Fires that Forge

The Lords of Order and Chaos

Part I:

The Fires that Forge

A novel by R.J. Hanson

The Bloodlines Reforged Saga:

Heirs of Vanity Series;

Roland’s Path (March 2019)

Roland’s Vow (July 2019)

Roland’s Triumph (November 2019)

Lords of Order and Chaos Series;

Fires that Forge (April 2020)

Bloom of Blood and Bone (May 2020)

Whetstones of the Will (June 2020)

Orphan’s Blade Series;

To be Announced

Templar’s Rebellion Series;

To be Announced

You can find maps and other information about the fantasy world of Stratvs here;


Who to trust?

The sky was the color of old bruises.  The damp, cold air of the fall morning was the sort that made its way into the muscles and joints of those who’d seen too much labor or war.  It was the month of Tetobier in the year 1648 of the era of Restored Great Man Kings.  

Far to the south, near the small town of Fordir, a young Great Man trained feverishly with his twin axes.  Soon he would be taking the first steps of an adventure that would change his life, and the lives of nations, forever.  However, that is a story for another time.

In the northern city of Moras in the kingdom of Lethanor, young physician Silas of the House Morosse forced himself to a steady, calm pace.  He pulled his cloak tight against the chill of the nearby harbor air.  His bare feet trod along the cold black stones of the street.  On any other day, the bone-chilling damp that surrounded and penetrated him would have caused him much discomfort.  However, this morning his mind was on murder.

Two murders in fact.  His father, Killian of House Morosse, and his mother Helena, both lay cold in the absolute inertia that is the chief characteristic of death.  Each chilling footfall took him further from that scene of finality and closer to what he hoped would be an ally.

Silas arranged his thoughts meticulously, as was his habit.  He was already choosing his words with care before even arriving at the inquisitors’ barracks.  

“Hold there,” came from one of the two guards posted at the iron gate of Blackstone Hall.  “What’s this about?”

The guards wore the fine steel breastplates and keenly honed blades marked by the seal of Lady Evalynne, Lady of this vast city, and these rich lands.    

“I am Silas of House Morosse,” Silas said in his customary, measured tones.  “I am here to speak with Inquisitor Dunewell.  I have no appointment.”

The mention of House Morosse, one of the most celebrated merchant houses, if not of dubious reputation, had the intended effect.  Furthermore, upon the mention of the name, one of the guards recognized the young physician.  Although one could hardly blame him for his tardiness in making a positive identification, he had never seen the handsome Doctor Morosse with a curly lock of his hair out of place or a silver buckle unpolished.  Now the physician stood before him barefoot and unkempt.  

“Of course, Doctor Morosse,” the guard said.  “Please, allow me to escort you.”  With a nod from Silas, the guard turned abruptly, bound for Blackstone Hall.  “Sorry I didn’t recognize you, sir,” the guard said, looking over his shoulder at the young doctor.  “I’m Tennes; you treated my son for the Vile Twitch some months ago.”

“How is Tanis?” Silas asked.  He had been taught since birth to keep a careful record of names and associations.  Killian had insisted upon it and tested him often.

“He’s doing quite well, thanks to you,” Tennes said.  “My wife and I…, we owe you.  We owe you a debt we could never repay.”

“You owe me nothing,” Silas said, his tone betraying no emotion.

“Not to argue, sir, but I do,” Tennes said.  “If there’s ever anything the likes of me could do for the likes of you, please just say so, and I’ll be happy to oblige.  When the priests couldn’t help him…we thought…I owe you, sir.  Here we are.”

Tennes, burly even among the elite guard of Blackstone Hall, pulled the bell of Inquisitor Dunewell’s iron-bound door and stood to the side.  His large frame, made even greater by the presence of the armor, shield, and heavy cloak, made Silas seem even smaller in his wet and tightly wrapped house cloak.  

Silas enjoyed the title of the Great Man race, and time would tell if he possessed their longevity; however, he was not distinguished by the physical traits that usually defined them.  His stature, six feet in height and weighing almost one hundred and eighty stone, was more akin to his father’s common blood rather than the more robust nature of his mother’s Great Woman heritage.  His hair, as black as the wet stones that he stood upon, was also of his father’s line.  The only visible mark of his mother present in his visage was his green eyes, which bore the dark shade of bearberry leaves in the spring.   

The door opened to reveal a large man undoubtedly of the Great Man bloodlines.  Inquisitor Dunewell, appearing to be perhaps a year or two older than Silas, was actually beyond his fortieth year.  He stood half a foot taller than Silas and weighed at least one hundred stone more.  His dark blond hair was cut very short in the style of the Silver Helms, for he was among their number, and his eyes, also of green, reflected an insight that made most uncomfortable in their gaze.

Dunewell looked to Silas, who, in turn, looked at the guard to his left.

“That will be all, Tennes,” Dunewell said.

Tennes offered a brief nod and stepped away smartly.

Inquisitor Dunewell stepped to the side, and Doctor Morosse shuffled past him, tracking moisture from the morning dew across the polished black and white marble floor of the inquisitor’s quarters.  Dunewell noted that, despite the walk from Morosse House to Blackstone, Silas’s feet also stained the marble with traces of blood.  

“Dune, they’re… they’re dead…both of them…murdered,” Silas finally managed as Dunewell closed the door.  “She… mother… and my father, they’re both dead.”

Dunewell knew Silas well, perhaps better than anyone else did, and had not seen him shake or heard him stammer since his childhood.  He felt the flash of contagious panic and hysteria burst in his breast but muzzled that wild beast quickly.

“Killian and Helena?”

“Yes,” Silas said as he downed his head.  “I didn’t know…I hope… I hope I was right to come to you first.”

Chapter I

Funeral Thoughts 

Inquisitor Dunewell’s armor shone with a high polish despite the oppressive gray of the fall morning.  He rode his warhorse, a fine palomino, just to the right and to the rear of the Coach of the Court.  Within sat Lord High Inquisitor Gyllorn, accompanied by Captain of the Watch Creagull, Chief Magistrate Beelan, and the Reeve of Moras, Reeve Sevynn.  Accordingly, the Officers of Execution for each within, rode to the front right, front left, rear left, and Dunewell rode to the rear right of the coach.  Alongside marched one hundred of the finest soldiers and officers of Moras.  The sounds of shoed hooves striking stone, leather boots marching in step, and coach wheels creaking were muffled by the cold damp air that surrounded them all. 

The procession was a grand display of power, both political and force of arms.  Of course, the coaches and horsemen of House Morosse led the Walk of Return in mourners’ black.  They marched toward the marble mausoleums where the noble and notable were interred.  House Morosse was followed by the Coach of the Court, which shined in a stark white contrasting the dark adornments of House Morosse, and other lords, dukes, and Houses followed thereafter.  It did strike Dunewell as unusual that Lady Evalynne, Lady of Moras and her surrounding lands, was absent.

Lady Evalynne ruled one of the wealthiest cities in all of Stratvs.  Her beauty was only rivaled by her wealth and her prowess with a blade.  Standing at six feet four inches in height, and well-muscled, her blonde curls spilled down over shoulders broadened and browned by a life at sea.  The epitome of the Great Woman race, she was strong, fearless, and quite cunning.

Almost a century before, Lady Evalynne, then the ship’s captain of a privateer vessel, had brought down the corrupt former lord of Moras by force.  She secured the great city, and spilled a great deal of blood, for King Eirsett.  In return, she was awarded the rule of the city and surrounding lands.  Since that time, she had proved herself quite adept in the arts of diplomacy and trade.  Thus, this show of the Reeve’s respect as well as that of her personal guard.  However, it was not like her to miss an opportunity such as this, and she was the sort to see a funeral as an opportunity.

After his graduation from the Silver Helm Academy in Moras, Dunewell had spent twenty years in service of the King’s army as an officer on the Tarborat front.  Then, by order of King Eirsett, he had been sent to serve as an inquisitor in Moras.  Dunewell was no fool and was confident the actual recommendation had undoubtedly come from one of the brotherhood placed in the King’s counsel.  So, Moras is where he would serve them.  He had served in the capacity of Inquisitor for almost five years now.  Under normal circumstances, Dunewell would find this show of official deference to a merchant House galling.  However, these were not normal circumstances.

Realizing his thoughts were turning inward, Dunewell made a conscious effort to scan their surroundings.  An assassination attempt was unlikely; however, it was rare that so many high officials were in one place and so exposed.  Furthermore, it was understood by those with his type of training that the murderer, or whoever hired the murderer, would be in attendance.  His desire to discover a possible suspect was paramount.  Dunewell attempted to make a mental note of all in attendance, confident that information would likely serve him in the future.

Just then, he caught sight of something he did not expect.  Uriel-Ka, advisor to Lady Evalynne and by all accounts a skillful mage, was clad in his customary decorative silks and jewels.  He walked in step with the mourners of House Morosse.  Dunewell, as charged by the brotherhood, had made careful note of Uriel-Ka’s movements over his past five years in Moras.  It was rare that he made any appearance except at the side of Lady Evalynne.

Furthermore, it was not like him to walk, although Dunewell had made careful note of the man’s gait.  A wizard could change his outward appearance easy enough, but for a man to change the subtleties of his movements was another matter entirely.  There he was, in step with Silas on the Walk of Return just behind the coffins; coffins carrying the remains of Killian of House Morosse and Lady Helena.

That pang of guilt, grief, and rage sprang into his heart once again.  However, no weak-willed person ever passed through the Gauntlet of the Silver Helms.  Nor did the fires of four terms of service in the war with Tarborat forge a man of brittle iron.   

He forced his thoughts back to Uriel-Ka.  The mage was a man, flesh, and blood, although it was hard to guess his age.  A simple change in expression could wash away wrinkles and years or deepen them and pile on decades.  Perhaps some sort of enchantment.   He was not a tall man, nor athletic in build, however, Dunewell had observed enough of his movements to know that he did hide a remarkable agile nature and quick reflexes.  His eyes were always brown, though Dunewell had noticed that they changed in shading from time to time.  Ka’s head was shaved bald as well as his eyebrows, and his teeth were remarkably well kept and shined white.  It was rumored that he was a eunuch; however, Dunewell was confident that was no more than rumor.  Perhaps even a rumor started by Ka himself to dissuade attempts to ply him with women or to prevent stories about his relationship with Lady Evalynne from taking root. 

The stark white Coach of Court came to a halt.  Dunewell dismounted, leaving his well-trained mount ground hitched, and scanned the area one final time.  Then he opened the door to the Coach and helped the Lord High Inquisitor and Captain of the Watch from their conveyance.  

Lord High Inquisitor Gyllorn was a common man of almost sixty years.  He was a thin man of surprisingly thick, short cut gray hair and deep brown eyes.  This morning he wore his ceremonial armor, much lighter and thinner than he was used to, and a long sword paired with a fine dagger.  The silver shine of his armor and weapons seemed to virtually glow in comparison to his black inquisitor’s cape of velvet.  Dunewell was one of very few in the city that knew Lord High Inquisitor Gyllorn never carried a sword but rather crafted the hilt of one to rest inside the scabbard.  The weight of the actual weapon had come to cause him back pain.

Captain of the Watch Creagull was also of common blood and had passed his fortieth year, although recently.  Creagull was a heavy man, stoutly muscled and sporting a larger than average gut.  His hair was a reddish tint leading one to think his eyes were blue or green.  However, there was some doubt about that given the concealment provided by their deep-set nature and the mounts of scars about his nose and brow.  Creagull had come up the hard way and was a tough one.  He wore his ceremonial armor as well; silver chainmail and the blue cloak of the watchmen he oversaw.  He also wore a cudgel of polished sectot wood opposite a short sword on his belt.

Four of the most influential people in a thousand leagues walked together through the iron gates of Noble’s Rest, the five-hundred-acre maze of marble mausoleums and crypts that served as the final resting place for some of the wealthiest people in all Stratvs.  Flanked by Dunewell, and three others almost as capable, these men were as safe here as King Eirsett on his throne. 

They gathered under the gloom of leafless trees before the marble mausoleum of House Morosse. 

For this occasion, Dunewell wore his dress shield and broadsword.  Only the keen eye would notice that he also carried a rider’s pike strapped inside his left arm bracer.  He was well trained in all manner of weaponry and had used a variety of other means to take the lives of men and beasts.  However, this rider’s pike, a sharp rod of hardened steel, had served him most.  It was not a clever weapon.  It was, in fact, of rather simple design, not amounting to much more than a pointed stick.  However, the needle-sharp point and cross-braced shaft made it ideal for puncturing eye or armor.  One quick thrust, aptly guided, could steal a man’s life more economically than the long, heavy stroke of sword or axe.  

Ushers, most of whom were the second born of nobles, showed them to their places just behind and to the right of the mourning family.

“Shouldn’t you be with the family, sir?” an usher asked Dunewell in a whisper.

“My place is here,” Dunewell assured him, just as quietly.

The ceremony went as most do.  A priest of Father Time, one well known to Dunewell for his less than spiritual ways, was overseeing the proceedings.  High Cleric Dyllance was richly adorned in silks and velvets golden stitched with Time’s Hourglass.  His over-indulged stomach stretched the front of his robes with a shameful girth, and his soft and plump hands squeezed the Word of Time as he addressed those in attendance.  One day Dyllance would likely be the focus of Dunewell’s efforts; however, it was not this day.  Although his words were probably well-chosen, Dunewell heard little of them.  He kept his mind on his surroundings.

The young physician, Silas of House Morosse, was here, of course.  He looked himself again, smartly dressed and composed.  Rugan of House Theald, a thin man of common blood who was overly proud of his long, black hair, wore the best of his House colors of brown and orange velvets and finely tanned leathers.  Whillyd of House Jocayn, also a common man but much more robust in frame than Rugan, wore his House colors as well, in the form of a sea green and yellow striped shirt, green cloak, and yellow leather boots.  Those two, along with several other shipmen and merchants, likely all also hoping for an opportunity out of this gathering, were also ushered near.  

Uriel-Ka, with his hand held to obscure his mouth, spoke in hushed tones to the young son and sole heir of House Morosse.  Likely they were platitudes only, but Dunewell would have very much liked to know exactly what was being said.  Dunewell thought Uriel-Ka was probably just being cautious, for very few were aware that he had been trained to read the lips of a speaking man.  

Dunewell, having been thwarted for now by Uriel-Ka’s well-placed hand, turned his attention to the others.  Rugan whispered to his ship’s captain about a shipment that would need to be moved from one warehouse to another.  Whillyd, doing his best to convey his wishes quietly, directed one of his housemen to arrange a meeting with young Silas after the funeral, if possible.  Whillyd offered some vague information as an enticement.  Reeve Sevynn queried Lord High Inquisitor Gyllorn about the progress of the investigation, likely only so he could speak intelligently on the matter if questioned by someone of importance here.  

Reeve Sevynn was well aware of the details of the investigation thus far, so his questioning of Gyllorn served at least two purposes.  One, he needed to know what Dunewell had reported to Gyllorn, which in turn would tell him what Dunewell had left out.  Two, it put Gyllorn at ease.  It was Gyllorn’s duty to report to Sevynn; however, a comfortable man spoke more freely.

Reeve Sevynn had become suspicious of Dunewell over the last few months.  After all, he was not appointed as Reeve because he was a fool.  Sevynn had been careful about it even though his position allowed him the authority to question Dunewell directly or to petition the King to have Dunewell reassigned to another region.  That care exercised by Sevynn confirmed Dunewell’s initial assessment of the man.  The Reeve was a man that did not rely on his title for power, as so many tended to do.  Rather he seemed to amass information as if by magic.  It was as if the quiet secrets of others flowed through the rocks and iron bars and locked doorways of Moras to pour into his ear unbidden.  That information was his real power.  Furthermore, it told Dunewell that Reeve Sevynn had something of his own to hide.  

A tap on his shoulder from his colleague in the Magistrate’s office brought Dunewell back to the ceremony at hand.  Silas of House Morosse was standing with one hand on the polished wooden coffin of his mother, preparing to slide the casket into the marble tomb.  Silas beckoned Dunewell to join him.  Dunewell turned to Gyllorn, who simply nodded as though he expected this.  Then Dunewell stepped through those gathered, some of whom were there hoping to be recognized for this honor, to stand next to Silas and placed his hand opposite.  

This custom had come to be a means of recognizing who the chief mourner would lean upon in the days of grief and sorrow that followed the burial.  Oddly enough, it had actually originated from something of a murder investigation.  The old story was that a man’s brother died, leaving him everything they owned together.  The man buried his brother, alone, and assumed control of their holdings.  Years later, a nephew arrived the man knew nothing about and claimed his portion of the lands and livestock.  His petition was brought before the Reeve and, since there was no witness to confirm the brother had actually died and been buried, his holdings reverted to the local lord until such time as his body was found.  Thus, the tradition of calling a witness to a burial began.

The touch of the polished wood, damp from the moist cold which surrounded them, pricked Dunewell’s heart more than he’d expected.  Dunewell, only one tear betraying the grief and guilt that roiled in his stomach, placed his other hand on Silas’s shoulder, and nodded.  As one, they pushed the casket of Helena of House Morosse into the marble dark where it would rest forever.  

Silas had more to tell him, Dunewell was sure.  Whether he would tell him or not was the question.  A proper Sleuth, how he wished Benedict was here, could see the truth between the words.  Dunewell had been trained in the arts of interview and interrogation; however, he couldn’t hold a candle to Benedict’s mastery of them.  

Inquisitors were trained to be excellent investigators, but Sleuths were the best.  Sleuths were trained to use their natural talents of observation, coupled with their remarkable powers of mentalism, to reveal evidence no other could.  Through their spells, they could see into the past of an object or place.  Through the magic of their will, they could actually read the thoughts of those less disciplined or disguise themselves as confederates to learn of a cutman’s plans.

Dunewell had assisted Benedict before on several cases, but Sleuths were very few in number and traveled for the King, and the Brotherhood, quite often.

Dunewell was afraid of what Silas might know and what that knowledge would mean.  Furthermore, if he really didn’t know any more about the murders than he had said, who would believe him?

Dunewell realized he must halt his exploration of the matter by imagination.  Evidence.  Information.  Those would unlock the doors barred to him.  If anyone else knew what had happened, those were the keys to finding them.

Dyllance offered a final prayer.  Dunewell, somewhat distracted by his distaste for the man, almost missed Silas’s eyes.  Silas, standing next to Dunewell and head bowed, bore an expression of serene acceptance.  However, his eyes told another story.  

Dunewell, since his childhood, possessed a gift for reading the thoughts of others.  He could detect traces of their intentions on their face as plainly as if they were written in ink across their foreheads and irises.  Silas’s face and posture told of a man humbled by grief, but his eyes prosecuted the High Cleric.  Could this be anger from wrongs decades old, or was this something new?

“I know we have business,” Silas said when the final prayer effectively dismissed those gathered.  “I must check-in at the Sanctum this afternoon but will be home this evening and in father’s office tomorrow.”

“I have something to look into this afternoon as well,” Dunewell said, thinking of a shipment and the warehouse mentioned by Rugan.  “I will be around after.”

“I’ll have a dinner prepared,” Silas said.  “And tea, of course.  I assume you haven’t changed your views on wine.”

Dunewell smiled and placed his hand on Silas’s shoulder once again.  

“I’ll see you for dinner and tea, then.”

Dunewell turned and began to make his way through the crowd toward the Lord High Inquisitor.  It was time for him to take his place as guard once again.  Dunewell spent the next hour at the Lord High Inquisitor’s elbow and answering questions, although vaguely, for those that were noble-born or, by way of coin, noble made.  Those of House Morosse had the dignity to move on from this ceremony, leaving it as it should be, concluded in a solemn farewell.  However, these others seized upon the opportunity.  Opportunity to gather information, speculate on the future of House Morosse and its many dealings, and to gossip.

If one were to replace the caskets with kegs, the marble benches with barstools, and a darkly clad usher with a barely clad tavern girl, then the change from funeral to rowdy inn would have been complete.  Their lack of shame galled him; however, he must join them.  For he had information to gather as well. 

Still, his heart would not be satisfied with duty.  It took him back to this very place where a little more than two decades prior, he placed his hand on his own father’s casket, standing beside Helena at the time.  The bones and armaments of Stilwell, Son of Chaswell, Father of Dunewell rested not far from where he stood even now.

He had been so eager to graduate from the Silver Helms and possibly serve at his father’s side.  For Dunewell had known more of Stilwell from reputation rather than relation.  The Silver Helms trained fiercely from a very young age, and there was no time for family picnics or fishing from the piers.  There were only the few holidays that he would see his father and mother, only those glimpses of family.  Even on those rare visits, Stilwell was frequently absent, for Stilwell, as his father before him, served the Crown.  As Dunewell would learn later, he also served another cause.  Those duties took him to distant lands and placed his life in perils unnumbered.  Yet, it was in his home that he had died only months before Dunewell would graduate and be able to join him.  Stilwell was murdered in his bed two and a half decades ago, not unlike Lady Helena had been just two days prior.

“Where is your Lady?” Whillyd of House Jocayn indelicately asked.

“My Lady?” Dunewell replied although he knew full well what Whillyd was implying.

“Lady Evalynne,” Whillyd clarified.  “She is your Lady, is she not?”

“I serve at the pleasure of the King,” Dunewell said.  “I currently serve Lady Evalynne at his direction.”

“But surely you see your loyalties to both,” Whillyd said.  “After all, you are a son of Moras yourself, are you not?”

“I am a Silver Helm,” Dunewell said simply.

“The question stands,” Whillyd said, undaunted by words that should have shamed him.  “Where is she?  I thought to find her here, but I see only her advisor.”

“Perhaps he is the one you should ask then, sir,” Dunewell said.

“You’re a bit rude, aren’t you,” Whillyd said.  “Perhaps you should…”

“I understand that you offer information to House Morosse in exchange for some consideration,” Dunewell noted, cutting the merchant short.  “I assume the information has nothing to do with the murders.  For if it did, and you did not give that information to my office freely, as is your duty, that would be a crime.  You’re aware that I have full authority to kill criminals if I believe it necessary?”

Dunewell did not raise his voice in saying this.  He did not inflect any one word over another.  He made this statement as if he were ordering food or explaining a map.  Whillyd, who did not rise to his current position by being foolish, understood completely.  The fact that Dunewell knew Whillyd hoped to barter with House Morosse shook him.  Furthermore, Whillyd knew Dunewell had killed.  Whillyd understood Dunewell would kill him without compassion or hesitation.  The act would be passionless.  This Silver Helm would stab him with no more emotion than he might experience over stabbing a piece of pork.

Whillyd, as well as many others who traded above and below the table, had heard of this Inquisitor Dunewell.  He could not be bought, or at least hadn’t been yet.  He had not yielded to pressures from Lady Evalynne or her counselors to avoid certain avenues of investigation.  This Dunewell did not understand the ‘grease’ required to keep the wagon wheel that was the Moras economy rolling smoothly.  

Whillyd opened his mouth to reply and, having no words that would profit him come to mind, closed it again and moved away from the Silver Helm quickly.

“Hyenas howl while the lion hunts,” came from a voice to Dunewell’s side.  He turned to see a good friend.

Sir Brutis was a Great Man of almost seven feet in height and nearing two hundred years in age.  The lines on his face told of many days spent in hardship in the service of the King.  His hair, which once had been as black as a pearl from the Sea of Blades, now showed more gray than black.  His dark blue eyes had a way of looking through to the soul of a man, a look Dunewell always admired.

“Sir Brutis, I didn’t know you were in Moras,” Dunewell said.  “Looks like the rations on the front have improved.  You’ve gained weight.”

“I’m in the city only briefly,” Brutis said, ignoring the comment about having to let out his breastplate a notch.  “The King has summoned me.  I’m bound for Lawrec, and should have left yesterday.  But, when I heard of this news, I could not have left without first seeing her laid to rest.  I was very sorry to hear…”

“You’ve been on the front in Tarborat this whole time?” Dunewell asked, changing the nature and direction of their conversation quickly.

“Yes,” Sir Brutis said.  “It is not the same without you or Velryk around.  No one can lead a charge like you two.”

“I hear he is a Reeve near Gallhallad these days.”

“Yes,” Brutis said.  “What is it about soldiers becoming men of the law?”

“I suppose it is a natural fit, for some of us,” Dunewell said.

“Know that you both are missed,” Sir Brutis said.  “Perhaps you’d consider coming to Lawrec with me?  The Prince has his hands full there.”

“The King has placed me here,” Dunewell said.  “Besides, there is more work here for an inquisitor than most would see.”

“For an honest one, yes,” Brutis said.  “Be careful that you don’t charge too far ahead of the column and find yourself surrounded.”

Dunewell smiled at that, remembering a time when Sir Brutis did just that.

“Don’t worry for me, old friend,” Dunewell said with a rare smile.  “I’m not the one heading to the Warlock’s front door.”

“He’s been quiet for some time now.  More than two centuries if the rumors about him are true.  Although, that likely means he’s planning something.  No, the trouble there is this wizard, Daeriv.  I think Kyhn and Engiyado are with him.”

“Then you should certainly conserve your worry for your own skin,” Dunewell said.  

“Will you have time for an ale later?” Brutis asked.

Dunewell raised an eyebrow and Brutis held up his hand, palm outward.

“Apologies,” Brutis said.  “Tea then?  You have your tea and I’ll have enough ale for both of us.”

“That sounds good,” Dunewell said.  “I’ll meet you at Lantern’s Light, say two hours before sundown?”

“See you then,” Brutis said as he took his leave and headed toward the iron gates of the cemetery.

Dunewell continued to make his way through the crowd, noting who was present and their demeanor, as well as trying to note any that were conspicuously absent.  Thus far the only person on his ‘absent’ list was Lady Evalynne.  There had been something between her and Helena years ago, some reason for their mutual distaste of each other.  However, much of that relationship appeared to have been repaired when Lady Helena married Killian of House Morosse.  

Dunewell had not paid close attention to that sort of thing those years ago, for his mind was on preparation for the front.  How closed are the eyes of the young, how clouded the vision of the uninitiated.

“Pardon me, inquisitor,” came from a young woman in Dunewell’s path.  “May I ask you a question about your investigation?”

She was richly adorned and clearly the young wife or older daughter of some lord or duke.  She didn’t begin with her name or her title, which endeared her to Dunewell from the outset.  She seemed genuinely concerned in regard to her pending inquiry.   

Her long hair was the color of sunlight on a clear day at sea, matched by eyes as blue as those same waters.  She was a bit short, barely five feet, and was lithe of form.  Her face was beautifully formed as well, and her nose took the cutest curve upward.  Dunewell would not be surprised if he were to learn that there was elven blood somewhere in her heritage.

“Of course, there are some details that must remain sequestered,” Dunewell said.  “But, I will answer what I can.”

“I’ve heard terrible tales of a vampire haunting the harbor and Sailor’s Alley,” she began with some trepidation.  “Could the creature be moving on from easy prey in the darkened alleys to the homes of… of others?”

“I have hunted vampires before, my Lady,” Dunewell said.  “Some hunted among the battlefields of Tarborat where the carnage of battle easily covered their crimes.  There have indeed been a few deaths recently that could be attributed to such a creature, but I can assure you that is not the case with the murders in House Morosse.”

“Will they catch the monster soon?”

“I’m not investigating the case.  It is in the capable hands of another inquisitor.  However, I can tell you there’s been no indication that its hunting patterns will change.  They avoid those that have even the appearance of decency or look as though they may be able to afford a weapon of silver or Churchwood.  Furthermore, there’s yet to be a case of a vampire making forced entry into any type of abode.”

“Why can’t they force their way in?” she asked.  

She now seemed more curious than fearful.

“We are taught that it has something to do with the curse of the species’ origin.  The first of their kind was cast out, exiled.  Hence, their particular type of evil must be invited.”

“Thank you,” she said with a nervous smile.  “Oh, I am so sorry and so rude.  You probably don’t remember me; I’m Erin.  Oh, of House Theald.  Master Rugan is my uncle.”

“I do remember you, Lady Erin,” Dunewell said with a smile.  She had been among those he was charged with remembering.  When investigating smugglers, it was best to know who the major merchants were.  

“Oh, I’m not married,” Erin said, smiling a bit as she turned her head down.  “Only Erin.”

Dunewell smiled and opened his mouth to say something that he hoped would be charming yet respectful.  However, just then, he saw a man approaching that drew his attention.  Dunewell began to turn away from her and toward the newcomer.

“Cleythuun,” whispered from Erin’s lips, and the delicate influence of the enchantment drifted through the air and into Dunewell’s ear.

“I’m sorry?” Dunewell said, turning back and suddenly feeling a warmth for the lovely young woman.  “Did you say… something?”

“Oh, no,” Erin said with a coquettish smile.  “Not I.”

“If you’ll excuse me, Erin,” Dunewell said with a bit of a stammer.  “If you should have any other questions, I’d be happy to answer them at another time.  Feel free to call on me.”

With that, Dunewell moved away from her abruptly, his mind less-so.  For some reason, his thoughts lingered on her for a moment.  Then, acting more on instinct than conscious thought, his eye selected a place with no overhanging trees or blind spots of concealment offered by marble tombs.  

A man, diplomat, or merchant by the look of his dress, but skilled pugilist by the look of his hands, paced toward Dunewell and extended one of those scarred hands.  Dunewell smiled professionally and presented his own while stretching his senses to his flank and his rear.  This man, a bit thin with balding brown hair swept back from his brow, bent his ring finger into his palm as the two clasped hands.  Dunewell responded reflexively by turning in his own middle finger.  The signal allowed Dunewell to relax.  This fellow was not what he appeared, but now he understood why.

“Man – above law, throne, or altar,” this agent said quietly.  

“Justice above all,” Dunewell replied, also in a whisper, completing the motto of a secret society, completing the greeting of the Sword Bearers.

Chapter II

Friends and Funerals

Today his control must be perfect.  Today he must play the part; distracted, thoughtful, and confident.  However, he must also be keenly aware.  He must take in everything said, every nuance.  Silas of House Morosse must be perfect.

There would, of course, be those wishing to assure continued ventures with House Morosse and seeking to press him with some discovered or derived advantage.  Such voracious pursuit of coin bored him at times and disgusted him at others.  His attitude toward the business of House Morosse was no secret, certainly not among those who would trade on the information.  Now, Killian dead, the oversight of the family’s businesses, shipping, fishing, stores, agriculture, mining, and smithing shops, would fall to his reluctant hand.  Many would see this as an opportunity.  Many would have, and may have, killed for just such an opportunity.

However, his upcoming contests with those hungry for coin could only occupy a small portion of his mind.  The rest of his facilities must be honed for those who sought real power.  The murder of Killian and Lady Helena of House Morosse created political opportunities as well.  Some would attempt to charge him, and there was plenty of evidence against him.  Some would seek to use the spectacle for their own political gain.  If some ambitious courtier or inquisitor could trump up a suspect and hang them quickly, then they would no doubt enjoy some modicum of favor from Lady Evalynne, and perhaps even from the King.  

He must read their expressions and each syllable of every word spoken carefully.  He must weigh what they know versus what they think they know.  He must give nothing away, while at the same time, seem compliant and helpful.  Most importantly, he must gauge Dunewell.

If Dunewell began to think Silas guilty, then his life would become difficult indeed.  There were a number of circumstances that pointed to Silas as the murderer.  Silas did not believe Dunewell would falsely accuse a man, any man, before sufficient evidence against him was present.  However, there would be pressure from Gyllorn and others for a quick resolution, and frequent status reports would be required.  That pressure might result in Dunewell accepting what evidence was present without probing further.  Furthermore, depending on what Dunewell reported to them, those in Lady Evalynne’s court might decide to move forward with a trial and hanging before Dunewell considered his investigation complete.  

Dunewell was in service to the King, but the laws and crimes in Moras were under the purview of Lady Evalynne.  King Eirsett would not involve himself in her governing of this portion of his kingdom without significant cause.  Furthermore, a man might be hanged, and in the ground a whole season, before a message reached the king.  

Still, Dunewell was a Silver Helm.  Between that and his ties to the capital, most would hesitate before affronting him directly.  Silas desperately needed Dunewell’s trust and confidence.  Dunewell had never given him cause to believe either was ever in danger, but these murders would likely change many things.

As was tradition; a lone white horse pulled the black, open wagon carrying the caskets of Killian and Helena.  The horse, well trained and only utilized for this singular task, walked without lead unerringly to the Noble’s Rest.  At the iron gates, opened much earlier so the crowd could be spared the horrible sounds its old bones would make, stood four guards.  They bore the silver and black Blade and Wave symbol of Lady Evalynne’s banner.  The markers of her Keep, soldiers, and ships.  Silas walked slowly behind, one hand on the polished wood that encased his father’s corpse.  

His garb was more cumbersome and more restrictive than his usual fare.  He had trained in the use of armor and sword, as most children of a wealthy House do; however, he cared little for it.  This morning, instead of simple leather pants and boots coupled with a silk shirt and heavy cloak, young Doctor Morosse wore a detailed breastplate of his father’s House along with bracers and shrou-sheld said to have belonged to his noble ancestors.  They were all forged of black steel and originally designed with an inlay of silver.  However, for this occasion, Silas had the inlays painted a dark green in favor of his mother’s banner color and her eyes.

This walk would be the only reprieve he would enjoy between now and sometime this evening.  None would talk during the Walk of Return which gave him time for contemplation.  He had prepared himself for the conversations of business and investigation.  Now he allowed himself time to think of his life and his loss.  It might be the only time for such indulgences for weeks to come.  

He thought of his father, Killian of House Morosse.  A hard man of numbers and calculation.  His severe tutelage in the arts of accuracy and account had served to hone Silas’s mind to a scalpel’s edge.  Killian, forever aware of the perception of others, had only ever struck Silas on the soles of his feet.  Even today, when Silas was at study or contemplating a medical mystery, he would rest on his knees with his bare feet exposed behind him.  It had been years since his last ‘correction of bearance,’ however, for good or for ill, his mind was always more focused when he assumed this posture.  

Killian was a man who could change, could alter himself with no less skill than a skin-shifter of lore.  From moment to moment, he could change from a shrewd bargainer to a harsh adjudicator to a disarming charmer.  No doubt that skill had served him well in leading House Morosse to the heights it enjoyed.

Those thoughts led him to think of his mother, Lady Helena.  She had wealth before she married Killian, but she had been dubbed ‘Lady’ for her deeds in service to the King rather than any lands or houses in her name.  By all accounts she had been fierce on the field of battle, swift and strong.  In spite of such battlefield prowess had she also been a victim of Killian’s?  Had she been drawn in by that charm, held captive by it?  Perhaps she stayed because of Silas, out of fear of what might happen to him should she leave.  He was the younger, and much weaker, of her two sons.

That corridor in his mind led him to the scene of Killian and Helena in bed together.  Blood had been artfully strewn across the walls and ceiling.  Pools of it rested on the floor.  When he closed his eyes, he could still feel it, the jelly of it, between his toes.  He could smell the thick copper odor mixed with the stench of feces for they had, both of them in their final moments, evacuated their bowels.  He barely defended his breast from the horde of emotion that threatened at the gates of his self-control.   Their eyes were opened, fixed on one another.  Both were absolutely still.  All the vitality that had so fueled their lives had been simply drained away.  

None of that mattered now.  Both were rotting, no different to the laws of nature than a fish head left in the alley to draw flies.  Of course, the civilization around them would make the aftermath of their death noble, if not luxurious.  However, they would rot and were doing so even now.

Perhaps that is what drew him to his naturalist studies.  As a child, he was fascinated by the facts of death.  In his early dissections, modes of study he was brutally punished for once discovered, he was amazed at how the differences in the life of one animal from another were dissolved completely by death.  A fish, quick and elusive, would lay just as still on his workbench as a turtle, easily caught and dispatched.  A vicious dog became so much like a timid kitten in that final state of nature.  In life, there was so much chaos, but in death, the same sense of order settled on flora and fauna alike.  

His respite of the Walk of Return was coming to a close.  He saw ahead of him the High Cleric Dyllance standing so proper and aloof.  No doubt, they would soon be enduring some drivel about Fate’s plan and Father Time’s providence.  

Dyllance was fatter now than the image of him Silas maintained in his mind.  The Vile Twitch had once bent and twisted the young body of Silas Morosse, much like the open-air caused a dying fish to contort.  He had never truly recovered from that beastly lack of control.  His own body would betray him and refuse to obey his command.  

At Lady Helena’s insistence, Cleric Dyllance, for he had yet to advance to High Cleric, was called to their home to assist.  When Silas’s condition failed to pay heed to the prayers of Cleric Dyllance, whips and rods made of bound reeds were used to ‘scathe the demons’ from his body.  He could still hear Helena crying and Dyllance commanding the ‘UnMaker’ to leave his body.

This ‘treatment’ went on for weeks until his older brother, home on leave from the wars, intervened.  He had served with another soldier who suffered from the same illness, and he knew of a root that abated the effects of the cursed condition.  That root, that wondrous aspect of a curious segment of flora, had been his salvation.

Although none knew the true reason, many close to the young doctor assumed such a childhood experience was the cause for him to exert himself to great lengths in the pursuit, establishment and maintenance of the Sanctum Lacra.  The fruits of that labor had been invaluable.  

Sanctum Lacra, his name for his place of study and where he also treated his patients, had begun as nothing more than a wagon and single horse.  He had outfitted the cart with a foldout operating table on one side and a descending desk on the other.  He had arranged for a carpenter to install several drawers in the back, which held surgical instruments, a variety of herbs, elixirs, and compounds and glassware commonly used in the art of alchemy.  In front of the wagon, he stored bedding, extra clothes, and a cooking pot.  A crossbow rested in iron hooks next to the driver’s bench.

That mobile platform had served him as an office, laboratory, and refuge from a home, and a society, that did not understand him.  It allowed him to study nature, common and mystical alike, in its proper environment.  It allowed him the isolation and peace he needed to research the secrets of plant and animal.  It allowed him freedom.

He had consumed all the libraries of Moras had to offer on the subjects of anatomy, alchemy, and botany.  The churches refused to let any, other than those pledged to their service, study their tomes on the nature of life and their coveted healing prayers.  The Archives of the Arcana guarded their secrets of magic with even more jealousy, closing their doors and lips to any that were not of their order.  Therefore, he had embarked on his journey to discover the nature of those wonders himself.

Over time he began to collect patients through no effort of his own.  A tea offered to a ship’s captain for the relief of a cough is how that aspect of the Sanctum began.  A week later, a sailor who had heard the captain tell about the tea, came to him for a cure of an embarrassing condition.  Silas never accepted any form of payment for these treatments; however, Killian saw the financial possibilities immediately.  

A wooden structure, formerly the barracks for House Morosse’s sailors when in port, had been ‘donated’ to Sanctum Lacra.  This building was situated far from the markets, taverns, and warehouses of Moras and actually sat just behind Noble’s Rest.  This, no doubt, figured into Killian’s thinking.  An administrator, no more than a bookkeeper charged with ensuring anyone receiving treatment turned over coin in exchange, had been assigned to ‘help’ Silas.

In less than six months, Sanctum Lacra had become a place of refuge from a variety of plagues and illnesses for those that could not afford the blessings of a church or those who, for whatever reason, were unaffected by the prayers of the clerics.  It quickly began to consume all of Silas’s attention and time.  The Sanctum proved a wise investment on Killian’s part as it quickly increased in reputation and profit.  So much so that the churches, having never been fond of House Morosse, petitioned Lady Evalynne to condemn the business.  This, in turn, led to a compromise in which the Sanctum would treat the soldiers and children of Moras at no cost.  This compromise did not satisfy any of the High Clerics, however, their satisfaction had never been high on Lady Evalynne’s list of priorities.  

Of course, the High Clerics, Dyllance the loudest among them, also protested the moniker of the establishment.  Sanctum Lacra literally meant ‘Refuge Faith.’  Silas assured them the proper translation would be ‘Refuge of Faith’ and that it was his intent not to single out any particular deity but to include all faiths.  Dyllance was confident, although not nearly as schooled in languages as young Silas, that the translation meant, or was intended to mean, ‘Refuge from Faith.’

Silas feared that his studies might suffer but soon discovered that, in treating such diverse wounds and sickness, his knowledge had increased exponentially.  Daily he saw new conditions or injuries previously unexplored by his imagination.  He no longer had to search out the curiosities of nature, for they were lining up to see him.

Uriel-Ka approached and stayed near to the young physician.  The appearance of the noted wizard brought Silas’s thoughts back to the funeral at hand.  Silas could feel Uriel-Ka’s need to say something despite the inappropriate timing.  It was interesting that Lady Evalynne was not present.  She had been to House Morosse on several occasions, some business, some social.  There had been a tension between her and Lady Helena; however, Silas had always attributed that to two powerful women being in the same room.

Was she on some important business of state, or was her absence the result of guilt that, even if denied to all others, she could not deny to her own heart?  Silas doubted it was either.  Lady Evalynne was too pragmatic for either situation to trouble her.  Perhaps she just wanted to avoid listening to that braying mule, Dyllance, any more than she had to.

In turning toward Uriel-Ka as he approached, Silas could see Dunewell beyond him.  Even in this drab, cold setting Dunewell, Silver Helm and Inquisitor of Moras, managed to shine as if freshly polished by some celestial blacksmith.  He appeared to be paying close attention to the throng, not to the casual eye, of course.  Furthermore, he did not only maintain a vigilance for possible assassins.  That was good.  It strongly indicated that Dunewell was still seeking suspects and still gathering evidence.  It would have concerned him had Dunewell only watched for Silas’s mood and actions.

It struck Silas that Dunewell didn’t appear to grieve.  Not that Silas expected tears and wailing from one forged by the Silver Helms, but he did expect some emotion given the nature of the event.  However, Dunewell appeared to be absent any emotion, even when surrounded by the palpable taste of blood and feces that hedged the corpses of Killian and Lady Helena just two days prior.  

Silas had, since his earliest memories of this Silver Helm, known there was steel in his spine.  Dunewell enjoyed a simple, direct sense of purpose that few understood, and many feared.  From what Silas had heard, he was much like Stilwell, his father, in that regard.  Silas did note the tell-tell signs of an artfully concealed rider’s pike in Dunewell’s bracer.  Silas was observant; he had trained himself to be so. However, he knew Dunewell often carried such a weapon in just such a fashion.  He likely had that black spike strapped to his arm even on the occasions he strode to the jakes in the wee hours of the morning.  It was an excellent habit to be in, Silas decided.  Perhaps it was a habit he should take up as well.

Silas was shown to the row of benches arranged at the front of the gathering where he and the other merchants and nobles were seated.

“Steward, forgive my impropriety,” Uriel-Ka whispered as he was seated next to Silas on the front row of those participating in the Walk of Return.  “I assume it is proper to call you Steward now, for you are the heir apparent to House Morosse.”

Silas responded with only a nod and directed his face, if not his attention, toward high Cleric Dyllance as he took his place between those gathered to mourn and the remains of those mourned.  Silas had decided that, although he could endure more of Dyllance if necessary, he would place a barrier in his mind between whatever putrid candies poured from Dyllance’s mouth and his own senses.  

“With your indulgence, this matter must be resolved quickly,” Uriel-Ka continued as he raised a hand to his cheek.  “Lady Evalynne, who has been so understanding in regard to your ‘Sanctum,’ would prefer you accept her offer of resolution.”

“And her offer is?” Silas asked, a bit too loudly.  His volume was calculated to conceal his actual words from anyone nearby but to be just enough for Dyllance to understand that he was conducting some sort of transaction during the eulogy.  

“We have suspects in mind,” Uriel-Ka continued in his own hushed tones.  “If the young Steward could perhaps remember seeing one of them fleeing the house on the morning of the incident, Lady Evalynne would be inclined to look favorably on his future endeavors.”

“I see,” Silas said, this time in a whisper of his own.  “And what of the fact that thus far the investigation has identified no one?  Well, no one other than the heir apparent as having access to those mortal chambers.”

“In Moras, evidence and testimony are what the Lady says they are,” Uriel-Ka said.  

“A Silver Helm, certainly one as driven and favored as Dunewell, might be difficult to convince of such an eye-witness account,” Silas said, struggling to parry the unusual sensation of a need to vomit and giggle simultaneously.  They were literally offering to hang someone selected from a prepared list just on evidence of his testimony.  Of course, this route would put to bed any concern about being accused himself.  However, he found the whole concept distasteful.  “Surely, he would have to acquiesce to such a means of resolution, which I think unlikely given that he has already questioned me about what I discovered and observed.”

“Your account would be corroborated by other witnesses, of course,” Uriel-Ka said.  “Witnesses who, before now, were understandably afraid to come forward.  Furthermore, your esteem for the inquisitor is honorable, all things considered, but any thinking person can be reasoned with in one manner or another.  Perhaps Lady Helena left you some instructions that you only just now remembered regarding some form of recompense for Inquisitor Dunewell, or for the Silver Helm academy.  This course of action would also free the young Steward of House Morosse from any further speculation as to his possible involvement, shameful as the idea must be.”

Silas made a mental note to never underestimate Uriel-Ka.  He had heard stories of his skills in the arcane; however, he had not known what a skilled diplomat he was.  In a congenial turn of phrase, in mere whispers, Uriel-Ka had managed to present both the carrot and the stick of his proposal.  If Silas cooperated, he would be free of suspicion and enjoy the favor of Lady Evalynne.  If Silas refused, he would likely be charged, evidence or no, and hanged.  Furthermore, there was a subtle threat implied to Sanctum Lacra as well.

Lady Evalynne certainly seemed to have the situation well in hand.  Had she planned for this situation or was she this adept at manipulating events to turn any set of circumstances to her benefit?  If she had planned for this situation, what did that really indicate?  What he’d learned in these last few moments would bear up in court just as smoke moves the stone chimney it rises through.  Once distilled properly, his predicament came down to evidence and testimony, not innocence or guilt.

“Please, this has given me much to think about,” Silas said, hoping to buy himself some time.  “There has been so much already.”

Silas allowed his voice to falter on the last of his words.  He had prepared for this very turn of events.  He had practiced the sorrowful look that conveyed a young man with more on his shoulders than he could carry in front of the highly polished silver mirror in his quarters.  He had rehearsed the voice, beleaguered by short nights and raw nerves, that would further support his displayed illusion.  For he knew he must be in absolute control while appearing to teeter on sanity’s edge.  

Uriel-Ka measured him with his eyes of varying brown.  Would he see through this gambit to forestall?  In this potion of dark politics, how many parts were Lady Evalynne, and how many Uriel-Ka?  What did they know, and what could they be guilty of, exactly?  He decided this was a faction he must court in the same manner as a hummingbird sips from a carnivorous flower.  

Uriel-Ka finally nodded in return.

“Certainly, young Steward,” Uriel-Ka said.  “You mustn’t delay for long.  I understand your circumstances, but now is the time to display to the Lady that you can weather the storm.  There is a place in Moras for one that could withstand the gales that you now must face.”

High Cleric Dyllance mercifully stopped his lecture disguised as a eulogy and nodded to Silas.  Silas stood and approached.  Four housemen of House Morosse lifted the casket, which held the already rotting corpse of Killian of the same House.  The glossy black wood of the wagon and the coffin creaked as they applied upward pressure on the gleaming silver handles mounted on the sides of the casket.  

The wooden house of bones and flesh was raised to the dark cleft of the marble wall.  The top quarter of the coffin was slid into carved slots that secured the whole.  Silas stepped to the foot of the coffin and pushed his father’s remains into their final resting place, as was his duty as the only surviving son of House Morosse.  Once in place, the same four housemen raised a marble slab cut to fit the opening of the stone tomb.  Then four silver stakes were driven into the edges of the slab, securing it.

These same four then took up the casket of Lady Helena of House Morosse.  Lady Helena, Terror of Fate’s End.  Lady Helena, Savior of Glenntheen.  Lady Helena, wife, mother, and, on her final day, victim.  After her coffin was placed into its own marble cleft, Silas stepped to the foot of it.  He was struck by a thought then.  Something he should have thought of much earlier when preparing himself for this event. 

Silas turned and gestured for Inquisitor Dunewell to join him.  There was a murmur throughout those gathered.  A familiar murmur that seems to accompany any unexpected act committed in a social setting.  To Silas’s knowledge, every faux pas in history had been followed by such a hushed chattering.  Let them whisper their gossip, then.

He waved again for Dunewell to join him.  Dunewell looked to High Inquisitor Gyllorn, who nodded his assent.  The gathering parted before Dunewell, for what crowd would not part before this man, as he stepped slowly toward the coffin.  Dunewell stood next to Silas and placed his own hand upon the coffin.  Silas noted the lone tear that betrayed Dunewell’s stoic visage.  Then Dunewell placed his other hand on Silas’s shoulder.  Together they slid the coffin of Lady Helena into black that would surround her for eternity.  

Silas struggled to refrain from releasing the words that were pressing behind his teeth.  Now was not the time.  Proper timing on his part was imperative.  

  The marble lid for the tomb was secured in place, and Dyllance began his final prayer.

Silas painted his practiced expression across the canvas of his face but could feel his hate boiling up the top of his spine and into the base of his skull.  If he were forced to be near Dyllance for much longer, there would be another murder, although this one would be rather easy to solve.  How many children have you beaten today, priest? was Silas’s only thought for several moments.  How many will you beat tomorrow?

“I know we have business,” Silas said when the final prayer effectively dismissed those gathered.  “I must check-in at the Sanctum this afternoon but will be home this evening and in father’s office tomorrow.”

“I have something to look into this afternoon as well,” Dunewell said.  “I will be around after.”

Silas quirked the edge of his mouth into a smile and sought to keep from wondering if Dunewell’s ambiguity was on purpose or a matter of habit.  I must not have guilty thoughts.

“I’ll have a dinner prepared,” Silas said, thinking of the many dangers for which he must prepare.  “And tea, of course.  I assume you haven’t changed your views on wine.”

Dunewell smiled and placed his hand on Silas’s shoulder once again.  Silas took great comfort in his smile and the feel of his hand on his shoulder.  He was reassured.

“I’ll see you for dinner and tea, then.”

Dunewell turned and began to make his way through the crowd toward the Lord High Inquisitor.  Silas turned toward his coach, parked near the iron gates.  It was customary for the family to walk behind the dead during the Walk of Return, but now he would be taking a coach for the rest of the day.

For what he must do, the coach was as cumbersome as an anchor.  However, if he broke from his customary mode of travel, it would undoubtedly generate even more suspicion of him.  That was the last thing he needed.  All other plans would have to drink from the second ladle, as his mother used to say.

Furthermore, he knew he wouldn’t make it to his coach.  Not right away, certainly.  Those hungry for gruesome opportunity were already positioning themselves between him and his escape.  He didn’t fault them for their desires for power.  All individuals desire power, even if it is only enough power to isolate themselves from the world.  However, the very idea of power via wealth sickened him.  To begin with, it showed no imagination, no tact.  Furthermore, wealth was fragile and fleeting.  

Those who sought power through coin were unimaginative and lazy.  True power came from only one source, a person’s will.  The will must be continuously exercised, tested, and forged.  It was hard work and most shied away from such labor.  Those with the discipline to sharpen their mind and use it properly possessed the greatest of all powers.  So many of these people who clambered for control could not even control themselves. 

“Steward Silas,” came from a houseman of House Jocayn.  “It is proper to call you Steward; I hope.”

The young man was a bit shorter than Silas and dressed in the sea green and yellow colors of Jocayn.  It was a yellow consistent with a symptom of kidney complications Silas thought.  The colors of his garments were, however, appropriately subdued for a show of mourning.  He smelled faintly of perfume and wore a dress rapier of fine steel on his hip.  The young houseman was just doing as he was told, however, Silas visualized striking his scalp with a rough stone just the same. 

“Silas is fine,” the young physician managed to maintain his humble and sorrowful tone.  The last thing in the world he wanted was to be the Steward of House Morosse.

“Steward Whillyd asks for a moment of your time this afternoon,” the Jocayn houseman said.  “He wishes that I convey he knows something of a witness.  A witness, he says, that saw a curious smoke from a certain chimney.  Steward Whillyd said this information would be of value to you, and he would like to discuss the nature of that value.”

“I’d be happy to meet with your Steward,” Silas said, appearing distracted.  “I’ll be at the Sanctum this afternoon.  He may come there.  Pass along my regrets as I already have plans for this evening.”

“Steward Whillyd will be glad to meet you at the Sanctum.  Perhaps two hours hence?”

“Very well,” Silas said, offering a weak smile and his hand.  The houseman took it briefly and moved off, surely to inform his Steward of his success in securing the appointment.

Silas wasn’t sure of what witness the houseman spoke; however, he could guess.  Had Dunewell spoken with this particular witness yet?  If so, had he discounted it, or was he waiting for the right time to ambush me with this new piece of information?  Silas decided that Dunewell would do what he was trained to do, and Silas would do what he must.  

What would Whillyd want?  That was the more pressing issue.  Would he simply ask for some business arrangement that would favor House Jocayn in exchange for the name of said witness?  Would he offer to disappear the witness?  If so, what would his price be for that sort of work?  Would Silas be able to say or do anything to save the life of this unfortunate?  

Indeed, if Silas expressed any interest in the welfare of the unnamed subject in this future negotiation, Whillyd would seize upon it as an opportunity to further exploit him.  This was blackmail, after all.  

Innocence was his best play.