DargonZine 10, Issue 8

Quadrille Part 3

Sy 7, 1012 - Sy 8, 1012


This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Quadrille

VII. So Many Witnesses

 

Vondron rumbled to a stop at the door of Camron’s warehouse. He had nothing to shoot or throw at the girl. She was running fast along the river-side of Commercial Street, apparently making for the sleazy neighborhood south of Layman.

 

Londron contented himself with calling for the Watch and crying about burglars and theft. There was scarcely any chance of anyone showing up quickly enough to chase after her, but he figured it was the least a night watchman could do. Then he remembered seeing the fallen Jarvis, and added murder to his catalogue.

“What’s the matter?” Two members of the City Watch hurried around the corner, from Oceanview or thereabouts. They’d shown up with impressive, even amazing promptness. Londron was stunned. It was as though they’d been lingering in the area waiting for him to call for help, they came so quickly.

 

“A thief,” Londron said. “A murderess.”

 

“What, the girl we saw running away?”

 

“Yes! You saw her? Why didn’t you go after her?”

 

“You were shouting about murder and robbery. Why should we think that the girl was responsible?”

 

“You saw someone else more likely?”

 

“Well, no.” The Watchman made a snap decision. “After her, Carver!”

 

“Why me?”

 

“Because I thought of it first,” the other watchman explained triumphantly.

 

Demonstrating that his own intellectual caliber was easily a match for his colleague’s, Carver dutifully turned and ran after the girl.

 

Tempted to tell the watchman how useless he thought him, Londron instead turned away and started back across the barn to check on Jarvis. “It’s not that important, I suppose,” he said over his shoulder. “I know the girl.”

 

“Who is she?” The remaining watchman followed him.

 

“Camron’s new bookkeeper. Her name’s Ariel. She hasn’t been in the city long — only a few days.” Londron crouched down by the still form of Jarvis. “I think I heard that she’s staying with Camron’s cousin.”

 

“Well, this is a fine way to repay his generosity.” The watchman glanced around at the lamp and open barrel. He sniffed. “Whatever was in this barrel smells pretty good,” he observed.

 

“Kurin’s Shield!” Londron exclaimed. “Jarvis *is* dead.”

 

“Tastes pretty good, too,” the watchman remarked licking his fingers. “The girl killed him? That’s pretty hard to believe.”

 

“Not when this thing’s lying right beside poor Jarvis,” Londron said, picking up the crowbar. “See, there’s blood on this end of it.”

 

“Uh huh. Nasty.” The guard sucked a finger thoughtfully.

 

“Murder is never nice,” Londron declared pompously. “Aren’t you going to call out the whole Watch to look for her?”

 

“Hardly sounds necessary,” the watchman remarked, digging in the barrel again. “You know where to find her.”

 

“But she’s not going to go back there now! And we should bring her in quickly, don’t you think? Get a confession out of her right quick. Maybe the execution’d be at Scything Day.”

 

“Dicing a girl — that’d get a crowd out,” the watchman agreed. He looked in a pouch he’d found in the barrel and pulled out a tiny purple, velvet dress. “Does she like dolls?” he asked.

 

VIII. At Large in Dargon Town

 

For a moment, Mouse was out on the wharf, under the cool stars and smelling the ocean’s salt. She was, in fact, smelling the salt from the estuary of the Coldwell River, since her captor was running upriver along the wharf parallel to Commercial Street. But sea air is sea air and that was about as much as Mouse could notice before she was stuffed inside a leather sack that stank of rancid oil and sweat.

 

The sack was empty but for some dirt, some pits, a few twigs, Mouse, and a stocking. The sack and contents were thrown around and then bounced around. Mouse decided that the sack had been thrown over the girl’s shoulder and that she’d then resumed running. Mouse also decided she’d had enough.

 

The mouth of the sack was held closed by a rawhide drawstring, one end of which the girl was presumably clutching in front of her. The drawstring was meant to be pulled tight by the weight of the bag and its contents. Right now, though, that weight was not very much. Mouse began squeezing herself out the mouth of the bag and was pleased to find first that she could push wider the opening and second that there was plenty of friction between the drawstring and the eyelets of the bag that it was threaded through. Even though the thing was bouncing against the girl’s back, the mouth of the bag stayed open while Mouse climbed out.

 

Mouse breathed again the fresh, sea air. She glanced at the dark buildings and river the girl was running by, looked up at the gibbous moon, and looked down at the hard road the kidnapper’s boots were tredding lightly over. Then she remembered her purple dress. The kidnapper had carelessly neglected to grab the dress, not to mention the other valuable stuff such as the draft she’d written of remarks she intended to make to the Duke. Those valuable items were still back in the barrel.

 

There was nothing for it, then; she had to go back. Mouse prayed to Araminia for luck and jumped off the kidnapper’s sack. Landing with a delicate thud, she rolled a little ways away from the river and then sat up.

 

The running girl hadn’t noticed the departure. She continued her steady, fast pace. But Mouse noticed now that she was being followed. A heavier tread was coming along the wharf toward Mouse. She looked at the man, saw that he was armed with a crossbow, and decided she didn’t want to risk becoming a target. She froze and waited for him to trot by, which he did.

 

The man with the crossbow was hardly watching the road. His attention was on the girl, who had turned right and was racing along one of the piers that jutted out into the river. Reaching the end, she didn’t pause a moment but dove off. There was a splash from behind the pier and then quiet. The pursuing man, breathing heavily and cradling his crossbow, walked slowly out along the pier.

 

Mouse got gingerly to her feet, pleased that she was able to do so and that it only hurt a lot. Although she was annoyed with the kidnapping swimmer, Mouse had other things to do than see if she was going to get shot. One was to get out of the immediate area in order to reduce the chance of herself getting shot at. She recalled the incident of Brother Tomastin and his squirrel-hunting expedition that had continued too far into the fading light of dusk. His eyesight wasn’t that great at high noon either and the miss with his quarrel had been a very near thing. Mouse felt a strong inclination not to loiter.

 

Instead, grumbling *very* quietly to herself about how she couldn’t take one step in Dargon before getting herself kidnapped by some crazy, desperate burglar, Mouse started downriver again toward …

 

Where did she think she was going, anyway?

 

“Buttercups!” she exclaimed to herself. “This is a mess.” Hoping that the right building would magically identify itself for her anyway, Mouse continued to walk along the wharf. She soon heard the man with the crossbow walking after her. He wasn’t hurrying particularly, but he was still likely to overtake her. She didn’t feel like talking to him and his crossbow, trying to explain everything to him and that very sharp quarrel. So she ran into the mouth of a street that went up away from the wharf. There, she hoped to wait for him to pass.

 

She was surprised to find the kidnapper walking toward her along the street.

 

Or someone who looked like the kidnapper, anyway.

 

This girl was similar. She was dressed the same, wearing a cloak with the hood pulled up and a paler dress underneath. But this girl was dry and was carrying a full pack of possessions on her back. Mouse knew firsthand that her kidnapper’s sack was so close to empty as made no difference.

 

Mouse made up her mind in an instant, helped greatly by that crossbow she knew was around the corner: There could be a terribly tragic mistake if she didn’t do something. She ran forward to the approaching figure.

 

The figure was plodding along the street, hooded head bent forward at a dejected or perhaps merely exhausted angle. Mouse had to get right in front of her to be noticed at all.

 

“What — ?” She noticed, stopping abruptly.

 

“Sh!” Mouse cautioned. “There’s a problem up ahead — ”

 

“Are you a messenger from Iliara?” the hooded figure asked.

 

The question meant nothing to Mouse, but it did stop her speech for a moment. “I’ve never been called *that* before,” she admitted, hands on her hips. “Who’s Iliara?”

 

“She’s the goddess of the air.” The girl threw back her hood. “I’m one of her followers, you see. At least, I’m trying to be one of her followers.” She was young, Mouse saw, and she was pretty. And, to the extent that Mouse had made out anything under the other’s hood, this girl resembled the kidnapper. “Stefan was teaching me The Way, before, of course — ”

 

“Of course,” Mouse interrupted, suspecting that this might turn into a long story. “But right now there’s a man with a crossbow coming toward that corner — ” she gestured over her shoulder ” — and he’s likely to shoot you with it. By mistake, perhaps, but a bolt’s still a bolt.”

 

“Crossbow?” the girl repeated, struggling to set aside Stefan and follow Mouse’s warning. “That’s not right. That wouldn’t be earth magic.”

 

“Maybe not,” Mouse shrugged, “but Brother Freyo could gouge his way through an inch of wood with one of those things — and launch the thing in an instant — ”

 

“Who’s Brother Freyo?”

 

“The one who didn’t teach Tomastin enough about when not to — Oh, never mind. Let’s just avoid the man at the end of the street, all right?”

 

“I — ” The girl simply was not catching on!

 

“Look!” Mouse grabbed the hem of the girl’s dress. It was definitely dry. “Here’s an alley. We can wait in here for him to go past.” She tugged mightily but irrelevently.

 

“He’s looking for me?” the girl asked, moving slowly toward the alley. “If he’s looking for me, why would he go past? Won’t he be able to find me?”

 

“He will if you stay out in the middle of the street like this,” Mouse replied. “Now come on.”

 

“Who’s Brother Freyo?”

 

“Sh!”

 

“Should I know him? Or Tomastin?”

 

Mouse climbed all the way up the girl and put her hand against the latter’s mouth. “Get it?” she asked.

 

The girl said nothing, which was just what Mouse wanted.

 

The two waited while a pair of boots trod through the stillness along the waterfront.

 

“Good,” Mouse said, as the girl stepped again out into the street. “You’ll be wanting an explanation, I suppose.”

 

“Ye — Aggh!” Both the girl and Mouse yelped as a reeking liquid splashed down on them.

 

“‘Ware slops,” a voice above remarked casually. “Damned queenie,” it added.

 

“Yuck!” Mouse exclaimed.

 

“Iliara!” the girl exclaimed, staring up the street. “It’s a trap!”

 

“What?”

 

“Poison! And him — I’ve seen him before, I’m sure of it.”

 

Mouse turned on the girl’s shoulder and tried to make out what she was staring at. There was a figure of some sort in the shadows up the street, but Mouse could make out no more than that. “What are you — ?”

 

The girl dropped her gear, turned and raced down the street toward the water.

 

“Wait!” Mouse shouted, grabbing hold of the cloak she was perched on. “No! Don’t!”

 

“The poison!” the girl exclaimed. “Priests of Haargon must’ve poured it on me. It’s foul — ”

 

“Damned right!” Mouse exclaimed. “It’s piss!”

 

Abruptly, the girl shucked her cloak — and also Mouse. Tangled up in the cloak, which fortunately absorbed the fall on the wharf, Mouse heard another splash of girl diving into the river.

 

“I thought I’d already done this tonight,” Mouse muttered to herself, crawling out from under the cloak. She looked at the water, and glanced back up the street. She could see no one there. “And I’m not sure that a bath right now was a good idea.” She sniffed and wrinkled her nose. “Smells pretty bad, though,” she admitted. Shrugging and hoping the water was warm, she jumped after the girl.

 

IX. Sorting Out the Jurisdiction

 

Reyakeen Sylk seethed. “Listen, you idiot,” he stormed again at the watchman, “it’s me, Sylk. I work for Duke Jastrik — ”

 

“Tell it to Lord Clifton,” the watchman said, gesturing at the small, open door of Camron’s Trading House. “Hey Onions,” he shouted inside. “I found someone suspicious.”

 

“You got the girl?” a voice inside shouted back.

 

“Well, no,” the watchman watching Sylk admitted. “She jumped in the harbor and disappeared. But I ran into Dru and asked him to keep an eye out. And I found someone else nosing around this place.”

 

“I was not ‘nosing around’ this place. I was looking for someone.”

 

“Who’s conveniently disappeared,” the watchman sneered.

 

“That’s why I was looking for him,” Sylk said with forced calm.

 

“Well, we didn’t see any other man hanging around this place and we’ve been watching this place all night.”

 

“I know,” Sylk sighed.

 

“You know?” the guard cried. “That’s suspicious too!”

 

“Onions blabbed about it at the Rogue and Quiver — ”

 

“I only told my best friends,” another Watchman declared, emerging from the warehouse. “And I don’t think you’re one of them,” he added, peering at Sylk.

 

“But Kittara Ponterisso is, right?” The man nodded. “I’m one of *her* best friends,” Sylk declared. “Reyakeen Sylk. She might’ve mentioned me.”

 

“Oh. Sure,” Onions lied. “A couple times maybe. Not like you and she are all that close. Now, me and her, we talk a lot so I happened to mention to her our special assignment here — So why’re you hanging around here?”

 

“As I told your colleague here, I was looking for someone — ”

 

“A girl?” Onions interrupted.

 

“Man. Tall and wiry, I’d say, and his clothes were dark.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

“I never saw him up close.”

 

“He wasn’t wearing a dress, was he?”

 

“I think I’d've mentioned that if he were.”

 

“The girl wasn’t that tall, either,” Onions’ colleague put in.

 

“So what are you two working on?” Sylk asked.

 

“Robbery and murder,” Onions replied, not without relish. “Want a look?”

 

X. If the Noose Fits

 

“Let me see if I understand this yet,” Ariel whispered. She and Mouse, still more than a little damp, had moved to another alley, one that was a little closer to Camron’s office. It wasn’t too close, though, owing to the number of members of the Watch who’d gathered there. “Someone who looked like me killed Jarvis and kidnapped you from Camron’s office tonight.”

 

“Right,” Mouse whispered back. “And even though you did work in Camron’s business and aren’t sure whether Jarvis liked you and also work for someone named Iliara and have someone named Haargon enthusiastically out to get you, and chose tonight to run away from home and happened to go jump in the harbor this evening just like the person who resembles you, there should be no problem persuading the Watch that it wasn’t you, but someone who only looks like you.”

 

“Right,” Ariel said. After a pause, she added “Wrong, huh?”

 

“I’d lock you up,” Mouse admitted. “Except that I happen to know that I saw two separate people go for a swim tonight.”

 

“Right!” Ariel replied with triumph. “So all I have to do is bring you along with me to Camron’s. You can explain what you saw and everything’ll be fine.”

 

“Sure. They’ll lock me up along with you,” Mouse said. “For exhibition: Smallest Criminal Genius In The Kingdom. All they have to do is ask themselves what I was doing at Camron’s in the first place and they’ll have me tagged as your partner in crime.”

 

“But that’s not what happened!”

 

“Makes for a pretty believable story, though. Doesn’t it?”

 

“Maybe. Why would I want to kill Jarvis?”

 

“Why would someone who looks like you want to kill Jarvis?” Mouse asked.

 

“I don’t know why anyone would want to kill Jarvis,” Ariel sighed. “Maybe it was a plot by Haargon to blame me,” she suggested.

 

“Who is this Haargon, anyway?” Mouse asked.

 

“I told you — ”

 

“I know, but it doesn’t sink in.”

 

“Haargon is evil. He’s the god of earth, and weight and depth and darkness. He’s so evil that only followers of darkness, secrecy and dread would want to worship him and draw their strength from his might.”

 

“So there’s a gang of evil priests of Haargon who’re out to get you,” Mouse shrugged. “And that’s because of that Iliara person — ”

 

“She’s the Goddess of the Air,” Ariel corrected quickly. “She rules over lightness and height. And she’s good and noble and inspires all her worshippers with — ”

 

“What worshippers?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Where are all the worshippers of Iliara? If you’ve got some priests of Haargon after you and you say that the followers of Iliara and the followers of Haargon are locked in a ceaseless struggle over the fate of the world, where are some worshippers of Iliara to help you out?”

 

“Well, it’s a pretty tough battle for everybody,” Ariel admitted. “I did get a couple of messages from other followers of Iliara. They urged me to be strong and hold firm in the faith — ”

 

“But regretted that they couldn’t help you out just now?”

 

“The battle lines are drawn tautly for everybody.”

 

“So you think Haargon’s behind this?”

 

“I’m sure of it.”

 

“Then let’s go.”

 

“To Camron’s?” Ariel stood up.

 

“Hardly,” Mouse replied. “If this was Haargon’s work, it’s certain that he’s expecting you to be arrested and held in gaol. Whatever the Watch might think of my ability to tell a true story, I’d have to agree with that forecast. If we go see the Watch, I’d expect us to remain locked up until the matter is fully resolved. And there are too many ways of resolving the matter that don’t appeal to me. No. I’d rather stay at liberty a while longer so that we can try ourselves to find your look-alike. And that means going to see Brother Terkan.”

 

“Do I know him?”

 

“You didn’t know Freyo,” Mouse said. “Why should you know Terkan? Go away from the harbor,” she added, changing the subject completely. “We’re looking for Fiddlers’ Alley.”

 

“Where?”

 

“It’s off Castle Rise — ”

 

“The other side of the river?”

 

“How should I know? I just got here in a barrel. But Muskrat says Fiddlers’ Alley is more of a street in Dargon than a lot of the supposed streets are.”

 

“Oh. Who’s Muskrat?”

 

XI. A Rat for Sylk

 

Kittara knocked on the door of the room where Sylk was said to be seething. There were a few rooms at Duke Jastrik’s house in Dargon where one was supposed to be able to seethe undisturbed, but Kittara recognized none of them. Upon hearing a barked response, she pushed the door open and strolled in.

 

“I never did find my quarry,” she yawned, sliding casually into the only chair in front of the desk where Sylk was working. She gazed across the lamplight at her frazzled superior. “You look like you’ve been up all night.”

 

Sylk glared admiringly at her. “You don’t,” he said.

 

“Oh, but I have been. Seeking here and searching there.” Kittara shrugged. “I gather you had better luck?”

 

“You can gather I had *worse* luck,” Sylk growled. “No, I never found the other one either. But I did make the mistake of stumbling into somebody else’s business.”

 

“That does sound like a mistake.”

 

“And now Jastrik’s Consul has decided to make it *my* business.”

 

“And that sounds like misfortune.”

 

“So now I’m going to make it *your* business also — which is only fair recompense, since you’re the one who got me into this mess.”

 

“Uh uh. To me it sounds like petty tyranny,” Kittara insisted. “But why should the Duke’s Consul have a monopoly on that? What’s the mess?”

 

“Jarvis was killed last night.”

 

“Jastrik’s bookkeeper?”

 

“Jastrik’s *favorite* bookkeeper. Jastrik’s bookkeeper whom Jastrik relied on to keep all the other bookkeepers in Baranur honest — at least when it came to dealings with Duke Jastrik. Herst expects Jastrik will be very upset when the news gets to him.”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“So Herst has asked me to please see what I can do to ensure that when the news gets to Jastrik it also includes the happy fact that we’ve identified the killer and have her awaiting the King’s Justice.”

 

“‘Her’?”

 

“‘Her’. The good news is that we have a witness — or as good as — and the witness knows the killer. Jarvis was auditing a local broker named Camron and it’d appear that one of Camron’s bookkeepers — name’s Ariel — killed him.”

 

“A bookkeeping girl killing an auditor?” Kittara exclaimed. “Don’t you find that a little farfetched?”

 

“Not with a crowbar I don’t.”

 

“She used a crowbar?”

 

“It seems that she was breaking into one of Camron’s shipments — a barrel of stuff called Rhubarb Relish. Jarvis happened to be working late and surprised her. So she coshed him on the head with the crowbar and ran.”

 

“Then who was the witness?” Kittara asked.

 

“The night watchman. Londron.”

 

“Why didn’t he surprise her?”

 

“Apparently, she’d knocked him out already. Slipped something in his tea when he wasn’t looking. There was a noise which roused him and brought him running — he says — just in time to see the girl drop the crowbar, grab something out of the barrel and run.”

 

“Why would anyone kill for relish?” Kittara mused. “There’s a sick joke in that somewhere,” she added.

 

“I’d have to wonder if there wasn’t something else in that barrel with the relish,” Sylk replied. “Also, there’s another possible reason for murder: Jarvis’s notes — they’re pretty nearly impenetrable to anyone who isn’t Jarvis, I’d say. But they seem to indicate that Jarvis was finding things he didn’t like in Camron’s books.”

 

“Aha!” Kittara said.

 

“Yeah. And then there’s the note she left — ”

 

“The girl left a note at the crime scene?”

 

“Hardly. Have a look at it — ”

 

Kittara glared at Sylk.

 

“– or don’t,” Sylk quickly added, remembering how little Kittara liked letters. “Perhaps I should just read it to you. The girl had packed up all her stuff and left the house she was staying in this evening. She left a note for the folks she’d been staying with. They’re Marcus and Karina. Karina is Camron’s cousin. Anyway, Marcus passed along the note when the Watch went there looking for Ariel.” He read:

 

I’m sorry, but I can’t stay here. My presence puts you in danger, and I care too much for you to do that. I am going to find myself somewhere to live while I might be hurting anyone. You can reach me at Camron’s, as I still have to work something for the next couple of days. Thank you for everything.

 

 

“I’m surprised Marcus didn’t destroy that,” Kittara said. “Perhaps the girl was an unpleasant tenant.”

 

“No. The report is that Karina was very upset to hear that Ariel was in trouble. They both were, in fact.”

 

“Did they have any idea where Ariel might’ve gone?”

 

“They didn’t offer any. Millhouse — he’s the Watch officer who visited them. Millhouse thinks Karina knows more than she’s told so far.”

 

“So that’s one possibility. Any others?”

 

Sylk grimaced. “Dargon’s not a very big town,” he said, “until you’re trying to find someone in it. All I can think of is to ask everyone at Camron’s business more thoroughly.”

 

“Ugh,” Kittara agreed.

 

XII. The Close Bonds Forged By A Shared Pursuit

 

“Here?” Ariel asked.

 

“I think this is Terkan’s house,” Mouse agreed.

 

They were standing in a street that they’d agreed was most likely Fiddlers’ Alley, though Ariel felt more comfortable in the designation than Mouse. Before them stood the house that Mouse (with Ariel’s reluctant agreement) felt was most likely to match the description that Brother Muskrat had given her. In the dim, diffuse light, all the houses looked dolefully similar and, with the dawn bell not yet struck, there wasn’t anyone around to be asked for confirmation. There’d been a few members of the Watch, from time to time, but for obvious reasons, Mouse and Ariel chose to steer clear of them.

 

Ariel had risked asking one man to direct her after she and Mouse had gotten several blocks away from Camron’s. He’d seemed a reasonable risk to accost because he’d been alone and he’d been hurrying along the street. He’d not cared to linger in her company, but he did suggest that Fiddlers’ Alley was somewhere across the river in the Height. And Ariel had learned enough about Dargon in her few days of residence to know that Coldwell Height or just the Height was what they called the respectable area upriver from the keep.

 

“So what do we do now?” Ariel asked.

 

“We knock.”

 

“We?”

 

“You knock and I sit on your shoulder giving you encouragement.”

 

Ariel knocked. With Mouse’s promised encouragement, she continued knocking for menes. Finally, they heard someone approach the other side of the door.

 

“Who’s there?” a voice called through the still closed door.

 

“You’ll have to do the talking while the door’s closed,” Mouse told Ariel.

 

“Mouse,” Ariel called back. With further prompting from Mouse, she added “From Rockway House, to see Brother Terkan. Brother Caleb wrote him that I was coming.”

 

“Before dawn?”

 

“I don’t think Brother Caleb knew when I was going to arrive.”

 

There was the sound of someone fussing with a bar and then the door opened slightly. A tousled young man wearing a jerkin thrown hastily over his nightshirt peered out at Ariel and Mouse.

 

The light was behind his callers, so there wasn’t that much to see: A bedraggled young woman, still smelling harbour-wet, stood waiting through his inspection. Except for the lack of baggage, it was certainly the outline of a traveler. There was something on her shoulder, though. A cat?

 

“What do you want?” the young man asked. His tone was surly.

 

“Are you Brother Terkan?” the cat asked.

 

“His student,” the young man replied, staring more closely at such a clever cat. “Bret. What are you?”

 

“Mouse.”

 

He continued to peer. She was awfully small, but “You’re a girl?” Bret guessed.

 

“I’m a girl named Mouse,” the tiny person said quickly. “And this is my friend Ariel. Brother Terkan does live here, doesn’t he?”

 

“Yes. How’d you get so small?”

 

“By focusing on the little things in life — may we come in?”

 

“Master Terkan didn’t say anything about being visited by a mouse.”

 

“I’m not *a* mouse — ”

 

“This isn’t working,” the woman named Ariel said. “Maybe we should come back at midday.”

 

“You’ve got somewhere else we can go in the meantime?” Mouse retorted. “Look, Bret, can we at least come in off the street and wait somewhere for a more reasonable time to greet our host?”

 

The young man considered, but only briefly. His prospective guests, after all, looked far more pathetic than dangerous. And interesting.

 

Not that they looked like much of anything at all, in the darkness, but women called at Brother Terkan’s house so seldom that anyone female was interesting. And Bret’s imagination could go quite far on a fair voice and a lack of girth. The salty dampness notwithstanding, the woman might be worth lighting a candle for and the mouse — She seemed likely to be a sorceress. “Focusing on the little things in life” sounded as though it could be an obscure key to arcane power. Or mere obscurantism. But sorceresses were fond of that sort of thing, Bret knew. He swung the door open wider.

 

“Come in,” he invited. The girl came in as soon as he said the words. “There’s a room you can rest in until Terkan is ready to receive you.”

 

“What’s going on here?”

 

“Or perhaps we’ll skip the waiting,” Bret said under his breath.

 

Ariel and Mouse looked up the narrow staircase at a short, middle-aged man holding a taper. The latter had wrapped himself in a ragged-looking robe and a scowl.

 

“Are you Brother Terkan?” Mouse called up.

 

“Who’re you?” the man responded. He started down the stairs.

 

“Mouse. Are you Brother Terkan?”

 

“Very seldom. Normally, I’m Terkan — or Master Terkan to my inferiors — like Bret, here. No one calls me Brother Terkan except — ” The man stopped. “You’ve come from Rockway House,” he resumed. “Though I thought Caleb said I’d get one visitor. A small one named Mouse. Well, he didn’t exaggerate about that. So you’re the scribe whose work I’ve had several occasions to admire.”

 

“And you’re the client whose generosity I’ve had a couple of occasions to appreciate,” Mouse reciprocated.

 

The two took a moment to approve of each other.

 

Then Terkan turned to Ariel. “But who are you?” he asked.

 

“She’s Ariel,” Mouse said. “She’s a very good friend of mine and has been helping me find my way around the city. And I needed the help. I hadn’t realized how big it was.”

 

“It’d be interesting to imagine a town you’d call small,” Terkan said.

 

Mouse forced a smile. “We’re sorry about disturbing you so early in the day. Before it’s even begun, in fact.”

 

“I’d awakened already, anyway.”

 

“Oh. Well.” Mouse glanced at the bedraggled Ariel. “We haven’t slept yet this night and are pretty tired. Do you think –”

 

“You’ve been up all night?” Terkan interrupted. “What could you have been doing? Dargon Town gets very quiet once the sun goes down.”

 

“Avoiding the agents of Haargon,” Ariel declared.

 

“Haargon?” Terkan repeated.

 

“I really don’t think this was the right time to bring that up,” Mouse said. To Terkan, she said “You’ve heard of Haargon?”

 

“Uh — no!” Terkan exclaimed. “But the name, I don’t know of any lords bearing it.”

 

“He’s an evil god,” Ariel explained.

 

“Oh,” Terkan said.

 

“He rules the earth and depth and heaviness.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Doesn’t help jog your memory any, does it?” Mouse asked.

 

Terkan glanced at her. “Haargon,” he said. “No, I don’t think so. But this god has agents?”

 

“Priests, too,” Mouse said.

 

XIII. The Unreasonable Demands of Employers

 

Alec seethed. “Yes!” He repeated. “I lost her!” He didn’t stomp his foot because that would have been childish. Also, with the thick carpet on the floor of Cleo’s chamber, the gesture would’ve been ineffectual. Instead, he simply said “It was sheer good luck that I managed to catch up with her at all — ”

 

“The Grace of Haargon, you mean,” Cleo responded. “You are doing His work, you remember.”

 

“Of course I remember. *You* remind me every time I report to you. He, on the other hand keeps any assistance He gives really subtle. I mean, if He’s trying to be helpful, why’d He let that Marcus muck things up on me?”

 

“The ways of Haargon are not for mortals to judge — and especially not for unbelieving mortals like you to comment on. Where did you see the girl last?”

 

“Oyster Street. She ran to the end of it and dove into the harbor.”

 

“Did she? Ah, off a pier?”

 

“Off the wharf.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Uh huh.” Alec decided to explain the nautical distinction to the earthbound priest. “A pier,” he said, “as you’d know if you ever visited the waterfront, is the structure that sticks out into the harbor, whereas a wharf is any place, including parts of Dock Street itself, where a ship can tie up to load or unload — ”

 

“Enough!” Cleo shouted. “Thank you,” he added sourly, “but I didn’t hire you to advise me about the architectural niceties of Dargon. You’re supposed to be reporting to me about the whereabouts of that girl Ariel. At that, you seem to be doing a less than satisfactory job.” The priest examined one of his black, dirt-encrusted fingernails. “Do you know, for example, why she dove into the water?”

 

“Well, no,” Alec admitted. “Not really. She left her backpack with her few worldly possessions lying in the street, shucked her cloak on the wharf itself, dove in and just swam away from everything. Here’s the pack and cloak.” Alec kicked them.

 

“You couldn’t learn anything from them?”

 

“Only that she doesn’t know enough to get out of the way of a slop bucket. And that her hair’s finally going to start looking different — she had *three* combs and now she has none. And that she may be a good bookkeeper but she’s a lousy seamstress. Oh, and that she kept a journal.”

 

“And she’s likely to discontinue that practice also?”

 

Alec produced the book.

 

“Such an extravagance,” Cleo said. “And so revealing.” He reached for it. “You’ve read through it already, I expect?”

 

Alec held onto it. “There’s nothing useful there. There’s a lot about someone named Stefan and some stuff about trying to make her new start here in Dargon Town. She liked Marcus and Karina. But there’s not a clue where she was swimming to.”

 

“You’re certain?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then I guess you’ll have to look elsewhere. In the meantime, though, I should like to have a look through that book.”

 

“No.”

 

“No?”

 

“I told you. There’s nothing useful in it.”

 

“You don’t know everything that’s useful.”

 

Alec shrugged. “I know the scope of my job. Keeping an eye on the girl and reporting her movements to you. I found the journal; I’ll use it to further my work — ‘cept that it isn’t useful for that purpose, so I guess I’ll see that it doesn’t get used against her at all.” He stood up.

 

“That’s not your job!” Cleo roared “Judging my actions with regard to that girl!”

 

“So you say. Consider it my hobby.”

 

“I’ll withold your fee.”

 

“Try making a threat I didn’t think would happen anyway.” Rapidly, Alec walked out of Cleo’s chamber. He hurried through the cellar, ignoring the handful of minions of Haargon who were pursuing their earthy chores there. Pulling the door closed behind him and pausing only to take a gulp of relatively fresh air, he ran up the outdoor steps two at a time.

 

“I am really beginning to hate that priest,” he told himself before trying to think calming thoughts and stroll casually around the apparently innocuous house to Thockmarr Street. “But I’m still left with the problem of finding the girl.” For want of anything better, he ambled toward the marketplace.

 

“Perhaps she likes haggling.”

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