Things Unseen, Chapter 29

For the preface, click here.
For the previous chapter, click here.

There came a knock at the door. Rotating my legs out from under the bedcovers and onto the floor, I arose. Still a bit dizzy, I grasped for the nearby canopy post at the foot of the bed, leaning on it momentarily as I let my head stop swimming. The flux-created rain had moistened everything thoroughly, to say nothing of my own sweat, and my underclothes clung to me like an unwelcome relative. The floor, at least, had not gathered puddles, so I made my way to the door over dry land.

I unlatched the door and pulled it open a crack to find a plump servant girl, pock-marked face dropped slightly agape when she saw the state of me, holding a tray of food and drink. “Are—are you alright, my lord?” she asked, nervously. I suspected the tray occupying her hands and preventing her from making the sign of the Tree at me only added to her discomfort.

“Fine, thank you. How are you on this fine morning?” I managed.

Her mouth continued to hang open still, and she blinked several times before realizing that I’d answered her. “My lord amn Vaina requested that food be brought to you first thing in the morning, my lord.”

“Thank you,” I repeated, letting the door swing open a little more so that I could gently take the tray from her hands.

As soon as I had, she turned and made her way down the hallway back to the stairs, arms moving in front of her to form the sign of the Tree as she did. Closing the door, I took the tray and placed it on the table near the bed, the one that held the bowl of water for washing and underneath which hid the chamberpot. I tried to be annoyed at the message Aryden sent with such an order, but the fresh milk, small beer, dark, dense bread and rasher of bacon blunted the edge of the act’s meaning with the welcomeness of the act itself. Before eating, I swung open the leaded window through which light began to flood the room, removed my wet bedclothes, and hung them on the window sill to let the sun dry them. Already, I could feel the heat of the day beating upon my forearms as they lay the linens out; little time would be required to remove the moisture. My underclothes occupied the entire space of the sill, but I picked up my jerkin, pants, and jacket to determine how damp my day looked. Not as much as I feared, but more than I hoped. These I laid out across the floor where the sunlight fell most directly, the best I could do without a place to hang them.

No sooner had I taken my first bite of bacon, savoring the salty-sweetness of the meat, than there came another knock at my chamber door. I cringed, fearing that Aryden might have intended to catch me in just such a position for another scolding. Reluctantly, I swallowed the bacon prematurely, nearly choking on it, and took a swig of the beer before returning to the door.

When I put my hand on the latch, I heard a voice from the other side. “Iaren?” it asked. Vesonna’s voice.

I opened the door a bit more eagerly, but just a bit, hiding my naked self behind it. Viewing part of my shoulder and chest, and evidently understanding what my posture meant, Vesonna smiled briefly for a moment before becoming serious again. “Are you alright, Iaren? Aela said you were soaked in sweat and looked ill. Should I fetch the doctor for you?”

“No. Thank you. I’m fine.”

She held the back of her hand to my forehead, moving it into position before I’d even realized what she was doing, much less in time to prevent the action. “No fever,” she said. “That’s good. Perhaps something you ate last night?”

“A bad dream is all.”

“Of the spirit? Like my mother’s?”

“In a certain sense, yes.”

“What was the dream?” she put her hand on the door, as if to push her way in, but exerted no force upon it. A message of her desire but not an effort to impose her will.
“I’ll tell you of it later,” I said. “But I need to make use of Barro’s library today, so I need to eat my breakfast and be on my way.”

“Excellent!” she said, a bit giddy. “You could use an assistant in your research. I’ll go ahead to Barro’s and make things ready.”

She left before I could object. To be honest, the company in the task would be welcome, and I could think of far less pleasant companions.

When I’d finished my breakfast, I found my underclothes dry again, though donning my true attire somewhat dampened them again. The leather of my belt and pouches remained wet as well, creaking and sticking to itself as I pulled it on.

I drew my sword from its scabbard, though I knew I had no need to check it. In the fuller of the blade, I’d etched a rune of protection, which kept the weapon sharp, strong, and free from rust without a need for maintenance. I necessary precaution, because I often found myself preoccupied and too willing to neglect the maintenance of my gear.

When most think of supernaturally-empowered weapons, they thing of swords that burst into fire when drawn, spears that can cut through all armor like so much paper, bows that never miss their target. Such things exist, but rare enough that they remain mostly left to legend. Wondrous effects of the type people remember typically result from the Awakening of a spirit within the weapon or the accrual of symbolic meaning over time, as Power subtly attaches to the object to give tangible effect to what the weapon has come to represent. This requires the weapon to repeatedly be used in acts of great significance over time—and a little Wyrgeas besides. Hence the rarity.

Far more common are the wondrous weapons of my sort, inscribed with a rune or two and imbued with Power enough to sustain the workings represented by the rune. The more powerful the effect, the more often more Power must be brought into the rune to keep it active. Mine required that I imbue additional Power into it only rarely, less than yearly. That a rune for the easy maintenance of my weapon itself required little maintenance seemed just and right.

The rune itself actually meant more to me for what it symbolized in my own pursuit of the Art than for the benefit it provided. I’d used a theurgic ritual to form the engraving by manipulating the metal of the blade itself, shaping it through the Art rather than by physical of chemical means of inscription. This left the edges of the rune distinct but rounded, without the hard corners of chisel or acid. A step on the path of mastery of the Art, for I’d created the ritual myself, from scratch.

Sheathing the blade again, I sat against the side of the bed and pulled on my boots. The meal had refreshed me a good deal, but I could still feel the weight of fatigue pulling on the edges of my consciousness, dulling them ever so subtly.

Clothed and armed, I declared myself ready for the day. From the trunk at the foot of the bed, I gathered my quills, inks and my notebook, the tools of the student remain comfortably familiar to me. Placing these into my backpack along with my ritual girdle, I left for Barro’s home.

Like Aryden’s other most trusted allies, the priest’s home occupied a portion of the Old Town, where it exhibited the same gaudy ostentation as the homes of Vaina’s wealthiest merchant families. A bit smaller than those familial compounds, given that it had been intended for a single person and a handful of attendants, but no less grand in its appearance.

Technically, the Temple owned the house and its effects, but I imagine that made little difference to the occupants, who enjoyed its splendor all the same. Should the elders that govern the Temple move Barro to a new posting, it would likely enjoy the same magnificence, or more. Unless, that is, Barro displeased his superiors and they purposefully appointed him to a humbler position as a means of expressing their displeasure. Many are the tales of Temple politics and scheming priests.

Unlike the merchant homes, no gate surrounded the exterior of the building, no bravos guarded the door. I supposed that some combination of respect for Barro himself and fear of the vengeance of The One and Their loyal Firstborn provided protection enough. It’s not dissimilar in the Ilessa, where the Coin Lords leave no obvious defenses about their homes—those whose homes are identifiable, anyway. They invite thieves and murderers to attempt an intrusion, the threat of a life perpetually on the run from ubiquitous vengeance dissausion enough to keep the homes secure, though I assume there are plenty of armed footsoldiers and thugs within, just in case. That’s not to say that the Coin Lords are never robbed or murdered, only that it never happens in their homes.

Before I reached the door to knock upon it, one of Barro’s acolytes, a somber-faced teenage boy with a clipped ear, likely a punishment for theft, swung the door open to me. “My lord amn Ennoc,” he said. “My master awaits you.”

As soon as I stepped inside, I could hear the voices of Barro and Vesonna making pleasantries. Nevertheless, I took a moment to inspect the artwork hanging in the entry hall before following after the acolyte, who looked back at me impatiently.

Like the merchant families, gilt frames held the works of talented artists, props set to impress a guest, though these had been calculated to put one in a more reverent mindset rather than to intimidate or titillate. Religious images, all of them. There were the obligatory scenes of Ashaera on the Tree, Ieladrun spiriting her away as a child, the risen Ashaera appearing to the first believers. Others depicted the lore of the Temple after the writing of the Book of the Tree—the acts of saints and Chosen strewn between the miracles of the loyal Firstborn. Here, Melqéa descended into the underworld to make it a haven for those souls between incarnations, her willing sacrifice when Sedhwé’s misdeeds revealed that misfortune we call death. There, Aelessyn concealing the garden made by Baruvin, Tamsé, Samaradha and Avariennë, where The One will create the first humans.

One of these stood out in contrast to the others, a scene of macabre torment and threatening meaning. In the center, disembodied spirits, as if caught in a whirlwind, spiraled upward toward some unseen oblivion, while all around strange beings—some inanimate objects come to life, others horrid hybrids of incongruous creatures that even the most imaginative and insane of fleshcrafters would not consider. On the lower right, a humongous pair of shears cleft a man in two, while on a ledge above it a horde of pig-bird-snake-things stripped pieces of flesh from a fallen victim, and many more scenes of a sort besides. The torments of those who chose corruption throughout their lives, who served only themselves and evil. Or so I hoped, thinking myself not among them before a pang of doubt made me wonder. In the upper left corner of the painting a shadow loomed over all, almost bearing human features if one squinted. Sedhwé, I imagined.
I recognized the painter’s mark tucked into the underside of one of the shadowy ledges on which tortures were carried out—Ovaelo. No wonder he was a madman, living with such images in his mind’s eye.

The acolyte led me into the parlor where Barro and Vesonna sat, the lady’s tutor, Indorma, sitting disapprovingly in the corner as the former two chatted. When I entered, the shadow over Indorma deepened further.

“My lord, amn Ennoc,” the priest said, rising. “You do look—” he had wanted to say well, but his desire to speak truthfully, given the fatigue that had settled over me, prevented it. “Well, I am glad to see you relatively uninjured after facing down the beast in the woods. A child of Daea, stalking the forests just outside of town. What are times coming to, eh? As if our adventure in the Close where not enough for a lifetime. For me, at least.”

“Several,” I agreed, managing the best smile I could.

A second acolyte, this one stout and bow legged, entered through a far door in the parlor. In his hands, a tray containing a teapot and several pewter cups.

“Ah, thank you, Bennard,” the priest said, waiving for the boy to place the tray on the small table between him and his guests. He waived for me to sit and I obliged. “I hope you’ll humor me in a cup of tea before you begin,” he offered, almost apologetically. “I think you’ll find this variety will lend you well to your work. It’s all the way from the isle of Vindh in the Outer Sea, months of travel to reach the Sisters, longer to reach us here. A gift from the im Valladyni, to whom it was a gift from one of their trading partners. They know that I have a weak spot for strange teas; it makes a most welcome token of appreciation. And, for seeing me out of the very maw of death in the Crimson Close, I most happily share it with you, my lord.”

“Thank you,” I told him, raising the cup in salute. “To those did not come home with us.”
“To Medryn and Errys,” the priest said, eyes down in reverence, “May The One reward them as they deserve.”

I sipped at the tea, comfortable that Barro was not amongst the revelers I had observed the night before and that I had little fear of poisoning in front of Lady Vesonna. Still, the realization of the ensuing paranoia, the fact that I had little way of identifying any of the cultists should I chance across one, left me unsettled. I faked a smile as I pushed the thought aside.

“My lord, you remain convinced that the witch Falla has nothing to do with my lord’s predicament?” Barro asked, breaking the enjoyable silence.

“I do.” By my expression, I countenanced no further answer than that.

He took the hint. “And so you believe that the phantom is indeed the spirit of the boy Orren?”


“And you believe that you may discover him in my library?” He smiled, overly enjoying his own cleverness.

I permitted a smile and the subtlest semblance of a laugh. I may not enjoy it, but I can dissemble and play at social niceties with the best of them when I must. “An investigation has many parts, father. To be sure, finding Orren’s body will likely be necessary, but I must understand more about the phenomena that has made of him an angry spirit to know what must be done to remove him back to the Path.”

“My library is a grand one, my lord. Perhaps one of the finest outside the Sisters. But I’m afraid I have little in the way of thaumaturgical texts. Some descriptions of the wonders of the Art and arcane matters, but those designed for laypersons and without practical information. I am sorry for that. Would you not be better served returning to Ilessa for a time to conduct your research there?”

“We make do with what we have, father,” I told him. “I do not think Lord Aryden would appreciate my departure, and the trip would cost me three days at a minimum.” From the corner of my eye, I could see a reaction from Vesonna, but I could not tell what it meant. A knowing nod about her father’s authoritarian leanings? Relief that I would not be leaving so soon—or that I was committed to ridding the amn Vaina home of their spirit after all? It didn’t matter. “Besides, the sort of information I’m looking for need not be found in a grimoire or practical text. That information I have well enough. Something that helps me to determine the precise nature of the spirit will help me put that practical knowledge to use, and such things may often be found hinted at or described in legend or experiences related in books on subjects unrelated to the Subtle Art.”

“Then I will endeavor to think up a list of books that might contain such information to ease your search. Otherwise you have the entire library to examine.”

There came an audible sigh from Indorma, who held her tea in her lap, attentive instead to the conversation.

“I don’t think the size of the library will be as much of an impediment as you might think,” I told the priest, setting my now-empty tea cup on the table between us.

He downed the rest of his own cup with a swig and smile before standing. “Then shall I let you set to it?”

Indorma and Vesonna likewise finished their tea and returned the cups to the tray that Bennard had brought in to us. Barro led us through a few short hallways—no less decorated with art and statuary than the entry, to a large hall, the kind of room one might mistake for a chapel by its design, save for the fact that this one had been lined with shelves from floor to ceiling on three sides, two stories high, sliding ladders on affixed to tracks above and below allowing access to the topmost shelves. Books packed every shelf tightly, leather covers dyed various colors of the spectrum, wooden slates bound by carefully laced string or sinew, tracts with rough-glued bindings lacking the perseverance or splendor of their more expensive peers. The smell of old books filled my nose, that combination of vellum and leather mixed with a tinge of mildew; I felt at home at once.

A single round table, possessed of four elaborately-carved chairs and also stacked with books, occupied the center of the room. There I sat my backpack and unpacked the journal, quills and inks.

“How did you—” Vesonna wondered aloud.

“Amass such a collection?” Barro answered for her, voice full of pride.

“You well know the reputations of many priests of the Temple of my standing. Where others of my station squander the resources with which their service blesses them upon personal luxuries, I have turned the incomes from my office toward the collection and preservation of knowledge. Often do I send the merchants of the im Valladyni or the im Darqosi certain sums for the purchase of books when they travel to the Sisters, and there are few markets across the Avar Narn better for the trade in books. I must admit that some of these are written in languages I cannot identify, much less decipher. But the majority are written in Ealthebad, or Altaenin, or Old Aenyr, which I do understand.”

“There must be more than a thousand books here,” Vesonna continued, to herself as much as anyone else. When she realized this, she turned to the priest and asked him, “Have you read them all—those you can, at least?”

Barro chuckled slightly, “No, my dear, I have not. It is a great fallacy of the lover of books that when one purchases a book, one thinks he is also purchasing the time to read the things. Alas, this is not often the case.”

“Then why keep them?” the lady asked.

Indorma answered, “Child, you know well that books—good ones, at least—are treasures worth more than gold are silver, and well worth preserving for posterity.”

“Just so, mistress,” Barro told her. “Now, my lord, I have had my acolytes spend some time in arranging the books in some semblance of organization. You’ll find bestiaries and tomes on flora at the far back on the right on the lower shelves. Above them, travelogues and geographies. The next section closest to us contains treatises on law as well as chronicles and histories. Closer still are collections of philosophical and theological matters. The section closest to us on the right-hand side holds military manuals, writings on horsemanship…”

He kept speaking, but I stopped listening. I would navigate my own way through his library, and my methods would have little to do with his system of organization. While I appreciated Vesonna’s company and assistance, I would need to dissemble enough to keep her from some of the true targets of my research while still giving her productive work to do. I especially had no desire to reveal my concerns about free spirits and occulted organizations to Indorma. In Barro’s house, I could afford few risks were I to keep my promise to Falla.

Having given us the lay of the land, the priest took his leave. Indorma stared at me dubiously. “How to you expect to sort through all of this?” she asked, waiving her arm to indicate the breadth of the library.

“It’s impressive,” I admitted, “but we both know it’s dwarfed by the university libraries.”
“Where people spend lifetimes searching out lost knowledge contained in forgotten tomes,” she chastised. “How long do you have to search these books?”

I was already moving as I responded, “Enough.” First, I removed my sword belt and leaned it against a corner nearest the door. Before I left it, though, I withdrew a piece of chalk from one of the pouches. Proceeding deeper into the room, past the table to where a finely embroidered rug provided some protection against the winter cold of the stones—which was of course no current worry. I pulled that carpet aside, clearing the floor. “Would you mind rolling that up?” I asked my companions.

They both continued to stare at me, waiting to observe the theurgy in which I prepared to engage. For a while they watched as I, taking using the knots in my the ritual rope to measure out distances and aid in the drawing of accurate circles, began to create the circle of the Art through which I would execute my working. As they began to realize the time necessary to complete the process, they gathered up the carpet and rolled it into a tube, which they leaned against the corner opposite my sword belt. After completing the chore, they settled into two of the chairs at the reading table and waited.

Half an hour passed before I’d completed the design for my working, the runes, sigils and empowered words at their appointed places, connected by strange combinations of regular and asymmetric geometries. The circles and designs complete, I joined the ladies at the table, where I recovered a quill, a bottle of ink, and a piece of loose parchment. Vesonna watched with impatient expectation, Indorma with pessimistic disinterest.
I tore a small fragment from the corner of the leaf of parchment, ragged but large enough to fit a few words upon. Opening the ink and dipping the quill, I scrawled the words specter, phantom, spirit, dead onto the scrap. I placed this into the midst of the circle and knelt beside it, chanting the words of focus to draw the Power into the circle to complete the working. After a moment of incantation, I heard Vesonna gasp as different books within the library began to emit a faint light, easily drawing the eye to them. With the working sustained by the ritual circle itself, I stood.

“We gather all of these,” I began. “These will be for you and Mistress Indorma to review.”
Vesonna immediately mounted one of the sliding ladders, ascending in search of the highest-shelved books first, but her tutor frowned. “Who said I was going to assist in this foolhardy venture?”

“You’re here, aren’t you? As you can see, the Lady is in fact here to help me research and not for something more nefarious, so a chaperone is less than necessary. You can sit and watch and be bored all day, or you can help move things along.”

She sighed. “What are we looking for within these books, exactly?”

Vesonna passed in front of her mistress, arms loaded with books fresh-gathered from the library walls. Dropping them on the table with a dull thud, she looked up as well, ready for instruction.

“Once we’ve gathered all of these, you’ll search through them for mentions of spirits of the dead who remain in the Avar—or at least close by. We’re looking for reasons given for such occurrences and the ways in which the spirits were driven onward.”

Now the tutor smiled a smile replete with disdain and pleasure in my subtle admission. “You mean that you don’t know how to get rid of the spirit?” She asked. Rhetorically, of course.

I frowned by reflex. “No. It’s reasonably assured that the spirit is that of the boy Orren, but I still do not have an idea of what caused his…situation. Without an idea of cause, I cannot be sure of the best methods for removing the spirit.”

“What about finding an anchor?” Vesonna asked. “I thought you’d told my father that before. That destroying the anchor would allay the spirit.”

“That may still be the proper methodology, but, again, without some idea of the events that led to Orren’s rising as an unquiet spirit, I have little means of where to look exactly for such a thing.”

“Can’t you simply use the Sight to find an anchor?” Indorma asked.

“It’s not so simple,” I said, feeling the hairs on my neck bristle with defensiveness. “Only fools and madmen walk around using the Sight without good cause. Some things are best left unseen. Besides, I’ve used the Sight on the spirit. While I sensed some connection tethering it, I could not make out where it led—some power has obfuscated the thing.”

“Hmph,” she said in response.

I turned myself away, looking to the shelves on my side of the room that held radiant books. Stacking these on the table in turn, I busied myself with drudgery until my two companions had opened books and begun to pour through them.

While they remained distracted in their work, I tore another scrap of paper from the parchment. On this, I wrote the word, Orösaven, the Old Aenyr name for those spirits created by the Three Mothers—Avariennë along with Melqéa and Taelainë—that were not given flesh when the animals and plants of the Avar were first made. I suspected that the spirit at the center of Vaina’s cult had its origins in this order of beings.

Repeating the ritual with this new scrap, only three of the library’s tomes lit up in response; I gathered these in a small stack near the empty chair at the table I’d claimed as my own. I then wrote the word curse on a third fragment of the paper, but Vesonna interrupted before I could make my way back to the circle.

“Here’s something,” she began, still looking to the page that had caught her attention. “This says that vengeful spirits can be created when a person dies under Qaidhë’s moon.”

“Who’s the author?” Indorma and I asked, almost simultaneously.

The Lady flipped the book to the frontispiece. “Um…Savute? Kevis Savute.”

Indorma sucked her teeth. “Toss that one aside. He purports to be a historian, but he’s a purveyor of old wives’ tales and superstitions.”

I nodded in agreement and took comfort that there was something—anything—that Mistress Indorma held the same opinion of.

“Why do you say that?” Vesonna asked.

“Logic,” I said. “If every person who dies under Qaidhë’s moon rose again as a specter, why don’t we have regular intervals of waves of restless spirits plaguing all civilizations across the Avar?”

“If you keep reading,” Indorma warned, “you’ll also see that all deformities are the result of curses, all accidents are the action of malevolent spirits, and locking the door of your hovel will protect you from roaming demons.”

“If someone will publish all of this nonsense, how do we keep straight what is real and what is not?” the student asked.

“Experience,” both Indorma and I said, a chorus. We smiled at each other at that.

“Have you paid no attention to me, child? The point of education is to develop the tools of the scholar—the ability to ask and answer questions, to think critically about the assertions of others, to look at the evidence and determine the likeliest truth. It’s not always as precise as we’d like, but it’s what we have.”

Sighing, Vesonna set the book on the floor and retrieved a different one, while I continued to my third execution of the working of discovery. Of the books that began to glow this time, I pulled those from the stacks between Indorma and Vesonna and moved them to my own pile, leaving those that had not responded to the first ritual to the shelves.

The day progressed in much the same way, with either Indorma or Vesonna finding a passage of interest and reading it aloud, some discussions of metaphysics or the Art to follow. Indorma’s general air of disdain for me abated somewhat as I revealed the scope of my learning, though she continued to make clear her disapproval of any engagement between the Lady and I but the most formal and directly-related to the work at hand.
As I’d anticipated, though my companions uncovered many fascinating anecdotes and minutiae of the nature of various kinds of spirits and how one might deal with them, little of it had the slightest relevance to the situation at hand. Except for one thing.
Indorma read to us a lengthy description of the ancient practice of grimming, whereby an animal would be ritually sacrificed to create a guardian spirit of a place. The passage out of Vaalt Trimjen’s History of the Art, continued to describe stories that certain malicious practitioners (though whether those of the demon kingdoms or simply corrupted individuals within otherwise less-avowedly evil societies the author could not say) had used a similar technique to create stalking specters for the harassment or murder of enemies.

Could this cult have been preparing Orren for just such a fate? Was that why he returned to Ovaelo with the aura of flux and Power about him? Could they have murdered him out of revenge on the amn Vainas for what they saw as an unfair arrangement between the magnates of the Old Town and those of the New? It might explain why no body had been found—the corpse itself would provide the anchor for Orren’s spirit. Were the cadaver to be discovered and sent to Barro for last rites and for burning, the bond between spirit and anchor would be destroyed.

The idea gave me some hope that ending the affliction might prove easier than I’d begun to fear, but it unsettled me deeply that the cult might be so dangerous after all. If the being at the center of the group’s veneration was an Orösave, it would have had plenty of time to learn both the existence and technique of such operations. If the inherent power of the spirit were not enough, it seemed that Vaina’s second spirit had learned the Art as well.

My own research offered little of value as well. I came across some examples of Orösaven who had bound themselves to a particular place, drawing the natural Power of the land and its features to bolster the spirit’s inherent preternatural abilities, if restraining it to a particular geographic area. It was a footnote in one of the works that particularly caught my attention: the most powerful spirits that become an embodiment of the land itself in such a way are those that secure for themselves a place where the Veil is thin, where Power naturally leaks into the Avar.

I’d felt just that in the place where the cult gathered, and another piece fell into place—this explained House Meradhvor’s interest in the Vaina holdings. They weren’t looking for natural resources, or for pleasant climes—they wanted a place where they could easily siphon the Power, storing it into the crystals and gems that provided one part of the alchemical fuel that powered that Artifice which needed a source of energy. For the summoning and storing of the Power in this manner, the Houses employed myriad lesser practitioners, those who had some minor talent in the Art but who lacked skill enough to become competitive as even a limited worker in the Subtle Art: an evoker or fleshcrafter, diviner or the like. But how did Meradhvor come to know that such a place existed in Vaina at all? Had it hired Orren to spy for them as Ovaelo intimated? The idea didn’t seem to match with the cult’s use of the boy as a sacrificial spirit of vengeance.

As the suns began to descend, the three of us left Barro’s library with more questions than answers, though I attempted to convince the Lady and her tutor of the invaluable nature of their assistance. How much they believed me, I could not tell.

For his part, Barro pleaded with us not to pick up the mess we’d made, assuring us that his acolytes would gladly return the books to their proper locations. Something about building character might have been mentioned, and I knew the priest took greater pleasure in volunteering his apprentices than they took in being volunteered.

Nonetheless, I didn’t protest. Better them than me, I supposed. Besides, there would be a party that night, and the Lord had demanded my presence. It would take me some time to prepare myself—physically of course, but more mentally than anything. Dealing with the buffoons and snobs of the nobility requires a mask of a sort, a mental construct that did not involve the Art but was no less real.

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