Everyone else seemed to be all right, with the exception of Edward, who was the most shaken of all the travelers. They arrived at Riseda very late and still somewhat in shock, and went directly to the "cheap" inn, as Henrietta somewhat sarcastically called it--certainly one of then nicest places the travelers had ever been in. The town was built almost entirely of stone, very unusual, with lots of dramatic arches and frescoes, and the walls were ringed by a wide cleared area. No ettercap was going to run along a branch and come into the city that way.
Henrietta and the rest of the crew went out to perform the traditional boatman's funerary rite of getting thoroughly drunk upon the death of a comrade. Edward was in the other room this time, leaving the three male companions to themselves. Just as they were about to settle down to bed, there came a tapping at their second-story window. With a shrug, Harrick opened it. A falcon perched there. It sidled closer to the window. He stepped back. It fluttered into the room and landed on one of the beds.
"Did my priest succeed?" it asked in a human voice.
Momentarily dumbfounded, Harrick told it that it looked that way, and in answer to other questions informed their visitor that whatever was in the crypt seemed well bound and more or less inactive, although there was no certainty as to what had caused that state of affairs. The bird thanked them and departed.
"Did we just give information to the bad guys?" Terzin wanted to know.
"No," Harrick told him calmly. "We just gave information to Gabriel."
In the morning, Terzin told Robin all about it; she was duly impressed. The group continued on its way, still somewhat subdued by the loss of their crew member and the hangover that accompanied the crew's farewells to their lost comrade. Nevertheless, at long last Briarport hove into view downstream.
It was huge. All of Terzin's stories hadn't quite prepared them for its size (though he himself was puzzled; he remembered it as being far larger). Dominating it was their destination, the Keep itself, the seat of Countess Anne, a six-story stone building that could have held every inhabitant of Crapaud with room for toads, nestled at the meeting of the Charity and Greenbriar Rivers.
They disembarked, gathered their things, said farewell to Edward, Henrietta, and the remaining crew, and stood uncertainly on the dock, looking at the apparently-distant towers of the keep.
[We now return you to your regularly detailed version.]
"I remember how to get there," Terzin said confidently, and started off. "We go this way." His navigation was based half on his vague memories of the city and half on guesses as to how the city would logically be organized. His limp made it easy for the others to keep up, at least. He did get them there, and they seemed to be going the right way the whole time, so they had no reason to complain. Besides, they were busy gawking. They walked for an hour through the crowded streets, and came onto a broad open space near the river, where the streets were actually wooden walkways above the slightly boggy ground, and where it looked as if someone had seen fit to construct a giant gazebo to serve as the meeting point for six of the city's broad thoroughfares. In the center stood a statue of King Daniel. One of the roads led straight to the keep. The others were duly impressed with Terzin.
The planking turned into hardened dirt as it reached dry ground again, the earth packed tight by elemental magic. After another half hour of walking they neared the walls, looking at the amazing variety of shops and people on the way. A clothing store had a sign for a dueling master offering lessons. Stores that sold nothing but books caught Harrick's attention.
They ran--literally--into a contingent of a dozen dwarves. These looked more like stereotypical members of the race than Tsark had.
"Argh! What are you stupid idiots doing in the middle of the road!? Move!" the leader ordered the startled group; they stepped aside with mumbled apologies while he muttered imprecations against humanity in general. Then they were at the gates.
"Yes, can we help you?" a moderately bored guard inquired.
Robin said, "Hello. We've been sent down from Crapaud, we have a letter for the Countess."
"May I see the letter?"
She produced it from her pack and handed it over for inspection. The guard banged on the nearby window with the butt of his spear; it opened.
"Open up the book of seals," he instructed the person inside. "Kenneth." The seal passed muster, and he handed the letter back. "All right; will you need a guide?"
"Yes," Harrick said, forestalling any bravado on the part of his companions. A young man about Mortimer's age appeared, wearing hose, and led them inside. They felt that they were being watched, but that wasn't exactly unexpected, given that they were being watched. And occasionally snickered at, given the way they were dressed.
"Where are you from?" the page inquired. "You have a meeting with the Countess?"
"Why, yes," Robin replied, feeling terribly out of place.
"Come this way." He strode off at a quick pace, leading them into an opulent entry chamber, then into a small side room where a gentleman awaited them.
"My name is William of Ambervale," he introduced himself. "I'm one of the Countess' seneschals; can I help you?"
"We've been sent from Crapaud with a letter for the Countess," she explained again. "And we were hoping that your surgeon could help our companion."
"Yes, I have been sorely wounded on the field of battle," Terzin asserted.
"What field?" William inquired with interest, opening the letter.
"It was in the lair of an evil nethermancer, far to the north."
"I see." He read for a bit. "Kenneth is recommending for you to go to Kendall Keep?"
"Yes, sir," Robin said.
"He must think very highly of you. Hm. All right." He folded the paper and said, "Please wait here for a moment." In a moment he returned with another page. "If you'll follow this young man, he'll lead you to your quarters. I've informed Duncan, the castle surgeon, that he's going to have some work that he'll have to do. I trust that your wound is not so grievous, you're able to stand and walk? Is it healing nicely?"
"Yes," Terzin acknowledged. "But it still needs the attention of a surgeon."
They followed the page, Jessep, back out into the hall to the area where there rooms were; he looked at Terzin.
"One of my compatriots has already gone to speak with the castle surgeon, sir, if you will get more appropriately dressed...." He paused at a sudden, dismaying thought and surveyed the visitors more carefully. "Did you bring other clothing?"
"We were in something of a hurry," Robin interjected in an attempt at diplomacy.
"Yes," Terzin said hurriedly, "most of our better clothing was destroyed in the journey."
"Very perilous journey it must have been."
"True, we ran into a group of ettercaps...."
"Hm. Then merely leave your cloak and things behind, and we'll have more suitable clothes arranged for you. The rest of you, if you would please wait here, someone will be around shortly with refreshments."
Once Terzin had disappeared with Jessep, they explored their chambers. Each traveler had a separate room, which was amazing enough. All of them were used to sharing rooms this size with at least two other people--Harrick's parents, Robin's younger sisters, Jared's obnoxiously poetic roommates. They were not terribly large, but pleasantly furnished, with a narrow window and locks on the doors, just in case they felt it needed, and the luxury of running water (thanks to elemental magic). Their guide had pointed out the page station just down the hall, where they should find someone if they needed anything, and the shared bathing chamber, which Robin promptly took prolonged advantage of.
Terzin ended up in a small room with a older man in white.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers