The brook and the cleft
Emlyn knew there would still be a few hours of light. The woodsman reasoned, if people from outside had freely accessed the alveary without being noticed or arousing suspicion, and that if the river had been their point of ingress, then it stood to reason that it may also be their point of egress as well.
After a short discussion with the others, he, Kordan, Arthur and Holdfast leapt into the underground river to see where it would take them. Emlyn’s clever deduction was rewarded when the stream re-emerged beneath a rocky outcrop, about half a mile from the alveary by the road, or four hundred yards as the crow flies. A tiny clearing near the bank of the stream showed signs of people having been there before. As they emerged and began to dry off, Emlyn noticed a cleft in the rocks above the bank. Arthur sent Holdfast to investigate; as the dog looked round, he relayed the smells of wet leather and cloth, stale bread, and recent visitors, now gone.
Emlyn deftly hopped up the scattering of rocks and stones for a closer look. The cleft led to a small cave, quite well hidden from both sight and inclement weather. Inside were some rough travelling clothes, two robes of the kind worn by the acolytes in the alveary, a small pack with some dried fish and hard bread, and – most interestingly – a wax-waterproofed leather case, cylindrical, about fourteen inches in length.
An examination of the scroll-case back in Brother Mautun’s office revealed a map of northern Fiahawn, rendered in the typical reddish-brown ink used for such things. Olari, Kaulde, the capital Ethamir, and many of the smaller towns and villages were marked with a purplish ink; different symbols next to the different towns and villages, some indicating unspecified points on the map. Durul, who had the most experience with maps, was the first to notice the five-pointed star indicating the site of the Welangur’s farm, the stylised willow-branch used to signify the profession of medicas, next to the octothorpe marking Tuin, and the tiny anvil-shape next to the two concentric squares marking the position of Olari. The murderers had been in all these places. There were other markings next to other towns and villages, including one Durul didn’t recognise, next to Fiahawn’s capital,
There was nothing that could be done about this tonight though, for already the moons were beginning to chase one another across the darkening sky. Mautun offered the party quarters for the evening in the visitants’ wing, wine, fresh bread and a good hearty stew. He assured them that the miscreant would be watched day and night, saying he hoped to be able to turn the young man’s mind from the malicious path on which he had hereto been set.
The walk to Tuin
After some discussion the party’s next actions were decided. Cade would remain at the Tethus Alveary with the Errinirl, Mautun to care for Bald Shulaur; when he was well enough to leave, the apothecary would join ride to Olari to join the party. The rest would return to Tuin, gather their things and settle accounts, and ride that day to Olari to report to the Alderman (and hopefully gather some reward).
The walk to Tuin from the Alveary was uneventful. Fearing some kind of malfeasance, the prisoner was gagged for the journey.
Upon reaching the town, the party broke up. Mardigan found a bar serving ale to early-comers, keeping the prisoner with him. Durul stayed close to keep an eye on Mardigan. Emlyn, as was his habit, took a slow ride around the town, seeking the likely points of egress and hiding places for folk wishing not to be observed in their comings and goings. Kordan, Art and Holdfast went looking for the draicrafter signified on the map.
Kordan and Arthur followed the instructions the inn-keeper to find the medica that appeared to be marked on the Judgement map. When a young woman came to the door, Arthur haltingly explained the reason for their visit. “We are convinced that you are in danger if you stay here. Come with us to Olari. My friends will protect you.” The young woman, Baila, agreed to come, spent a few minutes gathering some clothes and provisions for the journey and making arrangements with her assistant, a crone who was preparing a poultice in the kitchen, and went with Kordan and Arthur, Holdfast trailing behind, wary and alert.
Baila’s horse was quartered at the Silver Barrow also. As the three (and Holdfast) made their way back to the inn, Emlyn was rousing Maridgan to his feet to prepare for the ride bck to Olari
The ride to Olari
About three miles from town our weary travellers were brought to pause by a man in tattered finery standing in the middle of the road. Mardigan, who was leading the party, signalled for the others to come to a halt.
“Good afternoon,” the man in the road said. “You would do my colleagues and I a great service if you would kindly relieve yourselves of any cumbersome burdens you may have upon you person, particularly those of a monetary nature.” He indicated to a man on one side of the road, holding a sword and then to a shadowy figure among the trees on the other side – sunlight just catching the tip of an arrow.
Mardigan became surly; “What business have you stopping traffic on the king’s road. Be off with you,” he said, and spurred his horse. Then everything happened very quickly; Durul led Baila at a charge past the swordsman at as much distance as the road allowed, but the swordsman had other things to occupy his mind. Keeping his horse between the others and the swordsman, Mardigan rode the well-dressed man down, deftly fainting and dodging a swipe of the man’s sword, and bringing the pummel of his own blade down upon the man’s head as he passed. An arrow flew passed Emlyn’s face. In a single movement Arthur ordered Holdfast off his pony and charged into the forest like Man of War, crashing through the underbrush and causing the archer to flee in terror, dropping his bow. Holdfast was keen to give chase but Arthur called his faithful companion back to him. Fearing this was an ambush set by the Criminals they’d been pursuing, Emlyn, kept this horse between the second swordsman and the prisoner, drew his sword and with an intent look, kept the other swordsman at bay; seeing the fate of his cohort, the other man lost any heart for a fight, dropped his weapon and fled into the forest.
When the others reached him Mardigan turned his horse around, and went back to find the crowned brigand still unconscious in the road, but alive nonetheless. IT was the work of but a few minutes to bind his hands and feet and place him over the back of his sturdy horse.
A meeting with the Alderman
The party returned to Olari without further incident. Their first stop was the Chief Alderman’s office. On their arrival, a town sergeant was called for to deal with the prisoners. A full report was given of the events of the last few days; Durul spoke for the group, but Alderman Ethiri quizzed the others on particular points. Durul had presented the map to Ethiri on arrival, and presently his assistant returned with it, having noted the nature of symbols and their locations. Ethiri, having heard their report, was uncomfortable offering any explanation of the map; he said only that he suspected its purpose but wished to hear the council of others before committing to the path his thought would lead him upon.
Ethiri recommended a visit to Alang Baetur, hoping he may have some further insight onto this perplexing string of events.