Chapter Four (continued)
“I never thought you’d be foolish enough to show your face in Keshab again,” said Pertwin, “so when I heard you were back, I had to rush over and see for myself.”
“If it’s a fight you want,” shouted Cravan, “you should’ve brought more men.” He reached for his axe and scowled when he remembered it was outside with the horses. He began sizing up a chair to use as a club.
“Stop!” called Tia. “You cannot shed blood in this holy place. It is sacrilege.”
Mor grabbed his arm to hold him back and pointed at one of the silver statues standing in an alcove at the side of the hall. “She’s right. We can’t fight here or the Temple Guard will cut us down where we stand. Let’s just wait and see what his next move is.”
“I’m not very good at waiting,” said Cravan. “I’m more of a kill you now and don’t ask questions later kind of guy.”
Without warning, Rieki rushed forward and threw her arms around Lord Pertwin. “Kind sir, have mercy on me. I didn’t know what sort of filthy, despicable characters these men were when I fell in with them.”
“Hey!” whined Mor. “I’m right here.”
Cravan belched and scratched his armpit. “I’ve been called worse.”
Rieki ran her hand down Pertwin’s chest. “If you could see your way to forgiving me,” she cooed, “I’m sure I could make it worth your while.”
He pushed her away so hard that she almost fell to the floor. “Get off me, harlot! You don’t think I’ll believe you lies for one second, do you? I did some checking up on you after our last encounter and it seems there’s a price on your heads in half of the Seventeen Kingdoms. My only problem now will he choosing which one to hand you over to. Guards! Bind their hands and gag the mage. We wouldn’t want him casting any charms on us, would we?”
Before the trio could even think to run or fight they were each flanked by three guards who pinned their arms behind their backs and stuffed greasy rags in Mor’s mouth. The soldiers led them out of the Temple and into the courtyard where they collected their swords.
“Whatever sins you have committed,” said Tia, “remember that forgiveness is always granted by the Goddess to those who seek it.”
“Thanks,” said Rieki, “but I never was one for church. Too many rules. If you want to go somewhere and talk about though, I can tell you about all the nasty, wicked things I’ve done. Perhaps over a bottle of wine in your bedchambers?”
“I can’t believe you’re hitting on the priestess as we’re being led away to our deaths,” said Cravan.
“Call it the last request of a condemned woman.”
“Quiet you two,” said one of the guards, “or we’ll gag you as well.” He pushed them forward roughly. As they approached the gates to leave, however, two of the Temple Guards moved to block their path.
“No thieves may pass these gates,” the statues boomed in unison. “Surrender and be forgiven.”
“What did you take?,” Cravan asked Rieki. “Aren’t we in enough trouble already?”
“I didn’t steal anything,” she answered. “I swear.”
The statues did not respond but instead walked directly up to Lord Pertwin. His soldiers stepped away from them knowing that their swords would have little effect on the Temple Guard’s metal skin.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Pertwin demanded. “I don’t have time for this nonsense.” He strode forth and tried to go around the Temple Guards.
One of the statues grabbed the noble’s arm in a grip that cause the man to wince. It tore the belt pouch from his waist and tossed it on the ground. A small golden incense burner tumbled out.
“For your first transgression, the Goddess shall take one hand,” proclaimed the statues.
“But I didn’t take it,” insisted Pertwin. “I’m innocent. I’m not a thief.”
“That is a lie,” said the statues. “For your second transgression, the Goddess will take your tongue.”
“Do you know who I am? I am Lord Pertwin of the House of Lannek, a member of the Queen’s court in good standing. I will not be treated like some common criminal!” The lord drew his sword and took a swing at the metal arm which held him. The blow made the Temple Guard’s arm ring like a bell being struck, but otherwise it did nothing.
Cravan sniggered. “Even I know that wasn’t very smart.”
“You have brought violence to Temple, droned the Guards. For your third transgression, the Goddess will take your head.” The Temple Guard that was not holding Pertwin swung its halberd and took the man’s head off with one stroke. The soldiers, worried that they might be next, ran off and disappeared into the city streets. The Temple Guards, their service complete, returned to their posts by the gate.
“How could he have been so stupid,” said Cravan.
Rieki, having already slipped out of her restraints, walked over to cut Cravan’s bonds with Pertwin’s fallen sword. “I may have planted that on him. I figured that the Temple Guards were using magic to detect thieves, and detection spells don’t discriminate between intent and action. They are very literal that way.”
“Clever girl,” said Cravan, rubbing his wrists to restore the circulation. “I’d kiss you but I know where those lips have been.”
“It was only meant to be a distraction,” said Rieki. “Who knew he was such an arrogant fool as to attack a Temple Guard?”
“Honestly, he will not be missed,” said Tia, stepping over his body to retrieve the incense burner. “He was a nuisance at the best of times, always groping the priestesses like we were streetwalkers. The Queen and Temple only tolerated him because of his title, but now he has passed on without even leaving an heir. Perhaps Her Majesty will donate a portion of his estate to the Temple for getting rid of him.”
“I suppose that the ban is lifted with Pertwin’s death as well,” said Mor when Rieki removed his gag. “Now we can get information on the Five Fates from the Library.”
“The Five Fates?” said Tia. “You don’t need the Library for that. The story of the Five Fates is bound in every copy of the Testament. Come let me show you.”
She produced a small, leather-bound book from her robes and began to leaf through it. “And Llandrim cast the Five Fates upon the world,” she quoted, “that men might determine their own destiny.”
“May I see that?” asked Mor.
Tia handed it to him. “You may keep it. There is much wisdom contained in the Testament’s holy words. Perhaps there is yet time to save your souls from damnation. Now if you’ll excuse me, the Temple may welcome all, but I have had enough of you three.” With a flourish of her robes, she turned and strode back inside.
“So what’s it say?” asked Cravan.
“This will take some time,” said Mor. “I suggest we get a room for the night.”
“C’mon, give us something,” pleaded Rieki.
“The hand of twenty fingers rests beneath the dragon’s wing,” quoted Mor. “That should be easy enough for even you get, Cravan. I’ve read this before but didn’t put it together until now.”
“So it is true. Does it say where the others are?” asked Cravan.
“Probably, but it’s dressed up in code and metaphor. I’ll need to study this.”
“I guess this means Mor gets to keep his cut after all,” said Rieki.
“Damn,” said Cravan. “But on the other hand, there’s no more bounty on our heads here, and we still have our part of the haul. C’mon, girl. The tavern awaits.”
To be continued…
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