The dark night felt warm with Isabelle’s body pressed against him. He rolled in a plush feather bed, soft blankets pushed down to his feet, while the air dried the sweat from their bodies. She rolled onto him, kissing him, her lips sweet as Lederian wine. He could only feel her body: his eyes were stubbornly closed. He tried to open them, but could only catch glimpses of his lover: her neck, a smile in her eyes, her breast as he reached for it. Then she became aggressive, hungry. She kissed him harder, biting his lip, digging her fingers into his shoulder. He moaned. She gasped. She felt so warm and soft. His excitement mounted; he was so close to ecstasy. Something in the room gave out a tremendous crashing sound, and she threw him from the bed. He was soaring through the air …
Edmond awoke in mid-air, disoriented. In an instant, the memory of the dream faded away to the all-too pressing present. He was on a barge, heading to Dargon to deliver an ancient artifact: the cursed statue of Gow, the Beinison god of love and chivalry. Isabelle was still in Northern Hope, waiting for his return. Anarr, a magus of great renown, had hired him to watch over the artifact and ensure it was protected from harm. A moment was all the time it took for these facts to come racing back into his mind. It was all the time he had, as his mid-air flight was abruptly and painfully halted by the crate he landed on. The sound of splintering wood accompanied a fierce, fiery pain in his back. He caught a fleeting glimpse of the statue — Gow’s black face screaming at him — and then his view was obscured by barrels and crates falling on him.
“What the hell was that?” Edmond wondered. “We must have hit something.” He realized he was talking to the statue. In fact, over the past two days he had been talking to it more frequently. He would open the rucksack enough to reveal its head — Gow needed to breathe, after all, didn’t he? — and stare at it for bells at a time. It had become a friend. He liked the statue, and he felt certain that it liked him, as well.
Water leaked through the floor of the barge and Edmond was brought back to the present. He could hear yelling voices, cargo shifting, ropes snapping. Water began to flood into the room, and Edmond knew the trip had come to an end. “Time to go,” he said.
Suddenly the room shifted wildly — one end of the floor rose steeply while the other dropped — and he knew the barge was sinking. The barrels that had been on top of him rolled off, soon to be replaced by a heavy crate that slammed hard into his chest, knocking the wind out of him. He was trapped and could barely breathe. The water rushed in at an alarming rate, soaking his clothes and swirling around the statue that now rested on the floor. It was wrapped tightly in the haversack that Edmond had been using to transport the idol, but its head was sticking out, yelling with desperation, fearing its demise.
Edmond gritted his teeth and put his hands against the crate that pinned him to the floor. He cried out as he gave a powerful shove. The crate shifted; there was a pulling feeling in his abdomen while his muscles strained to free him. The barge buckled again, and he took a quick breath as water rose over his head. The crate had moved enough, and he wedged himself out from beneath it.
He stood in the remains of his makeshift cabin, surrounded by the chill waters of the Coldwell. The tarp that had been the ceiling began to sink, weighted by additional crates that Edmond had placed on top of it to keep it firm during travel. That ceiling had become the confines of his coffin, and as it succumbed to the weight of the containers, its sinking marked the time when his air would run out. He would hold his breath for as long as possible, his eyes bulging and his chest burning, wanting and needing fresh air, but eventually he would let go, and chilling waters would surge down his throat, choking him, forcing his body to spasm and thrash as the water invaded his lungs. It was a lousy way for a guard to die, he thought.
He looked at the statue one last time, and noticed the light gleaming off of its jeweled eyes. Sunlight! Looking up, he saw that part of the tarp had flown from between two crates. He could escape through that gap. “We’re getting out of here,” he said to the statue. He moved as quickly as he could in waist-deep water, grabbing a length of rope to tie around the statue. He thought momentarily about leaving the rope, but realized the statue would be easier to pull out of the water after he had made it to the surface … if he made it to the surface. The water was at his chest and rising quickly. Edmond had no idea how deep the river was at this point, or indeed how close they were to shore or Dargon.
He hoped they were not far. He looked down at his stomach and realized the pulling sensation he had felt earlier had been a splinter of wood breaking off from the crate that had pinned him to the floor. The rest of it was lodged under his bottom right rib, and he was bleeding. He tied the rope around the statue, finishing the knot underwater as the water rose to his armpits, then his neck. He wrapped the loose end of the rope around his wrist and took a deep breath. Pain stabbed into his side as his wound complained, and he immediately lost the air in his lungs. He took another breath, not so deep this time, and began.
He bent below the water line and pushed the statue out from beneath the tarp and into the light. It dropped off the edge of the barge, beginning its descent to the river bottom. He did not know how long the rope was, or how deep the river; he prayed briefly that the rope was long enough to keep the statue from dragging him to the bottom. His lungs were already aching with effort, and blood swirled out of his wound and around his body. He was bleeding badly. The cold water of the river shot into his wound causing it to throb with excruciating pain. He barely maintained the strength to hold one end of the rope as he allowed his body to rise to the surface. A glint of metal flashed by his eyes, and he grabbed at it when he recognized its shape; his sword was his only worldly possession.
Edmond broke the surface of the river and found he was near the eastern bank. The river flowed quickly, but he was able to pull himself to the shore, the muck and mire sucking loudly at his limbs as he moved. He tried to use his sword as support, but its blade only sank into the mud. Reeds and grass covered the bank of the river, with a few scattered rocks jutting out from under the surface. Upriver, a giant bridge stretched between both banks. Dozens of bodies littered the western shore where the bridge had been damaged. Perhaps a hundred paces upriver on the eastern shore lay another barge, beached on a sand bar. Two men were scrambling off of it and running back up toward the bridge. Edmond felt an urgent desire to help, but he was exhausted. He rested a moment before realizing he still held the rope in his left hand. His sword had fallen to the mud at his feet.
Edmond climbed the shore, stepping among the reeds, until the rope tightened and he knew it would reach no further. Then he began to pull, hoping the rope would be strong enough, and that the water would lighten the statue’s weight. He could carry the statue of his own accord, but he felt weakened by the swim and his wound. He gritted his teeth, and hand over hand he pulled on the rope, trying to ignore the stabbing pain from the wound in his side.
As Edmond pulled, the statue of Gow slowly rose from the depths of the river. It broke the surface, and the head of Gow seemed to curse the skies. Water and sludge spilled out of its mouth, and Edmond’s efforts slowly brought it to rest on a rock at the river’s edge.
Edmond stared at the scene on the river. The remains of scaffolding on the bridge was evidence that the bridge had been in the process of being repaired. Stone crumbled and broke away from a pylon and the section it supported, falling dangerously close to the people swimming in the water below. They fought the current, trying to grab onto a pair of barges that were hauling people out of the river.
All of the misfortunes that had played upon the raft and its inhabitants over the past few days had culminated in its sudden and accidental impact with that bridge. If Edmond had not known that the curse of Gow had been lifted, he would have sworn Dargon was suffering from the same ill luck that had befallen Northern Hope. A sudden dread overtook him, and he peered down the mouth of the statue. He sighed in relief when he saw a small bundle still occupied its place, though now covered in black mud. That bundle, according to Anarr, was full of mystical elements, and was necessary to keep the statue’s curse restrained.
Edmond sighed resignedly, and determined to finish his task here in Dargon. He closed the rucksack over the statue, and tied it. The sack had two shoulder straps that made it easier for Edmond to carry, despite his injured state. He reminded himself that he only had to make it to the docks where Anarr would meet him. He set his jaw, lifted the sack onto his shoulders, and began walking into the city. He was wet, muddy, and bleeding as he entered Dargon for the first time.
Edmond wandered wearily for a time; how long he walked the streets of Dargon, he did not know. His intention was to find the docks, but he found his inability to focus his thoughts — not to mention attempting to fight the crowds that were pressing toward the bridge from every direction — impeded his progress. He was lost. The sack weighed heavily on his shoulders, and his side was causing him great pain. He staggered through the muddy streets of Dargon, unable to take in the sights and sounds of the renowned city. All around him people were moving in the opposite direction, trying to get to the bridge to see the excitement. A group of priests ran by, but none stopped to help him; they were too intent on getting to the bridge.
Seeking solitude from the crowds and a place to rest, he leaned against a post that held up the wooden awning of a tavern. The sweat poured from Edmond’s uncovered head, plastering his dark hair to his scalp. He glanced at the tavern’s sign: a spear broken in two. He noticed a red-headed woman with green eyes exiting the tavern. He stood up straight to smile at the woman, taking his weight off the post. For an instant, Edmond again heard the familiar sound of wood cracking, and then the entire awning came down with a mighty crash and buried the woman underneath!
Edmond heard a soft moaning sound, and then a cry for help. He dropped the haversack and rushed to the spot where she had been standing moments before. He strained to lift the broken boards, feeling the wooden splinter stab at him more with the effort. When he lifted the boards sufficiently, he chanced a quick command to her: “Move!” He felt his side rip open more, blood now pouring down his waist. As she crawled free, he collapsed and dropped the timbers beneath him.
He awoke a few moments later, soft hands caressing his face. He was lying flat on the remains of the awning, while she knelt beside him. “Rest easy,” she said. “My name is Raneela.” Edmond sighed, but he still felt the pain in his side. “You’re in luck,” she said. “You rescued the right person: I’m a healer.”
Raneela reached into a bag she carried at her side and removed what appeared to be a small tube of blue light. “Thank you,” she said. “Now let me return the favor. I need to do this right the first time, though; this is the only cure-stick Cefn gave me.” Raneela pulled his shirt up from his waist, exposing his wounded side. She paused for a moment. “This may hurt a bit,” she said. She inserted the blue tube into his wound.
The initial insertion of the tube felt like a soft prodding, and comforting warmth melted into his side. He felt his strength returning, slowly. Edmond could not imagine how she thought it might hurt. Then she grasped the end of the wooden splinter and ripped it suddenly from his side.
Edmond let out a short cry as a brief stabbing pain jutted through his rib cage. “Sorry,” Raneela said, “but the cure stick closes the wound quickly. I had to remove this piece of wood as soon as I could — that wound was severe. How did you get it, anyway?” she asked, but she did not seem to want an answer. She took a rag from her bag and wiped the blood from her hands. “You should be fine in a few bells. Meanwhile, rest easy.” She glanced at the rucksack. “And don’t strain yourself with too much lifting for a while.”
“Wait,” he called to her as she got up to leave.
She looked back at him. “I have to go to the causeway,” she stated. “I’m needed there.” And then she was gone, merged into the crowds of curious people moving in the direction of the fallen bridge.
Edmond lay on the remains of the awning, feeling clear-headed for the first time since the barge had crashed. He realized he had been walking dazedly through the streets, weary with blood loss. He had intended to go straight to the docks to meet Anarr, but had landed here, outside a run down tavern. Judging by the direction Raneela was headed, he had been walking the wrong way for a long time, possibly a full bell.
A short, fat man stepped through the door of the tavern and stared at him. “Gonna get off that, or shall I call Jahlena? She’ll throw yeh off.”
“Sorry,” Edmond managed to say as he gained his feet. He went to the rucksack and, heeding Raneela’s words, simply stood by it for a moment. “Have you any hot food inside?” he asked the man.
“It’s a tavern, boy,” the man replied gruffly. “You’ve stumbled onto the best place Dargon has for hot food. Least you could do is buy a meal and a drink to help pay the cost of this blasted thing,” he added as he kicked at the wooden remains of the awning at his feet. He looked curiously at Edmond and then the rucksack. “Don’t know what you’ve got there, but if it’s gold, we’ve got women as can lighten it for you.”
Edmond only hesitated a moment. The wisdom of telling a complete stranger the value of the item he carried determined his reply. “Stone, actually. Damned heavy. Can you give me a hand?”
The man snorted. “Carry it yourself, boy; I’ve work to do.” Then he turned and entered the tavern, calling out to Jahlena, “Pub’s falling apart, Jahl. Get someone to move this debris, would you?”
Edmond entered the tavern, dragging the rucksack behind him. The room was hardly ornate, seeming more run down than he had expected from a big city’s offering. It reminded him, in fact, of Lord Araesto’s Cat, only dingier … and dustier … and a bit creepier. He approached the bar with some trepidation.
The barkeep appraised him quickly before speaking. “Stranger in these parts, are yeh? Yer talk’s funny.”
“I’m from Pyridain, originally, but my people were moved to Northern Hope after Beinison occupied it.”
The man smiled quickly and introduced himself. “I’m Jamis, part owner of this rat trap. You say yer from Northern Hope? Where’s that?”
“Up the river a few days, and over the Darst Range.”
“That’s a ways off. What kind of money are yeh carrying?”
“Royals, of course.”
“Well, don’t have many Royals myself; Dargon uses the Rand system mostly. Three Bits for two Florens; so six Bits for soup, three for ale.”
Edmond looked around the tavern and noted its decrepit appearance. The shutters hung loosely on the windows, and the stools at the bar were in need of repair. He gave the barkeep a skeptical look. “Seems a bit pricey …”
Jamis smiled like a hungry cheetar. “Well, I’m also exchanging your money for you, at no fee.”
“Fine,” Edmond said, and reached into his pouch. He did not mind so much; after all, most of the money he was carrying he had won rolling dice with the juggler on the barge. But he had the feeling he was being cheated: Jamis kept smiling.
Edmond noticed some noises coming from the rooms above him. “Kind of loud, aren’t they?”
“Someone’s getting a real treat, they are. Like I says earlier, if yeh’ve got gold, I’ve got women.”
The noises persisted, getting louder. The timbers of the ceiling shook, and dust sprinkled down between the boards. Jamis raised his eyes. “He didn’t pay that much,” he muttered to himself. There was a creaking noise, and a splintering of wood. Suddenly a gaping hole appeared in the ceiling. Through the hole fell a naked man and a half-dressed woman, amidst a shower of goose feathers, wood splinters, and dust. They crashed roughly on a table, splitting it cleanly in half, and landed on the floor below. Both were stunned from the fall, though the woman had the presence of mind to cover herself. The man’s naked backside was face-up and exposed to the bar.
Goose feathers continued to fall like snow from the upstairs while Jamis screamed in rage and frustration. “Nehru’s pointy nose! What in the hell were yeh doin’? That’ll come out of yer pay, slut!” Jamis turned and yelled toward a back door, “Jahl, I’m telling yeh, this place is falling apart!”
Edmond leaned forward over the bar. He could emit a presence when he wanted to, and he made sure he flexed his neck and shoulder muscles when he spoke to Jamis again. “Tell you what: give me the ale and directions to the docks — where the barges land — and I’ll just be on my way.”
Jamis was taken aback. He served up a quick tankard of ale and handed it immediately to Edmond. “Sure, sure. Coldwell Street is here on the corner,” he said, pointing towards the door. “Take that down to Oyster Street and that’ll take you to Dock Street. The barges dock right there.” Jamis glanced quickly at the prostitute and her customer who were still lying on the floor, but ignored them for the moment.
“Thank you,” Edmond said. He lifted the tankard and drank quickly, then set it down. “Have a wonderful day.” He lifted the rucksack onto his shoulders, winced at a pulling feeling in his side, then headed out the door.
Edmond had been waiting at the river docks for over a bell, but Anarr was nowhere to be found. The commotion at the causeway had finally subsided, and business was returning to normal. Around him, longshoremen were loading and unloading the barges, and separating cargo to be brought out to the ships in the harbor. Lines of carts and carriages hauled goods along the riverfront from one set of docks to the other, as the river was too shallow for ocean-faring vessels, and the harbor’s waves too high for the barges. There was also a marketplace somewhere on the harbor side, Edmond had learned, and many of these carts were hauling goods there to be bartered or sold.
Finally, there was the small business of river ferries for the wealthy, or those who owned their own craft. The bridge was for commoners, mostly; it was inconveniently far up river for either nobility or business, adding over a league of travel compared to taking a ferry. But the bridge had been heavily damaged when the barge collided with it, and now the people of Dargon were lining up at the docks. Judging by the conversations Edmond overheard, prices had risen dramatically in the past few bells.
Through it all, the humid, salty air of a sea side town soaked everything and cleaned nothing. Edmond noted that his blood had stained the rucksack in a very distinct pattern. “No amount of water will clean that out,” he thought. Somehow, he was sure, some bit of his blood was now being carried into the sack, over the screaming skull of Gow, and down his angry throat. Would that blood trigger the magical properties of the statue, forcing its mouth to open? As a precaution, he periodically checked the bundle in statue’s throat; the little mystical package was all that kept the statue’s curse from unleashing chaos and misfortune on the entire town. Noting its presence did little to assuage his fears, however; all the commotion and accidents he had witnessed in Dargon made him doubt Anarr’s abilities as a mage. “Magus,” he corrected himself out loud. Meanwhile, he was stuck in Dargon, without Anarr.
Then he remembered: Anarr was not the final destination for the statue. It was being brought to Parris Dargon, cousin to Duke Clifton Dargon. Anarr had mentioned that on the barge. “Well,” he thought, “if I can’t deliver it to Anarr, I can take it to his lordship. Then I can think about getting home.”
Edmond asked a few questions of the local tradesmen but learned nothing. Finally, he met a sailor whose friend had gone to work for Parris Dargon, who lived on Merchant’s Way, in the north end of town. So, having acquired basic directions, he hefted the sack onto his shoulders and set off.
He walked to the end of Dock Street and turned left on Murson. Murson was a long street that would take him all the way up to Parris Dargon’s residence. It was busiest near the waterfront, but the traffic thinned as he travelled away from the water. He had crossed Main Street and was continuing north when someone grabbed him from the side. He felt his body jerked quickly into an alley, and then something hit him on the head. Blackness took him quickly.
Again, he awoke to caressing hands. Grasping hands. Pulling hands. He swatted them away, opened his eyes, and looked around. Two vagrant men scuffled away into the corner, surprised. “Didn’ mean nothin’ by it, sir,” one of them muttered. “Thought yeh’s was dead.”
Edmond’s head throbbed. He put his hand to his temple and found blood trickling down. He looked around for the rucksack, but did not see it anywhere. “Ol’s blood!” he cursed. Then he looked at the vagrants. “Where is the statue?” he asked. When they did not seem to understand, he asked again. “The sack I was carrying. Where is it?”
One of the men pointed down the alleyway and said, “That way.” Edmond muttered some thanks and turned to run. He didn’t know what his assailants looked like, or how much of a lead they had on him, but he could recognize his bloodied rucksack. Whoever carried that must be the culprit.
Within a few menes, Edmond had spotted a man carrying his rucksack. It was unmistakable: the blood stains were quite specific, and the bundled shape within was characteristic of the statue. But he saw only one man, and he would have sworn there had been two attackers …
No matter. He followed the tall, balding man through a few alleys. It was not difficult: the weight of the statue made it nearly impossible to travel very quickly. The man stuck to the side streets and alleys, avoiding the main ways. Edmond noted that the alleys he travelled through were becoming increasingly disreputable; small piles of human waste were interspersed with the trash that littered the ground. Most of the windows of the buildings were boarded up, or barred. Edmond thought he had better confront the man sooner than later; he had no idea where he might end up, and if he had to fight the man, he did not want to do so surrounded by enemies.
“Hold it,” he called out, but the man kept moving, his balding pate shiny with sweat. Edmond grasped a nearby brick from a crumbling wall and threw it at the man, striking him in the back. The man stopped and turned around. Edmond recognized him immediately.
“You were on the barge,” he said. “Rancin.”
“Edmond,” Rancin acknowledged him. He seemed surprised.
“Give me back the sack, Rancin,” Edmond said.
“I believe it contains something of mine,” Rancin replied. “Something I need very badly.”
“No, Rancin. It only contains a curse.”
Rancin raised his eyebrows. “Is that some sort of threat?” He lowered the rucksack with his left hand, while he drew his sword with his right. Edmond drew his own sword as well.
“I don’t want to hurt you.” Edmond said. The situation had escalated very quickly. First he had been following a thief, and now he was confronting a potential killer.
Rancin smiled bitterly. “You won’t,” he said. He advanced quickly, raising his sword. His blade was still, unmoving in the hands of one accustomed to its use. Edmond held his sword nervously in front of his body, its blade quivering with his fear. He had never actually used a sword in combat, only as a practice weapon. Now he was likely going to die. It briefly occurred to him that this was a fitting death for guard.
Rancin swung his sword once, back and forth, in a quick movement. Edmond saw him adjust the weight of the sack on his back. Then Edmond was defending himself. Rancin’s sword cut from side to side in quick strokes, and Edmond nervously followed it with his own, attempting to parry any attack. But the tip of Rancin’s sword slowly got closer with each movement as Rancin took small, careful steps through the detritus in the alley. Edmond’s attempts to parry were getting wilder as his heart beat faster and his breath came shorter. His only option was to retreat backwards, still following that weaving blade with his eyes. His right shoulder bumped against the bars of a window as he backed up. He stumbled briefly, and caught himself. Rancin feignte d a cut to Edmond’s left, and Edmond stepped back again. His foot trod on something rancid, and suddenly he slipped backward and fell on his posterior.
Rancin flashed a quick smile of triumph, and lunged forward. But the rucksack on his shoulders — containing the cursed statue of Gow, Beinison god of chivalric battle — caught on the barred window that Edmond had bumped against. Rancin’s lunge was pulled up short, his body turned sideways and unprotected. Edmond desperately thrust his own sword upward, stabbing toward Rancin’s chest. But Edmond, in his prone position, had neither the strength nor the reach to cause any harm, and the sword point landed, merely pressing against Rancin’s vest. Then the rucksack came free, and Rancin suddenly tripped, fell forward, and impaled himself on Edmond’s sword, pinning Edmond beneath.
“How?” Rancin asked briefly, and then his eyes lost focus. A small agate stone fell out of his mouth.
Edmond rolled Rancin’s body to the ground and stood up. He pulled his sword free with a sickening, sliding sound. He heard and felt the steel of his blade scrape against bone as it came out. When the sword had gone in, everything had happened so quickly he hadn’t noticed what it felt like, what it sounded like. His stomach turned. His knees gave out, and he felt himself kneeling in the alleyway, vomiting the sparse contents of his stomach. He had just killed a man. He retched again. He had barely even used a sword before in his life. He had sharpened a few edges for his former master. But to kill a man? An experienced ruffian like Rancin? He did not understand it. One final dry heave and he knew it was over.
Edmond wiped his mouth with his unbloodied shirtsleeve. He had to get out of there. He still had a job to do. His legs wobbled as he stood, but they held his weight. He wiped his blade on Rancin’s vest, and then looked at his own clothes. His right shirtsleeve was covered in blood. Anyone with half a brain would figure out that he had just killed someone. Edmond removed his shirt, and used his sword to cut the sleeves off. It might not have been stylish, but at least he was no longer advertising the deed. He put his shirt back on, and then hefted the sack over his shoulder again. He was beginning to tire of carrying the damned thing.
It was well after tenth bell when Edmond walked up Nochtur Street. Night was close at hand, the red sky casting an eerie gloom over the sodden streets.
For the second time that day, Edmond was grabbed and pulled into an alley against his will. Another thump hit his head, knocking him to the ground. Darkness crept into his eyes, but somehow he retained a semblance of reason. He felt the rucksack torn off his back, and heard footsteps retreat.
“No!” he thought. “I’m so close!” He willed himself back up, commanding his legs to move despite their lack of strength, and fighting the bass drum that pounded relentlessly in his skull. He could still hear his assailants running. He placed one foot in front of the other, determined to go on. As he moved, he gained speed. His vision cleared slowly, and his legs returned. His head still throbbed, though. At a turn up ahead, he glimpsed a familiar red blood stain in the scarlet light of dusk. He followed, picking up the pace. When he turned the next corner, he could not believe his eyes.
In front of him stood the monk and the juggler, both passengers from the barge, now dressed in common clothes. The rucksack was open, exposing the head and shoulders of the statue, and the monk had just removed the bundle from within Gow’s mouth.
“Put it back!” Edmond demanded as he drew his sword. “Do you realize what you’ve done?”
“Just taking what’s ours, Edmond,” the priest answered.
“Those ingredients are talismans,” Edmond insisted. “You have to put them back!”
“Talismans?” the priest asked. Then he smiled at the juggler, who was brandishing a long knife to keep Edmond at bay. “That dead rat wrapped in leaves? Went overboard six days ago! Thanks for the use of the hiding space, though!”
“What?” Edmond stood in shock. “How?”
The juggler made a quick motion, like rolling dice in his hands. “When you were taking my money, Ed!” He seemed to think about that for a moment, then said, “Speaking of which …”
The priest put his hand on the juggler’s shoulder. “Let it go, Murlak. There’s plenty more when we deliver this.” He pulled Murlak away, then looked at Edmond. “See you, Edmond!” Then the two of them sprinted away, faster than he could have hoped to catch.
Edmond stared at the statue. What had they done? What had he done? All those accidents in town, the barge crashing, fires destroying homes and businesses, had happened because he had been distracted by the dice. “A man died because of this,” he said aloud. “Worse. The entire city of Dargon is now burdened with the curse of Amante, because of me. Hundreds could die.”
Edmond sheathed his sword. The curse of Gow had been unleashed upon the city, and if this statue was not warded soon, more people would die. Entire city blocks might crumble; commerce would come to a halt. How much damage had he done? He closed the rucksack over the statue, and lifted it back on his shoulders. Where was Anarr during this desolation? If ever Dargon needed a hero, it was now. He resigned himself to carrying this weight. He felt he would be carrying it for a long time.
Edmond made his way to the front door of Parris Dargon’s home. The guard granted Edmond admittance, despite his appearance, and escorted him in to see his lordship. Parris Dargon was very pleased.
“Have you seen Anarr?” Edmond asked.
“Don’t worry about Anarr; I can pay you.” Parris replied. Parris took four silver Rounds from a small cash box at his desk, and handed them to Edmond.
“It’s not the money,” Edmond said, though he took it. “It’s the statue. The curse has been released again. It needs to be warded!”
Parris smiled. “I can take care of that, Edmond. Don’t worry about that now.”
“But –” Edmond interrupted. He explained how he had been distracted on the barge, and how the thieves had switched the bundles. “If I hadn’t been gambling –”
“Then they would have hit you over the head — as they’ve done twice today already — and put their contraband in that way. Don’t worry, Edmond, really. You’ve done a spectacular job getting the statue here, and I’ve even given you an extra Round for your effort. I’ll take care of the statue from here.”
“You have the ingredients?”
“Yes, yes,” Parris replied. He was getting more forceful now, edging Edmond toward the door. “Don’t get all caught up in guilt, now. At least you made some coin out of it, eh?” Parris’ smile was strained, attempting to cheer Edmond up, and Edmond knew it.
“Perhaps he’s right,” Edmond thought as he left Lord Dargon’s home. He had plenty of coin in his pocket now, enough to start a new life with Isabelle. Perhaps they would leave Northern Hope altogether, he mused, to settle in Dargon?
These thoughts cheered him as he walked down Murson Street. All around him, chaos reigned: a wheel fell off of cart, which spilled goods into the street; a sign broke and landed on a man walking below it; timbers creaked as a roof weakened and collapsed. None of it affected Edmond. His blood and dedication to the statue had left him wrapped in a bubble of protective luck.