DargonZine 12, Issue 4

On The Prowl Part 1

Yule 16, 1013 - Yuli 2, 1013


This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series On The Prowl

Note to the Reader: This story takes place in Magnus in the summer of 1013, before the beginning of the Baranur-Beinison war. This is a prequel to “Rifts” (DZ v7n6). For a better understanding of the Bardic College and the bards, it is recommended the reader explore John White’s “A New Life” (FSFnet v5n3) and “Treasure 1″ (FSFnet v7n5). The history of Codex Araltakonia can be followed in Carlo Samson’s “Unwelcome Encounter” (DZ v2n3), “Reluctant Revelation” (DZ v3n9), “Take From the Tower” (DZ v6n2) and “Resolutions” (DZ v6n5).

 

Yule 16, 1013 — Fort Point, Magnus

 

As far back as history remembered, there had always been a bridge across the Laraka at Magnus’ Eastgate. It was always called Kheva’s Bridge and each time it was rebuilt, it was made taller and wider and stronger than the incarnation before. Even history had forgotten Kheva — man or woman, commoner or noble — but the bridge had always remained, a monument to the city of Magnus, spanning the mighty Laraka.

 

The contemporary incarnation of Kheva’s Bridge stood for nearly a full century and was among the most famous landmarks in Magnus, extending the width of the Laraka. It was an arch bridge, of stone blocks that in three spans bridged the entire thousand-foot width of the river. It was taller and wider than the other bridges that united the two halves of Magnus and was tall enough to let all but the largest of cogs and galleons sail beneath it without taking down their masts. The other bridges on the river were of bascule design, opening at one of the ends or in the middle, to allow ships to sail through. Such disruptions were not allowed to happen often and it was not at all unusual to see a row of merchant ships waiting for morning light, when the traffic across the river would be halted, so that the traffic in it could move.

 

But Kheva’s Bridge was unlike any other in Baranur and some said it was the highest and longest in all of Cherisk. It had stood across the Laraka for many generations and was seen as a symbol of Baranurian architectural skill. The west end of the bridge was anchored at Eastgate, the main entrance to the city of Magnus for over five hundred years. Beyond the gate rose the walls of the Magnus garrison and the towers of the Crown Castle, and below it, at the foot of the bridge, Fort Point, a small fortification to oversee and support the naval docks.

 

Ships of all sorts lined the water’s edge, crowding for precious space along the piers at the edge of the river. Some piers bravely extended far into the river, where they were subject to damage from the heavy spring runoffs and unskilled pilots trying to guide their boats through the disorderly currents.

 

“Lord Master!” a man’s voice rose from the outer ward of Fort Point. “The Storm Challenger just crossed the outer marker. She’ll be ready to dock by half-derk at the latest!”

 

On the Fort rampart, the Harbor Master, a bearded man in his fifties, himself a veteran of many sea voyages, glanced northward, just past Kheva’s Bridge. A galleon could just barely be seen making the bend in the river. It fought the current and the wind, the lateen sails set to catch the wind abeam. Even though it complicated the maneuvering in the crosswind, the deep square sail of the foremast majestically displayed the crest of Baranur, heralding the return of a capital ship.

 

“She’s one of the ones that won’t make Kheva’s Bridge, lord,” the man below said, announcing the obvious.

 

The Harbor Master turned to his companion, a young skinny man dressed in an elegant robe. His bookish features betrayed his calling, as did the ledger in his arms. “What have we?”

 

The scribe opened the book and traced some text in the ledger. “The Storm Challenger is Captain Hellriegel’s ship, based from Port Sevlyn. She’s not due in.”

 

“Is there a north dock ready to take her?”

 

The man again scanned the book. “The leeward dock at pier two is free, but I understand it still holds the cargo from the Welspeare merchant run.”

 

“Signal them to take the leeward side at pier two,” the Harbor Master yelled down. “And have the ship lashed with all tethers. The currents are too strong.”

 

The man below disappeared into the crowd working the docks and the Harbor Master walked down the rampart to where the battlements of the Fort cast a sheltering shadow from the evening sun. He took out a pipe and inattentively shook out the nonexistent ash over the fortification’s wall. “Those men up there,” he motioned at the bridge above, putting a few pinches of tobacco into the pipe, “how much longer do you suppose?”

 

The scribe glanced at the repair crew working on the weathered stone on the bridge. They had been working there since after Melrin, intending to have the repairs complete for Founding Day, but with the holiday soon approaching, there was no indication the work would be completed on time.

 

“I hear, sir, that more men were hired to do the work. I fear, too, that we shall disappoint the King when he watches the march of the Hussars.”

 

The Harbor Master lit his pipe, absentmindedly nodding at the scribe’s chatter. He did not care about the bridge or the King’s personal guard or Founding Day. He simply feared that another stone would tumble down onto the docks. It was pure luck that the first one to fall in a century did not crush anyone below it, but given the number of ships going through port and the masses of people on the piers, a true disaster was only a matter of time. Perhaps if they got lucky and a stone fell on some peasant, no one would really notice, but the demise of a merchant or a noble, even a minor one, would be the makings of a scandal Magnus had not seen in a long time.

 

***

 

Pike drew himself upright, holding onto the wooden rail that separated him from a drop into the river below. As a citizen of Baranur, he had to admit that the restoration of Kheva’s Bridge was the restoration and enlightenment of the country, but for him personally, it was a high perch to see far into the distance and down below, to where the night would ultimately take him.

 

“Come along, lads,” the foreman’s voice boomed up above. “I want all of you off the bridge before sunset. Bad enough we’ve got stone falling. I ‘d hate to explain to the good folk below why men are dropping out of the sky!”

 

Pike shifted his weight and moved further down the outer walk, a ledge a mere foot in depth. He now slipped beyond the wooden rail where masons toiled during the day and holding on to the jagged stone, lowered himself out of sight of the bridge walkway above.

 

A stray rat squeaked its displeasure at his intrusion and ran down the ledge towards the Old City, leaving him to wonder how it got up on the crumbling ledge of the bridge and how it would ever get off.

 

The perch Pike selected lay over the northern docks and he had an excellent view of a warship coming into port below. He had hoped that particular pier would remain empty for the night, but it was too late to change his plan. He would simply need to adjust to the circumstances he found himself in. The sun, setting in the west, over the Crown Castle, cast the last of its light on the bridge, illuminating the spot where Pike had hidden. For a moment he permitted himself to relax in the last warmth of the day. Up above he could hear the last of the workers clearing out, but hardly leaving him alone on the bridge. By now, he expected, the lamp lighters were making their way across the bridge, just ahead of the coming darkness.

 

The people of Magnus were prissy in this way. They could not stand the dark across the river and oil lamps across Kheva’s Bridge would be lit each night, so that the stray people who would brave the night were able to cross between Eastgate and the New City — not that there were many people crossing between the Old and the New, unless it was someone from the Fifth Quarter, up to no good in the dark of the night.

 

The last of the sun’s rays disappeared behind the walls of Magnus and the only remaining trace of day was the red light still visible in the western sky. The chill in the wind was now easily detectable and its gusts high above the river became strikingly noticeable.

 

As the darkness settled, Pike reached up for the ledge above him and pulled himself up. Once on the narrow walkway, he slowly scooted over to the stone pile and pulled loose the rope he had secured there earlier in the day. The wind would make his descent challenging, but that, too, was an adjustment that could be made to the plan. The biggest danger, he figured, was a curious fortress guard below looking up and seeing a rope dangling off the bridge. The people below, on the docks, would not see the rope without sufficient light and no one on the bridge would have cause to look down in the middle of the night.

 

Pike gave the rope one last tug, making sure it was securely anchored. It would be a shame if he tumbled onto the docks below due to personal carelessness. He wasn’t particularly thrilled with the approach he had chosen for his project, but he wanted his ways in and out to be fully distinct, to make evasion of the guard easier. Scaling great heights certainly wasn’t his first choice, but it was the easiest way of getting in and he was confident of his climbing abilities. He had often joked with his grandfather that rather than follow family tradition, he would join a performing troupe and travel the country, and had he been lower born, perhaps he would, but this day his athletic prowess was put to use in a completely different trade, of which his grandfather would equally disapprove.

 

Taking a deep breath, Pike wrapped his legs around the rope and pushed off from the ledge. Hand over hand, he descended down the fifty foot length of rope to the tower sitting almost directly below Kheva’s Bridge. It took an effort to swing the rope into position, overcoming the strong gusts of wind. Pike breathed a sigh of relief as his feet touched the merlon of the battlement. He tied off the bottom of the rope, making sure it did not swing about aimlessly in the wind.

 

The top of Fort Point, Pike knew, was deserted in the night. He had watched it for days to make sure that was the case. It was an old fortress that barely had any staff stationed inside. For the most part, it existed to supervise port operations, give a base for the guards assigned to the docks, and as luck would have it, store things ship captains did not want to hold aboard their ships or leave out on the dock overnight. There were a half dozen men patrolling the Fort outside, which was what made that route extremely unattractive.

 

There were three levels to Fort Point and four walls, situated about a main courtyard. The top level, below the three towers, was open to the sky above. Four catapults sat on this level, clearly unused, but well maintained. The middle level held unoccupied barracks on the city side and a ballista facing out to the river. The bottommost level contained the administrative offices for the port and what few guards were assigned to spend the night outside the city. That was also the level Pike was determined to get to. He followed the stairs of the tower he had descended onto, going two levels down, and cautiously opened the door onto the only populated level of the Fort.

 

Torchlight illuminated the bottom level, but there was no evidence of anyone being in the area. Keeping to the wall, Pike made his way to the inner wall and stopped to listen for movement. Although he expected a guard in the inner courtyard, he detected no evidence of one and continued to advance towards the office he had visited the day before.

 

A lone guard sat in a chair, tipped up against the locked door to the storeroom. His head, tilted back, implied that he was lost in a nap, his chest rhythmically moving up and down. It was the middle of the shift and Pike did not fear additional troops coming now, but he did fear the ones that might be in the Fort already. After a moment’s thought, Pike removed the large key ring from the guard’s belt and silently inserted a key into the lock. It turned, clicking softly as the pins fell into place.

 

“Sorry to make this so abrupt,” Pike whispered and pushed open the door.

 

The guard’s intent of propping the chair up against the door was, no doubt, to prevent people from going in without waking him up, but the sheer act of leaning on something that may give way placed the guard in jeopardy. As the chair slid down, having been given the space to fall by the opening door, the guard lazily rolled his head, failing to even open his eyes before the back of his unprotected head impacted the floor and cleanly knocked him out.

 

Pike took a moment to glance up and down the corridor. The racket the falling guard made did not seem to attract any attention and satisfied that no one took notice, he went about his business.

 

“They really should raise their standards for hiring guards,” Pike muttered, pulling the body into the dark room. The guard should have slept during the day if he had to stand night duty. Had he been awake, Pike’s job would have been significantly harder, but far from impossible. A handful of plain guards never created much cause for concern. Pike closed the door and fumbled about for a candle, lighting it as soon as it was in his hands.

 

Inside, the room was uncomfortably small, but built into the opposite wall was another door and this one was heavier than the first. Pike tried the set of keys he had liberated from the unconscious guard, but none would work. He had expected as much. A more thorough search of the guard revealed no other keys, forcing Pike to pull a pair of picks from his belt pouch and get to work on the second door.

 

This second lock was of high quality and required an effort to be undone. Working in the dim light was no easy task, but Pike figured that in the short term, time was on his side. Not being able to see into the lock itself, even if there had been plenty of light, Pike continued to work without looking at his hands. Working slowly and with a high degree of precision, he undid the lock and pulled open the second door. Now his search was only a matter of finding the right box and he needed to complete it before anyone grew suspicious over the missing guard. He closed the door and set his candle on a table, then proceeded to rifle through a number of boxes, some too heavy and some clearly empty, before coming to one that appeared right. The label across it indicated the contents were from the Ganness Pride.

 

The lid came open to reveal a smaller velvet box and within that, set carefully in the padded interior, a small silver chalice. Pike carefully picked it up and turned it over to examine the underside. As he did so, a fragment of parchment fell from the cup. He frowned. That could have been a fatal mistake. Care was absolutely critical in this job and that required time be taken to note everything. No harm done, but it was a warning he needed to heed.

 

Pike glanced towards the door, then checked the underside of the cup. The etched cross of the House of Kiliaen melted away his doubts and Pike knelt down to pick up the note that had fallen from the cup.

 

My Dearest,

 

I hadn’t the heart to take your prize before you reached it. We have a new contract. Meet me on the morrow.

 

-M

 

 

He chuckled. Not only did he lose the bet, but the chalice had been left for him as a reminder that today he was second best. That’s why the guard was sleeping in the first place – he had already failed in his job, having allowed someone else access to the storeroom earlier in the evening. He placed the prize in an empty pouch hanging off his belt and retreated back to the door. There was no point in cleaning up the small vault, as the unconscious guard would have no doubt in his mind as to what had occurred. Perhaps a clean storeroom would mislead the guards, or delay the search by a fragment of a bell, but ultimately, if Pike did not make a hasty departure, it would do him no good.

 

Closing the inner door behind him, Pike checked on the unconscious guard. Finding no indication that the man was anywhere near consciousness, he proceeded through the small room to the door and pulled it open. He intended to replace the unconscious guard back in his chair, still leaning against the door, but to his surprise, Pike saw two armed guards talking directly in front of him. Their presence was definitely not in the plan and for a moment, Pike froze, trying to formulate a new course of action.

 

“Good evening, gentlemen.”

 

The two soldiers turned to him, confused at first, then suspicious. Pike guessed they might have already been suspicious due to the guard on duty being gone. His sudden exit from the storage chamber clearly did not alleviate their concern.

 

Pike gave the two men a solid shove and dashed past them for the closest tower, running through the open doorway and rushing up the stairs, taking them two and three at a time. Somewhere behind him he heard the yell “Stop, thief!” and a frenzy of running feet coming after him.

 

So much for the plan.

 

Pike took leave of the stairwell on the second floor, charging for the next closest tower. He figured that to formulate a new plan, he had about as much time as it would take to cross the fifty feet between the towers. If there was no activity below, he would go down again, expecting that he could miss the guards before they began their ascent and exit through the Fort’s front door, as he had originally intended. Failing that, he would continue upward, hoping to find an alternate escape route above.

 

The Fort’s open center was empty, but as Pike reached the next tower, he heard the tolling of a bell in the courtyard, signaling an alarm. He was not going down.

 

On the third floor, Pike paused to look around. There was nothing here except for the catapults. Perhaps he would have risked launching himself into the river on one, had they been loaded, but the ropes lay limp along side the siege engines, and preparing them would take far too much time. Pike’s gaze froze on one of the two guards who had ruined his plans. The man stood one floor below, across the open inner courtyard. He clearly realized Pike had abandoned the stair, but had no idea where he was headed and was now hopelessly behind. Pike smiled and waved.

 

“Stop!”

 

With a bow, Pike turned back to the Fort wall and headed for the only escape route he could imagine — the rope he had used to descend from the bridge. By now the courtyard was busy with activity and there was no doubt in his mind that going down by conventional means was long since out of the question.

 

On the edge of the battlement, Pike pulled out his knife and cut the rope where it was secured. Now he needed it to move. “Stupid, stupid idea,” he muttered, looking across the dock area at the galleon that had come in earlier in the evening. It was now dark and from what little he could see below, Pike did not think there would be too many people to confront him in his escape on the outside of the fort. His real worry was regarding making it outside. Instead of staying to face the royal army, it appeared he would be trying his luck with the royal navy instead.

 

“Stop!” a voice called out to him and without any hesitation, he leapt forward, swinging across the outer ward and letting go when the rope reached its length. There were several moments of an uncontrolled fall and he collided with the partially lowered square sail on the ship’s foremast. The knife in his hands caught on the fabric and he slid down across the crest of Baranur, coming to an abrupt halt against the crossbeam, the knife irretrievably stuck in the wood.

 

Pike grabbed hold of the crossbeam and lowered himself onto the rigging, taking a moment to assess his situation. On the wall of Fort Point far behind him, he could see three men contemplating what to do. They could yell, and in a moment they probably would, but not right away and given the confusion they would create, Pike felt he could easily get away. He looked about on the mast, finally noticing an astonished crewman, who had probably been in the process of collapsing the now ruined sail.

 

“Bet you’ve never seen anything like this before,” Pike said, finding his footing in the rigging.

 

The sailor shook his head, dumbfounded and speechless.

 

“You probably won’t ever again, either,” Pike said. “You won’t find many idiots willing to do what I just did. Good night!” And with that, he slid down the rope and onto the deck of the Storm Challenger.

 

The main deck of the galleon was empty and in the light of a handful of dim lanterns, Pike made his way towards the gangplank.

 

“Hey!” someone called to him from the poop deck when he was almost at the rail.

 

Pike stopped and turned, trying to identify the voice in the darkness. “Sorry! Wrong ship!” He crossed the gangplank to shore and blended into the night. Within moments all traces of his presence were gone and the guards on his trail had nothing left but to admit to having been outwitted by a thief in the night.

 

Yule 17, 1013 — Magnus, New City

 

The common room of the Fighting Unicorns Inn remained customarily empty in the early morning hours. In spite of how hard the proprietor tried to attract business, being east of the river and west of the Fifth Quarter did a lot to discourage customers from spending the night. A few would, now and again, because they heard of the good reputation of the Unicorns and their proprietor, Sir Hawk, but ultimately the setting and the occasional scream in the night drove business away.

 

The Fighting Unicorns was a good establishment. The few customers who stayed were pampered and tended to and at a very inexpensive price. Sir Hawk owned the land and the building, and the taxes so close to the Fifth Quarter were low, allowing him to turn just enough profit to live comfortably and pay a small staff. He could, perhaps, move the tavern and inn, but why? The undesirables knew his reputation and who he had been. They preyed on the unfortunate souls caught outside, not on those who stayed at the inn.

 

This particular morning Sir Hawk was up making his rounds later than usual, but the business of surveying his domain went on as always. As the pattern had been set in years past, he would walk around the building on the outside first, looking for damage or trash. That used to be a problem years ago, when the locals tried to convince him to pay for protection, but as time went on, he discouraged such behavior on their part. Given the desire, he could probably make *them* pay protection money to him, to avoid incurring his wrath, but this was a business practice he did not understand and preferred to avoid.

 

The second examination occurred in the small stables adjacent to the inn. It was a small enclosure, just large enough for six horses. One stall was always reserved for his stallion. This morning two others were occupied by plain riding horses of the customers he had met the day before. Things hardly ever changed in the stables. Most people either tethered their horses out front, where they could be easily seen, or simply chose not to bring a beast of burden into this neighborhood. It would be a greater burden on them should the animal be stolen or hurt.

 

The last part of the ritual was walking the common room and making sure the furniture was intact and the bar was stocked. This, too, was hardly ever an issue. The slow flow of customers did not put a great toll on the supplies and the quality of patrons that he did manage to get did not create a great fear of damaged property.

 

Approaching the last stop on his daily tour, Sir Hawk spotted one of his patrons sitting on a barstool at the far end of the bar.

 

“Good morning Lord Janos,” the proprietor nodded. “How are you enjoying your stay?”

 

“I heard some screaming last night,” the young man said. “A woman?”

 

“We’re the border marker of a rough neighborhood,” Sir Hawk explained. “We hear things we wish we did not. The advantage we offer is the level of service and the low prices. The scenery and entertainment are our only detractions.”

 

“I suppose it’s all fine so long as the inside is safe,” Janos said.

 

“I suppose that’s so, too. May I ask how you chose us? I don’t recall you staying here before.”

 

“A friend advised that this inn was quiet and out of the way,” Janos answered. “I suppose he was right on one count. You are quite out of the way.”

 

Sir Hawk laughed. “It’s the price of doing business here. I keep hoping the area will improve.”

 

“Doesn’t the town guard make an effort to keep the royal city in the best of possible conditions? I’d imagine that with so many troops stationed here, the King could even have the army make this a better place.”

 

“He could, I imagine,” Sir Hawk answered, “but the Fifth Quarter has always been this way and for some reason the people in power, who could make a difference, stop counting quarters at four. We’re forgotten here, left to our own devices. Perhaps that is to my advantage, too, as the tax collector does not always brave coming to visit.”

 

Janos Arstead chuckled. “Then my compliments on the selection of the location for your place of business.”

 

A young woman made her way down the stairs from the second floor rooms. She paused part way down, looking about the common room, then giving Janos a smile, continued downstairs.

 

“Ah, Lady Miriam, good morning to you,” Sir Hawk exclaimed. “I trust your night was fine?”

 

“Quite restful, thank you, Sir Hawk. The view out the window may be lacking, but the comforts inside can not be overlooked.”

 

“Why, thank you, my Lady. So few nobles visit and fewer still have the refinement to say kind words. I shall cherish your opinion of this establishment. May I bring the two of you something to eat?”

 

“A light breakfast, if you would.”

 

Sir Hawk retired to the back to retrieve the food, leaving Janos and Miriam alone. They relocated to a small booth and engaged in conversation.

 

“I hear there was some trouble out on the docks last night,” Miriam said.

 

“Was there, really?” Janos asked.

 

“I walked this morning, before you were up,” Miriam said. “Out to Kheva’s Bridge — it’s just about a half league. It’s beautiful out there, before all the fish vendors stink the place over. A lot of guards around and about, all looking for anyone who knows about a thief from last night.”

 

Sir Hawk emerged from the back room, carrying a tray with bread and cheese and a pitcher of mead. “Enjoy your breakfast. Call if you need anything.”

 

“So what about this thief?” Janos asked.

 

“The strangest thing,” Miriam went on. “They said the Ganness Pride sailed in from Kiliaen, with a present for Baranur from their antiquities collection. It was stored overnight in Fort Point and … a thief broke in after nightfall and took it!”

 

“I imagine there’ll be a furious monarch, when word reaches the palace.”

 

“And imagine how angry Kiliaen will be when he discovers he has to replace the gift.”

 

“This might be for the better,” Janos said. “Fort Point is outdated. It’s an old building that’ll never again do the job they intended it do. Perhaps a century back, when the walls of Magnus were as tall as the fort’s, there was sense in Fort Point, but now Magnus will do a better job defending itself than the Fort ever could. It’s laughable that they considered it a safe place to store important things.” He took a sip of mead. “So any clues on the thief?”

 

“A young man. Perhaps an acrobat. A sailor on the naval ship Storm Challenger said the man leapt off the wall of the Fort and crashed down on his sail below.”

 

“The Fort isn’t that close to the water, as I recall,” Janos said.

 

Miriam laughed. “I measured it. Forty feet. And probably another twenty down. They said he tied a rope to Kheva’s Bridge and swung across on it. No one knows when it could have been done. Even the construction crew on the bridge say they never saw anyone out there.”

 

“Sounds like a daring thief.”

 

“Foolhardy, I’d say. Had he missed, he’d be fish bait now.”

 

“But because he didn’t,” Janos said, “there will be a bard who will write a song.”

 

Yuli 2, 1013 — Bardic College, Magnus

 

The quiet steps of two figures walking down the center of the chamber cast shallow echoes in the Memorial Hall of the Bardic College. The corridor was some fifty feet wide, rising up to a lancet point equally high. Deep windows were set along the voussoirs stones, alternately touching either the crown or the haunches of the corridor arch. The scenes etched in the glass, if one could remain with their head upturned long enough to study them, portrayed history from the Bardic association with the Kingdom of Baranur. Bards here were the deliverers of legend, the masters of history and dreamers of the future. Their guild was as powerful as any other, rivaling the strength of the Stevenic Church and the Nar-Enthruen. And unlike the other two, the Bardic College carried the protection of the Crown. Bards made Baranur, the legend said, and they kept it whole in the Great Houses War. The bloodline of the House Tallirhan owed its ascension to this very institution.

 

Miriam Arstead paused and looked up, evaluating the art that allowed light to shine through. Multicolored shadows fell on the north wall of the hall, imprinting a much larger scene across the bleached stone surface. Below the transferred images that lasted the length of the hall sat portraits of men and women and beneath them, stone sarcophaguses with the names of the tenants inscribed across their faces.

 

Miriam’s companion stopped, then returned back to where she stood. He brushed aside the edge of his ceremonial cloak and waited for her.

 

“You’re really not up to date on history,” Miriam noted.

 

“Only important events make it up there,” the man explained. “I believe the last time there was a major modification is fifty years ago. Something big would have to happen in Baranur before another window is added.”

 

“A good thing, I suppose,” Miriam said. “It must be a chore getting artisans up there. What do you do if hail or wind breaks the glass?”

 

“That never happened,” the young bard said. “All glass up there is enchanted — hardened against being broken.”

 

They walked on down the corridor with Miriam stopping now and again to examine a scene or read an inscription on the wall or the face of a sarcophagus.

 

“I hope you don’t mind me lagging behind,” she said at one point. “I’ve never been here before; it’s all very new and exciting.”

 

“That’s no problem,” her guide answered. “Few get a chance to walk our halls and when they do, it’s like reliving history. We receive constant requests for tours from the nobility and to study the glass and the frescoes from scholars. We have to limit access, naturally, but it’s not at all unusual to find someone in this very hall, sketching the chronicles of time onto their own parchment.”

 

“And what about the tombs?” Miriam asked, walking further down the corridor. “These aren’t all bards buried here, are they?”

 

“Buried here, of course! Only the greatest of the Master Bards, the best leaders and teachers, are allowed to be interred here. Although, any bard who has reached the ranks of Journeyman is assured eternal rest within the walls of our sanctuary, should they so desire.”

 

“I’m really impressed by what you have here,” Miriam said. “Thank you for taking the long way around.”

 

They reached the end of the Memorial Hall and having passed through a series of smaller doors, entered the Bardic Library. The room was sufficiently large to disappear into the distance, with shelves upon shelves of books creating even rows of a ceaseless maze. Wide bookcases eight and ten shelves high ran down the room in four rows. Above them, on a balcony overlooking the main room sat a number of scribes, busily transcribing books and documents both for the Bardic Library and for external customers of the College.

 

“Oh, my … I thought my grandfather had a large library. He has a whole room in his keep dedicated to books.”

 

“This isn’t all of our holdings, I must warn you,” the bard said. “These are just the common tomes in our collection. We have a separate manuscripts room one level below, where the more unusual and arcane works are stored, and beyond that wall is the area you want — the scroll room, where the histories are kept. I can’t accompany you further, but one of our penmen will assist you from here. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

 

“I’m sure I will,” Miriam smiled. “Thank you for your time and indulgence.”

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