Kel was easy to spot, with bright orange hair that resembled the wig of a circus performer who passed through Westearth briefly in Ziedon's youth. Michol, his stature making him easy to pick out, was sitting next to Kel. Four other men sat around the same table, and two chairs were empty.
Ziedon, in his finery, walked forward and sat down in one of the empty chairs. “I've come to talk about your previous employer.” Ziedon glanced at the others around the table. “Can we talk in front of these fellows?”
“Why not?” asked Kel. “Who are you?”
“I am someone who isn't pleased with the fellow who surplanted your previous employer and would like to see something done about it. Are you willing to help?”
“Help how? Ulan's disappeared, and no one else is hiring.”
“He hasn't disappeared; he has been imprisoned. The individual who imprisoned him is making a play for control of this city which will throw the city into more chaos than it is in now. I want to prevent that from happening.”
Kel swept his fingers through his bright red hair. “And you can do something about it?”
“It would be good to have our old jobs back,” Michol added. “Work's hard to find.”
Ziedon nodded his head. “Yes Kel, I might be able to get him released. The issue is what happens once he is released. Without some prior planning he could easily get imprisoned again, and there would be nothing I could do for him then. What I would need for you all to do would be to quietly and discretely start garnering support for him. I am sure there are those amongst his usurper's supporters who are not too keen with the usurper and who would gladly throw their support back to your previous employer if he was again in the game. Also, townsmen are good to have, but your previous employer will also need armsmen. I don't know if all his armsmen transferred to the usurper or not, but I imagine you do.”
Ziedon raised a finger in warning. “But… Heed this… You would have to work fast and be very, very careful. If would got back to the usurper that people were consolidating support for your previous employer, he might make it impossible for me to get your previous employer released. You would have to be certain that the person you talk to will change alliegance back to your previous employer; and you would have to… dispose… of anyone you talked with who wouldn't change or whom you weren't completely sure that their change of alliegance was genuine… Do you understand?”
Everyone at the table stared at Ziedon for a few seconds, then Michol burst out laughing. “This guy wants _us_ to make an army against Galgewe, and _kill_ anyone who gets in our way! This has got to be a joke.” Some of the others at the table joined in the laughter, as did a couple of the patrons at other tables.
Ziedon sat quietly and waited for the laughter to die down. Calmly, he replied. “No, it isn't a joke. But no, I don't expect you to form an army against the usurper. All I expect is for you to garner what support you can from your previous employer's hirelings as quickly and quietly as possible. But it is deathly serious. You should not attempt to 'recruit' someone unless you are sure they will support your previous employer. If word gets out, then I cannot be held accountable for what might happen to your previous employer. Once your previous employer is out of his prison, he will need loyal men to protect him while he is consolidating his position. Without those men, his is a lost cause and the usurper will rise supreme. What you don't know is that the usurper is just a hireling as well. He intends to turn over the city to another outsider, an Andrithan.”
“Can't have that,” a third person at the table muttered. He was a moleish man in his fifties, with whisps of dirty gray hair scattered about the top of his head. He looked at his food as he spoke.
“It sure sounds like a lot of work, just to get our jobs back,” said Kel.
“Kel, maybe you don't get the big picture. It will be the conquest all over again. Not only will you be doing Malaener and the House a great service but you will have an employer who is indebted to you for your support.” Ziedon looked around. “And, it isn't as if you are doing a lot of work now.”
Kel considered this for a while, and Michol spoke up. “I'll ask around. Can't promise anything.”
“Alright,” Kel added. “I'm in. But it doesn't help that Michol here let the whole tavern know what was going on.”
Ziedon gave Michol a scolding look. “Yes, it doesn't help; but you can't put spilled blood back in the body so we need to move forward. How many others here at the tavern can you count on?”
“Everyone at this table, I think.” Ziedon saw unsure head-nodding from the four who hadn't spoken yet. “We all want our jobs back.”
“You will need to move fast. I will break your employer out soon. Where should I take him, or will he know where to go?”
“I guess he could stay at my place,” Michol said. “It's not much for a townsman, but better than jail.”
Ziedon nodded his head. “Okay then, what of Forgolon? I haven't heard much said about the bard. He was a staunch supporter of your previous employer. How do I get in touch with him?”
“I don't know him very well,” said Michol.
A fourth person spoke, plain looking with stringy brown hair that fell over his eyes. “He plays the taverns a couple nights a week.”
The bright-eyed youth to his left added, “Forgolon still has his job. He works for Galgewe.”
Ziedon asked for directions to Michol's place and then looked over at the two new speakers and asked, “what does Forgolon do for Galgewe?”
“I don't know,” the stringy haired man said. “I don't work there anymore.” The rest of them shook their heads in agreement. “Didn't even know he worked for Townsman Ulan until after I was canned.”
“Do you know, or can you find out where he will be playing tonight?”
Kel answered. “It won't be too hard. We can ask around the taverns.”
Ziedon nodded. “I have someone to meet this evening but then can be off to see Forgolon. Please have someone leave a message for me at Townswoman Vilerra's abode sometime right after seven this evening with where Forgolon can be located. Please have the messenger be someone who won't be recognized and takes the precaution of wearing a cloak with a hood or the like. The message should be addressed to, 'The gentleman caller from abroad'. Any other questions or issues?” The men shook their heads.
Ziedon picked up his escorts outside the tavern and said, “another stop to make before talking with the captain of the guard.” Tilluri, Gelefer and Ziedon headed for the poor quarter, Ziedon walking casually and taking in the sights of the city. He kept an eye out for guards and townsmen. Not surprisingly, the number of the former increased while those dressed well enough to be potential townsmen were not to be seen at all. The guards were calm and confident, though Ziedon noticed Tilluri making cautious backward glances as the quality of their surroundings degraded.
They followed the directions to the street with two smithies, and stopped at the third house on the left. “I will be inside for a while,” Ziedon said, and waited for his escorts to move off to discreet positions within sight of the door. Ziedon knocked and waited. It was some time before the door opened slightly. Quietly, so the escorts couldn't hear, Ziedon said, “peace in Maelbourg, peace in the House.” A grating voice, like that of a man with a perpetual sore throat, replied, “Morenth guides acts of peace and war.” The door opened the rest of the way, and Ziedon was allowed into a dark room. “Who are you?” the voice asked.
“A friend; Jerrakken told me that we might be able to help each other.” Ziedon then explained the situation as he had to Jerrakken and added, “I am going to try and remove Ulan from prison either tonight or tomorrow night. My goal is to return Ulan to his seat and throw out Galgewe, so he cannot hand Malaener over to an Andrithan. Jerrakken and I were hoping your people could help.”
“Ulan isn't a prisoner; he ran away.”
Ziedon frowned. “I was told Ulan was a prisoner. Are you sure he escaped town? Do you know where he went?”
“Huerten, I think. That's where I'd have gone. And why would Jerrakken care? He's a pacifist.”
“I don't think Jerrakken is a pacifist; he wants to maintain a showing of neutrality but he does want something done about the power struggle in town. If one townsman garners too much power it will affect the entire dynamic.” Ziedon asked again, “can you help?”
“We're already doing our part. Galgewe won't last long in this town.”
“What are you doing in the effort against Galgewe? Maybe I can help support you.”
“Our plans are only for the initiated, stranger. If you want to help, find Galgewe's weakness.”
“I see. How about a time-frame? Are your plans going to be extremely short term, meaning days; or are you looking more at the weeks or months for your plans to come to fruition?”
The man didn't answer at all this time. Ziedon got the feeling he was deciding what to do with this stranger who asked so many questions. Still, Ziedon tried one more question. He could always fall back on his magic if need be.
“Since Ulan isn't in town, what if I were able to surplant Galgewe and take over his influence; how could I be an ally instead of a foe to the Knights in that event?”
“I think I understand why Jerraken sent you here.” Ziedon heard a dagger drawn in the darkness.
Ziedon sighed inwardly at the complications. If he killed this self-proclaimed Knight of Peace, then the two soldiers outside might be a little upset. In any event, the first course of action was to subdue the man before he did any harm. Ziedon quickly chanted the words impressed upon his brain, feeling the magic swell. Ready for the results, he squinted his eyes against the light and prepared to observe his surroundings and his attacker. A multicolored burst sprayed from Ziedon's outstreched hand to engulf the man.
“What was that?” the man asked, squinting against the clashing streams of color as they passed him by. “You won't scare me with magic tricks. I've seen better at the fair.” He lunged at Ziedon, who stepped out of the way just in time. The lights danced against the far wall for a second before extinguishing.
The man was poised for a second attack. His feet were spread out, making him appear shorter than he actually was. His face was gaunt and serious, and decorated with a greasy smudge that covered the right side of his nose and his right cheek. He wore tight pants and a dirty smock. The room was small and square, intended only as an entranceway. Each side had a door, one of which was open, but the angle did not allow Ziedon to see inside during the brief period of light.
Ziedon chanted again and pointed his finger at the man. At the same time, he took a step back, reducing a potentially devistating slash to a mere scratch. The fate of the “Knight” was not nearly so good. He stared wide-eyed at Ziedon, clutching at his chest as his heart slowly collapsed. “What… what are you?” the man yelled, followed by a scream of pain loud enough to be heard outside. “You won't leave here alive, usurper warlock!” He stabbed at Ziedon, but fell well short of his mark.
Ziedon drew his dagger and defended himself by parrying the “Knight's” blows. All he needed was enough time for his magic to take the man down. He circled to the side, allowing his guards free access to bash in the door and come to his rescue, while not exposing himself to anyone who might be further in the building. It was a quarter of a minute before the heavy knocking came at the door. The man took advantage of Ziedon's temporary distraction to slash at him. He tried to call for help, but only a muted croak came out. He tried again and succeeded at a more powerful call, when the door burst open, and Tilluri and Gelefer came through. In the light, Ziedon saw a mouse crouching in the corner, watching the fight. Could this be the summoned creature? No, Ziedon thought, as it scurried between Tilluri's legs and out the door.
“What's going on here?” Tilluri asked in a loud, official voice.
“He… Look what he did to me.” The man was clutching his distorted chest. “Burn him before it's too late.”
Ziedon replied, “he would not support our cause and attacked me. I had to resort to carnival tricks and foreign herbs to defend myself while I waited for you to come.” Ziedon guestured to the cuts on his person from the man's knife. “You will need to dispatch him; he is now a threat.”
Tilluri looked at Ziedon, and looked at the man, and looked back at Ziedon. “He will be dealt with as the law commands. Come with me.”
“You! You won't conquer this town with your witchcraft,” the man said to Ziedon. “Not as long as good people like me are still around.” He tried to run towards the window, but tripped and fell on the floor. Tilluri was able to pick him up dispite his feeble struggles. “Gelefer, take this man to the third holding station. I'll be by when I can.” The two of them took the knight outside.
When they came into the light, Tilluri noticed Menathal, who had been sent out earlier to find Jakol Worsen, running down the street. “Wait here,” he said, and walked up to meet the other soldier. The two engaged in animated but quiet conversation, which was all but inaudible to Ziedon. At one point, the knight tried to escape again, and Menathal had to chase him down. While it posed no difficulty at all, Ziedon was able to take the opportunity to get a little closer to the two soldiers and catch the end of their conversation.
“Does Townsman Galgewe know yet?” Tilluri asked.
“Then let him know immediately. And take that man off of Gelefer's hands. He should be brought to the third holding station for questioning.”
Ziedon took a few steps forward and said, “let Galgewe know that I will 'talk' with this man on the morrow to help him see the error of his ways. He is part of a plot against Galgewe, so until I get an opportunity to 'speak' with him, he should be kept isolated.” Ziedon emphasized the word 'talk,' knowing that when Galgewe heard it he would understand what Ziedon would do and would be more apt to agree to Ziedon's requests. This would prevent anyone from hearing anything they shouldn't and give Ziedon an opportunity to contain the situation.
Ziedon then turned back and entered the small house, but he was only inside for a moment before Tilluri and Menathal came in. “Ziedon,” Tilluri said, “it's become clear that you are only in Galgewe's employ under duress. There is someone we would like you to meet.”
Ziedon continued his search, talking to the soldiers without facing them. “Let's see… I was accosted outside the city, stabbed in the stomach by a blade longer than my arm, knocked unconscious, my family's precious heirloom stolen from me, tossed into a prison cell… All until I agreed to assist Galgewe in his pursuit of power.” Ziedon stopped searching to look at Tilluri and Menathal, “and given jailors to watch my every move to ensure my cooperation.” A biting tone of sarcasm slipped into Ziedon's voice as he returned to his searching. “So you think I am under duress, eh? Who is this that you, servant of Galgewe, would like me to meet?”
“I'm not at liberty to say.” Tilluri showed no sign that Ziedon's sarcasm affected him, or even that he'd noticed it. “But if you come with us quickly, I assure you your situation with Galgewe will be much improved.”
Ziedon snorted. “To take me to Galgewe so he can punish me for trying to work against him? I need some reason to believe you, and that this isn't some sort of loyalty test of Galgewe's. I am sure you understand my apprehension.” While Ziedon said this, he opened a desk drawer and began to open a small collection of scroll tubes and read what was inside.
“There are two reasons I can think of. For one, Galgewe knows you are only loyal as long as he can hold something from you, so a test of loyalty would be meaningless. And second, if Galgewe wants you punished or killed, it is well within his power, without any deception.”
Most of the scrolls contained lists of objects or names that had no meaning to Ziedon. Some, perhaps all, were in code. One scroll had a longer message, but he couldn't decypher it. Ziedon scooped up all of the scroll tubes to review when he had more time. Then, with a resigned tone, he walked towards the door. “Who is it that you want me to meet? I have another scheduled appointment this evening.”
“This one is more important,” Tilluri said.
Ziedon replied, “we will see.”
A little late, but oh well.
The experience required to get to level 5 has been reduced to 10500.