I have overloaded the rumor mill with Lej’s lecture to my guards; there are arguments raging about the existence of the communes, if they were historical or fable. The historians are weighing in with a great number of words, and even my inventive journeyman bard is supporting the ‘historical’ side. Considering the bard’s lack of historical accuracy during the ghost hunt, I’m not sure if having him on the side I support is good or not.
The day after Alan joins the traitor hunt, I take a copy of Lej’s documents to Sister Mays, but I don’t stay to discuss them with her. I do spend some time visiting with the wounded still in her care; recovery will be long for several of them.
Alan has set up a schedule. He watches each of the four for an hour daily, at different times and records what he sees. Each afternoon, Mynar, Jes and I talk to him about his notes. They are mostly boring. It’s winter, and snow is heavy everywhere, so people are mostly just trying to stay warm and wait for spring. On the other hand, since it is winter, the four we are primarily interested in are easy to find. All are in their main keeps, mostly near fires. It doesn’t help that Alan can only see images in the water, he can’t hear anything.
Daver has provided a supply of paper-mache bowls, towels, and, at my suggestion, burn ointment. Alan hasn’t had to use the last yet.
We have a day of real sunshine, and I take the Sword out to walk on the castle walls. “What’s wrong?” I ask one of the guards when I see castle staff swarming up ladders to the stable roof.
“When the snow started melting this time, the roof started leaking,” he explains.
I watch as they push snow off to the ground, and spread waterproofed tarps over one long stretch of roof. I won’t complain about life being calm, but I can’t help wondering what the traitor is going to do next. I have the feeling he has gone too far to quit; there will be a ‘next’.
I am first to Alan’s workroom, and find him smoothing burn ointment on the back of his hands. One of the paper-mache bowls is scattered around the room in soggy pieces.
I don’t bother asking what happened, it’s obvious.
“I may have found something.”
Mynar and Jes arrive just in time to hear Alan’s pronouncement, so he only has to tell his story once.
“Lord Orsin has a letter he has read several times; seems to be crafting an answer to it. I pushed the limits of the spell today, and got a good look at the seal.”
“Just before the spell failed and you got burned by boiling water?” The man is dead set on doing dangerous things.
“Yes,” he answers me. “And this is the seal on the letter.” He shows us a sketch he has made. Mynar and I both recognize the overly large and rather gaudy personal seal of Alfred of Halft.
“Pity you couldn’t read the letter.”
Alan takes this as an insult. “No one else could have read the seal. I took two different scrying spells from two different Sorcerers and used that knowledge to create a third, better than either of the others. And I still couldn’t have recognized the seal, if King Alfred didn’t use one that is ridiculously oversized.”
Mynar, Jes and I make soothing noises, recognizing the irritation of fatigue.
“I do know where he hides it,” Alan offers.
“But I’m guessing you don’t have a nifty little spell to transport it from its hiding place to here.”
“Sorry, Princess, I don’t. Nor does anyone else.”
“I’m going to go talk to mother,” I decide, “And Mynar should talk to father.”
“And I will stay here and pick up the pieces of the bowl. No need to have anyone speculating. You just sit and watch,” Jes tells Alan, “Your hands must hurt.”
Mother and father come to the same conclusion, Alan should concentrate on Orsin for a few days.
When we relay this to Alan, I can see he agrees. “Alfred of Halft is very pompous. It is surprising he would write a personal letter to a minor lord, even a wealthy one.”
For the next three days, nothing happens. Alan does complain to me once or twice he is in danger of dying of boredom. The fifth day, his spell fails again, but he manages to get out of the way fast enough.
“I was trying to get a better look at a man he was talking to. He looks slightly familiar, as if I should know him.” He shows me the description he had written. The man is bald, and has tattoos and a scar. He sounds like someone you would remember.
“Maybe we could try giving this description to one of the merchants who trade in Fernhills, see if they recognize him.”
“Adres,” Mynar suggests. “He already knows something is happening, and has kept his mouth shut.”
The sun is still shinning, so I decide to walk to Guild Master Adres’ shop. He is in, taking inventory and making plans for the spring. He is glad to talk to me, I think he would have been glad for any interruption, much less by his Princess.
“This sounds familiar, and not in a good way. Would you mind if I ask one of my journeymen. Frankly, he spends more time in taverns than I do.”
“Men who spend time in taverns aren’t that good at keeping their mouths shut,” I point out. “And I do not want this question associated with me.”
“He would never speak out of turn when sober, but during the winter there isn’t much to do in the evenings except drink. Perhaps I could ask him in a day or two. And I could say you were inquiring about getting some silk thread from Isal. So the question wouldn’t seem to come from you.”
I think about it for a minute, and decide the risk is worth it. “Come to the castle and ask for me if you find out anything.”
Only mother does waiting well; the rest of us don’t.
We are all convinced we know the traitor, but the roads are still impassible. Father and Lord Taver look at the sky, willing the sun to stay out; Mynar and Alan stare at the flint disk as if to compel its secrets by sheer force of will; Jes also stares at the sky, but I’m not sure if he is wishing for sun or snow.
I decide to do something more useful, and start compiling a list of things to do once the roads thaw—of course, then they will be all mud, but that just makes travel frustrating, not deadly.
And absolutely none of this influences the weather, graying skies promising winter has at least one more good snow in store for us.
The first snowflakes were falling when one of Anders’ apprentices delivers a package. “Master Andres found some silks in the back of the lesser storeroom.”
I thank him and take the silks to mother, who shows no surprise at my delivering embroidery silks she hadn’t asked for, although she does raise her eyebrows at the enclosed note. The tattooed man is rumored to be an intermediary for assassins.
“Interesting to know, but of course it isn’t evidence.”
I don’t understand mother’s assessment. “Orsin is associating with a person know to deal with assassins…”
Mother interrupts me. “Associated by gossip and sorcery.” She waits a moment while I force myself to acknowledge that she is right. “This will help your father. Being certain who the traitor is will help find proof. And this is more certain than a letter with unknown content from Haft, no matter how unusual such a letter might be.”
She is right, we need more. And it is snowing again. Pity frustration isn’t useful, for we certainly have it in generous supply.