“We'll drop you off at the boarding house and then go to Silnquost's guild house.” Kreemon chuckled, remembering how he started his current trip to Maelbourg. “I think we know how to get there.”
Kreemon and Korisca escorted Ziedon back to the boarding house, and then headed to the public guild house where Ziedon had been held prisoner. Kreemon knocked on the door, and quickly looked down when he recognized the guard who opened it. Kreemon had been made-up at the time, but the guard he'd beaten senseless with a sap might still recognize him.
Kreemon kept his head partially bent, as if in respect, and said, “We are here seeking a meeting with townsman Silnquost. We have a letter of introduction from townsman Makierrei.”
The guard squinted his eyes and stared at Kreemon for a moment, before resuming the traditional aspect of a stern guardsman. “The townsman isn't here today.”
“We have some important business with the townsman. Where could we find him?” Kreemon twisted his wrist slightly to draw the guard's eyes towards the sealed letters in his hand.
“He's probably in his own guild hall. Or at home. We don't keep tabs on him here.”
“Ah, our apologies. We know of this other guild hall, but where might his home be located?”
“How would I know? The townsman works in his hall.”
“Thank you for your time. We will seek him out at his guild hall first.”
The pair departed, and headed to the other hall, where they knocked again.
After nearly a minute, the door was opened by an apprentice in his teenage years, whose hands were stained a blue-brown color. Streaks of the color marked his face, where he'd absently rubbed it.
“Greetings,” Kreemon said. “We are here to see Townsman Silnquost on a matter of import. He is here?”
“He's here. Who is calling on him?”
“Townslady Korisca, daughter of Townsman Ulan,” Kreemon replied. “With letters of introduction from Townsmen Ulan and Makkerrei explaining the situation and the townslady's birthright.”
“I'll see if he's available.”
The apprentice turned around and walked away, leaving the door slightly ajar. Kreemon heard an undecipherable conversation in the distance, and then the apprentice returned. “He'll see you in his work room.”
“I don't know about this, Kree,” Korisca whispered. “This is the most powerful man in Maelbourg.”
“Oh so the better if he will support you.”
The apprentice lead Kreemon and Korisca into a large room where numerous apprentices and laborers were mixing dyes, combing and spinning wool, and going about the rest of the tasks of their trade. The acrid and pungent smells of unfinished dyes and drying wool were almost overwhelming, but soon, they were out of that room and behind two closed doors in a short hallway that looked designed to filter out some of the smell. A small pot of herbs sat next to a burning brazier at the end. The apprentice tossed a pinch of herbs into the fire as he passed, filling the little section of hallway with a sharp, sweet smell. Then he opened a door into Townsman Silnquost's work room.
The Townsman's room was sparsely furnished with a single chair, a long work table and a fireplace, but it was littered with tools and books. Silnquost himself was standing, waiting for them.
“So, you want to make claims of birthright,” the townsman said when the apprentice was out of the room. “Interesting, and yet very difficult to believe. But I'll read those letters.”
Kreemon led Korisca to the chair, so she could sit, and handed over the letters. Silnquost broke the seals and read them quickly.
“Quite a coincidence that someone would happen to come to Maelbourg right after Galgewe's murder, claiming to have a right to his wealth. You know, someone else is also trying to claim Ulan's holdings. Do you happen to know who?”
An angry, offended look overcame Kreemon's face, “Someone dares usurp the Townslady's birthright? Who is this fiend?”
“Fiend indeed. Demon, sorcerer, necromancer, evil spirit, or perhaps just an ordinary man who believes that the ability to perform a few tricks gives him the right to claim a townsman's wealth. So, you say you just happened to find out about Ulan's death just as things were getting interesting?”
“The townslady only recently received word of her birthright from her father. Perhaps he feared for his life and wanted his legacy to continue – we do not know his reasoning. We immediately set out, just recently arriving in Maelbourg to find out about her father's death and all sorts of rumors of black magic, troubles and strife. Regardless, now that she knows of her father's death, the Townslady seeks to restore her birthright.” Kreemon motioned to the letters. “Will you support her, like Townsman Makierrei has pledged? Don't you want to bring stability and peace back to Maelbourg?”
“Oh, I would want nothing more, but I'm afraid I can't vouch for Korisca personally, without being certain she is who she says she is. You understand how these things work. One doesn't go about giving that kind of wealth out based on a few letters, which could easily be forged.
“You may want to spend some time looking into your 'fiend,' if you want to keep your claim safe. In fact, I would be quite well disposed towards someone who brought this person in. That would contribute quite a lot towards stability and peace.” The townsman stood, and at the sound of his chair sliding across the floor, the apprentice opened the door. “Ah, Weegrin. Escort these two out of the building, if you would.”
Kreemon stood up and secured the letters before asking, “Can you describe this fiend who attempts to steal the Townslady's heritage?”
“His description is all over town. Ask any priest.”
“Townsman, thank you for your time.”
The pair left and moved back through the city. Kreemon kept an eye out to make sure they were not being followed. “I don't think we will get much support from him,” he said to Korisca.
“No. I'm just glad he didn't hold us. He sounded suspicious.”
“From what we have been told, that is what he is always like. Now we wait until the evening, unless there is something you'd like to do?”
Kreemon and Korisca walked for a few more minutes and stopped to pick up some sweet rolls and apples before they noticed that they'd seen the same casually-dressed man on at least three streets. As they turned down an alley, Kreemon said, “We are being followed. Keep walking and find cover. I'll deal with this.” Kreemon drew a dagger, reversing it so the blade was concealed along the length of his arm, and stood near the corner, waiting for the man to enter the alley.
After a longer wait than expected, the man walked right past the alley, sparing only the slightest of glances to his side. Shortly after the man passed, it began to drizzle.
Stepping out from the shadows of the alley, Kreemon let the man pass and quickly moved down to the other end, gathering up Korisca. The pair sped through a few more back alleys and side streets to ensure they'd lost anyone following them.
After five or six turns, Korisca nudged Kreemon. “There's our friend,” she said. Through the increasingly strong rain, Kreemon saw their pursuer in the distance, checking down an alley. This time, it didn't take long to lose him.
By the time Kreemon and Korisca got to the boarding house, a bitter wind was pulling at their clothes, and the rain was coming down in sheets. Walkways that had only recently dried were becoming deep with mud again. Korisca's teeth chattered audibly, as she pulled her drenched coat tighter around her body. Kreemon, as usual, found himself unaffected by the weather.
Ziedon had spent the time studying and scribing magic, and pacing back and forth, trying to figure out what to do about the House and whatever curse they'd placed on him. Every hour or so, he staggered under a splitting headache, and when it subsided, some of his magic was gone. The music was driving him crazy, always there in his thoughts, always distracting him from what he had to do. It was getting worse. Twice, he'd found himself on the floor, and time had passed of which he had no memory. Once, he woke to hear rain pelting against the shutters. A howling, chill wind came in from Kreemon's open window, which Ziedon finally closed.
When Kreemon and Korisca entered, their clothing hanging limp around them and pools of water forming at their feet, Ziedon was on the floor, head in hands. Another spell had faded from his memory.
Ziedon looked up at them, holding his head. “So the rains have started. How long will they last?”
Kreemon said, “Just today. Tomorrow the weather will clear, the day after will be some snow which will turn into a thick fog. The earthquake will be late that evening.”
“The priests' effects are maddening. I'm wondering if the mages from Forgolon's lore killed themselves to stop it.” Ziedon rubbed his forehead and then calmly looked up at Kreemon. “The 'three days' is almost up. I think I can weather these effects. They might not be permanent, but instead designed to weaken me, drive me mad, forcing me into an action with the priests that I will invariably lose. Maybe the priests used this time to hunt them down while they were debilitated. I will not do their work for them by mounting an assault. Not in my condition. Instead, I would like for you to tie me down to my bed. I have some herbs that will help me sleep. If this doesn't pass in a few days, then we will have to think of something else. But in the meantime, I don't want to be able to hurt myself, or act rashly.”
“The three days is already up, we are on the fourth now. We can watch you for two days. On the day of the earthquake we need to be prepared to move, to make sure we aren't trapped in a collapsing building. During the earthquake, there might be some damage and confusion at the Church. Let's eat and then we'll tie you up.”
“Fair enough.” Ziedon ate a hardy meal of cheese, salted meat, fruit and slightly stale bread before mixing several herbs and brewing a cup of tea. Ziedon drank the tea down and left the rest of the herb mixture on the table. Then he laid down on the bed and said, “Use those herbs to make more tea for me each time I wake. Being unconscious is the best thing for me now.”
Kreemon carefully and securely tied Ziedon onto the bed, and said to Korisca, “I don't think we'll be able to go visit the tavern tonight for that Townsman due to the rain. We can try him tomorrow.”
The rain continued all that day. Kreemon passed the time meditating, while Ziedon slept, occasionally waking long enough to ask for more tea. While he waited for sleep, he went over his initial apprentice training, trying to break the blocks the priests had placed on him. His master in Westearth had told him that, rare though Wizards were, he would meet others. The magic drew them to each other, and some day, Ziedon would have to defend his mind against the onslaught of magic.
Korisca was restless. She fed the fire, though the rain seemed to suck the heat out of their little apartment no matter how much coal she piled in. At one point, she couldn't take it any more, and went out for a walk in the rain. She came back with some hard cheese wrapped in wax- cloth, which she nibbled at nervously for the rest of the day.
That night, Ziedon dreamt about the one priest who still sang the Song. The priest stood, watching Ziedon with his piercing gaze, on a platform in the entrance hall of the House, holding his scepter. Nothing more happened in the dream, though it lasted through the night, leaving Ziedon feeling exhausted.
The next morning, the rain finally let up, and the sky cleared, leaving only a few fluffy clouds. Kreemon untied Ziedon long enough that they could breakfast together. Then Ziedon was tied down again, and they continued their wait. In the middle of the afternoon, Korisca said, “You might want to look at this.”
Kreemon came to the window. In the distance, over the tops of the neighboring houses, a crowd was gathering, or, more accurately, a mob was forming, and moving rapidly through the muddy streets. At the lead was a group in uniform – the uniform of the king's army.
“Those are the ones we saw outside the city,” Kreemon said. “Stay here. I'll check this out.”
Kreemon left the boarding house. The crowd had been moving slowly toward the poorest area of the town, so Kreemon wound his way through the streets and alleys of Maelbourg. He was still quite a ways away when he heard them chanting, “Balban, Balban!” A little closer, and he could hear the leaders of the crowd calling out, “Who will put power into the hands of the people? [Balban, Balban!] Who will reunite you with your families in Haelbourg? [Balban, Balban!] Who will open the gates, and give you back your jobs? [Balban, Balban!] Who will end the oppression of the Andrithans? [Balban, Balban!]”
Kreemon caught up with the outskirts of the group and asked one of the crowd at random, “Who is this Balban? What is going on?”
“You don't know Balban? He's going to get rid of the Andrithans!”
“You got it wrong,” a nearby man said. “Andrithans ain't going anywhere, but things are going to be better.”
Kreemon asked, “If he isn't going to get rid of the Andrithans, how is he going to make it better?”
“You just listen. This's been working up for a long time now. The gates'll be open, the Andrithans won't tell us what to do.”
“Naw. They're going away. Balban has an army bigger than all of Maelbourg. There won't be an Andrithan left alive.”
Kreemon asked, “What does the House say about all of this?”
“The priests will do what they do. If you're worried about it, go to the next Song.”
“So where is everyone going now? To the gate to open it?”
“I don't know. Watch and see.”
Kreemon continued to move with the group and asked, “Are we going to have to join Balban's army?”
“You ask a lot of questions for an Andrithan,” someone else said. “Maybe it's time you went somewhere else.”
Kreemon then said a little louder, “I had heard that the evil sorcerer had been working for Balban. That he had been in league with Galgewe. Are you sure we can trust this Balban?”
The people around Kreemon ignored him, but farther off, a few people glanced his way, and a murmur built up in the crowd. Whether it would die down or grow explosively was hard to tell.
Kreemon continued loudly, “Everyone knows that Galgewe was Balban's agent, and that Galgewe and the Sorcerer came to town together! Hell's bells, Balban is an Andrithan himself! You think he is here to help?”
“Look, you,” said the man who had been talking to Kreemon. “Are you trying to ruin everything? Keep your mouth shut or I'll slit your throat.”
“So,” Kreemon shouted over the noise of the crowd, “You do admit this is an Andrithan plot! Are you an Andrithan too? You never explained how an Andrithan, leading an Andrithan army is going to actually 'help' Maelbourg. More like it is going to try to finish the job it started years ago.”
Kreemon took a step back and raised one arm, fully expecting the punch that came his way. He deftly blocked the attack with one arm and sent his other fist flying into his assailant's face, sending him sprawling to the ground. Over the heads of some of his shorter neighbors, Kreemon saw that other fights were breaking out elsewhere in the crowd, probably about the same issue.
An area cleared out around Kreemon, until only three of the unconscious man's friends remained. None of them looked too tough on his own, but three would prove a challenge.
Kreemon shouted, “Balban had Galgewe kill Townsman Ulan and usurp his place. It is only fitting that the sorcerer killed Galgewe in turn. Now that Townsman Ulan's daughter has returned maybe we can have some stability. Maelbourg doesn't need Balban!”
While he shouted, Kreemon watched the three men in front of him, who had formed a protective semicircle around their friend. As soon as one of them made a move, he struck out, missing once, but hitting hard enough the second time to knock out the first of the three. The others converged on Kreemon. He dodged a swing from one, but was hit solidly in the gut by the other. Undeterred, Kreemon sent one fist into the jaw of one man, and, as the first was still falling to the ground, Kreemon hit the other, bruising his arm.
With only one limp-armed assailant standing, Kreemon gave him a level look and said, “Run.” Looking back and forth at his three fallen comrades, the man was only too happy to oblige.
The brief fist fight over, Kreemon looked around. People around him were staring, open-jawed, or backing away hastily. In the distance, a few isolated fights were spreading, and not too far beyond that, the town guard was circling the crowd, moving inward with swords drawn. This quickly calmed the outermost spectators, who slipped away as quickly as they could, hoping the guards would have more important people to deal with.
In the center of the crowd, the speaker was yelling loud enough to be heard over all the noise. “See? Maelbourg attacks its own citizens, just for listening to people who try to help raise them from their miserable state! It is time for a change, people of Maelbourg! Let's show Balban that we're ready!”
Kreemon quickly retorted in a loud voice, “The lackeys and minions of Balban attack the good citizens of Maelbourg is more like it! Three of them tried to silence me, but Ilsupeich's Voice cannot be stilled.” With a savage stomp and a loud crunch, Kreemon broke the right leg of the first of his unconscious assailants, and headed for the next. This sent the crowd into an uproar, and while no one around Kreemon wanted to get close, the town guard was closing in, pushing people out of the way to get to Kreemon as quickly as possible. “Ilsupeich will be heard before the sun rises a second time!” Kreemon continued, stomping on the next attacker's leg. “Remember my words! Balban seeks to finish the Scourge! Reject him and embrace Korisca and maybe Ilsapeich will only speak once!” Only the closest people heard the last. They were moving out of the way now, letting the guards close in from all directions.
Kreemon said hurriedly to those near him, “Remember, Ilsapeich will speak out against Balban, look to Townslady Korisca for salvation! Spread the word!” before turning and running through the crowd. After seeing what he did to the unconscious men, the crowd parted to let him by. He ducked down the first alley he came across, and emerged at the other end, knocking over a woman carrying a basket of fruit. At her shrill squeal, nearby guards turned their heads and came running, but Kreemon was already across the street and in the next alley. He found that, like the True Zahirans of legend, he had become unnaturally fleet of foot, and no guard could catch up to him. Three alleys later, Kreemon stopped and looked both ways. No one was watching yet. Safe from prying eyes, Kreemon turned into a wolfhound and moved away from the area at high speed, this time on four legs, using his enhanced sense of smell to avoid any people. Once he was far enough from the crowd and the guards, he changed back into his human form walked calmly back to the boarding house.
Tomorrow (the 7th) there will be flurries of snow in the morning. The day will get hot after that, and there will be heavy fog at night. The earthquake is at midnight.