Thereus opened the green-painted door and went inside. His room was somewhat larger than the cabin on the ship, with a verdantly colored hanging on the wall that he decided was supposed to be Thalata. He picked up his father’s letter again and remembered their parting.
“With the kelp problems we face, the blight in Thalata and the drought in Karei, we need to have interests in another market. Wood is a fine choice. As the people use up the forests, prices for wood will increase sharply.” His father’s words, said on the eve of their departure from Athoros, his father to the west, he to the east. He would need to talk to some timber merchants, but not now. He rose to go down to the common room. The events of this morning had disturbed him, and he was ready to forget all about Krasǫ and the mysterious letter in the comfort of this place he knew so well. He passed down the stairs and through the foyer.
A man about his own age with close-cropped hair was playing tasoth with several other people. Thereus considered joining in the next game, but his father would definitely not approve of him gambling with his money. “A fool may win a full purse, but it is still better not to be a fool.” Instead he accepted a cup of tea from a servant and concentrated on the way the ground kelp was swirling in the water. It formed small yellow-green whirlpools and tendrils as it spun, and he let his mind fill with those currents, let Krasǫ’s dreams and death slip away.
“Want a game?” a man asked in a strange accent, jolting Thereus out of his meditation. It was the young short-haired man, who was tossing the dice in one hand.
Another man laughed. “A fresh victim, I see.”
“I am afraid I must decline,” Thereus said and looked into his teacup again. The kelp was dissolving quickly.
“Smart of you, I guess,” the winner said with a smile, and there was more laughter. “I’ve won enough anyway from these folks.”
“They probably took those knucklebones from one of your sheep, Vin. The dice certainly were yours tonight,” another said.
Vin let the dice fall onto the tasoth table. “Guess I’ll have some tea, then, until supper.” A servant glided in and brought him a cup.
Thereus sipped his own drink. A shepherd, he thought. This was probably his first time in the city, away from the flock. He suspected Vin would lose that money very quickly, whether through robbery or through the dark side of tasoth.
“So what do you think about that murder?” someone asked, and Thereus’s head went up.
“Krasǫ?” another replied. “Dark currents are stirring up on the hill. Disagreements between the priests. Politics beginning to take a role. I wouldn’t put murder past any of the nobles, now that Hęraklakain is dying, Heaven be merciful.”
“Some say his dreams were involved, that someone didn’t want a prophecy to come true.”
All of the others were leaning forward in interest, except for Vin, who was staring at the table. Thereus saw this and the dark suspicions rose in the back of his mind.
“That would be as foolish as killing one of the Brotherhood because you didn’t want two and two to make four. Maybe the killer didn’t want anyone to know about a prophecy Krasǫ had made.”
“What you say is true, but people can be foolish. Nothing says the murderer knew everything. Besides, how would you find a lone Brother to kill him? Or a Sister, for that matter?”
“I heard they have tattoos on their scalp, covered by the hair. That’s why priests can’t be Brothers.”
“That does no good, unless you’re going to shave everyone you see.”
With the conversation diverted, Vin was looking up and smiling again. “The Brotherhood?”
“You probably haven’t heard of them out east. A group of mystics, obsessed with numbers and nature. They have meetings every so often. In the Halls of Akain, if you would believe it. Hęraklakain invited them, but I say supporting the Brotherhood goes too far.”
“Where did they meet before?” Vin asked.
“If I knew, would I tell you? I’d have to be a Brother to know. Well, I am a brother, I suppose, but not a Brother. There’s a riddle for you.”
“Denying it won’t do any good, Ǫdipa,” one said jokingly. “It’s said they don’t view lying as wrong.”
Others chimed in with rumored properties of Brothers and Sisters, from not eating meat to eating children. Ǫdipa frowned at the last one. “Hęraklakain would not have welcomed them if they did that. There’ll be trouble if that rumor spreads around.”
“Maybe you are a Brother, Ǫdipa.” The other man winked.
Ǫdipa threw his hands up. “Only if you’re a nobleman hiding your ring.”
Anapi came in then. “I hope there aren’t any Brothers or Sisters in my inn, but I’m sure Ǫdipa isn’t one of them,” she said. “Supper is in half an hour.”
It was the next morning, and Thereus whistled softly as he waited for Branwei to show up. It was several minutes before he saw one of Branwei’s guards approaching, alone. The guard nodded to him when they were a few steps away. “I’ll take you to Branwei.”
Thereus edged back. “Why can’t she come herself?”
“You don’t trust me. Interestingly, I don’t trust you either. But despite my warnings, Branwei insists on talking to you. She wants to tell you why she came to Thalata.”
He shook his head. “I won’t come unless Branwei herself talks to me.”
There was a quiet sound that stood out against the noise of footsteps and overheard conversations. The guard had drawn his sword. He held it at his side, point downwards, but his muscles were tense. “Cry out and you die, dandy. Follow me.”
Thereus bit his lip and did so, brushing against a deerblood who was heading into the inn. The guard took him deeper into the city, into a winding maze of buildings distant from the main streets. When they approached a ramshackle clump of abandoned houses, he saw Branwei, fear evident on her face. The other guard was standing next to her, swinging his sword idly. “What is this all about?” Thereus asked, quietly but furiously, as the guard took his stick from him and threw it aside. His father had had that specially made.
“A merchant’s son like yourself should know there are many plots woven across the Island, and it is money that guides the web,” Branwei’s guard said. “Money can do many things, Thereus Vinępora. It can turn friend against friend, brother against brother…servant against mistress.”
“Who hired you? Glvath?” Branwei asked. “My guardian is just as rich. If—”
“Do you enjoy sword games? Tirsday is near, after all.” The sword was suddenly at her throat. “I’ll say when I wish you to speak. You too, Thereus.”
Thereus trembled with powerless anger and fear. What were they waiting for? He prayed desperately that a soldier or merchant’s guard would happen along, but this area of the city seemed as silent as a mausoleum.
Then he heard footsteps behind him, and turned cautiously, not wanting to make it appear that he was attacking or trying to escape. Thereus blinked in surprise. It was Vin, strolling into the alley. “All right, what do you know about Krasǫ?” He paused. “What are you doing with those swords?“
“Welcome to the gathering, shepherd boy.”
“The messenger told me you were friends of Krasǫ.”
“You should not trust so easily.” Thereus’s guard raised his sword and went over to Vin. “Tell us what you know about Krasǫ.”
Vin glanced around, then exhaled. “I was in Pol Lene when a messenger gave me a letter from him. I’d never met him before, I didn’t know who he was. The letter told me to come to Rhos and talk with him. When I showed up, I found out he had been killed. That’s all I know. Who are you?”
“The letter also said you’d be fighting against the Night or some such ridiculous thing, didn’t it?”
Vin said nothing, but his fists clenched.
“I see. Have you met either of these two before?”
“I’ve seen the man, but have had no conversation. This was after Krasǫ was killed.”
Branwei’s guard spoke again. “So. Our employers are worried about what that seer might have meant, and they asked us to take carry of those worries. If we want our reward, we’re going to have to kill you.”
“So it’s the money? You know I have lots of it,” Thereus said, trying to put on a casual tone.
Vin’s guard laughed. “Yes. But not nearly enough. It’s not just money. It’s a lifetime of bliss we’re offered!”
“Be quiet, Dhaug,” the other said. That would make him Goronu. “Just kill them.” Vin made a sudden motion and Goronu stumbled as something cracked into his head. “Just k…” His sword clattered on the ground and he fell.
Dhaug stared for a moment, then snarled and rushed at Vin, brandishing the sword in both hands. Branwei rushed to a stunned Thereus and pressed the hilt of Goronu’s sword into his hands. He stared at her. I’ll cut off my foot! But there was no time for him to do anything but run towards Dhaug, who had cornered Vin against a wall. Dhaug heard him and whirled around, swinging his sword. Thereus spun out of the way and raised his own weapon against Dhaug’s onslaught. Bronze met bronze, and Thereus’s arm exploded with pain. He held on desperately to the hilt, but Dhaug was battering him backwards. The sword had apparently been made for Goronu’s thick arms, and Thereus found it hard enough to keep from dropping it. Then, abruptly, it was over.
“Why don’t you give me your sword?” Vin asked, holding a knife to Dhaug’s neck. Dhaug’s lips tightened, but he did as he had been told. “Now we’re going to tell the City Guard about this. A lot of good they were, aye?”
Thereus dropped his own sword and rubbed his aching wrists. A fine hero he made. Vin lose his money to robbers, indeed. He’d probably take their purses.