“I don’t like this,” declared Grizzel.
“You think I do?” said Breus. The Head Steward shook his head. “Let’s hope it’s just a gatecrasher, like at His Magnificence’s wedding…”
Balthazar Subtle blinked. “I thought the big happening there was His Excellency performing the Gleeful Waltz with Her Worshipfulness. In a lavatory. Before an audience of the highest religious figures in the Lands of Night,” the chirurgeon noted.
“It was the Abbe of Lady’s Pillars Monastery and a handful of nuns,” said Grizzel. “Also, it was a broom closet.”
Breus sighed. “You’re both wrong. It was a pantry.” He shrugged. “And yes, there were gatecrashers. All there to see the legendary Black Dragon of the Plains, the new Lady of Castle Terribel and what we all thought was going to be the wedding of the century. Well, you know Bridge Perilous. Place is like a sponge. And we had the Ashurana staff running the show, and doing a damned poor job of it.” The High Steward frowned. “Honestly, we should have seen that entire farce as an omen…”
“Let’s stick with the matter at hand,” said Grizzel, turning down the hall. “Where has this bastard got himself hid?” He shook his head. “I tell you, it’s uncanny!”
“And a bit involved for a mere--enthusiast,” noted Balthazar. “Buying a cartload of wine as part of an elaborate ruse to gain entry to the Castle.”
Grizzel glanced at the chirurgeon. “Still pushing your ‘Southern Magnate Partisan’ theory?”
Subtle frowned. “You will admit, it rather neatly provides a motive to our mystery man.”
“Bah!” The Serjeant-at-arms shook his head. “You forget something, Subtle--I fought in the Rising. The Magnates won no love in that. Most of them learned the hard way that the Plainsfolk weren’t willing to die so that they could go on living in their chateaus and feeling superior.”
Subtle glared at his superior. “And I suppose all the reports we’ve been getting--”
“--Are opportunists, troublemakers, and petty bandits looking to mask their crimes in a cause,” said Grizzel. “Lady’s Love, Subtle--we were putting down roving bands of thugs claiming to be ‘True Folk’ for two years after the Rising was finished with. Criminals are always looking for some cheap way to purchase legitimacy in the folks’ eyes.”
Subtle shook his head. “I swear to you, Greedigutt, there’s something behind all this. It’s too--methodical to be random crimes.”
Breus rubbed his chin. “We can speculate on what all this means AFTER we catch him,” the Erl noted. He nodded at Sacripant and Quiet as they approached. “Find anything?”
Quiet shook his head. “No one’s seen anyone odd, High Steward,” said Sacripant.
Grizzel snarled. “Hellfire and damnation! Where’s he hiding?”
Subtle coughed. “I know that no one wishes to consider this, but--the balance of evidence strongly suggests--our enigmatic friend has someone helping him on the inside.”
“That’s a weighty accusation,” said Breus with a frown.
Grizzel sighed. “But probably correct.”
“Maybe Hagen and Palamedes will find something,” offered Sacripant hopefully. The others nodded dully.
“Let’s look on the bright side,” said Subtle. “He can’t hide forever.”
“He doesn’t have to,” said Grizzel. “Just long enough.”
“Serjeant! Serjeant!” cried Palamedes rushing into view as fast as he could. The chubby Guardsman slumped against the wall as soon as he reached them, taking his time to catch his breath. “Big--news, sirs,” he said, panting. They waited for him to finish. “Just checked the kitchens and--some cheese is missing!” The others stared at him for a moment, clearly waiting for some more information. Palamedes blinked, then looked away. “Well, it seemed like big news at the time.”
Sacripant rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Maybe--Hagen has found something.”