"If you had this information, how soon would the person be able to receive the message and possibly reply?"
"Um-hmmha...Oh, you actually want to *do* this! I thought you were asking a theoretical question. Oh, that makes it more difficult." Alais then goes into a long lecture that makes it clear that getting a message in these circumstances is more or less impossible.
Crestfallen, Val takes this news as well as possible. At least he tries not to let the disappointment show too much. There would be time for that later. Right now, he has to think of some other way to help Ginevra. Maybe he should speak to the captain to see what he might recommend. There seems to be no love lost between Barthelm and Victor, and the veteran captain might have a suggestion or two.
Meanwhile, Emmett moves forward of the group with Pham, who is leading them to the tavern in question, as to get a quick private word with the priest. "Hi. Like I said, I have something to tell you: the unfortunate in the square? the one with the 'fire' mantra? He's a member of your order. After I left you two yesterday I went the to the temple of Gond and asked them what they could do for the man. They took him in and did some basic research, which turned that up."
He pauses as Pham pushes open the door to the tavern, letting the others catch up. "I don't know what it means, but I don't like the coincidence."
Pham stops dead in the doorway as he hears Emmett's news. "One of...oh, so sorry." Pham starts as he realizes he's blocking the door. He steps inside, waves to the barkeep, and leads the conglomeration over to a table by the wall. A couple of the old-timers he met the previous night wave back, and everyone gives the group with him curious looks. "One of *my* order?" Pham's voice is incredulous. "I've only ever met one before, and I lost him several months before I landed on Bral. Unless... oh, you must mean one of those, *ahem* other followers of the Herald. Yes?"
Emmett nods through the crowd of his companions passing between the two men into the Cask."I must. I hadn't realized there was such a rift between the groups."
"I see what you mean about the coincidence. If those dreams were a sending of Hextor, I'm glad my faith is different from that poor fool's. Still, I think I should see this man as soon as we're done here. In the meantime, the drink here isn't too watered down, and the regulars have some interesting tales to tell. And Val, I suspect you've got one yourself as well," Pham adds.
"What'll it be?" the owner's teenaged granddaughter asks, sweeping an appraising glance over the table.
"Bring us two pitchers and five mugs and we'll work it out somehow. It'll keep us out of your hair for a while." Emmett smiles at the girl, hoping that she isn't the type to listen in to patrons conversations. "OK, Val, what the hell?"
Val once again briefly explains what had happened aboard the _Cat_ and at the infirmary after Pham, Alais, and Emmett left. He omits his own personal feelings in the matter, regardless of how apparent they probably are. He does not tell the good brother what he had discovered about Victor this morning, but does share his and Hiro's concern that the Lady Ginevra might be in danger.
"So I'm trying to inform her child's father of everything," Val finishes up his story. "I'm hoping there is something he can do to help her now..."
When he finishes, Emmett leans back and takes another sip of the strong beer, of which he seems to be consciously moderating his consumption. At the same time he is scanning the room for anyone who looks like a man for hirehis people sense is usually quite good at picking out tools from a crowd, and it wouldn't do to have them all being watched. No one in the room arouses his suspicions. "Damn, Val, you don't do things by halves. OK, I'm inI told you that before.
"Before we get any further into that, though, a few other things. I know what the pirates stole from Three Trees, if anyone's interested, but you gotta button lip on it. Also, Pham, if you don't mind my bringing this up...."
Pham gestures to indicate that he doesn't mind sharing the information.
"OK, on the _Cat_ Pham started having dreams about fire. Alais, you remember the chanting 'fire' guy in the square? Turns out he's one of Pham's brothers, but from the more... commonplace arm of the order. There's apparently a shipload of them on Janik, and this guy was one of their number. I got temple of Gond to set the guy up at the Contemplator temple to see what they can do with him." Emmett looks over at Val and Hiro, "They're supposed to be good healers. Are they the same place that's watching Ginevra?"
"Contemplator temple?" Val asks, somewhat confused. "She's in the infirmary near the dockyards. Seems safe enough for now, what with the perimeter wall, but there is someone there watching. Would you suggest moving her?"
Emmett waves that question off for the moment, obviously on a train of thought.
"OK. Val, you need to talk to ibn Fadilright now you guys and Nyala are duplicating effort, and that's wasted action. I'm supposed to meet him at the Helm in two bells, which is just a few minutes away. He and Nyala have a place together, so he probably knows everything she does. I can meet up with him and let him know where to meet the rest of us who want in on this."
"So I've noticed," Val mutters. He is grateful for the help, but had not thought ibn Fadil or Nyala that involved. He'll have to remind himself to plan better next time. "You know," he starts again, somewhat hesitantly, "In all fairness, I can't ask any of you to help me on this. Not that I don't appreciate it, but there's enough trouble already. This could get ugly..." Val does not know what to make of Emmett's direct approach, even though it gives him a bit of hope. He dares not hope the rest would so willingly get involved.
Emmett can tell that Hiro is already set on this path, but he isn't sure about the othersor if Val even wants to drag them into an increasingly complex set of gears.
Hiro places a hand on Val's shoulder and says resolutely, "You need not ask."
Emmett nods. "OK, I think it's a safe bet that some of us at least are being followed. Val, he at least has to be trying to tail you. One thing I learned long ago was always have a few guys in the clouds as a reserve if you have the people. We have the people, we just have to keep them in the clouds."
Emmett finishes off his drink before continuing, "I'm going to go meet with ibn Fadil, and tell him to hook up with you, Val, at... oh, hell, someone name a likely bar."
"The Golden Gauntlet," Val interjects, having seen it in his wanderings.
"You two need to get your plans straight. Tonight, everyone who's in on this, lets meet at the Wonders of the Northern Woods show. I was there last night, and we can either use the show as a conversational cover or slip out the back. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I don't want the other side to be able to ID all of our pieces. Besides, it's a good show.
"Pham, why don't you meet me in front of the temple of Gondit's the windmill on Twist Streetin half a bell. We can follow up on...the other stuff. Does that sound good?" Emmett stands up. "I'll go use the facilities and head out the back way. Everyone else, keep an eye out, I'll see you tonight."
Val sinks back in his seat. Things are getting complex. He was planning on possibly doing something (foolish, risky, illegal?) by himself. Now, it seems, he has to think of something entirely different since everyone else is willing to help. Problem is, Val doesn't know what to do...
What should he do? What *could* he do? His options in helping Ginevra were narrowing down. Emmett hadn't even explained about the Contemplator temple before he left. Maybe she'd be safer there? Damn.
"Okay," Val says in a calm voice to those remaining at the table, "I'm open to suggestions... Anyone have any clue how I can either get word to the child's father, or stop Victor from taking Ginevra away after the baby is born?" His face is a calm facade, but his mind races... What have I gotten myself into?
No one has any immediate suggestions, and they have additional tasks before they all meet later that night. Val slips out of the Cask, making sure to don the persona of the offworld merchant, careful to look for signs of pursuit. He heads off into the crowd, willing himself to blend in as much as possible. Hiro follows a few moments later, so as to avoid compromising the slender disguise more than necessary.
The Golden Gauntlet comes into view, and Val slips in, just one of the crowd. Glancing around the taproom, he selects a suitable table; not too close to other patrons but not too secluded as to arouse suspicion.
Hiro rejoins him, and the two wait patiently for ibn Fadil. Or for whomever else might walk in....
* * *
Emmett follows his plan, slipping out through the Cask's back door and taking a roundabout route through the alleys (getting slightly lost himself) before finding a main street and returning to the Helm at just a few minutes past two bells. Fortunately for him, the half elf is still waiting.
... Although he appears to be busy learning to juggle, of all things, from one of the square's more colorful characters, a relatively tall man in brightly mismatched clothing. He is still chuckling over something ibn Fadil has told him, while giving pointers on keeping the two balls in smooth motion.
"Ibn Fadil." Emmett jogs (as much as he can) up to the ship's assistant cook. "Glad you're still here. OK, I can't do anything else this afternoon, but *you* need to get to the Golden Gauntlet to talk to Val. Apparently he's spent the last two days dogging your steps concerning, er, our shipmate. The rest of us are getting together later tonight at the Wonders of the Northern Woods show to figure out what to do next."
"Do next about what?" he says with a somewhat blank look.
"What?" Emmett looks back confusedly. "About Lenore, er, Ginevra, er whatever her name is." He hisses softly. "The thing you've been looking into for the last few days. Remember that?"
"Oh, right. Valarin has been out asking questions instead of staying out of sight?" he says disbelievingly. "Very well. Tonight when?"
"Yeah, he has. That can't surprise you? Anyway, the show starts at 7 bells. It's a good show regardless, so if nothing else you and Nyala can have a night out. Just make sure you aren't followed."
"Right," ibn Fadil says again, resisting a sudden urge to flee to bin Rashad and beg for help getting home after all. "See you then."
Emmett quickly moves away, hoping to make his appointment at the temple of Gond with Pham. "Helping out one's shipmates can get time consuming," he thinks. "And confusing. And thirstydo I have time for a drink on the way ... No, no keep moving."
The half-elf stares after him for a moment. "The rest of us"? What is going on now? Well, better to find out sooner rather than later. Thanking the storyteller for the lesson, he also gets directions to the bar Emmett named, and heads there immediately. Though he keeps a careful eye out, there is no sign of anyone following.
Before long, the half-elf strolls in, looking almost dapper in a new outfit of his own. He looks around the room, spots Valarin and Hiro, and joins them at the table with a cheerful nod. "Emmett seems to think we have been duplicating our efforts," he says....
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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson