Chapter 15
Black and Blue

5th of Fourthmoon, Saintclair 12
E27, Elsanto Mountains, Neveland

The punch connected with his jaw with a dull thud and would have knocked him out of his chair if it weren't for the other man holding him down by the shoulders. Much as a good chef tenderizes his meat before cooking, a good interrogator softens up a man before the serious questioning begins. It was a familiar process. Centurion Tofels had done it himself countless times. This was one of the few times he was on the receiving end, though.
The Carabinieri of the Palatinians was a military police force much like the Byrandians' own Gendarmerie with broad authority in both military and civilian jurisdictions. There were civilian police branches in both countries, but they were inferior in all respects. Training, equipment, funding, and the fundamental quality of the individual members could not be compared. Naturally, Tofels considered himself and the Blackamoors to be superior to all of them, but he was in no position to do much boasting at present.
Standing just behind the Carabinere who was doing the punching was an officer who was observing the proceedings.
"You feel like talking now?" he asked.
Tofels said nothing. He had no intention of telling them anything and would hold everyone else on the crew accountable for their loose lips if they made the mistake of fearing the Carabinieri more than him.
"Starrabba has much stamina," the officer said confidently. "He can do this all day."
The officer had an imperfect grasp of Franca, but his accent was not too pronounced. He may well have studied abroad at some point, probably not in Byrandia but one of the Franca-speaking nations of the League.
"We know why you are here, but we want to hear it from you," the officer continued. "We also want to know what you know."
The Carabinere didn't seem to be quite clever enough for mind games, so it was likely that his words could be taken at face value. Ultimately, neither side knew much of anything and they were too busy fighting each other to actually make it to the crash site. It seemed all the more likely that the UFO was not Palatinian in origin, but that posed more questions than it answered.
"You will tell us eventually," the officer said. "There are many ways to make a man talk, but I think you know this."
Of course Tofels knew this, and that was part of what worried him. Every man had a breaking point, no matter what it was that kept him from talking at the first opportunity. For all his threats, he knew that even he could succumb with the right application of force and pressure. He only hoped he could turn the tables on them before then and barring that, hopefully he would die before he dishonored his rank and station.
The officer nodded to his man, who delivered another punch for effect.
"We hear such stories about you people. Blackamoors you call yourselves, yes?"
The officer stepped forward wiped Tofels' cheek with his hand, taking off some of the Blackamoor paint along with some blood. He then held up the hand smeared with blood and paint in front of Tofels' eyes.
"What possesses a man to paint himself black from head to toe like this and follow a lunatic like Malvolio Rouche?"
What would that foreign dog know about the Grand Dux or his glorious vision for their kingdom? No other nation could have produced a man like the Grand Dux and no other man but the Grand Dux could carve out centuries of rot and pull their kingdom from the brink into a new age of prosperity. It would be like casting pearls before swine to attempt to enlighten such a common beast.
Unsurprisingly, beast that he was, the officer couldn't read Tofels' contempt for him and actually had the temerity to speak as if he was the superior, the fool.
He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his soiled hand as he said, "You do much to make yourselves feared... and hated. We have saying in our country. If you cannot loved, then be feared. Feared, but never hated. Perhaps your Grand Dux is not acquainted with this wisdom."
Wisdom? It was nothing more than crude sophistry. That was the extent of Palatinian philosophy. For all their pretensions, they were no better than the savages of Ebonia. Perhaps they should be the ones to paint themselves black to make it easier for people to tell what they really were.
Tofels was punched again, this time in the stomach. It took all his physical control to keep from vomiting all over himself.
"I do not like your eyes," the officer said. "Still too defiant. You give us trouble, but you will break and it will be very rewarding for all of us."
Let him think that. Let him and his lackeys keep trying. Brute force alone was not enough. If that was all these stupid apes could do, they would only serve to be disappointed. The officer said something to Starrabba in Palatinian. Tofels knew Palatinian well enough, but the officer spoke too quickly and had a regional accent that was difficult to follow. However, the officer did have something to say in Franca for Tofels' benefit.
"Fists only get us so far. It is time to introduce you to our toys."