenging him to an arm wrestling match. “Come now, Stonild reported that you had a fine grip; let us test this!” he said, his voice lightly accented and booming. Hurrah! Arm wrestling was briefly explained to Primus when he told them that they did not have such a thing in his home village, whereupon he proceeded to trounce Jacques, Lona, and every one of Stonild’s colleagues that challenged him.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, one cannot set fire to one’s arm without consequence, whether one is human or a highly illegal abomination. After so many rounds of arm wrestling, the skin on Primus’ palm began to abrade. Little by little, the clever gears and pink ‘muscles’ in pouch rather than fibrous form began to reveal themselves. This took some time for the politicians to notice. They did once they saw the pretty sparks that carried electrical currents from Primus’ brain to the rest of his body.
It was not the nicest way for Primus to learn about the feeling of sheer, utter mortification, but it did the trick.
The tumult that followed put the Great Dog Debate to shame.
If you enjoyed the story, please consider throwing a tip my way via PayPal or Patreon. Again, if there’s some little aspect of the world you want to know about, put it in a comment and I’ll see if I can’t write something about it. The final part is scheduled for Friday. Cheers!