“Look at this, Captain.” The second-in-command of the outlaws threw a rolled-up parchment on his captain’s desk.
“Yes?” Algernon replied, not turning his gaze from the book he was reading. He had been enjoying a peaceful half-hour after the noon meal in his private chambers, reading a book on Old Testament hermeneutics, with a toothpick in one corner of his mouth and his feet up on the table, when his lieutenant had barged in with news –– alarming news, of course, for Worman was a gloomy sort.
“Look at it, Algernon.” The lieutenant’s voice was more than gloomy; it carried tidings of impending doom, Algernon realized, and he lifted his eyes from his book to the parchment. He closed his book with a sigh, took up the parchment, and unrolled it. He studied it for a long moment, his brows drawing closer together the longer he read, and then threw it down with a whistle.
“Well, that’s a nice kettle of fish,” he sighed, his tone implying that was an understatement.
“I thought so too.” The lieutenant’s gaze had not left Algernon this whole time, and now Algernon met his eyes.
“Not the boys?” he said.
“And I don’t see what there is to do about it,” the other said even more gloomily, if that were possible.
Algernon brought his feet off the desk and to the floor with a thud, springing up out of his chair and beginning to pace his office. “There must be something,” he said, while attempting to chew his toothpick. “We can’t let them go after the boys too now. What could they have done?”
Algernon continued his pacing to the other end of the room, then whirled about and pointed at his lieutenant. “You,” he said, as if suddenly struck with a brilliant idea.
“Me?” Worman said in some alarm.
“Yes, you. You know me pretty well, don’t you?”
“Why not wear masks?”
“How’s that going to ––”
“Oh, don’t interrupt!” Algernon’s eyes were gleaming and his whole face shone with excitement as he turned about the room. “Masks would change the whole character of the thing, don’t you see?”
“But what would ––”
“And besides, who could object to masks in a good cause? Masks add to the atmosphere –– they change the way other people would see us (obviously), and they make us a little more fearsome to any soldiers who might venture out here, and –– oh, you know how much I like that sort of thing.”
Anyone but Worman would have answered the Captain’s confident grin with a smile of his own, but the older man slowly shook his head, his arms crossed. “I don’t see –– I just don’t see how it would help.”
“Oh, Moses Gideon Jonah Puddleglum Eeyore Worman, can’t you trust the Maker of the eye to give out sight and blindness where He chooses? Masks all around, then; surely some of the men know how to make them.” He sat down and picked up his book, waving to Worman in dismissal.
Only a few minutes later a knock sounded on the wooden door of Algernon’s office. “Come in,” he called. He knew better than to expect his lieutenant to bring good news. “What is it now?”
“We have enough black leather from the last soldier we –– ah, despoiled of his extravagant trappings, enough, that is, to make masks for almost all the men, except Much –– Polycarp, I mean.” Worman could not hold back a snort at the odd name Algernon had given the boy.
“As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with the name. It’s a fine old name, not nearly as provincial as his original name, and still keeps much of the meaning. Be glad I didn’t call him Polly. Well, what’s wrong with him not having a mask? He’s not in harm’s way that often.”
“As I was saying, sir, there’s enough for everyone but Mu –– that is, Polycarp, and myself. Now, if you remember ––”
“Yes, I know, you’re going to say, if I remember, you and I were the only ones that really needed masks.”
“Quite so. Now what is to be done?”
“Well,” Algernon said, opening his book again, “if you can’t find what you need, have a peppermint.”
“What?” The lieutenant stared, even after four years of service unprepared for some of his leader’s odd sayings.
“Exactly. Here’s a peppermint.” Algernon took one from the dish on his desk and tossed it at his lieutenant, who caught it by a reflex. “Peppermints are wonderfully cheering things. Try one. And then you can see if there’s any scraps you can dig up that might make a mask. It doesn’t have to be black, you know; that’s just the standard traditional colour. Only beware of touching the carcass, or –– oh, never mind, go on with whatever you were doing.”
“Red,” the lieutenant said thoughtfully, weighing the peppermint in his hand. “I know of some red leather, I think, that I could use.”
“See, the peppermint’s doing some good already, and you haven’t even tasted it. Wait –– you said red?” Algernon raised his eyebrows.
“Well, if it works, then by all means do it. Go on, see what you can do.” He dismissed Worman with a wave of his hand and returned to his studies of the Hebrew sacrificial system.