In which Oliver Gets Horrible News
O Best Beloved, the General was not an easy man to see. He lived in the Military Camp, far from Oliver's home, across the waste land of the Garden District, which was filled with Hungry Lunatics called Wastrels.
Fortunately Oliver had lived a long time in the Garden District. It had never been an easy place to live; it was only easier than seeing That Man on every television everywhere you looked, as you did in the village of Hamlyn. But he knew how to camp out; he's trained for it, before the War. He knew how to move at night without being seen, and he knew the streets of the Garden District as if they were the streets of his home town in Aberdeen.
But these days a dark cloud was spread out across the Garden District like a body laid out for a wake. There were more Wastrels than ever before; and they were hungrier than ever before, and desperate, like wolves in a bad winter. A poisonous fog rose every night from the river and made even empty streets unsafe.
The General was burrowed deep in his Military Camp, and surrounded by men who had once been soldiers, and pretended they still were, and longed to be so again.
But when he was face to face with the General, Oliver's troubles had just begun. Sir Robert was not as pleased to see Oliver as Oliver was to see him. Nor was he pleased to hear about the fake tanks. "Did you know?" Oliver asked?
"Don't be ridiculous," said Sir Robert, who was haughty. "Of course I knew," said Sir Robert. "And you typed all my letters. They needed quite a lot of newspaper. Don't you remember?"
Oliver did not remember. But Oliver knew the General's many quirks, and the General was using a particularly sharp tone of voice that he only used when he was telling the truth.
Oliver's heart sank through the floor, which made his head dizzy. For now, O Best Beloved, Oliver did not know what to do. It seems he had told a Very Big Lie to all the people of Wellington Wells; or if he had not, he had neglected to tell a Very Important Truth. And because of deceit, the Germans had murdered you, O Best Beloved.
Liesmust be untangled. It is easy to untangle a lie when it is freshly born, but as it ages, it becomes knotted up in the fabric of the world. Then, like the Gordian knot that puzzled the great Alexander, they must be cut.
He must, he resolved, tell the Poeple the Truth.
But who would believe Oliver, who had become a stranger to all his old friends? He looked like a Wastrel; for all they would know, he was a Wastrel. Oliver needed to find someone else whom the people would believe. A Very Important Someone.
Sir Robert, though important, was not the King of Wellington Wells. Ever since the Germans had hanged the Mayor a few days after their arrival, the town had been ruled by an Executive Committee operating in the shadowy corridors of City Hall. Surely, they could tell the people.
They would be even harder to get in to see than the General. But the people had to know the truth. And if Oliver did not convince them, how could he ever make it up to you, O Best Beloved?
So Oliver set off to see the Miss Victoria Byng, who, he hoped, could introduce him to Executive Committee in City Hall.
If an adventure is a series of dangers recounted from safety, then, if all went well, it might be the greatest adventure of his life.