But about this city - it's huge, sprawling miles from the coast to a nearby plain, filled with taverns and apartments and nautical buildings, the architecture favoring "immense scrolls and swoops and towers," resulting in a skyline of "distorted curves and garish, mismatched colors." Lovely. Palmer finds it all bewildering, from the illegible-but-still-legible writing on the signs of businesses, to the weird seafood being sold on the streets, such as big-headed fish with winking eyelids (eww) which the author claims so resemble sheep that Palmer wonders if they taste like mutton. So enjoy the mental image of schools of mutant sea creatures that resemble hairless bovids, swimming through the inky depths of the ocean, winking at you as they pass.
And if the fish aren't weird enough, there's also the matter of who's buying them. Palmer passes by a shrieking, filthy old shrew who reacts to the prices going up by a whole "damin" by grabbing a sheep-fish and swinging it around like a flail, nearly hitting the four marid guards escorting Palmer through the streets. The fish peddler calls her Daphne, but Palmer is astonished because she looks just like his Aunt Ethel! Amazing! Not the fact that Palmer isn't the only one with a counterpart in this world, but that in such a huge city, he managed to bump into the doppelganger of one of the very few people he knows.
Daphne-Aunt Ethel doesn't recognize Tiger-Palmer, so that encounter ends with our protagonist getting marched along toward his meeting with the queen. And... well, you'd think Palmer would have a lingering reaction to that meeting with the double of his aunt, wouldn't you? But instead he decides to get mopey over all those pranks he before setting foot in the city, which is convenient, because he suddenly sees another opportunity for fun at another's expense. Tiger realizes that if he took one step just right, he could trip up one of the servants carrying Boli's salon chair and dump the ifrit into a puddle of horse water.
What a bed for M'Lord Boli that hoof-churned muck would be! Just a slightly longer step and...
"I won't!" yelled Jan.
M'Lord turned around in astonishment. "What was that?"
"Nothing," said the miserable Jan.
Oh hey, someone noticed Palmer acting weird. But outburst aside, Palmer does manage to resist temptation, it just takes all his willpower to behave like a non-douchey human being. Which I take to mean that while currently inhabiting Tiger's body, at best Palmer can try to act as Tiger's impulse control, while at worst he's watching helplessly while Tiger does crazy stuff. Hence why I think he's more Tiger than Palmer at this point, despite the narration referring to him as "Jan" for now.
Having successfully quashed his darker desires, Palmer takes a moment to notice the distribution of wealth in this city - all the store owners are richly-dressed ifrits, the guards and minor authority figures are all marids, while humans are stuck as servants at best or slaves at worst. But before Palmer can get properly indignant about race-based income inequality, he's distracted by random strangers calling out "It's Tiger!" or getting all weepy when they see him surrounded by guards, and then he's even further distracted as he approaches the queen's palace, a mountain-sized structure with a huge fountain up front, an even huger set of stairs to the entrance, and an even huger-er golden dome on the top. The narration also informs us that "The balconies were evidently masses of precious stones - or else they were all one fire."
So which do you find more fantastical, the notion of a building decorated with endless flames, or the prospect of Hubbard using such a fantastic effect as decoration rather than slathering something with shiny rocks?
But no, we can't just walk into the palace and have our scene with the queen already, Hubbard decides to stick in one last random encounter first. A ferocious-looking ifrit who carries himself like a naval officer (it's in the walk and how he wears his sword) spots Tiger and wonders what in "the Seven Swirls of the Seven Saffron Devils" his old buddy has gotten himself into... I mean yes, it's another half-baked mythological or religious reference Hubbard is using to spice up his story without putting in any serious effort at worldbuilding, but at least it's not as generic as woods devils and woods nymphs, right? Anyway, Officer Whoever complains that Tiger was supposed to come see him if he got into any trouble, and gripes that it weren't for a "confounded law" that keeps puny humans from holding naval ranks, Tiger wouldn't "revolt" so much. Not sure how it would affect his thirst for pranks, but we can only hope.
Eventually Boli is able to get the procession moving, and now we get to enter the palace. It's impractically huge, its entrance flanked by fifty-foot silver statues of "beasts," its main hall big enough for a frigate to dock in, a main chamber larger than any other building in the city, and at the centerpiece a throne rising thirty feet above the floor, "hung with tassels of gold and set with diamonds." But not illusory flames. So I guess those balconies were studded with ordinary gemstones. Hmm. Kind of a letdown.
Oh, we should probably introduce Her Royal Majesty.
She was taller than these other Ifrits. Taller and uglier. Her arms were matted with black hair which set strangely against the soft silk of her white robe. Her hairy face was a horror, her lips spread apart by upper and lower fangs like tusks. On either side of her jeweled crown were black, pointed ears like funnels. Her nose was mostly nostril. Her eyes were as big as stewpans and in them held a flickering, leaping flame which scorched Jan to his very soul.
So a tusked, bat-faced gorilla in a fine dress, gotcha.
Palmer looks down to avert his eyes from the scary gaze of... well, it'll take a few pages for her name to actually appear in the story, but this is Queen Ramus the Magnificent. Anyway, this turns out to be a bad idea, because it means Tiger can see Boli's sedan bearers, or more accurately "their heels." And before Palmer can react, Tiger "oh, quite accidentally" snags the scabbard of one of the guards so that it trips up one of the people carrying Boli's chair, and then the ifrit is sent sprawling forward towards the pair of enormous lions, "as large as camels," chained to... why camels, Hubbard? Because this is your take on Arabian Nights or whatever? So that's the first animal that comes to Palmer's mind when he's trying to judge the size of these big cats, and not, say a grizzly bear, or bison, or anything?
Anyway, Boli rolls towards the lions chained to either side of Ramus' throne, so we get a page of action or whatever as the guards mill about in confusion, "But Tiger!" leaps into action and slaps one lion's nose and yanks on the other's tongue, so they jerk back "in astonishment at such audacity" rather than having the normal reaction to such japes, i.e. crushing Tiger's neck in their jaws. Then Tiger prattles on and on as he apologizes to Her Royal Highness and dusts off Boli, who is so shaken up by events that he can hardly speak. Tiger blames Boli's stammering on the "gas" the lions must've breathed into him. I have no idea either.
Fortunately there's that letter from Captain Whossname to clear things up, which a courtier passes up to the queen, who reads it and goes from the verge of laughter to a black rage. She asks if the prisoner has spoken to anyone, and when Boli admits that Tiger talked with "a fish peddler's wife," the queen sends guards to take the shrew to the dungeon and then dismisses the "miserable milksop" who couldn't follow a simple order. Exit Boli, who is nearly blown out of the audience hall by the queen's thunderous rant.
"I ought to have his head," snarled the queen. "I, Ramus the Magnificent, to be served in such a chuckleheaded fashion!"
And there's our belated not-quite-an-introduction to this character, the most important person in this city. At least she's better off than Captain Tombo, who went two chapters between appearing and earning his name.
Ramus orders the prisoner to be moved to the palace's left wing and held incommunicado, and she also sends a general to retrieve "that vile troublemaker Zongri!" The general is surprised to learn that the ruler of the Barbossi Isles is back after vanishing for thousands of years, but the queen's spymaster steps forward and reveals that "this Zongri but yesterday arrived here in Tarbutón." Oh hey, there's our belated introduction to the city.
But that's it for this chapter. Our protagonist is once again being locked in a room somewhere, but at least he got to make other people miserable with some physical comedy. Tune in next time for a lull in the story in which Palmer does something that Tiger can't.
Back to Chapter Five, part one