Fiddlestix makes it to the outskirts of Harlich Territory without too much trouble, although the Noir had more manpower than she anticipated. With the help of her companions, she gets there safely. Now comes the fun part, convincing Karl Fumler to speak to her. Considering she left under less than ideal circumstances, she has good reason to worry.
They displayed the orange sashes openly, riding confidently to the Harlich compound. A guard detached himself from his surroundings, weapon leveled at Fiddlestix’ bike. She stopped as soon as she saw him. Setting her kickstand, she rose slowly. Hands well out from her sides, she walked forward. Removing her helmet and goggles, she squinted at the men, looking for familiar faces. She saw none.
“State your business,” the guard yelled in heavily accented English.
“I seek an audience with Meneer Fumler,” Fiddlestix replied in flawless Dutch.
“Meneer Fumler does not see just anyone,” the guard replied. “Who are you?”
She cleared her throat before replying, unsure of her welcome. “Tell him, please, that Hannah Braun wishes to speak to him.” Once her name would have opened any door here, but now she feared just the opposite.
“I’ll check. Wait here.”
The guard was back in less than five minutes. Opening the gate, ushered them in. The sun was just peeping over the river as they walked onto the compound.
“Your bikes with be tended. Follow me.”
It had been so long since she had been here, yet little had changed. The buildings were sturdily built of sandstone and Coquina. The houses were in orderly rows, neatly trimmed yards in front of each. All the houses faced a huge center square where the office buildings stood.
She forced herself to watch the guard’s back as they walked along. As they reached the main building where Karl’s office was, a flutter of fear passed through her.
“I will announce you.” The guard left them outside the door.
He returned a moment later, beckoning them to follow. Fiddlestix stood before Karl’s door, taking a deep breath, trying to relax before entering. The guard opened the door, standing aside for her to walk through. She was completely unprepared for who stood on the other side of the desk from her. This was not the fatherly figure she had anticipated, but the smiling, boyish face of Karl the Fifth! He stepped around his desk, arms open for a welcoming hug.
“Hannah, it’s so good to see you! I’d heard you were back.” He ushered her to a seat. “Why have you waited so long to come see us?”
“I was unsure how I would be received,” she replied shyly.
“I see.” He looked pensive for a moment, then curiosity took hold. Karl looked at them expectantly. “What brings you here? I assume that this is not just a social visit?”
“It’s such a surprise seeing you. I expected Papa.”
She could not help falling into the old, familiar pattern of speech. His face clouded and it was his turn to hang his head.
“He died, Hannah. Cancer is indiscriminate.”
Impulsively, she reached across the desk, taking his hand in hers, squeezing gently.
“I know you miss him. He was a fine man. Where are my manners? I haven’t made introductions.”
He chuckled. “We have both forgotten our manners. Your friends probably don’t speak a word of Dutch, and here we are babbling incoherently while they wait patiently for us to stop.”
He switched to English, reaching across his massive desk, shaking hands first with Blacksmith and then with Buzzard. “I am Karl Fumler, but I expect you know that.”
“Dario Estiban,” Blacksmith said simply.
“Tyree Delsin,” Buzzard supplied.
“Welcome to you both. So, back to why you are here,” Karl sat at the desk, folding his hands in front of him in a gesture like his father.