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The ball was a great success. Mother tells the Steward to inform the staff how pleased she is with their efforts, and father adds his thanks, so everyone is in a good mood. Even Jes has volunteered that dancing is interesting. My ladies have offered private lessons, and he wants my opinion. I promise to get back to him; I need to find out if they have any plans other than dance lessons, Jes has been too involved in our various battles to learn much about our culture, and I know even less about his. I can foresee massive misunderstandings.
Well, there were two exceptions to the general good mood—Alan and Mynar. They are still not happy with their translations. Father has decided to require a status report, whether or not they are ready. They argue and are overridden. And I decide I need an hour with Thunder before the council meeting.
He comes over when I call, and accepts his usual apple. One of the stallions decides he is tired of snow, and starts kicking the back wall of his stall. Stable hands go running to calm him before he hurt himself—and hopefully before he hurts one of them. Good natured stallions don’t make good war steeds.
I make a mental note that I need to talk to the chief horse trainer. Thunder not only needs the usual training, but he also needs to be tolerant of the Sword when it is in active battle. That could be a challenge, but one that I don’t have to worry about for another couple of months.
I reluctantly leave the stables to change for the council meeting, and retrieve my Sword from a chest of dresses. I believe it when it says it can’t be stolen, but I prefer to keep it hidden rather than have its powers become public knowledge. It doesn’t seem to mind the dresses.
All of the Council is present for Mynar’s report, even mother whose chair is the only one with cushions. He does the talking, with Alan sitting quietly.
“Rout had three sets of papers. One is a list of expenses, as if he expected to be reimbursed; one is a map of the lots that once contained the demolished house and warehouse, marked out with a grid pattern, labeled to show which ones have been excavated and what, if anything, was found; one is a many paged letter which appears to be mystical rambling. The third is the one we are not confident about the translation. It may have been poorly translated from some other language.
Mynar is careful not to use the word ‘code’ in any form, letting the council think that it’s just a matter of obscure dialects causing the problem, mindful of their promise to keep the Merchant’s Guild’s secrets.
“The list of expenses show Rout was on the road to Misthold within days of Falchen’s summoning the demon; before he should have known anything about it. And he came straight to Misthold as fast as he could travel. He knew what he was heading for.
“The letter talks about the artifact without naming it or describing it. The writer of the letter expected Rout to know what he was talking about without additional details. This is where our translation becomes unsatisfactory. Somehow, the power released when the demon was summoned caused some type of disturbance, or the artifact absorbing some of that power caused a disturbance, which was somehow noticed by the writer of the letter—which was, by the way, unsigned.
“And this just happened by accident,” Taver interrupt, “Falchen didn’t know about it, didn’t plan it?”
“Apparently,” Alan answers, “And when it happened, Rout was sent to retrieve the artifact, and promised three times the usual rate—whatever that is.”
“They didn’t pick a very good agent,” Lord Ekal comments. “If he had waited, been more discrete he might not have attracted notice.”
“Hard to be discrete when we had soldiers following him,” father points out.
“He might have believed he wasn’t the only one coming after it.” Alan speaks for the first time. “If his spell hadn’t failed, he would have killed Blight. I don’t know that your guard could have stopped him.”
“We are used to cleaning up Sorcerers who have killed themselves. Falchen was the only Sorcerer we’ve killed, and he didn’t do much to save himself from being executed.”
“Summoning a demon would have depleted him for months,” Alan explains to me. “And your guards could have taken Blight, but Rout was very powerful, as powerful as the Sorcerer with the attackers at the gate.”
“As powerful as Rout was, he still killed himself with his own sorcery.” Alan nods in agreement, but doesn’t seem to get my real point; he should stop doing things that could get him killed.
“Are you suggesting there may be more Sorcerers on the way?” Father’s tone makes it clear what he feels about more Sorcerers.
“Or other agents.” Alan agrees.
I wonder if he really believes this, or if he thinks it will help convince father to open the chest. It’s more likely to get the chest dumped in the ocean.
I look at mother, and know exactly what she is thinking. Mynar and Alan have nagged about the chest so much father will just keep ignoring them, but the chest needs to be opened.
“So what do you suggest about opening the chest, Alan?” When I speak, father looks at mother instead of me, he knows she gave me one of her silent commands.
“First, we should clean it, and see if anything is written on it or it’s lock. Then we should unlock it in an open space. I guess a field is out of the question.”
“Unless you don’t mind snow up to your waist,” I answer. “And an audience.”
“We might as well sell tickets, there is no chance of keeping this secret.” Father is progressing rapidly to grumpy, so I know he is beginning to accept the necessity of opening the chest. “Or,” he suggests, looking happier, “We could wait until spring.”
Alan and Mynar look as if they could die of disappointment, but everyone else, except mother and me, look as if they think that could be a good solution. Everyone looks at mother when she sighs—loudly.
If the vote is everyone else on one side and mother on the other, mother will win, and they all know it. Mother sends father a look reminding him of the other unsolved problem handing over us. Father sighs back, knowing that he doesn’t really want two unresolved issues at the same time, and this is the only one he can resolve. ‘I hate Sorcerers’ is what father says, but what he means is ‘we have to open the chest’. “Excepting you,” he adds to Alan.
“Alan isn’t a Sorcerer,” I say yet again. Alan looks as if he wants to argue, then remembers I am the only one who has spoken up to say open the chest, and swallows whatever comment he was going to make. I’m sure he will say it to me later, after the chest is open. If he doesn’t kill himself unlocking it.
“Decide where it is best to open this, and we will decide when,” father orders Alan.
Alan is nodding his acceptance of the task as a timid knock sounds at the door. Everyone except Jes and Alan stare in shock. There are the only ones who don’t know interrupting a council meeting just isn’t done. Maybe if there are attacking dragons. Almost in unison everyone looks at father. For a moment I almost think I am going to get to see my father roll his eyes. Instead, he asks one of the younger Lords to find out what the problem is.
Lord Almi comes back with the captain of the royal guards.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, your majesty, but I thought you would like to know we believe we have found the traitor who opened the sally port.”
“You are right,” father assures him. “Bring him to me.”
“He’s dead.” The captain should probably have started with that. “When the top level of the snow melted, his cloak was uncovered, and was seen by one of the guards on the city wall. He was killed by a curved sword. His belt showed cut ties which would have secured his purse. We sent the body to Sister Mays.
“He was a good way down the path from the sally port, headed toward the river. He couldn’t have gotten that far, unless the attackers allowed it.”
“And then killed him,” I say. We do not used curved blades, but many of the outlanders do.
“So I believe,” he answers me.
“Good, It will save me the trouble of having him executed. We will wait for word from Sister Mays before we send out a proclamation, so that it can be complete. And we will wait for the report from Alan, before we do anything else about the chest.” Father gets to his feet and leads mother out, ending the council meeting. Alan and Mynar are already debating the best location and possible safeguards.
I decide to go talk to Webb. I want to know what the current rumors are. So I gather my guards and a bag of apples. Webb is glad to see me, the horses are glad to see me, and the gossip is massive.
“Everyone thinks you keep denying Alan is a Sorcerer because you like him,” Webb starts as we set on bales of hay in his stable. The horses have been duly admired and fed apples, so the courtesies have been taken care of. Now he is telling me the current gossip.
“But,” he continues, “People don’t mind, because they saw Alan fighting beside you, so most will forgive him for being a Sorcerer if he leaves demons alone.”
“I keep telling everyone he isn’t a Sorcerer because he isn’t.” I’m getting really tired of repeating myself. I can’t decide if Webb believes me or not. I just let it drop.
“People are about equally divided between thinking that there is some great treasure of jewels or gold coins in the chest Rout dug up, or thinking it contains some great magical treasure. Pretty much everyone thinks that the pirate attack was an attempt to capture the chest.”
“There were only six days between finding the chest and the attack, even if the ships were provisioned and waiting, it would take more than six days to sail from the Outland to Misthold. How can they believe that?” This is most illogical rumor I have heard in a long time.
Webb just shakes his head.
I get back to the keep just in time to hear Sister Mays report to father.
“The body delivered to us was definitely killed by a curved blade such as the pirates use,” she tells us, confirming the Captain’s opinion. “In addition, he had a small flask in his pocket which contained the dregs of the same poison used to kill the guards at the sally gate.”
“It would seem,” father says with no little satisfaction, “We have found our traitor.”
Sister Mays concurs, and father sets his chief clerk to preparing a proclamation. It will be a very good thing for people to know the wages of treason was death. It was very short sighted of the pirates to leave his body where we would find it. They will find it much harder to suborn a traitor from the city in the future. Father arranges for the proclamation to be read in all of the major squares of the city.
Alan and Mynar have decided on a courtyard in the outer bailey, well away from anything combustible, and are eagerly looking forward to the morning, even they are not willing to start opening the chest with twilight falling.