Johannes woke early on the chilly morning of the eleventh of Farinon. He hugged his arms to his breast, trying to rid himself of a lingering chill. Something didn't feel right, so he lifted his hands and looked them over. They were dirty and scarred, but narrow and light. They were a woman's hands. He took those strange hands and felt up and down his body, but somehow was not shocked at what he found. He was Korisca.
Korisca woke early on the chilly morning of the eleventh of Farinon. She climbed out of the small basement which, once she had discovered how to get in, had been more than adequate protection against the cold and dew. Those first few nights in the inn had been nice, thanks to the generous priestess, but she could never get used to those beds that seemed to envelop a person to the point of suffocation, or the uneven heat of a flickering fireplace. And someone was always watching her. When she went to sleep, Ardith or Kay knew exactly where she was, and when she woke up, there was Ardith or Kay again, right in the same room, listening to her every movement. And when she descended the stairs to leave, there was the innkeeper, or a barmaid, staring right at her.
Korisca knew this would be an interesting day – every day had been, since she got to this new town, but this day in particular would be interesting.
It had taken until the day before, the tenth, before she spotted him. She saw just the flicker of a black robe as the tall man turned a corner, but that was sufficient to pique her interest. She followed him to the edge of town, seeing only his back, and the swaying folds of his nearly floor-length robe. He walked quickly, and she had trouble keeping up without being seen. From time to time, he would turn his head, but the hood and the shadow of his round, black cap would hide his face so she could never be sure who he was. She had her suspicions, though, so she kept her distance.
He stopped near the edge of town, and then turned back. Korisca so wanted to see his face at the moment, but she could not risk being seen, with her delusional mind making the suggestions it was making.
Once he had passed a considerable distance beyond her, she resumed her watch. He spoke to nearly every person he met. At one point, when Korisca was within ears' range, she heard him ask directions to a locksmith.
The man continued in that manner for the rest of the evening, wandering about and asking for locksmiths, and, when the sun finally set, he returned to Ranes' inn. At the moment he entered, she finally caught a glimpse of his face, and then ended her pursuit, and ran as far from that place as she could.
Her gut feeling, absurd as it had been, was right. It was Ziedon, come back to wreak some horrible vengeance on her for the purse she stolen, and for Ardith's friendship, and for every improper movement she had made or word she had spoken in his presence. Every night, she had dreamt this would happen. Every night, when she lay down and closed her eyes, she saw that unnatural power, that glowing orb enveloping the sorcerer's hand, coming ever closer, to draw the life out of her body and give her a soulless death. And then, half asleep, she would relive the rest of the event, helplessly watching the desert man, who was to save her, call out his own desire for her death. “It is for the leaders to make the death on this woman,” he proclaimed. “Not you or me, even if Sahlman would be so happy to do it!” And then the desert man flew high into the air and landed violently against the ground. “Fool!” the sorcerer yelled. “Do not meddle in such matters; you were lucky this time!” He faced the desert man as he spoke, but Korisca was sure he had meant the words for her. And then he had spoken directly to her, looming like a crooked mantis over her cowering form, “that is but a taste of what I will do to you … and your soul.” Then he had held out the horrible magic stone with which he wished to do her in, and it glowed a warm yellow at his urging. “Where are they? Answer me now and I will not add your soul to those I have already collected.” And then his cackling laugh. The memory alone was enough to give Korisca a sense of fragility she had never felt before it happened.
And now he had returned. No doubt he had found her through some dark magic of his own design, and there was no defense but to be prepared, and to keep hidden. The others were in Dunweig too, and – the irony! – Kreemon, who had first captured her and begun this whole series of events, was sleeping in the same inn as the sorcerer! Still, she could not afford to tell them anything. If he found out, and surely he would sooner or later, all the worse would be his revenge. And besides, they were his friends. As kind as all of them had been, they had still known him longer than they had her, so she could not count on them to help. And she had, after all, stolen from them. No, this was something she had to handle herself.
To her great surprise, Korisca slept peacefully that night. She barely dreamt at all, and what dreams she had were vague and unmemorable. She awoke refreshed, and, more than anything else, relieved. At least now, she knew where he was. He had shown no sign of knowing she was there, and she knew exactly where to find him. Maybe she was still hopeless, and maybe, soon enough, she would once again and for the final time be under the deathly glow of that hand, but at least, for now, the situation was under her own control.
So this day would indeed be interesting.
The sun had not yet risen by the time Korisca saw Ranes' inn up ahead, but it seemed that half the town was already awake. Doors were opening, carts were rolling, large men were carrying heavy loads of fishing gear to the lake. It was nothing like the lazy mornings of Maelbourg. Well, not quite lazy in their own right, but lazy on a scale that included Dunweig. Dunweig was a lot colder than Maelbourg too. Korisca pulled her cloak more tightly around her shoulders.
Korisca ducked into the alley next to Ranes' in her accustomed manner, which left no one wondering where she'd gone or why. After five minutes, she began to look through windows. Kreemon, she knew, was sleeping on the second floor, and, given his recent habits, she assumed he was still asleep. Korisca pressed up against the wall when she heard a loud noise nearby, but it turned out to be only a barmaid opening the shutters.
Looking into an open window was less subtle than peeking through the slits of a shutter, but it was better than nothing. Korisca stole a quick glance into the common room, and saw Ziedon sitting down and signaling the barmaid. Korisca nearly fell, so quickly did she leap from that window. She sat on the ground for a few seconds to shake off the fear she had involuntarily felt, and gradually built up the courage to take a second look.
The second time she sat on the ground, it was with relief. She'd seen Ziedon sitting in front of his meal, and had made no sign that he was suspicious of anything. After that, she stayed away from the window and kept her eye on the door.
Before long, Ziedon left the inn and was walking in a round-about fashion towards the center of town, stopping to ask people questions. This time, there was no way Korisca could hear what he was saying without getting too close, but soon he stopped asking questions and continued on a direct route, to a stockyards slightly outside the town walls. Once there, he negotiated with the herdsman.
Korisca ducked behind the stable door, breathing heavily. Her heart raced with the fear of capture, and she considered flight, but she feared what Ziedon could do when out of her sight. She breathed deeply, and continued to watch him.
Ziedon paid the herdsman in silver, and led two loudly bleating sheep from the stockyards and stable, passing within yards of Korisca as he left. He had a strange, uninterpretable smile on his face.
Korisca had to stay even further from him when he reentered the town and began to cross it, because people were constantly looking at him and his sheep, and Ziedon would occasionally turn to smile at them. He walked all the way through the town and exited through the western gate, ignoring the guards and their curious stares.
Korisca watched Ziedon leave through the gates and shuddered. Whatever he was going to do with the sheep, it wasn't going to be pretty. Fear warred with curiosity inside her. Or, more accurately, fear of not knowing exactly what Ziedon was doing warred with fear of knowing exactly what Ziedon was doing. The latter won, and Korisca returned to her watch post at the inn, debating whether to inform Ardith of Ziedon's excursion and expose herself to the priestess. As she considered that option, she realized that telling the priestess that the sorcerer had left town with a sheep wasn't much news. Seeing an opportunity to get back into Ardith's good graces, and strike a blow at the man she feared with minimal risk, she decided to retrace her steps and see what Ziedon was actually up to. Overcoming her last few fears, she departed.
The guards allowed Korisca to pass without question. During the day, they rarely gave anyone trouble, and, as these were not the same guards as had been there when Korisca had first entered the town, they did not recognize her.
Korisca had no need to be an expert tracker to find where Ziedon had left the road. A few hundred yards from the gates, four pairs of hoof prints wandered in a roughly straight line into the woods, and left a trail of trampled brush behind them. Korisca followed them a ways into the woods, careful to make as little noise as possible. Soon, her care was unnecessary, as any sound she could make was masked by the bleating of the sheep. Korisca concealed herself as well as she could in the bushes, and moved closer to the sound.
Ziedon finished tying one of the sheep to a tree, and stepped a few feet away. His back was to Korisca, and he stood perfectly still. In an off-moment, when both animals happened to be silent, it became clear that Ziedon was muttering something quietly; something which required his full concentration. After many long moments, Ziedon began again to walk about, watching the animals. The tied sheep began to jump wildly, making far more noise than Korisca thought a sheep could make. Three more seconds, and the sheep was silent. Then it was gasping for air. Then its legs folded inward and it dropped to the ground, as its entire body curled in upon itself, leaving it choking and panting. A rib snapped loudly, and suddenly, all four legs were crossed together over a hideously contracted neck.
Korisca heard a gasp, and was terrified to discover that it was her own. Ziedon's body spun around, and he looked sharply in Korisca's direction for an immeasurably long time. Then he let his eyes examine the whole area in that direction. Korisca was frozen in fear.
“Show yourself, you voyeur!” he yelled, but Korisca could not have responded had she wanted to.
After nearly a minute of silence, Ziedon looked absently upward and said “I do not have time for this; the kingdom rests upon my studies.” He turned back, frowning, and watched the sheep until it died. Then Korisca heard the sound of grinding bones as the sheep straightened out slowly, recovering almost to its original shape.
Ziedon nodded and turned to the second animal. He spoke audibly in a language Korisca did not know or recognize, and closely watched the living sheep. Moments later, the sheep cried out an almost human cry and violently gasped for air. Within seconds, however, it quieted down, and the whole animal grew a foot beyond its original size.
Korisca abandoned prudence in favor of hysteria, and fled blindly from the clearing. She could hear the wild rustling of undergrowth behind her as the sorcerer made an effort to keep up, but soon, she could barely hear him. Just when she was sure she was far enough to slow her pace, Korisca felt a piercing pain in her back, and a powerful shriek expelled itself from her lungs. The pain expanded in intensity, until Korisca was sure she was going to die, but she continued to run.
When her path brought her a mere twoscore yards from Dunweig, where she would have been in sight of the gates had she been on the road, Korisca collapsed on the ground and passed out.
And woke up, seemingly a moment later. She opened her eyes to darkness, then realized her head was face-down in a rough, straw-filled pillow. She pushed herself up on her arms, but then collapsed back on the bed from the pain in her back.
“Ah, good morning,” a deep, grating voice said. “The priest said you'd wake just about now.”
Korsca examined the space around her, too careful to speak yet and give anything away. Turning her head to the left, she saw she was in a small room with a single bed, five chairs, and a round table. Seated on one of the chairs, looking at her, was a man in the uniform of the town guard.
“You're in the guardhouse. This's where Algran took you when he found you on the ground.”
Korisca ignored the soldier for a time, and mentally examined her own body. The pain in her back was still there from her attempt to rise, but it was dying down. Her head was throbbing. When she tried to take a deep breath, she realized she couldn't. Korisca groaned. “I need a healer, fetch me the priestess Ardith from the inn in town.”
“There was a priest already here. He said you just needed rest; you'd fainted; so he gave you the sleeping draught.”
“I have a disease. Only Ardith really knows how to prepare the proper herbs to hold it off. I must get the medicine that she prepares for me.”
“The priest didn't say anything about a disease, and I have to guard my post, unless you want to wait until my shift is over. You can go find her yourself if you want. The priest didn't say to keep you here if you wanted to leave.”
Once again, Korisca attempted to rise. She pushed herself into a seated position, wincing at the pain, then swung her legs over the side of the bed. She stood and found she had to walk very slowly to keep the pain from overwhelming her. “I'd be careful,” the guard said. “Your back didn't look too good when you came in here.”
Korisca was not sure she had the willpower to withstand the pain. She asked the guard how long the priest suggested she rest.
“The priest didn't actually mention what you were to do once you got up. I guess you should rest until you're ready to leave.”
Korisca asked the guard, “How long have I been here?”
“Oh, four or five hours.”
Realizing that it was probably too late to let Ardith know about Ziedon, and that she was likely unable to make it back to the inn, Korisca sank back onto the bed.
Evening was already settling in by the time Korisca woke. A chill passed through her body as a cold breeze blew past the open window. The pain in her back had dulled, but it was strong enough to keep her from forgetting.
Korisca saw no one else in the guardhouse, but she heard pacing footsteps outside. As stealthily as she was able, she rose from the bed and moved towards the window, lifting herself up on her toes to see who was patrolling outside.
A single guard paced back and forth past the door. Further away, Korisca saw a small group of children bouncing rocks off a wall. Although the guardhouse faced the western gate, Korisca could faintly hear the early catches coming in from the lake.
Shaking her head to clear it of the last bit of sleepy haze, Korisca formulated a plan of action. As she saw it, there were two possible options. Either she could get as far away from Dunweig, and Ziedon, as possible, or she could go to Ardith and try to make sense of the past few days. The fact that she was still alive led her to believe that Ziedon had not known she was following him, so it would be safe to get in touch with Ardith if she was cautious. She would try to get Ardith alone. With that vague plan in mind, she left the guard house, heading back towards the inn where she believed her former companions were staying. The guard, a different man than the one she'd spoken to earlier, nodded to her as she left.
Twilight was passing by the time Korisca arrived. She strode boldly into the inn, ignoring the leaden feeling in her belly. She strode up to the innkeeper and asked, “Have you seen any sign of the priestess who was staying here? She had a female bodyguard with her. I have an urgent message for her from the head of her order.”
The innkeeper looked up at Korisca, who was half a head taller than he. He did not look like he believed her, but he answered anyway, “Not since noon, but I expect her by evening.”
Korisca set up camp in the common room, in a position where she could see the door, but wasn't likely to be spotted, and waited.
The inn was unusually empty that evening, and remained so long past sunset. Those who came in had only a quick drink or meal, and then hurried out. When they spoke, it was of the butcher's mysterious death, and of a murder of which Korisca had not yet heard. Earlier that day, while Korisca had been asleep, the master of the bathhouses had been killed, along with his wife and his only apprentice. Word was that the apprentice had tried to rob his master, and had killed both him and his wife, but not before he received a fatal stab wound himself. Another story went that the apprentice raped his master's wife before killing her and his master, and then he'd killed himself. Even with those explanations, the story was sufficiently vague and mysterious, and had enough logical flaws, to keep people in their homes, with the windows shuttered and the doors barred.
Once dusk arrived, the common room was empty of everyone but the innkeeper, two of the more daring drinkers and a solemn barmaid, who spent her time wiping tables. Hours passed, with the door opening so seldom that Korisca found her eyelids drooping, despite all the sleep she'd gotten that day.
Korisca nearly jumped from her seat when the door opened loudly. She wasn't sure how long she'd been sleeping, but, reaching her hand to her head, she felt a rough pattern from the edge of the table.
Ardith entered with Kay behind her, and Kreemon and another man came in laughing after them. Bork hurried in, and jumped around next to his master. “Ales all around,” Kreemon called to the bartender, who gratefully complied. The four, including a tall man Korisca had not seen before, sat at a table in the center of the room. Soon afterward, two men entered the inn and sat down at a nearby table, glancing frequently at the group, but pretending to mind their own business. Two more pitchers of ale arrived, and an immense amount of trivial talk passed between the four of them before the two newcomers left quietly through the door.
After several minutes, Kreemon downed his fourth ale. “That's _definitely_ enough for me,” he said, and stood up loudly from the table, knocking it about a bit and almost toppling Johannes' water. “Here, boy,” he called. Bork practically leapt to his master, and licked Kreemon's face excitedly. Kreemon turned his back to the others, and headed for the stairs, rubbing Bork's head playfully.
“Sleep well,” said Ardith.
“For as long as you're able,” added Kay, distractedly looking out the window.
None of them, in all that time, noticed Korisca.
Seeing Ardith alone with Kay, Korisca found herself in a dilemma. On one hand, this was the best opportunity she might have to talk to Ardith. On the other, she was with Kay. The woman that Korisca saw as her potential salvation was just a few steps away, but she was with her frightening bodyguard. Korisca decided to be cautious and wait.
Neither Ardith nor Kay spoke for several minutes. Then Ardith stood and said “It's late. I'm heading up.”
Kay yawned. “Me too. We have to be up early tomorrow.” She followed Ardith up the stairs, and Korisca followed at a distance, to ascertain which room they were staying in. Neither of them noticed. When she saw which room they entered, she went back down to the common room and thought. Should she just knock on the door of the room, or sneak in, and try to set up a situation where Ardith would have no choice but to listen to her indictment of Ziedon? Even thinking his name sent chills down her spine. On the other hand, Ziedon's absence might be an indication of a falling out. Steeling herself, Korisca returned to the room and knocked on the door.
There was no answer. Korisca, paralyzed by indecision, sat for a minute. After she'd had time to think, she stood up and examined the lock, to see what her chances of picking it might be. It didn't look like much, so Korisca set herself to the task of picking the lock, making no attempt to be quiet about it. After all, she hoped that Ardith would discover her. Once she got in, she would tell her everything.
A few minutes with her picks, and the lock was undone. Korisca swung the door open, and found Ardith and Kay fast asleep. Neither the knocking nor the opening of the door had woken them.
Korisca looked back and forth between the two, first at Ardith, then at Kay. She reflected for a moment on how young they looked, surprised by their appearance. She had an image in her head of Ardith as the answer to her prayers, as the person who would solve all her problems, who would protect her from Ziedon. Looking at her, silently sleeping, so young as the priestess was, she almost reconsidered. This was not an intellectual response, but a gut one. How could somebody so young be so wise? She shook it off instantly, once again secure in her conviction of Ardith's ability to redeem her and bent over to shake Ardith awake.
Ardith remained fast asleep. Kay rolled over in her bed, but then was silent as well. Korisca shook her harder, surprised and slightly worried by her inability to rouse the priestess.
“Go away. I'm sleeping,” muttered Ardith.
Korisca decided that what she had to say could wait until morning; it had waited this long. Ardith seemed surprisingly undisturbed by the incursion into her room, and Korisca wondered how much she had had to drink that night.
Korisca did not wake until bright light streamed in through the window. The pain in her back was mostly gone, but the healing process had added some hours to her sleep. Korisca stretched and yawned, glancing at the empty beds but still present bags. The surprising thing was that Ardith and Kay had not seen and woken her, but perhaps she'd been in shadow when they woke.
After checking to make sure that none of her possessions were missing, Korisca descended to the common room, where she was sure she would find Kay and Ardith. Instead, she found the room nearly empty. The innkeeper stood, facing the back wall, and looking down at something Korisca couldn't see while he polished glasses. A single barmaid leaned lazily against a wall, and glanced up only briefly when Korisca came down. One patron sat at a corner table, dawdling over a small bowl of soup. “You don't have a room here,” the barmaid said.
Korisca muttered something to the barmaid about staying with friends, then asked, with more force, why the inn was so quiet.
An arrogant “humph” was all she got from the barmaid, but the diminutive innkeeper elaborated. “You can't say you haven't heard about all the strange killings.”
Korisca meekly walked away from the barmaid, and ignored the innkeeper. Instead, she approached the man in the corner and asked if he had seen any sign of a young priestess around the inn.
He looked up slowly at Korisca, and spoke quietly. Korisca could smell onions and peas on his breath. “She was here this morning, talking about leaving town.”
“Could you tell where she was going?”
The man shrugged his shoulders and continued eating. The innkeeper replaced the glass in his hand and got to work on it before giving his own answer. “Don't know. It's a shame, though. She brought some business.”
Korisca thanked the innkeeper and stepped out the door, pausing to survey the scene. As usual for this late in the morning, the town seemed empty. From the relatively high ground that the inn sat on, Korisca could see the masts of dozens of fishing boats on the lake, but inside the walls of Dunweig, only a few carters and walkers could be seen moving. A cold breeze blew through the town, and all the shop doors were closed as insulation against it, adding further to the feeling of emptiness.
Korisca looked up and down the street once again, and despaired. She had been chasing Ardith for so long, and just when she thought she had found her, she was gone again. Clearly, there would be no salvation found in the priestess. With her head thus cleared, Korisca headed towards the market to fill her purse, and from there she would decide on her next move.
The market was less empty than the rest of the town, with an abundance of fish-carts and salting shops. This was a state, however, that Korisca was well familiar with, and she quickly found and blended into the largest crowd, which was a group of five women buying prepared fish from the outdoor booth of a peg-legged man. The man was in his fifties, and, from the shape of him, had probably been a fisherman before he'd lost his leg.
The process of purchasing fish was a complicated one at this booth. A woman would comment on as many as a dozen fish from varying areas of the cart, noting attributes such as size, color or smell, while the other customers agreed and elaborated. She would make as if to buy one, but then her eye would be caught by another fish and she would return to her observations. Eventually, the woman would point out two or three fish, and ask for them to be prepared for cooking. The salesman would compliment the woman on the quality of her selection, and propose the price of one diyar per fish. Invariably, the woman would form a disgusted look on her face and mention the lower prices of other salesmen, but then add that these fish seemed particularly good, and suggest an offer of two diyar for three fish. The salesman would invariably accept good-heartedly, and bone and scale the fish where the customer could see. Then he would wrap the fish in a thin sheet of seaweed, and hand them over to the customer.
So involved was the crowd in this elaborate dance that by the time Korisca left, she had a handful of coppers, with no one the wiser. She almost dropped them, however, when she spotted Ardith in the distance, picking up some clothing from a washerwoman. Finally, she had found her.
Korisca approached the priestess slowly, so that she would be seen well in advance of her arrival. The last thing she wanted to do was startle Ardith.
Ardith smiled at Korisca in a friendly way, but said nothing. Kreemon, who was standing next to Ardith, said something to her. Now that Korisca had taken the time to notice Kreemon, she also observed that Kay, and a very tall, scholarly man were also with Ardith. The tall man whispered something to Ardith, then called to Korisca “Johannes Eltermann at your service, madam. And who may I have the pleasure of addressing?”
At the sound of his own voice, the scene faded, and Johannes opened his eyes. He was back on the forest trail, after an absense of what seemed like more than a day, but at the same time felt like it couldn't have been more than half an hour. Korisca finished a story which Johannes had now heard twice.
This turn discusses events in turn 104.