Four priests were standing in clear view around the Temple of Andritha. Korisca managed to pull Kreemon into the shadows right before one of the priests looked in their direction.
“They knew,” Korisca mouthed, a look of horror on her face.
Kreemon murmured in reply, “No, it isn't the wall they are watching. It is the temple.” Staying in the shadows, Kreemon watched the priests to see what they were up to. That was all he could do, as there was no way to get to the wall without being noticed.
They watched the priests for quite a while, wondering what to do. Then the door to the temple opened, and an Andrithan walked out. The nearest priest watched his movements closely. Within the next few minutes, three more Andrithans emerged, one by one, observed closely by the priests. Two of the priests left the scene, but the other two remained, still watching.
Kreemon relaxed and let his mind go into a meditative state to help pass the time. Eventually, after a few more Andrithans emerged, the last two priests left.
“Okay, let's go,” Kreemon said. “Do you think you could climb up the wall pretty quickly at set the hook at the top for me to climb up?”
Korisca looked up and down the wall. “I think so. There's enough metal sticking out that it's almost a ladder. You'd think they would have fixed that.”
The two quickly moved out to the base of the wall. Kreemon put the hook through Korisca's belt at the back, so the dangling rope wouldn't be in her way, and played the rope out as she climbed. She had a lot more trouble than she'd thought she would. First, she slipped on some gravel, and later, her foot broke off a rusted chunk of iron from the old gate. Fortunately, she was better at falling than at climbing, so she was only bruised a bit. After that, she went up more carefully, and Kreemon focused harder than ever on keeping a lookout.
When Korisca finally reached the top and secured the hook, Kreemon tugged at the rope a few times, then made his own way up. Even with the rope, the climb wasn't trivial for someone with as little experience as Kreemon. He stumbled once on the way up, wearing down his gloves before he caught himself, and his arms were exhausted by the time he got to the top.
Kreemon lay down on the wall to minimize his silhouette, and looked around. What he hadn't noticed from the ground, was that guards were stationed on the wall, not many, and not too close, but enough that leaving the hook attached could be dangerous. Then again, so would climbing down without the rope. A twenty foot fall would hurt. And maybe the guards wouldn't see the old, rusty hook at night. At least the guards were easy to spot. Each patrolling guard carried a lantern, surrounding him with a wide aura of light.
Then Kreemon noticed that Tah'iera was standing on the wall, waiting for him.
Kreemon moved the rope so it hung down the outside of the wall and signaled for Korisca to climb. Once she was at the bottom, he followed her down, staying as close to the wall as possible. At the bottom, he put some slack in the rope and waved to Tah'iera to free the hook. After a few minutes of working at it, the bird managed to get it free of the stone wall. It fell to the ground, scraping loudly as it slid against rock.
With the hook free, Kreemon and Korisca ran for the woods, Kreemon looping the rope as he ran. He hid the rope on a tree-branch, out of sight of the wall. Then the two of them headed off to their destination.
Kreemon had always felt at home in the woods, and now, more than ever, this felt like his natural environment. He relished the open air and the familiar sounds and smells of nature. This night, he found himself moving more quickly and quietly than ever before, and leaving almost no trail anyone could follow. Korisca's nimble movements seemed clumsy in comparison.
After two miles of dodging branches and brambles at an accelerated pace, every inch of Korisca's arms and legs ached. Kreemon, on the other hand, felt refreshed, so while Korisca sat down to rest, Kreemon went right into the Andrithan cemetery to find Galgewe's grave.
The cemetery was empty. Not surprising, two miles from town and late at night. There was no sign of life at all, except a dark hut just outside the cemetery. If there were also farmhouses in the distance, Kreemon couldn't see them with no more light than his torch and the cloud-covered moons.
Kreemon set about moving from stone to stone, looking for Galgewe's name, keeping an eye out for the mound typical of a fresh grave. The cemetery wasn't large, and the newer graves were closer to the edges, so by the time Korisca joined him, Kreemon had his shovel in the ground.
It was cold. Kreemon didn't notice until he saw Korisca wrapping the folds of her coat together, and rubbing her hands to restore feeling. The sky was cloudy, and Kreemon remembered that tomorrow, there would be a blizzard.
The two of them dug through soft, new dirt, but still, it took time. More than an hour had passed before Korisca's shovel landed hard on the lid of the coffin. Covered in dirt, but excited to finally be through with this job, they cleared out the area quickly. This last step took a painful quarter of an hour.
Finally, Korisca climbed out of the hole to give Kreemon enough room to lift the lid. He pried it loose with effort in the cramped space, pulled out the pegs a little, and pried it farther. At length, the lid was loose. He tilted it off with one hand, and opened the burial gown with the other.
Galgewe had been cleaned well, but the burns and blisters were still visible all over. His arms and face were scratched as well as burned, and large welts were present at the deepest point of each scratch. His last, fatal encounter had not been a pleasant one.
Examining the wounds of a dead man was not why Kreemon was here. He took his eyes off the blisters and welts, and looked at Galgewe's neck.
There was no necklace.
Kreemon lifted Galgewe's head to search under it – perhaps the string had broken – but there was no sign of the pendant Ziedon was so anxious to find. He took a minute to pat down the corpse, and search the coffin and burial gown, until he was sure the pendant wasn't there.
“I don't think Ziedon is going to be very happy about this,” Kreemon said, looking up at Korisca. “I wonder who might know what happened to the pendant. Maybe one of the guards present at the fight? Or whomever cleaned and buried the body? What do you think?”
“Beats me. I don't know what Andrithans do with their corpses. But someone's got to know.”
Kreemon folded the burial gown over Galgewe, and set to burying the coffin. Even with Korisca's help, he was completely exhausted by the time he'd cleared the area to make it look undisturbed. Shaking his arms, he walked over to the hut.
The door to the small hut didn't open when Kreemon pushed on it. “Allow me,” said Korisca, reaching for her lockpicks. After a few seconds, though, she put the picks away, looking a little embarrassed. “It's barred from the inside,” she whispered.
“Obviously there is someone inside. They might know where the pendant is. Go around the side, so they don't see you.”
After Korisca hid, Kreemon put on his hood and then used the shovel handle to beat on the door. Voice raised, he said, “Hello the house!”
“Who's there!” came a reply from inside. Soon, Kreemon heard a rattling noise as a rickety shutter was shaken and finally opened. The head that popped out was that of a man in his sixties, with lines etched deep in his face, looking all the deeper for the shadows cast by Kreemon's lantern. He had a dirty look to him, and none too pleasant.
“I'm Sal,” Kreemon said. “I was sent to find something that might have been buried with one of the bodies here. Would you be able to help me?”
The man looked up at the sky and then back at Kreemon. “No one comes to the Andrithan graveyard at midnight. And no one said you were coming at all. Go home.”
“Obviously people do come to a graveyard at night, otherwise I wouldn't be here.” Kreemon let some anger resound in his next words. “You think I wanted to come out here in the middle of the night?” He took a deep breath and said, “Just answer my questions and I will leave.”
“I don't care what you wanted to do in the middle of the night. I don't care why you're here. I don't care where you came from, either. If you want the truth, I really don't give a damn about you at all. Now go away and leave me alone.” With that last, he slammed the shutter and, after a lot of rattling, latched it.
Kreemon banged on the door. “I am not leaving until you answer my questions. You certainly aren't going to be able to go back to sleep.” He continued to bang, his hits getting harder, faster, and louder each time. On the third strike, the wood cracked a little. A few strikes later, it cracked again.
“Kreemon?” Korisca said nervously. “What are you doing?”
Kreemon continued to hit the door, pounding harder and harder.
“Go away!” the man said, when the door cracked again, buckling a little under the force of Kreemon's fists. The man yelled something else the next time the wood cracked, but Kreemon didn't hear him.
After a minute of pounding, the door splintered apart, chunks of wood falling away above and below the now cracked bar. With the door shattered, Kreemon was able to lift the bar and go inside, signaling to Korisca to stay out of sight and picking up his torch. The man was standing against the back wall, a look of shock and fear on his face.
The light of the torch exaggerating his features, Kreemon spoke in a rough, deliberately altered voice. “Now see what you made me do? I'll have splinters for days and you are going to catch your death of cold when the snow hits tomorrow!” He paused for a moment, letting the man become confused about his prediction while he looked around the cabin.
The room was cluttered but not overly full. A dirty kettle hung over the fireplace, and near it were sacks of dried food and flour stacked haphazardly next to a large keg. Clothing was piled on top of and around a waist-high cabinet on the other side of the room, with some spilling out towards the middle. A sleeping mat was on the floor, piled high with blankets. In the corner near the door were several dirt- encrusted picks, shovels, rakes and other tools.
“Let's go back to my original problem, shall we?” Kreemon said. “I need to find out about some personal effects of one of the bodies recently buried here. Where would those personal effects be?”
“The… the family usually takes them… or they're on the body…”
“And if there is no family and they are still on the body, you take them then. I am sure. Right?” Kreemon continued without letting the man speak. “What of the body that was buried here the other day with the blisters and welts? What happened to its items? I assume you are the one that did the actually burying.”
“Wh… what body with blisters and welts?”
“How many bodies were buried here in the last few days? With the curfew, can't be that many Andrithans around to get buried here.”
“Just the two, a week ago. But I don't take the gown off. If one of them had blisters, I didn't see.”
“The people who brought out the body buried over there?” Kreemon said, pointing in the general direction of Galgewe's grave. “What were their names?”
“Oh, I don't remember. Same Andrithan crowd that normally comes, plus a few extras for one of the bodies.
“The extra people for one of the bodies, do you know who they were? Describe them.”
“Just a bunch of people. A few soldiers, some guy in fancy clothes. A couple women. I didn't pay attention.”
“What were the names of the two Andrithans you buried?”
“Youlin and….” The man squinted his eyes, trying to remember the name… “and Galgewe, I think.” He stood up straighter then. “Now if you're not going to kill me, I think it's time you got out of my house and let me sleep.”
Kreemon closed his eyes for a brief second and took a deep breath. “Just a few more questions. Where was Youlin buried? Be specific.”
The man sighed, and told Kreemon where to find Youlin's grave. Kreemon asked the same question about Galgewe, and was told where to find that grave as well. Unsurprisingly, it was the one he and Korisca had dug up.
“Were they buried at the same time?” Kreemon asked.
“Same day, an hour or so apart.”
Kreemon said, “I apologize for the disturbance,” and left, making an attempt to prop up what was left of the door.
Away from the shack, Kreemon asked Korisca, “What do you think? Do you think it is possible that the bodies were switched?”
“Anything could happen. I've never been to one of these creepy Andrithan funerals. If the two guys died together, I guess they could have been switched by accident.”
“I don't want to have to dig up another body, but if we aren't certain, we might have to come back out here.”
Korisca glanced back in the direction of the wall. “Yeah, I guess,” she said, turning back toward Kreemon. “I know I can't do any more digging tonight. I wonder if I can even climb.” She leaned backward, stretching her back.
“What was that?” Korisca said suddenly. Kreemon looked, but didn't see anything. “I saw a flash, like moonlight off of metal, way down that way.” She pointed away from the farmers' fields, and into the woods around Maelbourg, far from where they'd exited.
“Could we have been followed? Let's get back to the woods for cover.” Kreemon led the way back to the woods where they came from, keeping an eye out for anyone. Once they were well enough hidden, he told Korisca to wait while he investigated the glint of light. From there, he moved quickly and silently through the forest, leaving no trail behind him to follow. Kreemon had always been a skilled woodsman, but this was different. Never before had he been able to move so swiftly and pass so unobtrusively. Strange.
When Kreemon got closer, he slowed down, stopping frequently to listen, or to look up in the trees, hoping to avoid a deadly surprise. Finally, he saw a red glow in the distance – a low camp fire, most likely. He shifted to the side to get a better view and saw that there had to be at least three low campfires. Then he heard a rustling in the trees next to him, no more than twenty feet away.
Kreemon tried to blend into the shadows of the tree next to him, and watched. Soon, two men in leather armor appeared, looking around, and then passed. A patrol, no doubt, but not from Maelbourg.
“What are they doing here?” Kreemon thought. He slipped from the shadows and moved forward through the darkness of the trees to get a better look. What he found were at least two dozen tents spread through a large area, rather than clumped together in a clearing. One of the tents was taller than the others, with decoration that made it seem to be a command tent.
The fires were small and infrequent, and most were strategically placed so that they were hidden by trees as close to the camp as possible. Each fire was tended by one man. A couple of others, in light armor and with sheathed swords, were patrolling the area. All together, there were six men in clear view.
Moving stealthily around the outskirts, Kreemon circled the camp and avoided the guards, looking for a route that would avoid camp fires and get him close to the command tent. This was not easy, as one of the fires was right in front of it, and no area was more densely populated by tents than the area he was aiming for. Slowly, however, he inched closer and closer until he could touch the fabric at the back of the tent.
Kreemon listened carefully at the back of the tent, while watching around for anyone approaching. No one was talking or moving around inside, so he crouched down and lifted the canvas at the bottom.
This was a military tent, but a humble one. A small wooden table held a map that was too big for it. Two chairs were arranged haphazardly around the table. The only other things in the room were a low cot and an open traveler's pack. A man slept on the cot.
Kreemon debated for a second and then decided. He slipped under the side of the tent and grabbed the backpack, making sure nothing spilled out of it. Then he took a quick look at the map. It depicted the area around Maelbourg. Arrows pointed to the gates, and a few places along the walls that weren't particularly close to any buildings. There were also circles around three places inside the town, one of which was Ulan's guildhouse, which had, until recently, been occupied by Galgewe.
Kreemon tied up the backpack and hefted it over his shoulder, then crept up to get a look at the sleeping man. When he'd memorized the face as best he could in the dim light of the low fires outside, he turned to leave.
“Who are you,” the man said. He had managed to climb out of bed and get right behind Kreemon without being noticed.
“I should ask you the same question, you with your army at the city walls. Do you follow Balban or Galgewe?” Kreemon stood poised to silence the man if he cried out or attacked.
The man recognized this stance, and took one of his own, standing ready a few steps away, but despite the dagger that appeared in his hand, Kreemon was pretty sure the man was the inferior fighter. “What do you know about Balban or Galgewe?” he asked.
“The fact you know the names speaks volumes; and I know that Galgewe is dead. I will ask again: under whose banner does this army march?”
When Kreemon said Galgewe was dead, the man looked notably disturbed, but he regained his composure quickly. While the two of them circled slowly around the tent, each vying for the superior position, Kreemon got a good look at him. It was dark, but his eyes were adjusted enough to see that this was a man of unremarkable appearance, but almost noble bearing. He stood tall and ready for a fight, but with a somewhat unpracticed air. He was a few inches shorter than Kreemon's five-eleven, slim but not scrawny, and he managed not to look ridiculous circling the room in his bedclothes. Kreemon wondered whether this could be Ulan, the former townsman whom Ardith had described to him, but this man had a full head of hair.
“Galgewe is dead? How did he die?”
“Answer my question first.”
“You are in the middle of a camp, populated by trained men. I hardly think you are in a position to make demands. Cooperate, and I'll see if I can help you survive this experience. Now tell me about Galgewe.”
Kreemon snorted quietly as he moved to position his back to the side of the tent that he'd entered. From there, he could see the tent's closed flap. “And yet,” he said, “here I am, in the middle of a camp of 'trained' men.” The sarcasm in his voice was plainly evident. “I will answer your questions, if you answer mine.”
“All I have to do is yell 'intruder,' and no matter how skilled you are, you will not escape this camp. I won't deny that you would best me in a fight one on one, but if you are thinking of taking me hostage, you make the mistake of assuming I am important enough to save. I hope you don't think the leader here foolish enough to sleep in a command tent, in an open area.
“Now a spy from Maelbourg, on the other hand… that person would be important indeed.”
“I can exit this camp as easily as I entered it. So whom does this army serve? Balban's lot, the Baron, the King, or another's?”
“If you think you can leave, I suggest you attempt do so now. If not, I will make a deal with you: answer a few of my questions first, and I will tell you whom this army serves.”
Kreemon sighed. “I will entertain your questions after you tell me whom this army serves. Why the coyness? You have an army at your beck and call after all.”
“Alright,” the man said confidently. “We serve the king, and we have come here to investigate some rumors of unrest, and act if necessary. Now you tell me your story, and it will come down to whether the two of us can believe each other. Will you now tell me what you know about Galgewe, or must we continue this game?”
Kreemon's demeanor took a dramatic turn. “Ah, that changes everything.” He sat down on one of the chairs and gestured for the man to take the other. “Please…”
When they were both seated, Kreemon said, “Galgewe was killed about nine days ago. The stories are pretty rampant about how it actually happened. Talk of demons, and sorcerers, and the like. But I know for a fact that he is dead; I have seen his corpse.
“Up to his demise things had gotten really tense in town. Factions were warring against each other for control. However, luckily, since his demise things in town have calmed down. There was a little initial unrest but the priests have since cracked down and are maintaining order. I don't know if Balban knows about Galgewe's death and from what I hear, Balban still has control of Grenzig and has been making overtures to the Baron of Huerten for legitimizing his control.
“My turn. How did the King learn about Balban and Galgewe's attempts to take over this town? And who are you?” As he asked his questions, Kreemon looked up and saw the huge, wavering shadows of two men outside the entrance of the tent.
“What?” the man said, distracted. “Wait. Galgewe is dead, and now the priests are keeping order? Knowing the ways of Morenth, I imagine they are doing so with a heavy hand…. You are not from Maelbourg, are you?”
“Ah ahhh,” Kreemon said, extending a forefinger and waving it back and forth. “It is my turn. How did the King learn of Balban and Galgewe's attempts to take over this town, and who are you?”
“I'm afraid your turns have run out.” The man stood up out of his chair and took a step back. “You will be held here until the investigation is complete. Knowledge that the king is interested in Maelbourg will only cause unrest, which I gather the town has had enough of.
Kreemon stood too, hearing the tone of the man's words. He drew into himself, coiling like a snake ready to spring.
“You may enter now,” the man called. The shadows moved towards the closed flap of the tent, but before they got anywhere close, Kreemon had overturned the table in front of him and kicked it forward to block the way. At the same time, he drew a dagger. Kreemon smirked as the man took a step backward, ready to fight, but a split second after drawing the dagger, Kreemon turned and sliced a long line in the back of the tent. By the time the patrolmen were inside, Kreemon was running for the safety of the tree-line, the backpack still slung over his shoulder.
The two patrolmen tore through the back of the tent, their feet pounding in even rhythm to Kreemon's lighter step. Two more appeared in front of him and ran his way, ready to force him to the ground. Kreemon dodged around the tents, hoping not to wake anyone else, but it seemed like that was unavoidable. The entire camp was astir now. One of the men got close enough to make a grab, but only got the lip of the backpack. The pack tore, spilling out clothing and rations in a trail behind Kreemon. A small box also shook loose, making a jingling sound like those of many small coins, but it caught in what was left of the backpack. Unfortunately, it now provided a sound by which Kreemon could be followed as long as he kept running.
The forest thickened as the clearing came slowly to an end. If Kreemon could get a little farther, he would have a chance. He hazarded a look back, and saw that the patrolmen were actually falling behind. They had seemed fast enough before, but perhaps their muscles were so accustomed to marching that a long run posed a challenge.
Finally, the trees were thick again. Without a good tracker, it would be difficult for them to follow Kreemon much further, but for the sound of the jingling coins.
Kreemon continued to run through the trees as he took the backpack off his shoulder and used it to wrap the box of coins and any other items still inside. With the noise muffled, Kreemon held the bundle close to his chest and altered his course, leaving no trail behind him.
After about five minutes, Kreemon stopped and listened. The sounds of pursuit were far away now. He had lost them.