Posted by Darth Krzysztof
It was nearly three days’ ride back to Lothering. Teresa had expected Casidhe to spend the entire time professing his love for her, begging her to take him back, but he did nothing of the kind. Indeed, he scarcely said a word to her. He spoke of his mission, but not his heart. She confronted him about it once when they stopped to rest, but he only said that he’d spoken his piece, and refused to discuss it any further.
Impossible man, Teresa thought as she laid out her bedroll near the fire. Feels strange, but now I wish he would pester me.
Why? So I can spurn him some more? He does deserve to suffer…
No. Because he said that he loves me… and I believe him.
That was the coldest night of her life.
- – - – -
The morning snow lay deep on the ground when they arrived at the Corwins’ house. It didn’t take long to establish that Jaedar wasn’t home.
“Is that odd?” Casidhe asked.
“No,” Teresa said. “One of his friends is expecting a grandchild any day now; he’s probably out visiting. Besides, I wasn’t supposed to be back this early. Which reminds me: where should I tell them Segonal’s gone? Someplace far away would be best.”
“You’re going to lie to your superiors?”
She nodded. “If he took off for Orlais or someplace, coming back here to ask for money and provisions wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.”
“The Anderfels. Tell them he went to the Anderfels; that’s where he’s from originally, I think.”
Teresa considered this. If Casidhe didn’t want her to say ‘Orlais,’ that was probably where he’d gone. She should be able to keep it to herself; besides, if she didn’t know where in Orlais he’d gone, the information was virtually worthless. “Sounds good.”
Casidhe seemed satisfied with that. “So how do we handle this?”
”’We’ do nothing. You stay here while I report in.”
“All right.” The duelist sat at the kitchen table and crossed his legs.
Teresa blinked at him. “That’s it? You don’t want to insist on coming along?”
“Of course not. It’s the smart move. My presence would be too hard to explain, and it leaves me free to come after you in case something goes wrong. Maker forbid.”
“Maker forbid. I just want to sniff around, see what I can find out.”
“Sure. So how long should I give you before I come after you?” he asked, smiling for the first time in days.
“I should be back before sundown. Don’t worry about me until after dark.”
“As you like it.” Before she could say anything, he added, “Be safe.”
She spared him a sideways glance. Whatever was going on between them, Teresa felt safer with Casidhe backing her up. “See you later,” she said, closing the door behind her.
- – - – -
When Templar-Commander Slean finally met her at the well behind the chantry, Teresa didn’t bother to contain her reaction: “Your Grace! What happened?”
Slean raised his right arm, which now ended at the elbow. She realized that he no longer wore his sword. “It would seem,” he said with his usual gravity, “that there are more people who wish to kill me than we thought.”
She bowed her head. “Forgive me, Your Grace. I thought we’d found them all.”
“It’s not your fault. Our enemies organize themselves into cells for just this purpose. Likely, those you exposed had no idea that there were others.”
“Have these assassins been dealt with?” Teresa asked, knowing that the ‘assassins’ were Casidhe and his friends, ‘striking’ from the other side of an enchanted mirror. Having Slean’s ring in their possession proved it.
“Indeed. And I have taken new precautions to insure that this does not happen again… but this is not why you’re here.”
Trying not to wrinkle her nose at the stink of Slean’s story, Teresa said, “No, Your Grace. Segonal’s trail broke at the Banncreag, but he told the Steward there that he was returning to the Anderfels.”
“That sounds like him.” He seemed to believe her, but Teresa couldn’t be sure. If he was a copy of Durwyn Slean, he was indistinguishable from the real thing. But then, how long ago had he been replaced? Had she ever known the real Slean?
“He has a few days head start, but if I leave soon, I can shadow his contact in Hossberg.”
“It is of no concern.”
“Our agents in the Anderfels will take care of him. You’ve done well, Corwin.”
“But I was too late to catch him.”
“There was not enough time. More importantly, our intelligence shows that he no longer possesses the relic.”
Slean hadn’t told Teresa about it until the last minute, but Segonal was supposed to be carrying a fist-sized lump of glass that had been stolen from the reliquary in the Denerim chantry. Casidhe had said that Segonal had no such relic – and that Segonal had been transformed into a griffon when they’d found him, making it highly unlikely that he’d been carrying anything. “I see. Do we know who does?”
“Indeed. A surface dwarf has it. And your new mission will be to find her. She – ” Slean paused when he saw Chanter Rindo making his way across the courtyard toward the well.
“Apologies, Your Grace,” said the Chanter, “but the Revered Mother has asked for you. She says it’s quite urgent.”
Slean frowned. Without turning to face Teresa, he muttered, “Meet me in my study in an hour.”
As the Templar-Commander followed Rindo away, Teresa decided to head upstairs at once.
- – - – -
Teresa couldn’t remember how long it had been since she’d last set foot in the Templar-Commander’s study. Slean preferred to keep their dealings clandestine, so she rarely ventured into the private areas of the chantry. Sneaking up here had been easy enough, though, and she now had the room all to herself.
She quietly closed the door and turned to look at the massive desk that dominated the study, its top nearly invisible beneath a hill of scrolls. Hues of light streamed down from a lone stained-glass window high on the wall. She moved behind the desk and peeked in its drawers, finding only a few pots of ink, a small mirror with a black metal frame, and a similar, empty frame.
She took notice of the pattern of scrolls, so she could recreate it when she was done. She started with the unsealed ones, but found nothing unusual, save that Slean had no capacity for writing with his left hand.
It would be impossible to open and reseal any of the remaining scrolls in the time she had left. She could swipe one, maybe two, but Slean would notice their absence, especially if she found anything incriminating…
Her gaze settled on the desk’s blotter, an ostentatious hunk of leather. On a hunch, she lifted one corner and found a parchment beneath. Teresa cast one long glance toward the door before reading it.
Now that you’ve arrived at South Reach, here are your orders. Knight-Commander Quinn’s company shall join to yours, and you will be joined by a third company from Gwaren when you arrive in the Brecilian Forest. Under your command, these combined forces will establish a perimeter around the Silver Tree. Absolutely no one outside of your command is to be allowed inside the perimeter. Slay anyone who dares to defy you.
Check anyone you see for a chunk of glass, about the size of a man’s fist. This seemingly ordinary object is a stolen relic of great value to the Chantry; it must be recovered at all costs. Contact me at once if you find it.
The following individuals, in particular, are considered significant threats to this operation and are to be slain on sight:
She skimmed the descriptions of two dwarven women, Segonal, a Dalish Keeper named Megdalena, and a series of ‘criminals’ that sounded exactly like Casidhe, Gheris, and those who traveled with them. What could these people possibly have in common? Why would the Templars consider them a threat? And what made the Silver Tree so important?
Teresa considered what she knew: Casidhe had said that his group was looking for a dwarf, Stennar, who’d taken the relic from the Banncreag. She and another dwarf, Batshiva, had been called out in Slean’s orders. The Templar-Commander expected the dwarves to go to the Silver Tree. He expected the adventurers to follow the relic. And none of them knew that three hundred Templars would be waiting for them…
She swallowed. Gheris and the others would die. The relic would fall into the hands of the mirror-people. And this early winter would only grow worse.
She had to warn them somehow.
Teresa tiptoed to the door and pressed her ear to it until sure that the corridor beyond was clear – but opening the door revealed a man standing just beyond it. He was an older man, tall and lean, with long, sandy blond hair, a shirt of shining chain mail, and a finely-crafted duelist’s saber with an elaborate basket hilt.
“Going somewhere?” he asked, fixing Teresa in place with eyes so pale as to nearly be colorless.
“No,” she said, recovering her composure. “I thought you might be Slean. I’m waiting to meet him.”
“With the door closed.”
“Yes. My business with the Templar-Commander isn’t common knowledge. I’m sure you’ll understand.” I’ve never seen you before, she thought. I think I’d remember. And I’ve definitely never seen you in Slean’s company. Wait -
The man reached out with blinding speed and grabbed her arm, twisting it behind her until the pain was unbearable. “Then he will doubtless wonder why you were going through his scrolls.”
He was far too strong for her. Teresa reached for the stiletto strapped to her forearm, but the man clasped his free hand over her mouth, and she smelled chemicals permeating the rag he held in it. She held her breath and drew her knife, but already knew it was too late.
As blackness closed in around her, Teresa’s last thoughts were of Casidhe.