While Korisca headed for the front door, Kreemon went to the back, moved the barrel and propped the door open, then sat down with Bork. As soon as he did so, a bird flew in and landed on top of one of the damaged barrels. It did not look like any bird Kreemon had seen before: Its feathers were jet black, except for the red and white tips of tail and wings. The tail was narrow and as long as the body, and it shined with an oily gloss. Its eyes were striking, as expressive as a man's, large, bloodshot and patchy, flaked with red, black and white, and bordered by curved brows and harshly pointed beak. It let off a series of loud squawks. To Ziedon's ears, the bird was saying she'd been looking for him.
Korisca had one foot out the door when she heard the bird and spun around. Before she could say anything, Ziedon asked her a question. “What is the burial custom here in Malaener? Are bodies interned with what they are wearing at time or death, or are they dressed in other clothing? Where are they interned normally?”
Korisca closed the door and laughed. “Malaener? What are you, five hundred years old? Kreemon, are you crazy? Close the door. People will find us.” She tried to shoo the bird out, but Ziedon stopped her, so she shrugged her shoulders, closed the door, and answered Ziedon's question. “People the House thinks are important get buried in the crypt, and no one knows how that works.” She went over and closed the window, which made Kreemon visibly uncomfortable. “Everyone else gets purified, judged, and then buried or burned. They used to hang the worst ones out to dry, when there weren't so many people in Maelbourg. Then it just got too smelly.”
“I ask because Galgewe had a necklace of mine, that he was wearing when he passed. I would very much like to get it back. Could you discretely check into that, to find out the disposition of the necklace? It is an heirloom and means very very much to me.”
“Oh, Galgewe? I don't know what they'd do with an Andrithan. I don't want to know. If he's still wearing that necklace, it's lost. I'm not going in the House looking for it.”
Ziedon drummed his fingers on his book for a second and then replied, “Of course, I wouldn't ask you to go into the House at this time, but if you could, please ask about and try to find out what was done with Galgewe's body. As an Andrithan, I don't think they would honor him. Hopefully he was just buried. I just need to know what happened to his body.”
“Alright. I'll ask around, but I can't promise anything.”
Ziedon drummed his fingers again and then said, “Hmm, maybe you could also swing by Galgewe's 'guild' house to see what sort of activity is going on there as well. We might have to pay them a visit.”
“Galgewe had a guild house? Alright, I'll take a look. So let's see if I've got all this. The guild house, Galgewe's body, the seal, the bottle… Oh yeah, and breakfast. Alright. See you in a few.”
Once Korisca left, Ziedon spoke to the bird in a language Kreemon had never heard before. “It is good to see you. Have you been alright?”
“Yes. You were gone.”
“I have been locked up for the last few days. I finally escaped last night.”
“That is good. Dead Man doesn't catch you.”
“What happened after I was knocked unconscious?”
“Dead Man died. I killed him. Many more men came in. I left out the window. Then I looked for you.”
“You are certain he was dead?”
“He stopped moving. When things stop moving, they are dead and you eat them.”
“Were you able to watch what happened to the body of the man you attacked, from outside the building?”
“Dead man was gone. I looked for you.”
“I am glad that you found me.”
As Ziedon spoke to the bird, he glanced over at Kreemon and saw him staring in confusion.
Ziedon gave his half-smile and said, “As you have your pet Bork, I have acquired a pet of my own. I am working on the training now. It seems to go best in the ancient tongue.”
“Oh, really?” Kreemon replied.
Ziedon turned back to the bird and wrapped part of his blanket around his hand. Once he had enough padding, he lifted his hand up and said, “Please come here.” Tah'iera stared for a moment, and then approached dubiously.
“I am not the best animal trainer,” Ziedon said, examining the bird for wounds, “but I try.”
“It isn't easy. That is for sure.” Kreemon opened the window again, and sat at an angle so he could see out without being seen. He waited and watched for anyone approaching.
It was a silent two hours before Korisca returned. Forgolon had picked the spot well; no one tried to get in, no one noticed the open window or the glint of Kreemon's eye. It was as if the building were invisible.
Finally, the door opened, and it was Korisca, slipping in backwards to make sure no one saw her at the last moment.
“So, it looks like the sorcerer and his demonic minions were loose in Maelbourg last night. They made a mess of Townsman Telendry's office trying to find something – you know – because he made a deal with the devil and didn't do his part. Hey Ziedon. Did you know you killed a baby last night? Sorry, best I could do without being noticed,” she said, handing Ziedon then Kreemon flasks of mead and loaves of warm bread from her bag. “You know, the priests are everywhere. They'll be here eventually. You might want to be ready with that invisible trick, if it works in daylight.
“With all the rumors going around, I couldn't ask anyone about the seal. They'd get suspicious right away. And what was that other thing?” She fished around in her bag, and pulled out the bottle of purplish fluid. “Oh yeah, this. No idea. Smells a little strong though, like bad wine.”
“Maybe he was a drunk and didn't want others to know,” Kreemon said.
Ziedon looked at the bottle with an arched eyebrow. “With the proper tools, I might be able to determine what exactly it is.”
Ziedon broke open the warm bread and ate slowly, “I see. Any news concerning Galgewe's remains?”
“No, but it looks like there's a graveyard outside of town for Andrithans. I guess the barony has a law about Maelbourg burying people properly. Not that there's any way to get out of town right now.”
Ziedon gave a half smile as he ate the warm bread. “I am sure that our absent host knows a way or two outside the walls. But to be sure, Galgewe is dead? You would think that people would have seen the burial and be talking about it. Maybe Galgewe is really still alive.”
Kreemon replied, “If he isn't, he certainly fooled everyone in town.”
“No one was going around saying he _wasn't_ dead,” said Korisca.
Ziedon offered some bread to the bird perched near him, but she just looked at the bread curiously and didn't eat. He spoke to her in a language no one else understood. “Don't like bread?”
Tah'iera peered at it, cocking her head back and forth. “It is not food.”
“Would you position yourself on top of his building, where you won't be noticed and warn me if anyone else is approaching?”
Kreemon said aside to Korisca, “He's a bird trainer now too.”
“That bird creeps me out. Look at its eyes.”
Tah'iera cocked her head at Ziedon, and then, after a moment, seemed to understand what he was asking and flew out the open window.
Ziedon turned to Korisca. “Could I see that bottle, please?” He took the bottle and sat down.
While Kreemon, Bork at his side, meditated on his budding Zahiran senses and the surrounding world, Ziedon studied the purple fluid. He immediately confirmed what Korisca had told him, that the stuff was fermented, probably about as strong as wine. It had a pungent odor, a mixture of raisin, burdock, yarrow and a few things Ziedon vaguely recognized but couldn't quite place. It stained the floor a little when he poured some out, but the drop he put on a piece of parchment wiped right off. It was probably a drink, definitely not a dye. Given what he could figure out from a few hours' examination, he could only guess what it was for. Maybe Telendry was a drunk. Or maybe the drink was for some ailment – Yarrow was said to cure stomach pain and fever.
When he was done, Ziedon pulled out some of the papers he'd swiped from the guildhall and looked them over, hoping for some new insight.
It wasn't until mid-afternoon that Forgolon arrived, unannounced by Tah'iera. She was still there – Ziedon felt it – but was oblivious. In fact, of the three in the brewery, only Kreemon saw him open the door and enter. Forgolon barred the door and, much to Kreemon's discomfort, closed the window, before speaking. “Together at last,” he said with a winning smile. “I hope you didn't find the wait too tedious. It's hard to move around unseen, with all the priests about. So I hear a couple of ghosts, demons and necromancers were making trouble in the guildhouse last night. I take it things didn't work out quite as planned.”
Ziedon replied, “Actually, I was well on my way to escaping by myself when the alarm was raised. But I am sure these two can explain it. But before we get into that, you wouldn't happen to have some things that belong to me, now would you?”
“Of course. I wouldn't neglect a thing like that. I couldn't bring most of it along this time, but you'll get it all back, I promise you that. I've kept this little item close.” He reached into an inner pocket and took out the magic stone, which glowed when it touched metal. This he handed to Ziedon.
Kreemon said a little sheepishly, “Um, well… We ran across Ziedon in that inner office with the secret panel. Ziedon had managed to escape his cell and make his way there undetected. We had… ah… a little bit of trouble when we entered the building but no one was killed and we managed to escape, so all's well that ends well, right?”
“We'll see. A few guards were hurt, but it looks like no one got a good look at you, especially not after you became ghosts and demons.” Forgolon winked at Ziedon. “But time will tell, won't it?
Ziedon took the stone and looked at Forgolon. “Do you know of this stone?”
“I've never seen anything like it, but if you're asking whether I know what it does…” Forgolon pulled a copper coin out of nowhere, reached over, and touched the stone. He let it glow for a second before pulling back. “Nice trick.”
“What of Galgewe? He wore a necklace of mine. Do you know if it was buried with him?”
“I've kept my distance from the actual body. Wouldn't want anyone connecting me to something like that. I think I know the necklace you're talking about, though. Triangle, about this big? It might have been buried with him.”
Ziedon nodded his head. “Yes, that is the necklace… How difficult would it be to have the body exhumed? Or at least, get it dug up enough to the point of getting the necklace?”
Forgolon laughed. “The gates are sealed. No one has entered or left Maelbourg in days. No, I'm afraid that, even if we _could_ leave town, a grave-digger would be far too conspicuous. But Galgewe won't be going anywhere. Wait a few weeks until things settle down.”
Ziedon arched an eyebrow. “The gates might be sealed, but I am sure an enterprising man like yourself knows of ways outside the walls without using the gates.”
“What _can_ be done and what _should_ be done aren't always the same. Things are sensitive right now; everyone's got eyes open for trouble. Wait for the right moment, and you can slip in and out without a problem. Do it now and you're just asking to get caught.”
Ziedon frowned but decided to let the matter drop. “So, I can't imagine this is to be our hiding spot. Tell me, bard. What is your plan now?”
“All depends on _your_ plans, my friend. Last we spoke, you thought you had the support of Jerrakken, Dufowl, Silnquost and one of the healers. Looks like you're down to just Velirra now, unless you picked up some others on the way –”
“A few of the guards, but that is it.”
”–but that doesn't mean it's hopeless. Maybe the famous demon- summoning necromancer can't show his face in town, but _I_ sure can, and you can be snuck here and there with the right disguise, and build your control back to a respectable level.
“I can see you already know there's a catch. Of course. There's always a catch. Two, this time. One is simple and obvious. Since I'll be your face, I'll naturally end up with a good deal of wealth and power of my own. That can't be helped.
“The second, we'll call a private payment for my services and protection. I'd like to know a few of your tricks. I see myself as less superstitious than most, but what you do can be nothing but magic. I read that book of yours, and I couldn't understand more than a few words of it, even with the help of the library at the House, and it's not easy to get in there. I'd like to be your apprentice. Teach me how to turn enemies into friends, and maybe a few other tricks, and we'll call it even.”
“I don't have a need for public acknowledgement; you can be the front man. What I require is a secure place to conduct my studies, access to the library, and funds. If that means working from the shadows, then so be it. As for your apprenticeship, I will have to test you to see if you have the spark to learn such things. If you do, then I should be able to teach you a thing or two. But only after our power- base is secure in this town. Agreed?”
“Securing a power-base always involves some waiting. I'm sure there will be plenty of time for both.”
Kreemon, with a wave of his hand so as to include Korisca, asked, “Where do we fit into this master plan?”
“Well, the first thing I can think of,” Ziedon replied, “is digging up a body, but if you are talking long term… I will need more hands than just the bard to consolidate our position in this town. I do not intend to spend all of my time here, as my studies will occasionally require me to travel. I would ask that you two accompany me on my travels and share the bounty of my largesse while we are within the confines of this town. Would that be acceptable to you two?”
“You can count me in,” Korisca said without hesitation.
“I see the two of you made up,” Forgolon said.
“Ziedon's not so bad once you get to know him.”
“I see,” Forgolon said, glancing questioningly at Ziedon. “Yes, he's not a bad fellow at all.”
Ziedon replied, “She is quite a woman – very understanding when things are explained to her.”
Kreemon rubbed his chin in thought and turned to Forgolon. “Did Galgewe have a country estate? Something outside of the town, or at least in a more rural and forested area?”
“Country estate?” Ziedon asked.
Kreemon responded with a shrug. “I like wooded areas.”
Ziedon looked at Forgolon. “That does bring up some questions… What assets did Galgewe have?”
“He had what Ulan had – guardsmen, servants, money and land. Yes, enough land for several country estates, Kreemon. None of that is free for the taking, of course. Galgewe's holdings are still in question, but they won't be for long.”
“So he had land but no manor on the land?” Kreemon asked.
“He had a small house, and a few servants to take care of an orchard. Not quite a manor, but it's something.”
Kreemon smiled. “With an orchard? That will do nicely as our base of operations.”
“How,” Ziedon asked, “do we secure Galgewe's – also known as Ulan's – holdings for ourselves?”
“Well, unless we can come up with a legitimate claim, I'd say we can't. I won't even try putting in a bid as a loyal servant of Galgewe and Ulan. Even if I advertise my place as Ulan's right-hand-man, that doesn't entitle me to an inheritance.”
“Whom would receive the holdings if no 'legitimate' claim came forward?”
“Ulan's next of kin. He has no children, so that would leave his brother. After that would be his cousin in Haelbourg, though his claim would be a weak one. What complicates matters is that Ulan isn't actually dead.”
“Hmm, what if say Kreemon or Korisca here had documentation indicating that they were relatives of Ulan, or documentation signed by Ulan giving them direct claim?”
Kreemon added, “If it helps, I have a signet ring of an ancestral noble lady of Kalzen that was passed to me. I only recently came to know what it was when I was in Huerton. Korisca helped research the crest. It might bolster a claim.”
“I wouldn't count on it. The nobles of Kalzen are all Andrithan. It would be hard to show that they had any connection to Maelbourg. Now the documentation idea has a better chance. Not a good chance, but a better chance. You won't be able to get everything for yourself, but you might be named manager of the estates.”
Ziedon replied, “Is it common knowledge that Ulan isn't dead? If so, we could 'produce' documentation appointing Kreemon as the sole manager of Ulan's assets in Ulan's absence, pending Ulan's return. Or we could put Korisca forward as Ulan's sole child out of wedlock, with documentation acknowledging her as Ulan's line and heir. Plus, she is a local and a Morenthian. Which do you think would be the easiest for Maelbourg to swallow, and easiest to pull off?”
“I think Korisca's your only real option. There are just too many complications for a non-Morenthian. It won't be easy, though. People won't accept the idea of a second woman townsman easily. Now if she had a Morenthian husband –”
“I'm not getting married for this,” Korisca said.
“Or someone who could pose as a husband… As long as the House didn't get involved, there would be no way of knowing the marriage was a fraud.”
Ziedon replied, “Would the husband have to be Morenthian? What about a widow?”
“Harder to prove. I'm not saying you can pull this off at all, but the more holes you can fill, the better your chances.”
Kreemon asked, “What is involved in becoming a Morenthian? Is it something you can fake?”
“Frankly, I haven't looked into it, but it can't be easy. You don't know much about Morenthians. It's an hours-long process of ritual purification just to be allowed in the House. I can't imagine it taking less than weeks or months to convert.
“As for faking it, that's tough. The House has records of everyone born in this city, and there's only one other city I know about that has any Morenthians in it. And people can tell. There's the basic set of cultural knowledge everyone would expect you to have. There's the accent, and the voice – Morenthians have good ears. Maybe you noticed how much music there is in this town. It's because everyone can sing.”
Korisca smirked. “Almost everyone.”
“No,” Forgolon said, disbelieving.
“Yup,” she said, taking a bow. “I'm the one and only tone-deaf Morenthian.”
“Will that be a problem?” Kreemon asked.
Ziedon asked, “Could an explanation for a marriage to a non- Morenthian be due to her tone-deafness? That also explains why she was sent away from and only returned now due to receiving a letter from Ulan naming her his heir and the like? This would tie into the time that Galgewe arrived in town and Ulan died/disappeared.”
“They don't send people away because they can't sing,” Korisca said.
“Not even if they wanted to,” Forgolon added. “Morenthians can't leave Maelbourg without the approval of the baron, or at least one of the higher-ranked knights.”
“But I did leave.”
“Not officially… Actually, you might be onto something there. You weren't sent away because you couldn't sing; you ran away. The laws restricting Morenthians to Maelbourg aren't exactly held in the highest regard anyway, and you'll get sympathy.”
“So we have a reason why she left,” Ziedon said. “She received a missive from Ulan and that is why she returned. Now about the marriage thing. Does she need to be married at all? Would a non-Morenthian husband fit into the running away and living in another city story?”
“Oh, it would fit, but it's going to be hard enough to accept a woman claiming to be Ulan's heir. Adding a non-Morenthian husband to the mix will make it that much harder.”
“What about the letter?” Kreemon asked. “How do we fake Ulan's seal?”
Forgolon smirked and said, “Leave that to me.”
Ziedon said to Korisca, “Look at that. You won't have to get 'married' at all. Kreemon's presence can be explained as a hired retainer or henchman, hired by Ulan to look out for you.”
Forgolon shrugged his shoulders. “Do what you like, but a Morenthian husband will make things much easier for you.”
“Who would play such a husband? The more people we bring into this… endeavor… the harder it is to control.” Ziedon arched an eyebrow. “Are you putting yourself forward as a candidate?”
Forgolon smiled. “Afraid not. It's to our advantage for me to appear disconnected from this venture, at least at the start.”
Ziedon added as an afterthought, “Oh, when you were at the Library, did you find any other books with the same sorts of writings and unreadable words as like my book?”
“There was something. As I'm sure you know well –” Ziedon did not, but said nothing– “the writing you use isn't just a bunch of mystical symbols. It's part of a long-dead language. The House has two books in that language, deep in their vaults. It cost me a pretty penny to get a look at them, and I won't claim I have more than the most basic understanding. Not what you're looking for, though. One was a legal text, and the other was a history of some small, forgotten region.”
“You found those did you? I'm surprised; I thought they were well hidden. I'd still like to see these books for myself though. Is that a possibility?”
“Not unless you have plenty of bribe money and are a Morenthian. Short of converting, nothing will get you into the House. Even then, it will take some convincing.”
“If you draw me a map on where they are located and how to get to them, I will take care of the rest.”
Forgolon smiled. “Yes, you have your ways, don't you? I'd be careful though. The House of Morenth isn't something to treat lightly. But if you want a map, I can draw one up from memory.”
Ziedon replied with a tight grin, “Yes, a map and the names and descriptions of those who would have access to the books would do nicely.”
Ziedon summarized. “Okay, we are going to put Korisca forward as Ulan's illegitimate child, who ran away, only to return when she received a missive from her father acknowledging her as his sole heir and bidding her to return and take control of his estates in light of recent changes. How long will it take to produce this missive, age it appropriately, and present it and Korisca to the Six?”
“I know someone who can have it done in three days. Then it's a matter of finding the right person to push the claim, and convincing him to help. That's your area.”
Kreemon asked, “Better yet, where are we going to hide in the interim?”
“Best I can tell, you and Korisca haven't been positively identified, except by voice. Ziedon, you're more of a problem. Every guard in the town has your description by now, with Waylad blabbing on and on.”
“Three days?” Ziedon asked. “Is this person trustworthy? Again, we are adding to the number of people.”
“I trust him as long as I pay him, which is about all you can expect from anyone. Besides, he has a lot to lose by breaking trust. Reputation's important in that business.”
“Who would be the right person to support the claim? Three days should be enough time for me to get close and ensure we have their undying support.”
“Worsen would be a good choice, but risky. His connections with the House make people take him at his word, but the priests might be watching out for your influence on him. Makierrei might help. He spends a lot of time out of town, so if he'd lie for you, he might be able to support Korisca's claim. It hurts that he's Andrithan though… Cewethir might be a better choice, if we can get to him. Head of the coalminers' guild. He has connections outside of town, and wasn't involved in the whole thing with Galgewe, so he might be seen as a more neutral party. He's busy, though, with the winter coming up.”
Ziedon steepled his fingers under his chin and thought for a moment. “How much more complicated would it be for an additional missive from Ulan, directly written to Makierrei and/or Cewethir, as a short letter of introduction of Korisca, to accompany the letter naming her Heir?”
“I'd give it another day or two. A lot of the work can be done in parallel.”
“Aside from that, I need to change my clothes and alter my appearance as best as possible. During the next three days, I want to target both Cewethir and Makierrei. Having both their support might make matters easier. I don't necessarily want to meet them, I just need to be within ten yards of them, and be able to see them. I'll spend the three days attempting to influence them multiple times, to ensure they are properly influenced. Then, after the missive or missives are prepared, we will call upon them. My influence should make things easier, as long as the missive can stand the scrutiny. My appearance needs to be altered enough so that they, or their servants, won't recognize me. I will introduce Korisca and Kreemon, explain what is going on, and once they have been convinced will fade into the background. My role will be another hired retainer of Korisca's.
“So I need to know two locations where I will be able to get an eye on Makierrei and Cewethir, preferably close to one another. I will need about five minutes at each location with eyes on the target. I can reach the location unseen, but it needs to be out of view and discrete because once I attempt to influence the two men, I will be vulnerable.
“Do you know of any places that will serve?”
“We'll have to play it by ear. Cewethir can be found at the mines some days. Other days he spends at home. I'll keep an ear out for a good time. Makierrei tends to his flower garden in the morning most of the year. If we're lucky, we can find him uprooting bulbs for the winter.”
“Hmm, those might be good locations. The next thing, Forgolon, is for you to give Korisca some basic background on Ulan, so she can answer any questions. Since she 'left', she doesn't have to know everything, but she should know what an illegitimate daughter should normally know. I will leave it to you to decide what that is.”
“I have some time tomorrow afternoon. Korisca can meet me at Grabble's a couple hours before sunset.”
“Then, as Kreemon already mentioned, there is the matter of our quarters over the next three days.”
Kreemon interjected, “Some place with more windows would be nice.”
“You can stay wherever you like, Kreemon. The guards won't recognize you. The only thing you have to watch out for is looking like a foreigner. Anyone from out of town is being looked at with suspicion these days. I'd suggest that you,” he continued, looking at Ziedon, “stay here for the time being. Once we can get you into an adequate disguise, you'll be a little more free, though I'd stay out of sight as much as possible, even then.”
Ziedon looked around the brewery and replied simply, “Then it is important that we get an adequate disguise for me because these quarters will not do for an extended stay. What do you suggest?”
“A merchant would be best, since it will justify your accent. Better yet, the servant of a merchant. Less likely that someone will look you up in the rosters. Avoid talking too much, and maybe people won't notice that you're not Morenthian.
“So I'll take care of the disguise and the notes for Korisca. I'll be back tonight for my first lesson.”
“Also, please do not forget. I need as detailed a map as possible of the way to the Library and the location of the books we talked about earlier; as well as a list of the people who have access and where I might be able to have opportunity to… see… them.”
Kreemon asked, “Forgolon, do you know of any secret ways in and out of the city?”
“Secret ways, no, unless you believe the stories that there's a tunnel leading out from the House. But you can do most anything if you have enough money.”
Kreemon perked up. “Secret ways? Who might know of these secret ways? Maybe Ziedon can,” Kreemon said, popping his hands open suddenly, “work some sort of whammy on them.”
“The House keeps its secrets well. Only a priest would know.”
Ziedon asked, “Any priest in particular?”
“Maybe only the highest-ranking priests. Possibly all of them. It's hard to tell.”
Ziedon nodded his head and said, “Since I am not from this town, who are the high ranking priests? I have been briefed on the townsmen but not the priests.”
Forgolon chuckled. “You do make sure to be prepared for everything, don't you? The priesthood is a little much to get into now, and I have to get going. Suffice to say that even I don't fully understand the Morenthian hierarchy. A couple priests are well-known, but most keep a low profile.
“So I'll be back tonight for my first lesson. If you decide to leave during the day, be careful that no one notices you.”
There we go. No pending turns left, but I bet the next turn is almost done. Boy, have I been behind lately.
Ziedon – see your character sheet for stuff you need to do for your new level. Ziedon gained 4HP.