It had been about forty minutes since the others had entered the alveary. From his vantage point outside the alveary’s entrance, Emlyn glanced around the ridges to either side of the trail. That’s when he saw the movement, below the ridgeline, near the path that he and the others had taken an hour earlier. Whoever it was, they weren’t taking a lot of care to stay hidden. They sauntered along the natural path of rock strata, heading toward… no, heading passed the alveary. Emlyn made up his mind to follow the figure, if just to satisfy himself that they had no connection to the investigation at hand. Emlyn began the short climb up the embankment to the flatter ground above the tree-line.
Concluding their discussion with Mautun, the party agreed on a course of action. Mautun would lead Durul and Mardigan on a tour of the alveary, giving the men an opportunity to look for familiar faces or anything that may seem out of place. Cade and Kordan would go first to the kitchens, then to visit the Bald on the order of Mautun himself.
Cade and Kordan made their way to the kitchen, a large room with a huge table set in the middle, workbenches and shelves all along the walls to each side, and a huge hearth at the far end, which was currently only lit at one end, below an enormous cantilevered stewing pot. A dozen people, mostly men, busied themselves pealing and chopping vegetables or tending the stewing pot of the baker’s oven built into the stone wall to the right. They asked questions of several acolytes working in the kitchen, learning little – the Bald takes his meals in his room, being too weak to come down to eat with the others in the refectory for several weeks; a different acolyte goes to visit the Bald with each meal, depending on who is rostered to the kitchen detail at the time.
The acolyte they had been questioning asked if Cade and Kordan were hungry (for, to be sure, the aromas of simmering stew and fresh bread played upon their gnawing stomachs. The two looked at each other; if they were to investigate the possibility of poison, surely they should also investigate the potential delivery mechanism of such a thing.
In moments they were brought stools and a corner of the long workbench was cleared for them. The simple stew and barley loaf tasted like mana from the ancient gods.
When the reduced party reached the atrium on their guided tour of the alveary, Art and Holdfast peeled off and headed for the stables. The others barely noticed their departure, let alone the few residents going about their business. In the stables were three horses. These were all sluggish and slow of thought, but well-tended and in good health, if having seen their prime. As Holdfast investigated the surrounds, Art gained the trust of the animals, speaking in soothing tones, first with his voice, then with his thoughts. If the horses were aware of the subtle transition, they didn’t signify.
By the time he reached the stone flat above the alveary, Emlyn’s quarry was nowhere to be seen. But he had left a clear trail. Either this fellow had done nothing and had nothing to hide, or he was the most careless criminal Emlyn had ever come across.
The trail seemed to lead to a small copse of trees nestled in a valley behind the alveary. The perfect place for a hidden entry-way into the structure, Emlyn thought warily to himself. The perfect place for an ambush as well.
After the guest quarters – where the party would stay the night if they accepted the hospitality of their host, Mautun assured them – and the cloister, the master took Durul and Mardigan to view the Library, the laundry, which also housed a water-wheel and drawing well for the alveary’s fresh water needs, being built over an underground river, some of the acolytes’ cells and the refectory, where meals were enjoyed communally.
The Errinirl was taking them along a narrow passage toward the testing rooms, when Mardigan noticed a particularly narrow staircase. He asked where it lead. ‘To the observatory. It’s rarely used these days, I believe. Stellographers prefer to study at Tadryofi…’ Durul cut him off mid-sentence.
‘Would you mind if we had a look for ourselves?’
The trail left by the mystery figure lead clearly to the tree-line of the little valley copse. Emlyn reched this point, reluctant to go into an unknown situation alone, when he saw movement at the far end of the stone expanse; One, two figures emerging from what must have been some kind of hatch. The first was something he’d never seen before, but had certainly heard stories of – a giant lizard, taller than the other two figures. He immediately recognised the other figures as Mardigan and Durul. Silently Emlyn signalled the two. Durul saw the signal first, and silently indicated Emlyn’s direction to Mardigan. The big man wasted no time, silently vaulting the low wall around the observatory and making his way carefully but quickly to his compatriot.
‘Please wait here, Master,’ Durul said to Mautun. Was that a look of bemusement flashing across the Errinirl’s face? Durul pondered this as he more cautiously pick his way over the wall and to the point where the other two stood.
Emlyn explained the situation, mentioning that the fellow he tracked couldn’t be more than about five or six minutes ahead of them, and with weapons drawn, the three followed the trail into the copse. It lead down a well-worn path, about two hundred yards, stopping at a stream. That is, stopping where the stream stopped. It hit a stone face and, churning, disappeared. The pieces fell together for Mardigan almost immediately. He looked at Durul and simply said, ‘The laundry’, and he was off.
Durul explained the situation to Emlyn. The woodsman handed the merchant his bow and small pack. ‘Get back there and make sure he doesn’t get away,’ he said, and plunged into the frothing water.
Having eaten and learned all they were likely to in the kitchens, Cade and Kordan accompanying a young acolyte to the cell of the alveary’s Bald, Shalaur. The old man lay quite still, not quite asleep, but barely conscious. Cade tested the water, the food, sniffed the stale air of the cell, and examined the few piece of simple furniture that decorated the otherwise unadorned room. Satisfied that no poison was at play, he allowed Kordan to approach. The scruffy hermit bent low over the Bald’s cot, seeming to murmur something in the old man’s ear. Then he suddenly stood upright, wrenching the pillow from beneath the invalid’s head. “Here’s the culprit!” Kordan declared smugly.
As it happened, strips of a soft root had been hidden in the old man’s pillow. The root contains a poison, most commonly boiled out and reduced to a paste, but still potent if shaved and the vapours inhaled over time. Farmers in some regions have used it for centuries to end the suffering of diseased animals (and the odd relative), Kordan explained; the removal of the pillow should bring about an improvement in Shalaur’s condition almost immediately.
Mardigan leapt over the observatory wall, and flew down the stairs, up the corridor and passed the kitchen toward the laundry. Running in, he saw three acolytes working troughs and wringers, nobody wet above the sleeves. Turning back across the plank bridge that joined the laundry to the rest of the underground structure, he saw what he’d missed in is rush; splash and drip-marks on the planning, fresh as if he’d made them himself.
A splashing sound caught his attention and he ran to the other side of the bridge. Half expecting another miscreant, he instead found Emlyn hanging on to a wooden strut. Proof of concept. He laughed as he effortlessly pulled his friend out of the water.
‘We’ve got him,’ Mardigan said, grinning like a child and pointing to the trail of watery drip-marks on the stone floor, leading to the row of acolytes’ cells. With the ends of the corridor blocked by Emlyn to the north and Arthur and Holdfast to the south, a systematic examination of the cells by Durul and Mardigan flushed out a young acolyte, wet and shivering, but managing to maintain a defiant air.
Once seated and tied down to a chair, the boy’s resolve began to crumble. He was approached by a visiting fellow several months earlier, who explained to him the true nature of nevena and the terrible and wilful damage those that practiced hedge magics visited upon it. He told the young acolyte of a movement to cleanse the whole of Eyliarenn from their destructive influence. Then he said, “Soon Fiahawn’s rivers will run red with the blood of the apostates and the land will be cleansed in the Judgement.”He admitted to taking part in the murder of the Welangurs. For this he exhibited no remorse; “They were draicrafter scum – of course they had to die.” He said that this was the only action he had been involved in.
Shalaur was not supposed to get sick – “that was never the plan,” he said. Shalaur was a good teacher, if somewhat misguided about the ways of nevena, the threat posed by the draicrafters. He felt no animosity toward the old man, but if he died it will have been in the cause of something greater than any one person.
Deciding that he had nothing further to say, misguided boy clammed shut. Mardigan offered to loosen his tongue with a little time alone with the boy, but at Mautun’s entreaty, Durul cooled the enthusiasm of the fighter. Given his involvement in the murder of the Welangurs, the party would take him to Olari, eventually to stand trial.