Some people in the town seemed relieved. They had heard the rumors of a magical earthquake that would destroy the town, and then seen that nothing came of it. Maybe the sorcerer wasn't so dangerous after all. Others were struck with fear, that the predicted earthquake had come at all. Many of these camped outside the House of Morenth, petitioning for the Golden Priest to return and save them from the evil magic that had befallen them.
That the sorcerer controlled minds was common knowledge now. Besides Waylad, Captain Duddan, Calen Finterher and a host of others who blamed their behavior on Ziedon, whether he was at fault or not, Velirra Dufowl had publicly condemned the sorcerer that morning. Those who claimed to have been influenced now banded together under the common goal of seeing the sorcerer destroyed.
Korisca learned all this during her various jaunts into town. She was eager to help, since it meant getting away from Ziedon.
As the day wore on, Kreemon's intensive care of Ziedon started to have some effect. The sword wound was by far the cleanest Kreemon had ever seen, even if it did cut into the bone, and there was no obvious sign of infection. By afternoon, he was sure Ziedon would recover, and might even stay recovered if he was careful and wore a sling for a while.
In the evening, Korisca told Kreemon of her plan. She would stick around and pretend that she was still under Ziedon's control. That was the only way she could keep him from trying to reassert it. But she insisted, so often that Kreemon got tired of hearing it, that Kreemon check in on her often, and make sure that she hadn't changed in some unexpected way.
Late the next morning, Ziedon came out of his comatose state, groggy but alive. “What day is it?” he asked, opening sticky eyes carefully.
Kreemon replied, “It is two days after the earthquake.”
“What has happened?”
“Light damage from the earthquake, some take that to mean that your power isn't very strong, while others are frightened that the earthquake happened at all. There have been petitions for the Gold Priest to return and root out the evil sorcerer. Also, several of the townspeople are no longer under your control and it is now common knowledge that you were controlling them. Calen Finterher and others have joined together with the goal of destroying you. I don't think Korisca has a chance of becoming a townswoman now, or at least not without the meeting being a trap.”
“I see. That isn't good.”
“You sustained some heavy wounds. You will need to wear a sling if you want to retain the use of your arm.”
“I appreciate you coming to my rescue. Things did not work out the way the way that I planned.” Ziedon lay back in the bed, thinking, and then said, “Maybe it is time for us to do a little traveling and let things calm down here. I had meant to take a trip to Dunweig and Osander. Perhaps now is a good time for it… Well, in a day or two, when I have had time to heal up.”
“Leave Maelbourg? That thought didn't occur to me, but if things are blown for Korisca, then it might soon be too hot for us here.”
“It might be for the best. We could learn a thing or two in Osander, if your stories are correct, and take care of things in Dunweig.”
“Sure, sounds good to me. Getting out of town might be a healthy option right now.”
“Can you please hand me my books? I'd like to study them”
“Sure. Here you go.”
“Kreemon, there is something else you can do for me, but it would involve going outside the wall again.” Ziedon motioned for Kreemon to come close and whispered in his ear. “I need… I need… a human corpse. Mayhaps the one you dug up the other day would still be easily accessible. It can be in several pieces, as long as all of the bones are present.”
“Are you serious?” Kreemon replied, a little too loud. “What do you need it for?”
“For some of my magics, to create a servant to help with the carrying and serving as additional protection. It could be any corpse, but that one is probably the best accessible and has some symmetry since it was the one that started the war here in Maelbourg.”
“I could also check to see what is going on with the army outside the city. I don't think we should mention this to Korisca. She could continue to check out the rumors in town while I was gone.”
“You could boil the flesh off, if it makes it easier to transport. I just need all of the bones present. Tonight? While I am sleeping?”
“Okay, I'll wait until you go back to sleep.”
Kreemon took a large sack and waited for Ziedon to finish with his books and close his eyes. Kreemon told Korisca that he had to run some reconnaissance and that he would be back later in the evening.
He asked her to keep an eye on the sleeping Ziedon, and she shook her head rapidly, eyes wide with fear. He got Ziedon to help him brew a sleeping potion. Once Ziedon had drunk it down, he insisted to Korisca that there was no way he could wake up, but asked her if she'd rather join him on his errand. “No… no, I'll just stand outside the door and keep anyone from getting in, but if he wakes up, I'm out. I'm not staying in there alone with him.”
Kreemon spent the day scouting out the best place to get over the wall. The sealed north gate was better guarded than it had been the last time – perhaps they'd noticed the marks from the grapple – but there was a good spot on the east wall, not far from the river gate. The guard had been set to keep people from sneaking out through the river, so they didn't watch the wall as closely in that part of town.
The day passed quickly – a little too quickly, somehow. Kreemon shrugged it off and changed into darker clothing. The grapple caught on the first try, and the climb went without incident. For the first time in days, Kreemon was outside Maelbourg.
Kreemon slipped into the woods and walked to the outskirts of the army camp. Most of the soldiers Kreemon saw looked haggard and bored, but there was a lot of activity outside the quartermaster's tent. Blankets and barrels were stacked outside, and were being counted and inventoried. Farther out, Kreemon could see something going on near the command tent. A group of four men, not in uniform, were standing in front of some soldiers.
Kreemon moved in slowly, sticking to the quieter areas. He finally got close enough to hear what was going on. Some sort of deal was being made between an officer and one of the four men. These men had to be from relatively far away. Their clothing wasn't exactly strange, but Kreemon hadn't seen its like in Huerten or Elgony.
The leader had tanned skin and rough hands, but his clothing and demeanor showed that he was no farm laborer. His hair was sun-bleached and tied in a pony tail, and he stood with his legs apart, like he was worried about losing his balance on the steady earth. He wore a practical version of courtly garb: blue jacket, black breeches, white shirt and black shoes, but had a strange straw hat like a farmer might wear.
Two of the other men looked more like common sailors. They stood quietly, deferring to their master. The fourth man stood quietly, and seemed to be watching everything. He had short, brown hair and a matching beard, streaked with gray. He wore simple clothing - a hooded brown cloak, worn brown leather pants and boots, but Kreemon caught a glimpse of a sapphire pendant, showing that he too was no farmer.
Despite the strange clothing and mannerisms, this seemed to be nothing more than a simple business deal. “My employer has other agents that I will meet up with shortly,” the leader said while writing something on a slip of paper. “If they have remaining goods to sell, should I return? If you're not here, where might you advance to?”
The officer answered. “By all means return. If we're not here, it means that Maelbourg is open for business, and you can do your trade in the town proper.
“Thank you for the prompt payment. I do hope I can help your glorious cause again.”
The officer nodded. “If you will escort these men?” He asked, and turned around, expecting his soldiers to do what was needed.
Kreemon edged around the clearing, preparing to follow the sailors, when the cloaked man turned around. He whispered something to the leader, then called out. “My Lord, if I may be of service to you.” He was addressing Balban, who had just come out of his tent. “You have met the master tradesman, but I sense there is a reason for your presence here and this reason has been a thorn in your side.”
Balban stared at the man for a second, and seemed about to go back into his tent, but then he turned and approached. The guards outside the tent made as if to follow him, but he waved them off. “And who are you?” he asked when he was only half a dozen feet away.
“I am called the Messenger, and I believe I can be of assistance to you. The Zioth is coming and has sent me to your door.”
“The Zioth sent you? Now that's something. May I ask what the Zioth sent you here to do?”
“The Zioth changed the course of two rivers for me to be at these shores. Do not underestimate its power. It has sent me here to you. But I'm afraid I must turn your words upon you and ask what it is that you need to do. It would appear that city has rejected your right to enter the city; perhaps this is your issue.”
“And let's say that was true. In that hypothetical case, what would you and the Zioth suggest we do about it?”
“The Zioth often opens doors where there were none before and provides windows with which to observe your enemies.” He then muttered something that Kreemon couldn't hear.
“If I understand your riddle, you are either calling me your enemy, or trying to get hired as a spy. Either one is unusual for a crewman of a trading barge.”
“I am a Messenger, nothing more. I bring tidings of the Zioth and to complete my task. Often the Zioth brings the tools that are necessary to accomplish a goal. I have not the skills that are required to spy, but I can point to the windows and doors that they spy may use.”
“Very well, Messenger of the Zioth. Tell me something I can use. If it's worth anything, I'll pay its fair value.”
“Tell me of your problems and situation. The more information you provide me, the better answer I may give you.”
Balban smiled and stepped closer, finally closing the wide gap between them. The next thing he said was too quiet for Kreemon to hear.
Kreemon tried to find a better vantage point, but before he could take more than a few steps, the party was once again being escorted away from the camp.
Kreemon slipped back into the woods, keeping parallel to the group, watching them and seeing where they went. Soon, the soldiers turned around and returned to their camp. One doubled back and watched the sailors' progress for a while, before rejoining the other. The man who had negotiated the deal, possibly the captain, led the rest of the way. He and the two sailors were armed, the captain with a scimitar, and the others with simple short swords. The Messenger had a long staff that could easily be used as a weapon, but which he now used as a walking stick.
After some time, they arrived at a river barge, which was tied to shore. Several other sailors were on board. Soon, the Messenger slipped away. Kreemon followed him to a copse of trees, where the man sat down and, by the light of a dim lantern, gazed into a mirror. At first, Kreemon thought it was only vanity, but the man sat there for minute after minute, doing nothing but staring at his own reflection.
Kreemon kept himself low, maintaining his center of gravity, as he slipped up behind the Messenger and then hit him in the back of his head. The Messenger stumbled to his feet and muttered something, his hands moving up and down his body.
Kreemon stayed close. He'd seen Ziedon cast spells before, and this looked disturbingly similar. He leaned in for another punch, trying to break the man's jaw, but then his arm went slack, all the energy of the strike drained away. He swung in with the other fist, and the same thing happened again. His arms weren't numb, or hurt in any way. They just seemed to decide on their own that they weren't going to hit the man.
Kreemon leaned in and attempted to tackle the guy to the ground, but before he made contact, his shoulders relaxed and his legs lost their momentum. In the end, he didn't even touch the man. This was disturbingly similar to the witchcraft he'd encountered in Osander River Village.
Kreemon let out a low hiss and said, “Balban will learn your secrets one way or the other!” and then slipped back into the woods. Once hidden in the trees, he circled to a different point and watched the man to see what he would do next. The man was just concentrating on something. Kreemon couldn't tell what, but the little mirror was gone. After a few moments, he called out, “Do you need assistance with your firewood? Perhaps my visitor could assist you?”
As he waited and watched, Kreemon picked up a rock and occasionally attempted to throw it at the man. Each time, his own muscles relaxed and refused to follow through.
“Sure,” Kreemon heard, from a disinterested voice in the distance. The Messenger stepped out of the clearing and into the woods. Kreemon followed, and saw the Messenger and one of the sailors gathering firewood. Finally, his arm started working again, and he felt like he could throw the rock.
Kreemon watched them for a moment more and then decided that this was a waste of his time and left.
On his way to the cemetery, Kreemon stopped and listened. A horned owl was sitting on a branch, just above him, looking down. Kreemon found himself staring at the owl, wondering what it would feel like to fly. Slowly, almost without thinking, he coaxed the owl down to a lower branch, then a lower one, and finally onto his shoulder. The bird seemed light for its size - no more than a pound or two, but nearly two feet from head to tail. It emitted a booming hoot, and Kreemon almost thought he understood what it was saying. Kreemon spent several more minutes with the owl, until he was pretty sure it wouldn't fly away. Then, slowly at first, he continued toward the graveyard.
A light was lit in the little hut outside the cemetery, but the place was sealed up against the cold. It was unlikely the man inside could see or hear anything. Kreemon took his shovel and began to dig.
With Korisca's help in soft, new dirt, this job had taken an hour. Now, alone, with the hard surface layer to break through and a few days of settling, it took much longer - more than twice as long, if the positions of the moons were to be trusted. But Kreemon did eventually get Galgewe's body out. A few days of additional rotting made a huge difference. Kreemon almost vomited into the coffin, and it took a great force of will to drag the body out of the hole. With his dagger – the only weapon he carried these days – Kreemon cut up the body and sawed off as much of the flesh as he could, then dragged the only slightly better-smelling bones away from the gory mess. He stuffed them into a sack, which reduced the smell a little, and turned back toward Maelbourg. There were still a couple hours of night left though, so Kreemon decided to give Ziedon more than he'd asked for. He stretched his stiff, aching muscles and picked another grave at random.
By the time Maelbourg was in his sights again, Kreemon was exhausted. The sack of bones had to weigh as much as one live person, and it, along with Kreemon's clothes, exuded an unbearable stench. The night had passed more quickly that Kreemon thought possible, so he'd had to move quickly through the woods, picking up the sack when it couldn't be dragged over brambles and bushes. Now it was almost dawn, and he had to figure out how to get himself and the sack over the wall. The owl let out a powerful hoot, making Kreemon want to swat it. He'd never known how loud owls could be up close.
Kreemon stopped at the river to clean himself off. The river seemed lower and muddier than usual, but upstream of Maelbourg, he at least knew that the mud was good clean earth. He cleaned his clothes as well as he could, and then scrubbed at the bones, removing pieces of flesh and reducing the smell – it was impossible to get it out of anything completely. Without some good lye or soap, Kreemon's clothes would stink of rotting flesh for months. Still, he felt a lot better putting on wet clothes that didn't give him the continual urge to gag, and he returned to the wall feeling a lot better.
Once near the wall, Kreemon moved to a thick area of woods and hung the bag from tree limb. He moved off a good distance, covered himself in leaves and lay down to sleep, the owl next to him. He dreamed of flying that night, seeking prey over a dark forest, and then diving to catch a mouse or squirrel. He woke hours after dawn, much later than he'd wanted or expected. The owl was nowhere to be seen. Kreemon suspected it was wherever Bork had disappeared to. He looked down at his own body, half expecting that he'd become an owl himself, but he was still in his human form.
Kreemon made sure the bag of bones was still where he'd left it, and retrieved the rope and grappling hook. He untied all of the knots, so that the rope was as long as he could get it. He tied a small loop on one end of the rope, and tied the other end to the bag. When he was finished, Kreemon looked up in the sky in shock. It had taken until noon to prepare. The stress and poor sleep of the past couple days had to be getting to him.
Kreemon hid the bag and rope and scouted the wall. The guards were at their posts on the River Gate, but that didn't matter. He no longer had to worry about finding an area where he could climb it. Instead he was looking for some place out of the way, near the tanneries. It was hard to guess whether anyone would see him on the inside during the day, so he decided to wait until night. That time came way too quickly for comfort.
When dark settled, Kreemon carried the sack of bones to the wall, and then closed his eyes and thought about flying. When he opened his eyes, he was an owl. The transition had taken place as naturally as if it was a perfectly normal thing for a man to turn into a bird. He grasped the looped end of the rope and, with some difficulty – the rope was much heavier than he'd expected – he flew up over the wall. About half way down the other side, he could no longer pull it, so he turned back into his human form and rode the rope down until he could get a good hand hold on the wall. Then he climbed up, pulling twice as much as he climbed, so that the bag bounced up one side of the wall. It got caught on the top for a while, but soon it tore loose and fell. Kreemon turned back into an owl and chased it to the ground, then turned back into a man. He gathered up the bones, tied up the bag as best he could, and and found an empty crate behind a tannery where he could hide the sack. The stench of curing leather would overwhelm the smell of rotting flesh, unless someone came very close.
Now he had to take care of his clothes. Kreemon stopped by the lower than usual but still freezing cold river where it passed through the town. He bathed, and let his clothes flow down the river, out of the town. He could have gotten cleaner at the bath houses, but they were in the center of town and run by the House. There was no point in risking that.
Kreemon put on some fresh clothes, which amounted to little more than a cloak – he hadn't carried all his possessions with him – and returned to Ziedon. The moons had risen high by this time. Kreemon felt something nagging the back of his mind, but he couldn't quite figure out what was wrong.