Kreemon hung around Sir F's for a while, seeing whether Sahl might come back out, and keeping an eye out for Korisca. He wasn't surprised when she didn't appear. It was well after midnight, and she probably fell asleep somewhere. On to other things. Under cover of darkness, Kreemon set out for the baron's castle. He stayed in the shadows as much as possible and avoided the few people he saw. When he neared the castle, he focused his senses, listening for any sign of Bork.
Kreemon didn't hear his dog, but he heard something – someone else was lurking in the shadows too. He froze and concentrated on any sight or sound out of place. For a few moments all was silent, except for a light breeze, and the distant sounds of a tavern that was still open. Then Kreemon thought he heard breathing and a brief shuffling of feet off to the left, next to one of the large homes near the castle.
Kreemon stayed in the shadows, and with the patience learned in his childhood, moved slowly towards the sound. He took a step, then froze listening, then took another step. He fell easily into the motions of a hunter. There was silence for some time as Kreemon approached, and then breathing. Kreemon was very close. He froze again, controlling his own breathing to keep silent, and watching the shadows. In that position, he waited, hoping the other person would make the first move.
A minute of silence passed. Then, an unfamiliar male voice said, “Kreemon?”
Kreemon stalked closer, orienting on the voice. He kept his mouth closed and eyes squinted to avoid being spotted by a reflection, and closed in on his target, moving one hand to the hilt of his sword.
“I can hear you coming, Kreemon.”
Kreemon vectored in on the voice, moving quietly but quickly towards it. He drew his sword and led with his other arm so as not to reflect any light.
“I don't want to have to kill you.” The voice came from a slightly different area this time, and was followed by the sound of a sword being drawn. Kreemon saw a glint of light momentarily, before the man mimicked Kreemon's trick and hid the blade with his other arm.
Kreemon glided to his left and said softly, “Who are you?”
Again, a different position. The voice was constantly moving now. “Someone who knows you're going to lose if you don't identify yourself and come with me. Are you Kreemon?”
Kreemon replied softly as he circled. “Maybe; would you identify yourself and go without any questions? Again, who are you and what do you want with Kreemon.”
“I'm a friend. Someone who's not very fond of the Second Clerk. I may be able to get you out of Huerten.” There was something not quite right about the man's voice. A little hesitation before he continued – possibly nothing. “Your dog escaped the castle guards. He's at my house now, near the north eastern gate.
“That's not good enough; you will have to do better than that. There is a lot rot here in Huerten, Kreemon is no longer very trusting. Especially to someone who follows and hides in the shadows instead of approaching in the open. What is in it for you if you find and help Kreemon? No one takes risks without some sort of reward.”
“My reward is seeing the Second Clerk suffer.”
“Then step forward and identify yourself.”
A form appeared out of the shadows, sword drawn and facing Kreemon. He stopped about three yards away and lowered his sword. It was the man with the blonde streaks running through his beard, from Brunner's party. “Here I am. Are you ready to come with me?”
Kreemon thought for a second and then stepped forward. “Okay, let's go see Bork.” Kreemon let the man lead, and kept a dagger ready at his side where it wouldn't be noticeable. As the two of them crossed the eerily empty city, Kreemon watched the alleys. He looked behind himself occasionally, expecting a trap. When the man pointed out his house, Kreemon stopped and smelled the air, searching for a whiff of metal polish that might indicate guards nearby. The air was clean and cold, no sign of men or a dog. Something wasn't quite right though. When the man reached out to open his door, Kreemon noticed a rectangular plaque above the door. In the shifting light of the man's lantern, it was difficult to make out. A long line crossing the sign at an angle… Another line crossed the first line.
“Stop,” Kreemon said quietly. “Raise your lantern.” Kreemon quickly looked around to make sure they were still alone.
“There's nothing to be worried about,” the man said a bit too loudly, and pushed open the door. Kreemon's eyes darted about, gathering all he could about the house. It was fairly large for this part of town, and set apart from other nearby houses. There were three windows in view on the first floor, all of which were small, eye-level and shuttered. Looking up, Kreemon caught a brief glint as the lantern light reflected off some smoke coming from the chimney.
“A trap,” Kreemon thought, and dove at the man with his dagger. Equally alert, the man spun around, sword already in hand, but the dagger caught him in the shoulder. The blade went in all the way up to the hilt, and the man gasped as he dropped the lantern, grabbed his sword with his other hand and wrenched himself free. His first counterattack was clumsy. It was all he could do to keep his sword in hand, but he recovered quickly and slashed at Kreemon's side. Had Kreemon not lost his armor in the lake, the attack would have been harmless. No time to think about it now.
Kreemon drew his sword and swung at the man, only to have him dodge out of the way. The man twisted during the dodge, however, causing the pain in his shoulder to flair up, and his own sword glanced such a light blow that Kreemon didn't notice that it had struck. He gritted his teeth and parried Kreemon's sword and dagger until he was up against the wall of the house. “You are under arrest for the attempted assassination of the Second Clerk of Huerten,” said the blond-streaked man.
In the dying light of the broken lantern, Kreemon saw three figures rush out of the house. They wore the uniform of the town guard. Kreemon knew that if the first guy lived, he could identify the women and cause trouble for them, so Kreemon had to put him down and then get away as quickly as possible. With this thought foremost in his mind, he launched a vicious attack, trying to impale the man. The sword went deep into his belly, hardly slowed by the clothing and hidden armor, and he staggered back. He would be hurting for a long time, but he wasn't dead. Now, with the other three pressing closer, Kreemon had no choice but to run.
The closest of the three slashed at Kreemon, slicing his cloak and opening a long wound on his back. The movement slowed the attacker, and he started to fall behind. Another guard tried to grab Kreemon's sword arm. Kree turned quickly away, but ended up closer to the third guard, who took advantage of the opportunity to dive at his legs. The two of them rolled twice on the ground before Kreemon managed to get out of his grasp and stumble to his feet, miraculously keeping both his weapons. The fall slowed Kreemon enough, however, that the second guard could catch up and grab him around the waist. Kreemon spun around with the man, trying to escape, while the other two tried futilely to knock Kreemon off his feet.
The next two minutes were a fury of grabs, narrow escapes and brief chases. Whenever he was free, Kreemon turned down the darkest alleys he could find. Finally, the darkness and the fortuitous appearance of a stranger saved him. He turned a corner and hid against a wall as a woman walked by. When she glanced back and saw guardsmen coming her way, she ran off as fast as she could. Thinking she was Kreemon, the guards gave chase, and by the time they realized their mistake, their true target was long gone.
Kreemon walked to catch his breath. He checked his wounds to make sure they weren't serious, and then turned towards the castle, still determined to find Bork, or at least to find out what happened to him. He stuck to the shadows, even more careful this time, knowing that there were people out looking for him. Keeping an eye on the watch- towers and watching out for guard patrols, he got as close to the castle as he could without being seen. Then he let out a loud wolf- hound howl and listened for Bork's response. One of the guards in the closest watch-tower looked in Kreemon's direction, but saw nothing but shadows. After a few seconds, Kreemon heard a response to his call, from the direction of the castle. He braced himself for a dangerous climb up the dilapidated castle walls, but as he approached, he heard another response, from a different angle. Kreemon risked another call, and this time, the guard looked suspicious. He gripped the end of a heavy metal tube used to focus the light, and slowly turned it in Kreemon's direction. Just as the enormous, poorly-outlined circle of dim light was about to envelop him, Kreemon slinked into deeper shadows. At the same time, Bork came out of the shadows and stood in the center of the light, sniffing around for his lost master. Bork did not look like he'd taken the last two days well. His dark gray fur was disheveled – moreso than usual – and in places, it was matted down with blood. He looked hungry, and had bits of residue from garbage heaps stuck in his fur like burrs.
Kreemon waited until the light passed and then went to Bork and knelt down in front of him to scratch his head. He looked him over and cleaned up what he could with the help of a waterskin. One of the wounds looked pretty bad. He would have to deal with that soon.
Kreemon brought Bork back to the Zahiran's house, and knocked on the door until the woman opened it, wearing a loose robe tied in the middle. When she saw him, she glanced briefly at his dog, and then poked her head out the door, and looked both ways with a jerking motion. Then she pulled Kreemon inside and closed the door.
“I apologize for waking you at such an hour,” Kreemon said, “but I need to leave the city tonight. Is there a passageway or does one of the other Faithful have a means of entering and leaving the city that we could hide in?”
She looked warily at Bork while she answered. “There are many places to hide, but no secret way to leave. Not that I know of. The lake will take you if you have a boat.” She thought for a moment, then opened one of the shuttered windows, looked outside, and closed it. “On the seventh and eighth of next month, there'll be the Winter Fair and Festival. Lots of people go in and out then, and you might sneak by without anyone noticing you.”
“Do any of the Faithful have a boat or a means to get us onto one? Otherwise we will need to hide and rest until the Winter Fair, but I would rather we were gone so we don't bring any more attention onto the Faithful.”
“There are fewer of us here than you seem to think. No, no boats.”
“I could use some water and rags to clean his wounds.”
She looked at Bork, who wasn't all that much shorter than she. “I have rags and water. I don't have space. You can wash it outside when no one is around.”
“Thank you. Is there someone who could book passage for us on a boat while we hid?”
“I don't know anyone. A fishing boat wouldn't take you to the other shore, and they're probably searching the trading ships until they find who they're looking for.”
“Since the festival isn't until next month, I have some time to try and get a berth on a boat. We had best get to one of the other hiding places for now, but it is still very dark out.” Kreemon took the water and rags. “I'll clean him up now.” Kreemon took Bork out into the night. The wounds didn't look quite so bad after they were clean; no sign of infection, at least. Once finished, Kreemon led Bork back inside and said, “where should we hide? With my friend here, we won't be able to fit into a small place like your bolt-hole.”
“No good hiding place is comfortable. If you insist on escaping by sea, Rheideielle lives near the docks, and has a roomier foundation.”
Kreemon nodded. “How do I get there and who should I say is sending me?”
The woman thought for a moment before answering, “the Third of the Three.”
Kreemon crept back into the night, and followed the directions to Rheideielle's house. This time, as best he could tell, he was not followed, but he kept himself and Bork in the shadows and moved quickly down the empty streets, just in case.
Upon reaching the door, Kreemon found the symbol of Zahira subtly scratched into the knot holes of the door, and knocked persistently. When the door was opened, Kreemon said without preamble, “may your future deeds balance all.”
There was a long, tired pause before a baritone woman's voice replied, “and your feet ever find the way.”
“My friend and I,” Kreemon said, indicating Bork, “need a place to lie low while we try to figure out how to get out of the city. The Third of the Three told me that you might be able to hide us.”
The woman let them in, closed the door and lit a lantern. While her house was barely larger than the other woman's, it was clear that she was somewhat wealthier – not overly much, but she had certain luxuries, like an actual stove, that the other woman lacked. There was no sign that anyone else lived here, but it was impossible to be sure. Rheideielle herself was almost as tall as Kreemon, and had a rectangular, masculine head. She looked to be in her late thirties, and her shoulder-length brown hair was speckled with just a few strands of gray. “What are you running from?” she asked.
“May we sit, this will take a little bit.” Once seated, with Bork curled up at his feet, Kreemon launched into the story, explaining how a group of unusual people were hired to deliver a message from an aspiring townsman to the Baron. He explained how the townsman had been gathering support in the different towns, and then related what happened when Kreemon tried to deliver the message to the baron. He told about his reunion with Bork and the trap he almost fell into, and concluded, explaining how the Third thought he might be able to slip out of town during the Fair or that he might be able to find some fisherman willing to take him across the lake. Kreemon left out mention of any magic he had witnessed, fearing that Rheideielle would think him mad. “I never should have agreed to deliver the message for them but I did and things have been spiraling out of control since then.”
“You don't sound entirely innocent yourself. Attacking the second most powerful man in the barony probably wasn't a good idea. Maybe he was planning on giving the message to the baron.”
Kreemon startled. “A scribe? Second most powerful man?” He rubbed his temples for a few seconds but then said with certainty, “no, I don't think so. He was going to throw me into a deep dark hole and the Four knows what with the message. Hopefully now, with everything that happened, the scribe couldn't hide the scroll from the baron.”
The woman smiled. “I see your mistake now. Perhaps you aren't from here. A while back, when the old king first conquered Huerten – I think it was in the eight fifties or sixties – he put a baron in place and tasked him with monitoring the southern border with Terradia, and sending reports back to Duerstadt. He gave the baron the additional title of Royal Clerk, or First Clerk of Huerten. You see where this is going. Still, whether you knew or not, you should be careful who you hold at dagger-point. You never know.”
“By the Four! That would explain why the guards got all riled up; and why the scribe wasn't going to pass on the message. I bet he was going to use the message to his own advantage. Why be the number two when you can always be number one?” Kreemon sighed.
Rheideielle started to answer, with, “but the Second Clerk isn't –” then she cut herself off and just shook her head.
“I've made a right botch of things,” Kreemon said. He thought for a second and then asked, “you seem to be very knowledgeable. I probably should have looked for the wheel-bound immediately upon arriving in town. Oh, would your knowledge extend to heraldry?” He described the signet and asked, “have you ever heard or seen something like that before?”
“I've never even seen a signet ring. You'd have to ask the baron's herald, or some other expert.”
Kreemon rubbed his temples again. “I am sorry, I interrupted you. What were you saying about the Clerk?”
Rheideielle smiled, but the condescending aspect of it was poorly hidden. “Just that the Second Clerk is not in line for the lordship. The barony is passed down to the son or nearest family member, not to an employee of the baron, no matter how powerful he is. Even if he wanted to take over, the king would stop him.
Thoughts ran through Kreemon's head of the ring he found once belonging to a noble and Kreemon using the ring to pass himself off as a long-lost son or grandson before returning to the present. “But if this townsman, who sent the message, is trying to change tradition to let him form his own barony, what is to stop the Clerk from changing tradition too?”
“Do you really think the townsman will succeed? Anyway, if he sticks to the towns, he might be safe. The baron doesn't have power over most of the towns. The Second Clerk would be doing more than breaking tradition. He'd be rebelling against the king, since the king appointed the baron. That would be treason.”
Kreemon rubbed his temples again as he answered. “He already has at least two towns under his power. By forming his own barony he would be rebelling against the king too, wouldn't he?” Kreemon waved his hand. “Never mind, just trying to think through all of the loops and swirls is giving me a headache. As it is, that is our story. Would you help us?”
“You seem like a dangerous person, Kreemon, but even if I wanted to, I couldn't get myself to turn in one of the wheel-bound. You can stay here until the fair, and your friends can stay as well. That would be the best time to sneak out. You can try and get out earlier on a ship, but it would be risky. Your face is well-known, and they'll ask you to remove your hood. I wouldn't say your chances are very good either way.”