Copyright © 1999 Ken St-Cyr, Shawn Bodmann, Simon Lipscomb, and Bo Rosén

Master Vramant

Tamhan returned to the Ralbadell with the physician Phieron and his strange friend Sort. Sort put down his parcels, and they took a look at Mordrigan's still form.

“He has the signs of being in a trance,” said Phieron.

Sort sat next to Mordrigan and checked him over. “Yes, his eyes seem almost dead, but he breathes and his heart is beating, albeit slowly. Hand me that bag of hartharba, and a mortar and pestle.”

Tam watched with interest. Gramma Sionna used to tell him the rhymes of herb-lore when he was younger, but he didn't recall hartharba being mentioned.

Phieron handed the bag over and Sort crushed the hartharba stalks. He took a pinch of the results and sprinkled it over Mordrigan's upper lip. Mordrigan awoke with a start, coughing, with a sharp flavor in his breath.

“Well hello there, friend!” said Sort. “Well you certainly responded to the hartharba. Don't look entirely here, yet. My name is Sort. I'm going to help with whatever it is that has got ...” he trailed off, digging through a pouch at his belt. He pulled out a crystal lens and peered at Mordrigan through it. “Well, well,” he said, nearly giggling. Mordrigen felt a faint tingle at the back of his head. “That's very ... interesting ... YAAGH!” Suddenly a symbol flared in Mordrigan's mind, one from the scrolls he'd been studying. Sort dropped the lens and fell backwards.

Phieron was immediately at Sort's side. “Sort! What did you see? I've never seen you so startled!” The physician looked over at Mordrigan and then at Tamhan, who was skulking in one corner of the room.

“A ... a ... ,” stuttered Sort. He was visibly shaken. “A fear ward ... I ... I've got to be going. Sorry, my friend ... I need to relieve myself ....” He stumbled out the door.

Mordrigan began to sit up, but the increased pain in his shoulder convinced him otherwise. Rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands, he addressed Phieron.

“Th - Thank you for ... tending my wuh - ounds. What ... juh juh just happened ... t - to Sort?”

Phieron acknowledged the thanks. Tam looked from Drig to Phieron.

“A fear ward? What's one of those?” he asked. Having seen many strange things in his recent travels — dead bodies, Ralubians, Bruehan's supposed apotheosis and the shadow creature in the library, Sort's strange turn did not worry Tam, but it did arouse his seemingly insatiable curiosity.

Phieron shook his head. “It makes no sense ... did you see anything?” He looked straight at Mordrigan.

His mouth still tingling from the medicine, Mordrigan decided he should keep quiet for a while. Phieron sighed, then headed out the door, to check up on Sort.

For a moment Tamhan had forgotten about his friend, then: “Are you alright Mordrigan? You got hit by an arrow, but I brought you to a healer. He's a Ralubian.”

Mordrigan still said nothin, but barely a moment after Phieron had stepped through the door there were voices outside the room. “Who cried out? What's going on in there?”

The fine grey-haired Ralubian who appeared to be in charge when they first entered the Ralbadell stepped into the room. Sort and Phieron were behind him in the hallway, along with an assortment of several other Ralubians.

“This place smells of herbs and magic,” he said, looking back at Phieron. “If you weren't my physician I would think you were involved in some sort of cult.” He smiled and took a few step further into the room.

“My name is Vramant. I am master here, in the service of Tariven, Elar of Tharam. Now that the innkeeper's son is no longer in danger of dying, perhaps you can enlighten me on certain events that occured to the south of here, in the Barony of Riudsech.”

Tam recognised the master, and bowed to him.

“My name is Tamhan of Sioncarwood, Master Vramant,” he said and then looked sideways at Drig for any sign of what he should say next. Seeing that his friend was still groggy, he continued uncertainly.

“We ... er ... I'm a squire in the service of Sir Mordraith of Druglan, and we are travelling north, except that ... um ... things ... er ... keep happening to us.” Tam finished lamely and waved his arms vaguely. Tam smiled nervously at Vramant and began to feel a flush of embarrassment creeping up from his toes.

“Indeed,” said Vramant, bemused by Tamhan's brief recounting. “Phieron? You believe this one is what the Goerthans call a wizard.” He turned to speak directly to Mordrigan. “Is this true?”

Mordrigan was feeling a little better, but still not one hundred percent by any means. He was careful not to move too much, or get too animated in his speech. He felt uneasy about revealing his true nature — he didn't know what the Ralubians thought of wizards, nor what this particular one thought, and he didn't want to be thrown back to the lynch mob.

“I don't know if I'm a wizard. I've met a wizard and I think he put a hex on me or something. Strange things keep happening around me, like what just happened to Sort, but I didn't have anything to do with that. I think it's from that wizard I met.”

He paused there, hoping to gauge some reaction from Vramant.

From the hallway, Sort nodded at the explanation. “Aye, that was what I saw. He's been cursed, and evil wards set to keep out the curious. Took me quite by surprise. The poor soul. I don't know what can be done.”

“Well, we'd better not risk the wrath of whoever did this you, young man,” said Vramant. “We can't keep you here, but considering the current state of affairs I am reluctant to toss you to the lacands, so to speak. You Goerthans can sometimes be such a superstitious lot. But if you need any assistance, just ask, and I'll see what we can do.”

“We need to rescue one of our party already captured by the mob and then get out of town as soon as possible. I'm sure you could help with the latter — smuggle us out with some caravan or something, but I don't know about the former.

“I'm also already in your debt as it is, so I'm reluctant to take any more charity, and understand if you withold it. I can't make any promises for everyone else, but you could win yourself some powerful friends today. Our captured party member is a Prelector in the Order of Law, and headmaster of the School. Another member of our party is heir to the Orchbroe lands.

“Any assistance you can give us will be very appreciated.”

Vramant smiled. “Friendship is about helping each other out with favors from time to time.”

Tam looked at Mordrigan and then back to Vramant.

“Could you make us look like Ralubians?” he asked. “Drig here is a bit well known about town.”

Vramant raised one eyebrow. “We can arrange things. The caravan is leaving tomorrow, going north.”

Tamhan grinned, and then his face fell as he remembered something else. “Um ... Your Honour Sir,” he began awkwardly, unsure how to address one in Vramant's position. “A few days ago Sir Mordraith, myself and others discovered the bodies of some of your countrymen away to the south. Ennemath called them, um, Rangers of the Marsh, I think. Do you know who they might have been, or who would want to kill them? I think it might be related to the curse my friend here has, but I'm not sure why yet.”

Vramant's face expressed renewed interest. “I heard rumors of such events, from a party that arrived a couple of days ago. So it was you that discovered them? Well, the Rangers have a hazardous occupation, though Somberwood has been relatively peaceful for the past few years. Bandits, grueslin ... who could this wizard that you met be? Do you know his name? It's important to me, since I have great stake in the safety of the caravans that come here.”

Tam took a deep breath. “It's rather complicated,” he began. The look on Vramant's face told him that, complex or no, the Ralubian would like to hear the story.

“I'm having a little trouble keeping it all straight in my head, Your Honour Sir,” Tam continued. “You see, up until a week or so ago I was a humble charcoal-burner. Now I'm Sir Mordraith's squire and I'm having to understand who wants to take over from the king and who wants war with who, not to mention wizards, demons and strange magic and the Orders and everything.

“There's this fellow called Bruehan you see, and he's at the centre of it all I think. Well, perhaps the wizard is and Bruehan works for him, but anyway ....

“Bruehan is a knight, but he's more like a bandit, I think, and he doesn't like the other knights like Sir Mordraith or Sir Ennemath at all. Now, a servant of Sir Athrun saw this Bruehan in the woods near where we found the dead Rangers, and he was with a... a Rhoenach, which is a man with white hair, I think.

“Later on at Goerbest Bruehan pretended to be Crohelm, and I also saw a Rhoenach. He had a greatsword, which was the only weapon that could have been used to kill the rangers because they were beheaded, see?

“And Bruehan was waiting for a wizard, so Sir Athrun's servant said, and at Goerbest he was all glowing and floating in the sky, so someone must have put a spell on him. And there was this man with a sort of shadow thing following him, and I helped to rescue the Prelector from it. I think that man was a wizard. Only now we've lost the Prelector again.

“Do you see?” Tam finished, leaving the Ralubians struggling to keep up with his rambling thoughts. Tam looked distant for a moment and then snapped his fingers.

“I've just remembered something Prelector Cludaen said!” he exclaimed. “He said that before the Siege of Mirsach there were lots of these white-haired Rhoenach around. Bodyguards for kings and that, I think he said. Anyway, he also said that it turned out that they drunk blood and worshipped some dark god, and because of that they were all killed. The blood drinking turned them into frenzied warriors — I wonder if that could have happened to the Rangers? Perhaps this...” Tam thinks hard. “Seorn or ... Maloska, if they are really different people. Perhaps they drank some blood and got out of control?”

Tam's thoughts begin to get out of control now.

“But Seorn and Maloska couldn't be the same because one was in the forest and one was in Goerbest, but ... yes, they could. Sir Athrun's squire — Horlach I remember he was called now — he said that Bruehan and Maloska were waiting in the forest for a wizard to magically transport them to Goerbest, so they could have got there before us. And Bruehan was at Goerbest too. And isn't that the same wizard who put this curse on you, Mordrigan?”

Mordrigan followed Tam's story, trying to put all the pieces together.

“Yes, Bruehan and Maloska are in league together. The wizard they are working for is named Ietome. He is the one who put this curse on me. He was also at Goerbest, making Bruehan look like Crohelm. The shadow demon that Tam saw was also working for this wizard.”

Mordrigan paused there and looks like he's concentrating on remembering something. He still isn't completely over the effects of the arrow or the drug he was given. He asked for a drink of water while he collected his thoughts. Once the cup was delivered, he took a sip and continued his report.

“There were three ruffians working with Ietome. Maloska was one, with blonde hair and a great sword like Tam described. Giun was another. He had bronze skin, black hair, and wore a white tunic. Bruehan was the third. The shadowy thing that Tam saw in the library is called a Yaranu, and it works for Ietome.

I think this Seorn and Maloska are the same person. Maloska would have gotten to Goerbest one day before Mordraith's brother was killed, at the earliest — it was one day before the murder when I escaped from them near Somberwood.”

Tam scratched the back of his head. “Putting all the pieces together, it looks like Ietome may be behind a lot of our troubles,” he said. “What do you know about this wizard, Mordrigan? You spent some time with him, what did you learn? There was something happening to the gold in Baron Brosian's treasury — it turns to smoke. And then there's this strange sickness. Do you think Ietome could be behind these things too?

Vramant blanched. “Gold? Turned to smoke? My friends, you can't imagine the number of questions that answers. All this time we've been looking for ... well, let's just say we've been spending our energy running down blind alleys.”

Mordrigan: “Yes, I think Ietome is behind a lot of our troubles, but I don't think he's the only instigator here.

“Ietome is a wizard, and I've seen him cast a couple of spells. There was that light-show he put on Bruehan at Goerbest. Then there's the control of the Yaranu. He placed this fear ward on me, and he's also created an area of silence.

“He serves a Daling god whose name Prelector Cludaen cautioned me not to pronounce. I think the Prelector referred to him as the 'Warlock'.”

“I don't know about the gold or the sickness. Both are probably within Ietome's power, but I don't know if he's responsible. I think it's probably likely. We know the Grand Heirophant was a part of the Crohelm impersonation, and it appeared that Baron Brosian was in league or at least taking orders from him. What better way for the Grand Heirophant to exercise control than to empty the Baron's coffers?”

Tamhan: “As for our current problem, I don't know. I think the Grand Heirophant must be connected some way, but if that's so he wouldn't want all the Green Robes rounded up and executed.” Tam looks around at the Ralubians. “Do any of you know who gave the order for the executions?”, he asks.

Mordrigan: “I think our current problem is due mostly to a different factor than the Grand Heirophant. I think Duke Hastan is making a bid for power himself and gave the order for the executions.

“As far as their purpose — tyrants have always feared and resented the Order and the Rule of Law that it represents. It probably also plays right into the Grand Heirophant's plans — he likely wants to pervert the Order to operate on his whims, and in order to do so, he must eliminate we members who are loyal to the Order's principles rather than just following his orders.”

“About the gold, sir. We'll have to get word back to Tharam,” said the man beside Vramant. This man, who had entered with Vramant, was youngish — mid 20s — but hardened.

“Yes, if it's safe. Why do you suppose the Rangers were killed. It wasn't by beastmen. They might've been on to something, and this wizard Ietome may have found out.”

“You have good men in your service, master. Any number of them can take on this assignment.”

“Agreed. We'll discuss this later.”

Mordrigan couldn't help but interject.

“Excuse me. Maybe it's none of my business, but it sounds like you've been losing some gold out of some treasuries as well. I think there's more to this gold thing than simple burglary. Maybe there's some connection between your missing gold and the Baron's. And if Ralubians are losing gold, it's probably happening to more Goerthans than just Baron Brosian.”

When Mordrigan submitted the names of Ietome and his accomplices, Vramant shook his head, not recognizing any of them. However, the man next to him raised an eyebrow.

“There was a Giun who operated in Vathir a few years ago. A fairly talented thief who never got caught. Could be a coincidence, but `Giun' is not a common name.”

The summer heat must have addled Tamhan's brains momentarily as he struggled to recount the hectic events of earlier today.

“Now, what am I thinking!” he exclaimed. “It was the Duke of this town who ordered the execution of the heirophants. I remember the town crier said that the GH was in league with evil forces, which doesn't seem too far from the truth. ”

“Are you sure he's going to execute them?” asked Vramant. “That would be extreme, especially coming from Duke Hastan. Still, I can send some of my people to the Siargad to check in on your friends.”

Mordrigan: “That would be most helpful, thanks.”

Tam breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, thank you,” he echoed. “As to your question, I'm sure the town crier mentioned a hanging, and there were gallows being built in the Vittle Market.

“There were three others with us. Prelector Cludaen is quite important in the Heirophants, and we think he must have been captured. There was one called Orilion who distracted the guard for us. He can't be far away, unless he's been captured. I don't know what happened to Sir Mordraith. We were supposed to meet here, but he was also planning on visiting the Duke, so perhaps he's gone there.”

Sidling over to Mordrigan, Tamhan said in a low voice: “Don't forget that we originally planned to see if these Ralubians could help us smuggle the heirophants out of Stade. Do you think they'd be willing to help?”

Mordrigan waited until Vramant got some servant or another to look for Mordraith to answer Tam.

“I think so. We'll be in debt to Vramant for helping us, and he seems like a crafty enough trader to make a profit off of it. I think we'll get confirmation shortly .... ”

Tam wandered over to the window, absently wondering what could be keeping Mordraith and Orilion. One finger idly probed the contents of his nostrils.

While Tam was busy picking his nose, Mordrigan slumped back into his pillow and replayed the events of the last few days. The retelling of things stirred up some memories and he shuddered at the thought of Ietome and his lackies. He tried to fit all the pieces into place to figure out what's really going on, but he just didn't have enough information yet.

“Just have to wait and see,” he thought to himself, not realizing he was actually vocalizing the words.

Turning down the alley to the inn brought Mordraith out of sight of the gate and castle. As he approached the inn he saw that the guardsmen had gone. He parked the gardell around the corner and retrieved his stuff, etc. Mordell was very thankful.

Leaving, Mordraith headed across the alley to the Ralbadell. The door Tamhan and Drig went through turned out to be the rear door of the kitchen. The servants gasped in surprise, but recovered rather quickly. One of the cooks was assisted into a stool and fanned. Something tolds Mordraith they had had their share of surprises this day.

Someone in charge was summoned quickly. He spoke with a Ralubian accent.

“This is the Ralubian Trading House. You can't just barge in here, we have a charter — this is Ralubian property. I am going to summon the watch.” He measured the Goerthan more carefully. “Wait, are you Mordraith?”

Mordraith nodded. “You'd better come upstairs, then.” The Ralubian led Mordraith upstairs into a corridor where a small crowd had gathered just outside an open doorway. The interior of the Ralbadell was quite grand, but there was no time for sight-seeing. Pushing his way through, the Ralubian brought Mordraith into what appeared to be a physician's office. Mordrigan was on a couch, with a bandage on his shoulder. Tamhan stood casually in one corner of the room. A pepper-haired man of importance commanded the center, and near him a few others.

A few minutes after the messenger was sent, the group at the Ralbadell could hear the horns being blown in the distance.

“An alarm at the Siargad,” said Vramant. ”Well, something is afoot.” He motioned to a man in the corridor, who took his leave.

A few minutes later the man returned, followed by the bulky form of Mordraith.

“Guess who I've found,” said the Ralubian.

Tam looked round, in the middle of trying to dislodge a particularly stubborn nasolith. An expression of relief appeared on his face.

“Mordraith!” he exclaimed. “Well, am I glad to see you. What happened? How did you get away from the guards? Where's Orilion? I think I...” he caught Mordrigan's eye, “er, that is to say we have persuaded these Ralubians to help us get out of town.”

He scanned Mordraith over quickly for signs of injury.

Mordraith walked straight over to Drig, “You okay?” He gave the bandaged shoulder a critical eye and turned to the man tending him. “How bad is it?”

“Yeah, Mordraith, I'm okay now.”

Satisfied for the moment, Mordraith turned to Tam and gave him a brief smile. “The Duke wanted to put me in a cell so I left.” He paused for a heartbeat. “I saw Cludaen there and I think he saw me too, but I have no idea what he was up to.” Slightly out of breath after his unplanned adventure, Mordraith turned around to look for somewhere to sit, and for something to drink. “I thought Orilion was with you, but I'm relieved you are here at least. I got our stuff from the inn,” he indicates the packs he just put down in the corner,” Your father sends his blessings.”

“Well, I have no wish to stay here anymore, but I doubt the Duke is willing to let me walk out through the gates at the moment. I suspect he may be a bit annoyed with me, so let's hear your plan.”

Mordrigan remained quiet to let Tam relay the plan.

Tam looked abashed as he realised that there isn't much of a plan yet. He took a deep breath and indicated the leader of the Ralubians.

“Mordraith, this is Vramant. He's kind of in charge around here, and he's offered to get us out of town hidden in a Ralubian caravan. However, we can't leave without Cludaen — was he in prison or was he free when you saw him? — and I also think we should help the Heirophants that have been captured. Did you find out anything about them? We probably also ought to wait for Orilion, if he was sent by Prince Durn. Last time I saw him he was facing off against the guards outside ....”

Mordraith didn't look very surprised at the lack of a detailed plan from Tam. He did look a bit tired though, yet greeted Vramant pleasantly enough as they are introduced, and thanked him for the promised help. He then turned back to his squire's flood of questions.

“I only saw Cludaen for a moment, but he was with the duke's party and free, so I imagine he is all right at the moment. My guess is that he is doing something about the captured hierophants and perhaps trying to figure out what the duke's position is on the death of Surgorn. From what little I heard, he thinks of himself as Hastan the first.” Mordraith pauses for a heartbeat to take a sip of the excellent Ralubian wine, and nods in appreciation to his hosts.

“I agree that there is not much we can do before Cludaen gets here, but we can't wait for ever. And as for Orilion, if he is free he'll find us, if not there's not much we can do at the moment.” Again a pause as he thinks. “There is one other thing we really should consider; which is most important, getting on with our quest or helping the prisoners here? What I mean is can we afford freeing the hierophants if it jeopardises our main task? Anyway, after what happened at the Siargad I will have trouble getting out of Stade, I'll need a very good disguise.”

Mordraith looked questioningly at his old friend, “Drig, anything you can do...?”

Mordrigan shook his head and looked down at the floor. “Sorry, but I'm not useful for much of anything right now. I doubt I could even walk very far.”

After casting a barely noticeable sideways glance at Vramant, Mordrigan made eye contact with Mordraith and pointed at his shoulder. “My skills in the disguise area seem to be lacking, and I wouldn't want to put you in danger from factors I cannot control. I'll need an equally good disguise as well, especially since everyone will know my shoulder has been wounded.”

“I don't know what to do regarding the other heirophants. Of course I'd like to save them, and it troubles me that Cludaen seems to be party to this round up. We certainly don't have the resources to do much in the way of a frontal assault, so I don't really know what we CAN do. And I agree that our quest is more important. Perhaps we just have to trust Cludaen to talk the Duke out of it. If we could only talk to him ....”

Tam frowned. “Are you sure there's no way to help all those heirophants? From what I've seen they were going to execute them. That isn't right, and it isn't right to just run away and leave them!” Then, a little embarrased by his outburst he continues more quietly. “We ought to at least find Cludaen. He knows more about what's going on than any of us. Without him or Orilion it's going to be harder for us to find this Prince Durn.”

Mordrigan's eyes lit up with an idea, and he started to get up, but then winces from the pain in his shoulder. “Vramant, is there some way you could deliver a message to and from Cludaen? Mordraith, you DID say Cludaen didn't look like he was being detained, right?”

“Yes, I got the impression he was pretending to be someone else.. He was wearing a ridiculous hat but otherwise unremarkable clothes” Mordraith turns expectantly to Vramant...

Vramant glanced over to the man who had `fetched' Mordraith. The man bows and says, “I was already on my way.” Then he quickly departed.

Vramant then said, “We have wagons leaving tomorrow, going north. The road forks west just outside of town, but we can get you through the gates and even up the Bristor road a ways if you don't mind doubling back or going across country. In the meantime we have a guest room that you can share.”

The wait lasted for hours. Vramant in the meantime invited the three to more a comfortable lounge. As the sun set the wait becomes almost interminable. Vramant's people occasionally delivered information on the state of affairs in the town. The gates were shut and the watch was out looking searching homes and alleys. Then a servant rushed in, “Come downstairs quickly! He is hurt!”

Vramant's messenger had arrived, much worse for wear. He was bloody and injured, but otherwise in good spirits. “I'm afraid I was delayed,” he said, wincing under the ministrations of the physician. “Only a minor fracas, though. Nothing serious. I have a message from the Prelector.” He brandishes forth a crumpled, bloodstained parchment.

Tam was horrified, echoing the shock from Vramant and the servants, who all stood just outside the kitchen. “A minor what? Who attacked you?”

The messenger furls his brow. “I don't know exactly. I thought it was the watch. Some of them don't like Ralubians, especially after dark.”

The note said (read by Vramant):

My friends. I am safe at the moment, but only just so. Under no circumstances think of a rescue attempt. I urge you to leave Stade at once. There are enemies nearby and it is of utmost importance to get Mordrigan away. Wait for me at the town called Moell. You will have no trouble finding the way, simply follow the main road west from Stade. I will join you there if I can, but wait for me no more than three days. If I am tardy, continue south to Dis and remain there; find Prince Durn if you want. Mordraith's pin will be useful in getting on the Prince's good side.

Don't trust ... (blood stain and smeared ink) ... I have discovered his ...

Here the parchment had been torn, it's edges soaked in blood.

“Aiiee!” cried the messenger. “It must have been damaged in the struggle.” He looked down ruefully at the bloody gash in his side, where the cloth of his tunic had been ripped. “This is where I had kept it. I'm awfully sorry.”

Tam let out a groan. “Well at least that decides what we're going to do, but who does he mean at the bottom there? How are we meant not to trust someone if we don't know who they are?” He looks about him at the others. Mordraith and Mordrigan he trusts, the Ralubians less so but they have had ample chance to betray the group. That just leaves ...” Do you think he means Orilion?”

Mordraith looked shocked when he saw the messenger and looked positively grim when he heard the contents of the message. Rising from his chair, he walked over to Vramant and asked to see the letter. He read it carefully, then turned to the messenger, “I'm sorry about this,” gestured vaguely at the messenger's wound, then turned back to Vramant, “and for having forced this situation on you.”

“Calm down Tam, we need to think this through. [Tam calmed down, or at least tried to.] Yes, he could mean Orilion — but why would Orilion have helped us get away if he only meant to betray us?”

“But...” began Tam, only to be interrupted be Mordraith.

Mordraith had stopped for a moment, brow furrowed, then answered his own question. “The are probably several different groups opposing us, Orilion may not have anything to do with the Duke, and these groups may not have much to do with each other. Cludaen could also have meant Hastan himself, though that seems almost too obvious. There really is no way of knowing.” He looked at his companions in turn and then at the various Ralubians.

“Anyway, I think we really need to get away from here as quickly as possible, as Cludaen suggested.” He looked at Vramant again, “Can you still get us out?”

“I agree, if Cludaen recommends we leave now I'm all for it. I was wondering if we could get away be the river, rather than use the gate,” Tam points out of the window at Stade's sole means of egress. He shrugged. “I have to confess, I don't know which way we're going to get to Prince Durn, so it might not work.”

He paused for a moment and already his brain had switched tracks. “Did Orilion provide much help though? He brought us here, where we were attacked. I suppose he did help us with the guards, but if that were the case wouldn't he have been arrested? You didn't happen to see him up at the castle did you Mordraith?”

Mordrigan had been drifting in and out of consciousness because of his injury. He listened to the note being read, but didn't vocalize any thoughts about it until all the Ralubians leave the room. Then he whispered to Tam and Mordraith, so anyone eavesdropping would not hear:

“I wonder if he means Vramant? He seems trustworthy enough, and I don't see what choice we have, but we don't really know him. We'd better have a backup plan.”

He left it at that quick couple of sentences then continued to talk in a normal voice about whatever the group was talking about before.

Mordrigan: “Vramant, what sorts of supplies do you normally ship in these caravans? Are there normally barrels or something we could all hide in?” Mordrigan casts a glance at Mordraith, “Some of us will need larger barrels than others.”

Vramant smiled, and answered the question with alacrity. “Spices of all sorts,” he said. “Perfumes, dyes, condiments, drugs. We get them from farflung cities east and south and southwest and even further west and east and so on. Quicksilver from Kruthad, electrum from Tharam, alum from Caracand, alum from Samodania, alum from Delanthel, alum from Rashan; we have Albir indigo, fine verdigris, aruluk sepia, red and yellow orpiments, grueslin blood, maldasanda teeth. And of course Dranzzite stones, gums and oils of all sorts, and much, much more, if you'd care to look.”

Mordrigan's head swam as he tried to keep up with Vramant's rapid pace. He failed and was starting to tune out when the messenger coughed. Perhaps the physician poked at a soft spot too hastily. Vramant cleared his throat. “Perhaps some other time. You can imagine we use all different sorts of containers. They are, alas, very small, but that is not an issue. The smaller containers are combined together in large sacks and crates. Conceivably we can utilize boxes of any size, throw a sackcloth over ... it will be stuffy and very uncomfortable in this weather, but it could work.”

Tam scratched his head. “If it's a choice between that and being thrown in prison I'll take the sackcloth every time. Isn't there the chance that guards will search your wagons though?”

Mordrigan echoed Tam's sentiments on this one, “Agreed. Sack cloth is better than prison any day.”

Mordrigan: “Barring any barrels to hide in, my next best guess is to disguise us all a Ralubians.”

Vramant shook his head, and sized up Mordraith. “Alas, a Ralubian the size of your friend here would attract undue attention. We as a people are not known for our height or girth.”

“Except perhaps for the eunuchs of the Sandliri Palace,” said the messenger.

“Ah yes,” said Vramant, quickly interrupting. “But I didn't deem it necessary to mention them.”

“What's a eunuch?” asked Tam. “Could we disguise Mordraith as one of them?”

'Raith cast a suspicious glance at Tam, “Any more suggestions like that and you'll find out first, eh, hand. But, apart from that bit, as it were, I agree. I can't be easily disguised I suppose, so I guess it's a sack for me at least. Tam could perhaps pose as a servant or something, might be good to have one of us able to see where we're going and what's going on.”