With help from Zach, we dodged one more patrol of knights, while making our way toward the town of Three Streams. We got there in late afternoon, and decided that I would go in alone so no one would be alarmed at their arrival. I’d arrange for the purchase of food and basic supplies and for them to be able to come in to town safely to make the purchase. John also asked me to ask about availability and pricing for horses, carts, and carriages.
It was a fairly nice town, built near the intersection of two streams, (apparently the third was out in the country a few miles,) and I rode in on my horse, making my way to the market district. I went around and checked stock and prices at various merchants, but one shop in particular caught my eye. The majority of the market was an open-air bazaar-style area, with vendors set up at booths, tents and pavilions scattered about. On the outskirts were a few permanent stores housed in actual buildings, with signs describing their function in pictures and words.
A pair of shoes, labeled “Shoemaker.” A barrel with a tap in it: “Tavern.” A pouch of gold: “Moneylender.” A pair of high-arched golden curves side by side, joined at the bottom like a stylized letter M: “Welcome Arbiter.”
Yeah, one of them caught my eye. With all of the tractumil accounted for and Ken’tu Kel in prison, there was only one person in the world who knew enough to design that in the explicit hope of catching my eye. But what would April be doing here?
I headed over to the storefront, and found the door closed with a rather obvious magical seal applied, just in case there were any doubt as to who this was for, I guess. After looking around to make sure no one was watching, I slipped my ring off and pressed my hand against the seal, feeling the energy squirm and warp beneath the power of the Twist. It took almost ten seconds before it failed completely, and I opened the door and headed inside.
April wasn’t in there. Instead, behind the counter was a rather nondescript man, of average height, with medium-length hair and a very boring, ordinary face. The sort of person you’d see and never give a second thought to.
I recognized the King’s spymaster immediately. “Karl.”
“Daniel, today,” I said. I didn’t think anyone from the group was following me, but it never hurt to be cautious.
He nodded. “You can tell me what?”
I gave him a quick overview of meeting them, and what I had learned of their numbers, their magic and their goals.
Karl frowned. “And you wish to lead them to destroy themselves, by raiding the Treasury of Fate?”
I sighed at him. “You please don’t tell me this is suicidal madness.” Ugh, the grammar for requests in Silva felt so awkward after being back among English speakers. “I have heard too much of that from my friends.”
Karl just shook his head and smiled a predatory smile. “No, I like the plan. I worry about its effects on others, though.”
“Those who they buy food from with cursed money?” He nodded, and I continued. “Agents can follow behind us, exchanging bad money for good and returning it to the Treasury.”
“These agents will be who?” Karl asked with a slight frown. “You will reach the Treasury soon. Do you have a plan in place?”
I must have hesitated a moment too long. He just looked at me with a serious expression. “The dracora?”
Because of course he knew about them. Heck, he probably had a few spies within their number! “I won’t ask how you know of them.”
He shrugged. “With the dragon dead, your companion Syrixia and her something are all that remains of Ryell. Of course she would something something and draw power and resources to herself.” I had no idea what those words meant, but I didn’t want to let him know that. The less he and the Crown knew about certain aspects of my life, the better. “You intended to hide them from us?”
I gave him a little shrug. “There are those who would see them punished for the wrongs they have done, even now when we need them to do good.”
He kept his expression carefully neutral. “And you will do what with them once the current situation ends?”
That was a good question. “I am sure some few of them will do things to redeem themselves, but by and large they are still traitors to their people. I will leave the matter in your hands, if you leave them to me for the duration?”
His look darkened slightly. “I do not trust them. I do not trust your companion the tractumil, and truthfully I do not trust you. You have too many secrets and to much influence in this perilous time. But I have little choice; most of the things I could do to counter you would make matters worse for the kingdom.”
“I will endeavor to be worthy of the trust you are forced to extend,” I said, trying to keep a straight face.
“Trust is a dangerous thing, Daniel. You should keep that in mind.”
“I should trust no one, then?” He gave a brief nod, and I laughed. “I am not the best person to tell that to.”
He raised an eyebrow silently, so I continued. “It calls to mind one of the great theatrical works of my people. When a warlike faction called–” ugh, how do I translate that? I decided not to even try. “–called the Black Eagles gained control over the government of one of the great nations of the world, they began to search for magical artifacts of great power, with which to build an invincible army. Our hero was a great adventurer, who was contacted one day by agents of my kingdom.
“They told him that his father, a wise scholar, had been–” what’s the word for kidnap? I hate not having my translation sometimes. “–had vanished, and they were worried the Black Eagles had him. The agent told him what they knew, and warned him to trust no one. Much later, he and his father learned just how true that warning had been: the agent himself had been in the employ of the Black Eagles all along!”
Karl did not look amused. “I do hope that you keep a firm grasp on the difference between reality and bardic fantasies.”
“Oh, I certainly do, and I understand that sometimes a little trust goes a long way, and the less you use, the further it goes. But having no one to trust can be…” counterproductive? Ugh, if Ryell was so freaking precognitive, couldn’t she have set me up with a few more months to improve my vocabulary? “…more harm than help at times.”
Truth be told, it wasn’t hard to sympathize with his viewpoint, even if I didn’t agree with it. It had been less than a year, afterall, since he found out that one of his most trusted knights was an impostor working for the dragon! “That’s what has been happening with me. Do you have anything to share in return?” I asked him.
He gave me a grim smile. “If we can, I would love to hasten our enemies’ downfall. I believe I can arrange the availability of a teleport chamber that would take weeks off of your journey.”
Oh, he had no idea how tempting that was. If only it were practical. “I would like that, but there are two problems.”
He looked at me. “The first being your… unique disadvantage? I have been planning this with Gerald Wolf, and he has some ideas that would be helpful in that regard.”
…which is kind of exactly what I was afraid of when he first proposed the idea of studying the Twist to me, all these years ago. Sigh. “Yes. And the second is that this is but one group of many. For this to work well, we need everyone to plunder the Treasury.”
He looked a bit frustrated when I mentioned that. “You are right.”
“I do appreciate the offer. If you truly with to help speed us along, you should keep the Knight and Ranger patrols out of our way so we waste less time evading them.”
Karl frowned. “Would that not draw suspicion upon you, to have the patrols cease so suddenly?”
“Not if I present it well. I can tell them that, as our band begins to live in peace and harmony with the people of the Kingdom, they are seen as less of a threat.”
He looked less confident about it than I was, but after a moment he nodded. “Very well. I will help as I can.”
“And I’ll try to get the entire band of invaders united quickly. Maybe we can make use of a teleport further down the road! There is one thing I must ask, though.”
“Who put the seal on the door?” There were really only two candidates, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to see either one right now.
“Hi Pa–Daniel!” As if on cue, a half-elf with long blonde hair and a bright smile walked out of the stockroom.
I forced a smile that I hoped didn’t look too forced. “Hello, Sarah. You aren’t at home?”
She shook her head. “I’ll return soon, but I wanted to see you.”
“But you will go back? Not try to have adventures out here?”
Sarah nodded. “I’m needed there. I help Kayora care for the tractumil, until they wake. He says they’re improving.”
Yeah. For as much as she’d matured in the last few years, she was still naive enough to think that that would be a good thing. And compassionate enough to throw herself into trying to help them.
Karl frowned. “I truly wish you would not.”
“You mean what by that?” She looked a bit shocked. “You would have them all die?”
“When Telar died, the disease that claimed him killed his tractumil as well. Aside from that, we really have no something for a situation such as this. Having one awake and active is bad enough, but I have no clue what could happen with seven, and that frightens me!” And he looked like he meant it, like he really meant it. As if he actually considered seven tractumil, with no dragon to empower them, a greater threat than a couple hundred men with guns.
Then again, the response of almost all of the ones that hadn’t gone catatonic immediately upon their Mistress’s death had been berserker rage, so maybe he was right to be worried.
“The last time I saw you,” I said to Sarah, “you wanted the tractumil and every last dracora gone, and now you’re helping care for them? What is the thing that changed?”
She gave a slightly sheepish smile. “I… have been learning to accept that which I cannot fight against, and seek the potential for good in all things. Aylwyn is teaching me a few points of Celestial philosophy and something.”
Well, that was about the last thing I’d have expected to hear! It might have been interesting to observe that, but somehow I got the feeling that if I had been around and watching, the results would not have been the same.
Ugh. What may be a curiosity on the scale of subatomic particles gets really irritating at a interpersonal relationships level. Thanks a lot, Mr. Heisenberg!
We wrapped things up after that, taking our leave of each other, and I headed back out to finish making arrangements for the purchase of supplies. I made my way back to the camp afterwards, and we got everything purchased without incident, including a few horses and carts. That took a lot of the remaining money, but it was worth it. Now we could make better time towards the Treasury.