I gently pull Tmal from the edge of the arguing mass and urge him into a quiet corner. I ignore the raised voices; they had yelled in the council meeting, yelled in the hallway, and are still yelling over dinner in the great hall. They will probably be yelling in their sleep tonight. Father has finally found out what Mynar is researching, and he is not happy. Mynar argues passionately and Lej logically, but neither make any impression on Father. Taver supports Mynar because he really wants something, anything, that can be thrown and explode. Lord Almi is against it, not surprising since he is always against any change—a strange attitude for someone so young, if you didn’t know his father—and Lord Asher is against it because he hates Lord Taver. I think Lord Ekal is against both sides out of sheer frustration, and Jes has made rational comments in support of both sides. Alan, showing the most intelligence of all, has managed to lose himself coming down the hall, and is likely hiding in his workroom. I suspect he supports Mynar, but won’t say so out loud following my don’t annoy father until after the wedding rule.
Tmal, expecting to report to me and receive his reward, has innocently walked into the middle of what I consider a totally useless debate (a debate with much volume and impolite aspersions but still a debate); it doesn’t matter if Mynar wants to fix magic, he doesn’t know how.
“Tell me everything again.” I am more interested in what Tmal has to say, or what of it I got to hear before father and Mynar yelled their way into the council meeting and sides started forming.
“I visited all of the places you wanted me too, and told everyone that the Sorcerer hadn’t controlled the demon, you just killed it before he was eaten.” Not where I wanted him to start, but I could see his point’ he wanted to be sure he received his reward.
“And you did well,” I assure him. “The influx of foreign Sorcerers has ended. Our Steward will show you a selection of the empty houses, and you can take your pick.” I give him a moment, then push the conversation back to where I want it.
“Tell me about Murr.”
“I was coming home.” He pauses for a moment, savoring the word, mercenaries rarely have a ‘home’. “He was sitting beside the main road about four days from Misthold. He had lost the wheel pin and one of the wheels on his little two wheel donkey cart had fallen off. He wasn’t strong enough to put it back on, so I helped him.”
“He offered to pay me to see him the rest of the way to Misthold, since the party he was traveling with had gone on without him.”
Strange, the point of traveling with a party was for mutual help, either from partnership or fees paid. “Did you believe him?”
Tmal just shakes his head. “It meant I would get paid for going where I was headed.”
I couldn’t disagree with that.
“But he asked a lot of questions. I told him the demon story, since you wanted it to spread. He did ask me if the dead Sorcerer’s name was Rout. I told him it was Falchen, and he lost interest.”
Suddenly I was even more interested. Someone had sent Rout. “Do you think there is any possibility he deliberately put himself in your path?”
Tmal considers my question for a moment. “Why…” Then he really thinks about it. “I mentioned I was coming back to Misthold to several people, acquaintances and friends, and I was on the main road, so it isn’t impossible. But,” he tries again, “why? I protected Dire, never even heard of Rout.”
“Rout arrived in Misthold before Dire, and got himself killed by another Sorcerer after you left.” I looked at Tmal a moment, considering. “Are you interested in another task? Do you know where to find Murr.”
He shrugs, “I guided him to one of the better Inns inside the town walls, received my pay, and said good-by. He’s probably still there.”
“I need for you to point him out to one of my guards, without being seen. I want to keep an eye on him.” I saw no reason not to admit the obvious, and make Tmal feel part of the team.
“Gladly, Princess.” Tmal was disposed to be agreeable.
“Good, then you can do that on the way to pick out your house.” I send for Daver.
Father should know about Murr, but the volume at the head table hasn’t diminished, and it will be a waste of effort to try and talk to him until he and Mynar have argued themselves into exhaustion or laryngitis or both. I go looking for Alan instead.
I find him in his workroom, starting at a blob of wet paste that non-the-less seems to be smoldering.
“Paper-mache isn’t strong enough to hold an embedded spell; it just shreds.”
“Could you put the spell in the water?” Apparently this is a very dumb question because it takes Alan several minutes to say ‘no’. He is trying to find a way to make communication by scrying two-way.
“I don’t want to use mirrors, they are too much of a problem when the spell fails normally.”
I try very hard and manage not to make comments about a discipline where ‘fails normally’ makes sense. I start to ask him if he has consulted with Jes, but I can’t remember if Alan had been told about dream-talking, so I say nothing and make a mental note to check with Jes myself.
“Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way.” Alan is clearly talking to himself, but I decide to stay and listen anyway—well, stay and look; he is so cute when he’s working on a problem. “What if there were some way to have two boards which were highly sympathetic, high enough so that changes to one…”
He pulls out one of this bowls, splashes some water into it, and mutters a phrase or two. I’m not sure what he is trying to do, but I can tell immediately when his focus shifts. He reaches for paper muttering still to himself, “It’s changed since this morning”. He starts copying the message, one word repeated several times in a regimented row. I have decoded enough of Celeste’s messages, I can read this, danger. Repeated over and over.