It hadn’t always been so difficult to be a Zaeri. At times, in history, ancient history yes, it had been an advantage. Two thousand years ago, Zur had been a flowering ancient civilization, one of many, like Argrathia or Ballar or Donnata. Then a single dynasty of kings, culminating in Magnus the Great himself, had conquered the rest of the known world, and taken Zur civilization with them. Then everyone was a Zaeri, or at least everyone looked like one. Zur architecture had become the dominant architecture. Zur dress had become the dominant dress. Zur custom had become the dominant custom. And yes, Zaeri, the Zur religion, with its belief in one god, had replaced the pagan religions of the civilizations that Magnus and his forebears had conquered. Even when Magnus’s empire had splintered into many successor kingdoms, the world had remained one where being a Zaeri meant that you were one of the elite.
Then a generation later, no, not even a generation after the restructuring of the empire, a Zaeri prophet named Kafira had begun teaching a strange variation of the religion in the land that had been, and would one day again be called, Xygia. Kafira had preached the importance of the afterlife, an adherence to a code of conduct that she said would lead one to this paradisiacal existence, and a general disregard for temporal affairs. The last of these three tenets of Kafira’s teaching had put her at odds with the Zaeri High Priests and the Xygian King, for supporting the priesthood and paying the King’s taxes were, for them, priorities. They taught her the error of her ways by giving her an ignoble death, crucifying her on the cross, thereby from Zeah’s point of view, turning her from the leader of an obscure sect into a martyr. She had then, again from Zeah’s point of view, been elevated by her followers from martyr to savior, as the events of her life and the miracles attributed to her, both before and after her death, formed the basis of a new religion. This religion spread quickly to engulf all that had been the Zur civilization. In the following millennia, the Kafirites had converted the remaining pagans to the creed of their holy Savior, thereby making it the only religion in the world of man—the only religion in the world of man, save those few ethnic Zur, like Zeah and his family, who held onto the ancient Zaeri belief.
“Yes,” he replied. “It is a Zaeri name.”
The Short Man nodded.
“How much is your withdrawal?”
“Twenty-five thousand marks.”
The Short Man raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. Several minutes later, Zeah had signed the appropriate forms and had left the bank, his pocket thick with fifty, five hundred mark banknotes—a small enough denomination to pay off Miss Dechantagne’s accounts, but large enough that it would be extremely difficult to make change should anyone try to do anything else other than pay off Miss Dechantagne’s accounts.
The head butler’s first stop was the shipping agent. Miss Dechantagne had been shipping a great many goods and supplies, as well as people, into the city in the past several weeks, and she would be shipping even more. The entire contents of the Dechantagne country estate, that portion which had not been sold, would be arriving in just a few days. The staff from the estate would arrive a few days later. Train tickets would also be needed for an entire company of soldiers as well.
Miss Dechantagne’s solicitor was the second stop. It would be he who would pay off the smaller bills—the telegraph office, the grocer, the baker, Café Carlo. The only individual store in which Zeah’s employer had garnered a debt large enough to warrant an individual visit by him was the dress shop. That would be his third stop. In fact, the bill here was larger than that of the shipping agent.
It was nearing sundown when Zeah made this third stop. Paying off Miss Dechantagne’s bill himself, rather than having the solicitor do so, was necessitated both by its amount and by his own need to purchase a gift for Yuah’s birthday. He carefully chose a white silk scarf with small yellow flowers around its finished seam for his daughter. He found a pair of white lace gloves that matched the scarf and purchased the pair as a gift for Yuah from the Dechantagnes. He knew the gloves would be the perfect gift in Miss Dechantagne’s eyes because they were just expensive enough to be beyond his own budget, so she wouldn’t feel miserly, which she considered beneath her. On the other hand, had they been any more expensive, she would have felt munificent with a servant, which she considered beneath her.
When Zeah stepped outside, it was already dark. The lamplighters were running slightly behind in their duties. Two of them were making their way up the street, one on either side, lighting the gas streetlights with their long-handled wicks. The trolleys were already shutting down for the night, so Zeah had to walk several blocks until he found a cab still on duty. This particular one was a shabby old carriage, with an unhappy and probably flea-bitten horse, not long for the glue factory, if his speed was any indication. The head butler gave orders to be taken to the docks, and sat back to ponder the fact that in the servant quarters at home at that exact moment, Yuah and the others would be finishing their evening meal and would be looking forward to one of Mrs. Colbshallow’s carefully crafted cakes.