Ziedon looked at the book and said “ace,” thinking that the lock could be magically keyed to a voice. Finding it still locked, he shook his head and said “stupid thought” aloud. There was a spell that was supposed to be able to open any lock. If only he knew it. To learn the spell, though, he would have to ask his master; and of course his master would probably be curious why Ziedon wanted to learn it. Ziedon had no intention of telling his master about the book, unless he asked specifically about it.
Ziedon stretched and performed his morning ablutions. He removed his bandage to change it, and smiled. It looked fractionally better than it had the day before, which meant it was infected. Again he thanked his shielding spell; the wound would never have been so minor or healed so quickly without it.
With one of Galpen's heavy coins in hand, Ziedon went down to the common room and ate a leisurely breakfast. Again he listened to the rumors of the day. Word of the Temple's miraculous healings had faded from conversation, but Rosteral was still a hot topic. Ziedon toyed with the idea of returning to the Bath keeper's house and doing a complete search, but he knew that would be folly. The house would definitely be watched.
Finished with his breakfast, Ziedon left the Inn and returned to Galpen's house, again avoiding the Temple. He did not want to tempt fate more than he already had. When he reached the house, he boldly stepped up to the front door and knocked.
In moments, a servant opened the door. He was well built and nearly as tall as Ziedon, with a plain face, one that might be difficult to remember even after long association. He looked like he would make a good courier, bodyguard or really any sort of hireling a man might need. He looked Ziedon up and down and said “yes?”
“I am here to see Regaile Alpen. I was sent by Galpen. Mr. Alpen and I have some business to conclude.”
The man paused for a moment. “Mr. Alpen has been ill of late, and will not see visitors.”
Ziedon smiled back and said, “Now, we both know that isn't true. So why don't you step aside and announce me to Mr. Alpen.”
The man squinted. “Who are you?”
Before Ziedon could answer, another man came up behind him holding a small wooden box. “Master,” he said as he climbed the steps to the front door. “Glad to see you're feeling better sir.”
“Put it in the hall,” the tall man said, and made way for the courier to pass him and enter the house.
Ziedon followed directly behind the courier, to put himself past the door frame and said loud enough so the courier could still hear him, “Yes, I am glad that you are feeling better Mr. Alpen. Shall we discuss our business in the study?”
The tall man looked back and forth along the street, and then pulled Ziedon inside and closed the door most of the way. “What exactly is it that you want? If this is an attempt at blackmail, you won't be any better at it than the dozens of others who've tried.”
Ziedon replied, “Blackmail? No, I have business with 'Galpen'. He has a family token of mine as surety for a… sum of monies… he was going to let me borrow. He gave me part of the total sum.” Ziedon pulled out the coin to show the man and then put it back away, “But he did not return to give me the rest. I am sure that was an oversight on his part. So I am here to collect my due.” Ziedon gave the man a hard look. “Take me to him.”
The man laughed. “And here I thought you were clever. Galpen? Children had a similar nickname for me when I was young, but I haven't been called 'Regalpen' for a long time. I'm Regaile Alpen, and, as all my neighbors have had the misfortune of hearing, I have indeed been sick for two days, but you lighten my heart with your foolishness. Now please tell me what business you have here, or leave me to rest.”
“Then there is a man posing as you. Do you have a brother or a son? I was told that Galpen's real name was Regaile Alpen and he lived in this house. I do not intend to leave until I get my funds or my heirloom returned.”
“If this 'Galpen' of yours is the cheat you make him out to be, I can't imagine him living in this house, let alone being me, but I wish you all the luck in finding him and retrieving whatever it is he took from you. Now that we have that cleared up, if you don't have any further business with me, I'd like to spend the rest of this day in peace.” He pointed to the door.
Ziedon half-turned so he was not looking at Regaile and quickly chanted the words to his spell, turning back at the last moment to release the magic at Regaile. He paused for a second to see the man lower his arm. Ziedon then asked, as he pulled out the gold coin, “Have you seen any of these coins before?”
Alpen took it from Ziedon's hand and examined it closely. “Diure the fifty-eighth. A powerful and vicious king, but well-liked by the history books. Also Second Emperor of the Realm. He minted quite a few of these to pay off war debts, but most have been melted down. I've never seen one in such good shape.”
Ziedon took back the coin and asked, “Why would an usurer go by the name Galpen and be thought to have a cover identity of Regaile Alpen?”
“Simple. A respected member of society like myself can't have it known that his wealth comes from illegal money-lending. You won't use this to blackmail me, will you? Oh, I know _you_ won't, but please don't tell anyone else, or they will.” Well that settled that; the spell had worked.
“But you are not the fellow I dealt with yesterday. Who is he? One of your retainers?”
“Retainers? Couldn't be; I work alone. Anyone posing as me would be caught pretty quick by the barkeep. Are you sure he said his name was Galpen?”
“The Barkeep thought he was you, plus he gave me some of these coins. Who else would have access to your coins?”
“My coins? I already told you I've never seen one in such good shape. How could they be mine? I do own a few ten-attle coins, but none from Diure the fifty-eighth. I can't imagine why the barkeep would have thought he was me. We've been friends for years.”
Ziedon described the man who had said he was Galpen, mentioning his receded hairline, his ambiguous age and sturdy build, and going down into the greatest detail he could from memory. Regaile Alpen paid close attention, giving the utmost importance to Ziedon's words. “Does this description sound familiar to you?”
Galpen thought for a few moments. “No, I'm sorry. I don't think I've seen anyone quite like that, but it's hard to remember everyone I meet.”
Ziedon frowned. “If it wouldn't be too much of a bother, why don't we both go and visit the barkeep? Maybe he would have a better idea of whom is using your identity.”
“Yes, I do think that would be in order. Belebus and I have known each other a long time; I can't see why he'd help someone pose as me. Just wait here a minute.” Galpen walked to the end of the room, and up a spiral staircase.
Galpen was definitely a man who'd done well for himself. The glass windows were impressive enough for a showpiece, but the inside of his house did not lack in a splendor of its own. The entrance room was well-furnished, with an oak table by the wall, and a series of soft chairs lined up along another. The room opened up into three others through wide archways. In the other rooms, Ziedon could see padded couches, enclosed furnaces, and even what looked like an Serkanian woven rug.
Galpen was down shortly, dressed in simpler, dirtier clothing. He grabbed a small pouch off of a table at the side of the room, opened the door for Ziedon, and followed him outside.
As the two left Galpen's house, Ziedon asked him, “What have you heard about the murders in town?”
“As I said, I've been sick for two days, so I haven't done any personal investigation, but my servants have told me enough. I'd say either the rumors have blown up, or someone's tried to make these murders look like they were done by magic. A face as white as bone? A strangely curved back that was 'mysteriously' uncurved by the time the bath master was buried? And if one more person tells me a convoluted story about rapists, theft and jealousy, I'll be committing murders of my own. That apprentice didn't have enough guts to be a murderer, or enough between his ears to engineer a theft. No, this is someone taking advantage of superstitious townspeople to accomplish an agenda of his own.”
“Interesting. Do you know of any strife in the town? Who in town would want a butcher and bath master dead? It doesn't seem connected.”
“I told you I haven't tried investigating on my own. The official stories are too contrived, and I don't know of any individual who would want to kill _those_ two. Their only similarity is that they were both masters without competition.” As an aside, he added “I never understood why we only had one butcher anyway. You'd think at least the townsmen would be tired of fish and could afford meat.”
Ziedon though for a second and then said, “maybe that is the connection. They were not affiliated with a guild or the like. How strong is the Guild here?”
“Either you're in a guild, or you're out of work. And if you head a large guild, you're a townsman. Same as any other town.”
Ziedon changed the subject. “This might seen silly but I have a lock that a locksmith can't seem to pick. It is almost as if the lock is supernatural or something. You wouldn't happen to know of someone who I could talk to about it, would you?”
Galpen laughed. “An enchanted lock? Fits in with the feelings of the day, I guess. I'll take a look at it if you want, but unfortunately this is one of those towns where the guild-bound locksmiths are actually the best locksmiths you'll find. If you've already tried them, I'm not sure what I can do. If you're willing to travel, try the locksmith guild in the city.”
Ziedon shook his head in exasperation. “I have tried a locksmith here to no avail. Each time he thought he had the lock licked, more and smaller tumblers were seen. He went through three cycles before saying that he didn't have any smaller picks. What city are you referring to?”
Galpen smiled. “Huerten, of course. What other city is there? You're not from around here, are you?”
Ziedon smiled back. “I have been on my way to Huerten for a while now. I just keep getting delayed along the way. I just thought of something else that you might be able to help me with. I am looking for a man named Bure. He is an advisor to Reutenleih Leinom, a townsman. Would you happen to know him or of him?”
“Bure… The name sounds familiar, but I can't picture a face. I hope you're not thinking of messing with Leinom. No good can come of that.”
Ziedon arched an eyebrow. “Leinom has a reputation does he?”
“Any guild master worth his mettle does, and Leinom heads the shipbuilder's guild; he's one of the most powerful men in town. And the rumors are always flying about the way he handles his enemies 'out of the courts.'”
“I see. Have you heard anything about his advisor?”
“I know I've heard his name before, but I can't remember in what context.”
Belebus was visibly nervous when he saw Galpen and Ziedon walk in the door together. Galpen walked right up to the bar and leaned forward, balancing on his fists. “My friend here tells me you were helping someone pose as me.”
“A friend? I didn't think you had any.” Belebus avoided looking at Ziedon, and tried to strike a more confident pose. “They're not good for you. One day they're your friend, and the next they're slandering poor old barkeeps.”
“I'd hardly call you poor,” Galpen said quietly, “and if what this man says is true, perhaps you're right that I have one friend too many.”
Belebus smiled at that. “The day I think I'm a friend of yours is the day I dig my grave. I'll tell you one thing,” he said, and then he too dropped nearly to a whisper. “I wouldn't trust anyone I hadn't paid off. You've always trusted me, and I have the money to prove it. Why would I help someone pose as you? I'd be found out in days.”
Ziedon interjected. “Just last night I asked for Galpen and you pointed me to a fellow sitting there in the corner,” Ziedon gestured to the corner, and added some description of the man. “Now I find out that the fellow wasn't Galpen at all and he has something that belongs to me. You are the one that said he was Galpen, when it is now clear he is not. Can you explain that?”
Belebus looked at Ziedon. “Now why would I want to mislead a fine person like yourself in such an obvious way? Too many people know who Galpen is for me to do something so stupid.”
Ziedon scratched his head. “This is all very confusing. What do you remember from last night, concerning me?”
“You were asking where –” Belebus caught Galpen's eye, and said “you were worried about Galpen's health.”
Ziedon frowned. “You don't remember me coming in before that? You directing me to the corner booth? You don't remember who was sitting in the corner booth?”
“Can't remember everything that goes on in here, but I know I didn't call someone Galpen who wasn't.”
“It happened just last night and business wasn't that brisk. You telling me you don't remember who sat in that corner? What about the barmaids?”
The door to the bar slammed open, and an enormously obese man stood in the doorway. “Look,” said the bartender quickly and quietly, while smiling at the man. “I can't help you because there's nothing to tell. Take your stories and accusations somewhere else. I have to tend to Uler the Jeweler.” With that, he hurried out from behind the counter to greet the monstrous man by the door.
“He's not really a jeweler,” Galpen added, smiling. “No real jeweler would come here.”
“This is really odd,” Ziedon said. “Either the bartender is lying or something has happened to affect his memory. I really do not like this one bit.”
Galpen looked towards the door. “Well everything seems in order to me. Maybe he forgot, maybe you forgot. I'll keep an eye out for this poser of yours, but I really should be going now. It's not good for me to be seen too much during the day.”
“Yes, it would be best to leave. You don't mind if I return to your manor with you? I thought maybe we could discuss the business that I had been discussing with your imposter.”
“Oh, by all means,” Galpen said, and led the way out the door. They took a roundabout route to get back to Galpen's house, as they had earlier to get to the tavern, and they entered through the servants' entrance.
When the door was closed behind them, Ziedon asked “how well established are you in this town? Could you put out feelers to find the man who posed as you?”
“When a man has enough money, he can find anything. You can be certain I'll look.”
“I hate to intrude on your solitude, but would it be too much of an imposition for me to stay here with you while this matter is cleared up? I would appreciate your assistance and the favor very much.”
“Oh, by all means. I wouldn't have it any other way.”
“Excellent, excellent. Do you think you could also check on this Bure character? I would like to find out more about him as well.”
Ziedon plucked at his average cut and cost clothing. “I really hate to be such a bother, but I lost everything except for the clothes on my back and a few things that I had stowed away. Do you think you could see yourself clear to perhaps fronting me some aggies to get myself set up properly? I hesitate to even ask you for such a boon but who would take me seriously in such garb?”
“Of course,” Galpen replied. “You look good for the money. What do you say to four hundred aglars at twenty percent?”
A look of discomfort, as if this was a very awkward thing to talk about, came across Ziedon's bearded face, and he sucked some air through his teeth before replying. “Well, you see, with having to get outfitted properly and procuring a suitable riding horse…” Ziedon paused and continued with averted eyes. “I find it so difficult to talk about such money matters…” He hesitantly looked back at Galpen, “but, I think somewhere around two hundred fifty attles would just suffice.”
Galpen whistled at the number, but Ziedon raised a hand. “I know it is a hefty sum. I was hoping that you would be able to suggest specific merchants who would have items of the quality that I require but with whom you might have a relationship so they would not gouge me. That might reduce my necessary expenses; I am sure you understand why such expenses are necessary.”
Galpen smiled. “Sure, I can help you keep your costs down, but two fifty is a lot of money. I don't keep that much on hand when I can avoid it, so I'd have to borrow to make up the difference. And that is something I could never do, not even for you.”
“Well, let's start with what you do have with the merchants that you recommend. Hopefully that way I won't need to borrow a lot more.”